Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Canal Turn


I'm going to start with a bit of politics.  I know that's not why you come here - you come here because it's your lunch break and they won't let you look at porn on your work computer - but bear with me.  I came to the realisation, on my trip from Moor Street to Hatton, that Chiltern Railways is easily the most Tory of all the rail operating companies.  It goes from Moor Street, which is done out like the Good Old Days, to Marylebone, which is so posh it has a name that only upper class people can say properly.  It goes through Warwickshire and Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, prime Home Counties, prime Tory areas.  Even when it passes through working class Birmingham, it skips inner city Small Heath and Tyseley so it can whizz on to fragrant Solihull with its wine bars and John Lewis.  

Meanwhile, until very recently, its corporate colours were red, white and blue.  Absolute Brexit.  I felt like graffitiing the windows with TAX THE RICH and CAPITALISM IS A DISEASE but I didn't because while I may be left-wing, I'm not awful.

Beyond Solihull, it skipped some more bits of the city before deigning to stop at rural Hatton, well away from the common oiks.  (West Midlands Trains also runs a limited service to Hatton, only in the peaks, and I hope they send their grimiest, dirtiest, stinkiest diesels to chug through and lower the house prices).  The station is a couple of platforms in the countryside, decorated in that corporate Union Jack, with a small row of railway cottages running alongside.  I left the platform just as a friendly pair of retirees waved goodbye to one of the residents, sending the bouncy labrador back into the house then getting in their 4x4 and driving off.  I skulked up the road, hovered under the station sign as usual, then headed for the canal towpath.

Now if I was a proper travel writer, one with a mission to entertain and inform, I'd have turned right at the bottom of the steps.  Hatton station is actually a fair way from the village itself, which considered the canal far more important to its history than the railway.  The Hatton Locks are a series of twenty-one locks raising the level of the Grand Union Canal, threading their way through the village and forming an important transport resource.  They were so notable that they were opened by the Duke of Kent.  A proper travel writer would immediately rush to see them, perhaps take a boat through a couple of the locks, almost certainly chat to a couple of extravagantly bewhiskered bargemen.

I am not a proper travel writer.  I turned left.  

The thing is, Lapworth station was to the left.  If I'd gone to the locks, it was a mile's walk, and then, when I was done, I'd have had to walk back the way I came.  I hate going back the way I came.  It's so dull.  I could have diverted inland for the return, of course, but that would've made the walk even longer, and I didn't particularly want to go there in the first place.  So I apologise if you came here for stories of amazing canal escapades.

The towpath was empty for the most part.  I encountered a single fisherman, his long rod almost extending the width of the canal, and we shared a polite nod of acknowledgement.  There were no boats after I left the yacht club at Hatton behind, just a stretch of long silent water until I reached the tunnel at Shrewley.  

The tunnel cuts through a hill, but there's no way for pedestrians to pass through it.  Instead I mounted the slope, already starting to sweat.  It was a sticky, abnormal day, the skies pregnant with rain, the air hinting at thunderstorms, and the steep clamber caused me to grunt and drip.  At the top it levelled out into an access road and I had my countryside fantasies ruined.  The M40 was less than four hundred metres away, completely invisible to me, but constantly present.  It was a roar, a relentless noise underpinning every step.  A canal and a railway are only noisy periodically; even on the busiest tube lines there are whole minutes of silence between trains.  A busy road is a single, unflinching rhythm, a stream of sound at all hours, varying from truck to motorbike to car so that it ebbs and flows and acts as a constant distraction.  I suppose you get used to it, but to me, it was like having a bee three inches from my ear the whole time.

I was deposited in Shrewley itself, a village strung along a single road.  I dodged the cars to cross and found a small To The Canal sign in the undergrowth, beside a house undergoing major refurbishment with a skip in the drive.  I paused.  Down there?

