The first is that I’m only really starting to discover the extent to which Birmingham is actually green. I always think of this as a road-intensive place. Birmingham, more than most cities, prioritises the car (which is why so many people have only ever driven through, rather than visited our fair city) – but behind most of the roads, park land has been cunningly hidden.
It’s not just parks either, though there are certainly a lot of those. Get onto the canal towpaths and you’re so isolated from the main roads that you could fool yourself into thinking that you’re in the countryside.
And there are some unexpected gems. I was strolling along the Birmingham-Stratford canal, heading South – and there was a small gate to my left that simply said “Warwickshire Wildlife Reserve”. The reserve was a remarkably small patch of land, but it did what it said on the tin: it was a space that was reserved for wildlife. We’re allowed to visit, sure, but it’s not ours. I kind of like that idea.
As wildlife goes, of course, the English variety is archetypal in its understated modesty. You might see a heron (I did). You will not see a lion or a bear. Even so (or perhaps, as a result) a wildlife reserve is a perfectly wonderful place to think, reflect, breathe and drink coffee.
The second reason I mention that I went for this particular walk is that I’ve started to alter the way I think about the concepts of map and terrain, and that really came home for me today.
Until quite recently, I used to think of roads and paths as methods of getting from one place to another. Lines that joined points of origin and destinations.
Today I really began to look at those lines as places to be in themselves. Not “it’s about the journey” but, more interestingly, that the route can be a perfectly good destination in and of itself.
Both physically and psychologically, the place I went today was a path.