Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cruise report part 2 - the Urban Experience

Where's this?  Coventry. Well, sort of.  It's a detail from a sculpture in the still stunning Coventry Cathedral, all 1960's contemporary art but still looking great.

 Only a two hour detour from Hawkesbury junction where the North Oxford canal ends  and meets the Coventry canal,

 it seemed churlish to miss it out, although many people do apparently.  We heard the usual tales of  supermarket trolleys in the canal and gangs of marauding youths, and went anyway.  No youths emerged, and the canal was a lot less junk filled than, say, Brentford.  Quite pleasant in fact, and plenty of interest.

All along the arm you follow a sculpture trail.  One of the first things you see is this
which seems very odd until you realise it's a map of the canal and its bridges.  The fork shaped bit at the end shows the shape of the canal basin (not to scale).

There is a sense of humour to some of the sculpture, as in this concrete sofa.  Pity about the graffiti though.
 I showed a peek of the basin yesterday.  Here is another view showing dear old James Brindley studying his plans or maps.

The Coventry canal is one of his, which to aficionados explains why the canal wiggles around all over the place as he was prone to follow the contours of the land to avoid too many locks, cuttings and embankments.  Compare with Telford's canals which have monumental earthworks and often go straight as a die.  Brindley didn't really need a map it seems because there's a handy signpost next to him.

I'm told there is a really good transport museum in Coventry, so one day we'll return to take a look.  Otherwise the city centre is not terribly appealing apart from the cathedral.

One interesting thing you pass on the way in is this building, known as Cash's top shops

Like me you may well have gone to school with a woven label bearing your name sewn into your uniform and games kit.  If so, it was more than likely made here.  The brothers Cash built this place in 1857.  It features a row of weavers cottages on the ground floor, and workshops above powered by a beam engine.  I don't know about the engine, but they were still weaving there until the early 1990s.  The company is still in business today, although they have relocated to a new computerised factory elsewhere in Coventry.

Two weeks later we visited Leicester which again seems to have an undeserved reputation for rubbish and youths.  We liked it.  To my mind the city centre is more appealing than Coventry's, having lots of pedestrianised lanes to wander round, and a good covered market.  It also has a very modest but atmospheric cathedral.

By chance we arrived on the day of the Mela a big South Asian and Indian cultural festival held annually in the city centre.  The streets were packed and noisy but good humoured and there was music everywhere which, although clearly Asian, was very 21st century.

Strangely,  it all finished at 6pm, after which we wandered off to find some  "different" Asian food i.e. stuff you don't get in your local Indian restaurant.  Up Belgrave road there are loads of such restaurants, many vegetarian, with not a rogan josh, a jalfrezi, or a korma in sight.  We had to ask what things were on the menu where we ate.  It helps if you like chick peas.

So that was our urban experience on the Leicester ring.  I wouldn't want to do all my boating in cities, but I think all the people who avoid them are missing out.


Matthew said...

Ah, you should have said hi, we live in Coventry these days...

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear! The urban waterways have their own interest and moving boats is what will keep them from being in-filled with trash and forgotten.

Sue, nb Indigo Dream

VallyP said...

As usual, your post reminds us of what is really good and interesting on the urban waterways.