Friday, September 11

Calf Heath and Coven

I was thinking just the other day that it had been ages since I'd done a proper solo adventure. Never one to turn down an exploration challenge, I put my thinking cap on and came up with a September Stunner during which I investigated the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal north of Wolverhampton...

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, barely a cloud in the sky, and just perfect for pounding the towpaths. First stop is my old friend Wobaston where I add to my collection of 698 terminus shots and sneak a couple of views of the Harrowby pub. Its then off to Marsh Lane Bridge to begin the walk proper - I'm aiming to get to Calf Heath although I'm not sure how far it is or how long it might take to get there.

The first stretch of canal is familiar territory, heading down past Forster's Bridge to the M54 and on through Coven Heath. Cross Green Bridge looks photogenic in the dappled shade, whilst the Fox and Anchor pub also looks inviting. The familiarity ends with Slade Heath Bridge - it was at this point that Dad and I turned round during a previous walk, so I get some shots of the pretty canalside cottages and prepare to step into the unknown.

I always find new canal exploration fascinating, but what followed was especially enjoyable. I think the fine weather, the sense of solitude and the rural surroundings all contributed to a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful walk. The discoveries weren't bad either, with the towpath winding its way round to reveal Laches Bridge, Moat House Bridge and Deepmore Bridge in turn, all of which were traditionally built and most charming.

One bend on from Deepmore Bridge and I found myself at Calf Heath trying to get to grips with Hatherton Junction. The location had long intrigued me as the place where the former Hatherton Canal branched off towards Cannock. Sadly the canal closed (partly due to mining subsidence) although the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust hope to restore it. I actually found the junction to be most frustrating - the whitewashed turnover bridge was quite nice, but the towpath onto the short remaining stub of the Hatherton Canal was gated off with no public access. This was especially annoying as there seemed to be a pretty little bridge and some locks just waiting to be investigated.

At this point I ventured away from the canal to explore Calf Heath in more detail, partly with the aim of getting some village photos but also in the hope I might find alternative access to the waterway remains. A loop of the village thus ensued, with the highlight involving me battling my way up Straight Mile (no pavement!!) to get pics of the Dog and Partridge pub. The old canal was still being elusive - I did find the top of the pretty bridge, but not to any avail, and I couldn't see much trace of the route elsewhere. Saying that, I could easily have missed something and I do have the option of tracking down the canal from the Cannock end instead.

Back at Hatherton Junction, I rejoin the Staffordshire and Worcestershire and head for Gailey. This enables me to take a closer look at Hatherton Marina with its plethora of narrowboats before continuing on to Long Moll's Bridge and Calf Heath Bridge - the latter seems to be some distance from the actual village and is closer to the Four Ashes industrial estate. After a handful of bridge photos, I bid farewell to the canal and make my way down to the Four Ashes pub on the A449 where I enjoy a spot of lunch washed down with a cracking pint of Banks's. The pub was nice and homely so I was glad I dropped by.

I'd already covered some miles but I wasn't finished yet, as the next stage of my walk took me down past the Harrows and into Coven. I've passed through the village a few times on the way to Brewood, but this was my first proper look around. A narrow lane leads up past St Paul's School and into the village centre with its little parade of shops including a bakery and the post office. The Rainbow Inn catches my eye so I pop in for a pint of Marston's Pedigree, find myself a spot in the beer garden and attempt to tackle the Metro sudoku - a perfect way to pass half an hour or so. The treats continue as I indulge in an ice cream whilst investigating St Paul's Church, then I find my way back to the parade to wait for the next bus to Wolverhampton.

A route 3 Green Bus is soon the scene and cruises up through Coven Heath and Fordhouses, complete with Heart FM on the radio. I hop off at Oxley and have time for one final photo selection before heading home. Oxley Library closed in March but the building is still in situ and I couldn't resist getting a few shots for old time's sake. I still think its a shame the library had to close, and I can well imagine the building sitting here vacant for quite some time yet. I just hope the place doesn't become a vandalised eyesore. A sombre note on which to end a classic solo outing.

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