Wednesday, December 31

A Final Flourish

And so another year of exploration draws to a close, but before 2008 heads off into the sunset completely, I just have time to tell you about a final few gallery updates that managed to squeak through in advance of Big Ben and Auld Lang Syne...

Somewhat surprisingly, WME Shropshire is first up for a mention this time around. This perpetually ignored gallery can now proclaim its first new photo since June, whereby six whole months of inactivity have finally been broken thanks to a photo of the 436 bus calling at Much Wenlock. I'm hoping there might be a couple of Bridgnorth themed additions to follow, but they'll have to wait until 2009.

Another gallery that's been long overdue an update is WME Worcestershire, so its pleasing to report signs of life here also. I've added a new Evesham Station collection with the two starter shots being a general station view and a photo of the station totem sign. I think these are my first Evesham area photos to make the cut, so its good to get another location into the mix and ensure that more of the county is being represented, even if it is just on a small scale to begin with.

There are new collections to report too on WME Dudley, whereby the local content here has been enhanced by the inclusion of Exploring Gornal Wood and Exploring Daisy Bank. Gornal Wood has long been a favourite Black Country haunt of mine, and whilst I have less affection for Daisy Bank, I am somewhat concerned that my photo of the local Netto store may have started me off on a mission to take photos of other budget supermarkets across the West Midlands!

There aren't any supermarket appearances to report from WME Wolverhampton, so you'll have to console yourselves with a new Exploring Parkfield collection (two photos of Thompson Avenue open space, not very exciting to tell the truth) and a couple of additions to Exploring Bradmore (extra views of the Mitre pub and Bantock House). Elsewhere, Hinksford Lock is the latest Staffs & Worcs Canal location to feature on WME Staffordshire; the site of the old Stag pub post-demolition joins the Exploring Blakenall section of WME Walsall; and WME Sandwell now boasts a view of Jubilee Park - yes, that's a photo on Exploring Tipton that doesn't feature a pub!

And that is almost that, save for one final note. The updates spotlight also found time to fall on WME Solihull, where the Marston Green Tavern makes its long awaited debut on Exploring Marston Green. I've taken a number of photos of this pub down the years, but none had ever stuck until now, with the photo in question being a January 2008 shot taken during a Boon tour with Rog and Woody. The lesson here is that sometimes you just have to keep plugging away and eventually you might get there. Anyway, my New Year's Eve festivities are beckoning, so I bid you all farewell until next year...

Wednesday, December 24

Norbury Junction

Monday 22nd December, as Dad and I decided to escape the pre-Christmas rush by visiting the altogether more gentle surroundings of Norbury Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal. The junction is in quite a remote spot, not too far from Newport or Gnosall, but accessed by narrow country lanes leading through Norbury Village and down to the canal itself.

Parking up, I was immediately intrigued by the Junction Inn pub and a collection of wharf buildings and British Waterways workshops. There were also a number of narrowboats and barges in attendance, some gleaming in the watery sunshine and others looking rather rusty and neglected - needless to say, I couldn't resist getting a few photos. One whitewashed wharf building particularly caught my eye, it contained a cafe at one end, a chandlery at the other and a shop in the middle selling Calor Gas and Cornettos - now there's an exotic combination!! We then began our walk, which took us off by some trout fisheries where it became so muddy we had no choice but to turn back, pausing momentarily to have a look at the impressive canal embankment which I understand was quite a feat of engineering when first constructed.

Returning to the junction, we were able to have a closer look at Bridge 38 and ponder whether to pop into the pub for a quick pint, only to discover it was closing at 3pm. We continued along the towpath to investigate the main junction bridge - this is where the Newport Branch leaves the main Shropshire Union, albeit only a short arm remains and access to that is restricted. The branch closed many years ago but some sections have been restored, including the bit at Newport that I explored back in May. With a bit of time still to spare, we explore the canal back the other way as we headed beyond Bridge 38 towards Market Drayton. This gave us a closer look at the long-term moorings area, a charming scene made complete with little puffs of smoke drifting out from boat chimneys every now and again. Soon enough it was time to be on our way, although I now felt refreshed and ready to face the crowds again. Last minute Christmas shopping here I come!!

Thursday, December 11

Countdown to Christmas

I thought it was about time I brought you up to date with the latest news from WME, although in all honesty there isn't that much to report. At the moment I am concentrating on the WME Canal Register - things had stalled for a while, but I've now compiled the register up until March 2008 and hope to fill in the rest of the year pretty quickly. This has meant that work on the WME galleries has once again gone on the back burner, although I've been considering a change of approach to try and get more of my photos online. As things stand, a tiny fraction of my archive has made the cut, and I do wonder if I'm being far too selective when testing photos on WME1.

Exploration wise its been fairly quiet. I've done a couple of walks with Dad, including an autumn special investigating Bishops Wood, Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory for some Staffordshire history. There have also been a couple of mini-local adventures exploring Daisy Bank and Long Knowle to keep the photos ticking over. I don't anticipate there being too much to report trips wise between now and the new year, as Christmas shopping will have to take priority because I'm in danger of leaving everything til the last minute as usual!

Finally, a couple of news items that have caught my eye recently. Following on from the Dudley Bus Network Review earlier this year, Solihull is due to have its local bus network overhauled come January. The details are still being finalised, but it seems a number of current routes will be replaced with localised Solihull services (S1, S2, S3 and so forth). Hopefully I might get a chance to record the crossover period and add to my Solihull bus photos in the process. You might also recall me discussing a number of library closures as part of library modernisation in Dudley some time ago - well it seems Wolverhampton Council may be following suit. Budgetary issues mean the Council has to make significant savings which could result in the closure of Bradmore, Daisy Bank, Mary Pointon, Oxley and Scotlands & Underhill libraries, although any proposals are subject to scrutiny and consultation. Of these, Oxley particularly catches my eye as it was a library I visited as a kid, so it holds a few sentimental memories for me. It could be worth monitoring events to see what happens...

Friday, November 28

Solihull and Spring Road

When I first started the WME Blogspot back in May 2006 I rather doubted whether the blog would last five minutes, so it is with some considerable surprise that over two years later I find myself putting together my 150th blog posting - where has the time gone? 2009 is advancing steadily on the horizon, but there's still life in 2008 yet as was ably demonstrated by today's outing exploring Solihull, Damsonwood and Springfield.

I must admit I've rather neglected Solihull of late, so it was good to be back exploring the town centre and the station interchange. I investigated a couple of paths around the back end of the station, then headed along Homer Road passing important looking office buildings. On Herbert Road I found the Coach House to get the pub photos off and running, then I did a little loop of Station Road, Poplar Road and the High Street - Brueton Gardens were a nice discovery, still looking neat on a cold November morning, and the Masons Arms continued the pub shots up by the church. Next came Touchwood, a busy shopping mall gearing up for Christmas, followed by Library Square where Santa's Grotto was already proving popular. After a quick look in the library it was back down Homer Road past the court and the police station, thus completing a solid tour of the town centre.

After a frustrating time battling sun glare at Solihull Station I caught the 76 up to Damsonwood, providing a useful reminder of Elmdon Heath and landmarks such as the Greville Arms. I did attempt a bus shot at Damsonwood terminus before crossing over for a couple of pictures of the Old Colonial. It was then into the estate to track down some lunch and get shots of the Golden Acres pub on Rowood Drive. I had intended to investigate the Grand Union Canal but had to content myself with a couple of photos at Damson Lane Bridge before catching the 76 back into Solihull (via Hermitage Road with glimpses of a Thwaites pub and the local ambulance station).

Back at Solihull Station I had time to attempt some more bus photos, with the sun thankfully being more co-operative. The 37 came in for some attention whilst I tried to dodge the army of bus cleaners dedicated to the route. My next target was the 41 route for a ride up to the College Arms via Streetsbrook Road and Gospel Oak, where the landmark Oak pub is yet another to have closed and become an eyesore, very depressing. Springfield was a bit of a bottleneck thanks to Stratford Road congestion, so I only stayed long enough to catch a glimpse of the primary school and zoom a shot or two of the College Arms itself (at least the pub was still open in this case).

