- Poddington by St Philip's -
Prior to the main event I indulge in a little more sculpture spotting in the West Midlands. Wolverhampton has its wolves of course but in Birmingham there are bears to be had (and not the ones that play cricket at Edgbaston). The streets of Brum have witnessed some ursine unveilings in recent days as part of the Big Sleuth, the artistic follow-up to 2015's Big Hoot owls. My animal antics are limited to the handful I can find between New Street and Snow Hill stations but do include Ghostbuster Bear (John Bright Street), Spock (a Star Trek-themed classic by the Floozy in the Jacuzzi) and Poddington (near St Philip's Cathedral).
- Nick at the Navigation -
There are 100 bears in total dotted around Birmingham (some are located as far afield as Dudley and Solihull) so there's certainly mileage for a few more snapshot safaris between now and September. They can wait though as Lapworth requires the utmost concentration - I meet Nick at Dorridge and a short Chiltern train ride later we alight at Lapworth Station, a quiet halt with a blue footbridge. Noting the local primary school on Station Lane, we then start as we mean to go on by taking an almost immediate pub pit stop. The Navigation is on the side of the Grand Union Canal and serves up a decent drop of Byatt's Lapworth Gold which we happily sup outside in the pretty beer garden - this is the life!
- Something foxy? -
After that early refreshment break, Nick's route calculations soon have us heading for Baddesley Clinton, a medieval moated manor house that was the historic home of the Ferrers family. Nowadays it is a National Trust property where visitors can ponder the priestholes and savour the tranquility of the walled garden. Although we won't be venturing into the house itself, we can enjoy views of the wider grounds and meet some carved woodland creatures including a crafty fox.
- A Brome Burial -
A couple of hundred yards from the main house stands the church of St Michael, notable for a 'Tower of Atonement' built by Nicholas Brome as penance for murdering the parish priest. Brome was buried in an upright grave by the church door while the tomb of Sir Edward Ferrers is a notable feature in the chancel. We linger awhile the admiring stained glass and further Ferrers memorials before pressing on with our stroll, the next stage of which comprises Rowington Green and a wheat field approach towards Wroxall Abbey.
- WME is on the Case (Bitter) -
Nick's regular glances at his watch confirm that we're tight on time if we're to squeeze in a call at the Case is Altered. The pub operates traditional opening hours (mid-afternoon closing is at 2:30pm) but with a bit of a spurt we beat the call for last orders and reward ourselves with a pint of Case Bitter, a classic English Bitter from the Old Pie Factory Brewery - excellent! The trading hours aren't the only traditional aspect here; the building is very homely with a bar billiards table fed by old sixpences. Anyone daring to use their mobile phone runs the risk of paying a £1 fine while the off the beaten track location only adds to the charm of a rare wet-led survivor. A superb find indeed.
- The Banana Box Bandit strikes again -
Picking up the pace again, Navigator Nick brandishes his banana box while plotting a path through a scrapyard containing vintage Massey Ferguson tractors. We then retrace some steps from earlier, crossing our favourite wheat field to Rowington Green which in turn brings us to the Rowington Club. This establishment is invitingly situated opposite the village hall and next to a cricket pitch; our beer choice here is Cotleigh's Commando Hoofing, an ale which helps raise money for a Royal Marines charity. As at the Navigation, we make the most of the weather by sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine.
- Rowington Cricket Club -
The Rowington Club marks the completion of one loopy element of our walk with Nick now identifying a separate circuit involving the nearby canals. A few cricket outfield pictures include the sight screens and a scorebox shed, then we make tracks for the Tom O' The Wood on Finwood Road, an old country inn that's been refurbished to a high standard. North Cotswold Brewery's Summer Solstice provides some golden lubrication, setting us up nicely for a stretch along the Grand Union from Turners Green Bridge (No. 63) to Kingswood.
- Canal Junction at Lapworth -
Lapworth really is an excellent location for the waterways enthusiast to explore as the Grand Union and the Stratford-upon-Avon canals run in parallel, linked together by a short spur known as the Kingswood Branch. We take the branch from Kingswood Junction to join the Stratford Canal by a neat cottage garden where the tomatoes in the greenhouse seem to be growing well. Plenty of locks help keep us occupied as we aim in a roughly northwesterly direction, passing beneath Old Warwick Road (Bridge 35) and Mill Lane (Bridge 34).
- Menu musings at the Boot -
Early evening entices us with two posh pubs by way of concluding our circuitous crawl. The Boot is just off the towpath by lock 14; as part of the Lovely Pubs group it has a dining emphasis with many of the tables reserved. We study the menu over a half of Sharp's Atlantic and try to work out whether we'd be partial to caramelised cauliflower granola, gribiche or gunpowder chicken breast. Our final watering hole requires less culinary translation, the Punchbowl on Mill Lane having sedate modern surroundings due to a 1990s rebuild. Nick's local knowledge unearths us a shortcut back to the station and loop number 2 is fulfilled, capping off another cracking July jaunt that definitely maintained recent standards. Cheers!