Towpath Walk: An amble with a pub…

Published: 11:55AM Dec 15th, 2011
By: Web Editor

on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) - Highlights from Phillippa Greenwood and Martine O’Callaghan’s towpath walk from Cornwall to Scotland.

Towpath Walk: An amble with a pub…

THE Bullring, the markets, Symphony Hall, Anthony Gormley’s sculpture, designer shopping at the Mailbox, multi-cultural panache and lots of people who speak like Julie Walters. That’s Birmingham.

But first impressions don’t give away the city’s biggest secret. It’s the capital of Britain’s canals with more miles of waterway than Venice. Without a gondola in sight, Birmingham’s water is less extrovertly romantic than Venice’s. But never underestimate Brummie passions.

Where the modern architecture of the skyline meets the canal basin, a powerful aesthetic is the pride of Birmingham. The canal hub isn’t a grimy leftover from the past, it’s a lovingly regenerated meeting place between the old and the new. The canal isn’t exactly hiding from the city, it just waits quietly below the bridge, reached by steps leading down from the urban flurry into its parallel waterworld. A slow haven a few yards, and a million more, from the unwholesome anxiety of city-consumerism blindly frogmarching past.

The famous water area known as Brindley Place leads from Gas Street Basin. Brindley, the indomitable engineer responsible for much of Britain’s original canal building, would probably approve of this millennium’s waterway through Birmingham.

Its purpose has changed, but its architectural integrity remains.

Disrespecting the architecture, a gargoyle of clubland straddles Broad Street above the bridge over the canal, but there’s a wide choice of pubs and cafes along the canal for a more discerning light lunch.

For good, and even great, beer go straight to the Tap and Spile. It’s the sort of pub where if you ask for your pint of ale to be pulled without a sparkler, you won’t get a blank look or a tut. From the minute you arrive, the welcome is real. An elusive canalside door set unceremoniously into unspoilt brickwork lures the pub-goer from the cut.

Inside, a hunky wooden bar rubs up to red brick walls and the bare sounds of old floorboards announce your arrival. A distinguished display of taps paints the beery culture, but there are impressive continental lagers behind the bar and it’s just as easy to come and have a Jagermeister or a Smirnoff and lime.

The Tap and Spile was a warehouse in a former life, and now it’s a casually intimate pub that’s utterly non-pretentious. Very likeable.

EXTRACT from ‘Cool canals Pub Days Out (Britain)’ by Phillippa Greenwood and Martine O’Callaghan – published March 2010. www.coolcanalsguides.com

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