As a member of LNBP who lives north of the River Thames (Birmingham to be precise!), it was always a dream to make the journey between these two places via the canal. Towards the end of 2017, along with three other members of LNBP, that wish was realised when one of LNBP’s boats, Guinevere, was taken on a promotional trip (details here).
This time, I would like to point out some of the interesting features along the route.
Leaving Braunston, enjoy a lock free cruise of about three hours along the shared section of the Grand Union / Oxford Canal, upon reaching Napton Junction where the canal separates, take the right hand turn northwards.
The relaxing is now over as you will approach the first set of locks that are the Calcutt flight of three locks, this is the first of 46 locks that can accommodate two narrow boats at a time. An interesting aspect you will regularly come across is that adjacent to many of these locks are the remains of the once single locks now out of commission, this as the locks were widened to speed up boats from just outside Birmingham all the way to London.
Through Calcutt and a short cruise before hitting the Stockton flight, initially eight locks descend some 54 feet (sorry but the language of the canals is imperial!), then a couple more locks before the first civilization in the village of Long Itchington. For those of a suitable age, here you will find three very good pubs adjacent to the canal – The Blue Lias, The Two Boats and The Cuttle.
After leaving the village, there is another short cruise before arriving at the only staircase lock of the journey (a staircase lock being when you leave one lock and immediately enter another – make sure you get the paddles in the right order).
At this point we are still in the countryside, continuing on our way, the B4455 road crosses the canal or to give it the road’s technical name The Fosse Way, this being an old Roman Road cutting north east-to-south west across the Midlands (I cant resist repeating a line from my favourite films “OK apart from roads, what did the Romans every do for us!”)
A short cruise and we enter the Regency town of Royal Leamington Spa. This is a town worth visiting in it’s own right or moor the boat up and catch a train to the relatively nearby Stratford-upon-Avon. Leamington has a number of large supermarkets adjacent to the canal, a popular fast food outlet (it has a big letter M) by bridge 43. Leamington is the end of the descent of twenty three locks from Calcutt.
Continuing along the canal, Leamington soon becomes Warwick, nothing to separate the two towns, again, a beautiful town in its own right with plenty to see, of course not forgetting a wonderful castle.
Two ascending locks known as “The Cape Locks”, then now more than ten minutes and a right turn before starting the 146 feet climb over 21 locks spread over about two miles. Be under no illusion, this can be a relatively easy climb or difficult and hard climb, allow up to five hours for this climb (however I have climbed in a little over two hours).
Four locks short of the top is a lovely café serving ice creams, afternoon teas etc, Having reached the top, Hatton Country World is about a ten minute walk away.
From leaving Braunston we descended 23 locks to cross the River Avon and then climbed 23 locks to reach the top of Hatton.
We are back into the country now and the canal meanders to Kingswood Junction.
On reaching Kingswood Junction which is located in the village of Lapworth you are given a choice of two routes into Birmingham. You can stay on the Grand Union and transit via the affluent areas of the West Midlands of Knowle and Solihull, however the canal soon hits areas of industrial Birmingham, having climbed the Knowle flight of five locks, all locks after that revert to single locks.
A prettier and safer route in my opinion is to turn left and then right at Kingswood onto the North Stratford Canal. Here you join just under midway along the Lapworth flight. The numbers on the locks read “19” and descend in number, although there are only eighteen to climb (I will explain later). All locks are now single and midway along the flight is another pretty café selling cakes and drinks and ice cream.
A short cruise from the Lapworth top lock (lock no. 2 and the last lock of the journey) is the village of Hockley Heath, a tasty fish and chip shop, local convenience store and a pleasant pub with moorings known as “The Wharf”.
From here is a nine mile stretch lock free cruise to the end of the canal at Kings Norton, however progress can be slow due to the number of moored boats for much of the stretch.
As you approach the outskirts of the suburb of Shirley, a road cross the canal, here the boaters have to electronically raise the road causing the traffic to stop before continuing (but don’t forget to lower the bridge!), adjacent to this bridge is the aptly named pub “The Drawbridge”. At this point, the boat is about four-five cruising hours from the centre of Birmingham, however there is a chance to jump ship and after a five minute walk take a frequent local train into the city centre, a journey of about 20 minutes.
The canal continues through the city suburbs passing Cocksmoor Wood Golf Course on the right-hand side. A warning sign of “Beware of golf balls” is as they say “what it says on the tin” – on one journey, two balls nearly hit our boat in the space of five minutes.
As the North Stratford Canal comes to its end, the final lock presents itself, no need to do anything at this lock, it is a guillotine lock designed to protect the water of the Stratford Canal from the approaching Worcester & Birmingham Canal (when all canals were separate companies), a right turn at the Kings Norton Junction and the last stretch of six miles along the Worcester and Birmingham into the city centre.
This stretch runs alongside the trainline approaching Birmingham from the South West of England, the canal passes the historic suburb of Bournville, home of the world famous chocolate factory (the factory and Cadbury World is easily accessed from the canal), on past Birmingham University and the affluent Edgbaston, you are within a mile of Birmingham and still surrounded by greenery.
On arriving in the city centre, moorings are available along the towpath.
Birmingham is a diverse city with food for all tastes, leisure facilities dotted around the suburbs that can easily be reached via an excellent local bus and train service. Bus services can connect with the theme park located at Drayton Manor. Train services from the whole of the UK arrive into Birmingham via a number of train stations in the city.
Braunston to Birmingham is a journey that can be traveled in three comfortable days without stopping at any of the mentioned points.
Braunston to Braunston via Birmingham can be completed during a seven day booking with LNBP.
Have you thought of swapping a party of passengers in Birmingham so that a fresh group take part in the return journey? It’s just one idea or scenario that we can look to undertake with your group.
Why not speak to Nigel about this route and others, and booking your community group or organisation or school for a residential break with us.
He can be contacted on 07967 406 875 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org