I'd expected the path back down to be similar to the one I'd just climbed; instead I was disappearing into the dark.  I walked forward to the mouth of the tunnel.  At first there were low, wide steps, then, after a half a dozen, they disappeared, and instead I was walking down smooth stones.  Raised bricks had been placed in them for you to wedge your feet against, but there was no handrail, nothing.  Water trickled down the sides.

Obviously I slipped; my body always aims for the lowest of low comedy.  I reached out to grab something, some kind of purchase, and punched my hand through a spider's web.  The rest of the walk down the slope was painfully slow, my hand tracing the side of the tunnel the whole time, while my mind idly wondered if I'd slide all the way to the bottom when I inevitably fell and cracked my skull open or if I'd simply lay sprawled in the darkness to be discovered by a dog walker eight hours later.

Soon I was out the other side, back in the daylight, back on the towpath.  Or what little towpath there was.  My right foot was perilously close to the edge the whole time.  I transferred my phone to my left pocket because I was worried it would get dislodged and plunge into the water.  Dammit, I thought, how did they ever expect to get a horse along a path this tight?  Then I realised, actually, they didn't.

In my mind, the canals basically stopped existing the minute the Liverpool to Manchester railway opened in 1830.  Why would you use a slow, tortuous, highly-engineered canal when you had the option of a fast railway instead?  Of course, it wasn't like that at all; canals continued to be used as a means of transportation for decades afterwards.  But the railways were the nail in the coffin and then, a while later, the motor car came along and hammered in another.

By the 1920s, the canals were on their knees, and they needed to find some way to attract traffic.  Two big canal companies, the Regent's and the Grand Junction, amalgamated, and began upgrading the route between London and Birmingham.  It was an incredibly expensive undertaking with the intention of making the narrow waterways much wider to accommodate two way traffic plus larger vessels, while the depth was increased so that heavier cargoes could be carried.  The aforementioned Duke of Kent turned up to open the new route in 1934.  

Yep, you read that right: 1934.  To put that in perspective, the Queensway Tunnel opened under the Mersey the same year.  The Grand Union was putting its money in canals at a time when you could get on a plane and travel across Europe.  And then, of course, the Second World War promptly arrived and decimated the economy.  In 1948 the Labour government nationalised the canals along with the railways and I imagine there were a lot of shareholders who were frankly relieved to have the burden taken off them.

The Grand Union is a beautiful walk; I was enjoying it thoroughly.  But it was inconceivable to me that people, even people a hundred years ago with a lot of money tied up in the canal network, believed there was any future in it as a serious mode of transportation when trains and lorries also existed.  According to this website it takes nine days to get from London to Birmingham, and that's in 2021, with modern, well-maintained boats.  Throwing millions of pounds at something that is already obsolete seems like the grandest of follies.

As I rounded the corner, I encountered my first canal boat.  There had been a couple moored up but this was the first one that was actually on the move.  It was then that I realised two things:

    (a) a canal boat moves quite slowly, but not slowly enough, and;
    (b) I walk quite quickly, but not quickly enough.

It meant that I was walking at more or less the same pace as the canal boat.  This was obviously unacceptable.  I didn't want to be staring at that man for the three miles to Lapworth.  Similarly, I'm sure he didn't want to have me watching him.  Neither of us wanted to slow down, though; we had places to be.  It was an impasse.

Fortunately, a second boat appeared, coming in the opposite direction.  The man on the barge slowed his boat down so they could pass one another under a bridge and I moved into turbo mode.  Obviously, I walk fast, because I am a homosexual (I always liked Trixie Mattel's explanation for why gays walk so fast; we all have Womanizer by Britney Spears playing inside our head and are matching the beat) but this would take a concerted effort.  I pounded that towpath, really hammering it, a sort of ultra mince that got me past the boat and round the corner and distant enough that I could slow down and relax again.  I'd put the narrowboat behind me and now I wouldn't have a shadow for the rest of the walk.

