Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Into Brum

It’s been a day of aqueducts and bridges, broad straights and narrow wiggly bits, open country, factory walls and new high rise developments. Quite a lot of contrasts, in fact.

After watering up we were away from the museum moorings near Dudley Tunnel at around 10:30.

Away from the museum.

We left the moorings empty, but no doubt there’ll be other boats arriving, it being half-term.

Instead of returning down the Factory Locks onto the New Main Line (Birmingham Level) we decided to head east along the earlier Old Main Line built by Brindley. This hugs the 473 foot contour and is known as the Woverhampton Level. Telford’s later New Main Line is 20 feet lower.

New developments alongside the Old Main Line

Going this way we crossed back over the Netherton Branch leading from Netherton Tunnel.

Over Tividale Aqueduct.

At Brades there’s another branch linking the old and new lines, dropping down the 3 Bradeshall Locks, then the next major landmark is Oldbury Junction, the branch leaving on the right climbing 6 locks through Oldbury to it’s terminus at Titford Pools.

Oldbury Junction

Overshadowing the junction the M5 stalks along on long legs, and is an oppressive presence for the next mile.

Old and new; Blakeley Hall Bridge under the motorway.

Another aqueduct, this time Stewart, still under the motorway and railway.

Spon Lane Locks climb up from the Birmingham Level joining at the junction of the same name.

Spon Lane Top Lock, and that motorway again.

The motorway veers off north just before Summit Bridge.

Summit bridge and Summit Tunnel make a pleasing symmetry.

A little further on, approaching Smethwick, the New Smethwick Pump House is passed. This returned water to the upper level, lost when the locks are used.

New Smethwick Pump House

The New Main Line is just below the building, but 20 feet lower. Both routes are side by side at this point, and just above Smethwick Locks the Engine Branch ducks under a towpath bridge, launches itself over the NML on an elegant iron aqueduct, then turns parallel again for about half a mile. The branch was a feeder from a steam pumping engine at the terminus.

Engine Branch Aqueduct

I couldn’t understand why the bridge and tunnel we’d passed earlier were called “Summit” when this section isn’t a summit level. The answer lies on an information panel alongside Smethwick Top Lock. This stretch between Spon Lane and Smethwick Locks was originally 20 feet higher, fed by 2 more pumping engines returning water to the short summit.

The locks at either end were initially flights of 6, but they were reduced to 3 and the canal pushed through a cutting, now at the Wolverhampton Level errr… level.

Gets confusing, all these levels.

Smethwick Locks

The Smethwick Locks are set in open-ish countryside, and we dropped down quickly.

These are the first downhill locks we’ve come across since leaving Stourport.

Below the bottom lock is one of those rubbish traps, where water flows and wind conspire to accumulate all the detritus in the canal.

Rock’n’Roll fell foul of the rubbish, the prop snarled up as they left the lock.

George, head down in the weed hatch.

Apart from several square yards of thick plastic, he had to wrestle a tyre off the prop. Unfortunately it wouldn’t come up through the hatch, so it’s still down there lurking, waiting for the next unsuspecting narrowboat.

We joined the New Main Line below the locks at Smethwick Junction and from here on it was wide straight cruising, past disused arms and branches and several old loops, the remains of the winding earlier route.

Smethwick Junction

Old arms to nowhere

The Soho Loop comes back in on the left, after swinging around Winson Green Prison, and the Icknield Port Loop goes off on the right.

We took the next loop, Oozells Street, to have a look at Sherborne Wharf.

Oozells Street Loop is just under the next bridge, to the right.

Sherborne Wharf is a busy boatyard and mooring, quite congested in places.

Sherborne Wharf moorings, with NB Waterways Routes, Paul Balmer’s boat, on the left.

Giving way to a pink waterbus coming through the gap.

With no place to moor along here, we pulled over briefly to confer, before heading back towards St. Vincent Street Bridge to pull in on the 14 day moorings.

Not sure how long we’re staying, but there must be plenty to see and do in England’s second city!

Locks 3, miles 8½

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