Four-tunnel day

Tardebigge to Hockley Heath, 18.27 miles, 4 tunnels, 1 open stop lock
        First Mate delivered the Cleddau crew back from Bromsgrove to the boat at Tardebigge New Wharf this morning. Unloading of weekend gear and the top up food shop was quickly completed, a top up of water followed – and then it was off – off along the summit level of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Within 10 yards there was tunnel number 1, Tardebigge Tunnel,

a 580 yard* starter for the day. After a winding mile long stretch through a tree-lined cutting came tunnel number 2, Shortwood Tunnel (613 yards).

The next four miles or so takes the canal past Alvechurch Marina (and some delightful moorings),

under the M42 (for the first time, there was a second one later), past the rather lovely Lower Bitell Reservoir,

through Hopwood – to the next tunnel. This one, Wast Hill, is a big one.

It had been the Cleddau crew’s first ever tunnel, on a hire boat from Stratford-upon-Avon, way back in 1989. So scared had the would-be Captain been on the stern that he had kept the little hire boat (the Angela Jane) creeping oh so slowly along the right hand wall.  A voice from a boat behind had hailed:
        “Are you alright? Is there a problem?”
         “First time in a tunnel, just scared…” had been the back deck reply.
         This morning Cleddau approached Wast Hill tunnel and a pinprick of light glowed in the far dark distance.

On the towpath stood a German family holding on to boat ropes, waiting, waiting… Greenery covered the tunnel signs.
          “It is two way,” called the Captain encouragingly – and Cleddau plunged into 2726 yards of blackness. How well Salty’s new tunnel light on the cratch board spreads its light. The boat purred through the tunnel, passing two other boats coming south. How high was the roof! How wide was the channel! Veterans now of the seriously long one-way tunnels at  Harecastle and the Standedge! Users now of the timed tunnels on the northern Trent and Mersey! Wast Hill now seems, well, a motorway in contrast to a country back lane!
           On the cruise went: to King’s Norton, the suburbs of Birmingham, a right turn at the Junction and on to the Stratford-on-Avon Canal.  In less than a mile came the final tunnel of the day, Brandwood Tunnel,

a mere 352 yards. Some tunnels are wetter inside than others, but all are cool. “Going through the tunnel?” a lady boater had asked at Hopwood before Wast Hill. “It was sooooo coooold in there yesterday.” It may be late June, but having hat and gloves close by can be useful!
           Other than tunnels what of today’s curiosities? Well, there was the bridge on the Birmingham outskirts with a metal plate built into the brickwork

– handy for fire crews in WW2 to access an easy water source. Then there was the guillotine stop lock at King’s Norton.

The gates are fixed open now but originate from when rival canal companies protected their water levels.  A complicated pylon caught the eye:

functional, presumably, but not pretty!
         The Shirley Draw Bridge was a delight,

turn key, press button and result! Barriers down, bridge up, boat passes through…          The Nicholson’s Waterway Guide (new edition 2006) shows Dickens Heath as a rural area: it was a surprise then to see new apartments and water tumbling tidily down a designer water feature.

         Along the north Stratford there were two very sleek cruisers,

sports cars came to mind.  Then, moored up late this afternoon at Hockley Heath, there was time for a quick look around. Is this a smart money area? Across the road is a McLaren showroom…

Notices proudly announce success in Britain in Bloom competitions – and it’s reassuring to know that the object perched on the canal bridge ahead is a firmly fixed flower planter

– and not a casket of missiles to lob at unsuspecting boaters passing below…
      Onward tomorrow to Kingswood Junction, to join the southern Stratford Canal and to get as close to Wootton Wawen as possible.
     *Tunnel distances given in yards, as in the Waterways Guide, though portal plaques are now displaying distances in metres.

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