At Lonely Goat Running Club, we have members all over the UK, plus an increasing number of international Goats in different countries. We decided to make the most of this massive geographic reach to pick your brains, benefit from your local knowledge, and put together a guide to running in different cities. In the second of our local running guides, we’re heading to the UK’s ‘second city’, with the Lonely Goat Guide to Running in Birmingham.
Whether you’re visiting Birmingham and fancy a run; have just moved there and want to get out running; or are a long-time resident, but first-time runner, this guide – made up of tips from your fellow members of the Lonely Goat ‘Herd’ – is for you!
Canals, canals, and more canals
Birmingham experienced a massive boom in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, with an extensive canal network built connecting it to the rest of the country. The canal bubble was burst by the railways and then road traffic, but around 100 miles of the canal network remain within the Birmingham Canal Network.
While the canals are rarely used for industry any more, the towpaths remain as a network of perfect running routes criss-crossing the city and leading out to the neighbouring towns. They’re almost perfectly flat, punctuated with occasional short, sharp rises to cross bridges or pass locks.
What’s more, most of the junctions have signposts on them with distances written on them. Yes, you may have to share the towpath with walkers, cyclists, other runners – and the occasional duck – and some of them are better paved than others, but it is a rare treat for such a busy city to have such a comprehensive selection of traffic free routes.
Follow your nose!
As with roads, canals can go through dodgy areas, and you may want to reconsider running along them in the dark, but for the most part, there are few better ways to explore Birmingham and get a taste of its industrial heritage. You can even run along the canal underneath Spaghetti Junction!
Visitors to Birmingham might want to start with an out and back route, to minimise the chances of getting lost. Find a canal, head out in one direction and make a mental note of any route choices you make. Then, retrace your steps back to the start once you’ve reached halfway.
People more familiar with Birmingham, or willing to explore, can create loops or use the canals to find traffic free routes out of the city or between parks.
Barbara Nomikos’ route recommendations
Lonely Goat, Barbara Nomikos, describes the canals as a hidden gem, and offers some of her favourite routes:
Go through Kings Norton Nature Reserve and Kings Norton Park to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Once at the canal you can go right, through Wast Hill Tunnel, straight on along Stratford Canal to Brandwood Tunnel, and then keep going through Yardley Wood towards Stratford.
Alternatively, go left at Kings Norton to head along Lifford Lane and it gets exciting. It’s my favourite long route all the way to Birmingham City Centre.
You can either keep going along Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, past Farmers Locks, with lots of interesting features and tunnels, to Aston and beyond.
Or, at Gas Street, follow the ‘new’ main line canal. This is a straight, wider line modernised in the nineteenth century, but you can also still turn down the Soho ‘Loop’. This is part of the original eighteenth century canal and has lots of interesting industrial features to look for – which is why I love this route.
River Rea Heritage Trail
Part of the route that Barbara describes forms a section of the River Rea Heritage Trail. This was very popular with Lonely Goats and you can read more about it on the Sustrans website.
Highlights include Hazelwell and Cannon Hill Parks. In the latter, you may even spot some of the country’s top elite runners doing their hard sessions. Alternatively, head off the route and take a detour to Cadbury’s World!
Just to the West of the city is Edgbaston Reservoir, which was mentioned by a number of Lonely Goats. It’s an oasis of open water that feeds the canal network and is a popular spot for watersports and picnics.
The gravel and tarmac perimeter path is around 1.75 mi or 2.5 km long so a good choice for shorter runs or multiple laps. It hosts the Edgbaston Reservoir parkrun, too.
As with anywhere, it can be worth checking out designated cycle routes when looking for places to run. The National Cycle Network is a great resource and there are plenty of routes through Birmingham. Some of them follow the canal network and others, such as the Harbourne Railway Walk, follow the route of former railway lines.
The route is only one and a half miles, but it acts as a traffic free link between residential areas in the South West of the city, Summerfield Park, the canal network, Edgbaston Reservoir, and the city centre.
Too many to mention!
Given the size of Birmingham, it’s inevitable that there will be a massive choice of places to run. Other places that Lonely Goats mentioned as possible running spots – including a few beyond the confines of the city – are:
- Lickey Hills and Woodgate Valley Country Park for trail runs;
- Handsworth Park;
- Sutton Park for challenging trails;
- Elmdon Park in Solihull;
- The Warley Woods loop;
- Woodgate Valley – home to Woodgate Valley parkrun;
- Merits Brook Greenway;
- Sandwell Valley Country Park – home to Sandwell Valley parkrun;
- Licky Hills;
- Kingsbury Water Park;
- Earlswood Lake for pretty routes that aren’t too tricky;
- and Cannock Chase for exploring further afield.
David McGuire’s route recommendation
Lonely Goat, David McGuire, shared this recommendation for a longer route:
Start at Shirley and run along the River Cole. Go past Trittiford Lake, Sarehole Mill, and Tyseley. Then carry on north, crossing the Coventry Road, to Chelmsley Wood. You can vary the distances depending on how keen you’re feeling.
The Herd’s favourite Birmingham running race
The Birmingham and Black Country Half Marathon was mentioned by a few Goats as being a must-do event.
It follows a point-to-point route on the canal tow paths from Wolverhampton to Birmingham and features floating aid stations on barges. A highlight (or lack-of-light) is the 360m long Coseley Tunnel.
Birmingham is not lacking in places to grab some food or a drink after a run. There are plenty of options in the centre, around Brindley Place, Gas Street and the Mail Box.
Nearby, you can find Cherry Reds, with a ‘cracking’ breakfast and a great beer selection.
Use the Herd!
The suggestions above are just a few of the options for running in Birmingham. There are so many more places to run that the possibilities are almost endless – Head out, explore, and see what you discover!
If you want to try something new, or make the most of a little local knowledge, remember that there is an amazing community of Lonely Goats whose experience you can draw on. Just head into the Facebook Chat Group or our Strava Club Page to ask their advice on where to run in Birmingham.
Check out the rest of the series
The Lonely Goat Guide to Running in Birmingham is the second in what will be a series of running guides, using local knowledge, for places in the UK and beyond.
You can check out the first in the series, the Lonely Goat Guide to Running in London, at this link.
Thanks to our contributors
Thank you to the following members of the Lonely Goat community for their suggestions: Jag Bhogal, Peter Brown, Zo CW, Sameen Farouk, Sarah Farrell, Alison Harling, Tom Hender, Amy Lowe, David McGuire, Dean Murley, Jonathan Newton, Barbara Nomikos, Terri Powell, and Dean L Reeves on Facebook; Steve Amos, Valeria Costa, Bobby Everill, Dan Gardner, Stuart Harkness, Edgar Lopes, Eddie Milner, Rob MY, Rob White, and Pawel Wielgolinski on Strava; and Terri Powell.
We’ve tried to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but mistakes can happen. Please email [email protected] to let us know if any corrections are needed.