Saturday, May 30

WME Update Digest: May 2009

As yet another month draws to a close, it's time again to bring you up to speed with the latest WME developments. May has been a steady month with some handy new additions scattered across most of the galleries...
  • WME Coventry: It's been a long time coming, but Coventry can now proclaim its first update of the year. The new Exploring Canley collection includes photos of the library and the little park at Prior Deram Walk.
  • WME Solihull: also making its 2009 bow, Solihull just about comes back to life thanks to an extra shot of Marston Green Post Office. The gallery still needs some urgent surgery though to get properly up to speed again, so it remains on the critical list for now.
  • WME Shropshire: excellent news here as Exploring Worfield arrives to provide some further local content. The collection comprises some nice summery field views and a glimpse of the local golf course.
  • Exploration Extra: building on April's return to form, Extra comes through with a seaside takeaway hut at Hemsby, two pictures of the Frinton-on-Sea village sign and a look at the footbridge at Wymondham Station.
  • WME Birmingham: having sat on Brumtest for a mini-eternity, Exploring Cannon Hill Park finally makes it out of the starting blocks. The fledgling photos here feature the park plants, including some exotic spiky things.
  • WME Dudley: Exploring Sedgley now contains a series of shots taken during a walk up the Beacon. Oh yes, and the Jolly Crispin has resurfaced on Exploring Upper Gornal too.
  • WME Wolverhampton: nothing too exciting really, unless you'd like a look at Wobaston bus terminus or down The Holloway at Tettenhall Wood.
  • WME Sandwell: equally uninspiring but ticking over nonetheless, I offer you Leabrook Methodist Church (Exploring Wednesbury) and a glimpse of the Wolverhampton platform at Smethwick Rolfe Street.
So there we have the headlines for May, and unless we have any last minute fireworks tomorrow, that'll be your lot for another month and the whole show will then roll on into June. In the words of Jerry Keller, 'Here Comes Summer'...

Thursday, May 28

Museums Medley

A Bank Holiday outing with Rog and Woody sampling the delights of the Two Museums event organised jointly by Aston Manor and BaMMoT.
  • An early start sees me walk into Wolverhampton for photos of the Molineux and St Peter's Church. The Metro was affected by line problems, so I catch the train into Birmingham and arrive somewhat earlier than I anticipated.
  • I take the chance to get some rare photos in Birmingham City Centre, beginning with shots of Victoria Square and Central Library. Preparations were underway for a holiday event in the square, with the army, fire service and Aston FM setting up their display stands (or in the radio station's case, a display bus)! Having dodged army recruitment, I track down a couple of pubs that had intrigued me - the Wellington on Bennetts Hill, and the Old Contemptibles on Livery Street.
  • At half ten, its up to Colmore Row to see if the 9 had arrived. Messrs Chance and Wood are soon on the scene, seemingly a little put out by my early arrival. We wait on Hill Street for a museums shuttle bus, and come 11am its off to Aston Manor with a ride on a classic D9.

  • Aston Manor proved well worth a visit. There were a number of buses parked out on the yard, including a Guy Arab demonstrator, a Midland Red Leyland National and a Central Buses offering branded for the S1 Sutton Link. After getting in the way of each other's photos, its time to head indoors to carry out a different type of photo hunt, browsing the sales stands for any hint of Stourbridge examples.
  • Time for lunch, so we head back to Birmingham and track down the Briar Rose Wetherspoon's on Bennetts Hill. Here Rog and I sample some Stour Stout (which Rog refers to as "poor man's Guinness") and discuss future trip opportunities. The pub wasn't as busy as some of the other city centre Wetherspoon's we've visited and this fact made it all the more enjoyable.
  • On with the museums medley with a ride from Hill Street down to BaMMoT, a nice little journey via the cricket ground, Moseley and Kings Heath. At BaMMoT we hop onto the car park shuttle, hoping that there might be some extra buses on display at the other end - there weren't. Back to the museum then, where we investigate a motley collection of buses, sales stands and the occasional milk float and I inadvertently get a close-up of Mr Wood's bald spot (I'm saving that photo for when I really need to use it...)!
  • Having survived a congested museum shop and toured the modelling display, its onwards again with the help of a preserved Chase Leyland National that conveys us to Alcester Lanes End. Here we change onto the 50 for glimpses of Balsall Heath and Highgate, before alighting at Digbeth for our next pub experience.

