Though the misery of lockdown is once again upon us, citizens of the UK’s Second City should remember that, as one of Europe’s greenest cities, there’s plenty of room outdoors to escape the tedium. With over 8,000 acres of green space, here’s a few ideas for getting out and about in Birmingham during lockdown.
Five Birmingham adventures
1. Stroll along the canal
While they’re almost a Brummie cliché at this point, strolls down Birmingham’s myriad canal towpaths offered a welcome break for many of us during the first lockdown and this time around should be no different. Flanked by tenderly drooping willows and languid playing fields, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal leading out of the city centre from Gas Street Basin is a particularly lovely route to stretch your legs. Arcing a path through the south of the city beyond the University of Birmingham and out towards Stirchley, the canal meanders into ancient tunnels and under Victorian railway bridges along the way.
The Soho Loop section of the Birmingham Canal Old Line is also a pleasant walk to try. More serene than the main section, it also presents the opportunity to see the ornate All Saint’s Hospital along the way – quietly one of the city’s most handsome buildings.
If you do make it all the way to Stirchley, then there are a number of wonderful independent businesses who are offering takeaway services during lockdown. Caneat Café on the Pershore road is open every day with a range of coffees, sandwiches and cakes to choose from. Open six days a week, Stirchley Wines and Spirits and its excellent craft beer selection will also be ready to take your order.
2. Meander through the city’s prettiest park
Though the vibrancy of Edgbaston’s Cannon Hill Park will be lost during lockdown (it’s home to an arts centre, a wildlife conservation park, tennis courts, crazy golf and a boating lake among other things), it’s still a fine place for a brisk November walk. The bandstand at the heart of the park is particularly picturesque in late autumn as the fading rust-orange of the trees behind it begins to uncover.
A short walk away is Highbury Park, less heralded than its contemporaries but arguably one of the city’s prettiest parks. Straddling the borders between Moseley and Kings Heath, the park’s winding paths pass through lush forest and quiet lakes. Formerly the estate of 19th century statesman and local hero Joseph Chamberlain, it was opened to the public in 1930 and his elegant residence of Highbury Hall is also part of the park.
If you need a little post-park refreshment then pop into Grace and James on York Road in Kings Heath where they’re offering some of their generously filled sandwiches for takeaway from Wednesday to Saturday. Over in Moseley, hearty brunches, coffees and cakes are also available for takeaway at the excellent Lewis’s.
3. Spot ponies, hedgehogs and grebes in a great green space
Remember those 8,000 acres of green space I was talking about? Well, 2,400 of them are taken up by Sutton Park. So, if you have any concerns about social distancing when you head out this November then this vast landscape on the edge of Sutton Coldfield could be the place to go.
One of the largest parks in Europe, it’s home to heathland, wetlands, marshes, lakes (seven) and ancient woodlands. And as a city (like most British cities) that’s not particularly conducive to cycling, Sutton Park is a superb place to bring a bike and use its hills and contours to get that daily exercise in. There’s also an extensive amount of wildlife to enjoy so look out for foxes, hedgehogs, grebes, Exmoor ponies and even cattle. Originally a royal forest, the park was given to the people of Sutton Coldfield by King Henry VIII in 1528.
These days there are plenty of takeaway options along the Birmingham Road in Sutton Coldfield town if hunger has started to take over. Choose from Indian food at Bhaijaan’s, Chinese from Lee Garden and Italian at the popular Pizza by Goli.
4. Find inspiration in the woods
Losing ourselves in books was one form of escapism during the first lockdown and Moseley Bog provides a bucolic diversion for this new lockdown while staying on that literary theme. Growing up in nearby Hall Green, the secluded woodlands of Moseley Bog are where JRR Tolkien was inspired to write some of his most famous works. The ancient forests found in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are all based on Moseley Bog’s rich tapestry of flowing brooks, hanging branches and sheltered trails.
Another of Tolkien’s inspirations can be seen (though not entered, for obvious reasons) across the road at Sarehole Mill. Home to a quaint park of its own, the 250-year-old watermill has been lovingly restored in recent years and is a window into the agricultural past of a city that became one of the pillars of the Industrial Revolution.
If you need warming up after a walk in the crisp cold of November, then make the short trip up to Abdul’s Café and Diner on the Stratford Road where they’re serving takeaways from 4pm to 8pm every day except for Mondays. Several different versions of Birmingham’s favourite soul food – the Balti – are part of an expansive menu that’s bound to heat you up.
5. Head for the hills
Blessed with more parks and canals than it sometimes knows what to do with, one thing Birmingham doesn’t have too much of in its surrounding area is hills. But for one exception just to the south-west of the city.
Consisting of two separate ranges with a valley in-between, the Lickey Hills are a fine lockdown escape offering some beautiful panoramas of the countryside and distant views of Birmingham’s skyline. Climbing them will certainly help to keep your fitness up during the monotony of this month and Beacon Hill, at 298 metres, is the tallest of the hills. Beacon Hill also contains a small fort (a ‘toposcope’) at its summit and is a slightly unusual but interesting feature, built to commemorate the gift of the land to the City of Birmingham in 1907 by the Cadbury family.
After slogging up and down the hills, there’s probably no greater reward than some fish and chips so head over to the Lickey Road and the Lickey Hills Fish Bar.