My final target of the day was Spring Road Station, but first I had to negotiate Shaftmoor Lane. It was only half past two but already the light was going with the sky ominously clouding over. The Shaftmoor pub caught my eye, as did the old Denso factory, another depressing site where one of the gates had become a dumping ground for all manner of rubbish. Spring Road Station itself did little to lift the gloom - the station is a bit of an eyesore with a rusty corrugated hut guarding the main entrance followed by a portakabin style ticket office. The scene is completed by the multistorey monstrosity that is Denso's car park forming a tunnel over the far end of the platforms. Its hardly inspiring in terms of railway architecture, but I quite relished the chance to get a few photos and could even see myself becoming rather fond of the place in future. I'll certainly have to make a repeat visit as my train turned up almost immediately, thus bringing the curtain down on another adventure. And there you have it, Blog Post No. 150 safely in the bag and Solihull back on the WME radar - not bad for a day's work!

Wednesday, November 12

New for November

Updates to the WME galleries have been even fewer and further between than usual over the last few months, with the odd few crumbs cascading through but nothing more. By way of rectifying the situation, I have been busy putting together a series of updates to get things back on an even keel. Let's see what's been happening...

For once, I'm going to start with WME Coventry, a gallery that had been particularly neglected for the best part of six months (ouch!). My recent visit gave me the impetus to add a bit of new content, notably a new Exploring Tile Hill North collection featuring the local library and Jardine Crescent shops. The previous Exploring Tile Hill collection has been renamed Exploring Tile Hill South and now boasts an extra view of the shops on Station Avenue. Canley Station now features a new train photo and a look at part of the huge station footbridge, whilst a rather familiar station sign crops up again on Tile Hill Station. Coventry by Bus hasn't escaped my attention either, and I'm particularly pleased to present a brace of photos from Tanyard Farm, one of the 32 and one of the 33. Whether this makes up for me ignoring the gallery for so long I'm not really sure, but its good to see some signs of life at long last.

It won't surprise you to discover that WME Wolverhampton and WME Birmingham have been amongst the biggest November gainers. WME Wolves returns to form thanks to a new Exploring Springfield collection containing photos of a footbridge and the community centre and not a Simpson in sight! On the bus front there's a shot of the 283 at Bilston Bus Station whilst Exploring Bradmore has been especially active, the new additions here feature Bantock House, Bradmore Recreation Ground and the Critchley Hardware shop on Oxbarn Avenue.

Did I mention WME Birmingham? There are two exciting new collections to report here. Exploring Selly Oak begins to capture another haunt from my university days, although the photos of Muntz Park and the Country Girl pub are of a more recent vintage. Then we have Exploring West Heath, where the Fordrough pub makes its WME bow alongside two photos of the shed otherwise known as West Heath Library. Add in a platform view at Bournville Station and further shots of Mary Vale Bridge and Selly Manor, and things are coming together again.

Also taking its rightful place in the spotlight is WME Walsall. Two rather mundane views of Pool Hayes Bridge have joined the Wyrley & Essington Canal collection, but for me the pleasing additions are the arrival of a 348a Pelsall Wood shot on Walsall by Bus and the Royal George pub on Exploring Willenhall. The former brings back fond memories of discovering Pelsall Wood terminus, whereas the latter captures a useful landmark and offers some variety by virtue of not being a photo of the Lock Museum.

Elsewhere, WME Dudley welcomes the latest in a growing series of Lower Gornal Post Office shots (I'm up to number 4 now, although the shop is now News Express courtesy of the Co-op), WME Solihull gets its latest Shirley Station bus stop shot, and WME Sandwell gets pub photos in the form of the Railway Tavern at Oldbury and the Old Crown, a surprise discovery near Great Bridge Library.

So there you have it, contain your excitement please! I still hope to have a few more bits and pieces up my sleeve, but keeping the updates coming in the long term rather depends on how much chance I get to release stuff from my archive. It feels at times like I take hundreds of photos a month but nothing ever gets through onto the site - still, I'll keep on plugging away and hopefully the few photos that do squeak in are proving worth the wait.

Tuesday, November 4

Halloween Happenings

I don't suppose I've ever done a Halloween exploration before, so last Friday's outing was something of a first for me. My choice of destination turned out to be surprisingly appropriate as I ended up investigating some of the less glamorous areas of Coventry, namely terrifying Tile Hill and bloodcurdling Bell Green...

Tile Hill has long been an exploration favourite of mine, although I usually concentrate on the railway station and Tile Hill South. Both were present again this time around, with Station Avenue shops and the Bell pub once more featuring prominently, but I also took the opportunity to venture into Tile Hill North.

I'd been through the estate on the old 34 route some years back, so I had some vague knowledge with which to home in on Jardine Crescent. My eye was caught first by the futuristic looking library building, then the distinctive local shopping precinct. I also had a look around Limbrick Wood, then investigated the site of an old pub on the corner of Jobs Lane - I'm not sure what the name was so feel free to enlighten me! Finally I settled in at the turning circle waiting to get photos of the 33 on layover, with the bus driver obliging happily and me feeling highly satisfied with my morning's work. I actually found myself quite liking Tile Hill North - I've heard the place has something of a reputation, but in the cool sunshine of an autumnal morning it made for some decent local exploration.

Having got photos of the 33, I boarded the bus for the journey across city to Bell Green. The route made for an interesting ride, down along Tile Hill Lane past the Newlands, then negotiating Hearsall Common and the Butts. From Pool Meadow the route then took in Gosford Green and Stoke, before heading up Ansty Road into Walsgrave. There were some intriguing photo targets for future reference, including the Walsgrave pub and the Red Lion near the church. Finally the route wiggles through Henley Green before setting down on Roseberry Avenue so I could finally brave Bell Green.

If I thought Jardine Crescent had a reputation, this is nothing compared to the advance impression I'd been given of Bell Green as some kind of hellhole. That particular description might be slightly harsh, but I certainly didn't enjoy my visit. The morning sunshine of Tile Hill had given way to a grim overcast afternoon, and the bitter wind howling through the Riley Square precinct did little to improve matters. The precinct seemed sadly depressing, with rundown shops tucked beneath blocks of flats - I didn't feel that safe and certainly didn't want to risk taking too many photos. This was quite frustrating as there is some exciting potential here for bus photography, with the 10 and 33 both terminating whilst the 21 and a couple of de Courcey Tesco routes also pass through. As such, perhaps it would be better for me to reserve judgement and try again another day. Even so, I'm not in any hurry whatsoever to make my return visit.

Instead, I made my escape via the form of a route 10 Metrobus, giving me a glimpse of the wider estate before heading out past Wyken Croft and the Devonshire Arms. Relieved at leaving Bell Green behind, I settled in for a classic Metrobus ride back through Gosford Green, and by the time I got to Pool Meadow the sun had come back out again - something of a spooky coincidence perhaps?? At the risk of further horrors, I caught the 85 Travel de Courcey route to Coventry Station in plenty of time for a quiet train ride home, and so ended an eventful Halloween outing. Lets now hope for some gallery update fireworks with which to celebrate Bonfire Night!

Sunday, October 26

And the trips kept coming...

On the surface, things have been very quiet at WME of late, with barely a gallery update or a blog message for around three weeks - even by my standards this is quite a drought! It may therefore surprise you to learn that I have actually been very busy recently, culminating in the last week or so when I have completed a remarkable eight outings in nine days. October has always traditionally been a good month for exploring, trying to cram in some precious outings before the light goes and the winter sets in, but I think my recent activities have set a new benchmark that is unlikely to be beaten (though it could be fun trying!). Here's what I've been up to...

Friday 17th - a West Midlands local, beginning in Shirley with a look at the fascinating Shirley Drawbridge on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Solihull Lodge, the 49 bus and West Heath preceded a cracking ride on the 627 route around the estates of Rubery. After a quick visit to Morrisons, I caught the 86 across to South Woodgate from where I could walk down to Bartley Green and add to my library photos collection. The 22 then provided new insight on Harborne, and I finished off with a ride home on the 79, enduring the Friday afternoon traffic through Handsworth and West Bromwich.

Sunday 19th - the latest addition to the Dad Walks repertoire saw us do a circular stroll around Trysull, making the most of some autumn sunshine and washing things down with a nice pint at The Bell, a popular Holden's local in the heart of the village.

