Sunday, September 27

A Coventry Compendium

Saturday 26th September: The explorations continue to come thick and fast as another autumn special sees our intrepid adventurers (WME, SBI, Bruce and Bonus) make a welcome return to Coventry. Amongst our destinations were Hawkesbury Junction, Chapelfields and Allesley Village - here's the tale of the trip...
  • An earlyish start for us both sees me on the local Wolverhampton to New Street train which Rog joins (minus coat) at Galton Bridge. The Euston service provides our Coventry connection, giving us chance to debate the latest F1 scandal (naughty Renault) whilst confirming the plan for the day.

  • Coventry: The 27 is waiting for us outside the station, and provides a quick photo followed by a ride to Pool Meadow. Then its a case of introducing Bruce to Lady Godiva's Statue, with Roger thankfully resisting the urge to go naked (although the buses on Trinity Street avoided us just in case). Coventry Cathedral provides another photo call, the bombed ruins are a poignantly atmospheric reminder of the horrors of war.

  • The 4: Back at Pool Meadow, we catch the 4 up to Arena Tesco. The route in full links the Tesco with University Hospital via Binley, and today's section provided a look at Eagle Street, Lockhurst Lane, Holbrooks and Hen Lane. We also got a good view of the impressive Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City FC, before arriving at the Tesco Bus Interchange.

  • Arena Tesco: The interchange is a great place for bus photos, particularly with a clutch of de Courcey routes (701, 703, 704, 778) calling by. Rog and I busy ourselves with various shots and then venture into the supermarket complex, finding a little branch library and trying to avoid any carrier bags that might remind us of the dreaded West Bromwich Albion.

  • Coventry Canal: I was keen to continue my recent theme of towpath trails, so we joined the canal for a walk to Hawkesbury Junction. It proved to be a pleasant stroll, offering the odd bridge photo whilst Rog seemed intent on playing the Rock's greatest hits. Only marginally less bizarre was the sight of a curious stone sofa sculpture, whilst the Longford Engine pub was a useful discovery by Bridge 10.

  • Hawkesbury Junction: A cracking location that marks the meeting point of the Coventry and Oxford Canals. There's an impressive turnover footbridge and various buildings associated with Sutton Stop, one of which appeared to have some kind of police connection. To add to the charm, the junction is overlooked by the Greyhound, a classic canalside pub complete with brasses, cosy corners and a decent pint of Tribute ale.

  • Alderman's Green: Back to the walk then as we investigate the early reaches of the Oxford Canal down to Alderman's Green. We leave the towpath at Bridge 4 and can't resist taking a closer look at the Elephant and Castle pub. One swift Bombardier later, its time for some local photos courtesy of the nearby post office and the Miner's Arms, whilst the Nippy Chippy satisfies our food cravings with a couple of tasty scollops.

  • 30A: Having just about made sense of the Coventry bus map, we reckoned the 30A was the best option to get us back into City. The route combines with the 30C to provide a circular service around Lenton's Lane, although we avoided the terminal loop by catching the bus on Jackers Road. From here we pass through Victoria Farm and Longford Park before slogging it down the Foleshill Road with traffic building in readiness for the afternoon's football match.

  • Earlsdon: After a brief flirtation with Coventry City Centre, we hope to change onto the 1 for our connection to Chapelfields. A bladder break puts paid to that idea, so we hop on the Park and Ride service down to War Memorial Park. From here we can walk into Earlsdon, and I can get some bonus local photos of the local library and the Royal Oak pub.

  • Chapelfields: Continuing past Hearsall Common, we arrive in Chapelfields in search of the Craven Run, a famed sequence of pubs reminiscent of the Delph area near Brierley Hill. Craven Street itself offered four or five intriguing locals, with others such as the Nursery Tavern also close at hand. Rog and I didn't attempt the full pubcrawl, and instead settled on a fine couple of backstreet examples. First came the Chestnut Tree, where the barmaid kindly put the F1 qualifying on the big screen as we savoured some Q scratchings washed down with Everard's Tiger. Unfortunately, the curse of the Brawn hat struck again and Jenson could only qualify in 12th place. Rog wasn't happy, so we had no choice but to pop into the Hearsall Inn. This pub had a vaguely Irish theme, an appropriate setting then to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Guinness with a consolatary pint.

