Wednesday, April 19

Hub Marketing 2017: Good Friday

Having thoroughly enjoyed our Good Friday outing around Golds Hill last year, the Hub Marketing Board were primed and ready for more Eastertime exploration burrowing through the Black Country. Great Bridge and Wrens Nest are on the menu for a 2017 springtime session...

- Darts in hand at Greets Green -
Friday 14th April 2017 and our starting point is West Bromwich in advance of a ride on the 42 towards Great Bridge. Secretary WME always likes a look at Farley Park with its historic reading room lodge so we alight for a repeat investigation coupled with a pint in the Greets Green Sports Bar. Armed with some Abbeydale Moonshine, the Chairman continues his recent improved darting form while trying not to injure the resident dog when she strayed too close to the oche. The bar is part of the local social club premises which also includes a cafe fronting onto Whitehall Road.

- Shenton's Ironfounders -
To Great Bridge then as originally intended with local industry to the fore courtesy of Shenton's engineering works. Mr D9 gets all nostalgic for lost Pepsi cafes and doctors surgeries but we are pleased to see that the Old Crown Inn on Sheepwash Lane (opposite the library) has been resurrected as the Zions Bar, even if our visit has us thinking we've landed in a kindergarten rather than a pub. A brief stop for chips is followed by a call at the Lounge Bar (formerly the Limerick) where Secretary WME is only too happy to cash in his discount research - Samuel Smith's Extra Stout at £1.50 a pint, result! 

- Bald spot busy spotting closets -
We rather liked the Lounge Bar/Limerick, a landmark pub by Great Bridge Market Place that summons up a sense of community and continuity. Sadly the nearby Nags Head remains disused and unloved as we commence a walk through to Dudley Port, the highlight of which is discovering a possible closet clue beside the Hebron Chapel. The Chairman peers over the wall hoping to get a view of forgotten urinals but its only really his bald spot that ends up on show.

- D9 driving on the 82 -
Dudley Port has the railway and canal in close proximity spanning the A461 on twin bridges. The Royal Oak is noted as a watering hole by the railway station before bus 74 combines with bus 82 to get us to the other side of Dudley for our Wrens Nest ferret. Wrens Hill Road leads us through to the nature reserve, a site of special geological importance - believe it or not, the land where Dudley now stands was covered by coral reefs and tropical seas some 400 million years ago (no, I don't remember that either). We dabble with some fossil finding then seek out a pub specimen in the form of the Caves, an estate boozer that's been spruced up a little of late. An orange-haired wench with a penchant for tattoos chats to us a while before we sup up and wander on to Woodsetton.

- Parkes Hall Pool -
Emerging onto Parkes Hall Road, there is unexpected scenery to stumble across when we find an intriguing secluded pool; apparently it was originally constructed by the Dudley Waterworks Company as a reservoir supplying the town with drinking water, and while the pool hasn't fulfilled that particular function for well over a century, it remains a little oasis utilised by local anglers. Elsewhere the Chairman gets most excited about an old Asda bus stop in the undergrowth by the Parkes Hall Social Club, then the pub picture archive is boosted by the inclusion of the Bramford Arms and the Brook. 

- Turls Hill Road, Hurst Hill -
The Brook proves a nice find actually, its compact single storey aspect stretching back from Bourne Street into a larger building where the regular punters are engrossed watching Wolves v Brighton football action. We partake of Timothy Taylor's Landlord here before soldiering on to Sedgley, Turls Hill Road being a hidden track that reveals inviting views over pasture and paddock - not quite the usual vistas you associate with the heart of the Black Country. Sedgley serves us well with old faithful the Beacon Hotel in perfect position for a drop of Pale Amber; the pub was recently awarded the Dudley CAMRA Pub of the Year accolade and deservedly so, it's superb!

- Blakenhall Backstreets with blossom -
 Showers set in as the number 1 bus trundles home to Wolverhampton although we do indulge in a Blakenhall pit stop. The Rose & Crown on Park Street South is situated opposite where the Phoenix Rise flats once dominated the local landscape - the pub has something of a medieval/Tudor theme judging by the curious friezes displayed on the lounge walls. Some backstreet navigation then allows for a final flurry in Wolverhampton itself, accounting for the Hooded Ram's predictably busy opening night. Ram's Head Bitter is just one of the ales hailing from the Isle of Man so we make a mental note to return and try more of the range in due course. A very good Good Friday - cheers!

