Birmingham canal walk to Old Turn Junction
Enjoy this walking route through our canal capital. Explore Birmingham's hidden heritage along the way. This walk is approximately 1.5 miles long.
Birmingham is renowned as the heart of Britain’s canals, and heritage hides in every nook and cranny along the towpath - in the bricks of repurposed waterside buildings, in blocked up basins from the canal’s busy industrial days and under bridges where visible gouged rope marks show where horses once tugged boat after boat. This walk takes you deep under the city’s busy streets to a special parallel world, with the sounds of rippling water, chugging boats and the wild calls of waterfowl.
Canal: Birmingham Canal Navigations
Start: Aston Junction OS Grid ref: SP076880 Postcode: B6 4BS
Finish: Old Turn Junction OS Grid ref: SP059868 Postcode: B1 2NX
Distance: 2.4km / 1½ miles
Start: Heading to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal through the wall on Mill Street, you arrive at the top lock of the 11-lock Aston Lock Flight. The bridge at the back of the lock is a historic ‘roving’ or ‘turnover’ bridge, so-called as it enabled working boatmen to walk the horse up and over the bridge without being untied from the boat as it entered the lock.
1. Turn right past Top Lock and walk under the ornate cast-iron Horseley black and white bridge. The Digbeth Branch Canal heads away to the east, while you follow the towpath under the tunnel-like bridge of the Aston Expressway.
2. The canal curves round a corner as the towpath goes up and over two historic bridges, one of which has been blocked off. These used to be entrances or basins where boats delivered and collected cargo from Pritchett Street Works and Birmingham Brass Works.
3. There’s another ‘up and over’ bridge to a former basin just before Lancaster Street Bridge. The canal feels more enclosed along here as historic works and new development mingle with greenery on the canal side.
4. Standing out from the other bridges you’ve met so far is the unusual stunning green-painted Barker Bridge. The bridge dates from 1842, is made in cast iron and is now Grade II-listed.
5. The imposing 152m BT Tower overlooks the canal and as you round a slight bend, the water narrows heading under Snow Hill Bridge. Just beyond, the first of the 13 Farmer’s Bridge Locks climb towards the city centre. These narrow locks, hemmed in by city buildings, used to get so busy with working boats heading in both directions that new canals including the Tame Valley Canal were built to divert traffic, easing the queues. Gas lighting was installed along the flight so that crews could work day and night.
6. Almost immediately, the towpath heads through the cavernous tunnel and vaults beneath Snow Hill Station. There’s a quick glimpse of the sky before you continue under Livery Street towards lock 12.
7. Look up at Ludgate Hill Bridge – two red doors on both sides of the bridge were cut out of the bricks for firemen in World War II to access canal water as water supplies were sometimes damaged. Beyond lock 11, the canal heads under an office block with lock 10 straddled by the building’s pillars! Lock 9 is then immediately underneath Newhall Street Bridge – boaters must have to watch their heads here. Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter is just west of here.
8. Look out for poetry carved into the lock arms at Lock 8. These lines were written by Roy Fisher in 2012 to mark the creation of the Canal & River Trust charity.
9. Your surroundings feel less enclosed as you pass the last few locks of the flight, opening out into the boat moorings at Cambrian Wharf next to Top Lock and its toll house. Benches along here invite you to stop a while.
End: Your walk, and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, ends at Old Turn Junction, marked by the island in the water. Just past the Grade II-listed intricate cast-iron footbridge (marked ‘Horseley Iron Works, Staffordshire, 1827’) on your right is Utilita Arena Birmingham, and across the water is the National SEA LIFE Centre. The Birmingham New Main Line heads off straight ahead and to the left. Revel in the open space, sit and stare over the water - busy with canal boats, canoes, ducks and even geese.