Researching these routes takes me to some interesting places. For example, the other Saturday I found myself cycling up the A47 from Birmingham to Fort Dunlop on the outskirts of the city, at 10:30 in the evening. So, I hear you ask, what was that like?
In one word – horrible. It’s a dual carriageway road with, overall, no protection for cyclists. The first couple of roundabouts had subways that I suppose I could have used but my previous experience of subways in Brum has not been good – hostile places, broken glass, dodgy looking characters hanging around – so I preferred to chance it with the traffic. Luckily at that time of night there wasn’t much traffic but what there was, was mostly boy racers out for a burn.
At one point there was a speed indicator (limit was 40) and every single car that passed me as I approached it was breaking the limit.
Much of it didn’t have any pavements so there wasn’t any opportunity to get off the road – further out there were but not even set up for shared use. There had been some efforts to provide for cyclists at the junctions further out, but once past the junctions you were dumped back on the road.
In the daytime there is a canal towpath you can use but I don’t think that would have been a good place to cycle at that time of night. Local campaigners say that Birmingham officers claim that there “isn’t enough space” for protected space for cyclists in Brum. Based on this experience this is simply not true, there was plenty of space available, it has just all been given over to motor traffic. Where there were pavements the overall environment was so horrible you would have to be desperate to use it. Barely a tree to be seen along the whole route to Fort Dunlop. What you have instead is canalised river, motorway, railway and the dual carriageway.
At FD itself, where quite a bit of development has taken place, there has been a bit of an effort to cater for cyclists with toucan crossings etc – hardly up to Dutch standards but just about usable.
After a good night’s sleep at the Travelodge – view from my window attached – I set off back up north in the morning. A circuitous route off Broomford Rd got me on to the Birmingham and Fazakerly canal – this was good for a while if litter-strewn but then the surface turned to mud so I got off onto quietish lanes, heading up towards Tamworth.
Somehow I ended up on the A38 and did about 10 miles on that, which was very fast if a little scary, but made me think about how quickly you could get about on a bike if you had direct routes – most of the time we are forced onto winding routes that are pleasant enough but slow you down substantially. I came off at Lichfield and got onto NCR54, coming off that nr. Burton and heading up to Ashbourne for the Tissington trail, eventually heading for Bakewell where I ran out of puff and got the missus to pick me up. The best thing was, the weather was fantastic! However, this particular route won’t be on my recommended list – we do have some quality control.
By contrast, a couple of weekends later we did NCN5/54 Birmingham to Burton – great to see that the canal towpath is being resurfaced, hopefully this will reach Wolverhampton and beyond – I have yet to get through Wolverhampton without getting lost. Other than that the worst problems we encountered were a lot of litter on Roebuck Lane, Smethwick and missing signage in Walsall. Otherwise congrats to Brum on creating this sustainable route out of the Motorway City.