  • The Anchor has garnered a fine reputation for its real ales, with Rog and I certainly enjoying our visit last year despite the pub being packed out with Birmingham City fans having a pre-match drink. The pub was quieter this time around, giving us chance to have a look inside, admiring old bus photos and a somewhat antique map of old National Express routes. With Mr Wood on the cokes, Rog and I try some Cheddar Valley cider - the pint slipped down a treat despite being alarmingly orange in colour. Thankfully it didn't have the taste of cheese that Rog was expecting!
  • After a short hop on the 97, its into the Bull Ring for a bite to eat at Burger King. The less said about Rog's £3.19 plain burger the better! His mood improved when we visited our next pub - the Anchor was good but the Wellington in my opinion was even better. Here you choose your tipple off a tv screen then order by pump number; the selection was excellent although we decided to stay local with a pint of Pig on the Wall Mild. The pub had a nice ambience and we're already looking forward to a return visit, although whether Rog will work his way through the entire screen is another matter entirely.
  • The homeward stretch sees the 138 take us to Halesowen, where the bus station still fails to impress us much. The 9 completes the leg back to Stourbridge, and we finish with some nice evening drinks at the Old Crispin and the Glass before a final goodbye pint out on the patio at the Rock Station with a slumbering Blade for company.
An excellent day all told then, the museums provided a welcome blast from the past and there was time for a bit of exploring and some classic pub experiences too. A fine way to spend a Bank Holiday!

Saturday, May 23


Following on from Great Yarmouth 2007 and Clacton 2008, this year's family holiday saw me head over to Skegness, a seaside resort that provided a great base for some Lincolnshire exploration...

Monday 18th May: the holiday atmosphere sets in as we make our way to Skegness. It's not a bad drive from the West Midlands, and we successfully negotiated the streets of Grantham and Boston en route. We arrive at Skeggy in the afternoon, locate our camp and I'm delighted to discover its about five minutes walk away from the town's bus and railway stations - excellent! Having settled in, its time for a walk around Skegness, sampling the delights of the seafront, amusement arcades and the town centre. There don't seem to be many pubs in the town, although we do find Wetherspoons The Red Lion for a nice pint of local Bateman's bitter.

Tuesday 19th May: the first full day of the holiday sees us explore more of the Skegness area. I begin with a photo session at the town stations, admiring the Stagecoach/Lincolnshire Roadcar fleet including some open top Metrobuses working the 3 to Ingoldmells. Other routes include the InterConnect services (6 to Lincoln and 7 to Boston), plus the local routes 1 (Chapel St Leonards), 9 (Mablethorpe) and 2 (Skegness Town). My visit to the railway station is equally enjoyable, getting shots of the forecourt and noting that there is a train to Nottingham roughly every hour.

Next up, its off to Mablethorpe where we recall previous holidays with a walk along the promenade and Dad goes down memory lane with a look at an old (and I would say frightfully dated) chalet park. Lunch came courtesy of the Beck pub and their excellent carvery, which far exceeded my expectations by proving to be most delicious. Then its time for a look at Ingoldmells, where the Fantasy Island theme park is accompanied by an array of somewhat tacky bars, amusement arcades and cheap food outlets. I much preferred the old village area up by the church and the Three Tuns pub.

Wednesday 20th May: A day of solo exploration sees me head inland to Boston. The train ride was great, offering views over the Lincolnshire countryside, notable for its general flatness and a number of drainage channels. Boston was brilliant - the market was on and the place was bustling. I start with photos of the train station (quite a nice traditional frontage) before stumbling across the basic bus station where a number of Brylaine vehicles were on layover. From here I head into the town centre to discover the market place, narrow streets and have a closer look at St Botolph's Church (otherwise affectionately known as 'The Stump'). Tate's old fashioned chip shop provides me with an excellent lunch, and then I go on the lookout for a cosy pub as I fancy another pint of Bateman's. Unlike Skegness, Boston has a cracking selection of traditional locals, but the Britannia had caught my eye - nestled on an old street in the shadow of the Stump, it proved a fine choice for a pint of Bateman's XB and a slice of proper Lincolnshire atmosphere.

