Friday, March 27

WME Flickr Focus: March 2015

Perhaps it's the prospect of the clocks going forward that means my monthly digest of photostream progress is being filed a little bit ahead of schedule this time around. Let's see which pictures are on their marks hoping not to make a false start as we race through March's additions...

Eagerly trying to jump the gun we have Exploration Extra seeking to maintain some solid recent form. Shunters Cafe Bar at Boston Station gets an airing here alongside the dubious delights of Gloucester Bus Station (2010 vintage) while a moment in time is captured from Liverpool's waterfront construction projects. A train at Welshpool gets up to speed with the Turf pub at Wrexham lending its own landmark presence.

Also chomping at the bit is WME Birmingham as Blackroot Pool summons through a sighting or two of Sutton Park whereas the claret and blue preferences of the New Adventurers pub (naturally enough located in Aston given that colour scheme) declare a specific sporting allegiance. The 61 bus when it terminated at Gannow gets in on the action too.

Hardly slow out of the blocks, WME Walsall is swelled by an Aldridge delegation comprising the local Morrisons supermarket and a sign for the cricket/hockey club while something stirs in nearby Castlefort in the form of a J.M.I. school photo. WME Telford can be reasonably pleased with its reactions - Dawley High Street and the Queens Arms pub sign at Dawley Bank delivering some decent response times - likewise the collective Blakedown efforts of the village station and primary school ensure that WME Worcestershire puts in a perky performance.

Then we come to those places caught on their heels a little bit, but nonetheless pleased just to have made the start line in the first place. WME Coventry musters up a solitary bridge shot from Coventry canal basin, WME Shropshire got waylaid by a Red Cow in Ackleton and WME Wolverhampton hitched a lift on the 698 bus (calling at Wobaston). That completes the field as far as March is concerned, so now we all wait to see just where comes into contention when the next heat takes place in April...

Monday, March 23

Hub Marketing 2015: Dudley Wood & The Delph

For our latest morsel of marketing mayhem Chairman D9 concocted something of a Black Country supermarket sweep, taking us from Rowley Regis to The Delph before finishing with a further reprise of the Round Oak Run...

- Lodge Road Metro -
The brief D9 had in mind was to sample a few pubs that were potentially threatened by convenience store developments, so the Secretary is summoned to West Bromwich ready for an afternoon adventure. Eager not to incur any cob forfeits, Mr WME arrives with time in hand and puts this to good use with some Midland Metro tram photography at Lodge Road (West Bromwich Town Hall).

- Oak House Museum -
One of the Secretary's favourite pre-marketing time fillers is the Oak House Museum - the captivating half-timbered black and white building always merits a shot or two, and on this occasion a closer look at the topiary hedge in the front gardens is an added treat. The museum's grounds as a whole are the focus of a community project aiming to create a garden befitting the early 17th century to complement the main house.

- Driving Duty on the 4H -
With the Chairman also making certain to avoid any penalty charges, we launch into the outing proper with D9's timetabling prowess immediately coming under close scrutiny. The 121 is conspicuous by its absence while the 4 seems intent on travelling in close convoy when four of the said route turn up literally one behind the other - the usual Friday afternoon congestion may be partly to blame so all is forgiven once the 4H provides scope for some sterling steering.

- WME Whirlwind wins in Whiteheath -
Progressing in and out of Oldbury, we alight just after Birchley Island to enter the realms of Rowley Regis. Whiteheath is an area centred upon a crossroads junction known as The Gate even though the pub of that name became a Co-op store a few years ago. Local watering holes that are still trading are the Whiteheath Tavern and the Fox, with the first of those being our setting for Banks's Mild and our opening legs of darts. Secretary WME takes a 3-2 lead here although our collective finishing prowess is rather abysmal.

- Blackheath Barclays Baldness -
Back on the 4 and a short ride brings us from Whiteheath into Blackheath. There is much talk of the morning's solar eclipse, an astronomical spectacle that the Chairman tries to recreate using his balding head to represent the moon blocking out the sun. The bus terminates outside Barclays Bank where the selfsame bald spot is put to further use hiding Mr D9's pin number!

