Length 8 km (5 miles), terrain: flat
NOTE: By leaving off the last section, the distance is cut in half
Pictures courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Commons. Thanks!
For other running routes, see Route List.
If you're staying and working in downtown Birmingham in the UK's Midlands, you might feel intimidated about heading out for a run. It's pretty urban, with loud streets and buses everywhere. Railway yards and freeways cut swaths through the neighborhoods, and big parks or green areas are nowhere to be found. The whole city center has been wonderfully revitalized in recent years, with new pedestrian shopping streets, but extended green areas are still in short supply.
But, luckily, Birmingham is bisected by a network of old canals, which provide a bit of water and greenery away from the traffic: the perfect place to go for a run.
|A narrowboat underway in Birmingham, photo by Cmdr Gravy|
The canals were dug in the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, in the early 1800s. Birmingham was the center of the whole revolution, with the world's first modern factories sprouting up all over the area. And the canals provided a way to move Birmingham's goods faster than along the muddy, rutted roads. But just a few decades later, the railroads killed the canals, and they fell into a kind of Snow White deep-sleep. Urban planners have now discovered the delights of waterside living, and have encouraged the redevelopment of the old factories and warehouses that lined every canal.
|The main canal at Broad Street, photo by Aff|
The canal-side buildings in the Birmingham town center have been redeveloped to provide a whole new evening entertainment district, full of restaurants, bars and shops. You're sure to see a few places where you'll want to return in the evening, after the run.
This means, of course, that the towpaths in the town center can be crowded in nice weather, in the area between the Mailbox and the nia, but once you're out of that area, you can run without zig-zagging around lots of pedestrians.
The Birmingham Canals Route
We'll start the run at the back end of the Mailbox, a converted ex-Royal Mail sorting center. The Mailbox has its own little basin harbor on the back side, and is the perfect place to start.
|Start of the run, at the Mailbox basin, photo by Slack12|
You'll pass the extravagantly designed cube of the Indigo Hotel with its strange roofline on the left, before crossing the bridge.
|Heading west from the Mailbox, photo by Slack12|
|Did someone say there are narrowboats at the basin? Photo by Roger Marks|
Just past the aquarium, you'll cross a side canal on the left. Turn left to follow it as it loops around to join back up to the Birmingham Main Line Canal again. This quiet "Old Line" canal is now lined with nice new apartments and offices.
|Urban living along the Old Line Canal, just before it connects to Main Line. Photo by Leonardo Morgado|
NOTE: You could continue westwards along the Birmingham Main Line Canal for miles, with towpaths lining both sides, but it's pretty industrial out that way. It's better to add distance to the last leg of the run, along the more scenic Worcester and Birmingham Canal later.
|Looking east from turn-around at St. Vincent Street bridge. Photo by Miroslav Petrasko|
|NIA on left, Malt House on right: head up that side canal past the ship roundabout! Photo by reveriewit|
NOTE: One of Birmingham's oldest and most interesting neighborhoods, St. Paul's Square, is just around the corner from the northern turnaround spot at Ludgate Hill, but there's no exit to the street there.
Now turn left to cross the old iron footbridge to the Malt House and then run eastwards along the northern towpath back towards the Mailbox.
You'll run around the north side of the Gas Street Basin, running right between all the narrowboats, then you have to take the footbridge to the south side of the canal.
You are now back near the start of the run: just turn left and run the two blocks back to the little basin at the Mailbox.
You could just end the run now, making it a 4-km run. But to add a bit more distance (we'll double the run, actually), you can turn right just before the last footbridge to the Mailbox, and run southwards along the old Worcester and Birmingham Canal. This canal is quiet, and lined with grass and bushes, and is a nice place to add some more kilometers. A railway lines it, but not many trains go by.
|The Worcester and Birmingham Canal, photo by Simon Hammond|
When you get to the university, which is on the left (east) side of the canal, there is a small basin with a sign for the university, and a footbridge that crosses the canal.
Now turn around at the basin and run back north the last two kilometers to the Mailbox, having had a delightful run in an otherwise very loud and urban city center.