The path darkened as I walked through woodland.  There was no motorway noise here, just the sound of birds.  I have absolutely no talent for learning birdsong, so I couldn't tell you what they were.  They were somewhere in among the trees.  The bridges that crossed the canal now were small, local roads, farm tracks.  Further along a man was moored at the bank and washing the roof of his boat.  "Looks like it's going to rain," he said to me.

"I hope so," I replied.  "I need cooling down!"  The ultra mince had turned me into a soaking wet, sweaty mess.  My t-shirt clung to me and my hair was tight against my forehead.  Drops ran down my neck and face.  I considered taking my top off, since there was hardly anyone about.  I was afraid of being seen, though.  I imagined my pale fleshy form being half-glimpsed through the trees and becoming a terrifying urban legend.  The White Beast of Warwickshire.  The Towpath Blob.  The Grand Union Horror.  I kept the shirt on.

Fortunately, the rain began to fall.  Just mildly at first, then harder and heavier, long driving pounding drops.  It was delightful.  I was rinsed with it, wiping away the salty sweat from my lips, splattering against my glasses.  I paused to wipe them down then pushed on.  It was still warm so I left my jacket in my backpack, a look that raised eyebrows in a group of walkers coming the other way in full human condom ponchos.  Lightweights.  There was another walker though, a man wearing the same as me - t-shirt, shorts, sturdy boots - and we nodded in recognition at a fellow traveller.  I wondered if he was doing Lapworth to Hatton, if somewhere there's this exact blog, but in reverse.

Tom O' The Wood was a tiny hamlet with a tempting pub and more boats moored.  By the bridge there was an information board about the women of the canals, and a post with a speaker and a hand crank to hear their stories.  I gave it a spin but all I heard was a crackle, like a record player nobody cleaned, so I ducked under the bridge and carried on.  Across the way a man leapt from his barge onto the bank, a power tool in hand.  You're constantly fighting the water in the boats.  It always wants to invade your dry spaces and so it's a constant process of renewal to keep it out.  By now the houseboats and their cargoes were familiar to me, the wheelbarrow and bike on the roof, the little selection of plants, the brief glimpse of a tidy kitchenette.  There were two men pulling a boat in, tying it up with ropes, and when I passed the back window I saw their wives inside making tea.  The canals make men men again and the women are there for supplies.  

I could never live on a canal boat myself.  I see the appeal of travelling around, of following a mood, but I'm too afraid.  I'd be scared to leave my boat unattended, a box with all my possessions that could be damaged or destroyed so easily.  It felt so fragile.  

A finger post at the side of the canal showed me a side route, the point where the Stratford Canal touched up against the Grand Union.  I clambered over the bridge - the rain had made the cobbles particularly hazardous and I descended like a man trying on eight inch heels for the first time - and saw that I was almost at my destination.  I ducked under a bridge and made myself look presentable.  A wipe down with a tissue, a change of t-shirt, a spray of deodorant and aftershave.  The troll that re-emerged was maybe not entirely transformed but he was human enough to get served in the Navigation Inn.

The orange juice was to rehydrate me; the beer was to enjoy.  I sat in the garden, cooling off, under a tented roof and connected to the wifi (one bar of 3G - what sort of a hellhole was this?).  Across from me there was a pair of retirees, where she talked a lot more than he did, explaining all the local attractions and why exactly she hadn't visited them.  There was a boisterous group of middle-aged women further out, enjoying a pub lunch, and two grey haired men in lycra carrying cycle helmets.  One came out with the beer and when he suggested they take a seat further out in the garden the other one said "lead on sir" so I immediately hated him.  I relaxed.

After an hour or so I'd finished my drinks and so I lazily picked myself up and headed into the village.  The station is called Lapworth, but the village is Kingswood; there was already a Kingswood station down south though so they renamed this one after the parish rather than the locality.  It was a neat, moneyed village, with new prestige developments slotted in seamlessly and a village shop and a garage and an off-licence.  The village noticeboard advertised a talk on the local history and a male voice choir and held slightly damp bus timetables.