Monday 20th - Rail Rover Week is go! The annual look at the railways of the wider Midlands area had been postponed from March, but October did the job just nicely. My first port of call this year was the Potteries, exploring Stoke Town Centre (i.e. Stoke itself, not Hanley) and walking up the Trent & Mersey Canal through Etruria, Middleport and Longport. The canal discoveries continued at Kidsgrove, where I investigated Harecastle Tunnel, before I pitched up at Longton only to find my train was delayed. Just to make matters worse, the heavens opened as I navigated my way through Fenton and I got absolutely drenched. A ride on the X1 Bakerbus took me to Stafford Station and completed an eventful day of Staffordshire exploration.

Tuesday 21st - Tradition has it that the Tuesday of Rail Rover Week always involves a visit to Shrewsbury and a ride around Shropshire and Wales, and who am I to argue? Following neatly in the footsteps of Church Stretton and Craven Arms was Wem, a charming rural town where I felt right at home. Heading back through Shrewsbury my next stop was Gobowen, where I grabbed some lunch and admired the impressive former station house. The undoubted highlight of the day though was my visit to Chirk, crossing over the border into Wales for a sneaky look at Chirk Aqueduct although I wasn't brave enough to walk across! Chirk Tunnel is but a stone's throw away, and together the structures have made me determined to explore more of the Llangollen Canal. I also found time to enjoy a relaxed stroll around the town centre, where the Hand Hotel looked like a prominent historic coaching inn and the curious smell of chocolate hung in the air. Finally it was back to the station for a ride on the Wrexham & Shropshire service direct to Wolverhampton - very handy that!

Wednesday 22nd - a visit to the Cotswolds via Worcestershire. Foregate Street got me off and running, and after a little detour to Worcester Library I made my way to Great Malvern to get further photos of one of my favourite stations. I then had my first experience of the line between Worcester and Oxford - part of the line is single track only, meaning we had to wait at Evesham for a late running train to pass through first, not that I minded as I hopped off for a few cheeky platform shots! Moreton-in-Marsh provided my taste of the Cotswolds, the distinctive stone buildings set off wonderfully by the bright sunshine and golden leaves, making it two days running where I couldn't have wished for better weather. Another stop at Worcester on the way back, this time at Shrub Hill, gave me the chance to track down the Lea & Perrins factory before heading home.

Thursday 23rd - Derbyshire at its best with a visit to Matlock and Matlock Bath. The wind was blowing a gale and it was gloomy, overcast and freezing but this only added to the drama of exploring the Derwent Valley Line, perhaps my favourite out of all the routes I've tried so far. The views were glorious and I'm excited by future prospects for exploring Belper, Cromford and Whatstandwell. It was also nice to return to Derby, where the station is still a building site, and to have a quick look at Burton, where I enjoyed taking photos despite the station being ugly and somewhat overgrown in places.

Friday 24th - finishing off Rail Rover 2008 with a touch of Warwickshire and Leicestershire. The Warwickshire element saw me hit Bedworth - the station is a basic unstaffed halt, but the town was nice enough and provided the chance to photo the 56 route, curiously branded as 'the Matrix'. After a brief flirtation with Nuneaton, I found myself at Leicester admiring the grand station frontage and scuttling around the city centre in a somewhat dazed fashion. My route home took me to Rugeley Trent Valley, dashing for photos of the Yorkshireman pub so that I wouldn't miss the Walsall train. I needn't have rushed, the brakes on the train had jammed and we didn't get moving for nearly half an hour! At least the wait gave me time to reflect on what had been an excellent series of trips, making the most of largely fine weather and exploring a wide geographical area - bring on Rail Rover 2009!

Saturday 25th - a somewhat madcap day accompanying Bruce the Bear (and a certain Mr Rog) on a tour of the West Midlands. Bruce found himself at Molineux Stadium, then somewhat reluctantly at the Hawthorns, before trying to kickstart a TV Career by presenting the news and weather at the BBC's Mailbox base in Birmingham. We also called in at the Anchor in Digbeth, the Baldwin in Hall Green and the Bridge at Langley Green - well we couldn't have Bruce going thirsty now could we? I have a feeling I'm going to be hearing a lot more from that bear...

So there it is, an epic week or so of top class exploration and fun. After all that gallivanting its time to return to the day job, and to turn my attention back to some gallery updates. Or maybe I just need a holiday to recover from my week off!!

Sunday, October 5

Great Wyrley, Landywood & Cheslyn Hay

Well we're into October now, autumn has well and truly arrived and there was a distinct chill in the air as another month of outings began with a Staffordshire special. My destination was Landywood so I could experience another Green Bus adventure before getting some local photos of Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay - here's what I got up to...

  • Start off at School Street, by Wolverhampton Market, to wait for my Green Bus to Landywood.
  • The 9 - an interesting ride up through Fallings Park, Essington and Cheslyn Hay, with the section around Landywood Station and Wardles Lane in Great Wyrley proving particularly intriguing. The bus itself was one of the old Green Bus minibuses, complete with seatbelts and padded safety rails, making for a nice contrast with the more modern fleets of other operators.
  • Jacobs Hall Lane - the route 9 terminus, with the bus effectively dropping me off outside a house before darting into the Green Bus Garage. The garage itself was a nice discovery but I didn't want to chance any photos, so a return visit might well be required to properly get to grips with the place.
  • Great Wyrley - taking photos of the pubs on the A34 Walsall Road, including the Wheatsheaf, the Star and the Swan. The local park also catches my eye, but the gates to the memorial area are locked so I couldn't get a closer look. I head into the local estate, finding the old library on Johns Lane - the building is a bit of a shed so I'm not surprised it closed, although it appears to have largely escaped subsequent vandalism. The new library is in one of the shop units at Wardles Lane Precinct, and provides my next port of call along with taking photos of the Davy Lamp pub.
  • Landywood Station - a visit to each platform either side of lunch. The station is basic and unstaffed but made for a pleasant spot in the sunshine, whiling away the minutes before pouncing for a train photo or two.
  • Cheslyn Hay - a chance to add to my previous photos of the village, with the war memorial, Talbot pub and Colliers Arms once again capturing my attention. I add in photos of the Co-op and a local butchers for good measure, before tracking down a pub I didn't photograph last time - the Mary Rose on Moons Lane. The pub is hidden behind a screen of foliage but looks quite inviting, and is handily placed next to the footpath leading to the Wyrley Branch.
  • Wyrley Branch - time for a gentle afternoon stroll along the remains of the old canal, which provides time to relax, think and enjoy the peace and tranquility. The way the light mingles through the leaves and reflects off the water was quite enchanting in places, inspiring me to attempt some photos of woodland scenes and becalmed pools. Baker Bridge was a favourite spot last time around, and once again offers shots of the traditional brickwork being enveloped in greenery.
  • Essington Springhill - I leave the canal at Long Lane in order to continue my mission for pub photos. My target this time is the Why Not on Broad Lane, a pub I have long been aware of but it can be awkward to get to, so I was delighted to add it to my collection.
  • Mossley - a little bit of Walsall exploration to close with, adding another layer to my many visits to the Mossley estate. The 301 provides a bonus bus photo at the Eagle terminus, although the pub is boarded up awaiting sale, sadly looking set to be another casualty of a growing pub crisis that is claiming ever more of our community landmarks on a weekly basis. I roll back the years with a walk down Tintern Crescent, and am pleased to find that the Leathern Bottle is still open down by the local shops. The 560 completes the job with an Arriva run back to Wolverhampton.

So thats another trip safely filed away, setting the standard for what will hopefully be a busy month, weather permitting of course. I seem to have been using my old haunts to good effect recently, revisiting places to update my photo archive and branching off to make extra discoveries I might have missed previously. I wonder which explored or undiscovered areas will be next for the WME treatment?

Wednesday, October 1

About Time Too...

Sometimes test photos can become marooned on WME1 for ages, years even, so it's always that little bit extra-special when I finally get to home such photos properly. Today then is particularly encouraging, as not one but two of my steadfast WME1 mainstays have been resolved as part of a good session for gallery development...

