Sunday, January 26

The Wednesfield Darts Marathon

Friday 24th January saw the Hub Marketing Board back on the Secretary's home patch with an afternoon of darts exploits that left WME and D9 chalk imprints across the blackboards of Wednesfield...

- Bald Spot Mans The Market -
This particular outing begins with a meeting at Wednesfield Market, where the Chairman had been busy at work explaining the forthcoming service changes to local residents. He managed to avoid getting too much of an ear-bashing but did let his guard down by having the bald spot on full display out on the stall.

- Ah Bisto in the Dog & Partridge -
The sporting action gets underway over an opening pint at the Dog & Partridge, handily located on the corner of High Street and Neachells Lane. Christening himself as 'Bisto' in homage to a certain darts legend, the Chairman storms into a two leg lead with some of the most deadly doubles D9 has ever produced - the Secretary meanwhile was doing his best to impale some nearby pool players.

- Curious Clothing in The Vine -
We did not want to risk giving the Dog & Partridge regulars any impromptu piercings and so the action quickly moves onto the Vine. Here the safety of the smoke room prompts Mr D9 into unveiling a special piece of attire in the form of an orange towel 'skirt' brought along for the occasion. Sadly his gallant garment could not prevent the Secretary drawing level at two legs all, aided by a nice half of Fireside ale.

- Ashmore Amazement -
The 59 is one of the most frequent bus services in Wolverhampton and provided an effortless TUAG for our link to the Ashmore Park estate where the Ashmore Inn on Griffiths Drive is potentially under threat of closure. A campaign is underway to keep the place open and an online petition can be signed here. Some Banks's Mild goes down well as its the Secretary's turn to start hitting the doubles (hence the look of complete shock!). Having confirmed itself to be a lucky venue, Mr WME is even more convinced that the pub should be retained as a community asset for years to come.

- A True Brit of Bulldog Spirit -
The far end of Ashmore Park is home to the True Briton, a place where Hub Marketing members have previously enjoyed sampling the hospitality. The wall by the dartboard contains an interesting display of local heritage information including features on Slade and Wolverhampton Central Library, which probably explains why the Secretary lost concentration long enough for Chairman D9 to fire an impressive double 5 finish.

- Perfect Placement at Pool Hayes -
Initial drizzle has turned into prolonged rain although spirits could not be dampened for long. The Spread Eagle on Broad Lane was a corporate Marston's establishment that offered a momentary break from the darts whilst securing sleeve honours for the Secretary. The battle is then resumed in the spartan confines of the Pool Hayes where WME extends his lead despite not wearing his spectacles!

- A Hybrid Experience for D9 -
Heading back into Wednesfield, the darts sequence extends to the Albion and the Castle, with a dubious discount Oyster Stout from the Angel in between times. The Pheasant at Wood End island rounds off an epic effort, although the Chairman soggily pays the price for hubbing off the 28 evening service. An electric 59 saves his blushes but means the 'skirt' gets another airing, and with a quick blast in the tram waiting room the final score comes in as WME 11 D9 6. With that we were very much darted out but departed highly satisfied with a comprehensive Wednesfield chalking - good stuff!

Sunday, January 19

Once More Into The Bleach!

Friday 18th January 2014 and the first Hub Marketing bout of the New Year sees D9 Domestos and the WME Toilet Duck cleaning up around East Birmingham and North Solihull...

- Bleach Beginnings -
A crowded rush hour tram gets the day underway, with members alighting at the Jewellery Quarter so that the Chairman can stage an appropriate christening shot accompanied by an empty bottle of Domestos. Our morning ferret then commences with some Hockley hoovering, seeking out photos of the Woodman on Well Street (no longer a pub) followed by Holdens' White House.

- The St George's Hub -
Making our way towards Newtown, we happen across the St George's Community Hub based off Great Hampton Row. There are backstreet weavings aplenty as we skip across Summer Lane and negotiate Newtown Row, getting to grips with the Globe before catching the No. 8 Inner Circle by the Bartons Arms.

