Tuesday, January 31

WME Flickr Focus: January 2012

Greetings everyone, and within no time at all the first month of 2012 has hurtled past us already. It doesn't seem five minutes since New Year's Eve and yet here I am reflecting on another month of developments from the WME Flickr photostream. Let's see what January had to offer...

As things have turned out, the last 31 days have been surprisingly productive. Top of the bill is WME Birmingham with a chunky batch of 70 reinstated photos, whilst WME Dudley gets the nod for best supporting act with a healthy enough 36 pictures. WME Sandwell has a bit-part 10 images to report, whilst our almost silent extras are WME Coventry and WME Solihull to bring the ensemble total to a round tally of 908 items. Those are the bare facts of the January nominations, so lets add a bit of padding to the performance.

WME Birmingham has indeed provided most of my recent drama. There has been plenty of rescued content, particularly as regards rail and local photos. Hamstead and Stechford Stations made a welcome return to the stage with Yardley Wood and Kings Norton Stations beefing up their respective roles, and a trio of train shots are putting on a show for the Bournville Station set. My local repertory now features such luminaries as Woodgate Valley (with its bridge over the Bourn Brook), Stechford Shops (specifically the tile centre) and a couple of shopping scenes from Highfield Road Yardley Wood. A few buses have breezed through in the background, notably the 103 at Woodgate Valley North and the 26 at Bromford Bridge, not forgetting that the Dudley No. 2 Canal has made its presence felt with some photos plotting the remains of the line at Selly Oak Park.

To WME Dudley next, where the growing cast now includes the likes of Bromley (the Fox & Goose pub), Gornal Wood (the Bush Inn and the post office), Brockmoor (the Commercial Inn and another post office) and Hayley Green (two views of the Foxhunt). Bus-wise I must mention a selection of 246s at Stourbridge, plus a brace of 251s, although perhaps my favourite resuscitated photo is of the Dock Off Licence and General Stores now screening on my Wordsley selection.

Elsewhere, WME Sandwell was reduced to a mere cameo this time around - although saying that, it can still boast additions to Great Bridge (the Lounge Bar, previously the Limerick) and the reappearance of Hamstead (the former Joker pub featuring prominently). Look carefully and amongst the closing credits you might just spot the camera-shy WME Coventry (a further train at Canley being the only new arrival) and the first steps for WME Solihull, which overcomes its stagefright with a 966A bus at Solihull Station and a couple of piccies from Birmingham International.

Finally let's take a quick glance behind the scenes where we find that the backstage crew (yours truly) has been hard at work uploading another sizeable wedge of the WME archive. All of my Fotopic pictures for Telford, Warwickshire and Shropshire are now in place ready for release when I get round to it, which just leaves me with Exploration Extra to get back onto the roster. Preparations are now underway for the next round of performances and we wait to see just which of my collections will prove to be star-of-the-show Oscar winners in February...

Down Staffordshire Way

Saturday 28th January 2012: The 88 bus route and the Staffordshire Way long distance footpath provided the foundations for a day spent sampling South Staffordshire at its finest…

The 88 and 88A: These Arriva routes took over some months ago from the former 880 service which had been operated by Midland. Linking Wolverhampton and Stafford via either Perton or Brewood, the route offered intriguing connections that I was keen to explore, so at 10:06 I joined the 88A outside the Polish Catholic Church on Stafford Road. The ride was scenic and relaxing, passing through Coven, Brewood and Bishops Wood before the bus filled up with passengers at Wheaton Aston. The next village along was my cue to alight…

Lapley: and what a place to start! The bus dropped me off directly outside the Vaughan Arms, a handsome old village inn that has sadly closed down, probably for good. The little village green was just opposite, complete with old-fashioned red telephone box and a black and white finger post sign. Walking along the country lanes I hear a cockerel crowing in a nearby farm, and then I savour the scene at All Saints Churchyard where the crisp winter sunshine gave the historic church a wonderful golden hue, the very definition of a picture postcard setting.

- All Saints Church, Lapley -

Shropshire Union Canal: putting my Staffordshire Way guidebook to good use, I venture down through the grounds of Lapley Wood Farm and onto the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal at Bridge 17. Admittedly it was very muddy as I squelched along, but the smoky sights and smells of moored-up narrowboats with chimneys in steam was very much worth witnessing. Bridge 18 marks the approach to Wheaton Aston, then Bridge 19 sits alongside the Hartley Arms and the village garage. I exit at Bridge 20 and follow a dirt track round into the local estate.

