Saturday, March 28

More March Updates

I've been making the most of a break from work by supplying a few updates to the WME galleries and also giving some attention to the WME Canal Register. Here's the latest...

Heading the roll call this time around is the unfamiliar figure of WME Telford - yes, this most neglected of galleries has actually received some new content, shock horror! As if that wasn't unbelievable enough, I actually have a new collection to report, a canal related collection no less, as the Newport Branch makes an appearance thanks to a couple of views looking from Newport Bridge out towards Edgmond. I hope to flesh this collection out a bit more soon, as I just have to tidy up a couple of views of Newport Basin and then they'll be ready for inclusion. Completing a veritable feast of additions by Telford standards is a view of Newport Interchange joining the Bus Stops and Stations collection.

Where to next? Let's drop in on WME Walsall, which also boasts a new collection in Exploring Brownhills West. The starter photos here comprise a shot each of the Rising Sun and Waterside pubs, bringing back memories of a visit to Chasewater with Rog last June. If you think those photos are old, I've raided the archive from April 2007 to dig out two shots of an Arriva liveried Leyland National operating the 319 route in Bloxwich - the bus was a bonus spot during the Chase Farewell Running Day.

To WME Dudley, where my recent mini-rash of new collections has been augmented further with the arrival of Exploring Bromley. Again we're talking two starter shots (the Fox & Goose pub and the local shops in this case), and with the likes of Upper Gornal, Brockmoor and Woodside also containing the bare minimum, I need to be careful that I'm not spreading the local content too thinly. One collection that certainly has no worries about being undersized is Dudley by Bus, which benefits further from my focus on the old 210 bus thanks to a photo of the route at Fatherless Barn, whilst the Birmingham Main Line Canal collection is also shaping up nicely with the arrival of two shots of Tunnel Bridge.

Elsewhere, we have notice of updates to WME Staffordshire (two nice Bridge 35 at Gnosall views on the Shropshire Union Canal) and WME Worcestershire (extra platform 3 pictures for Shrub Hill Station). WME Wolverhampton has been bubbling under, with trees at East Park, geese at West Park and the Freemasons Arms at Springfield all now featuring. Finally, as I mentioned in the intro to this post, the WME Canal Register has been brought pretty much bang up to date. There might be the odd little oversight here and there that I can correct where necessary, but I finally have an accurate record of the extent of my canal explorations, and I was somewhat surprised to discover this included further flung waterways such as the Macclesfield and Llangollen Canals. Now if only the WME galleries could be brought up to speed quite as easily...

Monday, March 23

Across the Border

To borrow a phrase from Wallace and Gromit, last Saturday's outing was 'A Grand Day Out' that saw Rog, Woody, Andy and yours truly (not forgetting Bruce the Bear) sampling the delights of Chester before venturing across the border into Wales with a visit to Mold...

Meeting at Wolverhampton Station, we caught the 9:37 Preston train up to Crewe, giving us chance to begin the banter by reviewing Bruce's fight with Edd the Duck last time out. At Crewe it was off to platform 9 for the train to Chester, but only after the chaps had endured a rather unpleasant experience in one of the station toilets, scaring some of the other passengers as their moans echoed around the station. The experience also prompted a discussion on the toilet habits at West Bromwich Depot, proving you can never predict where a conversation might lead you! Bruce also surfaced for the ride to Chester, making friends with another teddy sitting on the table opposite.

Soon we were in Chester, and I was immediately into photo-taking action with shots of the train and views along the platform. I really like Chester Station, its a cracking building with a long frontage and lots of traditional features although it works well as a modern facility too. The Queens Hotel and the Town Crier pub provided further interest opposite the station entrance, and there was the added bonus of a bus terminus where route 1 from Wrexham was conveniently on layover.

The Rail Link shuttle bus had arrived and, after a couple more photos, we hopped on board for the short ride into the City Centre. Having alighted, we navigate up Eastgate Street by the impressive clock and then passed the even more impressive cathedral, dodging street preachers to find Chester Bus Exchange. Here I was in my element, surveying the stands for potential targets which included route 1a to Blacon, route 3 to Ellesmere Port, route 401 to Liverpool and route 12 to Connah's Quay Boathouse.

It was now counting down towards lunchtime, so we returned to Foregate Street where Rog set himself the challenge of finding the cheapest Mother's Day card in Chester before deciding on a fairly cute, Bruce-inspired offering. The Square Bottle was our next port of call, where we had plenty of time to debate the lack of service and then the lack of chips once my dinner arrived! It was a good job I wasn't actually that hungry otherwise I'd have had to send out a search party...

