Tuesday, December 12

Festive Foraging in Leamington and Warwick

Nick Turpin's Festive Forages have become one of the exploration events of the year, when each December I join forces with our redoubtable highwayman hero to tour taverns and partake of the ale. Our original plan had been to make merry in High Wycombe but snow in the forecast prompted us to stick safely with Warwickshire where there would still be much fun to be had...

- Leamington Station Sign -
Buckinghamshire is therefore spared our scrutiny for now as we convene aboard a Leamington-bound train, Nick appearing at Warwick Parkway on cue as intended. Given that Leamington is recognised for its regal architecture, it's pleasing to note that the town's railway station is an appropriately impressive building - 1930s art deco more so than Regency admittedly but very handsome with a neo-classical Portland stone frontage.

- Old Librarian in the Old Library -
Nick Turpin is in charge of our itinerary today and instantly sets his sights upon the Old Library, a former Wetherspoons establishment on Bath Street (in JDW days it was known as the Jug & Jester). A half of the house beer - Old Library Ale as supplied by Jennings - provides initial refreshment as we read through some previous research that Nick has resurrected for the occasion. Prior to being a pub, the building served as a theatre and indeed a library - no wonder we feel very much at home!

- Fizzy Moon -
Making our way along the Parade, we pause to see how Queen Victoria's statue was displaced an inch across its pedestal by German bombs in 1940. There are elephants to enjoy on Livery Street before we chance upon the Fizzy Moon, a Regent Street gin and fizz palace that happens to have its own microbrewery. We say hello to Santa whilst imbibing of Reinbeer and We're Three Kings, although the 9% King Sadhu IPA is a little too strong even for our seasonal delectation.

- Feeling Festive! -
Besides the beer, Fizzy Moon makes an impression with quirky artefacts including one of those face-in-the-hole saucy photo boards you find on seaside piers (I decided to include the picture of Nick as Father Christmas rather than the buxom young wench equivalent). If that isn't entertainment enough, we merely have to move a few yards down the street to meet Spiderman and Batman scaling the walls of Murphy's Bar. Such a surreal sight demands closer examination so we make this Irish emporium our lunchtime stop, happily devouring a bargain £2.50 cajun chicken, chips and salad. 

- Remains of the Great Western -
All this excitement must be getting too much for Nick Turpin as before I know it he's slipped into a coma... the Big Cat Coma just down from Leamington Station that is! A half of Duck Soup ensures our slumberous interlude is sufficiently restorative and we can catch the 13:55 to Warwick with a spring in our collective step. A sad sight awaits us when we alight however - the charred remains of the Great Western lurk at the bottom of the station driveway after the pub suffered fire damage earlier this year. We very much doubt this place will ever open again, demolition surely being its only fate.

- Lord Nelson -
Our Warwick wanderings take us first to the Lord Nelson, a community local on Emscote Road where we encounter Slaughterhouse Winter Ale and admire the nautical timber effect in the lounge. From here we progress into the town centre to do trade with the Old Coffee Tavern, recently established in a grand townhouse on Old Square. Some Maggs' Magnificent Mild (West Berkshire Brewery) lives up to its billing while the open kitchen adds a certain drama to proceedings.

- Rigsby's Cellar Bar -
The Turpin travel plans also include a quick look in the Tilted Wig (a 2018 Good Beer Guide entrant situated overlooking the Market Place) and a brave dive into the Railway in honour of Mr D9. That said, our favourite find undoubtedly must be Rigsby's Cellar Bar, a tiny little drinking den in the style of a continental bierkeller. Blonde Star in the basement is the order of the day here, wondering what lurks behind a curious locked door (it isn't the toilet as that's inside a Narnia-esque wardrobe by the entrance). We even have time for a Stout Snout in the Wild Boar prior to the train home, meaning our full-on forage has surely lived up to the customary exalted standards. Cheers!

Saturday, December 2

A Tettenhall Taster

Friday 1st December 2017 and a broken mobile phone puts paid to any hopes of a full day out as I have to wait in for the replacement to be delivered. Thankfully said item arrives just after midday so I can salvage a few hours of photography with Tettenhall being my target...


