Sunday, January 20

Braving the Birmingham Blizzard

“You’d have to be mad to go out in that!” – Marketing Board Members have never been ones to resist a challenge from the elements, so when Friday 18th January brought with it some arctic conditions, the Chairman and the Secretary donned their winter weather attire and ventured out into the snow to complete a hat trick of New Year expeditions… 

BREAKFAST: the meeting point is set for West Bromwich at 0830 hours although the Secretary has already endured an unexpected Winson Green detour when the Metro tram was so full he couldn’t alight at his intended station. The Chairman also clocks in on time and a preliminary breakfast roll is ordered to help our heroes stave off any threat of frostbite.

- D9 drives the Holyhead Road snowplough -

NEWTOWN: the mission proper gets underway with a ride down to Hockley complete with a D9 driving demonstration (minus any mushrooms on this occasion). Alighting at the flyover, we mush our way into Newtown along Nursery Road and Gerrard Street. Having pinpointed the Gunmakers Arms, we then plod through Burbury Park to admire the Lucas Memorial, the granite rings marking the location of a prominent Birmingham vehicle manufacturer. 

- The Lucas Memorial -

ASTON LOCKS: heading into the teeth of the blizzard, we realise that the weather has one notable downside in that the Chairman’s bald spot is firmly hidden from view under a double layer of woolliness. We assess the driving conditions on Newtown Row, where slush is already building up and traffic is crawling along, then the Globe pub registers itself on the pub radar. Chairman D9 is always keen on a Soviet swimming pool experience and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Aston Junction delivered a nose-numbing dosage of sub-zero Siberia.

- Aston Junction Bridge -

BIRMINGHAM CENTRAL: the snow continues to be persistent as we plough through to Lancaster Circus where the telltale signs of former closet doors can be detected by one of the subway passages. The Secretary’s hair has frozen solid so the Wellington is required for medicinal stout and some urgent thawing out before we venture into the underground chambers of the Post Office Vaults where the Chairman gets nostalgic about Birmingham’s subterranean pubs of the 1970s and 1980s.

- Thawing out in the Wellington -

JEWELLERY QUARTER: our initial North Birmingham intentions have fallen off the agenda as we now aim to stay more local. Treading carefully, we negotiate the perishing Prince of Wales and chilly Cambrian Wharf to proceed into the Jewellery Quarter where the Chamberlain Clock looks pretty as a picture with its white backdrop. The Rose Villa Tavern is a stunning pub in any weather and its vintage telephone booth wine cupboard soon has the Chairman drooling in appreciation.

- Snow in the shadows of Snow Hill -

SMETHWICK: news is filtering through of widespread travel disruption so we aim to be sensible for once by commencing the slow homeward trek with a train ride to Smethwick. The dives detection apparatus is tuned in expectantly as we prepare for the Blue Gates and the Old Talbot but we actually found that we rather liked both establishments. The Blue Gates demanded a look because of its landmark status on the High Street (although the Chairman's crafty discounted round might also have been a factor) whilst the Old Talbot offered friendly locals, a traditional multi-room layout and a packet of Monster Munch!

- Stony Lane Closet -

OLDBURY: our arctic endeavours are almost at an end but there are still a few calling points as we return towards the safety of base camp. The Chairman has his sights set on a couple of Georges and a British Queen, although the latter wouldn’t necessarily qualify as being very ladylike. There are also encounters with a White Swan and a Jolly Collier as our intrepid duo reach mission’s end at Sandwell & Dudley Station. 

- And the discount of the day goes to... -

We had braved the elements with barely a bald spot in sight, proving that when it comes to Anti-Hub Marketing, our Members are ready to campaign whatever the weather. Cheers!

- Sorry no bald spot! -

Chip Foundation Sub Zero

Wednesday 16th January 2013 brings the prospect of plummeting temperatures so it's a case of wrapping up warm as the Chip Foundation tackle the wilds of western Wolverhampton...

Tettenhall Wood: after a lung-busting sprint to catch the 10 in town, we make our way to Tettenhall Wood for my first batch of frosty photographs. Here is the Institute under a dusting of white.

Wintry Wightwick: The narrow lanes of Mount Road and Perton Road are pretty but slippery as we aim for the Fieldhouse. Sadly the pub closes mid-afternoon so we were thwarted in our quest for an opening half.

The Mermaid: A trundle down Wightwick Bank brings us to the Mermaid, a rather fashionable Bridgnorth Road landmark that provided a welcome warm and some Monsoon pale ale from Leeds.

