Jo’s Monday walk : City of Birmingham (24 hours in Brum)

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Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham, stormed my senses from the moment I first saw it.  Approaching by coach from the north, I gazed in horror at the piles of rubble and the cranes, skulking behind billboards.  In these testing times, it felt not a little like the scene of a recent disaster. But I needn’t have worried.  Apparently Birmingham is constantly reinventing itself, and I very much liked where my footsteps led me.

Frugality being one of my traits, I was staying a little off the beaten track.  As I raised my camera to take a shot of some Lemonade Fizzballs in a shop window, I was unaware that I was colliding with the city’s industrial past.  The Back to Backs on Hurst St. are all that is left of the cheap housing, swiftly erected to cope with the boom times of the Industrial Revolution.  Every imaginable type of industry thrived in Birmingham at that time.  James Watt, Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch, the luminaries in my lead photo, were pioneers and members of the Lunar Society- a melting-pot of scientific and industrial ideas.  I hesitate to admit that ‘rag rugs’ are part of my childhood memories.

Directly opposite, ‘The Old Fox Theatre Bar’ gave me a warm welcome, as it waited for customers from The Hippodrome Theatre.  The area adjoins Chinatown.  Noodle bars galore and a feast of eating opportunities.  The following morning was not quite so welcoming, and I returned to the city in a fine drizzle. Still, I had a smile on my face, for I was going to be Meeting Gilly.  The couple of hours till her arrival time were not to be wasted, and I set off in a clockwise direction.  The landmark buildings The Mailbox and The Cube were on my agenda.

Cheerful lanterns lit the path beneath the subway, then I dripped my way up The Mailbox steps.  What a revelation!

The Mailbox is a combination of art gallery and shopping complex, within the structure of Brum’s old postal sorting office.  I was in need of a little warmth and comfort, and the tulip-shaped chairs of the Bellini & Espresso Bar were pure invitation.

Just as I was settling in to a mouthful of luxury, the alarm bells began to ring and a stern voice announced that an investigation was taking place. Evacuation might soon be called for!  Fortunately, nothing further occurred, but just for a moment…

All too soon I was back on the streets, if anything, even damper than before.  Well, if I was going to be wet, I might as well head for the canals. Boats always boost my mood.  As I turned the corner to The Cube,  I glimpsed water.  Closely followed by soggy boats and dripping padlocks!

You might recollect that this pub in Gas Street Basin is where, later, I ate with Gilly.  The vegetarian menu looked promising, if a little damp!  As I looked back at The Cube, I thought I saw just a hint of sunlight.  Was I fooling myself?

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Back under the subway, I headed along Navigation St. in the direction of New Street Station.  This building had been beckoning to me for a closer look ever since my arrival in Birmingham.  A futuristic train shape, from a distance it intrigued.  Close quarters revealed a multitude of reflections.

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And THEN my eyes lit up.  Trams!  A source of much childish delight for me.  I studied their comings and goings for a few minutes, but it was almost time to go and meet my accomplice for the day.  The skies had brightened at last as I headed towards the coach station.  Just as I was consulting my map, looking for an elusive Mill Lane, a burst of sunny rain hit me.  Up went the brolly again, and I hopped onto the steps of a small, friendly-looking police station.  Seconds later, my phone rang.  ‘Where are you?’ a smiling voice asked.

Now I don’t know quite why, but a little voice inside my head was singing ‘if you want to know the way, ask a policeman!’  Well, why not?  In I went, and the police were every bit as friendly as their station looked.  They insisted on going online to find Mill Lane for me. By the time they had done so, my ray of sunshine had arrived.  Grinning from ear to ear.

Meeting Gilly tells the story of our day.  Linking arms we set off, first in search of refreshment, and then in the general direction of Birmingham Library.  A peep inside St. Martin in the Bullring was just enough to reveal the ravishing stained glass windows by local artist, Edward Burne-Jones. (Sorry- no photos allowed).  Bypassing The Bullring, reincarnated in style, and on into New Street, where we both delighted to find old style shopping arcades with beautiful ceilings.