  • Allesley: The Craven Run certainly lived up to my expectations and I have a feeling we will be back at some point to test out the pubs we missed. Today though its a case of pressing onwards to Allesley, with Rog game for a bit more walking. This particular stroll takes us along Allesley Old Road, passing the Maudslay, then up Grayswood Avenue to find the route 1 terminus outside a little block of shops. Birmingham Road leads up into Allesley Village itself, where there are lots of nice cottages that do much to maintain the old-fashioned feel of the place. We soon find the Rainbow Inn, a historic village pub that seems very popular with the locals. We each partake of a pint of Piddlebrook whilst consulting the menu; I decide on some fish and chips whilst Rog goes for the scampi. It was a decent meal, good beer and a lovely traditional setting, definitely well worth the visit.

  • Meriden: Our trip was now drawing to a close, and it was time to bid Coventry goodbye. Catching the 900 just up from the Rainbow, we head over to Meriden and decide we just about have time for one extra stop. The village is supposedly the geographical centre of England, but as darkness is setting in, we limit our explorations to the Bull's Head pub. Here we quaff a pint of Timothy Taylor in rather posh, exclusive surroundings, and Rog is dismayed that his pheromone wipes don't seem to be working!
  • We finish off with a final ride on the 900, alighting at Birmingham International for our train home. Yet again it had been another fun (and beer) filled day offering an array of buses, canals and pubs to enjoy. I think we did Coventry justice, and maybe we won't leave it quite as long before our next visit.

Saturday, September 19


Friday 18th September: Last week's Calf Heath and Coven outing had proved so enjoyable that I was immediately keen to try another canal-based adventure. My research pointed me towards the Shropshire Union Canal, with a walk from Autherley Junction to Brewood proving very enticing...

I start off as last week, catching the 698 down to Wobaston. This time the bus is an Optare Solo, and the driver kindly lets me get a couple of photos before I head off to Marsh Lane. Whilst my walk proper would begin at Autherley Junction, I wanted to have a quick look at Pendeford, mainly because I wanted a photo or two of Priory Green School. The school is situated just off the Square, next to the library, and is currently subject to a consultation process that could see the place close in August 2010. Apparently a number of schools in the local area are carrying excessive surplus places, with the result that one school needs to be sacrificed in order to keep the other viable. A tough decision indeed.

To Autherley Junction then, and I greet the Shropshire Union Canal with a flurry of photos of the Junction Bridge and Autherley Lock. I've visited the junction countless times down the years but something about the place keeps drawing me back. Actually, much of the route I will be walking this morning is familiar territory, including the next section up past Dovecotes to Turnover Bridge and into Staffordshire. A sense of peace and relaxation is already evident as I head into more rural surroundings.

Beyond Bridge 4 I enter into a zone of new exploration, as I'd never covered the segment up past The Hattons until now. I was hoping for some nice bridges to photograph and I wasn't to be disappointed - both bridges 5 and 6 were delightful traditional stone examples, with the only modern intrusion coming in the form of the M54 motorway. Hunting Bridge (No. 7) marks my return to previous ground, and also provides the setting for a conversation with an angler who was telling me about building work, soffits and scaffolding. You can meet some great characters when out exploring the canals, and this was certainly a nice moment.

The chap also commented on the scenic photogenic quality of the approach to Brewood, and this was something I relished revisiting. I continued from Bridge 7 to Bridge 14, a stretch that includes the impressively grand Avenue Bridge near Chillington Hall. Every single one of the bridges had its own unique charm and character, some lit brightly by the morning sunshine whilst others nestle snugly in sleepy shade. At one point a majestic heron swooped by, providing a stunning reminder of the canal's important role as a wildlife habitat.

After nearly two hours of gentle walking, the spire of Brewood Church loomed on the horizon. I leave the canal at Bridge 14 and launch into local photos, starting with the Bridge Inn pub and the Catholic Church on Kiddemore Green Road. Heading into the village, I spot St Dominics School before branching off down Newport Street to find the local library. Brewood has been a favourite of mine for a while, often serving Dad and I very well during our weekend strolls, so it was good to be back. I add in views of the police station and St Mary & St Chad's before deciding I need a pint.

