“ Dudley Borough has 3 main canals (Dudley No 1, Dudley No 2 and Stourbridge) with a number of smaller arms and extensions (Stourbridge Arm, Lapal Canal, Fens Branch). The canals of the former areas of South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire were fundamental to the industrial revolution and the creation of the manufacturing heartland of the Black Country. Providing a stunning 'green corridor' through the predominantly urban landscape, the canal network today attracts boat visitors, walkers, cyclists, anglers, wildlife enthusiasts and lovers of beautiful countryside. There are many 'must-see' places along Dudley's canals offering a fascinating insight into the history of the area and the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The Black Country canals include a fascinating network of junctions and branches. There is a wealth of features of interest to canal enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists: locks, bridges and warehouses. Commercial carrying has long since gone from these waters leaving them to be enjoyed by walkers and boaters. The scenery varies from industrial sections to surprisingly secluded rural lengths. „
Dudley Canal Tunnels is a standalone attraction which can be reached via its own entrance, or alternatively, is also accessible from the Black Country Museum in Dudley. We were visiting the Black country museum on a day out and decided to try out the canal trip as it was something we hadn't done before.
The Dudley canal trust is a charity that aims to keep the original tunnels and mines open to the public, as well as giving informative talks about the history of the area. At the moment, the entrance is a glorified tent, with a little burger stand and some tables for visitors to sit whilst waiting for the boats. There is also a little visitor shop, with all proceeds going to the Trust. They are planning to build a better visitor centre on the opposite bank of the canal, and are currently raising the funds needed to make it possible.
Tickets cost £5.70 for adults, with discounts for families. As there are 5 of us, we got the family ticket, whcich cost £22.75. By gift aiding our entry fee, we received a ticket that allows us to come back as many times as we want in a 12 month period.
Boat trips usually run hourly, but in busy season they can run as often as every 15 minutes. As we visited in October half term, the boats were running every 30 minutes. There is no need to book.
The boats are long, metal boats with wooden benches along the length of both sides. For health and safety reasons, we all had to wear a hard hat on the trip. There is a light along the centre of the boat which is only apparent when you enter the tunnels.
For health and safety reasons, the boat also has plenty of life rings, although the canal itself is very shallow, and the guide pointed out that if we were to fall in, we could just stand up, as the water would only reach waist height!
The trip lasts 45 minutes, although the Trust do operate other, longer, trips from time to time.
Our tour guide, Brian, was very friendly and knowledgeable and gave an interesting commentary throughout the trip. He told us about the history of the area and how Dudley was famous for limestone mining, which was why there are so many tunnels running underneath it.
Within a minute or two, we entered out first tunnel, which was very dark and full of spiders! The brick walls were covered in calcite deposists and there were even some small stalagtites hanging from the celing. The tunnel was very drippy and the guide warned us not to look up!
After exiting the tunnel, we came to an area that was like something out of Jurassic park. A small opening was surrounded by hanging ivy, which swayed eerily in the breeze. We barely had time to take in the surroundings before entering the second tunnel.
Although the tunnels were lit, the lights gradually got darker to allow our eyes time to adjust. Then, quite unexpectedly, the boat stopped in the middle of a large cavern, which had a huge screen on the wall. I wasn't expecting that! We watched a short film about the history of Dudley and how it was once a tropical sea. Over millions of years, the earth rose up and miners were able to exploit the land for the minerals it contained. The film was interesting, but my 7 year old son, was very bored and kept asking when it would end, even though it was only a 5 minute film.
After that, we went even deeper into the caverns and ended up in an area called the "Singing Cavern". Amazingly, the whole area had been dug out by hand, even though the limestone was incredibly hard. This area is actually used for weddings and concerts and has great acoustics. They even hold an annual pantomime in the cave! Looking up, I could see the vast pillar holding up the roof, but couldn't help being a little concerned when the guide told us about the history of earthquakes in the area. I had a horrible feeling that we were going to be entombed in the cave!
We then headed back up through another tunnel, which had a reconstruction of what the working conditions would have been like in the mines. it must have been awful Many, many people died in these mines and conditions were terrible. There would be thick dust in the atmosphere and workers would have to wade through freezing water with makeshift boots on. Of course, all this work was done by candlelight. There were many rockfalls in the caves, because the miners did not know where the seams of softer limestone were and if they blasted though the wrong plave, the whole lot would come down on top of them. Sadly, children would start working in the mines from the age of 9. Even on the last day of the mines' operation in the 1920's, four men died when the roof caved in on them.
Heading out through the caverns, the surroundings reminded me of the movie "The Goonies"! I would have never known that all of this was underneath the feet of the shoppers in Dudley. In one cavern, there was a skylight grill, covered in greenery and ivy. It let the natural light shine down into the cave, which was strangely beautiful.
