Sunday, April 5

Compton Park and Newbridge

The second of my socially distanced Wolverhampton strolls takes in a corner of the city that I hadn't really explored before (Compton Park) along with the more familiar features of Newbridge...

- The Westacres, Finchfield -
Like the vast majority of people across the country, I've been doing my bit in the battle against coronavirus by staying at home as much as possible. For the time being at least, we are still permitted to exercise outside so on Sunday 5th April 2020 I combine my daily allowance with a little bit of doorstep photography. I'm not taking anywhere near as many pictures as I normally would but having my camera with me is a release valve of sorts, and I start with a quick look at a Westacres pub completely devoid of activity.

- Compton vs Covid-19 -
Finchfield Hill leads me down onto Compton Road West where I soon pass the main entrance of Compton Hospice. These are obviously troubling times for any palliative care provider and banners here advise how the Compton Care charity is stepping up its fight against the Covid-19 outbreak; needless to say, I salute all NHS medics, support staff and community-based professionals who - along with many other key workers - are keeping the country going during the crisis. 

- Compton Park beckons -
Although I've wandered by on several occasions, I'd never previously had a proper look at Compton Park. The complex is home to the Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground (named in honour of former benefactor Sir Jack Hayward) although there aren't any Premier League players gracing the practice pitches at the moment. The Wolves Academy is based here too, providing youngsters with a footballing education through to under 18 and under 23 level.

- St Edmund's Catholic Academy -
Compton Park is also where we can find neighbouring schools of differing Christian demoninations. St Edmund's is a Catholic Academy situated on the site of a former University of Wolverhampton campus, whereas St Peter's is a Church of England Collegiate School that was founded in 1844. Gates at the far end prevent direct vehicular access from Newbridge Avenue but pedestrians can continue unhindered, meaning I'm clear to investigate one half of Newbridge Crescent by the Linden House function suite.

- A Halfway House Homage -
Time now for a Tettenhall Road taster as I pause to ponder the Halfway House, a landmark ex-boozer that has in latter years found a new guise as the Millstream Pharmacy (replacing pints with prescriptions you might say). Wolverhampton Girls High School and St Jude's Church are other prominent features as I begin to head homewards, while the Newbridge pub is a Stonehouse establishment that under normal circumstances would be specialising in carvery roast dinners and stone-baked pizzas.

- Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club -
The other half of Newbridge Crescent needs to be accounted for and there's a distinct air of exclusivity thanks to a posh Preparatory School. Next door is the very elegant Neville Lodge, headquarters of the Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club, and the sunny springtime skies have certainly helped to lift my spirits a little. My walk ultimately comes full circle back to Finchfield (via Linden Lea) and I'll have to see what else I can come up with by way of future doorstep discoveries. Until then, stay safe!

Tuesday, March 31

WME Flickr Focus - March 2020

So here we are, a week and a bit into 'lockdown' due to the coronavirus pandemic with potentially several(?) months of restrictions still ahead of us. In line with government advice, I will be staying at home as much as possible so photographic excursions are likely to be limited. On the flip side, having more time on my hands means I can dedicate extra attention to the West Midlands Exploration photostream, starting with these March morsels...

Only venturing out for essential supplies is WME Wolverhampton which has managed to pick up its customary batch of street signs (Duke Street in Penn Fields, Lytton Avenue in Penn) alongside a Portobello bus stop and another look at Sir Jack Hayward's statue. A bunch of birdcages in the Parisian (previously Slater's) are probably a luxury given the prevailing situation, although Parkfield gets suitably stocked up with Primary School and Central Bar snapshots.

Elsewhere, WME Staffordshire has strictly adhered to the 'one session of exercise per day' rule by homing in on Pattingham (the local club) and Perton (an RAF memorial tablet); a stroll down the Staffs & Worcs Canal counts as appropriate exertion so Rocky Lock near Ashwood Marina gets itself an airing. It's a similar story over on WME Shropshire where Shrewsbury's Abbey Foregate has been the focus of bus stop and Dun Cow pictures. Shifnal contributes a Wheatsheaf pub sign and a railway station underpass whilst Rudge Road at Shipley gives us a welcome dose of country lane freshness. 

