Monday, May 26

Hub Marketing 2014: Bridgnorth

Raise your glasses as we toast the Hub Marketing Board and their latest mission which saw members sent to Shropshire for an in-depth Bridgnorth bash...

- Chilly on top at Chillington Wharf? -
Although this would be an away day outing, the trip begins with a Black Country breakfast at Jeans Cafe near the Priestfield Midland Metro stop. A Full Monty here is not for the faint-hearted but members rose to the challenge magnificently, meaning it was highly necessary to walk off such indulgence with a stroll back into Wolverhampton via Monmore Green. The Chairman was so captivated by Chillington Wharf off the Birmingham Canal that his bald spot defences were breached before we'd even set foot in Shropshire.

- The Woodberry Down -
The 890 bus provided our link to Bridgnorth so we caught the 09:45 departure from Wolverhampton. The journey takes in Compton, Wightwick, Trescott, Shipley and Rudge Heath before the final approaches through Worfield and the Stanmore Trading Estate (we saw rather too much of Arriva's Bridgnorth depot throughout the day). Rather than alight in Bridgnorth town centre we saw the route right through to its outer terminus on the Sydney Cottage Drive estate, allowing for a photo call at the distinctly pink Woodberry Down pub.

- Bridgnorth Baldness -
A gentle wander along Innage Lane brought us back into Bridgnorth town where we could admire landmarks including the local hospital, the Northgate Museum and the historic Town Hall, which stands half-timbered in the middle of the High Street. There are plenty of inns to capture our imagination too, with West Castle Street contributing the Old Castle and the White Lion (the Hop & Stagger brewery tap) although it was the Shakespeare's old road signs that prompted another brazen bald spot display.

- Driving the 114 -
Our Chairman had been insistent on including a village visit in the day's itinerary and so Worfield was nominated as the required destination. To get there we made use of the 114, a route that operates roughly two-hourly linking Bridgnorth with Shifnal and Telford. The sight of a vacant back seat had Mr D9 salivating at the thought of another driving demonstration so the customary steering pose was adopted with great gusto.

- Worfield Village -
Worfield is a place that exudes rural charm with the quaintness of Main Street winding down towards St Peter's Church. Old telephone kiosks and country cottages accompany the sounds of the playground from the village school as we investigate the village green with its war memorial plinth.

- Floral Furnishings in The Dog & Davenport -
A quintessential English village needs a quintessential English pub and in Worfield's case the Dog Inn & Davenport Arms more than fits the brief. The double-barreled name reflects the area's links to the Davenport family, local landowners going back several generations. A half of Hobson's Bitter goes down nicely as we peruse a book about Wolverhampton trolleybuses and D9 sniffs out the flower arrangements. Back out on the A454, the Wheel Inn is itself a renowned landmark and offers some Hop & Stagger Simpson's Original although the Chairman was much more interested in the Hobson's branded beer glasses.

- A Crafty Checkout -
The 890 has the honour of returning us once more to Bridgnorth (complete with another garage detour), and this time we hop off in Low Town on the eastern side of the River Severn. A clutch of pubs can be found around Bridge Street and Mill Street with the Vine and the Fosters Arms providing the scene for some secretarial skulduggery, Mr WME securing an improbable 71 darts checkout followed by a discount deal on the Cannon Royall Blonde Bombshell.

- On board the Cliff Railway -
Crossing the river we take a look at The Cartway, a historic cobbled hill that once provided the main access between High Town and Low Town. In centuries gone by the street contained up to 50 public houses of which only the recently refurbished Black Boy remains - you can still see the traces of several cellar hatches as you walk along. Engineering history then comes to the fore as we savour a ride on the Cliff Railway, a steep funicular connection rising 111 feet during a journey that lasts little over a minute. A return ticket costs £1.20 which is well worth it for the sheer novelty of the experience, not to mention some spectacular views looking out over the river and surrounding countryside.