- Blackheath Library -
There's something about Blackheath on a Friday afternoon that appeals to me. As a bottleneck junction it feels quite lively and there are plenty of Black Country folk visiting the popular market and generally going about their day. Our choice of pub here is the Vine on High Street, a quick half in a traditional boozer before we make our way to our next bus stop just up from the town's new library.

- Hairless by the Hollybush -
Next on D9's chosen agenda is a delve into Dudley Wood with a busy 4M providing our connection. The Hollybush on Newtown Lane provides a handy distraction for more bald spot photography while the Elephant & Castle is noted for home-cooked food as we stroll towards Netherton. The Dudley Wood area is synonymous in local sporting legend as the home of the Cradley Heath speedway team although sadly the track was sold off for development in the 1990s and the club has had a nomadic existence ever since.

- D9 Destroys with the aid of pork pie -
Pub landmarks in the Dudley Wood area include the Woodman (corporate Marston's) and the Bunch of Bluebells while I also remember the local branch library building which has now become a pharmacy. The Delph is our next prime target but we do have time to sniff out the Saltwells by way of the nature reserve. D9's darting comeback here is fuelled by scratchings then his form continues on the hallowed dartboard of the Bull & Bladder, aided and abetted by a victory pork pie and something approaching a mustard overdose.

- Delph Ducks -
The Delph is a fascinating corner of the Black Country well known for its flight of locks and a sequence of tempting pubs. Star of the show is the afore-mentioned Bull & Bladder (the Bathams brewery tap being more properly known as the Vine) where the Bitter is excellent as always. Of the other local hostelries we call into the Black Horse where a half of Golden Glow sets us up for an uphill climb into Brierley Hill. The locks have a different personality at dusk with the evening light twinkling on the water as some ducks happily waddle about - their contentment would have been shattered though had the Chairman chosen to unleash novelty song 'Neasden' a little earlier, some suitable silliness to add to our musical repertoire.

- Returning after the Round Oak Run -
The final act of this particular outing is to sweep up a couple more places from the Round Oak Run, recalling the days when thousands of people were employed at the local steelworks. D9's attempts at total spreadsheet domination are scuppered when the Secretary pockets a decisive discount in the Red Lion before the Three Crowns surprises us with character, ambience and some Pardoe's Entire, perfect lubrication for D9's Dudley driving duties at the end of another terrific tour of our Black Country heartlands.

Wednesday, March 18

St Patrick's Day in Shrewsbury

Modelling a green jumper especially for the occasion, I joined my Chip Foundation colleagues in eager anticipation of sampling St Patrick's Day in Shropshire's county town. With the prospects good for conquering castles and relaxing by the river, the scene was set for us to have a truly 'smashing' adventure...

- Gunning for Glory -
Tuesday March 17th then as we converge upon Wolverhampton railway station in readiness for the 10:25 train. We've received apologies from honorary member Ken who is unfortunately unable to join us today, but Mr B and HRH Nickolenko are both present and correct to ensure good value with our London Midland Group Save ticket deal. The train journey is a smooth one, reaching Shrewsbury at quarter past eleven just perfectly for an initial castle photo call with the regimental guns getting some close attention. 

- Laura's Tower -
Shrewsbury Castle was originally a medieval sandstone fortress built by Roger de Montgomery with the site later having some significance during the English Civil War. The Great Hall is nowadays home to the Shropshire Regimental Museum while Laura's Tower (constructed by Thomas Telford on the site of the historic motte) offers impressive views looking out across the River Severn towards Abbey Foregate and the Wrekin - or at least it would do if it wasn't murky and raining!

- A Dose of Darwin -
Across the road from Shrewsbury Castle is another impressive landmark in the form of the town's library. A statue of Charles Darwin sits proudly outside, reflecting the fact that the eminent naturalist was born in the town and educated in this very building (The Shrewsbury School was originally based here prior to relocating in 1882).

- Hedgehog Handover -
Our first pub of the day would be the Dolphin, situated on St Michael's Street next to the fire station and not far from the historic Flax Mill. Joule's have done an excellent job in creating a nostalgic atmosphere here, the pub providing the perfect setting for Stephen to present Nick with an illustrated hedgehog in honour of the recently-acquired Horace. Some Black Hole Porter was an enjoyable opening tipple as we admired rustic floorboards and parlour panelling.

