Tuesday, August 22

The Birmingham Bear Hunt Continues...

Not content with July's initial attempts at Big Sleuth bear collecting, Stephen and I join forces again for a second sculptural sweep, eyeing up the examples on display in Bearwood, Harborne and at the University of Birmingham...

- Going Forward at Smethwick Rolfe Street -
Our sleuthing adventure starts at Smethwick where I'm pleased to see the faded mosaic alcove on Rolfe Street's Birmingham-bound platform has been refreshed with a vibrant 'Going Forward' mural. A stroll along Smethwick High Street then bears photographic fruit thanks to the Red Cow and the Council House while we also note the William Mitchell pen factory (now a nursing home) on Bearwood Road.

- Bussy Bear -
Our first bears of the day can be found in Bearwood where the bus station is home to Bussy Bear complete with steering wheel, driver's uniform and the 82 timetable. Just across in Lightwoods Park we meet Bear-trix Blocker all geared up for a skateboard session; tattoos, a nose ring and a yellow crash helmet are among the distinctive elements of this design.

- Alice -
Lightwoods Park is currently undergoing a £5.2 million restoration project overseen by Sandwell Council, and it's great to see the historic fabric of the park being given some attention. A major aspect of the scheme is the renovation of Lightwoods House after years of decay and neglect; the building is already looking much improved and is the base for a group of bear cubs peeping out from the ground floor windows. One such cub is Alice, a nurse who wears blue spectacles, a name badge and a red cross cap. 

- Harby -
Tracking down our next target involves a wander through Warley Woods where Bentley the Bearwood Bear waits to greet us over by the drinks fountain. We have only just started to admire Bentley's decorative detail (including a depiction of Thimblemill Library) when the heavens open and a thundery shower sends us scampering for shelter. Thankfully the 48 bus runs to schedule and the deluge has stopped by the time we reach Harborne, meaning we can account for Harby on the High Street without risking a further drenching.

- Queen Elizabeth Hospital -
Typically of an English summer, the rain burst is followed by bright sunshine as we proceed along Metchley Lane towards the hospital complex. A bear called India is positioned outside the entrance to Birmingham Women's Hospital while the striking architecture of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital also needs to be surveyed. The site has been transformed into a world class state-of-the-art medical facility that hosts the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and provides specialist care for wounded military personnel evacuated from overseas.

- Mr B meets Buzz -
From the hospital it is but a short walk to the University of Birmingham's Edgbaston Campus, passing University railway station along the way. Three bears require detection here - Bee Kind (on the station plaza), Buzz (a honeycomb theme outside the University's new library) and Rosie (brown with a bouquet at the Bramall Music Building). I have fond memories of the three years when I was a University of Birmingham student so it's nice to be back, looking up at the Old Joe clock tower once more as the bells bong for 2 o'clock.

- Window Shopping at the Bull Ring -
With a bit of spare time at our disposal we call into the Barber Institute of Fine Arts for a more cerebral artistic experience. The exhibits include Monet's Water Lily Pond along with works by Canaletto, Tintoretto, Turner and Degas plus portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the gallery as a whole was a pleasure to explore. A ride on the 63 bus then connects us to Birmingham's Bull Ring for a spot of Window Shopping as our bear sequence resumes.

- Florence Nightin'owl -
Birmingham City Centre has the highest concentration of bears so among the others we seek are Bhangra Bear (with drum and moustache), Vincent the Biploar Bear (partially inspired by the artist Van Gogh) and Dr Bear Brawn (in medical scrubs with stethoscope and yellow-rimmed spectacles). Dr Brawn is on duty outside Birmingham Children's Hospital where he is joined by Florence Nightin'owl, a tribute to the nursing profession that has remained on display from The Big Hoot event of 2015.

- Captain Blue Bear -
We round off this particular bear hunt at Colmore Square by making the acquaintance of Get Your Bearings (black design containing road markings) and Birminghamshire (featuring a whimsical rolling landscape) although it is Captain Blue Bear who steals the show with his eyepatch, cutlass and treasure map. That's probably enough fun for one day - the Big Sleuth event runs through until Sunday 17th September so I should yet get chance for more sculpture shenanigans before the bears are auctioned off for charity.