- The Bell & Talbot -
Continuing with the railway theme a little longer, we make a visit to the Severn Valley station, crossing a nerve-jangling footbridge just below the remains of Bridgnorth Castle. The station is proving a popular attraction despite inclement weather, as is the Railwayman's Arms pub in the station's former refreshment rooms. We then climb the hill from the station up to Salop Street, pausing to absorb the coaching inn ambience of Bell & Talbot serving its own Clipper ales. Trying to get to grips with all the pub possibilities in High Town would be impossible given that our last 890 back to Wolverhampton leaves a minute after five, but among the options we could consider are the New Inn, the Friars Ale House and the Harp.

- Keeping Calm in Wightwick -
We make it onto that 890 with time to spare although the notorious D9 bladder is soon causing havoc, hence an emergency stop in Wightwick is required. The Chairman was worried about chewing wasps but manages to get away without being stung too much in the Mermaid or the Fieldhouse - perhaps the message on the cushion had the desired effect! The Fieldhouse in fact was a WME sleeve success and Mr D9 only recovered his bearings once returned to the familiar surroundings of Tettenhall Wood and Compton, where the bald one used biological warfare as a somewhat dubious means of closing out a 5-4 darts victory. A stinky finish perhaps but a day of the highest quality all told, and with several unscheduled 'wedding toasts' along the way we shall look forward to whatever adventure awaits us next.

Sunday, May 25

Waterproof in Worcestershire?

Sheltering from a thunderstorm in Hartlebury isn't perhaps the most ideal way to spend an afternoon but that's the fate that befell Nick and myself during a memorable day that otherwise began with a Droitwich Canal dalliance and culminated with the seaside-themed Kidderminster Beer Festival...

- Droitwich Station -
We're underway in Worcestershire when we alight the train at Droitwich just after 11 o'clock. This was my first time photographing the station here and I quite liked it although the ticket office is relatively modern, incorporating the Snax on Trax shop. There's a remnant of railway history on the Worcester-bound platform where an old building with sawtooth wooden awning particularly catches my eye.

- The Droitwich Canal -
Although heavy showers are forecast, the weather is actually being kind to us (for the moment at least) so we can explore the Droitwich Canal and the River Salwarpe. The canal is of special interest to us having been brought back into use following a concerted restoration effort, the reopening in the summer of 2011 marking the completion of a project that had been ongoing since the 1960's. Such dedication simply has to be applauded and the result is a resource that the community can treasure.

- Vines Park Volunteer -
We pick up the canal at the side of the Railway pub and follow it through Vines Park, passing Netherwich Basin moorings and encountering various lock and swing bridges through to Bromsgrove Road. The restored canal in full links the River Severn near Hawford with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Hanbury Wharf. Vines Park itself has some interesting features including 'Volunteer' - an artistic representation of a broad Wych Boat which historically ferried cargoes along the canal - and a statue of St Richard, born in Droitwich and later a Bishop of Chichester.

- Cuddly Chums in the Hop Pole -
While in Droitwich we naturally sampled a couple of the town's most characterful pubs, both of which are located on Friar Street. The Old Cock is a Marston's house with an impressive ecclesiastical window while the Hop Pole is a rather eccentric place with a paddling pool, cuddly gorilla and excellent value meals - no wonder Nick felt so at home!

- Soaked but still smiling -
Our afternoon entertainment saw us stopping off at Hartlebury, beginning with a look around the Tap House pub/restaurant in the converted former station building - the Worcestershire Brewery with their Attwoods Ales have an impressive outlet here. Venturing further into the village, it was then that that the weather finally caught up with us. Huge grey clouds loomed ominously for some time before finally unleashing a torrential downpour that turned Inn Lane into a river - Nick's sturdy umbrella tried valiantly but a drenching could not be avoided. Thankfully we could dry off in the White Hart, although my half of Hobsons Bitter could not prevent me from doing a bedraggled drowned rat impression.

- The White Hart -
Eventually the rain relented and we could see a little bit more of Hartlebury. The village seems to come in three distinct parts - there's the old centre by the White Hart and St James' Parish Church, then another focal point by the post office and the Talbot pub (closed and up for sale with the potential for a change of use) and finally a few railway cottages and industrial units out by the station. Trains generally call here hourly now, a considerable improvement on the timetable that was in place.

