The herald angels are singing and the halls are being decked with boughs of holly so this can only mean one thing - yes it's Christmas, and time for a festive meeting of the Hub Marketing Board. Monday 19th December therefore saw Mr D9 Andy and myself avoiding the panic buying mayhem with a good old tour in and around Birmingham...
ASTON: We had originally aimed to commence proceedings at 9:30 but Andy got waylaid by hub matters elsewhere, leaving me free for a spot of bonus exploring up Aston way. Heavy rain was predicted but luckily the weather held off long enough to allow for a canal walk, with me foolhardily tackling the treacherous icy towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley from High Holborn Bridge to Rocky Lane. I hadn't done this stretch before so it was interesting to see more of Aston Locks including the cottages by Thimble Mill Lane.
SPARKBROOK: A turn-up-and-go 67 Bendibus is next on hand to deliver me safely into the centre of Birmingham where I say hello to the Tony Hancock Memorial at Old Square. Mr D9 summons me to New Street Station and with our party complete we set about filling in the remaining holes in our collection of vintage Birmingham toilet closets. One we had missed previously was on Allison Street just around the back of Moor Street Station, and with that duly photographed we continue down towards Camp Hill and along the Stratford Road. By now the rain has arrived with some ferocity but it doesn't deter us from a wander into Sparkbrook, an area I don't think I'd got to grips with before. Here the Shakespeare pub is a neat landmark as Andy investigates a potential former toilet block by the railway bridge.
BALSALL HEATH: We're covering all the glamorous areas today as a quick ride on the 8C Inner Circle connects us into Balsall Heath. Risking a drenching we explore the backstreets around St Paul's Road in search of more closet clues, then a soggy stroll along Edward Street brings us to the Cannon Hill Cubicle where Andy can't resist making use of the facilities. Both Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook looked to have some fascinating heritage buildings so they could be well worth returning to in drier conditions.
MOSELEY: Having gritted our teeth through the deluge we were now in urgent need of some warmth and refreshment. The 35 took pity on us by arriving instantly for our link into Moseley, and then it was time to try some pubs. The Elizabeth of York Wetherspoon's got us off to a dry start, but I particularly liked the period features of the Fighting Cocks (complete with clock tower) and the cosy ambience of the Prince of Wales. A brief ride on the 50 also meant we could squeeze in the Merry Maid, just to ensure we were properly back up to temperature of course!
LADYWOOD: The sequence of Birmingham's inner districts had been serving us well so far so we added further to the list with a visit to Ladywood. The 8C is again on hand to take us to Five Ways where Andy points out the former Crusader pub in the grotty Edgbaston Shopping Centre. Weaving via subways we find our way to Ruston Street, home to the Vine, our best pub find of the day. Whilst much of the old Ladywood area had been swept away, here was a real survivor linking back to the past, a proper old-fashioned backstreet boozer complete with a heartwarming pint of Santa's Claws from the Beartown Brewery - the beer tasted as if it had had some candy cane melted into it for extra spicy sweetness. Freshly fortified we complete our Ladywood sweep with views of the Ivy Bush, Perrotts Folly, the Bricklayers Arms and a recce around the reservoir - Andy even got chance to pay homage to the former Carlyle Road works site where his favourite D9 buses were once manufactured.
CAPE HILL: We decide to conclude our festive frivolities amongst the familiar D9-trip haunts of Cape Hill and Smethwick. Andy has a couple more pubs up his sleeve - the Old Windmill opposite the City Hospital was one I knew about, but the Cross Keys down by Spring Hill caught me completely by surprise, full marks Mr Lunn for that one. It's Andy's turn for a shock in the Robin though when he recognises one of the barstaff and makes himself scarce rather sharpish whilst I hand over the beer money!
SMETHWICK: And finally... as it's Christmas we push the boat out a little with a final flourish thanks to the Hono Bar, the Queens Arms and the Old Corner House. Andy's surveillance mission with the Queens Arms finally paid off as it's a pub he's wanted to visit for months and had only recently re-opened, whilst the Old Corner House was also back in business after a prolonged spell of closure - it's great that we can now say we've tried them out. With that we bring the trip and the year to a close in excellent style, and we look forward to seeing what adventures 2012 might bring...