Thursday, September 30

WME Update Digest: September 2010

For once, my feast and famine approach to WME updates has somehow clicked over onto the 'feast' setting, and it's actually been a decent month for photo additions - no wonder I sound surprised! There's a bit of catching up to do, so let's get straight into it...

September's star attraction is WME Solihull, something of a shock in itself. Some well overdue attention here has involved a precious new collection looking at the Grand Union Canal - only the two starter photos to begin with, both views from Damson Lane, but this is the first step at giving Solihull some canal content so it is quite an achievement. Further additions to report include archive views of the Marston Green Tavern and Station Road shops on Exploring Marston Green, whilst the Old Colonial makes a further appearance on Exploring Damsonwood. Solihull Station has been kept occupied with a path view and a train shot, whilst the bus contingent partakes of four new offerings - the 151 and 37 at Solihull Station, the 76 at Damsonwood and the 56 at Marston Green. All in all that's 12 photos in a month for a gallery that has previously only received 24 in the past two and a half years!

Also making waves has been WME Wolverhampton, where I'm particularly pleased with a couple of new collections. Exploring Long Knowle and Wood End features shots of Long Knowle Library, the Castle pub, Blackwood Avenue flats and the old Wood Hayes pub (in it's later guise as the Old China buffet restaurant), whereas Exploring Wightwick includes the Fieldhouse pub and a streetscape of Perton Brook Vale. It's always good to see my local photos finally slotting into place, so mention too must go to the Cleveland Arms (Exploring East Park), the Dog & Gun (Exploring Tettenhall), the Summer House (Exploring Whitmore Reans), the Boat (Exploring Wednesfield) and Ladymoor Pool (Exploring Bilston) - some handy collection top-ups there. I shouldn't forget the bus stuff so there are two further views of Bilston Bus Station, whilst a brace of 506's at Pendeford are a hangover from August that I never got round to telling you about at the time!

To WME Dudley and more scenes of activity. New collections abound this month and here we have Exploring The Straits (the old Straits House pub being converted into housing, plus views of the school and the local shops) and Exploring Stourbridge (a Rock Station double) - it was about time I granted Stourbridge a proper local presence considering how much the town has figured in solo outings and Rog & Woody trips over the years. Deepfields footbridge has muscled it's way onto the Birmingham Main Line Canal collection, likewise Delph Top Lock on the Dudley No. 1. There's also an extra 248 route shot for Dudley by Bus, and Stops & Stations has been augmented with Stand H at Dudley complete with a castle backdrop.

Skipping next door into WME Sandwell, and it's a big welcome for the Titford Canal collection, now showcasing a trio of views of New Inns Road Bridge. The Titford is a branch I'm very fond of (despite the joys of Oldbury Junction) so it's good to see it taking it's rightful place. My archive has also been plundered for an intriguing view along the old passenger footbridge at Langley Green Station - the sprawling replacement just doesn't have the same charm.

September's stragglers are WME Walsall (piccies of Brownhills Market and Coalpool Bridge) and WME Birmingham, albeit Brum has still done respectably. The Stechford Station frontage series has continued into a fourth shot (although the station never looks any more appealing), Livery Street Bridge has popped up on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, and the buses are represented by the 21 and 23 both posing at Bartley Green. The final word however goes to a longstanding test photo that has finally found a home - my shot of the Plough & Harrow pub at Roughley has been safely plonked into Exploring Sutton Coldfield after several years of waiting. If something as momentous as that can happen then things are definitely looking up!!!

Monday, September 27

"Don't drip on the photos!"

Sunday 26th September 2010 heralded my first ever visit to Showbus - the UK's biggest bus rally - along with the return of the Rog...

An early start as chauffeur Mr Wood and his Ford Focus arrive to collect me, then it's a combination of M6, A14 and M11 as we progress through to Cambridgeshire. In-car entertainment is provided by some Smashy and Nicey 1970's rock and some overdue Rog baiting - it's his own fault for still having the long hair!

Showbus is being held at Duxford, an RAF base that is also home to the Imperial War Museum. Admission for adults is £16.50 but it's worth it for the amount of buses on display. We've arrived fairly early so some of the exhibits are still making their way inside. We survey the sales stands and note the rather extortionate prices at the burger bar - not that this stops Rog from getting himself a bacon roll. Our first run of photos include some Cozy Coaches and a Smith's driver demonstrating a 24-point turn.

A few planes catch our eye before a rain shower sends us scampering inside, an interlude we put to good use by visiting Concorde. It seems very cramped inside the famous aircraft but it's fascinating to peer inside the cockpit and admire the sheer engineering of it all. The hanger also houses some other impressive planes including a Tornado, and it's nice to see them at close quarters.

