Tuesday, April 23

Signs of Spring?

I awoke this morning to the sight of sunshine streaming through my curtains and the sound of birdsong on my windowsill - could it be that spring is properly here at last? With a lazy Tuesday morning going spare the scene was set for a local wander to make the most of that blue sky feeling...

- St Mary's Church -
My first destination was Bushbury where the parish church of St Mary's looked rather pretty with a sprinkling of daffodils around the churchyard. Among the headstones can be found the base of a cross which is believed to date from the 10th or 11th century.

- The former 'Vol' -
Northwood Park next, and down opposite the Broadway shopping parade, the Staffordshire Volunteer building has completed its transformation from a public house into a Family Shopper convenience store. 

- The farmyard alarm clock -
Northycote Farm is always a favourite spot for a photo or two, especially if the animals are snuffling about. The geese seem to be in a vicious mood, hissing at any passing stranger, whilst the cockerel struts his stuff by the hen house. However, the star of the show has to be a hairy brute of a pig who is enjoying a bit of sunbathing.

- Vine Island -
Strolling down towards Fordhouses, Greenfield Lane looks particularly spectacular with its carpet of golden daffodils. Over on the Stafford Road, Vine Island is being remodelled so that it can cope with the increased traffic predicted from the i54 development. The old roundabout itself seems to have been removed and the corner of Wobaston Road is currently being significantly widened.

- Moog -
Talking of i54, I can't resist seeing what else has been taking shape as part of the development. Venturing along the access road off The Droveway roundabout, I can see that the Moog headquarters already looks very much settled into the new landscape whilst large signs attempt to attract additional companies to locate themselves here.

- Bilbrook Junior FC -
Nipping over into Pendeford Lane, I spot an enclosed football pitch that turns out to be the home ground of Bilbrook Junior Football Club. I must admit I'd never noticed the place before so it was nice to add something new to my archive so close to home.

- M&B Signs on the Pendulum -
To Pendeford then where the Morrisons supermarket appears to be as popular as ever. The Pendulum is a distinctive Mitchells & Butlers pub off Blaydon Road that could interest Mr D9 one of these days...

- The Gatehouse -
And finally the homeward leg takes me through Rakegate and into Oxley where there seem to be another load of houses springing up on the Goodyears land every new time I pass it. The Gatehouse Hungry Horse chain pub has been fully up and running for a few months now and seems to be doing well. With that, the walk is complete and it was nice to see some definite signals of springtime and hints of the warmer weather which we hopefully have to look forward to on into summer.

Saturday, April 20

D9 Does Solihull

It's Friday 19th April and there are potential sleeves, discounts and dives to be accounted for as the Marketing Board make Solihull their next destination...

- Camp Hill Locks with a hint of baldness -
After an early meeting at Bradley Lane Metro Stop (where the Chairman's sprinting skills were once again on show at 'Cob O'Clock'), members head through Birmingham to Bordesley for another survey of the Bordesley Station closet. Attention swiftly shifts to the Grand Union Canal and a stroll up the Camp Hill Locks towards Small Heath.

- Farm Park, Sparkbrook -
The Secretary's sleeves come into play at Small Heath Bridge when he introduces the Chairman to the closet buried in the brickwork. A detour towards Sparkbrook is then required for a mooch around Farm Park and a glimpse of the Marlborough, a distinctive former Mitchells & Butlers pub with a landmark clock turret.

- The Acocks Green Bowl -
The Grand Union grilling continues with the section from Anderton Road via the Ackers to Tyseley, the morning sun allowing the Chairman to top up the tan on his bald spot. Acocks Green then beckons with photos of the bowling alley and an excellent value late breakfast deal in the Spread Eagle Wetherspoon's.

- Wasp Chewing didn't mix with D9's Cappuccino Stout - 
To Solihull then where members can convene in the Masons Arms for a lunchtime pint of Titanic Cappuccino Stout, a very enjoyable ale provided there aren't any wasps to chew. Unfortunately the striped insects seem to be giving the Chairman some grief, and he suffers a particularly nasty attack when trying to give a driving masterclass on the number 5 bus.