Wednesday, August 16

Wolf Wanderings with Mr D9

The Wolves in Wolves project has created something of a stir in Wolverhampton this summer, so for our August outing the Hub Marketing Board decide to seek out more sculptures before setting off on a Black Country beer bash...

- Hunter hails the bald spot -
Friday 11th August 2017 whereby the afternoon begins with some immediate wolf action in and around Wolverhampton City Centre. Secretary WME has been gathering pictures of the various sculptures for a few weeks but hadn't until now seen 'Beanstalk', a pantomime-themed design appropriately located in the Grand Theatre. It is however Hunter, the black and white wolf by the University Art department, that has the pleasure of meeting the D9 bald spot.

- Zeus -
A brief Molineux detour means members can clock in at the Apprenticeship Hub (formerly the Feathers pub) prior to more wolf photo-calls around by the Civic Centre. Zeus - an Olympic-inspired wolf from Highfields School - looks out over the piazza while Wolf Ver-Hampton's mayoral robes guard the main entrance to the council offices. At this point we feel a bit of liquid refreshment is in order so we trade rather pricey rounds at the Cuban Exchange (where Che Guevara's portrait is a persistent feature) and the Grain Store (Sharp's Wolf Rock Red IPA is the obvious ale choice given our brief for the day).

- With Claude in a Clothes Shop -
Of all the wolves on the trail the most elusive is Claude, an ambassadorial 'wandering wolf' who crops up in different locations each week. The @Wolvesinwolvo Twitter team provide a helpful clue as to his whereabouts and we track him down in the MRG designer clothes store on Victoria Street. Mander Wolf (in the Mander Centre, funnily enough) is much easier to find and seems a popular target with deckchairs, a sandpit and a Minions book tree for company.

- Tying the Kangaroo Down -
Pleased with our sculptural haul, we proceed towards the second half of our agenda with the Chairman being press-ganged into driving duty aboard the 255. For reasons best known only to himself, Mr D9 seems intent on doing a kangaroo impression involving some leaden-footed throttle and braking manouevres. It is a relief to alight at Wall Heath! 

- Wall Heath Closed Closet -
Wall Heath offers two pubs for our delectation on this occasion, the Horse & Jockey and the Prince Albert facing each other across the High Street - the former has a cottagey appeal to complement the quality Banks's Mild whereas the latter is a hotchpotch of an old inn that seems a bit down on its luck. Some silly songs involving cooing babies (Papa Loves Mama) and surfing scat (courtesy of the Trashmen) are endured before the Chairman contemplates a closet closure by the local shopping parade - the public conveniences here shut down over six years ago so it is a good job the D9 bladder is actually behaving for once!

- The High Acres -
Every self-respecting Hub Marketing outing requires a darts destination and for this trip we take a punt on the High Acres, a flat roof special on Rangeways Road. The promise of Enville Ale entices us inside and the vacant dartboard is soon put to good use for that rarest of outcomes - a draw! Over the course of eight legs, D9 Destroyer and WME Whirlwind each take four apiece, trading steady scoring and almost clinical checkouts blow for blow. Perhaps it was the cobs that fuelled us to such exceptional (for us) heights?

- The Crestwood -
Honours even on the oche then but Secretary WME ensures he takes the day's sleeve plaudits when revealing the Crestwood, another place that easily qualifies as an example of D9's favourite pub architecture. Sharp's Atlantic is our tipple therein, supping away to a soundtrack of 1980s chartbusters which prompts the Chairman to declare a detailed knowledge of the American band Atlantic Starr.

- Beaming in the Britannia -
All too quickly the evening is encroaching and members must once more head homeward, but only after our requisite nightcap stop. Holding the curfew back this time around is the Britannia on Queens Cross, just up the road from Dudley Cemetery - not the most glamorous location we'll admit but we hadn't done it before and are curious about the prospect of cheap Carling. A closing pint is thus procured and we consider ourselves most satisfied with our efforts at wolf and pub collecting. Until next time, cheers!

