Sunday, September 29

The D9 Doorstep Challenge

Friday 27th September 2013 and the second part of September's Hub Marketing double header involves a tempting half-day trail around Tipton and Coseley...

- Cob Calamity for the Chairman -
High Noon is the designated meeting time with members instructed to congregate at Wednesbury Parkway Metro Stop. A fifteen minute allowance is made for latecomers but the Chairman's arrival at 12:20pm means the Secretary has a free cob to look forward to later in the afternoon.

- The Tilted Barrel -
First stop on our tour is the Tilted Barrel, a distinctively sloped pub that is Tipton's answer to the Crooked House at Himley. Mining subsidence is the cause of the building's alarming angles but we managed to keep our balance for some opening Banks's Mild.

- Spare Tyres??? -
A stroll along Bloomfield Road is next on the agenda whereby we think we've spotted Mr D9's doppelganger only to then realise it was actually the Michelin Man we'd bumped into. Our new friend points the way into Tipton town centre where Owen Street has lost some of it's pubs over the years - the Albion and the Black Cock springing to mind. 

- A Bird and a Bald Spot -
Tipton still has a good selection of watering holes to keep us occupied though so all is not lost by any means. The Noah's Ark offers a very friendly welcome whilst the Red Lion has tasty steak and gravy cobs to accompany a cheap round of M&B Mild. However, any hopes Mr WME had of securing discount honours were scuppered in the Wagon & Horses where the Chairman gleefully paid only £1.55 then promptly introduced himself to the resident parrot.

- The King Arthur, a sorry sight -
Moving across towards Woodsetton, there is a moment of sadness when we see what has become of the King Arthur. This Birmingham New Road landmark is boarded up and surrounded by fencing with a very uncertain future - at the moment it seems unlikely it will ever open again, and demolition may well be around its ultimate fate.

- Mixed Marketing Messages -
We needed to cheer ourselves up after that sighting so some Holden's samples do the trick. The Park Inn brewery tap has a special ale to celebrate the birth of the latest family member (baby Kacey), whilst the New Inn offers a homely combined mixed pint of Bitter and Mild in a handled glass. In between times, there is some stunning darting success for the Secretary who clinches a 2-1 victory in the Summerhouse, aided and abetted by Countdown being on the TV in the background.

- Charles Pemberton-Rowbotham III in the Chainyard -
Coseley's crawl includes brief stops in the Old Chainyard (where an illustrious hub forefather is reincarnated to congratulate the Secretary on his employment news), plus a spot of funeral wakecrashing in the Red Cow at Wallbrook.

- Sporting Success for the Secretary -
Other Coseley options include the Rollers Arms, an industrial pub tucked away down a sidestreet near the railway station, and the Rising Sun where the Secretary hold his nerve to win the darts decider - a deadly outshot of 30 meaning the overall scoreline for the day is WME 3 D9 1.

- Bert Williams Centre at night -
The curtain comes down when the Chairman is collected outside the White House in Daisy Bank, and the Secretary heads home via the twilight tones of Bilston where the Bert Williams Leisure Centre shines out like a beacon in the dark. It had been another epic afternoon of exploration and Black Country hospitality, topped off with an unprecedented WME darts demonstration.

Friday, September 27

Aldridge, Stonnall and Shenstone

Thursday 26th September 2013 and the rare chance these days for a spot of solo exploration, starting off in Aldridge and then crossing the Chester Road to investigate a couple of Staffordshire villages...

- The Avion, now a Wetherspoons -
It had been a while since I'd last visited Aldridge but its always nice to be back. My new Sony digital camera is put through its paces with pub photos of the White House (Bosty Lane) and the Bowman (Gretton Crescent), and I also note that the transformation of the old Avion cinema into a JD Wetherspoons is now complete.

- Castlefort School -
From Anchor Road I continue along Northgate, passing industrial units and part of the Leighswood Nature Reserve. Nearby, the Struggling Monkey is being rebranded as the Lime Kiln with builders on site carrying out the makeover. Next up is the Castlefort estate, a place I remember as the old 368 bus terminus (the 7A stops there now) and for a primary school surrounded by a hedge.

- Stonnall Pinfold -
Castlehill Road leads me away from residential surroundings into more rural ones before I dash across Chester Road into Stonnall. The village has plenty to keep me occupied, including the village hall, some playing fields, two pubs (the Old Swan and the Royal Oak) and a shopping parade. My favourite find however is the historic pinfold on the Church Lane fork - this is where stray cattle would be impounded in years gone by, with owners having to pay a fine to secure the release of their animals. St Peter's then adds to my collection of Staffordshire church photos as I proceed towards Lower Stonnall and Footherly.

