The Midlands March, looping the loops

If we had a penny from everyone who told us that Birmingham has more canal than Venice, we’d be very happy. I wonder how many Venetian’s would claim something different. I think the truth depends upon where you draw the boundary line. Certainly the Birmingham Canal Network has well over 100 navigable miles, with about 35miles within the city itself. We were currently moored on the Old Line, built by Brindley c1770. It follows the contours and for the commercial barges has time consuming locks, but we were enjoying our journey so with the sun shining we set off down the 3 Smethwick locks.

Smethwick locks

Under Popes Bridge. We had to wonder who this warning sign was aimed at, or perhaps it’s an instruction

No thanks

And shortly after we merged the New Main line.

The old and the new

As the sun was shining we decided on a short detour around the Soho Loop, which served the prison, lunatic asylum and sanitorium. Thankfully we weren’t detained although it was slow going, shallow and full of debris. I don’t think we’ll bother with any of the other loops on this trip.


We had also lost the sun, which doesn’t make for enjoyable cruising. We were unsure what mooring would be available in the centre of town, and whether it would be noisy or safe.

Ladywood wharf

But we struck gold and spotted the rings at Ladywood wharf, right on the edge of the central hub. We had arrived. The middle of the Midlands March.

The BCN

The Midlands March, Blue Sky at the Engine Arm

Having escaped the scumbags disturbing the tranquillity on board Firecrest and travelled along the M5 at 2.6 mph, we found ourselves briefly cruising along another surprisingly quiet and peaceful stretch. But although we had blue sky it was still quite chilly. We had earmarked the old Pump House as a place to moor.

Smethwick pump house


Nowadays, it houses the Galton Valley Heritage centre, but in its heyday it was a pump house., Brindley’s original old main line(c1769) was 18 feet higher as the canal climbed up the hill and then back down again, thus requiring locks both up and down and 2 steam engines to pump water back up to the summit. However the amount of traffic transporting coal was sufficient to warrant a new cutting to be built at the lower level which in 1829 became part of Telfords efficient straighter and wider and lockless, New Main Line. Steam powered pumps continued to used on the old line up until c1930. During WWII two ex submarine diesel pumps were installed as the canal was part of the fire fighting water supply for the essential factory’s in Birmingham, thankfully they weren’t actually needed and the building fell into disrepair until the 80s when work began to restore it as a heritage centre.

Unfortunately although there are mooring rings, the centre is currently closed and there was a lot of fast food takeaway trash next to the bin and bench indicating a congregating place for thoughtless people. And we didn’t want to risk a repeat of our Oldbury experience. Quite odd standing on a Towpath looking down onto another canal.

Looking down onto the New Main line

We only needed to cruise a short distance before we arrived at the Engine Arm junction

The Engine Arm Aqueduct

The short branch takes the old line over the new line on an aqueduct onto what is now mainly residential moorings, but must have served a wharf at some point in the past. The aqueduct itself is a beautiful iron structure

Over the New line

We took advantage of this open quiet mooring and whilst Eric got on with some DIY on the roof,

Caution, men at work

I took advantage of some Seville oranges and made some marmalade.

My first ever batch of marmalade