- Smestow Valley Nature Reserve -
I begin my afternoon stroll then with a look at the Smestow Valley Nature Reserve, a corridor of open space which effectively follows the Smestow Brook between Aldersley and Wightwick. Woodland and meadows offer a range of habitats where nature lovers can spot various creatures including breeding birds, newts and Daubenton's bats.


- Compton Halt -
Aside from the wildlife, I enjoy reacquainting myself with the former Wolverhampton to Stourbridge (via Wombourne) railway line which has been retained as a leisure walkway. Although I've investigated the route several times over the years, it's still nice to be back at Compton Halt rummaging around the platform remains.


- Meccano Bridge -
One of my favourite features on the old railway is the steel truss bridge which spans the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal between Compton and Newbridge. The girder construction has led to its colloquial name as the 'Meccano Bridge' in reference to the well-known toy modelling kit created by Frank Hornby.


- Tettenhall Goods Depot -
Tettenhall Station is another location I'm very fond of, bringing back memories of when Wolverhampton Council's mobile library van was based in the goods shed. These days the main station building houses the Cupcake Lane cafe, the weighbridge hut is a gift shop and the goods depot contains a transport museum.


- St Michael's & All Angels -
From Meadow View a skip across Lower Green brings me to a longstanding Tettenhall landmark whereby St Michael & All Angels parish church proudly flies the flag of St George whilst swathed in cool sunshine. The church tower is said to date from the 14th century and has a peal of eight bells. The path from the far end of the churchyard emerges onto Church Hill Road, an intriguingly secluded corner of Wolverhampton, before Stockwell Road leads me to Tettenhall Pool.


- Tettenhall Christmas Tree -
In years past I vividly recall admiring the yuletide decorations at Upper Green, all twinkling lights and festive banners with a 'Seasons Greetings: Tettenhall' message taking centre stage. Things seem rather more limited in advance of Christmas 2017, with the village tree quite a small affair - I still expect it all looks very enchanting come the evening though!


- Royal Oak, Tettenhall Wood -
Nursery Walk allotments and the entrances to both Tettenhall College and the Nuffield Hospital are encountered as I make my way towards Tettenhall Wood (Wood Road doing the navigation honours). A quick glance at the Institute and Blooms' Florist (complete with cutely crafted reindeers outside - see below) precedes a well-earned pint in the Royal Oak. A perch in the public bar is quite a treat, perusing several brass plates commemorating sadly missed regulars while I sup my Banks's Mild and munch a crusty ham cob. After that I make my way home to do battle with my new phone, closing my camera action for the day with a cheeky snap of those reindeer characters. Cheers!


- Not long now until Christmas! -

Wednesday, November 29

WME Flickr Focus - November 2017

November has been a whirlwind of a month with the process of moving house naturally taking up much of my focus and energy. Despite a few inevitable glitches here and there, the big move has thankfully gone very well and it's now a case of settling in and beginning to feel at home. I had anticipated that the WME Flickr photosteam would be completely devoid of updates for a while, but surprisingly I have found time to unpack a few archive additions...

Carefully emptying some cardboard boxes we have WME Wolverhampton which has been getting into the festive spirit a little early this year. The Mander Centre's 2016 Christmas Grotto is our prized possession, featuring in several shots involving bears, reindeers, snowmen and even a friendly penguin. We can also pick out a couple of Warstones pieces in the form of the Changing Lives base on Claverley Drive and the terminus bus stop sign on Eastcroft Road.

Extricating itself from yard upon yard of bubble wrap is WME Walsall, not that the pub signs of Willenhall are especially fragile. The Ring O Bells and the Bell Inn are both accounted for while the Milestone at New Invention is manhandled into place. Further furniture arrives courtesy of WME Birmingham with Sutton Coldfield's artistic Narnia bench based on Aslan from 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

Also checking in as part of our new household inventory is WME Staffordshire which expertly manoeuvres Tamworth's Market Vaults and Wombourne's Red Lion into position - the latter has a nice cosy interior which would be especially inviting at this time of year. We also grapple briefly with Glascote Cemetery, casting a peaceful glance across one of Tamworth's municipal graveyards.

