Sunday, January 25

The Solihull Network Farewell - Part Two

The second of a brace of outings bidding farewell to the old Solihull bus network saw me visiting Sheldon, Cranes Park and Knowle on Friday 23rd January...
  • Airport - My starting point for this outing was Birmingham International having caught the extended Arriva Trains Wales service up from Wolverhampton. I make my way to the bus interchange where the 38 is conveniently parked up just waiting to be photographed, although the bleak blustery weather tries its best to ruin the shot.

  • The 38 - way back in the early days, Stuart and I encountered the 38Y bus, a Travel Your Bus route linking Birmingham City Centre and the Airport. The subsequent ride around Olton and Acocks Green as darkness fell remains one of my all time favourite bus experiences to this very day, so there was a certain poignancy as I followed in those cherished tyretreads. The 38Y later became the plain old 38, and here I sampled the section between International Station and Sheldon, only a short run really but enough to offer glimpses of the Clock pub at Bickenhill along with a brief visit to the Air Cargo terminal. The 38 itself is now set to disappear, replaced in part by a new S12 service between Acocks Green and Sheldon. I doubt the new route will fill me with quite the same sense of nostalgia.

  • Sheldon - the 38 drops me off at the Wheatsheaf, and if anything the weather has got bleaker. Somehow the biting wind and grim drizzle seemed entirely appropriate as I looked out over the concrete jungle that is the Coventry Road, complete with signpost gantries and grimy subways. I've visited some pretty ugly spots in Birmingham, but believe me Sheldon is right up there battling for the title. To be fair though, there are some nicer estates once you escape from the main road, so perhaps I am being slightly harsh. I did try a few photos of the junction and some of the local shops, but it wasn't until I got to the Arden Oak pub that I started to feel settled. A useful start at some local photography then, but I'm hardly in any rush to go back.

  • Cranes Park - time for some more local photos whilst hunting down either the 42c or the 672, winging it somewhat as I navigated my way through the estate. I managed to track down the local pub, which seemed to have been renamed the Crane & Dragon to be more in keeping with its self-proclaimed style as an English pub serving Thai cuisine. My stroll then takes me along Parkdale Road to find the terminus loop at Mapledene Road and Greenvale Avenue. The section here is hail and ride, whereby I somehow contrived to miss the 42c as it drove straight past. Thankfully I had more luck with the 672, and just to confirm my reversal in fortune, I note with some relief that the sun has come out!

  • The 672 - having encountered the estate wiggling 671 last time out, I was expecting more of the same from the 672 and wasn't disappointed. Linking Cranes Park and Solihull, we called in at Sheldon and then set off on a maze of local streets such as Valley Road, Rangoon Road and Mayswood Road. I almost lost track of the twists and turns at one point, although I did spot the Harvester pub somewhere, and was also intrigued by the Olton Tavern as we joined Lode Lane for a more direct run into Solihull Town Centre. The route provided my first ride on a Silverline bus, and first impressions were good judging by the clean, welcoming and comfortable interior. Silverline will continue to operate the service once it is renumbered as the S10.

  • Solihull Station - considering the changes that were about to take place, it would have been remiss of me not to have induldged in a proper session of bus photography at Solihull Station Interchange. In the end I spent an hour or so watching the comings and goings, with routes such as the 49, 169, 197, 166 and 42C ensuring the camera saw plenty of action - there was even the bonus of a County Links bus on the 60, a route I'd never come across before, so all in all it was excellent fun.

  • The 40C (again) - my visit to Dorridge last time was supposed to be my final fling on the 40, but I couldn't resist one very last ride just to do the route extra justice. This time I alight at Knowle in search of lunch, thus eventually bidding goodbye to a firm favourite.

  • Knowle - lunch has to wait a little bit longer, as first I'm on a mission to get photos of the pretty church along with the Red Lion pub opposite. Once these are in the bag, its off to the chip shop and then to Knowle Park, where I find a nice peaceful spot to tuck in whilst enjoying views across the parkland. Hunger satisfied, its back into the village for pictures of the village hall (grey breezeblock ugliness) and the library (attractive timber-framed townhouse) - no prizes for guessing which one I preferred. Just as I'm pondering what to do next, I spot the Central Buses 197 service approaching, so its off back to Solihull recalling the day when Rog and I caught the route to Balsall Common. I think Claribel's were the operator back then.