Wednesday, August 9

North of the Border

With Worcester's Hub Marketing done and dusted, I was free to switch my attentions to the 2017 WME family holiday. This year we would be staying in Edinburgh for my first ever visit to Scotland...

- An Edinburgh Skyline -
Saturday 29th July: It's strange to think I'd never been to Scotland before, and with most of my memories of Wales confined to childhood caravans breaks, my exploration activities have been limited almost exclusively to England. The journey up to Edinburgh is a long but trouble-free one, arriving just after lunchtime to get our bearings in the Scottish capital. A walk along the Royal Mile is an excellent starting point, the mighty Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace at the other. The city is very busy in the build-up to its annual festival and associated fringe performances.

- Easter Road, Hibernian FC -
Sunday 30th July: a morning of dedicated Edinburgh exploration is notable for a visit to Easter Road, home of Hibernian Football Club. The green-tinged stands seem to rise up out of the terraces with the floodlights of the Meadowbank Sports Stadium also clear on the horizon. Leith Walk has its own fascinations in being the main route between the city centre and the historic port on the Firth of Forth - Pilrig Church, McDonald Road Library and the Central Bar are all waiting to be discovered.

- The Oxford Bar -
Edinburgh Pubs: being a pub enthusiast, I am determined to visit some of Edinburgh's finest watering holes during the course of the week. I particularly love heritage interiors of which there are plenty to seek out, ranging from the elaborate splendour of the Cafe Royal (with tiled murals depicting famous inventors) to the spartan setting of the Oxford Bar (a place enshrined in literary folklore thanks to Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus novels). Decorative ceilings and magnificent mahogany can also be detected (the Abbotsford Bar) along with little gems of exquisite tiling (the Barony Bar) while the beer isn't bad either, Caledonian's Edinburgh Castle brew becoming a WME favourite as an example of an eighty shilling ale.

- Portobello Promenade -
Monday 31st July: a leisurely Monday morning at our apartment is followed by an afternoon at the seaside. Portobello isn't perhaps the most attractive of coastal resorts - a walk along the prom in a bracing breeze feels like a feat of endurance - but there is a sense of revival here after a period of decline. It's still nice to gaze along the beach and feel like you are actually on holiday, an antidote to the hustle and bustle of the big city.

- The Water of Leith -
Tuesday 1st August: a closer look at Leith now, an area of contrasts when you consider the scars of heavy industry and deprivation juxtaposed with the optimism of regeneration as represented by the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. The Royal Yacht Britannia is a major attraction, permanently berthed in Leith since being decommissioned, but our treat is a culinary one courtesy of The Kitchin where we savour a Michelin-starred lunch that will live long in the memory. The food was simply divine!

- Dunfermline Abbey -
Wednesday 2nd August: having stuck very close to Edinburgh thus far, on Wednesday we decide to have a ride out to Fife. I must admit it's quite a thrill to see the Forth Bridge for myself, an iconic piece of railway engineering that has come to symbolise the whole nation. The Forth Road Bridge is a marvel in its own right and the new Queensferry Crossing (due to be officially opened in September) will make it a trio of impressive structures. Significant architecture is also to be found in Dunfermline whereby the noble Abbey is revered for being the burial place of King Robert the Bruce.

- The 18th Hole, St Andrews -
Another Dunfermline claim to fame is that the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born in the town in 1835; he used his wealth to support many causes including public libraries, something very close to my own heart. Wednesday afternoon sees us continue to St Andrews, otherwise known as the Home of Golf. The Old Course is a legendary location we simply must see while the ruined cathedral and a sleepy harbour add to the town's rugged charm.

- Musselburgh Racecourse -
Thursday 3rd August: following on from St Andrews, Thursday summons another sporting setting for me to investigate during a mooch around Musselburgh. The racecourse hosts flat racing along with some National Hunt fixtures and feels rather exposed when a blustery squall sets in. We seek shelter in Staggs (a.k.a. the Volunteer Arms), a classic alehouse that has been owned by the same family since 1858. Some Silkie Stout (Loch Lomond Brewery) is just the job when escaping out of the rain.