Back outside and the rain has thankfully relented, so we pitch into a serious session of photography that mainly involves me getting in everybody else's way as usual. Amongst my photo targets were a Stagecoach open topper, a Lodge's breadvan and a couple of glaring bald spots. We proceed out into the top fields to find Midland Red single deckers, a parade of WM Metrobuses sporting Coventry blinds and a motley collection of London routemasters. Another rain flurry sees us sheltering under a tree with some overpriced chips - it was about this time that Mr Wood's coat gathered a mysterious grassy stain too...

The final paddock beckons as the sun threatens to come out. Here we find examples from Thamesdown, DRM of Bromyard, Suffolk County Council and a Barkerbus. We pause by a tank to eat some sandwiches, then catch up with Ron for a chat. Almost immediately (and perhaps not entirely by coincidence?), the sky clouds over and the rain sets in once more - and this time it's terminal. We browse the sales stands, half hoping for goodies but mainly as a means of staying dry - hence the rather gruff quote about dripping on photos that one guy greeted us with - but in the end we have little choice but to concede defeat to the monsoon.

It's therefore back to the Woodymobile and the journey back home. Further metaphorical rainclouds arrive when I discover Wolves have lost at home 2-1 to the dreaded Villa, but despite the weather and the football, it had been a fun day. In the end I think we saw everything there was to see, and made the most of the better weather, so Showbus 2010 was definitely a worthwhile, successful excursion - I just hope for a bit of sunshine next year...

Friday, September 17

The Full Monty? Not Quite...

Friday 17th September: The dragon in me was tempted by a visit to Wales - Welshpool to be precise - so that I could sample a bit of the Cambrian railway line and explore a section of the Montgomery Canal...

The morning begins at Wolverhampton Station. A return ticket from Wolves to Welshpool and back is £16.10, which doesn't seem to be bad value actually. The Aberystwyth train isn't until 8:43 so I have a look around the old Low Level Station development to fill in some time, then decide to catch the Shrewsbury stopper at 8:25 instead. Despite the best efforts of a kamikaze cat at Oakengates, I have scope to get a train photo or two at Shrewsbury before connecting onto the Cambrian Line from platform 4a.

Despite my various rail adventures and rovers over the years, I'd never actually sampled the Cambrian Lines before. The main line runs from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth with connections at Machynlleth for the Coastal line to Pwllheli. Welshpool is only one stop on from Shrewsbury so my explorations would be limited but at least it's a start. The journey is provided courtesy of Arriva Trains Wales, and its a pleasant ride passing allotments, playing fields, scenic hills and the occasional Little Chef restaurant.

Welshpool Station was a bit of a disappointment, or should I say the current one was. It's effectively an unstaffed halt with a few tatty benches, a bus shelter and an incongruous white footbridge that also crosses the A483 dual carriageway. Things improve with the Old Station, a fine relic of a building that has found a new use as a shopping emporium containing a cafe, gift shops and the ubiquitous Edinburgh Woollen Mill. The old place actually looks quite stately, and although the shops don't particularly appeal to me, it's great that the building still has a function.

Severn Road leads me into Welshpool Town Centre, passing the fire and police stations to arrive at the Royal Oak, a rather grand looking coaching inn. The High Street looks quite pretty with bunting and flags aplenty - the clock tower of the market hall particularly catches my eye. As usual I'm performing my own kind of pub watch, and amongst my finds were the Wellington, the Pheasant, the Mermaid, the Talbot and the Green Dragon. Based purely on external appearance, the Mermaid appealed most as it looked quite historic with hints of beams, although the Talbot had a quaint sloping nature.

High Street leads into Raven Street and on into Raven Square. The Raven Inn is a welcome discovery, along with an agricultural yard with a sign for Welsh eggs. My thoughts quickly concentrate though on Raven Square Station, the eastern terminus of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, a narrow gauge heritage line that runs out to Llanfair Caereinion. Sadly the station wasn't open today, so I had to make do with some perimeter zooms. The complex looks small but there are some intriguing platform buildings with stylish canopies and evocative charm.

Proceeding with my loop of Welshpool, Brook Street introduces me to the local branch library and a vintage Ballard's petrol garage complete with antique pumps (the modern garage is just up the road). Hall Street offers a shot of the Crown Hotel, then I take Salop Road, heading out of town as I hunt down a bit of Monty.

