This morning we made an early start and crept passed the sleeping boaters and assisted by the ever cheerful Brian we descended the Oldbury Locks and onto the Old Main Line travelling underneath the M5 Motorway until we reached Stewart Aqueduct where we went over the New Main Line with the motorway supports actually in the canal bed.
A short distance on is the Spon Lane Junction with 3 locks leading off to the left to take boats down to the New Main in the direction of Wolverhampton. There is a magic electronic Advertising Hoarding which services both the motorway and canal.
Once out from under the motorway it appears that you have entered the countryside with reeds and lovely tree decked banks, it is hard to believe that you are in a major conurbation as you proceed through the Summit Tunnel.
We continued side by side with Telford’s New main line but some 40ft higher until we reached the Smethwick Locks where the Engine Branch goes off and crosses the lower canal on a single span cast iron structure. A Boulton and Watt steam pumping engine used to feed the 491ft summit level for 120 years.
In 1892, a replacement engine was built in a new pumping house, now Grade II listed, next to Brasshouse Lane, as the original Smethwick Engine was considered uneconomic to repair. The original Smethwick Engine was then removed to British Waterways Ocker Hill depot where it remained until acquired by Birmingham City Council. It is now part of the collection of Birmingham Museums and is on display at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum at Millennium Point. It is the oldest working engine in the world.
Down the last 3 locks brought us to Smethwick Junction where we left Brindley’s high level and continued on the Main Line where there are several Toll Islands, the Toll Houses having been long gone; and many junctions with the old route now just loops like the Soho Loop, Icknield Port Loop and the Oozell Street Loop.
We now entered Birmingham passing Sherborne Wharf Moorings and the recently opened Bone and Fiddle with its pump out and fuel facilities. The NIA, now renamed the Barclaycard Arena, has taken on a new facade and looks much better.