I went past the primary school and a mobile library with a badly painted picture of Antony and Cleopatra on the side - I have a feeling I'm going to be seeing a lot of Shakespeare tie-ins throughout Warwickshire - and then there was the station, tucked to one side.  This was, incidentally, on Station Lane.  You don't get many Station Lanes.  Station Road, yes, but Lane is countrysidey, Olde Worlde, and not very modern thrusting railway.  

It was also decorated in the red white and blue of Chiltern Railways, and seemed to be of some interest to a train nerd.  On the platform was a boy with a huge camera on a tripod; he loitered in a slightly anticipatory way.  I guessed that there was a train passing through soon, a freight or something, and that I might possibly turn up in the back of a shot on a YouTube video somewhere.

I deposited myself on the bench and ate my lunch, a chicken wrap I'd bought the day before and stashed in a Tupperware.  The rain had stopped and the afternoon was waning.  I'd sliced off a corner of the map here.  After the grimy industrial world of my first post-pandemic trip I'd wanted something with a bit of natural beauty, a bit of a walk, a bit of a change.  Hatton to Lapworth had been worth it.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Return to Form

No, not there.  Where's the sun coming from?  Ok there.  Wait for the traffic to clear a bit.  There's a lot of traffic.  I'm not making an idiot of myself alongside idling cars, I'll wait for them to go.  Any time now.  Ok, try that.  Can't see the screen.  Damn sunlight.  Try it again.  Still can't see.  Third time.  Ah well, it is what it is, it'll have to do.

Yep, that's me outside a railway station taking a photo under a sign.  We're back in business, folks.

It had actually taken a lot of time to decide where my first post-pandemic station would be.  It became a thing.  It was such a moment of significance, this return to the trains, that I'd convinced myself it should be special.  It had to be in the West Midlands of course - none of those stations out on the fringes.  Not Wem.  I wanted to spread myself about equally though, not stick to any particular line.  I wanted to do it justice, but nowhere too notable.  After a lot of consideration, I alighted on Sandwell & Dudley, which is not in Dudley.

There's been a station on this spot since 1852 but it was rebuilt completely in the Eighties and boy, it shows.  The red brick station is filled with post-modernist touches, flounces here, quirky affectations there.  The lift towers are crowned with twists of metal that serve no purpose other than to be exciting and interesting.

On the information point outside is another of Centro's Linkspots, an art project introduced by one of TfWM's predecessors and which I can find frustratingly little information about.  (If you google "Centro Linkspots", this blog is the top result, which makes me wonder if I've made the whole thing up).  Sandwell & Dudley gets a peacock, which I'm sure is for extremely valid and sensible historic reasons and was lovingly crafted by a talented artist, but without a plaque or a sign I can't credit them.  Sorry about that.  I will say, well done, it's very nice.

It was also, by quite some way, the most attractive feature for miles around.  Sandwell & Dudley deposits you into a world of grime and industry.  It's brutal grey sheds mounted against hard roads built for HGVs.  I walked away from the station, past a Railway Inn that exuded menace, and up to a huge roundabout where lorries swung round at speed.  There was an abandoned office block, half finished, a banner outside begging for tradesmen, and a tannoy at one of the factories sounded its horn and belted out an important message that was incomprehensible from the road.

The buildings were a strange mix of pre and post war brick and modern practicality.  This had clearly been an industrial district for decades, and so there were factories that dated from that era, where your premises were a shop window.  Elsewhere though, rough metal boxes predominated, cubes of blank steel built to be filled with whatever you needed.  The air was filled with the noise of grinding and drilling as machines carved out their business, and there was the scent of turned metal.  Cars filled the pavement and verge.  

