Sunday, April 10

Museum Musings

The Black Country Living Museum featured twice among my explorations last year, and with an April Friday afternoon going spare, I headed back across Dudley way to make further use of my 'Unchained' year-long pass...

- King Arthur no more -
The 126 bus from Wolverhampton gets things moving, an uneventful journey until I reach the site where the King Arthur had stood. This well-known Birmingham New Road landmark is sadly now just history, hence the scene greeting me is one of JCB diggers huddled over levelled earth like vultures picking over a carcass. Admittedly the pub had become a derelict eyesore in recent years, and the land will soon be home to a new Aldi supermarket judging by the banners currently in situ.

- Dudley Tunnel Portal -
A short stroll down the Birmingham New Road brings me to the updated headquarters of the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust, an impressive facility that incorporates the Portal visitor centre and Gongoozler restaurant. A little path catches my eye, leading down to the water's edge for a close-up view of the tunnel entrance. It certainly looks dark and claustrophobic inside with not much headroom for a tall chap such as myself; one day I might be brave enough to take the boat ride into the caverns but not on this occasion.

- Vintage Guy Bus -
Some useful pictures in the bag then and I haven't even reached the museum itself as yet. That soon changes though as I negotiate the entrance in the former Rolfe Street Baths building as reclaimed from Smethwick. Whereas my previous visits were relatively quiet affairs, this time the Easter holidays mean an altogether livelier experience with many kiddies enjoying trying to find all of the egg pictures dotted around the various attractions. I keep away from the main crowds though, taking a leisurely wander over by the school where I find a lovely preserved Guy bus in West Bromwich Corporation livery parked up by the bottom tram shed.

- Traditional Pub Fare -
My top target whenever I come to the museum has to be the Bottle & Glass, a proper parlour pub in the finest Black Country tradition. A frothy pint of good old Banks's Mild is a must here, especially when the beer is joined by its erstwhile companion the cheese and onion cob - perfect. Open fires, dim candles and period potplants add to the magic while I watch a working pony being tethered up in the adjacent carter's yard.

- Lime Kilns -
Reluctantly prising myself away from the inn, I venture uphill to a part of the museum I hadn't really investigated before. The lime kilns are certainly an interesting industrial relic and it can be unnerving looking down the chimneys from on high. I also make sure to do a full circuit of the Castle Fields Boat Dock where narrowboat President is letting off steam amid a series of high-pitched whistles. The dock includes a rolling shed, a fascinating wheeled structure typical of local boatyards where craftsmen would shelter from the elements while carrying out their repairs. Other boats in attendance include Kildare, Bessie and Diamond while a roaming blue gospel ministry caravan also adds to the excitement.

- Limelight Cinema -
Next up is a further look around the main village, where I eagerly raid Cook's Sweet Shop for bags of assorted bonbons and rum fudge, cracking confectionery! Another curiosity is the Limelight Cinema, originally located in Harts Hill but now rebuilt brick by brick complete with basic bench seating and marginally more luxurious tip-up chairs. Visitors here can relive the golden age of silent films by watching the likes of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin in all their grainy glory.

- Racecourse Colliery -
The queues outside Hobbs' fish and chip shop are predictably long as the famous dripping-cooked chips appear to be attracting quite some attention. The 1950s fairground is likewise doing a roaring trade where the holiday fun is soundtracked by Hit Parade musical memories from Kay Starr and Eddie Fisher. My repeat tour around the museum grounds is almost over, but I do allow myself a Racecourse Colliery rummage accounting for the mine shaft, pit wheel and coal wagons, not to mention the miners' hovel.

- Guarding the Zoo Entrance -
Once again the museum was a delight to explore, and I thoroughly recommend a visit to nostalgia-seekers and anyone remotely interested in local history or industry - it's excellent value too when you just pay one admission to get access for the next twelve months. Dudley's tourist attractions as a whole are being linked more seamlessly together, hence I follow a road leading directly through to the zoo where some sculptural wildlife examples keep watch over the entrance. I just have time to say hello to the Earl of Dudley's statue before catching my bus home, and that's that. 
Go on, visit the Black Country Living Museum, really you must!!

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