Monday, April 10

A Codsall Wood Circuit

Following on from Thursday's Rocket Pool roam, Stephen and I joined forces once more for another leisurely walk. This time the industrial backwaters of the Black Country are swapped for the country lanes and parish paths of South Staffordshire - cue Codsall and Codsall Wood...

- Moatbrook Lane -
Saturday 8th April brings with it stunning sunshine as Mr Beardsmore and I board the 5A bound for Codsall (the route serves Birches Bridge shops whereas the plain 5 covers more of Bilbrook). Our stroll begins at Bakers Way terminus, setting forth along Wood Road but detouring via Moatbrook Lane for a quieter sense of cottages, millennium nature reserves and hedgerow-lined sharp bends.

- Codsall Wood welcomes us -
Rejoining Wood Road we make sure to dodge any oncoming traffic in passing the entrances to Wheatstone Park and Pendrell Hall (the latter was formerly an adult education college but now markets itself as a wedding venue). The centre of Codsall Wood is just a little further and is mainly residential these days - the local post office closed a few years ago with the Cross Guns pub also passing into the annals of history, sadly demolished to make way for housing. 

- Chillington Hall Lodge -
All is not lost though as some photographic pickings remain. The junction with Whitehouse Lane allows for shots of one entrance into the Chillington Hall estate - the accompanying lodge holds a few memories for Mr B as he remembers waiting outside the gates for Sunday morning access to the Hall's fishing pools. The Cross Guns might have gone but the Crown is still trading, albeit renamed the Pendrell Arms since coming under community ownership. We slake our thirst with a relaxed pint, mine being Holden's Black Country Mild whereas Stephen opts for his customarily purple dose of blackcurrant and lemonade.

- St Nicholas Church, Codsall -
Suitably re-energised we commence the climb back through to Codsall, following the old footpath which connects the little church in Codsall Wood (St Peter's) with its larger counterpart in Codsall village. The parish church of St Nicholas thus stands tall on the horizon as we approach alongside the cemetery, the 14th century tower basking in some rather warm sunshine. The weather is admittedly lovely, lifting our spirits given the not-very-encouraging cricket updates coming from the Oval (Warwickshire are struggling somewhat in their opening game of the 2017 County Championship).

- Irish Red in the Crown Joules -
We reward our exertions with further refreshment courtesy of the Crown at Codsall Square, a Joules establishment that recently received the accolade of being Wolverhampton CAMRA's Country Pub of the Year. Moorhouse's Irish Red is my chosen tipple here, a nice pint amongst inviting surroundings. Stephen then keeps abreast of the Bears batting woes as we catch the return 5A to Wolverhampton and that's that for a couple of successful mini-adventures. Cheers!

Sunday, April 9

A Rocket Pool Rummage

The first of two Stephen trips in three days involves a bit of Black Country canal investigation near Bilston and Bradley as Mr Beardsmore and I examine the canal heritage to be found around the Rocket Pool estate...

- Rocket Pool -
Thursday 6th April 2017 sees Stephen and I boarding the 530 bus from Wolverhampton's Tower Street (just behind the Express & Star offices). The route is operated by Banga Travel and links Wolverhampton City Centre with Rocket Pool via Rough Hills (Hardy Square), Millfields Road and Bilston. Alighting on Rocket Pool Drive, we can immediately pitch into photographic action thanks to the Rocket Pools pub (a simple estate Banks's boozer), the local Children's Centre and of course Rocket Pool itself, a body of water seemingly popular with local anglers.

- Glasshouse Bridge -
Venturing through Lower Bradley, we negotiate an estate where the roads are named after royal personalities (Elizabeth Avenue, Edinburgh Road, Princess Anne Square) before emerging onto the towpath of the Bradley Canal Arm. As something of a Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) backwater, the arm has remained just about navigable due to the presence of the Bradley workshops; the manufacturing amongst other things of replacement lock gates here has justified keeping this part of the canal open. We follow the extant canal on towards Bilston, passing below Pothouse Bridge (near Loxdale Metro stop) and Glasshouse Bridge where we can witness some of the Bilston Urban Village construction works.

- Daisy Bank Schools -
The Urban Village is certainly taking shape with new housing and the proposed White Rabbit new-build pub set to join now-established landmarks such as the Bert Williams Leisure Centre and the South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy school. A closer look at the building site is tempting but is put on hold in favour of a peek at Daisy Bank. The old Sedgley Board Schools building is still there on Ash Street along with the Golden Lion and Great Western public houses, while Hall Green Cemetery presents a modern lawn aspect unlikely to yield a certain Mr D9 with a vintage closet.

