Tuesday, August 7

WME Walks: Kingswinford

Kingswinford is one of those places I know really well in part but there are bits of it that I hardly know at all. It is these less-familiar corners that I set out to investigate for my first August 2018 adventure, grabbing my camera and catching the 255 bus across from Wolverhampton...

- The British Oak -
Just a little walk this one but a productive morning's work, starting off with Stallings Lane which always seemed to get mentioned on local radio commercials when I was a kid. Initial targets to capture on camera are a Lidl supermarket, a Cane Furniture showroom and the Kingswinford Snooker Centre plus a couple of garages. I then find the British Oak, a wedge-shaped modern Marston's pub that makes its debut among my photographic archive.

- Charterfield Shopping Centre -
Stallings Lane is also where I happen across the Charterfield Shopping Centre, based off the junction with Charterfield Drive just over the road from the pub. The self-contained parade includes several shops, most notably a large Morrisons store and a selection of takeaways (Double Happy, Balti Cottage et al). The Pensnett Trading Estate isn't far away either, home to a National Express West Midlands bus depot along with factory units and office accommodation.

- Blanford Mere School -
Branching away from Stallings Lane, I now take Balfour Road which I vaguely remember being the terminus of an old Travel Merry Hill route (possibly the 232). There aren't any buses along here these days though so I have to content myself with shots of the local primary school, Blanford Mere off Mimosa Walk (sharing its site with the Kingswinford & Wall Heath SureStart Centre) . The wider estate comprises a warren of cul-de-sacs and alleyways but I manage not to get lost, the sound of the church bells helping me keep my bearings. 

- King George VI Park -
A footpath beside the school leads in turn to King George VI Park, Kingswinford's flagship area of public open space. A pavement mosaic marks the main entrance (off Park Lane funnily enough) and depicts a royal portrait with a boar's head heraldic crest. The usual recreational amenities apply - sports pitches, children's play area, bits of grassland, trees and shrubs - while the park is the base for the Dudley Sports Crown Green Bowling Club as well.

- St Mary's Church -
I mentioned the church bells earlier and it's only right that I should give St Mary's my full consideration. Situated adjoining The Village (itself an attractive triangular green), the church has that classic picture postcard appeal set off perfectly by the summer sunshine. A carved lich gate and a poppy wreath-laden war memorial add to the scene, all watched over by the proud church tower with its 1897 clockface. It's a historic location harking back to the days when Kingswinford was a rural parish rather than part of the Dudley urban sprawl.

- Kingswinford Pool -
A further wander through King George VI Park boosts the quota of pretty scenery thanks to Kingswinford Pool, a man-made balancing lake that has become something of a haven for Canada geese. The Union, the Cottage and the Bell all get some repeat pub pictures before I finish off at Manor Park, surveying the sidestreet bus stop where the 205 and 657 routes layover. The Select Estate Agents and Amblecote Furnishers complete my photographic endeavours and I depart satisfied at adding that little bit more to my Kingswinford knowledge.

Tuesday, July 31

WME Flickr Focus - July 2018

After weeks and weeks of seemingly endless sunshine, the summer of 2018 may well be one that people talk about for many years to come (in the same way that 1976 is still recalled now). The heatwave may not be over yet but the soaring temperatures have encouraged some WME photostream action with the updates net being cast both near and far...

Starting with the far and our principal heat-seeker in July was Exploration Extra, representing past family holidays and cricketing adventures. The suitcase was initially packed with some Edinburgh essentials, namely the Lothian Buses depot (Annandale Street) and a little bit of Leith Waterfront. Musselburgh muscled in with a Promenade street sign whereas Prestonpans gave us the Gothenburg with its reminders of the former Fowlers Brewery. 

Sticking with Exploration Extra, we lazed around in Leicestershire courtesy of Quorn and Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway - two bits of vintage advertising made the cut there. Suffolk provided some sightseeing most notably in Ipswich where Sir Alf Ramsay's statue, the Fat Cut pub and the County Hotel all joined the fun, then Leeds lingered with the Packhorse pub and some terrific tiling at Whitelock's Ale House.

And now for the near whereby WME Wolverhampton has been monitoring the mercury most of all. The old Acropolis Fish Bar on Rayleigh Road stepped out of the shade awhile but the hottest of the arrivals was undoubtedly Banks's Brewery; I've enjoyed photographing examples of their 'Tells It Like It Is' marketing campaign recently, amusingly acerbic street art that includes the emoji and Big Brother creations that find themselves on photostream parade. 