- Bulls Head, Shenstone -
From Footherly I take the back lane into Shenstone, passing over the railway and emerging by the Fox & Hounds. Shenstone is a little bigger than Stonnall and has a branch library, a war memorial and a few more pubs, notably the Railway, the Plough and the Bulls Head. The main road between Sutton Coldfield and Tamworth skirts the village although the centre is fairly secluded with an attractive narrow main street.

- Shenstone Station -
My wander finishes at Shenstone Station, which up until this outing was the only remaining place on the Cross City line that I hadn't photographed. The old station house is very impressive and surprisingly large for a village station, although the ticket office only opens in peak morning hours so I don't know how much the building actually gets used. A few platform shots complete the job and the 14:18 service towards Birmingham offers me a relaxing ride home.

Monday, September 23

South Birmingham Rovers

The Longbridge area of Birmingham has for many years been associated with car manufacturing, especially illustrious names such as Austin and Rover, although recent decades have seen a painful decline and the rationalisation of the plant. Nowadays Longbridge is the focus of a major regeneration project that demanded a bit of Hub Marketing investigation, hence on Friday 20th September the Board arrived to see what was what and visit a few of the old Rover workers' haunts...

- Site of Pebble Mill BBC Studios -
With any possibility of cob tardiness avoided, the first location of the day is Pebble Mill, home of the BBC in Birmingham prior to moving to the Mailbox. The studios served as the production base for Radio WM as well as TV programmes such as Pebble Mill at One, Midlands Today, Top Gear and Gardeners World.

- Gun Barrels Funeral Service -
A bit of Selly Park ferreting is next on the agenda before members fulfill a special engagement in marking the passing of the Gun Barrels pub. Popular with many Birmingham University students over the years, the site is being cleared to allow for the construction of a new swimming complex. The Chairman has the honour of performing the last rites.

- The Bristol Road Bald Spot -
Continuing into Selly Oak, there is plenty of exploring to be done courtesy of landmarks such as the Goose, the Bristol Pear and Tiverton Pool. The terraced backstreets seem like a prime location for some vintage urinal remains but none such can be detected, although the Secretary had far greater success gathering evidence of the Chairman's encroaching baldness.

- Stirchley Breakfast -
Neither Selly Park Rec nor Muntz Park are able to provide Chairman D9 with the sought-after closet opportunities, so a consolation breakfast is required courtesy of a cafe in Stirchley. A greasy spoon experience seemed highly appropriate as we could imagine the humble fry-up being part of the car factory worker's staple diet over the years.

- D9 driving on Pershore Road -
Having acquired the additional ballast of breakfast, our esteemed Chairman is now in prime condition to deliver his customary driving masterclass. The 47 bus up the Pershore Road is the chosen location as Mr D9 invokes the likes of Hearty Carty and Mad Mick although we didn't catch any sight of the Cotteridge Growler.

- Cofton Hackett gets 'Hubbed' -
The 47 terminates at Parsonage Drive, Cofton Hackett with views out over the open spaces of Cofton Park. Mr D9 ensures the local telephone box gets the hub treatment and we investigate what has become of the old Rover premises around Groveley Lane - it seems residential construction is well underway on part of the site.

- New Longbridge Town Centre -
Lowhill Lane provides an interesting insight into what remains of car production in Longbridge when we pass the main entrance into the current MG works, although the old works buses lay-by is a reminder of the vast numbers once employed here. Heading back towards Bristol Road, we can see for ourselves the latest iconic buildings taking shape on the skyline, features such as the Bournville College campus and the new town centre complete with Sainsburys, Greggs and a Premier Inn hotel.

- A Cavalier Checkout -
Part of the mission today was always to sample some of the watering holes that might have been frequented by Austin and Rover workers. The Thurlestone at Turves Green sat directly in the shadow of the factory, whilst the Cavalier at West Heath would also have been a prime candidate. It is the latter that sees the resumption of darting hostilities with D9 Destroyer completing his usual victory - and just for once he did actually finish on a double!!!

- Cheers from The Weighbridge -
Escaping momentarily from the clutches of Brummie suburbia, we catch the train down to the altogether more refined surroundings of Alvechurch. This quaint Worcestershire village has plenty for us to admire from half-timbered buildings to St Laurence's Church, and of course we include a sprinkling of pubs, some of which were a bit pricey although the WME and D9 wallets both suffered in equal measure. The Secretary did rustle up a true gem in the form of the Weighbridge, a multi CAMRA award winning place situated alongside the canal at Scarfield Wharf.

- Coldstream, Frankley -
Our Worcestershire interlude could not continue indefinitely and we found ourselves returning Longbridge way to round off the day with a few more South Birmingham precinct pubs. A ride on the 49 brought us to the fairly attractive Cock Inn at Rubery, although our driver did let slip some worrying revelations about Mr D9's intimate knowledge of Hull postboxes. In Frankley we encounter the spartan delights of the Coldstream, a utilitarian block pub that served up a much appreciated discount for a penny-pinching Secretary.

