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


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.

Hidden places

On Saturday we headed for the Curzon Street Station building in Birmingham to see the Hidden Spaces exhibition, which we’d seen advertised on tv and which looked fascinating.

It was.

There were photos of some of Birmingham’s most amazing forgotten corners: abandoned buildings, secret passages, follies; ranging in size from a signal box (at New Street Station) to the Grand Hotel, and even the vast network of underground tunnels used by BT as a telephone exchange during the Cold War. Apparently nobody knows their full extent to this day.

My own favourites were probably the glass corridor in the Council House, and the inside of Perrott’s Folly, a strange structure in Edgbaston which was almost certainly the inspiration, together with the nearby waterworks tower, for Tolkien’s The Two Towers. Unlike the rather rugged exterior, the inside was pure Gothic fantasy and rather pretty, underneath the peeling plaster.

Sadly the exhibition was only on for a week and yesterday was the last day, but if it’s ever repeated I can thoroughly recommend catching it as it’s an amazing insight into the places Birmingham’s population walk or drive past on a daily basis, but never get to see. An added bonus was getting inside Curzon Street Station itself, an impressive Grade I listed edifice built in the 1830s when the railway first came to the city. Apparently, it’s the oldest remaining example of “monumental railway architecture” (whatever that means) in the world. And just as impressive inside as out. It’s been empty and shut-up for years, but when (if) the HS2 rail project ever makes it as far as Birmingham, it will be the new terminus. The local authority already seem to have started tarting up the area in readiness, with a smart new park (Eastside City Park) on the doorstep. For the sake of the building, which deserves better, I hope they keep the momentum going.  The area felt safer and livelier than it has for years, and the exhibition was pulling in the crowds.