That just leaves a final handful of items to be fetched off the removal van. WME Sandwell emerges clutching the Ivy House at Smethwick, a former Holden's pub on St Paul's Road, whereas WME Telford teases out a Trench scene (Wombridge Road by the Co-op) and a golfing skull at Town Park's Wonderland. As with my house move in general, November's photographic shifting and sorting can be considered complete although the photostream should still be open for further deliveries in December. Until then, enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, November 22

A Coventry Crawl with the Chip Foundation

Believe it or not, this little trip is actually the 50th episode of the Chip Foundation Chronicles, continuing the series that stretches back to Beer We Go! in February 2010. In order to celebrate our half century in style, Nick, Stephen and I converged upon Coventry for a classic pubcrawl...

- Whittle Arches -
With a Whittle Statue rendezvous set for 11:45, Stephen and I play sardines on a very congested London Euston train through from Wolverhampton - the combination of Comic Con and Motorcycle Live events at the NEC meant that the train was very popular! There is more room to breathe once we get past Birmingham International, and the 11U bus outside Coventry Station means we are in place under the Whittle Arches ready to meet Nick as intended.

- Fargo Gorilla -
Our first port of call is Far Gosford Street, a historic thoroughfare with many cultural features. The Empire music venue has a mural depicting Elvis Presley and Bob Marley, while the former Hand & Heart pub (now a joke shop) was an important venue for Two Tone and Ska back in the day. We say hello to a pink gorilla (as you do) before reaching Fargo Village, the centrepiece of Coventry's creative quarter. This hub comprises vintage emporiums and quirky independent businesses, not to mention several examples of urban art (hence Mr B gets acquainted with our second gorilla in quick succession).

- Twisted Barrel Tap House -
Fargo Village boasts its very own craft brewery in the form of Twisted Barrel whose Tap House has secured a place in the 2018 Good Beer Guide. The brewery has recently moved into larger premises where we can marvel at the shimmering equipment and commandeer a rustic picnic table. The beer menu is wide-ranging and exciting with sours, triple IPAs and fruity concoctions (pineapple) to tempt us, although the oatmeal stout promise of God's Twisted Sister proves impossible to ignore. Add in an earthy blues soundtrack and Twisted Barrel very quickly becomes one of my drinking discoveries of the year!

- Fargo Village Robot -
From Twisted Barrel we undertake another sweep of eccentric exhibits, saying hello to a rusty robot celebrating Fargo Village's third birthday. It's fair to say the place has captured our imagination so a return visit is a must. Today though our second pub is calling, Drapers being on Earl Street in the city centre (next to the Herbert Art Gallery). More God's Twisted Sister goes down nicely as we seek out the soft sofas on the mezzanine floor.

- Sporty Street Art -
Our lunchtime location will be Wetherspoons - not the Flying Standard nor the Earl of Mercia but the Spon Gate, part of the Sky Dome Arena complex. Speedy service means that the food arrives on our table just prior to Nick's 14:30 deadline (it is never a good idea to keep our 'royal' waiting for his vegetable lasagne). North Cotswold's Shagweaver (named in reference to the weaving of wool) is a decent drink, priming us nicely for a look at Coventry's Olympic mural. This celebrates sporting olympians from the Coventry and Warwickshire region, including Rachel Smith (rhythmic gymnastics), Neil Adams (judo) and Marlon Devenish (athletics).

- Belgian Blue in the Old Windmill -
Literally just around the corner from the Spon Gate lies the Old Windmill, our perennial Coventry favourite where the historic interior is full of interesting nooks and crannies. As the reigning Coventry CAMRA Pub of the Year winner we have high expectations but these are more than satisfied. A perch in one of the tiny snugs allows us to peruse framed paperwork from 1909 while supping respective halves of Backyard 1898 Dark Mild and Farmer's Belgian Blue (the hue of which proves a good match for Stephen's lemonade and blackcurrant).

