Travel West Midlands are due to overhaul their Brownhills area services in July, a move that means that routes such as the 392, 393 and 396A/C will be withdrawn, whilst the likes of Norton Canes and Boney Hay will no longer be served by the company. I am not going to debate the merits of that decision here, other than to say that the changes presented something of a challenge to me in terms of exploring the routes whilst I still can, so...
- Starting in Walsall, I caught the 396C up into Norton Canes - an interesting journey providing a look around Shelfield and Pelsall, then Norton West in reflecting what used to be the 345 route. I took the chance to mooch around Norton Canes with a look at the library and the Co-op, and a little walk trying to track down Jerome Road, scene of a memorable incident where Stuart and I caught the old 396 the wrong way and ended up lost and confused at the Norton terminus.
- This was followed by a ride on the 396A, back the way I came as I wanted to have a closer look at Shelfield. A little wander around High Heath revealed some local shops and a park, plus the sites of what once were Shelfield Library and the Four Seasons pub. To Shelfield itself, and more pubs (The Four Crosses and The Spring Cottage), plus a bonus discovery with the local post office hidden away up Spring Road. Shelfield had featured on Brownhills rides in the past, whereby the Spring Cottage had particularly caught my eye, but this was my first proper investigation of the area, whilst High Heath was completely new ground for me.
- My next move was to catch the 392 up to Ogley Hay. I'd been on the route with Stuart years ago, and remembered that it branches off up Coppice Lane instead of visiting Streets Corner - what I didn't remember was the Friezland section so that was a nice re-discovery. I alight by the Costcutter (I assumed this was the Co-op the timetables refer to) so I could connect with a service heading Chasetown way.
- That service turned out to be the 394, heading up through Chasetown and Chase Terrace to Boney Hay, definitely something of a TWM outpost (but not for much longer). I got a couple of layover shots, then a couple of photos of a pub that had caught my eye (The Foresters Arms?) Not being sure what to do next, I decided to track down the 395 terminus - this involved seeing more of the Boney Hay estate, quite rural in flavour, and then trying to locate Burntwood Church. I found Church Road no problem, but waited at the wrong end of the road (as my map suggested), only to see a bus parked up somewhere in the distance. After a bit of a sprint I was on the verge of collapsing, but I got the photo so it was worth it... just!
- Burntwood Church is quite a nice little spot actually, with a lich gate and an intriguing little railed area known as Prince's Park, reputedly the smallest park in the country. My Burntwood explorations then took me to Swan Island, with a spot of lunch at a bigger park off Elder Lane - time to reflect on a job well done so far.
- Chasetown was high on my hitlist as regards local photography, so I was pleased to call in after lunch for some shots of The Junction and The Uxbridge Arms. After a fair old hike I didn't brave a walk up the High Street, so The Crown and The Swan will just have to wait until I'm next in this neck of the woods.
- The afternoon was mainly concerned with heading back across to Norton Canes with the intention of getting the bus photo I missed out on earlier. The 394 returned me to Ogley Hay for my 396A connection, and after a ride up through Brownhills West the photo was safely in the bag. Both the 396A and 396C seem to layover for a good couple of minutes on Norton Green Lane, which but for the forthcoming changes would make it a useful location especially if you time it right to get the A and C within ten minutes of each other.
- The double act did the trick for me anyway, with the 396C arriving on cue to take me back to Brownhills. For a bit of extra local stuff, I took the chance of exploring up around White Horse Road for photos of the Prince of Wales pub as well as The White Horse itself. Might be worth a closer look too, I think the 363 comes around here for future reference.
- A walk down The Parade took me to the terminus of my final bus target, the 349. This is another route on death row, and one I was particularly determined to get a photo of as I'd missed out on a terminus photo previously. The route is similar to the 362 in that it serves Clayhanger and Pelsall, a nice ride if it wasn't for the school rabble. The loss of the route will mean TWM no longer serve Clayhanger Village, although a revised 395 should still link Brownhills and Pelsall. For today though, the route was alive and well, getting me back to Walsall in plenty of time for my train home.
What a great day, the weather finally held nice for me and it was brilliant to be back out there doing some local exploring. The routes were full of interest, and I shall be sad to see them go, especially as some of them take me back to the early days of my explorations - at least I can say I gave them a good send-off!