The result is another Monday Mission, and once again I am accompanied by Stephen who declares himself also partial to the Curly Wyrley (both the chocolate and the canal varieties). Our starting point will be Knights Bridge in Willenhall so we catch the number 28 bus from Heath Town to Coppice Lane via New Cross Hospital, Ashmore Park and New Invention. The Jolly Collier pub is an immediate photo target as we alight, a Mitchells & Butlers local boozer that's had a lick of cream paint since I last took pictures of it.
I was also keen to get some shots of Holly Bank Basin, although my A-Z map initially sends us in search of a non-existent path beside Howes Crescent. Joining the canal towpath instead, we soon encounter the junction with the basin as guarded by a solitary angler; the basin was originally constructed to interchange with a railway line that served local collieries, and today it looks the absolute epitome of autumn stretching away towards Wesley Road in the distance.
- Holly Bank Basin -
We can't explore the basin directly at this point, so we continue with the main canal towpath to Lane Head Bridge (with the Bridge and United Kingdom pubs for close company) and then Adam and Eve Bridge (adjacent to Manor Farm Drive). Leaving the canal at the latter, we go via Straight Road towards Short Heath with landmarks including the Swan (on the junction with Ezekiel Lane) and Short Heath Methodist Church (an impressive structure dating from 1881). Now we're on Wesley Road we can hunt down the other end of that elusive basin, finding a track that leads us to the arm terminus where some geese waddle about on the canal bank.
Curiosity satisfied, we're free to add in a few more Short Heath photos with the Amery Unionist Club, Holy Trinity Church and the Duke of Cambridge to the fore. These are all features I remember from childhood walks near my Aunt's old house, and another contender would have been the Woolpack pub at the top end of Coltham Road but that was replaced by housing some years ago. Bains' Store and the Woodlands Centre meet the shopping needs of local residents and help maintain some sense of a village identity, then Bloxwich Road North contributes Short Heath Clinic and the Woodlands Academy school.
- Rough Wood -
My memory lane theme is maintained with a visit to Rough Wood Nature Reserve, scene of my Geography coursework project many moons ago when I attempted to identify evidence of adverse visitor impacts such as littering, vandalism and footpath erosion. The reserve contains historic oak woodland and presents a pleasant pocket of calm despite the background hum of the M6 motorway. We meander along various paths and tracks to rejoin the Wyrley & Essington at Bentley Wharf Bridge with Stephen keeping a beady eye out for any fish lurking among the lily pads.
As the canal passes below the M6 motorway, we move seamlessly from Willenhall into the fringes of Bloxwich with Edwards Bridge being one of two Curly Wyrley crossing points on Willenhall Lane. Indeed, the road would offer a handy shortcut if we weren't intent on visiting Sneyd Junction with its neighbouring wharf moorings. The junction is where the abandoned line to Wyrley Bank once departed, and you can still see traces of the first lock straight ahead whereas the Wyrley & Essington main line bends off right beneath the junction footbridge. Stephen and I have separate recollections of the pools in the vicinity, including Sneyd Reservoir (the feeder for the canal) and Baileys Pool (where my Nan and Grandad would walk Nipper their pet Jack Russell).
- Sneyd Junction -
All this walking means we're ready for some lunch, so at Sneyd Footbridge we detour into the Dudley Fields estate to collect some chips from George's Fish Bar (a pot of curry sauce is an extra bit of indulgence on my part). Bus routes serving the estate are the 70 and the 326, each partially running along Central Drive and Sneyd Hall Road. Those chips refuel us in readiness for more exertion as we return to the canal and leisurely stroll down towards Birchills, passing the edges of Beechdale and encountering Brick Kiln Bridge, Wall End Bridge and Stokes Bridge in quick succession.
Birchills Junction is where the Wyrley & Essington meets the northernmost reaches of the Walsall Canal, and serves as a suitable location at which to declare our primary mission successfully accomplished. A passage by the George Stephenson pub connects us to Reedswood Retail Park which occupies the site of the old municipal power station. A 70A bus is then on hand opposite Sainsbury's for our link into Walsall, where Stephen bids me farewell having stoically
- Birchills Junction -
I still have a half hour window of exploration going spare though, a gap neatly filled by a mooch around Chuckery where the Corner Cafe (Selbourne Street), St Luke's Church and Chuckery Green's patch of a park all boost my picture haul in a most acceptable fashion - even in a corner of Walsall I've covered quite thoroughly, it seems there are still new photo gems to be found. With that I declare the outing complete, and I'm delighted that those nostalgic nuggets along memory lane have been caught on camera once more.