The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal
The first few miles of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal are exciting, burrowing below Birmingham city, then beyond the industrial suburbs it becomes a surprisingly rural cruising link from the centre of busy Birmingham to the east, opening up a number of routes and interesting circular cruising rings.
The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal leaves the BCN Main line at the Old Turn Junction, heads north east past Cambrian Wharf and down two flights of locks dropping the canal 150 feet in less than three miles. Once this was a ‘private’ industrial world behind high walls and the 13 Farmers Bridge locks still squeeze between and beneath city buildings and factories. The 11 Aston locks are more open and at Salford Junction there’s the overhead tangle of motorways and sliproads known as Spaghetti Junction. The M6 is only one of six main roads connected by the many twisting slip roads. Most are on stilts and in the wasteland below is a four way canal junction – Salford Junction.
Then comes a few miles of industrial estates and business parks before open countryside surfaces around Curdworth, albeit with the roaring M42 motorway as company. Towards Fazeley Junction there’s pleasant open scenery and an unusual mock-medieval footbridge with Drayton Manor Theme Park close by. At Fazeley Junction and the Coventry Canal there are good moorings whilst the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal actually continues for another 5 miles before another junction with the Coventry Canal! The Coventry Canal Company ran out of money so the more affluent Birmingham and Fazeley Canal built a few miles for them towards the Trent and Mersey Canal.
In the 1980s the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal became the first of Birmingham’s successful regeneration schemes when in 1984 Farmer’s Bridge Locks were cleaned up, lit and landscaped and towpath accesses were created through the walls. Resurfaced towpaths now attract families and groups of friends on weekend strolls and relaxing workers on weekday lunchtimes.
The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Company made waterways history before construction even started by getting cooperation from three other canal companies to develop routes. Within 8 years Fazeley had become a busy entrance to Birmingham and the prosperous Birmingham Canal Company saw the benefits of such cooperation with the Birmingham Canal Navigations being formed in 1794.
This was only the second canal connection from Birmingham to the rest of the country and Farmers Bridge locks became the busiest flight on the Birmingham system. Gas lighting was installed to enable working round the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Unfortunately the locks couldn’t be duplicated because they were so hemmed in by factory walls, so an alternative route was built, the 8 mile Tame Valley Canal with 13 locks at Perry Bar which connected to the Walsall Canal near Ocker Hill. There was also a connection through Garrison Locks to the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal (later the Grand Union Canal) at Bordesley Junction.