One of the first things I like to discover when I move to a new place is where the best walking tracks are. I am certainly not a serious walker but I do like to take some time after work, if daylight and weather permit, to be outside and breathe air that hasn’t been dispensed to me through an air conditioning system.
When I first arrived in Dudley borough I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find anywhere. The town I lived in seemed so covered with concrete and there was no obvious town park or beach-side track as there had been in the last few towns I’ve lived in.
It was after I got lost walking one day that I came across what has become one of my favourite walks. It also provides an insight into what kept this area alive more than a century ago.
The canal path stretches for many miles, with the canal linking the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal with the Dudley Canal and, therefore, Birmingham. Work began on the canal in the late 18th century and soon a thriving trade transporting coal, ironstone and limestone developed, along with products including one of the industries the area is still famous for: glass.
But in the 1850s a railway line opened and by the 1930s cars were more often used to transport products and canal traffic eventually stopped.
I’ve walked the track from Wordsley to Stourbridge town, where the factories still stand alongside the canal. Apart from a few where the old trades are still practised and their devotees try to make a living, most stand silent. Their reflection in the water would once have been constantly disturbed by the regular canal traffic, the hustle and bustle of industry and its main mode of transport around the area.
The broken windows and the doors hanging open have a sadness about them, but also a beauty and mystery. When I walk past, I wonder what life was like for the people who worked inside those dark walls, the people who spent their days working along the canal. The noise. The smell. The sights.
My other favourite walk is in Himley Park, near Gornal in Dudley. You have to pay to park your car but it’s worth the small fee. As soon as you leave the little parking bay you can see the 18th century Himley Hall, grand and austere, watching over the grounds. There is a massive lake, framed by a few beautiful willow trees, where people go boating and fishing.
But there is also what feels like a little adventure park around the house. You can walk up a little hill, crunching the winter leaves under your shoes and making your path around the snowdrops, to where a small waterfall trickles from a massive lake.
There is a little committee of ducks paddling, their movements making little ripples in the otherwise calm water.
You can walk around the edge of the park, up a winding track and small staircase built into the hill, until you are looking down on the house itself. There is a landing with bare trees, taking refuge from the winter before they grow their leaves again for the summer. Walking around them feels like walking around
So Dudley borough does have its beauty spots and there are some wonderful walking tracks to explore either with someone else or just alone with your thoughts. If you know the area, tell me your favourites.