Raise the Blade walking tour #1

My first book ‘Raise the Blade’ was also set in and around Birmingham. Unlike ‘Gravy Train’ the locations tend to be more widely scattered so it’s harder to gather them together into tours, but I’ve come up with a handful that should take an hour or so and will hopefully be quite interesting. The first is a circuit of Edgbaston Reservoir, which was constructed in the 1820s as a canal feeder for the city’s many, many miles of canal.

Walk #1: Edgbaston Reservoir

Distance: just under 2 miles

Route:

There used to be a car park at the Reservoir Road entrance but it may have been closed due to ‘antisocial behaviour’. Instead, you can park at or near one of the other entrances on Rotton Park Road, Gillott Road or Icknield Port Road. I’m going to start the walk from Rotton Park Road simply because that’s the one I’m most familiar with.

At the entrance to the reservoir there’s a fence, gate, and slightly worrying sign listing all the things you’re not allowed to do during your visit. I’m assuming it’s been altered by someone with a sense of humour…

Walk down the slope to the water’s edge, then turn right. A short distance further on, a high fence marks the garden boundary of several large houses that back onto the reservoir. It was one of these that I used as a location for Brian’s gruesome discovery, although another set of houses on the other side of the lake would work just as well. Watch out for great crested grebes on the water along here.

Keep following the path around the lake shore past the Birmingham rowing club and various sets of parallel bars and other outdoor activity equipment. Just beyond the Reservoir Road car park is the Tower Ballroom, a nightclub and local landmark which used to cater for gay men and was known by one and all as the ‘Gay Tower’. It’s possible that the club is called after the famous tower at Edgbaston Waterworks a short distance away, which was the inspiration behind one of the Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings.

At the edge of the reservoir dam pause for some spectacular views out across the city (see first photo above). Then walk along the dam, which is 330 metres long and 10 metres high with a sluice part way along. This feeds the Icknield Port Loop, which in turn keeps the levels up in the rest of the canal network.

Just over the dam, turn left again and pass by the Midland Sailing Club. If you’re lucky (and the weather is good enough) there might be some yachts out on the water, which makes it look very scenic.

Keep walking along the western shore, past some steps up to Gillott Road and one of the small streams that feeds the reservoir. I don’t know if they’ve cleaned this up but it used to smell very chemical-y and odd! After a large gentle bend through semi-open woodland the path runs behind the houses I’ve already mentioned above and returns to the entrance onto Rotton Park Road.

This is a nice ‘Sunday morning’ stroll taking about an hour. If you really want to push the boat out (sorry) you can leave the reservoir by the Icknield Port Road entrance, turn left and follow the road for just over a mile for a view of HMP Birmingham (Birmingham Prison, originally known as Winson Green Prison). This is where Cheryl visited convicted killer Eric Suggs. Return by retracing your steps, or by turning right into Gillott Road, then taking the footpath back to the reservoir shore.

I hope you enjoy the walk but please remember that lockdown means we’re still being asked to stay in our ‘local areas’. And if you fancy learning more about Brian, Cheryl, Suggs and the other characters who are linked by serial killer Duncan, then you can find ‘Raise the Blade’ here.

Raise the Blade locations: 1 – Edgbaston Reservoir

It occurred to me recently that I’d never really blogged in depth about the Birmingham settings in ‘Raise the Blade’, which is a shame for two reasons. One, Birmingham is full of amazing – and often surprising – locations, and two, they’re really important to the book. So, to set the record straight, and hopefully provide something of a guided tour around the city’s less-well-known nooks and crannies, I’ll be writing about various locations over the next few weeks.

P1020368

The first is Edgbaston Reservoir, which forms the backdrop to the discovery of the very first body in ‘Raise the Blade’. I first came across the reservoir in the mid-1980s, soon after I’d moved to Brum, when a couple of friends took me there for a walk. I was pretty cynical at first; the suburb it’s set in is leafy enough, but tends towards streets lined with houses rather than huge open spaces that you can use for long walks. Just how much of a lake could there be in such a relentlessly urban location, I naively thought. Well, it just shows how wrong you can be. A short stroll down a path between two properties took me to a whole new world. A world of wide open vistas stretching out all the way to the city centre skyscrapers and beyond; a world of yachts and ducks and great-crested grebes; a world of trees that feels a million miles from the busy, traffic-choked streets just a few hundred yards away.

P1020362

The reservoir was built (or at least commissioned – I don’t suppose he lifted a shovel himself) by Thomas Telford, the great canal engineer, in the early nineteenth century, and it was built for one purpose – to provide water for Birmingham’s vast network of canals. A small stream was dammed, and water was also piped from another reservoir around three miles away, and together they formed a lake covering some 58 acres – although the overall site including a round-the-lake footpath, grassland, woodland, and the dam, covers as much as 70 acres.

P1020364

Although the reservoir itself is open to the cross-city views and skies, the surrounding trees give it an enclosed, secluded feel, particularly in summer when the leaves are fully out. At the end furthest from the dam, large houses back onto the site, their gardens barely visible over high fences, often topped with wire. It was this location in particular that I used in ‘Raise the Blade’. Rotton Park Road, with on-street parking, is only a few hundred yards away, and the path from there slopes downhill, so it would be easy enough for a strong murderer to drag a body into the undergrowth. In the book, one of the fences has been damaged – enough for the foxes to get through – and this is presumably where the murderer gains access to Mrs Rai’s garden, and where hapless victim Brian finds the body and decides to hide it, setting the book’s characters off on a chain reaction of their own.

P1020367

This is just one of Birmingham’s many hidden gems. Dashing past on the surrounding streets you’d barely know it was there, which is another reason why it might be useful for disposing of unwanted evidence. All that nice deep water (40 feet, apparently); all those trees. And when the leaves are out, it’s barely overlooked. Of course, I’m not condoning leaving dead bodies there myself, but all things considered you can see why Duncan did!

You can find out more about the reservoir, its facilities, and the various events it hosts at the Birmingham City Council webpage here. And to find out more about ‘Raise the Blade’, its victims, and the other locations I used, head for my webpage here.

All photos in this article are my own. Thanks for reading – there’ll be another unusual location along soon.

Location shots

Several months ago, you may remember I shot off to Birmingham to take some photos of the locations I’d used in ‘Raise the Blade’.  They came out remarkably well and I was able to use some of them for a display at the book launch, which seemed to be quite popular.

Now, for those of you who couldn’t be at the launch, I’m posting some of them on here, complete with appropriate snippets from the book itself.  Hopefully it’ll give a better idea of the various settings I used, and the atmosphere.  Although I have to say it’s very hard to drum up spooky evening atmosphere in Highbury Park on a gloriously sunny morning… but you’ll just have to blame the weather for that!  Best laid plans…

Anyway, here, in no particular order, are the shots:

p1020367

Edgbaston Reservoir: The property backed onto the reservoir, so presumably that fence in the distance, beyond the clump of conifers, was where Brian had got in…

p1020405

City Centre Gardens: ‘Over there’ proved to be behind them, in the narrow space between bench and road, bounded by thick bushes and a low brick wall…

p1020395

Birmingham & Worcester canal: …stuck on the towpath with nothing but trees for miles.  Or at least that’s what it looked like, although in reality they were only a mile or so from the centre of town…

p1020374

Highbury Park: It was quiet tonight.  A duck quacked, and out in the water something plopped, but there was nobody else about…

p1020415

“Floyd Road, Hall Green” (not a real location, but might look something like this): The house looked ordinary enough – one neat semi in among all the rest.