Sunday, March 27

Reviewing East Birmingham

Thursday 24th March 2011: Centro’s rolling programme of bus network reviews has now turned it’s glare squarely onto East Birmingham and North Solihull, so once again I summoned myself into action in order to sample existing routes prior to the forthcoming changes…

BACKSTREET BRUM: On the trail of hidden gems with my opening stroll round to the Bull Ring. Up past the Mailbox and I find myself on Gough Street where the Craven Arms has an attractive corner frontage and the Gough Arms is just up the road. The Peace Garden and the remains of St Thomas' Church are poignant reminders of wartime on Bath Row, then Great Colmore Street contributes St Luke's Church and the Colwyn pub.

- The Craven Arms, Gough Street -

DIGBETH & EASTSIDE: The backstreet theme continues as I dig deeper into Digbeth and Deritend. Digbeth is becoming a regular haunt but this was the first proper opportunity I'd had to do a full trawl of the place, weaving my way back and forth beneath railway bridges and past industrial units. My discoveries include the Spotted Dog, the Old Wharf, the Waggon & Horses and Birmingham Central bus depot before New Canal Street takes me up to Millennium Point and the imposing edifice that is Curzon Street Station. A roam around Eastside features a derelict factory on Cardigan Street and the former Moby Dick's pub on Penn Street, then I have a quick look at the Digbeth Branch Canal for a shot or two of Belmont Row Bridge - fascinating!

- The Old Wharf, Oxford Street -

THE 26: All of this on-foot exploring is all well and good but it was about time I got down to business with the buses. The 26 is a route that perennially seems to get tinkered with – I first caught it as the Bromford Bridge Lynx, then as a Metrobus to Kingshurst, and now the service is set to be withdrawn and replaced by the 14 (through Duddeston) and an extended 72 (through Bromford). I board the route just past Moriarty's (formerly the White Tower) for a ride through Duddeston, Saltley and Alum Rock. It's depressing to see the old LDV factory looking mournful on Drews Lane, whilst the boarded up Bromford pub only adds to the gloom. The bus then negotiates Bromford Drive to terminate by the Racecourse pub in the shadows of the M6 motorway.

- The 26 calls on Bromford Drive -

BROMFORD BRIDGE: The Bromford estate is never going to be my favourite place in the world but it is still useful to call by from time to time. The Racecourse pub is also boarded up but at least the building is still intact for a photo, unlike the pub that used to be on Collingbourne Road. I thought it wise to make sure I got some photos of the Bromford pub whilst I was in the area, who knows if it will still be around next time I return?

- The Racecourse, Bromford Drive -

HODGE HILL & SHARD END: More local exploring now with a couple of places I was quite keen to revisit. Hodge Hill gives it's name to a Birmingham parliamentary constituency yet there doesn't seem to be that much to it, Shard End or Ward End being more of a focal point for local facilities. The main features are Hodge Hill Common, an important area of open green space, and the Hunters Moon pub. Bucklands End Lane brings me down to the Raven at Stechford, itself a nice landmark, and then I proceed up to Shard End where a key regeneration project is underway to transform the shopping parade into an urban village centre.

- Hodge Hill Common -

KINGSHURST & THE 54: Back to the buses with another route that is set to disappear from Sunday. Currently linking Birmingham and Kingshurst via Washwood Heath Road, Buckland End and Kendrick Avenue, the 54 is set to be incorporated into a streamlined frequent 55 service (serving Buckland End and Shard End) whilst the new 59 will take over the Kingshurst connection. Today's journey on the 54 is brief, from Shard End shops down to Fordbridge Road terminus via Morrisons at Castle Bromwich, but is handsomely rewarded with a precious photo or two at the turning circle. I can't resist having a little mooch around Kingshurst whilst I'm here, hence adding in shots of the Mountfort and the local precinct.

