Monday, July 30

The Wolverhampton Pintathlon

Friday 27th July 2012, and with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics only hours away, Mr D9 and I decided to honour our brave athletes with some endurance training of our own. Come 1:30pm we were under starters orders for some intense ferreting and pub sampling, hence the Wolverhampton Pintathlon was born...

Preliminary Rounds: we are out of the blocks with some immediate exploration, delving into the mosaic-lined subways around and about the markets. Mr D9 hoped in vain to find some abandoned closet remains but we did take a close look at the former Sunbeam Works at Pool Street and Jeddo Street, a historic industrial premises that is crying out for an imaginative regeneration scheme. The second heat takes us into Graiseley, noting the Eagle Works and the flats around Dale Street and Hallet Drive.

- Subway Style -

Penn Fields Pursuit: The backstreets beckon as we venture towards the terraces of Lime Street where the Stamford Arms looks very sad with its main entrance crudely boarded over. Our exertions pay off though with a visit to the Bruford Arms, clocking in with half a Carling in the basic beer garden where there's plenty of sunshine to give the bald spot a reddish tinge. Mr D9 recalls driving days on the old 512 route as we pass the shops on the roundabout before heading down to St Philip's Church.

- Good Cheer in the Bruford Beer Garden -

Boxing with Bradmore: our next event involves the Gunmakers Arms, although you need to be an orienteering expert to find your way through the corridors from the beer garden to the main bar. We score a solid jab here with a cracking pint of Banks's Bitter - later countback revealed that, at £2.15, I had actually landed the knockout blow to secure the Discount of the Day belt after it had spent a few trips in Andy's possession.

- Was D9 flagging after our efforts thus far? -

Fencing with Finchfield: scraping himself off the canvas, D9 then resorts to hi-vis attire so as not to get hit by low flying golf balls at Bantock Park. We hop aboard the 3 for a brief call at Castlecroft where the Firs always seems to feature during major sporting occasions (Rog and I had a pint here during the 2006 World Cup Finals). Having claimed the cheapest round of the day it's only fair that I cough up for the most expensive, hence the Westacres puts a dent in my wallet for the sake of Mary Jane, a blonde from Ilkley. Andy was then delighted that we walked down Finchfield Hill rather than up it, little did he know of the climb that would soon await him!

- With a cob on in the Swan -

Tettenhall Time Trial:  the Swan at Compton is an established favourite where the Old Empire and crusty cobs go down a treat, setting us up well for the hike up The Holloway - I don't think Andy will be claiming the King of the Mountains title anytime soon. We face a race to get around Tettenhall but the Royal Oak (at Tettenhall Wood) and the Dog & Gun (in the main village) are duly noted and accounted for whilst the clock is still in credit. Tettenhall Pool meanwhile looked a honeytrap in the summer sunshine, but the temptation for a paddle had to be resisted in favour of checking out the Chindit where the number 4 bus beat us to the front door by barely a tyre's breadth.

- The Royal Oak, School Road, Tettenhall Wood -

Wolverhampton Weightlifting: it has been an afternoon full of daring feats but we require one last ounce of endurance to lift those final half glasses back in the City Centre. It was cheers to both the New Inn and the Plough & Harrow, neither pubs I would normally visit but the Olympic ideal instilled in us the need to go that extra mile. Sadly there weren't any medals to claim as we crossed the finishing line, but it had been a herculean afternoon in it's own right, and may I take this opportunity to wish all of the genuine British athletes the very best of luck in the London games. I'm absolutely certain they will make the entire country immensely proud.

Thursday, July 26

Bears on Tour: Taunton

We've reached the height of the English summer (allegedly) and what better way to spend the time than watching a bit of cricket? Stephen and I therefore travelled to Taunton to see the County Championship Division One match between Somerset and Warwickshire at the lovely County Ground...

