Images from the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) – part 1

In case you weren’t aware, the second city of England is blessed with more miles of canals than Venice. Incredibly it used to have around 160 miles that were navigable, but currently has ‘only’ 100. I’m betting the majority of folks, when asked what Birmingham is famous for, wouldn’t initially say ‘canals’.

Check out Jim Shead’s amazing website on his BCN page for a whole heap of history and publications on the BCN if you want to know more.

I’ve lived in and around the Birmingham area for a large proportion of my 54 years. From 1964 to 1972 we lived in Walmley, when it was a small but growing village. The Junior school was in an amazing old building in the heart of the community, that’s now sadly been demolished to make room for a large doctor’s surgery.

We subsequently moved right into the heart of Sutton Coldfield, where I remained until 1978 when I left to do my general nurse training in Kidderminster. I should actually say The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield (as an aside I did my history ‘O’Level project on that very subject), as we were granted a Royal Charter by King Henry VIII. His Royal Highness is reputed to have drank and slept overnight at The Three Tuns, a historic establishment reputedly dating back to the 16th century. During that period, he granted the status of ‘Royal Town‘, which was cruelly stripped from the title when we were ‘forced’ to join Birmingham some years ago, having previously enjoyed being a part of Warwickshire.

The good King Henry was extremely generous, and in 1528 bequeathed permission for any Suttonian to graze their cattle in Sutton Park, a vast expanse of natural and mostly unspoilt or built upon parkland, now a designated National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in the centre of the town.

It won’t surprise you to hear I never did have any cows to roam freely in the park. I did enjoy many happy hours there walking, going to the annual Sutton Carnival, eating in the cafés and restaurants, and generally adored finding a haven of peace amongst the claustrophobia I frequently felt living in a city. It’s no wonder I chose to move to New Zealand, where I could experience that feeling daily whilst at home or anywhere I roamed.

It’s said that Oliver Cromwell and Shakespeare frequented the The Three Tuns establishment too, and it’s now managed and run by two brothers (Paul and David Raworth) who I used to go to Grammar School with. Oh goodness, I’d forgotten how much history there is in my old home town …

Anyway, I digress.

Back to Barry’s photography.

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The bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 locks

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And the top of the Wolverhampton locks – a surprisingly pleasant lock-side location and cottage sitting serenely in the city centre

Birmingham was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution and the industry remains today - some of it functioning, much of it run-down

Birmingham was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution, many structures remain – some functioning, much of it run-down

A short journey from Wolverhampton to Coseley, on the Wolverhamtpon Level of the Main Line, BCN, where we stopped briefly to collect Kim and Sean from the station

A short journey from Wolverhampton to Coseley, on the Wolverhamtpon Level of the Main Line, BCN, where we stopped briefly to collect Kim and Sean from the station

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Kim teaches Sean the intricacies of locking – he’s looking rather chilled about it all …

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The junction of the two main lines, left up three locks. To the old line and right to continue along the Birmingham level

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Passing under the M5 into Birmingham – they’d never know what lies beneath them in their hurry to get from A to B

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The hidden idyll beneath the madness, where an aqueduct, footbridge and road pass over the canal, and the railway runs parallel

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An outstandingly ornate bridge in the heart of the city

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Galton Bridge, a split level railway station in Smethwick, where two railway lines cross at two levels

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One of the toll islands/points on the BCN, where boats would have been stopped and weighed, and appropriate charges made, from each direction

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The Smethwick Junction – amazing colours in the canal-side factories

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One of the numerous closed off branches leading to a disused factory,  picturesque though despite the urbanisation and barbed wire fences

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The entrance to the Soho Loop around Winson Green

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The remains of a railway bridge arch

We moored for the evening in Gas Street Basin, where we’ve stayed overnight on four previous occasions. There’s only two 24 hour spots there, and they were both available despite the canal being fairly busy. We suspect many people don’t even know there’s moorings there.

The next picture post will be the 13 fabulous Farmers Bridge Locks, which pass underneath a number of buildings and provide amazing opportunities for Barry’s camera lens …

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