- Mr Beardsmore by the Bradley Locks Branch -
The final aspect of this short but sweet wander involves an earthworks examination from Bradley Lane back towards Rocket Pool Drive and Humphries Crescent. The open spaces flanking the estate were once the site of an extensive canal network involving the Wednesbury Oak loop canal and the Bradley Locks Branch. We do our best to decipher the course of the former waterways among the bumps and hollows, albeit aerial photos and a map would be required to assess things properly. There were certainly former bridges in the vicinity and the line of the old locks is quite clear where a public right of way undulates its way towards Moxley. We hope to explore the canal remains around Weddell Wynd and Princes End in more detail in the not-too-distant future, but for now we shall sign off for a couple of days and pick up the story in Codsall on Saturday...

Sunday, April 2

Burton Beer Festival 2017

Nick and I last had the pleasure of visiting Burton CAMRA's Beer Festival back in 2013 so a return date with the Town Hall and its Wurlitzer organ was somewhat overdue. What ale treasures and musical memories would await us four years on?

- The Weighbridge Inn -
The 10:19 Nottingham departure from Birmingham New Street gets things rolling and we're far from being the only ale fans on board - in fact it seems that most of the train alights at Burton with a veritable throng of enthusiasts then descending upon King Edward Place. Deciding to dodge the inevitable queues, Nick and I instead seek out the Weighbridge for our first drink of the day. This beguiling micropub is located in what appears to be a former railway outbuilding on the yard of a historic grain warehouse (now a Travelodge) - the Falstaff Darkside is a cracking opening tipple as we admire an old-fashioned telephone receiver and a clocking-in machine.

- Burton Town Hall -
Draining our last drop of Darkside, we are free to fling ourselves into the full festival experience at Burton's handsome Town Hall. Baron Burton's statue stands stately outside as we cough up the £12 entry charge in exchange for glass, programme and the all-important tokens. Ales then line the arches either side of the main floor while the Wurlitzer organ takes pride of place on the main stage. Nick and I both opt for Charrington's Oatmeal Stout before taking residence on the balcony to savour the scene from on high. This is a special setting and we settle in further by sampling Magic Rock's Dark Arts, Leatherbritches' Raspberry Belter (tantalisingly tart) plus Wiper & True's Milk Shake (boasting copious amounts of chocolate and vanilla).

- The wonderful Wurlitzer -
The beer bonanza continues with the rather remarkable Rattenburg Cake, a marzipan-infused Kristalweizen quite unlike anything I'd ever drunk before. Nick steadily steers through a selection of stouts until we both arrive upon Fallen's Chew Chew, a salted caramel milk stout described as a "sweet, briney, chewy trouble maker" - no wonder we couldn't resist! Just when we think things can't possibly get any better, Martin Atterbury treats everyone to his rousing repertoire on the Wurlitzer organ; 'Ain't She Sweet', 'Red Roses for a Blue Lady' and 'Delilah' are among the timeless tunes being performed.

- Swanning about in Stapenhill -
My final tokens are traded for Dark Star's Creme Brulee, a hot seller which lives up to its dessert-inspired name for another case of caramel contentment. The Dambusters March theme inspires an outbreak of balcony flag-waving almost akin to the Last Night of the Proms, then Nick and I take our festival leave in search of a Lord Burton lunch washed down by Titanic's White Star. It's a pleasantly warm spring afternoon now so a little wander seems in order, the sunshine smiling down as we stroll across the 1898 Ferry Bridge to Stapenhill Gardens where Nick soon makes the acquaintance of a certain swan sculpture. 

- The Last Heretic -
Back on the town side of the Trent we partake of three more pubs before our Cross Country curtain call. The Dog is a place I visited with D9 last December which has since been crowned the local pub of the year, credentials we put to the test over some Saltaire Hazelnut Coffee Porter. Station Street then has two establishments within a very short distance of each other - the Last Heretic micropub where we are emboldened by Stout Hearted and beer barrel benches, swiftly followed by the Roebuck which historically served as the Ind Coope brewery tap. Olde Peculier and scratchings are just the tonic we need before the train home but it's the Wurlitzer and the festival that will live longest in the memory. Cheers!

Saturday, April 1

Hub Marketing 2017: Small Heath, Meriden and Olton

March has become the Hub Marketing Board's preferred month for all things East Birmingham, especially if we can do an outing sometime around St Patrick's Day. For 2017 we didn't quite land a trip on the 17th itself so Monday 27th March proved an able deputy, even if we ended up spending much of the afternoon across the border in Solihull territory...

