Monday, March 31

Don't Give Up The Day Job!

Just a brief note now to report back on a little Rog adventure last Saturday, during which we added to our collection of local Black Country pubs and I even set foot behind the bar!

After a morning spent lurking around Stourbridge, we headed up to Amblecote and found ourselves in The Swan on Brettell Lane. Its the kind of pub I really enjoy visiting, a traditional local providing a nice afternoon pint of Snake Oil and an escape from the rain. Unfortunately I wasn't able to escape Metallica on the jukebox, but I did get my own back with a blast of Adam Faith - Rog still hasn't quite recovered!

It was raining even more when we left The Swan, so we decided to go a few doors up the road to try out the Starving Rascal. Again it was quiet, and we could enjoy watching the cycling and sampling some Old Speckled Hen - I think I'm developing a taste for beer after a few years on the cider. Our exploits continued in the newly re-opened Bell back in Stourbridge, where for a fleeting moment I found myself behind the bar grappling with one of the pumps as Rog narrowly avoided hysterics whilst taking a photo as evidence. A very rare sighting indeed!

Tuesday, March 25

Reflections at Easter

I know its an early Easter this year, but the first three months of 2008 seem to have flown by so quickly when you think it'll be April next week - where has the time gone? This seems like a good point then to pause and reflect on the progress I've made with the WME galleries recently.

Hmm, did I say progress? There has been some useful development, but not as much as I'd ideally like. After clearing the decks last December I had hoped to push on this year with exciting new photos that would take the galleries in new directions. Instead I've found myself going over old ground again trying to plunder those extra few photos to add flesh to whats already there. I do think it is important to try and extract as much as I can for the galleries, as I want the story of my explorations to be as complete as possible. This does lead to frustration though, scrabbling together bits and pieces updates rather than constructive new collections.

Looking at the galleries more closely, I think there have been some successes this year. WME Wolverhampton and WME Birmingham have both benefitted from some extra local photos, WME Telford has received some much-needed extra bus photos, and WME Shropshire finally has a bus presence thanks to the arrival of Shropshire by Bus. Despite these positives, there are still causes for concern. Exploration Extra has only received one new photo this year, and WME Warwickshire hasn't received anything whatsoever.

The gallery that is causing me the most concern though is WME Staffordshire. Its a perennial complaint of mine that the gallery only really covers South Staffordshire rather than the whole county. Indeed, as one of my biggest galleries I would hope for a good return of photo hits but WME Staffs is notoriously quiet on the visitor front. The problem I feel is that the bulk of the gallery consists of repetitive canal collections (particularly the Staffordshire & Worcestershire section), and local collections focusing on little villages surrounding Wolverhampton. Staffordshire by Bus is merely a token presence considering the potentially huge scope for bus photography in the county, whilst rail is useful without addressing the major station locations. In short, the gallery does not provide an adequate reflection of the county as a whole, and this is something I need to change as a matter of urgency.

I am also concerned about the number of two-photo-only starter collections still lurking on the galleries. I'm sure if you were a visitor to WME and found a section on your local area, you'd be pretty disappointed if there were only two photos to look at. During a recent audit, I found I had 66 such collections, amounting to almost a quarter of the total collections across the site. The worst offenders are some of the local sections on WMEs Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Staffordshire, meaning at times that my photos are spread very thinly indeed. This is partly why I've focused on extracting more from my existing stock rather than moving into new archive territory.

Ok, enough moaning. On a general note, I've been really pleased with the number of photo views the galleries have generated. WME Birmingham, as is customary, is leading the way with over a thousand hits already, but all of my sites have received some attention, so many thanks for visiting. I've also received some great comments from people appreciating my photos, and this makes it all worthwhile. I am looking into making more use of the groups, communities and smartgroups features on Fotopic to spread the word about the site just a little further, and I've got plenty of challenges ahead in order to address some of the concerns I mentioned earlier. It goes to show that even as the site expands and grows, there's always something to be working on.

Saturday, March 15

Three Days of Exploration

Greetings all. I've been on leave this last week, and whilst the storms put paid to any hopes of outings on Monday and Tuesday, I have been active over the last few days - here's what I've been up to...

