A walking guide
The following appeared in the Winter edition of The Boundary Post - the BCN Society's quarterly magazine.
This circular walk explores one of the most intriguing lost sections of the 1771 Old Main Line Canal from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, one which loops around Summer Hill and was cut off by the construction of the Coseley Tunnel in 1837 and finally abandoned in 1961. This hard won short cut took seven miles off the old route to Wolverhampton and created Bloomfield and Deepfields Junctions, but for a variety of reasons took 39 years to complete. My suggested walk includes both the still navigable Bradley Arm and the “new” Coseley cutting. This covers seven miles, but can be reduced to five if you take an overland route from Canal and River’s Bradley Works to Bloomfield Junction.
Bloomfield to Summer Hill
Bloomfield Junction is a good place to start, just north of Tipton where Hurst Lane crosses the canal. There is little to be seen at the site of the junction, or the web of old basins which lay beyond the railway line, which were filled in and redeveloped many years ago. The canal bed is now below about 50 feet of overburden thrown up by mining at Tibbington Colliery but the first tangible signs of the old loop lie in open ground behind Oval Road, where a curve of the channel and the outline of a basin can be found in public open space.
The line of the canal now becomes very apparent, its channel filled in but its winding course used as a popular tree lined pathway, snaking along and staying true to the 473ft Wolverhampton Level contour as it crosses Central Avenue, site of a demolished aqueduct. The pathway carries on over Upper Church Street and into the sprawling site of the old Moat Colliery, the canal clinging precariously to the side of Summer Hill as it twists and turns adding all those extra miles before it disappears under a 1970’s housing estate.
This area also contained the junction with the Ocker Hill Branch, its location still discernible as a widening at the end of Dryden Close. Sadly there is nothing to be found of the Ocker Hill Branch itself, which led to the old BCN works and pumping station above the Lower Ocker Branch. Its course lay between what is now St Marks Road and Highfield Road, terminating just before the roundabout on Ocker Hill Road.
Whilst invisible on the ground, the line ran close to Upper Church Street and High Street but its curving course emerges again as it crosses the Wednesbury Oak Road next to Asda. The route then sashays round to the north of Turton Road into a horseshoe shaped area of open ground. This next section offers a choice of routes to explore, but of course you will want to look at them both! The most direct route is to head due north following the evocatively named Rotten Brunt Line, an embankment built in 1848 to carry the canal when the Bradley Locks were built down to the Walsall canal to the east. This embankment is today topped by a path but the route is clearly visible although the sites of the many basins in the area have vanished.
The Bradley Locks line is well worth a look, but this is bit off the itinerary for this walk. I suggest that you take the detour around the perimeter of the Wednesbury Oak Loop, its course defined by Turton Road, Batmans Hill Road and Weddell Wynd. The old canal wound round this huge loop serving mines and furnaces which were attracted by the rich 30ft coal seam which existed approx 600ft below. Having rejoined the old canal course at the end of the Rotten Brunt Embankment, the canal continues under the car park of a factory, beneath Bradley Lane and joins the far end of the current Bradley Arm, just outside the Trust’s lock gate factory.
Bradley Arm and Deepfields
At this point you could strike out back to Bloomfield and reduce the walk to 5 miles. However, that would miss out the Bradley Arm which may be in water but is rarely navigated and if you can’t face a couple of hours of playing jack in the box with your weedhatch, it is well worth an extra couple of miles on the towpath.
This section is immediately rewarded with the entrance to yet another lost loop which started from the basin outside the Trust’s works. This loop ran vaguely under Princess Anne Road, curving round to rejoin the canal at Loxdale Sidings at near Pothouse Bridge.
I like circular walks so my suggestion is to follow the towpath along as it makes its way west to Deepfields Junction. Then turn left / south into the broad Deepfields Cutting continuing through the 360 yard Coseley Tunnel. It’s a broad tunnel with a towpath railing which can be managed quite easily without a torch. Then it’s just half a mile or so back to Bloomfield Junction.