- D9 Chews More Wasps in Solihull -

- The Red Lion, Shirley -
The 5 is the connection via Widney Manor to Cranmore Boulevard where the Secretary's sleeves rustle up another item in the form of Bernie's, a renowned off licence specialising in high quality real ales. Moving into Shirley, the boxlike 1960's frontage of the Red Lion catches the Chairman's eye although inside the pub is surprisingly homely when armed with some Slater's Top Totty.

- Stratford Canal at Hockley Heath -
The X20 Stratford-upon-Avon bus is next on the agenda, although members only need to catch it to Hockley Heath. The Wharf Tavern might well have been a beer opportunity but the Secretary's radar is twitching when he senses another pub somewhere along the towpath of the Stratford Canal...

- Mr Grumpy with a Scrumpy -
The Secretary's radar must have been on a long distance setting because the supposed short walk turned into a lengthy ramble that became quite an obstacle course in the muddiest patches. A disciplinary procedure was looming but the Secretary redeemed himself by revealing the Blue Bell, a traditional cider house not far from Earlswood Lakes. A rusty-coloured Black Rat is medicine indeed after all the hiking, and just for the record, the Chairman volunteered his own caption for the previous picture!

- The Saxon, Cheswick Green -
With his radar readjusted, the Secretary leads a march across to the Cheswick Green estate where the Saxon provides a brief but enjoyable spot of refreshment whilst we await the arrival of the S4 bus. The vehicle itself was an example of Central Connect's Signature branding with a very plush interior - the Chairman was so impressed he naturally had a go at driving it himself (after a fashion).

- The Foster & Allen Tribute Karaoke -
After a pit stop in Solihull, members make their way onto the 37 for a ride down the Warwick and Stratford Roads to Digbeth. The Irish community atmosphere in the Spotted Dog was so powerful that the Chairman felt compelled to break into song - luckily the Secretary resisted the offer to perform a duet!
- Old Empire in the Old Bush -
With all vocal chords suitably exercised, members complete proceedings by heading back through to Bradley Lane and rounding things off with a brief curtain call in the Old Bush. Despite the wasps, long walks and the singing it had been another top notch day out - here's to the next one!

Tuesday, April 16

The D9 Bloxwich Blast

Home and office relocations have meant that Hub Marketing has been off the menu in recent weeks, so the Chairman and the Secretary were rather hungry when Friday 12th April brought the chance to taste some special dishes around about Bloxwich and Walsall...

- Ryecroft Cemetery -
As is customary on a half-day expedition, the Secretary gets a few nibbles in on the morning before meeting up with the Chairman. This time around he took bites out of Stafford Street, Coalpool and Ryecroft including a brief foray into Ryecroft Cemetery.

- Power Station Gates -
A sprinting Chairman then predictably makes a last minute dash to avoid incurring any cob penalties on release from Walsall Bus Garage. It's decided that some ferreting is required so the Chairman is introduced to the former Birchills Power Station site, focusing on railway remains by Sainsburys and the old gates by Reedswood Park. The onset of a sharp shower sends us scampering for the shelter of the Rose & Crown where the knowledgeable landlord recommends the grapefruity Island Hopping ale.

- Ale in the Alma -
More remnants of industrial heritage are to be found in Birchills where the old MEB gates on Jessel Road merit a morsel of photography. The rain is attempting to dampen the feast so the Alma is handily placed for more drying out and some much-appreciated Mild.

- Bald Spot on Beechdale -
There are canal crumbs to be gobbled up as we seek out the remains of the Anson Branch off Bentley Lane. When the old canal peters out we follow a footpath out to Cavendish Road on the Beechdale estate; here the Chairman wrestles with the doors of the Magic Lantern before letting his bald spot defences down at Stephenson Square.

- The Beechdale Driving Demonstration -
Now the Chairman can never resist the chance to showcase his prowess behind the steering wheel so the number 70 bus gave him the perfect stage for raiding his repertoire once more. He expertly negotiated his way out of Beechdale and through Dudley Fields to Bloxwich, so it was only fitting that he was rewarded with a visit to the Turf Tavern and its atmospheric courtyard closet.

