This article continues on from where we finished on the weekend route trip from Braunston to Leamington Spa. It recommences from the Regency town in Warwickshire and finishes in the UK’s second city, Birmingham.
(The route from Braunston to Leamington Spa – which is located some ten hours’ cruise away from our base at Braunston – can be viewed here along with other articles concerning routes from Braunston)
If cheating is in your nature, on arriving in Royal Leamington Spa, adequate moorings are available in the town centre opposite the railway station and Morrisons store. This railway station is located on the line that operates a train service from London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham Snow Hill.
However, the cheats in doing this will miss one of the great opportunities on the canal system – the ascent/descent of the Hatton Locks. Cruising past the railway station gives a chance to replenish supplies at Morrisons, Lidl or Tesco who all have shops adjacent to the canal, plus there is also Aldi a short distance off the canal and a certain burger establishment recognisable with the big yellow M.
The canal soon leaves Leamington and enters the town of Warwick although you won’t know where Leamington finishes and Warwick starts! A couple of locks with watering points before the first lock and after the second lock, these are the closest two water points on the canal system I have experienced, perhaps a couple of hundred yards between them.
The second of the two mentioned locks puts you at a pub known as the Cape of Good Hope. Visitor moorings here are good but prove popular. If you are not after the services of the pub, then consider cruising another ten minutes along the canal to the junction. On the left is a turn into the Saltisford Arm and a small section of the canal goes a short distance to Warwick. The main route of the canal turns right and suitable moorings are available here at the rear of residential housing and just short of the bridge that carries the A46 Truck road over the canal. It is here you will get your first glimpse of the Hatton Flight of locks.
The statistics will tell you that in just under the next two miles, you will go through 21 locks and climb 148’ (almost the height of a 15 storey block of flats). Theoretically at an average of 12-15 minutes per lock, this should take you in the region of 4-5 hours. However, with favourable conditions, good teamwork, the ascent can be done in 2.5 – 3.5 hours. As relaxed as the canals are, group will always want to tell you ‘how quick they did Hatton’!
The ascent of Hatton is not an even climb; the first six locks are relatively spaced out which means that the following fifteen are in quick succession. When ascending the locks, take a look either side of the double lock chamber that you are in, to the left or right, you will see the old single chamber lock originally built when this was part of the Warwick and Birmingham Canal that was opened in 1799.
The year 1929 saw an amalgamation of canals and the Warwick and Birmingham along with other canals simply became The Grand Union Canal. Around that time and under commercial pressure from other modes of transport, a decision was made to build double locks to increase the flow of boats and to take wider craft carrying more cargo. This work was eventually completed in the mid 1930s.
Four locks from the top of the flight, the tow path switches side. Here you will find the offices of the Canal & River Trust, a small but busy café named Hatton Locks Café (what else!) along with a picnic area and artefacts of old canal tools. Get through the final four locks and you have done it. Sadly there is no brass band to celebrate your achievement, but surely an inward glow of achievement.
From here, there is a four and half mile cruise to the area of Kingswood Junction including the 433-yard-long Shrewley Tunnel. A few minutes short of the Junction is the all-important water point, worth a top up here. Kingswood Junction is where the cruisers can swap from the Grand Union Canal onto the Stratford Upon Avon Canal, south to Stratford or North for the picturesque journey into Birmingham, you could stay on the Grand Union Canal into Birmingham but this section becomes more industrial several miles further on, a 200 yard section of canal.
Cheating is now allowed at this point. To continue along the canal either way into Birmingham is another day of cruising at least with a number of locks to do. If you choose to moor here, Lapworth railway station is approx. ½ mile walk away with a frequent rail service into Birmingham Moor Street or Snow Hill. The area of Kingswood and Lapworth are affluent and a relatively safe area of the West Midlands.
Having now caught the train to Birmingham, what does the country’s second city have to offer?
A little research in advance can help you decide if you want a day in the city centre or to visit one of the attractions just outside.
Within the city centre, there is the chance for some retail therapy, or visit some of the city’s great museums or head to the cinemas. You can also explore the many eating places available including places to sample ethnically diverse menus, or visit the Sea Life Centre or Birmingham Symphony Hall (the doors are normally left open here to allow the public to view one world’s great music venues) to name but a few suggestions. The National Trust also has two venues in the city centre. The Birmingham Back to Back house is a chance to see how life was for working people in the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s. Booking is essential for this venue.
A second National Trust property named The Birmingham Roundhouse is due to open in May 2020. This is a collaboration between the NT and Canal and River Trust. Originally built along the side of the canal and was used for stabling horses (before we started to put engines onto our boats), it is being advertised as offering bike rides in the city and canoe trip along the canal as well as shops and cafes.
Outside of the city centre and accessible by means of public transport are such venues such as, Cadbury World, Star City (which offers bowling, cinemas, restaurants, arcades), Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Aston Villa Football Ground, The Tolkien Trail, The Ackers Adventure Centre, ice rinks, The Balti Triangle (with Asian restaurants in abundance), and further afield the excellent Black Country Living Museum.
For details of trains and buses in the West Midlands and Birmingham, we recommend you view the following companies:
West Midlands Trains
West Midlands Travel
National Express Buses
Nigel Smith, the LNBP Booking Officer and one of our skippers, has lived in Birmingham all his life. He will willingly help any group who wants advice on how to spend a day the West Midlands / Birmingham area.
Why not speak to him about this route and our many others available, and booking your community group or organisation or school with a residential trip or holiday with us.
Contact Nigel by calling on 07967 406875 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org