In 2015 it will be 200 years since the Worcester & Birmingham Canal opened. This popular 29-mile long historic waterway starts in Worcester as an off-shoot of the River Severn, and ends in Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.
The canal climbs 130 metres from Worcester to Birmingham. It has 58 locks along its length, including 30 at Tardebigge – one of the largest lock flights in Europe.
Construction of the canal began in 1792 from the Birmingham end, and the final section was completed in December 1815. A major user of the canal in its freight-carrying heyday was the canalside Cadbury chocolate factories at Bournville and Blackpole.
Today, holiday-makers can explore this beautiful historic waterway by canal boat, starting at Drifters’ Worcester base and reaching City centre moorings in Gas Street Basin in around 22 hours.
Beginning their journey with views of Worcester Cathedral, boaters pass Diglis Basin and soon reach open countryside. After a series of locks, including the Offerton Flight of six, the canal passes beneath the busy M5 motorway.
Next it’s the 230-yard long Dunhamsptead Tunnel and then Hanbury Junction, where the Droitwich Junction Canal connects with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
The National Trust’s Hanbury Hall can be reached by a pleasant walk across the fields from Astwood Bottom Lock and the village of Hanbury itself is said to be the real-life counterpoint of Radio 4’s Ambridge, home of The Archers.
Two smaller flights of locks follow before holiday-makers reach the base of the Tardebigge flight, with 30 locks over two miles, making it the longest in the country.
It was at Tardebigge Wharf at the top of the flight – with its dry dock, maintenance yard, workers cottages and historic warehouse – that Tom Rolt first met Robert Aickman, a union which led to the creation of the Inland Waterways Association, the driving force behind the restoration of the canal network.
Next the canal passes through the Lickley Hills using three long tunnels: Tardebigge the 580-yard long Tardebigge Tunnel; 613-yard Shortwood Tunnel; and Wasthill Tunnel, the longest at 2,726 yards. This stretch also passes beneath the M42 and runs close to the Upper and Lower Bittell Reservoirs, built to feed the canal and once regularly visited by a young Bill Oddie.
Boaters next reach Kings Norton Junction, where the Worcester & Birmingham meets the Stratford Canal under permanently open guillotine gates.
Then on through the 105-yard long Edgbaston Tunnel and across the Holliday Street Aqueduct.
Finally, at its northern end, the canal joins the Birmingham Main Line at Gas Street Basin. Here traditional narrowboats and elegant black and white iron footbridges now sit alongside modern bars and restaurants and the City’s Mailbox luxury shopping centre.
Drifters also has bases on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, Alvechurch and Stoke Prior, all close to Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. And the Worcester & Birmingham Canal forms part of both the popular Avon and Stourport Cruising Rings.
2015 prices from Worcester start at £368 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £560.