Human rivers - drawing a dizzy landscape through Birmingham

Cycling, walking and running along the towpaths of Birmingham and surrounds' many miles of canal is quite an uplifting and contrasting experience.  You can leave the bustle of the city and find yourself immersed in the wonderful world of nature, beautiful reflections and the buzz of fellow users and not forgetting the passing barges.

I dreamt I saw a huge grey boat in silence steaming 
Down a canal; it drew the dizzy landscape after; 
The solemn world was sucked along with it—a streaming 
Land-slide of loveliness. O, but I rocked with laughter, 
Staring, and clinging to my tree-top. For a lake
Of gleaming peace swept on behind. (I mustn’t wake.) 
And then great clouds gathered and burst in spumes of green 
That plunged into the water; and the sun came out 
On glittering islands thronged with orchards scarlet-bloomed; 
And rosy-plumed flamingoes flashed across the scene...
O, but the beauty of their freedom made me shout... 
And when I woke I wondered where on earth I’d been.  
Siegfried Sassoon

Birmingham is interesting as the high point on the boundary between two great river catchments in the UK with no major river running through it.  Birmingham is rare in being a large temperate metropolitan area without a port or a navigable river,, despite three named water courses flowing through it, the River Cole, River Tame and River Rea.  These three rivers are neither large or deep enough to be navigable by a boat of reasonable size.

The following map, reproduced from the 1950 Birmingham and Its Regional Setting: A Scientific Survey, p.39 shows the many stream courses in the region.

Canals were built for industry and the first section of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal completed in 1769 linking Birmingham with the mines at Wednesbury is said to halved the price of coal, 

Pearson's Canal Companion, Stourport Ring: Black Country Canals & Birmingham Canal Navigations.  

During the 18th century Birmingham became a magnet for canal promoters with the the Birmingham Canal Navigations being formed in 1794 with 160 miles of waterways, 100 of which remain navigable.

From the gains of industry canals are now used for leisure and offer visitors an immersive experience of Birmingham connecting up districts and areas and offering vibrant canal fronted bars, restaurants, hotels and housing. 

The following photos are a love affair with the canals i've cycled run and walked along and the diverse Birmingham and surrounds they show.  Not having a main river isn't a bad thing when the legacy of industry is a network of canals criss crossing the city as human rivers that people can enjoy across the city.

In the words of Sassoon, "Down a canal; it drew the dizzy landscape after"


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