A rather unusual walk in the West Midlands.

A quiet morning by the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Wightwick.

During my treks around the various parts of the British Isles I come across some unusual areas where few people choose to walk and this area is one of them. Why head off the urban part of the West Midlands when there is so much to see elsewhere? There are two reasons for this that I want to visit two places of interest that have fascinated me for some time but I’ve never got around to visiting. Firstly, I want to see what is large old house and now a care home which is located not far from Dudley. A care home it might well be today, but I am interested in the events that took place here late in 1605 which I will come to later. Secondly, I want to visit a public house which is located in one of the least attractive areas of the West Midlands and is surrounded by land fill sites. You may be excused that you might come away from this pub thinking that you have had one too many but all will be revealed.

Booking my train ticket in advance, I have managed to get a cheap day return from Macclesfield to Wolverhampton. As its a Saturday I walk down through a rather quiet Macclesfield, to catch the 08.26am train to Wolverhampton where it is just a short walk to the bus station to catch the number 10 bus to Compton Square. The bus is already at the stance and is virtually empty for the short journey to the start of my walk. I set out along the towpath of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal for the first couple of miles to reach an over bridge by Pool Hall then divert on a good field path to join the railway path to the northern edge of the large village of Wombourne just to add some variety. This former railway line, known as the Wombourne Branch started construction as recently as 1913 but was work was halted during World War I. Work resume again after the war but the railway proved unsuccessful and only operated with passenger traffic for seven years between 1924 and 1931 after which the line was only kept open to serve the Baggeridge Colliery. Today, several people are out walking with even more cyclists using this route. On the edge of Wombourne I leave the railway path and head down to visit Bratch Locks. These locks were planned by James Brindley and opened in 1772 as a three lock staircase but later re-engineered as three separate locks.

The fascinating Bratch Locks at Wombourne. The original canal lock staircase was planned by James Brindley.

I stay with the canal towpath to Giggetty Bridge then follow a woodland path east to rejoin the same railway path as before. I continue south, now passing through a long cutting and in places passing between sandstone rock walls and later passing close to the village of Himley where I find a seat for lunch. It isn’t exactly the best place to stop for my break due to the amount of rubbish lying around.

Beyond Himley, the railway path passes above the A449 and this is where I leave it and descend to the busy road as I want to take a closer look at the nearby Holbeche House. Today Holbeche House is a care home but historically it was known as the hide out for the conspirators of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. A couple of nights after the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, Robert Catesby, leader of the group and his men sought refuge at Holbeche House having raided Warwick Castle. Their downfall came when they tried to dry out some damp gunpowder close to an open fire and a stray spark caused an explosion. On investigation by the local militia the conspirators were discovered and a gun battle took place killing four of the conspirators and capturing the others who were taken to London, tried then executed. Just imagine being a fly on the wall on that evening and witnessing the whole event!

Holbeche House – today a care home but events here on the 7th November 1605 changed British history.

I wandered in through the grounds pausing close to the front door not really knowing if I would be stopped but I wasn’t challenged and continue out via a minor side route. The lane running east is known as Holbeache Lane and is gated to traffic and disused but unfortunately has become a spot for fly tipping but this was nothing compared with what was to follow. I now attempted to re join the railway path and encounter the worse fly tipping that I have ever come across. Once on the railway path it isn’t much better. Who on earth would want to walk here? The place is hemmed in by old clay pits which are now used for landfill on one side and scrap yards on the other side. This is England at its worse! I want to get across to the Crooked House Public House (the clue why I want to visit it is in its name), but the first path simply doesn’t exist as the area is surrounded by a high security fence and is a active landfill site. After over shooting a second possible unmarked path I opt to try and follow the course of this path northwest despite this area being now put to other uses. I ascend a steep bank only to find a group of workmen preparing a deep landfill site well below me. For now I’m not noticed as I head along a recently constructed high earth embankment but to exit the site, I have to walk between several portacabins and contractor vehicles are parked all around. I haven’t gone far before I am stopped by security so I have no option but to talk my way out of the situation and that I am trying to find the path to the Crooked House Public House. The security man shows me a route down to squeeze through a gap in the fence to gain the service road to the pub and I am pleased that I haven’t needed to make a long detour.

The Crooked House Public House is located in one of the worse areas imaginable with landfill sites on all sides although the ones to the north are no longer used. The reason I want to visit this pub is in its name as the building has taken on an amazing lean. The pub is around four foot lower at one end to the other. Originally built as a farmhouse in 1765, mining during the 1800’s resulted in the building taking on this incredible lean. During the 1940’s there were plans to demolish it but a brewery took it on and made the building safe whilst still retaining its leaning appearance.

The Crooked House Public House (before I had a drink!)

The Crooked House Public House (after I had a drink)! I’m sure its not the camera playing up!

I find the path leading north from the pub across the former landfill site but this proves to be a path that virtually no one uses. I next have some road walking east before passing through the residential area of Lower Gornal. Next I opt to follow a woodland nature trail up through Cotwall End which is easier said than done due to numerous unmarked paths. Through an open area called The Dingle I briefly join up with a family who are interested to know where I had been and where I was aiming for. Leaving them, the path north proves to be water logged but just about passable. I join a road as a dog walker is passing and I walk with him for awhile. He thinks it strange that I had come down from Cheshire to walk here.

Reaching the outskirts of Sedgley I can divert to catch a bus back to Wolverhampton but I have made fairly good time despite a few path problems, and so I choose a route west of the town and mostly through residential areas with cut through paths between houses.

North of the town I enter a parkland area and join a woodland track but the way ahead is later blocked as somewhere I have overshot a hidden stile on my right and instead have to get over a barb wire fence. The path north is hemmed in between back gardens and a steep wooded hillside with dense vegetation which serves nicely for the local residents to tip their garden waste. Some welcome open countryside follows over Park Hill which makes a change before entering the Goldthorn Park area of Wolverhampton. It is now all street walking which initially is along quiet residential roads before having no choice but to follow one of the busy arteries into the centre of Wolverhampton. I am still in good time to catch my allotted train back to Macclesfield and so have time for a wander around the centre of the town.