Friday, March 22


Situated between Chasetown, Brownhills and Norton Canes, the Chasewater Reservoir and Country Park is a place I've visited since childhood, enjoying afternoons out walking by the waterside. It had been a while since I'd last had a look around though, so on Thursday 21st March I decided to revisit this former haunt whilst throwing in some canal and heritage railway exploration for good measure...

- Power Station Gates -
I get underway with a ride on the number 40 bus from Wolverhampton to Reedswood, where I alight by the Alma for a stroll through Reedswood Park. It's hard for me to imagine how this area used to be dominated by the cooling towers of the former power station but I do come across the old gates and railings on Reedswood Lane. I then continue down into Walsall via Birchills, pausing for photos of the New Inns and Walsall Central Police Station.

- Walsall Wood Colliery Memorial -
My next move sees me catching the number 10A bus from Walsall towards Brownhills West but I hop off on Coppice Road in order to reflect on more bygone industrial heritage. The first shaft of the local colliery was sunk in 1874 and the final activities here ceased in 1964, although a memorial pithead can now be seen on the modern-day playing fields. Whilst in the area I also have a look at Oak Park, the home ground of Walsall Wood Football Club, along with the adjacent leisure centre.

- Black Cock Bridge -
Time for a nibble at some canals then as I join the Daw End Branch at Black Cock Bridge. The line continues quietly by Clayhanger to meet the Wyrley & Essington at Catshill Junction.

- Ogley Junction -
Keeping with my towpath theme, I decide to investigate the northern reaches of the 'Curly Wyrley' past Brownhills and up towards Chasewater. I'd never been beyond Anchor Bridge before so I was very much looking forward to uncovering new sections of the canal. Ogley Junction is particularly fascinating as the site where the former Wyrley & Essington main line once continued ahead through Ogley Locks towards Lichfield; that particular stretch of canal was abandoned in the 1950's although efforts are being made to restore it. My walk therefore has to continue along the Anglesey Branch, an offshoot of the network that connects with the feeder reservoir at Chasewater. Middleton Bridge (Chase Road), Freeth Bridge (Watling Street) and Burntwood Road Bridge all ensure I'm am kept very much occupied.

- Anglesey Basin -
The limit of navigation is Anglesey Basin, a somewhat unheralded location ensconced in the shadows of Chasewater Dam. It's actually quite a bleak spot in the windchill of a bitterly cold March afternoon, and the water's edge is bounded by a simple white fence with little else in terms of facilities. 

- Chasewater Innovation Centre -
When I visited Chasewater as a kid, I remember there being a rather dated amusements arcade and mini funfair but the place has since been transformed into a Forest of Mercia Innovation Centre hosting exhibitions and conferences. The reservoir itself is still used for leisure purposes with sailing and water skiing remaining popular pursuits, albeit not in the gusty weather being experienced today.

- Chasetown Park -
Before I engage in a walk around the reservoir, I nip into nearby Chasetown to find myself some lunch. Chasetown High Street was rather quiet this time around but is home to a number of small independent shops whilst local pubs include the Uxbridge Arms, the Junction, the Crown and the Miner's Rest. I eat my lunch in the environs of Chasetown Park where some well-placed trees shield me from the wind as I sit by the war memorial and bowling green.

- Church Street Halt -
My circumnavigation of Chasewater reservoir gives me chance to take a look at the Chasewater Railway, a little heritage line that skirts the water's edge. The railway has developed impressively over recent years and one notable achievement has been the extension of the line to Church Street Station, a simple little halt platform next to Burntwood Rugby Club.

- Chasewater Heaths -
If Church Street Halt is still primitively basic, the next station along is a better reflection of the advances the railway has made since the year 2000. Chasewater Heaths is a really nice location with a well-appointed main building (housing a cafe) alongside a vintage signal box and characterful platforms.

- Norton Lakeside -
From Chasewater Heaths I venture across the Country Park, saying hello to a walking group as I make my way to Norton Lakeside. This is another halt stop without much embellishment but there are some scenic views to be had looking out across the water.

