West Bromwich: the meeting hour is set for 0830 with the Chairman being so desperate to avoid any cob-related forfeits that on this occasion he arrives very much on time. The Secretary is already prowling West Bromwich High Street for morning photographs and then does the honours for bacon roll breakfasts in the Billiard Hall.
- Brades Locks -
- Bald Bravery above the Tunnel -
Tividale: the aqueduct serves as the gateway to Netherton Tunnel as our primary mission begins. We won’t be walking through the tunnel today but scrambling over the top instead, seeking out the sequence of pepperpot shaft structures that provide the tunnel with ventilation. Having clambered up the side of the tunnel’s north portal, we emerge by the Wonder public house and cross into Tividale Park where one of the shafts is perched on a soggy embankment.
- Something Fishy! -
Oakham: our quest now takes us into the Oakham estate, where the Chairman quickly makes the acquaintance of a cuddly red shark that just so happened to be hanging on an alleyway tree – bizarre! Further shafts are detected on Packwood Road, Aston Road (capped off and forming a mini-roundabout) and Regent Road before we ferret around the back of the Co-op to complete a quadruple haul.
- Aston Road Shaft -
Warrens Hall: That Co-op shaft was number 8 so we now go cross-country hoping for further finds. A path by a riding school takes us into the open spaces of Warrens Hall Farm where we eventually happen across shaft number 4 – quite where 5, 6 and 7 are remains a mystery despite our attempts to infiltrate every bit of undergrowth imaginable, resulting in the Chairman only narrowly avoiding calamity on one particularly squelchy slope. Crossing the Dudley Road, the Secretary makes a single-minded march through a forest of brambles to reach a final shaft, giving us a grand total of seven we’d successfully located.
- Warrens Hall Shaft -
Netherton: having hauled ourselves from one side of the tunnel to the other, we reward ourselves with a pint in Ma Pardoe’s and a chance to rest some weary limbs. We’re soon back into the exertion though as we investigate some old railway remains at the back end of Netherton Park. The White Swan and the Hope Tavern also register on the pub radar as we navigate to Cinder Bank, with the Secretary providing a comedy moment when trying to get himself a bonus 20p only to find it was stuck fast to the floor.
Park Head: we might have done the Netherton leg of our outing but the shaft story was far from over, as now we were on the trail of the vents for Dudley Tunnel. The area around Wellington Road offers a couple in quick succession (plus a chance encounter with the Earl of Dudley Arms) whilst the Chairman gets very excitable about the closet remains at Dudley Cemetery. Our last canal shaft of the day brings us to Park Head Locks and a miniature pepperpot on the side of the Grazebrook Arm, and there is much satisfaction at a job well done.
- Wellington Road Shaft -
Woodside: into the estate next where we were hoping for refreshment from the Railway on Buxton Road (the Chairman had identified this as a sleeve success but the Secretary was already aware of the pub’s existence). Sadly the pub was closed whilst the Crown around the corner has been turned into a One-Stop convenience store. We therefore had to settle for a quick half in the Woodside Inn, an early entry into our 2013 dives catalogue.
- A bit of Boondoggle -
Round Oak Run: proceeding towards Brierley Hill, we pick off a few of the hostelries that would have been frequented back in the days of the Round Oak Steelworks. Shafting of a different nature is in operation here as we battle for the Discount of the Day accolade. The Chairman thinks he’s struck gold with some £2.30 Boondoggle in the Old Coaches & Horses (a cracking little boozer with authentic 1970's fittings) but soon considers himself shafted when the Secretary nips in with a £2 round in the Laurel. Result!
- Brockmoor BFG -
Brockmoor: Wallows Road brings with it some customary bladder gymnastics as we head into Brockmoor, with the Brockmoor House being the source of considerable relief and a very welcome BFG. The Old Star falls obligingly out of the Secretary’s sleeve, and the curfew calls with a final sample of the Rose & Crown.
Shattered and shafted we head back into Dudley and the first outing of 2013 is at an end – but what an epic it has been. Pepperpots plotted, we look forward to seeing what further misadventures await us in the year ahead…