The Montgomery Canal (or Monty for short) was constructed in stages and once linked Frankton Junction with Newtown via Llanymynech and Welshpool. Abandoned in 1944, the canal has since been the subject of much restoration work. Certainly the sections around Welshpool are in water and make for some excellent walks, as I found out today. I join the line at Gungrog Bridge (No. 116) adjacent to the Heulwen Wharf narrowboat base. Walking back into town I enjoy the peace and tranquility as I encounter a couple of modern bridges before arriving at Severn Street (No. 119).

I leave the canal in peace for a while in favour of a slice of medieval grandeur. After a random combination of Tesco developments, the Tourist Information Centre and the Mermaid, I take a turning just off the High Street and venture into the grounds of Powis Castle. A long driveway provides an elegant approach made even more memorable when some deer go skipping by, they were so cute! The castle itself looks quite formidable but is an inviting fortress these days, and I enjoy admiring the coach house and mooching about in the shop.

Through town once more, I spot the Angel pub on Berriew Street then rejoin the Monty at a footbridge near the Morrisons supermarket. My afternoon stroll takes me down to Belan Locks, a stretch arguably even more tranquil than this morning's offering. There are views of the football and rugby grounds as the canal gradually leaves Welshpool behind, entering verdant countryside albeit flanked by the A490. There's a sharp right-angle turn by a nature reserve at Whitehouse Bridge - the reserve marking the previous course of the canal before being latterly diverted - but otherwise there aren't that many features. I just relish the sense of escape and solitude, and it's especially relaxing to arrive at Belan for a handful of views of the locks, bridge and the keeper's cottage.

Belan Locks Bridge (No. 121) marks the point where I turn around and retrace my steps back the way I came, noting the occasional marker post along the way. The return walk gives me chance to investigate what I'd missed between Morrisons and Severn Street, a short section notable for Welshpool Town Lock and the Powysland Museum.

My train home is due at 15:01, leaving me just enough time for a leisurely saunter up to the station followed by a few minutes lingering on the platform. Waiting for a train can often be a chore, but on days like this when the sun is out and you're not in any real hurry, it can actually be a curious pleasure - yes, even at a station as limited at Welshpool! As luck would have it, the train arrives bang on time, and with a gentle cruise in and out of Shrewsbury, I'm soon back in Wolverhampton and another outing has been added to the exploration history books.

Saturday, September 4

Telford 2010

Friday 3rd September, and as we head into autumn, I thought it was about time I did my annual trek around Telford Borough. The Telford trip is usually one of the exploration highlights of the year, and I can recall many happy memories of visiting places such as Dawley, Wellington, Hadley and Horsehay - would this year's effort maintain the standard? Read on to find out...

Oakengates - getting the day off to a flying start with a look at one of the older communities that pre-dated the New Town, I always find places like Oakengates much more interesting than Telford Centre itself. Catching the 8:25 stopping train from Wolverhampton, I arrive about 9am and pitch straight into local photos courtesy of Hartshill Park (with war memorial gates) and the Coalport Tavern. Market Street is the focal point of the small town centre and looks inviting with lots of bunting on display (presumably not for me especially). I gather shots of the library/theatre complex and note an enclave of real ale pubs where the Crown, the Station and the Olde Fighting Cocks are virtually on each others' doorsteps.

24 - Oakengates Bus Station for the 9:30 local 24 bus into Telford Town Centre. This was one route I hadn't actually sampled before, thereby making for an intriguing ride around St George's, Redhill and Priorslee.

Telford Town Park - time for the walking boots to see some action as I begin a flirtation with the Silkin Way. My aim was to retrace my steps from last year's aborted visit to Stirchley, with some photos thrown in of course. Park features include the Maxell Gardens (where a large fish takes pride of place as a flowerbed centrepiece), the amphitheatre and Wonderland (complete with assorted dinosaur roars and dwarf songs drifting on the air). The walk then follows an old railway line out towards Madeley and Ironbridge.

Stirchley - I leave the route at Stirchley Lane to venture into the nearby estate. There are pieces of charm in the old village, including some cottages, St James' Church and the Rose and Crown pub, but this gives over to the more recent residential developments of Grange Avenue. The estate centre comprises the Lord Silkin school, Stirchley Library and a Co-op supermarket.

11 - a quick ride from Holmer Farm Road down into Madeley via Brookside and Sutton Hill.

Madeley - this is one older part of Telford that I hadn't really got to grips with yet, so I was intrigued to see what I would find. There's a nice traditional High Street climbing up the hill with some local stores, and the handful of pubs include the Forester's Arms, the Anchor and the Barley Mow. A new Tesco supermarket and other retail developments have transformed part of the town, but it's pleasing to still find old buildings like the Anstice Memorial Club. Unfortunately the library isn't quite as appealing, located as it is on the upper floor of a 1960s block that also comprises the Madeley Malls shopping arcades.

