Sunday, July 28

Armitage Shanked!

Another month and another round of Hub Marketing activities, with Cannock and Rugeley being the destinations of choice on Friday 26th July 2013. The bald spot was braced for some factor 50 protection as we set off into scorching Staffordshire...

- Bus 70 at Cannock -
There was not even the slightest sniff of any cob penalties as all members arrived present and correct well in advance of the 0745 start. The number 70 bus provides our Cannock connection with Chairman D9 having palpitations when passing the old Pear Tree trolleybus terminus and reading heart-stopping articles about the Gun Barrels courtesy of Out Inn Brum. 

- The Pye Green D9 driving demo -
After the requisite breakfast courtesy of the Linford Arms (Cannock's contribution to the Wetherspoon's empire), we set out in search of mining heritage on the 25 circular service. True to form the Chairman can't resist a bit of driving as we trundle up the Pye Green Road towards the Festival Stadium where we investigate the remains of the former athletics ground.

- Bald Spot at West Cannock -
Continuing around onto Bradbury Lane, we spot the derelict site of the West Cannock Sports Club & Social Centre which we believe was linked to the old West Cannock collieries. In all the excitement the bald spot made an appearance although it hadn't yet turned red through sun exposure.

- No Brown Shelters Anymore! -
A further ride on the 25 brings us into Hednesford where a new Tesco superstore complex occupies the site of the town's former bus station. Somehow we can't help feeling nostalgic for the old 1970's style brown shelters that have been consigned to history. The new interchange just seemed dull but it does the job for linking onto our next route.

- Closet by the Lea Hall Miners Welfare Centre -
To Rugeley then and a ride on the 31, breezing up through Cannock Chase and passing where the Pear Tree pub once stood (there's a Co-op there now instead). The Chairman has a crafty sleeve item in mind and thus leads us to the Lea Hall Miners Welfare Centre, outside of which is a vintage closet that duly gets the Hub Marketing treatment.

- Charles Rowbotham-Pemberton III adjudicates -
Our initial stay in Rugeley is short as we have business in Handsacre to attend to. The Olde Peculiar (a Theakston's pub in Staffordshire) and the Crown (on the side of the Trent & Mersey Canal) are both worth a visit, although the Secretary's insistence on keeping his plans under lock and key mean that Charles Rowbotham-Pemberton III has to be exhumed for an official secrets ruling from the lawbook.

- The home of Armitage Shanks -
If the Chairman summoned up a closet sleeve earlier, the Secretary has something altogether larger on his radar. A sun-kissed stroll along the Trent & Mersey brings us to Old Road, Armitage where we discover the headquarters of  Armitage Shanks, manufacturers of the bathroom fittings and sanitaryware that our esteemed Chairman is such a huge fan of.

- Power Station Chimneys -
With Ralph the pit bull for company, we catch the 825 back towards Brereton where we seek refreshment courtesy of the Castle, a 1980's brick box of a Banks's boozer. There is no escaping the looming presence of Rugeley Power Station around here as the large cooling towers are visible across the local housing estates.

- Did the Secretary get the Discount of the Day? -
The Chairman wanted to get more up close and personal with the power station so the Secretary eventually navigated the way down to Armitage Road (with a few obligatory dead-end turns for good measure). Once the towers had been tackled we rejoined the canal towpath down to the Mossley Tavern where the Theakston's tarmac secured the Secretary some overdue discount honours.

- Foghorn Leghorn -
Into Rugeley Town Centre where the Secretary's sleeve rustled up the Red Lion, an old-fashioned pub on Market Street where we just so happened to meet Foghorn Leghorn (who else!) in the parlour trophy room.

- Hednesford Miners Memorial -
Bidding Rugeley goodbye, we hop aboard the return 31 to Hednesford, making smooth progress through Brindley Heath to alight by the Tesco. Our town centre stroll then incorporates Market Street where an eyecatching feature outside the local library is a davy lamp memorial that also comprises a wall of commemorative named bricks. 

- Something we 'Stumbled' across in Bridgtown -
There are just a few final matters to take care of before heading homewards. The Cross Keys is a Hednesford inn of some renown with links to the local football club, whilst Bridgtown sees an attempt at madcap sprinting as we try to squeeze in closing halves at the Crystal Fountain, Stumble Inn and the Castle. All that remains is the 70 back to Wolverhampton and we can consider Handsacre and Hednesford well and truly hubbed!

Monday, July 22

Heatwave Homecoming

Friday 19th July 2013 and the soaring temperatures meant it was far too hot for me to attempt any expansive exploration. I did however enjoy a morning stroll around and about Bushbury Hill before settling down for some afternoon sporting action courtesy of the Ashes and the Open Golf...

- Site of Bushbury Pool -
I begin my wander up by Moreton School, recalling the days when the 598 used to terminate up here with Metrobuses doing a sweeping about turn at the top of Leacroft Avenue. Heading a little down Sandy Lane, there are more memories to reflect on as I look out over the spot where Bushbury Baths once stood. The building was never the most attractive piece of municipal architecture but it was where I learned to swim, so to see the site grassed over does seem a little sad.