Wednesday - I made my way across to Selly Oak to track down more of the Dudley No. 2 Canal, starting at Harborne Lane where the relief road project appears to be gathering pace. The old canal flanks Selly Oak Park, but then becomes more of a woodland path as it heads towards Weoley Castle. The trail reaches an abrupt end at an overgrown bridge round the back of the old castle remains - it was an interesting walk but I was hoping there might be more remnants of the canal itself to photograph. Next, I make my way into Weoley Castle for photos of the market hall and the 69 bus, then catch the 647 to Bearwood - a fascinating ride through California and Harborne that also provided me with my first look at Moorpool, a rather exclusive looking conservation zone. Bearwood provided photos of the 450 and a walk through Lightwoods Park, and the afternoon saw me venture up Thimblemill Road for photos of the swimming baths, library and Thimblemill pub. Next was Londonderry, with the impressive Queens Head pub, before I concluded proceedings at Langley with a look at the Merrivale, the local library and my old friend Langley Green Station.

Thursday - a further attempt to get to grips with the current Dudley bus network before it all changes in April. Firstly to Stourbridge where I meet up with Rog and add to my Stourbridge pub repertoire with the Waggon & Horses and the Glasshouse - a nice little catch-up that. The traditional bus photos at Stourbridge Bus Station included a long sought after shot of the elusive 288 route, and then I caught the 251 up through Withymoor Village and The Delph to continue the photo session at Merry Hill. It was great fun, rolling back the years to those early trips where I would linger at bus stations and photograph any bus in sight - routes such as the 265, 002 and 123 were happy to oblige. The 276 took me across to Dudley, where I finally tracked down the 224 route for the ride over to Bilston. I've been wanting to try this route for ages and it didn't disappoint, with a run up through Woodsetton, Sedgley and Woodcross topped off with a first glimpse of Sedgemoor Park - the Elisabeth Arms is a definite future photo target.

Friday - the three-in-a-row was completed with a little adventure down Northycote. The Green Bus Service have started up a new No. 4 route linking Wolverhampton and the Moseley Parklands, and I simply just had to investigate. The route provided me with my first ever ride on a Green Bus (I've taken a few photos before but never actually been on board), and also introduced me to the Springfield Farm estate round the back of Fordhouses - fascinating. The terminus is on Ainsworth Road, and the driver was happy for me to take pictures, always a bonus. The route runs hourly in the off-peak and responds to a lengthy campaign from residents wishing to see increased bus provision in the area, although I kind of got the feeling that the route was on a trial basis only, and I'm not sure whether it'll be around for that much longer. That said, I was delighted to have explored the route and nailed a photo at a new Wolverhampton terminus. I then continued up to Northycote Farm for a look at the animals and the duckpond, before finishing off with the latest in a long line of visits to Northwood Park, where old favourites such as the Vol and the park itself helped me to a healthy haul of photos.

Well there you have it, a most constructive batch of outings, and in the 647, the 224 and the 4 I have some cracking bus route memories to look back on with fondness. I had originally intended to use this week for Rail Rover 2008 - sadly the weather put paid to those plans, but I definitely think I've more than made up for that initial disappointment.

Sunday, March 9

A Woodside Paradise

With a post headline like that, I could tempt you with lyrical visions of an idyllic woodland scene, complete with frolicking lambs and stately deer. However, this is WME we're talking about, so I am of course referring to my latest outing, whereby I not only discovered that Paradise exists, but that it exists in Dudley!!

I was on the loose in Dudley as part of a mission to explore some local bus routes before the results of the network review kick in come April. Beginning in Bilston with a quick visit to Hickman Park, I then caught the 223 down to Gornal Wood, an intriguing ride through Lanesfield, Woodcross and the Beacon Hill estate. I've always liked Gornal, and busied myself taking photos of proper pubs such as the Olde Bulls Head, the Fountain and the Black Bear, before investigating the newish estate at Milking Bank (including Aintree Way and the Meadowlark).