Tuesday 17th July: the journey down to Somerset is largely a smooth affair, making use of the direct Cross Country link from Wolverhampton to Taunton via Birmingham, Cheltenham and Bristol - the journey should take about two and a half hours but ended up closer to three because of changing the train crew at New Street. Touching down in Taunton, we get our bearings and make tracks for our guest accommodation (the excellent Lowden's House on Wellington Road). Once settled in we head out to explore the town a little more, taking a closer look at the train station (partly remisicent of Worcester Shrub Hill) and finding a library almost buried beneath a multistorey car park. We do a circuit of the County Ground to work out the entrances and seating positions in readiness for the game, and we also acquaint ourselves with some of Taunton's pubs. The Coal Orchard offers gammon as an art-deco Wetherspoon's, the Racehorse is a St. Austell Brewery house on East Reach, and the Castle Green Inn is the Somerset CAMRA 2012 Pub of the Year.

- Sir Viv Richards Gates -

Wednesday 18th July: after picking up a few supplies, we make our way to the ground to commence the cricketing action. Entering via the Viv Richards gates, the ticket costs £17 although we can purchase advance tickets of £12 for the remaining days. Sadly it was a rather frustrating day punctuated by irritating bursts of damp weather. Play is initially delayed until 11:45, then when we are underway for about 10 overs until a brief shower intervenes. A very short resumption is long enough for Ian Westwood to get out, with the rain setting in again immediately after the fall of the wicket. Lunch is taken at 27/1 and further rain makes it clear that play isn't going to start again anytime quickly. We head out of the ground for a while, taking the chance to try out the Plough, a traditional little inn we'd spotted where the pub dog is quite a character. We also track down part of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal for a few photos of Firepool Lock. Back at the cricket and things initially look more promising, the covers momentarily being rolled away with the umpires intending to restart play at 16:30. The weather had other ideas though as yet another heavy squall rolls in off the hills and that was that, play abandoned for the day. Not quite the start we had hoped for then, but we can still enjoy an evening around Taunton, sampling the Perkin Warbeck (another Wetherspoon's) and revisiting the Castle Green Inn so that Stephen can get in a round that was significantly more expensive than the one I'd bought there the night before - strange that? There was also time to squeeze in a look around the First bus garage and the Wordsworth Drive ground, home to Taunton Town FC (otherwise known as the Peacocks) - a couple of excellent finds there.

- Firepool Lock and Bridge -

Thursday 19th July: Thankfully the forecast looks much more promising for the rest of the week so we make use of some morning sunshine with a little stroll around Galmington, a residential area close to Musgrove Park Hospital. We then return to the ground with renewed vigour, claiming our seats in the Sir Ian Botham Stand watching from behind the bowler's arm at the River End. It is a day to sit back and enjoy watching the Bears bat as we progress to 387 for 7 by the close. Notable innings came from Varun Chopra (an imperious 93), Captain Jim (battling hard for 132 not out, mixing pure graft with some entertaining strokeplay) and Chris Woakes (an elegant attacking century working well in partnership with Jim). Feeling confident that Warwickshire have taken command of the game, we spend the evening eating chips and watching test match highlights before Stephen again gets stung for a pricey round in the Castle Green Inn.

- Sir Ian Botham Stand -

Friday 20th July: Fortified by a hearty Lowden's breakfast and some Open Golf action from Lytham, we head once more to the ground in anticipation of further Bears progress. As it turned out, they only just squeaked to 400 before being bowled out, at least securing the final batting bonus point in the process. It was then over to our bowlers to inflict some damage, regular incisions being made and it looked like we might make Somerset follow on. Jeetan Patel bowled an inspired extended spell from the River End, taking 7 for 75 but Somerset just about crept past the 250 mark in order to make us bat again. Second time around we looked more fragile, reaching close on an unconvincing 66 for 3 albeit the lead was over 200 so Warwickshire were still in the box seat. Our evening entertainment this time around involved spotting fish in the River Tone (possible chub sightings according to Mr B), eating gammon in the Perkin Warbeck and returning to the Plough to find a concealed doorway hidden in a bookcase that provides secret access to the gents toilets.