- Town Criers? -
The pubs are coming thick and fast at this point as another very short stroll brings us neatly to the Town Crier, a Marston's establishment on Corporation Street. I am spared any crying of my own when news from Reading reveals Wolves are 1-0 up at the Madejski Stadium although I have to be careful not to incur the wrath of Beardsmore by declaring any England rugby scorelines! Ale-wise we account for Jennings Sneck Lifter and Courage Directors, plus more purple stuff for Stephen.

- The Golden Cross -
Our Coventry crawl reaches its conclusion with two final taverns not far from the Cathedral. The Golden Cross is said to be the oldest pub in the city with Tudor beams and jettied upper storeys to prove it; some Fuller's Damson Porter tickles our fancy here. Last but not least comes the Castle Grounds on Little Park Street, gearing up for an 1980s themed night with Rubik's cube and Space Invader details - I'm not quite sure how the bright pink bicycle fits in! Sadler's Peaky Blinder is a topical brew now that the popular television series has commenced a new run on BBC Two, and with that we say our farewells. Stephen and I have a much less cramped journey back to Wolverhampton while the planning for the next Chip Foundation half century is now underway. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 14

Bye Bye Bushbury

Isn't it strange how you can become attached to places as time goes by? Bushbury is certainly somewhere I have a lot of affection for having lived there for almost exactly thirty years, taking me from childhood into my mid-thirties. My time as a Bushbury resident is however drawing to a close, so on Friday 10th November I embarked on a farewell photo tour prior to moving house...

I begin with the local shops on Bushbury Lane where the old Butlers Arms stanchion still stands outside Co-op. I just about remember the pub while the supermarket has progressed through Kwik Save and Somerfield identities. Over the road various shops have come and gone, notably Terry’s Barbers, an old Bensons & Hedges newsagents (latterly incorporated into the All In One Supersave) and the branch post office that has since become home to Ladbrokes.  The other side of the Kempthorne Avenue roundabout is the Good All Chinese takeaway, pretty much unchanged since the late 1980s having supplied the occasional curry treat over the years - I used to catch my school coach to Telford just outside.

- Good All Takeaway -

Sandy Lane conjures up more memories, most particularly of Bushbury Pool where I (and no doubt many others) recall swimming lessons with the fearsome Mrs Turner. I was always a little nervous about going near the deep end, but if I did my lengths properly I might get treated to a snack from the vending machine in the upstairs viewing gallery. The building was a 1960s brutalist beauty/eyesore depending on your opinion, protruding out from Bushbury Hill in angular fashion until its final demise in 2008. Bushbury Hill itself has been the subject of many strolls, looking out over the horizon towards the Wrekin and more recently witnessing the sprawling emergence of i54.

- St Mary's Churchyard -

Indeed, Bushbury walks in general have been the bedrock of my digital explorations, providing a reliable source of inspiration since I first took hold of a camera. St Mary's Church is the very definition of an established photographic favourite, underpinning my WME archive from 2003 onwards. The churchyard looks very overgrown on this occasion though with the main path being diverted due to repairs on the church roof. The adjacent nursery school was once home to Collingwood Library which these days finds itself housed in the Broadway Gardens care home.

- Autumnal Aspects -

Rejoining Bushbury Lane, the autumn colours are spectacular as I approach the dairy farm, an understated yet constant presence that's just always been there. This little part of Bushbury still feels like the countryside with the sights (and scents) of fields and cows, not to mention the gentle chug of the tractor. Next comes Bushbury Crematorium with its East and West chapels plus a Woodland Garden memorial area that seems perfectly tranquil on a November morning.

Northycote Farm has quite a pictorial provenance to maintain having rightly garnered itself many a WME blog mention, usually referencing enchanting animals and the hidden surprise of the herb garden. This farewell account shall be no different with the star attraction being a huge brute of a pig with a brown-caked snout snuffling about in the mud. The sensory garden and the herb patch aren't at their best out of season although the red-veined sorrel still appears to be growing vigorously.

