Monday, October 8

Soggy Solihull

It's fair to say my recent trips have had one unfortunate thing in common... RAIN! The pesky precipitation was evident once more as Nick and I descended upon Solihull for the town's beer festival; thankfully the weather didn't put too much of a dampener on the occasion...

- 172 342 at Solihull Station -
Saturday 6th October sees persistent drizzle besetting the morning as I make my way from Wolverhampton to Solihull. Photography is always tricky when it's wet but I do attempt some shots of the Class 172 trains at Solihull Station, newly resplendent in the orange West Midlands Railway livery. The operator replaced London Midland on the local suburban franchise following the December 2017 timetable changes and is accountable to the West Midlands Rail Executive group of 16 local authorities. 

- Gravedigger's Mild -
Nick arrives off his Chiltern connection and we survey the soggy scene that greets us. It's a little early to go straight to the festival so we nip into the Beech House primarily to stay dry, sampling London Pride and Purity Mad Goose respectively while admiring some copper Budweiser tanks. The festival itself opens at midday whereby we eagerly obtain our token allocation before launching into Sinker Stout (from Leicester's Framework Brewery) and the slightly macabre Gravedigger's Mild (Church End).

- Programme Poised -
As with previous Solihull Beer Festivals the venue is Broomfields Hall, the Royal British Legion Club on Union Road. Settling in we proceed through the programme, availing ourselves of Black Storm Porter, Muck Cart Mild (from the mysterious-sounding Son of Sid Brewery), Malvern Hills Green Pear and Backyard Aethelred. Arguably our most memorable ale is the Silhill North Star with tasting notes about motherships and de-husked grain. We also make the acquaintance of a chap from Yardley or thereabouts who regales us with memories of his 46 year career dealing with income tax.

- Tell me it's not Carling! -
Tokens all totted up, we're now feeling peckish and decide to go a tad exotic by visiting the Tap & Tandoor, an Indian gastropub based on Warwick Road in the former Saddlers Arms. The vegetarian mixed grill fits the bill perfectly, washed down with some Purity Longhorn IPA served in a hefty handled glass (despite the photographic evidence we do steer clear of the Carling). Although the beer range is largely craft at the moment, cask ales may be introduced in future and the quality of the food would certainly entice us back for a repeat visit. 

- Nick in economic mood -
The rain is just about easing off so we can brave a ride out to Hockley Heath, utilising Diamond's Signature S3 route which runs through from Dickens Heath via Knowle and Dorridge. Alighting on the Stratford Road, we spot an ancient petrol pump (trust Nick to note the Economy branding) then take a brief stroll along the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Bridge 26 is quite a find here, a hand-winched drawbridge contraption with a boat just happening to pass through by way of demonstration.

- Railway Inn, Dorridge -
Two tempting taverns will round off our damp day, starting with the Wharf Tavern in Hockley Heath beside Bridge 25 on the canal. Backyard Blonde is a tasty tipple as the football results flood in, Wolves securing a precious Premier League away win at Crystal Palace - our comfy chairs have seen better days though, sprouting stuffing from well worn armrests. We can then decamp to Dorridge and the Railway Inn which incidentally isn't as close to the train tracks as the name would imply. Corresponding halves of Sharp's Sea Fury and North Cotswold's Moreton Mild provide a cracking cask conclusion, leaving us to negotiate a further minor downpour prior to our respective trains home. The trip could have been a washout but actually went rather well - cheers!

Wednesday, October 3

Hub Marketing 2018: West Birmingham

Friday 28th September - the sixth Hub Marketing outing of the year and a long overdue Birmingham bash which will take us into deepest Harborne, Weoley Castle and Woodgate. Usually by September each year D9 and I have at least one Brum effort under our belts but the Second City had escaped our 2018 clutches until now...

- Contemplating the Winson Green Closet -
The day commences with a Midland Metro ride to Winson Green, Chairman D9 only just joining WME aboard the tram at Bradley Lane after some animated waving from the Secretary. Our opening photographic exchanges see us stealthily sweep past Winson Green Prison to reacquaint ourselves with the old closet adjoining the canal bridge. It's then over to Summerfield Park where Papa Winson owl looks on approvingly as we prepare for a full-on ferret.

- Selwyn Road -
Our morning mission is to investigate the Harborne Walkway, a mysterious footpath that marks the course of an old branch railway (Hub Marketing members always like a lost transport link). The line historically connected Birmingham New Street and Harborne via Monument Lane, Icknield Port and Rotton Park with part of the trackbed running through Summerfield Park. The bridge at Selwyn Road tantalisingly acts as our gateway into hidden heritage.

