Saturday, December 8

East Birmingham the Second

It's Friday 7th December and the Second City is once more on the radar as the Anti-Hub Marketing Board gear up for their pre-Christmas campaign meeting...

EASTSIDE: with the terms and conditions meter ticking once more, Chairman D9 arrives just in time for a breakfast conference during which he takes delivery of the Board's latest marketing publication, a 2013 calendar. Having inspected the goods we then convene in Eastside to see how the transformation of the area is gathering pace. Moby Dicks and the former Belmont Row works are looking increasingly incongruous as new development takes place around them. 

- Belmont Row Works -

NECHELLS: next up it's a case of inner-city interrogation as we weave our way through Nechells where various gas holder towers are a constant presence on the skyline. Other landmarks to note include Avenue Road canal bridge, Shanahans Bar on Rocky Lane and the Villa Tavern on Nechells Park Road, and the stage is also set for some 'sleeve surprises'. The Chairman offers up the corner closet on St Clements Road whilst the Secretary lands a double serving in the form of the Britannia and the Albion Vaults, two very intriguing backstreet boozers.

- Giving it some Gas -

BLOOMSBURY: having lubricated ourselves with M&B Mild courtesy of the Albion Vaults, we breeze into Bloomsbury where the local library is a red-brick bastion of Victorian civic pride. Hints of history can also be detected in Bloomsbury Park where there's a vehicular monument marking the location where Lanchester built the first All British four-wheel petrol car back in 1895. The Foaming Tankard is of more recent vintage and has a few Christmas decorations to get us into the festive spirit.

- St Clements Closet -

SALTLEY: Chairman D9 is in his element as we explore the area around Saltley Viaduct, trying to pinpoint where the 'Battle of Saltley Gate' took place as part of the 1972 Miners Strike. The Saltley Coke Works have long gone now, along with the urinal that Arthur Scargill stood atop when declaring victory, but it is still fascinating to reconnect with the area's industrial history. A quick half in the Sportsman is our surreal reward, chatting to a couple of interesting characters whilst listening to a soundtrack drawn from Alma Cogan and Eve Boswell.

- A Spot at Saltley -

ALUM ROCK: Alum Rock Road is always an experience with its vibrant ethnicity as we catch the 14 up to the Brookhill, a 1930's Mitchells & Butlers estate pub where the Chairman attempts to resuscitate his dead mobile phone. Sadly the poor thing is out of power and nothing can be done to boost the battery. 

WARD END: the East Birmingham extravaganza continues with a wander into Ward End where we find St Margaret's Church closely followed by the Barley Mow. Ansell's Mild and a roaring coal fire are just the job on a windswept December afternoon. There is a suspicion of price collusion in the air given that every round we've sampled so far has come to £2.50, threatening to scupper our perennial battle over who can secure the biggest discount. We needed a dose of Wetherspoons to break the cycle, and the Hornet came with the added prospect of meeting drivers from the former Lea Hall Bus Garage. 

- Christmas Chairman at the Fox & Goose -

YARDLEY: the onset of dusk sends us scampering to Yardley, making use of the Outer Circle for a visit to Swan Island where the shopping centre has been redeveloped by Tesco. The Chairman recalls the days when the Swan pub was a major focal point in this neck of the woods and reputedly had the longest bar in Europe. The pub closed some years ago, leaving the New Inn, the Old Bill & Bull and the Redhill Tavern to maintain the Coventry Road quota.

- The Monica -

SMALL HEATH: every excursion has to end somewhere, and in this case the final stand is taken in Small Heath where we go on a Monica hunt only to find the pub closed. On a brighter note, we are able to acquaint ourselves with Bedders fish and chip shop, a Coventry Road institution going back over 50 years that combines nostalgia with excellent food and a free serving of onions in vinegar. What a way to finish an East Birmingham epic!

Monday, December 3

Digging into Trench

Friday 30th November and a free day of bonus exploration takes me back onto the Telford trail, seeing what treasures I could unearth from a tour of Wrockwardine Wood, Trench and St Georges...

- An Oakengates Welcome -

OAKENGATES: as has been my custom when investigating Telford in recent years, the starting point of my expedition is Oakengates. The town is clearly gearing up for Christmas, hence lights and decorations are going up along Market Street and a miniature funfair appears to have moved in too. 

- Lincoln Road towards the Pheasant -

WROCKWARDINE WOOD: I seem to have two separate Wrockwardine Wood excavations on the go today, and the first involves a wander along New Road where I encounter the Wrockwardine Wood School along with pubs the Fountain (closed), the Pheasant (pink) and the Red Lion. The area grew as a coal and iron workers settlement and still has a number of old cottages to lend a lot of character.

- Trench Pool -

TRENCH: Moving onto Wombridge Road, I prepare for some serious spadework around Trench. Initial finds here include the Bridge pub and some shops on the junction with Teagues Crescent, but the best discovery is reserved for Capewell Road where the Blue Pig has a quirky name reflecting the local pig iron industry. A former branch of the Shropshire Union Canal used to come right through the area, and although much of the remains have been obliterated by more recent development, the canal's feeder reservoir is intact as Trench Pool. Another clue to canal heritage is inferred by Trench Lock, and from the modern road interchange I take Trench Road towards Donnington, picking out further artefacts like the Trench Tavern and the Duke of York.

- Bulls Head and Butchers -

WROCKWARDINE WOOD: the second stage of my Wrockwardine Wood extractions brings me up Church Road, where Holy Trinity stands solemnly as the red brick parish church. I also scoop out shots of the White Horse Tavern and the Bulls Head, the latter having a particularly nice tiled frontage. The haul here is completed by an athletics stadium and the Wrockwardine Wood FC clubhouse.

- St George's Church -

ST GEORGE'S: with Moss Road and Gower Street as my next links, I shovel my way into St George's where I strike a rich seam of photographic productivity. Pubs are again very much evident, notably the Talbot, the Albion (at the top of the hill up from Oakengates) and the Bell & Bails, but my main focus is on the imposing St George's Church and the neighbouring recreation ground complete with war memorial gates and a cricket pavilion.

