Monday, September 29


Saturday 27th September and it's destination Warwickshire once more, this time with Studley in our sights - a 'Magnificent Seven' festival pubs await us there, although Nick Turpin has parked his Stagecoach in favour of becoming an honorary 'Diamond Geezer' for the day...

- The Genie of Industry -
The outing commences with something of a hiccup when Nick Turpin catches the Redditch train but leaves me behind in Birmingham. An emergency rendezvous is thus scheduled for Longbridge where Nick is suitably admonished as we catch up with redevelopment progress at the former Rover factory site. More of the new town centre is now in place, the bright blue Bournville College building looking very much at home.

- Train at Redditch -
Somewhat belatedly we can catch a train to Redditch, the southern extremities of the Cross City Line becoming a single track on approach to the town. Mr Turpin had been looking forward to a ride on his Stagecoach but some timetable rejigging meant the Diamond 67 became our best connection option - the route took us to Studley via Greenlands, Woodrow and the Alexandra Hospital.

- A Shakespeare Starter -
The sight of the Victoria Works prompts us to alight in eager anticipation, although it's the Shakespeare that actually becomes our first pub of the day. This is a homely Marston's inn with Ryder Cup golf, tiled lounge fireplaces and a well-kept half of Banks's Botanical as we get the ale underway.

- Studley Sculpture -
A major consideration on any full day adventure is the food requirement, but in Studley this is easily solved by the Barley Mow with an excellent value Crown Carvery. We happily help ourselves to various vegetables to accompany the gammon and turkey, all washed down with some Marston's Pedigree. The Barley Mow occupies a prominent position overlooking the main roundabout in the centre of Studley, the island featuring a helpful artwork in case you forget where you are.

- Bragging in the Bell -
The festival organisers have produced a passport with the idea that you get it stamped at every pub you visit. The Bell becomes the next to be inked on our card as we collect a half each of Doom Bar - I was certainly doomed on the dartboard with Mr Turpin showing he'd lost none of his appetite for highway robbery.

- Larking About -
To the edges of Studley now and a memorable visit to the Little Lark. This used to be a Mad O'Rourkes pub and still features some of the printing presses and curios from that time, complete with Lark newspaper front covers framed upon the walls - it seems the publication wasn't averse to some cheeky headlines back in the day. Robinson's Trooper is our choice of ale here, then we complete our pub passports courtesy of the Railway (Gunners Gold), the Swan (Silhill Dark Star) then finally coming full circle back to the Victoria Works. This is the taphouse for the Weatheroak Brewery and is getting into the festival spirit with a samba band, pig roast and border-style morris dancing (with blackened faces and patterned stockings).

- Alvechurch Station Redevelopment -
Studley had been simply delightful and there was much to joyously reflect on as we caught the 247 Diamond service back to Redditch (via Crabbs Cross). We arrived right on cue to catch the next Cross City train, hence we could afford ourselves a little stopover in Alvechurch. The station here is being improved by the addition of a second platform and presumably a new car park, although our attentions soon turn to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal for a short stroll to Withybed Green where the Crown makes our acquaintance with a Side Pocket for a Toad.

- Atlantic ale in Barnt Green -
We had intended to round off the day with a half in the Weighbridge, a renowned Alvechurch drinking house by the canal marina. However, evening opening there is at 7pm so we were thwarted in our aspirations. Trooping back onto the train, we sought consolation instead in Barnt Green where the Victoria Inn offered up Sharps Atlantic accompanied by the whiffs of salmon fishcakes. There was a restaurant emphasis but we still enjoyed our brief sojourn here, setting the seal on our super Studley story.

Thursday, September 25

Hub Carpeting 2014

The Hub Marketing Board have been rechristened for the day in honour of Kidderminster's local heritage, although rumours that Chairman D9 was after a rug to cover his bald spot were largely unfounded. Here's what we got up to during our Wyre Forest wanderings...

- Steering Set for the 125 -
Friday 19th September and members face an early start, catching the 256S from Wolverhampton to Stourbridge with the added bonus of visiting Ounsdale School. Instant interchange at Stourbridge sees us safely onto the Whittles 125 with Mr D9 going full throttle down the Norton Road despite some dubious steering antics. The route approaches Kidderminster past the Park Gate pub and through Broadwaters.

