The Chip Foundation Chronicles receive their first 2018 indentation courtesy of a trip that reaches deep into the very heart of the Black Country. Canals, chainmaking and of course chips all feature on an adventure that combines Blackheath with the Bumble Hole…
- Ready for action at Mousesweet Brook -
Friday 19th January 2018 and episode 51 of the Chip Foundation Chronicles begins with Stephen, Nick and myself converging upon Cradley Heath Station. The chaps then nervously await their instructions as Sergeant Major WME plots a wander through the Mousesweet Brook Nature Reserve (with a little bit of Charles Road for good measure). The brook forms part of the borough boundary between Dudley and Sandwell as we follow the tracks to Mushroom Green.
- Mushroom Green Chainshop -
Mushroom Green is a historic little hamlet (originally a nailmakers settlement) that has been protected as a conservation area. We wander around a warren of cottagey cul-de-sacs before happening across a proud survivor from the Black Country's industrial past - Mushroom Green Chainshop. Here visitors can witness the traditional skill of chainmaking in action every second Sunday of the month between April and October; alas there are no such demonstrations to be had today, but at least Nick can marvel at the knobbly chimneys!
- Bishtons Bridge -
Delving a little into Dudley Wood, we spot the Bunch of Bluebells (sadly fenced off) and former branch library (now a pharmacy but still with a coat of arms on the wall). The Dudley No. 2 Canal then awaits as we join the cut at Saltwells Bridge, bearing east towards the Bumble Hole via Primrose, Bishton and Griffin Bridges. Added interest is provided by a sculpture trail whereby items appear at regular intervals along the towpath; fabricated from steel, the designs reflect local heritage and landmarks with examples detailing Hingley's Anchors and Lloyds' Proving House.
- Chip considerations at Darby End -
As with all Chip Foundation outings, lunch is a prime consideration so a Darby End detour brings us to The Fryer as positioned on the crossroads opposite the Red Lion. Chips are a must so we take up a perch on Fox & Goose Bridge and tuck in despite a stiff breeze, Stephen posing with fork in hand as is the established custom. St Peter's Church is just the other side of the bridge, but with food devoured we turn our attentions swiftly back to the canal.
- Bumble Hole Boatyard -
As a self-confessed canal enthusiast I have a particular fondness for Bumble Hole and the various stretches of watery navigations in the vicinity. We start our survey with the Bumble Hole Branch itself, passing beneath Dunns Bridge for views looking out over Bumble Hole Pool (an old clay pit that has since become a wildlife haven). The branch used to form a complete loop with the Boshboil Arm but nowadays terminates at the site of Harris's boatyard, an atmospheric spot with a collection of random artefacts including a gypsy caravan.
- A classic Black Country scene -
Beyond the boatyard, the tall chimneystack of Cobbs Engine House entices us towards the Netherton Tunnel Branch. The tunnel's southern portal is guarded over by the remains of the engine house, which when operational housed a steam pump that drained water from nearby mines and collieries. We then pause a short while at Windmill End Junction, admiring the picture postcard scene that seems to evoke the very essence of the Black Country - bostin!
- Bumblehole beer in Ma Pardoe's -
From one quintessential Black Country location to another now as we set our sights upon Netherton's Old Swan, affectionately known as Ma Pardoe's after a legendary landlady. We may have been numerous times previously but a visit here always seems special, the chance to sample the pub's home-brewed ales being far too tempting to resist. On this occasion choosing our beer is very simple - given the title of the trip it can only be Bumblehole Best Bitter and a cracking pint it is too!
- A Pale Rider in Cradley Heath -
So what else is there on the ale agenda for the afternoon? Well a ride on the 243 (via Timbertree) has us bound for Lyde Green, home to the Vine where a half of Wye Valley HPA keeps us lubricated in the lounge. Cradley Heath offers shots of the forlorn Labour Club on Graingers Lane (closed for two years and counting) while Corngreaves Road presents the Plough & Harrow where Nick comes over all Pale Rider. Relaxing in the bay window, we chat about cricket, Nick's unreadable handwriting and the distinction between Cradley Heath and Cradley.
- Seeking Shell-ter! -
The plan has gone pretty much to schedule so far but you can always rely on the Friday afternoon bus timetables to throw a spanner in the works. Sure enough our intended 129 connection is heavily delayed and any ideas of going to the Waterfall have to be scrapped. All is not lost though, so when the bus finally decides to grace us with its presence, we can squeak in a Shell Corner session starting at the Fixed Wheel brewery tap. A dose of Mild Concussion proves a pleasurable experience when accompanied by a stilton cob, and our final port of call turns out to be the new Shell-ter Micro Bar on Nimmings Road where (whisper it quietly) I sampled a West Bromwich Albion pale ale. One Rowley Regis train connection later and our day is complete - cheers!