  • The 966 - arriving back at Solihull Station, its a case of take pot luck and see what's in. The first bus to catch my eye was the 966, so I hopped on board for a ride back up to the Airport along Damson Lane. This route isn't changing through the review, and will continue to provide a regular service up to Chelmsley Wood, Castle Bromwich and Erdington.

  • Airport - and so the trip returns full circle as I found myself back at Birmingham International Interchange, taking photos of the 38 on layover and then tracking down the Holyhead train for the return trip to Wolverhampton. The ride home gives me time to reflect on both of my network farewell outings with a great deal of satisfaction. I think I had a really good go at trying out some of the affected routes, and I'm really looking forward to investigating the new ones in due course.

The Solihull Network Farewell - Part One

With the changes arising from the Solihull Network Review fast approaching, it was time for me to spring into action and sample the old routes whilst I still could. A brace of outings took place as a result, the first of which saw me investigating Acocks Green and Olton on Saturday 17th January...
  • The 4 - what a way to start! The route has been a long-term target of mine and it didn't disappoint, providing a lovely quiet ride with plenty of ideas for further investigation. Catching the bus on Corporation Street, the route heads out of Birmingham via Digbeth and Camp Hill before tackling the delights of Sparkbrook on the Stratford Road. Next is Sparkhill, where the baths, library and local park all looked like good photo targets, then it was through Springfield and into Hall Green passing Sarehole Mill and The Baldwin. After negotiating Shirley, it was off through the estates to Cheswick Green where the Cheswick Green Inn and the Saxon pub both looked appealing. The final leg into Solihull involved a look at Widney Lane Island and a run past Widney Manor Station - very tantalising. The route is due to vanish with the new changes, so I'm delighted to have done it justice. I think the 5 is being upgraded as a replacement, with some sections to be covered by the new S4 local route.

  • Malvern Park - the 4 dropped me off by St Alphege's Church, from where it was a short walk down into Malvern Park to get the day's photos off to a flier. Even in January the park looked well maintained and neat, lending itself to some nice views through the trees.

  • The 30 - Another classic Solihull route that I'd never got around to exploring before, the 30 linked the town with Acocks Green and Olton. I was delighted to find that the usual Metrobus was in attendance, and again I enjoyed a very quiet, peaceful ride with hardly any other passengers on board. The highlights of the route included views of Olton Friary (I never knew this existed!), Olton Station, and a ride along Lincoln Road on the approach to Acocks Green, passing the Lincoln Poacher and crossing the Grand Union Canal - plenty of food for thought there. Under the review, the 30 is set to be replaced by the new S3 linking Acocks Green and Hockley Heath.

  • Acocks Green - whilst my focus for the day was on buses, I took the chance to get a few local photos as well. Amongst my targets were the Inn on the Green pub, the local library with war memorial, and the Great Western pub up by the railway station as I set off in search of the canal. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff adding a bit of Brum flavour to the day's proceedings.

  • Grand Union Canal - a bit more of a break from the buses next, as I couldn't resist a little bit of canal exploration. After a detour up a couple of random sidestreets, I finally tracked down the Grand Union at Yardley Road and squelched my way along into Olton. Woodcock Lane Bridge was a surprising discovery, as for some reason I wasn't particularly expecting to find a nice traditional canal bridge still in place along here. Lincoln Road Bridge was somewhat uglier, and after a brief dash to investigate the Lincoln Poacher pub more closely, I arrived at Richmond Road Bridge where I left the canal with Olton beckoning.

  • Olton - a bit of local Solihull exploring now, popping into the local library and getting a few shots of the front of Olton Station. I didn't venture into the station though, preferring to keep that particular treat for another day. There is a little bus interchange outside which makes for a nice photo location, with the 671 doing the honours by arriving right on cue for a few layover shots - perfect!

  • The 671 - having got my photos I hopped on board for a somewhat twisting Optare Solo ride back to Solihull, doing the rounds of the local estates via Bryanston Road, Woodlea Drive, Blenheim Road and Widney Lane. As such, the 671 was a good example of a local minibus route plugging the gaps between other services and developing a sense of community in the process. The route is not set for a direct replacement but should be covered by a combination of the S2, S3 and S11.