Wheaton Aston: a village I first visited with Dad nearly four years ago, hasn’t time flown? It’s great to be back adding in some extra photos, so as well as the Hartley Arms and the garage I can also busy myself with shots of the Coach & Horses, a couple of shops and a vintage Green Bus Services bus stop sign.

88A: with my first bit of walking out of the way, it’s back onto the bus for a short ride up through Lapley towards Penkridge. The lanes get particularly narrow near Bickford Grange Farm so high hedges and passing places are the order of the day, and at one point there is a flooded corner to contend with. After a few twists and turns I spot my next target, the bell is pressed and the driver stops obligingly at the end of Bickford Road.

The Swan: a special trip requires a special pub and I’m pleased to say that the Swan at Whiston more than lived up to expectations. The pub is a free house with a strong association with Holden’s Brewery, hence the neat sign proclaiming that Golden Glow was on sale here. Part of the charm is the pub’s seemingly remote location on a country lane with very few houses around – it is very peaceful and I can enjoy the field and farm views sitting in the front window of the bar room. Beer wise the choice was excellent and I opted for some Ay Up from the Dancing Duck Brewery, the pint arriving in immaculate condition.

Whiston Walk: Suitably refreshed I continued with my Staffordshire Way hike, crossing fields and traversing the Whiston Brook. The various farms of Preston provide a glimpse of agriculture in action, and I am teased by views of the railway viaduct and St Michael’s Church on the approach into Penkridge.

Penkridge: all this exercising is a sure-fire way to build up an appetite, so a pit stop at Penkridge means I can keep hunger at bay with a quick sandwich in the memorial gardens. My taste for photos is also suitably sated thanks to a few shots of the church and the railway station.

88: my 14:50 connection towards Codsall arrives and it’s a rollicking good ride charging back through Whiston, Lapley and Wheaton Aston. The lanes really open out beyond Bishops Wood as the bus fairly thunders along, shuddering with every malevolent pothole we encounter.

- The Cross Guns, Codsall Wood -

Codsall Wood: here was another village I’d first explored during a country walk with Dad, and the bus kindly drops me off in perfect position for a look at the Cross Guns. The pub is a fine landmark and came with the added bonus of having the former post office just across the road – I remember an article in the Express & Star when the store was made to close down. Further interest is found courtesy of the Crown pub followed by St Peter’s Church on Whitehouse Lane.

Codsall: The final stretch of an energetic outing takes me across the fields following the old parishioners’ path that was used to connect St Peter’s with the parent church, St Nicholas in Codsall. Some of the views are simply stunning as I climb up the hill passing fishing pools and then Codsall cemetery, the whole way being bathed in glorious afternoon sunshine. From Church Lane I wend my way down to catch the 5 at Codsall terminus and the final act is the serenest of rides back to Wolverhampton. Great winter weather, great trip!

Monday, January 16

An Exercise in the Black Country

Saturday 14th January 2012 and my first solo trip of the New Year is accompanied by the first real signs of winter as I embark on a circuitous walk from Stourbridge to Netherton…

- Stourbridge Bus Station Takes Shape -

STOURBRIDGE: An iced-up 256 gets the day off to a nippy start with a ride down through Wombourne, Wall Heath and Kingswinford, the route diverting through the Penfields estate to reach the temporary stands on Birmingham Street. A lot of progress has been made with the Stourbridge Interchange Project since the last time I was here, and it appears that the main stand buildings are now essentially in place. Work continues on remodelling the subway and creating a feature entrance by the railway station.

OLDSWINFORD: My walk begins with a stroll up the Hagley Road, the sun streaming into my eyes on the way into Oldswinford. The Cross and the Shrubbery Cottage ensure a healthy quota of pub photos then I detour away from Love Lane to have a look at Mary Stevens Park, the crisp morning frost giving a crunchy texture underfoot.

- St Peter's Church, Pedmore -

PEDMORE: Back on Love Lane, I weave my way around into Pedmore where the Foley Arms and little convenience store are familiar features from previous visits. A peek at St Peter’s Church reveals a picture postcard scene where the churchyard looks out over the neighbouring cricket ground, a classic English view on a beautiful winter’s morning. Pedmore Lane then leads me down into the Pedmore Fields estate where I can renew my acquaintance with the Queensway pub on the corner of Gauden Road and Walker Avenue.