- Hagley Road wormhole -
The Harborne Railway was only a short branch, roughly two and a half miles long, and was open to passenger traffic from 1874 to 1934 (freight operations continued through until November 1963 when the line was finally closed). Nowadays the walkway makes for a pleasant leafy stroll as we dodge giant dogs and a jogging club, passing beneath Hagley Road (a former station site) to reach Park Hill Road among suburban rooftops. All is peaceful and quiet until we indulge our crazy craving for silly songs, D9 supplying a Chas and Dave tribute selection before the path reverberates to a Dick Emery-inspired conga.

- Moorpool Moments -
The walkway ends at a secluded Harborne cul-de-sac (Forest Drive) from whence it is not far at all into Moorpool, that lovely pocket of conservation zone charm which the Secretary explored earlier this year. Strangely enough that April WME visit hadn't included one essential feature, the Moor Pool itself so we set about correcting that omission with Mr D9 posing happily at the water's edge. The pool is accompanied by pretty cottages and a bowls club while the rest of the estate presents plenty of garden suburb greenery spanning out from The Circle.

- The Court Oak -
Further flora awaits at Queens Park where the flowerbeds look particularly pretty in the autumn sunshine; alas there isn't a vintage closet for the Chairman to get excited about, and part of the park appears to have been drained due to flood alleviation works. Just over the way is the Court Oak pub, a typical sprawling suburban roadhouse that is currently part of the Mitchells & Butlers 'Sizzling' portfolio. St Austell Proper Job provides some welcome liquid lubrication as we watch the early exchanges of the Ryder Cup opening fourballs.

- Crying over Cwtch -
Our afternoon agenda takes us next to Harborne, scene of a recent fire which caused major damage to a longstanding landmark - the Royalty Cinema as situated on the junction of Greenfield Road and High Street. The building dates from 1930 with notable Art Deco fixtures and fittings; hopefully it can yet be saved for future generations. Pub-wise Harborne supplies the Vine (a standard Sizzler), the Paper Duck (a craft beer bar sampled at the Secretary's request, we enjoyed the 8% Imperial Stout here) and the Plough (scene of a £4.70 couple of halves that left the Chairman crying into his napkin).

- A Weoley Castle Winner -
Boarding the 27 bus, the action moves to Weoley Castle (via California, the Chairman unimpressed by some route hubbing in the Stonehouse vicinity). Weoley Castle Square remains resolutely oval in shape, a variety of shopping parades arranged around a central green. After a pit stop for scratchings, we seek out the estate's eponymous pub as the setting for a darting duel. Fuelled by cheese cobs we trade blows from the oche, D9 Destroyer fearing a Weoley wipeout when WME Whirlwind lands a pinpoint 74 checkout. Destroyer does claim one leg but the final tally gives Whirlwind a 5-1 victory. 

- Bartley Green Baldness -
To Woodgate we must now wander, pausing at Bartley Green Reservoir so that the bald spot can admire the watery vista. The 23 is soon on hand to convey us towards Carter's Lane in readiness for a swift half in the Old Crown - cue a drop of Doom Bar whilst watching The Chase. It is then time for our second extended walk of the day, members embarking upon a ramble across Woodgate Valley Country Park with the Bourn Brook for close company. As with Harborne earlier, we shatter the tranquility by staging a singalong although our afternoon playlist contains Desmond Dekker rather than Dick Emery - I'm sure 'Hearty Carty' would approve!

- Sadler's Tap Room -
West Birmingham trips can't get much further west than Quinton, a residential district that sits alongside the A456 between Bearwood and Halesowen. Our targets here are two contrasting microbars, Masons and Sadler's. The former has a solitary real ale (Wye Valley Butty Bach) among a keg-led range whereas the latter is a relatively new arrival showcasing craft and cask from the Sadler's brewery in Lye. The Secretary is delighted to see one of his favourites is available, the Mud City Stout never disappoints.

- A Platinum Perch -
Evening is very much encroaching so our thoughts turn homeward, the Chairman requisitioning the X8 front seat for a belated driving duty. The route was introduced following changes to the 126, creating an express Platinum service linking Wolverhampton, Dudley, Blackheath and Birmingham. The new connection allows us a Blackheath splash and dash whereby Mr D9 picks out the Windmill's End (previously the Ashley) for a nightcap half of Ringwood Fortyniner. With that a breathless day of happy hubbing is complete - cheers!

Saturday, September 29

WME Flickr Focus - September 2018

Just as the golfing greats of Europe and America do battle in France over the Ryder Cup, so the photostream players of the West Midlands Exploration tour have been out on the course trying to put together a clean round of updates...

Teeing off on the first with a driver is WME Coventry which powers down the opening hole thanks to some Fargo Village offerings (two doses of street art plus the Twisted Barrel brewery tap). Coventry's playing partner is WME Warwickshire, steadily underway with a Wilmcote mileage marker on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and a Leamington Spa station sign.

