- Broad Street Beginnings -
Saturday 12th January 2019 greets me with unremittingly grey Wolverhampton skies, hardly the best photography weather but at least it's dry and not too chilly. My walk commences at Broad Street Basin where I admire the timeless cottages overlooking Top Lock with Littles Lane Bridge for a backdrop. Broad Street Bridge is a boring affair these days (the original structure takes pride of place at the Black Country Living Museum), after which the canal passes beneath the railway station's multistorey car park and on below Corn Hill.
- Horseley Fields Junction -
I quickly reach a significant waterways location in the form of Horseley Fields Junction, a desolate spot surrounded by derelict land, railways and other assorted rubble. The junction is where the Birmingham Main Line meets the Wyrley & Essington, the latter canal stretching off towards Wednesfield, Bloxwich and ultimately Chasewater. The Main Line however is my focus for today so I proceed via Horseley Fields and Walsall Street, spotting ugly rusty shacks and plenty of protest graffiti. These post-industrial landscapes aren't everybody's cup of tea but I find them weirdly captivating if somewhat unnerving.
- Rough Hills Railway Bridge -
Beyond Bilston Road the Main Line quietly makes its way through Monmore Green and Ettingshall as I have a steady succession of industrial estates for company. Cable Street boasts an old brown humpback bridge, then at Dixon Street I detour momentarily to get pictures of Laystalls Engineering (they make hydraulic cylinders) and confirm that the New Inn buffet restaurant has depressingly closed down. Back on the towpath, a Booker Cash and Carry store is a familiar sight from when I first walked this line many moons ago. Rough Hills has a modern green railway bridge plus an intriguing residence that I assume must be a former lock cottage - the canal certainly narrows here even if any lingering lock remains have been removed.
- Deepfields Junction -
Catchems Corner is followed by Millfields Bridge in bringing me into the vicinity of Spring Vale - go back forty years and you'd have seen the last remnants of the Bilston Steelworks which used to dominate the local area. Nowadays the canal is altogether quieter, the blast furnaces of yore having been replaced by residential developments such as Sedgemoor Park. The A463 Black Country Route didn't exist back in the time of Big Lizzy either but today it marks my approach to Deepfields Junction where the Bradley Arm branches off to serve the Canal & River Trust workshops on Bradley Lane.
- Inside Coseley Tunnel -
Anchor Lane, Hills Bridge (Biddings Lane) and Deepfields Footbridge present themselves as a quickfire sequence, the latter being a pedestrian link that connected to The Coseley School (an educational establishment that shut permanently in the summer of 2017). Next up is arguably the star attraction of my walk, the Grade II-listed Coseley Tunnel which is 360 yards long and first opened in 1837. The tunnel's north portal can be accessed off Ivyhouse Lane and there are twin towpaths throughout, each flanked by a rusty handrail as I enter the darkness.
- The Apple Tree -
It had been some years since I last ventured through Coseley Tunnel and the experience is still as spooky as I remembered - eerie silence except for occasional dripping noises, and slippery cobbles underfoot as I try not to trip over. I emerge unscathed at the south portal with steps up to School Street and reward myself with a pint at the Apple Tree, a recently refurbished corporate Marston's boozer just off the Green Street/Central Drive roundabout. Some Banks's Bitter (masquerading as 'Amber' in modern marketing parlance) hits the spot as I watch a bit of Football Focus and ponder the bright and breezy open plan interior. It's not my favourite Coseley pub - I prefer the New Inn or the Old Chainyard - but I'm certainly pleased I popped in for a look.
- Factory Bridge -
Having accounted for my quaffing quota, I resume my trek by rejoining the towpath through Wallbrook and thence onward to Tipton. The course of the canal passes the site of Beans Foundry, once a prominent manufacturer of castings for the automotive industry whereby the foundry's corrugated blue structures were for many years a distinctive feature at the water's edge. That's all history now although street names such as Thunderbolt Way reference the firm's heritage in among the new housing developments. At Factory Junction the canal splits in two so I opt for the New Main Line to revisit Factory Locks and ultimately reach my final destination, Tipton railway station.
- Tipton & Coseley Building Society -
Faced with a little wait for my train, I can't resist teasing out a few general Tipton photos by way of rounding things off. Owen Street therefore reacquaints me with the Fountain Inn (historic headquarters of the pugilist William Perry, a.k.a. the 'Tipton Slasher') and St Martin's & St Paul's Church; dwindling congregation numbers here have resulted in worship being transferred to St Matthew's instead, any future use of the building is still unclear at this stage. A swift glance at the Tipton & Coseley Building Society main offices and then the 14:25 home to Wolverhampton awaits - cheers!