So much to love about Brum!  By now I was starting to take the cranes and the billboards for granted.  I could forgive much in a city with a library like this one.  I wish I’d had time for the Secret Garden on the 7th floor and more than just a glimpse at the Shakespeare Memorial Room.

I guess what I’m saying is that 24 hours in Brum is not enough!  I still need to know more about Brindley Place and the sensory clock. And we never did manage to fit in St. Philip’s Cathedral with it’s Burne-Jones stained glass masterpieces.  Nor even try Fumo’s restaurant, recommended by my good friend Richard (A Bit of Culture) and the Rough Guide.

Get yourself a city map and take a walking tour.  You won’t regret it!  And now, for goodness sake, where’s the coffee?

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Thank you so much everybody, for putting up with me and my rambles.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Birmingham with Gilly.  If you have a walk you’d like to share, you can join me anytime.  The details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page, or just click on the logo. And now the best bit- some wonderful shares!

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First past the post again this week!  Drake’s lovely ‘home’ island :

Same style, but different

I missed one last week so humble apologies to Liesbet in Massachusetts :

(Super)Natural Wonders around us

Becky made me smile with some wonderful memories of Lisbon (and a bit of humph-ing!)

It’s a Monday so it must be time for a walk

And from the Azores… be still my beating heart!  Thanks, Susan :

Walking and Walking and Walking in Ponta Delgada, Portugal

Prepare for a lot of knowledge about the Hurons!  Jackie’s on the case :

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons

Something a little different from BiTi this week :

Let’s hike the Stanford Dish Loop Trail

And Geoff is ambling along a river bank, being smug.  With Dog, of course!

Summer strolls#walking#suffolk

Violet Sky has found the nicest garden to match that nice town.  Have a wander!

A nice garden in a nice town

Cathy’s latest is huge!  Check out the Orangery :

Philadelphia’s Longwood Gardens

Jaspa’s building up a sweat in among some beautiful Mayan ruins :

Climbing an Ancient Mayan Pyramid at Coba, Mexico

And cooling down by the water in a lovely Cornish village.  Different, huh?

Boscastle Harbour, Cornwall, 12 years after the Floods 

One of the loveliest walks it has ever been my privilege to feature.  Meg, you’re a love!

Vignettes from a morning walk, 5

What a corker from Corey!  Jude, you’ll love this one :

Westchester’s Hidden Gem : Untermyer Park and Gardens

Carol in Cairns!  Has a good sound to it, don’t you think?

Riding The Waves

And an encore from Badfish!  Only now he’s playing at Knight’s Templar in a sublime setting :

Another Side of Malta : Day One

Sorry if I’ve walked you to exhaustion this week.  I promise to be kinder next Monday.  Have a great week and take good care of yourselves.

P.S I just popped over to Monday Escapes and it reminded me to say ‘White Rabbit’!

 

 

152 comments

  1. What an interesting walk! Birmingham has not been one of my favourite cities but I do like old time industrial charm so perhaps it is worth a visit?

  2. What a fabulous tour Jo! This time I enjoyed your narrative even more than your delightful images. Would never have thought to include Birmingham in an English itinerary, but it seems like a must do now🙂

    1. I was very taken with the Brummies, Madhu. It’s all thanks to Gilly, because it’s not somewhere that would have sprung readily to mind, but I can recommend it 🙂 🙂

  3. Good post Jo. I remember Birmingham as a grimy, concrete, unwelcoming sort of place but I went there last year and was bowled over. Shame about those love locks – I hate love locks – graffiti in my opinion!

    1. I had fairly low expectations, Andrew, but I was very impressed (apart from the demolition 🙂 ). Thanks for reading this. I just wanted your verdict. Busy finishing off tomorrow’s walk so I’ll come and stroll around yours tomorrow.