- Mercat Cross, Prestonpans -
Friday 4th August: alas our final day in Scotland but one that provided some magical closing memories thanks to a coastal walk encompassing Prestonpans, Cockenzie and Port Seton. Prestonpans has some really interesting old buildings including Preston Tower, the Mercat Cross and the Northfield Doocot, a beehive-shaped dovecote dating from the 16th century. Add to that the Prestoungrange Gothenburg - the Goth - which operates under the principles of the Gothenburg Public House System so that surpluses are granted to the Prestonpans Arts Festival for the betterment of the community.

- 'Braw Lass' at Cockenzie Harbour -
From Prestonpans Shore I follow a short East Lothian section of the John Muir Way, a coast-to-coast trail that stretches from Helensburgh to Dunbar. The nearby combination of Cockenzie and Port Seton is my destination as I pass the site of a former power station to reach two small harbours, a Royal British Legion club and the Wemyss Hotel. The walk is an invigorating one - just me, the scenery and a few anglers for company, a world away from the West Midlands. A ride on the 26 bus (via Joppa, Portobello and Meadowbank) returns me to Edinburgh and the holiday ends by watching Mo Farah's moment of glory in the 10,000 metres at the World Atheltics Championships. A golden finale to a superb Scottish stay!

Monday, August 7

Hub Marketing 2017 - Worcester

My recent Flick Focus post predicted a busy few days would lie in store for me and that certainly proved to be the case. I'll be blogging about my Edinburgh holiday in due course but firstly here's an account of a Hub Marketing adventure in Worcester with Mr D9...

- Spotted at Worcester Racecourse -
Yes, Friday 28th August and the Board's summer spectacular sees members embark on an away day tour of Worcester's fair city. Chairman D9 boards the 09:49 Malvern train at The Hawthorns and is swiftly joined by Secretary WME fresh from an encounter with Smethwick Galton Bridge. The first matter of the day is to obtain ourselves some breakfast so upon alighting at Foregate Street we pop in to Poppins a few doors down from the station. With scrambled egg, black pudding and hash browns all accounted for we can proceed to explore Worcester Racecourse and christen the day with an early bald spot candidate.

- The Winning Post -
Baldness aside, the racecourse serves as our silly song setting with this trip's novelty gems being 'Waf Woof' by the Springfields (the tale of a toy dog in a Dutch shop) and 'Quiet Life' by Ray Davies (the lyrics remind Mr D9 of his own hectic household). Passing Pitchcroft Allotments we navigate our way to the Winning Post, a pub on Pope Iron Road where we can sample the Tick Tack Tommy Moore pale ale brewed literally just across the street. Resuming our racecourse roam, we follow the path beside the River Severn and round to the grandstand where we can pose with the other winning post. Sadly despite a game go at galloping down the final furlongs, we weren't eligible to enter the winners enclosure.

- Middle-aged musings from the Bull Baiters -
Crossing the Severn at Sabrina Bridge, we ferret our way into St Johns via Henwick Road level crossing with its signal box and subway steps. St Johns is an interesting suburb of Worcester which retains a village identity centred on Bull Ring and the church of St John-in-Bedwardine. It just so happens that there are a few pubs here too so naturally we decide to sample some of them. First up is the Bull Baiters, a relatively new micropub where the Money for Old Rope Stout consoles D9 as he ponders the woes of middle age. The Bell is a nice traditional inn opposite the church - Old Prickly is our ale choice there - while the Bush supplies some Cannon Royall hospitality to a backdrop of an impressively-carved curving bar surround.

- Royal Porcelain Works -
Two of Worcester's most well-known institutions are next into the spotlight. A wander down by the cathedral brings us to Severn Street and the remains of the Royal Worcester factory. Prized porcelain was produced on this site and transported around the world, gaining a reputation for high end luxury quality. The old works are being redeveloped but pottery enthusiasts can still visit the Museum of Royal Worcester to discover their collections of celebrated ceramics.