- Brownhills West Station -
I round off my tour with a stroll along Chasewater's western shore, buffeted by the wind as I reach Brownhills West. The station here is a delight to explore with tea rooms, engine shed, a ticket office and a railway-themed shop. Even though it wasn't an operating day it was a pleasure to have acquainted myself with the Chasewater Railway and I hope the venture goes from strength to strength. For me though, Brownhills West roundabout beckons with the prospect of a bus ride back into Walsall and the chance to get out of the cold. Another great day's exploring in the bank!

Wednesday, March 20

The Hollywood Experience

Monday March 18th and perhaps I should begin with a clarification. No, I haven't been to Los Angeles, nor have I been subjected to the withering criticism of a certain silver-haired judge off 'The Great British Bake Off'. The Hollywood I refer to is a village estate on the fringes of Birmingham and Worcestershire that I visited by means of a walk from Warstock to Whitlocks End...

- Yardley Wood Station -
Things get underway with a ride out to Yardley Wood, a location I first encountered over ten years ago and I'm pleased to say that the station is still the same old place with its terracotta-coloured railings and compact ticket office. The distinctive shops on Highfield Road greet me like old friends where the butchers and wine store have been fixtures here since my photos in 2003. I add in shots of Behan's Bar (formerly the Sherwood public house) and track down the local library off a further section of Highfield Road.

- Warstock Community Centre -
I may have explored Yardley Wood a fair bit over the years but my knowledge of Warstock was altogether much more sketchy despite it being just up School Road. The local community centre initially catches my eye and I also note Simpsons store, a McDonalds drive-thru and the close proximity of Yardley Wood Bus Garage. 

- Bridge 4 -
A wander down Warstock Lane brings me onto the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal at Bridge 4. The towpath wiggles around the back of the bus depot and then passes beneath School Road where Bridge 6 towers over you with its prominent arch. Things then get quite waterlogged and I have to wade my way through various degrees of mud before exiting at Bridge 7 for Solihull Lodge.

- The Prince of Wales -
It's quite handy including a little slab of Solihull on the outing as I make my way along Solihull Lodge High Street passing Peterbrook School. The Lodge is one local pub on Yardley Wood Road and I soon add in the Prince of Wales as I re-enter Birmingham territory at Highters Heath.

- Maypole at Maypole -
I complete my loop of Warstock by investigating the old number 2 bus terminus at Langstone Road/Arlington Road - the current 2 still finishes here during evening journeys. Glenavon Road then connects me with the main A435 Alcester Road South where I can reacquaint myself with Druids Heath Library and the shops at Maypole roundabout. The maypole itself stands proudly in a landscaped area outside Halfords and has a weather cock atop a red and white striped stake.

- Hollywood Post Office -
Hollywood now beckons as I cross into Worcestershire with the continuation of Alcester Road. There isn't much in the way of Tinseltown magic in the air but I do have some good photo targets including the local post office on Hollywood Gardens followed by the Pack Horse pub.

- Wythall Parish War Memorial -
There is a distinct primaveral feel as I reach Drakes Cross where the crocuses are just starting to peep out around by the parish war memorial. The White Swan adds to my pub pictures down by Houndsfield Lane and I also seek out the village library, tucked away behind the Wythall Business Centre off May Lane.

- Train at Whitlocks End -
There's no sign of any red carpet treatment as I round off my adventure with a stroll through Trueman's Heath, following the country lane out to Whitlocks End. Thanks to the construction of a turnback facility, the station here now serves as the terminus for local trains that previously finished their journeys at Shirley, giving me a 20 minute frequency for options back into Birmingham. As it happened I didn't have to wait long at all, and there was just enough time for a train shot or two before I hopped aboard to complete another enjoyable exercise in West Midlands Exploration.

Sunday, March 17

Gone for a Burton

Thursday 14th March: Having sampled the delights of Derby just a few short weeks ago, Nick and I joined forces once more in order to visit another place closely associated with beer. Burton upon Trent is the cradle of the British brewing industry and the prospect of getting our teeth into the town's beer festival soon had us all set for some Staffordshire scholarship...

- Burton Station -
We arrived just before midday courtesy of a hectic sprint at Birmingham New Street when the Nottingham train was ready to depart. I think we'd just got our breath back by the time we reached Burton Station and its rather grim-looking entrance.