WOLLESCOTE: I remember visiting Wollescote one dark evening with Rog so it was interesting this time to see the place in daylight. Stevens Park is an extensive area of open space and includes the impressive Wollescote Hall, a grade two listed building that is now used by Dudley Council’s Social Services department. A hefty climb up Perrins Lane brings me to the Top Bell pub on Belmont Road, a landmark I remember from the old 248 bus route. Another cracking (if somewhat morbid) find is the Lye & Wollescote Cemetery where the historic chapels building immediately caught my eye with its needle-like spire.

- Wollescote Hall -

THE VINE: After a brief flirtation with Lye Cross, I haul my aching feet up Thorns Road for views of another Stevens Park (the Quarry Bank version) plus the recently re-opened Thorns pub. I can’t resist a little detour towards the Delph where I reward all my morning’s endeavours with a silky pint of Batham’s Bitter in the Bull & Bladder – even the presence of several West Bromwich Albion shirts can’t detract from this bastion of Black Country boozers. Instilled with fresh vigour, I collect myself some lunch in Brierley Hill and then look forward to the afternoon’s expeditions.

DUDLEY No. 1 CANAL: Joining the towpath at Ninelocks Bridge, I proceed over the Embankment with panoramic views of the Merry Hill Centre – I much prefer seeing it from on high rather than being caught up in all the hurly-burly of the shopping arcades. I was perhaps expecting the Waterfront to be busier, but the calmness was welcome for some shots of the Round Oak Bridges. I then pass the site of Woodside Junction, from where the former Two Lock Branch used to provide a short-cut to the Dudley No. 2 Canal, before exiting the canal at Peartree Lane.

WOODSIDE: I leave the waterways momentarily for a little local interlude wandering around Woodside, pocketing further pub photos courtesy of the Woodside Inn and the Crown (the latter having seemingly closed down). The Railway Inn is a nice discovery on Buxton Road, then Holly Hall Road connects me back to the canals at Parkhead.

- Grazebrook Arm Bridge -

DUDLEY No. 2 CANAL: Back on the towpath trail, I have a mooch around Pensnett Basin and the Grazebrook Arm (both short stubs of the wider Parkhead complex) and then scamper over Blowers Green Lock to join the Dudley No. 2 line. It’s only a short distance to Blackbrook Bridge but the surroundings change in character from stripy yellow industrial warehouses to tufty fields with grazing ponies and Netherton Church peeking out amongst the treetops.

NETHERTON: My final destination is in sight but there’s just a little bit of business to take care of first. Blackbrook Road is quite intriguing, the track feeling almost forgotten until it reaches some terraces up by Hill Street. The Hope Tavern provides a photographic flourish, the pub appearing as a traditional corner alehouse from its perch on Cinder Bank, whilst a Hingley anchor now takes pride of place on the square outside the Arts Centre, replicating the ones manufactured locally for use on the Titanic. With a quick nod to Ma Pardoe’s and the former Junction pub, I bring matters to a close with the 244 and 1 buses safely escorting me back to Wolverhampton.

- The Hope Tavern -

Job done then and that walk was quite an achievement, linking Stourbridge and Netherton via seemingly everywhere in between. My thighs feel much more toned, my feet still haven’t forgiven me, but the aches and pains were all made more than worthwhile by the chance to gather some special Black Country photos and memories.

Sunday, January 8

Starters Orders for 2012 Hub Marketing

Friday 6th January and the first full trip of 2012 comprises a morning tour of Walsall’s eastern districts followed by an afternoon with Mr D9 sampling pubs and ales around Darlaston and Wednesbury…

PHEASEY: Starting with the solo stuff and a pleasant ride on the 451 takes me from West Bromwich to Queslett with a look at the A41 roadworks and Scott Arms. The Old Horns pub kickstarts the photo count and then I venture into the Pheasey Park Farm estate, one of my lesser explored areas of Walsall. The Collingwood Centre and the local branch library provide some interest along with the Beacon Church and a block of shops. Collingwood Drive seems to have a regular supply of buses as the 33, 934, 997 and 651 all pass through in convoy, and then there’s a hint of countryside as I locate Doe Bank Farm up by the Deers Leap pub.