- The Meadway Cafe -
The Chairman was getting very excited about the prospect of a sleeve greasy spoon, and the Meadway Cafe on Bordesley Green Road certainly looked the part with its vintage Pepsi advertising. The cafe interior looked fairly authentic too but the closest we got to sampling it was peering through the windows - sadly the place was closed so it was a case of bald spot but no breakfast :(

- Bird Bothering Bald Spot at Ward End Park -
With a fry up off the menu for the time being, we needed a contingency ferret to get ourselves back on track. The Secretary's trusty A to Z came in useful to plot our way through Alum Rock and Ward End, where we enjoyed a stroll by the park lake and made the acquaintance of the local waterfowl.

- LDV Remains at Washwood Heath -
We always like a bit of industrial history so we were in our element down on Drews Lane, surveying the few remaining remnants of the former LDV works. The factory site has been comprehensively cleared as the land is primed for regeneration but we could still pause at the old works gates and reflect on bygone days of vehicle production.

- Bromford Drive Community Centre -
Bromford Bridge awaits us next, passing the wreck of the Bromford pub as we join the estate along Bromford Drive. The M6 motorway is a constant presence as we explore the local precinct complete with residents club, members club and the local community centre. A wait for the 72 bus gives Chairman D9 chance to watch the various planes making their way to Birmingham Airport.

- The Farthings -
The 72 provided a welcome connection to Castle Bromwich where Jane's Cafe is on hand for a most enjoyable belated breakfast. The Chairman has definitely done his research for this outing and from his pink-papered printouts we locate the Farthings on Green Lane for our opening half of Greene King IPA.

- Shard End Regeneration -
Despite the Chairman's erstwhile preparations, there was still scope for the Secretary to score some sleeve successes around Shard End - to this end the Trident will go down as one of WME's finest frightful finds, even if poor D9 is likely to have nightmares about it for the rest of the year. Elsewhere, it was fascinating to see how Shard End Crescent has been transformed by the complete overhaul of the local shops, whilst the grotty former library on Shustoke Road has been replaced with a genuinely eyecatching new facility that forms the centrepiece of the estate's rebirth.

- Mountfort Mourning -
Our Chairman was just about recovering from his post-Trident trauma only to be crushed by two devastating blows in quick succession. First comes the Heathway at Buckland End, scene of a discount stealing £1.50 round for a jubilant WME wallet - the pub itself made a good impression whilst setting the Secretary up for spreadsheet domination. Then, as we caught an instant TUAG 55 to Kingshurst, the tin lid is applied by the realisation that the Mountfort is no more. To see that our most coveted dive destination had been bulldozed before we'd even set foot in it was almost too much to take, but courageously a very solemn D9 summoned up the strength to pose with his Domestos, aided and abetted by the former pub's car park bollards.

- The Centurion -
How does one recover from the shock of the Mountfort's passing? Well, some darts action in the Punchbowl at least provided some solace, although the Chairman's mood isn't helped when the Secretary emerged narrowly victorious by three legs to two. D9's spirits are only properly lifted once we move to dusky Forth Drive where the Centurion provides some comforting Chelmsley Wood hospitality.

- WME victorious at the Iron Horse -
Although in recovery, the D9 brain was still somewhat addled, hence the decision to catch the 14 back towards Birmingham via the pub desert that is Kitts Green. A bladder emergency is only averted thanks to the Iron Horse on Flaxley Road, Stechford where the Secretary secures his darts victory courtesy of a deadly 31 checkout (a rare double 9 finish). The Yardley Arms, a 97 bus and the Bull Ring Tavern (surprisingly presentable) complete a job well done with all bleach properly accounted for.

Sunday, January 12

East Park Exploration - Part Two

Another Thursday, another lunchtime and another chance to weave a path from the East Park estate towards Bilston, collecting some choice photographs along the way...

- Selbourne Crescent -
Beginning at East Park Library, this time around I take a closer look at some of the new-build bungalows that have replaced the Tarran examples for which the estate was well noted. Taking a look along Selbourne Crescent, I can see how the new homes have been carefully designed to maintain the area's residential character. Elsewhere, the Mayfield Medical Centre is now firmly in place as part of the local facilities with a landscaped open space to the rear of the main building.

