This week CJ and I have been to stay with my parents. I always feel quite strange visiting the place where I grew up. I know the surroundings like the back of my hand, it’s all totally familiar – and yet I don’t know anything that’s going on, don’t feel like a part of things anymore. I know the area so well, and yet don’t know it at all. I’m sure it’s not uncommon to grow up being hypercritical of the place you live, seeing all the negative things, the things you’d like to get away from. I’m as guilty as anyone for that. The funny thing is though, since I’ve moved away from home, I’ve started to notice things that I didn’t appreciate when I saw them all the time – particularly when it comes to my old running routes. One of the best things about Wall Heath, the village a few miles from Dudley where I grew up, is that it is right on the border of the countryside, somthing which I completely took for granted when I could train there all the time.
In this post then, I will share with you one of my favourite places in the world. The towpath of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal from bridge number 38 at Hinksford to Bridge number 45. It’s not a park, but it is a beautiful and free open space, enjoyed by many types of people. The lovely thing about going for a run along my old haunt, is that it feels exactly like it used to – the scenery and wildlife are the same, I say hello to people I don’t know, dog walkers, people on boats, fellow runners. Unlike walking around the village, I never did know anyone to bump into along the towpath, I often was there one my own. In fact, going for a run here is even better than it used to be, because now it is a special treat, something that I can’t do whenever I feel like it.
The route I took starts at Hinksford Bridge, about a 7 minute run from my parents house or a 15 minute stroll. I ran along the towpath, only coming off to cross the road in Swindon because it’s easier than using the bridge there, and carried on to Giggety Bridge, number 44. I took some photos along the way, they are not brilliant quality as I took them on my mobile without my glasses on, but I think I deserve some kudos for stopping to take pictures whilst out of breath! The picture on the right is the first view when you step onto the towpath at Hinksford bridge. If you turn left and go in the opposite direction it’s equally lovely and leads you to The Navigation pub. No bad thing! On the left is one of the few slightly uphill sections of the towpath. As you can see it’s barely noticeable – another reason I enjoy running along here. I now live on top of a hill, so flat training routes are almost impossible to find. Just along from here I saw someone on their barge getting ready to go fishing, chatting to a swan who had swum up to say hello. The lock keepers cottage just up from here used to keep a guardgoose outside. That thing was damn scary! It’s been gone a while, but whenever I approach I still feel trepidation, until I realise there’s no need to sprint past.
If you look carefully at the photo on the right, you’ll see some winged creatures – sadly not the image I wanted to capture. I’d heard a loud flapping noise like sails in the wind, and then 3 swans flew around the corner, inches above the water. By the time I’d managed to snap them they looked like tiny specks. In fact their combined wingspan took up the entire width of the canal.
I wanted to run for about an hour, so I was going to just turn around and come back when my watch hit 30 minutes – but as I was on the canal, I thought I might as well just carry on to the next bridge, in this case Giggety, number 44. Next time I’ll go further on to the next one, number 45 – I can’t remember what it’s called. I’ve never managed to go further. Not for want of fitness, just out of fear. I don’t know why, but I round a corner and always get a strange feeling that I am starring in a re-creation of my own last steps for an episode of Crimewatch. Something about the reeds, I don’t know. Entirely irrational, but it makes me nervous!
I took the photo on the left on my way back. Along this stretch are many houses with gardens backing onto the canal. Away from the practicalities of my own life, I always find myself coveting one of them as I run past. I don’t really even know where I am here, somewhere near Wombourne I would guess. I’m on the towpath, I don’t know or care where I am in relation to anywhere else.
Usually, the towpath will be busy with walkers, runners, cyclists, families and duckfeeders. Today I ran early, so I mainly had sailors for company, the smell of logburners wafting across the canal as they cooked their breakfast. There are only two differences between this run and my runs in the past. Firstly, I don’t know when I’ll next be able to enjoy running along this stretch of towpath. Secondly, when I get home I am now greeted by a grinning and shrieking 2 year old, who quickly proclaims, “You’re sweaty!”