Tuesday, March 13

Dodging the Staffordshire Showers

The weather hasn't been particularly conducive to exploration recently, and even though the Beast from the East has been and gone there was still a fair bit of rain in the forecast when I ventured out last Saturday. Stafford would be my destination of choice as I hoped to avoid the worst of the showers...

- Waggon and Horses, Greyfriars -
Saturday 10th March 2018 brings quite a dank morning as I catch the slightly delayed 10:15 Manchester train out of Wolverhampton. The skies are grey and ominous when I reach Stafford ten or so minutes later but this does not deter some photography - Foregate Street and Greyfriars are in the immediate firing line as I spot the former Staffordshire General Infirmary (now a Carers Hub). The A34 also features the Waggon & Horses as a landmark pub near the Stone Road roundabout.

- Stafford Rangers Social Club -
Fancy Walk offers a sidestreet ferret in connecting me with Marston Road where I emerge opposite the Joiners Arms. There are some interesting ghost signs in the vicinity, remnants of old industrial buildings plus another pub (the Kings Arms). Marston Road is a name well known in non-league football circles as the home ground of Stafford Rangers FC; the club's main entrance is actually on Astonfields Road so I get a few photos there while groundstaff prepare for the fixture against Lancaster City (a 2-2 draw would later transpire).

- The Sandonia -
Passing the Astonfields Balancing Lakes, I join Sandon Road accompanied by the murmuring ripples of the Marston Brook. St Patrick's Church and a Christadelphian Hall offer photo pickings along with a sequence of further pubs, namely the Tap & Spile (currently closed), Princess Royal and Hop Pole. My star find is undoubtedly the remains of the Sandonia Cinema with its elegant carved stone facade; sadly the building has effectively been abandoned, the vestiges of its later use as a snooker hall still evident courtesy of a gurning portrait vaguely resembling Jimmy White. 

- Lego sentry on Salter Street -
The Four Crosses heralds the bottom end of Marston Road as I pass the local prison on my way back into Stafford town centre. A lunchtime pint seems appropriate - the Vine Hotel on Salter Street is tempting (once I've said hello to a Lego character outside a nearby toyshop), but ultimately it's the Black Country Ales promise of the Shrewsbury Arms which secures my custom. A Salopian Brewery stout is absolute nectar, especially when paired with a curry and onion scotch egg - lovely!

- 8 at Parkside -
Though overcast, the weather is still largely behaving itself so a little bus ride is now in the offing. The number 8 is a cross-town service linking Moss Pit and Parkside, the latter of which appeals as an estate I've never visited before. Boarding my Arriva steed at Gaol Square, I settle back for a ride along Stone Road, passing the old Antelope Inn prior to navigating the residential reaches of Holmcroft. Parkside Avenue then reveals the terminus location just beyond the shopping parade.

- The Staffordshire Bull -
The precinct's stores include Parkside Bakery, Scott Paul hairdressers and a Lifestyle Express outlet, while the neighbouring pub is the Staffordshire Bull. I'm in two minds over whether to call in for a drink or not so the prospect of Manchester United vs Liverpool football action is a necessary means of persuasion - a nice pint of Sharp's Atlantic is my reward as the respective charges of Klopp and Mourinho do battle at Old Trafford.

- Holmcroft Library -
United won and the final whistle is my cue to embark upon a closing dose of estate exploration. Holmcroft fits the bill although the rain has now caught up with me, persistent drizzle setting in as I attempt to account for branch library, Holmcroft pub and St Bertelin's Church. The elements can't stop me enjoying my wander back along the Eccleshall Road either, and I dry off with a Slater's High Duck in the Butler's Bell Wetherspoons before catching my train home - cheers!

Sunday, March 4

Bagpuss and Bilston

A day of two halves - iconic puppets in the morning before some snow-struck Hub Marketing in the afternoon. The Beast from the East is intent on making its presence felt so will the exploration bandwagon keep on rolling?...

- WME meets Bagpuss -
Friday 2nd March and winter has returned with a vengeance, overnight snow threatening widespread disruption. Despite this, Wolverhampton Art Gallery beckons for a look at the TV puppets exhibition which evokes memories of much-loved children's programmes. One zone is dedicated to the creations of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate - their Smallfilms stable included the Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine along with that famous cloth cat Bagpuss.

