Back in the early part of last year I put a free Saturday to good use with a local walk discovering the various communities of Cradley, an outing that sampled the very essence of the Black Country. Fast forward to Saturday 19th November 2011 and with a few hours going spare I decided to embark upon a similar theme. The result was a wander from Rowley Regis to Cradley Heath that included a bit of canal exploration for good measure...
* We pick up the tale at Smethwick Galton Bridge where my connection to Rowley Regis is provided by one of the new fleet of Class 172 trains now operating on the Stourbridge Line. I must admit I had quite a soft spot for the old Class 150 Sprinters that previously worked the route but the Class 172s are undoubtedly a big improvement with a modern train interior, scrolling displays, automatic voiceover announcements and a much smoother ride quality.
* Alighting at Rowley I head straight down Nimmings Road for a quick photo of the Clock pub, a distinctive landmark on the corner of Masters Lane. Crossing Long Lane I venture around the Olive Lane estate, an area I first encountered years ago on the old 610 Travel Merry Hill minibus route. Features here include the Victoria pub and Olive Hill Primary School before I renew my acquaintance with Long Lane Library.
* Quinton is an area effectively split into two, half in Birmingham and half in Dudley. The latter portion gets my attention today with the Stag & Three Horseshoes especially prominent overlooking the busy A458 roundabout. There are plenty of local shops here along with a Suzuki StreetBike dealership and the Lapal scout base.
* Wandering along Kent Road I branch off down an intriguing track which leads me into Leasowes Park, a pleasingly natural area of open space that comprises woodland, pools and the Halesowen Golf Club. A little clearing provides a nice spot for a well-earned lunch and then I enjoy following the streams of High Cascade and admiring the autumnal colours with an emphasis on deep shades of burnished orange.
* Emerging by the warden centre I happen across the remains of the Dudley No. 2 Canal. The Lapal Canal Trust are working to bring about the restoration of the waterway, which once continued beyond it's current Hawne Basin terminus to go through the Lapal Tunnel and onwards to Weoley Castle and Selly Oak. The section flanking the park is partly in water and links through to Manor Way but reaches a dead end at Mucklow Hill.
* Having found the disconnected part of the canal, I'm now keen to track down the section that is still part of the current waterways network. I pick up the trail down the side of the Mucklow Hill Trading Estate thanks to a somewhat overgrown public footpath that provides tantalising glimpses of Hawne Basin. I join the towpath proper at Coombes Bridge and then continue amongst industrial surroundings to find the south-eastern portal of Gorsty Hill Tunnel.
* There is no foot access through the tunnel so I have to go the overground route, climbing up a gravel drive and then a set of steps to resurface in Coombeswood opposite the Lighthouse, a Brains pub I remember once visiting with Roger. Station Road has a curious tunnel airshaft structure that Andy pointed out to me earlier this year, and I can also get photos of the Boat pub as I descend towards Old Hill.
* Old Hill Station is next for some exploration treatment as I linger a while hoping for a bonus Class 172 photo. The 14:06 to Stratford happily obliges and I can then continue down more of Station Road (past the Horseshoe and the Crown) before spotting a chapel being demolished on Halesowen Road. Old Hill is a place I haven't got many pictures of so I set about putting that right with shots of the Spring Meadow and Riddins Tavern pubs, the latter being hidden away somewhat behind the local primary school off Lawrence Lane.
* The final leg of my walk takes me into Cradley Heath where I'm pleased to get a shot of the town's Carnegie library, a fascinating building that first opened in 1909. Further down the High Street is St Luke's Church followed by the new(ish) Tesco supermarket that has really transformed the centre here. Saying that, it's good to see that a number of independent shops appear to be surviving here and a real sense of community is still very much in evidence as people are very happy to stop and chat in the street. Cradley Heath Station beckons with the promise of more Class 172 action, and with the 14:56 departure I set off for home delighted with my latest slice of Black Country memories.