Friday, February 26

WME Update Digest: February 2010

February's clock is counting down as another month gets set to disappear into history. This can only mean one thing - yes, it's time for my latest blitz through the recent WME updates...

My headline act this month is WME Solihull, which happily celebrates its first new photos of the year thanks to a study of the old A6 route at Damsonwood, now showing on Solihull by Bus. Also breaking its 2010 duck is WME Shropshire with a new Gobowen Station collection featuring a selection of platform views. I'm pleased that my Salop gallery is now gathering a bit more substance although there is still much work to be done.

A new collection too on WME Dudley as Exploring Cradley makes an entrance - it currently includes views of Netherend Square and the Vine at Lyde Green, along with a picture of the Old Crown that has gained added archive value now the pub has been demolished. Elsewhere, WME Walsall has kept itself ticking over with some Catshill Junction photos (spread across the Daw End and Wyrley & Essington collections) and a flurry of buses - the 331, the 404a and the 637.

February's busiest gallery was Exploration Extra, where I steadily added to my Rail Rover 2008 selections with further views from Chirk and Moreton-in-Marsh - I particularly liked one view looking down Moreton High Street with all its Cotswold Stone and the Bell Inn pub. Harwich also muscled in on the action as the Globe pub made an appearance and there were a couple of examples from the local First Eastern National bus depot.

Returning closer to home, WME Worcestershire benefits from an injection of Great Malvern Station shots that showcase the elegance of the platform buildings. An archive view of Wellington Bus Station has sneaked onto WME Telford, and the Green Bus depot in Landywood makes its second showing on WME Staffordshire.

Finally, the stragglers. It's been a relatively low-key start to the year for my two big guns, WMEs Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Two pub photos ensured Wolverhampton registered, these being the New Crown at Wednesfield and the Ironmaster at Bradley, whilst Brum offered more signs of life courtesy of a Hall Green Station sign, a train at Snow Hill Station, another look at the old Stockland pub, an evening view along the platforms at Bournville and a quick glimpse of Raddlebarn Road Bridge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

I think that just about covers everything, and once again it has actually been quite a constructive month. Altogether there have been 40 new additions to the galleries, which whilst not being spectacular is still a lot more than I managed most of the time last year. Hopefully there's a photo there that might just capture your imagination, and I look forward to bringing a further selection your way in March...

Saturday, February 20

The Merseyside Great Escape

For half term week, London Midland have been running a Great Escape promotion whereby passengers can buy a £10 ticket and spend the day exploring their network. This sounded like a good deal to me, and not wanting to miss out, I decided to avail them of their generosity with a visit to Liverpool.
  • The ride up from Wolverhampton to Liverpool was smooth and relaxing, taking about 1 hour 20 minutes all told which seemed to be good going. The train was quite empty to begin with, but filled up gradually at Penkridge and Stafford then became full at Crewe. The line beyond Crewe was new territory for me, and I enjoyed catching glimpses of Runcorn and suburban Merseyside.
  • The train terminates at Liverpool Lime Street, where I alight to be greeted by a statue of Ken Dodd complete with tickling stick. I wasn't sure whether Lime Street would be a photo-friendly station, so there was a sense of trepidation as the camera came out. As it turned out, I encountered no problems whatsoever, and thoroughly enjoyed investigating the various platforms and raiding the travel centre for information on the Merseyrail network.
  • Lime Street station is actually undergoing some construction work, meaning the main entrance is closed off at the moment. I exited the station at Lord Nelson Street and wandered round to see what view I could get of the frontage. Through the lorries and hoardings I could see an impressive curving glazed structure with the National Rail logo taking pride of place, and I look forward to returning to see the finished result.
  • Time now for some City Centre exploration, working my way through a pre-planned tour of transport locations and Liverpool landmarks. The Adelphi Hotel catches my eye, then I have a quick look at Liverpool Central Station, half-hidden away in a shopping mall where I try a rare indoor photo amongst a flurry of passengers.
  • Heading down past BBC Radio Merseyside, I arrive at Liverpool One Bus Station. It's a nice modern facility, but as expected, the photo opportunites are somewhat limited by the layout of the stands. I didn't particularly want to stand in the middle of the bus lane on this occasion, so I zoomed a couple of views as best as I could then consoled myself with a visit to the travel centre where an array of timetables tantalised me with destinations such as Bootle, Widnes, St Helen's and Croxteth Park.
  • One Liverpool landmark I was particularly keen to explore was the Albert Docks, as they were about all I could remember from when I visited the city as a kid. With much anticipation I set about getting views of the distinctive warehouses, a cracking experience as the Tate Gallery and the Maritime Museum took centre stage. The docks also provided the perfect setting for a spot of lunch, looking out over a hive of activity and reflecting on the days when This Morning was filmed here and Fred Talbot used to leap about on his floating weathermap!
  • From one iconic location to another, as I next explore the ferry terminal in the shadow of the legendary Liver Building. The Mersey crossing was immortalised in the famous Gerry & the Pacemakers hit, and I can sense the mixture of awe, fear and wonder passengers may have felt when disembarking here for the first time - both the Liver Building and the Cunard Building certainly grabbed my attention, despite the best efforts of a hail shower trying to dampen my spirits.
  • On with the transport tour, calling at James Street Station then Moorfields. Neither really appealed to me much; at James Street I immediately hit the ticket barriers and the station frontage didn't really stand out in the streetscape, whilst Moorfields' entry comprised a set of escalators and a ramp so I didn't feel enticed to wander inside.
  • The city's second bus station is at Queen Square, and again it wasn't a great place to take photos. The stands here are quite distinctive with large yellow and black numbers, whilst the Travel Centre is housed in an eyecatching round building - I would've gone in but I'd collected enough timetables and stuff already.
  • To finish my Liverpool jaunt, I have a look around the Cultural Quarter. There are some proud buildings here, including the World Museum, the Picton Library and the Walker Art Gallery. I have a quick mooch inside the Central Library then dash back to Lime Street for the 14:04 train, pausing to bid Ken farewell before hopping on board. Sitting in the front carriage, it appears I'd unwittingly gatecrashed a stag party heading for Birmingham - that famed Scouse sense of humour was very much in evidence here!
  • The day wasn't over yet though, as I fancied making a call somewhere on the way home. My choice was Runcorn, a town that seemed very much down on its luck. Closed buildings such as the Scala and the New Inn hinted at happier times gone by, although there were still some positive discoveries to be made. The Runcorn Arm of the Bridgewater Canal was a nice find, especially the terminus at Waterloo Bridge, and I was also impressed with the bus station - now here was a place where I had half a chance of a photo or two, with routes such as the 62 to Widnes and the 72C kindly obliging. I got the feeling a bit of money had been spent on providing good waiting facilities here, and the town is all the better for it.
  • My trip concludes back at Runcorn Railway Station, where I wait for my 15:25 journey back to Wolverhampton. The station is managed by Virgin Trains, has a sprawling modern red footbridge and is a perfectly practical facility, yet its not really my cup of tea as it seems devoid of the traditional charm I like so much - some weird dog-like sculptures on platform 1 were about as interesting as it got, and they scared me as much as anything else.
And so that was Merseyside - quite a remarkable day of exploring there, and I definitely got my money's worth from the ticket. Thanks must go to London Midland for putting on the promotion in the first place - I hope they repeat the offer in future, because I'm keen to see what else the Liverpool region has to offer...