- Quarry Park Fountain -
If the Dolphin evoked the sense of a traditional alehouse, our next watering hole was almost the complete opposite. Indeed, Montgomery's Tower more closely resembles a modern leisure centre or swimming pool but its inclusion in the 2015 Good Beer Guide meant we gave it a try, assuming we could find a seat in among all the students from the neighbouring college. Once settled we made use of the Wetherspoon's Steak Club deal for lunch washed down with O'Dwyers Irish Stout, a highly appropriate ale for the occasion! We follow this by exploring Quarry Park up by St Chad's Church - the enchanted garden was particularly impressive with flowerbeds, ornate fountain and a bust of Percy Thrower.

- St Julian's and the Three Fishes -
We needed to get our medieval mission back on track so Town Walls Tower was just the landmark for the job - maintained by the National Trust, the watchtower is a rare surviving fragment of Shrewsbury's medieval defensive walls. The theme continues with the Three Fishes, an example of timbered Tudor architecture in the shadow of two churches (St Julian's and St Alkmond's). Three Tuns Stout hits the spot nicely here, a swift half before the barmaid calls time at 3pm for mid-afternoon closing.

- The "Shrewsbury Smash" Setting -
Waiting around the other side of St Alkmond's is the Loggerheads, a fascinating hostelry with a warren-like collection of small rooms comprising uneven floors and sloping walls; perhaps the most interesting of these is the side snug with its 'Gents Only until 1975' inscription. We have a chat with a couple from Peterborough who are also enjoying Shrewsbury's best pubs, then Stephen has one of his occasional accidents when his empty half glass comes a cropper - the scattered shards on the quarry tiles will henceforth be referred to as the "Shrewsbury Smash".

- English Bridge -
After apologising to the barman we descend Wyle Cop where the Nags Head is reputedly haunted amid its own hints of medieval architecture. English Bridge is always an impressive structure as we enjoy a stroll beside the Severn, passing beneath the railway platforms then climbing steps up to the former town gaol. 

- Cushioned Contemplation in Coton Hill -
Our final bit of exploring takes us up Coton Hill where there is further riverside scenery to be enjoyed. Of the trio of pubs in the area we opt for the Woodman where we encounter further glass-related damage (the 'Coton Hill crack') although none of us were responsible this time. Wooden panels and Latin-themed cushions add to the ambience in the lounge while I rather suspect Mr D9 would like the outhouse toilets. Heading back into town, we just have time to squeeze in the Salopian Bar where we spot a chap dressed as a leprechaun. Ale wise we sample Tiny Rebel's Morning Glory, a brooding chocolatey breakfast stout that concludes matters very neatly indeed.
A simply smashing St Patrick's day in Shropshire!

Monday, March 16

The Roger Reunion: Wordsley

It had been a good few months since I last met up with Rog of Stourbridge Interchange fame, but last Saturday we arranged to catch up for a chat and a few drinks around Kingswinford and Wordsley. Here are the pubs and ales we sampled...

- Bumblehole Beer in the Glasscutters -
  • Park Tavern, Cot Lane, Kingswinford: my ride to Kingswinford was rather eventful when the 256 was pulled out of service and the 255 was subjected to incessant screaming children. My eardrums recovered in the Park Tavern, a homely place with Enville Ale, a fully-loaded cob basket and much discussion about the forthcoming Formula One season.
  • Glasscutters Arms, Barnett Street, Wordsley: a little backstreet local with a name reflecting local industry. Some Bumblehole ale from Netherton is always a favourite with its links to Ma Pardoe's.  

- Samson & Lion -
  • Queens Head, High Street, Wordsley: formerly an Enville Ales Tap House but now part of the Black Country Ales portfolio, where it's Lancashire Stout vs Voodoo Dawn accompanied by a mustard-coated pork pie.
  • Rose & Crown, High Street, Wordsley: a large pub just down the hill from Holy Trinity Church. Enville and Holdens were represented here as was the Six Nations rugby (Wales taking on Ireland).
  • Samson & Lion, Brierley Hill Road, Wordsley: a canalside Marston's pub next to the Stourbridge Locks where we check the Wolves score and enjoy some Banks's Mild. 