- A Saucy Bald Spot? -
Another famous Worcester brand is Lea & Perrins, makers of the piquant condiment that is Worcestershire Sauce. Our photo call at the firm's Midland Road base allows for a sneaky bald spot opportunity as the Chairman approaches the distinctive orange gates, the Secretary meanwhile having a sudden craving for cheese on toast! Wyld's Lane can then contribute a couple of photos of the Plumbers Arms, a backstreet boozer we were intending to sample but it didn't seem to be open.

- The Punchbowl, Ronkswood -
Not to worry, the Secretary has another pub tucked up his sleeve and therefore plots his way through the Perry Wood local nature reserve in order to reach Ronkswood. What seems to be a fairly ordinary housing estate has at its heart the Punchbowl, a place that at first glance looks similarly unremarkable. However, closer inspection confirms an intact original interior that has survived virtually unaltered since 1958 - wonderful! We absorb the community atmosphere here over a game of darts, WME Whirlwind breezing into a 4-0 lead no doubt inspired by those properly pubby surroundings.

- The Secretary goes all Imperial -
A couple of stops in Worcester city centre are now on the agenda before we have to think about catching the train. The Chairman takes great delight in obtaining discount Mild at the West Midland Tavern, an establishment that has all the architectural appeal of a grotty Blackpool guesthouse but compensates for this with a warm welcome. A friendly disposition is also evident at the Imperial Tavern, Worcester CAMRA's current Pub of the Year winner on St Nicholas Street. This is a Black Country Ales house refurbished in their customary style and a pint of Prescott Hill Climb soon has the Secretary purring in appreciation. 

- Worcestershire Whitewash Secured! -
That's all where Worcester is concerned but our homeward journey does include a Droitwich distraction in the form of the Riflemans Arms (a pit stop is normally needed on journeys where the D9 bladder starts to suffer). More Banks's Mild is accompanied by a darting coup-de-grace when WME Whirlwind unfurls the double 8 that secures a 6-0 victory, leaving the D9 Destroyer to contemplate having been whitewashed in Worcestershire. The bald one licks his wounds on the train but has recovered enough of his dignity to contemplate a Bilston Trumpet nightcap, cheers!

Tuesday, July 25

WME Flickr Focus - July 2017

With a busy few days ahead due to culminate in the 2017 WME family holiday, I thought I'd better file my monthly photostream summary while things are still reasonably quiet. Exploration Extra took the update honours back in June but July's additions have returned the spotlight to the West Midlands plus the usual neighbouring counties...

One such county is represented by WME Shropshire which has become besotted with Bridgnorth of late. The town's pubs are to the fore whereby the signs for the Crown (High Street) and Railwayman's Arms (on the Severn Valley station platform) are joined by a sneaky shot of the Old Castle's dartboard. Even some vintage road signs on West Castle Street still have a pub connection, mounted as they are on the walls of the Shakespeare.

Pub pickings are also very much in evidence on WME Warwickshire given that Atherstone ale haunts the New Dolphin and the Old Swan have supplied their signage; sadly the Dolphin is no longer trading, a considerable shame as I really liked it when Nick and I visited in September 2012. Meanwhile on WME Staffordshire, Boney Hay and Burntwood have both been bolstered with the Drill Inn, the Nags Head and a 'School Ahead' sign being among the arrivals.

Turning swiftly to West Midlands material, WME Coventry has developed a minor bus stop obsession concentrated within the vicinity of Barley Lea, Stoke Aldermoor (the local clinic provides some kind of counterbalance). WME Walsall summons its own stop segment plucked from the Allens Rough estate to go alongside Bloxwich's One Man and His Dog and a half-hidden Bridle Lane nugget from near Barr Beacon.

Bucking the recent trend, WME Birmingham has delved into my Digbeth Branch archives for some choice canal components; Ashted Tunnel rises to the occasion with views inside and out (the south-eastern portal a few months apart) being accompanied by a snap of nearby Lock 3. WME Wolverhampton similarly goes against the grain by offering museum morsels from Bantock House; here we can meet a miserable-looking mannequin and take a peek inside the billiard room (a shot I'm rather fond of). My favourite photo from July though can be found on WME Dudley, a Bathams beermat - need I say more? Until August, enjoy the pictures...

Sunday, July 23

We've Been On A Bear Hunt!