- Line 33 at Pheasey Terminus -

STREETLY: I’m firmly into my stride now as I stroll along Cooksey Lane and then pick my way through the Hundred Acre estate, a place Rog has bad memories of after a previous hike some years ago. Whilst the Chester Road cuts a swathe through the area, the main local centre seems to be on Blackwood Road where there is a neat shopping parade, a primary school and Methodist church. I can also grab my second library shots of the day, although one local resident seems to interpret me taking photos as a sign that the branch might be closing – I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case, although libraries across the country are in the firing line of considerable local authority cutbacks. Wood Lane leads me to the Hardwick Arms to complete my extended walk.

- Streetly Library -

KINGSTANDING: Time now for a dose of Birmingham as the 935 whisks me down to Kingstanding Circle. My main priority is to get a spot of lunch but another clutch of photos are more than welcome, my targets including the Mecca Bingo hall, the police station, the shopping centre and the Kingstanding pub (a Mitchells & Butlers establishment that didn’t look very enticing). All was going swimmingly until the curse of the thick blue lines took over, and my intended 451 connection was nowhere to be seen. I should’ve known that a less-than-robust timetable might operate on a Friday afternoon, and I finally made it back to West Bromwich to meet Mr Lunn at 2pm.

- Kingstanding Bingo -

MOXLEY: With the Hub Marketing Board now in session, we hopped on the Metro for a short ride to Wednesbury and then joined the towpath of the Walsall Canal. We had intended this to be a cursory glance at the waterways but it turned into a full-scale ferret that took in Moorcroft Junction and the remains of the Bradley Locks branch, fascinating remnants of an abandoned route. We’d definitely earned ourselves a drink by this stage so we sampled the hospitality of the Fiery Holes and the Travellers Rest, enjoying half of Banks’s Bitter in each – daytime TV seemed to be the order of the day as we endured episodes of Escape to the Country then Jeremy Kyle, I'm not sure which was the more painful to watch!

- Social Vomit? Has Andy been doing the Pavement Pizza again? -

DARLASTON: Andy’s bald spot acted as a bus-seeking beacon drawing the 39 bus in towards us, and a quick sprint through Herberts Park later we found ourselves in Darlaston on the trail of further refreshment. The George & Dragon is an old-fashioned M&B pub on Church Street, very friendly with some real local characters, and I was also impressed with the Swan where we savoured a half of Spitfire amongst the sporting shields in the smoke room. Our Darlaston trilogy is completed by a swift half in the Old Engine, watching the Australia v India cricket highlights

- The Green Dragon, Darlaston -

WEDNESBURY: We now aimed to finish the evening in style with a whizz around Wednesbury, but before we could get there a certain bladder made it’s presence felt and an urgent dash to the King George at Bescot was required to stave off any unscheduled waterworks - some things never change! With Andy much relieved we then proceeded down to the Queens Head, a pub I’d never come across before so well done to the Chairman for finding that one out. The Horse & Jockey was very busy, the Olde Leathern Bottle had its familiar olde-worlde leanings and the Nelson was one to say that we’d been in even if it wasn’t up to much. Last but not least came the Old Royal Oak where we met one of Andy’s former colleagues for a chinwag and that was job done for the day - a day that sets me up very nicely for the year ahead.

- Cheers from The Nelson -

Tuesday, January 3

WME Flickr Focus: December 2011

It's time to tie up those remaining loose ends left over from 2011, so here's a little summary of what materialised on the WME Flickr Photostream during December...

Despite all the festivities, last month was still a constructive one with decent chunks of photography making their way back into the public realm - Birmingham alone contributed a healthy 50 pictures, whilst Dudley and Sandwell also reported solid progress. Focusing firstly on WME Birmingham if I may, and the returnees included Bromford Bridge (the Racecourse pub and that distinguished corner shop with all the barbed wire), Stockland Green (the former Stockland Inn and the local bingo hall), Kings Norton (the branch library and the Navigation) and Perry Barr (the post office and the former Birchfield Library). These local offerings were augmented by some rail-related features from the stations at Blake Street, Butlers Lane and Witton.

To WME Dudley next where our headline makers were the Northway estate (the Cabin pub and Sedgley Hall Farm Park), the Delph Locks (on the Dudley No. 1 Canal), a Diamond Bus 74 on layover at Dudley Bus Station and a walk through Coseley Tunnel on the Birmingham Main Line Canal. The canals also came to the fore on WME Sandwell with Factory Junction re-emerging for it's rightful place on the New Main Line set. Tipton tiptoed forward with a couple of extra pub pictures and Langley Green Station stormed through with a variety of views covering trains, platforms and the old station footbridge. Finally there were a couple of Metrobus shots for WME Coventry as the 10 parked up at Eastern Green.