All that walking had certainly given me a thirst, so I called in at The Admiral Rodney for a pint of Timothy Taylor. The pub is located on Dean Street, just down from the Church, and did the job just nicely. I find a quiet corner to have a read of the newspaper and rest my legs, which weren't actually as weary as I'd anticipated. Thirst quenched, I head up to the Market Place for views of the village centre, complete with old fashioned wooden fingerpost overlooked by Speedwell Castle, The Swan Hotel and the Lion - the latter sadly having closed down.

Feeling refreshed, its time for some lunch. I pop in the Village Bakery on Stafford Street to sample their vegetable slices, and ended up participating in a bizarre conversation about lizards with the girl at the counter and the local butcher. Now I'm hardly an expert on the dietary habits of lizards, so I couldn't offer much in the way of advice, but it made for the second memorable conversation of the day. With lunch heated through, I head off to find somewhere to eat it and time things just right to get a shot of the Route 3 Green Bus calling at the bus stop outside the Post Office.

Having got my photo and received a thumbs up from the driver, I settle down to savour my slice before doing another photographic loop of the village. The library came in for some more attention, as did the school and a curious building called The Old Bank. I had a bit of time to kill before the next Green Bus was due, so I popped into the Swan for a slow pint. After some deliberation, I settled on some Abbot Ale and it proved a decent accompaniment as I once again did battle with the Metro sudoku - unfortunately, the puzzle got the better of me this week. Come 2pm its time to catch my bus, with the 3 echoing the 698 earlier in providing a repeat of last week. The bus arrives bang on time with the same driver and vehicle I'd photographed earlier; I'm pleased to note the driver still had a friendly smile. I take my seat for a cracking, breezy Green Bus ride back through Coven that proves a fine way to end proceedings, thus bringing to a close another canal classic.

Friday, September 11

Calf Heath and Coven

I was thinking just the other day that it had been ages since I'd done a proper solo adventure. Never one to turn down an exploration challenge, I put my thinking cap on and came up with a September Stunner during which I investigated the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal north of Wolverhampton...

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, barely a cloud in the sky, and just perfect for pounding the towpaths. First stop is my old friend Wobaston where I add to my collection of 698 terminus shots and sneak a couple of views of the Harrowby pub. Its then off to Marsh Lane Bridge to begin the walk proper - I'm aiming to get to Calf Heath although I'm not sure how far it is or how long it might take to get there.

The first stretch of canal is familiar territory, heading down past Forster's Bridge to the M54 and on through Coven Heath. Cross Green Bridge looks photogenic in the dappled shade, whilst the Fox and Anchor pub also looks inviting. The familiarity ends with Slade Heath Bridge - it was at this point that Dad and I turned round during a previous walk, so I get some shots of the pretty canalside cottages and prepare to step into the unknown.

I always find new canal exploration fascinating, but what followed was especially enjoyable. I think the fine weather, the sense of solitude and the rural surroundings all contributed to a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful walk. The discoveries weren't bad either, with the towpath winding its way round to reveal Laches Bridge, Moat House Bridge and Deepmore Bridge in turn, all of which were traditionally built and most charming.

One bend on from Deepmore Bridge and I found myself at Calf Heath trying to get to grips with Hatherton Junction. The location had long intrigued me as the place where the former Hatherton Canal branched off towards Cannock. Sadly the canal closed (partly due to mining subsidence) although the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust hope to restore it. I actually found the junction to be most frustrating - the whitewashed turnover bridge was quite nice, but the towpath onto the short remaining stub of the Hatherton Canal was gated off with no public access. This was especially annoying as there seemed to be a pretty little bridge and some locks just waiting to be investigated.

At this point I ventured away from the canal to explore Calf Heath in more detail, partly with the aim of getting some village photos but also in the hope I might find alternative access to the waterway remains. A loop of the village thus ensued, with the highlight involving me battling my way up Straight Mile (no pavement!!) to get pics of the Dog and Partridge pub. The old canal was still being elusive - I did find the top of the pretty bridge, but not to any avail, and I couldn't see much trace of the route elsewhere. Saying that, I could easily have missed something and I do have the option of tracking down the canal from the Cannock end instead.