- Priorslee Village -

PRIORSLEE: there's one final locality left for me to mine this time, so I finish off with a poke around Priorslee. Sadly the Pigeon Box pub down off Priorslee Road is no more (replaced by a marketing suite for the 'Priorsleap' housing development), and the estates around Priorslee Avenue are distinctly modern in the Telford New Town vein. Nonetheless, Priorslee Village is a pocket of older properties and the Lion pub on Shifnal Road also looks like it might have been around for a while. With that, I hang up my spade and head for Telford Central, highly satisfied at another day of successful hard graft!

Sunday, December 2

WME Flickr Focus: November 2012

Well well well, here we are again. November has now sailed off into the sunset, leaving us with just the small matter of December to contend with before another year is chalked down into the history books. Christmas is on the horizon, but let me first take a break from present planning and festive thoughts to reflect on November's contribution to all things WME...

The last few weeks have actually been rather busy with the Flickr photostream rumbling along at a tidy lick. WME Warwickshire built on its initial appearance in October, WME Shropshire strong-armed itself back into contention, and even Exploration Extra has had the temerity to come out of hiding. Add in a straggler or two and suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel is glimmering brighter than ever.

WME Warwickshire then, and 34 of my original 45 Fotopic pictures are now back online. Amongst those returning to the fold were waterways shots from the Grand Union (Hatton Lock Cottage) and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal (Bancroft Basin and Bridge 66). Local photos round and about covered Nuneaton (the Railway Tavern sequence), Keresley Village (the Community Centre) and Stratford (Shakespeare's Birthplace) whilst the railway representation came from Wilmcote and Leamington Spa.

WME Shropshire really flexed its muscles when bursting back to life with 53 returning images. Along with three token bus shots, there were healthy local offerings featuring Boscobel House, White Ladies Priory, Bridgnorth and Wem, plus a wander across some golden fields near Worfield. I was particularly pleased to welcome back some of my Rail Rover memories, whereby Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Gobowen all tell of my traditional Tuesday foray into the county.

The re-emergence of Exploration Extra is especially significant because it marks the final stage of rebuilding the constituent pieces that made up my initial Fotopic galleries. You may recall that the old version of Extra included photos from transport rallies, family holidays and Rail Rover haunts outside of the West Midlands area, and the same principle will be applied again. So far the resurrected contents comprise visits to BaMMoT, a handful of shots from the last operational day of Chase Bus Services, and an Essex selection from my Clacton holiday in 2008. There is extra Extra to come so to speak, and this is where I will be concentrating in December.

The remainder of November's activity saw Newport Bus Interchange creeping into WME Telford, Leamore shops nestling onto WME Walsall, and Jibbet Lane Bridge (Birmingham Main Line Canal) and some 505 buses at Pendeford reclaiming their spots on WME Wolverhampton. Altogether this means that a fair old chunk of my archive is now back online, and in the New Year I will be hoping to introduce some completely new content into the mix. Now to get back to the Christmas shopping!

Friday, November 23

Chip Foundation Correspondence

Wednesday 21st November and the Chip Foundation's 2012/13 close season itinerary commences with a tour of Smethwick and Birmingham. As an added treat, Secretary Stephen has brought along a relic of a 1992 diary containing the Foundation's minutes from a full twenty years ago - dusting off the pages, we prepare to uncover progress and parallels from the passage of time...

SMETHWICK: Rolfe Street Station is our present day starting point, alighting from our train for a stroll along Smethwick High Street. Something about the Old Talbot sends Nick all a-shuddering whilst other notable features include the Blue Gates (constructed in 1932) and a former tollhouse. The autumn leaves mark the passing of another cricketing summer but the game is never too far from our thoughts, so we welcome the sight of Broomfield, the home ground of Smethwick Cricket Club, as we wander by The Uplands.

OLD CHAPEL: There are some nice old corners of Smethwick and none more so than down by the Old Church with its appealing slice of historic character. The Old Chapel pub next door offers our first refreshments of the day, and whilst the hoped-for real ale didn't materialise, a half of M&B Mild is at least a traditional Smethwick tipple. Sitting in the bar, Stephen digs out the diary and recalls lunchtime visits to bygone Wolverhampton venues including the Exchange, the George and the Tatton Sykes. It seems that library closures were very much on the agenda back in 1992 as well, although the greatest revelations are reserved for the drinks notes, Stephen being partial to bitter shandies whilst Nick was often ascribed with a Grolsch.

- Smethwick Old Church -

SPRING HILL: we head off in search of the 82 bus, intercepting the route by the Barleycorn on Bearwood Road - the pub is highly distinctive with its round frontage but seems to have been unused for several years. Hopping on the bus, we negotiate familiar Cape Hill congestion and pass the former M&B Brewery site followed by City Hospital. The landmark clock tower of Spring Hill Library is our cue to alight, and whilst we would applaud Tesco for helping safeguard an iconic gothic building, the sight of a supermarket grafted onto the side of a library doesn't sit that easily with us.

JEWELLERY QUARTER: the Chip Foundation are no strangers to the Jewellery Quarter these days, and the Chamberlain Clock greets us like an old friend as we approach along Warstone Lane. Our chosen pub here this time around is the Rose Villa Tavern, where I am a confirmed admirer of the exquisite tiled interior. Some Thornbridge Pollards is an excellent accompaniment to ornate fireplaces, antler light fittings and some very comfortable armchairs.

- Tugging on tassels -

SHAKESPEARE: we don't have to go too far for our next pub, so the suitably hatted 'Nickolenko' leads a walk down Frederick Street to Summer Row where The Shakespeare shines out in the encroaching darkness. The pub is part of the Nicholson's brand and offers a suitable degree of reverence to the Bard, including framed cast lists for various plays such as Anthony and Cleopatra. Nestling in a dimly-lit corner, we discuss the 1992 diary in more detail, debating the political situation in the country and wondering whether things have really got any better. Stephen ponders the progress made by English cricket whereas Nick hails technological developments whilst getting to grips with some theatrical tassels.

