Netherton Tunnel Walk in the West Midlands

We were looking for places to explore in the West Midlands and the Netherton Tunnel caught our eye. Part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, Netherton Tunnel is the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain and also the longest canal tunnel that is still operational in the West Midlands.

Inside the Netherton Tunnel

The tunnel is 2,768 metres (9,081 feet) long with its southern mouth located in the Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve (B65 8NA) and the northern mouth near Tividale Aqueduct (DY2 0UP).

We decided to head to Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve, and explore the nature reserves (the Bumble Hole Nature Reserve is also nearby) and Cobb's Engine House before walking the tunnel.

As we made our way to Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve along the Dudley Canal, we came across some interesting sculptures. 

Artwork by Wollaston artist Luke Perry along the Dudley Canal
Artwork by Wollaston artist Luke Perry at Bumble Hole

It was only later I learnt that these series of sculptures are by artist Luke Perry and give an insight into the industrial heritage of Black Country.

Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve and Bumble Hole Nature Reserve

Both these nature reserves lie next to each other and at one time were home to industrial activity including coal mining. 

Bumble Hole and Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserves

Cobb's Engine House (also known as Windmill End Pumping Station) when operational had a stationary steam pump that was used to pump water from the mines into the canal daily. It was built in 1831 and was in use until 1928 when the steam engine was purchased by Henry Ford, dismantled and sent to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it is on display even today.

Cobb’s Engine House

After years of neglect, the engine house and chimney were restored in the 1980s (the engine house was left roofless) and today the scheduled ancient monument and Grade II listed building offers visitors a glimpse into the past. It is one of the few remaining engine houses in the Black Country.

After exploring the nature reserves (made of grassland, several ponds, canals & small wooded areas) and Cobbs Engine House and Chimney, we made our way to Netherton Tunnel.

Cobb’s Engine House and The Netherton Tunnel

The Netherton Tunnel

At 2,768 metres long, the Netherton Tunnel is the longest canal tunnel in the West Midlands that is still open and in use. It has double towpaths but when we visited, the one on the left (at the Southern portal) was not in use.

The Netherton Tunnel

The Southern Portal of the Netherton Tunnel

The Southern Portal of the Netherton Tunnel (above)

The Dudley Number 1 Canal tunnel, which is longer than the Netherton Tunnel at 2,900 metres, was quite narrow to cope with the traffic at that time. There was no towpath and only one boat could pass through the tunnel at a time causing congestion and wait times (for boats) of weeks. And that is why the Netherton Tunnel was built. It is wide enough for two boats to pass through it at the same time, plus it has towpaths on both sides.

You can walk through the Netherton Tunnel and the journey time from one end to the other is approximately 40-45 minutes. The tunnel used to be lit back in the days when this network of canals was used to carry raw materials and finished goods in an out of the Black Country. Today, the tunnel is mostly pitch black except for some light that comes down from one of the few ventilation shafts that have been left open.

A total of 17 shafts were sunk along the tunnel's route out of which 8 were for ventilation purposes. Some of the ventilation shafts were open when we walked the tunnel and they very eerily lit up the tunnel (see the photo below). The reflection of the shaft in the water created the impression of some kind of a magic portal into another dimension!

Ventilation Shafts inside the Netherton Tunnel

There are railings along the entire towpath route but do take care as these are rusted and broken in some sections. And you cannot venture in without a headlamp or a flashlight. Also needed are sturdy, waterproof footwear as the path is uneven and there are several puddles along the route.

Walking inside the Netherton Tunnel

It took us 45 minutes to walk from the Southern portal to the Nothern one as we made our way carefully and stopped at several points along the route for photography. 

The Netherton Tunnel in West Midlands

As we walked along the towpath, we imagined what it would have been like in the early 1800s when these canal systems were the main method of transport of goods. This area would have been a hub of activity all the time.

Anyways, once we reached the Nothern Portal (pictured below), we headed out to explore the Tividale Aqueduct. 

Related | If you head out from the Tividale Aqueduct, a short walk (around 20 minutes) will take you to The Tividale Balaji Temple, a Hindu temple with many shrines and regular events.

The Northern Portal of the Netherton Tunnel

The Tividale Aqueduct (pictured below) carries the Birmingham Canal Navigations' Old Main Line Canal above the Netherton Tunnel Branch Canal. We spent some time gongoozling and then made our way back to Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve through the tunnel.

If you have the time, you could club the Netherton Tunnel Walk with the Bumble Hole Walking Trail. It is a linear trail (approxiately 3 miles) staring from the Windmill End Junction and takes in some interesting sites related to the erstwhile coal mining and iron works industry of the Black Country.

The Tividale Aqueduct

The Tividale Aqueduct

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