Past a garage ("independant Porsche centre" the sign proclaimed, immediately filling me with doubt about their level of quality control) and a tyre centre and then there was wasteground.  Metal gates that must've once guarded a centre of employment were rusted orange, litter jammed underneath them, trees and weeds climbing them.  Sprayed across them was DONT VAX, a reminder that the world had changed significantly since I was last out here.

At the turn onto Albion Road a woman passed on her mobile.  "I saw it on the news last night," she said, presumably referring to the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan.  "It's heartbreaking."  Her sincerity was undercut, for me, by her accent.  Look, I know it's not nice or clever, but that thick as butter Black Country accent renders everything ever so slightly comic.  I blame Lenny Henry, whose pronunciation of Doooodlay is burned into the brains of all kids of the 80s.  I'll adjust to it eventually, I'm sure, but for now it clatters against my ears.

There were men stood around in the forecourt of a pet warehouse, laughing, and a couple of starkly modern trading units.  On the other side of the road was the long chain of a triangular roofed factory, running to a small security hut and then, finally, a delightful office block.  The laser printed signs above the windows said this was the home of Liberty Performance Steels, but the proud stone entrance told the real story: Albion Steel Mills, Established 1852, with AD 1938 dating the building.

The road continued over the Walsall Canal where another freedom fighter had painted No vaccine - wake up you dumb fuck.  The singular use of "fuck" makes me think this was targeted at one particular dumb fuck, one man whose mate really wanted to tell him not to get the jab but couldn't get up the courage so he wrote it on a wall on his commute.  Certainly I always get my public health advice from graffiti.

There was a narrow canyon of a road, high walls hemming you in while lorries streamed by.  At one point the pavement was blocked by a hefty Transit van with an England flag on its front grille, and I made a dash into the road to get round it.  Then the houses started to come, new builds at first, clearly constructed on abandoned industrial sites, then after that, older semis and retirement blocks.

I followed a girl in a hi-vis tabard for a bit as she headed for the bus stop, shouting excitedly into her phone in Gujarati, before turning into a road of council houses where the smell of newly cut verges lingered.  The houses were the type you'll see all over Britain, identical brick semis built to house the workers for all those factories I'd passed.  Some were now private homes, and declared it with paved over front gardens and side extensions.  Others still looked the way they had when they were built, ramps to the front door and grab rails hinting that someone had been born and lived and would die in this one home.

I was heading for the garages.  They were on a bend, screened off behind a verge and looking a wreck as all council garage areas do.  In the middle of them, though, was a gateway and a sign.

Beyond was the Sheepwash nature reserve, a pocket of greenery tucked into a triangle between houses and the railway line.  There were trees and grass, the whisper of the wind, and then, the river Tame curling around beside the footpath.

Spots of rain began to fall.  It was a hot day and it felt like they'd burst from an overenthusiastic cloud; it was meant to be warm sunshine.  I had a coat in my bag, but I knew if I put it on I'd simply sweat away to nothingness, so I pushed through, letting it splatter my shirt.  I passed some dog walkers who were similarly dressed for summer, now moving that little bit faster to get out of the park and home, and then I had the reserve to myself.

Through the trees I got, at first glimpses, then a full view of a lake scattered with islets.  It was tranquil and peaceful and entirely the result of man-made intervention and destruction.  This had, for over a century, been a pestilent, polluted landscape.  It was agricultural, a place to scrub your animals - hence Sheepwash - then, after the canals and railways came, a dumping ground.  The land was torn apart for its coal and clay and gravel.  In the 60s, when these stopped being profitable, the council turned the mess into a tip, and dumped rubbish into the ground.  It was only in the 80s that the site was cleaned up - as best as it could; there were poisons throughout the soil - and it was landscaped and it became a nature reserve.  Suddenly the blot became an asset.

I followed the path up, over the culverted Tame, past signs warning No Swimming.  I wondered how much attention was paid to those signs on long summer days when bored teenagers wanted to escape the heatwave.  Probably zero, and the council knew this; it was merely a back-covering exercise.  If you drown, it's your fault; don't say we didn't warn you.