Back at Hatherton Junction, I rejoin the Staffordshire and Worcestershire and head for Gailey. This enables me to take a closer look at Hatherton Marina with its plethora of narrowboats before continuing on to Long Moll's Bridge and Calf Heath Bridge - the latter seems to be some distance from the actual village and is closer to the Four Ashes industrial estate. After a handful of bridge photos, I bid farewell to the canal and make my way down to the Four Ashes pub on the A449 where I enjoy a spot of lunch washed down with a cracking pint of Banks's. The pub was nice and homely so I was glad I dropped by.

I'd already covered some miles but I wasn't finished yet, as the next stage of my walk took me down past the Harrows and into Coven. I've passed through the village a few times on the way to Brewood, but this was my first proper look around. A narrow lane leads up past St Paul's School and into the village centre with its little parade of shops including a bakery and the post office. The Rainbow Inn catches my eye so I pop in for a pint of Marston's Pedigree, find myself a spot in the beer garden and attempt to tackle the Metro sudoku - a perfect way to pass half an hour or so. The treats continue as I indulge in an ice cream whilst investigating St Paul's Church, then I find my way back to the parade to wait for the next bus to Wolverhampton.

A route 3 Green Bus is soon the scene and cruises up through Coven Heath and Fordhouses, complete with Heart FM on the radio. I hop off at Oxley and have time for one final photo selection before heading home. Oxley Library closed in March but the building is still in situ and I couldn't resist getting a few shots for old time's sake. I still think its a shame the library had to close, and I can well imagine the building sitting here vacant for quite some time yet. I just hope the place doesn't become a vandalised eyesore. A sombre note on which to end a classic solo outing.

Monday, September 7

Paws at Pattingham

Following swiftly on from our Chuckery adventure the week before, Rog and I decided to step once more into the breach with a further outing that saw Bruce and Bonus tagging along for a tour of South Staffordshire and the Black Country...
  • Our meeting point is Wolverhampton, where we tuck in to a bacon sandwich courtesy of the Express Cafe near the bus station. After that fine start, its off for a look at the former Cleveland Road Bus Depot followed by a visit to Wolverhampton Library where Bruce finally got to meet his Uncle Stephen. Bonus got a little overexcited when showing Stephen his wrestling prowess, and I was just grateful that Bookstart Bear didn't join the party...

  • The South Staffordshire part of the outing involved a visit to Pattingham. We therefore caught the Midland Rider 517 route, and enjoyed a nice ride through Compton, Tettenhall Wood and Perton with the bus reminding me of primary school visits to the swimming baths. The driver even let us get a photo of the bus on layover outside Pattingham Shops.

  • I always enjoy visiting Pattingham, the pace of life seems slower and I like the village atmosphere. Our visit gave us the chance to try out the village pubs, starting with the Pigot Arms. This had a corporate feel as part of the Ember Inns chain, nice enough with a pint of Old Hooky. I did prefer the Crown round the corner though, a more traditional local where we chatted with the landlord and got a Cheers photo or two. The pub was really friendly, had a nice beer garden and came with the added bonus of a pint of Olde Swan - I've never seen this beer outside of Netherton before!

  • With Rog suitably impressed, we caught the 517 back to Wolverhampton so I could introduce him to another cracking pub. The Combermere Arms at Chapel Ash has long intrigued me and didn't disappoint - we try a pint of Liquid Gold each whilst admiring Gav's World of Tat and discovering that there is indeed a tree growing in the Gents outside toilet! Bruce was also happy as he found himself behind the bar before posing with a Wolves shirt and a picture of Mick McCarthy.

  • After a spot of lunch, we head through the backstreets of Graiseley to track down the 526 route by Penn Road Waitrose. For some unknown reason, Rog has temporarily turned Welsh and I feel obliged to join in, even though my accent needs a lot of work. The ride takes us through Goldthorn Park and Parkfields before alighting near Bilston.

  • Next up is an extended walk up through Ladymoor and into Coseley. Ladymoor is an area I'd only visited very briefly up until this point, and I was pleased to get photos of the local pool, a garage workshop and the Clog pub. We then join the canal for a look at Deepfields Junction and a stroll through Coseley Tunnel - I'm not sure whether Rog enjoyed the experience, although it was the steps on the other side of the tunnel that really did for him!

  • By way of compensation, we pop into the New Inn at Coseley for a quick recovery pint. The pub is hidden up a backstreet just off the Birmingham New Road, and allowed us to tick off another entry in the list of Holden's establishments we've frequented.