- Vivary Park -

Saturday 21st July: With the weather set fair the main question has to be can the Bears win? We are admittedly hopeful as we approach the ground, but a demoralising collapse sees us skittled for only 124 leaving Somerset needing 271 to win. Stephen and I have now been joined by the likes of Ken - having been spotting Kenalikes all week it threw us momentarily when the real thing arrived! - plus Dougie and Mark for moral support and we still feel relatively confident at lunch, Somerset having lost early wickets in pursuit of their target. Hildreth makes that three down shortly after the resumption, 15 for 3 and its all systems go - but then we hit a brick wall in the form of an impressive partnership from Craig Kieswetter and Nick Compton. Kieswetter was particularly destructive, launching a flurry of sixes as Jeetan Patel went wicketless. All of a sudden it was Somerset who were cruising to victory, only for a nosebleed to set in once Kieswetter had departed for a swashbuckling 152. Keith Barker became our dangerman taking four quick wickets and bringing last man Gemaal Hussain to the crease - 1 wicket left, two runs to be scored, a nailbiter of a denouement. Sadly for the Bears at least, Hussain held out to give Peter Trego chance to dispatch the winning runs. Defeat then for Warwickshire when it could have been oh so different, but what a finish and what an entertaining match. Stephen was surprisingly upbeat considering the result, and he even kept smiling when the Castle Green Inn completed a hat-trick of charging him considerably more for the rounds he bought (not that I was complaining of course).

Sunday 22nd July: all that remains is the homeward journey, bidding farewell to Taunton with a lingering look at the railway station before catching our 1200 hours train direct to Wolverhampton. The result might not have been what we wanted, but the match at Taunton, along with our experiences of the town in general, will definitely live long in the memory.

Saturday, July 14

The Shropshire Scrutiny Away Day

Friday 13th July saw the Anti-Hub Marketing Board stage a Shropshire scrutineering special as Mr D9 and myself descended upon Telford & Wrekin Borough for a day of hub-pub investigation...

BREAKFAST: Despite a valiant sprint, Mr D9 was unable to arrive in time for the 09:43 departure to Holyhead (the train cruelly departed just as Andy collapsed onto Wolverhampton Station) so a consolation bacon roll was required in Wolverhampton Wetherspoon's to fortify us instead for the 10:25 service to Oakengates.

- Hadley Shops, but not anymore -

HADLEY: We touched down on Telford territory just before 11am and a quick walk through Oakengates brought us to the bus station - it was intriguing to see the regeneration works occurring down on Market Street. The 55 provided some D9 driving action through Donnington before dropping us in Hadley where I was surprised to find that half of the shopping precinct had been demolished - I wasn't particularly a fan of the old shops but it was still a shock to see they had vanished. The Kings Head was still present and correct though, as were the unsightly pedestrian footbridges spanning the road junctions. Despite a certain ugliness I've always been quite fond of Hadley having called by here back in 2004 so I will be very interested to see what shape the redevelopment of the area takes.

- The Malt Shovel -

LEEGOMERY: From the centre of Hadley we wander along Hadley Park Road, glimpsing the gates of the GKN Sankey factory lurking behind otherwise innocuous residential housing. The Malt Shovel pub offered plenty of traditional elements and a pint of Burton Bitter (very much appreciated too) before we ventured into the newer estates. Again I had to contend with recent changes when I discovered that the Thomas Telford pub had been flattened and a new shopping centre (containing a Spar supermarket and the Big Blue fish bar amongst other things) had sprung up in its stead.

- 65 loads at Wellington -

65: a handy 44 connection (via Princess Royal Hospital) took us from Leegomery to Wellington, whereupon we were able to change seamlessly onto the 65 (not forgetting the customary bladder interlude for Andy). The 65 was some route as it turned out, initially covering Admaston and Shawbirch before opening out into country air and villages such as Longdon-upon-Tern, Rodington and Roden. A truly fascinating ride, careering through deep puddles at regular intervals and with many agricultural fragrances to ensure Mr D9 felt thoroughly countrified by the time we alighted.

