Built to serve local mines, the Wednesbury Old Canal was the first part of the Birmingham Canal to open in 1769 dramatically reducing the price Birmingham industrialists paid for their coal. Starting from Pudding Green Junction the scenery is less than inspiring but very quiet especially compared to what it would have been with the Albion Ironworks on the far side and brickworks on the tow path side.
Modern factories, partly hidden behind trees, now line the canal in place of iron and brick works with their numerous basins before you reach the junction with the Walsall Canal at the fairly desolate Ryders Green.
Instead of descending Ryders Green Locks, you bear right onto the Balls Hill Branch, in the absence of a bridge you have to clamber over the top lock gate. There's no proper towpath and the grass is high, there's a strange smell in the air, perhaps a reminder of the huge Robinson Brothers tar works that stood on the far side of the canal, and the remains of several small bonfires.
Boats are advised not to to enter and it becomes increasingly clear that this foray is clearly for enthusiastic walkers and BCN obsessives as the canal becomes an increasingly silted up highly polluted dead end. Hadley Bridge might be the oldest extant, albeit much re-built, brick arch bridge on the BCN but the water is muddy brown and soon disappears under a jungle of reeds. The canal reappears near Swan Bridge only to give up the ghost a little further on. The tow path is clearly not well trodden and the surrounding landscape is made up of scrapyards, high metal fences, barbed wire and industrial debris.
The Black Country New Road brings a halt to proceedings as the canal disappears into a culvert at the Swan Roundabout. Cross over the traffic island and, if you're interested, walk to the left of the Ridgacre pub and you can find a path and pick up the course of the old canal which ran for a further mile or so to Balls Hill.
However, we go to the right of the pub onto the Ridgacre Branch that opened in 1828 and is still in water, although choked with reeds and shopping trolleys. Fortunately the canal opens out after the Metro (ex-GWR) bridge where a man feeds bread to the ducks but then throws the plastic wrapping into the canal as well.
The tow path continues to be a pleasant stroll to Black Lake with trees hiding adjacent housing estates and factories. You won't notice that the Dartmouth Branch (opened 1828) would have crossed just before you get to a weir although some brickwork on the tow path indicates its former presence. The branch would have served the Hall End Chemical Works but now finishes about 200 yards short of its former length and the overgrown remains of the Halford Canal which served several iron works can still be detected a few yards further on the right.
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