The Warwickshire Ring
A route of great variety. Birmingham is at the very heart of the canal network, and Gas Street Basin tugs at the heartstrings of the true canal fans, and though the old warehouses which once surrounded it have been replaced with a concert hall, pubs and nightclubs, the resident community of narrow boat dwellers give it a resonance which keeps it in touch with its busy past.
After exploring the legacy of the Industrial Revolution the canal emerges into the suburban West Midlands ‘stockbroker belt’, a countryside which exudes an air of the Home Counties, epitomised by large detached houses at the end of the neatly graveled drives.
Two nearby National Trust properties suggest a visit, or you can push on to Warwick Castle where history is interpreted by means of wax work tableaux, courtesy of Madame Tussauds. Royal Leamington Spa combines gracious architecture of the Regency period with some wonderful public gardens.
Then the countryside takes over as you climb out of the Avon valley heading towards Rugby. Here a rural landscape of shallow valleys and modest hills is exposed. Then it is onward along the shortened Oxford canal. They cut out many of the bends in the 19th Century, to speed the progress of the boats as a result of competition from the railways. You can sample a couple of boatmen’s pubs left high and dry by the disappearance of the old canal line. Elegant cast iron bridges carry the tow path over the long abandoned loops of the original route.
At Hawkebury Junction the Oxford Canal joins the Coventry Canal. This was an important and hectic spot in the days of working boats, but now all is peace and tranquillity, although you can still make a night of it in the Greyhound pub.
Just before returning to Birmingham on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal you will come across the exotic wonder that is Drayton footbridge, where two gothic towers encase spiral staircases and support an iron bridge over the canal. Be ready with your camera, and be ready to stop because the kids will no doubt demand to visit Birmingham’s answer to Disneyland at Drayton Manor Park.