The No. 7 Interconnect route provides a fascinating ride through quaint villages such as Freiston, Butterwick and Old Leake, and I decide to hop off for a closer look at Wainfleet. The village is home to Bateman's Brewery (more about that later), but also has a charming marketplace and its own clutch of homely pubs. There's also the village station to explore, complete with old fashioned level crossing and signal box - the signalman even pops out for a quick chat. The 7 then completes my return to Skegness, where I meet up with the family for another drink in the Red Lion. We complete a successful day by winning the quiz night event back on the camp - I was surprised with my knowledge of Mambo Number 5 by Lou Bega, but had absolutely no idea that the Clintons' cat whilst in the White House was called Socks!

Thursday 21st May: by now, Dad and I had developed a real taste for Bateman's beer so a visit to the brewery was well in order. We decided to make a day of it, catching the train up to Wainfleet so I could have another chat with the signalman and a further look around the village. Bateman's Brewery occupies a pretty site in an old windmill on the side of the river - very photogenic. After a look at some of the outbuildings, we head inside to sample the XXXB bitter. Served in top condition, I don't think I've ever had a better pint. The bar room was full of fascinating breweriana and certificates, and included part of an extensive collection of bottled beers that created a trail around the restaurant and exhibition room too. We decided to try the brewery tour, and were rewarded with a fascinating guided talk taking us through the historic and modern brewing process - at least now I have some understanding of terms such as grist, wort and mash tun. Even better, the tour concluded with a free sample and this time we tried the Mild, an excellent drink in its own right although XXXB is definitely my favourite. We also enjoyed a Ploughman's lunch and a few traditional pub games, where I failed miserably to land a hoop on a peg, oh dear! The train takes us back to Skegness, where I add to my bus photos with a shot of Hunt's route 7 on its way to Alford. An excellent day.

Friday 22nd May: The last few days have flown by and now its time to be heading home. The satnav guides us back through Boston and Grantham, and even introduces us to Melton Mowbray too. Before long we're on the M69 and M6 for the homeward stretch, and the West Midlands soon greets us - and that's that.

I really enjoyed the holiday, especially getting the chance to explore coastal resorts like Skegness and Mablethorpe compared with the historic market town of Boston. Lincolnshire has a lot of understated charm, proved excellent value for money and provided some wonderful memories of great pints, great pubs, great journeys and great fun.

Sunday, May 17

A Carnival of Pubs

Saturday 16th May and its the day of the Kinver Country Fayre. I head across to Stourbridge to meet up with Rog and Woody, and then its time for a walk down to Whittington via Gibbet Wood. I still haven't quite recovered from the shock of witnessing Woody walk so far...

Arriving in the teeth of a blustery gale, we had to wait for the Whittington pub to open before settling down with a pint of Cumberland Ale. Pints quaffed, the walk continues down over Whittington Horse Bridge and into Kinver village - this time the rain sets in and we decide to take cover in the Cross where the Hobgoblin beer provides the perfect tonic whilst we dry out.

Thankfully the rain has relented and we can then continue into the village, where the fayre is taking shape with lots of popular stalls already attracting the weekend crowds. We're on the lookout for a good vantage point from which to watch the parade, and find a spot in the car park of the Plough and Harrow armed with a pint of Batham's. Woody gets set to record the event, and come 1pm its time for the off - a police escort arrives followed by the Northfield Caledonian Pipes and Drums, a group of scouts and a fire engine, and that was that. Compared to our previous visit to the carnival, the parade was a little disappointing but the rest of the fayre more than made up for it.

After finishing our Batham's, it was time to investigate the stalls more closely, starting with a charity tombola where we won an array of new cuddly toy friends for Bruce. We had time for a quick drink in the Old White Hart (but only after dodging the Morris dancers), then grabbed a spot of lunch from the chip shop and had a ride on the miniature steam railway. With the rain setting in again, we made a beeline for the Royal Exchange before waiting - and waiting - for the bus back to Stourbridge. The wait meant that Rog got 'hammered' after he somewhat worryingly won himself a squeaky inflatable mallet - oh dear!

Eventually we discovered that Hanson's were only running services to Potters Cross, but we did strike it a little luckier in that the bus was waiting after we'd hiked it up the road. Rog and I alighted at Wollaston to complete our carnival of pubs with visits to the Barley Mow and the Britannia, and the rain returned with avengeance just as I had to make my return dash back home. Even a late soaking couldn't take the gloss off what had proved a fun filled day that the village of Kinver can be very proud of.