- The Victoria -
Crossing the Willenhall Road, I proceed along Brooklands Parade for a mooch around Deansfield. East Park Methodist Church is situated on the corner with Jonesfield Crescent and is quickly followed by The Brooklands Health Centre and a row of local shops containing Brooklands Pharmacy, Scruffs Pet & Garden supplies and Dave's Fish Bar. I emerge onto Deans Road for views of the Victoria public house.

- The Neachells -
Passing Deansfield School, I rejoin Willenhall Road with a quick look at the Merry Boys and the Cleveland Arms, the two pubs facing each other from opposite sides of the Deans Road/Stow Heath Lane junction. I can then home in on my prime photo target for the day, the Neachells pub further out towards Portobello.

- Another view of the Neachells -
The Neachells closed down a few months ago and the future of the site is unclear amid talk of possible supermarket interest. In the meantime the building looks very sad with metal shutters on the windows and the car park getting overgrown and littered. Given the fact that I've spent over a decade photographing Wolverhampton in quite some detail, the pub was actually a black hole in my archive and I rather wish I'd captured it earlier in happier circumstances.

- Site of Portobello Shops -
Sticking with the Willenhall Road a little longer, there are glimpses to be had of Middleton's Food Products factory and the railway crossing at Noose Lane. I also pass the former Bird in Hand pub (now a religious temple) in arriving at Portobello Island, an important junction on one of the main approaches into Wolverhampton. For many years the scene here was blighted by an ugly block of shops that became notorious as an embarrassing eyesore - the shops have thankfully been demolished but the area remains in urgent need of creative redevelopment.

- The Royal Oak -
One Portobello landmark that is still with us is the Royal Oak pub, perched on the corner of New Street, Vaughan Road and Dilloways Lane. It's quite a handsome building and perhaps needs a bit of Hub Marketing investigation at some point in the future.

- Scrap Pony -
With Dilloways Lane and Beccles Drive I wriggle my way towards Bilston, casting a glance at the Big Pan chinese buffet (formerly the George & Crown public house) then taking Darlaston Lane towards St Thomas More School. A path opposite the school gates enables me to join the sculpture trail that flanks the Black Country Route dual carriageway, with examples of the art installations being a concrete living room with mock television, a homage to the crested newt and some scrap iron ponies.

- Football Club Gates -
Exiting onto Lunt Road, I continue into Queen Street where I renew my acquaintance with the football ground home of Bilston Town. I well remember watching a few non-league games here when I was younger, joining my Dad and other supporters like Graham Morgan in cheering on the Steelmen with their tangerine kit. I think they were playing in the Beazer Homes League at the time.

- Samson & Lion -
I've now made it safely into Bilston and there's just one final target to account for before my lunchtime foray is complete. Newbolt Road isn't perhaps the most obvious location for a pub but it is where the Samson & Lion is situated, albeit the metal shutters are a telltale sign of another closure - I doubt very much that this one will trade again. With that the day's final photographs are pocketed, another highly rewarding local walk is over and it's back to work for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, January 3

East Park Exploration

The first photo haul of 2014 comes care of a lunchtime stroll from East Park to Bilston, stopping off at Stowlawn and the Grapes Pool en route...

- Merry Boys Pub Sign -
I get underway with the Willlenhall Road where the junction with Deans Road is notable for the presence of the Merry Boys pub, a place where I can recall enjoying belly busting brunch meals a good few years ago. I then seek out the corner of Tyburn Road to get a few shots of the local war memorial.

- Tarran Estate Commemorative Arch -
Into the East Park estate next and Hurstbourne Crescent is a different place to the one I initially encountered ten or more years ago. Back then the area was an enclave of tarran bungalows that had been constructed after the Second World War and consisted of corrugated roofs and pebbled concrete wall panels. Some of these bungalows had survived for nigh on sixty years but the Council deemed it financially unviable to upgrade them to meet modern living standards, hence the remaining homes were demolished and their existence is now commemorated by a decorative archway next to the local library.

- Site of the Dan O'Connell -
Another feature I recall from my first East Park visits was the Dan O'Connell pub, which was situated on the corner of Hurstbourne Crescent and Thornton Road. The building was flattened a good while ago and the site remained empty for quite some time, but has now been reclaimed as the location for some new flats.

