Wednesday, April 30

Dudley Route Reflections

Now that the bus network in Dudley has been revised, I thought I'd look back with some memories of the routes that have been consigned to local transport history.
  • 247 and 248 - I said in my last post that these routes were Rog's favourites, but I have quite an affinity with them myself. I remember catching the routes during some of my earliest bus trips, visiting the Merry Hill Centre with Stuart and then riding out for my first ever look at Stourbridge. The routes introduced me to places such as Lye and Pedmore, and it was great to say a fond farewell with a final ride last Saturday.
  • 223 and 224 - these routes still exist of course, but have been modified and are now operated by Choice Travel. As Travel West Midlands services the routes always intrigued me - the prospect of riding the 223 from Bilston to Gornal Wood on a Pensnett Garage minibus especially so. When taking photos at Bilston the routes always offered the prospect of a bit of variety compared to the standard Wolverhampton Garage vehicles, and I also relished the chance of exploring routes that get to the heart of the community by visiting local estates such as Sedgemoor Park, Woodcross and Beacon Hill.
  • 264 and 265 - popular Dudley circular services that prompted quite some protest when the decision to withdraw them was announced. My favourite memory involves catching the 264 down Ashwood Park with Rog during our first ever outing - before boarding the bus, I took a certain photo that sparked off a whole bald spot debate that still rages to this very day! I also sampled the routes more recently when visiting Woodside and discovering the Rangeways Road estate round the back of Wordsley Hospital - very intriguing.
  • 236 and 237 - more Rog memories here, involving a rain-soaked ride from Blackheath Market Place down to Halesowen during one of our early trips, and a later trip that took us down to Long Lane Library and Quinton. The 236 has also provided me with fond photographic memories at Gornal Wood Bus Station, its always a buzz when I add a new route photo into my collection.
  • 225 - a little local estate service that has now been absorbed into the revised 224. The route provided a cracking little minibus ride around the Uplands estate and Warrens Hall during my recent visit to Paradise.
  • 293 - another favourite from the Rog trips, this local circular service linking Stourbridge and Wollaston Farm has now been absorbed into the X96 service. I recall catching the bus down to Wollaston Farm before heading off to explore Bells Mill Bridge and Ashwood Park, and one of my all-time favourite bus photos is the one I took of the route at Kingsway.
  • 260 and 261 - and finally, a quick word for a couple of routes I mentioned last time. The 260 has been a long-standing acquaintance of mine, with its quirks including the section through Swindon and Hinksford where you feel you are leaving the West Midlands behind, plus the fact you can guarantee the bus will get crowded heading up through Bromley, not to mention the usual traffic nightmare at Brierley Hill. The route will still effectively exist, having been renumbered and slightly tweaked in the Bromley area. As for the 261, I can look back happily on a ride from Wombourne to Dudley with Rog, heading round the back end of Wombourne village and also catching a closer look at Pensnett. I noted previously that there has been criticism of the loss of a key link to the local hospital, so it will be interesting to see if the route is resurrected in some form or another.

A few nostalgic reflections there, but it is worth noting that whilst some familiar routes and numbers will change or vanish, there will be new and revised routes covering the same areas so that a bus service will still be available. The aim of the network review has been to create a simplified, more logical network that is easier for passengers to understand and provides better access - it remains to be seen whether such an aim will be ultimately achieved. I rather sense that the network has been tweaked instead of being radically overhauled, so whether an opportunity has been missed to truly start afresh I'm not certain. I look forward to getting out and about exploring the new network in order to find out!

Tuesday, April 29

Old Dudley Network: A Final Fling

As you may have noticed, I have spent a fair bit of time across Dudley recently exploring the local bus network before a wide range of revisions come into force. Last Saturday was the final day of the old network, so Rog and I marked the occasion with a commemorative outing.

