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Canal Locks

There are many canal systems around the UK where level changes have resulted in a series of locks. Installed to allow boats or ships to travel from one level to another, the lock has gates at each end. Boats enter through one gate when the levels are the same both outside and inside. Water is then allowed in (or out of) the lock until the level rises (or falls) to the new level outside the other gate. The lock gates close in a V shape so that the weight of water does not force the gate open when the water levels are different on each side.

The Canals

The Birmingham Canal links the City of Birmingham to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the start of the Shropshire Union Canal at Aldersley, just north of Wolverhampton. The canal passes through Smethwick and under the M5 at Oldbury. There are two branches off the canal at Dudley, where the famous Dudley tunnels pass under the town. The Dudley tunnel starts from the basin at the fabulous Black Country Museum and surfaces at Parkhead Locks. The Netherton tunnel starts at Dudley Port and surfaces at Bumble Hole where Cobbs Engine house can be found along with the excellent Dry Dock Pub. Both tunnels are more than a mile in length. The canal continues through the Black Country industrial areas of Tipton and Coseley before reaching the city of Wolverhampton. It passes by Wolverhampton's racecourse, Dunstall Park before meeting the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

The Caldon Canal starts just south of Stoke on Trent and meanders into the Staffordshire countryside, running for a short distance along the River Churnet. It has some extremely attractive stretches and the isolated Consall Forge must be visited.

The Coventry Canal leaves the Trent & Mersey Canal at Fradley Junction and runs for 38 miles up 13 locks to Coventry. It is neither a long nor outstandingly attractive canal but it was, and still is, an important link between the northern and southern canal networks. Leaving Fradley Junction, the canal first cuts across flat wooded land, passing an old World War Two airfield, to Tamworth and Fazeley where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal goes off to join the Birmingham Canal System. Spoil heaps from the old coal mining industry soon rear unusual shapes on the skyline, though much of the mining and quarrying scars have been quickly covered by landscaping and wild growth. Hawkesbury Junction used to be a bustling canal centre where boat people would take a rare opportunity to socialise while waiting for their next loads of coal from the local collieries. There's a stop lock, designed to prevent water belonging to one canal company being used by an adjoining canal company, in this case the Oxford Canal Company whose canal starts here. The Coventry Canal carries on through the suburbs into Coventry. There is a pleasant flight of 11 locks at Atherstone. They are partly in town and partly in countryside. Atherstone holds a football match on Shrove Tuesday which follows 12th century rules!

The Birmingham Canal Network can currently be accessed from five directions. From the north the link with the Staffs & Worcs Canal climbs the 21 Wolverhampton locks to join the 'new main line' built by Thomas Telford in the 1820's to straighten James Brindley's twisting contour route. He made use of deep cuttings and embankments and the wide canal had a towpath on either side.

From the south comes the Worcester & Birmingham, and from the south east the Grand Union Canal. The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal comes in from the east, forming a network through the centre of the city of Birmingham. The Dudley Tunnel, closed to powered craft, gave access from the west.