The guide told us many tales about the mines, although we were not sure how many were actually true! He told us about some polar bears at nearby Dudley Zoo, who escaped through an opening that appeared in the back of their enclosure. The keepers returned to find the bears gone and they were never seen again.
These were not the only escapees from the zoo. A mine inspector found a monkey skeleton in the caves a few years ago. Apparently, an elephant also fell down into one of the shafts and later died.
During one mine inspection, men removed a heavy slab, only to discover the skeletal remains of a young woman. that cave is now known as "murder cave" . The circumstances surrounding the death are still a mystery.
Our guide also told us about the origin of some of the terms we use today. For exaple, "legging it", refers to the practice of lying on one's back and using your legs to propel the boat forward through the tunnels by walking along the walls. even heavy boats could be moved this way due to the minimal resistance of the water.
Also, the term "wouldn't touch it with a barge pole", refers to a log pole with a spike on the end that was used to propel the boats through the tunnels, as the horses, usually used to pull the boats, would not have been able to enter the tunnels. The use of the barge pole was discontinued as it damaged the bricks in the tunnel.
There were five of us visiting and my youngest is 7. I think this kind of trip is unsuitable for very young children, as they may get bored or scared of the dark tunnels. The trip would also be unsuitable for those with a fear of enclosed spaces, or spiders.
Transport access is good. The car park is free (unlike the nearby museum, which charges £2) and easily reached from the main road into Dudley. It is also easy to get there by bus, as there are bus stops nearby.
The food is reasonble. We had a hot dog from the kiosk, at £1.80 each. Tea was £1.20, and very welcome, as the tunnels get really cold.
All the staff were really friendly and helpful and happy to answer our questions. they really know their subject.
The Trust also do group bookings and special tours.
I don't think it would be very easy for disabled people in wheelchairs to access the boats, as there seems to be no provision for wheelchairs.
The 45 minute boat trip with the Dudley canal trust was interesting, enlightening and fascinating. The tunnels were beautiful in their own way and it was hard to believe that this whole other world was right beneath the town centre.
The staff have a real passion for their work, and it shines through.
This was a really different day out, and makes a change from theme parks!
Would I visit again? Well, although I have a free return ticket, I probably will not visit again in the next 12 months because it is not really one of those attractions that you can do over and over again. I imagine I would only hear the same information again,and see the same film again, so returning in the near future seems a bit pointless. However, I may consider returning for one of the longer tours, or even for one of the events held in the caves. I think that the people running these trips need to diversify to keep customers coming back for more.
The trip is only 45 minutes, so it is not really a "day out", but good for a weekend afternoon or combined with a trip to the Black Country Museum. On the day that we went, the attraction was very popular, despite the weather being terrible. Our boat was completely full.
In summary, this was an excellent trip out, and something totally unique from other attractions. I really enjoyed it and so did my kids. I learned a fair bit of history too!
The website is www.dudleycanaltrust.org.
We went on a barge trip through the Dudley Canal Tunnels and through to the limestone mines in the summer and even though I thought it wasn't going to be the sort of thing I'd enjoy I had a right laugh.
You buy your ticket that costs about £9.00 for an adult and wait for your barge to arrive. There was a bit of a wait for us because it was a hot day and there was loads of people so they filled up 2 barges before it was time for us to get on one. That was ok though because it was nice to sit by the canal while we were waiting and there's a little gift shop and somewhere to get an ice cream so I didn't care about the hours wait.
When you get on the barge the guy in charge will give you a hard hat and explain the safety rules, but's it's not rocket science and is just basically to keep your arms in the boat and not fall into the water!
The trip takes about 40 minutes from start to finish and is relaxing and educational. There's a commentary all the way through and I thought it was interesting but not madly full of facts and figures, it concentrated more on the human aspect of the tunnels and how they helped Dudley grow through the industial age.
The limestone mines were lovely, obviously they're not mined anymore and loads of plants are flourishing in them. It's mad really because Dudley is such a loud and busy place but down in the mines it was so silent that I felt myself whispering instead of talking so I didn't disturb the peace!
The boat wasn't that comfortable because it's been rigged out to hold as many people as possible so you're all crammed in. That doesn't bother me but I heard one old woman say she felt like she couldn't breathe in the tunnels because of how many people were crowded round her.
I thought it was a wicked experience and one I recommend anyone near Dudley does at least once in their lives. Once is probably enough anyway because I don't think it would hold the same fasination the 2nd time round, for me anyway now I've done it I can't see I'll go on the barge again even though it's a brill few hours out.
Birmingham and the Black Country are a maze of canals, its widely rumoured that we have more miles of water than Venice although Im not sure if thats ever been proved or is just barmy local pride! Even though Ive sat beside the canal thousands of times while Marks been fishing Ive never actually been on the water or really taken much notice of the history behind this massive waterway.
