Yesterday evening, I took a stroll out before dusk to check out something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – the newly accessible trail between Smithy’s Forage along the old railway line under he Miner Island in Brownhills to the rear of the Swan pub on Pelsall Road, Brownhills.
Ages ago, I ran a piece here about how local activist and Clayhanger Kid himself Brian Stringer was starting a campaign to bring back into use the old rail line that runs from Pelsall through Brownhills – not to carry trains, but as a walking and cycling route for the community.
Since then, Brian and the Back the Track crew have surmounted a staggering number of obstacles and undertaken a huge amount of work to clear the old line of litter and debris – from general trash to shopping trollies, overgrowth of trees and scrub, and no small amount of stinking mud – but finally, the route from the gate by Smithy’s Forge to the exiting trail at the old foot crossing by the rear of the Swan pub is now passable on foot.
This means walkers can now go all the way from the Miner Island to the Butts in Walsall on the former Railway line and only have to cross a road at Harden.
Thanks to the drainage issue still ongoing, it’s a bit stodgy underfoot, but the line is now walkable. And it’s really very nice and a credit to Brian, Back the Track, and all who have taken part in this wonderful project.
Slipping through the gate off the Lichfield Road beside the pub, I entered an emerald green underworld – connected to the traffic and urban life above by the sharing the same sky, but screened from the chaos with verdant green leaves and foliage. Down on the trail – now christened the McClean Way after the great local engineer and mine operator – it’s peaceful, shady and rather beautiful. And I don’t say that lightly.
There is much work still to do, and the drainage will take some real magic and effort to fix, but what the people behind this project have shown is that if you want to achieve something, and you push hard enough, as a community and team you can do it. It takes effort, co-operation, hard work and no little facing down of authority, but community activism can achieve so much.
But of course, Brian Stringer has been doing that for years, from before his days as editor of the Brownhills Gazette, Brian has been fighting for our town. He’s my hero.
Much of the old South Staffordshire line is already an official, Sustrans supported cycleway, from Ryecroft to Pelsall, and more of it is an unofficial, but well-used trail from Ryders Hayes to the rear of the Swan Pub in Brownhills. Brian and the Back the Track campaign would like to see this extended further into Brownhills, linking to Chasewater – and eventually to Lichfield if possible.
I would again personally like to thank Brian and crew – Brian is himself 80 years of age – for putting in the sheer graft and wading into that smelly, muddy soup and physically doing what many of us would not, solely for the benefit of the community.
Brian and Back the Track will need help in future, and when I have details of future events you can lend a hand with, I’ll post them here. Similarly, if you want to find out about the Back the Track campaign and group, you can visit their website here and Facebook group here. They also have a twitter account here.
Again, my thanks and admiration to Brian and all who helped take this situation in hand, got dirty and waded in. You are the true spirit of Brownhills and we’re all proud of you.