Mary & I headed off the well cycled canal towpaths to explore the Ridgacre Branch of the Wednesbury canal as part of our Project 139 series. Once part of a vast network of shorter canals that moved coal from the collieries into the neighbouring forges & Ironworks and beyond.
Mile upon mile of blue lines in the Tipton, Wednesbury & Smethwick triangle on the 1907 Birmingham OS map show the extent of the canal network, much of it now lost.
A Traffic Free Urban Gravel Route
One of our favourite cycling loops takes us west of Birmingham. From Salford Junction under Spaghetti, up and along the Tame Valley Canal, take a left on to the old Walsall canal on to the Birmingham Old mainline and back into Birmingham before descending the Aston flight or the Grand Union returning to Spaghetti. Almost 30 miles of traffic free, towpath gravel riding under & through the West Midlands conurbation.
Mary and I left the Tame Valley Canal at Hilltop in West Bromwich and rolled through the streets and housing estates to find the start of the Ridgacre canal in Hateley Heath.
A short blue line is all that can be seen on OS Landranger 139, but the 1:25 000 map marks the old canal as a traffic free cycle route.
A Wilderness in the City
A footpath lifted us away from the houses into an open space that would have been the Junction of the Ridgacre canal and the Halford Branch. A little oasis in the middle of West Bromwich.
An overgrown metal sculpture of arches stands at the start of the path as a nod to the industrial past and naming the adjacent canal.
A bit of History
The Wednesbury Canal was the first phase of the Birmingham Canal Navigations route between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and it was opened in 1769. In 1826, the ¾ mile Ridgacre Branch was opened, adding branches as mining in the area expanded.
The canal is hard to pick out on the 1834 OS map but the sheer number of collieries, iron works, foundaries, furnaces and steelworks mentioned gives an indication of it’s reach as all were all served by the BCN canal network and it’s branches.
The Wednesbury canal and it’s branches were closed following the Second World War and eventually abandoned in the 1950s.
Today the Ridgacre cut is still in water but is no longer navigable. It was cut off from the Wednesbury canal when the Black Country Spine Route was built in 1992, however the towpath is good and it is an easy ride down to the Ridgacre Pub at Swan Island. Behind the Pub is the remnants of the canal junction where the Wednesbury canal continued north through the iron works and collieries to the coad fields at Golds Hill and Balls Hill.
After crossing the Black Country Route at Swan Island, the canal becomes a little wild, making for a proper urban adventure, a secret path away from the traffic, amongst the urban sprawl.
The towpath is grassy, muddy and overgrown. The Canal itself is full of Bullrushes which mark the channel as no water can be seen. Eventually the rushes give way to water but the towpath deteriorates. It all adds to the adventure and the feeling of discovery even though you are in the heart of the Urban Black Country.
We jumped off the canal at Phoenix Street as the towpath became unrideable for the last few yards down to Ryders Green Junction. From there we headed for the Gower Branch to put us on the Birmingham Old mainline for our ride home.
The Ridgacre canal is a short route but well worth exploring by bicycle.
If you would like to do this route the information is available over on our Routes Page and is available on Komoot. There is a Bicycle Adventure Club Badge and sticker tucked up in the girder for someone to find!
I found these films interesting. They are part of a Canal Hunter video series by Alan Tidy where he explores the lost Wednesbury canal Branches.
Balls Hill Branch
Thank you for reading
See you out there
Sarah & Mary
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