Monday, October 26


Saturday 24th October saw Woody, Andy and myself enjoy an entertaining and eventful day out in Worcestershire, during which we visited Great Malvern, Droitwich Spa and Areley Kings. Here is the tale of the trip...
  • An earlyish start sees me on the 9:12 train from Smethwick Galton Bridge to Kidderminster, with Andy successfully completing a sprint finish to join me on board at Rowley Regis (even though it took him most of the morning to recover from his exertions). Mr Wood completes the party at Stourbridge Junction, and we look forward to the day ahead.
  • We alight at Kidderminster only to find that a bloke completely out of it on drink, drugs or something is making a nuisance of himself. We head off to get some supplies and investigate a vintage National Express coach on the forecourt of the Severn Valley station, then return to the main platforms to find our Worcester train has been mysteriously delayed. It transpired that the guy from earlier had decided to stagger along the track, causing a trespass incident and he was lucky that the train was going slowly and able to pick him up. As Woody rightly says, it wouldn't be a true outing unless something bizarre happens somewhere or other...
  • To Worcester then, and the delay means we have no time to lose. Its straight to the bus station to catch the 44, whisking us off to Great Malvern via Malvern Link and Barnards Green. This was an interesting ride that included a look at Powick and a visit to a retail park where the bus does a tight 360-degree turn. The journey also marked the return of the curse of Andy's bladder, thankfully he just about held out but it wasn't looking good.
  • Great Malvern proved a delight to explore, once Andy's bladder was sorted at least. Climbing up to the top part of the town, I was able to get photos of the post office, tourist information centre and the Unicorn pub - and could that have been Su Pollard I spotted browsing some of the shops? The 44 does a loop of the town centre, so we catch it by the Foley Arms and return to Worcester with Andy showing no further signs of discomfort as yet.
  • Back in Worcester its time for lunch, so we visit the Postal Order Wetherspoon's by Foregate Street Station. The place was packed out, mainly with pre-match rugby fans, but we found a table in the corner by the TV. Sadly, the Wolves match wasn't showing but Woody did enjoy the weather forecast as we ate our chicken tikkas and gourmet burgers. Hunger slayed, its off to the bus station for a photo or two and then our next bus.
  • We're running a little ahead of schedule so Woody recommends we venture off plan for a while and squeeze in a visit to Droitwich. The 244 gets us there in good time, although the almost deserted bus did lead to comments that it "doesn't make a big fat profit"! We couldn't see any sign of the Diamond Bus depot as we headed into the town, so we consoled ourselves in the Westcroft with a pint of Guinness, a couple of Cheers photos and a look at the football - Wolves and Villa were drawing 0-0 at the time.
  • Continuing with the unplanned element, our next move sees us catch the 133 direct to Kidderminster. This was another journey where fellow passengers were conspicuous by their absence, but the route did provide an enjoyable ride through Chaddesley Corbett and Harvington, where two lads hopped on board only to be terrorised by an innocent looking wasp. News from home reveals Wolves have secured a 1-1 draw against Villa at Molineux, a good point against our local rivals.
  • After investigating a parade of Whittles at Kiddy, we change onto the 3 for our Areley Kings connection. It was good to finally have a proper look at the area having only passed through without stopping previously. Views of the Kings Arms, local church and garage ensure the photo quota is sorted, and we pop into the Astley Cross for a quick pint. Waiting for our return bus to Stourport, a First 3 heads towards the estate but never resurfaces, leaving us to conclude that the driver had taken a naughty shortcut. There's nothing for it but to have another drink, this time in the Squirrel, and hope the 294 doesn't let us down. Andy just has time to get intimately acquainted with the 'Worcestershire hub' before the bus arrives...
  • The 294 maintained the theme set by the 244 and 133 in providing another quiet countryside journey. The Red Lion crossroads seemed familiar for some reason, and we enter Worcester via Henwick Park with its intriguing bus terminus and University buildings. Teatime sees us back in the Postal Order, then its onto the 18:49 train home, darkness setting in as we ponder the merits of Hartlebury Station.
So that's another trip done, and the standard was once again excellent. Andy and Woody did me proud with some great banter, and I'm already relishing the prospect of a potential November visit to Bristol and Bath. The fact that November is fast approaching is a sobering thought - the year seems to have gone by in a flash, but whatever the final two months bring, I think its already certain that 2009 will go down as a vintage year of exploring, maybe the best ever...