- Lickey Banker -
Further dubious architecture awaits us elsewhere on the estate, with the Lickey Banker also having a modern wedge-shaped appearance to go alongside a friendly canine welcome. A bit of detective work (and a Frogmill Road hike) is then required in order to locate the Bugle Horn before the X64 comes to our rescue for a ride back into Birmingham. The day's itinerary had combined reflections on Longbridge's past with snapshots of Longbridge's present, whetting our appetites to see what Longbridge's future might have to offer as the regeneration continues...

Saturday, September 7

A busy couple of days!

Enter September and what have we here? County Championship cricket washed down with a couple of CAMRA festivals, sounds simply too good to miss...

- Meadow Lane: Home of Notts County -
Thursday 5th September sees me bound for Notthingham where Warwickshire are taking on Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Before I get to the cricket though there's exploring to be done, primarily focusing on the Notts County football stadium just across the river from local rivals Notts Forest. Meadow Lane isn't the prettiest of stadia but does include the Spion Kop and the Jimmy Sirrell Stand.

- Meadow Lane Lock -
Whilst in the vicinity of Meadow Lane I nip down onto the Nottingham Beeston Canal to photograph Meadow Lane Lock, a feature which marks the point at which the canal meets the River Trent.

- Trent Bridge: The Pavilion End -
And so to the cricket where I am joined by fellow Warwickshire supporters Stephen, Ken, Dougie and Mark. Starting the day on 27 for 2 in their second innings, the Bears bat through the day to finish 271 all out at the close. Noteworthy contributions came from Laurie Evans, who continued his recent fine form with a well-played 63, and from veteran Darren Maddy who battled hard for his 65 despite needing a runner - in fact at one stage both batsmen had runners, making for quite an unusual sight!

- The carrots were smaller this year! -
Thursday evening and I leave the cricket early so as to stop off at Tamworth on the way home. Why Tamworth I hear you ask? Well the town's 20th beer festival was underway in the Assembly Rooms complete with the promise of some exotic flavour combinations among the ales. Nickolenko has already made himself at home with a Mud Brawler by the time I arrive, and between us we sample chocolate, carrot, cherry and custard, not to mention Nick's mint-infused offering which tasted strongly like toothpaste!

- Cider and Scotch? -
Friday 6th September is a case of another day, another festival only this time the venue is West Bromwich Town Hall, setting for the inaugural West Midlands Cider and Perry event. The tantalising tipples here included a Painted Lady, a Stinking Bishop and even an Old Goat (especially for Nick) while the scotch eggs definitely got our seal of approval. A quick half in the Old Hop Pole then allowed us to watch a bit of England vs Moldova football to bring the curtain down on two rather fine days.

WME Flickr Focus July & August 2013

The good ship West Midlands Exploration appears to have dropped anchor of late, with not a huge amount of movement to report out on the high seas of the WME photostream. The coastguard has been on standby but there have been just enough updates recently to stave off any need for an SOS call...

Casting a glance over the latest additions to the passenger lists, there are some notable new arrivals now present and correct. From Birmingham we have Selly Oak Station (a view along platform 2), Small Heath Park and a remnant of the former Uplands pub on Oxhill Road. Dudley meanwhile contributes the Saltwells Nature Reserve plus a trio of pubs - the Stump (Mount Pleasant) at Sedgley, the Barley Mow at Wollaston and the Ten Arches near Stourbridge.

Elsewhere on deck are representatives from Sandwell where Stone Cross Library and the Manor House have put in appearances alongside the Cock Inn at Rowley and a further snippet from Tame Bridge Parkway. The Beehive at Shifnal has checked into the Shropshire cabin while the Staffordshire contingent has been swelled by the inclusion of Trysull (a village sign), Uttoxeter (the Black Swan pub), Swindon (the Greyhound) and Bridge 38 of the Shropshire Union Canal at Norbury Junction. 

Down in the hold we find a Shelfield offering from Walsall (a country lane scene from Green Lane) whilst Worcestershire is manning the lifeboats courtesy of two views of the Rising Sun all the way from Stourport. We even have word that there might be some castaways from Wolverhampton aboard, although the Spread Eagle at Woodcross has already been accounted for so perhaps the Mill House at Underhill is the miscreant item?

That completes the roll call of crew and passengers as we head into September, and hopes are high that the tides will soon turn so that the anchor can be raised and the good ship WME will not be running aground this autumn. The next captain's log will soon reveal whether we will be marooned once more or riding the crest of a wave...