This was to be the last day of our trip from Apsley to Droitwich, but a body found in the canal ahead delayed the arrival at Droitwich Spa Marina. No one was sure where the incident occurred. There were varying accounts. And no one was sure if the canal was open yet. When our friends Tony and Deb showed up late the next morning, we decided to push on anyway. It was another great weather day. We were under way by 11am, not our usual 5:30am start, which meant when we did 10 hours on Day 5, we only would have 4 hours left the following day, adding up to the normal 14 hour day we had done up until now. You do the math.
Tony headed back home. He would meet us later at the next flight of locks….The Tardebigge locks, 30 in all, 2.25 miles long and descending 220 feet. The only reason The Hatton Flight is more famous is because more people use it. The Tardebigge Flight is on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, while the Hatton Flight is on the Grand Union Canal. The latter also has double locks while the former is all single locks.
The Tardebigge flight was designed by one man. The Lapworth Flight that we had just completed were all independent designs. The designers put out a tender to many companies to construct one lock on the flight, hence the different shaped locks (all still single) and a mix of lock gates and paddle lifts. One was eventually chosen and so there is a semblance of cohesion along the way. At the time of day we had completed the Lapworth Flight, I was so tired they all looked the same to me. Stone, wood and water. Start low, end high.
And now another new day. On to the Tardebigge flight, through Solihull, a southern district of Birmingham, along the North Stratford Canal, through the Brandwood Tunnel (352 yards long, 0.2 miles….not very long), up to a left turn at King’s Norton Junction on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, through 2 more tunnels and down to the Tardebigge Flight. From the top of the Lapworth Flight to Tardebigge, we had to travel north, then west and finally south. Nothing on the Cut is straight forward. You go where the canals were cut to get to your destination. Sometimes you even loop back on yourself. We have those farmers and landowners from the 1700s and 1800s to thank for the shape of the Cut.
This day’s trip was going to take us 10 hours. Ought to have been 13 and a half, but we did Tardebigge in 1/3 the time (a record time apparently…ought to be 6 and a half hours and we did it in 2hrs 15 mins) required because it was late, just after 6:30pm when we arrived at the first lock and nearly 9pm when we got to the bottom. It was another hot day and there were 21 miles to cover and those 30 locks at the end of the journey. Would we just moor up before tackling the Tardebigge Flight or go for it? Tony made up our minds. He’d be there waiting. We were going for it.
Clear cruising on Day 5. We passed the place where the body had been found. We learned later that it had been a young woman with epilepsy who must have had a seizure and fallen in the canal off a bridge. Very sad. It took place in Solihull, the south end of Birmingham. Lots of hired boats on the Cut this day, some seasoned and more than a few who had no idea how to handle a boat.
We were following one hire boat for a while. It would slow to a crawl then suddenly accelerate and take off like a bat-out-of-hell (as much as a boat could fly), slowing to a crawl again and so on. Very frustrating. Playing silly buggers. We came to a sharp bend that turned right, into a narrow because trees hung out over the canal on the left. Then the canal cut to the left just as sharply on a bend past the hanging trees.
There was a pub on the right, on the bend. It looked for a moment like the hired boat was going to moor alongside the pub. I thought, great, I’ll just slip by him. He changed his mind and started pulling out, forcing me to veer left, just as a boat rounded the bend coming toward us. Don’t ask me how I threaded the needle, but with help from navigator Deb and best friend support, we avoided disaster. When the water cleared, we were back behind the hire boat that decided to moor up on the next stretch. We were glad to be on our own again.
Lots of pubs along this route. But the one we were interested in was waiting at the bottom of the Tardebigge Flight. We passed through the Brandwood Tunnel, all the while remaining on the North Stratford canal. Eventually, we arrived at the King’s Norton Junction where the North Stratford meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. We were finally heading south. Little did I know that there were still 2 tunnels before the Tardebigge locks.
The first one, well let’s just say it was like walking under a waterfall. A cold shower like none of the other tunnels we encountered. I was soaked at the end of it. And this, the Shortwood Tunnel, was 610 yards long. That’s over a 3rd of a mile of water pouring down on me. And no soap. The second tunnel was the Tardebigge, because it comes just before the locks. It is 580 yards long and is relatively dry….relatively.
The big test came at the end of the day. So many locks and daylight waned. Tony was there and organised the ladies, the three working as a well-oiled machine, lock after lock. We sneaked by one chap who we thought might hold us up, but for some reason, between locks, he had tied up his boat and gone off somewhere. We dodged ahead of him and never looked back, except to take photos. We reached the bottom lock, moored for the night, exhausted after the hot and long day, even though it was only 10 hours….only?
On the other side of the towpath was the sister pub to the one we had gone to the night before. This one was the Queen’s Head pub.The problem? We were too late for food. It was Sunday and they stopped serving food at 7:30. What did that matter really? The beer was flowing and the crisps and peanuts were plentiful. And guess who we ran into? The guys who had turned back at the Lapworth Flight to take the Birmingham route. They had arrived only and hour before us. It was much further the route they had taken. We all laughed. And we drank. Only 4 hours to Droitwich, so we relaxed and staggered back to the boat.
The next morning we set off, but a little later than usual. We had to cover 4 miles and negotiate 15 more locks, turning off the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to the rather short Droitwich spur which had 3 of the strangest locks we had encountered. After all those very long days, this one seemed like a doddle. So much so that we had 2 chaps work those last 3 locks for us. They had to fill some pound off to the right of the lock, then empty it so the next lock would have plenty of water. 2 volunteers are here every day in the summer from 11am to 4pm, helping boaters through these locks.
It was the only time my best friend allowed me to get off the boat, to watch the proceedings. Quite an impressive way to save water. It takes longer to get through a lock, but we didn’t mind. The marina was in sight and our journey to an end. Out of the last lock, ahead a short distance, turn right through a narrow gap and into our new marina.
I moored alongside a cement dock to fill the thirsty boat with diesel and we went into the marina office to sign in and get our place. I went back to the boat, untied and headed to our new berth, on the north side of the marina. Back in, tie up, engine off. Home.