Friday, June 15

Hub Marketing 2018: Sedgley and Gornal

The eagle-eyed readers amongst you may have noticed there has been a lack of Hub Marketing happenings recently, but fear not - the Board is back! Our first outing after a three month gap sees Chairman D9 and Secretary WME teaming up once more ready to sniff out some gems in Sedgley and Gornal...

- Grinning in the Goldthorn -
It may have been a while but some things never change, hence the Chairman is running fashionably late for the 12 noon rendezvous. With his cob penalty forfeit confirmed, we board the number 1 from Wolverhampton to Fighting Cocks for a ride along the Dudley Road. Phoenix Park is our cue to alight so that we can mark our hub resumption with an opening pint in the Goldthorn, a former social club where the Carling is served with a whippy head (all it needs is a flake!). 

- The Sedgley Hub -
If the Goldthorn provided a gentle reintroduction, we go through the gears once we arrive in Sedgley. The Red Lion (overlooking the Bull Ring) and the Seven Stars (on Gospel End Road) keep the pub quota ticking over, the latter of those being a Marston's establishment that was saved from closure a few years ago. In between times we have the small matter of a photocall at the Sedgley Hub, an AgeUK community cafe at the top of Ettymore Road.

- Cotwall End Nature Reserve -
Secretary WME is always eager to throw a spot of ferreting into the mix so a walk along Cotwall End Road fits the bill, passing a primary school and then the Brockswood Animal Sanctuary. The leafy country lane setting is ideal for unleashing some silly songs, hence the strains of 'Don't Jump Off The Roof Dad' by Tommy Cooper echo across the nature reserve. Cotwall End Valley is an area of open space combining ancient woodland. lowland heath and a number of natural springs.

- The Fiddlers Finished? -
Emerging onto The Straits, we prepare for a glance at Gornal Wood by admiring the Baggeridge Social Club, a large workers institute building that recalls the days of Baggeridge Colliery; the pit  was the last of its kind in the Black Country and sadly closed in March 1968. A much more recent loss to the community is the Fiddlers Arms, a farmstead pub that looks a sorry sight all boarded up - I sincerely hope it will reopen at some stage and not be gone for good.

- Glowing in Gornal Wood -
The Bulls Head on the corner of Himley Road and Bull Street is also currently shut but the Five Ways opposite is thankfully going strong, serving the absolute nectar that is Bathams Best Bitter accompanied by a warm sausage roll. Whilst in the vicinity, we make sure to include the Bush on Summit Place where we can sup Holden's Golden Glow amidst the teapot collection - the Secretary does love a good crockery display so this place becomes an automatic personal favourite!

- Spotted in Sedgley Hall Park -
Availing ourselves of the 27 bus, we sweep back towards Sedgley to see what the Swan has to offer (no cask ale so John Smith's has to suffice). The Northway estate is next on our hitlist so we wander down Ettymore Road and take the scenic route through Sedgley Hall Park, historically the grounds of Sedgley Hall although the house itself was demolished in the mid 1960s. It is here that the Chairman puts his bald spot back on parade, hopefully without startling any of the native wildlife.

- Darts Conqueror in the Cabin -
The Northway is a sprawling undulating residential area that is home to Alder Coppice Primary School and the Alderwood shopping precinct (with its adjacent medical centre). The local watering hole is the Cabin, bedecked in the flags of footballing nations in preparation for the football World Cup even though our choice of sport is the darts. WME Whirlwind already leads 2-1 after some earlier legs in the Seven Stars and promptly proceeds to a 5-2 victory; honourable mention must however go to D9 Destroyer for getting the only genuine double checkout of the day.

- D9 drives home -
Time has flown and all of a sudden the evening is upon us, meaning we must make haste and head home. Mr D9 rises to the challenge with his customary steering expertise as the number 1 does its duty, giving us just enough of a window to visit the 'Tram Waiting Room' (a.k.a. the Wheatsheaf) before the final curtain falls. That thereby completes this overdue outing, hopefully it won't be quite as long until the next Hub Marketing adventure - cheers!