- The 54 at Kingshurst terminus, Fordbridge Road -

CHELMSLEY WOOD NORTH: I still have a couple of photo opportunities in mind and my schedule is starting to look tight. From Kingshurst I need to get a wriggle on, dashing up past the Toby Jug and into Smiths Wood estate where I lose my bearings slightly amongst a multitude of cul-de-sacs, crofts and closes. I eventually navigate my way through to Lanchester Way just in time to capture the 663 bus on camera. This route is operated by Central Connect and is due to be renumbered as the 53, although it will continue to link Smiths Wood with Erdington via Shard End, Stechford and Nechells.

- 663 at Lanchester Way -

THE 689: I'm on the home straight now as a well-placed 966 link enables me to get to Park Hill School in time for the 3pm 689. This is another Central Connect route, and a rather convoluted one at that, which currently links Park Hall and Sheldon via Shard End, Lea Village, Glebe Farm and Garretts Green. Under the review it will be replaced by the new 99 route from Lea Village to Acocks Green - I'm not entirely sure about this idea as from what I saw the 689 was an appreciated local community route where the other passengers and the driver all seemed to know each other.

LEA HALL: I enjoyed my 689 journey despite the various meandering twists and turns, alighting in Garretts Green for a picture of the old Chestnut Tree pub (being turned into an Indian restaurant) and then a sprint to Lea Hall Station. Here I have one final route to account for - the 13 - which linked the station with the City Centre via Whittington Oval, Cockshut Hill, Yardley, Heartlands Hospital and Bordesley Green. The service will be replaced by a combination of the 73 (extended into Birmingham from Heartlands Hospital) and the new 59 (covering Whittington Oval en route to Kingshurst), a move that means Lea Hall Station will no longer be a bus terminus although the 59 would provide some future photographic options.

- The 13 at Lea Hall -

With that closing photo in the bag, I board my 16:22 train home and reflect on a tremendous day of exploring and another raft of network changes. I remain yet to be convinced about the full merits of these reviews, but at least the day provided what will surely go down as one of the exploration highlights of 2011...

Saturday, March 26

Walsall Gets Its Chips!

Wednesday 23rd March and with the cricket season fast approaching there was just enough time for the Chip Foundation to cram in one final winter pub crawl, although there was definitely a springtime air for our tour of Walsall, Rushall and Bloxwich...

WRENS NEST: But first, here's something a little bit different. Well not that unusual as such, just some solo exploring before I met up with Nickolenko. I decided to have a look around the Wrens Nest near Dudley, a somewhat notorious estate but with an adjacent nature reserve that has much geological importance. My finds concentrate on more recent features than the fossils as I sought out photos of Summer Road shops and pubs including the British Queen, the Caves and the King Arthur.

- The Caves, Wrens Nest -

WALSALL: With an unscheduled but necessary dash I greet Nick at 12 noon and we make our way to Coseley Station for the direct train to Walsall. We grab a bite to eat and enjoy the impressive surroundings of St Matthews Church before embarking on a little wander around Chuckery (where the Walsall Arms pub was strangely shut despite opening hours to the contrary) and Highgate - I'm pleased to say that the landmark brewery has been saved from closure, excellent news indeed.

- St Matthew's Church -

CALDMORE: Our first sample of the day comes courtesy of the White Lion on Sandwell Street, notable for its sloping bar-room floor with one door marked as the shallow end and another as the deep end. We initially wanted some Highgate Dark Mild but it wasn't quite right (the barmaid almost threw up after tasting it for herself), so some Timothy Taylor's Landlord was quaffed instead as we perused old photos on the wall and the latest issue of Kils & Kins, all in all very enjoyable.

- 'Nickolenko' in the White Lion -

WALSALL: Back into town having been summoned by Mr Beardsmore who has arrived promptly at the bus station. We make our next port of call the Black Country Arms, one of Black Country Ales' flagship houses where there is an extensive range of beer to choose from. I stay local with Spring from the Backyard Brewery whilst Nick settles on some Downton's Dark Delight and Stephen gets left behind when we sit upstairs. We sup up happily but things go a little awry when we try to find a follow-up pub, neither the Wheatsheaf nor the Fountain being open in the middle of the afternoon.

