Wednesday, April 19

Hub Marketing 2017: Good Friday

Having thoroughly enjoyed our Good Friday outing around Golds Hill last year, the Hub Marketing Board were primed and ready for more Eastertime exploration burrowing through the Black Country. Great Bridge and Wrens Nest are on the menu for a 2017 springtime session...

- Darts in hand at Greets Green -
Friday 14th April 2017 and our starting point is West Bromwich in advance of a ride on the 42 towards Great Bridge. Secretary WME always likes a look at Farley Park with its historic reading room lodge so we alight for a repeat investigation coupled with a pint in the Greets Green Sports Bar. Armed with some Abbeydale Moonshine, the Chairman continues his recent improved darting form while trying not to injure the resident dog when she strayed too close to the oche. The bar is part of the local social club premises which also includes a cafe fronting onto Whitehall Road.

- Shenton's Ironfounders -
To Great Bridge then as originally intended with local industry to the fore courtesy of Shenton's engineering works. Mr D9 gets all nostalgic for lost Pepsi cafes and doctors surgeries but we are pleased to see that the Old Crown Inn on Sheepwash Lane (opposite the library) has been resurrected as the Zions Bar, even if our visit has us thinking we've landed in a kindergarten rather than a pub. A brief stop for chips is followed by a call at the Lounge Bar (formerly the Limerick) where Secretary WME is only too happy to cash in his discount research - Samuel Smith's Extra Stout at £1.50 a pint, result! 

- Bald spot busy spotting closets -
We rather liked the Lounge Bar/Limerick, a landmark pub by Great Bridge Market Place that summons up a sense of community and continuity. Sadly the nearby Nags Head remains disused and unloved as we commence a walk through to Dudley Port, the highlight of which is discovering a possible closet clue beside the Hebron Chapel. The Chairman peers over the wall hoping to get a view of forgotten urinals but its only really his bald spot that ends up on show.

- D9 driving on the 82 -
Dudley Port has the railway and canal in close proximity spanning the A461 on twin bridges. The Royal Oak is noted as a watering hole by the railway station before bus 74 combines with bus 82 to get us to the other side of Dudley for our Wrens Nest ferret. Wrens Hill Road leads us through to the nature reserve, a site of special geological importance - believe it or not, the land where Dudley now stands was covered by coral reefs and tropical seas some 400 million years ago (no, I don't remember that either). We dabble with some fossil finding then seek out a pub specimen in the form of the Caves, an estate boozer that's been spruced up a little of late. An orange-haired wench with a penchant for tattoos chats to us a while before we sup up and wander on to Woodsetton.

- Parkes Hall Pool -
Emerging onto Parkes Hall Road, there is unexpected scenery to stumble across when we find an intriguing secluded pool; apparently it was originally constructed by the Dudley Waterworks Company as a reservoir supplying the town with drinking water, and while the pool hasn't fulfilled that particular function for well over a century, it remains a little oasis utilised by local anglers. Elsewhere the Chairman gets most excited about an old Asda bus stop in the undergrowth by the Parkes Hall Social Club, then the pub picture archive is boosted by the inclusion of the Bramford Arms and the Brook. 

- Turls Hill Road, Hurst Hill -
The Brook proves a nice find actually, its compact single storey aspect stretching back from Bourne Street into a larger building where the regular punters are engrossed watching Wolves v Brighton football action. We partake of Timothy Taylor's Landlord here before soldiering on to Sedgley, Turls Hill Road being a hidden track that reveals inviting views over pasture and paddock - not quite the usual vistas you associate with the heart of the Black Country. Sedgley serves us well with old faithful the Beacon Hotel in perfect position for a drop of Pale Amber; the pub was recently awarded the Dudley CAMRA Pub of the Year accolade and deservedly so, it's superb!

- Blakenhall Backstreets with blossom -
 Showers set in as the number 1 bus trundles home to Wolverhampton although we do indulge in a Blakenhall pit stop. The Rose & Crown on Park Street South is situated opposite where the Phoenix Rise flats once dominated the local landscape - the pub has something of a medieval/Tudor theme judging by the curious friezes displayed on the lounge walls. Some backstreet navigation then allows for a final flurry in Wolverhampton itself, accounting for the Hooded Ram's predictably busy opening night. Ram's Head Bitter is just one of the ales hailing from the Isle of Man so we make a mental note to return and try more of the range in due course. A very good Good Friday - cheers!