- River Trent -
The town seems to be split into two halves either side of the railway with the Town Hall one way and the High Street the other. Our initial investigations took us towards the latter and included landmarks such as the Market Hall and St Modwen's Church - we even called into the local library where the cafe greeted us with whiffs of cheese-on-toast and scrambled egg. A particular highlight was a walk across The Washlands to the riverside where we could admire views of the many-arched bridge spanning the 
width of the Trent 

- Burton Bridge Inn -
The bridge gives its name to a nearby pub and microbrewery, with the lure of a brewery tap being far too much for mere mortals such as we to resist. Burton Bridge Bitter and Damson Porter are thus sampled in the atmospheric traditional surroundings of the front bar room with its bench seating.

- Dragon Slayer -
Ever the gallant hero, Nick follows up his rescuing of the Damson in Distress by doing battle with a Flaming Dragon courtesy of the curry deal at the Lord Burton Wetherspoons. He bravely took all the heat that the chillies could throw at him and so the beast was suitably vanquished.

- Molsen Coors -
It's virtually impossible to walk around Burton without seeing evidence of the town's ongoing brewing connections. The industrial architecture isn't pretty but I can't help being impressed by the sheer scale of it all.  Here is part of the Molsen Coors plant off Station Road.

- Coopers Tavern -
My favourite pub of the day has to be the Coopers Tavern, a brick cottage former Bass house that is now operated by Joule's. Beer is dispensed from the back bar in time-honoured fashion whilst there are plenty of fascinating little rooms to explore just bursting with brewing heritage. 

- Trent & Mersey Canal -
Crossing into the Town Hall half of Burton, we noted the Oak & Ivy on Wellington Street where coverage of the Cheltenham Races took centre stage. The search for the Thomas Sykes proved a forlorn exercise so we consoled ourselves with a stroll along the canal from Shobnall Marina to Dallow Lock, although even here we couldn't escape brewery advertising for long!

- The Old Cottage Tavern -
Another of Burton's smaller independent breweries is Old Cottage, and their brewery tap is just around the back of the Town Hall. Some Stout here set us up well for an ill-fated hunt for the Alfred - even despite having a map and a vintage Burton pubs guide at our disposal we still managed to go in the wrong direction!

- Cor B'Limey -
Having finally found the said Alfred, we made our way to the Town Hall to avail ourselves of the fine selection on show at the 34th Burton CAMRA Beer Festival. The ales are grouped by category here so bitters, dark ales and speciality beers were in the main hall whilst golden ales, old ales and ciders were in the Lingen Room. Amongst the tipples we tasted, I went all historical with Richard III and Palmer's Poison whilst Nick hopped til he dropped and then turned all plummy. The Morton's Cor B'Limey stood out with its clatter of citrus infusion.

- Scilly Stout -
Burton Town Hall proved a wonderful venue for the festival with a Wurlitzer organ and the chance to sit on the balcony cementing its place in our affections. The event reached a predictably silly (sorry Scilly) conclusion with Nick's closing stout and we just had time to climb the Stairway to Heaven in the Devonshire Arms before our train home.

It's not every day you dabble with dragons, partake of poison, sink various stouts and abide some acid but that was the story of the Burton Festival for us this year -
roll on next year!

Sunday, March 10

The Enville Street Ear Christening

Of all the potential pubcrawls available to us in the Black Country, there is one that seems to induce in Roger a state of misty-eyed reverence. The 'Enville Street Run' between Wollaston and Stourbridge offers a sequence that has been a drinker's rite of passage for many a good year, and so it sounded like the ideal setting with which to christen Rog's new synthetic ear lobe...

Our meeting hour was set for about 12:30pm so I was able to indulge in an explorational aperitif around Wordsley. The local library has been reconfigured a bit since I last saw it, and although Wordsley Green precinct is still the same old place, the Red Lion pub has been converted into a Sainsbury's Local convenience store. 

 - Wordsley Library -

I continue out towards Lawnswood, passing King George Park which was busy with the rough and tumble of Saturday morning parks football. Balmoral Road leads me into the Ashwood Park estate, where Sandringham Place is home to the local pub (The Ashwood) and a row of shops that mostly look closed down. I can then take a brief look at the Stourbridge Canal, pausing at Bells Mill Bridge to admire some leafy towpath views.

