Flights of fancy: Tardebigge Locks – West Midlands

Seek out a sleeping giant, historic meeting place and the longest flight in the UK on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Photo: Andrew Batram

 

The 30 locks at Tardebigge make up the longest flight in the UK and one of the longest in Europe, an awe-inspiring sight that carry the canal 67 metres over a 2.25 mile stretch. It’s also the location of a meeting that laid the foundations for the revival of the nation’s waterways after the Second World War. Like many flights of locks, which were designed to navigate steep inclines, Tardebigge is an impressive sight and a wonderful piece of canal infrastructure.

The locks are on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, which connects the centre of Birmingham with the Severn at Worcester and has 58 locks in total to handle the 130m climb from Worcester. The canal was completed in 1815 and proved to be a great success thanks to the Cadbury factories at Bourneville and Blackpole, despite the intimidating presence of Tardebigge.

The flight consisted of 30 single locks rather than staircases, which at least meant boaters could take an occasional break from the arduous task. Engineers has been worried about the cost of building so many locks so investigated alternatives. In place of the top lock was originally a vertical boat lift featuring a wooden tank sealed by gates and lifted by two men using a system of chains and pulleys. This lift could move 110 boats in 12 hours but the company was concerned it was too fragile so went with the locks instead. Tardebigge is also the location of one of the most important meetings in the 20th century history of canals: this is where Tom Rolt met Robert Aickman, something which led directly to the creation of the Inland Waterways Association. A plaque now marks the spot.

Since 2017, the Canal & River Trust has offered a certificate for boaters who have completed the journey, which can be claimed by scanning a QR code on posters on the flight. Timothy Booker, the Trust’s waterway supervisor, says: “Tardebigge Flight covers such a scenic section of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and navigating through 30 locks takes a lot of effort, so we want to recognise anyone who completes the challenge. Hopefully it gives further gravitas to the flight, which is a bit of sleeping giant.”

For more information and to see suggestions of other things to do at Tardebigge, have a look on our website.