Right through the heart of Birmingham run its industrial past lifelines, miles of canals. Some are renovated, some left desolate and wild, but I think all offer the opportunity to explore Birmingham from a new perspective. Let me tell you about one stretch of Birmingham's canal and my afternoon on a canal barge trip.
In Birmingham City centre, Brindleyplace is a canal-side pedestrian area with eateries, bars, galleries and coffee shops that fully exploits the gorgeous waterside. Here you can simply stroll, sit and watch life go or grab a bite to eat at all the usual suspects, for example, Pizzaexpress, Carluccios, Handmade Burger. Walk on a bit further canal-side and you reach the Mailbox, another complex with shops, eateries and more bars.
While strolling along the canal in Brindleyplace I pass several companies offering canal boat trips offering to take me away from the bustle for a half an hour jaunt, an hour or so; you choose how long you fancy dawdling along the water. I am not a great walker, so if like me you prefer the seated option to explore, hop on a canal barge trip. The trips vary, and they run to time-tables so you may hop on and wait a while, but I think that adds to the boating experience, leisurely. What better then to lose track of time floating on a converted canal barge? Some trips stop at different places, but I chose a jump on, take a ride, and drop back to the destination point.
Most of the canal barges are seasonal, because who wants to break through ice? But the lovely thing is, if it is raining or a bit fresh out, maybe choose a canal barge with a roof. Yes, I briefly considered an open top barge, but as you can see it was a bit grey in Birmingham but nonetheless pleasant.
Birmingham canals are beautiful even on a grey day.
So let me tell you about the sights you're likely to see from your canal barge floating away through Birmingham. Everything looks different from the water, the bridges, the apartments intensively piled high for city living and then as you drift further the warehouse relics of Birmingham's industrial past purposefully built to access the barges before the lure of the motor vehicle. It's interesting to see Birmingham as our ancestors did, possibly while sitting on the same barge that once carried heavy goods.
The canal opens up much wider at points and surprisingly quickly I felt like I was in the suburbs and then the countryside, before heading back to the urban landscape as buildings grew taller.
If, like me, a cuppa soothes, most canal barge trips offer simple refreshments. I chose a trip without commentary, preferring the view to speak for itself, but ask what's planned before you hop on. I laughed at the seemingly looping background music; did they only have one CD?
I haven't mentioned prices yet, partly because I think they're very reasonable. They vary, typically £3-£8 each for adults, dependent on the length of jaunt and there are family tickets available too. It's perfect for kids, just don't let them get to excited and fall overboard (life jackets can be provided).
I must admit I was surprised by the mix of passengers enjoying the ride, because young or old there's 'something about messing about in boats'. There is no need to book unless you've a large party to accommodate, or you fancy a special even. Ask about special occasion hire, maybe a birthday 'bit of a do' on board?
Take the family on a canal-barge trip through old and new Birmingham
So how do you get to Brindleyplace if you do not know Birmingham? It is walkable from the main shopping area of New street and the Bullring shopping centre in 10-15 minutes, dependent on how much you've spent or eaten for lunch. If you are travelling by car, Brindleyplace and Mailbox both have multi-storeys well signposted, but mind both are pricey.
Remember the canal areas are pedestrian only. Word of caution if you or one of your party are disabled; check with canal barge staff about getting on and off the barge safely. It may be easier to jump on a bus heading to the city Centre and ask the driver the best place to get off. Oh, and if you do travel by bus take advantage of unlimited day bus tickets and group tickets allowing multiple reduced costs, purchased from the bus-driver. If you are coming in by train Brindleyplace is that 10-15 minute walk from all Birmingham central stations, New Street, Moor Street or Snow Hill.