- Skull Splitter -
Into the evening and the beer festival awaits, but not before we've acquainted ourselves with the Weavers micropub on Comberton Hill, a gem of a discovery that we wish well for the future. The festival itself saw us returning to Kidderminster Town Hall and savouring the seaside theme complete with complimentary stick of rock - I wasn't expecting that! Several coastal beers were on offer including examples from Orkney, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall although some of the more local ales were also very tempting. Among those sampled were Cannon Royall Black Bear, Mordue's Workie Ticket, Fownes' King Korvak and RCH's Old Slug Porter although the most memorable beyond a doubt had to be the Skull Splitter, a very powerful concoction indeed! We proved that all cranial bones were still intact with a swift half in the Olde Severn Stars (the delicious Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout no less) before heading home highly satisfied with our weatherproof Worcestershire wanderings.

Sunday, May 18

Telford Third Time Lucky

You may recall that back in the autumn I didn't have much luck weather-wise across Telford way - two trips attempted, two trips aborted due to rain of monsoon proportions. Well, I've left things a few months and on Saturday 17th May I decided the time was right to give it another go, this time with much drier results!

- Just in case you weren't sure where I ended up... -
The elements could not have been kinder in fact as I caught the 891 bus out of Wolverhampton. Blue sky abounded as we trundled through Tettenhall and Wergs then opening out into Shropshire with Albrighton and Cosford. The bus jinks in and out of Tong (I still need to photograph the church and duckpond here) before homing in on Telford via Shifnal and Stafford Park - a nice ride as ever. 

- Thomas Telford School -
The main business of the morning is a teacher training open day being held at Thomas Telford School. The course sounds quite promising and has given me food for thought, although I have to admit it was rather strange setting foot back at the school where I first started my secondary education almost twenty years ago.

- Bulls Head, Dawley Bank -
Previous experience has taught me to take nothing for granted where Dawley Bank weather is concerned but there was not even the remotest chance of a raindrop today, thank goodness! This meant that I could photograph the Bulls Head in bright sunshine for a change and admire some nice vistas across towards the Wrekin. I then pass the Baptist Church and take Bank Road down towards Dawley, passing the Queens Arms which now looks worryingly closed.

- Malinslee Church -
Before I tackled Dawley proper I detoured a little into Malinslee. Rog and I called by here some years ago, stopping off for lunch at a pub called the Church Wicketts. The pub is still there but its the church that really captures my imagination today, St Leonard's serving as a reminder that Malinslee does have some history prior to the construction of the New Town estate.

- High Street, Dawley -
Dawley featured as part of my very first photographic tour of Telford back in 2004 and the town is still serving me well for pictures ten years later. I particularly enjoyed having a closer look at the Captain Webb Memorial and taking a few High Street shots of 2014 vintage, including general street scenes alongside snaps of the Crown, the former Lord Hill and the Elephant & Castle.

- Dawley Park -
Branching off along Doseley Road, the sound of an oompah brass band drew me towards Dawley Park. A community event was well underway with a variety of stalls in place - the face painting and the old-fashioned games seemed very popular and I believe Peppa Pig even put in an appearance, although I personally steered well clear of the favourite children's character.

- Doseley, Cheshire Cheese -
Instead I found another section of Doseley Road and enjoyed a relaxing stroll down into Doseley Village. This feels like a relatively untouched part of Telford with narrow lanes and characterful cottages. At the bottom of the road is an old railway bridge, next to which is the intriguing Cheshire Cheese Inn. I could well have been tempted to sample a pint but instead joined St Luke's Road, discovering hints of an old churchyard up a cobbled path.

- Dawley Parva War Memorial -
St Luke's Road passes seamlessly into Holly Road with a glimpse of old railway tracks before I reach Little Dawley. The Wesleyan Chapel remains a landmark here despite no longer being used for worship, and I also sought out shots of the local war memorial (the inscription on which refers to Dawley Parva). 

- Holy Trinity, Little Dawley -
I could have taken the turning for Lightmoor but the sight of a parish church on the horizon meant I delved deeper into Little Dawley, thus continuing with Holly Road to find the Unicorn and Red Lion pubs in quick succession. The church itself is Holy Trinity and it looked stunningly imposing against the azure sky.