The photos concerned are two Brumtest stalwarts that are now featuring proudly on WME Birmingham. The first is Highfield Road Shops, which has been joined by a view of Trittiford Mill Park in comprising a new Exploring Yardley Wood collection. Yardley Wood is a place that evokes so many fond memories of Birmingham exploration that it demands inclusion on WME Brum, and thankfully it has now taken its rightful place on the gallery.

The same can be said for Hall Green, which holds a similar nostalgic status as one of the key foundations upon which my explorations of Birmingham have been based. The new Exploring Hall Green collection features the second longstanding Brumtest regular, an August 2005 photo of The Baldwin pub, along with another Baldwin photo and a view of Hall Green Library. It's only a start of course, but having Hall Green and Yardley Wood represented with local photos gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Elsewhere, a photo of Aldridge Road Bridge has joined the fledgling Tame Valley Canal collection, and there's further good news from WME Telford. The Oakengates Station collection (like much of the gallery really) has effectively been dormant for some considerable time, so the addition of a train photo breathes a little new life into proceedings - and about time too! This all means that the October updates are off to a solid start, and we'll see where things go from there...

Tuesday, September 23

More Milestone Musings

WME gallery landmarks seem to be much like buses - nothing for ages, then two come together. So it transpires that, hot on the heels of WME Birmingham's 250 photo celebrations, I find myself now congratulating WME Sandwell on reaching the not-insignificant landmark of 150 photos.

This turn of events has been brought about by a smattering of new additions. Exploring Black Patch marks the inclusion of an intriguing corner of Smethwick notable for Black Patch Park and the Soho Foundry, with my photos predictably focusing on the park. Elsewhere, Hamstead Village terminus is now represented on Sandwell by Bus as both the 425 and the 654 routes make an appearance, and there's another Smethwick Junction shot on the Old Birmingham Main Line for you to investigate at your leisure. Indeed, now that the canal collections are taking shape, WME Sandwell is becoming one of my better rounded local galleries thanks to its vaguely balanced diet of rail, bus, canal and local offerings.

As is customary at times like these, I should also mention update news from the other galleries. A casual glance at WME Dudley reveals two new additions to Dudley by Bus, with Stourbridge Bus Station once again hogging the limelight. Exploring Stafford has also been in action over at WME Staffordshire - I offer you two views of the 'Waiting to Bowl' sculpture at Victoria Park. WME Walsall gets an extra view of Pelsall Junction on the Wyrley & Essington Canal, and - shock horror! - I even bring tidings from WME Telford. Yes, the Wellington Station collection has a new station entrance photo - nothing too exciting but you can't have everything. With all this in mind, I'm off to see what'll come next, a bus or another laudable landmark. I just hope I don't have to wait too long...

Sunday, September 21

Almost Like Summer...

Like most people recently I've been wondering what's happened to the sunshine. Seemingly endless weeks of drizzle, rain and overcast conditions have rather turned the summer of 2008 into something of a damp squib - I shouldn't complain too much as I've still got out and about exploring with some regularity, but I must admit its been nice to have a little run of fine weather just lately...

Indeed, it was almost like summer as I made the most of the brightness with a good little outing Friday just gone. For starters I headed over to Sutton Coldfield - the town is one of the pillars of my exploration history, and it had been far too long since my last visit. I was pleased to find that the train station had lost none of its traditional charm, and then I made my way to King Edward Square for a look at the imposing town hall and war memorial, a real gem of a photo location. A gentle wander past Mill Street memorial gardens and down Trinity Hill brought me to Lower Parade, scene of so many memories and the gateway to several exciting bus adventures. This time around I found myself catching the 902 towards Hill Hook, providing a steady ride up past the college and through Four Oaks.

Mere Green was my next port of call, alighting for a quick shot of the Halfway House pub before investigating the local community based around the traffic island. Its quite a busy spot with roads branching off like spokes on a bicycle wheel, coupled with the hustle and bustle of the local shops and services. My eye was particularly caught by Barley's Bar, Lloyds TSB and Barclays neighbouring each other in a single bank building, and the post office tucked away on Lichfield Road. Heading down Mere Green Road, I find myself on the car park of Sainsbury's supermarket just in time to get a photo of the Midlands Rider 105 Sainsbury's Shuttle service - a most unexpected bonus considering I didn't even know the route existed! The customary visit to the local library came next - the building seemed new and purpose-built, with the library taking the first floor above the community centre. Then it was back to the island to wait for a bus, wondering which route would be first on the scene and what places I might be encountering next as a result.

The answer came in the form of the 366, providing a good old Metrobus on the ride through Little Aston into Aldridge. Alighting on Anchor Road, I hoped the 381 might be due as I quite fancied having a look at Shenstone - it wasn't, but no matter as my contigency plan well and truly came up trumps. So it was that I renewed my acquaintance with the Daw End Branch Canal, making the most of the bright sunshine with a cracking towpath walk. Joining the branch at Aldridge Wharf Bridge, I decided to head towards Rushall thus entering new territory as the canal weaves through industrial estates forming a green oasis amongst the workshops and factory units. Hopleys Bridge was a rather ugly and graffiti-riddled discovery, but Brawns Bridge was an altogether much more charming spot where the traditional bridge is set amongst quiet greenery overlooked by an old-fashioned canalside cottage. When doing my canal walks, it is precisely this type of location I am always hoping to find and I couldn't have wished for better.

My work on the Daw End thus completed, I ventured into the nearby Barns Lane estate for a spot of lunch along with a look at the local shops and the Farmers Boy pub. With the 997 bus conspicuous by its absence, I walked it into the centre of Rushall to renew my acquaintance with the war memorial and the library before pondering what my next move might be. The 394 was quickly on the scene, providing another Metrobus experience on the journey up to Brownhills.

From this point on, the trip focused on old haunts rather than new discoveries. I left the 394 at Anchor Bridge to join the Wyrley & Essington Canal, thus returning to one of my favourite stretches of the canal network. Flanked by Lindon Road, the canal arrives at Catshill Junction where I attempt the latest in a long line of shots of the junction bridge and signpost. The canal continues round towards Brownhills Market, where I'm greeted with a surprise - the old market footbridge has gone, replaced with a brand spanking new footbridge with long ramps sprawling out at either end. It goes to show that even the most familiar locations can undergo changes from time to time, so its always worth coming back for another look.

I finish off with photos of the market place - no market on a Friday so I have to make do with the skeletons of the stalls - and a glimpse of the sorry-looking old Brownhills clinic. Its replacement - the new health centre - is part of the Park View Centre alongside the relocated Brownhills Library, a nice joint facility that brings the old Town Hall back into use. The centre is my final call before I dash down to Pelsall Road in time for the 23 Green Bus to collect me on its way into Bloxwich (Mallory Crescent looks like an intriguing estate for future reference). And that was that - another Friday epic covering areas of Birmingham and Walsall. Now if only the sun can stay out for a few more weeks, we might just have a productive autumn...

Monday, September 15

The WME Canal Register

A recent walk along the Walsall Canal round the back end of Darlaston set me thinking about just how much of the local canal network I've actually explored. Casting my mind back, I reckoned I must have covered many miles of current waterways, not to mention occasionally tracking down the remnants of those that became abandoned and disused. When I got back home I decided to investigate my canal history a bit more closely, thus sowing the seeds for a new project - the WME Canal Register.

I must admit that the register is a bit of an obsessive indulgence on my part - I doubt anybody else will find it in the slightest bit interesting, but I'm rather enjoying going back down memory lane and putting the pieces together. Indeed, I've been genuinely surprised at just how much canal exploring I've done - and how much I'd forgotten - as the list of canals I'd sampled kept on steadily growing before my eyes. Sure, the likes of the Staffs & Worcs and the Wyrley & Essington have long been the bedrock of my canal exploits, but it was good to remind myself of fragments of other canals such as the Stratford-upon-Avon or the Cannock Extension.

Putting the register together has given me the chance to tentatively explore Google Docs. I've kept things really basic, but I do like the option of linking between documents to effectively create a website, and it should also prove handy having the register online when I'm writing the commentaries for future WME photo updates. At the moment, the register consists of a front page providing a basic listing of canals, from where you can click through to the individual canal page for a quick intro, a summary of the sections I've explored and notes about any relevant significant outings I've done.

