Travels of Joanie M – Life as a Continuous Cruiser – BCN, the Southern Bit
The Southern BCN, also known as ‘Back of the Map’, is a useful and attractive alternative link between the Staffs & Worcs and Birmingham. We enter it from the New Main Line and through Netherton Tunnel. At 3027 yards long, this is one of the longest in the country, built by John Walker in 1858 to bypasss the congested Dudley Tunnel with towpaths on each side and originally lit by gas. Gas was replaced by electricity generated by a turbine at the base of Tividale Aqueduct. If you look back as you enter the tunnel you can still see the pipes that fed water from the higher level to drive the turbine.
Coming out of the tunnel you arrive at one of the prettiest spots on the BCN, Windmill End. Here, the new tunnel canal cut through the older Dudley Canal to make a large loop on the right. Left the Dudley Canal used to head off towards the W & B but now ends at Hawne Basin after passing through the low and tight Gosty Tunnel and the remnants of Coombeswood Tube Works. Just past the junction is a café and information centre with a water point and extensive moorings. Walk back to Cobbs Engine House of the hill which used to pump water from the local mine shafts.
As you cruise on, the Dudley Canal makes a big curve around the base of Netherton Hill whose church can be seen on the top. You pass the old railway interchange basin at Withymoor, now operated as residential moorings with a useful pumpout service. Netherton was known for its chain and anchor manufacturers and by Primrose Bridge was where they were tested by Lloyds.
Lodge Farm Reservoir sits on the old line of the canal, it being straightened in 1838 through Brewins Tunnel. The tunnel has now been removed and the cutting opened out but the site is clearly visible. Next up is Blackbrook Junction. The bit to the left was called the Two Lock Line as it originally passed through 2 locks to rejoin the canal a few hundred yards away. This gradually subsided into the old mine workings so we now have to travel a mile or so following the contour to Parkhead.
The locks to the right take you up to the entrance to the Dudley Tunnel and also the junction with the Pensnett Canal and the Grazebrook Arm. These two latter are no more but much of the route of the Pensnett can be followed. The Parkhead Rally of Boats is often held here. The locks are overshadowed by a large railway viaduct which will someday become part of the Metro route from Walsall to Merryhill. There is sanitary station here and if you intend to spend much time at Merryhill you are advised to fill your water tank here.
The main route turns left down the deep Blowers Green Lock. There were originally two locks here but our old friend subsidence saw them rebuilt as one deeper one. CRT have now installed a footbridge over the lock entrance so you no longer have to clamber over the gates. The newly upgraded towpath, now cycle friendly, changes sides at the next bridge, one that seems particularly narrow and I never seem to get through it without scraping the sides. The Two Lock Line enters from the right and then you are in a stretch of canal that is very industrial with remains of bridges on both sides.
You are entering the site of the mighty Round Oak steel works, now buried forever below the delights of The Waterfront and Merryhill shopping centre. The canal here has been moved, tidied up, realigned and moved again. However, there are extensive moorings plus an Elsan point and showers but alas, no public water point. There are residential moorings in The Waterfront with water so if desperate no doubt they will help. Currently this is a desolate place with a lot of the office space and most of the retail units empty and forlorn. The 2 pubs are still in business though! Up the hill is a useful Aldi and Wickes and The Rose & Crown, a Holdens house.
You now arrive at the top of Delph Locks. Descending the hill in a graceful curve, only the top and bottom locks are original, the other seven old locks being replaced with six new ones in a straight line, hence the name of the bridge, Nine Locks, and the pub at the bottom, The Tenth Lock. If it is beer you’re after, make your way to the Vine, also known as the Bull & Bladder. This is the brewery tap for Bathams Brewery and besides the excellent ale they do very good value lunches. If you examine the brickwork on the flight you will see a roll call of Black Country brickmakers commemorated.
This then is the end of the BCN, you now being on the Stourbridge Canal which descends by 16 locks at Worsley and another 4 at Stourton to join the Staffs & Worcs Canal. If you head this way, make the short diversion into Stourbridge itself. Don’t be put off by the moored boats at the end, Keep on past them and you can turn at the very end to come back and moor by the last bridge.