Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tame Walk: North Walsall to Bescot

You can only glimpse the Ford Brook at it passes under Mill Lane,
as it is fenced and you can't follow it either way.

Yesterday we went to the local history centre in Walsall, and afterwards I decided to take a walk and try and follow the Ford Brook, a tributary of the Tame, and once called 'Tame' itself, down to Bescot Station and the main River Tame. I had no idea if it was possible. At the history centre I had got talking to a man called Jack Haddock, a gentleman probably in his 90s who had lived nearby all his life, and told me that locally the brook had been called 'Butts Cut', though he had no idea why.

NB: This route is along residential areas and used footpaths, but some areas are VERY off the beaten track. I am not promoting this as a walk, just describing its existence.

The journey began with a mini fish&chips at 'Mr Chips', and a sit down in the local park to plot a route to the brook. I suspected Mill Lane would be a good place to begin and there found Mill Lane Nature Reserve, which contained everything but the brook as the railroad cut between the two. I have later found that if you follow the nature reserve the railway veers off towards Aldridge and you can walk to Goscote Valley where you can follow the brook upstream towards its source. But I was following the flow of the water downstream where apple trees were growing out of reach amongst the strike of green lining the railway tracks.*

The brook briefly interrupts Mill Lane near a road called 'The Cutting', and you can see it each side of the road, wide and flat (see above). The information board at the nature reserve had explained that Mill Lane was originally a cartway to 'Butt's Mill', a place that had all but disappeared by Jack's time, yet the name had obviously been passed down to him. You can't follow the brook downstream here as it is fenced all the way round, so I followed the idea of it down Cecil Street* and found it again through an archway marked '1993' down to Lower North Street. Again, it was fenced all along, and channeled through a concrete culvert (see below). Here it brushes shoulders with the railway, then is directed beneath the street and into a private car park, before being sent underground.

This area was the the original, old part of Walsall; tanneries and saw mills had once clustered against the brook here along Hatherton Street, with occasional reminders such as 'Saw Mill Close' re-calling that time. A little street on the right, Albert Street, now serving as a short cut to the new Tesco store, contains a tumble-down industrial ruin (see above & left) with half the roof falling in buddleia clinging to the walls. If anyone knows what this used to be I would love to know.  

Further down, into the centre of Walsall, a Victorian pub called the 'Tap & Tanner' serves as a reminder of the leather tanning industry, and of the forgotten brook that flows somewhere here, underground. And then there is Bridge Street, a now obsolete name that lets you know your on the right route.*

Walsall town centre seems to bear little resemblance to my aging A-Z, but I find my way through with help to where the brook emerges again on Fairground Way (see below). Nearby is the regular and familiar thump of a manufactory, Walsall Pressings Co, that supply car parts, mainly for Jaguar, a Tameside presence since the 1940s.

Walsall Pressings (Walpres)

Again, you can't follow the brook, but must navigate through the streets (Bradford Street, Wednesbury Road & Bescot Cresent to be exact) lined with remnants of 20th century industry. The Walsall Lithographic Company has been converted, with a painted advert preserved on the side, and the Crown Works (below) is now the Abu Bakr Trust School for girls; school had just finished and girls were laughing and chatting outside.

Where Bescot Cresent leads onto Broadway West the brook emerges at the edge of the playground, fenced, but lined with greenery to begin with, then channeled and concreted into place, and sieved as it passes beneath the roads. It crosses diagonally under the crossroads, as do I, and here is the first time it is treated less like a dangerous wild animal- the barriers are lower, even crossable with a little more youthful dexterity, but just in case you thought it was a 'tame' brook, the waters are dotted with warning signs. "Fast flowing water", "No swimming", "Strong currents", "Underwater obstacles", and my favourite, "No diving". No diving! If I stood in it, it wouldn't get my knees wet! But obviously someone, somewhere perceived a diving risk.

The brook flows through a channel of trees parallel with the Bescot Cresent (see below), which is quite industrial; music pumps out of one warehouse and a kind of low hum from another.

As the road curves, the brook is taken under a pretty bridge and follows on its way towards the motorway, which can be seen and heard just in the distance. Just behind the bridge is a narrow footpath, un-signposted and uncertain, but it follows the river so I took the route. The brook flows gently at one side, its calm broken only by a towering billboard for the benefit of motorway traffic: "Boundary Mill Stores M6 J10- Fashion and Home Shopping- up to 75% off RRP". At its bend is the railroad, the wheels of the trains clunking past at eye level, and another warning sign- "TO PREVENT INJURY DO NOT CLIMB FENCE". You can still follow the brook, it goes round to where the Willenhall Tame flows in under the railway bridge to join it from the right. This is the Tame now, and the waters of the brook have been upgraded to 'river' status, and they proudly march off in the other direction (see below). It is a choice of battling through dense undergrowth to follow the river, or allow yourself to be directed under the M6 knowing that the river will meander back.

Beneath the motorway there are two routes, and two rivers. Here, the Oldbury Tame slides in quietly from the west along the railway tracks, and you can follow it back; I took this route for a short distance, up a stairway to the motorway winding me up to the top of the M6 where I could meet eyes with the lorry drivers in their trucks. The wind pushed from both sides, from the trains passing below and the traffic on the road, and the bridge rumbled and shook with each large vehicle. Below you could see Bescot Junction, which can be seen briefly from the M6 as you drive by, and the vast expanse of waste land between here and Church Hill in Wednesbury (see both below). I've been to this waste, last year; I was looking for the river in the wrong place. There was once a works, but only rubble and crumbling walls remain, and now the great mounds of rubble are used by quad bikers or the similar, much to the efforts of the landowner to prevent it.

It is just down from here that this Tame meets the first, both circle a concrete island under the motorway and emerge to join in the open (see below).

This river is now just the Tame, and flows into the distance at the side of the motorway; Bescot Station was just to the right, the iron bridge leading from the street route (see below). I caught the train home, the river passing two, three, maybe four times, back and forth beneath the railway.

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