Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs
|The Stourton Flight near the top||
Near the top of the Delph Flight
At the top of the Stourton flight the main canal swings unexpectedly in a south east direction towards the centre of Brierley Hill, whilst the extension of the canal continues north towards the feeder lakes known as pools which form extensive nature reserves. The main branch of the canal passes under Brierley and Bowman's Bridges and then Delph Bottom Lock is seen in front of you. At this point the Stourbridge Canal "becomes" the Dudley No. 1 Canal.
The famous Dadsworth Shed alongside the Stourbridge Canal
The Delph Flight of locks is a magnificent feat of engineering originally dating from 1792, and they were improved in 1858. In periods of wet weather the waterfall overflows at the side of each lock are very dramatic, and the whole flight is now a designated conservation area. Some of the original stables for the horses that towed the narrowboats through the flight of locks have recently been restored - they are located at Lock no 3 and are well worth a visit. So are two local pubs, full of Victorian character - the The Bell near the bottom of the Delph flight and The Tenth Lock at the Black Delph bridge next to Lock no. 8. I can recommend both of them!
|A signpost at the top of the Delph Flight||
Park Head locks and Blowers Green
The canal now winds its way through what has been developed as the vast Merryhill Shopping Centre. Its architects wisely chose to make a real feature of the canal and provided good moorings for boaters, who can thus reach the canalside pubs and restaurants.
Beyond Merryhill the canal meanders along a lock-free stretch until it reaches Park Head Junction and Blowers Green Bridge. The Parkhead locks here include Blowers Green lock, the deepest on the canal at 12 feet. This short section leads the canal to the entrance to the Dudley No 1 Tunnel which was reopened to boat traffic in 1973 . It is 3154 yards long and can only take one boat at a time. Trips can be made from the Black Country Museum which is at the northern end of the tunnel.
However, narrowboat owners carrying freight quickly appraised the fact that this tunnel was a huge bottleneck in the transportation of goods from the River Severn into the middle of industrial Birmingham so the race was on to build another tunnel to alleviate the situation. The Dudley Canal swings south east from Parkhead Junction and skirts Netherton , which used to be the centre of the manufacture of chains and anchors.
The north portal of the Netherton Tunnel
This stretch of the canal is relatively lock free and passes several bridges until it reaches the semi rural and unexpected delights of Windmill End Junction. This junction comes complete with cast iron bridges over the various arms of the canal and the old Cobbs Engine House which used to pump water from the surrounding mines to prevent flooding. The quaintly named Bumblehole Branch, an oasis of green with canalside gardens swings off here to end in a winding hole surrounded by weeping willow trees. Straight in front of you now lies the southern portal of the famous Netherton Tunnel which was opened in 1858 and the bore is wide enough to permit two narrowboats to pass alongside each other. It also has a towpath along the entire length and it joins the main Birmingham Canal Navigation system at Dudley Port. It is a great favourite with local boaters although not so well known as other tunnels on the canal network. There are a few pubs at Windmill End, (the southern end) but sadly one of my favourite pubs along this canal, The Dry Dock Inn, was temporarily closed in 2010.
|The southern portal of Netherton Tunnel||A narrowboat approaching Netherton Tunnel north portal|
From Windmill End, if you choose not to navigate the Netherton Tunnel you can still continue by canal boat in a south east direction along a relatively lock free section of the canal until you reach the current terminus at Hawne Basin, near to Halesowen.. This has been developed to provide safe moorings for narrowboaters but it has to be said that it is a fairly dreary walk along the road known as Hereward Rise to reach the shops and pubs but all part of a canal boat holidays. The Stourbridge and Dudley Canals provide a great alternative length of canal full of surprises and will demand a degree of grit and determination from narrowboaters to complete the whole course, culminating with a passage through the deliciously spooky Netherton Tunnel. However, they also provide a great sense of achievement unrivalled elsewhere (except perhaps the Huddersfield Narrow Canal) and you will see some amazing industrial architecture (to say nothing of the authentic stables and boathouses dating from 1780 and quaint old Victorian pubs still with coal fires in the grates...). To my mind these two canals provide pleasures to narrowboaters at least the equal to the more "pretty" canals in the Midlands, and I do hope that this article will encourage you to think about a short holiday exploring them. Good luck!
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