Monday, October 19

Roundabout the Reservoir

Friday 16th October and a trip also known as the South Birmingham Review Part Two. Following on where Rog and I left off last Saturday, I ventured back across Brum way to add in a solo adventure investigating the soon-to-change bus network...
  • First stop is Northfield Orthopaedic Hospital as I'm determined to get that pesky 49 terminus photo. Thankfully I have more luck this time, with the bus obligingly parking up so I could get a series of shots that were at least vaguely in focus.
  • Next, one of those lengthy local walks I enjoy so much. This one took me from the Hospital to the Roundabout, a curious estate near Longbridge. My photo targets include Bell Holloway, Ley Hill estate redevelopment with the Highlander, and then a couple of follow-ups from Saturday; the site of the Beeches has now been levelled off with the rubble removed, whilst the Dingle is still an eyesore awaiting possible clearance.
  • A dash down Farren Road brings me to the Roundabout, where I'm delighted to get a terminus photo of the 630 route - thanks driver! Central Connect operate the service linking the Roundabout with Worlds End via Northfield and Weoley Castle, a local gapfiller of a route that will be renumbered as the 39 under the Review. I hop on board for an interesting journey that included Josiah Road, Merritts Hill and Long Nuke Road before alighting at Weoley Castle.
  • Always one of my favourite Birmingham locations, Weoley Castle did me proud with a spot of lunch and some tantalising photo opportunities. I make sure to get shots of the site of the Raven, pausing once again to lament the demise of a landmark pub. Bus wise, the 44 poses on its way to Turves Green whilst the 69 rewards my patience by belatedly putting in an appearance for an all-important terminus pic.
  • With that in the bag, it's onto the 21 for a short ride towards Bangham Pit. Here I can track down the Woodcock pub on Hillwood Road before enjoying the views from Genners Lane looking out over Bartley Reservoir. The visit was only brief but was a real treat all the same, especially when I added in shots of Newman College and the return 21 towards Birmingham.
  • My next move sees me catch the 18 so that I could try and solve one of Saturday's little mysteries. After a neat ride through Northfield and Cotteridge, I alight at Brandwood End to see which route was currently serving the Dawberry Fields estate. The answer turned out to be the 76, with the 69 set to take over in a couple of weeks time.
  • It was useful to have a mooch around Brandwood, but there wasn't too much to interest me - a block of shops of Yarningale Road, a possible old pub site and St Bede's Church were about it. I also found the Territorial Army centre on Dawberry Fields Road, and waited here for the next 76 as I made a sharpish exit.
  • Saying that, I was pleased to have a quick look at the 76 before the service changes kick in. The route as it currently stands links Brandwood End with Solihull, of which the Kings Heath to Solihull bit will be retained with the addition of an extension to serve the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Today's ride took me to Yardley Wood Station, running the gauntlet outside Kings Heath Boy's School at closing time in the process - now there's a hair-raising experience!
  • Having reached the safety of Yardley Wood, its time to bring the curtain down on another outing. By way of an encore, I have time for the customary photos of Highfield Road shops and the station ticket office before catching my train home.
So there you have it, back-to-back trips that at least attempted to sample and record the soon to be 'old' South Birmingham Bus Network. I think I did the routes justice, and am looking forward to seeing how the new network takes shape - it'll certainly give me an excuse to return once more to one of my happiest exploration hunting grounds...