THE BUTTS: Despite Stephen's best attempts to cripple himself, we get back on track with the Butts Tavern, a backstreet local not far from the arboretum. I wasn't sure what to expect here but the place took me by surprise - it was busy and very friendly with a proper community atmosphere. Again there is a varied ale selection but Burton Bridge's Bramble Stout quickly got my vote as we sat in the ESPN room in some comfy chairs by the pool table. This was a nice spot for some conversation and we were joined momentarily by a chap, the landlord I presume, for a little bit of cricket chat.

- The Butts Tavern -

RUSHALL: It was now time to explore wider Walsall some more so we catch a very full 10A bus up to Daw End Lane, I'm surprised the driver let us on! Our target was the Manor Arms situated on Park Road near to the canal and Park Lime Pits nature reserve. The pub has been a favourite of mine for a while now thanks to it's considerable charm, history and quirkiness - there isn't a bar counter as such, the pumps come straight out of the wall. Some Ringwood Old Thumper slips down very nicely as we debate how to define the Black Country. I don't think we succeeeded there but we did agree that the Manor Arms has a very appealing location just that bit off the beaten track.

- The Manor Arms -

BLOXWICH: A combination of the 8 and 908 delivers us safely to Bloxwich as evening sets in, the 908 having got us out of a potential pickle when we might have been stranded in Pelsall - I might have to fine tune the bus radar in future. With a spare hour or so we are enticed into The Bell, a pub that has some very nice traditional features such as green leather seating and a period smoke room but I wouldn't necessarily class it as a real ale place to visit. I think the Bell has the potential to be an absolute gem, especially given the character of the interior, but at the moment it seems perfectly happy being a decent local serving Banks's.

- A Bunch of Bears in The Bell -

TURF TAVERN (Tinkies): We pause for a takeaway tea on a bench in the Memorial Gardens and then the day has one final treat in store. I wasn't completely convinced by the Turf Tavern when I first visited a few years ago, but this time around I was totally won over. Nestled in amongst a row of terraces, the outside of the pub does look shabby but inside it was well-presented, almost like entering a museum. The welcome was very friendly and the beer excellent (Pardoe's Bumblehole is virtually guaranteed to always score highly as far as I'm concerned), and I thoroughly relished sitting on our wooden slatted bench seats having a natter despite the fact I was rapidly losing my voice. Everyone made us feel very much at home with customers saying goodnight as they left and it did feel like a throwback to a bygone age yet still very relevant to today. In short I thought the Turf was great, a place that deserves to be cherished and supported.

What a way to finish then, not just in terms of this single outing but when thinking about our winter exploits as a whole: Sedgley, Coseley, Gornal, Darlaston and Wolverhampton then all culminating here. The cricket will undoubtedly take our attention over the coming months and I hope the summer yields it's own fine memories as we get out and about supporting the Warwickshire Bears...

Sunday, March 20

In Search of Old Oldbury

Friday 18th March: Following the success of our Smethwick outing last month, Andy and I joined forces once more for another slice of Sandwell shenanigans. This time our target was the Oldbury area as we hoped to uncover some hidden history...

WEST BROMWICH: As with our last trip, a 10:30 start gives me scope beforehand for some solo exploration. Spon Lane will do nicely, weaving around to find photo targets such as the Cricketers Arms on Kenrick Park and the Windsor Castle on the Lyng. Perhaps the most saddening discovery was the Forrester's Arms on Ault Street, a traditional little pub that has been reduced to a festering shell.

- The Forresters Arms -

After a little wander along West Bromwich High Street it's over to the bus station where Andy arrives armed with a vintage A-Z and a guide to historic Oldbury. We decide to recapture some history straight away with Mr D9 on hand to provide his own brand of transport re-enactments...

