- A Fountain Fellow -
Friday 14th May 2021 is a momentous day in more ways than one as the morning sees me receiving my first dose of the Covid vaccine. Having thus been 'Pfizered' at Aldersley Leisure Village, I am clear to proceed to Bloxwich courtesy of the number 60 bus with the Beardsmore contingent boarding at Heath Town. The journey is a swift one via Bentley Bridge Retail Park, Wednesfield and New Invention, John immediately regaling us with fishing memories. Setting down at Park Road terminus just before 11:30, we admire the Pat Collins Memorial Clock and a gilded Victorian fountain (dating from 1891) as part of Bloxwich's Promenade Gardens.
- Beardsmores on the Wyrley Branch -
Our first real task of the trip is to track down the remains of the Wyrley Branch, an offshoot of the Wyrley & Essington Canal which used to link Sneyd Junction with Landywood and Great Wyrley. Abandoned in the 1950s, the line now forms a pleasant linear nature reserve out into South Staffordshire. We initially venture through the King George V Memorial Playing Fields and negotiate the golf course-inspired closes of the Turnberry Road estate in order to join the branch near Broad Lane. We can't vouch for the angling potential here even if John does predict there may be eels to be plundered in amongst the reeds.
- Near Long Lane -
The Chase Line railway track keeps us company for a short while as the old canal meanders northwards, passing beside a lawn cemetery and allowing glimpses of the Wyrley Juniors football pitches. Much of the channel has been reclaimed by vegetation although there are pockets of open water, presumably not very deep. An industrial tube culvert carries the waterway below Long Lane before we reach Baker's Bridge as an intriguing surviving structure historically used by local farms. Rather than hike all the way to Cheslyn Hay, we decide to retrace our steps back to Long Lane for a look around Newtown instead.
- The New Masons, Newtown -
Newtown is a small settlement that straddles the A34 just beyond the West Midlands county boundary. Despite its limited size, the village is home to two pubs and on this occasion the New Masons gets the nod over the Ivy House. Motivational mottoes adorn beer garden branches as we pick ourselves a table, and John then takes great care not to drench himself in IPA when the plastic glasses prove unexpectedly squeezable. Conversation turns to cruise memories (Cairo and Portugal), cricket - as ever with Stephen around - and football hooliganism of the 1970s, much to the bemusement of the unsuspecting barman.
- Wallington Heath Pool -
Next up we follow the A34 Stafford Road straight into Bloxwich town centre, passing a posh-looking Golf Club and the turnings into Lower Farm. Wallington Heath Pool is an attractive little beauty spot with ducks waddling about; it certainly has more aesthetic appeal than the boarded-over shell of the Royal Exchange. Stephen is in charge of selecting our afternoon snacks, hence nominating Allmarks Bakery for flaky sausage rolls which are awarded our considered seal of approval. Trying not to cover ourselves in pastry crumbs, we witness the Friday afternoon congestion along Bloxwich High Street as the schools finish for the day.
- Mr B Junior at The Bell -
Our own conclusion requires a second pint somewhere and the Bell ultimately claims our custom, tempting us from the Lichfield Road/Bell Lane crossroads. This Banks's boozer has been part of Bloxwich life for generations, and ordinarily I'd love to explore the multi-roomed traditional interior again. The beer garden has to suffice this time around, sheltered under a white tarpaulin as the Banks's Mild hits the spot. Stephen models his blackcurrant and lemonade while John gives the poor barmaid a potted history of Portobello. Mr Beardsmore Senior pulls rank in demanding an extra pint (the Wainwrights is calling to him) but we still make it safely onto the 16:18 bus home - cheers!