- Zippy and George -
The adjacent room presents more classic characters from television history, beginning with those WME personal favourites Zippy and George from Rainbow. Spitting Image caricatures are displayed along with Gerry Anderson marionettes and good old Basil Brush - boom boom! Mr WME must also declare a soft spot for Button Moon, the sight of Mr Spoon and Eggbert bringing back some proper 1980s nostalgia. The exhibition is recommended for kids of all ages and runs until mid-April.

- Farley Clock Portrait -
To the main outing and the Midland Metro is operating a ten minute frequency in the adverse weather so the Secretary is able to head towards West Bromwich ready for some hub happenings. Chairman D9 is delayed however, hence a Carters Green interlude is necessary with the prospect of saying hello to the Farley Clock - the red brick and terracotta tower was erected in 1897 with relief panels featuring Reuben Farley, Oak House and West Bromwich Town Hall. The Wheatsheaf then provides some Holden's hospitality (and a bit of test cricket action from warmer climes) while Mr WME awaits further instruction.

- Wrapped up warm when driving the 40 -
The Chairman duly makes contact whereby our rendezvous is switched to Wednesbury in advance of a trundle on the number 40 bus; sadly the bald spot is kept well hidden during the resultant driving duty. Mr D9 has his heart set on some Friar Park ferreting so we alight on Coronation Road and slush our way into the Windmill, a community pub just up from Park Hill shops. Cobs and scratchings fortify us for the afternoon ahead, as do respective pints of Carling and Banks's Mild.

- Friar Park Food Hub -
Initial snow flurries are threatening to become more persistent as we proceed towards Crankhall Lane - it's not quite a blizzard yet but there are certainly a few flakes about as we pose for a Food Hub photo call. The Friar Park Inn (known locally as the Cabin) is thankfully close at hand by way of shelter so we settle in the front bar and watch some of the UK Open darts from Minehead. The pub's 1970s-era gas fire helps us thaw out a little before we enter the breach once more, gratefully intercepting a passing 40 for a careful ride through to West Bromwich.

- A Dirty Tackle in Bilston -
We are determined to not let the elements defeat us but it is sensible to get closer to home if possible. The trusty tram therefore conveys us to the relative safety of Bilston where our rapidly revised agenda now points us in the direction of the White Rabbit. Wychwood's Dirty Tackle ale is themed for the Six Nations rugby and goes down well in the comfort of new Marston's surroundings, Mr D9 getting excited about some vintage Big Lizzy steelworks pictures.

- Honours even in the Hop Pole -
Next up by way of contrast is one of Bilston's oldest buildings, the Greyhound & Punchbowl being an architectural treat with moulded ceiling plasterwork (said to be Jacobean) and impressive panelling, not to mention a carved overmantel. From here we nip into the Sir Henry Newbolt Wetherspoons, Secretary WME plundering a Nelson's Revenge discount, and last but not least comes the Hop Pole for some belated oche occupation. Two legs apiece means D9 Destroyer and WME Whirlwind can not be separated until the worsening weather intervenes. Ultimately the Beast from the East has the final say and the outing is adjourned so that everyone is able to get home, but we'd had a very enjoyable and rather cold adventure anyway. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 28

WME Flickr Focus - February 2018

Hasn't it been cold recently? The so-called 'Beast from the East' is blowing in from Siberia, and here in Wolverhampton it's absolutely freezing. The plummeting temperatures have not deterred the WME Photostream from embarking upon some update action, so let's don our thermals and see what's what...

First out with the snowplough is WME Wolverhampton, making sure Bilston and Bushbury are free from icy obstruction. The resultant arrivals include Bushbury Churchyard (making another archive appearance), Bert Williams Leisure Centre and Bradley Lane Metro stop. And that's not all - Marstons' White Rabbit building site gets some pre-pub attention along with ceramic street signage from Monmore Green, both notably photographed during sunnier conditions!

Wrapping up warm we have WME Staffordshire, shielding itself from the elements through an influx from Burton (Bass breweriana, the Lord Burton Wetherspoons sign, and a prized picture of the Town Hall's Wurlitzer organ). Codsall and Codsall Wood escape the chill courtesy of Moatbrook Lane and St Nicholas Church while the Bratch Locks tollhouse joins a 'replace the chain' notice down near Wombourne.