- A Piggy Picture -

From Northycote I nibble into Northwood Park, pausing briefly at Cavalier Circus but there is little remaining trace of the King Charles pub now the replacement houses have bedded in. Northwood Park's public park is more obliging with basketball hoops, scattered leaves and autumn berries to account for; as a lad I would enjoy playing on the swings with my sister. Broadway shopping parade still looks the same even if the names above some of the units have changed over time - Budget Box sticks in my memory as one of the former stores while Collingwood Library was located here for a few years too. I've recorded the passing of the Staffordshire Volunteer (a.k.a. the Vol) previously and don't feel tempted by any Flaming Chicken so I take Rushall Road down to Wood Lane to see if anything is happening at the Woodbine (answer = not much, I doubt it'll open as a pub again).

- Northwood Park -

Oxley is a place that has gone hand-in-hand with Bushbury as a doorstep district so I continue via Church Road to investigate the Church of the Epiphany, followed by a Stafford Road section covering Jackson Hateley Cycles and the ex-branch of Barclays Bank (potentially due to be converted into the Keg & Comfort micropub if all goes well). The Gatehouse and Island House then see me back to Bushbury Lane where I complete my walk by coming through past Goodyears, the former factory now silenced forever. Appropriately enough I’ve covered pretty much the whole length of Bushbury Lane by way of goodbye, and it still seems funny to think all these familiar features won't be part of my daily life anymore.

I may be moving but I very much doubt this will be the absolute end of my Bushbury exploration story. I still expect to be back from time to time, topping up the photo archive and indulging in bits and pieces of personal nostalgia. For now though, I look forward to different horizons from my new address on the other side of Wolverhampton...

Wednesday, November 1

Birmingham Beer Festival 2017

After a few years at the New Bingley Hall in Hockley, Birmingham CAMRA's real ale showcase has relocated to the regionally renowned Custard Factory - Nick, D9 and I therefore made Digbeth our destination for an afternoon of big-hitting brews and curious cultural discoveries...

- A Breakfast Mugshot -
Friday 27th October and the autumn morning mists burn off just in time for me to test the robustness of the Wolverhampton to West Bromwich 79 bus timetable. Mr D9 taunts me with threats of cob penalties but I arrive with moments to spare so the balding one is denied a free breakfast. Our pre-festival nosh comes courtesy of the Great Western Cafe on West Brom High Street, a former pub turned greasy spoon where the bargain prices certainly attract a lot of custom. £3.25 for the Full Breakfast is excellent value, the proper bacon being the star of the show.

- JFK Mosaic -
The plan now should have been to catch the Metro into Birmingham but a lengthy phone call delays Mr D9 at West Bromwich while I forge ahead to the festival. Along the way I can gather some bonus Digbeth photos focusing on the police station (an imposing landmark in Portland stone), the Kerryman pub and the Digbeth Institute (originally opening in 1908 as a congregational chapel but now an O2 music venue). My favourite find however is the mosaic memorial to John F. Kennedy that occupies one corner of Floodgate Street - the inscription reads 'A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on'.

- Plenty to choose from -
To the Custard Factory I go, the building so-named as it was here that Alfred Bird & Sons produced their famed brand of custard powder; the family name remains revered by fans of traditional British puddings to this very day. Entering the festival, I quickly gather glass and tokens then see Nick waiting to greet me eagerly clutching some Outstanding Stout. My opening tipple is some Platform 5 Antelope, although I soon progress through a Lucid Dream (a delicious cookie cream stout) and Northern Whisper's Beltie Stout (also very satisfying). 

- Beer Festival Baldness -
Mr D9 finally makes his delayed arrival and is 'rewarded' with a Slap in the Face (a Totally Brewed hoppy blonde ale). Before we know it, D9 is availing himself of the strongest beers in the programme including Burton Bridge's Thomas Sykes and Kinver's Full Centurion - no wonder his bald spot was parading around in full view! Nick's festival favourites comprised Thousand Trades Hazelnut Porter and Anarchy Sublime Chaos whereas I heeded the warning to Never Swim With Piranhas.

- In the Clink! -
Three hours of indulgent imbibing fairly whizz by and the last traces of our tokens are ceremonially scribbled out. I spend up with Stocky Oatmeal Porter (Thirst Class), Nick extracts some Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout and D9 ends up as a Confused Brummie (no explanation needed). Our festival fun is followed immediately by more beery business literally across the street, Clink being a bottle shop and taproom on the Custard Factory's doorstep. Craft keg is to the fore here with premium pricing to match; saying that, the Celery Sour was most definitely a taste sensation unlike anything I'd ever drunk before.

