CRUISE GUIDE: DUD­LEY RING

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT & PIC­TURES BY DEREK PRATT

Com­bine the heart of Wolver­hamp­ton and the ru­ral Staff & Worcs on this cruis­ing cir­cuit

A cruis­ing cir­cuit of con­trasts takes us through the heart of Wolver­hamp­ton, past the Black Coun­try’s re­main­ing in­dus­tries, and through lovely wooded coun­try­side on the Staffs & Worcs Canal

There are sev­eral pop­u­lar cruis­ing rings in­volv­ing the West Mid­lands’ wa­ter­ways: the Stour­port Ring; the Avon Ring; the new Worces­ter­shire Ring cre­ated when the Droitwich Canals re­opened. But we’re go­ing to fol­low a less well-known cir­cuit: a route up the Stour­bridge and Dud­ley Canals, fol­lowed by part of the Birm­ing­ham Canal Nav­i­ga­tions Main Line through Wolver­hamp­ton. Then fi­nally we take the Stafford­shire & Worces­ter­shire Canal south­wards from Alder­s­ley Junc­tion back to where we started at Stour­ton Junc­tion.

Our route be­gins on the Stour­bridge Canal, opened in 1779 and then ex­tended by the Dud­ley Canal to join the Birm­ing­ham Canal via Dud­ley Tun­nel. This was com­pleted in 1792 and opened a short-cut from Birm­ing­ham to the River Sev­ern via the Staffs & Worcs Canal. It also con­nected mines in the Dud­ley coal­field to the thriv­ing glass in­dus­try around Stour­bridge. The Stour­bridge and Dud­ley canals were once known as ‘The Back of the Map’ by the work­ing boat­men, and be­ing one of the less well-used routes in the West Mid­lands the Stour­bridge Canal even­tu­ally fell into dis­use dur­ing the 1950s. How­ever it was re­stored and re­opened in May 1967 af­ter an en­thu­si­as­tic cam­paign led by the Staffs & Worcs Canal So­ci­ety.

The jour­ney be­gins at Stour­ton Junc­tion where the Stour­bridge and Staffs

& Worcs canals meet in wooded sur­round­ings near the set­tle­ment of Stew­poney, the name of a for­mer canal­side pub.

Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing four beau­ti­fully sit­u­ated locks at Stour­ton, the canal fol­lows an east­erly course for two miles in wooded coun­try­side. It is hard to be­lieve you are on the doorstep of the Black Coun­try with all its hous­ing and in­dus­try.

Civil­i­sa­tion re­turns at Word­s­ley Junc­tion where the main line con­nects with the mile long Stour­bridge Town Arm. We con­tinue along the main line climb­ing a flight of locks pop­u­larly known as the ‘Stour­bridge Six­teen’. Two of them are so close to­gether that they al­most (but not quite) form a stair­case pair, like the bet­ter-known Bratch (see later). Along­side this flight is the Red­house Cone pre­served by the for­mer Stu­art Crys­tal glass-mak­ing fac­tory and is now a glass­works mu­seum (see in­set). By Lock 12 you will see Dad­ford’s Shed, a for­mer tran­ship­ment ware­house now used by a boat­yard.

Re­fresh­ments can be ob­tained at The Dock which is an off-li­cence and shop ad­ja­cent to the canal.

Turn sharp right at the top of the locks to con­tinue on the main line. The tempt­ing water­way di­rectly ahead is the short Fens Branch built as a nav­i­ga­ble feeder that now leads to na­ture re­serves and ponds.

The Stour­bridge Canal con­tin­ues for two miles fol­low­ing a wind­ing course through the built-up in­dus­trial ar­eas of

Cobb’s en­gine house over­looks Nether­ton Tun­nel

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