It's not your average evening that includes some Rock and Roll portering followed by a trip behind the Iron Curtain that ends up with you being Shipwrecked and Overboard, but that's precisely what happened to Nick and myself at the Redditch Winter Ale Festival yesterday...
It was certainly an eventful evening, but first a bash at some Bradley exploration. Catching the Metro to Loxdale, I mosied down the Bradley Canal Arm to see the housing developments springing up by Glasshouse Bridge. It was interesting to locate St Martin's Church on Slater Street, the former schoolhouse having been converted into a place of worship when the original church succumbed to dry rot. The Crown and Cushion pub on Bank Street appears to have become the latest casualty of closure, then Highfields Road leads me past the frozen waters of Ladymoor Pool, the Canada geese looking a little bemused skating around on the solid surface.
Meeting Nick at Woodcross, we catch the 229 down to Coseley Station for our connection to Birmingham. It's simple enough to join the Cross City Line but our initial link only gets us as far as Longbridge, where we endure a particularly bracing wait as the temperatures begin to plummet. The 17:36 train rides to our rescue, cruising through Barnt Green and Alvechurch in the dark to then set us down at Redditch at about 6pm.
We were hoping to call upon Nick's previous experiences of visiting the festival as a means of guiding us to the venue, but somehow we couldn't quite get our bearings. Our intended walk along Mount Pleasant instead became a wander along the Bromsgrove Road into Batchley, and it was only thanks to some chap in a corner shop that we were put on the right course. Even when we found ourselves in Headless Cross we still felt lost, and it was definitely more by luck than judgement that we happened to spot the festival sign just when we were about to go in another random direction.
The festival was being held at the Rocklands Social Club off Birchfield Road and some fellow alefans are on hand to guide us through the entrance foyer. The club itself looked very popular with some interesting ales on, but the main festival hall was located in the back function room and seems to have attracted quite an audience. Redditch and Bromsgrove CAMRA had adopted a Titanic theme for the event, hence the festival glass had a smart ship motif and many of the volunteers were sporting t-shirts sponsored by the Titanic Brewery. We collect our tokens and programme then have a scout around the room, spotting the tombola stall, a CAMRA membership stand and the food hatch.
Our comical detour on the way here meant we were definitely now ready for a drink. The ales are arranged in the far left corner and our first choice sees us immediately aiming for something black with the Flowerpots Brewery's Stottidge Stout fitting the bill perfectly. I followed this with a couple of paler beers, Sadlers' Honey Fuggle and Upham's Nectar, a third of a pint being just a nice amount to allow you to taste a variety of brews. Nick meanwhile was exploring his Lithuanian dark side - he's definitely got his eye on some Imperial Russian Stout...
Now for the stronger stuff. The Rock and Roll Brewery from Shirley wasn't a place I'd heard of before so it was intriguing to try some of their Black Dog Porter. A couple of pasties from the hatch keep hunger at bay and then it's my turn to venture behind the Iron Curtain, Titanic's Russian Stout proving powerful stuff with a strong hint of coffeee fragrance - Nick was so taken with the drink that he had two goes at it. My other favourite from the festival was Kinver's Shipwrecked and Overboard, fitting the Titanic theme to a tee - I always like beers with slightly silly names so this was a highly appropriate choice to finish on.
With final tipples in hand we made our way to the tombola stall where my heart was set on winning a cuddly Bagpuss. No such luck I'm afraid, although I did come away with an origami set and some chocolate truffle seashells. In scenes reminiscent of Stafford last year, Nick's turn sees him waltz away with one of the star prizes - not a monkey this time but a Woods Brewery jacket, so not only has he got Shipwrecked and Overboard but he also got Fleeced as well! On that note, the room is really filling up now so it's time for us to head off - we thoroughly enjoyed attending the festival and our thanks go to all of the organisers and volunteers for making it such a friendly event to visit.
Our evening wasn't quite over though as we still had time to sample a couple of Redditch's Good Beer Guide contingent. We stumbled across the Gate Hangs Well almost by accident, the pub being on Evesham Road literally just around the corner from the festival. The place was very busy but we squeezed in by the dartboard for a half of Hooky Bitter, a silky smooth drink in cosy surroundings. We were still a little uncertain about our intended route back into the town centre but thankfully we guessed right this time and were rewarded with a closing half in the Woodland Cottage - Springhead's Fallen Angel doing the business in another lively little local. With that we head straight down to Redditch Station (it was that simple all along!) with Nick being so grateful for his new fleece (extra layers in the cold temperatures) that he even does a spot of modelling on the train home. Pretty much a perfect evening!