Ordering in items for home delivery are WME Birmingham and WME Telford. Brum fills its larder with glimpses of the Perry Barr One Stop shopping centre and Harborne's Queens Park, whereas Telford goes all 'Quackers' thanks to the presence of Peace Duck and Mawster Peaquack. The store cupboards here are also replenished with a couple of Oakengates pub snippets, namely featuring the Coalport Tavern and the Station Hotel.

Keeping social contact to the absolute minimum are several galleries which have received just a solitary new arrival. WME Dudley thereby collects Kingswinford's Oakleigh Walk and WME Sandwell accounts for the Cook Shop in Old Hill, a bastion of Black Country cuisine that sadly closed back in 2014. WME Coventry meanwhile grabs a Norman Place Road bus stop and last but not least comes WME Worcestershire with the Granary at Shenstone. Until next time, stay safe and healthy in these extraordinary circumstances...

Sunday, March 22

Tettenhall Wood and Tinacre Hill

There's no getting away from it, these are scary and unprecedented times. The coronavirus outbreak and the necessary restrictions that have arisen from trying to combat this deadly disease have had a huge impact on everyday life and individual freedoms right across the country. Like many of you, I'm trying to digest the implications of announcement upon announcement - schools closed, pubs shut, government economic interventions, home working and no doubt more to come. 

It therefore comes as no surprise for me to state that my outings and blog activities are likely to be somewhat limited for the foreseeable future, but I'll try to keep things ticking over as best I can. To that end, here's a quick summary of a socially distanced Wolverhampton walk I did earlier this morning... 

- Towards Compton Halt -
Sunday 22nd March 2020 and it feels ridiculously trivial to be posting anything explorational at this moment of national crisis. That said, it is nonetheless important to get exercise where possible and a local stroll will do me the power of good provided I stick to government guidelines regarding social contact. Luckily, Smestow Valley Nature Reserve and an old railway walk are right on my doorstep so I can venture out into some glorious sunshine with an opening stretch down to Compton. 

- Springtime in Compton -
Having contemplated Compton Halt (a former stop on what used to be the Wombourne branch line railway), I confirm that both the Oddfellows and the Swan have closed until further notice. COVID-19 can't suspend the natural cycle of the seasons though and there's an uplifting hint of spring in the air, especially when Bramstead Avenue presents a carpet of delightful daffodils. Grove Lane then clings narrowly to the hillside as I clamber my way into Tettenhall Wood, renewing acquaintances with the local Institute (a community facility that dates from 1893, according to the inscription above the front door).

- Tettenhall Wood United Reformed Church -
Christ Church C of E and Tettenhall Wood United Reformed Church are both handsome buildings that have fallen strangely silent for a Sunday morning. There aren't many people about full stop as School Road takes me to Tettenhall Wood bus terminus - it is here that the 1 completes its journey from Dudley although the number 10 to Perton also calls. The Bird in Hand pub used to watch over Metrobuses and Tridents during its M&B days but has since been converted into an interior design showroom with a coffee shop to the side. 

- Mill Lane Windmill -
Aiming next for Wightwick, I make use of Mill Lane and am pleased to catch a glimpse of the former windmill which gives the street its name. A lack of pavement isn't an issue with so little traffic to bother me, and there are photos to be had along Perton Road courtesy of the Fieldhouse pub and Boundary Farm. Wightwick is widely recognised as being one of Wolverhampton's most desirable districts and it's easy to see why given the array of huge houses with what Hyacinth Bucket would call 'room for a pony'.

- Wightwick Hall School -
Emerging onto Tinacre Hill, I pass the entrance to Wightwick Hall School which is housed in a repurposed stately home. A gentle climb up Windmill Lane into Castlecroft awaits, and I round off my walk with some Castlecroft Road snaps of local shops and a telephone exchange. Hopefully I'll still get chance to unleash the WME camera occasionally over the next few months but this very much depends on how the coronavirus pandemic progresses and what further lockdown arrangements might be required. Above all, it's absolutely vital to be considerate, heed expert advice and ultimately save lives, and if that means missing out on the things we enjoy for a bit then so be it!