- Gearing up for the Coventry Road -
A morning Metro meeting gets us safely into Birmingham for ten o'clock or thereabouts with the Chairman then able to flex his driving muscles on a Kingshurst-bound 59. There's something about Digbeth and the Coventry Road that gets Mr D9 all excited - perhaps its the old garage or the inner city history that does it, along with the concentration of vintage closets beneath the railway arches of course. 

- Bald spot at Bordesley -
Anyway, on this occasion we alight just past St Andrews to begin our morning ferret in Bordesley. An immediate landmark is the former Free Library building (now a mosque) on the fork of Green Lane and Little Green Lane, the bald spot taking a close interest in the clock tower. Two intriguing pubs are close at hand, the Cricketers Arms and the Roost presumably being matchday haunts for Blues fans. Wright Street takes us past Small Heath School to Muntz Street where we find hints of heritage thanks to a painted tobacco advertising sign and the remains of the Malt Shovel pub (complete with adjacent gents conveniences, long since closed).

- Small Heath Park (watch out for pigeons) -
Small Heath is a fascinating place to wander around as you never quite know what you might spot. Golden Hillock Road leads down to the local park where a large flock of pigeons gorges themselves on leftover chapatis. I remember investigating the 28 bus terminus here over ten years ago but D9's memories go further back to the days of the Gary Owen Club on Wordsworth Road - what lurid tales might the Chairman tell of eventful evenings there? Charles Road has us on the trail of a vintage Washeteria with 1970s-style mosaic frontage, then we weave through the terraced sidestreets around Somerville Road for another look at the Monica, a one-time pub that has been re-purposed as a community hall.

- Help yourself in Hay Mills -
After having a chat with some friendly locals, our thoughts turn firmly to food matters and a luncheon appointment at Bedders. This independent chip shop is a Coventry Road institution which opens Monday to Saturday lunchtimes (11:30 - 2) plus Friday evenings. £6.50 obtains us fish, chips and mushy peas with a generous spoonful (or several in D9's case) of the all-important onions, lovely! We walk off our indulgences by exploring a little of Hay Mills where the Chairman's nose for a closet unearths a miniature pink toilet from a pile of junk.

- Meriden Green -
And now for a complete change of scenery as we swap the terraced backstreets of Small Heath for the leafier environs of Meriden. The X1 bus is our steed, National Express West Midlands having given the old 900 route a new number as part of a 'Platinum' upgrade. The service roads around Birmingham Airport don't detain us for too long and we can alight without incident at Meriden Green. Immediate photo targets here include Arden Cottage branch library, a memorial obelisk dedicated to wartime cyclist casualties, and a sandstone cross said to represent the very centre of England (although that 'fact' is subject to some geographical conjecture).

- Meriden Village Hall -
Meriden also boasts a healthy selection of pubs with the Queens Head top of our list for a visit. Tucked away in an Old Road dip, this is a place that featured in the 2016 Good Beer Guide so we avail ourselves of Draught Bass and a game of darts - shock horror, the D9 Destroyer actually won for a change! His prize/punishment is a drink in the Strawberry Bank, a rather posh establishment where a Magnum IPA pumpclip with a Tom Selleck-style bristly moustache proves fatal to the Chairman's wallet. In between times, the village hall and a pretty duckpond add to the picture count before another X1 comes into play for the ride back towards Brum.

- The Harvester, Tanhouse Farm Road -
Wells Green is our next alighting point and we soon leave the busy Coventry Road behind in favour of the quieter residential estates approaching Olton. There are a clutch of local shops arranged around the junction of Old Lode Lane and Hatchford Brook Road, one of which contains the Pup & Duckling micropub. That doesn't open on Mondays though but we do have the Harvester on hand just around the corner for some Lancaster Blonde amidst a Birmingham City FC team gallery.

- Cheers from the Highwood -
A trio of taverns in the Hobs Moat vicinity see us through the early evening. The Hobs Meadow on Ulleries Road has recently been refurbished by Greene King so we partake of Abbot Ale and ponder the architectural merits of more local shops (the Ice Rink Fish Bar being especially prominent). The Olton Tavern is an Ember Inns example where we try some Brakspear Bitter, and finally there's the Highwood with its flat-roofed features for additional Greene King hospitality. With that a not very express X2 conveys us into the city centre and it's job done for another trip - cheers!

