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...