- Aggborough -
Alighting on Comberton Hill by the Severn Valley Railway station, it's time for our customary spot of morning ferreting. Targets today include Aggborough (home of Kidderminster Harriers Football Club) and the landmark Hoo Brook railway viaduct, a structure that also inspires the name of a local Marston's pub.

- Getting down with the Kidderminster Cats -
The Chairman's feline detection device is usually reserved for Coventry outings but he dusted it off early this year so as to intercept a roaming tomcat for a stroke on Worcester Road.

- Caldwall Mill Bridge -
Next up is a short stroll along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, joining the towpath beside the Watermill and heading through towards Tesco. Along the way the Chairman manages to intercept the Secretary's devious attempts at bald spot photography, meaning Mr WME has to be content with Caldwall Mill Bridge instead.

- The Kidderminster Cemetery Closet -
Upon reaching Caldwell Hall Bridge, the Secretary leads members on a detour into Kidderminster Cemetery in order to track down the day's star sleeve item. Chairman D9 seemed suitably impressed by the discovery of the cemetery's ivy-clad conveniences, and with that it was off to the Town Hall to await our next Whittles bus. The 2A and 2C circular services were introduced at the start of the month to provide a convenient through link between Kidderminster, Bewdley and Stourport - it's the 2C that we make use of for a ride via Birchen Coppice and Burlish Crossing.

- A WME Whitewash -
We alight in Bark Hill where the Secretary regrets not bringing his coat given the sudden arrival of persistent drizzle. Urgent shelter is required so the Black Boy on Wyre Hill is sought out as a place to dry off - the pub is situated at the top of a very quaint steep hill and proves an excellent venue for WME to get his eye in on the dartboard.

- Worcestershire Way -
The 3-0 scoreline was something to be celebrated as we relocated to the Little Pack Horse, snuggled away on a quiet corner of High Street. The Secretary always likes to savour the local ales so Worcestershire Way was a perfect choice, having come just around the corner from the Bewdley Brewery on Lax Lane.

- Bewdley Bridge 'Scenery' -
A visit to the Bewdley Museum was not to be missed, even if the Chairman didn't quite see the appeal of being slung in the stocks or fed bread and gruel in the cells. He managed to escape from this temporary incarceration though, hence his liberated bald spot sensing freedom at the river's edge.

- Severn Side South -
Even on a grey dank autumnal day Bewdley's architecture was still impressive, with the river bridge and St Anne's Church having seemingly stood the test of time. D9 indulges in some goose-bothering as we cross to the Wribbenhall side of the Severn, seeking out the Old Waggon & Horses for a tasty cob and some Bathams Bitter. All Saints Church, the Rising Sun and Catchems End Fish Bar were also noted.

- What, no Whittles? -
The afternoon agenda was originally scheduled to include a stopover in Stourport but this had to be aborted due to lack of transport, the 2A failing to materialise at the time advertised (although the information at the stop might well have been wrong). For once we couldn't blame the Chairman's timetabling wizardry for this mishap, although the Secretary did try his best to hold D9 responsible.

- Guess who got the expensive round! -
Faced with the prospect of an extended stay in Bewdley, members picked out a couple more pubs that could help to pass the time. The Mug House was a solid choice for a half of Hereford Pale Ale, but there was pain for the WME wallet when the Cock & Magpie delivered the dearest round of the day - no amount of french hen scatter cushions could compensate for that!

- Broadwaters Baldness -
After a quick D9 bladder stop in the White Swan, its all aboard the 125 for the ride back to Kidderminster. The ride is just long enough for the Chairman's waterworks to return to bursting point, so emergency egress is urgently required with the Old Peacock and the Blue Bell providing requisite relief. We decline the prospect of a 'Tasty Mouse' in favour of a final Broadwaters brace, with the park's closet being an appropriate place to conclude carpeting proceedings. Mr D9's stoic rug resistance had held firm, and the 125/256 homeward combination ensures the bald spot should again be on show in future.

Sunday, September 7

Hub Marketing 2014: Rowley Regis and Cradley Heath

As the follow-up to July's Merseyside mayhem, Friday 5th September saw the Hub Marketing Board back on their home patch with a Sandwell-based adventure taking in canals, closets, buses and bald spots between Black Lake and Cradley Heath - here's the tale of the day...