The 257 took me into Dudley, from where I sought out the 225 for a look around the Uplands Estate and Warrens Hall. Alighting on Buffery Road, I entered Paradise - a little local neighbourhood centred around Buffery Park. The park looked a picture, carpeted with daffodils, with the nearby Struggling Man pub adding to my photo haul. Its not every day you can say you've been to Paradise...

Sadly, my stay in Paradise was only brief, as I couldn't allow myself to be distracted from my ultimate mission. I hiked it back up into Dudley, then caught the 264 into Woodside in the hope of visiting the local library. Alighting on Holly Hall Road, I found myself at another kind of heaven - Parkhead Locks, a must-visit part of the BCN network. With three bridges side by side, a couple of locks and a portal into the Dudley Tunnel, there was plenty to investigate and I thoroughly relished the challenge. It was a great little intro to the location, and I will undoubtedly be back to explore more of the locks and the junction of the two Dudley Canals.

Next up, I ventured into Woodside itself, starting with a look at the Crown pub before finding more daffodils in Woodside Park. I then satisfied my curiosity with a visit to Woodside Library - the library is set to be another casualty of the Dudley Council axe, which seems a really sad end for a fine community facility housed in a historic old building. Having previously visited the threatened branches at Quarry Bank, Wall Heath, Amblecote and Dudley Wood, I have to say the demise of Woodside seems particularly poignant given the sense of tradition the building evokes - it really is such a shame.

On a brighter note, my explorations continued with a look at Holly Hall News and the nearby Hanson's pub (The Old Coach and Horses?), before heading back through the park to rejoin the 264. The route is due to be withdrawn, so I was keen to do the loop whilst I still could, and was rewarded with a ride that mixed old haunts like Ashwood Park and Kingswinford with glimpses of future possibilities such as Hawbush and Bromley. Heading through Pensnett the bus became besieged by schoolkids, but with a ride up Ashenhurst Road I soon got back to Dudley in time for a 558 back to Wolverhampton.

I've done plenty of Dudley area explorations over the years, but this one seemed different in that I explored more of Dudley Town itself rather than the Stourbridge or Halesowen side of things. I enjoyed redressing that particular balance, and with a few more endangered routes to investigate, I might well be back - Paradise beware!

March Musings

February has now given way to March, and there is a definite feel of spring in the air with the daffodils out in force. Work has been continuing here at WME, with an outing and some updates to tell you about.

The outing saw me head out into Shropshire for an exploration of Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock. Bridgnorth was simply delightful - a nice ride down on the 890, a look around Sydney Cottage Drive and the Woodberry Down pub, before heading down into the town centre. I made a beeline for the Severn Valley Railway Station, which thoroughly lived up to expectations, even on an overcast February morning. The station has a traditional atmosphere that comes as standard with the SVR, and I was in my element taking photos of the platforms, waiting rooms and footbridge. After a look around by the castle, I caught the 436 over to Much Wenlock - unfortunately the rain had set in by the time I got there, making photos tricky. I had a good look around the town, discovering Wenlock Priory, well-preserved streets and traditional pubs such as the Gaskell Arms and the George & Dragon. It was a shame about the weather, but I consoled myself with a ride across to Telford on the 39, a fascinating journey through Broseley and Ironbridge that provided much food for thought. All in all, a very constructive day's work.

Turning to website matters, and whilst there haven't been many updates they have provided good mileage. WME Staffordshire has been particularly active, with a new Exploring Rugeley collection adding another town in amongst the multitude of villages. Cannock Station has sprung back into life with a platform view and an entrance sign, and I must also mention additions to Staffordshire by Bus including a shot of the 826 Rugeley Springfields circular.

It's been very quiet on the other galleries, although WME Telford continues its mini-revival as the 892 and 96 make appearances on Telford by Bus. Pelsall Junction arrives as a new Wyrley and Essington location on WME Walsall, whilst there are additions to Great Malvern Station on WME Worcestershire, and to Shropshire by Bus (a D74 Tanat Valley photo) on WME Shropshire. March is therefore off and running, with hopefully more musings to follow.