Wednesday, March 29

WME Flickr Focus - March 2017

Time ticks along and before you know it another month is almost done and dusted. March has gone about its business quietly and efficiently, stacking up a solid selection of updates for the West Midlands Exploration photostream - bring on those bullet points...
  • Top of the pile for a change is WME Sandwell which reawakens from some extended winter slumbers by stopping off at Hill Top. The New Talbot and the Dovecote therefore join my pub picture archive, both photos having been taken during the Golds Hill Good Friday outing last year.
  • WME Dudley has gone to Gornal where an evening shot of the Jolly Crispin becomes just the latest offering in a now-established sequence. Staying in Upper Gornal, the pub sign for the Mill on Windmill Street is evidence of Holden's centenary rebranding, something also on show at the Park Inn brewery tap in Woodsetton.
  • We haven't finished with Dudley just yet as Stourbridge sneaks in with some Green Duck sightings from Rufford Road - it's always fun to see what ale delights await behind the inconspicuous green door of the Badelynge Bar. 
  • WME Birmingham meanwhile has fashioned together items from Erdington (the Red Lion clock plus the Royal Oak over the road), Hall Green (bovine portraiture on display outside the Bulls Head) and Hawkesley (the Shannon, scene of a memorable Hub Marketing pint).
  • Canals are to the fore where WME Warwickshire and WME Staffordshire are concerned. The former collects some Grand Union additions (Cape Locks and Leamington's Bridge 41) whereas the latter contemplates the ostentatiousness of Drayton Foot Bridge, a folly-like feature near Fazeley. Halfpenny Green makes its Staffordshire debut too, aided and abetted by glimpses of Wolverhampton Airport and the local craft centre.
  • There is Ellesmere action to report from WME Shropshire (the Market Hall and the Mere both feature), WME Solihull makes the acquaintance of the Chelmsley Wood Bingo which just leaves dear old WME Worcestershire waiting at a bus stop down in Hopwood near Alvechurch.
No doubt April will come and go just as quickly as March did, hopefully with some worthy further additions along the way. Until then, enjoy the photos...

Saturday, March 18

Another look at Langley

There are certain places which seem to crop up in my archive time and time and time again, with the Langley area of Oldbury definitely being one example. Even though I've visited several times over the years, it's always worth going back to see what might have changed and whether any new photographic gems can be unearthed - yesterday's outing therefore kept me rather busy...

- Chance Water Fountain -
Friday 17th March 2017 and I have some Smethwick sidestreets to get me underway, Bartram Road leading up from St Paul's Post Office to Devonshire Road where I can spy Ruskin House as part of the Holly Lodge educational campus. Holly Lane soon has me bearing down on West Smethwick Park for which the Chance family (of the local Chance Brothers glassworks) were major benefactors. Two prominent features provide evidence of this Chance connection - a memorial to Sir James Chance (who originally purchased the land for the park) and a drinking fountain dedicated to John Homer Chance (a former Chance Brothers Chairman who died in 1900).

- The Queens Head gets 'vetted' -
A brace of former pub sites now require my attention. The Londonderry which stood on the corner of Basons Lane and Queens Road has been flattened to make way for housing, while the Queens Head (further along Queens Road at the junction with Londonderry Lane) is now a veterinary surgery although at least the building itself is still with us. A number of the local shops carry the pub's old name - Queens Head Fish Bar, Queens Head Hardware, Queens Head Balti, you get the idea - while the Wonder Wash launderette looks like the kind of timewarp place D9 would enjoy sampling.

- Barnford Hill Maze -
Reservoir Road and Matty Road combine to lead me to the Q3 Langley Academy school, opposite which is the entrance into Barnford Hill Park. The early signs of spring are starting to peep through here, notably a crescent-shaped carpet of daffodils and a few brightly coloured crocuses. A youth shelter features a mural depicting picnic scenes (a dog trying to catch a frisbee) while a hedge maze allows for extra fun even if the foliage is decidedly brown. I then exit past allotments onto Farm Road to reacquaint myself with Langley Library, a lovely Carnegie landmark which originally opened in 1909. 

- Shutter sadness at the Royal Oak -
If Langley Library is still going strong after many years of sterling service, the same could not be said of the Royal Oak on nearby Langley Green Road. The pub looks rather sorry for itself with the dreaded sight of metal shutters telling tales of current closure; hopefully the situation isn't terminal as I am a fan of the building's traditional M&B detailing. Mill Lane is a derelict wasteland as I home in on New Inns Road Bridge for a brief taste of the Titford Canal.

