Saturday 24 August 2013

Ghost Canals of the BCN - Wyrley Bank Branch

Walks around the lost sections of the BCN
Wyrley Bank Branch
August 2013

Continuing a short series of walks covering some of the lost sections of the BCN, first published in the BCN Society's March 2013 edition of the Boundary Post.

I hope this inspires you to explore these fascinating relics of an industrial past which is fast fading into obscurity. 

This walk takes you out to the north of the BCN, following a line from Bloxwich to Cheslyn Hay:

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

This month’s walk takes us to one of the northern most extremities of the BCN, the Wyrley Bank Branch Canal which runs due north from Sneyd Junction in Bloxwich to Cheslyn Hay 3.5 miles distant.

This is a there and back walk which can be tackled from either end. The towpath is well maintained which makes for easy walking or, if you prefer, this is a route which you can explore by bicycle. Perhaps the hardest part is finding an end to start from. Sneyd is possibly the easier place to find where the A5421 Lichfield Road crosses the canal at the site of lock 2. However, for the purposes of this walk we will start in the north in Cheslyn Hay. To find the site of the Wyrley Wharf terminal basin you will need to find Dundalk Lane where it splits with Lapwing Close at Campions Wood.

This northern end represents part of a Local Nature Reserve and the towpath itself is part of the  Forest of Mercia Way. It’s a route which is popular with local dog walkers but is an under used resource for canal lovers. The canal has a good inventory of built remnants and for more than half its length it is in water – all a far cry from the waterless Balls Hill and Danks Branches we looked at in the last edition of Boundary Post.

The first structure to be encountered is the foundation of Wyrley Bank Bridge, one of the few lift bridges on the BCN. The brick narrows rises clear from a very distinct canal bed which at the time if my visit included a thin film of water. Then it’s only a few hundred yards to the site of the breach which emptied this canal in 1954. These days the breach is all fenced off and is spanned by a bridge with the path leading on to an area of opencast mining which obliterated the area around Gilpins Basin in the 1980’s.

This area of opencast isn’t all bad news. The line of canal is there or thereabouts represented by a drainage ditch which links north and south pools and leads to the site of the collapsed Landywood Bridge and the associated Landywood Wharf. South of this point the canal returns to water and passes beneath the well preserved Bakers Bridge and on to the collapsed Long Lane Bridge, now a 20ft embankment which blocks the cutting. Then it’s on to the first railway crossing and the site of the Cannock Colliery, the original terminus of the Wyrley and Essington Canal before it was extended to Huddlesford Basin via Ogley Locks.

Today there is little to see of the loading basins which are only a few hundred yards distant and 30 ft higher than the western end of the nearby Lord Hayes Branch. The canal turns sharply beneath the railway bridge, its piers protected by a steel rope roller which remains seized, but intact.

The canal is now fully back in water as it heads south past another interchange basin and back under the railway to the Broad Lane crossing on the outskirts of Bloxwich. By now you will have covered 2.25 miles and if you want to stick to a country walk it is time to turn back. For my money I like to see things through to the end, and I would encourage you to carry on for the remaining 1.25 miles.

The Bloxwich section is more gritty than pretty, with the neighbouring houses using the canal as both a dump and an impromptu bonfire site. The water has gone but the line remains clear, returning to mud as the canal winds round a football pitch and past the entrance to the Essington Locks Branch which lifted the canal through five locks to Essington Colliery at 536 feet, the highest point on the BCN. This arm was built in 1795 and closed in 1830 when the coal was played out – little wonder that the remains are limited to a pair of hedges and a few indistinct terraces where the locks stood.

All good walks benefit from a fitting finale and this one comes up trumps. Soon after the Essington Locks Junction you come to Sneyd Top Lock, the first of five which dropped the canal down to Sneyd Junction. You will see the entrance to the top lock in the bushes and the edges of the lock chamber are just starting to peep out through the grass with the land dropping down to the site of lock number four. The flight of locks continued beneath what is now Vernon Way but before you march on down the road to Sneyd Junction, take a look at Sneyd Reservior to your right.

Sneyd Reservoir was a huge undertaking, built in 1805 and at over 40 feet deep it contained millions of gallons to feed the top pound of the Wyrley Bank Branch.Today the reservoir is a shadow of its former self but it retains enough water to make it a popular fishing spot. A walk along these ramparts reveals the remains of a navigable feeder which ran to the far end of the reservoir and a now demolished pumphouse, which lifted the water into the lake via an inflow tunnel which can still be found.

Returning to the canal line there is just lock number one visible, with its chamber lying crazy and cracked. Subsidence has taken its toll, lowering the top end by three feet or more but its lower wings are more or less intact, a brooding presence watching over Sneyd Junction, a tantalising reminder of yet another BCN route which has been lost to the boater.

Andy has documented these, and many more of the lost sections of the BCN in his blog “Captain Ahab’s Watery Tales” which includes maps, photos and a light historical context.

1 comment:

Halfie said...

Andy, I think you might have got the date of Sneyd Reservoir's construction wrong. 1705 seems to be a little early!