  • The 40C - the 40A/C circulars have a special place in my heart thanks to visits to Dorridge over the years, so it was only fitting that I should say goodbye properly. The 40C did the trick today, providing a nice run down to Dorridge complete with bonus photos at Knowle whilst the driver had a quick cigarette break!

  • Dorridge - I just had time for a final bit of indulgence in the form of a few photos around Dorridge. The Forest Hotel received its usual bit of camera attention, whilst I also got shots of the local shops and even tracked down the Solihull mobile library - there's no escape!! It was then left to my old friend Dorridge Station to bring down the curtain for this outing, although I hadn't quite finished with the network farewells just yet...

The Solihull Network Review

Coventry was first, then it was Dudley, and now it is Solihull's turn to be subjected to a review of its local bus network. From today, an array of service changes come into force that will see the creation of intriguing new routes (some with an 'S' prefix so as to develop a local identity), whilst some familiar old routes have now been consigned to history. I have done a couple of recent outings in order to record the old network - these will be the subject of separate postings, but first I wanted the chance to reflect on my previous experiences of Solihull buses over the years.

I must admit that my visits to Solihull have always been few and far between, but their rarity provided that extra edge of excitement, with the anticipation of making new discoveries and exploring further corners of the West Midlands proving very enticing. As such, I have built up a great deal of affection for the area, and for the bus routes that provided the gateway to this new frontier.
  • My first Solihull route was the 37, catching it from Acocks Green Village with Rog for a glimpse of Olton Station. The 37 will remain a centrepiece route for the Solihull area and is set to have its frequency increased.
  • We followed the 37 with a ride on the 69, a route that quickly became a personal favourite. We initially covered the section out to Weoley Castle, providing the glimpses of Shirley, Maypole, Kings Heath and Selly Oak that provided the inspiration for many subsequent outings.
  • The 69 is long enough even now, but back then it continued beyond Solihull and up to the Heartlands Hospital (a section that later became the 169 route). I did try out the Heartlands end of the 69 once, but wasn't that keen on it - the bits around Sheldon, Garretts Green and Yardley were interesting but I found the Bordesley Green terminus quite depressing. Both 69 and 169 are being retained, although the 69 is subject to route changes in the Yardley Wood area.
  • Another long-distance favourite of mine is the 49, which has provided many happy memories of exploring the likes of Longbridge, West Heath, Kings Norton and Pool Farm. The route will continue to link Solihull and Northfield, with hopefully many more memories still to come.
  • The service changes mainly affect the more local Solihull services, including the 73a and 76 serving Damsonwood. I recall the 73a during Pete's Travel days, a bright yellow bus providing a quick shuttle up to the Old Colonial. As for the 76, I remember it as the A6, taking photos by the trees at Damsonwood and at the turning circle down by Pool Farm shops. Damsonwood will now be covered by the S11 route, whilst the 76 is also trimmed back in Brum with a new 85 route set to cover between Kings Heath and Pool Farm.
  • Another key Solihull local set to get a makeover is the 40A/C circular. Just the mention of the route evokes memories of visits to Dorridge, exploring the station and calling in at the Forest hotel for a quick drink. Widney Manor and Dorridge will now be served by the S2 (providing links to Olton and Balsall Common), whilst Knowle and Dorridge will feature on the new S3 route linking Acocks Green and Hockley Heath.
  • Thinking of my first visit to Dorridge reminds me of what preceded it, namely a ride on the 192. Rog and I caught the route at Tile Hill for a tour of the Heart of England (Balsall Common, Meriden and Hampton-in-Arden) - now that's what I call a proper bus journey! The 192 worked in tandem with the 194 to provide links to Coventry, a baton that is now set to be taken up by extending Travel Coventry's local route 19 beyond Tile Hill and Canley. The enhanced frequency the revised route will offer is to be applauded and welcomed, but somewhat perversely I might just miss the haphazard uncertainty that was inherent in the 192/194 timetable.
  • The changes in the Heart of England mean its also the end of the road for the 197, a friendly little route that will be fondly remembered for a visit with Rog to Balsall Common and Berkswell Station.
  • And finally, its worth noting that there have been changes before and will be again in the future. I particularly recall one outing I did in August 2005 that was dedicated to capturing Solihull routes that were about to change back then. These included the old 41 from Birmingham to Solihull (via Sparkbrook, Hall Green, Gospel Oak and Streetsbrook Road), and the 42 to The Baldwin via a circuit of Sheldon, Yardley and Acocks Green (I especially recall the effort it took to get a photo at the Baldwin terminus). Both were cracking routes and their legacy lives on in the rather bizarre current 41 route, which will continue to provide a long loop linking Hall Green with... Hall Green!!
So there you have a few personal reflections on my experiences exploring Solihull's bus network as it was. Obviously, the changes affect more routes than are listed above - some of the services I've omitted will feature in my forthcoming posts detailing my last-minute efforts to record the old network, and as for the rest, well they managed to elude this particular explorer. It just goes to show that I can't cover everything! Whilst I will miss many of the routes I've described, I am excited about the possibilites the new network offers for future exploration, and I'm looking forward to getting my first photos of the new routes. Please feel free to offer your own thoughts and memories of bus routes in Solihull.