  • The evening sees us finish at one of our old favourites, the Beacon Hotel near Sedgley. I've said it before, but the pub is a true classic and an absolute pleasure to visit. Having settled quietly in the corner with our pint, things took an unexpected turn when the landlady came over and asked whether we had any teddy bears with us. I can only assume she'd recognised Roger from his previous visits (well, he is quite distinctive after all), and thus it was that Bruce made his first ever request appearance. We had been quite happy to leave him in the bag for a while, but could hardly say no when she'd asked so nicely. All of this only confirmed the Beacon's status as a great pub, and a teddy friendly one at that!

It was a memorable end to another fine day of exploring, with Bruce and Bonus making further friends in the process. From that breakfast sandwich through to our final pint it was a day to remember. Bruce already wants to revisit the Beacon yet again, and I have a feeling Pattingham might become a regular haunt too. All in all it proved an excellent way to kick off our autumn adventures!

Tuesday, September 1

Chuckery and Other Stories

Saturday 29th August saw me return to the West Midlands beat as I joined Rog and the Bears for a tour of Walsall and Sutton Coldfield. In keeping with recent high standards, it was another day packed full of fun and adventure - here's the tale of the trip...
  • I begin with a ride on the 333 to Walsall, a quiet journey that covered Portobello, Willenhall, Lodge Farm, Darlaston and Pleck. I was particularly interested to note the ongoing redevelopment in Bentley, where construction of a housing complex and the new library is set to transform the area.

  • I meet Rog at Bradford Place and we immediately launch into a local walk. Our stroll takes us around the market and into The Chuckery, where I can investigate the site of the old Crabtrees (not Cadbury's!!) factory and take photos of the Spring Cottage and Duke of York pubs. I would have added the Walsall Arms too, but lost my bearings a little with Rog worrying I might be leading him on a wild goose chase!

  • Rog's feet then got some respite as we caught the 377 across to Boldmere. Here we track down the Bishop Vesey pub, where I sample a pint of Red Dwarf and Bonus shows off his miniature wrestling belt - he's one teddy that's not to be messed with!

  • A short walk then takes us to Chester Road Station, passing Boldmere Library, St Michael's Church and the Boldmere Oak pub. It was my first visit to the station and I made sure to get photos of the signs on the roadbridge along with a couple of platform views.

  • The Cross City line takes us north to Blake Street, where we call in at the Blake Barn for a spot of lunch and a pint of Hobgoblin. Rog tackles his customary gammon steak whilst I go slightly more exotic by trying the moussaka - a decent meal, although we did have a bit of a dash afterwards to catch the 902 at Hill Hook terminus.

  • From Hill Hook its down to Sutton Coldfield, where we watch the F1 qualifying and are stunned when Giancarlo Fisichella secures pole position in his Force India. To add to the sense of "how did that happen?", Jenson Button only qualifies 14th with Lewis Hamilton 12th - needless to say, Rog is not a happy bunny.

  • To cheer Rog up, we catch the 68c across to Minworth Village. Here we enjoy a short stroll along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal followed by a visit to the Boat pub - it was nice to sit outside in the sunshine supping a pint of Highgate Dark Mild.

  • I quite liked the look of Minworth, especially as we went on to discover the Village Green, local school and the Hare and Hounds pub for some handy local photos. These are soon followed by shots of Walmley, where I investigate the shops, library and war memorial before we pop into the Fox to check what's happening in the afternoon's football - Wolves are drawing 1-1 with Hull at Molineux.

  • From Walmley we weave our way back to Walsall, pausing for the odd stop at Sutton Coldfield and New Oscott. The latter included a call at the Beggar's Bush as Roger's bladder was in dire straits at the time!

  • The trip turns full circle as we return to Walsall and call back at the Chuckery. Having failed to locate the Walsall Arms earlier, we make sure to find it on the evening and are rewarded with a relaxed pint in traditional homely surroundings. I really liked the pub, and hope the apparent lack of customers doesn't result in it disappearing before too long.

  • A Rog trip isn't complete unless we finish off at a biker pub, a tradition that has featured the Giffard at Wolverhampton along with our old favourite, the Rock Station at Stourbridge. To this we can now add the Rising Sun, a Highgate local situated on Ablewell Street where Rog gets Metallica up on the jukebox and we attempt a rather chaotic game of pool. A great end to another fine trip!