Saturday, July 26

Bears on Tour: Horsham

The Horsham Festival of Cricket would see Sussex take on Warwickshire in Division One of the County Championship, offering Stephen and I the chance to savour another outground experience. The weather was absolutely perfect, but the same could not be said for the match result...

- Horsham Cricket Club -
With the game due to get underway on Monday 21st July, Mr Beardsmore and I travelled down on Sunday 20th and took up residence in the Wimblehurst Hotel. Our first evening in Horsham was spent getting our bearings and finding the ground, tucked away down a little cul-de-sac with sounds of jazz emanating from the clubhouse.

- West Street -
Horsham is an attractive West Sussex market town which I very much enjoyed exploring. Landmarks to capture my imagination are the Old Town Hall building, West Street with its eclectic mix of shops, Carfax with a pretty bandstand and the Causeway, a historic street leading down to St Mary's Church. There is also a large park featuring an exercise trail and a leisure centre, while pub possibilities include the Lynd Cross (Wetherspoons) and the Old Stout House with its King & Barnes frontage.

- Carfax Bandstand -
Monday morning and time for some cricket so we stock up on supplies and enjoy a sunny stroll around Horsham en route to the ground. The weather really could not be better and the town looked delightful, hence I couldn't resist a few more photographs as the bandstand once again got my attention.

- View from the Railway End -
The scene was set for some festival cricket and the ground certainly had some of the carnival atmosphere I was so hoping for. We had a choice of potential vanatge points but homed in on some seats at the Railway End, looking across towards the town with the spire of St Mary's on the horizon. Dotted around the boundary were various marquees, tents and refreshment concessions, most importantly two ice cream vans which served us very well over the course of the week!

- Inspecting the Pitch -
Sussex won the toss and batted first to close day one on 314 for 7, leaving things evenly poised. On Tuesday the home side progressed to 413 all out, a few too many for Stephen's liking but we still remained hopeful now it was the Bears turn to bat. Ian Westwood and Will Porterfield departed early but a promising partnership between Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott was progressing nicely until Chopra went for 81. Even so, at 163 for 3 overnight there was still much to be positive about as we enjoyed an evening pint with Dave, sampling Tangle Foot in the Old Stout House and pondering the rules of bar billiards.

- Sculpted Sheep -
The scorching sunshine showed no sign of relenting as the match continued into the third day, Trott making a well-constructed 106 but the Warwickshire innings rather lurched to 333 all out leaving a deficit of 80. Sussex then set about increasing their lead in sprightly fashion, scoring at more than four runs an over with Ed Joyce and Craig Cachopa making half centuries. It was becoming apparent that Warwickshire would face a sizeable fourth innings run chase, but would they secure victory or end up lambs to the slaughter like the wooden examples in Horsham Park?

- The end is nigh -
Thursday 24th July would reveal all as we watched from the Railway End wondering whether a Warwickshire win was possible. Sussex lost a few more wickets in eventually setting a target of 326 runs for victory, but the Bears were 10 for 3 at lunch and never recovered. Tim Ambrose battled hard for his 56, but otherwise the innings folded very tamely at 99 all out - needless to say Stephen was not remotely amused by the carnage we had just witnessed! Despite the defeat, I still thoroughly enjoyed the ambience and atmosphere of watching cricket at Horsham and I hope that the funding can be found to ensure the festival can continue. Sunshine, ice cream and the sound of leather on willow - summer at its finest whatever the result might be!

Tuesday, July 15

Merseyside Hub Marketing

Friday 11th July sees the Hub Marketing Board enjoying an away day courtesy of an entertaining excursion to Liverpool with a sprinkling of the New Brighton seaside...

- Lime Street Larks with Ken Dodd! -
Members congregated at Wolverhampton Station bright and early in readiness for the 07:54 departure to Liverpool Lime Street, although our Chairman was very nearly delayed by a coffee-related hold up. The journey to Liverpool is rather serene as we debate the City's extensive musical heritage (although our attempts at recreating some sample songs is somewhat disturbing). At Lime Street our welcoming committee awaits us (Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock) before we are interviewed by 96.7 Radio City FM about our Football World Cup opinions - who needs Alan Hansen when you can have Mr WME as a pundit?