  4. Ah you’ve reminded me that I haven’t been to Birmingham for too long! I used to live not too far away and I loved it. I’m such a history geek, especially fascinated by the industrial revolution etc so find it an amazing place. I really need to visit the library and the the new New St station! #MondayEscapes

  5. Hi, Jo. I was really excited to find your blog through Liesbet on Roaming About because (1) I love walking and (2) my husband, who’s from NE Yorkshire, and I plan to move back to England to travel the canals in a narrowboat in the next year or so and your walks are a great way for me to become acquainted with our future cruising grounds. I have a walk for you that I just posted. It’s through the downtown area of what’s now a ghost town in Ocean Falls, British Columbia. I hope you enjoy it! http://www.svcambria.com/2016/08/a-walk-on-wild-side-downtown-ocean-falls.html

    Cheers,
    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and looking at your photos.
    I think you’ve seen more of Birmingham in a day than I’ve seen in years, and I only live 15 miles away.
    Last time I visited, it was full of cranes and billboards, but they were in the middle of a full revamp of New Street Station.
    I do love the canal network (https://vicshill.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/289/), which is where I always seem to end up when I visit, though a few years ago we did go to the Jewellery Quarter, which I blogged about:
    https://vicshill.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/the-jewels-of-birmingham/

    1. Hi Vicky! Lovely to have you here 🙂 Kate mentioned you the other day (on the Meeting Giily post) and I wondered if you’d started blogging again. Time slips by, doesn’t it? I’m just back from a riverside walk at Ruswarp, near Whitby, and we got drowned in the last couple of hundred yards 🙂 🙂 Happy days! I’ll pop over yours when I’ve caught up with comments.

      1. I haven’t blogged for months, I just can’t seem to get back into it 😏
        I do pop into WP occasionally though, and if a title draws me in I’ll have a read.
        You’re doing well recently, what with Spanish City and Birmingham 😉

      2. I’ve done a lot of Yorkshire gardens this year, some still to post. I do sometimes think I should get out of WP and do something better with my life, but so far… 🙂 🙂

  7. Thank you for taking us to Birmingham for a walk. I had a colleague who came from Birmingham. Your tour reminded me of sweet Peter.🙂

  8. My favorite is the pink tram! I love trams and I love pink, so it works for me. Birmingham looks like a pretty cool place to visit. Next time I am in the UK. Glad that your ‘Alarm/Investigation in the cafe did not turn into an evacuation or anything more serious. Off to read your post on meeting Gilly now.

    1. I have loads of shots of the pink trams. 🙂 I have a bit of a thing for them, too, Lisa. Lovely to have you around. You must be back in smooth waters for a little while?

  9. what an amazing walk, Jo! your photos speak highly of Birmingham. a wonderful surprise when your enter the non-descript Mail Box. I think I will love it there. Jo, thank you for taking us to this lovely city.🙂

    1. I think most people could find something there to like, LolaWi. 🙂 Funny, my son is there this week, to take an exam. He has a free day tomorrow and was wondering what to do. My husband said ‘read your mother’s blog!’ 🙂 🙂

  10. You know, I don’t think Ive ever been to Birmingham. I don’t think I’ve been that far north. Did get to Jane Austin’s house. Love the photos, love the fizzballs…never had one of those either. And the trams are really pretty! I hear you about the coffee! Who doesn’t need a coffee after a hike like that?

    1. Oh no! Jane Austen’s house? I hate when this happens and I miss something. You realise I’ll have to sit on that pesky Megabus all the way back there again now? Ah well- it’ll give me time to see the stained glass in the cathedral. Always a bright side 🙂 🙂

  11. Amazing walk, so inspiring – I just know nothing about Birmingham, except ihe city was the home of one of my favorite bands – The Moody Blues – really enjoyed the walk…🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Drake! I love them too 🙂 🙂 Such a distinctive sound. You could never mistake them. This is a beautiful video. Thank you very much for making the time to source this for me. It’s a lovely share. Hope the week is going well?

