- Galton Bridge -
I haven't done that many waterways wanderings of late so I was eager to take to the towpaths once more, picking out a Smethwick circuit for closer investigation. I'd covered some of the loop before in various stages but there were gaps I needed to attend to, hence my starting point is Thomas Telford's historic Galton Bridge (built in 1829) once I'd alighted my train at the adjacent railway station.
- Hartley Bridge -
Galton Bridge spans the New Birmingham Main Line Canal as I descend onto the towpath and head initially towards Oldbury. I quickly pass beneath the railway platforms and bear down on Spon Lane Bridge, one of two such named structures along the course of my route. The canal then flanks the derelict Chance Brothers glassworks, the factory having been derelict for as long as I can remember although in its heyday the firm produced lighthouse equipment, cathode ray tubes and rolled-plate glass. The scale of the old works site is probably better discerned from the train but the canal angle does allow an appreciation of Chance Bridge and Hartley Bridge in close combination.
- Spon Lane (Old Main Line) -
The concrete columns supporting the M5 motorway now take centre stage as I reach the Stewart (or Steward) Aqueduct which carries the Old Main Line above its later counterpart. Here I switch onto Brindley's original canal which is notable for a more meandering nature dictated by land contours during its C18th construction. Modern life impinges on the scene these days of course, meaning Spon Lane Junction is a very bleak place almost buried in the bowels of the motorway. The second Spon Lane Bridge is close at hand beside the carriageway underbelly.
- Summit Tunnel -
Thankfully the M5 soon veers off to grace West Bromwich and normal daylight service resumes - there's even the occasional heron to add an unexpected grace to proceedings. Summit Bridge is my next landmark with some impressively imposing brickwork that is somewhat offset by the intrusion of Summit Tunnel's more austere appearance. Beyond the tunnel, Brasshouse Lane beckons with a hint of a nature trail and the unmistakable prospect of a pump house chimney to admire. The chimney is a defining feature of Smethwick's New Pumping Station which currently houses the Galton Valley Heritage Centre, a great place to find out more about the area's engineering endeavours.
- Engine Arm Aqueduct -
After Brasshouse Lane I'm keen to track down the Engine Arm, a feeder branch that supplies the main canals with water from Edgbaston Reservoir. The arm leaves the Old Main Line at a little stone roving bridge and immediately crosses the New Main Line on an elegant aqueduct - the structure is another example of Thomas Telford's construction prowess and is a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument.
- Engine Bridge -
Although I'd photographed the aqueduct a few years ago I hadn't walked the Engine Arm itself before. The branch runs parallel to both the Old and New Main Lines with Bridge Street crossing all three canals within a very short distance. Atmospheric industrial buildings provide a backdrop as I approach Engine Bridge, after which the towpath is gated off while the arm becomes a private mooring basin stretching through to Rabone Lane.
- Smethwick Locks -
Retracing my steps back across the aqueduct, I rejoin the Old Main Line for a look at Smethwick Locks. Sadly the octagonal toll hut has suffered fire damage with its roof timbers exposed to the elements but the locks themselves make for some good photography. There are three locks in all, leading me down to Pope Bridge where my old photo friend the New Navigation pub looks as disused as ever.
- Smethwick Junction -
With Pope Bridge accounted for, the familiar sight of Smethwick Junction greets me complete with two Horseley turnover bridges and some rusty factory architecture. This is where the separate main lines join forces once more to offer a united route into Birmingham, although my circuit requires me to take the New Main Line back through to Galton Bridge. Rolfe Bridge is a boring modern example as the middle of the Bridge Street three bridges sequence.
- Galton Tunnel -
Brasshouse Lane soon makes its presence felt again, the New Main Line passing through at a lower level with the pump station chimney towering overhead. I'm almost back where I started but there's one final feature to contend with, Galton Tunnel being very similar to Summit Tunnel in burrowing beneath Telford Way and offering little in the way of aesthetic embellishment. The loop is then complete as I troop back up to Galton Bridge station for my train home, the walk having taken just over two hours in total - a fascinating stroll which I would definitely recommend!