- The Aqueduct -
As with my canal walk on Thursday just gone, the rising temperatures make the afternoon a somewhat sticky affair but I press on along Southall Road so as to explore Aqueduct Village. Aqueduct Road proved to be well worth a look thanks to St Paul's Church, the Britannia pub and a charming run of workers cottages, although my primary target in the vicinity had to be the old aqueduct that gives the area its name. The structure was built in 1792 to carry part of the long-abandoned Shropshire Canal, but the modern appearance of the bridge is rather blighted by corrugated support fencing.

- Dawley & Stirchley Station Site -
The final leg of my outing is a walk back to Telford Town Centre via the Silkin Way, a footpath that follows the course of an old railway line. This heritage becomes especially apparent when I pass the site of Dawley & Stirchley Station, the platform having been restored since I last saw it during previous Stirchley walks. Telford Town Park and Wonderland are predictably popular on such a sunny day, but for me its the more sedate pleasures of a return ride on the 891 that helps me to round off another Telford classic.

Friday, May 16

Waterways Walks: Wordsley to Wombourne

Thursday 15th May saw me setting out on a solo expedition, combining sections of the Stourbridge Canal with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire for a stroll from Wordsley to Wombourne by way of Stourton and Swindon...

- Red House Glass Cone -
I couldn't have wished for better weather as glorious sunshine smiles down while I make my way across to Wordsley on the 256 bus. I alight by the Red House Cone, that erstwhile symbol of the local glassmaking industry, and join the Stourbridge Canal at nearby Glasshouse Bridge.

- Lock 13, Stourbridge Canal -
The first stretch of my walk takes me down the lower part of the Stourbridge Locks and through to Wordsley Junction. The surroundings are industrial to begin with, particularly where the remains of the former Stuart Crystal factory overlook lock 13.

- Middle Bridge -
Beyond Wordsley Junction and the scenery becomes more green and rural as the canal enters South Staffordshire. Bells Mill Bridge is a place I've encountered many times during outings with Roger over the years, while Middle Bridge looks rather pretty surrounded by a leafy canopy.

- Stourton Locks -
After passing Newtown Bridge I arrive into Stourton where the Stourbridge Canal descends through four locks to meet the Staffs & Worcs at Stourton Junction. The combination of sunshine and springtime greenery means I'm being spoiled for choice in terms of photo targets, and the locks themselves make for an inviting sequence of shots.

- Gothersley Bridge -
I'd explored the Staffs & Worcs from Stourton towards Kinver before but never the section north towards Ashwood and Greensforge so I primed myself for some new exploration territory. I have to say that the walk was both fascinating and peaceful, as for a while around Prestwood I hardly saw another soul. The canal crosses above the River Stour on an aqueduct and then passes Prestwood Bridge to reach Gothersley where the bridge and adjacent lock certainly caught my eye.

- Ashwood Marina -
Onwards from Gothersley I encounter Rocky Lock (seemingly carved into a sandstone cliff) and then Flatheridge where the bridge is accompanied by a very pretty bungalow garden. An increasing proliferation of narrowboats is the telltale sign that I'm nearing Ashwood Marina, where a stub branches off from the main line to provide access to the private moorings.

- Greensforge Moorings -
After admiring Ashwood I quickly reach Greensforge where the Navigation pub is certainly tempting and appears to be doing a good lunchtime trade judging by the amount of people sitting on the beer tables outside. I manage to resist the lure of a well-earned pint for the time being but do pause at Greensforge Lock to watch a narrowboat skipper expertly working the gates and pound.

- The Green Man -
An enclave of mobile homes soon heralds my arrival at Hinksford where I spot the pumping station just beyond the wharf cottage. Hinksford Lock is just a little further as the afternoon sun starts to sap my energy, but luckily I'm not far from Swindon and a chance to top up my batteries with a spot of lunch. This is swiftly followed by a refreshing pint in the Green Man, a lovely traditional village pub where I enjoy some Ringwood Fourtyniner in the superb setting of a suntrap beer garden.

- The Bratch -
Re-energised I'm ready for the final leg into Wombourne, collecting an ice cream and then proceeding up via Marsh Lock, Botterham, Giggetty and Bumblehole to reach The Bratch with its distinctive toll house. There's just time to squirrel away a few final photos of the lock sequence here before the 255 bus whisks me back to Wolverhampton. An ideal way to spend a sunny spring day!

