is it like underneath Spaghetti Junction?
15th May, 2010. We sallied forth for some fresh air. It was
largely a dull day; but we were undaunted in our Quest. This was simply to take
some photos. underneath
Spaghetti Junction. This unlovely name was bestowed on a relatively complicated
motorway junction on the M6, which connects it to the centre of Birmingham. It
goes without saying, that it (along with other nearby junctions in the West
Midlands) is a notorious traffic bottleneck. Indeed, a by-pass – the ‘M6
Toll’ – was constructed some years ago to enable people, on payment of a fee,
to get round this whole area. But I digress. The purpose of this web page is simply
to furnish you with a few images of what is underneath
this junction. On the aerial view above, the M6 runs from the upper left to the
lower right, and the A38(M) runs off to the lower left
into the centre of Birmingham. It
just looks like some roads. But it is much more complicated (& interesting)
Here, we are approaching the junction from Birmingham; from
the south west. The M6 – which is elevated on concrete piles – is seen in the
distance. On the left is a canal. This is the Birmingham
& Fazeley Canal,
completed in 1789. Its origin is in central Birmingham. On the
right, at a lower level, is the River Rea. This rises in the Waseley Hills, some miles to the south west of Birmingham. It was
brick-culverted many years ago, as it was prone to
flood after prolonged heavy rain. Why are these two ‘watercourses’ headed in
the same direction?
Here is the canal, now quite near to the motorway. The River Rea
is alongside, to the right, and lower down, as in the previous shot. The names
of rivers are absolutely fascinating, as I’m sure you know? They are almost always
very ancient – unless they have been ‘back-named’ from villages or towns through
which they flow, e.g. the Cherwell, the Penk, and many others. If they are unchanged (as most of
them are), river names can instantly whisk us back into the very distant past –
for example the Celtic period; or perhaps even further, into the remote, misty
period before the Celts came to these islands? The name ‘Rea’ however, may only
go back to Old English, and simply means ‘river’, just as afon is the Welsh (Celtic) non-specific
name for a ‘river’, of whatever sort.
There’s the main elevated M6, dominating… what? Simply the confluence of the small River Rae (coming from bottom
right) with the only slightly larger River Tame, coming in from the left.
‘Tame’ of course, is a fascinating river name. Tame, Team, Teme,
Tamar, Thames: there
are many of these sort of river names, to be found all over Britain. The Oxford
Dictionary of English Place-Names describes the name as ‘Ancient Celtic’, first
recorded ~50 BC.
The old ‘Salford Bridge’ is
seen here. I drove over it hundreds of times in the early 1960s, well before the
austere concrete and steel motorway bestrode it. The Salford Bridge carried
the main road (A38) out of Birmingham to the
north east: to places like Sutton Coldfield, Lichfield, Tamworth. It is still in use of course,
but only as a ‘feeder’ for the motorway, plus local traffic. More
on ‘Salford’ later.
Here we are looking back into Birmingham. The canal on the right, the Rea coming in parallel with it, the
Tame coming in from the right, under the canal.
There is more than one ‘confluence’ under Spaghetti Junction. Here,
dwarfed and oppressed by the megalithic pillars supporting the M6, is the
junction of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (coming in
at the left and turning sharp right), with the Tame Valley Canal coming in
straight towards us, from the west. This is a relatively recent canal, as
attested by its direct line, its many embankments and bold earthworks. If you
have even been queuing in the interminable traffic where the northbound M5
meets the M6, you will have passed under the Tame Valley canal;
which, in its light and unassuming aqueduct, casually steps over the M5, some
miles to the west of the above shot.
We are looking back along the Tame Valley Canal, which
has come from the north west. The M6
is, as ever, above us. The River Tame itself is on the other side of the
Here is a view looking back towards the junction of the Tame Valley with
the Birmingham & Fazeley. A graffiti artist’s
paradise! Still, there were graffiti 2000 years ago in ancient Rome, weren’t
there? So who are we to argue?
Rather more to the left of the previous
shot, the Birmingham & Fazeley heads off
resolutely east, turning north east, the progressively north, en route to Fazeley,
on the old Roman Watling Street, where it joins the Coventry Canal. Which, at that point, is nowhere near Coventry at all!
Though it had been a very dull day, the sun did happen to come
out for a short time, and make luminous the Ragwort (I would imagine that’s
what it is, wouldn’t you?) growing along the canalized River Tame on the south
west side of the M6. I suppose they dug it a channel so that it wouldn’t occasionally
overflow and lap away at the concrete pillars supporting the M6. An excellent idea.
underneath old Salford Bridge, with the Birmingham & Fazeley canal
aqueduct in the distance, and a single mighty pillar of the M6.
Of course, no plant life actually grows underneath the M6 on this elevated section. It’s too dry under
there, and little sunshine can ever penetrate. We’re looking north
west here. The River Tame is on the left. I presume this metalled roadway underneath the M6, strangely deserted,
serves some important purpose. I don’t know how far it goes, and did not
explore it on foot, as I had been pottering about for a couple of hours and was
getting rather tired, sorry.
It is of course impossible to ‘photograph’ Spaghetti Junction –
it’s far too big. But you can see a couple of link roads (to the north east) on
There is a commemorative plaque on Salford Bridge. You
see it above. I have exaggerated the contrast to make it easier to read – if,
indeed, anyone has read so far down this very boring web page! Still, whoever
put up the first bridge in 1290, might possibly be surprised that the surroundings
of their bridge was still an important focus of transportation over 800 years
later? Not a bit of it. It is no coincidence that the M6 was built through here.
It is no coincidence that canals were built coming to here, and having a
junction here. Still less is it a coincidence that the little River Rea had its
confluence with the small River Tame here. It was all dictated by the
landscape; by the topography. And the landscape was laid out probably 10,000
years ago, after the last Ice Age. Rivers, generally speaking, follow the
easiest path. So did the canals, when people got round to building them in the
18th & early 19th Centuries. Even the motorways had to do so, when they
were made in the 1960s, to avoid deep cuttings, high embankments, tunnels
&c., and the associated expense. So you see, it’s all
inevitable really. You and I therefore, next time we’re stuck in a bloody
traffic jam on the M6 in the West Midlands, may console ourselves with the
thought(s): (a) [a local like me] “Sod
the Last Ice Age!”; (b) [those just
passing through] “Wish we’d gone on the M6 Toll!”
written 22nd October 2010.