On Saturday 21st October, 53 paddlers in 41 boats, some from as far as Denmark, battled the winds of Storm Brian when they attended the recent Black Country Canals tour organised by West Midlands Regional Development Team.
Starting from the famously claustrophobic Dudley Tunnel, the 428 million year old limestone tunnels are a powerful reminder of the Black Country’s rich mineral wealth. Paddling through a dramatic complex of dark mine tunnels, lit only by head torches, paddlers found themselves in a contrast between sunlit basins in the heart of Dudley and plunging darkness in the 172 yard Dudley Tunnel.
The final tunnel was the 3,027 yard Netherton Tunnel and the last tunnel constructed of the Canal Age. Opened in 1859 to relieve the traffic pressure on the parallel Dudley tunnel, the Netherton is a wider double bore tunnel with towing paths both sides. After exiting the northern portal and a portage up to the Old Main Line Birmingham Canal, an uneventful return paddle back to the Dudley Canal Trust site and a well-earned tea and cakes at the recently opened visitor centre and Gongoozler Café was much appreciated by all at the end of the day.
Mark Harding, the organiser on behalf of the West Midlands RDT and Chair of Stourbridge Arm Canoe Club said:
This was a great opportunity to paddle some of the Birmingham Canal Navigations lesser paddled canals, and to showcase the vital role the Black Country canals and tunnels have played in the industrial revolution and the creation of the manufacturing heartland of the UK.– Mark Harding
Our thanks to Canal and River Trust for allowing us to paddle the tunnels and to the co-operation of Dudley Canal Trust, who not only provided car parking and a room to change in as well and escorted the group in the Trust’s electric boat to ensure we safety navigated the maze of limestone mine tunnels.
Interested in the tour? Keep an eye out for future dates on the West Midlands RDT Facebook page.
Photos credit Alan Gareth Spencer