Wednesday 25 April 2012

Dudley Canals. Hawne Basin to Merryhill.

It was only when we were back in the water after a week on dry land in a shed that we realised just how much we’d missed it; it seems that being warm and gently rocked to sleep at night is somehow addictive. Having daylight coming through the windows definitely is.

Once we were back back through Gosty Hill tunnel and up to Windmill End we stoked the fire up and awarded ourselves a couple of days R&R. The Dudley Canals Trust (DCT) information centre situated on the junction is a smashing place and well worth a visit.
It includes a little café and a resident herd of geese, as well as a mine - excuse the pun - of information about the history of the Dudley Canals, the surrounding industry that they supported and the impact it all had on the rest of the world at the time. On a topical note, the anchor for the Titanic was made in nearby Netherton, famous throughout the world for its anchors and chains.
The iron ore, limestone and coal used in the blast furnaces, foundries and forges that made the Black Country what it was, came out of the ground here, and the finished products were transported away by water and rail. The scars on the landscape, although healed, are still very real. You can’t take a 30’ high coal seam out from under several square miles of landscape without leaving one or two clues.
All the way along both Dudley Canals there is evidence of the Trust’s hard work; towpath improvements, tree felling, restoration and vegetation control. At relevant places along the bank there are iron structures telling the story of the Black Country and the canals.
There was a gap in the rainy weather on Tuesday so we upped sticks and meandered off to the bright lights of Merryhill, passing Withymoor Island,
which struck us as an idyllic place for a permanent mooring and stopping at the nicely restored Blowers Green Pumping Station - another tribute to the efforts of the DCT.
It stands majestically on the junction of the Dudley No1 and No2 canals with the 12’ deep Blowers Green lock right outside. So that’s another canal boated from one end to the other, although to be fair the Dudley No2 used to continue past Hawne Basin and through the horrible Lappal tunnel to Selly Oak. At just over 7’ wide and over 5000yds long with no towpath or headroom, Lappal tunnel was universally hated by the boaters. Rather than legging the boats through there was a pumping engine at each end creating a sort of pitch-black, claustrophobic, underground log-flume. They probably had a knees-up when it collapsed.

Merryhill is a bit of a surprise. Retail heaven – or hell, depending on your point of view – pops out at you as you round a bend; all shiny glass and pointy architecture. There are two bits to it, one is called Waterside, with bars, restaurants and a mooring basin,
(unconfirmed rumours say there is free electric to be had on the pontoons) the other bit overlooks the sprawling shopping centre itself. If you’ve been, you’ll know how big it is and although it isn’t our usual habitat, over the past couple of rainy days it’s been rather nice to have somewhere warm and dry that we can roam about in, with the added bonus of free wifi for hours on end for the price of a cup of coffee. And we get a little buzz when we come back outside and our boat is at the top of the hill.
At sometime in the next few days, depending on what the weather does, we’ll be going down the Delph Nine onto the Stourbridge Canal, marking the end of our BCN excursion for now. That’s followed by a descent down the Stourbridge 16, a diversion along the Stourbridge Town Arm and finally the Stourton 4; a total drop of 270’ from the Birmingham Level down to Stourport Junction and the Staffordshire and Worsestershire Canal.

We were, to say the least, a bit apprehensive about bringing our home into the middle of a big city, especially as it was going to be left on its own for a couple of nights, but it’s been fine. The car hasn’t; a pair of numpties ran up the bonnet and over the roof leaving muddy footprints. One of them slipped off and broke the mirror (and a femur, hopefully) on the way down.

We’re being fairly philosophical about that for two reasons;
1. The mirror was already broken and needed replacing before the next MOT.
2. If it had been a 2CV we would have probably found it upside-down in the canal.
All in all we’ve had a positive experience, but we can’t wait to get back out where we belong – in the middle of nowhere.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Beautiful pics, especially the Netherton one with the tower in the background...brings back lots of great memories of the area (and pub!). Looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...