The Chip Foundation Chronicles crank themselves into gear for another year courtesy of this, our opening entry for 2019 which combines a sprightly South Staffordshire stroll with Black Country beer...
- Bratch Beckons -
Saturday 9th February brings with it fresh and breezy weather as the Chip Foundation cohort congregate at Wolverhampton bus station primed and ready for the 16 bus at 10:05. If the route number sounds unfamiliar that's because we're dealing with a rebadged version of the 256 Stourbridge service, and we're soon hurtling down towards Wombourne passing Nick's former Penn Fields dentists. We alight on Bull Meadow Lane for a quick peek at the village's old railway station before joining the towpath of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Bratch Locks.
- Scarf and Stephen in the Bell -
The Bratch is certainly a photogenic spot as I spring into action trying various angles of the staircase locks and distinctive octagonal tollbooth. We then proceed along the towpath to Awbridge, Stephen noting Beacon Cricket Club on the opposite bank of the canal as one ground he can't recall ever playing or umpiring at. Union Lane leads us past Awbridge Farm to Trysull where the Bell isn't quite open yet. A quick snowdrop-spotting shuffle helps pass the time until midday when the pub welcomes us with the prospect of Golden Glow and Batham's Bitter. Commandeering the tables next to the inglenook fireplace, I show off my new tartan scarf and the conversation turns to porridge, Nick recommending the inclusion of swollen sultanas for anyone considering an oaty breakfast.
- Trysull Village Green -
Our return route to Wombourne takes in Trysull Village Green (complete with fluttering flagpole) and narrow Woodford Lane, crossing the Smestow Brook near a cattery and boarding kennels. Horses peep out over hedgerows as we pass close to a stable yard, then we reach the Ounsdale Road junction in eager anticipation of our second pub. This will be the Round Oak, situated next to Houndel Bridge on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, with Nick forging ahead to make urgent use of the facilities while the rest of us adopt a more leisurely approach. Jennings Cumberland is our ale of choice here, admiring wineglass chandeliers and previewing the weekend's Six Nations rugby action.
- Ounsdale School -
Ounsdale Road is the location for some of Wombourne's key amenities, most notably the local leisure centre, Westfield Community Primary School and Ounsdale High. Another feature is the Mount Pleasant, a standalone brick boozer perched on the crest of a small hill with a sizeable beer garden. Enville Ale or St Austell Tribute are on hand for a reasonably swift half as we leave the regulars to their rugby and find a secluded corner in a room expectantly laid out for a forthcoming function (stacks of plates but the finger food has yet to make an appearance). Our conversation covers politics, the future of libraries and the general state of public sector finances.
- The Old Bush -
We could have made it a trio of Ounsdale Road taverns, however the New Inn by Windmill Bank traffic lights is overlooked in favour of the Old Bush, a wet-led Banks's establishment on Wombourne High Street just along from the Women's Institute Hall. Perhaps its the bench seating, the old-school snug or the Gold Radio Crispian St Peters soundtrack but this place really strikes a chord with me, definitely a Paul kind of pub. Banks's Amber proves a decent drop as we keep Ken abreast of the Birmingham City score, the news from Loftus Road being that Blues are leading QPR 4-0 and it's not even half time!
- St Benedict Biscop -
A visit to Wordsley is next on the ale agenda so we convene outside St Benedict Biscop, Wombourne's parish church; this venerable Victorian landmark is constructed out of pink sandstone and was rebuilt circa 1867 although there has been a church on this site for over a thousand years. The 16 bus behaves itself, conveying us via Wall Heath and Kingswinford to the Bird in Hand which is absolutely heaving. It's great to see a backstreet pub pulling in the punters even if this means standing room only when partaking of some decadent Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter (Tiny Rebel Brewery). Elsewhere QPR are threatening a monumental comeback only for Blues to ultimately prevail 4-3, a win very much to Mr May's satisfaction.
- An Amblecote Swan(song) -
All of which leaves us with Brettell Lane by way of a finale, assuming I can navigate successfully along Oak Park Road as the sun starts to fade. My bearings hold true to reveal a free house favourite, the Swan supplying a peculiarly beguiling mix of chintzy patterned furniture and beer you've never heard of (Exhibit A on this occasion being Kelburn Brewery's Jaguar, golden and grapefruity). In terms of decor this is almost the lounge that taste forgot but the sheer 1970s-ness of it all is curiously captivating. So it goes that our adventure is adjourned here in Amblecote, Nick darting for a Stourbridge-bound 6 whereas the rest of us head homeward to Wolverhampton. Cheers to another Chip Foundation crackerjack!