- Bears in The Bull -

GUN QUARTER: Lionel Street takes us directly below the BT Tower and we then shimmy around St Chad's Cathedral where the pavements are illuminated by little spotlights. The Gun Quarter is home to The Bull, an established favourite although we bypass the crockery today in favour of sitting by the stained glass signs in the pub entrance. The Beardsmore belly is rumbling so a call into The Square Peg resolves the appetite anguish, the ham, egg and chips of 2012 being not too dissimilar to the sausage and chips fare that was usually consumed in 1992.

- Beardsmore in The Bacchus -

BACCHUS: Corporation Street in central Birmingham is eerily devoid of traffic in preparation for the construction of the Midland Metro extension to New Street, although we note that in 1992 the tram was still a few years away from being reintroduced. Burrowing beneath the Burlington Hotel, we complete proceedings in the fantasy kingdom that is the Bacchus Bar, where Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arthurian influences all intermingle for a surreal sense of wonderment. The 1992 diary doesn't go back quite as far as classical civilisation but it has provided plenty of food for thought during the day's endeavours, and we look forward to filing further 2012 minutes in due course...

Sunday, November 11


When I think of classic autumnal outings, my local walk around Oxley back in November 2006 is always near the top of the list - the colours were spectacular and all on my own doorstep. Now a whole six years later, the falling leaves were calling to me again, beckoning me to see what had changed and what still remained the same...

GOODYEARS: my starting point is the Goodyears roundabout on the Stafford Road, a scene that has changed dramatically in recent years and continues to do so right now. Back in 2006 much of the site was still the Goodyears tyre factory complete with the iconic blue chimney being very much intact. Whilst the factory still has a presence here, much of the land is now being developed for housing. A new Aldi supermarket has made itself at home, and the finishing touches are being applied to The Gatehouse, a Hungry Horse chain pub that is due to open shortly.

- The Gatehouse -

OXLEY: with the arrival of one new pub, it is sad to report the final days of another. The Homestead on Lodge Road closed a few years back but the building has clung on grimly awaiting its ultimate fate. Passing by today I can see that houses are springing up on the pub's former car park, so I assume it can only be a matter of time before the pub itself is demolished. Another sad sight is the old Oxley Library - the branch was still open in November 2006 but since closing in 2009 the site has gradually looked increasingly untidy. Something needs to be done with this building one way or another.

RAKEGATE: the alleyway alongside the library brings me onto the St Anne's Road estate, where Rakegate School brings back a few early childhood memories. The facility has been completely transformed from when I remember it though, and now sports a curiously fetching shade of green in looking rather modern. The street names are familiar recalling English towns like Filey, Minehead and Arundel, whilst the park on Belgrade Road also sparks some fond recollections. 

- Foxley Campus -

WOBASTON: emerging onto Marsh Lane, I call by at what used to be Pendeford School, now masquerading as the Foxley Campus of the North East Wolverhampton Academy. The Fordhouses and Oxley Community Centre that I remember from Christmas parties and blood donations has been flattened and a smart new building has gone up in it's place as part of the academy redevelopment. Patshull Avenue and Chetton Green bring me round to Wobaston bus terminus, a location that has served me well over many years.

6: one considerable change to have occurred since 2006 has been the Wolverhampton Bus Network Review, so whereas the 506, 507 and 698 were the routes through Wobaston six years ago, nowadays you have the 3, the 25 and the 6 with the latter now terminating at Wobaston turning circle. I wasn't especially intending to catch the bus today, but having heard that the 6 had recently been amended to serve the new i54 development, I thought I'd hop on board and take a look. i54 has been one of Wolverhampton's rare good news stories in recent years, and the arrival of Jaguar Land Rover will be a huge boost for the local economy. The site is located off Wobaston Road with the 6 entering from the Droveway roundabout to perform a u-turn by the impressive Moog building. I look forward to seeing i54 take further shape over the coming months and years.

- Autumn on The Dovecotes -

DOVECOTES: staying on the 6 through Pendeford, I alight on Ryefield for my latest flirtation with The Dovecotes, starting with my customary photos of the Shropshire Union Canal bridges. Reapers Walk brings me into the heart of the estate where I am greeted by a golden carpet of leaves as I approach the Dove Learning Centre (formerly the Dovecote pub). The Haymarket Shopping Precinct remains as something of an eyesore despite various talk of regeneration schemes, whilst the 17th century dovecote is an altogether much more enticing photo target just across the way.

- Claregate Park -

CLAREGATE: after a brief venture into Blakeley Green to cast a nod to the Pilot, my exertions end with a wander around Claregate where the park looks delightful in contrasting shades of red, orange, gold, yellow and brown. The Claregate pub apparently might have a mini-Tesco store built on its car park, although I understand that the pub itself would still remain open. With that I catch the 5 back towards Wolverhampton, reflecting on the fact that change is one of the few certainties in life. 

I've known Oxley all my life and the area is different now from what it was when I was a child, and different again from the Oxley I encountered on that outing six years ago. Some things have changed for the better, some for the worse but some things have remained the same, providing a valuable constant and some personal nostalgia. It's safe to say that should I repeat a similar outing again six years hence, the Oxley of 2018 will have moved on again from what it is in 2012...

Sunday, November 4

D9 Does North Wolverhampton

Viewers longing for the latest episode of the D9 costume dramas need wait no more, for Friday 2nd November sees the Anti-Hub Marketing Board reconvening for another session of Wolverhampton area scrutiny. This time the Secretary’s North Wolverhampton home patch would provide the setting whilst the Chairman was of course on hand to summon up various moments of madcap attire...

WOLVERHAMPTON: The screening is scheduled for 1230 hours but it is nearly 1300 before the Chairman graces the set, and the meter is definitely ticking pending his arrival. Compensatory cobs for lateness are an established contractual clause now and so production moves to the Lych Gate Tavern, although at only 50p each the Secretary might need to think of a more hard-hitting punishment. The Chairman then gets chance to add to his subway collection, although the shock emergence of a West Bromwich Albion supporters card could have had cliffhanger consequences at the Wanderer.

