WALK DATE: 3rd January 2022
▲Bridges along the route
▲The walk route along the walkway and the BCN (credit Mapbox)
The first walk of the Midland’s 2022 Programme attracted a party of 15 to walk the old Harborne Branch now referred to as the Harborne Walkway ….
For well over 30 years now the old line has served as a cyclist and pedestrian commuter run for a traffic free 5 mile ride/walk into Birmingham City Centre.
The branch used to cross the Birmingham – Wolverhampton Main Canal, so you can combine a canal towpath ride/walk directly into most areas of the City Centre.
It has been 36 years since I first walked the route. To make it more of a walk I have always incorporated the Birmingham Canal Navigation. This also gives a unique experience of sampling the interesting areas of Brindley Wharf, Gas Street Basin and the staircase of locks from Farmers Bridge.
Walking into Birmingham is best started from Park Hill Road, Harborne. Here an imposing overbridge survives, today strengthened by under arch girders that have tainted its appearance slightly. Access to the trackbed is up a steep path.
The path starts from the residential area on the Harborne side of the bridge. Around 30 years ago residential apartments were built here on the site of the long demolished Chad Valley Factory. Following the works disappearing the waste land cried out for redevelopment.
Harborne Station, demolished well before the toy works, stood immediately after the industrial complex and sidings. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1934. Freight continued carrying goods from the factory for almost 30 years later. The occasional special trains visited the branch, until the line closed altogether in 1964 and was track lifted.
With Park Hill Road bridge, six bridges survive in fine order. The first out from Harborne carries the busy commuter route Hagley Road so this one has been strengthened with partial infill, the path passing underneath in a narrow tube.
The following four bridges are in immaculate order considering the passage of time since they last saw trains pass underneath them.
Walking the Harborne Branch was a muddy encounter up until recent times, as a good deal of it was a muddy track most of the year with rainwater failing to drain from under the bridges. Fly tipping thrown from the bridges made for an unpleasant experience Today there is a well drained metalled pathway throughout and the busy footfall acts as a deterrent for illegal rubbish disposal.
Three intermediate stations were named and located in the following order towards city from Harborne…
Hagley Road, Rotton Park Road, Icknield Port Road. Once the branch had joined the main Birmingham to Wolverhampton line, there was another station stop at Monument Lane before arriving at New Street Station.
The branch had a short sidings into the long closed Mitchell & Butlers Cape Hill Brewery. Following redevelopment no evidence of this survives today.
Walking the line now is a pleasant experience. I particularly like walking it in the winter months as views off the embankments make for an experience of appreciating the huge engineering works involved in construction.
Currently there are some good photographs to be found on the Internet of the stations….
Armed with these will put the railway rambler in good stead to plot their locations on the line. In particular interest is that of the island platform of Rotton Park Road where a unique elevated walkway led down from the main road. After the last bridge towards city the vast green recreational space of Summerfield Park is entered, the course of the railway although almost completely disappeared it can still easily be identified.
The bridge walls of Icknield Port Road are still in situ with cuttings filled in either side of the main road. The course of the line can still be traced as the cutting is grassed over making the it easily identifiable.
At Northbrook Street the railway passed underneath before crossing the canal, following which it crossed the Birmingham – Wolverhampton main line on a flyover before merging with the line into Monument Lane Station.
The supporting wall located in the middle of the canal that carried the flyover remains to this day.
With the old branch line under our belt the walk continued through the City Centre following the Birmingham Canal Navigation. With some imagination a glimpse into Birminghams Industrial past is obtained as the journey passes Sherborne Wharf, the Birmingham Round House…..
Farmers Bridge lock flight and the giant arch under Snow Hill Station. Our day finished opposite Birmingham’s first railway station, the fine building now being renovated to open again as the terminus from the capital on HS2.
The Harborne Branch and BCN feature in our programme from time to time, so if you missed it this time there will be another opportunity with a fine pint of ale at the end of it.
This walk was measured at little over 6 miles….
Midlands Walks Coordinator