- The Picton Reading Room -
Our first bit of exploration of the morning was admittedly a total indulgence on the part of the Secretary, but the Picton Reading Room in Liverpool Central Library is a sight to behold if you are of a bookish persuasion. The adjacent Hornby Library is also worth a look and was hosting an exhibition chronicling Liverpool life in the First World War. There is then architecture of a different kind as we glimpse the entrance to the Queensway Tunnel, burrowing beneath the Mersey to provide links to Birkenhead.

- D9 drives the Stockbridge Village Circular -
Members' attentions now turn to a favourite cultural location first visited on a WARP Liverpool adventure with Messrs SBI and UKBuses - Brookside Close. The 12 is on hand for our link to Deysbrook Lane, offering a ride up through Tuebrook and West Derby before we once again sample some soap opera history.

- Brookside Baldness -
Back in 2011 the Brookside set was being refurbished for general residential use after having lain dormant since the show had been decommissioned. The Close thus now functions as an ordinary suburban street albeit presumably without any of the dramatic goings-on that used to grace Channel 4 - indeed, perhaps the most shocking thing on show today was a certain Chairman's bald spot!

- Is this the way to Stafford Road? -
The return 12 bus soon has us back in the City Centre investigating the bicycle hub close to Moorfields Station, Mr D9 wondering whether such an arrangement would work well back in Wolverhampton. The former Liverpool Exchange railway building (the frontage of which is used as office space after the station closed under Beeching), the Lion Tavern and the Railway Inn are intriguing landmarks nearby.

- New Brighton Station -
From Moorfields Station we take the Wirral Line out to New Brighton, the journey initially being an underground loop of the City Centre , passing below the Mersey to Hamilton Square and then emerging into daylight for Birkenhead North and Wallasey. New Brighton Station is the end of the line and incorporates a nicely traditional booking hall plus a greasy spoon cafe where we pause for a well-earned late breakfast.

- A Spot by the Sea -
After devouring a Full English the sea air was just what was required to help the food go down. A leisurely walk along the promenade allowed the bald spot to glow a little redder while the native seagulls watched its movements with considerable suspicion. The Floral Pavilion Theatre, Perch Rock Fort and the Light complex are just some of the seafront features to catch our eye although the New Brighton Tower and accompanying ballroom have long since departed the scene, their location marked by a bit of parkland and a Beatles blue plaque.

- Cheers from New Brighton -
Venturing back into New Brighton town centre, we seek out a bit of liquid refreshment and have the choice of the Railway, the Perch Rock or the Harbour, all in triangular close proximity just off Victoria Road. Our darting endeavours are on the back burner today but we do squeeze in a couple of legs at the Railway resulting in an honourable draw for all concerned.

- The Cilla Black Singalong -
Half past two or thereabouts so its time for the return train to James Street where the remainder of our afternoon agenda is based around one of Liverpool CAMRA's recommended walks. We have some of Liverpool's finest historic hostelries in our sights including the Baltic Fleet, a gridiron-shaped old docker's pub that serves its own Wapping Beers - we sampled the Stout as our Chairman launched into a full scale Cilla Black tribute concert. 'Alfie' and 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' have surely never sounded worse! 

- Cains Brewery -
A bit of Toxteth industrial history next as we detour to Stanhope Street for a look at the Cains Brewery building in all its Victorian glory. Sadly the brewery is currently closed although there are plans for a flagship redevelopment of the site which could see brewing restored amid the creation of a hotel alongside leisure and retail spaces.

- A Sergeant Pepper Sculpture -
There are numerous quality alehouses in and around Liverpool City Centre with the Georgian Quarter being an especially beguiling place to explore. Peter Kavanagh's offers all manner of eclectic memorabilia on Egerton Street whereas Ye Cracke is a former haunt of John Lennon no less, while Mr D9 explores his artistic side by grappling with the local sculpture trail.

- Philharmonic Chandelier -
Two unmissable establishments when in Liverpool are the Philharmonic Dining Rooms and the Roscoe Head. The former boasts an astonishingly opulent interior with Brahms and Liszt snugs plus marble urinals in the gents toilets (our Chairman was beside himself with glee about those), while the latter is an unspoilt traditional boozer that has the rare 'Magnificent Seven' honour of being included in every single edition of the Good Beer Guide - both are very much worth a visit.