- Dusters ready in The Moreton -

FORDHOUSES: luckily we always aim to be a family show, and being as the Secretary could not find a pair of scissors, the Chairman and his Baggies card made it onto the number 3 completely intact. Recalling the days when this was the 503 route, we enjoy a ride up to Fordhouses to alight outside what used to be Lucas Aerospace, the factory having had quite a few different guises since. Across the road is the Moreton Arms where the Chairman makes his first scheduled costume change, digging out the dusters once more. Thankfully the yellow cloths did not make an appearance at the Harrowby, although D9 did repeat his trick of accidentally wandering into the ladies toilet – this action wasn’t in the script but he seems to be ad-libbing similar instances with increasing regularity.

- Harrowby Hub Protest -

LOW HILL: next up comes a ride on a virtually empty 25, taking the show but a short distance from Wobaston to Showell Circus. Here D9 enters into a dream sequence, hunting around for some mythical public toilets that he thought were located around the back of the shops. Back to reality and the Secretary had heard that the Bushbury Arms might be at risk of closure, so this landmark 1930’s Mitchells & Butlers boozer definitely required inclusion. Chairman D9 was very impressed when his round of M&B Mild came in at £2.10 - one for the long-running spreadsheet storyline or so he thought - and the pub made quite an impression with its motley collection of regulars and a memorable outdoor smoking area. ‘The Bush’ might not be the greatest pub in Wolverhampton but it will be a loss to the area if it does shut.

- In the Bushbury Arms -

WOOD END: with the action now moving towards Wednesfield, the Chairman’s bladder made its customary presence felt, so it was his own fault that we had to nip into the Red Lion. D9 soon regretted this development when the Secretary’s round was a mere £1.99, snatching back the spreadsheet saga honours before the Chairman could even say Microsoft Excel. As the crew made tracks for Wood End, it was the green neon lighting of the Noahs Ark that proved most tempting for our next bit of location work, although a bonus Banks’s half could not persuade the bald spot to make an unexpected appearance.

ASHMORE PARK: darkness has descended but there is still some final filming to do as we cut quickly to Ashmore Park. The 28 suffices for a short hop into the estate as the Chairman reminisces about the old 527 and 528 circular routes - the current incumbent is merely a link between Wolverhampton, New Cross Hospital and Willenhall. Snape Road provides the chance for the Secretary to steal the scene with another of his infamous sleeve finds, whereby the True Briton allows for some time travel as we admire some of the original 1960’s features.

WOLVERHAMPTON:  most good dramas involve some chase or another, so a dynamic dash down the Cannock Road built the suspense as we hoped for a bus back to Wolverhampton. Just when the situation looked critical, the 11 came riding to the rescue with the Chairman recalling his own experiences of driving the 511 around Underhill back in a previous series. The ‘Tram Waiting Room’ is our closing set for some last minute D9 duster drapery, and the credits start to roll when the Midland Metro takes the Chairman off into the night. Goodness knows what costume changes he’ll work into the script next time… 

Thursday, November 1

WME Flickr Focus: October 2012

Trick or treat? The wizard of WME has been slaving over his cauldron during October, conjuring up more magical morsels that have taken their place on the West Midlands Exploration photostream. Let's see what joys and horrors have been making their presences felt...

Well for starters, the sorcerer opened his book of spells to find a potent potion for bringing photographs back from the abyss. A drop or two was cast Shropshire way with the result that the WME Telford & Wrekin archive has begun to reappear. Amongst the back from the dead offerings are some Arriva buses at Telford, Dawley and Wellington, plus local photos representing Hinkshay (the former White Hart), Dawley (the Lord Hill), Hadley (shops and the old library) and Leegomery (the community centre). Newport gets some attention with a look at canal remains plus a few pub shots, whilst the railway reckoning features the odd image from Oakengates, Telford Central and Wellington stations. Spooky!

There has also been plenty of WME Worcestershire wizardry as the cauldron bubbled forth with further reinstated creations. Spilling over the sides were Clent, Cofton Hackett, Hagley and Wolverley with various pub and library pictures for your delectation. A recipe for railways was also brought to the boil, and the stations that appeared from the pot included Evesham, Worcester Shrub Hill and Great Malvern along with the Severn Valley contingent from Bewdley and Kidderminster Town. Terrifying!

Amongst all the hocus pocus there were a few random spells that managed to throw themselves into the mix. From WME Wolverhampton there was a solitary trick from Castle Bridge on the Wyrley & Essington Canal, whilst Marston Green Post Office miraculously appeared on WME Solihull. Finally there was a sign of further restorative magic to come, with WME Warwickshire taking a first swig of elixir to generate up bus photos from Stratford-upon-Avon and Rugby. The WME wizard is thus hoping that there might be a few fireworks in November...

Sunday, October 21

Brandhall and Bearwood

Saturday 20th October 2012 and spurred on by the prospect of the forthcoming Sandwell Network Review (due to come into effect next Sunday, 28th October), I found myself across Warley Way sampling a few of the routes that are soon to be amended...

449: after an interminable train journey to Smethwick Galton Bridge (held up because of cable theft issues around Tipton), I make my way to West Cross to indulge in a ride on the 449. The route currently links West Bromwich and Brandhall, and from the Ivy Bush I can enjoy a ride down through Rood End, Langley Green, Causeway Green and Hurst Green. I might have alighted at Brandhall Interchange (by the Co-op) but I stayed on board for the loop of Brennand Road, spotting Perry Hill shops in the process. Just for reference, the 449 is set be replaced by the 49 which will be extended from Brandhall to Bearwood.

- Perry Hill Tavern -

Brandhall: it seems ages since I last photographed Brandhall, so when the 449 returns to the interchange on its way back to West Brom, I nip off and pitch into some camera action. Targets include the Kings Community Church, the afore-mentioned Co-op and the library and Labour Club as I wander up Tame Road. The Perry Hill Tavern is an intriguing pub find at the top of the hill (I reckon Mr D9 would like a visit in there) and then I can investigate the facilities available at Bleakhouse Library - if Wolverhampton is to go down the combined hub route for the future of its library services then this is a branch that could indicate possible ways forward.