I must stress that the register (like the WME galleries) is very much a work in progress. I have only got as far as December 2006 in terms of recording my exploits, so I need to bring things much more up to date. I will then look to add in more background to the canals (maybe researching the history, routes, mileage etc), and perhaps be a bit more descriptive by rabbiting on about what the canals mean to me personally, whether it be childhood memories or more recent walks braving various weather conditions whilst on the lookout for photo opportunities. I will chip away as and when I can, and am looking forward to seeing the register develop into a comprehensive record that maybe just might prove to be of interest to people other than myself! For anyone who might be curious (you fools!!!), I've placed a link to the register as part of my blog links on the right hand side of the page...

Sunday, September 7

WME Landmark Latest

Updates at WME Towers are still crawling along at a snail's pace, but I can at least report some good news having reached another gallery landmark. WME Birmingham has finally broken through the 250 photo barrier thanks to a couple of new collections.

A new waterway joins the canal contingent as the Tame Valley Canal makes its first WME appearance. The photos focus on the section through Perry Barr and Tower Hill, thus comprising views of Perry Barr Locks and Freeth Bridge - a useful start and I hope further photos will follow given time. The other new collection is Exploring Old Oscott, which should eventually provide a handy snapshot of the local estate. Two views of the Kingfisher pub get things off and running, and again I hope to flesh things out in future.

By reaching the 250 photo landmark, WME Birmingham cements its place as one of the bigger photo galleries - still some way behind WME Wolverhampton but with a healthy lead over WME Staffordshire. Despite this I feel that I have barely scratched the surface in terms of representing the city through photography, although today's new collections slot a couple more pieces of the puzzle into place. There's still a lot of work to be done...

Wednesday, September 3

A Maypole Dance

Yesterday saw me back on the Birmingham beat enjoying a classic outing during which I explored Northfield, Rednal, Selly Oak and the Maypole. Here's what I got up to...

Northfield - returning to Northfield was like visiting an old friend. Beginning at the station, I got a couple of train and station entrance shots whilst a ginger tom cat prowled the car park. Then it was a walk up to St Lawrence's Church for photos of the lich gate, the Great Stone pub and the village pound. I called in at Northfield Library before arriving at the Bell to observe the hustle and bustle of the Bristol Road whilst waiting for my bus to come.

635 - I was planning on catching the 62 down to Rednal, but the route seemed to be avoiding me (and not for the first time!) Instead I caught the 635 across to the Maypole, an intriguing winding route that covered a number of residential streets. Woodlands Road took us past Northfield Station, then its Middlemore Road into Wychall. Next its through a new housing estate, round West Heath Park and up the Fordrough past the shed-like library. West Heath Island is followed by West Heath Hospital, Aversley Road and then we venture through Pool Farm and up to Bells Lane. As a final surprise we run the gauntlet of Manningford Road with its plethora of speed bumps before arriving at the Maypole. An interesting ride, and there's still the return section back to Northfield to explore.

Maypole - An unexpected bonus which turned into a prized sample of Birmingham exploration. I was immediately in action taking a photo of a Choice 635 on layover, albeit a different bus to the one I had caught. I then had a look around the local shops, including the Maypole Chippy and a Barclays Bank, before spotting Idmiston Croft and a curious glazed building that turned out to be Druids Heath Library. Now I often like to track down local libraries whenever I'm exploring a new location, but this discovery was more of a happy accident - as it happens, the library is quite a new building with a friendly local feel inside. Making my way back to the bus stops, I was pondering over my next move when the 634 arrived, so I hopped on board for a ride back to Northfield doing the reverse of the 635 journey I had just encountered.

Rednal & Cofton Hackett - Back at Northfield then, where thankfully I had more luck catching the 62 this time. Last time I was down Longbridge way the old Rover buildings were still in place, so I was quite shocked to see much of the site had been flattened. I renewed my acquaintance with Rednal terminus and the Old Hare and Hounds pub, before making my way around Cofton Hackett. I had heard the local library here had closed due to vandalism and asbestos, but was surprised to find an empty patch of grass where the building once stood - I was quite fond of the old shed too, but I suppose you can't take any chances once asbestos has been discovered. I have a look at the old Rednal tram terminus tracks, pause for a spot of lunch and then make my way down Leach Green Lane into Rubery. This turned into something of a dash when the heavens opened, so I quickly tracked down the 63 and prepared to head home thinking that was that.

Selly Oak - The outing wasn't quite over though, as the sky seemed to be clearing heading back down the Bristol Road. By Selly Oak it was bright sunshine again, so it was on with the show! I took the opportunity to get a few pictures of a sodden swamp-like Selly Oak Park, before completing a trio of library visits with a look at the imposing Selly Oak facility complete with traditional library atmosphere, musty smells and wooden shelving. Next I brave Graffiti Central, otherwise known as Bournbrook Recreaton Ground, where the place is plastered with colourful street art that only just about outnumbers the utterly useless 'No graffiti' signs. A walk through the University of Birmingham campus completes proceedings, and its nice to roll back the years, waiting on University Station for my train home.

A fine example of Birmingham exploration there, even if I do say so myself. The outing proved instantly memorable, and followed neatly in the footsteps of many other favourite trips. My September explorations are off to a great start, now I just need to sort the site out...

Saturday, August 30

A Series of Mini Updates

As promised its time to reflect on the latest happenings at the WME galleries, and in a curious echo of my recent explorations, site updates have been small scale and steady rather than big hitting blockbusters...

First off, its good news for WME Sandwell. After a while in the doldrums, the gallery has burst back into life with some new canal content. The Dudley No. 2 Canal makes a welcome appearance in the guise of Wrights Bridge and Gosty Hill Bridge; a useful view of the striking Engine Arm Aqueduct has joined the New Birmingham Main Line; and the Old Main Line gets in on the act by receiving a photo of Smethwick Junction. Away from the canals, I am also pleased to report a photo of The Bush pub joining Exploring Wednesbury, whilst the latest incarnation of the traditional Birmingham platform photo has arrived on Smethwick Rolfe Street Station.

To Exploration Extra next, where we have a new collection focusing on my Great Yarmouth holiday from July last year. The first photos making the cut here include Caister Library, the Ship pub, Wymondham Station and Neptunes Palace at Gorleston. Hopefully there is much more to come, but its always nice to capture a completely new area of the country on EE with East Anglia fitting the bill nicely.

Things have been more sporadic as far as the other galleries are concerned. WME Dudley has received local photos featuring the New Inn at Quarry Bank and horses grazing at the Northway; WME Birmingham awakens from recent slumbers with a second view of the Stockland pub on Exploring Stockland Green; there's a 634 Banga Bus shot joining the Wolverhampton by Bus collection on WME Wolverhampton; WME Staffordshire now boasts a veritable series of Bridge 73 Trent & Mersey Canal photos; and finally, there's canal content too for WME Walsall as Pelsall Works Bridge finds its way into the Wyrley & Essington Canal collection - twice!

Considering that amounts to a whole months work on WME, there perhaps isn't that much to show for my efforts recently. Combined with July's updates this has made for a very quiet summer - now its over to autumn to see if I can rebuild some momentum...

Friday, August 29

A Series of Mini Adventures

Rather than doing a big trip for August, I have instead concentrated on a selection of smaller explorations to keep things ticking over. Here's what I've been up to since that Claverley and Worfield walk at the beginning of the month...

8th August - a cricketing adventure that saw me eventually find my way across to Edgbaston with Warwickshire vs Northamptonshire providing the sporting action. Northants declared on 407 for 8, with Warwickshire crawling to 120 for 3 by the time bad light brought an early close. The lunch interval gave me the chance to explore Cannon Hill Park, getting photos of the various plants and pools - a real treat!

18th and 22nd August - a couple of lunchtime outings, beginning with a look around Upper Gornal that featured the Jolly Crispin and the old Green Dragon, now an oriental restaurant. Then it was the turn of Ocker Hill for some exploration attention, doing a loop from Wednesbury Parkway Metro for shots of the Bush, the Waggon & Horses and Ocker Hill Church.