- The D9 leaves West Bromwich -

OLDBURY CANAL LOOP: We alight by Sandwell & Dudley Station and set to work investigating possible remnants of the former Oldbury Carriage Works before concentrating on the old loop canal that once encircled Oldbury town centre. Church Street Bridge provides a very big clue and from here we can follow a brambly track round to Birmingham Street - it's overgrown and litter-strewn in places but fascinating all the same.

- Church Street Bridge -

OLDBURY TOWN: Birmingham Street landmarks include Church Square, the Junction and the Bull's Head, whilst the junction with Halesowen Street has some little shops such as Aplin's and Lucy Thompson's which hint at what the town centre would've looked like before the arrival of the infamous Sainsbury's Savacentre - the supermarket probably saved the town from economic meltdown but wiped away so much heritage in the process. Along Church Street we find the Waggon & Horses, the public library (recently closed with services moving to Jack Judge House) and the architectural curiosity that is Sandwell Council House, I'm not convinced about on the appeal of that one!

INDUSTRIAL DECAY: Next up Andy introduces me to the site of the former Hunt Brothers foundry off West Bromwich Street, now just a flattened zone with only the occasional fragment of a gatepost or a manhole cover to tell of what went before. We also spot potential further canal remains and can't resist a bit of a scramble for a closer look. Various thorns and nettles did not deter us although Andy was concerned he might get a rat up his trousers!

OLDBURY PUBS: All this ferreting about had made us thirsty so it was time for a pint or two. The sounds of Elvis drew us towards the Junction, where Mr Presley certainly proved he was a 'Good Luck Charm' when the Guinness was on at £2 a pint (even Mr Wood would've been happy with that price!) The Waggon & Horses was also well worth a visit for some Enville White and a proper pub interior, although sadly we didn't get to see the resident ghost. A brief encounter with the Savacentre is required (yes, the bladder was calling) and then we're free to catch the 87 where Andy's bald spot turns green during another D9 demonstration.

- The D9 out and about in Oldbury -

TIVIDALE: One of Andy's old stomping grounds and the setting for a couple more pub visits. We braved the Albion despite my misgivings about setting foot inside a place that has a Baggies shirt on it's pub sign, then decamped to the safer territory of the Wonder down by Tividale Park, a nice Marston's local with a decent drink of Pedigree.

- The Wonder at Tividale -

BRADES VILLAGE: The 87 is working well for us, saving our legs with a few short hops as we head off to tackle the Brades. There used to be some heavy industry around here as Andy recalls how the local factories would have different clocking off times to avoid overcrowding from homerushing workers. The Brades Tavern is a fine landmark building that provides us with a handy bite to eat along with the chance to watch the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

CANALS CONTINUED: Having recovered somewhat from our earlier exertions we decided to do a bit more canal exploring. We join the towpath of the Old Main Line at Brades Bridge and keep a close eye out for any arms or wharves that might link up with the loop we’d covered this morning. Given its supreme status as the ugliest place I’ve thus far visited, Oldbury Junction is having an annoying habit of cropping up in my adventures. The pleasant sunshine did little to lift the pervading gloom of this desolate spot, but at least Andy can now say he's encountered ‘the Soviet Swimming Pool’ and survived. The Titford Canal provides welcome relief as we slog it into Langley, pausing briefly to admire Titford Pumphouse, Engine Street Bridge and the former railway line into Langley Green.

- Titford Pumphouse -

LANGLEY: Saying goodbye to the Titford, we venture into Langley and partake of a swift half each in the Crosswells and the Model. The Crosswells was another decent local at one end of Langley High Street, whilst the Model has had a bit of a makeover since Rog and I visited and now looks very smart indeed.

- Intrepid adventurers at the Crosswells Inn, Langley -

Going full circle back to Oldbury, we can't resist tracking down one of Mr Wood's alleged former haunts. Birchfield Lane was once home to Oldbury Garage, the depot site now partly occupied by the One and Two Halves pub. We believe Mr Wood briefly worked at Oldbury in his previous existence, so it seems highly likely that he would have visited the Manchester Stores as the local of choice for the old drivers. The pub was certainly busy today, barely a seat to be had.