Sunday, February 14

A Collision with Cradley

Saturday 13th February, and a mini local outing sees me tackle a circular walk around Cradley, Quarry Bank and Netherend...
  • My starting point is Cradley Heath Station, where I grab a couple of train photos and wonder what I've let myself in for when a sudden snow flurry breezes in.
  • Thankfully the snow didn't last for long, so I walk it up into Quarry Bank undeterred. The Waggon and Horses kickstarts the day's pub photos, and is quickly followed by the White Horse on New Street, a sidestreet pub I'd never noticed before.
  • It had been quite a while since I'd last been to Quarry Bank, and it was nice to catch up with a few old haunts. The community centre is now home to the area's Library Link, with the old library building now being used as a ladies gym and therapy centre. The Labour and Liberal clubs both caught my eye, and the Church Tavern got a quick photo during a rare break in the traffic. One new discovery was Fountain Court, where the old Fountain pub has been converted into residential flats, although I was saddened to find that the old Sun Inn had been demolished.
  • Having explored the High Street, I wander down Park Road and turn my attentions to Stevens Park. The park is a great local facility, looking very inviting as the sun came out. I enjoyed getting photos of a tree-lined avenue and the bandstand, but was frustrated that the war memorial gates were locked so I couldn't get a proper look. I was also intrigued by a notice on the park house which informs users that covenant issues preclude the playing of ball games in the park on a Sunday, what a curious state of affairs that is.
  • From the park I take Dunns Bank and Bobs Coppice Walk down into Netherend, where a stroll along Mogul Lane offers views of the Netherend Square terraces and the old neighbourhood centre.
  • Saltbrook Road next, leading to Hayes Lane where the Old Saltbrook pub looks considerably worse for wear and could be a demolition candidate. I was on the lookout for a place called the Dewfall Arms, and was quite puzzled when I couldn't find it - it was only later that I realised that the Dewfall and the Saltbrook were actually the same building just known under different names over the years. Whilst still contemplating the mystery, I find the Hanson's bus depot for a quick entrance photo - there were a few buses out on the yard, but someone was cleaning them so I declined to investigate further.
  • I then weave my way along Park Lane, investigating the Park Lane Tavern before focusing on a definitive Netherend landmark, the imposing Unitarian Chapel. This historic building has a prominent clock with a church hall next door on Parsonage Drive.
  • With an about turn, I make my way towards the centre of Cradley itself. Long Innage leads me to Barrack Lane, where I acquaint myself with the Widders pub, previously known as the Crown. Slade Road takes me by Homer Hill Park and up to St Peter's Church, an impressive landmark perched on the hill overlooking Colley Lane and the war memorial.
  • Colley Lane was historically Cradley's High Street, and includes the local Liberal Club and branch library, both of which make fine photo targets. I venture down to Colley Gate, where the Chainmaker, Labour Club and the Gate all keep me occupied, and then along to Windmill Hill for another tussle with the Round of Beef.
  • Pressing onwards, Colman Hill and Shelton Lane provide my link to Belle Vale, where I find that the Shelton Inn has closed down and is now being renovated as a private residence. A couple of adorable little ponies keep me company whilst I zoom a shot or two of the building works, and then I have the ominous challenge of climbing my way back up Shelton Lane - it suddenly seems much steeper than I'd noticed on the way down!
  • The next area of Cradley for me to explore is Overend, beginning with Banner's Lane where the Black Horse pub as was seems to be long gone. The landscape here is changing considerably, with Taylor Wimpey busy constructing the Henley Grange housing development on an old industrial site. I have a quick look along Overend Road before Butchers Lane returns me to Colley Lane and my loop is almost complete.
  • The final leg of my walk sees me investigate Cradley Road, sneaking a view of the Wizard and Glass pub as I cross back into Sandwell territory. The trip goes full circle as I arrive back at Cradley Heath Station, and there's just time for another 99 bus to defy me with its digital blind before I catch my train back home.
What a walk that was, delving into some Black Country history and gaining a much better appreciation of an area I'd visited only fleetingly before. The outing had a more intimate feel, building up a picture of a particular series of communities, and I hope to do similar 'very local' wanderings in future to compliment my more far-flung adventures. Finally, a quick acknowledgement to close with. My walk was inspired by the Cradley Links websites - the original at and its successor at - and I recommend both if you want to find out more about some of the places I've mentioned.

