Books: Where Waterfronts Are Reborn, So Are Inner Cities; the Water Road - A Narrowboat Odyssey through England. by Paul Gogarty (Robson Books, Pounds 17.95). Reviewed by Ross Reyburn

The Birmingham Post (England), December 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Books: Where Waterfronts Are Reborn, So Are Inner Cities; the Water Road - A Narrowboat Odyssey through England. by Paul Gogarty (Robson Books, Pounds 17.95). Reviewed by Ross Reyburn


Byline: Ross Reyburn

What do you do with these wretched North Londoners? Arriving at the impressive series of canal locks at Hatton that have a sighting of the ancient town of Warwick as its backdrop, travel writer Paul Gogarty launches into an attack on the fair city of Birmingham.

'The 47 locks I count in the Nicolson guide leave me in little doubt Birmingham sits atop a mountain,' he writes in his book, The Water Road. 'Having only ever previously approached it by car, I'd always assumed it was flat as the accent.

'The first rung is the Hatton 21, known locally as the Stairway to Heaven - its soubriquet surely ironic rather than a measured suggestion Birmingham and heaven have anything in common.'

After this preamble, you can imagine Birmingham's tourism operation quaking a little at the thought of a canal boat bringing Gogarty into the city. Fear not though. It may not rank quite in the same league as a Road to Damascus conversion but it seems damn near it as the man from London produces a surprisingly upbeat verdict on the new Birmingham. And this is despite the fact an unruly Broad Street hen party engineered his arousal from a deep sleep through his narrowboat Caroline drifting against the rear wall of the Malt House pub in darkness after his mooring ropes had been set loose.

'For those, like me, visiting the place for the first time in ten years, Birmingham city centre is unrecognisable,' he writes. 'Where once there were crumbling warehouses and general urban dereliction, now there are bars, restaurants, offices, penthouse lofts, an art gallery, Sea Life Centre and theatres. The mixed use regeneration is the most successful turnaround in the country.

'Birmingham may once have been the first city to trip off the tongue when conversation turned to urban architectural barbarism, but now Britain's second city is serving as the blueprint for urban regeneration.'

Whether or not the slow-paced life on Britain's canals that lack the beauty of the country's rivers and the tales involving a transportation mode that has never been particularly glamorous appeal, Gogarty has a journalist's eye for the offbeat anecdote and interesting observation. …

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