Thursday, 22 August 2013

Ghost Canals of the BCN - Balls Hill and Danks Branches

Walks around the abandoned corners of the BCN

Other posts in this series:

Ridgeacre, Balls Hill and Danks Branches
August 2013

Following my extensive posts about the abandoned sections of the BCN I have been asked to write them up in the form of walks for publication in the BCN Society's quarterly magazine, Boundary Post.

This has caused me to reflect on the geography of how these routes hang together and, wherever possible, to turn them into circular walks of between four and six miles. 

Rather than lose these items I will apply them to the blog for future reference, but if you want to get the most out of these walks you should invest in a copy of Richard Dean's map "Canals of Birmingham" ISBN 978 0 9561306 0 0 and if you really want a historical context the Godfrey Edition maps provide a breathtaking amount of detail from the dawn of the 20th century.

I will start with the circular walk which was published in December 2012 and later shared with The Explorer B cruise in the Ridgeacre area earlier this year, not least because it has four pubs along its route (and offers a rich diversity of lost canals - but that's just a bonus).

Looking for interesting walks in and around the BCN? Andy Tidy shares some of his favourite “forgotten corners” of the BCN .

The Ridgacre Pub on the Black Country New Road (Postcode : B70 0NP) is an excellent place to start a canal hunt. Not only does it sit slap bang in the middle of a web of lost routes, it also offers convenient source of refreshment and, of course, a handy car park.

For our first walk we are going to take a look at the Balls Hill and Danks Branches which offer a circular walk of about five miles and will take about two hours to complete.  For maximum enjoyment it’s a good idea to get a copy of the 1902 Godfrey Edition OS Map Great Bridge and Toll End number 68.05, and a contemporary map so you can see what has changed.

Starting at the Ridgacre Pub and looking north you will immediately see an open pool of water and a bridge crossing the entrance of a GWR interchange basin, one of many on the integrated canal / rail network of the Black Country. Skirt round to the back of the pub and you will enter a long thin area of trees – the old Balls Hill Branch, or more accurately the original northern end of Brindley’s 1770’s Wednesbury Old Canal, abandoned in 1952. Follow this footpath over Richmond Street and onto Brickhouse Lane.

Here the canal bed is visible in open grassland, bending sharply to the left as it goes round the old Swan Farm Brick Works and into an industrial complex only to emerge a few hundred yards later beside the Bee Hive Pub. From here the canal turns due north and follows a contour all the way to Golds Green. Access is tricky and you will have to drop down to the roundabout and skirt the bottom of the escarpment via George Henry Road and Bagnall Street, rejoining the canal line just before the Miners Arms. At this point it’s worth doubling back and taking a walk along the snaking course of the canal which extends from the aptly named new Waterside Street.

Beyond Bagnall Street the canal is covered in industrial buildings but Google Earth reveals its course which can again be glimpsed from the far end of Pikehelve Street, an old residential area previously referred to as Golds Hill. A visit to Shaw Street and the site of Golds Hill Bridge will round off the accessible elements of this section. The actual canal continues east through the industrial area, its line still apparent as a strip of tree covered ground but access is impossible without the agreement of the owners. The canal terminated just to the east of the tram line in Hill Top after crossing an aqueduct which was removed in the 1960’s. If you want to cover every last inch of this canal you can drive round to the end of Tunnel Road and see a depression which was probably part of the terminal basin.

From the bridge on Shaw Street you can carry on keeping to the left and follow an old path down the hill and over the site of Golds Hill Colliery, passing under the abandoned railway line. This brings you to Golds Hill Bridge (another by the same name) on the Tame Valley Canal.
Now you need to stop and get your bearings. You could continue your circular walk by following the
Tame Valley to the Walsall Canal and turning left to the foot of the Ryders Green Locks, but that
would miss out the Danks Branch.  This canal was on a level with the Tame Valley, but pre dated it
and during its construction it cut off the northern tip of the Danks which was close to what is today an electrical sub station.

The Danks ran due south over what is now meadow but was housing and industry before dipping under the railway line. The canal bed has been lost but if you scramble down from the railway track bed you will find a perfectly preserved skew crossing with canal and towpath.  The canal bed is lost beneath an industrial site, its course meeting Bagnall Street at its junction with Chimney Road.  Chimney Road is itself built on the southern 400 yard spur of the Danks Branch, constructed to serve a number of brick works and collieries.
The Danks holds a final built remnant in the shape of another railway bridge, this one almost under the Black Country New Road. Access is tricky and dependent on the amount of undergrowth, but with some perseverance you can get under the bridge and see the towpath and water channel.

The Danks Branch joins the Walsall Canal at Hempole Lane Bridge and a close inspection reveals a curving towing path descending into a mire of rubbish, giving horses access to the Danks.

The route back to the Ridgacre is up the impressive eight locks of the Ryders Green flight and then back along the stub of the Ridgeacre / Swan Arm. Until a few years ago you could still get boats to the Swan Roundabout, but silting and pollution have closed this short length and viewing is restricted to the few intrepid canal hunters and hardy fishermen who venture along this obscure stretch of water.


Roger said...

Hi - great stuff, "the Ghost Canals of the BCN".

I think your link to the Pensnett and Fens Branches is point to the Wyrley Bank Branch


Andy Tidy said...

Rog = fixed!