Sunday, January 18

Newbridge, Wergs and Wightwick

The exploration bandwagon is firmly off and running in 2009 now, thanks to a local special last Friday (the 9th) that focused upon the Tettenhall area of Wolverhampton. Here is the tale of the trip...
  • Having paid a brief visit to Paget Road campus of Wolverhampton College, the photos begin in earnest with shots of the Halfway House pub on Tettenhall Road. The pub is currently closed but will hopefully find a new lease of life before too long.
  • Next, to Riches Street for a look at the old school building and the Newhampton pub - a nice corner local on the junction with Sweetman Street and thankfully still open. The same can't be said for the Summer House on Newhampton Road, which was sadly all boarded up with uncertain prospects for the future.
  • Newbridge next, with photos of the local shops and the Newbridge pub (still drawing a decent trade through its lunchtime carveries). I branch off down Newbridge Crescent and feel myself almost stepping back in time sampling the rather genteel surroundings, with a selection of impressive buildings that included the headquarters of the Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club.
  • I then pop down to the canal for a look at Tettenhall Old Bridge before investigating the recently refurbished Tettenhall Station nearby. The station building itself certainly looked neat and tidy, the old platforms were in good order and it was pleasing to see that a couple of associated railway buildings had also been brought back into use. The complex should hopefully provide an excellent hub for people exploring the Smestow Valley in future, as well as providing a valuable educational resource.
  • From the station, I dart across Henwood Road and hike it up Old Hill for a shot of the Rock Hotel. I have family connections with the pub and I'm hoping the photo will be good enough to include as part of my Nan's 2010 calendar.
  • From the Rock Hotel its a stone's throw into the centre of Tettenhall. I busy myself with a variety of views of the Green, focusing on the frozen pool and some wintry-looking trees. The Green also provides the perfect setting for a spot of lunch, with my chips proving useful handwarmers if nothing else!
  • Next up, I venture into the local estates of Tettenhall, strolling down Regis Road to renew my acquaintance with the Kingswood pub and the fire station. The Kingswood was another addition to my list of closed pubs, although I believe the problems here are more longstanding and the pub has been shut for some considerable time following issues with antisocial behaviour.
  • Redhouse Road and Yew Tree Lane lead me to The Wergs on the very fringes of the West Midlands county. I know the area fairly well but this was my first attempt at taking photos here - hopefully my shots of the Crown pub and the nearby Wergs Garage (a former car dealership that's now - you guessed it - closed down too) will provide some excellent starting content for a new WME collection at some point.
  • The Wergs is quite an exclusive, desirable area and there were certainly some impressive properties to be admired as I made my way back along Woodthorne Road en route to the top end of Tettenhall Wood. My target here was that old WME favourite the Bird in Hand pub - not sure whether its still open or not, its never seemed that busy whenever I've passed through anyway.
  • The walk by this stage was becoming something of an epic, but with the sun shining brightly I press on towards Wightwick. Here I track down the Fieldhouse pub, a charming little local tucked away on Perton Road, before braving Wightwick Bank, a bit of a squeeze with no footpath in places and some scary bends. Wightwick Manor was closed for winter, so I consoled myself with a couple of shots of the Mermaid pub (apparently this was a favourite haunt for Wolves players in years gone by, according to my Dad at least).
  • For a final flourish I take a little detour into the Castlecroft estate before catching the 543 back into Wolverhampton, reflecting on a few memories of pubs such as the Firs and the Chestnut Tree and visits to Bantock Park.
I'd been promising myself a proper go at Tettenhall and I think this outing certainly delivered. It was also interesting to see how places are changing in difficult economic circumstances, as epitomised with the local pub becoming an endangered species. I have felt a growing sense lately that local history is taking place right before my eyes at an ever increasing pace, and I hope that 2009 will yield more trips like this one where I can at least attempt to record some of the changes as they happen.

