This Autumn, British Canoeing and Canal & Rivers Trust have launched six brand new canoe trails through the heart of the country. The Birmingham & Black Country Canoe Trails will navigate 75km of canal through history and industrial heritage, from Brownhills in the north to Lapworth at the southern end. Places to paddle manager Ben Seal took a journey along the first leg from Brownhills Canoe Centre along the Wyrley & Essington to test the water!
Written by Ben Seal
Having worked on this trail for a while now, it felt time to get out there and sample it for myself in a boat. I’ve paddled bits of the Birmingham & Black Country Trail and have always been pleasantly surprised by how green and peaceful the canal can be.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Brownhills, Walsall, Birmingham are not quite as attractive a paddling destination when compared to the likes of the River Dart or the Wye. But if you are after peace and quiet and seclusion, then this route is a surprisingly good alternative.
Setting off from the slip way at Brownhills Canoe Centre, home to Royal Sutton Canoe Club, John and I politely squeezed past a family of swans and headed off on our trip. We had arranged parking in advance and decided to do an out and back to save a shuttle. Immediately after leaving, the sides of the canal quickly greened up with leafy trees, reeds and bull rushes. After passing a few newly built houses, we floated past Pelsall Wood which has some of the oldest oaks in the Midlands.
Summertime is clearly a great time to paddle this section as pushing through blooming lilly pads and towering bull rushes gave a real sense of being somewhere entirely different to the West Midlands, however the trail looks stunning in Autumn too, with flickers of gold and red lining the route. The route passes under lots of old brick bridges, many of which have names which allude to their industrial heritage. Other than the regular ‘plop’ of fish jumping around our boats, traffic over the bridges added the only noise to an otherwise very peaceful paddle.
We didn’t quite make the end point before turning round. The sun had come out during a coffee & cake stop, which then extended into a lunch break. With flasks empty and the world put to rights, we turned back to the centre a few miles short of Sneyd Wharf. We retraced our paddlestrokes, back past the friendly anglers who once again reeled in their lines and cheerily waved us past.
Canal paddling is not to everyone’s taste, certainly there are sections along this route where green fields made way to concrete and graffiti. But this journey surprised John and I, both in how green it was and how much peace we found on the edge of such an urban sprawl.
I’ll be hopefully sampling more of the Birmingham & Black Country trails this Autumn and I look forward to having my preconceptions challenged and discover peace and quiet in another unexpected location!