So where does all this leave us going into 2012? Well my running totals are as follows: Wolverhampton 358, Walsall 163, Birmingham 152, Dudley 58, Sandwell 49 and Coventry 8, bringing about a grand score of 788 images. I consider this to be a good effort as I attempted to recover from the loss of my Fotopic galleries back in March, although it does leave a nominal 1571 pictures still in the hat before I even consider adding in brand new content. Now that I have settled in on Flickr I actually prefer it to the old Fotopic anyway - whilst I can't necessarily personalise my photostream I do feel more part of a wider community and the support mechanisms seem much more reliable. Behind the scenes I have uploaded my archives for Solihull, Staffordshire and Worcestershire so hopefully there will be further signs of life showing through over the next few months...

Sunday, January 1

WME Review of the Year - 2011

Happy New Year! 2012 has arrived, bringing with it the prospect of the Olympic Games and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but before we look to the future let's pause and reflect on the twelve months just gone - here are the highlights from the 2011 exploration calendar...

January: a busy start to the year with two Worcestershire themed outings. Rog and I began with a Chaddesley Corbett, Bewdley and Cleobury Mortimer trip (during which the Swan staked an early claim for having the barmaid of the year) followed by a Sunday visit to Autosport Internaional, whilst the full WARP brigade resuscitated our aborted Christmas 2010 adventure by visiting a thankfully snow-free Stoke Prior. Closer to home, I documented the final days of the Phoenix Rise flats in Blakenhall and the Chip Foundation launched 2011 with a Darlaston pubcrawl that featured me sporting a very fetching sticking plaster accoutrement.

February: The shortest month was by no means light on adventure as I joined Rog for a tour of Eccleshall and then Mr D9 Andy for a Smethwick selection. The WARP crew ventured into Shropshire but Highley didn't make much of an impression, and my local trips included a roaming ramble around Aldridge, Castlefort and Brownhills. The Chip Foundation checked out some of Wolverhampton's finest pubs and I even took part in a Radio WM outside broadcast by meeting up with the BBC bus live at Bilston Market!

March: Into spring with my latest London Midland 'Great Escape' taking in Tamworth and Stone complete with an ELO soundtrack. The Chip Foundation brought its 2010/11 winter season to a close with a Walsall visit featuring the Manor Arms at Rushall and the Turf Tavern in Bloxwich. Andy and I rummaged around the canals and pubs of Oldbury, then I took stock of the bus routes of East Birmingham prior to a network review - rumour has it I even deigned to return to the Bromford Bridge estate! I joined forces with Mr B to have a look around Barnt Green, and March will also go down as the month when five years of hard work went up in smoke as the old WME Fotopic galleries disappeared.

April: it's Rail Rover time with a stunning week breezing around the wider Midlands area - Burslem, Beeston, Ledbury and Rugby all figured prominently, all topped off with a call at the Coventry Beer Festival. The WARP guys tackled Shropshire once more with a mooch around Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury and Newport on Grand National Day, then there was the small matter of some Eastertime cricket at Worcester complete with cathedral bells and the sounds of the BBC commentary box. Staffordshire beckoned for my solo tour of Cannock and Hednesford, plus I enjoyed a spare day investigating the Beechdale and Bentley areas of Walsall.

May: and cricket comes to the fore as I join the Bears on Tour in sampling Grace Road (Leicester), Wantage Road (Northampton) and Trent Bridge (Nottingham), the latter seeing us being treated to a masterful innings from Ian Bell. Rog and I dodged the rainclouds around Hockley Heath and Balsall Common (not forgetting the Hawne Tavern) whilst the D9 bandwagon rolled into Netherton and Rowley Regis, searching for tunnel vents around Warrens Hall and Windmill End.

June: Pride of place here has to go to the Weymouth weekend with Rog and Woody, despite the weather doing it's best to dampen the rally spirit on the Sunday. Visits to Lyme Regis, Bournemouth and Swanage supplemented a selection of Weymouth taverns (the Globe was a personal favourite), and the rain even made its way to Canada where Jenson Button won surely the longest grand prix on record. Back on Midlands territory, Rog was also on hand for a hike around Belbroughton and Clent whereby another deluge brought about some colourful comments from a local chap in a hedge. All of that left me just enough time to join Andy for the Digbeth Closet Hunt during which we braved Bordesley and did justice to the Jewellery Quarter.

