Saturday 6th October 2012 and I'm keeping busy with a walk that combines a slice of South Staffordshire with a bite out of the Black Country...
RAILWAY WALK: Catching the 255 to my chosen starting point in Wombourne, I join the route of the South Staffordshire Railway Walk to make squelchy progress through Himley. The former Himley Halt station location is marked by a little wooden shelter sign before a regimental row of silver-barked trees heralds the approach towards crossing the A449. The line straddles the country boundary between Staffordshire and the West Midlands for a while; apparently the Crooked House pub is not far away but I didn't spot it, possibly because I was too busy trying to escape from a trio of yapping terriers who decided to chase me for half a mile.
- Himley Halt -
PENSNETT: with ankles thankfully intact as the dogs get bored of me, I press on into Pensnett. Again there's a pub to look out for as a lattice footbridge offers a clue as to the whereabouts of the Forge Inn. I didn't take the hint immediately and had to leave the railway further on before doubling back along Chase Road for the requisite photographs. Back on the old railway line, I get chatting to a chap who insists I have a doppelganger sister who is about to get married to a policeman - I'm not quite sure how to take this 'information' other than to pity any poor individual who has the misfortune to resemble me. Anyway, a wormhole tunnel takes me below Smithy Lane and then I pass Barrow Hill to reach Pensnett High Street.
- The Forge -
FENS POOLS: The walk now passes quietly in amongst the estates of Upper Pensnett, seamlessly linking into the Fens Pools Nature Reserve where the reservoirs created for the Stourbridge Canal have become a wildlife haven. On a glorious autumnal afternoon, Middle Pool has a rather enchanting quality with sections appearing in silhouette as I skirt the water's edge round to Blewitt Street.
- Middle Pool -
BROCKMOOR: although much of the day's walking will involve public footpaths and canal towpaths, I do permit myself a section of standard pavement as I venture into Brockmoor. The Royal Exchange is a good find on Bankwell Street (just off Wallows Road), whilst on High Street I note that the Commercial pub is now Il Michelangelo Italian restaurant. Cressett Lane then offers up a former Courage pub in the shape of the Forrester's Arms, the building looking like it hasn't been used for a good while.
- Brockmoor Junction -
CANALS: time for some waterways wandering to finish as Cressett Lane brings me onto the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal, the bridge here being historically known as Haywoods Bridge although a more modern footbridge is in place now. I'm looking forward to discovering Leys Junction but before I get there I have the surprise of finding Brockmoor Junction first - this is the spot where the Stourbridge Extension Canal left the branch to head towards Bromley, and a short stub of this unheralded link remains in water today. Leys Junction itself is just a little further on, marking the meeting place with the main line of the Stourbridge Canal and the beginning of the Stourbridge Locks sequence. I enjoy taking my first ever look at Top Lock and Leys Bridge, then follow down to Brierley Hill Road where I exit at the Samson and Lion and take the road route to Wordsley to catch my bus home. A thoroughly energetic dose of explorational exercise making the most of some gorgeous October weather!