Tuesday, January 6

Shifnal and Kemberton

Winter can be a very frustrating time for the explorer, where a succession of grey skies and dreary weather can rather ruin any chance of getting photos. Then again, winter can also offer its own special kind of magic with the prospect of snow and frost adding a whole new dimension to the landscape. This magic was very much evident last Saturday as Dad and I enjoyed a walk around Shifnal and Kemberton.

I must admit I was slightly concerned as we drove across to Shifnal - there were dense patches of fog either side of the A464 and the in-car temperature gauge at one point read -7. It was still bitterly cold as we parked up by the village hall, but once we were underway the temperature didn't seem to matter. The walk was full of interest, beginning with a look at Shifnal itself. I didn't get any photos, instead preferring to make mental notes of future targets. I spotted a good selection of pubs, some attractive half-timbered buildings and the entrance to the railway station - plenty to keep me occupied on a return visit.

Leaving the town cente, we branched off down Park Lane before heading across fields to Lodge Hill. The scenery was delightful, with frost-capped hedgerows, a frozen duckpond and the sun shielded by a screen of fog for a very atmospheric eerie quality. We head down through a farm and then on through woodland before emerging into Evelith, a little hamlet with an impressive old mill house where the weather undoubtedly contributed to the pervading sense of remoteness and isolation.

From Evelith we tackled the frozen mud of King Charles Wood then negotiated the site of Kemberton Mill, complete with footbridges, plunge pools and half-derelict outbuildings. Next was Kemberton village itself, which proved to be the star of the show. The camera was soon in action taking pictures of the local church and the Masons Arms pub, although my eye was also taken by some striking houses that perhaps belonged to old manors and farmsteads. The village hall, school house and little red post box all contributed to the traditional atmosphere and charm, although we did discover some newer buildings too as we searched for Field Lane to lead us back towards Shifnal.

The return leg took us past a sewage works and around the rather exclusive Manor Barns, where we joined the driveway up to the main road. Church Street led us back into Shifnal town centre, providing me with a closer look at St Andrew's Church and the chance for a couple of photos as the church clock ticked around to quarter past eleven. Soon we were back at the car, reflecting on what had been an excellent walk, six and a quarter miles full of interest that had made the most of a beautiful morning. On another day in different conditions the walk would have been enjoyable, but I actually felt we were very lucky, timing it just about right to see winter at its magical very, very best. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my 2009 explorations.

Monday, January 5

Fotopic Problems

I had hoped to start my 2009 postings on a positive note, but due to issues outside of my control, the West Midlands Exploration galleries are currently unavailable. The site is hosted by and it appears the entire fotopic system has gone offline. Whether this is a temporary glitch or something more permanent remains to be seen, but I must admit it doesn't look great at the moment. Hopefully the site will reappear shortly, and I will try and keep you informed as best I can. Its all very frustrating, especially as I had a few updates in mind to kickstart the New Year. I apologise to any of you who may be missing the galleries, and will investigate possible alternatives to fotopic just in case, so feel free to offer your suggestions.

UPDATE: Fotopic appears to have resurrected itself, so the WME galleries are now available again. The outage was apparently caused by a technical fault, although I am still awaiting further news about the ongoing security of the fotopic system. I shall probably leave off with any updates for at least another week just to make sure everything has settled down again beforehand. I would also like to thank those who left comments warning me that WME wasn't available and then informing me that fotopic was back.