Royal Leamington Spa
At Warwick’s Tourist Information centre I was very happy to come across pamphlets describing suggested walks from Warwick. Some suggest that walkers walk one direction and catch public transport to return. But with a bicycle, I can easily cover much more ground with time to spare for explorations at the other end.
“Do you know if I will be able to cycle the paths that are marked for walking?” I ask at the desk behind which three cheerful ladies are having playful banter with one another and with a visitor who was there before me. “As long as you can carry your bicycle up and down a few steps, I think you can.” “Fantastic. I’ll also take these please,” handing her some postcards to purchase.
The next morning I make my way to the River Avon, which runs through Warwick directly past Warwick Castle. I’m not sure why this isn’t Warwick Upon Avon instead of just Warwick. Downriver, the town of Stratford is Stratford Upon Avon. What decides whether a town becomes partially known by the river that runs through it, I wonder. Stoke Upon Trent.
After taking some lovely photos of Warwick Castle from a bridge over the Avon, I descend to the riverside path that at this point is within the lovely St. Nicholas Park. There is a boat hire shop nearly under the bridge where one can rent various types of paddle boats. This seems to be a dog park, lots of dogs are off-leash socializing with each other while little huddles of dog owners do the same. There is a group of ducks and swans that draw much interest from the water dogs in particular. I stop to watch for a moment and take some photos. “Are you waiting to see if he goes in?” a friendly dog owner calls over. She is trying to get her dog to come away from the birds, he’s darting about the water’s edge while the swans honk warnings at him.
I continue on. The path eventually makes way to grass, it seems a bit odd to cycle on grassy fields, but it is a public space alongside the river and people do. Stopped again to take another photo I encounter a woman coming from the other direction on her bicycle. She pauses. “It is so beautiful here!” I comment. “Isn’t it wonderful! I discovered these trails two years ago and I keep telling my friends that I cycle to work through beautiful country and they keep assuming I mean along the canal. No! I tell them, along the river!” It’s so true, using this route I feel completely in the country, there are even pastures where sheep graze along the river here. But in very near proximity, the streets are lined with homes and businesses. It’s like hidden countryside.
“I found this from these pamphlets from the Tourist Office on Jury Street,” I tell her, “you should pick-them-up because there are other trails as well. There’s one all the way from Warwick Castle to Kenilworth Castle. I might try that another day.” “Do you live here?” she asks. “No, this is just my second day here, I’m visiting from Canada.” “Well welcome to Warwick! I’ve got to continue to work, but it was lovely to meet you!”
A few more photo stops and detours later and I find myself cycling through a park, now in Royal Leamington Spa. I stop and take a photo of lawn bowlers, remembering fondly how my late Grandmother used to enjoy that sport near her home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I never saw her play, but she’d tell me about her games. I went to university in Fredericton and usually spent Sundays visiting my Grandmother, who was my Mother’s Mother. She was a very strong woman, spent the last several decades of her life as a widow after Grandad died soon after his early retirement from a heart attack. He had a weakened heart from having suffered rheumatic fever as a young man.
Grandmother was one of the very early women to graduate university in the 1930’s with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics. My Mother followed in her footsteps taking the same degree from the same university.
I continue on and cycle about the city centre after leaving the park.
Royal Leamington Spa was a small town called Lamintone of about 50 cottages in 1783. A salt-water spring was notes as early as 1480 and was found useful for curing meat and making bread.
Towards the end of the 18th Century, “taking the waters” became very fashionable as high society flocked to Bath and then to Leamington as well. Queen Victoria gave the town a charter, changing the name to Royal Leamington Spa.
By 1841, the town had grown from about 200 residents to over 12,000 in just over 50 years. The rapid growth and prosperity meant that much of the city is comprised of lovely Georgian style architecture which was fashionable at the time as the town did it’s best to emulate the glorious spa town of Bath.
After cycling and walking about the downtown and enjoying the lovely Jephson Gardens, I started my way back to Warrick, this time via the towpaths of the Grand Union Canal which extends all the way from Birmingham to London. Originally a series of differently-owned canals, it became the 137 mile long Grand Union in 1925.