Saturday, May 9

Tackling Tyseley

My first major outing for May saw me back on the Brum beat for a classic Birmingham local investigating some of the less glamorous areas of the city...
  • Tyseley: The starting point for today's outing was Tyseley Station, taking a few platform photos including a battered old running board that attempted to advertise the nearby railway museum, albeit with a few letters missing. The station has always had a lot of traditional railway charm but seems to have been spruced up a bit lately, with the tiled booking hall being a great period feature. I then try to track down the 36C, hoping to go to Sparkhill - the route isn't due for a while so I walk around the block, and then find out I've been waiting in the wrong place as the route no longer crosses the bridge by the station - oops!!
  • 36C: Luckily, the 36C towards Stechford still uses Knights Road and with my initial plan out of the window, I decide to investigate the route up to Five Ways terminus instead. An interesting ride, down Kings Road through Hay Mills and then bi-secting Bordesley Green along Berkeley Road. I was also surprised to find that the Richmond pub is being replaced by a new health centre - another local landmark bites the dust, although the new facility could become a landmark for future generations. At Five Ways, a very rare event - whilst taking my terminus photo, the bus driver actually got back on the bus specifically so that he could appear in the shot complete with a big smile and friendly wave. How's that for service!
  • Ward End: From Five Ways, its time for another of my patented epic local walks. This one took me round the back of Stechford and along Cotterills Lane, where I enjoyed a brief flirtation with Alum Rock. Its then into Ward End Park to admire the blossoms and the flowerbeds before getting cheeky snaps of the local library and fire station. Washwood Heath Road takes me up to the Fox & Goose, where I get a couple of pub shots whilst trying to work out which stand the 24 goes from.
  • 24: the route was created a couple of years back in order to cover the Small Heath end of the old 28, and I'd heard whispers that National Express West Midlands were set to withdraw the service quite soon. I wait at the stop outside The Hornet Wetherspoon's and a Metrobus is soon on the scene to provide a classic ride down through Alum Rock, Bordesley Green and Small Heath. I was going to alight at Small Heath Park (the old 28 terminus), but instead stay on board to investigate the Bordesley terminus on Arthur Street, just around the corner from St Andrews.
  • Small Heath: With my Metrobus shot safely in the bag, its time for more local walking with my pocket A-Z guiding me to Sparkhill. The stroll takes me over Small Heath Bridge, along Montgomery Street for a look at the Marlborough pub, then round to Golden Hillock Road for some zoomed shots of Small Heath Station. The Marlborough was an especially intriguing discovery, a very imposing traditional corner pub there.
  • Sparkhill: A bit of a step into the unknown this, but it turned out to be fascinating exploration. Golden Hillock Road leads down past the Ackers, then I cross Warwick Road into Baker Street to arrive on Stratford Road. Being one of Birmingham's main routes, the road was very busy with afternoon traffic and the surrounding area seemed to be imbued with a similarly vibrant bustling quality. I knew from previous outings that Sparkhill is a particularly multicultural area, and I actually found myself really enjoying the chance to sample a different kind of West Midlands atmosphere. I also got a few photos courtesy of the Bear and Antelope pubs, the local park with its own springtime blossoms, and a couple of distinctive local landmarks in the form of the local library and swimming baths. Excellent.
  • 36c: The trip now returns full circle as I finish off with the other half of the 36C. I caught the route on Stratford Road as it approached its terminal loop, meaning I could hop off at Percy Road for a precious layover photo. Once again, the driver was very obliging in letting me get the shot, and we ended up having a cracking conversation about old routes and Fleetline buses with hefty handbrakes - bus photography memories just don't come much better than that! The route provided a nice run back up to Tyseley via Forman's Road, Spring Road Station, Olton Boulevard and Acocks Green. If the route is to be withdrawn I will be sad to see it go, although the driver did suggest it may well have been reprieved - let's hope it has.
  • Tyseley: I just have time for a few more station shots before the 14:34 train arrives to whisk me off back home. The ride back gives me time to reflect on a truly memorable day of old-fashioned bus investigations with a bit of rail and local walking thrown in. All good stuff, and it sets me up nicely for a jaunt down Kinver next week...