In my defence, I’ve been very busy at work and am not all there in the concentration stakes. Last night I reached Rodizio Rico (Mailbox) after trekking across town (University-New Street-Snow Hill), only to realise that I’d left our tickets for Laura Mvula (Digbeth) at work (Edgbaston). This was not the first blunder of the evening – prior to meeting the missus at Snow Hill, I thought, perfect, half an hour to walk up the cut to Selly Oak and catch the train to town this way. Of course, I got to the Bristol Road bridge and there’s no steps up! I had to walk back to University and get the train from there. Then, again of course, I looked it up again this morning and the path up to road level is just a few yards further on. Sigh.
Anyway, at the very least it gave me a chance to take some pictures. Although just a short stretch of the Worcester & Birmingham, there’s some interesting features here. First feature that you’ll come across once leaving the campus is the Ariel Aqueduct (pictured above). This was opened in 2011 as part of the Selly Oak New Road development, the monster bypass of the old Bristol Road, and yesterday featured a bunch of what looked like rugby players running up the massive embankment. The aqueduct was named for the Ariel cycle/motorcycle/car factory that stood nearby on Dale/Grange Road until the sixties.
The railway line that now cross the canal (to cross back shortly after Selly Oak station) was opened in 1876 as the Birmingham West Suburban Railway between New Street station and King’s Norton, servicing the commuter villages/developments of Selly Oak, Stirchley, Bournville and King’s Norton. In 1887 it became more important for freight when the spur to the Central Goods depot, now the Mailbox – doubtless this was pretty frightening for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, whose route through Birmingham it now shadowed in its entirety. They charged rent for the land however, later a 1% dividend, which shielded somewhat from its loss-making status. The canal was one of relatively few in this country not to have been closed at any point – its use by Royal Worcester porcelain and Cadbury’s between the two cities couldn’t quite be replicated by rail. The company did suffer though.
Off to the right here are a selection of unofficial looking footpaths crossing the scrubland between the canal and the allotments the far side of the new road. It doesn’t look entirely legit, certainly, but there is a cut through (again, didn’t notice it) to the Bristol Road here in the form of a service road for the sub-station.
Less obvious to the naked eye, or even on Google Maps, is what comes through the scrubland. Try coordinates 52° 26′ 37.22″, -1° 56′ 16.26″ in OS Get-a-map though (I wish I could legitimately copy-and-paste the actual map, but apparently I’m too honest), and you’ll see a line of raised ground through the scrubland, under the new road, leading to a small patch of water in Selly Oak Park. On the OS there is a “Harborne Bridge”. What does this mean? The answer is actually apparent from the opposite side of the canal, where against the disused buildings of the Selly Oak wharves is a banner for the Lapal Canal Trust.
This trust is working towards a full restoration of the Dudley No.2 Canal from its current terminus at Hawne Basin in Halesowen, to its original junction with the W&B Canal here at Selly Oak. Harborne Bridge, Selly Oak Wharves, the water in the park and the embanked part of the scrubland are all related to this long-disused section of canal. Rejoining the Black Country canals with the W&B would re-fulfil the canal’s original purpose of shortening the transfer time to Birmingham and even London considerably. The problem has always been the Lapal Tunnel: prone to collapse, not good when you’re in the middle of a 2.15 mile narrow tunnel with no towpath. In fact, even the restorers have given up on it and are pushing now for an ‘up and over’ route through the Waseley Hills. Next stage of the process however involves just this very section of scrubland, from the W&B to Harborne Bridge, with plans to make it the first navigable section of the restoration.
So we’ll see how it goes: plans are very well advanced for this, and it would be lovely to unearth a new old canal in this slightly shabby bit of Birmingham.