The path was occupied by a flock of Canada Geese, taking in the warmth from the heated pavement.  I expected them to flee as I approached but they barely moved; some of them didn't even get up.  I ended up tiptoeing through them, like Tippi Hedren, trying to remember if it was geese that had the violent streak.  Beyond the path became rougher and less formal, skirting another, smaller pond, and then turfing me out onto an estate that looked just like the one I'd come from.  I was soon at the main road, the rain barrelling down now, and the contrast with the silent park I'd left two minutes ago was stark.  I love these pockets of greenery that emerge in cities, hidden back channels and waste grounds gone native, turned into parks and gardens by good-minded councils and volunteers.

At this point the railway and canal crossed the road on viaducts that had been decorated with bright colours and metalwork.  I'd have liked to have showed you them but the rain splattered against the lens of my camera and ruined the photos; it was all I could to take a soggy sign picture then dash up to Dudley Port station.  

Dudley Port station is also not in Dudley, but is in the neighbouring borough of Sandwell.  Dudley doesn't actually have its own railway station; that was taken away in the sixties.  It had stood on a line that went beneath Dudley Port station, meaning there was a High Level/Low Level interchange here, but now it's only served by Wolverhampton-Birmingham trains.  For the time being, anyway; the Midland Metro is finally getting another line here, with the old trackbed being cleared and converted for tram use.  The line will branch off the existing route at Wednesdbury and head for Merry Hill, with a hoped for opening date of 2023; Dudley Port will become an interchange again and indeed, a few days after my visit, the overflow car park was closed to form a worksite.

I helped a woman with a pushchair up the steps to the platform then loitered under the shelter, huddled with the other passengers away from the fierce rain.  The plus side of it being so wet was now it was difficult to see what was rain and what was sweat.  I was badly out of shape.  Lockdown had made me soft and flabby and eroded my walking muscles.  I resolved to get out more often, to force myself to walk more places, get back into the habit.  (That was less than a fortnight ago.  Number of times I have been out for a walk since then: zero).

Tipton was also soaking wet as I headed for the station sign.  There used to be a level crossing here, but the inconvenience was so much they finally built an underpass and redirected the road.  Seemingly I was the only passenger who wasn't headed under the tracks as I walked through an elaborate metal sign to take my selfie.

Apologies for any beads of rain marring the photos from now on.  I did wipe the lens down but it wasn't ideal.

I'd considered walking down the canal to Coseley, my next station; it's a direct route that shadows the railway line.  But I thought that would be boring, and this way, I got to go through Tipton town centre.  It turned out it was in bad shape.

The shopping centre was a blasted square of emptiness, with drab shops and too many shutters.  It looked half-abandoned.  Opposite it, the church of St Martin and St Paul had been closed with a For Sale sign wedged on the front.  It's still there though the website is cagey about the price.  Perhaps you fancy a really elaborate home, close to the shops, close to the station?  Invite me round for the housewarming if you do.

I walked past the headquarters of the Tipton & Coseley Building Society, pleased that it still existed in an era where mutuals were dying out, and overtook a rowdy couple who were clutching cans of what might have been an energy drink and might not.  I climbed over the canal bridge.  It had been surfaced with pretty red bricks that looked delightful but were an absolute nightmare to walk on in rainy conditions.  I was wearing thick walking boots with heavy treads and even I felt a couple of slips and slides as I mounted the curve.  Alongside the canal, new homes had been constructed, with a developer's board boasting about their desirability.

There was more industry here, light engineering firms and mechanics, upholsterers and factory seconds shops, plus one of the tackiest new builds I've seen in a long time.  Imagine a standard Barratt Home but with a load of plastic columns and over-elaborate ironwork wedged on the front.  "Threeway Pressings" prompted a dirty gurgle from my childish mind, then I was at a crossroads behind Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory.

