Saturday, December 24

Moseley, Ladywood and Smethwick

The herald angels are singing and the halls are being decked with boughs of holly so this can only mean one thing - yes it's Christmas, and time for a festive meeting of the Hub Marketing Board. Monday 19th December therefore saw Mr D9 Andy and myself avoiding the panic buying mayhem with a good old tour in and around Birmingham...

- Aston Locks -

ASTON: We had originally aimed to commence proceedings at 9:30 but Andy got waylaid by hub matters elsewhere, leaving me free for a spot of bonus exploring up Aston way. Heavy rain was predicted but luckily the weather held off long enough to allow for a canal walk, with me foolhardily tackling the treacherous icy towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley from High Holborn Bridge to Rocky Lane. I hadn't done this stretch before so it was interesting to see more of Aston Locks including the cottages by Thimble Mill Lane.

- Allison Street, Digbeth -

SPARKBROOK: A turn-up-and-go 67 Bendibus is next on hand to deliver me safely into the centre of Birmingham where I say hello to the Tony Hancock Memorial at Old Square. Mr D9 summons me to New Street Station and with our party complete we set about filling in the remaining holes in our collection of vintage Birmingham toilet closets. One we had missed previously was on Allison Street just around the back of Moor Street Station, and with that duly photographed we continue down towards Camp Hill and along the Stratford Road. By now the rain has arrived with some ferocity but it doesn't deter us from a wander into Sparkbrook, an area I don't think I'd got to grips with before. Here the Shakespeare pub is a neat landmark as Andy investigates a potential former toilet block by the railway bridge.

- Cannon Hill Closet with Bald Spot in attendance -

BALSALL HEATH: We're covering all the glamorous areas today as a quick ride on the 8C Inner Circle connects us into Balsall Heath. Risking a drenching we explore the backstreets around St Paul's Road in search of more closet clues, then a soggy stroll along Edward Street brings us to the Cannon Hill Cubicle where Andy can't resist making use of the facilities. Both Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook looked to have some fascinating heritage buildings so they could be well worth returning to in drier conditions.

- Recovering in the Fighting Cocks -

MOSELEY: Having gritted our teeth through the deluge we were now in urgent need of some warmth and refreshment. The 35 took pity on us by arriving instantly for our link into Moseley, and then it was time to try some pubs. The Elizabeth of York Wetherspoon's got us off to a dry start, but I particularly liked the period features of the Fighting Cocks (complete with clock tower) and the cosy ambience of the Prince of Wales. A brief ride on the 50 also meant we could squeeze in the Merry Maid, just to ensure we were properly back up to temperature of course!

- The Vine, Ladywood -

LADYWOOD: The sequence of Birmingham's inner districts had been serving us well so far so we added further to the list with a visit to Ladywood. The 8C is again on hand to take us to Five Ways where Andy points out the former Crusader pub in the grotty Edgbaston Shopping Centre. Weaving via subways we find our way to Ruston Street, home to the Vine, our best pub find of the day. Whilst much of the old Ladywood area had been swept away, here was a real survivor linking back to the past, a proper old-fashioned backstreet boozer complete with a heartwarming pint of Santa's Claws from the Beartown Brewery - the beer tasted as if it had had some candy cane melted into it for extra spicy sweetness. Freshly fortified we complete our Ladywood sweep with views of the Ivy Bush, Perrotts Folly, the Bricklayers Arms and a recce around the reservoir - Andy even got chance to pay homage to the former Carlyle Road works site where his favourite D9 buses were once manufactured.

- Investigating the site of the Carlyle Rd D9 works -

CAPE HILL: We decide to conclude our festive frivolities amongst the familiar D9-trip haunts of Cape Hill and Smethwick. Andy has a couple more pubs up his sleeve - the Old Windmill opposite the City Hospital was one I knew about, but the Cross Keys down by Spring Hill caught me completely by surprise, full marks Mr Lunn for that one. It's Andy's turn for a shock in the Robin though when he recognises one of the barstaff and makes himself scarce rather sharpish whilst I hand over the beer money!

- The Old Windmill, with Frosty the Snowman! -

SMETHWICK: And finally... as it's Christmas we push the boat out a little with a final flourish thanks to the Hono Bar, the Queens Arms and the Old Corner House. Andy's surveillance mission with the Queens Arms finally paid off as it's a pub he's wanted to visit for months and had only recently re-opened, whilst the Old Corner House was also back in business after a prolonged spell of closure - it's great that we can now say we've tried them out. With that we bring the trip and the year to a close in excellent style, and we look forward to seeing what adventures 2012 might bring.

- Cheers to a Merry Christmas! -

Sunday, December 11

Coventry 2011

It's getting rather late in the year now and my aim is to fill in any remaining gaps in my exploration coverage for 2011. One such hole was Coventry, so on Friday 9th December off I trooped to the city of Godiva...

: Feeling in an energetic mood, I arrived at Coventry Station at 9:19 and embarked on a gradual stroll through the City Centre and out towards Gosford Green. Initial photo targets included Station Square and the distinct round features of the Indoor Market, whilst Earl Street was busy with students heading for the many prominent University buildings. Gosford Street offered an interesting find (more about that later), and then Far Gosford Street had a mixture of shopping architecture culminating in a Christmas tree opposite Lloyds Bank.

- Gosford Green -

GOSFORD GREEN: I've now arrived at Gosford Green, a neat area of open space at the busy junction of Binley Road, Walsgrave Road and Sky Blue Way. I enjoy getting some shots of the leafless trees, the bare branches reaching hungrily out into the bright wintry sunlight. Further along Walsgrave Road is the community of Stoke where a landmark Carnegie branch library sits on the corner of Kingsway - I love old library buildings like this!