- East Park Clock Tower -
I can't pay a visit to East Park estate and not reacquaint myself with the park itself. It's a place I've always enjoyed taking photos of but today there was the added interest of catching up with the ongoing restoration project here. Partly financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the initiative aims to bring about a range of improvements including the renovation of the lake and adjacent terrace. Work is very much continuing on those aspects of the scheme but its pleasing to see that the park's bandstand and clock tower have been returned to full working order with both features looking mightily impressive.

- Stowlawn Terminus -
Leaving the park behind, I cast a glance along Stowheath Lane where the Hare & Hounds pub has finally been demolished - Rog and I had a drink here back in 2004 but all that remains of the place now are the concrete bollards that formerly guarded the car park. I then pass Stowheath Pool to cross into the Stowlawn estate, reacquainting myself with the bus terminus where I've previously lain in wait hoping for a shot or two of the 526 bus, although its the 34 route that mainly calls here these days.

- Grapes Pool Notices -
Weaving around onto Prouds Lane, I pause momentarily for a look at Grapes Pool, a well-known beauty spot that is particularly popular with local anglers. The whole scene is watched over by the somewhat stately Grapes pub, itself very much a landmark on Moseley Road.

- The Long Acres -
The Grapes is still trading as a public house but the same cannot be said of the Long Acres on Dilloways Lane, which is set to be converted into a place of worship hence the religious motif on the perimeter railings.

- Tesco Express -
After a brief peek at St Chad's Church, Willenhall Road is on hand to herald my final approach into Bilston. The Cock Inn (more recently known as the Hustler) was a familiar feature here for many years but has now passed into history, replaced by a Tesco Express supermarket where the final touches are being applied in preparation for the forthcoming store opening. With that, an enjoyable lunchtime walk is complete but my exploration endeavours in 2014 have only just begun...

Wednesday, January 1

WME Review of the Year - 2013

Happy New Year! Yes, 2014 is upon us and I shall begin this year's batch of blog posts with a look back at what the preceding twelve months had to offer in terms of exploration...

January: 2013 got underway with a hat trick of D9 adventures, including the pepperpot challenge (balancing high above Netherton Tunnel), the Willenhall mushroom run and the Birmingham blizzard. Nickolenko and I savoured the delights of Perton and the Delph on separate Wednesday evenings, while the Chip Foundation braved sub zero temperatures on a wintry wander around Wightwick and Castlecroft.

February: A brace of solo outings saw me tackling Birchfield and Barr Beacon followed by a Staffordshire canal walk from Radford Bank to Gailey by way of Acton Trussell. Redditch set the beer festival bandwagon in motion, swiftly accompanied by a memorable visit to Derby and its fabulous railway roundhouse. Returning to the West Midlands, there was battery bother aplenty as D9 and I attempted a North Birmingham blast around Erdington, Falcon Lodge and Castle Vale, not forgetting the discovery of the Rookery Park closet.

March: approaching Spring and Burton is next on the beer festival agenda - the Coopers Arms proved to be one of my favourite pubs of the whole year. Roger and I completed the Enville Street run from Wollaston to Stourbridge with a helping hand from Keith Lemon (and we lived to tell the tale), whereas it was Andy Murray who momentarily replaced Mr D9 on the Halesowen Hub Hunt. Solo stuff in March included red carpet reconnaissance in Hollywood (the Wythall version rather than Los Angeles) and a fantastic ferret around Chasewater getting to know the northernmost reaches of the Wyrley & Essington Canal.

April: this was to be the month when I finally got around to photographing Gravelly Hill and Wylde Green stations on the Cross City line - it only took me the best part of ten years to get round to it! The Hub Marketing Board focused their attentions on Bloxwich and Solihull (the Hockley Heath hike definitely left an impression) and there were back-to-back beer festival appointments at Coventry and Stourbridge with a bit of Berkswell village thrown in for good measure.

May: Felixstowe was our family holiday destination in 2013 whereby a few days in Suffolk included an investigation of Ipswich. Back in the Black Country there were two D9 pubcrawls to contend with; Sedgley and Gornal gave us great beer as ever whilst the Brierley Hill Round Oak run came with nostalgia for the former steelworks. Elsewhere there was cricketing action with the Bears at Northampton, and beer festival frolics in Kidderminster where Nickolenko made the acquaintance of a silvery moose.

