Wild Walks

Walking - get active and explore the great outdoors on your doorstepWalking - get active and explore the great outdoors on your doorstep

The canals of Birmingham and the Black Country are wonderful corridors for people and wildlife alike. The whole network offers over 200km of uninterrupted, traffic-free and wildlife-rich trails for you to discover, connecting every corner of our conurbation. Most residents live within two miles of the canal network, so why not take to your local towpath and stride out to explore your industrial history and fascinating ecology?

Here is a selection of routes that take in some of our favourite stretches, often linking up wider spaces for wildlife. Click on the titles for a detailed map. Canals generally have good access and are well-signed, with many towpaths benefitting from recent investment through Birmingham Cycle Revolution. OS Explorer maps 219 and 220 cover the region at 1:25,000, and the 1:30,000 Birmingham Greenways map (available from Heron Maps) also has excellent detail for canal walking, though it only covers part of the Black Country. 


1. Stratford-upon-Avon Canal - 7.35km

Starting from the Horseshoe Pub on the Alcester Road, the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal winds east along the boundary of the Cocks Moors Woods golf course, reaching the acidic grassland and heathland of Priory Fields after a mile and a half. There’s plenty of birdlife to see here, though you’d be lucky to spot the barn owls, slow worms or otters that have been encountered on the canal. Crossing the busy Priory Road, the route meets the River Cole as it flows through the Shire Country Park. The River Cole is one of the cleanest and most biodiverse rivers in the conurbation, its freshwater invertebrates, fish and menacingly invasive signal crayfish all thriving as it flows north to the lake at Trittiford Mill Park. Following the Chinn Brook tributary completes the loop back to the canal and thence the Horseshoe Pub. (Image - great crested grebe - Don Sutherland)





2. Dudley No.2 Canal - 9.83km

Bumble Hole and Warren’s Hall on the edge of the Rowley Hills showcase the tall chimney of Cobbs Engine House and link to the Netherton Tunnel and the Monarch’s Way long distance footpath (named after the fleeing Charles II rather than the migrating North American butterfly…) At this time of year, the diverse grassland including ploughman’s spikenard and hare’s-foot clover attracts a host of pollinators. From the visitor centre, the Dudley No.2 Canal meanders west for a mile and a half, reaching Saltwells, one of the largest urban nature reserves in the country. From here you can either stick to the canal until Blackbrook Bridge or take one of the many signed trails through the nature reserve, notable for its astounding bluebell display in the spring, dragonfly populations at Daphne Pool and the colonising orchids of Doulton’s Claypit. Emerging to cross the bust Cinder Bank, follow the brook through Netherton Park and back to the pools of Bumble Hole. (Image Andy Mabett, Bumble hole)


3. Wyrley and Essington Canal - 4.21km

The Finger Post pub on the edge of Pelsall North Common is a good place to start (and finish) for this meander through the quiet canals of North Walsall. Heading west along the Wyrley and Essington canal (known locally as the Curly Wyrely for its sinuous course and recently designated a Local Nature Reserve in its own right) the waters are soon draped with the internationally rare floating water-plantain, which seems to be spreading from the adjoining SSSI and EU designated Special Area of Conservation - the Cannock Extension canal. Crossing the second bridge onto the Common opens up these 55 hectares of heath, marshy grassland and gorse dominated scrub: a wonderful site for marshy plants (such as marsh pennywort, southern marsh orchid,) reptiles, amphibians (including great crested newt,) mammals and birds (including meadow pipit, wheatear, snipe and winchat in the summer). Keep your eyed peeled for the rare tormentil mining bees and their cousins Andrea Humilis (alas without common name). The Cannock Extension canal brings you back to the start and some well-earned recuperation at the Finger Post.


4. Soho Loop Canal - 11.2km

At the heart of our canal network, both locally and nationally, the canals of central Birmingham provide a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. From Centenary Square, you are but a few steps away from the cool waters at Brindley Place. Kingfishers were spotted last year fishing in Gas Street Basin, giving some indication of how these post-industrial transport channels have cleaned up and been colonised by wildlife. Taking Thomas Telford’s New Mainline canal towards Wolverhampton, you soon come to the junction with the older Soho Loop, James Brindley’s 18th century canal following the looping contours of the terrain. The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country has adopted a stretch of the Soho Loop, helping the Canal and Rivers Trust to manage it for people and wildlife. Along these quieter waters, you will usually see the numerous birds that enjoy the natural canal edge here - herons, mallards and moorhen – just don’t get between the Canada geese and their goslings! Crossing Asylum Bridge and through Norman Park, you have arrived at the Centre of the Earth, our purpose built environmental centre in Winson Green. Why not time your walk for a Wednesday afternoon and join in one of our regular volunteer afternoons? Following the Soho Loop round to the Mainline canal, a recommended detour would take in the nearby Edgbaston Reservoir, a top-up reservoir for Birmingham’s canal system. A great site for waterfowl, you may even spot great crested grebe and the black and white tufted duck. The forthcoming development of the Icknield Port should also enable public access to the Icknield Port Loop in years to come. Follow the Mainline canal back into the City Centre to round off the adventure!


5. Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal - 5.48km

The vintage tearoom on Cupcake Lane in the old station building is a good starting point for this walk, exploring the interweaving corridors of the disused railway line, Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and Smestow Brook. Heading southwest through the mosaic of woodland and meadow, the path crosses the canal via an iron bridge. To the south, the adjoining meadow is worth exploring, with ox-eye daisy, yellow rattle and common knapweed flourishing. Continuing along the line of the old railway, the path brings you onto the canal at Compton Lock, from which you can head northeast back towards the start. Water voles and otters have been recorded here in recent surveys, and walking along the canal at dusk you may encounter Daubenton’s bats. The Smestow Valley birding group record the many birds of the valley, including kestrel, woodpecker and blackcap. Extending your walk along the canal beyond the Tettenhall Road will bring you to the adventurous Wildside Activity Centre, whose activities include regular Wildlife Watch events, more details can be found at our what’s-on pages . Crossing the canal to will bring you to the woodland walk leading southwest to the old station.


6. Stourbridge Canal - 7.9km

This linear walk connects Buckpool and Fens Pools to the centre of Stourbridge along the Stourbridge canal. If you can get to either end of the walk, the 246 bus can drop you back at either Stourbridge Town Centre or the Avenue Road stop on the Stourbridge Road. From the Stourbridge Road there are a few paths down to Fens pool, the largest area of open water in Dudley. As well as hosting one of the largest populations of great crested newts in the UK, the pools are important for migrating and over-wintering birds such as shoveler and gadwall. Walking its circumference in an anti-clockwise direction, take the path that bisects Middle Pool and Grove Pool. The first path to your right then leads down to the Stourbridge canal. Flowering rush and arrowhead are plentiful in the canal, which extends out into the Staffordshire countryside towards Kinver. Along the way you’ll see the unique Red House Cone Glass Museum, an iconic 18th century building. However, if you find yourself in the countryside, you’ve gone too far! Make sure you take the Stourbridge Branch bus at Wordsley Junction to take you into the town centre.

We'd love to hear about your favourite wild walks! Send us a picture! eva.p@bbcwildlife.org.uk