- Langley Park Lodge -
My momentary wander along the towpath is cut short by the prospect of Langley Park where the lodge is now home to the local Irish association. Langley High Street retains its heritage appeal thanks to some old-fashioned shopfronts while the Crosswells Inn, village clock and local primary school also add to the sense of history meeting the present day. Titford Road then has the task of taking me towards Causeway Green where the old Hen & Chickens pub is nowadays known as the Flavourz buffet restaurant.

- The Old Dispensary -
As tempting as Flavourz might be, I'm keen to sample the hospitality on offer elsewhere with my prime target being a new micropub on Causeway Green Road just down from the post office. The Old Dispensary has set up base in what was until relatively recently a pharmacy store (hence the name). Real ales plus a cider or two are matched with classic pub snacks while the interior is modern but relaxing; I settle in for a pint of Aurora Big Dark, a satisfying porter from an Ilkeston-based brewery.

- The Wernley -
Bypassing Brandhall Golf Course, I investigate a section of the A4123 Wolverhampton Road for glimpses of Our Lady & St Hubert's Roman Catholic Church. The next junction along is home to the Wernley, a large Sizzling establishment with a bowling green out the back. Built in 1933/34 for Mitchells & Butlers, the pub has achieved listed status as an inter-war roadhouse example of the reformed public house movement. 

- Langley Swimming Centre -
A Warley wiggle involving Clent Road, Pottery Road and George Road allows for further pub pictures (accounting for both the George and the Plough, the latter by Bristnall Fields shops). Langley summons up a couple more targets by way of a parting gift so the swimming baths and the Merrivale (minus D9's favourite closet) also get the WME treatment, then Tat Bank Road transports me through to Oldbury for my train connection home. My latest Langley adventure will therefore go down as one of my favourites, and I expect it won't be too long before I find myself back that way yet again.

Monday, March 13

March Moments

Moving into March then and the month has gotten underway with two noteworthy trips, one in Birmingham and one in Walsall. The Birmingham bash was an eventful Hub Marketing affair, riding around on the Outer Circle bus route while escaping from some particularly miserable weather, whereas the Walsall visit involved sampling the town's salvaged beer festival...

- D9 drives the 11C -
Starting with Friday 3rd March and the Outer Circle extravaganza saw Mr D9 and I completing a full circuit of the famous bus route. There was plenty of scope for the Chairman to demonstrate his driving prowess before the morning included a classic greasy spoon breakfast courtesy of Stan's in Handsworth - Pepsi signs, fried bread and black pudding, what more could anyone ask for?

- WME triumphs 10-2 in the darts duel -
The customary hub darts contest took place over two venues: WME Whirlwind secured a sizeable 6-2 lead in Stockland Green (where the former Stockland pub is now trading again as the Village Green Flaming Grill) which he followed with four unanswered legs at the North Star in Stechford (D9 was probably too busy drooling over the flat roof architecture). The heavy rain didn't stop us from attempting the occasional photo, notably collecting shots of Stechford's supposed village green accompanied by Station Road shops.

- Inn on the Green, Acocks Green -
Talking of greens, Acocks Green provided the thrust of our afternoon investigations where pub possibilities included the Great Western, the Auld Triangle (rechristened from the Red Lion) and the Inn on the Green. The last of those was Birmingham CAMRA branch's Pub of the Year winner in both 2015 and 2016, a real ale pedigree that prompted us to try out the Bitter Brummie and A Stout With No Name. Cracking beer and a real Brum landmark, the pub looks out over the busy Warwick Road roundabout at the heart of the village.

- The Bald Spot taking 'Pride' of place -
Completing the 11C loop involved some evening endeavours in Cotteridge and Selly Oak. Cotteridge Social Club was a real find complete with chintzy furniture and serious scratchings, then the Chairman reminisced about local character the Cotteridge Growler who died recently. The bald spot clocked in outside Cotteridge Shops and there was a dusky photocall at the former Selly Oak bus depot as we recalled memorable drivers of the past. The whole day was rounded off with some curry goat in Handsworth where Mr D9 enthusiastically made the most of some Cross Guns hospitality. 

- BFG in the Black Country Arms -
And so to Walsall where the town's annual beer festival was initially scheduled to be held at the MPV on Intown Row/Whittimere Street. A licensing issue however meant the event could not proceed there but all was not lost - a scaled-down festival was set up at the Black Country Arms instead so that's where Dad, Nick and I were headed on Saturday 11th March. For a salvage situation this was an impressive effort and among the beers we savoured were BFG, Plum Mild, Chocolate Slug Porter, Shakespeare Bard's Best and Salopian Freeze Frame. Talk of Austrian holidays and Engelbert Humperdinck kept us very much entertained although Nick nearly upset the natives by confessing his dislike for rugby!