- The Manchester Stores, does it look familiar Mr Wood? -

We decide to complete the day's proceedings in the same manner we finished off the Smethwick trip, hence it's a final call to the Jolly Collier and a well-earned closing pint (in this case Burton Bridge's Four Founders, named in honour of the four gentlemen who effectively formed CAMRA 40 years ago). We say our farewells and I make my home, detouring into Bilston especially to sample some live jazz in the Trumpet, an excellent way in which to set the seal on another fantastic day out. Cheers!

Saturday, March 19

An Unwanted Vanishing Act

I'm extremely annoyed to report that the West Midlands Exploration galleries are currently unavailable due to the apparent disappearance of the entire Fotopic service where the site has been hosted over the last six years. I noticed that the galleries had vanished well over a week ago but initially hoped that this might be a temporary glitch. Sadly there still hasn't been any news whatsoever and with every passing day it looks increasingly unlikely that anything will resurface.

Whilst all my photos are backed up safely enough to start again if necessary, it is frustrating to think that my various commentaries and correspondances might have gone completely. The issues are affecting all Fotopic galleries so it's not just WME, and I must admit I've lost a lot of faith in the company given that there have been no explanations forthcoming thus far. I am therefore currently investigating other options for maintaining a web presence, including having a little play around on Flickr, so it might be that I set myself up with a new base in the not too distant future. In the meantime I shall leave all my blog links intact just in case better news arrives, and I apologise to any of you who were hoping to view the existing photos. Hopefully WME will be back in some form or another before too long...

Sunday, March 6

The Great Escape Turns To Stone

Back in February last year I took advantage of London Midland’s Great Escape offer, buying a £10 rover ticket covering the operator’s entire network and enjoying a day out around Liverpool and Runcorn. Now the promotion was back, providing me with just the incentive I needed for a spot of Staffordshire indulgence…

Friday 4th March 2011 and my plan this time around was to visit Tamworth and Rugby, starting from Wolverhampton on the Lime Street train and changing at Stafford where I can join London Midland’s London Euston service along the Trent Valley. This all went remarkably smoothly despite a slight delay out of Wolverhampton and a chap on the refreshments trolley going through a range of offers in very precise detail.

To Tamworth then, hoping to build on my previous (somewhat limited) memories of the town. These vaguely constituted a family visit down by the castle and the river, a brief Rail Rover call when Tamworth Station seemed like a depressing mass of concrete, and the Burton day out with Rog and Woody when we found the Arriva depot and had a quick pint. Other than that I pretty much had a blank canvas to work with.

TAMWORTH STATION: I arrive bang on schedule at 10:47 and find that the station is still as I remember it – i.e. grim, very much in keeping with it’s Trent Valley neighbours in being just the positive side of awful. The platforms feel exposed and windswept as I negotiate the ugly staircases up and down from the high level. The frontage is nowt to write home about either - in fact I’ve seen multi-storey car parks that are prettier – so all things considered I don’t have much affection for the place at all.

TAMWORTH TOWN TOUR: It’s a relief to leave the station behind and head into the town. The Tweedale Arms Hotel immediately attracts my attention, sitting on the roundabout just outside the station, and this is quickly followed by the Albert, a Banks’s pub with a painted blue and white side sign. Aldergate brings me into territory familiar from my visit with Woody and Rog, whereby the Arriva depot is enticing as a transport location but the garage doors are closed today so there’s no peeking inside to be had, spoilsports!

- Tamworth Arriva Garage -

Heading down Corporation Street next and the Silk Kite catches my eye - I think this is the place where Rog, Woody and I had our quick pint last time we were here. The pub is a Lloyds No. 1 Bar featuring a nice art deco style exterior with a period clock, whilst The Tavern in the Town on the opposite corner also seems recognisable from that previous encounter. Church Street includes an old corner Co-op store as I briefly investigate Lichfield Road for photos of the Three Tuns and a place called Vertigo.

