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 Also from that outing come two views of the old 349 route at Bronwhills Parade terminus - the route was withdrawn soon afterwards, thus these photos provide a handy historical record in joining Walsall by Bus.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.