Silkin Way - on with the trek, rejoining the route at the bridge by the Forester's and soon encountering Madeley Market Station. The station house is still in situ and lends itself to some nice photos from the platform side - I think the building is currently being used as council offices so it's good to see it being retained. The path then flanks Legges Way, heading down to Coalport and passing the entrance to Blists Hill Victorian Museum.

The All Nations - with all this exercise I had worked up quite a thirst, and being a warm day it was necessary to stop off for a little refreshment. Not that I need an excuse to visit the All Nations mind - the pub is a historic home brewhouse, a real gem that has been recognised as Telford CAMRA's 2010 Pub of the Year. The place is a little off the beaten track, approached up a narrow climb along Coalport Road, but is well worth the visit when you can enjoy the secluded surroundings and great beer. I tried the Dabley Ale, sitting outside with a few chickens for company.

- Coalport Bridge -

Coalport - a further stretch on the Silkin Way takes me beneath the famous Hay Inclined Plane and down into Coalport Village. The High Street here wasn't quite what I'd expected, as there are relatively few shops and its more of a tranquil lane. The Shakespeare and the canal bridge are at one end, then I wander up past the China Museum and the Brewery Inn to investigate Coalport Bridge - the structure might not be as historic as it's famous near-neighbour (the Iron Bridge) but it's still an elegant landmark in it's own right. I pause for photos of the Woodbridge then head back through the village for a closer look at the remaining section of canal.

Jackfield - I'm now getting the taste for exploring the Ironbridge Gorge, so its back across the river to see what Jackfield has to offer. The Boat Inn looks very inviting as a cottagey riverside hostelry with flood markings on the external wall,then we have Maws Craft Centre, Jackfield Tile Museum, the old railway sidings and the Black Swan. History seems to await you around every corner here so I'm in my element.

Ironbridge - my criss-crossing of the river continues as I dart back across to the Ironbridge side where more pubs await me. The Bird in Hand nestles perched in the hillside, but it was the Olde Robin Hood that tempted me inside, the allure of the Golden Glow proving just too strong for this weak-willed adventurer. Situated opposite Jackfield Bridge, the pub is something of a Holden's outpost and my visit is further rewarded when I tucked into a delicious home-made sage and black pudding scotch egg - pub snacks don't get better than this! I now feel fortified enough to proceed with my hike, so its onwards into Ironbridge Village itself where I can marvel at the magnificent bridge and survey other landmarks such as the Bears in the Square and the Tontine Hotel.

Coalbrookdale - Adding in shots of the Swan and the Museum of the Gorge, I track down the 77 bus for a handy photo on the visitor centre car park. I've still got time to spare so I summon one last push from my weary feet and set off up the hill to Coalbrookdale. Here, my attention is captured by the war memorial and the Museum of Iron, whilst my pub photo quota is bolstered by the Grove and the Coalbrookdale Inn (the latter colourfully festooned with hanging baskets).

99 - Normally by about 3:30pm I would think about heading home, but there's plenty of life in this trip yet. The next stage is to catch the 99, waiting outside Coalbrookdale Community Centre then enjoying a speedy ride up through Horsehay and Telford then along the M54 towards Wellington.

Bucks Head - Indulging myself by photographing some landmarks that had been long-term targets since my earlier Telford forays. The 99 drops me off by the Cock Hotel (a pub with a fine real ale reputation in it's own right) with the Swan Hotel directly opposite. A little further up the road and we have the Bucks Head, the name referring both to a pub and the football ground home of AFC Telford United. The stadium looks impressive for a non-league club whilst the pub now appears to be some kind of youth cafe facility.

Oakengates - going full circle as the 44 bus (via Ketley) brings me back to where I started. My train home is due at 17:05, so I've just got time to try out the Ironbridge Brewery offerings at the Old Fighting Cocks. My final pint of the day was therefore Steam, accompanied by a quick read of a Peterborough CAMRA newsletter - a good way to finish. The train arrived promptly and wasn't too full, even when a group of forces chaps boarded at Cosford, so I enjoyed a relaxing ride home.

So then, back to my earlier question. Would today's trip live up to the usual Telford standard? The answer undoubtedly has to be yes as I maintained my recent run of outstanding adventures. From Stirchley to Jackfield, the All Nations to the Old Fighting Cocks, the day provided many memorable moments and will surely rank as one of the seminal highlights of the 2010 Explorer's Calendar.