the Black Country Ring
Black Country Ring Canal Boat Holiday Hire
This exciting and popular cruise incorporates many interesting aspects from the past and has a timeless character of its own. Taking in 5 canals, this is an energetic week’s cruise, whereas a fortnight will offer more time to relax and take in the many local sights and attraction. The ring can be cruised in either direction. This description is the clockwise version.
From Coventry Canal Basin to Fazeley Junction, round the Black Country Ring and back - 58 hours - 105 locks - 2 tunnels
The history of the canal system is inseparable from the industrial heritage of Britain and The Black Country Ring exemplifies this perfectly. This area gained its name in the mid nineteenth century due to the smoke from the many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges and also because of the nature of the countryside, which had been covered by dark spoil from the working of shallow coal seams. The industries of the region included coal and coke, iron and steel, locks and keys, nails, chains, ships anchors, glassware, beer and stout, all of which were originally transported by narrow boat.
After leaving the Canal Basin and heading North along the Coventry Canal, you will pass Hawkesbury Junction (Oxford Canal) then Marston Junction (Ashby Canal), pass through Nuneaton and shortly find yourself at the first eleven of the many locks that you will encounter on your voyage. The lock side town of Atherstone is a good place to stop for your provisions or to enjoy a meal. The Coventry Canal then continues through several small towns and villages; eyes left for the imposing Pooley Hall and the simple beauty of the remains of a twelfth century priory. At the functional Fazeley Junction (right) turn left onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, completed in 1789. Eleven locks later you will come to Curdworth and the first of two tunnels. That day’s cruising should conclude somewhere between Curdworth and the outskirts of Minworth where several shops, pubs and a steakhouse will offer a range of evening meal solutions! It is highly recommended that you do not moor beyond Wigginshill Road Bridge overnight.
The terrain begins to take on an increasingly citified feel on the two hour journey to Salford. Once there, look upwards and you will see Spaghetti junction. Motorway and canal will meet several times as you make your steady 3-4 mile an hour progress, surprisingly removed from the roar of hundreds of vehicles travelling at ten times that speed above you. Your climb into Birmingham will consist of a demanding five hours with 24 lock (Aston and Farmer’s Bridge) crammed into less than three miles. (Make sure your lock working skills are up to scratch as this is likely to be a somewhat public spectacle.) This stretch is rich with the essence of its industrial past; a subterranean world of Victorian mystique. You eventually emerge at Old Turn Junction, complete with mid water roundabout. To your left is the avant garde world of Gas Street Basin. You may choose to suspend your journey to enjoy the wealth of attractions including a huge selection of waterside eateries at Brindley Place, the famous Sea Life Centre with its 360° submarine tunnel, shopping and leisure activities at the mailbox and the Ikon Art Gallery. To your right the Black Country Ring takes you on to the BCN - 'Birmingham Canal Navigation'.
Built originally in 1772 by James Brindley (famous enough in engineering terms to have a whole modern day ‘place’ named after him!), the Old Main Line meandered between foundries and works following the natural contours of the land. In the 1830’s Thomas Telford constructed the New Main Line mostly with precision straightness. This much more direct route from Birmingham to Wolverhampton displays his bold style and innovative engineering techniques. The canal’s duality is immediately evident in the many loops and abandoned sections. At Smethwick Junction you can choose eighteenth or nineteenth century canal. Each has their own particular charms and eyesores, examples of urban regeneration and re-greening and some wonderful architecture (look out for the renovated pump house at Brasshouse Lane) and interesting bridges. Just before these unique parallel canals re-converge at Tipton, the Old Main Line gives access to The Black Country Museum. Here you can find secure overnight moorings. Describing itself as ‘Britain’s Friendliest Open-air Museum’ its 26 acres boasts historic buildings from all around the Black Country that have been authentically rebuilt. Electric tramcars and trolleybuses transport visitors back in time from the modern exhibition halls to the canal-side village, where costumed demonstrators and working craftsmen bring the buildings to life with their local knowledge, practical skills and unique Black Country humour.
At Coseley you will pass through your second short tunnel before encountering the Wolverhampton twenty one, a flight of twenty one locks leading you away from their namesake’s hustle and bustle to the rural junction at Aldersley. Turn right and you will soon find yourself at Pendeford Rockin where the canal narrows to a single boat’s width with passing places! As you continue to cruise your fourth canal of the Black Country Ring, the scenery once again becomes the epitome of tranquility. At Gailey Lock there is a fine example of one of the canal’s distinctive roundhouses, utilised as a canal shop. Gailey Lock is the first of twelve which take you slowly down to the end of the Staffs and Worcs at Haywood Junction.
Take a right here onto the Trent and Mersey Canal, lying in the valley of the Trent River and often running parallel to it. This section of the Black Country Ring is arguably the prettiest. South of the canal lies Cannock Chase, an area of dense woodland, and the beautiful Shugborough Hall and Country Museum (above), accessed from the canal over the River Trent via Essex Bridge. This historic working country estate offers a range of sights and activities that will keep you busy for a whole afternoon whilst some of the statues and follies in the spectacular Georgian gardens can be spotted by the keen eyed from the canal. The villages of Great and Little Haywood have retained their picturesque centres and offer good watering holes for the hungry or thirsty traveller. Make the most of the charm of this section, for soon you find yourself chugging through the towns of Rugeley, Armitage and Handsacre. The local power station dominates the views here and colours the scenery with grey emissions but it is fascinating to see the varied ingenuity of the town’s canal side back gardens. Just before Armitage (of bathroom fittings fame) the canal narrows dramatically in what was formerly a tunnel. It’s wise to send someone up ahead to check for oncoming boats as there is no room to pass. Farm and woodland reprieve the last of the Trent and Mersey before you reach historic Fradley Junction. This picture postcard location remains unspoiled and the Swan Inn pub still offers a traditional canal side welcome. Right at Fradley (below) sees you back on the Coventry Canal, also at its rural best. Pretty villages, including the lovely Hopwas with its twin canal side pubs, are intercepted by stunning woodland and the odd glimpse of the River Tame. All too soon you are back at functional Fazeley and following the Coventry Canal back to its terminus in the canal basin.