Over the coming days I shall be visiting and describing some of Coventry’s public footpaths. Today accompanied by two sons and two dogs I had a pleasant walk along part of the Coventry Canal towpath and part of the Sowe Valley Path.
The section of the canal between the Ricoh Arena and Hawkesbury Junction was central to moving coal from the area's coal fields and also to the powering of the city through that coal. The canal (and later local industrial “loop” railway) moved coal from the local coal fields around Bedworth, Exhall and Wyken towards markets further afield (including London) – Coventry being at the centre of the earliest national canal network.
The Ricoh Arena sits on the site of Foleshill Gas Works – there are still signs of where the old wharfs were (where coal was unloaded) close to the modern canal side apartment buildings close to the footbridge over the railway. The Gas Club on Foleshill Road provides further evidence of previous industry in the area.
Most Coventrians know that the Ricoh Arena was built to be home to Coventry City. After years of dispute the club have recently left the City for the second time after failing to reach agreement with landlords Wasps. I have followed the Sky Blues since the age of nine – I saw them for the first time at Highfield Road at the age of nine in 1973. They were better times for the club as I witnessed a 1 – 0 win over Liverpool with a spectacular volleyed goal from Tommy Hutchison. In the years in between I have managed to visit the vast majority of English Football League clubs.
A long standing ambition has been to visit all 92 clubs and I only have five left to go. I am planning to allow myself the luxury of a visit to Forest Green Rovers for an English League Trophy game in October to knock another off the list. Forest Green have been awarded the title of “greenest football club in the world”. Floodlights (and even lawnmower!) are solar powered, only locally sourced vegan food is sold at the ground and visiting supporters are offered a tour to showcase all aspects of sustainability used in the everyday running of the club. This goes to show a general changing of attitudes throughout society and quite removed from attitudes towards energy use at the times of Coventry’s industrial heyday and reliance on carbon based fuels. In another post I shall be touching on the controversy around the City’s proposed congestion charge and considering sustainable solutions.
A few hundred yards from the Ricoh is the first section of the canal to be cut in the 1760s. The Coventry Canal Company was set up and financed by local colliery owners as an effective way of moving their merchandise. There were disputes however. For many years stretches of both the Coventry Canal and Oxford Canal ran alongside each other from Hawkesbury to the bridge close to the timber yard next to the Longford Engine pub. There were even local problems with carbon fuels and the lack of an integrated transport policy at the height of the industrial revolution!
After a pleasant walk to Hawkesbury we had a break outside the Greyhound Pub. Hawkesbury Junction is one of the more scenic parts of Coventry and there are always plenty of customers of the pub, boaters, walkers and dogs outside on a nice day. It is also the junction of the Coventry and Oxford canals which put Coventry at the centre of England's first national waterways network allowing links to all of the country's main navigable rivers - the Trent, Mersey, Thames and Severn.
Just before Hawkesbury the canal path joins up with another of Coventry’s public ways – the Sowe Valley path. The northern part of this path takes in another of Coventry’s more pleasant parts – Wyken Slough with its lake and surrounding woodland. The Slough is the site of one of the old Wyken coalfields and was created through subsidence. Some of the ponies in an adjacent field are said to be descendants of pit ponies that had worked the site in previous centuries.
Another pleasant site on the Sowe Valley path is Wyken Croft Nature Reserve – site of ancient farming, mining into the twentieth century and landfill prior to its current more leisurely incarnation– but that is another ramble for another day!