- Silly Sombrero -
  • Red Lion, Brettell Lane, Amblecote: Salopian Lemon Dream is the tipple of choice, the refurbished pub having been transformed from depressing dump into a stylish modern bar.
  • Maverick, High Street, Amblecote: we finish with a blast from the Wild West frontier complete with cowboy characters, carved chieftains and a Malvern Hills Dodgy Banker to round off an enjoyable afternoon.

Saturday, March 7

Hub Marketing 2015: East Birmingham

Marketing Board members never truly feel like they've got another year of hub happenings underway until an East Birmingham trip is completed. Friday 6th March was on hand for the 2015 edition with Yardley and Sheldon being the headline acts this year...

- A Right Royal Metro -
Our designated rendezvous is Bradley Lane at 1000 hours, with Secretary WME safely aboard his Metro connection from The Royal (Wolverhampton St George's being still out of action due to ongoing works that have already overrun by a few months). Chairman D9's doorstep dash is less successful and incurs him the first cob penalty of the new year; apparently a meeting with the Bloxwich Showman has left our leader with something of a delicate disposition!

- Giving it some Juice on the 97 -
The ride to Snow Hill passes without incident, except for the occasional swig of orange juice along the way. The said carton takes pride of place as we track down the 97 bus on Moor Street and gear up for our regular reprisal of D9 driving duties. The route acts as our gateway into East Birmingham via Garrison Circus and Bordesley Green.

- Garrison Closet Conundrum -
Ever on the lookout for remains of old toilets and urinals, the Chairman instructs us to alight on Garrison Lane where a curious doorway can be found on the side of the Grand Union canal bridge. We are not entirely sure whether this was indeed a closet or had some other former use (maybe as an electricity substation or general storeroom) but the requisite photo is taken just in case.

- Old Yardley Park -
The 97 is a frequent service operating regularly to Chelmsley Wood, so within a matter of moments we are back on board surveying the terraced townscape of Bordesley Green. At Belchers Lane junction is a McDonalds fast food outlet housed in a former pub (the Broadway?), and we also pass the Heartlands Hospital before hopping off near Stechford. A short walk down Church Road brings us into Old Yardley Park, a surprising pocket of historic village charm with St Edburgha's church spire on the horizon.

- Posing at Pool Way -
The appealing scenery doesn't last long though as the pleasures of the Pool Way precinct involve an altogether different architectural approach. A Greedy Guts breakfast sets us up nicely for a thorough trawl of the shopping centre with Poolway Fashions and Kents Moat Library still present and correct from WME's previous visit. A location such as this needs to be christened properly as a Hub Marketing haunt so a bald spot shot fits the bill just nicely.

- Kents Moat -
One thing the Secretary hadn't realised when exploring Kents Moat before was that the area really does have a moat, a legacy of a former medieval manor house that nowadays can be traced as a clear rectangular ditch surrounding The Hays off Sheldon Heath Road.

- Yardley Village -
The Chairman is starting to perk up a little more now and benefits from further fresh air as we stroll back into Yardley. The area of Church Road around St Edburgha's and the Old Grammar School is a dedicated conservation area although a feature that might not have been preserved is an old urinal the Chairman thinks was once located here - more D9 research may be required to confirm this.

- Ring O' Bells Redevelopment -
One landmark that has definitely disappeared is the Ring O' Bells pub; sadly demolition was no real surprise given that the building had been a derelict eyesore for a number of years, and the houses that have now sprung up on the site still reference the former pub's name. Yardley is not devoid of pubs though, as drinking options still include the William Tyler (a Wetherspoon's housed in a shop unit once home to Woolworths) and the Clumsy Swan (the modern incarnation of the Yew Tree, albeit the current building doesn't have anywhere near as much presence as the Mitchells & Butlers landmark that preceded it). 

