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An easy, family walk following the canal and a section of the disused Kingswinford railway track.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 59ft (18m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Canal tow path, disused railway track and field paths, 1 stile
Landscape Open countryside near urban residences
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 219 Wolverhampton & Dudley
Start/finish SP 870982
Dog friendliness Off lead along tow path and disused railway, otherwise under control
Parking Near Mermaid pub, Wightwick
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the car park, cross the A454 at the pedestrian crossing to enter Windmill Lane. Bear right and descend to the tow path of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, heading in a south-westerly direction. Initially the tow path leads along the back of private residences. After passing the Cee-Ders Club (on the far side of the canal), you reach open countryside, with ducks, coots and moorhens for company. This stretch of the canal is similar to a river and you are likely to see anglers fishing for perch, roach, chub, bream or carp. You may even see a colourful narrowboat pass by. Continue beneath bridge No 55 (Castlecroft Bridge) and along the tow path until you come to bridge No 54 (Mops Farm Bridge).
2 Leave the tow path and cross the bridge. Go right past Pool Hall Cottages and follow the the waymarkers of the Monarch's Way, heading generally south east. At first the path is to the right of the field hedge then, later, it crosses over to the left-hand side until you come to a stile to reach Langley Road.
3 Go left up the road to the junction, then bear right through a small gateway to descend to the dismantled railway. Head left and follow the Kingswinford (South Staffordshire) Railway Walk. This is easy walking and you are likely to meet a number of other walkers and possibly cyclists. Continue for about 2 miles (3.2km). You will eventually pass beneath the road bridge near Castlecroft; following this there are moments when the scene opens up. After passing the Wolverhampton Environment Centre you come to Compton. Leave the disused railway line and climb up to the A454, going left.
4 Go left again and descend by the side of the Bridge No 59 restaurant on to the tow path and take it back to bridge No 56, passing a couple of lock gates and a number of moored narrowboats. Go beneath bridge No 56 and leave the canal on to the pavement of Windmill Lane. Continue towards the main A454 road and cross over to return to the Mermaid in Wightwick.
This is a journey into the 18th and 19th centuries; a time when the canals and railways preceded our modern, noisy road network. The walk follows the tow path of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and a stretch of disused railway line to Compton. Nearby Wightwick (pronounced 'Wittick') Manor is easy to visit along the route (PWhile You're There).
If a contest for the Greatest Briton had taken place at the end of the 19th century, one of the main contenders would surely have been James Brindley. He helped to revolutionise Britain's transport system by building a series of remarkable canals that linked virtually all of the major cities in the country. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was one of his early constructions, built to link the Severn at Stourport with the Trent at Great Heywood and carry coal from the Staffordshire coalfields. Brindley's waterways were built on the contour principle, following the lie of the land. This approach avoided straight lines of canal, deep cuttings, massive embankments and large groups of lock gates. Work on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal began in 1766 and was eventually completed in 1772. When you walk along the tow path you can imagine the dirty barges of the late 18th and early 19th centuries being hauled along by horses, accompanied by inquisitive children, dogs and local people. Commercial traffic finally ceased on the canal in 1960 and in 1978 the whole canal, including its buildings and its signs, was designated a conservation area.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, canal barges were effectively replaced by steam trains, but there were gaps in the rail network. The Kingswinford branch was built by the Great Western Railway to fill one of these, allowing through traffic from Bridgnorth to Wolverhampton. It opened in 1925 but was never a great success for passengers. It became a freight only line in 1932, carrying people again briefly during World War Two, when it was used to transfer wounded soldiers from the Normandy landings. The last train ran in 1965. The lines were dismantled and the Kingswinford Railway Walk was introduced to allow local people to use the former line for leisure purposes. When you walk along the now disused railway, try to visualise youngsters peering over the railway bridges through a cloud of smoke to get a glimpse of the mighty trains as they chuffed their way along the cutting.
Today the canal is used by pleasure boats and its tow path combines with the disused railway to provide a fine urban walk away from the noise of the busy road traffic.
You may not see a horse-drawn coal barge as you stroll the tow path of the 46-mile (74km) long Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, but you are likely to meet a colourful narrowboat making its way through one of the lock gates. Pause a while and watch how it is lifted or dropped to another level. Compton Lock, just beyond Compton village, was the first lock to be built on this canal.
Nearby Wightwick Manor was built in 1887 by the Mander family. This half-timbered building is now owned and maintained by the National Trust. The influence of the 19th-century decorative artist William Morris is clear to see. Original Morris wallpapers, Pre-Raphaelite pictures, stained glass by C E Kempe and De Morgan tiles are on display. There are also fine gardens laid out with terraces and pools and some splendid yew hedges and topiary.
Eating out in the small front garden of the Mermaid watching the world go by is the perfect way to end a perfect day. Children are also welcome. If you visit Wightwick Manor, you can enjoy a quiet leisurely lunch in the Tea Room on Wednesdays, Thursdays and bank holidays. Alternatively, you can get good food at Bridge 59 restaurant (Point 4) or the Milestone in Compton.