- Base of the Saxon Cross -
The morning temperatures are already on the sticky side as I make my latest revisit to St Mary's Churchyard. The church itself is always worth a photograph or two but today I focus on the base of a preaching cross said to date from Saxon times. Some of the churchyard vegetation looks a little parched after the recent heat.

- Lazy Cows on Bushbury Hill -
Climbing back up to the top of the hill, I join the King Charles Walkway, a recently restored bridle path that follows the crest across towards Underhill. There are good views to be had on a clear day such as this, and the panoramic vistas of Staffordshire and Shropshire seem to have gained a few bovine admirers!

- Northycote Farm Herb Garden -
Another favourite haunt during my local walks is Northycote Farm where its always fun seeing what the animals are up to. This time around I also had a nose around the herb garden, which was delightfully presented with examples of parsley, oregano, basil and many other culinary specimens.

- Underhill House -
Passing the Crematorium I continue into Underhill where the Talisman pub, Westcroft Avenue shops and the number 11 bus terminus keep me occupied. I also have a look at Underhill House, a former Wolverhampton Council care home that is currently boarded up although I believe the building may get redeveloped as a doctors surgery. 

- Dickens Road -
Next up is a roam around The Scotlands, a somewhat notorious estate although efforts have been made to improve its reputation. I cast a quick glance at the Neil Dougherty Centre (which once housed the little Scotlands & Underhill Library) before investigating Tennyson Road by the play area and Ruskin Road by the local shops.

- Highcroft Hall -
I emerge back into the Bushbury Hill estate at the roundabout where Old Fallings Lane meets Whitgreave Avenue. The Highcroft pub was a landmark here for many years and was at one stage part of the JD Wetherspoon's empire, but nowadays the site is occupied by a residential care home known as Highcroft Hall. With that my two hour walk is almost over, and with my sun tan nicely topped up I can return home in bronzed fashion ready for lunch and some top class sporting entertainment.

Sunday, July 7

Sunshine and Cider

Friday 5th July and you always know that summer has well and truly arrived when the calendar clicks over onto the weekend of the Bromsgrove Beer Festival. The large marquee at the rugby ground is always a great setting if the weather behaves and this year it looked set to be scorching. However, there's work to be done before I can think of slaking my thirst...

- Class 350 at Marston Green -
Yes there is just the small matter of a bit of exploring to take care of first, so the morning sees me arriving in Marston Green for a few photos of a station that served me well during my early photographic adventures. All the familiar features remain present and correct, including the zigzag footbridge and the bus stops on the car park.

- Bickenhill Parish Centenary Clock -
A walk around Marston Green Village will do nicely, picking up again on some of the landmarks I first came to know almost ten years ago. There's an initial glimpse of Sheldon Country Park as a path heads off beyond the airport, but I loop back round past Marston Green Library for photos of the parish clock and the Marston Green Tavern.

- Tile Cross Terminus -
Crossing the boundary from Solihull into Birmingham, I arrive into Tile Cross where the old Bell M&B pub has become the Ginger Tree restaurant. Tile Cross Road is home to a bus turning circle that serves as the current terminus of the 17 route, although I wouldn't describe the location as one of my favourite photo spots.

- Poolway Shopping Centre Sign -
From Mackadown Lane I do battle with the Meadway, which in turn brings me to the Poolway Shopping Centre, another place that would never score highly in aesthetic assessments. The precinct isn't as grim as I feared though, and in amongst the stores is the Kents Moat Library, a Co-op and a Greggs.

- A scene from Old Yardley -
A flirtation with Garretts Green sees me passing the Rising Sun (formerly the Dovecote) and Cockshutt Hill College as I make tracks for Yardley. The Ring of Bells pub on Church Road looks a right mess with most of its roof missing, a desperate situation for what was once a handsome building. My spirits are lifted though when investigating Yardley's old village centre, a conservation area that features the medieval St Edburgha's Church and the Old Grammar School along with some pretty cottages.

- Blakesley Hall -
Further history awaits not far away in the form of Blakesley Hall, a timber-framed Tudor house built in 1590. Birmingham City Council operate the building as a museum with attractions including the Great Hall, a herb garden and a traditional orchard. 

- Bedders Fish and Chips (with onions!!) -
From Blakesley Road I flank the River Cole as I make my way towards Small Heath, branching off for a daytime photo of the Monica before settling down to a rather special lunch. I have Mr D9 to thank for introducing me to Bedders chip shop on the Coventry Road (near Heybarnes Circus). The place is an institution and my takeaway fish and chips comes complete with the wonderful chopped onions that are a Bedders speciality.

- The festival beckons -
Lunch munched I hotfoot it to Tyseley Station in readiness for meeting up with Nick in Birmingham, at the Wellington to be precise. The pub has recently been extended by the opening of an upstairs bar and rooftop terrace, allowing for some much-appreciated extra space at peak times. Nick has already made himself at home on the first floor when I arrive to partake of some Oakham Citra. We then negotiate the concourses of  a New Street Station very much in the processes of redevelopment before catching an extremely crowded Bromsgrove train. Perhaps the heat had something to do with it, but a fight broke out at Bromsgrove Station as we alighted and we had to dodge the fisticuffs to secure safe passage to the festival. Thankfully the familiar marquee was there to greet us and sanity was restored!