June: One of the undoubted highlights of the year has to be the Guildford Cricket Festival, watching Warwickshire take on a Surrey team that featured the legend that is Ricky Ponting. Closer to home, there was an evening visit to the Crooked House at Himley once Nick and I had gone cross country across the fields to find it, whereas the Hub Marketing Board were in Shropshire so that the Secretary could sample the Joule's brewery tap (the Red Lion in Market Drayton) and the Chairman could demonstrate how not to mount a Harlescott sheep.

July: the height of summer brings with it the Bromsgrove Beer Festival where the magnificent marquees provide some welcome shade from weather of heatwave proportions. Nickolenko and I went clubbing in Halesowen (thereby hangs a tale) whereas Mr D9 had to settle for a Staffordshire sweep around Handsacre and Rugeley, casting a glance to the home of Armitage Shanks.

August: the second big cricketing trip of the year saw Mr Beardsmore and I based in Headingley where wet weather had the final say in ensuring the match finished as a draw - similar meteorological conditions in Manchester had meant that England had retained the Ashes, although subsequent events in Australia make that seem like a very distant memory. A solemn air is required as the Hub Marketing brigade mark the passing of the Barley Mow at Wollaston, although a potential paddle in Lodge Farm reservoir did provide some light relief. Elsewhere, an evening with Nick in Knowle brought with it the curious discovery of the Vaults pub (a place that looks more like an adult bookshop than a local boozer) and Nick was also on hand to join Roger, myself and Mr WME Senior for the Worcester Beer Festival down on the racecourse.

September: as Autumn approaches so does a very special event in Leicestershire as the extended WME family made their way to Loughborough for my sister's wedding. There is also a homage to Rover as Mr D9 and I sniffed out South Birmingham, while Mr SBI had to contend with me sporting a world heavyweight wrestling belt on a tour of Halesowen and Amblecote (although I wasn't quite brave enough to wear it all the way round). There are cricketing moments in Derby and Nottingham (the latter accompanied by the Tamworth Beer Festival where the carrots were much smaller than in 2012), and my new camera got a very healthy workout stomping around Stonnall and Shenstone. Add in a Tipton parrot and the D9 Discount of the Year (courtesy of the Waggon & Horses) and it certainly was a hectic month.

October: Magic memories as the nights close in would have to include the resurrection of the Ron West tribute quiff over in Coventry, where there were even some real cats for Chairman D9 to stroke. Nickolenko and I dropped in on the Solihull Beer Festival and then ignored the wisdom of the locals by embarking upon a sampling session in Shirley (no wonder there were groans when we said where we were going), and we were in tandem again as we joined the Wolverhampton branch of CAMRA for an extra-special Hereford excursion that featured Dunkerton's Cider Mill. 

November: The Telford rains really had it in for me as two attempted tours had to be aborted in quick succession, although I did at least see bits of Hollinswood, Lawley Village and Dawley Bank through the downpours. Thankfully the elements were altogether kinder when the D9 was revved up for Darlaston Day and a West Birmingham workout (who could forget the preacher on the 29 bus), and I believe there were silly hats and seasonal brews at the Dudley Winter Ales Fayre.

December: 2013 drew to a close in some style thanks to some Uttoxeter and Stafford shenanigans (the Vaults being a late entry to the favourite pubs category), and there was much festive cheer when the Hub Marketing awards were presented during a calendar crawl around Hateley Heath and Wednesbury - rumour has it that the Secretary won the title of Pub Game Champion but whisper it quietly! The Chip Foundation have a couple of guest members for our Christmas social whereby Ken and Mr WME Senior are on hand to participate in the goulash-inspired hilarity, and that's your lot for the past twelve months!

As another year is filed away, it is worth reflecting that 2013 managed to provide some wonderful exploration despite a backdrop of lingering uncertainty (especially as regards my employment situation, a position that remains very much unknown heading into 2014). My thanks as ever go to all of those brave (some would say mad) souls who have been involved in my various escapades - especially Nick, Stephen, Andy and Roger - and here's to a healthy and happy new year for everybody!