My other galleries have taken it easy really, the heat making them too lethargic to muster much together. WME Warwickshire breezed into Baddesley Clinton (finding the Ferrers Family tomb) whereas WME Telford made it to Madeley for a further glimpse of the All Nations, always a great place for a summertime pint. A brief bus interlude came care of WME Dudley (a 247A at Stourbridge) but the final word went to WME Walsall and a certain Spongebob Squarepants, star of the Illuminations back in 2007 (sadly this previously annual event at the Arboreutum no longer takes place). With that I'm off to try to keep cool, and we'll see what August can contribute by way of its own summer sizzlers...

Friday, July 27

Two more for the collection!

The nature of my photographic adventures means that occasionally I'll do a little outing that threatens to fall through the cracks in my blog. I wouldn't normally document these but July has provided a couple of memorable pub visits that I thought worthy of mention - one is firmly a traditional village local, the other is an example of the new breed of micropub...

- Darting in for a Plough picture -

First off is the Plough at Shenstone, a small village near Kidderminster that I visited with Stephen a few Fridays back. For a long while this was my final Bathams frontier, the only one of their tied estate that I'd never been to - that was until they opened the King Arthur in Hagley which now takes over the 'still to be done' mantle. Anyway, the Plough required a little bit of finding, tucked away down a narrow lane off the A450 Worcester Road. The location made us wonder how much passing trade they'd get here but the place was bustling which was good to see for somewhere slightly off the beaten track. 

Bathams are one of my favourite breweries and their pubs tend to be no nonsense old-fashioned boozers, purveying Best Bitter and Mild (plus XXX around Christmastime). The Plough certainly fits that template and has an inviting layout of a long combined bar and lounge with a dartboard at one end. It's a place of simple pleasures: cracking beer (the Bitter was excellent), quality snacks (cobs and pork pie to savour) and good conversation, whereby Stephen and I got chatting cricket to a couple of old boys who regaled us with memories of the Birmingham League - they were Worcester supporters but we won't hold that against them! The outdoor spaces were popular, an astroturf patch drawing in the sun-lovers, although we were happy enough sitting indoors among the paratrooper memorabilia. Well worth the pilgrimage!

- Tivi Ale -

The second discovery to tell you about is Tivi Ale in Tividale (Regent Road to be exact), a rare beast of a micropub in that it opens on Mondays - cue shock and outrage from seasoned pub bloggers! It's housed in a former convenience store just up the hill from the 126 bus route and is a very welcome addition to an area which has seen several pubs close over the years; indeed, Tividale is one of Mr D9's old stomping grounds and he laments lost locals such as the Red Lion, Barley Mow and Hangman's Tree. I'm sure there will be a Hub Marketing visit in due course but my first look at the place came in the company of Nick and Ken when we combined it with the Old Dispensary at Langley/Causeway Green, meaning we did two micros on the same Monday evening - wow!

Tivi Ale is barely a couple of months old having first opened on Saturday 9th June; I'm hesitant to judge it too much in its fledgling stages though I have to say I'm impressed so far. There were three ales on when we went - Holden's Golden Glow, Salopian Golden Thread and Kelham Island Golden Axe - of which I enjoyed a very good pint of the latter. There's only so much you can do with an old shop interior but it worked for me, the presence of some bookshelf wallpaper helping the librarians among us feel at home. Somehow or other we managed to resist the homemade cakes which did look seriously tempting, likewise the cheese salad cobs, but we did indulge in some detailed Brexit discussion and general political ponderings. Micropubs can divide opinion but I'm generally supportive of them, especially if they fill a void where other pub provision has been wiped out. I expect we'll see more such establishments springing up over the next few years, although not all will stand the test of time. I hope Tivi Ale does as it made an encouraging first impression. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 25

Standing Tall in Worcester

Owls, wolves, bears, ducks... which animal would be next for the art trail treatment? I doubt I'd have guessed giraffes but that's precisely the species chosen for 'Worcester Stands Tall', currently underway in and around that most regal of Midlands cathedral cities. Stephen, Mr B Senior and I therefore put our best necks forward by undertaking a snapshot safari...

- Fabella at Foregate Street -
Friday 20th July 2018 and the three of us make use of a GroupSave off peak return deal when journeying down to Worcester from Wolverhampton. Alighting at Foregate Street Station, we immediately commence our giraffe gathering mission thanks to Fabella, bright red with black pears in the shadow of the landmark railway bridge. Other early contenders include The Dreaming Giraffe (on the courtyard of the Hopmarket) and A Tall Order (a 'head chef' giraffe overlooking Angel Place and the bus station).

- A Crowngate Interloper -
The main trail of 30 giant giraffes is accompanied by a selection of 27 giraffe calves dotted around the malls of the Crowngate Shopping Centre. These smaller specimens have been designed in partnership with local schools and community groups, although my efforts at documenting 'Fun and Happiness' result in a bit of Beardsmore photobombing! The calves can mainly be found along Friary Walk and Chapel Walk although 'Lily the Pink' guards the entrance to Worcester Cathedral.