- Black Lake Baldness -
With our Chairman initially absent at Bradley Lane, the Secretary pitches up at Wednesbury Parkway among camera crews preparing for the launch of the new Midland Metro tram fleet. All members are then reunited for the short ride to Black Lake where the D9 bald spot gets its own bit of celebrity attention!

- A Ridgacre Rummage -
Immediately adjacent to Black Lake Metro stop are the remains of the Ridgacre Branch canal, a perfect target for our morning investigations. Firstly we follow the line out past Black Lake Bridge to discover the current terminus in the vicinity of Denbigh Drive - historically the canal used to continue deeper into Hateley Heath. Retracing our steps, we then explore the other end of the branch towards the Black Country New Road. At the Ridgacre Premier Inn we meet a cheerful litter picker chap who tells us of the old gasworks that were once a major feature of the area.

- Swan Bridge -
Beyond the Premier Inn are the remains of an old basin with a turnover footbridge - although still in water the canal here has the appearance and consistency of mushy peas, thankfully our Chairman wisely refrained from having an earlier-than-anticipated breakfast. We then track down a section of the Wednesbury Old Canal, which used to meet the Ridgacre Branch at Swan Bridge Junction. Swan Bridge itself is still standing but the canal is impassible for boats due to the proliferation of reeds. The towpath takes us down via Hadley Bridge to Ryders Green Junction (meeting the Walsall Canal) before we exit at Belper Bridge.

- Driving Demo on the 289 -
A 42 to West Bromwich links neatly for a ride on the 289 down to Rowley Regis, Mr D9 only too glad to do a stint of back-seat steering. The route takes in Oldbury, Rounds Green and Rowley Village before circumnavigating Blackheath town centre and dropping us off in the grounds of Rowley Regis Hospital.

- Rowley Regis Crematorium Closet -
We didn't have a hospital appointment although some of you may think the Chairman needs medical attention given his fetish for closets and urinals. One such example awaited next door in Rowley Regis Crematorium, and with photo duties done there we set off in search of breakfast on an industrial estate off Powke Lane.

- The former Brickhouse pub -
A local walk would help us digest a hearty Full English and so we ventured over into the Brickhouse Farm estate. It's been nearly seven years since I last set foot here so it wasn't surprising to find a few changes had taken place - the eyesore breezeblock community centre has been demolished while the Brickhouse pub appears to have been converted into flats. Elsewhere we spotted a Spar supermarket and the Sandwell Mobile Library.

- A Towpath Toilet? -
At Doulton Road we can join our third waterway of the day, this being the Dudley No. 2 Canal. The bridge here still bears a historic reference to Dog Lane, the former street name prior to the arrival of the Doulton pottery works. Among the items the firm produced was sanitary ware including toilets, hence the commemorative character we found on the towpath, a rather novel addition to D9's WC collection.

- Totnal Bridge -
There are more examples of canalside artworks as our stroll continues - a tollman's hovel and Eliza Tinsley being among them, although it's the elephant at Waterfall Lane that prompts Mr D9 into a piggyback ride. Besides the sculptures, Hollis Bridge and Totnal Bridge are on hand to keep the WME camera occupied.

- Ay It a nice pint -
All this walking means we've worked up a thirst so a refreshing pint in the Waterfall is just what the doctor ordered. The steep climb up Waterfall Lane presents a final obstacle, but once the hill was conquered we could relax and soak up the wonderful Holden's hospitality.

- Haden Hill House -
After a spot of wake-crashing at the Hawthorns on Ross (opposite Blackheath's old Carnegie library), our next move takes us to Haden Hill Park where the Chairman is intent on hunting down another closet. The toilets in question are situated at the rear of Haden Hill House, although the Victorian mansion's front and side elevations are far more visually impressive.

- Caught Blue Handed! -
The wider grounds of Haden Hill Park are definitely worth a closer look, with a bowling green, rose garden and ornamental lake among the attractions. Mr D9 is more concerned over the colour of his fingers though - having spent much of the day tightly clutching his prized carrier bag it seems some of the design has rubbed off on him, either that or he's auditioning for the part of a cyan-toned supervillain.

- Cooking up a Bald Spot in Old Hill -
A swift half in the Haden Cross rounds off our Haden Hill perambulations and the action thence moves to Old Hill, where features include the local police station, Holy Trinity Church and the Spring Meadow pub (the latter being the location for some rare WME darts success). We can also pay homage to a trio of Old Hill landmarks where change is afoot - Satchmo's bar is now a shop, the former Cradley Heath Fire Station on Mace Street is disused while the Cook Shop, a bastion of Black Country delicacies like faggots for several generations, is up for sale.