- Digbeth Street Art -
The modern-day Custard Factory is a hive of activity at the heart of Birmingham's creative quarter, the industrial setting being re-purposed for digital businesses and independent retail outlets. The sheer energy of the location is evidenced by vibrant street art as we wander beyond Gibb Street - some of the designs are beautiful, some thought provoking and some frankly disturbing. A wall of crushed car parts gets the D9 seal of approval while there are celestial ladies, skeletal fish and alien monsters awaiting our admiring glances.

- Dig Brew -
River Street is our next calling point as we seek out a very recent addition to Birmingham's brewing contingent. Dig Brew have turned a converted backstreet unit into a bar and street food operation so we are only too happy to drop in for respective samples of Bitter and Burning Gold - first impressions are extremely favourable! Another place to watch over the coming months is The Ruin on Floodgate Street, newly opened and rather quirky in style. We happen across it completely by accident but quickly begin to appreciate the shabby decor and courtyard murals, not to mention the Two Towers Complete Muppetry real ale.

- The Final Tilt -
Evening is upon us once more as Nick exits stage left by catching his homeward train from Moor Street. D9 and I decide a cheeky nightcap is in order, and having developed a taste for craft we pay our first ever visit to Tilt on City Arcade. A tap takeover by Norway's Amundsen Brewery is underway, allowing us to revel in speciality selections with a non-conformist edge. I thereby partake of 'Lush', a kettle sour Berliner-inspired concoction involving sour raspberry and lime, whereas D9 succumbed to the promise of 'Hoptropolis' Double IPA. Pinball machines are a prominent feature here (Tilt hosts a monthly Monday night league) but we resist any ball bearing battles because the Midland Metro must be caught, bringing to a close a drinking adventure with a difference. Cheers!

Monday, October 30

WME Flickr Focus - October 2017

I'm currently in the process of a major house move so naturally thoughts about the WME Flickr photostream have been placed on the back burner. October was rationed to fewer updates than usual although I did squeak through some noteworthy additions in between boxing up my possessions...

Doing the heavy lifting this month has been WME Sandwell which has muscled its way along the Smethwick Locks flight. A sequence of pictures here show the little toll hut (sadly fire-damaged), lock beams and the Canal & River Trust location sign. While in the Smethwick area, our metaphorical removal van stops briefly at the Old Chapel for a glimpse of the pub interior.

Manhandling a few bulky boxes of its own is WME Wolverhampton which applies ribbons of parcel tape around the Spring Hill area of Penn. The local Co-op supermarket and the Spring Hill pub both feature, whereas a Stowheath Lane street sign narrowly avoids being labelled as fragile. WME Staffordshire meanwhile takes the utmost care with Stapenhill (Burton upon Trent), delicately fixing a couple of New Inn pub signs into their new adopted position. 

Elsewhere, WME Birmingham has been rummaging in the loft to find a Selly Park Tavern sign and a Sherlock Street bus stop - I note too the dusting off of Pebble Mill Road, reminding me of when BBC Birmingham made the significant switch from Pebble Mill Studios to the Mailbox (the WME family relocation is nothing in comparison). WME Coventry's contribution is clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, blowing the cobwebs off the Humber Hotel in the process.

This just leaves WME Telford and WME Shropshire emptying the shed, Telford by grappling with the Randlay Farmhouse pub sign and Shropshire by sweeping up the Sutton Farm shopping centre. That completes October's offerings but if I may be serious just for a moment, November and December will be a busy time as I uproot myself across Wolverhampton and settle into my new home, so please bear with me if the blog and the photostream are quieter over the next few weeks...

Wednesday, October 18

Hub Marketing 2017: Coventry

Friday 13th might be unlucky for some but the date holds no fears for the Hub Marketing Board, especially when our annual Coventry compilation awaits completion. This is the outing we always look forward to more than any other so, with the quiff safely stowed in the Chairman's satchel, we are primed for some ferreting from Finham to Foleshill...

