Sunday, July 9

Waterways Walks: The Hatherton Canal

No sooner have I submitted one blog post with a canal flavour (Thursday's Rocket Pool Rummage: Part 3) than I dive straight back into exploration action by reprising my very occasional series of extended waterways walkabouts. A route from Gailey to Cannock has been plotted which will allow me to combine an unseen stretch of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal with some remnants of the Hatherton Branch...

- Gailey Pottery -
Friday 7th July 2017 and the trip is underway courtesy of the number 54 bus from Wolverhampton towards Stafford. Pendeford Business Park, i54 and Coven are navigated without incident so I can alight in Gailey not long after half past ten, opening photographic proceedings with shots of the Spread Eagle (a large Marston's roadhouse) and Gailey Pottery (based in an old church). The A5 Watling Street briefly keeps me company before I join the Staffs & Worcs towpath beside the distinctive Gailey Roundhouse.

- Foreboding signage in Four Ashes -
The roundhouse was a fitting finale to a previous walk I did down from Radford Bank in 2013, but this time around I would be heading south to link in with another of my earlier outings (2009's Calf Heath and Coven) - now would be my chance to neatly join these threads together. The stretch through Four Ashes is my new territory for the morning and is mainly notable for the presence of the chemical works; there are various stern notices about not mooring or stopping here plus some stark pipe bridges which match the grim architecture of the refinery. Gravelly Way Bridge is a little more appealing as a traditional stone structure but it's still quite a relief to reach Calf Heath Bridge and know better scenery awaits.

- Hatherton Marina -
Meandering bends in turn reveal Long Molls Bridge (Deepmore Lane), Hatherton Marina and the turnover footbridge at Hatherton Junction. The bridge is a little overgrown in truth and the access on the opposite bank is gated off so I can only see the first couple of locks on the Hatherton Branch from afar. These remain in working use as part of the marina but the remainder of the canal between Calf Heath and Churchbridge Locks was abandoned in 1955. Restoration plans - if successful - would see a canal link reinstated to Churchbridge then continuing through to meet the Lord Hayes Branch (an offshoot of the Wyrley & Essington) at Fishley north of Bloxwich.

- Calf Heath ahead -
Stage one of the day's canal contemplations has gone well and there is plenty more to still to come, however a little break from towpath trekking is now required as I seek out lunchtime refreshment. The marina is private property so I retrace my footsteps to Long Molls Bridge and exit for the accurately-named Straight Mile among farms and stables. Calf Heath is a narrow ribbon of a settlement with facilities including the village hall and the Dog & Partridge pub. Naturally I'm drawn to the latter despite it having the M6 motorway practically on its doorstep - a pint of Holden's Golden Glow is my reward as a montage of Madonna songs plays interminably on some music channel or other. I therefore try my best to blot out the sound of 'Crazy for You' while tucking into a tasty cheese and onion cob. Music preferences apart the pub made a good impression, the Glow was quality ale and further entertainment is provided by a pet pooch greedily gobbling up a retired chap's packet of pork scratchings.

- The Dog & Partridge -
Keeping with the canine theme a moment longer, Straight Mile historically crossed the Hatherton Branch at Dog Bridge, one of the structures that stands to be restored should the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Trust achieve their aims. A culvert runs beneath the M6 but beyond this a sizeable section of the old canal is under British Waterways ownership and accessible as a permissive footpath. I love exploring lost waterways like this and with favourable (i.e not too hot) July weather I was in for an absolute treat! Scrawpers End Bridge on Oak Lane is the starting point for stage two of my towpath tour even if the low headroom is a bit of a challenge if I'm to investigate the little stub right up next to the M6 carriageway.

- Scrawpers End Bridge -
A bit of crawling and contortion later means I've captured the culvert on camera and am clear to proceed towards Cannock. Scrawpers End is just one of a sequence of interesting bridges demanding discovery, so in turn I encounter Saredon Mill Bridge, Cross Bridge (also height-restricted, this is where Four Crosses Lane goes over the line) and Cats - or Catch - Bridge. A brick-lined narrowing marks the site of Meadow Lock and the trail ends at Bridge 8 to the rear of the Roman Way Hotel. I have to say that together they made for one of the most fascinating strolls I've done in a long time, and the LHCRT have done a great job of rebuilding some of the bridges that had fallen into disrepair. The canal channel is mainly in water throughout, flanked by lush vegetation which is rather pretty in places. I'm not sure how much of the original fabric of the line survives beyond Wedges Mills - it would be interesting to find out but that's a task for another day.

- Meadow Lock -
Longford Island now looms large with its retail parks and Beefeater restaurant. The A5 is getting busy on a Friday afternoon so the relative calm of the Longford estate is more to my liking, especially with suburban snaps to snaffle up. The local social club is one camera candidate swiftly followed on Bideford Way by a clutch of shops and St Stephen's Methodist Church. I'm keen to track down the Ascot Tavern and find it on one corner of Ascot Drive (Longford Primary School is just over the road); sadly the pub shut a few months ago and is due to make way for a housing development so its first appearance in the WME archives will surely be its last.

- Ascot Tavern -
No chance of a drink at the Ascot then but there are a couple of Cannock establishments I can claim prior to catching my bus to Wolverhampton. Exhibit A is the Crystal Fountain on St John's Road, a Black Country Ales establishment with a sympathetically refurbished 1930s interior. Tinner's Tipple (Golden Duck Brewery) is on good form here, setting me up nicely for one of the newer additions to Cannock's pub contingent. High Green is thus home to the Newhall Arms micropub where a mural stag looks on appreciatively as I raise a pint of Pole Dancer in honour of Mr SBI's birthday.

- Staring Stag in the Newhall Arms -
My number 70 carriage awaits, taking me a little by surprise in passing the Ascot Tavern on the way out of town (I remember when the route went through Rumer Hill to Bridgtown but now it uses Dartmouth Avenue). Delta Way Garage and Walkmill Lane are as I remember, leading into the familiar combination of Cheslyn Hay and Featherstone. Come Fallings Park I hop off to meet up with Stephen for chips and cricket; the evening is then reserved for Team Bears quiz duty whereby we actually won, a great result even if I still have a headache from working out some particularly fiendish sporting anagrams. A perfect end to a perfect day, and not a wolf in sight!

No comments:

Post a Comment