Time for more buses, waiting at Stand D on Foregate Street for the X55 to Mold as the rather intriguing X94 to Barmouth called by. The X55 wasn't far behind and provided a nice ride via Chester Business Park, Broughton Retail Park, Broughton Village and Buckley/Bwcle. Bruce got into the action by reading the Daily Star (or was he looking at the pictures?!!), then Andy nearly did himself a mischief whilst undergoing contortion so that Bruce could wave to passing motorists.

Soon we were in Mold, where the camera was quickly back in action at the little bus station, capturing a few buses on layover at what proved to be another nice photo location. It was now time for our next pint, so we headed across the road into the Boars Head, a nice local pub where we set up a group photo in the beer garden and I achieved a mini-ambition by setting foot inside a Welsh pub. Returning to the bus station, we were hoping to catch the 26 to Wrexham but it didn't show, so our stay in Mold was extended by a visit to the local Wetherspoon's where Bruce got cosy with one of the barmaids, lucky him! The X44 then got us back on track with a return ride to Chester, calling at Buckley, Hawarden and Ewloe, thus returning us to England although I'd definitely venture back into Wales and return to Mold in future.

The ride back was fairly swift, which was just as well considering both Rog and Andy were suffering with their bladders. One urgent toilet stop later, we hopped onto the 1 back to Chester Station but still had time for a bonus pint in the Town Crier - I think this pub could become our regular Chester watering hole. With a quick dash through the station, we boarded the Euston train for the ride back to Crewe and I received the excellent news that Wolves were leading 1-0 at Nottingham Forest. The pub at Crewe Station was shut, so I consoled myself with some shots of the station entrance before we caught the London Midland service back to Wolverhampton.

Back in the West Midlands, Woody bid us farewell until next time, whilst Andy, Rog and myself decided upon a visit to the Great Western round by Low Level Station. The pub enjoys an excellent reputation in Wolverhampton and didn't disappoint, providing a traditional atmosphere with lots of railway memorabilia on display. Bruce and Andy then said a tearful goodbye as Andy caught the Metro home, leaving Rog and me to finish off proceedings at our new Wolverhampton favourites, the Wheatsheaf and the Giffard.

On reflection, it really was an excellent day, despite never quite making it to Wrexham. I got a few photos, enjoyed a few pints and I think that goes for everyone. It was nice to get back out further afield, with both Chester and Mold making quite an impression and proving worthy of further investigation. I'm already looking forward to the next time we head across the border...

Tuesday, March 17

Bruce at the Beacon - and Other Stories...

Having spent much of my last few trips seemingly obsessed with taking photos of local pubs, I thought it was about time I actually stepped foot inside a few. Last Saturday therefore saw Rog join me for a Black Country pubcrawl, and we were ably accompanied by Bruce the Bear and (somewhat disturbingly!) Edd the Duck...
  • Our first port of call was The Giffard in Wolverhampton, where we could admire the gothic decor and coffin tables and Bruce even got to sit in an impressive carved throne.
  • Next was The Beacon Hotel near Sedgley, a proper old-fashioned pub serving its own beer. We enjoyed our pint so much we couldn't resist getting another half in for good measure. The pub was a delight, full of local characters chewing the fat and taking a shine to Bruce.
  • A walk through Woodsetton then took us to The Park Inn, the brewery tap for Holden's. Here we sampled the Special Bitter whilst Bruce and Edd attempted a rather bizarre game of table tennis. Not sure who won as both were as useless as each other!
  • The 126 provided our Dudley connection, where we got a bite to eat before having a coke in The Fellows. Here, Rog got a Welsh lesson from some bloke who liked his coat whilst I discovered Wolves had beaten Charlton 2-1 at Molineux - the day just gets better...
  • From Dudley we were aiming to head into Netherton, but the 276 bus caught our eye and we ended up in Darby End at The Gate Hangs Well. This proved to be an excellent choice, based on the recommendation of a friendly bus driver. Bruce certainly made himself at home with the regulars and even perched himself behind the bar, whilst Rog and I enjoyed a pint of Banks's each and watched a bit of football as Birmingham went in front against Doncaster.
  • Having dragged Bruce away from his new admirers, we made our way to Windmill End to sample the delights of the Dry Dock and the Wheatsheaf. I quite liked The Dry Dock, especially the narrowboat bar and the selection of traditional tiled signs, whilst The Wheatsheaf did us nicely for a quick half.
  • The pubs and the pints were now stacking up, so it was time to head across to Stourbridge to finish off the evening. A combination of the 258 and 276 sufficed, although there was some drama at Merry Hill when one bus on layover caught fire! Bruce found another addition to his fan club on the 276, he always gets the girls!
  • Our final port of call was The Rock Station, where we could catch up with Woody and enjoy Chris's DJ repertoire. A great end to a good day, with Blade on the prowl and plans afoot for future outings.
All good stuff then, a proper Black Country day out and I hope others will follow. Saturday wasn't the end of my exploration though, as Sunday saw Dad and I enjoying a walk around Wombourne, the highlight of which was the discovery of Ebstree Lock. Just for good measure, I even squeaked a look around Bilston yesterday, having a spot of lunch by Grapes Pool and venturing around Stowlawn and the Villiers estate. A three-in-a-row to savour there.