Monday, May 12

Hub Marketing 2014: North Birmingham

After an April break the Hub Marketing Board were back in session and had North Birmingham squarely in their sights. Sleeves, discounts and bald spot opportunities were all very much up for grabs during a tour of Stockland Green, Pype Hayes, Wylde Green and Boldmere...

- Winson Green Metro -
The day begins with a bout of tram hokey-cokey until the Chairman and the Secretary are reunited at Wednesbury Parkway. In all the confusion poor old D9 had incurred yet another cob penalty despite the Secretary having encountered his own timing issues. We alight at Winson Green with its colourful railings so that the 11C Outer Circle can be treated to a driving demonstration.

- Stan's Transport Cafe -
Some pizza-sized steering gets us safely to Handsworth where we investigate the Farcroft, a large Ansells landmark on Rookery Road. The Chairman is getting extremely excited and the reason for this soon becomes clear when Stan's Transport Cafe comes tumbling out of his sleeve - we have other breakfast plans on this occasion but the vintage Pepsi logo means we are sure to return before too long.

- Bald Spot Bingo! -
We hop back aboard the Outer Circle and continue our ride round to Stockland Green via Perry Barr and Witton. Mr D9 is on a mission to have a closer look at the Plaza Gala but unwittingly leaves his bald spot exposed when crossing Streetly Road. The bingo hall remains pretty much as we remembered it but the Modern China restaurant opposite has closed down, meaning the future of a building that was previously the Stockland pub is once again uncertain. 

- The Brookvale Bird -
Strolling back down the hill past the Hare & Hounds we venture into Brookvale Park where the Chairman's propensity for clambering onto animal artworks became all too apparent. His collection already included the Shrewsbury sheep and the Wednesbury swan but to that we can now add the Brookvale Bird - is no sculpture safe in his presence?

- Good Cheer on George Road -
With the Chairman ahead on the sleeve stakes the onus was now on the Secretary to see what gems he could summon from his repertoire. Luckily he had something in mind just a little further along George Road, whereby an old-fashioned corner shop still sports signs of a Good Cheer Cellars off licence.

- Pype Hayes Transport Cafe -
Weaving onwards to Gravelly Hill, there is time to pay tribute to one of D9's former work colleagues as we pause by some battered hearses near Salford Circus. Breakfast beckons so an articulated 67 Bendibus gives us a lift up the Tyburn Road where the Chairman is on the trail of transport cafe heaven. After a bit of a Kingsbury Road wild goose chase we eventually meander towards Pype Hayes Park where our sought-after establishment is among the shops opposite.

- No Hair Cut Required -
D9 had certainly given the Pype Hayes Transport Cafe a big build up but it more than lived up to expectations. From the Pepsi logos to the pyrex plates, the place felt largely untouched since the 1970's and boasted some antique Dixieland slot machines that are sure to have kept many a Chester Road trucker occupied during their tea breaks. We could not resist sampling the special breakfast complete with builders tea mugs, fried slice and the usual full English accoutrements - quite a treat!

- Beer in Boldmere -
Bolstered by such hearty fayre we set about sampling some North Birmingham boozers, catching the 28 to the Yenton and then touring the Boldmere area beyond Chester Road Station. The Rose & Crown on Gravelly Lane saw our regular darts duel get underway (backed by the strains of Jo Frost parenting advice), while the Boldmere Oak was a basic Banks's pub just after the Baptist Church. A bit of cunning planning from the Secretary means that the Chairman has the honour in the somewhat expensive Boldmere Harvester (staff were a rare species here) whereas WME can pocket the Wetherspoons prices in the neighbouring Bishop Vesey.

- A Crafty Checkout -
The Chairman had led the darts after the Rose & Crown but it was a different story in the Sutton Park. Any hope of hitting doubles had long since been abandoned but D9 was still confident of victory given that WME was a long way back on 94 - two twenties and a treble 18 later and some secretarial smugness was very much on the agenda.

