There was minor debate last evening on the way home from Lichfield. We were there for a pretty lovely concert courtesy of Laura Mvula and the Lichfield Festival; it had my erstwhile gig reviewer muscles twitching with adjectives for sure. Rather than take the obvious route home, we made the most of having a car for the evening (we’re public transporters by default) and drove around the border country between Walsall and Cannock for a while. Not an obvious scenic route, it would be fair to say, but nevertheless amongst the reclaimed open-cast mines and the wilds of Cannock Chase, there’s some very pretty spots around here. Pelsall Common is on the list for a visit, along with the Chase.
The route which took us most of the way was the A5, and the straightness of it makes it clear that it’s a Roman road – straight as an arrow between Wall on the edge of Lichfield, and Brownhills, where it changes angle and carries on in much the same vein. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Romans made the most of the region’s mineral deposits – the entrepreneurs of the industrial era certainly did, and there are legacies of numerous canals and railways for the transporting of goods, all around this part of Staffordshire. For instance, as we turned off via Pelsall, we cross the Wyrley & Essington Canal and the Cannock Extension Canal, not to mention the Anglesey Branch, a navigable feeder to the Chasewater Reservoir.
But there are plenty of traces of former canals as well. Turning onto the Walsall Road from Muckley Corner we passed a pub named The Boat, just before passing over the M6 Toll. Strange name for a pub in the middle of the countryside, but checking against the OS of the 1880’s we find this pub at the end of Boat Lane, which runs alongside… the Curley Wyrley, the W&E we passed over earlier. This canal was one of the more northerly points of the BCN, and was completed c.1794 from Horseley Fields in Wolverhampton to Huddlesford Junction the far side of Lichfield. It was a contour canal and mostly lock free, but the nature of that sort of waterway led to its nickname. There were all sorts of branches off and connections, most of which are now derelict or filled. In fact, today the canal terminates at a marina just beyond Ogley Junction, the beginning of the Anglesey Branch. From there however it continued eastwards through a number of locks, crossing Watling Street just East of Muckley Corner. This section was abandoned in 1955 and filled in afterwards.
The most noticeable feature of this section of canal today is actually not an original part of it at all. The minor debate in the car was whether a bridge over the M6 Toll that you can see as you fly over the motorway on the A5 towards Brownhills, was an aqueduct or a road sign. Difficult to tell in the half-light, but it turns out it was the aqueduct, a newly built affair built to serve a canal which doesn’t at the moment exist. The Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust have built this new ackyduck on the line of the former canal, to meet the needs of a fully restored W&E, all the way to Huddlesford. It’s quite an impressive feat if they can pull it off – 7 miles of filled-in canal dug out, re-lined and re-watered, with new locks and even some brand new canal where the old line can’t be traced.
I’ve mapped out the canal as was, below, along with the planned re-routed sections. If this is finished then that’s a really lovely piece of waterway, and would surely make the Curley Wyrley far more popular as a route opens up through Wolverhampton from the Staffs & Worcs to the Coventry Canal.