Richard Lutz goes for a lockdown stroll.
Birmingham is in lockdown. You can’t invite anyone into your house or visit another home. But you can meet the same folks in a pub. Seemingly, today, about 25% of Britain is engulfed by some form of covid restriction.
I go out. Not out of the city though. The 500 acres of The Lickey Hills is still within urban boundaries and consists of deep rolling hills and little valleys of hardwood.
To circumnavigate them is to walk seven miles. The air is crisp, the autumn light slants through the foliage. A mad spaniel, just off the leash, goes haywire with her nose right down into the undergrowth. She’s in doggie heaven.
The leaves aren’t dropping yet. It’s too early and we haven’t had a real cold snap. But the acorns are bombarding us as we follow an old drove road, the route that cattlemen took to push their herds to market for centuries. Maybe they used the famous Birmingham Bull Ring- now the site of a well-heeled shopping mall.
The path is overshadowed and cosseted by oak, chestnuts, ash and hemlock. Apples haven’t dropped yet because there’s been no biting weather nor winds to blow them down. Until now. Something is changing.
The Lickeys are a great way to get away within the city. And there’s a reminder that you can’t escape history. Check out a skyscraper of a monument, an obelisk to a heavy hitter from the 19th century:
We climb out of the valleys to approach it standing, phallic, proud, pushing into the sky. It’s in memory of a local lord of the manor, the sixth Earl of Plymouth, who goes by the fantastical name of Sir Other Archer Windsor.
Wow… maybe his parents just couldn’t give a toss what he was called as they took sherry on the back lawn or checked the accounts for the tea plantation in Ceylon.
But no, a quick post-walk canter on the web shows Other is a Viking name derived from Otho. As a matter of fact, the sixth earl’s father, grandad and great grandad were all an Other.
Our Other, the nobleman whose memory is chipped in stone, led a good life. He owned Hewell Grange in nearby Worcestershire (now a prison), ran stud farms dotted around the Midlands, used Capability Brown as his landscaper, raised the county’s Yeomanry, hosted a young Queen Victoria and died on his yacht.
The obelisk plaque reminds us, doesn’t want us to forget, what a kind and thoughtful man Sir Other was; on his yacht, on his huge estate, in his stud stables, with his own cavalry.
Unlike this man, most of us, almost all of us, leave no shred after we die. Maybe a photograph, a bank account, a favorite tie or ring, a cherished story that becomes family fable for a couple of generations. That’s about it.
But Sir Other, who had no children, is there a century and a half after his death, remembered by a sharp, almost severe, monument crowning these soft rolling hills.
The woodland walk takes us to a sharp escarpment that overlooks Birmingham proper to the north. It splays out with a blanket of tower blocks, roads and suburbs. The late Earl would have been shocked to see what happened to his world.
We pick out the university clock tower, the new hospital, the former Rover car works, a church or two. We dip in and out of the forest, still under the canopy of the hardwoods. The air is brisk, crisp, autumn readying itself for a full throttle launch in this, the city of lockdown.