To the eighth next, a long par five where safely on the fairway we find WME Staffordshire. Himley has registered here with the wonky interior of the Crooked House pub while there's a Moog bus stop from the i54 development on the edges of the county. Successfully hacking out of the rough is WME Wolverhampton, continuing its strong performance across 2018 by supplying Fox's Lane Bridge (on the Birmingham Main Line Canal) and some Mander Centre muscle (shopping murals and a forthcoming Debenhams).

Chipping in from the edge of the twelfth comes WME Dudley, getting up and down for a Gornal birdie care of some Bush and Bull's Head pub signs. WME Sandwell is also in form, spotting a Banks's bonus at Gospel Oak (Tipton) where My Other Half and My Better Half are yet more evidence of the brewery's 'Tells It Like It Is' campaign.

Finally to the 18th where WME Birmingham vies to become our clubhouse leader. Digbeth in particular has proved handy with the putter, arrowing in a beer festival programme and some Dig Brew malt. An evening shot of a Four Oaks bus stop had earlier secured an eagle, meaning a clutch putt involving Harborne's Plough can nail Brum its lofty perch on the scoreboard. With that we settle in the clubhouse bar and wait to see what additions October will bring our way - until then, enjoy the photos!

Monday, September 24

Bridgnorth with the Beardsmores

Saturday 22nd September saw me joining forces with Stephen and John to attempt the Bridgnorth Train Trail, a sequence of locomotive sculptures dotted around the two halves of town. The weather may not be the kindest but the rain won't be stopping play completely...

- Whistle Stop -
The 10:45 number 9 bus is our means of getting from Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth, drizzle already being detectable as we trundle through Worfield. John regales us with fishing tales as we look forward to some trainspotting with a difference; twelve statues have been created to pay tribute to Richard Trevithick's 'Catch-Me-Who-Can' locomotive which was built in the town in 1808. Our first specimen is therefore Whistle Stop on Whitburn Street, depicting local landmarks within zentangle patterns.

- Just the Ticket -
The High Street is very busy as we try to dodge market shoppers before spotting Happy Holidays Express outside Bridgnorth Library. Each of the trains has been fabricated from cast aluminium for long-term durability as it is intended that the trail will be in place for a full five years. Next we descend the hill to the Severn Valley Railway station to spy Just the Ticket among the booking office flowerbeds; this design directly references Trevithick's pioneering steam engine with appropriate date included.

- Town Crier in the George -
Keen to keep out of the worst of the weather, we eye up our first pub of the day. The Railwayman's Arms on the platform is already packed so we pop into the George instead, handily positioned at the bottom of the station driveway. Shropshire ales are to the fore here, Mr B Senior opting for Three Tuns XXX whereas I partake of Hobson's Town Crier. Stephen samples his customary lemonade and blackcurrant while valiantly trying to teach John how to use his mobile phone camera - easier said than done!

- Lavington's Hole -
The rain is refusing to relent but we press on regardless, Underhill Street leading us to Lavington Gardens which are named after a Civil War officer who plotted to blow up Bridgnorth Castle. The gardens serve as the setting for Tracks in Time, an industrially-inspired creation showcasing the aluminium rolling process. Just over the road on the Quayside is Train of Thought, quietly contemplating the historic river bridge along with other prominent features such as the cliff railway.

- Bathams in the Black Horse -
Crossing the Severn into Low Town, we pause for our second pub interlude. The Black Horse certainly meets with our approval, supping excellent pints of Bathams Best Bitter in the comfortable surroundings of the lounge. Unfortunately we've missed out on the Tom Jones impersonator so John offers (or is that threatens?) to sing us some Frankie Laine numbers by way of compensatory entertainment; thankfully we manage to persuade him that his vocal talents are not required and the regulars are thus spared a unique rendition of 'Jezebel'.

- Choo Choo Choose Bridgnorth Rugby Club -
From the Black Horse we troop to Fox Corner, noting the presence of Filtermist Steams Ahead as sponsored by a local manufacturer of air pollutant extraction units. The Bandon Arms becomes our venue for lunch as we tuck into gammons and smothered chicken washed down with Banks's Amber (good old Banks's Bitter under its modern marketing moniker). It's then a short but soggy walk to the Severn Park home of Bridgnorth Rugby Club where their Choo Choo Choose train tempter carries a confirmed nod towards Twickenham. 

- The Great Bear -
We complete our sculptural sweep courtesy of Flame Grit and Noise (a fiery find at the site of Hazeldine's Foundry), Central Station: Great Bridgnorth High Street (outside the Card Stores), and The Great Bear (a Lego-like example with a beauty spot lookout perch on Friar's Street). A closing Holden's pint in the Golden Lion allows us to keep up to date with the football scores, Stephen squeezing in under the television as Wolves secure a memorable 1-1 draw away at Manchester United. The 16:53 bus takes us home and wouldn't you know it, the rain has stopped - typical!