The array of animal artworks appearing on the streets of the West Midlands in recent weeks have certainly added a sense of fun to my summertime photo sessions. Stephen was keen to get in on the act, so with a spare (but potentially soggy) Friday at our disposal we breeze into Birmingham ready for some serious sleuthing...

- The Bear That Cares -
New Street Station gets our bear-spotting underway almost immediately as the concourse has become home to The Bear That Cares, a bright pink example whose appearance is based on the characters from the Care Bears television series. The red balloon symbol on the bear's tummy represents the logo for the Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity.

- Shakesbear -
One of the bears I was most keen to find is Shakesbear, designed with a certain famous playwright's portrait in mind. It takes pride of place out on New Street itself, attracting the attentions of passing shoppers with a mixture of delight and bemusement. Elsewhere on New Street we make the acquaintance of Marcus Bearlius (inspired by sculptures of Roman emperors) before Olly the Octobear has bright red tentacles by Victoria Square.

- A Dalek Distraction -
 The threat of rain means we make for the shelter of the Mailbox where the BBC visitor centre has definitely embraced the Big Sleuth spirit. Several mini-bears are on display here including Bournville Unwrapped, Lulu and Totally Tropical; like the other smaller bears on the trail, these have each been created with the involvement of a local school. Thankfully the resident Dalek has so far refrained from exterminating any of them!

- The Bees Knees -
To Gas Street Basin then and an encounter with The Bees Knees, one of a number of honey and bee themed bears that feature as part of the event. Situated next to the Worcester Bar footbridge, this design raises awareness about the importance of bee conservation and the need to protect wild flowers as a source of pollination.

- Crunchie -
Not all of the bears are in the city centre so our next move takes us to Bournville in order to track down Crunchie outside Cadbury World. Being rather partial to the honeycomb chocolate bar ourselves, we can appreciate this bear licking his lips while seemingly escaping out of his wrapper. 

- The Wildlife Detective -
The Cross City line connects us sweetly with Sutton Coldfield for our final sleuth targets of the day. Stephen has the pleasure of posing next to the Wildlife Detective (complete with some bear-noculars perhaps?) as we stroll through Sutton Coldfield railway station. Straw-bear-y (a fruity friend on Lower Parade) and Honeybear (a hive effect by Holy Trinity Church) also make memorable impressions when we survey the town centre.

- A Sutton Coldfield Scatter Cushion -
A pub interlude precedes our very last piece of arty action with the Brewhouse & Kitchen on Birmingham Road brewing their own ales on the premises. I partake of The Cup, a 3.6% bitter that takes its title from the pub's historic name, and clutch an appropriately boozy scatter cushion while modelling some distinctive glassware. Tiger Lily by the Empire Cinema celebrates the resurgence in wild tiger numbers and with that we head homewards, satisfied with our sleuthing so far but with plenty more bears still to meet in the months ahead.

Monday, July 17

Loopy in Lapworth?

Following up a summer spectacular like last week's Hatherton Canal outing was always going to be a challenge but a Warwickshire wander might just hit similar heights. A day of boots, beer and Baddesley Clinton is therefore on offer as I join Navigator Nick for a couple of loops around Lapworth...

- Poddington by St Philip's -
Prior to the main event I indulge in a little more sculpture spotting in the West Midlands. Wolverhampton has its wolves of course but in Birmingham there are bears to be had (and not the ones that play cricket at Edgbaston). The streets of Brum have witnessed some ursine unveilings in recent days as part of the Big Sleuth, the artistic follow-up to 2015's Big Hoot owls. My animal antics are limited to the handful I can find between New Street and Snow Hill stations but do include Ghostbuster Bear (John Bright Street), Spock (a Star Trek-themed classic by the Floozy in the Jacuzzi) and Poddington (near St Philip's Cathedral).

