Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Dudley and Netherton Tunnels.

Wednesday 3rd July, 2013 at The Waterfront near Brierley Hill.
Another four-layer day! But thankfully it stayed dry. We were keen to do the tour inside the Dudley tunnel, which is a maze of limestone tunnels, caverns and mine workings. We had hoped to take MM through the tunnel, but her cabin is just too wide at the top to fit. There's no way that we could have fitted under the guage.
We took the first boat trip of the day and it proved to be a remarkable experience. The guide, who also drove the boat, treated us to an hour of fascinating social, industrial and geological  history, peppered with stories and anecdotes. The walls of the tunnels were often coated with limestone in wonderful shapes like draped material.

We could only see a tiny proportion of the miles of tunnels and mine shafts, some of which are closed for safety reasons, some are well below the canal level and are now flooded as there are no longer pumps running to keep out the water. The area is famous for the fossils found in the limestone like this tail end of a trilobyte.
We saw the entrance to one tunnel that they are hoping to re-open; it has a cavern two kilometers long and large enough to fit St. Paul's Cathedral in sideways throughout its entire length!
The guide talked about how they used to "leg" boats through the tunnel, as there is no towpath, and he got two volunteers to try their hands (sorry, feet!) at it. Not a great photo because everyone kept on standing up to watch!
One of the two volunteers was a Frenchman, who spoke excellent English, but couldn't understand the guide's instructions on account of his broad Staffordshire accent!
We were astounded to hear that two boatmen were capable of legging five boats tied together in a line, each carrying 30 tons of limestone or coal. Mind you, it took them four hours to "leg it" through the two mile tunnel.
After a bacon roll at the little cafe run by the Dudley Tunnel Trust, we set off. Again, we found that the water in the canal round here is crystal clear, what a contrast to central Birmingham!
Our original plan had been to go down the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks to Autherley Junction and thence on to the Shropshire Union Canal, where we plan to meet Jackie and Mick on "Zodiak" as they come south from their trip to Lancaster. Unfortunately, the Wolverhampton flight is closed due to a lock wall that is in danger of collapsing, so we have to take an alternative route.
There is a wider tunnel that runs parallel to the Dudley tunnel about a mile to the east. So we set off along the Birmingham Canal Navigation, known as the BCN, to get to the Netherton tunnel. On the way, we passed over an aqueduct that carries the BCN over the canal that goes through Netherton tunnel, so we were given a bird's eye view of the tunnel we were about to go through.
Three locks and two miles later, we went through the tunnel, which is dead straight for nearly two miles and has a towpath on both sides. The tiny white dot in the centre of the photo is the other end of the tunnel two miles away!
At the southern end of the tunnel, the canal curves round in a huge loop of nearly three miles until it comes to the southern end of the Dudley Tunnel. We moored up and walked up the three locks to see the south portal of the Dudley Tunnel. On the way up we walked under a beautiful viaduct that straddled the locks - sadly now disused like so many railway lines around here and now covered in trees.
The Southern portal of the Dudley tunnel is quiet and remote. Very different from the hustle and bustle that surrounds the north end.
Travelling south, the landscape changed to being completely rural, although next to where we were travelling there used to be steelworks, including the works where the anchors for the Titanic were cast. Each of the Titanic's anchors needed 25 horses to pull it out of the yard!
Finally we moored up in a new office and housing development called The Waterside. Again, this used to be a huge steelworks until the 70's when it was redeveloped.
Today: 9 miles, 4 locks and 4.9 hours.
Trip: 176 miles, 132 locks and 139.1 hours.

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