- Tile Cross Terminus -
Some Silly Rucker (a blonde Backyard brew) is Secretary WME's early attempt at claiming discount honours for the day before the action switches to the number 17 bus. Our ride through Garretts Green is punctuated by more sterling steering from Mr D9 and then Mackadown Lane closes in on Tile Cross turning circle. The local shops on Bell Lane corner have the Chairman drooling with delight in advance of a swift slice of Solihull courtesy of a quick turnaround by the Marston Green Tavern.

- WME Whirlwind wins, by George! -
Sheldon is the prime attraction on our afternoon agenda with the 72 taking us bravely through Garretts Green congestion at school closing time. The Crane is a standard Hungry Horse affair on Cranes Park Road but it's the George V on Common Lane that provides darts and Doom Bar, the Secretary prevailing by 4 legs to 3. There are sightings also of Sheldon Country Park and (on Barrows Lane) the local Gospel Hall.

- Staying Alive on the Old Coventry Road -
Evening falls as we reach the main A45 Coventry Road, a mainstay of our marketing efforts down the years with Small Heath and Swan Island already having received prior hub treatment. The chance to add Wells Green to our coverage prompts Chairman D9 into performing a bizarre Bee Gees-themed dance routine in celebration of our arrival here. Whether it was his jive talking or not, the Three Horseshoes faces off against the Wheatsheaf in a battle of the chain pubs (Sizzling versus Toby Carvery).

- Peaky Blinder -
The 957 does its duty for our ride back into Birmingham where flat caps are to the fore during a swift half in the Peaky Blinder - somehow the Secretary doesn't quite look villainous enough to convince as a 1920s gangster. With razor reflexes we return via the tram, pitching up in Bilston for an enjoyable Cafe Metro nightcap and one of the year's most essential explorations is safely in the bag. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 4

Moxley, Wednesbury and Friar Park

March's Monday Mission contribution is a mix and match combination of Walsall and Sandwell with very much a make it up as I go along approach - here's the tale of the trip...

- Prince Albert Statue -
It's Monday 2nd March 2015 to be exact as I begin in the centre of Wolverhampton, bidding good morning to the 'man on the horse' in Queen Square. Its strange how I've known this statue all my life yet rarely ever stop to properly look at it, so I put that right with a photo or two today. Prince Albert has looked out across the square since 1866, albeit not continuously from the same spot.

- Moxley Infant School Site -
Leaving the Prince Consort behind, I track down the 79 bus for my ride through Bilston to Moxley. Alighting by the Red Lion on Moxley Road, I can quickly investigate the former Infants School site with a backdrop of All Saints Parish Church. The school was demolished a few years ago so only the gateposts and railings are left to provide a reminder of what was once here. The church meanwhile is an important if rather ominous landmark - it dates from 1851 when surroundings were surely more peaceful compared to having the thundering traffic of the Black Country New Road for company.

- Bull Lane Bridge -
Gritting my teeth in the face of the gusty breeze, I proceed along Bull Lane passing the industrial remains of disused factory frontages. The Walsall Canal awaits at Bull Lane Bridge but the muddiness of the towpath deters me from doing my intended waterside walk - it looks like I'll need to come up with a contingency plan instead...

- Norman Deeley Playing Fields -
What to do now? Well, Wednesbury was close at hand so it made sense to pick up where February's Monday Mission had left off. The Black Country New Road leads me neatly to Bilston Road where the Norman Deeley Playing Fields are named after the locally-born legendary Wolverhampton Wanderers footballer. The Roost and the Old Royal Oak keep the pub pictures ticking over before I emerge near the town's fire station.

- St James the Great, Wednesbury -
One Wednesbury landmark I hadn't really noticed before is the parish church of St. James the Great, situated appropriately enough on St James Street but overshadowed perhaps by the Alligator Storage compound next door. I follow this with the Nelson pub before catching up with construction progress at Wednesbury's new leisure centre where the main framework and excavations continue to take shape.

- Morrisons Artwork -
When it opens, the leisure centre will be a state of the art facility but it's some of the town's older municipal buildings that are next to catch my eye. Holyhead Road is home to the Town Hall and the Museum & Art Gallery while the Old Post Office still has a vintage stamps dispenser inset by the front door. Directly opposite, Morrisons supermarket may be a modern arrival but still offers a nod to heritage with its public art.