We met up at Wombourne, giving me chance for photos of pubs such as the Vine and the Old Bush, and I even tracked down the Red Lion hidden away on Battlefield Hill. I also got a photo of the 261 bus at Wombourne Church - the controversial decision to withdraw the route has sparked much protest from residents of Wombourne, Swindon and Wall Heath who face losing their direct connection to Russells Hall Hospital.

Our first route of the day was the 260, itself due to be replaced by the 254 and 255. The route holds many memories for me of visits to the Merry Hill Centre, and it provided a nostalgic ride through Swindon, Hinksford, Kingswinford and Bromley whilst Rog gallantly battled his way through my latest thumbnail archive.

Merry Hill has never been our most favourite of locations, although it can prove a handy spot for photos providing the bus station isn't too busy. Most of the action on Saturday seemed to revolve around the travel centre where queues of people seemed to be enquiring about the changes. We managed a handful of photos whilst trying not to look too conspicuous.

Next came the 210 route, which was for me the highlight of the whole trip. We sampled a TWM Optare Solo for the ride down to Halesowen via Netherend, Fatherless Barn and Hawne - a classic bus trip journey that provided glimpses of Stevens Park and Cradley Heath. The 210 and its companion the 211 are to be replaced with the new 213 and 214 routes operated by Choice Travel as a Brierley Hill - Fatherless Barn circular service.

Come Halesowen, and I pounced for a 210 photo at Church Croft before we headed off for our first pub of the day, the Loyal Lodge (or is that the Labour of Love - don't ask!) on Furnace Hill. Thirst quenched we headed over to Hasbury for lunch, before settling down for a bit of an afternoon pub crawl based on the 247 and 248 routes. Of all the bus services serving Stourbridge, the 247 and 248 seem to be Rog's favourites, so it was only right that we should say goodbye in style.

This we did with visits to the Maypole, the Round of Beef and the Why Not - a good selection of distinctive local pubs I must say. Whilst the Why Not appealed to me as a proper traditional Black Country boozer, the fact that I beat Rog at pool at both of the other pubs rather leaves it trailing on this occasion. I think the Maypole ran out as my favourite in the end by virtue of one particular shot when I potted the black as straight as an arrow to secure my first ever frame win over the Rogster - he was so stunned he promptly lost a few more for good measure!

A thoroughly enjoyable day's exploring. It was great to say goodbye to some old favourites, and to squeak in that memorable ride on the 210 at the last minute was extra special. It's also a time for looking forward though, and I'm hopeful that the revised network will yield many fascinating adventures in the future - I think Rog has already set his sights on a pool rematch!

Thursday, April 24

A Very English St George's Day

I can't think of too many better ways to celebrate the day of our national saint than to spend time in a typically English city watching a typically English sport. So it was that the 23rd April 2008 saw me at New Road in Worcester, enjoying the sunshine and the cricket as Worcestershire played Leicestershire.

It was an intriguing battle, Leicestershire bowled quite well and kept it tight with Worcestershire having to graft for their runs. After a slight delay at the start, both Worcestershire openers went fairly cheaply - Mitchell for 23 and Moore for 14, Garnett Kruger getting both wickets. Vikram Solanki and Ben Smith then put on a useful partnership, and although the ball beat the bat on a few occasions, I felt the batsmen looked quite comfortable, so it was a surprise when Smith was out lbw to Henderson for 49. Solanki got a useful half century and was starting to find fluency with some powerful attacking strokes before rather holing out for 65 with Henderson again the bowler. This left Moeen Ali and Steve Davies to carry on the fight, and I noted that Davies was still unbeaten on 50 when I arrived back home. At 258 for 7 at the end of day one, the game is intriguingly poised if the weather holds out.

Away from the action, I thoroughly enjoyed the general ambience of New Road, a really homely county ground and its great to see the place back in use after last year's floods. With the cathedral as a backdrop providing chimes on the hour, and armed with a packed lunch and a newspaper, it was a perfect spot to while away the hours. Me being me, I had a squeeze in a bit of exploring too, hence I got a handful of photos at Stourbridge on the way down, before adding to my Shrub Hill station archive. I even found time for a little stroll along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal from bridge 5, down past Blockhouse Lock to the Commandery, and had a quick look at Cripplegate Park's impressive floral displays before entering the ground.