Monday, April 10

A Codsall Wood Circuit

Following on from Thursday's Rocket Pool roam, Stephen and I joined forces once more for another leisurely walk. This time the industrial backwaters of the Black Country are swapped for the country lanes and parish paths of South Staffordshire - cue Codsall and Codsall Wood...

- Moatbrook Lane -
Saturday 8th April brings with it stunning sunshine as Mr Beardsmore and I board the 5A bound for Codsall (the route serves Birches Bridge shops whereas the plain 5 covers more of Bilbrook). Our stroll begins at Bakers Way terminus, setting forth along Wood Road but detouring via Moatbrook Lane for a quieter sense of cottages, millennium nature reserves and hedgerow-lined sharp bends.

- Codsall Wood welcomes us -
Rejoining Wood Road we make sure to dodge any oncoming traffic in passing the entrances to Wheatstone Park and Pendrell Hall (the latter was formerly an adult education college but now markets itself as a wedding venue). The centre of Codsall Wood is just a little further and is mainly residential these days - the local post office closed a few years ago with the Cross Guns pub also passing into the annals of history, sadly demolished to make way for housing. 

- Chillington Hall Lodge -
All is not lost though as some photographic pickings remain. The junction with Whitehouse Lane allows for shots of one entrance into the Chillington Hall estate - the accompanying lodge holds a few memories for Mr B as he remembers waiting outside the gates for Sunday morning access to the Hall's fishing pools. The Cross Guns might have gone but the Crown is still trading, albeit renamed the Pendrell Arms since coming under community ownership. We slake our thirst with a relaxed pint, mine being Holden's Black Country Mild whereas Stephen opts for his customarily purple dose of blackcurrant and lemonade.

- St Nicholas Church, Codsall -
Suitably re-energised we commence the climb back through to Codsall, following the old footpath which connects the little church in Codsall Wood (St Peter's) with its larger counterpart in Codsall village. The parish church of St Nicholas thus stands tall on the horizon as we approach alongside the cemetery, the 14th century tower basking in some rather warm sunshine. The weather is admittedly lovely, lifting our spirits given the not-very-encouraging cricket updates coming from the Oval (Warwickshire are struggling somewhat in their opening game of the 2017 County Championship).

- Irish Red in the Crown Joules -
We reward our exertions with further refreshment courtesy of the Crown at Codsall Square, a Joules establishment that recently received the accolade of being Wolverhampton CAMRA's Country Pub of the Year. Moorhouse's Irish Red is my chosen tipple here, a nice pint amongst inviting surroundings. Stephen then keeps abreast of the Bears batting woes as we catch the return 5A to Wolverhampton and that's that for a couple of successful mini-adventures. Cheers!

Sunday, April 9

A Rocket Pool Rummage

The first of two Stephen trips in three days involves a bit of Black Country canal investigation near Bilston and Bradley as Mr Beardsmore and I examine the canal heritage to be found around the Rocket Pool estate...

- Rocket Pool -
Thursday 6th April 2017 sees Stephen and I boarding the 530 bus from Wolverhampton's Tower Street (just behind the Express & Star offices). The route is operated by Banga Travel and links Wolverhampton City Centre with Rocket Pool via Rough Hills (Hardy Square), Millfields Road and Bilston. Alighting on Rocket Pool Drive, we can immediately pitch into photographic action thanks to the Rocket Pools pub (a simple estate Banks's boozer), the local Children's Centre and of course Rocket Pool itself, a body of water seemingly popular with local anglers.

- Glasshouse Bridge -
Venturing through Lower Bradley, we negotiate an estate where the roads are named after royal personalities (Elizabeth Avenue, Edinburgh Road, Princess Anne Square) before emerging onto the towpath of the Bradley Canal Arm. As something of a Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) backwater, the arm has remained just about navigable due to the presence of the Bradley workshops; the manufacturing amongst other things of replacement lock gates here has justified keeping this part of the canal open. We follow the extant canal on towards Bilston, passing below Pothouse Bridge (near Loxdale Metro stop) and Glasshouse Bridge where we can witness some of the Bilston Urban Village construction works.

- Daisy Bank Schools -
The Urban Village is certainly taking shape with new housing and the proposed White Rabbit new-build pub set to join now-established landmarks such as the Bert Williams Leisure Centre and the South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy school. A closer look at the building site is tempting but is put on hold in favour of a peek at Daisy Bank. The old Sedgley Board Schools building is still there on Ash Street along with the Golden Lion and Great Western public houses, while Hall Green Cemetery presents a modern lawn aspect unlikely to yield a certain Mr D9 with a vintage closet.