Castlecroft: The trek continues along Windmill Lane where the Firs is our next calling point. Nick admires the beams and dissects another menu whilst Stephen stoically downs another medium measure of lemonade and blackcurrant.

Merry Hill: the tree theme continued with a visit to the Chestnut in Finchfield before we ventured along Finchfield Lane to the Merry Hill. The pub seemed to be busy with a funeral party although our conversation about the demise of the High Street and the rise of online technology had a rather 'wiffy' conclusion.

Chindit Chums: we're Bradmore bound for a glimpse of the Gunmakers Arms, a pub that retains distinct bar and lounge rooms for a traditional atmosphere. Thoroughly frozen, we close proceedings in the Chindit where Stephen gets crispy and Nick grapples his latest blonde. Cheers!

Sunday, January 13

Mushroom Marketing in Willenhall

Friday 11th January 2013, and following last week's shaft sagas around Tividale and Netherton, the Anti-Hub Brigade were back in session for a half-day blast around that lockmaking locality, Willenhall..

MONMORE GREEN: our rendez-vous is set for 1315 hours at Priestfield in readiness for a mooch around Monmore Green. The New Inn (now an oriental buffet restaurant) and the former Monmore Green Board School are noted but there isn't a lot to see in terms of heritage along the Bilston Road these days. We can however partake of lunchtime refreshment at the Red Lion, a traditional local that retains its separate rooms including a nice snug and a compact front bar.

- The Red Lion -

RAILWAY RECCE: our Chairman always likes a good ferret on an afternoon and today's offering was an investigation of railway remains, charting a section of the Great Western Railway that once linked Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton Low Level. Much of the route has been reclaimed for the Midland Metro, but where the tram uses street running into the centre of Wolverhampton, the line continued across Bilston Road and an overgrown path now marks the course. It isn't the most scenic of walks as you are surrounded by industry and all manner of dumped rubbish (car tyres were particularly prolific), but it is interesting as you encounter Sutherland Avenue (by the greyhound stadium) and an old bridge site before emerging onto Lower Walsall Street in Horseley Fields.

- Bald Spot braves the Railway Remains -

ALL SAINTS: the Harp Inn catches our eye as a remnant of the old Horseley Fields community, and then we do a circuit into All Saints. Chairman D9 reminisces about the Cleveland Road Bus Garage and we survey the remains of the Royal Hospital, the shell of which might eventually be redeveloped as part of a Tesco superstore project although progress has been frustratingly slow due to wranglings over many years.

- A Right Royal Bald Spot -

MUSHROOM MOMENTS: a run-up-and-go sprint gets us onto the 529 and we are soon in Willenhall, seeking out bostin' boozers with Black Country hospitality. The Falcon on Gomer Street West is a real favourite, alive with banter and a cracking pint of Bumblehole. The Three Crowns had some nice Holden's Golden Glow, and the Royal George had an array of ephemera adorning the walls, from enamel advertising signs to cigarette cards and vintage banknotes. We also made the mistake of walking down the Market Place at closing time, meaning the Chairman availed himself of some abandoned mushrooms and then proceeded to do a D9 driving demonstration clutching his fungi finds!

- The Mushroom Man! -

LANE HEAD: the 41 induces a bit of collateral mushroom damage as a few button specimens escape en route, but most of the haul makes it intact to Short Heath where we alight for further explorations. Predictably, there isn't much room (bad pun!) in the Chairman's bladder so a call into the Swan is required, the pub green and cream on one end of Coltham Road. Lane Head Bridge straddles the Wyrley & Essington Canal with a pub on either side, so take your pick from the Bridge or the United Kingdom.

- The Swan -

WILLENHALL: with the evening rapidly encroaching and the curfew call imminent, we flag down the 40 for a short hop back into Willenhall town centre. Unlike some Black Country areas, Willenhall seems to have retained most of its pubs for the time being at least, and long may this situation continue. Any hope of a few extra mushrooms for the Chairman is thwarted but he can console himself by sampling the County, the Ring O Bells and the Castle before his summons arrives. Sadly for the Secretary, he is unable to better the Chairman's Harp discount and so it is one all on the spreadsheet so far this year.

- More Mushrooms -

It is strange what unexpected twists and turns an outing can take. Last week we had the fishy friend in the tree at Tividale, and today we end up riding around with a bag full of mushrooms for half of the afternoon. You never know what you will come across next, but here's some dodgy driving for your delectation...

