Illustration by Richard Wise
Words by Peter Watts
Tardebigge Top Lock is one of the most important locations on the canal system and it’s also one that provides wonderful views of the British countryside from the nearby hilltop church, St Barthomew’s. From here you can see green fields and big skies as you gaze down at the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, noting how it cuts its way so eloquently through the landscape. That’s the sort of reward you can surely only truly appreciate after a walk up the country’s longest lock flight from Stoke Prior – although if you just fancy the view, nobody is going to stop you heading straight to Tardebigge to enjoy the experience without the climb.
If you like the idea of a circular stroll up and down the lock flight, start at the Navigation Inn in Stoke Prior. This is where boaters get a dose of Dutch courage to help them start their exhausting climb up a mammoth 30-lock flight that lifts the canal 220 feet over two-and-a-quarter miles. It’s a far easier business for walkers, who simply get to enjoy the views such as those towards the Malvern Hills from Tardebigge Reservoir.
It was at Tardebigge’s top lock that Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman met on board Rolt’s narrowboat Cressy shortly after the Second World War. This meeting led to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association, a group whose founding was essential to the continued existence of our waterways – a plaque now marks the spot. The IWA still exists today, and their spirit can also be detected in the work of Canal & River Trust volunteers, including those who work as volunteer lock keepers on this very flight. Further down the canal is another flight of locks, the Hanbury Flight, which was rebuilt by volunteers.
The canal’s 58 locks were essential for the completion of this important waterway, which provided the shortest connection between Birmingham and the Severn. The canal was finished in 1815 and was one of the more successful waterways thanks to the decision of Cadbury to locate their main factory along the waterside at Bourneville. Chocolate crumb was still being transported by canal into the early 1960s.
Plan your day out along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
Posted on 17/01/2020