- Cheers from the Hargate Arms -
Mr D9 definitely needed some driving therapy after that shock to the system, so there was more pizza-inspired steering action on the 5 back to West Bromwich. A quick pit stop at Pheasey allows us to check the cricket score in a packed-out Cat & Fiddle, thus leaving us with a brace of landing points in West Brom itself. The Old Crown brought the curtain down but it was the Hargate Arms that made the greater impression, the Chairman nostalgically reflecting on bygone days when the landlord would send him packing with cries of "OUT!!" whenever the young D9 was spotted in the vicinity. There was no need for eviction tonight as the Secretary cemented darting victory before a tram from Dartmouth Street delivered our heroes home. 

Monday, May 5

Nick Turpin (Retired) Rides Again...

Send for the Stagecoach! There's ale afoot in deepest Warwickshire on the occasion of the 7th annual Long Itchington Beer Festival. Saturday 3rd May sees the newly-retired Nick Turpin and myself swashbuckling forth on the number 64 bus in search of beer, Morris dancing and general entertainment...

- Tanked Up at the Duck in the Pond -
Yes, the May Day Bank Holiday each year sees the six pubs in the village of Long Itchington join forces for a collaborative celebration of beer, sunshine and general Englishness. Catching the bus from Leamington, we ride out via Radford Semele, Ufton and Southam to arrive in plenty of time for the day's festivities. Our dastardly hero Nick Turpin may be more used to highway carriages but is still happy to make the acquaintance of a modern tank before locking lips with a Dizzy Blonde. I was more of a Coiled Spring myself, enjoying seeing the falcons and owls displayed in the beer garden.

- Dancers Aplenty at the Buck & Bell -
Our first halves safely supped, we are intrigued by the jingling of bells, shouting and many murmurings of merriment emanating from the other side of the duckpond. The Buck & Bell has been besieged by Morris dancers congregating on the narrow steps beside the pub - this we had to witness. Floral hats and tankards aplenty ensured we were fully initiated into the spirit of Long Itchington.

- Buffalo Burger -
Next up we have the Harvester, savouring meaty mouthfuls of buffalo burger while swigging some Bristol Milk Stout, quickly followed by the Green Man where crowing cockerels by the campsite add to the celebratory air. We then cross fields and stiles down towards the canal, pitching up at the Two Boats for a taste of the Dark Side (from the local Long Itch brewery) before swapping banks to the Cuttle Inn opposite where a Marc Bolan-themed 20th Century brew tickles our tastebuds.

- A Talbot Tipple -
The Long Itchington sextet had served us well and the village had been delightful, blessed with brilliant sunshine. We were keen to make the most of the weather so a tour of Leamington was required, Nick Turpin thus hailing another Stagecoach by way of our return steed. The terraced backways between the canal and Radford Road include Rushmore Street, home to the Talbot with its eyecatching end wall mural. Some Byatt's XK Strong accompanies the news that Wolves are beating Carlisle 3-0.

- The Somerville Arms -
Other Leamington establishments include the New Inn (with clocks and Ren's Pride) and the Woodland Tavern (where even a dandy like Nick felt underdressed compared to some chaps sporting bow ties and dinner jackets). Our favourite however was the Somerville Arms, an atmospheric homage to walnut-toned bench seating where some Everard's Beacon hit the spot nicely.

- New Bowling Green -
Nick's newly-retired status meant there was no holding the horses and the evening saw us taking Warwick by storm, blazing a trail around the local hostelries in search of further beer bullion. The Wild Boar by the station is always handy for a porcine perspective to its ale although it was the Oak that relinquished its home-cooked scotch eggs. We are also confirmed admirers of the expansive lawned garden at the New Bowling Green complete with outdoor skittles and a Harry's Heifer.

- Turpin Topiary -
Things turned somewhat surreal in the Roebuck amidst French illustrations, topiary balls and other suggestive leafage - Nick could barely contain his excitement at the thought of it all. We recovered our composure courtesy of the Zetland Arms and the Punchbowl before departing the scene with a Chiltern Railways cavalry charge. Soon enough Warwick Parkway hove into view and Nick Turpin disappeared into the night, no doubt already anticipating future plunder out on the highways of Warwickshire. A glorious day!