Birmingham Canal Walks

Bromford Junction -
Netherton Tunnel

Old and New Main Lines, Netherton Tunnel Branch
via Tipton Factory Junction and Lord Ward's Canal

5.5 miles

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Bromford Junction connects the new and old main lines at the bottom of Spon Lane Locks. Horseley bridges span the canals and, although surrounded by industry with the motorway and railway in close attendance, this is a quiet spot with its own unique resonance. You start the walk by heading towards Wolverhampton on the New Main Line, although pedants would say that the first half mile is actually along the Wednesbury Old Canal as it's a stretch incorporated into Telford's new canal.  The BCN signpost will point the way and, as you approach Bromford Stop, an island in the middle of the canal from which the distinctive octagonal toll house has long disappeared, the adjacent landscape begins to echo to the sound of barking dogs and metal bashing factories. 

A little further on, although holding some interest due to its unusual design and decrepit nature, the Lattice Accommodation Bridge lacks the elegance of the Horseley bridges at Bromford Junction, and it's followed by two distinctly ugly bridges on the far side of the canal near Izon Old Turn (named after a local iron founder). The second one served Piercy's Brickworks, later Hamblet's Blue Brick Works, where the finest bricks in the Black Country – and hence the world – were made until it closed in 1915. The basin would have been opposite part of the original canal line that looped around to Pudding Green until it was filled in after closure in 1954. Continue to Pudding Green Junction, where the Walsall Canal departs under another lattice style bridge, and the main line arrows through the Black Country. Passing factories making very loud and strange sounds, you wonder what on earth is going on inside. Empty cans littering the tow path vouch for the local popularity of Polish beer and somewhat more off putting is a dead pit bull dumped in a black bag, his fighting days over.

Union Furnace Bridge brings to mind the type of local industry that once dominated the adjacent landscape. The bridge is dedicated to Tojo The Dwarf, but where he fits into the story I have no idea. The Gower Branch (1835) departs from Albion Junction but you continue on the main line aka the Island Line and pass a beer can carpeted wood adjacent to the Dunkirk Stop Island. You are now high above the River Tame, which passes under the canal through the Moors Aqueduct. This embankment suffered a huge breach in the autumn of 1899 draining six miles of the canal and drowning the adjacent brickworks. 

On the left but out of view is the Rattlechain Lagoon, an old clay pit used by Albright & Wilson as a hazardous chemical waste dump. You really wouldn't want to go swimming in it and there's little chance of this happening as it's surrounded by CCTV monitored razor wire. Next up are the superb bridges around the Netherton Tunnel Branch at Dudley Port Junction. There's now a series of aqueducts and after the Dudley Port Station Aqueduct look out for the rather ugly railway bridge spanning the former Dixon's Branch that served the famous Horseley engineering works whose bridges span the BCN and who surprisingly built the first iron clad steam ship at very much land locked Horseley Heath. 

Keep on and you'll reach Watery Lane Junction where the Tipton Green and Toll End Communication canal cut across the main line. You can still walk along the Tipton Green Branch and a little further on there's Caggy's Yard (named after legendary boatman Caggy Stevens) where boats moor and anglers fish, and the Friends of Tipton Cut keep the towpath tidy, one of whom remarked to me that it was one of the few 'jobs for life' available nowadays. Further on at Tipton Station you'll see the Three Furnace Bridge straddling the eponymous arm that went under the station and served Tipton Green Furnaces. 

Reaching the bottom of the three Factory Locks that raise the canal 20ft to the Wolverhampton level, you cross over the cute Horseley footbridge. Tipton Factory Junction is probably named after James Keir's alkali and soap factory which was located just beyond Factory Bridge. Keir was a Scot and friend of Watt, Boulton and Priestley, a member of the Lunar Society, he had a impressive CV before making the Black Country his home. At the top lock there's the old gauging station built in 1873 and still measuring new and refitted boats so the weight of their cargo could be ascertained until the 1950s, and the much altered 1892 Boatmen's Mission (the other surviving example is along Walsall Locks on the Ryders Green - Birchills Junction Walk). 

Turning left towards Birmingham on the Old Main Line, on the far side of the cut there's the 1845 Malthouse Stables restored in 1982. On the towpath side, industry is soon replaced by housing but at Owen Street Bridge you should find time to visit the Fountain Inn, former HQ of champion prizefighter the 'Tipton Slasher'. His statue stands in Coronation Gardens, a former wharf and basin at Tipton Green Junction. From here the Tipton Green Branch opened in 1805 to join up with the Toll End Branch, forming a link until 1960 with the Walsall Canal. 

Another quarter of a mile and the old line turns sharply left at Tipton Junction. Straight on is the Dudley No.1 canal that passes the Black Country Museum on its way to the northern end of Dudley Tunnel. If you want a closer look, cross Pitchfork Bridge and double back on the other side of the canal. Known as Lord Ward's Canal, it was constructed in 1778 to serve his lordship's limestone quarries. In 1792, the 3172yd Dudley Tunnel opened under Castle Hill to Parkhead, it has no towpath and there is no pedestrian access to the portal except through the museum. 

Back on the Old Main Line, there are trees and modern housing, in fact between Coneygree and Randalls bridges is akin to a rural idyll if you ignore the empty bottles. On the other side of the canal is the redeveloped Tividale Quays Basin with their little used moorings. The entrance to Keir's Bridge Arm, near to where Keir sank a coal mine to feed his factory, is still extant, and just around the next bend is the Tividale Aqueduct where you can use steps to descend to the Netherton Tunnel Branch (North Portal). For information on the tunnel see the Spon Lane Junction – Windmill End Walk.