- An early airing for the quiff -
Indeed the 2017 edition quiff enters the action almost immediately courtesy of a D9 driving demonstration aboard the 9A - the Chairman's creations get more elaborate every year and this one involves scrunched up black paper with plenty of sticky tape. We caught the bus outside Coventry railway station just after half past ten, settling in for the short ride towards Finham via Styvechale Parish Church (St James) and Mantilla Drive.

- 9A at Wainbody terminus -
The 9A terminates in a residential estate just off Kenpas Highway, the bus pulling up outside the Green Lane Ex-Services Club on Leasowes Avenue. The Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School is another notable local feature as the Chairman treats us to the vocal talents of Mrs Miller warbling a hideous version of 'Act Naturally'. Via Wainbody Avenue South we make our way to our chosen breakfast venue, the Burnt Post doing the honours in typical Ember Inns style (albeit with a shortage of hash browns). 

- Finham Library -
Next up we venture deeper into Finham by following Green Lane down past St Martin's Church and a small clutch of shops (Finham News, Posh Nails and a piano tuition store). The local branch library can be found on Finham Green Road and is now a community-managed facility operated by volunteers; public library services up and down the country are sadly having to rely on such solutions to maintain provision in the face of ongoing austerity measures imposed on local government.

- The Festival, Fenside -
On a more cheerful note, we continue through to Fenside where the Festival on Leaf Lane becomes our darting destination for the day. The pub is a simple estate boozer with a combined allegiance to Coventry City FC and Glasgow Celtic. Fuelled by Old Speckled Hen, WME Whirlwind edges out a 3-2 victory by virtue of a clinical three dart 101 checkout in the deciding leg that left the D9 Destroyer gasping in awe (or something to that effect). 

- A Social Club Spot -
Availing ourselves of the number 23 bus in order to escape a sharp shower, we relocate to nearby Cheylesmore where the Social Club on Quinton Park demands our attention. The bald spot strides forth to get us signed in, then we can relax by munching scratchings, supping Ansells Mild and watching the horse racing. One club curiosity is a full length bagatelle table with a curved net at one end; Coventry is one of the few places in the country where the game is kept alive.

- Daventry Buildings, Cheylesmore -
Beyond the Social Club, Cheylesmore has much else of interest to keep us entertained. A long suburban shopping parade stretches along the Daventry Road whereby Bosworth's Butchers and Devlin's Newsagents occupy one prominent corner. Quinton Park has a pool popular with anglers and geese although the Chairman is disappointed to discover the closet block has been demolished. The toilets were formerly located on Cecily Road opposite where the Cheylesmore Hotel once stood, the pub site now being home to an Asda supermarket.

- Coat of Arms Bridge -
Elsewhere on Daventry Road, the Open Arms offers another slice of Ember Inns hospitality before the Secretary delves deep into his sleeves to summon up a memorable landmark. Coat of Arms Bridge is a sandstone structure that carries the Coventry to Leamington railway line near War Memorial Park; the bridge is decorated with the carved heraldic crest of the Gregory family, local landowners at the time of construction.

- Earlsdon Closet Conundrum -
War Memorial Park is subjected to a bequiffed Rock 'n' Roll singalong (with apologies to Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis) as members tra-la-la their way to Earlsdon, spotting a historic water fountain on a patch of Stivichall Common. The Royal Oak in Earlsdon itself is a pub that had eluded us previously so we enjoy adding that to our growing portfolio (a swift half of Bass does the job nicely); sadly neither the Watchmakers nor the Albany were open by way of follow-up, and the conveniences adjoining the branch library have been taken out of service.

- Byatt's Brewhouse -
Evening is encroaching upon Coventry now and the Chairman still requires his Bendibus fix, the remaining articulated fleet being due for withdrawal by the end of the year. Route 4 is where the Bendibuses currently ply their trade but luck dictates we end up with a boring Trident for our journey to Holbrooks, drat! The Hollybush provides Mr D9 with a Carling pit stop before Lythalls Lane leads us to Byatt's brewhouse base (i.e. yet another of those new generation brewery concerns that no self-respecting industrial estate should be without). The Coventry Bitter is quality here, easily the Secretary's favourite beer of the day.