With all this exploring, you'd expect that the site would have gone quiet and it has to some extent - although there have been some developments. Hitting the headlines this time is WME Walsall, which has crashed resoundingly through the 150 photos barrier thanks to a new Exploring Leamore collection featuring the local shops and the Crown, Black Horse and Railway pubs. WME Walsall does get left behind compared to the other main WME galleries, but this is an encouraging development all the same.

Elsewhere, there's good news too from WME Dudley with Brierley Hill Road Lock joining the Stourbridge Canal, and bus additions including the 248A and 251 at Stourbridge and a look at the 210 calling at Halesowen during its last day in service. WME Wolverhampton gets in on the act, whereby I offer you shots of Northycote Lane bridleway (a rural hint on Exploring Bushbury) and the Murco Filling Station at Claregate Island. Completing the catch-up is WME Sandwell with two New Birmingham Main Line photos covering Factory Junction and Galton Tunnel.

And there we have it, you're bang up to date again and I must admit I've been quite pleased with recent progress. The challenge as always is to maintain the momentum, and hopefully I'll have some more news to report in due course...

Tuesday, March 10

Seeking Saltwells

Following swiftly on the coat-tails of my hike around Darlaston and Wednesbury a couple of weeks back, last Friday's outing saw me in rambling mode once again, this time exploring the local areas around Netherton. My mission was to continue to photograph a selection of local pubs along with anything else that caught my eye - here comes the summary...
  • 224 - Choice Travel route linking Bilston and Cradley Heath, providing a lengthy epic ride around places such as Parkfields (Hilton Road), Ettingshall Park, Woodcross, Sedgley, Woodsetton, the Foxyards estate, Dudley, Warrens Hall, Uplands, Springfield and Rowley Regis.
  • Cradley Heath - a few station photos, including the level crossing. Added in a dash of buses with routes 139 and 213 in attendance, then its time to start the walk...
  • Mushroom Green - a charming little village off Quarry Road. Investigated some cottages and woodland paths before finding part of the old forge, a nice discovery.
  • Dudley Wood - tracking down the Bunch of Bluebells pub and the old library building, now replaced by a Library Link facility nearby.
  • Saltwells - The Saltwells Inn sounded intriguing, hidden away down a lane at the gateway to the nature reserve. The reserve itself was worth a visit, offering views of the old clay pit before I emerged at Lodge Farm Reservoir for photos of High Bridge on the Dudley No. 2 Canal.
  • Netherton - it's a bit steep approaching the church, which looked very foreboding at the top of the hill. I continue around to Hillcrest School and the Crown pub before heading into the village. The Bulls Head and the Old Swan provided more pub photos before I settled down for some lunch in the park.
  • Baptist End - the pub trail continues with the White Swan (Baptist End Road) and the White Lion (St Peter's Road, closed).
  • Windmill End - time for a bit of canal indulgence, heading to the Bumble Hole for a look at Cobbs Engine House and the southern portal of Netherton Tunnel (venturing inside to sample the eerie echoing interior). The Dry Dock and the Wheatsheaf add to the pub quota, before I follow more of the Dudley No. 2 Canal to Bullfields Bridge.
  • Springfield - the 224 bus earlier had provided tantalising glimpses of some photo targets here, and a combination of the Royal Oak, the Hailstone and the Cock finished proceedings very nicely indeed.
And there we have it, another Friday adventure in the bag and March off to an excellent start. I think I might stick with the theme of extended local walks for a while yet, although I do hope to add in a bit more bus and train exploration too as I go along. I wonder where my next outing will take me?