- Seriously Tough Scratchings -
A Bloxwich banquet is the order of the day, with the Romping Cat, Spring Cottage and the Wheatsheaf all being possibilities. Some of the dishes prove easier to digest than others, and the Chairman seems to be having particular trouble getting his teeth around some impertinent pork products.

- Blakenall Co-op Building -
Early evening sees a swift shift to Blakenall Heath where the old Co-op store on Blakenall Lane sparks a chat with a chap outside the New Inn. We feel it is only right to sample the pub itself for a quick half, following that with a gander at the Green Rock Tavern when the number 29 bus decides to play hide-and-seek with us whenever we tried to catch it.

- The Flat Cap is 'Crowned' -
There are plentiful platters to be had on the homeward stretch, including notable discounts in the Pretty Bricks (£2.10 BFG for Mr WME) and the Crown on Long Acre Street (£2 flat for Mr D9, although it was Mr WME wearing the flat cap). The canine decorations of the New Inns left a little to be desired, and we round off the evening with a sneaky supper courtesy of the Gospel Oak. The mini-famine has ended, and we look forward to tucking in to more delights in due course.

Sunday, April 7

The Walsall Beer Festival

As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, Friday 5th April was also the day that Nick and I visited the 32nd annual Walsall Real Ale and Cider Festival...

- Green Beer! -

The event was held at Walsall Town Hall and saw over a hundred different ales available for our perusal. Among those we sampled were Triple FFF Rocklobster, Backyard Porter, Three Tuns Steampunk and some Killer Stout as our preference to stray onto the dark side was again very much in evidence. Nick also got to grips with some Smokeless from the Red Willow Brewery; described as "surprisingly approachable" the smoked fragrance wasn't quite approachable enough for me to take a liking to it. Our favourite tipples respectively were Korvak's Triumph for me (a Fownes brew that initially came across like cough medicine but then delivered a sizeable hit of honey porter goodness) and Stonehenge Sign of Spring for Nick, who was awestruck by the beer's green appearance. From what we can tell, beer festivals in general are gaining in popularity because they provide a relaxing convivial atmosphere, excellent value for money and the chance to try ales you may not otherwise encounter. Walsall certainly lived up to some extremely high standards and we found the whole event to be very friendly and well worth attending.

Having spent up our beer tokens, we decided to seek out a couple of Walsall's finest local pubs to round off an excellent evening. The Fountain on Lower Forster Street has recently been resurrected as the new taphouse of the Backyard Brewhouse. The pub already seems very popular and was doing a roaring trade whereby we thoroughly enjoyed a half each of the Hoard for a bargain £2.30. A hop, skip and a jump then brought us to Birchills and the Rose & Crown. The building dates from 1901 and has some wonderful period features including decorative tiles and an original foot rail. A half of Burton Bridge's Tail End Totty in a dimpled glass was just the job to go with a crusty cob, setting us up perfectly for our ride back to Wolverhampton.

A Cross City Circuit

The Cross City Line has been a bedrock of exploration since my University days, yet despite this there were a couple of it's northern calling points that I had never actually visited. Friday 5th April was thus designated as the day when Gravelly Hill and Wylde Green would join my photographic party, and as usual there would be a typically circuitous local walk along the way...

- Gravelly Hill Station -
Changing onto the Cross City line at Aston, I soon arrive at Gravelly Hill to survey the station for pictorial opportunities. The main station building is on the Birmingham side with a grey footbridge across to the Sutton platform. Paths provide access from Hunton Hill and there are also some steps through from Frederick Road.

- Brookvale Park -
Venturing out from the station, I was struck by the vibrant multicultural feel of Slade Road with its mix of Asian supermarkets and more traditional independent family businesses - the Brookvale pub was also an intriguing find with its 1930's architectural features. I can then enjoy a wander around George Road and Brookvale Park; it had been eight years since Roger and I came here once so a return look was long overdue and I was pleased to photograph the boathouse and the lake.

- Witton Cemetery -
Stretching my legs along The Ridgeway, I make my way through Witton Cemetery where the Memorial Cross was a poignant reminder of wartime sacrifices. The Anglican chapel is an imposing Gothic building standing on an elevated position with a slender spire that adds drama to the landscape. I emerge onto Moor Lane where the Safe Harbour public house is another distinctive landmark.