Saturday, January 5

Getting Shafted!

Friday 4th January, and as the Anti-Hub Marketing bandwagon rolls into another year, there’s tunnel-top trekking and shaft searching aplenty to be done from Tividale to Brierley Hill…

West Bromwich: the meeting hour is set for 0830 with the Chairman being so desperate to avoid any cob-related forfeits that on this occasion he arrives very much on time. The Secretary is already prowling West Bromwich High Street for morning photographs and then does the honours for bacon roll breakfasts in the Billiard Hall.

- Brades Locks -

Brades: suitably nourished in readiness for the hike ahead, we make use of a handy 121 down to Brades Village, offering a quick nod to the Brades Tavern and then joining the Old Main Line Canal. Here Chairman D9 worries about getting pecked by vicious swans as we take a look at Brades Locks along the Gower Arm before continuing to Tividale Aqueduct.

- Bald Bravery above the Tunnel -

Tividale: the aqueduct serves as the gateway to Netherton Tunnel as our primary mission begins. We won’t be walking through the tunnel today but scrambling over the top instead, seeking out the sequence of pepperpot shaft structures that provide the tunnel with ventilation. Having clambered up the side of the tunnel’s north portal, we emerge by the Wonder public house and cross into Tividale Park where one of the shafts is perched on a soggy embankment.

- Something Fishy! -

Oakham: our quest now takes us into the Oakham estate, where the Chairman quickly makes the acquaintance of a cuddly red shark that just so happened to be hanging on an alleyway tree – bizarre! Further shafts are detected on Packwood Road, Aston Road (capped off and forming a mini-roundabout) and Regent Road before we ferret around the back of the Co-op to complete a quadruple haul.

- Aston Road Shaft -

Warrens Hall: That Co-op shaft was number 8 so we now go cross-country hoping for further finds. A path by a riding school takes us into the open spaces of Warrens Hall Farm where we eventually happen across shaft number 4 – quite where 5, 6 and 7 are remains a mystery despite our attempts to infiltrate every bit of undergrowth imaginable, resulting in the Chairman only narrowly avoiding calamity on one particularly squelchy slope. Crossing the Dudley Road, the Secretary makes a single-minded march through a forest of brambles to reach a final shaft, giving us a grand total of seven we’d successfully located.

- Warrens Hall Shaft -

Netherton: having hauled ourselves from one side of the tunnel to the other, we reward ourselves with a pint in Ma Pardoe’s and a chance to rest some weary limbs. We’re soon back into the exertion though as we investigate some old railway remains at the back end of Netherton Park. The White Swan and the Hope Tavern also register on the pub radar as we navigate to Cinder Bank, with the Secretary providing a comedy moment when trying to get himself a bonus 20p only to find it was stuck fast to the floor.

Park Head: we might have done the Netherton leg of our outing but the shaft story was far from over, as now we were on the trail of the vents for Dudley Tunnel. The area around Wellington Road offers a couple in quick succession (plus a chance encounter with the Earl of Dudley Arms) whilst the Chairman gets very excitable about the closet remains at Dudley Cemetery. Our last canal shaft of the day brings us to Park Head Locks and a miniature pepperpot on the side of the Grazebrook Arm, and there is much satisfaction at a job well done.

- Wellington Road Shaft -

Woodside: into the estate next where we were hoping for refreshment from the Railway on Buxton Road (the Chairman had identified this as a sleeve success but the Secretary was already aware of the pub’s existence). Sadly the pub was closed whilst the Crown around the corner has been turned into a One-Stop convenience store. We therefore had to settle for a quick half in the Woodside Inn, an early entry into our 2013 dives catalogue.

- A bit of Boondoggle -

Round Oak Run: proceeding towards Brierley Hill, we pick off a few of the hostelries that would have been frequented back in the days of the Round Oak Steelworks. Shafting of a different nature is in operation here as we battle for the Discount of the Day accolade. The Chairman thinks he’s struck gold with some £2.30 Boondoggle in the Old Coaches & Horses (a cracking little boozer with authentic 1970's fittings) but soon considers himself shafted when the Secretary nips in with a £2 round in the Laurel. Result!

- Brockmoor BFG -

Brockmoor: Wallows Road brings with it some customary bladder gymnastics as we head into Brockmoor, with the Brockmoor House being the source of considerable relief and a very welcome BFG. The Old Star falls obligingly out of the Secretary’s sleeve, and the curfew calls with a final sample of the Rose & Crown. 

