Here we are again. Back in Lockdown, but this time without the warm weather. The cold & dark make it tough to have long days on the bike and with the new restrictions, how far can we even go, before we are too far from home? Boris was brought to the slaughter for 6 miles.
Mary & I were desperate for a different view. A different place and an adventure to go on. A brief respite in the weather and the promise of some sun being visible was enough for me to bust out my trusty OS Landranger Map 139 for some day ride, #project139 inspiration. And so, Mary and I made a run for the hills; the Waseley Hills. Windmill Hill to be precise.
The last time we cycled out this way we were taking part in the Ride the Reservoir Sportive for St Mary’s Hospice. That was a long and hilly day for us. We slogged up some of those climbs. I was keen to head back to the area to see if our Zwifting was starting to pay off, to see if we could change our minds about some of those hills. Best of all, there was a river we could follow all the way home.
The River Rea
The source of the River Rea is a muddy puddle on the north east slope of Windmill Hill in the Waseley hills Country park. The waters rising here will eventually end up in the North Sea. The river drops 70 meters in the first mile then continues to flow north across the gentle slope of Birmingham for 15 miles before Joining the River Tame near Spaghetti Junction.
Settlements, mills and industry flourished along the Rea. An Anglo Saxon Settlement in the 7th Century by Boerma’s people, on the banks of the River Rea, is accepted as the birthplace of Birmingham. This is marked by 2 decorative arches in Gooch Street, near Digbeth.
Rea (pronounced Ray) means to ‘run’ or ‘flow’ in old english. Prone to flooding it’s shallow plains, much of the river has been tamed and culverted, hidden beneath the modern city.
The mills and industry have disappeared but the river still flows and provides a natural travel corridor into the heart of Birmingham City via National Cycle Network route number 5. If you are feeling adventurous you can leave route 5 and follow the Grand Union Canal from Digbeth, following the Rea to the confluence with the River Tame near Spaghetti Junction.
Up and Up
We followed the Blue route out of Birmingham and cycled up into the hills. It was cold and a gentle breeze made it feel colder. We warmed ourselves as we cycled and it was nice to be out in the winter sunshine and fresh air.
After picking our way through Weoley Castle we were spat out of the urban sprawl of Birmingham into the countryside, past Bartley reservoir where we began our climb up towards Windmill Hill.
It wasn’t a fast ascent but it felt ten-times easier. We were both able to spin up the hills with an ease that I certainly haven’t felt since my 20s. All those miles and training on Zwift is really making a difference. Of course we put it down to our super new Fustle Causeway gravel bikes.
Mary and I both had punctures. Only evidenced by the sealant sprayed on the frame; which we only noticed once we had stopped.
It was straight into the mud once we got to the bottom of Windmill Hill. A red, heavy clay that really clung in gobs. As I photographed the Source of the River Rea, Mary managed to slip over in it. I really should have taken that picture!
287m above sea level and 360deg views we didn’t hang about at the top as we were getting cold. We continued up over Wasley Hill then slid down through the mud to join Route 5 and follow the River Rea Home.
Snap & Sabbath
Route 5 is mostly traffic free, but being Lockdown it was incredibly busy. Lots of folks and families out walking. It made for slow going at times. We stopped at a picnic bench in Kings Norton and devoured our peanut butter & jam sandwiches, a Wagon Wheel and a big flask of hot tea.
The Mill Walk in Northfield is the only ford on the River Rea. We just had to ride through it. It wasn’t deep enough to clear any of the mud we had picked up. As soon as we hit the canal I was able to dip the bikes in the water to remove some of the mud that we had carried down off the hills with us.
Passing a car park in Digbeth we came across a big mural of Black Sabbath. To think they might not have even existed if it was not for the River Rea and it’s resources nurturing industry, providing a crossing and a place to settle for Boerma’s People.
Without Sabbath there would have been no Iron Maiden and the title of this blog would make absolutely no sense.
Thank you for reading
See you out there
Sarah & Mary
Want to ride this route? Here is the GPX file:
A cup of tea for Mary & me
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Thank you. Sar n Mar x