23rd August - a Saturday morning Shugborough walk with Dad, setting out from Severn Springs then flirting with Little Haywood where we joined the Trent and Mersey Canal. I added to my Bridge 73 photo collection before we renewed our acquaintance with Essex Bridge and the Shugborough estate. We finished off with a stroll through the Chase covering the section from Punch Bowl to the Stepping Stones and back to Severn Springs.

27th August - I was on a mission to try out the trial 612 bus serving the Wolverhampton Swimming and Fitness Centre, so I made my way across to Wobaston to track the route down. I caught the bus at Patshull Avenue and enjoyed a quiet ride up through Low Hill, Fallings Park and Wednesfield to the terminus outside the centre's main entrance. The friendly driver gave a thumbs up and a big smile as I took the photo - I wonder whether the route will be retained after the summer holidays? A few Bentley Bridge photos followed, then I caught the 18 Green Bus up to Broad Lane North before concluding matters with photos of the Spread Eagle and the Broadway.

29th August - and finally, a mini-outing exploring around Bescot this morning. I made my way across to Wednesbury to catch the 679, a route that links Wednesbury with Morrisons at Walsall via Mesty Croft, Friar Park and Yew Tree (although the section between Yew Tree and Morrisons is due to be withdrawn from Sunday). At Morrisons I was able to photo the 414 on the car park before embarking on a bit of a hike around Fullbrook and The Delves for pictures of Palfrey Park, the New Fullbrook pub, Broadway Shops, The Tiger on Walstead Road, Delves Green and South Walsall Library. Bescot Station finished things off nicely, albeit the station looks as uninspiring as ever despite being refurbished last year.

And so another month passes by. I'm hoping to use the last couple of days of August to squeak through a few site updates, along with an appropriate blog posting to fill you in on all the lurid details, and then we'll see what September has in store...

Sunday, August 3

Stile Gurus

Dad and I ventured into Shropshire for the latest in our series of weekend walks, with this instalment providing a handy introduction to the villages of Worfield and Claverley.

Worfield had caught my eye previously during visits to Bridgnorth, with The Wheel pub being a particularly well-known landmark, so I was keen to see what else the village may have to offer. We turned off opposite the pub to follow a lane down to the village hall where we parked. I could see houses and possibly a church a little further on looking like they might offer some potential, whilst the hall itself got my photos off and running.

The walk itself took us away from the village and down the lane towards Albrighton. We then battled a series of enclosed paths complete with head high nettles, thick brambles and other thorny vegetation, before crossing a little brook and emerging into Hilton. The village is only small, comprising pretty cottages and posh-looking houses with Hilton Hall seeming particularly imposing. Crossing the A454, we head up hill and across fields, making our way through Rudge Heath admiring farmsteads and catching a glimpse of the Royal Oak pub. Nearing Claverley we encountered a chicken farm with signs up warning walkers that the chickens might follow you - this didn't concern me too much at first, until I turned around and saw mass ranks of chickens converging on me with some particularly inquisitive birds looking ready to peck my ankles!!

Escaping the chickens we emerge down a steep path and onto the lane at Claverley. The village was totally charming, with narrow streets, traditional cottages and lots of flowers. The church and neighbouring bull ring caught my eye, especially the black and white guildhall type building, whilst there was also a selection of pubs to investigate - the Kings Arms by the church, with the Crown next followed by the Plough at the top of the High Street. Dad and I chose the Crown for a much-needed pint, giving me chance to admire the beams and catch up on the cricket score. Claverley certainly made an impression, and I'd like to check out the possibilities of returning here either by bus or further walking adventures.

Refreshed, we set off on the return leg to Worfield. This took us past a rather isolated war memorial and down to Lawn Turns junction, where we took the lane through Woundale and along a bridleway to emerge onto Worfield Golf Course. The course looked well presented and quite popular with golfers out enjoying a round in the sunshine, with Dad and I following the course edge round to the clubhouse then walking through the car park down to the village. Here I caught a glimpse of a little butchers shop just down from the Wheel, before we diverted up a driveway and back to the village hall.

I don't feel as if I've fully got to grips with Worfield yet, but this walk was a good starting point for further exploration. All in all, it was an afternoon well spent, getting some exercise, making the most of some fine weather and having a nice pint in a proper village pub. As for the stiles, there were plenty of them hence we felt like fully qualified 'stile gurus' come the end of the walk, and I'm certainly not in any hurry to encounter those chickens again!

Thursday, July 31

July's WME Updates

Even by my snail-like standards, July has been a very slow month in terms of WME updates. The galleries have been put on the back burner whilst I've focused on my Clacton holiday as well as enjoying some summer outings making the most of the few traces of sunshine we've had recently. Additions to WME have been few and far between, but here's a quick summary of what has been happening...

WME Wolverhampton: Pony sculptures at the Lunt join Exploring Bilston, with New Cross Bridge (hidden amongst the foliage) making a welcome appearance on the Wyrley & Essington Canal. Star of the show however is a photo of the Green Bus working route 8 at Wednesfield, its always a thrill to photograph one of their vehicles.

WME Staffordshire: A late beat-the-deadline clutch of updates this morning saw additions to Exploring Brewood (an intriguing acorn bench), Bus Stops & Stations (the Sandy Lane shelter in Brewood), Shropshire Union Canal (an overgrown view of Stretton Aqueduct) and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (Whittington Horse Bridge making its first WME appearance).

WME Dudley: A solitary update here sees a second view of the Waterloo Inn joining Exploring Wollaston. Quite a nice pub photo as it goes, bringing back memories of exploring Wollaston before heading off to the Kinver Carnival in May 2007.

WME Walsall: Talking of nice pub photos, the White Horse now features on Exploring Brownhills - the pub was a favourite discovery from my Burntwood and Norton Canes outing in June 2006. Also from that outing come two views of the old 349 route at Bronwhills Parade terminus - the route was withdrawn soon afterwards, thus these photos provide a handy historical record in joining Walsall by Bus.

And thats that, the sum total of my month's work on WME. Perhaps August will be more productive, although I still want to concentrate on maximising the summer and enjoying some sparkling outings. As always, I'll keep you posted...

Monday, July 28

Penkridge and Perton

Friday 25th July - my mission was to venture into South Staffordshire by investigating the No. 2 Green Bus route to Penkridge. From there, I would have to obtain some local photos, walk along the canal and then face any challenges that the afternoon might have in store...

The 2 - the key focus of the morning's activities, my task was to catch the route and get photos of it before it self-destructs, sorry disappears. Never being one to turn down a spot of Green Bus espionage, I made my way to Lichfield Street in time for the 10:40 journey to Penkridge. Green Bus No. 5 (J418 PRW) was on hand to provide the haulage, offering an excellent ride up through Oxley, Coven and Brewood. The section beyond Brewood was particularly intriguing, heading along Deansfield Road into open countryside with the bus sprinting along nicely, generating a much-needed cooling flow of air. Next came Gailey before tackling the back end of Penkridge (Wolgarston Way, Boat pub, Marsh Lane) to arrive at destination Crown Bridge. I then sprung into action for the all-important photo, recording the route at the stop near Stars and Barclays Bank. It was quite a poignant moment - with the route due to be withdrawn a couple of days later, Penkridge was set to lose its Green Bus connection after many years of sterling service.

Penkridge - Having successfully negotiated the Green Bus challenge, attention now turned to Stage 2: Penkridge and Canal photos. The local library and The Star pub got me off and running, and I even attempted a few more Route 2 photos once the parked cars blocking my initial shots had cleared (we explorers have our ways of getting what we want). Next I ventured down Francis Green Lane to join the canal at Princefield Bridge, with the towpath subsequently leading me to Penkridge Bridge and Lock, and beyond to Broom Bridge accompanied by the sounds of the M6 motorway. Following hot on the heels of the Wolverley visit, it was good to add a further chapter to my Staffs & Worcs story. With the canal mission also completed, it was back to Penkridge for a bit more camera work, this time getting shots of the local market and the impressive church, before my attention turned to my next bus adventure.