TAMWORTH CASTLE: An about turn and it’s time to go on a castle hunt. The Castle Hotel is a good clue to start with, then I spot the castle lodge looking inviting as the road leads down to Ladybridge over the River Anker. Tamworth Castle itself is truly a momentous structure, perched on high as a testimony to the town’s history as the ‘ancient capital of Mercia’. The main building seems to all be intact and is a popular tourist attraction whereby visitors can explore the rooms and exhibitions inside. It wasn’t open today so I made do with a perimeter walk and a few external shots, admiring the views looking out over the surrounding parkland with a bandstand and some elegant flowerbed terraces.

- Tamworth Castle -

The river was also key to Tamworth’s development and Ladybridge is certainly an elegant old feature. I dodge the geese and swans to get a photo then retreat back into town, arriving on Market Street to admire the impressive Town Hall and accompanying statue of former Prime Minister Robert Peel. The history lesson continues with a wander up to St Editha's Church, standing proud with the war memorial and modern town library also close at hand.

The rest of my Tamworth experience involves a look at the bus stops on Victoria Road (hoping to get photos of routes such as the 8 and 9 to Hockley), a quick browse within the library and the chance discovery of some charming almshouses on the corner of Spinning School Lane. It's fair to say that the town has definitely made a good impression and I somewhat reluctantly make my way back to the station for my next train.

I’m aiming to catch the 12:47 Euston service down to Rugby but the cancellation of the preceding journey due to overtime issues with ASLEF means the train is rammed full and I opt to give it a swerve. In need of a contingency plan I decide a visit to Stone is in order - the 13:31 departure will do nicely, so its back into Tamworth for a spot of lunch in the meantime.

STONE STATION: The 13:31 arrives promptly and just over half an hour later I alight to explore a location that has been on the Paul hitlist for some considerable time. For a few years there was no service here but this has thankfully restored so it's great to see the station back in use and with a direct service to London at that. And what a station it is! Admittedly platform 2 isn’t up to much, with a brick bunker of a passenger shelter that wouldn’t look out of place at Bordesley, and the red footbridge is also on the basic side. Platform 1 however has the delightful old station building, presenting quite an elegant ornate platform side and then with the main frontage facing down the railway drive. There’s also a curious outbuilding tucked under the footbridge that seemed to have half of its roof missing.

- Stone Station -

I gather a few platform shots then cross the bridge to investigate that main frontage complete with the all-important station lettering. The building looks used without necessarily being open, and the glazed area around the back looks quite smart, possibly even as a private residence or meeting space. The station sits neatly in a junction fork so there are lines on either side, and the station drive brings me down to a level crossing marked with a totem sign.

STONE TOUR: My local photos of the town begin with The Talbot, a corner pub overlooking the level crossing. Station Road takes me by St Dominic’s Priory School to emerge at Granville Square almost by accident. The square contains the bus stops familiar from my rail replacement rides on the X1 (a little Bennetts minibus is on hand for a sneaky shot) and also includes the war memorial, a period café and the Poste of Stone (the local Wetherspoons). The Crown and Anchor also features as a black and white timber-framed building next to Granville’s Café, an appealing spot.

- Granville Square -

Next I investigate the pedestrianised High Street stretching down – can’t say I’ve noticed this before so the town is obviously more substantial than I’d anticipated. The street plays host to regular farmers markets and festivals which can be extremely popular, and the buildings here include the rather grand and historic Crown Hotel, the narrower Red Lion pub and the town library - nice!

PUB TIME: The bottom of High Street brings me to the Trent & Mersey Canal as a couple of further pubs catch my eye - the Star is a canalside Bank's looking very traditional next to lock 27, whilst the Swan Inn is a John Joule's free house on the main road. I was just about ready for a pint
and was torn over which inn to choose, but the Joule’s factor intrigued me and a sign suggesting the Swan was a local CAMRA pub of the year proved the clincher. I was rewarded with a cracking pub experience: a lively bar, an excellent local pint (Lymestone's Foundation Stone is brewed in the town) and some interesting decorations including an array of pump clips on the ceiling and a framed illustrated Staffordshire Pub Crawl sketch on the wall. To top it off, the radio was even playing 'Turn to Stone' by ELO, uncanny or what??