I hope that yesterday's visit is only the first of several cricketing outings I'd like to do this summer - bad weather and floods rather scuppered similar plans last year. Failing that, at least I can look back on a fine day's entertainment and some useful photos. I think even St George himself might have approved!

Saturday, April 19

Gospel End, Coseley and Bromley

Some of my solo adventures are planned in some detail, whereas for others I just make it up as I go along. Yesterday's outing definitely comes under the latter category, an off-the-cuff ramble into Staffordshire and Dudley.

My first port of call was Penn, where I was able to say goodbye to the Battle of Britain pub on Birchwood Road. The smoking ban and rising alcohol prices have put paid to many local pubs, the Battle of Britain sadly being one of many to close. It was with some sadness that I took a selection of photos as builders set about demolishing the pub - local history in action I guess, but I doubt the apartments scheduled for the site will have quite the same landmark status.

Next was a walk across Penn Common to explore Gospel End. I discovered the Barley Mow pub tucked away by the clubhouse of Penn Golf Club, and also diverted back into Wolverhampton territory momentarily for a photo of the Old Stag's Head. Gospel End itself added nicely to my ever-growing collection of South Staffordshire villages, although there wasn't too much of interest save for Baggeridge Country Park and the Summerhouse pub.

My walk continued from Gospel End to Sedgley, where I caught the 224 down to Woodsetton for photos of the Cottage Spring and Bramford Arms. Next came Swan Village, with the traditional looking Swan Inn, then I made my way round by the Pie Factory before joining the Birmingham Main Line Canal at Factory Junction. From here to Coseley Tunnel was new canal exploration for me, an intriguing section of canal that yielded views of Beans Foundry, a renowned landmark that now lies derelict amongst industrial wasteland, and a glimpse of the towering Wallbrook Bridge.

Lunchtime saw me in Coseley, tucking into a bite to eat whilst looking out over the avenue of remembrance, a nice location at which to catch my breath again. My feet were given further chance to recover as I caught the 283 into Merry Hill - I really enjoyed the ride, catching a glimpse of the Lodge Farm estate round the back end of Netherton. My stay at Merry Hill was only brief, as I was soon on the 210 route for the short ride up to Brierley Hill. The route is another that is soon to disappear, and at least I can now say I've been on it, even just for five minutes.

From Brierley Hill it was back to the walking with a stroll down to Kingswinford. I took the opportunity to have a closer look at Bromley, including a peek at the Fens Pools and photos of more boarded-up pubs The Fish and The Commercial. Standhills Road took me down into Kingswinford Village for a final flurry of photos focusing on the Bell and Manor Park, and I finished off another fine outing with a ride back to Wolverhampton on the 256.

So there it is, a further addition to the Dudley area series that I've been working on lately. Considering I was only planning on being out for a couple of hours, the trip ended up filling in the whole day as I just kept on walking. Spontaneous exploring just as it should be!

Saturday, April 12

Fifty for WME Worcestershire

It seems ages since I've had a WME landmark to tell you about, so I'm delighted to report that another little milestone has been successfully achieved - what's more, it's one of the smaller galleries that's got reason to celebrate! WME Worcestershire has broken through the 50 photo barrier at long last, meaning that the gallery has effectively come of age, moving from a fledgling development project to something with a little more substance.

As always with Worcestershire, the new photos are rail orientated. The key developments are a couple of new collections - Redditch Station features a train photo and a station view for starters, whilst the Bewdley Station collection presents some of the evocative flavour of yesteryear that comes as standard with the Severn Valley Railway. In the forlorn hope of providing some balance, a token non-rail addition is provided with Upper Severn Bridge at Stourport joining the Staffs & Worcs Canal.