The 880 - A good explorer always has proper intelligence at his disposal, and a quick look at the Penkridge and Brewood timetable book revealed that the 880 bus was due. I quickly decided that the route would provide a perfect ending to the day's work, and I wasn't wrong. What followed was a voyage of South Staffordshire discovery, visiting local villages as the bus trundled through the countryside, giving me the chance to enjoy the scenery in the sunshine. From Penkridge we called at Whiston, Lapley, Wheaton Aston, Ivetsey Bank, Bishops Wood, Kiddemore Green (are you keeping up with this?!), Brewood, Coven, Fordhouses, Bilbrook and Codsall before finally arriving at Perton. It was one of the most memorable and enjoyable bus journeys I've had in years and gives me plenty of ideas for future missions and pub visits. Perton involved a perilous visit to the library and some photos of the lake before the 510 bus safely returned me into Wolverhampton territory.

Mission successfully completed, so this is West Midlands Explorer signing off for the time being, over and out.

Tuesday, July 22

A Kidderminster Local

Last Saturday Rog, Woody and I ventured out Worcestershire way with a day on the Kidderminster bus network, investigating the local routes whilst sampling the delights of Wolverley, Stourport and Bewdley.

The places - of the locations we called in at, Wolverley was my favourite. A quintessential English village, with a traditional pub and adjoining village store overlooking an area of green, surrounded by cottages with the church as a backdrop - who could ask for more? Stourport provided a good morning's entertainment admiring the river, canal basins and the local pubs, whilst Bewdley was the scene for a nice riverside lunch and a look at the Severn Valley Railway station.

The buses - the outing introduced me to some fascinating routes, notably the 5/5A (providing our Wolverley connection with a tour of the estates at Franche and Fairfield) and the 294 (a brief trip down memory lane for me, heading down Lickhill Road in Stourport past the park and the Stagborough Arms). The 10 provided a curious look around Offmore and Spennells, recalling certain Telford routes where you seem to go around in landscaped circles without ever seeing that much. There was also the chance to revisit previously explored routes such as the 2 and the 3 - the 2 had changed and now goes through Habberley and Wribbenhall on the way to Bewdley, whilst the 3 reacquainted us with Birchen Coppice and provided a first glimpse of Areley Kings complete with post office and pubs such as the Kings Arms and the Squirrel.

The canals - The outing also gave me the chance to indulge in a bit of canal exploration, concentrating on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Stourport and Wolverley. Stourport has long been a favourite canal location, and I was in my element taking photos of the historic basins, locks and bridges in the shadow of the disused Tontine Hotel. Wolverley was equally delightful as I enjoyed a short stroll getting shots of Wolverley Bridge and Lock next to the pub.

The pubs - as always with trips involving Rog and Woody, there was a fair smattering of pubs to punctuate the outing. The Queens Head at Wolverley takes pride of place as my favourite, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, discussing forthcoming SBI developments and listening to old 60's tunes on the jukebox. The nearby Lock wasn't too far behind, a traditional canalside pub with dark wooden furniture and an impressive fireplace. Stourport provided us with the Rising Sun (an old Rog trip favourite that once again provided a warm welcome and a cracking pint of Mild) and the Brinton Arms (a local estate pub with a more modern corporate branded feel).

The memories - besides the exploration content, the trip provided some fine memories to cherish. There was much banter flowing as usual (often at Rog's expense) plus some worrying karaoke efforts with Metallica, Liechtensteiner Polka and the Captain Cod song (Rog's own composition) all featuring. Perhaps my most cherished memory will be of our ride on the Severn Valley Railway between Bewdley and Kidderminster, an all-too-brief taste of a bygone age complete with evocative wooden carriage interiors and smells of steam engines.

A cracking outing then, hopefully paving the way for further adventures with Rog and Woody over the coming months. The trip has also given me some ideas for when I next visit the Kidderminster area - I would like a closer look at Areley Kings, further rides on the Severn Valley Railway and I wouldn't mind exploring more of the canal around Kiddy itself and perhaps continuing beyond Wolverley towards Cookley Tunnel. There are other trips in the pipeline before any of that happens, so stay tuned and I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 7

Exploration Essex

~ Clacton Station ~

Summer holidays provide a great chance to relax, unwind and take your time whilst exploring new places and enjoying new experiences. This year's holiday saw me down in Essex, using Clacton-on-Sea as a base for exploring the local towns and seaside resorts. The weather was fine and I was excited about the potential discoveries awaiting me, so let's see what I got up to...

Monday - the journey down to Clacton, largely uneventful apart from an unplanned detour around some roadworks in Luton! We had a quick look around Clacton itself, first impressions were of a clean, well maintained town with a nice promenade and gardens - not quite the run down hellhole I was somehow expecting. Then its across to St Osyth to find our camp and have a drink in the Essex Seagull pub, my local for the week.

Tuesday - the first full day of the holiday begins with a closer look at Clacton, walking along the seafront before heading off to investigate the impressive railway station and the rather ugly library. I then spend half an hour or so lurking on Pier Avenue taking pictures of the local First Essex and Hedingham buses, before strolling along the pier feeling slightly concerned about some worrying creaking noises coming from below. Next up was the sedate seaside town of Frinton-on-Sea, where I found a nice local station complete with traditional level crossing (a dying breed sadly). The afternoon was spent exploring Brightlingsea, a historic cinque-port with a quiet little town centre and endless rows of beach huts.

Wednesday - another busy day of exploration began with a ride up to Walton-on-the-Naze, admiring yet more beach huts and dodging swarms of pesky bugs. As usual, I tracked down the train station, finding a rather boring modern booking office and a single platform - the neighbouring building looked far more interesting, and I wondered if this might have been the old station house? My next point of call was Harwich, a working port with a hint of industrial grimness that brought back painful recollections of visits to places such as Lowestoft and Barrow-in-Furness, memorable for all the wrong reasons! Harwich did grow on me actually - the historic quayside had some interesting buildings and a number of traditional backstreet pubs, whilst I also enjoyed visiting the train station and bus garage. Saying that, we didn't want to hang around too long and instead headed over to Manningtree for a hearty lunch in the Crown pub overlooking the River Stour. Dodgy weather then set in for the afternoon so it was back to Clacton for a look around the retail centres and shopping villages, although bargains seemed very thin on the ground.

Thursday - the highlight of the whole holiday came with a cracking morning spent at Colchester, admiring the Castle and surrounding gardens then getting the usual transport shots. Colchester Bus Station proved a great base for bus photos, although I wasn't so keen on Colchester Town Railway Station. I also indulged in a couple of First Essex bus rides when exploring Colchester North Station, catching the 62 there and the 61 back - it's always great to try out the local network and this proved no exception. The afternoon saw us head across Mersea Island, parking up for lunch by yet more beach huts (by this stage, I was seriously beginning to wonder just how many huts one stretch of coastline can take!) A final visit to Clacton and a farewell drink in the Essex Seagull then finished things off very nicely indeed.

And before I knew it, the holiday was over and it was time to come home. On reflection, I really enjoyed looking around this little corner of Essex and I must admit that any concerns I had about arrogant Cockneys and seaside squalour proved totally unfounded. The quiet, residential (dare I say retired?) nature of the locations I visited, and the welcoming, friendly locals meant that I left instead with fond memories of an area that is well cared for, has a lot of pride and was a pleasure to explore. If nothing else, I certainly know where to go if I want a beach hut in future...

Friday, July 4

History in the making...

I didn't get chance to report this before I went on holiday, so apologies for the delay...

Sometimes local history happens around you without you even noticing it, with subtle little changes in the street scene taking place on a pretty regular basis. On other occasions significant changes capture a lot of attention, and Wolverhampton has just witnessed one such event. At 11am on Sunday 29th June, the iconic blue and yellow Goodyear chimney was demolished and a big slice of local manufacturing history went with it.

The chimney had been a fixture on the Wolverhampton skyline for many years, a proud reminder of the city's industrial heritage with Goodyear renowned as a world famous tyre company. However, in a sad reflection of the decline in manufacturing in the West Midlands in general, Goodyears moved production elsewhere and their factory in Bushbury has been scaled down. Much of the site is now going forward for redevelopment, with plans aiming to provide a new housing estate complete with local facilities such as a primary school and neighbourhood park - hence the loss of the chimney.