- Some Phil Harmony in the Tram Waiting Room -
Mr D9 couldn't leave Liverpool without setting foot in the New Penny Farthing, which was very different in calibre to the esteemed places afore-mentioned, then Lime Street was looming for our train back to Wolverhampton. We certainly crammed in some rather fine hub business roaming around Merseyside, and once back in the West Midlands there was just the added bonus of a customary nightcap down by the Metro before saying our farewells. Cheers!

Sunday, July 6

Albrighton

Friday 4th July and a rambling account of a circular stroll exploring the Shropshire-Staffordshire border around Albrighton and Kingswood...


- Class 170 train at Albrighton -
The main focus of this adventure would be a six and a half mile round walk using a route from an old Express & Star article, but firstly I need to get myself to Albrighton. Catching the 9:25 Shrewsbury train, the journey from Wolverhampton takes only 13 minutes and a return ticket seems reasonable value at about £4.


- Albrighton Station House -
Despite having rode through on countless occasions, this was actually the first time I'd ever alighted at Albrighton Station. The layout here is reminiscent of Codsall with the main station building on the Shrewsbury platform and an attractive lattice footbridge. The station is subject to an ongoing restoration project and I will be particularly interested to see what future uses can be found to preserve the old station house, part of which seems to be derelict at the moment.


- Village Clock -
A gentle wander along Station Road brings me into the centre of Albrighton where I can indulge in some pretty photography. Features include the local post office, the Crown Inn and Gibson's Garage although it's the village clock that catches my eye the most, aided and abetted by some colourful bunting that is helping to promote the forthcoming annual Flower Show. 


- The Shrewsbury Arms -
Turning onto High Street, a couple more excellent landmarks are now on my agenda. The Shrewsbury Arms is a half-timbered inn on the edge of the village, the pub having latterly re-opened following a period of closure. Directly opposite is the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, parts of which are said to date from the 12th century while a large scale restoration project was completed here in 1993.


- Albrighton Library -
Bushfields Road leads me on a loop of a residential housing estate before I pause for pictures of Albrighton's branch library. The facility is provided by Shropshire County Council and currently opens 23.5 hours per week including Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Back on the High Street, I can venture left past the Co-op and the TSB to reach the Harp Hotel, a popular venue for real ales and live jazz performances.


- Contented Cows -
The Harp Hotel is also the starting point for my countryside walk as I join the public footpath that runs alongside the pub. In a short distance I am out among fields and kissing gates making my way towards Boningale, enjoying glimpses of nature with cows, butterflies and game birds to keep me company.


- Countryside Crops -
Emerging onto the A464 from Woodhouse Lane, I head towards Boningale Nurseries before taking the track for Upper Pepperhill Farm. The right of way marker then points me directly across an arable field - my crop knowledge is somewhat limited but I presumed it was wheat that I was plodding through trying carefully not to squash things too much. Before long I reach some secluded cottages overlooking part of the Crown Estate's Patshull Woodland and then I can exit onto Westbeech Road flanked by a long brick wall.


- Field Views -
The trail now turns for Kingswood, plotting a course along a woodland path to pass through Wrottesley Park Farm, jinking between barns and then down the farm drive. There are some lovely views to be enjoyed looking out across the fields with a hint of the Wrekin on the horizon.


- Kingswood Activity Centre -
At Kingswood I pass a mobile home park before coming across the Barn Lane entrance to the school activity centre - I remember coming here on a school trip when I was at infants back in the 1980's, and vaguely remember minibuses named Fred and Freda along with visiting the Magic Tree. The centre still serves as an educational resource specialising in adventure and outdoor learning.


- Back at Albrighton Station -
The leg back to Albrighton offers some potentially hairy moments passing directly through a couple more farmyards - some cows seemed suspicious of my presence at one point and then I had an inquisitive dog to contend with, but I managed to get through unscathed. High House Lane takes me beneath the A41 and I can then follow Kingswood Road into the centre of the village, going full circle back to the railway station in plenty of time for my 13:21 train home. An energetic escape exploring some Shropshire and Staffordshire scenery on Wolverhampton's own doorstep - good fun!