- Bleakhouse Library -

446: from Bleakhouse I flag down the Diamond 446 route for a trundle out to Cape Hill, the route taking in sections of Bristnall Fields, Londonderry, Devonshire Road and Smethwick High Street. My fellow passengers were busy debating the forthcoming changes, pondering which services would be available in future to meet their travel needs - it would seem that the new 55 route will replace most of the 446 from next Sunday onwards.

- 446 at Cape Hill -

Cape Hill: alighting on Windmill Lane, I gather some fresh photos from a hunting ground that has latterly been heavily associated with the D9 adventures. Victoria Park and the Robin are familiar landmarks then I note the site of the former Windmill shopping precinct and confirm that what was the London Apprentice pub has now become the Bethel United Church of Jesus Christ (Apostolic).

450: when I first encountered the 450 route back in 2003, it didn't enter Cape Hill as such but the current version of the route certainly does. From Messenger Road I catch the bus to Bearwood Bus Station, the route doing a little about turn by Victoria Park before passing the Barleycorn, the Bear Tavern and other Bearwood Road landmarks. The review shake-up will see the 53 service taking over, complete with an extension from Bearwood to Merry Hill via Blackheath.

- 450 at Bearwood - 

Bearwood: I don't have long at the bus station before my next bus is due, but I do squeeze in a quick mooch around Lightwoods Park. The management of the park has transferred from Birmingham City Council to Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and it's encouraging to hear that Lightwoods House might have a chance of some overdue restoration. 

- 444 at Bearwood -
444: my final journey of the day sees me tackling all the fours in the form of a wiggly Warley workout twisting back and forth from Bearwood to West Bromwich. I catch a glimpse of Warley Woods before we venture into deepest Warley, ferreting around Norman Road, The Oval and Londonderry. There's another look at both Devonshire Road and Smethwick High Street (where the Blue Gates and the Red Fort might also be on the D9 radar) before the bus barges its way through the football traffic around Kenrick Park. Touching down unscathed in West Bromwich, I can board my Metro home and reflect on a successful mini-trip that covered some of the Sandwell services I was least familiar with.

Monday, October 8

Wombourne to Wordsley

Saturday 6th October 2012 and I'm keeping busy with a walk that combines a slice of South Staffordshire with a bite out of the Black Country...

RAILWAY WALK: Catching the 255 to my chosen starting point in Wombourne, I join the route of the South Staffordshire Railway Walk to make squelchy progress through Himley. The former Himley Halt station location is marked by a little wooden shelter sign before a regimental row of silver-barked trees heralds the approach towards crossing the A449. The line straddles the country boundary between Staffordshire and the West Midlands for a while; apparently the Crooked House pub is not far away but I didn't spot it, possibly because I was too busy trying to escape from a trio of yapping terriers who decided to chase me for half a mile. 

- Himley Halt -

PENSNETT: with ankles thankfully intact as the dogs get bored of me, I press on into Pensnett. Again there's a pub to look out for as a lattice footbridge offers a clue as to the whereabouts of the Forge Inn. I didn't take the hint immediately and had to leave the railway further on before doubling back along Chase Road for the requisite photographs. Back on the old railway line, I get chatting to a chap who insists I have a doppelganger sister who is about to get married to a policeman - I'm not quite sure how to take this 'information' other than to pity any poor individual who has the misfortune to resemble me. Anyway, a wormhole tunnel takes me below Smithy Lane and then I pass Barrow Hill to reach Pensnett High Street.

- The Forge -

FENS POOLS: The walk now passes quietly in amongst the estates of Upper Pensnett, seamlessly linking into the Fens Pools Nature Reserve where the reservoirs created for the Stourbridge Canal have become a wildlife haven. On a glorious autumnal afternoon, Middle Pool has a rather enchanting quality with sections appearing in silhouette as I skirt the water's edge round to Blewitt Street. 

- Middle Pool -

BROCKMOOR: although much of the day's walking will involve public footpaths and canal towpaths, I do permit myself a section of standard pavement as I venture into Brockmoor. The Royal Exchange is a good find on Bankwell Street (just off Wallows Road), whilst on High Street I note that the Commercial pub is now Il Michelangelo Italian restaurant. Cressett Lane then offers up a former Courage pub in the shape of the Forrester's Arms, the building looking like it hasn't been used for a good while.

- Brockmoor Junction -

CANALS: time for some waterways wandering to finish as Cressett Lane brings me onto the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal, the bridge here being historically known as Haywoods Bridge although a more modern footbridge is in place now. I'm looking forward to discovering Leys Junction but before I get there I have the surprise of finding Brockmoor Junction first - this is the spot where the Stourbridge Extension Canal  left the branch to head towards Bromley, and a short stub of this unheralded link remains in water today. Leys Junction itself is just a little further on, marking the meeting place with the main line of the Stourbridge Canal and the beginning of the Stourbridge Locks sequence. I enjoy taking my first ever look at Top Lock and Leys Bridge, then follow down to Brierley Hill Road where I exit at the Samson and Lion and take the road route to Wordsley to catch my bus home. A thoroughly energetic dose of explorational exercise making the most of some gorgeous October weather!

Sunday, October 7

Penn's Poised

Friday 5th October saw an immediate return to action for the Anti-Hub Marketing Board, with our focus this time around being the Penn area of Wolverhampton. Fresh from his Coventry quiffness, the Chairman has decided on a further alteration to his attire and will thus be sporting Widow Twankey style dusters at various intervals throughout the afternoon...

Meeting up in Wolverhampton, we cordially agree that the Lady Wulfrun on Lichfield Street simply has to be the place to commence the meeting. The Chairman gets a little confused when trying to locate the toilets, so we must take his word that his attempt to wander into the ladies was not deliberate. The Secretary was too busy concentrating on getting an early discounted round, with the subsequent Sunbeam clocking in at a D9-busting £2.10.

Whilst in the City Centre, the Secretary suggested seeking out a recently-opened establishment in the form of the Lych Gate Tavern. This Black Country Ales house has quickly developed a loyal following and looks the part with old beams, particularly in the upstairs function room. The Chairman seems impressed enough, especially when he can stock up on 50p cobs.

