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Black Country ring

The Black Country Cruising Ring comprises a combination of canals each memorable for different reasons.

Narrowboat near bridge on Staffordhsire & Worcestershire Canal Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, copyright Richard Straton

Leaving the much-revamped water frontages of Birmingham via the New Main Line and negotiating parts of the elegant Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal before returning along the Coventry Canal and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, this voyage offers vivid contrasts between heritage and contemporary life.

Industrial revolution

At the height of the industrial revolution the Black Country and surrounding area was dotted with hundreds of furnaces. Today most of the old heavy industry has gone but the waterway legacy that remains offers the inquisitive traveller a fascinating glimpse into an age long past.

The New Main Line was a modification made by Thomas Telford to the earlier route cut by James Brindley. It was built in Telford’s typically bold style, with twin towpaths and innovative engineering techniques, and shortened the distance between Birmingham and Wolverhampton by several miles.

Rural stretches

At Wolverhampton the route falls through 21 locks, the longest flight on the BCN. By the time the bottom is reached the canal has become rural and remains so virtually all along the Staffs & Worcs to Great Haywood. Distinctive Roundhouses were a feature of this canal; the one at Gailey is the last on the Staffs & Worcs to be inhabited. The wide waters at Tixall give the impression of a lake.

The Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley is also largely under-developed; Rugeley and the towers of a power station indicate its former importance in the coal trade. Both the Coventry and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canals can be so tranquil that it is difficult to grasp their former significance and it is only at Minworth Locks that the canal regains its industrial feel. By Salford Junction, where the M6 roars directly overhead, the transformation is complete and the now-urban canal claws its way upwards through a flight of 11 locks at Aston quickly followed by another 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

Waterways in this ring

Last date edited: 15 March 2016