Building new routes to ease traffic congestion might seem like a modern phenomenon. But the difficulty of moving goods was a real problem in the late 1700s in the Midlands’industrial heartland. The great canal engineer, James Brindley, was commisioned in 1769 to build a canal between Birmingham and the coalfields in Wednesbury. He devised a ´contour´ route, which followed the natural lie of the land, and the canal was, by 1772, linking Birmingham with Wolverhampton. But there was great difficulty in getting water into the canal, as Birmingham sits on a high plateau, and traffic on the canal was much greater than predicted, leading to congestion. A huge steam engine was installed to pump water into the canal, and in 1824, Thomas Telford was employed to improve the route. His solution was radical. He ordered a deep cutting for his ´New Main Line´ - one of the largest earthworks in the world at the time, and spanned it with the Galton Bridge - the largest single span iron bridge the world had seen.
The transport revolution can be seen in microcosm in the valley - at one point the Titford canal is carried over Telford´s New Main Line on an aqueduct. The railway runs above it, and above this, the M5 motorway crosses on concrete stilts. Above this, aircraft fly en route to Birmingham International airport.
The valley’s wonders can be explored on foot, by bicycle or by boat. The Galton Valley Canal Heritage Centre is an ideal starting point, which explains the history of this massive engineering undertaking. The centre staff also provide visits to the nearby Pumping Station. There is a leaflet showing a trail that can be followed around the canals in the valley.