- Chairman D9 demonstrates duster driving -

Time to re-enact former driving days, although this time we are referring to the Chairman's own experiences of working the old 512 and 513 routes down to Warstones in the 1990's - apparently he had some hair back then! The duster accoutrements are quickly on display as we take the 4 down to Spring Hill via Merry Hill and Warstones Road, alighting for a quick half in the Spring Hill before we go in search of trolleybus poles and Warstones terminus.

- Warstones Bus Terminus, East Croft Road -

With Warstones estate being safely accounted for, we were hoping to visit the Warstones pub but a planning application on the lamppost outside suggests that the building is about to become a pet vaccination clinic - another local bites the dust then, not good. The  Chairman dons the dusters in frustration as we wander along Warstones Road before seeking consolation thanks to some Brakspear Oxford Gold in the Hollybush, a Marston's corporate chain type of place on the main Penn Road.

- Stags Head meets Bald Head -

The Secretary has a couple of sleeve items to share next as our stroll leads us into historic Penn village with St Bartholomew's Church a proud constant as the local primary schoolchildren excitedly head home for the weekend. Just around the corner from the church is the Old Stags Head, and then we sport hi-vis jackets to negotiate the narrow country lanes towards Penn Common - you might note that the Chairman's famed bald spot was put to excellent use along the way!

- A new way to cover up the bald spot -

The Barley Mow is a hidden gem of a pub, situated next to Penn Golf Club on the edges of Penn Common. Members are reminded to take care not to bang their heads when entering through the low front door; thankfully the Secretary avoided demonstrating the repercussions should this warning not be heeded. You do feel like you're a world away from suburban Wolverhampton out here but a short walk soon returns us to more familiar semi-detached surroundings by the Mount Tavern.

- Barley Mow, Penn Common -

The Chairman is at risk of an early summons so the race is on to get back to Wolverhampton for a closing blast. More bus memories are evoked as we take the 2 through Penn Fields, and then the Chairman can test the Gothic throne for size in the Giffard Arms. Last but not least comes the Wheatsheaf where there is a final duster display before the bald spot is carted off by the Metro. All in all the whole thing was quite an experience!

- Cheers! -

Wednesday, October 3

WME Flickr Focus: September 2012

This is the six o'clock news from WME. Tonight's headlines: expeditionary forces have spent the last month venturing down the WME photostream, looking for signs of life and seeing what new territories can be uncovered. We report back with their initial findings. In other news, attempts to create hubs remain ongoing both in terms of the Wolverhampton situation and the Sandwell Bus Network Review...

Straight to our main story and the attempts to navigate new reaches of the WME Flickr Photostream. Our reporter PW is live at the scene, so what is the latest? "Well, it appears that September has been another encouraging month with the mission venturing further into archive depths as the photostream continues to gain volume. I have been informed that a preliminary trawl of Staffordshire specimens has now been completed, and that the team are now starting to infiltrate the Worcestershire region".

This sounds very promising PW, what can you tell us about any individual discoveries the expedition has unearthed? "Well, from the Staffordshire sections there has been a lot of railway movement with photographs obtained of several stations including Cannock, Landywood, Rugeley Trent Valley, Codsall and Penkridge. The team have also concluded their investigations of the local contingent as first reported in August, hence the further settlements of Wombourne and Wheaton Aston have now been detected and landmarks such as Turner's Garage and the Vine pub have been mapped." 

Thanks PW, what information has emerged so far about the incursion into Worcestershire? "The details regarding this are still filtering through as we speak, but early indications are of some bus sightings, notably around an area known as Kidderminster. I am also hearing that the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal has resurfaced with a particular concentration on Stourport Basins. We are awaiting further clarification of how the Worcestershire project will proceed, but it is hoped that additional canal and local material will be collected throughout September. With that, this is PW handing back to the studio"...

Friday, September 28

D9 Does Coventry...

The anti-hub marketing movement is gathering momentum in response to the increased threat of TBT, thick blue lines and strange hub arrangements. As a result the next meeting of the Anti-Hub Marketing Board has been scheduled for Friday 28th September 2012 with Coventry as the designated venue. Members are advised to consult the following agenda, and to note that penalties for lateness will now be applied under the revised constitution - these are charged at the rate of one half-pint or cob per fifteen minutes overdue...

The Coventry meeting is due to commence at 0900 hours sharp, with members advised to catch the 0830 London Euston train from Birmingham New Street (a vestibule area has been reserved to meet demand). Upon arrival at Coventry we shall proceed with a small tour of Spon End, comparing the contrasting architectural styles of Spon Street and seeing what our Chairman makes of the connecting subway.

- 7 at Brownshill Green -

Dodging persistent drizzle, members will then be invited to join the number 7 bus route for a ride to Brownshill Green, This will encompass the areas of Coundon and Allesley, with the Coundon Hotel, former Coundon signal box and the Rainbow Inn providing notable landmarks en route. The turning circle terminus on Browns Lane will offer the opportunity for photographs, weather-permitting, although views of the Jaguar plant may well be limited.

An energetic hike is then proposed to take members from Brownshill Green to Whitmore Park via Keresley. You may wish to note the White Lion pub, a 1930's pumping station and the Keresley Grange School as we make our way through Keresley Heath. A connection with the number 13 bus is included from Beake Avenue, whereby our Chairman has promised to perform a driving demonstration complete with a makeshift quiff in honour of former Coventry bus driver Ron West.

- Tribute quiff in action -

Whitmore Park will involve a key element of the morning's protest whereby a photo call will take place outside the Hub on Wheelwright Lane, provided of course that the Secretary's camera is not suffering from annoying zoom errors. We shall then reboard the 13 a short distance before locating the Coventry mobile library at Holy Family Church.