Sunday, February 7

Beer We Go!

Friday 5th February saw Stephen, Nick and myself venturing across to Sedgley and Gornal for an afternoon sampling some fine Black Country hospitality...

Meeting Mr Beardsmore at 1pm, its over to Sedgley courtesy of the 558 bus. A quick stroll leads us to the Beacon Hotel, where Nick is waiting expectantly with his half of Ruby Mild in the back lounge. The Beacon has been a personal favourite of mine for some time now, a pub where Bruce was always welcome and I think it now has Stephen's seal of approval too. I join Nick on the Ruby Mild, and we settle in the corner on a table near the low serving hatch and ponder what the rest of the day might have in store. The conversation turns to blogs and calendars, so here I am keeping up my first part of the bargain!

We're in need of some sustenance after that excellent start, so its over the road to sample the Beacon Chippy and its 'famous orange battered chips' - this seemed like quite a claim to begin with but the chips more than lived up to their billing. We munch our way back through Sedgley and beyond to Upper Gornal, with me maintaining a regular diet of photos too courtesy of the Bulls Head, the White Horse and the Leopard.

The second stage of our beer pilgrimmage involved a visit to the Jolly Crispin, a little cottage-type pub on Clarence Street. The place certainly had a cosy, compact feel with lots of dark beams adding to the character. With Stephen on the lemon and black, Nick tries some Honey Porter and I brave the Black Hole, another wise choice. The pub provided a great setting for more stimulating conversation, with Nick explaining that a porter in beer terms is a dark-coloured beer that isn't quite as strong as a stout, the chat also being punctuated by regular bouts of darkness whenever the 558 bus stopped outside the window.

Part two completed, I then act as tour guide as we wander down into Lower Gornal. I think the chaps enjoyed the views from Moden Hill, whilst the Good Intent, the Crown and the Miners Arms (a tempting Holden's) all ensured that my pub photos were still flowing freely. Our destination in Lower Gornal was The Fountain on Temple Street, another real ale classic that I was particularly looking forward to visiting. The interior seemed more luxurious here, with an extensive restaurant around the back where the speciality appeared to be a mix and match combination of various sausages, mashed potatoes and gravies. The beer menu was also extensive, with Nick and I both deciding to try Town Crier, a nice ale from the Hobson's Brewery in Cleobury Mortimer.

Leaving via the side entrance, it was now time for one of my lengendary diversions (just ask Rog!) - hoping to find the Black Bear, I took completely the wrong turning and we ended up at Five Ways on the Himley Road. The Five Ways pub ensured it wasn't a wasted ramble, but after a swift half we quickly decided to get back on track and hike it up Redhall Road to the Old Bull's Head. This pub is the brewery tap for Black Country Ales, with Nick and I keenly sampling the Pig on the Wall Dark Mild - the name of the beer commemorates a Gornal legend along with a much-lamented pub that was demolished to make way for a McDonalds restaurant. Some comfy blue seats beckon, and we add in a final few Cheers photos whilst reflecting on what had been an enjoyable afternoon - the Chip Foundation rides again. The Old Bull's Head had certainly proved a fitting place to finish off, and at 5pm we took our leave and caught the 541A back to Wolverhampton as darkness descended. All in all, it was an authentic Black Country experience and I hope that further such outings can be arranged in future...