Thursday, June 7

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Coalbrookdale

Saturday 2nd June 2018 saw the Chip Foundation going 'quackers' in Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge, seeking out duck sculptures whilst continuing our mission to visit all of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums...

- More museums moments -
The entire Chip contingent is present and correct as I join the number 9 bus at Compton for the now-familiar journey through Bridgnorth and Broseley. Conversation covers topics such as digital storage, cricket and the many charms of Southport before we reach Coalbrookdale eager to experience Enginuity - the big kids amongst us certainly had fun playing with the various exhibits including a fly wheel and electricity generators. The Museum of Iron then awaits just across the courtyard so that we can ponder the giant whaling pot and objects from the 1851 Great Exhibition.

- Vote or no vote? -
A new feature since I was last here in January is the 'Vote or No Vote?' installation, created to celebrate the Votes for Women centenary. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave some women the right to vote for the very first time, so life-sized silhouettes represent the 37 local ladies to which the franchise was extended while noting that full voting equality was still another ten years away. The display can be found on the Green in front of the Old Furnace, the remains of the site where Abraham Darby I commenced iron production.

- Swallowed by a Stovepipe -
Our museum medley continues with a look around the Darby Houses, home to various generations of the Darby family. Dale House is the older - dating from 1717 - and is still used as a Quaker meeting place, while Rosehill House has been restored to give an impression of factory owners' living conditions circa 1850. The costume room is fun, trying on various hats and bonnets although the tall stovepipe isn't perhaps the best fit where Mr B Senior is concerned!

- Mr B meets 'Natural Bee-uty' -
Afternoon refreshment comes courtesy of the Coalbrookdale Inn, a Victorian pub on Wellington Road where the Hobson's Champion Mild proves worthy of the 2018 Good Beer Guide - a cracking pint. We can then begin our Quackers Quest whereby ten duck artworks have appeared at locations across the Gorge. The first of these is Natural Bee-uty, a wildflower and bumble bee inspired design at Dale End Park. As with similar projects such as Wolves in Wolves and the Birmingham Big Sleuth, the aim is to have fun, encourage tourism and raise money for charity.

- Doctor Duck -
Further duck discoveries are positioned on the Merrythought car park (Mr Darby) and beside the Museum of the Gorge (Doctor Duck, complete with stethoscope). None of us are in need of a medical consultation but some lunch would be nice, so we call into the chip shop where Mr B Senior performs a disappearing wallet magic trick - it was in his coat sleeve all along! Panic over, we can discuss the importance of iron as an industrial innovation without which the Black Country might never have existed.

- The Coracle Shed -
Next on the agenda are important coracle considerations, starting with a look at the old Coracle Shed beside the River Severn. Said to be the last remaining structure of its type, the shed now lies empty but there are plans to restore it and tell the story of the Rogers family, generations of whom crafted the distinctive bowl-shaped boats. The Coracle also happens to be the name of a newly-opened micropub on Ironbridge High Street so naturally we just had to investigate; Nick and I thus savoured some Gorgeous Ruby Porter (brewed locally), Ken dabbled with a drop of cider and Mr B Senior took a dislike to the Salopian Hop Twister until placated by a set of dominoes.

- Lady Victoria -
Resuming our duck hunt, we briefly cross the famous Iron Bridge to meet Lady Victoria (with apron and sweeties) who lives by the tollhouse. There are ten ducks in total; we saw five so I will need to find the rest on a later trip (hopefully very soon as the trail finishes on 8th July). In the meantime, the White Hart on the Wharfage brings this outing's pub-going to a close - Ringwood Razorback is the tipple of choice with Ken and Nick gamely battling a sofa so comfortable they struggle to stand up again afterwards. The homeward 9 from Ironbridge Square rounds off our day but keep an eye out for more quackers action in the near future...

Tuesday, June 5

A Postcard from Wales

Whit Week sets the stage for the 2018 WME family holiday which this year comprises five days in West Wales. The quaint fishing town of Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire Coast is our base for some exceptional exploration...