  12. Great post Jo and some very interesting insights. You’re right: Brum is very good at reinventing itself. I was born 15 miles away, and in the 1960s, Birmingham, and especially the area around the Bull Ring, was dark, dismal and depressing. I really must return. I wouldn’t recognize it.

  13. Jo your eloquent description of the city and lovely photos definitely show that one shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Wonderful to a city re-inventing itself.

    1. I had a lot of ground to cover in 24 hours, Carol, and I didn’t manage all of it 🙂 🙂 I did enjoy it though, despite the rain.
      Thanks, hon 🙂 That’s my mobile no. you have.

  14. The Mailbox looks like a place I’d thoroughly enjoy, Jo. I love this week’s walking tour. So many special pops of color! I very much enjoyed the bits of Birmingham history, as well. What a nice way to spend a Monday.🙂

    1. It was very much ‘out of the blue’ Debbie. When Gilly suggested it I wasn’t sure but I was totally wrong. Glad you could enjoy it with us. The Mailbox was a ‘wow’ moment 🙂 🙂

  15. I am glad you found a great sights beyond all the cranes and construction I have never thought about visiting Birmingham but that just changed. I really need to tour the UK.

      1. I was there about 4 years ago, and have been back pretty regular up till then. I think the changes have been good, for the most part. It has become a city to be proud of.

  16. I’m now beginning to think I missed a trick! As you say, cities aren’t for everyone and I guess a lot of my memories of Brum are wrapped around driving in and around the place! I have been in to the centre, but years ago and it has been a constant building site for a lot of those years. We live and learn. I guess I am more of a market town person, somewhere that you can walk around the centre within a few hours. You have done the city proud though Jo, I love all the photos and the info. I’m even tempted to pop up there myself one day… (and I will reply to the e tomorrow!)

    1. Our outlooks are very different, Jude, and I was very much ‘girl on a mission’. 🙂 There’s nothing I love more than uncharted territory. I didn’t have great expectations for Brum but I refused to believe that England’s second city didn’t hold a few pearls, and I found them. 🙂 🙂 I just had an enormous sense of freedom and excitement (once I got out of that council house 🙂 🙂 ) and I suspect/hope that’s reflected in the post. It’s what I do and who I am. Lots of people struggle to understand it.
      No haste with the e hon. I’m still going to Edinburgh/Durham whatever happens. 🙂

  17. Hi Jo,
    I live in Birmingham (have done for 15 years). Such a great post. You’ve captured some of the best things Birmingham has to offer. Come back for a longer visit! #MondayEscapes

    1. There was so much to see, Becky! I hope eyes weren’t glazing over by the end. Once I get going I sometimes struggle to stop. 🙂 🙂 But eventually even I run out of steam. Hugs, hon! Have a good week 🙂

  18. Loved your post, Jo. Your amazing photos made me realise how little of Birmingham I noticed when I was a student there, all those moons ago. Everything looks cleaner and more fascinating than I remember it. Of course, I didn’t own a camera then, and blogging wasn’t even dreamt of in those days. Love the pink tram and your shots of the bull. I can just imagine you and Gilly trundling around together like two excited teenagers. Yes, I remember rag rugs too. My mom made a couple for our sitting room.🙂

    1. Thanks, sweetheart! As I keep saying, Ad, the city seems to keep on reinventing itself, and a few people have said that it was much less inspiring 20 years ago. I love the combination of old with super modern. Anyway, we’ve established you had better things to look at 🙂 🙂 Good weekend?

