|A welcome from the ghost of Gosty Hill|
Once the canal went on through an even more demanding tunnel, the two plus miles of the Lapal which linked to another of Birmingham's major canal routes and created a busy circuit for working boats. But the Lapal has been out of action for a hundred years now.
Our surviving leg of what's known as the Dudley No2 Canal remained in active service until 1969 serving the huge Stewart & Lloyds steel tube factories. When they went the canal would probably have gone too but for the efforts of the Coombeswood Canal Trust who have restored the old canal/railway interchange basin at Hawne into a thriving boating centre that welcomes visitors: there's a bar, a little shop, diesel, gas and so on. It didn't seem the decent thing to be at Windmill End without taking the three mile trip down there so say hello and call it 'job done' on the canal. Even if it meant braving the Gosty Hill Tunnel.
The route there meanders around past the remains of old wharves and arms, now replaced by the blank faces of steel framed, corrugated alloy 'units'. It runs high along a hillside, offering distant views to the Mucklow Hills across miles of house roofs.
|Circus elephants played in the canal here in 1905|
|Ingenious graffiti spraying toll clerk|
Along the length of the canal is a series of steel sculptures, each giving little insights into its locality and some, like the graffiti spraying toll clerk, delightfully witty. Kept tidy and clean, they are witness to the fact that, grubby as it might be to others, some people love this canal.
But then the tunnel lurks menacingly into view, led into by a narrow channel which has the remains of what was a tunnel tug dock beside it.
|The tunnel entrance looms as we pass the old tug dock|
|And it gets just a little bit tight|
Suddenly the roof rises again and for a few minutes there's a bit of relief from the claustrophobia before it drops down again for the final 50 yards. And then we are out - 22 minutes after going in, which is a speed of just under one mph.
|Emerging into the light and the sprawling ruins of the old steel tube works|
Finally, moored boats started to appear and we near Hawne Basin. Entry into the basin is a sharp right turn into a challengingly narrow bridgehole that completely defeats me and demands much to-ing and fro-ing and pole work before we are in. Then a deft bit of reversing to make up for it slots us into a mooring – just in time to walk round to the bar and miss the end of the rugby which has just finished.
Tomorrow I guess we'll do it all again in the other direction!