- Sampling the Cider -
Given that it was such a warm day, I felt in need of refreshment and decided to sample the ciders and perries rather than the ales. Among my selections were Hogan's Pickers Passion, some Impaired Vision, Roger's Jolly dry cider and the Broadoak Perry. My tokens were well spent ensuring I'd tasted dry, medium and sweet examples with the sweeter end of the scale ultimately proving more to my liking.

- Is that a bit of goat? -
As for Nick, he clung steadfastly to the dark side with tasters of Executioner's Porter, St Pirin's Porter and the stonking Betjeman Imperial Stout (a mere trifle at only 10%). To be fair he did get stuck into some lighter ales too, notably the Enville Kasitra, the tropical fruit flavours of which perhaps persuaded Nick into trying some Caribbean goat curry - very adventurous!

- Things going slightly to pot -
I finished my festival samplings by trying some Wobbly Munk, a Welsh cider that apparently is CAMRA's Cider of the Year 2013. That went down well enough but I was less enamoured with the miniature vase item I won on the tombola. Despite the dubious appeal of that particular ceramic, we considered the festival as a whole to have been a most enjoyable way to pass three hours or so.

- Thundering Molly I do believe -
Our evening was not yet over though as we rounded off with a few halves back in Birmingham. The Post Office Vaults got the ball rolling with some Hogan's Vintage Perry and a chance to witness the lesser-spotted bar billiards, whilst the Craven Arms backed up the initial excellent impression it made a few months ago by once again delivering a cracking atmosphere. However, an unexpected bonus came courtesy of the Victoria on John Bright Street where we unwittingly gatecrashed the in-house cider festival and could not resist the charms of a Hairy Ferret followed by a Thundering Molly. Do summer's days get better than this?

Tuesday, July 2

WME Flickr Focus: May and June 2013

Two months for the price of one this time as I recount recent happenings on the West Midlands Exploration Flickr Photostream. I didn't file one of these updates for May alone, mainly because I was on holiday but also due to some changes that were happening with Flickr at the time and I wanted to see how those panned out. Now things have settled down again, here's an aeronautical assessment of the latest arrivals...

Firstly a general note about Flickr itself. Yahoo! have seen fit to launch a major redesign of the site that resulted in a new look to my photostream. Greater emphasis is being given to the pictures themselves which means the front page of my photostream is now a wall of photographs rather than having the collection links and commentary snippets seen previously. I also noted that some potentially useful options such as Maps, Archives, Tags and Profile were now squirreled away behind a three dots symbol. To be honest, I am still undecided as to whether I like the changes; sure, the main page of my photostream has more visual impact now and is better geared up for the way modern websites are developing, but I quite liked having my collections, comments, tags and so forth featured more prominently. Like many Flickr users I also felt the redesign was imposed without giving me much choice in the matter, so I purposefully left my account alone for a fortnight whilst I pondered what my approach should be. In the event a couple of glitches were tightened up, and whilst elements of the 'upgrade' still leave me nonplussed, I still like what Flickr has to offer overall and have decided to stick with it for the time being...

Now then, what pictorial pickings have parachuted in for your perusal? Images have fluttered in from far and wide, meaning many of my collections have seen a few choice landings. Zeroing in first of all on WME Birmingham, we see sets representing Highgate (a tree in the local park plus a couple of pubs), Hodge Hill (scenes from the Common) and Moseley (the Jug of Ale). There's also an archive extract showing the other Longbridge Station, a photo I took back in 2003 so its only taken the best part of ten years to publish it!

WME Dudley has been a bit of a daredevil with glimpses of Mushroom Green (conservation area cottages), Netherton (St Andrew's Church) and Kingswinford (the Cross pub in 2006). Also strapped in for action were WME Sandwell (sycamore seed sculptures in Oakwood Park plus further Hill Top items such as the now-demolished Globe) and WME Shropshire (Ludlow to the fore with castles, cannons and a railway platform ramp). Riding in their slipstream is WME Staffordshire with a contingent comprising Landywood Station, Heath Hayes (the war memorial gates) and Kinver (capturing the High Street during the 2009 carnival).

Spreading their wings we have the triumvirate of WMEs Wolverhampton, Walsall and Worcestershire. Wolverhampton glides in with some Northwood Park action (notably the Staffordshire Volunteer, another pub that is no more), Walsall swoops for a Pleck Park double whilst Worcestershire reports back to ground control with sightings of Malvern Library. WME Telford has made its opening flight of the year courtesy of the former Thomas Telford pub at Leegomery (since flattened to make way for a shopping parade) accompanied by the Three Crowns on Hinkshay Road. Another rarely seen member of our squadron is WME Warwickshire which has also made it out of the hangar having been powered by shots of Keresley Library and the Jephson Gardens at Leamington.

And so another batch of brave pilots have taken to the air, and despite a splutter and a stutter thanks to the Yahoo! engine gremlins it looks like its onwards and upwards for a summer of further aviation formations...