Monday, 23 February 2015

The end – but also the beginning

End of the line and seemingly in the middle of nowhere
We are at the end of the line –literally. In front of us is the dam that holds back the Chasewater Reservoir. We have reached the far north eastern limit of the BCN: the terminus of the Angelsey Arm, the short two mile canal that brought us here from Brownhills.
But we are also at the beginning because the Chasewater is a major water source for the BCN canals. Not so long ago the dam below which we are sitting was showing signs of weakness so the reservoir had to be drained for repairs and the BCN became worrying short of water until, 18 months later the repairs were done and nature had refilled it.
The reservoir was built back in 1799 to provide water for the Wyrley and its linked canals. Later, when the surrounding area was developed for mining the end of the Arm was the site of a large loading basin where conveyors poured coal into trains of joey boats that were towed by tug to nearby power stations. The last coal was shipped in 1967 but only a couple of buckled steel remnants of chutes remain beside the canal.
It’s a remote and windswept place which greeted us with a hailstorm. Small local towns like Brownhills, Cannock and Chasetown are not far away but you wouldn’t know it. (See bottom). Only the drone of traffic on the nearby M6 Toll is intrusive – surprisingly so given how little traffic is on it whenever we use it.

Brownhill's powerful thirty feet high statue of a miner 
We did a spot of sightseeing in the sunshine at Brownhills before leaving. The town has a couple of impressive examples of urban art, most notably the fine 30ft high stainless steel sculpture of a miner on the roundabout at the edge of the main street. At the other end of the street is a smaller but no less appealing town sign, showing off the town’s links to the railways, canal and mining in handsome three dimensional steel.
And its delightful three dimensional town sign
But that’s about it for Brownshill. The fine waterfront with its canalside Tesco flatters to deceive. Walk up the footpath past the graffiti-ed side wall of Tesco and you crunch through broken glass to reach a high street largely built in that architectural nadir, the 1970s and showing it. There are all the usual signs of a down on its luck town: money lending shops of various types, fast food outlets, nail bars, hairdressers and the inevitable tattooist. Plus a small shopping mall that has been entirely abandoned by its tenants. Sad. Maybe some of the local authority money spent on urban art could have been put to more practical community support?
I don’t want to end on a low: the Chasewater reservoir is now the centre of a well used country park, with dog walkers, joggers and skate-boarders (as well as a solitary pair of boaters) enjoying the space and peace, while sailors and boarders enjoy the water. It's a lovely spot.
PS After posting this we discovered that the homespun little community of Chasetown is barely 15 minutes walk away. It's a useful place to know: there's a  Co-op, Post Office, pubs and even a very good charity shop. Look for the large green footbridge off to the east from the Basin, find the footpath from the canal to it, cross the bridge and go straight on into the town.

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