Whilst WME Worcestershire should rightfully claim the headlines, my busiest gallery of late has actually been Exploration Extra, and not before time too having spent the early part of the year being completely ignored. Amongst the new content there are seaside photos of Mevagissey Harbour on Cornwall 2004, a selection of Beeston Station views on Rail Rover 2006, and an array of Devon 2006 additions including Teignmouth Pier, station views at Paignton and Totnes, and a look at the local Exeter bus network as Route K visits Countess Wear. After a spell of winter hibernation, the gallery has burst back into life again come the spring.

Things have been quieter elsewhere but its worth noting a sprinkling of new content as this post draws to a close. WME Wolverhampton receives neat photos of Ashmore Park Library and Spring Hill shops amongst others; a useful view of Yorks Bridge near Pelsall joins the Wyrley & Essington collection on WME Walsall; and finally, familiar WME Staffordshire locations such as Hyde Lock and Wombourne Station make their latest reappearances. The next WME landmark announcemount thus edges ever closer...

Saturday, April 5

Fatherless Barn, Cradley and Hill Top

I've done some good outings recently, but yesterday's was especially enjoyable as I investigated a few more Dudley bus routes before venturing over into Sandwell territory...

First up was the 270 for a ride from Bilston to Dudley - the route is due to be withdrawn, and provided intriguing reminders of Daisy Bank and Wallbrook, with a glimpse of Coseley Swimming Baths for good measure. From Dudley it was onto the 244 to Hasbury, with Baptist End and Hawne particularly catching my eye as being worthy of further investigation.

After various twists and turns through the estates of Hasbury and Hayley Green, the bus dropped me off on Lutley Lane and I began one of my now customary epic walks. Photo targets included the Foxhunt and the Rose & Crown as I made my way along Hagley Road, before branching off up Albert Road past the Button Factory. I emerged onto Drews Holloway and braved the climb uphill to get a photo of the Round of Beef and catch a glimpse of Windmill Hill's shops and post office.

From here I ventured into the Fatherless Barn estate - I could vaguely recall riding through on a 247 or 248, but this was my first proper look. The undulations were putting me off to begin with, but my mood improved after getting a photo of the 210 on Meres Road. I also found the local shops and the Smiths Arms pub to add to the photo count, and came away pleased to have another little piece of the Black Country ticked off and accounted for.

It was now approaching lunchtime so I press on towards Colley Gate, pausing momentarily for a look at the Broadstone pub before heading down Tanhouse Lane. Colley Gate itself is familiar from the No. 9 bus, and I busied myself getting photos of pubs such as the Chainmaker, the Gate and the Chop House.

Perhaps my favourite part of the day came as I ventured into Cradley. I added to my library collection by calling into Cradley Library on Colley Lane, before enjoying a cracking lunch by the war memorial on yet another hill. The pub photos continued with the Old Crown (closed and looking rather forlorn) and the Vine, and I even had a little look at Netherend for shots of the Unitarian chapel and Netherend Square. I arrived at Cradley Heath Interchange with slightly aching feet and was glad of a sit down as the 404A took me off to West Bromwich.

The afternoon's antics centred on exploring Black Lake and Hill Top, starting with a few photos at the Metro stop. The feet were soon suffering again, but the local knowledge I gained was more than adequate compensation. Pub discoveries included the New Talbot, the Globe (heading out towards Harvills Hawthorn), the Dovecote (opposite the local library), and a motley collection down Witton Lane way that included the Junction and some other pub with Albion flags outside that I decided not to bother with for obvious reasons!! The library itself was also intriguing - housed in an impressive former police building with Hill Top Park round the back, the library occupies a tiny little room and is apparently being threatened with closure. I then finished off with a stroll down Holloway Bank and along the industrial grimness that is Potters Lane before arriving at Wednesbury Great Western Metro stop for my tram back to Bilston.

A busy day, making the most of some nice weather for a change and uncovering more of the Black Country in the process. The forthcoming Dudley network changes have certainly given me a great excuse to indulge in some fine trips of late, and I look forward to investigating some of the new routes once the revised network is in place.