- St Michael & All Angels -

HIGH ERCALL: a change of pace with a village outpost to explore, High Ercall being located roughly midway between Shrewsbury and Newport. The Church of St Michael and All Angels has a medieval tower that is particularly impressive whilst further ferreting also reveals a small village shop and the Cleveland Arms pub - we just managed to squeeze in a drop of Marston's Pedigree before mid-afternoon closing. We then have the 65 to ourselves for the ride back into Wellington, Andy curiously refraining from any further driving demonstrations.

 - Wellington -

WELLINGTON: I've long been an admirer of Wellington as a proper Shropshire market town so it was great to do it some justice today. Multi-coloured bunting brought the centre to life as we investigated the town's growing real ale reputation. The White Lion has latterly been taken on by Darwin Inns showcasing the ales of the Salopian Brewery, of which we try Lemon Dream, before the High Street introduces us to the mixed delights of the Three Crowns and the Oddfellows.

 - Bald Spot amongst the Bushes -

KETLEY: Time for some rootling around in the undergrowth as we take a 44 quick hop into Ketley. Alighting by the Horseshoes, my railway ruins radar eventually kicked in to locate the remains of the old Ketley Station, whereby the brickwork of the old platform could be discerned in amongst the nettles. As sleeve items go I was quite proud of this one, and for good measure I also located the Compasses Inn on Beveley Road, a pub that now seems off the beaten track although historically the route was Watling Street.

- Lord Hill Inn, Ketley Bank -

KETLEY BANK: some real exertion now as we brave the climb up Sunnyside Road into Ketley Bank, an intriguing area of narrow lanes and cottages, at least thats what we saw of it. The Lord Hill made the hike worthwhile, a relaxed friendly setting for a refreshing slurp of Courage Directors. We had an extra bonus when the 23 bus turned up unexpectedly to save our legs from the stroll back down into Oakengates.

 - Stone the Crows -

OAKENGATES: The day has gone full circle as we find ourselves back where we started, echoing our Telford Trail from last September with a final blast before the train home. The Alexandra took top honours this time, or rather Mr D9 did when he secured the Discount of the Day award thanks to a happy hour promotion. The beer in the Crown and the Station wasn't as cheap but it was equally as good - Oakengates is a real ale hotspot that I'd happily recommend to anyone.

This deposition to the scrutiny board concludes with the 19:06 train back to Wolverhampton, whereby Mr D9 is then dispatched onto his Metro in readiness for collection somewhere in Sandwell. All observations have been analysed and verified with the final vote from all parties confirming that the outing had been a resounding success.

Tuesday, July 3

WME Flickr Focus: June 2012

The meteorologists may well claim that June was a wet month but where the WME Flickr Photostream was concerned there were definite signs of drought. The flow of images became nothing more than a trickle as only 20 pictures were released from the reservoir...

Breaching the dam on a few occasions was WME Solihull where the new arrivals included a couple of train shots taken at Dorridge Station plus a similar effort from Shirley. I was very pleased to dredge up some of my favourite bus memories though, recalling the last showings of the Leyland Lynx fleet with photos of the 92 route at Kingshurst and the 99 at Lanchester Way. A couple of 37E's posing at Solihull Station completes the bus contingent whilst Marston Green registered with appearances for the local pub and shops.

Amidst the aridity there is however one hint of an oasis, even if we are talking of puddle proportions rather than a lake. WME Staffordshire has offered up some initial droplets to encourage new growth, hence we have five bus shots comprising route 2 at Penkridge, the 16 at Essington and the 4 at Cannock (all examples from my Green Bus Service archive) alongside the Arriva 765 at Lichfield and Travel West Midlands 535 at Codsall. It's hardly a deluge but it feels nonetheless significant to see some of my photos from further afield starting to leak through. My weather forecast for July? I am hoping that the photostream will get well watered although there are storm clouds gathering in certain (library related) areas...

