Starting from Hawne Basin at Coombeswood in Halesowen, this walk initially follows the Dudley No.2 Canal, completed in 1798. In order to by-pass BCN tolls, the canal originally ran to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak, but this is as far as the canal now goes as the very long but diminutive Lapal Tunnel collapsed for the final time and was abandoned in 1917. When you reach Parkhead Junction there's a diversion up to the Dudley Tunnel and then back to the Dudley No.1 Canal towards Stourbridge and Black Delph where the Birmingham Canal Navigations end.
Hawne Basin is owned by the Coombeswood Canal Trust and was formerly a railway interchange with GWR which closed in 1967. The Lapal Tunnel is 250yds distant, it was 3795yds long, but due to subsidence as little as 7ft 6ins wide with only 6ft headroom in places. There are now plans to rebuild that section of the canal by-passing the tunnel, see: www.lapal.org
The basin is in the middle of an industrial estate and the walk begins with a familiar backdrop of factories, passing the imposing remnants of Stewarts and Lloyds. Manufacturing on this site dates back to the 1860s and at one time a large fleet of boats distributed tube products from the Coombs Wood works. Gosty Tunnel (557yds) was rebuilt in 1881 but has no towpath and, until a tug was introduced in 1913 which operated until the 1930s, boats were legged through. So from the South East portal you have to leave the canal and follow the road to the other end, passing a ventilation shaft bizarrely located in someone's front garden and The Boat public house.
The towpath is good while passing through a residential area but soon reverts to mud. This part of the canal was lined with collieries and series of metal art installations that you pass relating to different aspects of the Black Country is a nice touch. At the Rowley Toll Stop, a man is pictured covering the toll house with graffiti before you reach Dog Lane Bridge which carries Doulton Road over the canal, an indication that a little further on, occupying opposite sides and utilizing local clay deposits, stood the Birmingham Pottery (1848 - 1979) and Springfield Brick and Tile Works. Once past Warren Colliery Basin you pass a toll island and then reach Windmill End Junction with the Netherton Tunnel Branch. The scene is overlooked by the Cobb Engine House (1831 – 1928) that used to pump thousands of gallons of water from Windmill End Colliery. Like much of the Black Country this is a radically different scene to that which existed during the 19th century. Instead of collieries and ironworks, you have the Bumble Hole Nature Reserve. A cuppa in the tea room might be a refreshing idea but then an essential detour is necessary at Griffin Bridge to Ma Pardoe's, probably the best pub in the Black Country, possibly the universe.
On the far side of the canal, you pass the site of Withymoor Goods Station with its long narrow basin still extant, a former railway interchange that took the anchors and chains produced by the adjacent Noah Hingley ironworks all over the world. The anchor for the Titanic needed 20 horses to pull it to the nearby Proving House for testing.
An old structure but modern landmark is Primrose Bridge notable for West Bromwich Albion supporters as it carries a plaque commemorating Jeff Astle aka 'The King', and the graffiti artists who continually painted his name on the brickwork. After Primrose Basin (constructed 1900, closed 1954) and the Lodge Farm Reservoir the atmosphere is very nearly rural. The reservoir was constructed at the same time as Brewin's Tunnel in 1838 when the canal was straightened. In 1858 the tunnel was opened up and Highbridge that towers over it was built. For a change the canal is dead straight as you get to Blackbrook Junction and bear right over the unfortunate Two Lock Line Canal which was a short cut to the No.1 canal abandoned in 1909 after continually collapsing into mine workings,
Before Parkhead Junction, look out for the plaque commemorating Grazebrook's Iron Works which made casings for the dambusters' bouncing bombs. At Blowers Green Pump House, the No.2 canal meets the No.1, and after the two Blowers Green locks were made into one, Lock 4 became the deepest lock (12ft) on the BCN.
Take a diversion here to the Dudley Tunnel. The canal ascends 20ft to the Wolverhampton Level through three locks, under the disused Parkhead Railway Viaduct, passing the Pensnett Canal that formerly ran parallel with the No.1 canal to the iron works at Hart's Hill and Grazebrook Arm (abandoned 1953), and onto the south portal of the tunnel which runs 3154yds under Castle Hill to the lime workings on the other side. Officially opened in 1792, an incredible 41,000 boats used the tunnel in 1853 and in 1858 the Netherton Tunnel was constructed to ease congestion. Like other tunnels it suffered subsidence but has been restored and, together with the derelict locks, re-opened in 1973.
Returning to Blowers Green you go onto the Dudley No.1 canal through the deepest lock on the BCN and under the quaintly named Dudley and Lye Waste Bridge, and the canal becomes hidden from view, the grim landscape taking on the air of aged decrepitude although there is the attractive Peartree Roving Bridge to cross. However, half a mile after crossing Woodside Junction at the other end of the former Two Lock Line, the scene is transformed by the rather splendid Brierley Hill Waterfront development, a business park built on the site of the Round Oak steelworks which, although profitable, closed after 125 years of production in 1982.
A bit further on Merry Hill shopping centre appears with the sunlight reflecting from a zillion parked cars. Its construction necessitated the canal to be slightly realigned in 1997-8 and fairly briskly you reach Delph Top Lock. The flight is certainly an arresting sight with stables still in place next to the second lock. Originally nine locks opened in 1779, they were reduced to eight deeper locks in 1858, and the bottom lock marks the end of this part of the BCN and the start of the Stourbridge Canal.
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