- Mr Beardsmore by the Bradley Locks Branch -
The final aspect of this short but sweet wander involves an earthworks examination from Bradley Lane back towards Rocket Pool Drive and Humphries Crescent. The open spaces flanking the estate were once the site of an extensive canal network involving the Wednesbury Oak loop canal and the Bradley Locks Branch. We do our best to decipher the course of the former waterways among the bumps and hollows, albeit aerial photos and a map would be required to assess things properly. There were certainly former bridges in the vicinity and the line of the old locks is quite clear where a public right of way undulates its way towards Moxley. We hope to explore the canal remains around Weddell Wynd and Princes End in more detail in the not-too-distant future, but for now we shall sign off for a couple of days and pick up the story in Codsall on Saturday...

Sunday, April 2

Burton Beer Festival 2017

Nick and I last had the pleasure of visiting Burton CAMRA's Beer Festival back in 2013 so a return date with the Town Hall and its Wurlitzer organ was somewhat overdue. What ale treasures and musical memories would await us four years on?

- The Weighbridge Inn -
The 10:19 Nottingham departure from Birmingham New Street gets things rolling and we're far from being the only ale fans on board - in fact it seems that most of the train alights at Burton with a veritable throng of enthusiasts then descending upon King Edward Place. Deciding to dodge the inevitable queues, Nick and I instead seek out the Weighbridge for our first drink of the day. This beguiling micropub is located in what appears to be a former railway outbuilding on the yard of a historic grain warehouse (now a Travelodge) - the Falstaff Darkside is a cracking opening tipple as we admire an old-fashioned telephone receiver and a clocking-in machine.

- Burton Town Hall -
Draining our last drop of Darkside, we are free to fling ourselves into the full festival experience at Burton's handsome Town Hall. Baron Burton's statue stands stately outside as we cough up the £12 entry charge in exchange for glass, programme and the all-important tokens. Ales then line the arches either side of the main floor while the Wurlitzer organ takes pride of place on the main stage. Nick and I both opt for Charrington's Oatmeal Stout before taking residence on the balcony to savour the scene from on high. This is a special setting and we settle in further by sampling Magic Rock's Dark Arts, Leatherbritches' Raspberry Belter (tantalisingly tart) plus Wiper & True's Milk Shake (boasting copious amounts of chocolate and vanilla).

- The wonderful Wurlitzer -
The beer bonanza continues with the rather remarkable Rattenburg Cake, a marzipan-infused Kristalweizen quite unlike anything I'd ever drunk before. Nick steadily steers through a selection of stouts until we both arrive upon Fallen's Chew Chew, a salted caramel milk stout described as a "sweet, briney, chewy trouble maker" - no wonder we couldn't resist! Just when we think things can't possibly get any better, Martin Atterbury treats everyone to his rousing repertoire on the Wurlitzer organ; 'Ain't She Sweet', 'Red Roses for a Blue Lady' and 'Delilah' are among the timeless tunes being performed.

- Swanning about in Stapenhill -
My final tokens are traded for Dark Star's Creme Brulee, a hot seller which lives up to its dessert-inspired name for another case of caramel contentment. The Dambusters March theme inspires an outbreak of balcony flag-waving almost akin to the Last Night of the Proms, then Nick and I take our festival leave in search of a Lord Burton lunch washed down by Titanic's White Star. It's a pleasantly warm spring afternoon now so a little wander seems in order, the sunshine smiling down as we stroll across the 1898 Ferry Bridge to Stapenhill Gardens where Nick soon makes the acquaintance of a certain swan sculpture. 

- The Last Heretic -
Back on the town side of the Trent we partake of three more pubs before our Cross Country curtain call. The Dog is a place I visited with D9 last December which has since been crowned the local pub of the year, credentials we put to the test over some Saltaire Hazelnut Coffee Porter. Station Street then has two establishments within a very short distance of each other - the Last Heretic micropub where we are emboldened by Stout Hearted and beer barrel benches, swiftly followed by the Roebuck which historically served as the Ind Coope brewery tap. Olde Peculier and scratchings are just the tonic we need before the train home but it's the Wurlitzer and the festival that will live longest in the memory. Cheers!