Friday, July 7

A Rocket Pool Rummage - Part Three

It's been three months in the making but finally Stephen and I have reached the last leg of our Rocket Pool wanderings. To April's Daisy Bank and Bradley bout we'd already added June's Princes End exploration, and now we have the prospect of Gospel Oak and Ocker Hill by way of completing the set...

- Stephen goes gardening? -
Banga's trusty 530 service is on standby once more but not before we've acquainted ourselves with a couple more of the 'Wolves in Wolves' sculptures. Stephen introduces himself to 'Garden' (a pretty floral design) as positioned outside Wolverhampton Bus Station; I then have the pleasure of meeting 'Wolfy McWolf' (a blue and yellow example with wordsearch elements) on the approach to the railway station.

- Bradley Locks footpath -
Back on Tower Street the 530 is waiting for us and twenty five minutes or so later we touch down on Rocket Pool Drive, alighting as if by habit at the terminus stop overlooking the pool. The local geese have more sense on this occasion and are encamped on the water instead of trying to instigate a road traffic accident! Stephen and I also keep ourselves out of mischief by rejoining the former locks footpath but rather than Weddell Wynd we aim for Great Bridge Road to cast a glance at the old bridge remains.

- Half measures at the Gospel Oak? -
Two of April's photo pluckings are back in the firing line next as the Gospel Oak pub and Tipton Sports Academy return to the fray. The pub in fact allows us to continue the artistic theme from earlier, not wolves in this case but Banks's Banksy-style street art cheekily depicting 'My Other Half' and 'My Better Half' - similar creations have appeared elsewhere including 'My wife's a keeper, she's got big hands' at Molineux Stadium. Tipton's leisure centre seems dull by comparison but still gets an extra photo for the archives, as does the Asda supermarket on Wednesbury Oak Road.

- Former Princes End railway -
You may recall that in April this Asda marked our exit point when tracing the Princes End branch railway line. Today we resume our inspection of the route whereby the footpath passes between the sports academy playing fields and Hawthorn Road. Charred lumps of unspecified vehicles don't admittedly make for the nicest scenery but we reach Ocker Hill unscathed. A circuit up by St Mark's Parish Church proves rather rewarding, spotting the community centre and a little shop followed by the Three Horseshoes (a pub Mr D9 and I memorably sampled when it was called the Goldmine Bar).

- St Mark's Church, Ocker Hill -
The Princes End branch historically had a station at Ocker Hill but we aren't entirely sure of its exact location and didn't discern any obvious clues, although the Rail Around Birmingham website suggests a tunnel passes underneath the Leabrook Road/Gospel Oak Road roundabout. The Crown and Cushion pub was a major landmark at the same junction but has also been consigned to history. Undeterred, we plough on along Gospel Oak Road so as to check out the Willingsworth Linear Park, a green strip of open space populated by the occasional piece of gym equipment.

- Mr B inspects the Gospel Oak Branch -
The park actually marks the infilled course of the Gospel Oak Branch Canal, an offshoot of the Walsall Canal that served the furnaces of Willingsworth Colliery. Ignoring the opportunity to do bench presses or space walking, we emerge onto Farmer Way after which we discover a section of the canal that is still in water, albeit heavily overgrown with reeds. A narrow track has us navigating a gauntlet of nettles as we spot a nesting swan and Stephen ponders the possibility of fish lurking among the murky depths. A few hundred yards later and we reach Wiggins Mill, site of the junction with the Walsall Canal where the remnants of the Leabrook railway basin can be seen directly opposite. The junction is still very distinct as a waterways feature.

- Moorcroft Junction -
Wiggins Mill Bridge is Stephen's cue to bid me farewell (he has a cricketing date at Edgbaston to take care of) so the Walsall Canal must make do with me going solo along the stretch to Moxley. I've effectively granted myself an almost instant return to Patent Shaft territory as the steelworks would have been very prominent from the towpath during its years of operation. Nowadays there are benches, bits of landscaping and some modern bridges (Monway and Willingsworth Hall) before Moorcroft Junction is where the Bradley Locks Branch used to link up with the main line. Bull Lane Bridge isn't much further and the canal is flanked on the left by part of the Moorcroft Wood Nature Reserve, a reclaimed industrial site that has become something of haven for bats. A quick jig by the Fiery Holes and I can flag down the 530 for the ride back to Wolverhampton.

- Hunter Wolf -
So three months and plenty of photos later we've finally signed off on our Rocket Pool investigations having done our best to account for the area's canals and railways past and present. I couldn't close off this blog though without another wolf mention, so here's a howl out for 'Hunter' whose black and white tones can be found beside the Wolverhampton Art School (a.k.a the University of Wolverhampton's George Wallis Building). Bye for now!

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