Monday, October 12

Reviewing South Birmingham

The latest stage in the reconfiguration of bus services in the West Midlands is set to come into force at the end of the month courtesy of the South Birmingham Network Review. Several routes in the Northfield, Longbridge and Kings Heath areas are set to be revised, including some of my personal favourites from my University days. With this in mind, Rog and I decided to make the most of the existing network whilst we still could - here are some selected highlights from Saturday's outing...
  • The 61: currently linking Birmingham and Gannow, although an extension to Rubery Great Park is on the cards. We catch the bus on Corporation Street for a ride down through Bournbrook, Selly Oak and Northfield, during which Rog does some 'birdspotting' whilst we discuss some important historical quotes. Then its into Allens Cross, where I'm sad to see the Beeches pub has been demolished and it looks like the Dingle near Egghill Road is about to meet the same fate. Frankley next, with views of the Holly Hill Centre, then finally Gannow.
  • Gannow: I hadn't visited Gannow before, so I was intrigued to see what the terminus is like. It's located on Boleyn Road, with buses using Crompton Road to turn round, and is largely residential in terms of surroundings. Rog and I get a few photos and investigate the entrance to Waseley Hills Country Park.
  • The 49: another route due to be altered, whereby the Rubery to Northfield section will be replaced by other services, leaving the main route to cover between Great Park and Solihull. Rog and I caught the route back up to Northfield, spotting Gannow shops and the Lickey Banker pub whilst Rog feels threatened by a young pretender in a long gothic coat. We stay on through Northfield to alight at the terminus outside Orthopaedic Hospital - unfortunately my camera refuses to behave and I'm left without a decent route photo, despite dodging the Bristol Road traffic and trying various angles. Very frustrating!!
  • Northfield: The Bristol Road does at least yield an Oh Dear! contender broken down on the other carriageway, then its off to Jimmy's Cafe for a spot of brunch. The place is apparently recommended by the Sunday Mercury, and I certainly enjoy my bacon and egg sarnie. Dessert comes in the form of several local photos, including the Bell shops, Northfield Market, the Black Horse and the Clock cafe - we even track down the new 29 terminus up a sidestreet to get my bus shots back on track. A debate about Rhod Gilbert precedes a visit to the Great Stone pub, where we make Marston's Pedigree our first pint of the day and Rog makes the acquaintance of a cardboard spider!
  • 614: now this route has a fair bit of significance for me, bringing back fond memories of student tutoring in Bournville. I really enjoyed investigating the route properly, starting in Northfield and covering Mulberry Road, Cotteridge, Mary Vale Road, Stirchley and Selly Park before terminating in Selly Oak. Photos were garnered at both ends of the route, capturing the Black Diamond livery in all its glory and making for a job very well done.
  • Stirchley: Whilst passing through on the 614, I'd caught sight of the British Oak and we decided to have a closer look. The pub has an impressive old-fashioned frontage making it a Pershore Road landmark, yet inside it feels quite modern with hints of interior design. A selection of real ales are available, with the Piddle Artist winning out (less of the bladder jokes thankyou Mr Chance). We had to wait for the barrel to be changed, and the barmaid must've taken a dislike to Rog because he ended up with the stale pint. We head outside to the beer garden to admire the bowling green and be entertained by a cute football-playing puppy called Dexter - his dribbling skills were certainly impressive, displaying some good nose-to-ball coordination.
  • Weoley Castle: From the British Oak, we decamp to Bournville Station and thence to Selly Oak, where we catch the 69 to Weoley Castle. I was shocked to see that the Raven had joined the Beeches in being consigned to pub history, leaving just a telltale pile of rubble. I console myself with a photo of the Weoley Castle inn on Somerford Road corner and a spot of lunch from Gregg's.
  • The 69: a long time favourite from the early Rog trips, the 69 will be subjected to significant changes in the Review. A route that once linked Weoley Castle and Heartlands Hospital will soon serve between Brandwood End and Wythall only, so a proper send-off was a must. We therefore hopped back on board for a ride to Kings Heath, revisiting the fascinating sections around Selly Oak, Selly Park and up past the Highbury.
  • Kings Heath: The trip had gone really well until this point, but things nearly hit the buffers in Kings Heath. Firstly, All Saints Road terminus appeared to have been decommissioned already, putting paid to my hopes of 27 or 76 photos. Next, we hiked it down the busy High Street to find the Station pub was shut despite various boards outside proclaiming the place to be open, very curious indeed. To top it all, we rushed our contingency pint in the Hare and Hounds hoping to catch a 650 route that never turned up!
  • The 35: Every cloud has a silver lining, and the 35 was to prove our salvation. Not only did the route prove very handy for reaching our next pub, it also provided tantalising glimpses of Moseley Village, Calthorpe Park and the Horton Square shopping precinct in Highgate.
  • Lamp Tavern: All the Kings Heath frustration melted away thanks to an absolute classic pub experience. Situated on Barford Street, the Lamp Tavern is a backstreet Highgate local that exceeded all expectations. Settling down with our respective pints of Stanway and Silver Fox, we enjoy watching the Grand Prix snooker semi-final followed by the utter madness of 'Hole in the Wall'. Bruce also received a warm welcome, although it does help if a pub already has some teddies behind the bar - it was practically a family reunion!
  • Digbeth: I'd have quite happily stayed in the Lamp Tavern for the rest of the evening, but we venture onwards to conclude the outing in style with a look at Digbeth. The Anchor was already a confirmed favourite of ours, but you can also add the Old Crown to the list - its reputedly one of the oldest pubs in Brum (if not the oldest), and the delightful timber-beamed exterior was backed up by a decent closing drink.
It's almost becoming a cliche now, but this was yet another thoroughly enjoyable, eventful day out. Sure, the pubs were well represented as usual, and there was some fine local exploring to be had, particularly in Northfield. For me though, the main event was bidding farewell to the old bus network, and our investigations of the 61, 49, 614, 69 and 35 meant that I gathered some great new memories with which to say goodbye.