- Balls Hill Bridge -
The Coachmakers Arms on Bridge Street is always worth a photo call, especially the tiled panel promoting Woodhall's Old English Ales. Climbing Holloway Bank towards Hill Top, I finally get in that bit of a canal walk I'd promised myself, even though it's only a short stroll along the Tame Valley to Hydes Road. The canal is gun-barrel straight here with pylons adding to the monotony, although Balls Hill Bridge is quite a nice feature connecting with Hampshire Road.

- The Friar Park -
Leaving the towpath at Hydes Road, the Old Mill receives some attention as does the Manor House Museum on Hall Green Road. I can then venture along Crankhall Lane into Friar Park, passing the eponymous pub and a run of local shops. A Lidl supermarket stands on the site of the Coronation, a large roadhouse type pub that was demolished some years ago - I remember previously travelling around here on the 410 bus although the current route number is the 40.

- Bescot Depot -
Onwards I go with Coronation Road providing my approach into the Woods estate, passing the Windmill and another block of shops. I can see the M6 motorway and Bescot Stadium football ground on the horizon as Westmore Way contains a gate access into Bescot Traction Maintenance Depot. The estate itself has county-themed street names with Kent Road completing my loop back into Friar Park.

- St Francis of Assisi -
There are two further local features I now need to account for. Firstly we have what was Manor High School, the vacant buildings closed off with 'Asbestos' scrawled in black paint on the walls. Education ceased on the site following a merger with Menzies High to create the Phoenix Collegiate in Hateley Heath. Secondly comes the unmistakable sight of St Francis of Assisi Church, the Italianate architecture of which really stands out among the residential surroundings with the gilded figure of Saint Francis perched proudly atop the clock tower. My attempted pictures of the church are however interrupted by a vicious hail shower which sends me scurrying down Carrington Road (past the Friar Park Social Club) in hopeful search of shelter.

- The White Hart -
Thankfully the hailstone bombardment doesn't last long and I can press on from Tame Bridge Parkway through the Delves towards Walsall. A lunch stop at Palfrey Park precedes a stroll up Spout Lane into Caldmore where the White Hart remains an excellent landmark with Dutch-style gables overlooking Caldmore Green. St Michael's Church and Bath Street Gardens are among my final targets as I emerge into Walsall town centre to complete my tour - another Monday Mission accomplished!

Sunday, March 1

WME Flickr Focus: February 2015

With January's housekeeping out of the way, February was a month when I could provide the WME Flickr photostream with a few new home furnishings. My strategy was three-fold; extracting some Exploration Extra content, plumping up a few C-themed scatter cushions and bedding in some more bus photographs...

To Exploration Extra first then and we have something of a Welsh invasion, only a small one mind but Welshpool has certainly made its presence felt. The Montgomery Canal has thus provided some scenic charm to complement the drama of Powis Castle, while a further slice of Celtic content comes from Wrexham with its football club shop at the Racecourse Ground. Add in a smattering of Showbus selections and the decor has certainly been refreshed a little.

My alphabetical airings from the tail end of last year were tentatively resumed with the letter C being next in line for some coverage. Appropriately enough, WME Coventry led the charge here with Coundon and Canley to the fore - the Dolphin pub rises out of the archives and is joined by Coundon's local branch library. Elsewhere, some welcome trinkets on WME Telford see Coalport taking pride of place courtesy of the Hay Inclined Plane, the Shakespeare Inn and the Coalport Canal.

Finally we have those bus bookends I mentioned. Stopping up our shelves we find WME Walsall weighing in with the 7A at Castlefort, the 370 at Bloxwich and the 326 at Willenhall, whereas WME Telford tastefully adorns us with the 44 at Madeley and the 24 at Oakengates. The 880 visits Coven over on WME Staffordshire, leaving the honour of final accoutrement to the 533 at Wolverhampton Bus Station. Taken as a whole, these attractive arrivals means the photostream can consider itself reasonably replenished with further furnishings due for deliver in March.

Chasewater with the Chip Foundation

Chip Foundation Chronicles No. 36 comprises a ramble round the reservoir followed by some beer business in Brownhills and Bloxwich. Along the way we gained a cuddly hedgehog while sampling railway halts and real ales...

