14 September 2022: Birmingham
For me the day our holiday group spent in Birmingham on Wednesday will be one of the highlights of the holiday as I spent many happy summer holidays during my childhood with an uncle and aunt who lived in one of the suburbs. The centre of the city has changed so much that the only place I recognised was the junction of Corporation Street and New Street, and that was entirely due to the characteristic slope of Corporation Street.
After breakfast all but two of us started the day by walking to the Roundhouse. As the name implies this is a circular building with a centre courtyard. It was built in 1874 as a stables and store for Birmingham Corporation. From ground level a central slope leads downwards to the canal and two slopes to either side lead up to what were the stables. These are cobbled to provide traction for the horses’s hooves.
Of course the horses are long gone. So are the Corporation stores. A listed building, it now houses small businesses and a visitor centre. My wife and I went into the visitor centre’s cinema and spent some time watching old films of Birmingham life and its canals.
The group split up at the Roundhouse. My wife and I went down to the canal and walked leisurely towards the city centre. We sat by the Oozells Street Loop for a while just watching the boats go by. These included two large canoes paddled by ladies wearing Muslim dress. We smiled and waved at them and they smiled and waved back at us.
We opted to have lunch at the Tap and Spile, a pub on the canalside opposite Gas Street Basin. The place has a friendly atmosphere and good food. I can recommend their North Star Porter. (I looked up “spile” later. It is a small metal or wooden peg used to control the flow of air into and the carbon dioxide out of a cask of ale.)
After lunch we went up to street level and walked to Centenary Square. We were very impressed by the massive Commonwealth Games Bull, which was on display at the eastern end (see photograph). We then made our way to the Bullring to see how it had been improved since our last visit many years ago, when it was a dismal place where one did not feel completely safe. It is much improved now but too commercialised for my taste. I remember my uncle taking me to the Bullring when it was still an open air market.
From there we made our way to St Philip’s Cathedral before returning to the hotel.