Watching Central News a few months ago I saw that trips on a barge through some of the many tunnels are available, this information was filed in the section of my brain reserved for things to do when the kids are bored and today they were bored.
The trips run throughout the day starting from 10am, with two barges running at the same time roughly every couple of hours. Actual times can change from week to week though so do phone the enquiry line before visiting just to check. It was very busy today so even though we arrived in time for the 3pm trip we had to wait until 5.15pm before we could get on a barge. We were advised of the wait before we bought the tickets and filled the couple of hours having something to eat in a nearby pub.
The barges themselves are clean and well maintained, painted a nice green with two benches back to back down the centre of the boat. There is low wattage strip lighting running above the benches and two traditional barge spot lights, one at the front and one at the back. It looks like lots of lights, although they dont interfere with the traditional appearance of the barge, and once you get into a tunnel youll be glad of them!
We were in George and once everyone was sat down with their hard hats on, off we went. The guy steering the barge gives a constant running commentary about the history of the tunnels and also points out any particularly interesting features as youre going along. He definitely knows his stuff and seemed genuinely interested in the subject of canals which came through in his narrative.
Theres only one rule on the barge, dont put your hand below the top of the boat. This is repeated every couple of minutes while youre inside the tunnels so it must be important. The tour guide actively encouraged us to touch the tunnel walls but was constantly reminding us about keeping our hands high. Incidentally, the walls of some of the tunnels have evidence of limestone and copper and one has a fossil embedded in the wall which helps to prove the theory that the Midlands was once submerged under a tropical ocean.
As well as tunnels the trip will take you into two caverns; the Limestone Mine and The Singing Cavern. These are gorgeous, its difficult to imagine that these are old time working mines because theyve been left to run riot with ivy and greenery. The tunnels are exactly how they were a couple of hundred years ago, very dull looking and grey but when you get to the caverns youll find theyre bright and airy with an outdoors feeling even though youre underground.
There are various displays throughout the trip, waxworks models of miners are placed at seemingly random areas in the tunnels to help tell the story of the mining industry in the Black Country. My kids particularly enjoyed the short film projected onto a large screen inside one of the tunnels; this is in cartoon form and goes back millions of years to tell the long ago history of the area. My ten year old found this part fascinating and was amazed at the thought of our part of the world changing so much.
The Singing Cavern is used to hold civil weddings, with room inside the cavern for 50 guests and a specially crafted platform where the bride and groom say their vows. This is a particularly atmospheric cavern, music of the 1800s is piped into the room and it gives a very haunting feeling during the few minutes that the barge lights are switched off.
From start to finish the tour is fantastic. From an adult point of view its interesting to find out about life during the industrial times which the Black Country is so famous for; the guide told us about the working conditions in the mines, life in mining times and also the fate of the various tunnels after the industry had moved along.
The tour is definitely suitable for children. My kids are ten and seven years old and they were fine, Im not sure Id take a child younger than this though because its very dark inside the tunnels. I was slightly worried that they wouldnt be interested in tunnels and caves but they absolutely loved it. They were more interested in the displays and touching the walls than the guides anecdotes, but I think the tour must be designed this way to make it so family friendly.
The tour, unfortunately, has limited disabled access. Because the entrance to the barge is limited by the canals layout, there are steep steps and a bridge to navigate before you can join the tour. If youve a minor mobility problem then youll get there thanks to hand rails and gentle slopes between steps, my mum is severely asthmatic and she made it after half a dozen inhaler stops! Looking at it today, I cant see how a wheelchair or pushchair could get across to the barge do phone the enquiry line though if this is the only thing putting you off as there may well have been another entrance for wheelchair use.
Prices for the 45 minute trip are very reasonable in my opinion. An adult ticket costs £4.25 and a childs ticket is £3.55, with OAP tickets splitting the difference at £3.90. We bought a family ticket for £14.35 which covered two adults and two children and the barge trip was worth every penny. Theres a small souvenir shop inside the ticket office (shed) which sells some pretty trinkets to remind you of your trip. I bought a small tin barge, a thimble and two notebooks and this only cost a fiver so Id say the prices are very reasonable. You can also grab an ice cream here, although it was pouring with rain while we were waiting for our boat so I didnt bother!
When I phoned to enquire about directions to the trip the lady advised me to get on the A4123, follow it to a set of traffic lights signposted the Black Country Museum and do the next right. And it really is that easy! The A4123 Birmingham New Road runs through Birmingham and the Black Country and being a major road is signposted at every junction and island. When you get to the area of the canal where the trip departs theres a large car park, which is needed as this place is difficult to get to using public transport. The nearest train station is Tipton which is roughly one mile away, and while buses pass this place theres no bus stop anywhere near. So take the car.
Dudley Canal Trust
Birmingham New Road
Tel (enquiry line): 01384 236275