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Birmingham ring

The Birmingham Ring traces the major waterways in the Birmingham Canal Navigations and offers an excellent overview of this fascinating network.

Walkers and cyclists on towpath by bridge over canal in Birmingham Birmingham Canal Main Line

Leaving Birmingham via the Old Main Line, perhaps the keystone of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, the route branches off at Wolverhampton to explore the Wyrley & Essington and Daw End sections which, though sadly under-utilised, must rate as some of the prettiest waters to be found in the Midlands, before returning to the heart of Birmingham along the Tame Valley and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.

Fascinating diversions

Setting out from Birmingham’s much re-vamped water frontages of [Gas Street Basin] and Brindley Place towards Wolverhampton the Old Main Line loops are the remnants of the earlier canal built by [James Brindley] which were cut through by Telford’s later modification. They make for short but fascinating diversions around little-explored backwaters.

Rising through Smethwick Locks, traces of an earlier parallel flight can be seen to the right. The Engine Branch supplies water from a nearby reservoir; the arm taking its name from a pump engine that stood here. Near Spon Lane Junction the Stewart Aqueduct takes the Old Main Line over the New.

Curly Wyrley

At Wolverhampton the Wyrley & Essington Canal pursues a convoluted route that gives rise to its nickname the ‘Curly Wyrley’. Substantial redevelopment around Wednesfield has all but obliterated the site of the former Bentley Branch, now denoted by a theme-pub and cinema multiplex.

The derelict chambers at Sneyd denote the branch that once raised the Birmingham navigations to its highest level; its alignment indicates precisely which one was considered the more important in its heyday. The built up area around Bloxwich is quickly followed by the delightful Pelsall Common.

From Longwood the Rushall Canal locks down to link with the Tame Valley Canal directly beneath the M6 at Ray Hall. With a grey appeal all of its own, the Tame Valley meets Perry Barr Locks in a sudden outburst of greenery. By the bottom of the flight the industry begins to hem in claustrophobically and at Spaghetti Junction the M6 roars directly overhead.

Two lengthy lock flights, 11 at Aston and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge, herald the reappearance of the city centre. The flights are interspersed by the near-rustic Aston Junction from which the Digbeth Branch heads off toward the Grand Union Canal. At the top of Farmer’s Bridge Locks Brindley Place and its environs have undergone a renaissance in recent years and offer a cosmopolitan mix of bars, clubs and restaurants in the heart of the city.

Waterways in this ring

Last date edited: 29 July 2015