BIRMINGHAM CANAL NAVIGATIONS
The City of Birmingham is a crossroads for the canal system:
• To the north-east lies the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal with access to the north and east of the country,
• To the south-east is the Grand Union Canal and London,
• To the south is The Worcester and Birmingham Canal giving access to Worcester Tewkesbury and the River Severn,
• To the north-west is the rest of the Birmingham Canal Navigation and through Wolverhampton to Shropshire, Stoke on Trent and the north.
The Birmingham Canal Navigations
The heart of the midlands canal system could be said to be the Birmingham Canal Navigations, taking in Wolverhampton, Dudley, and Walsall and of course, England’s “Second City” Birmingham.
The canals are all within the West Midlands conurbation, it is not surprising that some of the landscape through which the canals pass are industrialised, however, even in the heart of the towns there is often a pleasant stretch of water and with a revival of the fortune of canals has come major improvements. Part of Birmingham for example has been remodelled around the canal to the extent that when President Clinton was in the city for the G8 summit in 1998, he chose a canal side bar for a lunch time “pint” to get a break from the nearby International Convention Centre, and he has described the waterfront as “fantastic”.
The short stretch of canal around the Birmingham International Convention Centre and Gas Street Basin is now a centre for entertainment and eating.
At one end is the prestigious “Mail Box” development containing upmarket restaurants bars and shops, including Harvey Nichols, Emporio Armani, Gieves & Hawkes etc and also the BBC’s new studios for Birmingham. Check prices in this development carefully before ordering, prices tend to be higher than elsewhere.
At the other end is the National Indoor Arena and the National Sea Life Centre, and in the middle is Broad Street and Brindley Place containing a wide variety of bars and restaurants.
Linked with the Convention Centre is Symphony Hall, home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Next to the Symphony Hall is the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
There are also numerous international standard hotels serving Birmingham generally and in particular the Convention Centre, though of course, the canal traveller has brought their accommodation with them! The Gas Street basin has residential moorings and there are also boat trips available and day boats can be hired from Sherborne Wharf which is a short walk away through Brindley Place.
All in all, the area is vibrant throughout the day and into the night.
Wolverhampton and on to Birmingham
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, there are plans afoot to give the City of Wolverhampton a makeover which may make more of a feature of the canal. At present the Birmingham Main Line arrives just off the ring road to a pleasant green area from the north having left the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Dunstall Park Racecourse and then ascending 20 locks to reach the plateau which stretches to Birmingham (give or take a couple of locks on the way). The canal then enters a cutting to pass the Railway Station and exits Wolverhampton through derelict factories and mysterious cuttings, The Main Line meets the Wyrley & Essington canal which goes towards the north east through Wednesfield, Bloxwich and on to Brownhills before forcing the boater south again as there is no navigable waterway to the north from here.
The Main Line continues to Tipton where there is a choice of routes, the newer and more direct route following the main rail link to the north, this is Known as “The New Main Line” and joins with the Netherton Tunnel. The Old Main Line runs to the south of the New Line and for Heritage lovers gives a chance to join briefly the Dudley No 2 Canal to visit The Black Country Living Museum and the Dudley Tunnel and Limestone Mines. Close by is also Dudley Zoo and Castle.
Whether the New or Old Main lines have been chosen, the two canals come side by side to pass through the Galton Valley which has a heritage centre and Museum, which has information about the canals and industrial heritage of the area. There is also a cast iron bridge of note which spans the New Main Line, it was designed by Thomas Telford and has one span of approx 150 feet (46 Meters) and at the time was the largest span over manmade earthworks in the world. The bridge is now a grade 1 listed structure.
Shortly after the Galton Valley the canals become one and pass the Avery Historical Museum dedicated to scales, weighing artefacts and records - some dating back to the first century.
It is then a short distance into the centre of Birmingham.
Birmingham Canal Navigations
Canals of Birmingham and the West Midlands