- All aboard the 10A -
Thursday 26th February and we're underway with a train ride to Walsall, hoping the heavy morning rain will relent in time for our walk. The forecast is an improving one though and conditions do gradually get drier as we catch the 10A to Brownhills West, alighting at the Rising Sun roundabout where the landmark pub remains sadly derelict. Wilkin Road offers a glimpse of the Waterside before we cross the M6 Toll motorway to reach Chasewater Country Park.

- Brownhills West Platform -
A signal box and sidings with mounds of sleepers herald our arrival at Brownhills West Station, the administrative base of the Chasewater Light Railway. Even though our visit was out of season we could still enjoy the station's heritage appeal with vintage luggage, old adverts and even a Hudson's Soap doggy bowl to admire. The tea room is being spruced up ready for the opening gala of 2015, due to take place on Saturday 28th February with events then scheduled to be held throughout the rest of the year.

- Norton Lakeside -
The rain has now completely stopped as we set off on our circuit through to Chasetown. The reservoir looks rather bleak at this time of year, framed by leafless branches with a backdrop of heathland in various shades of brown. We enjoy the walk all the same despite having to contend with the type of muddy puddles that a certain Peppa Pig would wholeheartedly approve of (according to Stephen who seems to be an authority on  such cartoon matters). Crossing the Causeway we reach Norton Lakeside, a desolate halt on a grey day perched between the main reservoir and an offshoot lake known as Jeffrey's Pool or The Swag, 

- End of the Line -
Chasewater Heaths is a more substantial station where the cafe seems to be attracting good trade even in February. There are adverts here for Nordic walking although we proceed in more conventional fashion, squelching our way past rugby pitches to reach the railway terminus at Church Street Halt. The single platform here is largely unheralded but does provide useful access into Chasetown itself.

- Chasetown Chips -
We're heading that way ourselves, primed for lunch and our first pub of the day. Food comes first as we collect some chips and procure a bench at the local park - luckily I managed to get the requisite photograph before a squally shower sent us scampering to a nearby shelter. We can then dry off in the Uxbridge Arms where Netherwood from Barnsley's Acorn Brewery accompanies reflections on England's recent Cricket World Cup progress.

- The Dam Delegation -
We complete our Chasewater walk by covering the section flanking Pool Road, spotting a small herd of deer before crossing the historic reservoir dam and seeing Anglesey Basin on the Wyrley & Essington Canal laid out below. The weather is now bright and blustery as we call into the Chasewater Innovation Centre, the building which partly replaced the old amusements block I remember from childhood. There is something of an art exhibition taking place here but Nick is soon distracted by the furry friends on sale in the gift shop. Before we know it, he's bought himself a little hedgehog and we now have the rest of the afternoon to think up appropriate names for the latest addition to HRH's cuddly menagerie.

- Prickly Pal in the Prince of Wales -
Horace and Horatio appear to be the leading contenders as we move on into Brownhills and the Prince of Wales pub on Watling Street. Some Doom Bar goes down well here as our new companion does some impromptu taste-testing. A short hop back on the 10A then takes us via Ogley Hay corner to Brownhills centre where the miner statue towers over the roundabout by the old town hall.

- Moonshine and Hedgehog -
A steady stroll down Pelsall Road brings us to the Swan, Walsall CAMRA's Pub of the Year no less where there's just time for a swift half of Abbeydale Moonshine and some daytime TV quiz shows. A trio of pubs then await us in Bloxwich, so the Arriva 23 bus connects us door to door from the Swan to the Wheatsheaf (via Mallory Crescent) so that we can inspect a teapot collection.

- Sign of the Showman -
Our primary Bloxwich target though was the new Wetherspoon's which has recently opened in the town's former cinema. Named the Bloxwich Showman in honour of the renowned funfair entrepreneur Pat Collins, I have to say this is a high-quality conversion of an important local building. Our hedgehog chum sniffs out the Thursday 'Curry Club' deals and then we can draw proceedings to a close with some Whitstable Renaissance Ruby Mild in the Turf Tavern, a place that remains as timeless as ever. Cheers!