  19. Thanks babe for going along with the whole Brum idea, I’m not a fan of most big cities either, KL, Barca and Kumasi are exceptions. But with your wonderful company this was the best. This is super writing and must have taken you hours, you’ve entertained so many people with our adventure. What are your feelings about reblogs? most of our friends are mutual so if you’d rather I didn’t it’s okay.
    I really hope we get to meet again, maybe in the spring? You took way more good photos than I did, wish I’d had the big camera with me, where was the last poppy pic taken, I missed it? But as you said there were photos to take in every direction. How do you remember all the information, it goes in one ear and out the other with me.Burne-Jones for instance, I would have taken more notice if I’d known that! Better go and see some of my visitors, happy week darling, it was back to the grindstone with a bang for me this morning x🙂 x

    1. I’m flattered that you want to reblog, Gilly. 🙂 I don’t do it much on mine because I think it’s confusing. I just tweet and occasionally share on Facebook. As you say, most of ‘our gang’ will see them anyway.. 🙂 Thanks for the thought, and for suggesting the whole enterprise. I enjoyed it immensely. I still consider myself more of a writer than photographer, Gilly (well, you saw the Canon- it’s laughable 🙂 ) and I really enjoy putting the post together. I get cross on Sundays with the number of interruptions, sometimes. I just want to disappear into my post but washing/ironing/Sunday lunch call me back 😦 If it’s sunny I want to be outdoors and then I come unstuck! This one was finished between 5 and 7 this morning, then I went in the garden for breakfast. It was beautiful. 🙂 I did have the Rough Guide by my side to help with the facts you know. And there’s always friend Wiki. 🙂
      I’m encouraging Meg to go south if she comes to the UK this Autumn. You just never know 🙂 🙂 Hugs, darlin’.

    1. Thanks a lot, Tom. 🙂 When we did the walking tour there was a security guard giving us the most ferocious looks for getting too close to his precious bank. I made sure I got a good look 🙂

  20. Not so much a gallery as a cavalcade of stunning shots. You’ve truly done our nearest city proud, and reminded me that G and I should get ourselves over there. As you say 24 hrs is not enough. And just to add to the excitement, meeting Gilly too. Marvellous.

    1. Cities aren’t for everyone, Tish. 🙂 I like them in small doses, but I went from having no expectations at all for Brum to being a fan. 🙂 Thank you very much!

  21. Once again – in bad reception (on an island) – so you might get this reply twice;. 24 hours never enough but sounds like you had a great day despite the weather! So fun you got to meet Gilly! Thanks so much for linking up my Untermyer Gardens post! x

  22. This is such a lovely tour of Birmingham Jo told from your perspective – so interesting! I have been through Birmingham New Street numerous times but apart from being picked up there once by my sister in law, who lives in Cheltenham, don’t think I’ve been there before. My dad was born there too (in Edgbaston near the cricket ground) so must go there one day. Looks like you had a fun day out despite the rain. Hope you had a lovely weekend and have a great week!🙂

    1. So many things we find in common, Rosemay 🙂 I’d never been there before but James has been doing part-time study at Aston University and is there again this week for exams. He’s always wanted to visit Edgbaston. Who knows? 🙂 Thanks, darlin’. Love to you and yours.

      1. Another link. The OH worked in Aston when I met him. Can’t say that is a very nice area though, or it wasn’t. All I recall is a very confusing roundabout – or at least I was very confused!

      1. Haha! Of course, I always spend my flights waving to the miniature people on the ground😀

  23. Jo, you are such a trooper! I would have been so discouraged by the rain, but you just cheerily go along and enjoy every minute! It’s wonderful to see some of Birmingham; despite the industrial overtones, it still has some real treasures. The futuristic New Street Station is fascinating and, of course, canal walks are always fun. My dear friend Jayne is from Birmingham, but she now is working as a dental hygienist in Jersey. She used to be my neighbor here in Oakton. I really do need to get to your part of the world again.🙂

    1. So much world, Cathy! (Iceland soon! 🙂 🙂 ) I was in such a happy mood at seeing Gilly and a whole new place to explore. What’s a little rain? 🙂 I had very little expectation of Birmingham but it delivered big time! The Library was stunning! Me and Gilly were all set to move in. 🙂 Hugs, sweetheart!