- View from Bells Mill -

Roger is waiting on Wollaston Farm ready to introduce me to his reconstructed ear - I have to say the medics have done a great job in fashioning a new lobe to replace the one that got ripped off in a freak accident last year. With all ears present and correct it is time to commence the crawl, so a swift shuttle on the X96 brings us to Bridgnorth Road, Wollaston ready for our opening gambit.

- The Foresters Arms -

The Foresters Arms is a lovely cottage pub nestled among trees on the country boundary where the West Midlands meets Staffordshire. Starting here means we can walk downhill into Stourbridge so there is method in the madness! The place seemed to be doing a roaring trade with lunchtime meals so we had to squeeze our way over to the bar to collect some Young's Bitter. Pet portraits complete the scene as we couldn't have wished for a better start.

Our second stop is The Plough, another pub that seemed to be popular with diners given that the restaurant area looked full. We opted for the bar area around the back, eyeing up ales that included temptation from Enville and Wye Valley although it was the Everard's Tiger that got our vote, mine being accompanied by a very enjoyable slice of black pudding pork pie.

- Ear ear, it's Rog in the Plough -

Rog thought it best to avoid the Gate Hangs Well due to undisclosed previous events there, so our next port of call is The Unicorn, a no nonsense Batham's boozer that epitomises great Black Country hospitality. Batham's Bitter is truly a beer to behold and it was certainly on top form here, the perfect way to soak up the atmosphere. Another quality local ale awaits a few doors down where the Holden's Golden Glow in The Princess helps me cope with having to watch the dreaded West Bromwich Albion. The pub was formerly known as the Alexandra but was renamed as a tribute following the death of Princess Diana.

- The Unicorn -

Wollaston Junction sees us leaving Bridgnorth Road behind to descend Enville Street proper. Sadly the Waterloo as was is no longer an option, this former Simpkiss house having been converted into a Bangladeshi restaurant a couple of years ago. The Cottage Spring is still trading though in its current guise as the very smart Graham's Place, and it is here that I make the acquaintance of Keith Lemon over a pint of Angel Ale.

- A right lemon! -

With many exclamations of "Ooosh!" and "Bang Tidy!" we continue down the hill to Katie Fitzgerald's, a pub with an Irish vibe that is known for hosting live music. Having now got well into character, 'Keith' orders the drinks here and I sample something from Shropshire in the form of Wood's Wonderful. Mr Lemon Esq tried the Tribute as we chatted with a regular about Mario Lanza beermats.

- Katie Fitzgerald's -

Two neighbouring pubs next as we encounter the Somerset House swiftly followed by the Queen's Head. The Somerset saw Rog and I resuming darts hostilities, and despite my attempts at deep concentration Mr Chance prevailed by two legs to one. I had my revenge in the Queens though by claiming the cheapest round of the day by a distance - Joule's Pale Ale adding another different brewery to the mix as consolation for the news that Wolves had lost 3-1 at Nottingham Forest.

- Darting Demon: a study in concentration -

An afternoon of superb yet responsible drinking had now seen us reach the confines of the Stourbridge Ring Road but we had one final treat in store courtesy of the Royal Exchange. Keith Lemon again came to the fore and provoked much debate among the other customers as we sampled both Batham's Mild and Bitter. This was the perfect place to round things off, enjoying the banter in the bustling bar before heading home. We certainly did the crawl justice and Rog's ear can consider itself well and truly christened!

- Ears to a great trip! -

Tuesday, March 5

The Halesowen Hub Hunters

Friday 1st March, and after stalking the wilds of North Birmingham last week, our intrepid explorers are in search of Black Country bounty by poaching pictures and pubs around about Halesowen…

RIDGACRE: the day commences with the Secretary doing a solo safari, setting out from Black Lake on the lookout for canal remains. The Ridgacre Branch was part of the waterways network around Wednesbury and West Bromwich and a section of it is still in place today, including the stretch from an old basin by the Ridgacre pub through to Black Lake Bridge passing under the Midland Metro.

- Footbridge at Ridgacre Basin -

WEST BROMWICH: the Secretary’s next prey is Oakwood Park and the Merry Go Round pub as he moves dextrously towards West Bromwich. Dudley Street and Dartmouth Street are encountered as he makes his way to the bus garage on Oak Lane to await the arrival of his accomplice. The Chairman emerges out of the depot recesses just in time to avoid the predicted penalty cob charges.

