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...