Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Writer's Distractions

Writing takes up a great deal of my time. Indeed when I’m not writing it seems I’m invariably researching, taking photographs, or driving between one place and another. Now we have longer days, note I refrain from referring to the British weather as ‘summer’ (despite the current warm spell), I aim to take one day out every week to walk. Many of the walks are along canal tow paths, or circular routes around open country, and the occasional circuit which takes in an old railway line, including those featured in my book Beeching 50 Years On.

In recent months the tow paths of Britain have provided me with an all-weather surface. One of the plus points in walking canals is how often their routes closely follow the railway lines. The reason is obvious, both forms of transport follow a predominantly level route between two places, which will inevitably be similar. One journey I recently completed was along the Birmingham and Worcester Canal, a route which can be found here with additional information on the Droitwich Canal. I walked both, albeit in two stages, first from Birmingham to Alvechurch and second from Alvechurch to Worcester along with a loop around to Droitwich. Anyone thinking of following this route should certainly start in Birmingham as there is a drop of some 220 feet over the 30 locks of the Tardebigge Flight, the longest flight of locks anywhere in the land.

The two stages of the Worcester Canal are very different. Firstly the leg to Alvechurch, which is as level as it can possibly be for there is not a lock on this stretch. However one warning, there is a tunnel beneath Wast Hills. At almost two miles in length and without a tow path, the walker has no choice but to detour over the top. This route should be worked out beforehand as there is no marked way to follow.

Below Alvechurch, where the canal and railway station are separated by less than a hundred yards, there is a second tunnel to negotiate. This is much shorter and the detour well signposted, unlike the third tunnel on the outskirts of Droitwich which again should be planned beforehand. However the most obvious feature is the Tardebigge Flight. The amount of water needed to feed this drop is colossal. If you have any doubt as to the size of this feature simply pause to take a look at the size of Tardebigge Reservoir, built solely to feed the flight. It is impossible to envisage this engineering feat when walking it, the only really good view is from the air which ironically could not have been seen until around a hundred years after it was first in use.

For me walking is a way to rid the mind of clutter. It is when I’m thinking of nothing that I have the best ideas when it comes to my writing, very little of which has anything to do with walking, canals, or even railways. This is particularly true when walking along canals as it requires very little concentration, not even having to follow or work out a route on a map. Not that I particularly enjoy walking canals from a physical viewpoint as, for the most part, they are flat and thus using the same muscles for mile after mile. Something we notice when it comes time to turn off!

One day soon I intend to hire a canal boat and navigate the canals during the day, leaving the writing for the evening. Perhaps it will inspire different words to appear on the paper. Always assuming I can keep myself away from the many pubs, serving not only a hearty meal but a most tempting array of real ales.

As usual I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. I can identify with walking clearing the mind, I think better after a good brisk walk, although I'm also a keen photographer, so I don't walk as briskly as I like during the daytime.

    Winter walks in the evening are good, I'll write for an hour or more, hit a snag, then pop my hat, and coat on and head off round the block at break neck speed. I can usually move the plot forward afterwards.

    Incidentally, I was out at Barton Marina in Staffordshire yesterday, and wondered about the towpath and where it led...

    Couldn't explore as I had my elderly mum with me, and it was far to hot for her, I shall no doubt have to explore further.

    Enjoy your week.