Narrowboat holidays—Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

OF COURSE, there must be those canal boat and holiday hirers who fancy the challenge of locks, for which could be the ideal waterway.

The Worcester & Birmingham has 58 narrow locks over its 30 miles length, rising from the Severn to the centre of Birmingham, with its 'jewel' being the closely packed Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks, and the six of the Stoke Flight just beforehand to get you in the mood.

But as far as the raw newcomer  holiday boater is concerned, with little knowledge of lock working, especially flights, it is definitely a no-no.

The first four miles of the waterway off the Severn through Diglis Locks (broad locks) is into Worcester itself, that is recognised as a problem town, and with the latter part of the waterway travelling through the conurbation of Birmingham, the boater has a great deal of built-up area to content with.

But in between there is attractive countryside, together with no less than five tunnels, with Wast Hill Tunnel over a mile long.  But this regrettably has often been reported as one subject to object dropping onto boats at its northern end by vandals.

The old basin from the Severn has over the past few years lost its character, being given to accelerated development, so now there is little space for mooring, which is really limited to the countryside, though this is fairly plentiful.

With a supermarket on the outskirts of Worcester and another just off the waterway at Selly Oak, with its own moorings, shopping is no problem.

For the short length of the waterway there are many boatyards, with no less than three hire bases, so boating facilities are better than normal on this waterway.

It is the climb up or down the Tardebigge Flight that is either the attraction or the dislike of this waterway, the locks being so tightly packed together, with just a single breathing space  near the middle at the aptly named Halfway House Bridge, pictured.

These locks leak, so if going up, as most seem to do, the best way is to be the first, when the chambers will most likely be empty of water.  If you just beat some other boater to it, it is most courteous and appreciated if you 'break' a bottom gate paddle to empty the lock for the boat behind—always considering there is no other boat coming the opposite way.

There is the canalside factory of Cadbury's at Bournville, with its visitor attraction.  But don't expect to see any chocolate actually being made, for like so many others these days, it leans towards education, with video after video and little else, though you do get a free bar of chocolate.

The Worcester & Birmingham Canal is very hard work, as the Tardebigge Flight allows for only a single respite for the whole 30 locks, and is just not suitable for beginner holiday makers having little knowledge of lock working, or none at all at long flights like this one.  But for a challenge for the better qualified, it gives a real sense of achievement.

The waterway is 30 miles long, has 58 locks, five tunnels, an aqueduct, but no swing or lift bridges.

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The more black stars the better.