- Aberystwyth Castle -
Monday 28th May: it had been absolutely ages since I last set foot in Wales but the Bank Holiday soon changed all that, journeying down via the A458 from Shrewsbury via Welshpool. Our lunchtime stop is Aberystwyth, admiring the ruined castle and getting some photos of the linked railway stations - the mainline terminus building is partly a Wetherspoons pub (Yr Hen Orsaf) with a walkway connecting to the Vale of Rheidol station for the heritage line to Devil's Bridge.

- Fishguard Town Hall -
Monday afternoon heralds our arrival in Fishguard where we settle into our caravan before getting our bearings. The town is effectively in two halves, the main town centre on top of the cliffs and then the pretty harbour area down below. Landmarks include the Town Hall (in a fetching shade of mint green), the Abergwaun Hotel (currently closed) and the Fishguard Arms, a rustic tavern which serves Bass straight from the barrel and provides a memorable singalong setting when we gatecrash the tail end of the local Folk Festival. 

- Castle Square, Haverfordwest -
Tuesday 29th May: onto Tuesday then and a visit to Pembrokeshire's county town, Haverfordwest. Besides being an administrative centre, there is a castle (dating from circa 1110) and the River Cleddau (with two interesting bridges) to investigate. A quick call at the railway station and a bite to eat at Guymer's Cafe completes a productive morning, plus I get pictures of the war memorial and a couple of imposing churches (St Mary's on the High Street, then St Martin of Tours).

- St David's Cathedral -
Tuesday afternoon offers the chance to savour the United Kingdom's smallest city and the ecclesiastical capital of Wales, namely St David's. The ancient cathedral combines with the majestic ruins of Bishops Palace to provide a serious history fix, an impromptu gospel choir performance adding extra layers of wonder. The compact city centre has its charms too - most notably a centuries old Celtic Cross - although things do seem a tad more commercialised than I remember from childhood. 

- Fishguard Harbour Station -
Wednesday 30th May: Fishguard takes the spotlight for a morning stroll covering both of the town's stations plus the ferry port village of Goodwick (spotting the Rose & Crown pub and a brass band hut). Of the railway locations, Fishguard Harbour is perhaps the most intriguing as it is part of the Stena Line terminal from where passengers can connect onto boats for Ireland (Rosslare). Goodwick's Parrog then presents a stretch of seafront promenade albeit with some industrial surroundings.

- Tenby Harbour -
Wednesday is also our day for a ride out to Tenby, a popular South Pembrokeshire seaside resort set within 13th century town walls. The harbour here is particularly enchanting with different pastel shades on display, and apparently Mr SBI is in the area although I don't actually see him. In fairness I was distracted by the prospect of the Buccaneer, a 2018 Good Beer Guide pub that serves as the taphouse for the Harbwr Tenby Brewery - my chosen ale RFA Sir Galahad is named after the town's former lifeboat.

- Mosaic on Goodwick Parrog -
Thursday 31st May: more action from Goodwick to begin with as I study the trio of mosaics located along the Parrog. One of the designs focuses on the events of February 1797 when Fishguard was subject to a military invasion by French forces (the most recent hostile landing on mainland Britain). An element of folklore has developed around what actually took place but it seems the Royal Oak inn on Fishguard Square played a role in receiving news of the French surrender.

- Cardigan Bridge -
Thursday's afternoon destination is Cardigan, perched on the banks of the River Teifi in Ceredigion. A Norman castle overlooks the river crossing with an otter sculpture keeping a close eye on comings and goings across the old bridge. The adjacent Prince Charles Quay is a scenic spot at which to sit, relax and contemplate the words of 'Y Cei', a poem by Ceri Wynn Jones which considers the contrasting emotions of arrivals and departures. I must admit I took a liking to Cardigan and not just because of my background working in libraries!