- Salford Junction Fingerpost -
Quite a few of my recent solo expeditions have contained a healthy canal element and this trip would be no exception. The Tame Valley Canal has the dubious honour of leading me through the bowels of Spaghetti Junction where the scenery (if you can call it that) is unremitting in its ugliness - even so I do have to admire the feats of engineering that see the many transport routes so dexterously interwoven. 

- Hanson's Bridge -
From Salford Junction I join the towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal where the surroundings remain rather industrial heading up towards Bromford and Tyburn. Indeed, the canal seems to pass directly beneath one workshop held up on concrete girders shortly before Erdington Hall Bridge. At Tyburn I take a look at the Tyburn House pub before casting a glance at handsome Hanson's Bridge near Castle Vale.

- Pype Hayes Gardens -
A short stroll along Hanson's Bridge Road brings me to Pype Hayes Park where I can pause for lunch and listen to the joy and laughter of the Easter holiday funfair being held on the field. The park's fishpond provides a tranquil spot to eat a few chips and I also relish taking a look at the ornamental gardens, carefully laid out but not quite displaying the signs of spring yet because of the recent cold snap. The gardens are attached to Pype Hayes Hall although the building itself appears to be up for sale.

- The Greyhound -
From Chester Road I can weave my way towards Wylde Green, calling along Gravelly Lane for a look at the Rose & Crown before Goosemoor Lane offers views of the Cookes furniture store. I breeze past Perry Common terminus and track down the Greyhound, a Mitchells & Butlers pub on Court Lane.

- Wylde Green Station -
Making a beeline through Boldmere, Antrobus Road and Highfield Road bring me neatly to Wylde Green Station where I complete my Cross City contemplations with views of the main bridge on Station Road. There is a little wedge-shaped ticket office down below the Birmingham platform and I capture a couple of passing train shots to round off a fine excursion. 

The day was not yet over though, and I change trains at Aston once more in order to join my esteemed colleague Nick for a visit to the Walsall Beer Festival, but that my friends is another story...

Monday, April 1

WME Flickr Focus: March 2013

Happy Easter! The arrival of April brings with it some reflective March musings as we see what treats the Easter Bunny has left for us on the WME Flickr photostream...

  • Our egg hunt begins with WME Birmingham where the springtime blossoms of Calthorpe Park in Edgbaston take centre stage. Scenery of an altogether bleaker nature is represented by additions from Bordesley Junction (Grand Union Canal) and our good friend Bordesley Station (still as depressing as ever), whilst Bloomsbury Library is one of my favourite examples of Birmingham's Victorian architecture.
  • With a skip and a hop we land ourselves on WME Dudley where the bunny has also been busy. There are new sets to investigate such as Baptist End (the Swan pub), Coombeswood (the Lighthouse) and Dudley Wood (Bush Road butchers) whilst there's also a bumper bundle for Coseley featuring Christ Church, the cricket club and the former swimming baths.
  • Our next Easter destination is WME Sandwell which is now benefiting from the inclusion of Hill Top complete with two photos of the Cottage Spring down Balls Hill way. Bescot Stadium Station has summoned up a couple of extra platform shots and there is also a showing for the Marksman pub at Carters Green.
  • Now then, what has the bunny hidden away on WME Shropshire? Well, I can exclusively reveal that Claverley village has made an appearance (the Crown pub being a particular favourite of mine). A bus stop in Broseley and a platform view from Bridgnorth's Severn Valley Railway Station complete the haul here.
  • There are also goodies to be had by way of WME Staffordshire. Chasetown takes it's inaugural bow with two pictures of the Junction pub, there's a peek at Moatbrook Lane down in Codsall and Dimmingsdale Bridge squeaks once more into the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal cohort.
  • Last but by no means least, our floppy-eared friend also dropped in on WME Wolverhampton (the Pilot pub at Blakeley Green and some books in Collingwood Library) followed by WME Walsall (the Morrison's supermarket at Bescot plus the former George pub in Bloxwich) to finish off his deliveries for this year.
  • Judging by that little lot, the Easter Bunny has been quite generous this year and we now wait to see what photographic precipitation comes forth with the April showers...