My Stretch: Dudley No. 1 Canal

Meet the hardy dog-walkers, keen historians and underground boaters braving the elements on a fresh spring afternoon along the Dudley No. 1 Canal

Images: Conor Beary

 

Born out of necessity at the end of the 18th century to fuel the industrial revolution, the Dudley Canal is now a haven for wildlife, walkers and tourists from around the world. Linking the Stourbridge Canal in the west to the Birmingham Canal, this feature-packed 4.6-mile stretch has something for everyone. We started out at the Black Country Living Museum at the eastern end of the stretch to find out more about this area’s fascinating history before delving even deeper on a boat tour of the claustrophobic Dudley Canal Tunnel. Finally, we sought shelter from April showers in the Tenth Lock, a pub that spills out onto the basin at the bottom of the spectacular Delph Locks.

Ed Miller, Black Country Living Museum
“When I first started working here, I was based down here by the canal. I’ve got a real affinity with the water as my family worked on boats, so you could say it’s in my blood. Obviously my work means I come into contact with this stretch of the canal all the time, but I often find myself drawn to the canal during my time off too. This end of the canal is steeped in industrial history, but it’s calm and peaceful too and provides a great place to unwind.”

 

 

 


Irene De Boo, Curator, Black Country Living Museum

“What a lot of people forget is that in the Black Country, the majority of canal-going vessels were ‘day boats’ used to transport raw materials like coal, limestone and iron. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, this stretch would have been chock-a-block with this type of boat. Coming from Holland, I have a history with boats and it’s lovely to see them drifting by on the canal. I used to cycle along the canal too, but I live too far away now. But I still enjoy walking along the towpath. Especially because it’s flat – I’m Dutch, so I don’t like hills!”

 

 

Ron Hurley, Volunteer, Dudley Canal Tunnel Trust
“I started here around 18 months ago when I noticed the Trust was looking for volunteers. It’s a really interesting part of the canal and the tunnels are something else. Every day I’m here, I get to check the condition of the tunnels, looking for loose rock and other areas that might need maintenance. But my favourite bit is meeting people – not just the other volunteers and staff here at the museum, but the hundreds of visitors we get who want to discover the tunnels for themselves.”

 

 

 

Mark Redfern, Skipper
“I used to live in Brierley Hill and spent many hours walking along the canal. One day, I bumped into the volunteers at the Trust and decided to see if I could help out. I spent three years as a volunteer – mostly clearing bottles from the canal – and have been a boat skipper for seven years, taking tourists from around the world on tunnel tours. I love this bit of the canal; limestone was crucial to the Industrial Revolution and I really enjoy teaching people how the tunnels played a part in this.”


Richard Twyford, visiting from Bristol
“I’ve visited the Black Country Living Museum before, so I knew about the tunnel boat trips but hadn’t been on it. We came here to look at Industrial Revolution heritage, but it as a really pleasant surprise to go out on a boat and find out more about the history of this canal and the origins of the tunnels.”

 

Chere Barnsley, Manager, The Tenth Lock
“We’ve been here for eight years and we took it over from Marston’s brewery three years ago. We couldn’t have asked for a better spot. Summer is the most popular time, of course, when we get hundreds of people visiting – boaters, walkers, cyclists and coach parties of tourists too! It’s such a breathtakingly beautiful part of the canal with the lock flight, the basin and the nature that grows and lives alongside it. It’s as good in winter as it is in summer: the frosts and snowfall looks amazing. But my favourite time is spring, when there’s a heron that nests in a tree overlooking lock number two and rears its chicks.”

Steve Baylis, Amblecote
“I live in Amblecote and work at a call centre in Merry Hill, so I walk along this stretch past the Delph Locks twice a day. It provides a peaceful beginning and end to the working day and it’s somewhere I’d come back to even if I didn’t work in the area. It’s like a miniature nature reserve with heaps of birdlife, including kingfisher, goosander and coot.”

Rachael James, Wordsley
“I’m here with the dog every other day, though I think the dog preferred it before all the restoration because the towpath was muddy. It’s really handy to have an area of greenery in the city and the canal is part of our heritage, but so many people take it for granted and don’t take advantage of it, which is a shame. I have a history with the waterways because my dad used to run a food concession at the Black Country Living Museum and knew the canal well. He used to bring us here, so I guess the love of the area has stayed with me.”