- It's the Hub! -

In a last-minute arrangement that members should find most agreeable, breakfast (bacon sandwiches) will be provided courtesy of the Craftsman pub on Beake Avenue. With a further ride on the 13 (passing the former Sandy Lane Garage Site), members will also be able to seek refreshment in the beamed surroundings of Whitefriars Olde Ale House where the Secretary's preference for tarmac-styled beers may once more be displayed (albeit Slaughterhouse's Starboard Porter is definitely on the enjoyable side of creosote).

Heading into the afternoon, we recommend a stop at the Biggin Hall on Binley Road (where the Chairman can drool over a spread prepared for a forthcoming wake), and then our attentions will turn to Willenhall. The 13 will drop us off on Remembrance Road so that members can explore local features including the Haggard Centre, the Co-op supermarket and the Primary Care centre - a toilet hunt has also been factored in so that allowances are made for the Chairman's miscreant bladder.

- 13 at Willenhall -

Having caught the 13 down to Willenhall, we intend to utilise the 21 route by way of leaving the estate. This will connect us to Whitley (where the Royal Oak pub will be disappointingly closed), where we can link with the 801 route for a ride around Cheylesmore. An optional visit to the New Haven can be arranged if the Chairman is feeling specifically "dive-hungry".

The 801 will then convey us forth to the Warwick University Campus, where we will encounter swathes of students excitedly boarding the bus in anticipation of their weekend endeavours. Being as the Chairman no longer passes for a student (due to a significant shortage of hair), we will have to alight at Earlsdon where another Royal Oak will also thwart our attempts to raise awareness of the anti-hub campaign. Nonetheless, the City Arms Wetherspoons will restore the pub quotient and ensure that we don't fall behind with our intended remit.

The Craven Run has been a staunch supporter of various rallies over the years, in recognition of which it is once again proposed for inclusion on this agenda. The Coombe Abbey, the Hearsall Inn and the Chestnut Tree will allow us to cover a lot of ground within a small geographical area, and what's more the Secretary will be able to claim the Discount of the Day award courtesy of neighbouring rounds costing £2.40. The Chairman might almost choke on a cheese cob once he realises the underhand tactics being employed.

- The Chairman has a cob on him -

With standing orders being suspended, the remaining item for discussion should be Stoke Heath, specifically the Rose & Woodbine on North Street. However, the Secretary has misplaced the relevant information and a search for some bearings has proved fruitless despite a thorough trawl of backstreet locations. We have therefore passed a motion to include Barras Green as a late amendment to the itinerary, thus permitting calls in the Hastings and the Old Red Horse by way of compensation.

- A final showing for the quiff in the Hastings -

This shall conclude a full day of campaigning across the length and breadth of Coventry, and members will then be able to retire to Coventry Station with the aid of the number 8 bus. A direct Virgin train to Sandwell & Dudley (and thence to Wolverhampton) is scheduled for 1922 hours, and the meeting will close at 2000 hours when the Chairman shall receive his customary summons. We believe this programme of activity will help to heighten the profile of the Anti-Hub cause and result in much enjoyment for all those involved. END.

Monday, September 24

A North Warwickshire Narrative

Saturday 22nd September 2012 and the old stagecoach is on standby as our two intrepid highwaymen, 'Nick Turpin' and yours truly, prepared to plunder their way around Atherstone and Nuneaton...

The starting point for this merry adventure is the city of Coventry, where 'Nick Turpin' arrives fresh off his X17 carriage in time for our 10:10am rendez-vous. In my time-honoured tradition I had already been doing some investigations of my own, notably seeking out the distinctively round Coventry Market and the rather less exciting Central Library.

10:38am and we saddle up on the 48 for a swashbuckling ride into Warwickshire's northern outposts. Bedworth is negotiated without incident, and at Nuneaton we change steeds so as not to end up in Leicester. It can get a little hairy up past the quarries to Camp Hill, but Hartshill looked peaceful enough with a leafy green and hints of an old castle.

- The lesser spotted Blue Boar -

We dismount at Mancetter where the parish church and some almshouses provide rich pickings for the camera, although the less said about the breezeblock post office the better. We might have been persuaded by the Plough but any such thoughts were scotched once we encountered a boar - not just any old boar you understand, but a blue one holding a beer festival. Thirsty travellers such as we do not turn down such wonders and so some Blue Boar Special (Church End Brewery) and Head Hunter (Sperrin) were requistioned in the fine 1930s surroundings.

Our next staging post would be the hatting town of Atherstone, although it would be the pub trade that would most occupy our attention. Firstly comes lunch in the historic market square, followed by refreshment in the Market Tavern, a pub now occupied by the Warwickshire Beer Company with Piston Broke being an ale commemorating the Atherstone Heritage Motor Show.

 - Atherstone Market Square -

Nick Turpin definitely approves of Atherstone and his appreciation for the town is heightened by a short stroll along the Coventry Canal, a tantalising titbit of towpath that included the uppermost five of the Atherstone Locks. The railway is also close at hand, albeit the old station house is now a veterinary surgery, whilst back on Long Street are a multitude of tempting watering holes from the Red Lion to the Old Swan. Being a well-researched highwayman, Nick Turpin had one particular alehouse in mind though, this being the New Dolphin where we do battle with a Rampant Gryphon (Wentworth Brewery) that was so rampant we couldn't even begin to contemplate the garlic bread mountain that is said to frequent these parts on Sundays!

- How to handle a Rampant Gryphon -

How do you follow up on boars and gryphons we pondered? Our answer was to clamber back onboard our trusty 48 and see what might be purloined in Hartshill. The Stag and Pheasant might have sufficed by the afore-mentioned green, but we got wind of another option lurking almost undetected in a sidestreet somewhere. It did not take long for us to uncover the Malt Shovel, a Banks's house where we availed ourselves of Fields of Gold.

 - The Malt Shovel, Hartshill -

With the 48 once more proving a doubty companion, we manoeuvre our way back to Nuneaton where there were further riches awaiting us. A Crown is always a prized target for pub-pickers like us, and the one on Bond Street came bearing gifts of Oatmeal Stout and Cottage Breast Bitter (at £2 a pint it really was a gift). We then made the acquaintance of a gentleman by the name of Felix Holt, one of the burgeoning Wetherspoon's dynasty, before roaming into the night to track down our remaining two taverns.

