Saturday, June 10

Black Lake to Bilston

Even though I find politics rather fascinating, I must admit a certain amount of election fatigue had crept in yesterday after hour upon hour of coverage dissecting the nation's voting decisions. In need of an escape, I hopped aboard the Midland Metro to Black Lake and then embarked on a photographic perambulation covering Hateley Heath, Hill Top and a bit of Bilston...

- Ridgacre Past -
I've explored the remains of the Ridgacre Branch a few times before (usually at the start of a D9 Hub Marketing outing) but this time around I wanted to piece together a little more of the canal's Hateley Heath heritage. I therefore join the towpath at Black Lake Bridge (the proverbial stone's throw from the tram stop) and enjoy an informative chat with a passing cyclist who told me about the canal's lost connections. It's then but a short distance to the branch terminus, a location marked by an artistic structure depicting scenes past, present and future.

- Current Canal Terminus -
You wouldn't necessarily know it given the modern-day surroundings (the houses of Denbigh Drive one side of the canal, Ridgacre Road industrial units on the other), but there used to be two former arms in the vicinity. The Dartmouth Arm once headed north to meet Coles Lane and Witton Lane, whereas the Halford Arm ventured south towards Church Lane, both having been initially constructed to serve the extensive local mines and collieries. Church Lane in fact historically featured two canal bridges as the Jesson Branch (itself an offshoot of the Halford Arm) also made an imprint on the area. Where the current canal ends various paths spread out with my chosen route taking me to Cardigan Close.

- Kesteven Green Swan Sculpture -
The wider estates of Hateley Heath are now at my disposal although first of all I pick out a Queens Head pub picture on the corner of Church Lane and Small Street. A sharp shower does its best to dampen my enthusiasm but the sun reappears in time for Wiltshire Way and a look at Kesteven Green. Mr D9's favourite swan is still intact here along with a selection of mosaics, not to mention a bench shaped like a fish. Phoenix Collegiate is a local educational landmark while the Gough Arms is a sprawling Marston's establishment at the bottom of Coles Lane - I'm intrigued by the little Lowe Bros Turf Accountant's hut on the pub's back yard, a reminder that large roadhouses often had a bookies in close proximity.

- A Police Presence at Hill Top -
Not being of a gambling persuasion, I forego placing any bets in favour of climbing Coles Lane to reach Hill Top. Every other shop here seems to be a takeaway of some description as I note the Hen & Chickens appears to have closed down, not a pretty sight surrounded by grim hoardings. An altogether more appealing prospect is the Park Buildings complex, home to Hill Top Library and Community Centre but with evidence of policing pedigree among the carved stonework - one wing of the building once served as the Sergeant's House no less.

- Three Horseshoes, Witton Lane -
I think I've earned myself a pint and as Hill Top Park's pathways release me onto Witton Lane I can eye up the Three Horseshoes as a tempting tavern. The pub was refurbished by Black Country Ales last year and the increased real ale range was something I needed to investigate - cue Everard's Tiger and a bag of scratchings, nice! The Vintage TV soundtrack of Roy Orbison and the Crickets makes a welcome change from my recent diet of David Dimbleby and Andrew Neil.

- Tame Valley Scenery -
I resume my walk with Holloway Bank, quickly switching onto the Tame Valley Canal which in truth is one of the least enticing waterways on the BCN. The relentless straightness of some of its sections can be rather monotonous with the stretch down to Doe Bank being no exception. The redundant railway at Golds Hill enlivens things a little while an electricity substation is notable without being in any way pretty. The presence of the pylons and so forth prompts me to ponder Ocker Hill Power Station, the cooling towers of which were a prominent part of the Tipton skyline for many years. The plant was situated beside the Walsall Canal and supplied electricity to the Black Country before being decommissioned in 1977 and ultimately demolished ten years after that.

- Light lunchtime reading -
The site of the power station has since been reclaimed for housing so I turn towards Toll End by following the Walsall Canal to Moors Mill Lane. Along the way I pass two former junction locations, the first being for the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch (part of which still exists as residential moorings either side of Bayleys Lane) and the second for the Toll End Communication (a bygone branch that had several locks and linked with the New Main Line in Tipton at a spot now occupied by Caggy's Boatyard). I seem to have worked up a bit more of a thirst but refreshment is at hand courtesy of the Rising Sun on Horseley Road, my second Black Country Ales offering of the day. A giant cheese and onion cob perfectly matches some Burton Bridge Damson Porter as a special indulgence.

- Working on the White Rabbit -
Letting the bus take the strain, I catch the 43 from Toll End Pound to Bradley so as to finish off with a look at the ongoing Bilston Urban Village works. New roads connecting Dudley Street with Coseley Road and Highfields Road at Ladymoor are taking shape while the construction of the White Rabbit also gathers pace, Marstons' new-build pub will be situated between Morrisons supermarket and the Bert Williams Leisure Centre. My faithful friend the 25 bus is then in place to take me home so I can find out what kind of government might emerge from the chaos of election night. One thing is for sure though, a day out in the Black Country is definitely a WME vote winner!

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