Monday, July 2

Birmingham then Bromsgrove

Friday 29th June was a two-pronged day of exploration action that incorporated the Chip Foundation Summer Special tour and the Bromsgrove Beer Festival…

Hockley: Stephen and I meet Nick at 11:20am in readiness for our Metro ride to the Jewellery Quarter. With an appropriate nod to the ‘Temple of Relief’ we then make our way to New John Street to begin with one from the Holden’s repertoire. The White House seems incongruous in its surroundings these days, a marooned final link to the past for an area otherwise overhauled from the 1960s onwards. Some Holden’s Bitter goes down well as we peruse the vintage photographs and admire brass commemorations of a local cockfighting association.

- White House Wanderers -

Cemetery Chips: food considerations are always paramount where the Chip Foundation is concerned so a pit-stop at the Jewellery Quarter is required to stock up on the appropriate takeaways. A Nick-led tour of Warstone Lane Cemetery fails to yield us a bench even though the crypts held a certain morbid fasincation. Luckily a Vyse Street seat is soon located so we were spared the prospect of Nick grabbing a gravestone to secure his much-sought sit-down.

- Warstone Lane Cemetery -

Birmingham: suitably stuffed with chip-related goodness, we proceed to Ladywood where I could introduce the chaps to one of my favourite pub discoveries from last year. The Vine proved equally as enjoyable this time around, the place being initially very busy with lunchtime workers tucking into the homecooked food. We braved Broad Street only to find that the City Tavern didn’t seem to have any real ale on so a detour via Holliday Street Aqueduct (spookily Victorian complete with old-fashioned lamps) and Gas Street Basin was urgently required. The Tap & Spile was surprisingly narrow as we positioned ourselves at the heart of the canal network, then the Craven Arms lived up to its ornate exterior tiles with an intricate carved bar surround and other traditional internal features. The theatrical posters within the Old Fox on Hurst Street created an enjoyable thespian ambience even though I was worried that Stephen’s dislike of all things tennis was about to erupt following over-exposure to Wimbledon.

- From The Old Fox -

Pub du Vin: Evening commitments mean we’re on a tight schedule but we do manage to shoehorn in one final stop as a trio. Part of the wider Hotel du Vin complex on Church Street (just off Colmore Row), the Pub du Vin is a somewhat exclusive place as epitomised by the well-stocked hotel wine cellar. Subterranean darkness lends an air of secrecy and subterfuge as Nick feigns exhaustion when easing himself into a comfy chair – Stephen was also about to collapse but that was more to do with the price of his round, the most expensive of the day by quite some distance! 

- Taking a well-earned rest -

Beer Festival: With Stephen making tracks for a meal back in Wolverhampton, Nick and myself switch attention to the 10th Bromsgrove Beer Festival, held once again at the Rugby Club ground off Finstall Road. My temporary CAMRA card is deployed in order to get members rates and extra tokens and then we delve into the beers. Plum Porter is a perfect starter and amongst our other tasters are Quantock Stout, Damson Porter, Dashingly Dark and some Muck & Straw. At one point I made a Complete Pig of myself with some Oxfordshire Black Porter, although it was the Bob 61 that made the biggest impression – this was an absolute sledgehammer of a brew, a deep potent stout with a volcanic head fizzing up to look like chocolate milkshake. Nick got acquainted with an Old Slapper at the end but the least said about that the better!

- A helpful hint -

Finstall: tokens spent and with the train not due for a while, we bid farewell to the festival in favour of a wander into Finstall, a small Worcestershire village just along the road from Aston Fields. There’s a quaint village hall and a timber-effect shop, not to mention the Cross Inn overlooking the junction with Alcester Road. We couldn’t resist calling in for a closing half of Enville White, just lovely. With that we wend our way back to the station in time for the 20:55 train and another excellent excursion is filed under our belts.

- The Cross Inn, Finstall -