- Bones -
To High Street now where we can get acquainted with Bones, a skeleton design keeping tabs on the busy lunchtime crowds. The Cornmarket is slightly quieter when introducing us to Arthur the Giraffa in Banana Pyjamas, a definite kiddies favourite brazenly parading about in his jimjams. Also close at hand is Chang Jing Lu, depicted in the style of a Chinese dragon outside the Sports Direct store in the St Martin's Quarter - our safari seems to be going rather well!

- Worceraffe -
New Street and Friar Street combine to present not just giraffes but also some pub photo opportunities thanks to a sequence that includes the King Charles II, the Swan, the Old Greyhound and the Eagle Vaults (with its lovely brown tiled frontage). We refrain from having a pint just yet, instead focusing upon Worceraffe who stands sentry beside Laslett's Almshouses. This design is clearly inspired by Worcester's many architectural gems, including the half-timbered almshouses themselves which were constructed in 1912 to provide accommodation for elderly people of limited means.

- Brew XI in the Sebright Arms -
The time has ticked round to pub o'clock whereby my choice of establishment is the Sebright Arms, a London Road landmark that has latterly been taken on by the Cannon Royall Brewery. Admittedly it's further out of town than I'd anticipated but the walk is interesting, passing the Mount Pleasant Inn, St Martin with St Peter's Church and the Seacrest Fish Bar. Our persistence is rewarded by a throwback interior evoking a sense of 1970s timewarp with musty upholstery and sticky tables. The beer is decent, Arrowhead Bitter for yours truly while Mr B Senior approves of the Brew XI, so we're glad we came.

- Fort Royal Park -
Back along the London Road we go, uncovering an important slice of history at Fort Royal Park. It was here in September 1651 that Parliamentarian forces captured an artillery fort during the Battle of Worcester, hastening the Royalist defeat to bring about the end of the English Civil War. Commemorative cannons mark the spot as the modern-day park offers excellent views of the Worcester skyline and plays host to our next giraffe, the brightly coloured Diversity is Us which celebrates the beauty of being unique.

- Edward Elgar -
From the hilltop park we descend to Sidbury, saying hello to Girafficus in the guise of a Roman legionary - he even has his own shield. The Royal Worcester porcelain museum is where we meet Deco (boasting geometric patterning in reference to the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s), then at Severn Way we can 'Have A Giraffe' in the company of a joke-themed creation adorned with ha ha has and LOLs. I'm not sure what the esteemed composer Edward Elgar would have made of this artistic invasion; his statue on the High Street looks a tad bemused by the presence of Robo-Giraffe's robotic countenance.

- Kneck-er Bocker Glory -
Our giraffe-spotting exploits are put on hold during a luncheon interlude at the Crown, a Wetherspoons based in a prestigious old coaching inn. We partake of ultimate burgers and ham, egg and chips, narrowly averting a tantrum over a John Smiths shortage when the replacement Doom Bar thankfully meets with Mr B Snr's satisfaction. There is some debate over egg preferences (crispy edges? runny yolks?) then dessert comes in the form of Kneck-er Bocker Glory although this is one ice cream that Stephen definitely can't eat. Of all the giraffes this is probably my favourite, wafer cone legs and hundreds and thousands to the fore, not forgetting a long tongue licking away most contentedly.

- Bumble -
The prehistoric playfulness of Giraffic Park briefly tempts us across the river to Cripplegate Park before we buzz along to the Hive, an iconic golden building that houses Europe's first ever joint public/university library facility. As settings go this is a highly-appropriate place to meet Bumble, a bee-themed giraffe with yellow and black stripes and delicate little wings. We're gradually nearing the climax of our safari though Castle Street supplies us with Giraffa Chameleondalis by the far racecourse gates.

- Sociable Stephen -
The end is nigh yet there's time enough for a couple more pub visits prior to our train. The first of these is actually more of a brewery bar, Britannia Road being home to the Sociable Beer Company where Stephen models the soft drinks selection while his dad protests that the Bash is too warm. Table football, a rocking horse and a vinyl vault make this a drinking den with a bit of a difference whereas the Saracens Head is an old-school boozer on the Tything; John Smiths, Hooky and a leg of darts see us right there. The 17:56 departure beckons but not before we've accounted for Swirly Whirly Worcester Land, our final giraffe next to the City Art Gallery & Museum. A total haul of 27 giraffes plus several calves is not bad at all, and our intrepid trio travel home satisfied with their day's work.