Now I will admit, I'd seen this on the map and been tempted.  What a perfect way to celebrate my return to the railways; a pie and a pint in a place that made them specially.  It seemed ideal.  I was put off, however, by the website.  I like a bit of whimsy as much as the next man - I mean, what is this blog if nothing but whimsical musings about parts of the country I happened to pass through?  The "About" section, though, is a smorgasbord of comedy bits - "famous visitors included 'Rudyard Kipling' whose son trained here before going on to open his own cake factory" and "they are all prepared to a unique set of recipes, known only to three people, the parish priest and a cat".  It was all a bit try-hard, a bit wacky, a bit Colin Hunt, and I found it incredibly off-putting.  It all reeked of bantz bantz bantz and I can't in all conscience encourage that kind of behaviour.

Instead I pushed on, passing the abandoned hulk of the Staffordshire Territorial Army, and reaching a new clutch of houses that all had enormous 4x4s on the drive.  Porsches, BMWs, Range Rover; they were clearly moneyed.  Unfortunately all the houses were fronted with lime green plastic grass that made them look cheap and vulgar.  How difficult is it to whip out a Flymo every couple of weeks?  Are they really so lazy that they'll sacrifice their kerb appeal and harm the environment?  They don't look nice, they don't feel nice; all they do is soak up heat and confuse the birds.  

I reached the A4123, better known as the Birmingham New Road, an impressive slice of highway connecting Wolverhampton and Birmingham.  It was a road from the early days of the motor-car, provided with ample verges and landscaping.  Pleasant houses were set back behind long gardens.  This was designed to whisk 1920s dandies across the Midlands, probably while wearing goggles and with a blonde girl by their side.  Now it was an artery filled with heavy goods vehicles and buses that stopped, started, stopped, started at traffic lights and turns.

Some of the bus stops still carried warning signs from the government, Travel only if it is absolutely necessary, a little slice of dystopia still hanging on in 2021.  Rather more prosaic was a sticker on one of the timetables: FOR GOOD FUCK MR GRUMPY and a telephone number.  Roger Hargreaves really has branched out, hasn't he?

As I passed an industrial estate the pleasing scent of burgers and bacon wafted over from a mobile van called, according to the sandwich board on the roadside, "Nat's Baps".  Of course.  I began to slightly regret not having that pie and a pint.  Still, I'd reached the branch road off into Coseley town centre, with its Centro sign still pointing to the station, so I thought I might find something of interest there to eat.  I walked by a delivery driver with a metre long box who was getting no reply from the front door; he finally walked round to the side and hoiked the package over a side gate.  I hope it wasn't a valuable vase.

Coseley itself was a strip of stark 60s buildings, filled with unfamiliar local shops, apart from a single Greggs that was doing a roaring trade.  Little old ladies passed me with face masks still in place, while a pair of parents tried to control an over-excited four year old.  The road opened out to the Library, with a mobile vaccination centre out the back (I thought back to the helpful advice scrawled on the side of the canal steps and hurried by) and I realised I'd walked right from one end of Coseley to the other without stopping.

I felt foolish about turning back, so I pushed on up the hill, where a burnt out husk of a pub stayed attached to a beauty salon, and small old people's bungalows fronted onto the road.  The station almost took me by surprise, appearing round a final corner.

Coseley has, at some point, received a large amount of attention to make it pretty.  The path down to the platform features a series of ornamental circles, mounted into the railings, as a tribute to a local poet:

And then, when you get down on the platform, you look back up and it spells out Coseley.

It made me laugh when I saw it, spelled out like that, the ordinary on the back of something artistic.  It's the work of Steve Field, and serves as a tribute to a romantic poet called John Cornfield who was from round here (this appropriately flowery piece has some handy background).  Coseley was cared for, with a mural of a train and a mass of flowers on every surface.  It was a good place to finish my first day back; a station that will never be important or famous, but that meant a lot to its users.  This was what I liked to see when I travelled.  It was good to be here.