- Workhouse Bridge -

TRENT & MERSEY: Pint supped I now concentrate on the canal with a walk up the locks to the outskirts of town. The Star sits next to Bridge 93 (a bland modern structure but the accompanying lock is appealing)., then the canal opens out a little with some moorings and the heritage of Joule’s Former Brewery site. Workhouse Bridge (No. 94) is a little askew and irregular then Bridge 95 is equally distinctive with separate portals for boat and foot traffic. Bridge 96 would also be charming but is rather blighted by pipeworks and this marks the limit of my walking – the bridge is adorned with ‘Welcome to Stone’ messages suggesting I’ve reached the edge of town, so I turn around and head back the way I came.

I retrace my steps to Limekiln Lock (No. 30) where a path over a railway crossing leads me back to the station. I still have a bit of time to kill so a further loop of the town ensues, traffic building in the rush hour as kids pour out of the local school. I make my way to Granville Square and spot a Titanic pub, the Royal Exchange, which could be worth a pint for future reference. A final few photos of Granville Square and it's time to say goodbye, returning to the station for my 16:02 connection back to Stafford.

So that was the tale of how I got ‘Stoned’ during my Great Escape, a cracking Staffordshire adventure and excellent value to boot. Today definitely whetted my appetite for my (hopefully) forthcoming Rail Rover outings and I would urge London Midland continue to offer the promotion so that I can enjoy similar adventures in future!

Saturday, March 5

Worcestershire Whittles

Continuing 'Operation Catch-up' on the WME Blog as I detail the WARP Factor's eventful day out in Worcestershire and Shropshire on Saturday 26th February...

WHITTLES: The day was dedicated to exploring Whittles' network of bus services in and around Kidderminster, hoping to make best use out of a £5.50 day ticket. My favourite ride was the 125 down from Bewdley to Highley via Kinlet, but we also tried out the 5 (Kiddy to Wolverley) and the 11 (Kiddy to Bewdley via Stourport). The latter is seen here at Kidderminster Bus Station with some dubious characters preparing to board.

BEWDLEY: Any visit to Bewdley is always a welcome feature on a day's itinerary, and this time around we actually called by twice. The George Hotel Wetherspoon's attracted our custom both times, firstly for a non-alcoholic round in the morning (whereby Andy's bald spot got in the way of what would have been a perfect shot of a cup of tea) and then returning for some lunch. The George was also notable for Rog and Andy's valiant attempts to invade the ladies loos, the less said the better...

HIGHLEY: I was really looking forward to our visit to Highley but it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Constant drizzle made us all feel quite miserable and there wasn't really much to do. The Bache Arms hadn't opened yet and the Severn Valley Railway Station was a fair walk away - not a problem on a sunny day but not particularly enticing in the rain when you've got to get back for the bus. At least the local church offered a nice landmark photo or two.

WOLVERLEY: After making our way back via Stourport we spend the afternoon in Wolverley playing pool in the Queens Head. Woody and I secured a tournament victory as I bored Roger into potting the black ahead of time (I probably took my Steve Davis persona too far), whilst here we see 'Ray Reardon' finding a novel way of trying to put 'Hurricane Higgins' off his game. We all like the Queens Head and the visit was made more memorable by a shock scoreline from Molineux, Wolves 4 Blackpool 0 - I don't know what surprised me more, the goals or the clean sheet.

From Wolverley we finish off in Kidderminster with tea in the Penny Black and a swift half in the SVR station after missing a train connection. Stourbridge beckons, another outing is concluded, and I didn't even mention the D9 driving! That just left Sunday with Roger doing us all proud by completing his 5 mile charity run up by Russells Hall Hospital, well done that man!

