Thursday, 4 July 2013

A lot of Locks!

Thursday 4th July, 2013 at Wordsley Junction.
Last night we were at The Waterfront on the Dudley No. 1 Canal, and tonight we are at Wordsley Junction just outside Stourbridge on the Stourbridge Canal. "So what?", we can hear you say!
"Twenty-four locks and four miles in just over six hours", we reply!
We started with a bit of retail therapy at Merryhill for the usual "few bits". Merryhill is a vast shopping complex next to The Waterfront, so we only had to sail a few hundred yards to moor up above it.  The canal sits high above it on an embankment.  Outside the entrance is the statue of John Northwood (1836-1902), a local glassmaker, famous for recreating the Roman Cameo Glass technique in order to make a replica of a Roman vase that the British Museum had (most unfortunately!) dropped and broken in 1876.
The shopping complex is on the site of the Round Oak Steelworks that was opened in 1857 making pig iron. At its peak, it employed over 3,000 people, but it was gradually run down until it only employed 1,286 people when it closed in 1982.
The shopping centre now employs over 4,000 people, which sounds good until you realise that it has killed off all the smaller retailers for miles around - not helped by the local council initiating parking charges in the surrounding towns while the shopping centre parking is still free.
Another difference is, of course, that Round Oak produced something - they created products. The shopping centre just churns money and items which are produced elsewhere. A sign of the times?
Shortly after we set off, we had to go down the Delph flight of eight locks. They are in a beautiful setting with wide overflow weirs on one side and the remains of an older set of locks on the other side - now just a sloping green field.  You can just see the grassy incline of the old locks on the right.
M went to investigate where the old locks used to be and was met by a very friendly local.
At the foot of these locks, the Dudley No 1 Canal becomes the Stourbridge Canal. At Leys Junction, we turned south-west and immediately were faced with the sixteen lock Stourbridge flight. The locks were not difficult but, as most were set against us, it took us four and a half hours to get through.
At lock 10 was a welcome shop, that used to be an inn, selling ice cream, so we each had a Magnum to fortify us for the last six locks.
When R went into the shop, it appeared unoccupied other than a very large, very comfortable cat sprawled across a side table in the sun. Luckily someone emerged to serve him (Robin, not the cat!) and shortly after he was trying to steer MM out of the lock with one hand while eating a Magnum with the other!

Near the bottom of the flight is one of the last remaining glass manufacturing "cones" in this country. There used to be dozens across the skyline as you can see from this old (and very dirty) photograph.
The "Red House Glass Cone" is now a museum. By the time we went by, it was closed for the day, but we intend to walk up to visit it tomorrow.

We moored up for the evening below the last lock, just past the Stourbridge Arm in a very pretty spot. The guide books recommend a trip down the two mile long arm to the centre of Stourbridge but M decided to do some reconnaissance and went for a walk down it to the far end. She returned, declaring it to be "grim". So we decided against it.

Today: 4 miles, 24 locks and 6.3 hours.
Trip: 180 miles, 156 locks and 145.4 hours.

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