Monday, 9 July 2012

Wast Hills Canal Tunnel


Wast Hills canal tunnel is exactly that – a canal tunnel that passes under some fields south of Brum, and an estate. I visited the north entrance after a walk down the canals after work one lazy Sunday a few weeks ago.


I decided to feature this tunnel on the blog because it’s hidden away, tucked behind some tower blocks near Cadbury Sixth Form College. There is only one tow path and it is narrow and doesn’t look to be well maintained (it isn't tarmacked and was quite squelchy in places!). The estate isn’t the most desirable part of Brum and in previous times I would’ve told everyone and anyone to avoid it! But despite all this, the area has a lot of history with regards to the canal network. To some people it’s just a canal tunnel in an estate; to others, me included, it’s valuable piece of Birmingham’s history and the connection between the canal network and the rise of industry.

The canal is on the Worcester and Birmingham canal, and this tunnel is quite long – some websites say 2726ft, some say 2493 metres – I think the latter figure is correct as a quick play with Google Earth tells me it is ~1.5miles.

Wast Hills Tunnel was built in 1976 and is the longest tunnel on the canal network. Quite a feat of engineering! The boats had to be legged through the tunnel as there is no internal towpath. Near to the entrance, but on the other side of the canal, is an information panel which I presume tells us more information, however, my zoom isn’t great so I couldn’t get a decent photo of it!


As an aside, somewhere on the Hawkesley estate is a pathway called something along the lines of ‘The Old Towpath’ I think! I used to see it on driving lessons around this area.

Here are some more photos:




More photos are up on Flickr.

The walk along the canal can be done as quickly as you like – to get to the Wast Hills tunnel you can get the 45 and I think the 49 to Foyle Road (just off the Redditch Road). The location of the tunnel is made evident by the white cottages that look distinctly out of place in this area! There is a steep slope down to the towpath near these cottages. There are no bins along this stretch of the canal. If you join the canal here, the walk takes you towards the King’s Norton Junction and the Guillotine Lock, and further on, Lifford.

This is what the land looks like immediately above the tunnel entrance:
(View from the bus stop)

(View from near the cottages after leaving the tow-path) 


L x

22 comments:

  1. Sorry about this but it was not built in 1976! and no where near the longest tunnel on the canal system - the Standedge tunnel is more than 3 miles long...

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    1. Glad I wasn't the only one to notice haha !! Somewhere between 76 and 81, there was work on the tunnel near the flats and a workman was killed when part of it fell.

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  2. I agree that it was built before 1976. My girl friend and I took a boat through it in 1963, and it had already been there for a very, very long time. On Utube I have noted noted a short video of a boat entering the tunnel, and the exit can clearly be seen. This astonishes me, for when we did it there was a bend in the tunnel which made it impossible to see the other end! It was like sailing into the mouth of hell, and we were definitely scared. I can only assume that some modification has been made to ease the passage along this stretch of the Birmingham-Worcester canal for the many boats that must now use it.

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    1. Sorry to disappoint but there ain't no bend in that tunnel

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    2. It has always been possible to see the other end. On a clear day, if you can't see the other end, there is something else in there.

      Two friends of mine drowned in the tunnel in around 1964. Just after I went to live there in 1978, there was the collapse mentioned above. I think 3 men died. The soft fill of an early shaft for spoil removal fell in when workmen were relining the tunnel. Apparently, these shafts were known but British Waterways had not made the original engineering drawings available to the contractors.

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  3. Wast Hill Tunnel was completed in 1797 & although it's the longest tunnel on the Worcester & Birmingham canal, it's definitely not the longest tunnel on the canal network; even in Birmingham there's the Netherton Tunnel (which is open for regular traffic) & the Dudley Tunnel (which providing your boat is the correct size for you still need to be pulled through) which are longer.

    I can also confirm that the tunnel never had a bend in it & yes you can see from one end to the other! In certain atmospheric conditions the tunnel does get misty inside which will prevent you seeing all the way through.

    I hope that helps!

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  5. In February 1964 two lads I knew at KingsNorton Grammer school Rob Seymoure and Clive Chance attempted to canoe through this tunnel. No one knows what happened but they were found drowned a few days later. I often think with sadness of this event.

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    1. Clive Chance was in my form at Kings Norton and lived near us just off Bunbury Road. It was a very sad event and I still remember him.

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  8. Wikipedia states that is a double width tunnel with no towpath but that is very unusual for that time and legging would be impossible.
    As stated the longest running is Standage at 3 and a quarter miles, and is not only the longest but the highest above sea level and the deepest below ground level.
    Dudley tunnel with both sections added together is 1.9 miles with Netherton being slightly shorter but 17 feet wide at water level is the widest and last tunnel to be built on a commercial canal.

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    1. Legging was the only way. They legged against the roof.

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  9. Wikipedia states that is a double width tunnel with no towpath but that is very unusual for that time and legging would be impossible.
    As stated the longest running is Standage at 3 and a quarter miles, and is not only the longest but the highest above sea level and the deepest below ground level.
    Dudley tunnel with both sections added together is 1.9 miles with Netherton being slightly shorter but 17 feet wide at water level is the widest and last tunnel to be built on a commercial canal.

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  10. All of you that say that there is no bend. There is definitely a bend as me and my bro in law have just kayaked through it and defo can't see from one end to the other. Anyhow it was fun with battery powered lamps while pissed up
    Kayaking.

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    1. I live on a narrowboat and have gone through this tunnel dozens of times. You definitely can see all the way through on a clear day. If you can't it's generally because a mist has developed in the tunnel (or it's night-time!) There is a very slight kink at around the mid point, but it's so slight it doesn't stop the light passing through.

      The canal certainly doesn't have a bend in it. If you understand how these tunnels were constructed you will realise that it would be impossible to build it this way.

      The tunnel height is also too high for legging and, prior to engines, the boats would have been 'poled' through, by pushing the barge-pole against to brickwork in the tunnel roof.

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  11. Yes the tunnel does have a bend in it,we kayaked it last night around 9.30 took around 35 mins,was a great night,feel sorry for Rob and clive,was thinking how did it all go wrong for them,

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  12. Interesting! As of 24th Nov. Whilst walking, we were able to see right through from the towpath. (We weren't pissed)

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    1. Your problem find it was a barge light, not the other end of the tunnel, because the tunnel does intact bend, a very slow big bend all the way through

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  13. Funny as fuck. It is so much better when ya pissed. Gonna do it again on rob and clives anniversary.

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  14. We done the tunnel again on the 11/2/16 a few hours after dark this time there was 3 of us on the 2+1 kayak, the kayak sat low in the water me the back rower 5"8 stocky build, son in-laws is 6 ft also stocky build, then there's the brother in-laws 5"11 skinny build front oars man,pushing off from pool farm side we power row hard into the tunnel,it really is like entering the path way to hell, we get to the halfway marker turn off the lights and say a short prayer for Rob and Clive soon as we finished the pray what we can only presume is a very large carp starts crashing around on the waters surface,it's spooked us we turned the lights back on and started rowing again , me being the back oarsman felt uncomfortable about what we thought was a carp,the hairs was stood up on the back of my next, I way relived when we got to the hopwood side,

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