- Site of the pitch at Highfield Road -

: Buoyed by my discoveries so far, I now pick up the trail of the old Coventry City FC ground by venturing into parts of Hillfields. It had been a few years since the club had moved to the Ricoh Arena and I knew the old site had been redeveloped, but I was still interested to see if there was any legacy of one of the historic homes of Midlands football. Approaching along Swan Lane I can see the new housing that now occupies the spot, but my efforts are rewarded when Thackhall Street leads me to Signet Square, at the heart of which is a playing field that ensures local youngsters can still play football where Sky Blues legends did in years gone by. The rest of the immediate area comprises a lot of terraced housing and you can imagine the rooftops echoing to goal celebrations past. I continue my local investigations and turn up some pub photos including the Binley Oak and Brewer & Baker followed by the Old Ball Hotel back on the main Walsgrave Road.

- 27 at Walsgrave Hospital -

: Time for a bus ride and the 27 is on hand to weave its way to Walsgrave Hospital via Stoke Hill and Belgrave Road. The last time I visited the hospital (back in 2004) it was a bit of a dump with monotonous ugly department blocks that were all too depressing. Fast forward a few years and the place has been transformed into a modern health complex that looks seriously impressive. Even better (for me at least), the hospital comes complete with its own bus interchange located by the main entrance, a cracking little photography location where a variety of National Express Coventry and Travel de Courcey routes drop by.

- Coventry Stadium, Brandon -

: One of those routes was the 3 which provided a handy quick connection down to the Morrisons at Binley so that I could tiptoe into Warwickshire for a while. Binley Woods has featured in explorations before now thanks to the hunt for Hyacinth Bucket's bungalow, but today I was searching for the local library as I'd heard the branch was being threatened with closure due to Warwickshire County Council's need to make cutbacks. True to form I wandered off in the wrong direction, struggling to locate the library although I did find the shops on Woodlands Road and the village green with war memorial on Craven Avenue. Before I knew it I'd crossed into Brandon, which came with the bonus discovery of the Coventry Stadium, home to greyhound and speedway races - my second sporting location of the day. Back in Binley Woods I eventually do find the library on Monks Road (mission completed!) before adding in photos of the Roseycombe pub and the village hall.

- Whitefriars Olde Alehouse -

WHITEFRIARS: Retracing my steps back to Morrisons, the 86 bus arrives on cue for my link back to Gosford Green. My next stroll then takes me past the Gulson Hospital to find the remains of Whitefriars, historic fragments of friary now incongruously sited next to concrete flyovers and grotty underpasses (that's 1960's town planning for you). The monastic theme continues as I reckon I've earned myself a pint, hence it's back to my earlier Gosford Street discovery: Whitefriars Olde Alehouse. In previous blogs I've praised the Olde Windmill on Spon Street in Coventry as an example of a pub with a bit of the medieval about it, and here we have another contender. There's plenty of olde worlde charm to be found inside (beams, roof supports, wonky walls and dark pannelling) but what impressed me most was the warm welcome and the wide range of real ales. I'm spoilt for choice until I spot the XXXmas Ale from Byatt's, a winter pint from a new Coventry brewery - perfect!

- Cheylesmore Shops -

: The pub was so cosy and friendly it was very hard to leave, and I time my exit just right to rush headlong into a vicious hailstorm. I nearly abandoned the outing there and then but the skies cleared and I was free to continue to the day's final port of call. Cheylesmore is a large Coventry suburb that features some elegant 1930's shopping parades either side of Daventry Road, not to mention the open spaces around Quinton Pool where the Canada geese seem to be stalking me. Further photo potential comes from the Social Club and the Baptist Church, great to put some markers down and add to my local knowledge. Tour completed, it's getting on for 3pm so I make my way back to Coventry Station and catch my train home, reflecting on a special day that followed in the worthy footsteps of my other classic Coventry adventures.

Thursday, December 1

WME Flickr Focus: November 2011

Calculators at the ready! It's time for your monthly maths report, totting up the totals of the latest arrivals on the West Midlands Exploration Flickr photostream...

November 2011 was a month with a little bit of everything. 71 images were slotted back into position as all of my collections got a photo-boost one way or another. Leading the way was WME Wolverhampton where the first additions for a good few months included a pretty wintertime shot of Bushbury Church, some more bridges for the Shropshire Union Canal and assorted views of the Flying Dutchman at Warstones and park flowerbeds at Wednesfield. Also springing back to life a little was WME Walsall where you can now find pictures of Pool Hayes Bridge (Wyrley & Essington Canal) and Arriva operating the 319 bus route in Bloxwich.

Elsewhere progress has been steady enough. WME Birmingham crept forward with a Northfield delegation representing both the railway station (trains, underpass and general station shots) and the wider area (the Great Stone pub and the local library both appear). WME Dudley took on board a motley selection covering Quarry Bank (the former Sun Inn pub), Wordsley (shopping parade at Wordsley Green) and the steps leading down to Lye Station, whilst WME Sandwell has been topped up with the likes of Smethwick Rolfe Street (platform and booking hall views), Tipton (war memorial and the former Boscobel pub) and the welcome return of Smethwick West. Even WME Coventry has inched along with assistance from Canley and Tile Hill railway stations, not forgetting the Herald pub.

Here then is the state of the stats with one month of 2011 still to go;

  • WME Wolverhampton: Target 435 > 358 in place > 77 remaining

  • WME Walsall: Target 208 > 163 in place > 45 remaining

  • WME Birmingham: Target 330 > 102 in place > 228 remaining

  • WME Dudley: Target 262 > 32 in place > 230 remaining

  • WME Sandwell: Target 180 > 22 in place > 158 remaining

  • WME Coventry: Target 80 > 6 in place > 74 remaining

Conclusion? Lots of hard work ahead in December and continuing into 2012...