The Chip Foundation Stays At Home

First off, a bit of a confession. I've been so busy exploring recently that I haven't had chance to update the blog, so now I've got a bit of catching up to do. To that end, here are some selected highlights from the Chip Foundation's Wolverhampton outing from Friday 25th February...

THE NEWHAMPTON: Doing a Wolverhampton trip was a bit of a novelty for us, but the Combermere Arms got us off to a flying start with an excellent curry lunch and friendly service. We then decamped to the Newhampton to admire a trophy fish and get this group shot posed in the traditional ambience of the smoke room.

THE SUMMERHOUSE: This pub closed down for a while but I'm glad to say it has re-opened and we enjoyed a swift half in here, our beer choices aided by a very knowledgable barman. Here is an exterior photo showing the building looking very smart.

THE SWAN: The railway walk leads us on a muddy trail to Compton where we can visit one of my favourite inns. The Swan is full of character (and characters!), including an authentic looking bar with wooden benches and a proper games room with dartboard. We however found ourselves in the cosy lounge where Mr B models his lemonade and blackcurrant.

THE ROYAL OAK: A lungbusting hike up The Holloway brought us next to the Royal Oak at Tettenhall Wood, a decent local pub where Stephen and 'Nickolenko' had a bizarre debate about the relative merits of winking, blinking and squinting, I kid you not!

Stephen inspects the timetable whilst on the lookout for a 501 or 510 to return us towards Wolverhampton.

THE CHINDIT: The day's final port of call involved the unpretentious surroundings of The Chindit, complete with music posters and artex walls. It's a fine place to relax, chat and enjoy some beer, so here I am obliging with a taste of Essington Blonde. An excellent day exploring pub haunts in western Wolverhampton, it might be worth staying on home territory more often!!

Tuesday, March 1

WME Update Digest: February 2011

2011 is ticking by quickly and it's already time for another of my monthly missives about gallery progress. February's updates were exclusively dominated by WME Wolverhampton and WME Walsall, with Walsall having secured its 200th photo in the process...

To WME Wolverhampton then where it has been a very constructive month with something approaching an array of additions. Firstly there's a new collection to report, Exploring Pendeford having arrived with starter photos of St Paul's School and the Morrisons Supermarket. Pendeford is one of those areas of town I remember well from childhood so it was essential to ensure it was represented in some form or another.

Amongst Wolverhampton's other local gains I offer the YMCA centre on Catisfield Crescent (Exploring Dovecotes), some park scenes and the local health centre (Exploring Northwood Park), a further look at what used to be the Kingswood pub (Exploring Tettenhall), a safety sign at Fowlers Park (Exploring Park Village), an additional shot of the New Crown and yet another park noticeboard (Exploring Wednesfield) and a slushy peek at Bee Lane's play area (Exploring Fordhouses).

That's not all - a quick pause for breath and on we go. Exploring Springfield has received a second shot of the Freemason's Arms whilst Exploring Bushbury now presents the rather unsightly local shops on Bushbury Lane. A sprinkling of canal content includes Autherley Lock Pump-out Station (Shropshire Union), the Wildside Activity Centre (Staffs & Worcs) and New Cross Bridge (Wyrley & Essington) - and there's even been a new member in the 698 at Wobaston series to keep Wolverhampton by Bus ticking over.

With all that going on it's a wonder WME Walsall got a word in edgeways, but it did of course celebrate that significant 200-photo milestone, the details of which I have largely covered previously. There have been a couple of further arrivals since then though, so to bring you bang up to date these comprise Goscote Hall Bridge (Wyrley & Essington Canal), the 301 bus posing at Mossley Eagle terminus (Walsall by Bus) and a look at the old Brownhills Clinic standing disused once services transferred to the new Park View centre (Exploring Brownhills).

An interesting month then - my usual scattergun approach to updates was replaced with a more concentrated effort to get a couple of galleries moving. It's good to focus in on certain places once in a while, although I will have to be careful not to neglect the other areas too much. Anyway that's all for now as we wait to see what March has in store...