Next to brave the big freeze are WME Walsall and WME Sandwell. Walsall visits Top Lock at Birchills then takes another look at the Anchor in Brownhills whereas Sandwell accounts for the ornamental lamp outside Blackheath's Shoulder of Mutton. WME Birmingham meanwhile faces the blizzard conditions of Burbury Park by supplying us with a snowy shot of some Newtown/Lozells artwork.

Finally, huddling around the fire we find the lesser-spotted WME Warwickshire which has been busy in Bedworth. The Liberal Club and the local market have both taken their places by the hearth, joined by WME Dudley's solitary February submission in the form of the Briar Rose sculpture at Brierley Hill. That completes this sub-zero summary, fingers crossed for milder weather in March!

Monday, February 26


Selected highlights from last Saturday when Worcestershire provided the stage for a reunion outing that saw Messrs D9, UK Buses, SBI and yours truly joining forces once more...

- Early morning driving duty on the 256 -
Saturday 24th February 2018 and it's an early-ish start for D9 and myself aboard the 7:42 256 to Stourbridge. Along with the usual driving demonstration, we punctuate the journey with musical moments by singing along to Joe Brown's 'Jellied Eels' and then listening to Les Ross on WCR FM. At Stourbridge we meet up with Woody and Roger, the old WARP crew thus all back together again for a collective ride on the Kidderminster-bound 25 via Broadwaters.

- George Hotel, Bewdley -
Kidderminster offers the prospect of a few bus photos focusing mainly on the Diamond fleet, although Central Buses are in attendance on the 125 route during their final day of operation (Rotala have bought them out, expanding their empire yet further following the recent acquisition of Hansons). The 2 is responsible for taking us to Bewdley - allowing glimpses of Habberley and Wribbenhall - before we celebrate our reunion over a pint in the George Hotel Wetherspoons.

- The Wheatsheaf, Stourport-on-Severn -
Our next bus is something of a novelty when we realise that one of Worcestershire County Council's Woosh minibuses will be our steed - perhaps Roger called the Ring and Ride out on account of his injured hand? Our £7.50 County Connecta ticket is still applicable though so we don't need to invoke D9's bald spot as proof of having an elderly passenger. Extracting ourselves on Stourport High Street, we call into the Wheatsheaf for a dose of basic Banks's hospitality - cheers!

- 'Spotted' at the Diamond Depot -
After the Wheatsheaf, a late-running 3 arrives to transport us back towards Kidderminster so we can squeeze in a quick look at Diamond's depot; some Wessex-liveried Geminis from Bristol and Bath can be seen out on the yard attracting interest from a certain bald spot. There is Wessex branding afoot on our 303 connection to Worcester too, the bus being rather sickly in wheezing its way through Hartlebury and Ombersley dodging residential parking in the process.

- First Worcester Garage -
Lunch in Worcester comes care of the Postal Order Wetherspoons on Foregate Street where Brewster's Hop A Doodle Doo ale goes well with a gherkin-fuelled ultimate burger. Dessert becomes our second bus depot of the day when we stroll round to Lowesmoor for First's Worcester garage, a remnant of the former Midland Red days. We glimpse the engineering bays and some parked-up school buses before availing ourselves of the Johnsons Excelbus number 350 to Redditch. A scenic jaunt ensues, calling at villages including Upton Snodsbury, Flyford Flavell and Inkberrrow.

- Hub Happenings in Redditch -
Alighting at Redditch, Mr D9 is instantly excited when the Kingfisher shopping centre displays some Hub branding. Over the road from the bus station, the Golden Cross pub gets a WARP revisit as I thankfully avoid falling over on the doorstep this time - just as well being that You've Been Framed is showing once we get inside! Our tour of Worcestershire towns calls finally at Bromsgrove following a trundle on the 42 (complete with a first peek at the new Bromsgrove railway station); the Queens Head is on hand for our closing pint after which the 318 has the honour of returning us to Stourbridge by way of Catshill, Belbroughton and Hagley. All in all, a rather special reunion trip!