Saturday, March 14

Turning to Stone

The Staffordshire market town of Stone is situated on the A34 roughly equidistant between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent; it is also positioned on the A51, the West Coast Main Line railway, the River Trent and the Trent & Mersey Canal. A population of around 16,000 people means a lot of chimneypots in Britain Beermat parlance, so the town was deemed a suitable destination for an opportunistic outing with the Beardsmores...

- Desiro at Stone Station -
Friday 13th March 2020 and coronavirus is certainly dominating the headlines at the moment. We're not in a lockdown scenario just yet so the trip goes ahead as planned, hence I join Stephen and John at Wolverhampton in advance of the 10:40 train. The outward journey takes 26 minutes via Stafford, and we alight to admire Stone's elegant Jacobean-styled station. The building was designed by Sir Arthur Henry Hunt and a blue plaque tells us it first opened in May 1849; the station sits on the junction of lines from Norton Bridge and Colwich although the latter side no longer has any operational platforms. 

- Peeping at the Priory School -
Getting our bearings, we venture along Station Road past the Talbot pub and soon discover St Dominic's Priory School, part of a wider Catholic complex that includes a convent and the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Stephen takes a peek through priory doorways before Newcastle Street connects us to the Trent & Mersey Canal, a waterway with which Stone has a proud historic association (the town having served as the company headquarters of the Grand Trunk as it was originally known). Mileage markers confirm the distances to the canal's extremities at Preston Brook and Shardlow. 

- Star Lock (No. 27) -
Heading out of town to begin with, we have a look at Stone Top Lock (No. 30) where Mr B Senior is impressed by the dry dock's crane equipment. We briefly flirt with Newcastle Road, spotting a Tennis & Squash Club while Dave Fox Cars has some vintage motors on display - Stephen reliably informs me that one lime green classic is a Lotus Esprit. Back on the canal, the Crown Wharf development is nearing completion and will see Joule's Brewery making their rightful return to the town. Workhouse Bridge precedes some visitor moorings then Stone Bottom Lock (No. 27) is immediately adjacent to the Star public house.

- Keeping abreast of Wetherspoons matters -
Mentioning the Star, it's a higgledy-piggledy Marston's establishment arranged across several different floor levels and certainly fits the bill as a traditional canalside boozer. After respective halves of Sunbeam and Pedigree, we swoop over the road to see what the Swan can tempt us with. Rainbow Trout from the Izaak Walton Brewhouse is the result, a zesty number that Mr B Senior heartily approves of (he is fond of the fishes at the best of times). Our lunchtime location is the Poste of Stone Wetherspoons at Granville Square, fittingly furnished with a pillar box-themed carpet as a nod to the building's post office heritage. 

- Ruminating in the Red Lion -
Managing to avoid the sharpest afternoon showers, we investigate Stone's pedestrianised High Street. Key landmarks here include the Crown Hotel coaching inn (an example of Henry Holland's 18th century architectural prowess), the town library and some banks, while the Falcon Hotel is now a Thai restaurant having been a flagship for the now-defunct Bents Brewery. Church Street unsurprisingly is where we find the parish church of St Michael and St Wulfad, the second of whom was a legendary local martyr said to have been murdered by his father for converting to Christianity. Thankfully there are happier familial relations on show in the Red Lion as the Beardsmores pose obligingly when keeping tabs on the Cheltenham Gold Cup action - Al Boum Photo was the winning horse. 

- A Titanic Time awaits -
Our final port of call hopefully won't give us any sinking feelings given we're targeting a Titanic tipple in the Royal Exchange. A definite Paul pub this, nicely done out by Burslem's finest and the Raspberry Wheat is on tip-top fruity form with a pinkish tinge. Stephen meanwhile grapples some purple peril (a.k.a. lemonade and blackcurrant) whereas Mr B Senior successfully straddles an Iceberg. Glasses drained, we troop back to the station and time our arrival perfectly to coincide with the incoming 16:34 departure, getting home to Wolverhampton just after 5pm - cheers!

It remains to be seen just how much of an impact coronavirus is going to have on the country, but at this stage it seems fair to assume that scope for outings is likely to be somewhat reduced over the next few weeks/months. I'll still try and get out and about whenever possible - whilst of course taking all necessary precautions - so we'll see how it goes. For now though, look after yourselves and stay healthy!