Monday 18th September; Langley to Black Country Living museum
We were jolly pleased we had arrived on a Sunday. The factory noises and the thing that might have been a stone crusher started up at 7 this morning so we got up and were away by 8. The air was full of noise all the way down the Oldbury flight. We thought the locks might still be full, after our ascent yesterday, but no such luck, and the top lock has to be emptied anyway. As I was prepping the top lock and clearing up the packaging from someone’s KFC a boater who lives in the secure area by the facilities block warned us that the bottom pound was empty, and kindly took the rubbish to dispose of. The M5 is visible for most of the flight.
The bottom pound needed a good two full locks of water and then a bit more before Dave could get through.
We made sure Meg was back on board before we went down the last lock. The thought of her mistiming a jump and falling in in the polluted water here was too awful to contemplate. It’s a good thing smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet or you would have the reek of tar up your nose!
We rounded the junction and soon left the motorway behind. The run to the Black Country Living Museum moorings was uneventful. This pony had been munching a mouthful of water plants and was fishing for more by the time I got the camera out.
There was one mooring space left which we nabbed. There are notices around asking people to leave moorings on the other side free for next weekend (a working boat festival I think) but there wasn’t one where we were. It was too early for lunch so we wandered up to the visitor centre and were lucky enough to get on the next tunnel trip. This sign was on the trip boat – we’ve not seen vaping prohibited before.
I won’t say a lot about the history of the tunnel and the associated limestone mining activities – look at www.dudleycanaltrust.org.uk. Our skipper Dave gave an interesting commentary. The tunnel is very low – most boats can’t go through – and the trip bats are electric as internal combustion engines aren’t allowed in the tunnel. Here we go!
The first part is called Lord Ward’s tunnel, is quite short and opens into Shirt’s Mill basin, which was an underground loading area serving two limestone mines, one of which produced coal as well. The tunnel pictured below leads to the Flooded Mine, so called because even when it was in production the men often had to work in three feet of water.
The next tunnel section leads to Castle Mill basin, which used to be an underground limestone mine. The roofs of these basins became unstable as limestone was extracted and so they were removed. You can just see the side of the previous boat which was waiting for us to pass before it completed its trip.
The next section of tunnel was only constructed in 1989 as the original tunnel here (to Little Tess mine) was beyond repair. The water flowing through the limestone produced these ‘calcite curtain’ formations which were told is quite unusual. I think this was just as we came out into the Singing Cavern.
The Singing Cavern is now 100 yards long as further sections have collapsed. The high roof is supported by massive limestone pillars. The Victorians enjoyed trips down here with musical events and it still goes on today. The lighting effects these days are all electric of course. It made photography awkward as the colour kept changing but you can see the railings of a high walkway .
We left the Singing Cavern backwards as Dave reversed us into the 1984 tunnel, the first to be built in the UK since the Netherton in 1858. Along here is a tableau showing some of the activities that took place in the mines. The two figures at the ladder (women here – children also went down the mines) were preparing shot holes for blasting. I don’t think in real life there would have been cosy tea-drinking going on at the same time though.
We completed our journey in reverse. Dave pointed out a shaft where the rainwater had over the years produced swirling patterns, and also part of a trilobite fossil indicated by the arrow. Limestone is a rich source of fossil material and these mines were no exception.
We even had the opportunity to try legging. I’ve wanted to have a go for years. No-one else wanted to – perhaps they had no idea what was involved. We couldn’t brace our backs together properly – neither of us is exactly tall - but we got the boat moving all right.
Our skipper Dave was an excellent guide and it was money well spent. Highly recommended.
We had lunch in the café upstairs, then took Meg off for a walk over the tunnel towards Dudley Zoo but got rather wet as the rain soon started. But it stopped later when we walked up to sample the fare at Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory where we were spotted as boaters very quickly (all to do with coming in from the street door rather than the car park. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with looking scruffy). We got back in time to avoid another soaking.
About 4 miles, 6 locks