Shattered and shafted we head back into Dudley and the first outing of 2013 is at an end – but what an epic it has been. Pepperpots plotted, we look forward to seeing what further misadventures await us in the year ahead… 

Tuesday, January 1

WME Review of the Year - 2012

Happy New Year! I have a feeling that 2012 will live long in the memory of the entire nation thanks to the successes of the Olympics, Paralympics and Diamond Jubilee celebrations, whilst here at WME the last twelve months have provided me with plenty of unforgettable moments and adventures to savour…

January: the year began in energetic style with strolls around Tipton, Shugborough and Kinver, and the walking theme also extended to a trek from Stourbridge to Netherton by way of Oldswinford, Wollescote and the Delph (where I was rewarded with a bostin’ pint in the Bull & Bladder). An early contender for ‘Trip of the Year’ came from Staffordshire and a stunning day exploring Lapley, Wheaton Aston and Whiston – an absolute crackerjack with glorious winter sunshine. The D9 was revved up for some Wednesbury hub antics (including the unmistakable Nelson) whilst Nickolenko weighed in with a Wednesday night in West Bromwich.

February: The Coventry Network review kept me occupied for a while, introducing me to places like Potters Green in the process, whilst the much anticipated East Birmingham hub tour included stops at Small Heath and Coleshill. Redditch got the beer festival calendar off to a flyer (once Nick and I had found the venue!), and the Chip Foundation were busy with beer-related tours of Amblecote and Harborne. 

March: into Spring and there is a farewell glimpse of the Yew Tree Sports & Social Club shortly before it got demolished. Chairman D9 and I marked the club’s passing with a roam around Wednesbury and Bilston, swiftly followed by a Lichfield day that also incorporated some action from Aston (and the Manor Tavern in particular). I ventured back across Staffordshire way for a trail from Bobbington to Enville, washed down with a pint or two in The Cat (highly recommended) and I even squeezed in some canal walking to Alvechurch where the Weighbridge made a notable impression. The Chip Foundation were on the Birmingham beat with a Kings Heath special, Stephen winning the comedy fall of the year award with a spectacular tumble in Balsall Heath. 

April: two week-long events dominated April’s activities. Firstly there was Rail Rover 2012, a pageant of photography that included visits to Evesham, Whitchurch and Cromford, utterly enjoyable from start to finish. Then came the small matter of Hove and the beginnings of a cricket season that would see Warwickshire crowned County Champions, even if the match with Sussex ended as a damp draw. Elsewhere, back-to-back beer festivals at Walsall and Coventry tested our endurance but the long-awaited sighting of green beer was truly something to behold.

May: Pride of place for May has to go to Long Itchington and an exploration epic that incorporated 14 halves in 13 pubs with Nickolenko reciting it all back on video – not to mention the joys of scrambling over Kenilworth Castle! South Birmingham was the Anti-Hub Destination, and a bit of discount skulduggery was at play for my cheap round in the Woodcock near Bartley Green. 

June: a summer of immense national pride kickstarts with the Diamond Jubilee and a weekend where I found myself rummaging around Pelsall and Clayhanger. Derby gets a visit for some CB40 cricketing action, the Bears downing the Falcons rather comprehensively in truth. Mr D9 seals the discount honours in both Warley and Cradley – the former was a rather wet day trying to locate a ‘Barrel’ or two whilst the latter involved calls at Quarry Bank and Timbertree. No such discounts for the Chip Foundation though as a summer tour of Brum included a wallet-busting round in the Pub du Vin that very nearly bankrupted poor Mr Beardsmore.

July: Taunton and Telford were the mainstays in July. Somerset vs. Warwickshire conjured up a nerve-wracking finish with the home side just about getting the win, and there was more Beardsmore pub consternation when the Castle Green Inn seemed to add a surcharge every time he stepped near the bar. As for Telford, Chairman D9 and I soaked up the sunshine with a whirlwind wander around High Ercall, Wellington and Ketley, and with the Olympics underway a new multi-discipline event known as the ‘Wolverhampton Pintathlon’ is born, although you wouldn’t necessarily class the bald spot as having much athletic prowess!