I was keen to see history in the making, and it seemed I wasn't alone as large crowds had gathered to see the chimney off. I must admit I was surprised at the strength of the turnout, so it goes to show just how much the chimney meant to people as a Wolverhampton landmark. Many former Goodyears workers joined local families and the generally curious to watch events unfold, armed with cameras and camcorders awaiting the big moment. Come 11am, a siren went off, the countdown began and then came a loud bang that made everyone jump. I was expecting the chimney to crumble from the top down, but instead it toppled like a falling tree, hitting the ground with a cloud of dust. When the dust settled, a rather unsettling gap was left on the horizon and the chimney was but a memory.

And so the cycle of change continues. I can well imagine other people have felt similar feelings when their local landmarks become history - I suppose I had become accustomed to seeing the chimney on a day to day basis, and it never really registered that there may come a day when it wouldn't be there. Now that day has become a reality, but at least I can say I was there see to it happen and I look forward to seeing how the regeneration of the site continues.

Saturday, June 28

Journey to the End of the World

How's that for a dramatic headline! I must confess however that the 'end of the world' I'm referring to is actually Worlds End, a local housing estate near Quinton that featured as part of a bonus outing yesterday. It was good to be out and about again in Birmingham and Sandwell - here's what I got up to ...
  • Queens Park - catching the 103 up through Harborne, I alight at Queens Park for a few photos of the flowerbeds as the park undergoes renovation works. The Court Oak pub also provides a bit of interest overlooking a little gyratory system.

  • Quinton - a quick visit to the local library off Ridgacre Road was followed with a walk up to Four Dwellings to investigate the primary school.

  • Worlds End - the estate with the doomladen name was actually half decent to explore. I got a few photos of the local shops on Faraday Avenue, and added to my Birmingham bus terminus locations when the 630 showed up to complete its trip from the Roundabout.

  • 637 - a ride on an Optare Solo giving me chance to investigate the extended route through to Rowley Regis Station. The journey brought back a few memories heading past Quinton Church, The Stag pub and Long Lane Library.

  • Rowley Regis - a couple of train photos, then its off into Blackheath for photos by the Ashley and a look at the California. I also tracked down Blackheath Library, a nice Carnegie building that seemed to be hidden on a sidestreet some distance from the main town centre.

  • Rowley Village - a long-term target of mine that I was pleased to finally investigate. Starting with a couple of views at a rather unkempt Britannia Park, I then proceeded into the village for photos of the Britannia and Robert Peel pubs. After a brief return to Blackheath for bus photos by Barclays Bank, I enjoyed a spot of lunch in the park before catching my next bus.

  • 129 - a fascinating bus ride providing a first look at Rounds Green and Rood End, with landmarks catching my eye including Rounds Green Library, Oldbury Cemetery and pubs such as the Phoenix, the Gate and the Bell.

  • Smethwick - the trip was concluded with a stroll around Smethwick, calling in on the library and Victoria Park before making my way to Rolfe Street for the train home.

There's a lot to be said for just getting stuck in and sampling places like Smethwick and Blackheath - they may not be glamorous places but they do represent important aspects of the West Midlands that demand inclusion on the galleries. With my recent adventures having taken me into Staffordshire and Telford, and bearing in mind I've also got a week of holidaying in Essex to come, I felt it was important to get a solid West Midlands trip in the bag and I think I've succeeded - and lets face it, it's not every day you can say you've been to the World's End!

Friday, June 27

A Bit More Attention...

With my summer holidays fast approaching, this last week has seen a bit of a mad scramble as I try and push through a few more updates before heading off for a well-deserved break. The result has been some intriguing new additions based upon archive photos from March and April 2007.
  • WME Shropshire: Following hot on Shrewsbury Station's heels, I am pleased to report a new collection looking at Craven Arms Station. I have a particular fondness for Craven Arms in general having thoroughly enjoyed exploring town and station last year, and I've been very keen to tell the story of that visit for quite a while now. This new collection is just the start of that process and currently features a train photo and a view along platform one.
  • WME Staffordshire: A significant new rail collection here sees Penkridge Station make an appearance thanks to a platform view and a couple of shots of the station sign. I've been quite scathing about the station in my photo commentaries, but in my opinion the facility is a bit of an eyesore and things hadn't improved much when I revisited recently as part of my Newport and Gnosall trip.
  • Exploration Extra: Things are ticking over nicely with the arrival of a new collection looking at the Chase Farewell Running Day in April 2007. I intend to feature here photos taken specifically at the Chase and Arriva garages, whereas any shots taken during the main outing will feature on either WME Walsall or WME Staffordshire. So far there are a couple of pictures taken at Delta Way, although I hope to add some from the Chase depot soon. Rail Rover 2007 has also been updated with a couple of Nantwich footbridge shots and a nice view of Brookfield Park, also in Nantwich.
  • WME Walsall: With the recent focus on Shropshire and Warwickshire it seems the main West Midlands galleries have been a little neglected for a change, which probably isn't such a bad thing. WME Walsall has kicked back into life with a couple of Exploring Bloxwich photos taken during that Chase Farewell event - no buses mind, just a couple of park photos with the blossom making a very welcome reappearance.

Well there you have it, and that probably concludes site matters for the month of June. A quick calculation has revealed that thus far in 2008 I have added 251 new photos to the WME galleries - not bad going although there's always room for improvement. We'll have to see what the second half of the year brings, but first there's that holiday to look forward to.

Friday, June 20

Some Much Needed Attention

My recent work on the WME archive has seen me tackling photos from Rail Rover Week 2007, meaning I have been able to give some overdue consideration to a couple of my forgotten galleries. Both WME Warwickshire and WME Shropshire have sprung back into life with some constructive new additions - let's see what's been happening...

Firstly to WME Warwickshire, which can now boast a new Wilmcote Station collection featuring a platform view and a station sign. Wilmcote is a nice traditional little station with some great original features, and it thus takes pride of place alongside bigger stations such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa. Stratford Station itself gets a station sign photo, whilst the other new content is all canal related with a photo of a lock cottage at Hatton on the Grand Union, and a series of Bridge 66 photos joining the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

Things have been a little quieter on WME Shropshire, where the solitary (but eminently noteworthy) new development is the arrival of a collection showcasing Shrewsbury Station. The station is a firm Rail Rover favourite, a great place to explore, and the new photos provide a couple of platform views and two shots of a train on layover.

Whilst the focus has rightly been on Shropshire and Warwickshire for a change, I must quickly mention progress on Exploration Extra where the Rail Rover archive has also yielded a couple of views from Hinckley Bus Station. I'm pleased to see such locations finally making an appearance on WME, and with the prospect of more Rail Rover treasures waiting to be uncovered, it'll be interesting to see what further action might be taking place over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, June 17

More WME Landmarks

Shock horror, its time for me to wheel out one of my well-trodden WME Blogspot catchphrases again! You know the one, "things have been very quiet on the galleries recently but I've now made a few little updates to get things moving again". I might be at risk of sounding like a seriously scratched record, but the statement is true - and in this case the new additions have allowed me to reach a couple more of those cherished WME milestones...

Congratulations are firstly due for WME Staffordshire, which can now celebrate reaching 200 photos with some nice springtime shots of Victoria Park in Stafford and some flowers on Exploring Pattingham. The landmark provides further evidence of WME Staffordshire's growth into being one of the WME big-hitters, whereby the likes of Dudley, Walsall and Sandwell are still trailing some way behind.

Also celebrating is Exploration Extra having reached its own century of photos. I'm actually more pleased with this achievement than the Staffordshire one, as I've put in a fair bit of effort trying to get old Extra into shape as a respectable photo repository in its own right. The 100 photo barrier was broken thanks to additions to the London 2007 collection (Aldgate East tube station and the Ten Bells pub at Whitechapel), and to Rail Rover 2007 (a couple of Crewe Station shots).

Some good news there then, and its also worth noting an addition to WME Walsall where a view of the 364 at New Invention joins Walsall by Bus (I just like the photo and was determined to mention it somewhere!) I am hoping, as ever, that these latest updates will prove to be the start of concerted series of additions, but we'll just have to wait and see. Whisper it quietly, but Shropshire and Warwickshire might be seeing some action soon...