- Something dark in the Wheatsheaf -
Besides the Black Country Arms, some other Walsall pubs also stepped into the breach by hosting ales originally intended for the MPV. Our itinerary thus took us to the Wheatsheaf and the Victoria (Katz) which between them supplied us with Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, Holdens XB and Church End Gravediggers Mild plus more rugby. A discussion about driverless cars and the welfare state concluded some wide-ranging conversation and we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon. Thanks are therefore due to Walsall CAMRA for their sterling efforts in difficult circumstances - cheers!

Tuesday, February 28

WME Flickr Focus - February 2017

February has been another constructive month on the WME Flickr photostream with a minor flurry of local photos to follow January's examples from further afield. Let's unleash the bullet points!

  • WME Dudley took centre stage this month with the Black Country Living Museum firmly in the spotlight. Various vegetables are therefore joined by general views of Racecourse Colliery and the Lime Kilns, while a West Bromwich Corporation Daimler bus poses outside the Bradburn & Wedge showroom
  • Besides the museum medley, Dudley also contributes a 255 bus on Kingswinford High Street along with the Cobham Arms' dartboard from Howley Grange estate near Halesowen.
  • WME Wolverhampton paid a visit to Bilston in furnishing itself with a cemetery shot, a Metro stop sign and a Trumpet teaser (Holden's jazz pub being a longstanding personal favourite of mine). Blakenhall Library makes an appearance as does the Builders Arms pub sign from Derry Street, All Saints.
  • There are Bloxwich bonuses to report on WME Walsall where a stylised signal outside Bloxwich North Station is accompanied by a memento from the much-lamented Bulls Head, the pub having met its ultimate fate in being flattened last year.
  • Action from WME Birmingham concentrates on Hockley (an illuminated Black Eagle lamp) and Bordesley's station sign although the Post Office Vaults creeps into contention too.
  • WME Warwickshire makes its 2017 debut thanks to a couple of Alcester artefacts - Malt Mill Lane and a twinning mosaic.
  • And finally, solitary shots each for WME Staffordshire (a Banks's sign for the Bull at Codsall) and for WME Shropshire (the Bricklayers Arms on Copthorne Road, a Joules pub in the Shrewsbury suburbs).
The WME photostream now stands at 3,160 published pictures and I hope to continue the steady start to 2017 with further additions through March. Until then, enjoy the photos!

Monday, February 27

Further February Fun

Post number 600 on this here blog brings you details of not one but two February trips. The first saw the Chip Foundation frequenting some classic Black Country pubs whereas the second involved a visit to the Rugby Beer Festival - here come a few potted details for your delectation...

- A (Briar) Rose with a couple of thorns -
The afternoon of Wednesday 22nd February saw the Chip Foundation on Black Country duty, reporting in for lunch at the Rose and Crown in Brierley Hill - we needed a good feed after a long ride on the 255 while the Holden's Tara-A-Bitter also proved worth the bus journey. Brierley Hill High Street is its usual busy self despite a sculptural interlude outside the police station, then we say hello to Thomas Hickinbottom's boxer statue as we make our way to the Delph.

- Bitter and Buffaloes at the Bull & Bladder -
Pub paradise awaits for the rest of the afternoon, starting in the Vine on Delph Road (aka the Bull & Bladder). I've eulogised about this place several times before and on this occasion the Bathams Best Bitter is top notch as we sit in a room dedicated to the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (hence the horns over the fireplace). Switching to Netherton we call into the Old Swan (Ma Pardoe's) for some lovely Dark Swan Mild before setting the world - or at least President Trump - to rights from the safety of the Beacon Hotel snug in Sedgley. Dark Ruby Mild with an accompanying cob proves a most appropriate end to a pretty perfect outing!

- Arnold House -
Fast forward a few days to Saturday 25th February as I join Nick in Rugby for the town's 33rd beer festival. The venue this year is Arnold House, a masonic lodge tucked behind the Merchants Inn where my esteemed colleague is already in situ clutching a Russian Imperial Stout. My ale choices include Cornish Crown Special Pale Ale (from Penzance), Electric Bear's Inspector Remorse (a tasty porter from Bath) and Mr Anderson's Mild (my personal favourite, dark and sweet from Rugby's own Atomic Brewery). Nick meanwhile tumbles into a Quagmire, sips a Sly Rye and ends up manhandling a Fallen Angel, hence I grapple with half of Harlot just so he wasn't having all the fun!

