- Wednesfield Junction -
Monday 28th September 2015 and this will be a mission with a difference as I have an accomplice for the day. Lured perhaps by the promise of a vintage Fred Trueman beermat, Stephen gamely joins me for the trek as we attempt to follow the course of the Bentley Canal as closely as possible, wondering what evidence might still remain given that the line was abandoned back in the 1960s. Beginning on the towpath of the Wyrley & Essington near Heath Town Park, we soon reach Wednesfield Junction where the historic turnover footbridge spans a short remaining stub of the Bentley Canal next to the Nickelodeon pub.
- Old Cut New Rise -
The creation of the Bentley Bridge retail and entertainment complex from the 1990s onwards meant that any other lingering canal remnants in the area were swept away in the name of progress, so Stephen and I cross shoppers car parks where locks and cottages were once located. There were bridges at both Well Lane and Neachells Lane, the latter still being discernible adjacent to the Gem Centre building, before the line continued to Merrills Hall. The most interesting current feature around here is the nearby 'Old Cut New Rise' sculpture installation - this admirable nod to heritage depicts a stylised sequence of locks and is positioned by the site once home to the landmark Falcon pub.
- Hills Bridge -
Back in the very early days of my digital photo explorations, I vaguely remember doing a Wednesfield/Willenhall walk and spotting an isolated old bridge in some factory grounds. In all the intervening years I'd never made it back to confirm that sighting - until now that is, whereby I'm delighted to say that Hills Bridge is very much still intact having been preserved outside the offices of Corus (subsequently Tata Steel) and today can be seen wearing an attractive red covering of autumnal leaves.
- Mr Beardsmore at Fibbersley -
A path beyond the Tata plant brings us into the Fibbersley Local Nature Reserve, where the canal is only one example of the industrial activity once found in the vicinity. Mining and railways were also prominent here, but nowadays we have greenery and wildlife interspersed with wetland habitats.
- 442 Bar -
Our initial route through the reserve emerges onto Noose Lane next to what was the Willenhall Town football ground, now home to Sporting Khalsa with the clubroom given an allover black look complete with 442 Bar Lounge branding. From here we take a quick detour to Watery Lane for some pool photographs then navigate further paths and tracks to pick up the canal trail again at Fibbersley Bridge. The Navigation pub just up the road is a continuing clue as to the presence of the cut in days gone by.
- View at Monmer Lane -
From Fibbersley to Monmer Lane the course of the canal is clearly identifiable as a wide grassy track skirting the back gardens of Thorne Road. We exit onto Monmer Lane itself next to a chicken coop, but the trail goes cold for a while when the next section is inaccessible having been fenced off behind an advertising billboard. We therefore continue via road, which does at least allow a few pub pictures focusing on the Cat (closed and boarded up), the Forge Tavern and the increasingly derelict Rushbrooke Farthing.
- Spring Bank Bridge -
The Forge and the Farthing stand facing each other on the junction of St Anne's Road and Sharesacre Street, and it's the second of those thoroughfares that provides our next piece of the jigsaw. Wandering up past a scrapyard we reach Spring Bank Bridge which carries an alleyway onwards into the Ashmore Lake trading estate. The surroundings here are certainly industrial as the line of the canal passes through the yard of a haulage depot, meaning we have to continue via the pavement round to Charles Street/Stringes Lane trying to pinpoint the location of Sandbeds Bridge and its accompanying locks, of which sadly little trace can be seen.
- Clarkes Lane -
The vacant Elm Park Tavern adds another boost to our pub pictures before Slater Street connects us to Clarkes Lane where the canal course again becomes much more apparent. A short green stretch heads back north-westwards towards what would have been the final Sandbeds Lock, but we press on in a south-easterly fashion from the embankment where Clarkes Lane Bridge was positioned. A wide track soon leads us to Durham Avenue (site of Farm Bridge) and then to County Bridge by the side of Bentley Cemetery.
- Hopyard Bridge -
The clear track continues as we proceed to Hopyard Bridge, the structure of which has been retained for a path that links two sections of the County Bridge housing estate. The local primary school then occupies the site of the canal for a short distance and I wonder whether we'll be able to locate much more of the line.
- Anson Road -
Luckily there is one further stretch for us to investigate whereby Anson Road flanks an area now used as a children's playground - the houses along one side of the road presumably once looked out over the towpath and the derelict waterway, perhaps not all that many years ago. The A454 Black Country Route cuts a dual carriageway swathe through where the canal would have gone from here, although some allotments parallel to Wrexham Avenue seem to mark out the former course leading up to the Anson Branch terminus.
- Meeting with the Anson Branch -
Our mission is not complete though until we've visited the eastern extremities of the line, which means a stroll along Bentley Mill Way to find some rather overgrown junction remains in the shadow of the Boundary Mill store. Here a mournful black service pipe spans the reeds where the Bentley Canal would have emerged to meet the Anson Branch. We've certainly covered a fair old distance in exploring the canal from point to point, noting the curious symmetry that has resulted in modern retail parks book-ending the canal's former termini, and with that we treat ourselves to a refreshing drink in Walsall and a chance to recover from our exertions. Mission accomplished!