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A Bostin' Time In The Black Country
Dudley Canal Tunnel and Limestone Mines (Dudley)
Member Name: chrisandmark
Dudley Canal Tunnel and Limestone Mines (Dudley)
Advantages: Fun for everyone, a reasonably priced trip, unusual day out
Disadvantages: Limited access to disabled visitors
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 don’t interfere with the traditional appearance of the barge, and once you get into a tunnel you’ll 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 you’re going along. He definitely knows his stuff and seemed genuinely interested in the subject of canals which came through in his narrative.
There’s only one rule on the barge, don’t put your hand below the top of the boat. This is repeated every couple of minutes while you’re 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, it’s difficult to imagine that these are old time working mines because they’ve 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 you’ll find they’re bright and airy with an outdoors feeling even though you’re 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 1800’s 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 it’s 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, I’m not sure I’d take a child younger than this though because it’s very dark inside the tunnels. I was slightly worried that they wouldn’t be interested in tunnels and caves but they absolutely loved it. They were more interested in the displays and touching the walls than the guide’s 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 you’ve a minor mobility problem then you’ll 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 can’t 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 child’s 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. There’s 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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 there’s 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 there’s no bus stop anywhere near. So take the car.
Dudley Canal Trust
Birmingham New Road
Tel (enquiry line): 01384 236275
Summary: A view of the Black Country that you won't see every day!
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