Friday, 17 November 2017

Hopwood (exploring Wast Hills)

The most northern of the three air shafts

We are currently moored about ½ mile south of Wast Hills tunnel by the Hopwood House pub.  As I mentioned the other day, the tunnel is 1 ½ miles long and does not have a towpath.  This meant that the towing horses used to be walked across the top to get to the other end whilst the boats were legged or poled through the tunnel.

The old path is long gone as Birmingham starts about half way along and the vast Wast Hills estate has been built over it.   When tunnels were built they usually sank many shafts in order to take away the spoil and then covered most up after construction, leaving a few as ventilation shafts.

Not to be outdone, Buddy and I set out, without a map or any desk research, to find the top of the three air shafts that can be seen when in the tunnel itself.

After a steep climb above the southern portal we cut across a field that was rather clayey but it felt as if I was heading in the right direction.  Looking back to the portal gave stunning views down to the Malvern Hills in the very far background.

The first field – southern portal is just the other side of the fir trees on the right

It’s amazing how difficult it is to follow an imaginary line without a compass, but we soldiered on, crossing a second field which was probably the highest point of the walk.

Second field but no air shafts yet

I did pass what looks like an observatory right at the top of Wast Hill but it didn’t look as if it was in use.  Another bit of desk research required, methinks.

Observatory at the top of Wast Hills

Every so often there are large mounds in the fields which I have rather assumed are spoil heaps from when the tunnel was dug.

I guessed there should be an air shaft every six or seven hundred yards so was quite disappointed when I reached the Wast Hills estate, which I judged to be the half way point, but with no sign of an air shaft.

I knew there were some high rises next to the northern portal and when I saw them I realised I had drifted off course a bit so not surprising I hadn’t found anything.  I pressed on into the estate and was really wasn’t expecting to find anything amongst the ‘70s and ‘80s terraced houses.

Don’t think I’ll find much here

A bit more modern and right next to something to lift an explorer’s spirits

It could only mean one thing really, so I followed it as it ran dead straight with back gardens flanking either side.  Eventually it came out on a bit of wasteland and suddenly I found what I was looking for:

The most northern air shaft (I had obviously missed the other two)

Looking closer at the brickwork you can see that it was heightened some time ago - no doubt once people started dropping things down it into the canal below.

Change in brickwork where the extra height was added

I carried on towards the flats and suddenly came across two old cottages which looked most out of place:

The cottages were called number one and number two Tunnel Cottage, so I knew I had found the other end of the tunnel. It’s amazing these two cottages were left standing with all the development of the last 30 years or so.  Coincidently, the cottage at the other end (in yesterday’s blog) was also called Tunnel Cottage. 

The southern portal with high rise behind and the two cottages just out of sight in the foreground.
On the way back, I was determined to keep a straight line so as not to miss the other two shafts.  The skies darkened and it started raining as we got back to the fields.  Once again, I wasn’t prepared for rain as it wasn’t forecast but at least it would give a good excuse to get a roaring fire going when I got back to the boat.

This time I was lucky and found the middle shaft at the corner of a field.  This one hasn’t been made taller, but it did have a brick structure added to it – it looked like it was used for storing hay and/or livestock.
The middle shaft

After drying out and having lunch I went down to a garden nursery in Hopwood to see if they had any miniature daff and tulip bulbs as we haven’t found any yet this year.  We were in luck, so no doubt Karen will get them planted whilst we’re cruising into Birmingham tomorrow.

Next week, when we are back after our weekend in Birmingham, I will do some desk research and go exploring again – hopefully finding that third air shaft too. 

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