The Horseshoes on Heath End Road, Chilvers Coton has established itself as the brewery tap for the Tunnel Brewery and proves itself an excellent purveyor of memorable beer. Nick Turpin has been known to go continental occasionally and so he persuaded me to try the Belgian-styled Up the Kriek with its distinct flavour of cherries, what treasure indeed. Fortified by fruit, we venture forth to Attleborough where the Royal Oak handsomely delivers our closing half, ample reward for pounding the pavements of Nuneaton in the dark.

- Nick Turpin goes Up the Kriek -

After a heady day of plunder and pillage it was time for the noble highwaymen to head home, flagging down the Stagecoach for one final 48 fling. It turned out that the ride back to Coventry took us into bandit territory, with our steed coming under attack from the hostile locals and incurring a smashed window. Nonetheless, we gained safe passage into Coventry and thence to the railway station to round off a legendary day. Here's to North Warwickshire, Your Money or Your Life!

Thursday, September 20

A Cross City Catch-Up

The Cross City line was a vital exploration artery for me during my very early adventures around Birmingham, and I well remember the fascination of venturing out from University station for a ride in between lectures and seminars (although it has to be said that some studying was also done too). Fast forward to Friday 14th September 2012, and with ten years of digital photography now under my belt, the line would once again provide the foundations for an outing that mixed personal nostalgia with new discoveries...

ASTON: and how's this for a fitting place to start? As I mentioned the other day, Aston Station was one of my very first photo locations back in 2002, and here it is a decade later still offering me up some camera targets. It's handy being able to catch a train direct from Wolverhampton, albeit only as a long-winded consolation for the loss of the Walsall-Wolverhampton shuttle service, but at least it makes for a neat connection onto the Cross City, which then takes me north through Spaghetti Junction and on beyond Erdington and Sutton Coldfield.

BUTLERS LANE: I alight at Butlers Lane, actually one of my lesser-visited stations that I can only really recall touching base with once before (with Rog in 2005). Not a lot has changed apart from little hints of London Midland corporate signage, otherwise the ramps, shelters, ticket office and wooden fences are all pretty much as I remember. 

- Station Sign at Butlers Lane -

MERE GREEN: it isn't all train travel today so let the walking begin, starting with a wander into Mere Green. Butlers Lane (the road rather than the station) has the prospect of pub shots of both the Butlers Arms and the White Lion, then I take Hill Village Road down to the local centre. The pub/restaurant overlooking the main Lichfield Road roundabout is now called Romantica, and I was saddened to see a whole segment of shopping parade still all shuttered up whilst the site remains in redevelopment limbo.

- What next for these former shops? -

LITTLE SUTTON: into the local estates next as I follow the trail of the 905 bus route along Sherifoot Lane and Gibbons Road. The Pint Pot was a useful pub find on Tower Road, whilst on Grange Road I can photograph the post office opposite the Four Oaks Baptist Church - I'm sure Rog and I passed through here on the way to Roughley once. Little Sutton Road splits away and becomes quietly residential, leading down to Weeford Road where farms and fields suggest you are nearing the edge of the West Midlands county boundary.

WHITEHOUSE COMMON: here's a part of Sutton Coldfield that I don't remember happening across before. Landmarks include the White Horse (a Flaming Grill pub) and a Nisa store post office on the corner of Barnard Road. Venturing deeper into the estate brings me out by the Good Hope Hospital and I'm pleased to get a photo of the Boot Inn, a cottagey-looking pub on Rectory Road.

- The White Horse -

RECTORY PARK: a path down the side of the Boot leads me into Rectory Park, a large area of open sapce that feels quite rugged in places. Playing fields are dotted in amongst wilder common, and there seems to be a football ground in one corner judging by the perimeter rails and the home and away dugout shelters. Another track takes me down to a tree-lined avenue by a car park, the path flanked by what look like sculptural table-tennis tables. The park provides a welcome place to pause for some lunch, hoping that the gathering grey clouds aren't suddenly about to empty their contents on me.

- Rectory Park Football Ground -

FALCON LODGE: any rain thankfully holds off as I negotiate Reddicap Heath (complete with the Reddicap Tavern behind a yellow privet hedge) and make my way into Falcon Lodge. Here we have a self-contained estate that has served as a bus terminus for many years. The shops on Churchill Road make for a distinctive long parade of stores, whilst other features include the pointy Methodist Church and a youth centre. The 904 route is the current service to lay over here but its the 115 I catch today, enjoying a proper bash down through Walmley and along Penns Lane.

- Churchill Road -

WYLDE GREEN: my plan had been to stay on the 115 through to Aston Station but that swiftly got abandoned when it dawned on me that I was entering Wylde Green, an area that conjures up precious memories of my earliest bus adventures, outings completed long before I had any thoughts about digital cameras. Somehow the Yenton pub and the Birmingham Road shops had planted themselves in my brain for all these years and yet I'd never remotely got anywhere near taking pictures of them. This black hole in my archive simply had to be filled, with the afore-mentioned features accompanied by the discovery of the library and community hall building on Emscote Drive - seminal moments indeed!

- The Yenton -

CHESTER ROAD: all of this giddy excitement had to end somewhere, and Chester Road Station happened to be close at hand to tie a big bow around my Cross City contemplations. As stations go this isn't a personal favourite, even though the signs on Chester Road bridge make for a nice photo opportunity. There isn't a huge amount of character to admire with the modern platform structures being functional and largely inoffensive.

- Chester Road Bridge Sign -

The ride home after a hugely enjoyable outing is always a bittersweet experience, where the contentment and satisfaction of a job well done mixes with a tinge of sadness that another adventure has ended. Those self-same emotions are here again today as I stand on the platforms at Chester Road then Aston awaiting my final connections back. This was an outing where my exploration past and my exploration present came together as one, as if the spotty-faced student of ten years ago was right there with me, and it was comforting to think that the same excitement and enthusiasm that fuelled me then still drives me now. The Cross City line has been a staunch backdrop to so many adventures, and today's experiences suggest there are still plenty more places the line can open up for me in future...