Friday, 13 March 2015

Out of the rain and into the darkness

Windmill End – as delightful as its name suggests
Tipton might be a small place but it has served us well these past few days with trips to the dentist, the vet and the local shops, culminating last night with a meal at the friendly canalside Fountain Inn.
The Fountain is a proper local pub, small, unassuming, old fashioned and all the better for it. Two big plates of decent pub grub for £12 and a line of nicely kept real ales which the landlady let us sample before choosing – what's not to like?
But today it was time to move on even though the weather did its best to encourage us to stay put. The dismal rain stopped at lunchtime so we unmoored and headed towards the New Main Line. As I said last time, Tipton is on the junction of Old and New canals and a five minute walk gets you from to the other. To get there by boat involved descending the three Factory Locks and took over half an hour!
Descending Factory Locks, once paired as the disused pounds reveal
The locks are a handsome set, beautifully maintained and the metalwork striking in its black and white livery even on a dull day. Originally they were twinned to cope with the amount of traffic, the duplicate locks have gone but the twin pounds between them remain.
After them, and passing the other end of Tipton, we headed half a mile down the canal before turning right onto the short leg leading to Netherton Tunnel – passing under the aqueduct carrying the Old Main Line on our way.
Going under the Old Main Line with Netherton in the distance
The 2.75 mile Netherton is the third longest canal one can take a powered boat through and the last major canal tunnel to be built in England, opening in 1858. It's a magnificent structure that drives like a watery motorway through the high Rowley Hills that dominate the landscape in a high, double width bore that even has a towpath either side. It was even illuminated by gas lamps – later changed to electric, though these are unlit now. Until it opened the only route through was the narrow single width Dudley Tunnel nearby. Boats could wait over a week to get through, such was the bottleneck it created.
Meeting an oncoming boat in the middle of the quietest tunnel in the system
Netherton nearly closed a couple of years back when serious cracking and subsidence was discovered in the centre section but major restoration work was done in a four month programme costing £1.5m.
In its heyday, Netherton must have been crowded with boats; now it must be the quietest big tunnel on the system – which of course meant that we met our only moving boat of the day in the middle of it!
Emerging into the sun and into a new set of waterways
Going through Netherton is rather like going from North to South London. We have effectively left one network of canals and entered another; left Birmingham and entered Dudley and Stourbridge. There are no easy circuits or rings of canals: just the tunnel, and you're either north of it or south of it.
Tonight we are in one of the prettiest spots imaginable, Windmill End, and as delightful as its name suggests. Wide mown areas of parkland, lined by yellow daffodils and edged by trees are all around and black and white cast iron bridges criss-cross a maze of canals and canal arms.
Hard to believe that the streets of urban Dudley are only yards away but they are, below us on our embankment. And harder still to believe that this whole area was once a smoking, black mass of coal mines and factories.


  1. Great comparison of the varied locations boating on the canals takes you to. But the way Tipton drained your back pocket I should avoid a return visit if I were you! Mind you I expect you will be complaining next about replenishing Brian's supple of Ships Biscuits.....and after all those Guard Dog duties he fulfils it should be best steak.

    1. You're nearer the truth than you think David. The vet said he had a sensitive tummy so now he gets specially cooked chicken breast and rice!

    2. He is in good company...I love Chicken and Rice (-:

  2. and a quick P.S. Your blog is far more entertaining than the JS series on ITV (what a waste of air time)