- The Bendibus Bash -
The sun is setting on an epic adventure but we cannot leave Coventry before attempting a frantic Foleshill Road finale. The D9 dive detector goes into overdrive by pinpointing the Three Horseshoes combined with the Wheatsheaf - both pubs have a certain downtrodden charm that the Chairman seems to savour even if Secretary WME is distinctly less convinced. We survive to tell the tale though, the number 4 bus then granting our Bendi wish for a closing example of superquiff steering. A Philip Larkin nightcap brings the curtain down, and that's Coventry done and dusted for another year. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 10

Solihull and Knowle

The occasion of Solihull CAMRA's 18th annual beer festival gave Nick and I ample justification for attempting another ale adventure. The main event is being held at the Royal British Legion Club so we would combine our attendance there with some micropub magic and a visit to Knowle...

- Beer this way! -
Meeting outside Solihull Station come quarter to twelve, we make immediate strides to Union Road ready to exchange tenners for tokens (plus glass and programme of course). The festival is making a welcome return to the British Legion after a couple of years away (in 2016 the event didn't take place at all), so we settle in the lounge and eye up the tasting notes, especially Nick's favourite 'to be treated with caution' section. Moonraker's Mild was my tasty opener from Huddersfield's Empire Brewery whereas Nick went local, Silhill's Pure Star alluringly described as "liquid copper with a body to die for".

- Coffee and Doughnut Stout -
One ale that definitely required close examination was the Salvation #5 Coffee and Doughnut Stout, whereby Abbeydale infuse the ale with real actual doughnuts supplied by a Sheffield bakery. The result is a powerful brew that is certainly very moreish. Likewise enjoyable is the Waterloo Sunset from Kelham Island, a smooth porter with a savoury bite to it. Nick is very taken with his Havelock IPA, named after Sir Henry Havelock, a hero from the Battle of Lucknow who has otherwise faded into obscurity. While at the festival, we are delighted to meet up with Mike and his partner to chat about library cataloguing systems and horror fiction. 

- Champion stuff in the Ale Rooms -
With tasting notes ticked and tokens all spent, we bid the festival a fond farewell and catch the 88 Balsall Common bus through to Knowle High Street. Awaiting us there in a former undertakers premises is the Ale Rooms, a compact little bar that opened last December. Church End ales are our choices here: I opt for Boston Fat Boy (very pale with a canine pumpclip) but for Nick it has to be Goats Milk, recently crowned as the Champion Beer of Britain - it certainly gets his seal of approval!

- Poised at the Vaults -
A visit to Knowle never seems complete without a call into the Vaults, a Good Beer Guide regular with one of the most unpromising pub frontages in the West Midlands (it looks something akin to an adult bookshop). The plain white doorway leads through into a simple interior populated by happy drinkers and mounted fish. A combination of Wadworth 6X and Purity Pure Gold confirms that the beer here is up to its usual high standard.

- Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club -
From a GBG mainstay to a new entry, Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club having secured a prized place in the 2018 edition. The club is situated by the Station Road/Grove Road roundabout and proves both welcoming and comfortably furnished. We partake of Wadworth IPA and Bombardier Burning Gold while perusing pictures of successful playing squads down the ages. The cricket connection means this might be a place Stephen needs to sample in due course.

- All you need for an excellent evening -
Our final task is to travel back across Solihull to Hatchford Brook, Olton in order to pay our first ever visit to Solihull CAMRA's 2017 Pub of the Year. The Pup & Duckling micropub has quickly established itself among the area's upper ale echelons with the Berry family at the helm. Any place that serves pork scratchings in a dimpled half-pint glass is a winner as far as I'm concerned, but add in jovial conversation and some Tuck porter (Lincoln Green Brewery) and we were very impressed - and that's before we got embroiled in a fiendish word game. One of Nick's Coventry acquaintances dropped in for a chat too, taking us deeper into the evening than anticipated but we didn't want to leave. Exit we must for a madcap dash onto the X2 (once we'd figured out which direction we needed to travel in), then Solihull Station supplies our respective trains home. Cheers!