- Nick at the Navigation -
There are 100 bears in total dotted around Birmingham (some are located as far afield as Dudley and Solihull) so there's certainly mileage for a few more snapshot safaris between now and September. They can wait though as Lapworth requires the utmost concentration - I meet Nick at Dorridge and a short Chiltern train ride later we alight at Lapworth Station, a quiet halt with a blue footbridge. Noting the local primary school on Station Lane, we then start as we mean to go on by taking an almost immediate pub pit stop. The Navigation is on the side of the Grand Union Canal and serves up a decent drop of Byatt's Lapworth Gold which we happily sup outside in the pretty beer garden - this is the life!

- Something foxy? -
After that early refreshment break, Nick's route calculations soon have us heading for Baddesley Clinton, a medieval moated manor house that was the historic home of the Ferrers family. Nowadays it is a National Trust property where visitors can ponder the priestholes and savour the tranquility of the walled garden. Although we won't be venturing into the house itself, we can enjoy views of the wider grounds and meet some carved woodland creatures including a crafty fox.

- A Brome Burial -
A couple of hundred yards from the main house stands the church of St Michael, notable for a 'Tower of Atonement' built by Nicholas Brome as penance for murdering the parish priest. Brome was buried in an upright grave by the church door while the tomb of Sir Edward Ferrers is a notable feature in the chancel. We linger awhile the admiring stained glass and further Ferrers memorials before pressing on with our stroll, the next stage of which comprises Rowington Green and a wheat field approach towards Wroxall Abbey.

- WME is on the Case (Bitter) -
Nick's regular glances at his watch confirm that we're tight on time if we're to squeeze in a call at the Case is Altered. The pub operates traditional opening hours (mid-afternoon closing is at 2:30pm) but with a bit of a spurt we beat the call for last orders and reward ourselves with a pint of Case Bitter, a classic English Bitter from the Old Pie Factory Brewery - excellent! The trading hours aren't the only traditional aspect here; the building is very homely with a bar billiards table fed by old sixpences. Anyone daring to use their mobile phone runs the risk of paying a £1 fine while the off the beaten track location only adds to the charm of a rare wet-led survivor. A superb find indeed.

- The Banana Box Bandit strikes again -
Picking up the pace again, Navigator Nick brandishes his banana box while plotting a path through a scrapyard containing vintage Massey Ferguson tractors. We then retrace some steps from earlier, crossing our favourite wheat field to Rowington Green which in turn brings us to the Rowington Club. This establishment is invitingly situated opposite the village hall and next to a cricket pitch; our beer choice here is Cotleigh's Commando Hoofing, an ale which helps raise money for a Royal Marines charity. As at the Navigation, we make the most of the weather by sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine.

- Rowington Cricket Club -
The Rowington Club marks the completion of one loopy element of our walk with Nick now identifying a separate circuit involving the nearby canals. A few cricket outfield pictures include the sight screens and a scorebox shed, then we make tracks for the Tom O' The Wood on Finwood Road, an old country inn that's been refurbished to a high standard. North Cotswold Brewery's Summer Solstice provides some golden lubrication, setting us up nicely for a stretch along the Grand Union from Turners Green Bridge (No. 63) to Kingswood.

- Canal Junction at Lapworth -
Lapworth really is an excellent location for the waterways enthusiast to explore as the Grand Union and the Stratford-upon-Avon canals run in parallel, linked together by a short spur known as the Kingswood Branch. We take the branch from Kingswood Junction to join the Stratford Canal by a neat cottage garden where the tomatoes in the greenhouse seem to be growing well. Plenty of locks help keep us occupied as we aim in a roughly northwesterly direction, passing beneath Old Warwick Road (Bridge 35) and Mill Lane (Bridge 34).

- Menu musings at the Boot -
Early evening entices us with two posh pubs by way of concluding our circuitous crawl. The Boot is just off the towpath by lock 14; as part of the Lovely Pubs group it has a dining emphasis with many of the tables reserved. We study the menu over a half of Sharp's Atlantic and try to work out whether we'd be partial to caramelised cauliflower granola, gribiche or gunpowder chicken breast. Our final watering hole requires less culinary translation, the Punchbowl on Mill Lane having sedate modern surroundings due to a 1990s rebuild. Nick's local knowledge unearths us a shortcut back to the station and loop number 2 is fulfilled, capping off another cracking July jaunt that definitely maintained recent standards. Cheers!