- WME wins in the Riddins Tavern -
Venturing into the backstreets of Old Hill, we seek out the Riddins Tavern tucked away on Mossvale Close. This Banks's boozer is a prime spot to continue our darting exploits with the Secretary continuing his resurgence in form, even when the dartboard threatened to dislodge itself from some supporting yellow wedges.

- The Hollybush -
Last but by no means least, we continue into Cradley Heath for a closing selection of pubs and landmarks. Notable mentions must go to Macefield's Mission (an eyecatching example of a Black Country Chapel), the Plough & Harrow (a Corngreaves Road pub brought back to life by the Worcestershire Brewery), the Swan (also known as Jasper's, a proper Holden's place in the shadow of the Tesco store) and the Hollybush (Newtown Lane inn that seems keen to promote itself as an arts venue). A dash back to Dudley is all that remains, and with D9 rustling up a final closet homage on Flood Street we can consider another day's marketing to have been an undoubted success.

Monday, September 1

The Harbury Highwayman

Saddle up those steeds for Nick Turpin's back in town, scouring the heartlands of Warwickshire for ill-gotten gains on the occasion of the Harbury Beer Festival...

- All aboard the Stagecoach -
Our passage to Harbury involved an initial skirmish in Leamington, finding our way onto the Daventry-bound No. 65 Stagecoach with a double decker on duty in anticipation of extra custom. The Tachbrook turnpike takes us down through Whitnash then there are open roads with occasional windmills, not forgetting a brief encounter with the Fosse Way Roman Road.

- All Saints Parish Church -
The battalion of CAMRA members getting ready to alight told us that we had reached our destination, but the festival wasn't quite open yet so we indulged in a Harbury walkabout. Landmarks include All Saints parish church where we perused the pews and stained glass, plus the Wight School which houses the village library and Biblio's Cafe. 

- Festival Advertising -
The festival itself now beckoned, being held at the Village Hall with a suitably prominent banner outside. Nick Turpin seems to be rather well-known in these parts and is greeted enthusiastically upon our entrance. The array of ales here is very impressive for a smaller venue, and among those we initially sampled were the Church Farm Rum & Raisin (probably our favourite), Waen's Chilli Plum Porter and Mrs Simpson's Vanilla Porter although there was allegedly a sighting of some Flying Elephants!

- Much Morris Merriment -
The entertainment continues with the arrival of the Hereburgh Dancers, a local troupe of Morris men and women performing in the Cotswold tradition complete with sticks, bells and handkerchiefs. We are treated to an energetic performance of the Upton on Severn Stick Dance (Nick got rather too excited about the prospect of whacking people with twigs), and in between times there was more beer to be had. Russian Rouble and Warwick Old Ale featured, plus Mr Turpin allegedly grappled with a voluptuous blonde, although that might just be a vicious rumour...

- The Old New Inn -
We left the festival just after 3pm in order to see what Harbury's handful of local pubs had to offer. The Old New Inn delivered Great Expectations, the Gamecock was hosting a hog roast in the beer garden and the Shakespeare put its beams to good use for displaying the Bard's tavern-themed quotations.

- Jephson Gardens Glasshouse -
After that it was back onto our 65 Stagecoach for our connection to Leamington where we savoured the genteel surroundings of the Jephson Gardens. The park brings together Victorian elegance with more recent developments such as the Glasshouse, home to many tropical plants. 

- Spare-time Slaying -
Jephson Gardens also feature some intriguing examples of carved sculptures, from acorns and hedgehogs to docile-looking dragons. Nick Turpin got himself right into the jaws of the situation before leading us on an "exciting walk" alongside the River Leam to Newbold Comyn Park, setting for a leisure centre, golf course and the Newbold Comyn Arms pub.

- Cricketers Conclusion -
The day is concluded with a closing half in the Cricketers, a homely sidestreet local opposite Victoria Park bowling greens. There are cricketing references throughout, including a WG Grace-inspired pub sign while the toilets are labelled 'Maidens' and 'Lords' - a certain Mr Beardsmore would surely approve of this place. A Chiltern carriage from Leamington Spa Station completes the job, and another excellent excursion to the wilds of Warwickshire is successfully filed away!