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"...