My day begins with a ride on the 76 bus, trundling up through Oxley, Coven and Penkridge to reach the outskirts of Stafford. RISING BROOK is an area I first encountered during an Eccleshall outing back in January 2008 so it was good to reacquaint myself with the place, opening my photographic account for the day with shots of the Royal Oak, the Nesbitt Arms and the branch library. The Burton Square shopping precinct also caught my eye, containing a post office with a Postman Pat window along with competing chemists whereby the Lloyds and Co-op Pharmacies face off across the paving slabs.
- Burton Square -
The number 8 bus provides a quick connection into Stafford where I gather a shot or two of Ye Old Rose & Crown, the pub having become a Joule's tap house since the day when I had a pint here with Roger and Woody. The canals are now calling so I hop aboard the 825 for another short ride across to RADFORD BANK, the sight of Crown Carvery pub being my cue to alight. An impressive stone bridge with three arches crosses the River Penk here and offers views of the Radford Meadows Nature Reserve which occupies the river's flood plain.
- Radford Bank -
Onto the towpath then and Radford Bridge (No. 98) marks the start of my walk in earnest. A beautiful February morning adds to the sense of peace as I squelch my way along enjoying further views of Radford Meadows. You can see Stafford becoming ever more distant on the horizon as I head out towards countryside, passing Wildwood Park, Maple Wood Marina (home to Stafford Boat Club), Hazelstrine Bridge and Deptmore Lock.
- Acton Bridge -
Before too long I arrive at Acton Bridge (No. 93) where I'm tempted away from the canal in order to investigate ACTON TRUSSELL. This was my first ever look at the village and I didn't quite know what to make of it - it's obviously an affluent place but I struggled a little to find any landmarks or facilities to capture on camera. The community centre is a modern building tucked away on Acton Hill Road whilst on the far side of the village is St James Church, a site where acts of worship are said to have taken place since the year 1212. Close to the church is the Moat House, a rather exclusive looking hotel, restaurant and wedding venue.
I rejoin the canal at Acton Moat Bridge (No. 92) and relish the section down through Teddesley towards Penkridge. There are plenty of features to keep me occupied, notably Park Gate Bridge and Lock which I remember passing as a kid on the way back from family visits to Cannock Chase. Although the walk is relaxing, the M6 motorway is a constant companion and the thundering traffic creates a background soundtrack to remind me I haven't escaped completely. The canal actually passes beneath the motorway at Bridge 88A and you wonder what it would have been like at Longford before the road was constructed.
- Cross Keys, Penkridge -
My arrival at Broom Bridge (No. 87) gives me my next excuse to branch off from the towpath as I head into PENKRIDGE in search of a bite to eat, and I must say it's nice to hear the happy chatter of the local schools at playtime as I make my way along Teddesley Road to Crown Bridge. I've photographed Penkridge a fair bit over the years but it's always good to add to my collection, hence the Horse & Jockey and Market Street's shops get a bit of attention. One landmark I hadn't spotted before was the village gaol, now in use as a heritage centre and home to Penkridge Civic Society - there's even a set of old stocks on the front yard so I'd better not upset anyone whilst taking my pictures! Francis Green Lane brings me back to the canal at Princefield Bridge (No. 85) and I perch on the balance beam at Filance Lock whilst eating my well-earned lunch. The stretch of canal immediately through the village is familiar from previous outings and includes the Cross Keys, an old-fashioned M&B pub on the side of Filance Bridge.
- Rodbaston Lock Sign -
The final section of my walk is perhaps the most fascinating for me personally as I uncover the bridges and locks between Penkridge and Gailey. Lyne Hill, Otherton and Rodbaston provide plenty of photographic opportunities, aided and augmented by Boggs Lock and Brick Kiln Lock on the approach into Gailey. The M6 maintains its waterside vigil as it counts down towards junction 12 where the busy A5 Watling Street also starts looming into view.
- Gailey Lock and Roundhouse -
A good few miles of gentle strolling have thus brought me to GAILEY where I bid the canal farewell by surveying the wharf buildings in all their splendour. Sitting aside Gailey Top Lock is the historic roundhouse that served as the toll keeper's office in years gone by - it bears more than a resemblance to a castle tower and now operates as a little shop, particularly during the summer months. Gailey Island is well known as a road junction where the A5 meets the A449 and other landmarks include the corner shop overlooking the roundabout, the old church (now home to a pottery studio) and the Spread Eagle pub. Satisfied that my canal itch has been well and truly scratched, I board the 76 back towards Wolverhampton and reflect on another cracking job well done.