It’s at the heart of England’s canal network and has 35 miles of waterways so it does technically have more than the 26 miles of navigations you’ll find in Venice. But Birmingham is much bigger than Venice, so the density of canals there makes them a much more prominent feature of the city. Also, the canals of Venice are wide, whereas Birmingham’s waterways are narrow.
By the mid- 18th Century there were 174 miles of canal in the Birmingham area transporting raw materials and goods during the Industrial Revolution. However today only 114 miles of them remain navigable. The city centre’s canals have been redeveloped into an attractive place to live and socialise. Several canals meet at Gas Street Basin, not far from Broad Street and it’s now a hub for moored boats and waterside bars.
Travelling the canals around the Birmingham area will offer you a wide range of waterways experiences. Think of the 21 locks of the Hatton flight, the drawbridge at Shirley, and the Cadbury factory at Bournville. There’s also the Netherton tunnel, the Dudley No1 Canal and the Black Country Living Museum. You can even have a go at ‘legging’ one of the Dudley Canal Trusts narrow boats through the tunnel! Many of the canals around Birmingham are beautifully rural, such as parts of the Staffordshire and Worcester and the Shropshire Union.
If you want to find out more about the history of the canals in Birmingham the city council have a free eBook about it.
Not everyone has access to their own narrowboat though, and that’s where community boating projects come in: Making the waterways accessible to all the following charities are based around the Birmingham area:
The Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton offers a wide variety of adventurous and environmental activities.
The Dudley Canal Trust runs regular guided boat trips through the tunnels, accompanied by videos, lifelike reconstructions and stunning music and light shows. (This is not a community boating organisation; they exist to maintain the tunnels and their environment.)
Take Action – if you’d like to get involved in community boating check out our training courses.
Birmingham is proud of its canal heritage allowing smart water side developments to stand alongside historic canal architecture. If you head out of Birmingham down the Farmers Bridge flight of locks, you’ll eventually see the maze of roads and motorways overhead known as Spaghetti Junction. The famous interchange sits atop of two railways, three canals and two rivers.
But, to answer the question, Venice may be known for its Gondolas, but Birmingham is at the heart of the rich heritage of England’s industrial canal age. Venice has more water, but Birmingham does in fact have more miles of canals than Venice.
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