Newest Review: ... out first tunnel, which was very dark and full of spiders! The brick walls were covered in calcite deposists and there were even som... more
Would I Touch it With a Barge Pole?
Dudley Canal Tunnel and Limestone Mines (Dudley)
Member Name: loopy-lou33
Dudley Canal Tunnel and Limestone Mines (Dudley)
Disadvantages: Dark and lots of spiders.
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.
Summary: Something Different.