- Draught Bass awaits! -
Our return route from Cardigan takes in a Pontfaen detour to track down the Dyffryn Arms, a time capsule of a pub tucked away in the Gwaun Valley. Affectionately known as Bessie's in reference to the longserving landlady, this is a complete throwback to a type of hostelry that has all but disappeared. It takes a bit of finding down the narrow country lanes but the Bass is worth it, served from the jug through a hatch in the front parlour. I simply love old-fashioned boozers, especially ones this rare, and sitting outside on a battered bench in the sunshine is pretty much pub heaven!

- Royal Pier, Aberystwyth -
Friday 1st June: alas the time has come to bid Fishguard farewell, our final day in Wales proving somewhat damp and drab as we see Lower Town harbour through the morning mists. Before heading home to the West Midlands, we squeeze in another stop at Aberystwyth for a glimpse of the Royal Pier, one last lingering seaside sighter and then Wolverhampton beckons once more. What a week in Wales that was!

Sunday, May 27

Something from Stowlawn

Thursday 24th May 2018 marks the resumption of the ‘Thursday Taster’ series of mini-trips, rebooting a sequence that has included solo walks to Underhill and Ashmore Park along with Stephen strolls (notably the Rocket Pool rummages, and most recently January’s Ettingshall expedition). Mr Beardsmore is joining me today for some Bilston bits and pieces as Stowlawn takes centre stage, prompted by news from D9 that the Happy Wanderer has closed…

- The stalls take shape -
I begin in the centre of Wolverhampton, Cleveland Street to be exact, where work on the city's new market site (opposite Central Library) is continuing - some of the stall infrastructure has started to appear with diggers and workmen very much in attendance. It is currently anticipated that the facility will open in July, at which point the existing market off Salop Street will close and its land will become part of the proposed Westside regeneration scheme.

- Hickman Park -
Meeting up with Stephen at 8:30am, we hop aboard the Midland Metro for a quick ride to The Crescent and then walk the short distance to Hickman Park. Named after the prominent industrialist and local MP Sir Alfred Hickman, the park opened in 1911 and still plays an important role in the life of the town. Features include a terraced sports arena, open air theatre (presented to the town in 1938), an ornate park shelter and the base of an old bandstand.

- Tennis Terminated? -
Via Shale Street and Arthur Street (passing the Guru Nanak Gurdwara), we reach Villiers Avenue which is home to Bilston Town Bowling Club. The local Lawn Tennis Club also used to be based in the vicinity but the corner with Harper Road is now an empty patch of earth, the old tennis courts and pavilion having been deemed unsafe and subsequently demolished. Further down the road is the Villiers Arms (converted to flats after ceasing trade as a pub) and the Villiers Square shops comprising a general store, a launderette and a hairdressers.

- Bilston Cemetery Lodge -
Next up is Etheridge Road which brings us quietly past the old Green Lanes post office to Windsor Street for our approach into Bilston Cemetery. The lodge building here dates from 1937 and the lawned grounds once featured a memorial to John Etheridge the local philanthropist associated with founding a Sunday School. The cemetery has some significance for Stephen too as we find the spot where his paternal grandparents are remembered. 

- A not so Happy Wanderer -
Emerging back onto Green Lanes, we soon confirm D9's news about the Happy Wanderer which looks distinctly unhappy all overgrown and boarded up. We suspect the pub has been closed for some time and probably won't ever reopen, a shame given I have fond Hub Marketing memories of meeting mannequins, playing darts and supping Banks’s beers. Proceeding deeper into the Stowlawn estate, we discover a primary school mosaic on Middleway Green opposite the One Stop convenience store.

- Studying the fishing form at Grapes Pool -
Two fishing locations provide the finale to our walk. The first is Grapes Pool on the corner of Prouds Lane and Moseley Road, part of a wider area of open space that stretches off towards Moseley Park School. The second (after a wander past Stowlawn bus terminus) is Stowheath Lane Pool, a place that had escaped Mr B's rod radar until now but seems popular enough with the angling fraternity today. The 53 bus then takes Stephen back home while I finish off with pictures of the Merry Boys and Cleveland Arms to conclude another productive photographic morning.