July: The outings are coming thick and fast now, making the most of the extra sunshine. The full WARP crew are in attendance for two trips - a Liverpool filming locations tour paying homage to Brookside and Bread, then the Keeping Up Appearances visit to Hyacinth's Binley Woods bungalow plus a side order of Stoke Aldermoor. Wonderful Warwick was the Chip Foundation's summer destination as Nickolenko guided us around pubs including the Punchbowl and the Cape of Good Hope - Nick also starred in a couple of Beer Festival pitstops courtesy of Bromsgrove and Stafford (I still haven't forgiven him for winning the monkey on the tombola). A quick mention for my Staffordshire stroll around Featherstone and Shareshill, and finally July was a big month here in Wolverhampton as the city's new bus station was opened and a new network of bus routes came into operation. Once a few tweaks had been applied, I think the revised services have generally been acceptable and the bus station was well-received on the whole.

August: more cricketing capers with a visit to Aigburth, Liverpool where Warwickshire took on eventual title winners Lancashire. The D9 blazed a trail around Great Bridge and West Bromwich as the Hub Marketing Board submitted it's first full minutes, and the remainder of August was then given over to Yorkshire. A family holiday in Richmond included the glorious scenery of Wensleydale and a dip into Darlington, plus the two breweries of Masham, then it was over to Headingley with Mr B to see Warwickshire demolish the home side with an innings victory whilst the likes of Harrogate, Leeds and Ilkley kept us occupied in between the sporting action - even now I still get cravings for a Betty's Yorkshire Curd Tart!

September: the second major rally weekend of the year and this time the weather is kinder as I join Woody and Rog for a few days in Torquay, Mr Wood claiming the comedy moment of the year when a rogue tree interrupted his D9 demonstration on the Totnes open-topper (it wasn't just the hair moving quickly on that occasion). The Severn Valley Railway was the setting for the Bridgnorth Beer Festival (with a morning weave around Worfield), and the Hub Marketing Board tackled Telford in style with a glorious day down by the Ironbridge Gorge.

October: autumnal offerings here include... a Nickolenko visit to Oldbury and Blackheath (sampling the local fayre in the Waterfall with seriously chunky chips); a D9 half-day where Andy and I called at Codsall before a whistle-stop wriggle around Whitmore Reans and Wednesfield; the Chip Foundation's Birmingham Bash where the Bull in the Gun Quarter was one of 2011's finest pub discoveries; and finally a visit to the Birmingham Beer Festival that was bookended by a tantalising morning trail around Tipton and some memorable chip-munching exploits in Stirchley during which Nick managed to damage his prized lunchbox.

November: further Chip Foundation exploits involved a return visit to Darlaston (Nick revealing an alarming obsession with baubles) followed by a successful strike on Pattingham (the Crown seemed to open up especially for us). The D9 was cranked into gear for a run-out around Brownhills and Chasetown (a day that marked the Hub carrier bag's last stand), and there was the delight of the Dudley Winter Ales Fayre with tipples including Batham's XXX and Banks's Barley Gold. My solo tour of Coombeswood and Cradley Heath maintained the Black Country flavour with segments of Leasowes Park and the Dudley No. 2 Canal.

December: squeezing in at the death, my annual visit to Coventry was as spectacular as ever with Whitefriars Olde Alehouse proving a star find - it was also great to track down the Brandon speedway stadium and have a closer look around Cheylesmore. Nick and I sampled more winter ales courtesy of the Pie Factory, Park Inn and the Beacon, rounded off with some jazz at the Trumpet (our adopted Wednesday evening home), and last but not least was the festive fun of that D9 classic taking in Moseley, Ladywood and Smethwick with closets and ales galore. Superb!

Well what can I say after all of that? It really has been a fantastic year and my thanks go to everyone who was involved - Rog, Woody, Andy, Nick and Stephen plus the various other characters we met along the way. It's been a year of beer festivals, Wednesday Nickolenkos, classic cricket, bald spot baiting and above all some vintage moments of exploration discovery - can 2012 maintain such dizzying heights? I can't wait to find out...