- Beaming in the Bell -
The Merchants Inn and the Rugby Tap are must-do pubs when in Rugby and they both ably step up to the mark. The Merchants offers us Bingham Vanilla Stout and a bit of Six Nations action while the Tap micropub is a sanctuary where we meet Twisted Barrel's Beast of a Midlands Mild, nice! A glance in the Good Beer Guide suggests a visit to Hillmorton might be in order so we hop aboard the 3 for a ride around the local estates. The Stag & Pheasant is an interesting old inn not too far from the canal and then the Bell on High Street provides our GBG tick - Draught Bass plays Adnams Ghost Ship here to fuel us for our respective journeys home. Cheers!

Monday, February 20

Hub Marketing 2017 - Enville and Kinver

Order! Order! It's Friday 17th February 2017 and the Hub Marketing Court is in session as Secretary WME and Chairman D9 cast their judgements over a segment of South Staffordshire. In the dock are the neighbouring villages of Enville and Kinver which together are duly sentenced with hosting our latest explorational experience...

- The Dodger at Stourbridge Town -
Summons have been dispatched in advance so that our trial by transport can commence promptly at 11:30 hours without any need to consult the cob rulebook. A tram ride to The Hawthorns links well for a train connection down to Stourbridge Junction, the journey allowing some preliminary discussion about Kinver's former tramway operations (a Light Railway linked the village with Amblecote between 1901 and 1930). Light rail of a modern persuasion is in evidence on the Stourbridge branch line whereby Mr D9 can enjoy his first ever ride on a class 139 people mover - he was suitably impressed!

- Potters Cross Stores -
Brief refreshments are sought in Stourbridge (courtesy of the Red House Boutique) before the Hansons 228 service conveys our courtly contingent to Kinver. The route visits Wollaston Junction and Stourton then trundles the full length of Kinver High Street to terminate at White Hill. This end of Kinver village is known as Potters Cross so the Secretary sets about procuring photographs of the general stores (containing the local post office), a Methodist Church and the old Crown & Anchor (converted to flats a few years back).

- Animal Antics for the Chairman -
Public transport doesn't extend as far as Enville so Shanks's pony will have to suffice, thankfully the surprisingly mild February weather means it's a nice day for a walk (total distance just over four miles there and back we reckon). Enville Road takes us up past a couple of farms where the D9 bald spot attracts some real equine attention. We then tentatively tiptoe beside the busy A458, the lack of pavement making things a little precarious although we skilfully avoid any onrushing traffic. 

- Going Gothic in the Cat -
The centre of Enville is marked by a war memorial cross and a little green overlooked by the Cat Inn. A large banner proclaims the pub's CAMRA credentials so we simply have to investigate, trooping inside to partake of the Enville Brewery's finest Simpkiss and Gothic ales. Chairman D9 produces a paper periwig when giving the beer his considered seal of approval, then two brewers just happen to wander in so we enjoy a fascinating chat with them learning about the ale production process.

- The Fox, Stourton -
Suitably re-energised by our Cat call we contemplate the return walk to Kinver, the stroll proving relatively relaxing once that tricky stretch of the A458 had been negotiated. Keen to make the most of being in the area, we indulge in a slight detour via Clanbrook Lane to the Fox at Stourton. This is another inn on the main road albeit more isolated than the Cat; the beer garden looks like it would be a nice spot for a summertime drink although the stylish interior is today's setting for samples of Bathams Best Bitter.

- Kinver Constitutional Club -
It isn't too far into Kinver now (passing the High School along the way) and more Bathams is soon on the menu care of the Plough & Harrow - our Bitter here is accompanied by superb snacks, the black pudding pork pie being especially exquisite. We seem to have stumbled upon a little corner of beer heaven this afternoon and next on our agenda is the Kinver Constitutional Club, another place which has been bestowed with many CAMRA awards in recent years. We manage to secure entry, sign the visitors book and delight in some delectable Olde Swan ales of which the Bumblehole was first class. 

- Judiciously driving the 227 -
At the Chairman's request we squeeze in a quick Cross visit (Hobson's Manor Ale) before the final 227 working back to Stourbridge, D9 dressing up for his latest driving duty in (supposedly) full judge's regalia! He is more normally attired for our closing Stourbridge tipples (the Royal Exchange and the Longlands doing the business as evening encroaches), then a scotch-egg fuelled 256 powers us home to Wolverhampton. All of which means that our court proceedings are complete and the Hub Marketing Board is adjourned until our next adventure - cheers!