Short canal walk to Aston Junction
Stretch your legs and explore Birmingham's canal history on this 1km walk to Aston Junction.
The Digbeth Branch Canal connects the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal with the mighty Grand Union Canal, which runs all the way from Birmingham to London. This urban amble, coloured by bluebells and graffiti, takes you on a fascinating journey with great engineering minds of the past and future. Today, waterside universities overlook the engineering marvels of ancestors who built Britain’s canals. At a time of exciting development for this area of Birmingham, this walk holds canal history in its bridges, locks and tunnels, and even in the shiny worn cobbles of the towpath itself.
Canal: Digbeth Branch Birmingham Canal Navigations
Start: Curzon Street Bridge OS Grid ref: SP081872 Postcode: B4 7BD
Finish: Aston Junction OS Grid ref: SP076880 Postcode: B6 4BS
Distance: 1.2km / ¾ mile
Start: Come down to the canal via the steps or ramp from Curzon Street.
1. To your left past Ashted Bottom Lock is the Grade II-listed Curzon Street Tunnel, crisscrossed by railway lines above. Just beyond the tunnel, the Grade II-listed Warwick Bar Stop Lock, now chained open, once separated the water of competing canal companies running into the Grand Union Canal and the Digbeth Branch of Birmingham Canal Navigations. A banana warehouse with overhanging roof supported by cast-iron columns over the dock is also Grade II-listed, and will be the new home of BBC’s Masterchef from 2024. The Stop Lock and much of the Digbeth Branch form part of Warwick Bar Conservation Area.
2. On the opposite bank you’ll see work being carried out to create part of the HS2 rail network. Once completed, it will cross the canal over Ashted Bottom Lock. Turn right to follow the towpath under Curzon Street Bridge then up the ramp by the next lock in the Ashted Lock Flight. On both sides of the canal are buildings which are part of Birmingham City University.
3. It’s worth walking up to view the canal from above Belmont Row Bridge. You’ll notice a lot of recent development here and, alongside the contemporary buildings, the former lock cottage overlooks the locks. Its door and windows have been dramatically boarded up with artwork. Back on the towpath, look up at the bridge at two red doors. Many such doors were cut out of the bricks on both sides of canal bridges for firemen in World War II to access canal water as other water supplies were sometimes damaged. Most bridges along the stretch have the red doors, some even in modern railings, and can still be used by the fire service today.
4. A couple more locks sit with the dynamic backdrop of contemporary and heritage architecture. The towpath then heads through the short Ashted Tunnel. It is very narrow and tight, both for boaters and walkers, so you may need to mind your head!
Follow the ramp up past Ashted Top Lock immediately beyond the tunnel.
5. The towpath heads up and over a former entry where boats would have delivered and collected cargo from a factory here. Birmingham’s canals had many such arms or basins so that the canal wasn’t blocked by working boats making their drop-offs and pick-ups. Only reeds populate the tiny remnants here now.
6. Between Heneage Street and Lister Street Bridges, the canal widens and also provides a ‘winding hole’ for boats to turn round if needed. The National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure and Aston University Engineering Academy are both canalside here – a fitting location given the remarkable engineering skills that were mastered to create the canals during the Industrial Revolution.
7. At Love Lane Bridge there is an unusual red spiral staircase leading up from the towpath to the road above. Beneath the bridge the brick-cobbled towpath has been worn smooth by countless feet and horses’ hooves over the centuries. There’s another ‘up and over’ bridge to a former basin before you reach Aston Junction where your walk ends.
End: Aston Junction is the junction between the Digbeth Branch Canal and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, which heads left under the tunnel-like bridge of the Aston Expressway towards the city centre, and also right via the 11 Aston Locks towards Salford Junction. A Grade II-listed cast-iron Horseley black and white bridge dated 1828 spans the canal. The brick bridge at Top Lock, also Grade II-listed, dates from the 1780s. It is a ‘roving’ bridge, so-called as it enabled working boatmen to save precious time by walking their horse up and over the bridge without needing to untie them from the boat entering the lock.