The Cruise of the Dondevoy


After arranging with the boatyard at Autherley Junction about the use of their slipway, and phoning my parents to tell them the plan, I was on my way. I had decided to end the cruise rather than hazard leaving the boat somewhere during the twelve days I was to spend in France. I will probably find the weather too cold on my return anyway.

I was determined to avoid the Birmingham Main Line route through to Wolverhampton as far as possible, as I had been reliably informed that it was straight and boring, so I went round by the old route through Smethwick Locks, where there is a disused set of locks running parallel.

Up until these locks, I had gone round all the old loops of the line that I could find, making three in all. Two of them are officially listed as "not navigable", so I was pleased to get round, especially the Windsor Green loop, which almost defeated me, as the water was very shallow, very weedy, and littered with small items of debris such as telegraph poles and railway sleepers. I picked up a long piece of driftwood and poled myself through the worst part. The other "closed" loop was easy in comparison.

At the top of Smethwick Locks, I moored for a meal on the Telford Aqueduct, overlooking the wide Main Line in its deep cutting, and was able to gain satisfaction from the fact that I was avoiding it.

Telford's aqueduct taking the Engine Arm over the Birmingham Main Line. Picture from

Shortly afterwards, the canal meets the motorway, and passes back and forth underneath, and for long stretches directly beneath the stilts of the raised road. It is here that an incredible coincidence occurs: two canals, a railway, and a motorway all cross one another at the same point, with an ordinary road bridge not far away. The motorway, on the top level of the complex, is supported by enormous diagonal struts reaching right down to the middle of the Main Line down below. An impressive sight.

Struts of the M4 bridge over the Birmingham Main Line, seen from the Stewart Aqueduct. Picture from the Tuesday Night Club's 2000 tour at

The route I had taken was apparently more industrialised than the Birmingham Level, but I think I preferred it to what I had seen of the Main Line. I got my third bird's-eye view of the latter as I passed over another aqueduct, running over the arm leading to the Netherton Tunnel, which I could see on one side, yawning blackly far below.

Northern entrance of Netherton Tunnel, seen from Tividale Aqueduct. Photo from

Just here on this route, the road bridges over the canal are being strengthened, probably quite necessarily, but completely without regard for the original aesthetic beauty of the brickwork. Steel girders are being placed straight across underneath the arches, destroying the curved lines, and also reducing the headroom.

As time was getting on, and I had made good progress during the day, I stopped as soon as I saw a convenient pub. If I seem to have been on one mammoth pub crawl, I have given a false impression; I use the pubs to learn more about the cut, and also because they have toilets, while my boat does not.

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