      1. Yes, only 13 days till Iceland, Jo! I’m so excited.🙂 I’m glad you had a great time with Gilly in Birmingham. It really looked like a fabulous time, despite the rain.🙂 Hugs to you too, Jo! xxx

  24. Thanks for the Birmingham tour, Jo. I really enjoyed it. Your photos set the mood and, for once, I didn’t mind the rain. Everything looked great. My favorite was the train shaped building with all its reflections. That was a very unique sight. The bull reminded me of Wall Street.🙂 It sounds like you have to go back; so much to do and see! Thank you for the link as well. Have a wonderful week.

    1. If it wasn’t for 4/5 hours on a bus and a numb bum I could be very tempted, Liesbet 🙂 Funnily enough, my son is there this week for exams at Uni, but I’d never been there before meeting Gilly. Crazy world! 🙂 Happy to have you along 🙂 🙂

    1. I kid you not! It was sunny rain! 🙂 🙂 Anyway- got to have a bit of personality, Paula 🙂 🙂
      Because it’s you, and you’ve been kind enough to spend so much time with me this morning, I’ll tell you a story about the refreshments. The place I was staying didn’t include breakfast and I was out on the streets very early. I had that very delicious coffee at the Bellini bar but wasn’t really hungry then. At my Canalside Bar they advertised breakfasts. The rain was bouncing so I went inside. No breakfasts! 😦 But he sweetly offered me an umbrella! On I went, to New Street station. There’s a new shopping mall wrapped around it (isn’t there everywhere??) and I stuck my nose in out of curiosity (and to keep dry 🙂 ). Carlucci’s were advertising coffee and a pastry for £2. Gobsmacked! I went in and a very nice young Irish man served me. Apparently the £2 was for takeaway deals. To eat the same inside was £4.20. You know how mean I am so I said I’ll just have coffee. ‘No’ he said. ‘I’ll only charge you £2. Sit yourself down’. 🙂 I was mildly embarrassed and offered to pay full price, but he insisted. I’d been chatting to him about meeting Gilly, and he really was very sweet. What could I do? But I left a good tip 🙂 🙂 The pastry (with custard in) was divine but I was too busy eating so you’ll have to take my word for it. It was 9.30 and I was starved 🙂 🙂

  25. That sweet shop is only a couple of minutes from my office – I hope you stocked up on cola cubes? Birmingham is somewhere I normally blog about when I’ve not been anywhere for a while – I’ve been meaning to write a blog about the station, so that will be my next project!

    1. I half thought you might fancy a drink after work, Richard, but my coach was late arriving and it might not have suited. I really liked The Old Fox. I think you should blow Birmingham’s trumpet a bit more. It’s a cracking place (apart from the demolition 🙂 )

  26. Love the tour of Birmingham Jo. My one and only time there was about twenty five years ago and I have great memories of the place… great post.

  27. On my last visit to Birmingham, I was not impressed, But your pictures and words has changed my opinion. Oh by the way it was over twenty years ago..I really must try and get out a bit more.. thanks for the share Jo, enjoyed it…

  28. I’m on the next plane! What a wonderful looking city. So many diverse delights, which you weave together beautifully. That first photo is a particular beauty, but look up, look down, look around and you’ve got a killer shot. I also loved the ceiling art, the cactuses and the bull with that adolescent look!. I wish I had your energy – my tripartite day is harder to maintain in Warsaw than in Gdańsk! Have a wonderful week, and a hug a day from me.

    1. Paula liked the bull too 🙂 🙂 Thanks, darlin’. If you’re hopping planes it needs to be further south so Gilly can get there too. London? 🙂 I love your hugs.

      1. As well as three lots of visitors, I’ve got to change my ticket. Accommodation is a bit in doubt. They seem to building another storey on top of the apartment block and we’ve getting soot and small bits of plaster through the kitchen vent, apart from the noise and the fear of shonky builders.

      2. We booked till early September because we were booking a long way in advance and couldn’t book for longer at the time. Weird rule. So this change will extend Poland till early March.

  29. Well, you certainly enjoyed your brief time in Birmingham, Jo…..I was quite worn out at the end of my virtual walk! Have a lovely week 😀

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