August: It was a case of Double Duds in August with Duddeston and Dudley both on the menu as D9 dished up the Dolls House and a dosage of Oakham. The beer festival bandwagon rolled into Stafford with Mr WME Senior making a rare appearance, whilst Nickolenko was on hand for snippets of Swindon, Tipton, Coseley and the fantasy kingdom that is the Bacchus (just make sure to keep your eyes peeled when there are suits of armour about). As if that wasn’t enough, a rare solo outing sees me contemplating Charlemont Farm as a new archive location.

September: The onset of autumn brings with it the conclusion of the cricket, the Bears sealing the title at New Road, Worcester much to Stephen’s delight. The extremities of Sutton Coldfield are investigated with a Friday foray to Falcon Lodge, and there’s carrot to contend with at the Tamworth Beer festival – crunch crunch! North Warwickshire with Nick Turpin goes down as one of the all-time classic trips, doing Mancetter, Atherstone and Nuneaton proud with help from the Blue Boar and the Horseshoes, although the Coventry Cats tour was equally brilliant despite the christening of the Ron West Tribute Quiff.

October: Chairman D9 also raided the dressing-up box in preparation for more Wolverhampton exertions, this time sporting a yellow duster ‘skirt’ as he paraded around Penn - talk about a Halloween horror show! My Pensnett Railway Walk was another highlight, topped off by the discovery of Brockmoor Canal Junction, and there was a Saturday sweep of Brandhall and Bearwood in preparation for the Sandwell Network Review. 

November: Photographic fireworks come courtesy of a Telford Solo Spectacular, sampling St George’s and tackling Trench. The D9 dusters were on show for a North Wolverhampton extravaganza, ferreting through Fordhouses and uncovering Ashmore Park. I enjoyed a nostalgic tour of Oxley, kicking up the leaves in Claregate before the Chip Foundation took yet another bite out of Birmingham with Stephen digging out an old diary to prove that not much had changed in twenty years!

December: the storming of Saltley for East Birmingham the Second ensures that the Anti-Hub brigade end the year on a resounding high, the wonderful fish and chips from Bedders at Hay Mills just blew me away. There was a catch-up session with Rog, who was recovering from ‘Eargate’ as we sought out a few pints around Lye, and the Chip Foundation brought the curtain down with a festive frolic in the rains about Tettenhall. It really has been quite some year!

WME Flickr Focus: December 2012

2012 has been a fairly prolific year in terms of raids on the WME photo vaults, and December offered up a spectacular heist of its own by way of a fitting finale…

The safebreakers have been hard at work, coming up trumps with the combinations to prise open the doors of Exploration Extra. After the initial code was cracked in November, further valuables have been plundered from the repository, with images from far-flung locations now at large on the WME Photostream. These include Rail Rover gems from 2006, 2007 and 2008 along with some family holiday treasures, so we’d better take a quick blast around the country.

Starting at Land’s End in Cornwall we proceed through Newquay, Falmouth and St Austell to reach Devon for glimpses of Paignton, Exmouth and Dawlish. Next we hit the Capital with a March 2007 London visit, pausing at Victoria and Whitechapel before we tiptoe into Essex with calls at Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze. With scintillating speed we burst into East Anglia, putting down markers in Great Yarmouth and Cromer then returning through the East Midlands courtesy of Rail Rover haunts Derby, Beeston and Hinckley. Cheshire offers up a little taste of Nantwich, whilst Chirk takes us up to the Welsh border and back. Add in a sprinkling of bus rally photos from events days at BaMMoT and Aston Manor, and then we can collapse exhaustedly in North Yorkshire with our closing stops at Pickering and Whitby.

As we recover from that breakneck tour, let’s take stock with some end of year number crunching. Going into 2013, this is how many of the original Fotopic pictures have been reinstated; Wolverhampton (371 out of 435), Walsall (172 of 208), Birmingham (244 of 330), Dudley (180 of 262), Sandwell (110 of 180), Coventry (52 of 80), Solihull (71 of 112), Staffordshire (223 of 299), Worcestershire (57 of 90), Telford (44 of 68), Warwickshire (34 of 45), Shropshire (53 of 58) and Extra (150 of 192), bringing us to 1761 out of 2359 in total.

That still leaves 598 images dangling in the ether, waiting to take their rightful place in the Flickr fold. My mission in 2013 will be to extract as many of these from the vaults as possible, so there will be plenty more safebreaking to come. However, I also hope that 2013 will be the year when new deposits start to get banked, and the unseen more recent sections of my archive should soon start to get the exposure they deserve.