The poetry of Spaghetti Junction

Yesterday I went on my third monthly Birmingham Flickrmeet for a bit of socialising and a bit of snapping, but mainly because I’ve never been to the ‘notoriously confusing’ Spaghetti Junction as an end destination. Going in a group of about 15 seemed a safe way to venture into its scary underbelly.

And, y’know what, for all that it is an edgy urban concrete jungle, it’s certainly not the eyesore that people make it out to be. In fact, I found it to be quite a poetic place in the July sunshine.

Below is a favourite photo of mine from the day (there are lots more in the Birmingham Flickrmeet pool)…

Spaghetti Junction -62

(The full set of Spaghetti Junction photos are on the Flickr photo-sharing site or you can see them on this slideshow: Spaghetti Junction Flickrmeet.)

Underneath this early 1970s construction, renowned as the bane of those who must traverse it, I also found many treasures, delights and disturbing objects:

  • Teenagers fishing for perch
  • Artworks on the supporting pillars
  • A ‘typo’ underneath the Aston Expressway
  • Vivid yellow and black striped caterpillars
  • The gravestone of DC Michael Swindells who was stabbed on a canal towpath while making an arrest in 2004
  • Crackling pylons
  • A mother and two children out for a walk
  • Three police officers on dirt bikes
  • And, of course, the sweeping majesty of the roads above

There’s a travel metaphor here, I’m sure, regarding only seeing the surface and judging a book by its cover. If you can, it’s worth exploring maligned places like Spaghetti Junction more deeply. But safely.

And that’s why Birmingham Flickrmeets are so great and so useful – for when else would anyone dare wander there or, another example, the canals of Aston in the deserted industrial backend of Brum? Behind the headlines of gang warfare, you’ll find plenty of fascinating scenes of nature, urban artwork, barge life and the UK’s industrial heritage.

I’m starting to think of the Flickrmeets as an option for local adventure travel. What do you think? Underbelly tourism?

Personally I like the overview of Spaghetti Junction as well – not the M6 route so much, but the maze of dipping, curving through-roads. It’s kind of like driving your own car on a roller coaster and perhaps even it looks a little bit like a ricketty fairground ride in some of the photos – like this one from Pete Ashton:

Motorway Quadriptych

So, if you’re in Birmingham on (I think) the second Sunday of each month, bring your camera and join a Birmingham Flickmeet – or look for one in your own town – you never know what you might see.

But I think if you came to Birmingham and did this, it would signify a traveller rather a tourist moment – as Benedict Allen said in this earlier post:

“It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.”


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