- Merry Go Round -

COOMBSWOOD: a combination of 289 and 4H deliver our hunters to Coombswood with evidence of British Steel factories along Gorsty Hill Road. The Chairman is doing some very strange stretching exercises on the back seat of the bus so one can only conclude he is suffering bladder issues again. The Bell & Bear arrives in the nick of time for some Dragon’s Fire ale and a general sense of relief.

- Sampling the Dragon's Fire -

HALESOWEN: tracking expertly along Coombs Road, their next target is located on Furnace Hill where darts are the weapons of choice when contending with the Loyal Lodge – a double finish would be a rare beast indeed but there was little sign of any as the Chairman won by two legs to one. Halesowen town then beckons where the landscape is scoured for sightings of the Old Queen’s Head, the Waggon & Horses and the King Edward VII.

- D9 Darts Champion -

WINDMILL HILL: on hilly terrain a jeep would have been nice but the number 9 bus has to do for a lift through Short Cross and up Drews Holloway. There’s a Dirty Tackle to be dealt with in the Round of Beef whilst the Chainmaker pub at Colley Gate also gets mentioned in dispatches.

- Waggon & Horses Barrels - we didn't empty them all ourselves, honest! -

WYNALL: the pursuit continues up the grievous gradient of Tanhouse Lane, Chairman D9 just about managing the climb. The Why Not eludes capture due to not being open mid-afternoon so the Hare & Hounds is the next oasis along. However, strange happenings are afoot when the Chairman mysteriously vanishes and the Secretary finds himself with Andy Murray for company instead – very bizarre indeed!

- Murray Moment in the Hare & Hounds -

LYE: the Chairman miraculously reappears in time to sample the pool at the Balds Lane Tavern, given the name of the pub it is no surprise he felt very much at home here. The descent into Lye is notable for witnessing the Top Bell, a pub that could well be an endangered species given that the current managers are leaving. The Chairman then seizes some discount territory at the Old Bell when he nails his flag into a round of £2.20, leaving the defeated Secretary stranded in the wilderness. 

- Bald Spot does Balds Lane -

STOURBRIDGE: with another 9 ride under their belts, our hardy huntsmen triumphantly forage out one final watering hole in the form of the Duke William. Here the Chairman is invited to Piddle in the Pub, although we should note that this was the name of his beer and not another of his unscheduled bladder activities. With that the chase is over for another day, and our heroes troop home happily with their quarry. What sport!

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Walsall

Wednesday 27th February and another chapter is enshrined into Chip Foundation folklore as I bring you the tale of our gallant trio and their latest escapades in the Walsall neck of the woods. Altogether now, once upon a time...

This particular ripping yarn begins with Perry Barr and a ride on the number 51 bus, carrying us forth to the Rushall Canal for a rampage up the towpath. There were locks aplenty for me to photograph whilst Messrs SB and NW took to commenting on the various summerhouses and benches seen in the Park Hall gardens backing onto the canal.

Our first pub port of call was the King Arthur on Liskeard Road, a pub name that conjures up its own links to legendary tales. For a relatively modern estate pub this was an impressive place with some excellent Wye Valley ales for the two Mr W's to sample.

Many epic sagas have a common thread running through them and in our case it is the chip element that links everything together. Here the chaps tuck in to their spoils as obtained from the takeaway on the Liskeard Road precinct.

The action moves quickly to Brownhills where Nick is mesmerised by a magnificent miner. A couple of halves help him cope with such a sighting, so thanks are offered to The Swan (Golden Glow) and the Royal Oak (Harvest Pale). The latter pub had a decorative 1930's elegance complete with a vintage phonograph cabinet and a period fireplace.

As evening falls our brave souls venture to Aldridge, taking a chance on a 935A bus that worked very nicely for a connection to the Lazy Hill Tavern. This was a particularly homely cottage pub where rather than a wolf for company we made the acquaintance of some Blythe Staffie.

So what can we summon up by way of a fairytale ending? Well the foundation's very own customised time machine delivers us to the Turf Tavern, Bloxwich where you feel like you're stepping back at least 50 or 60 years if not a century or more. The interior is full of modest character epitomised by the simple slatted bench seating, whilst the gents toilet out the back might well have given Stephen nightmares. 
With that there's just a postscript for the 89 bus back to Wolverhampton, and hopefully they all lived happily ever after.