Thursday, April 30

WME Flickr Focus: April 2015

The General Election is but a week away, and as political campaigning sweeps the nation (then again, perhaps not) let us see which pictures have been voted into office as April's arrivals on the WME Flickr photostream...

Topping the exit polls we have WME Worcestershire, where I can report a particularly high turn out from Droitwich - the town's railway station and restored canals have eagerly joined the fray courtesy of train photos and a sequence of swing bridges. These in turn are aided and abetted by shots from Diglis Locks in Worcester and a peek at Stourport's canal basins so it seems the waterways pledges definitely struck a chord.

Another popular manifesto is that of WME Birmingham which gained momentum through reference to the Deers Leap at Kingstanding and the Drakes Drum at Old Oscott. It was however Handsworth that made the biggest gain, boosted by showings for Grasmere Road, the cricket club and the leisure centre. I'm not sure whether the hover cover at Edgbaston cricket ground counts as a floating voter but it too made its presence felt at the ballot box.

Hustings were lively over at WME Staffordshire where some former Fotopic candidates were seeking re-election. The 821 bus at Lichfield and a Shropshire Union Canal milepost were successful in recovering their seats, while new to the cause but no less significant are the Three Horseshoes in Fazeley, a trio of Gothersley canal shots and a rare mention for Hanley as represented by the former bus station there.

A glance at the swingometer reveals fluctuations for both WME Walsall and WME Warwickshire. The former argues for the inclusion of the King Arthur pub at Gillity alongside the Barley Mow (since demolished) at Goscote, while the latter makes the case for members of the Hatton lock flight (Grand Union Canal) and a streetscape from Dunchurch.

As with any election, there were some marginal constituencies up for grabs. WME Dudley stands on a soapbox promising the likes of Buffery Park and the Old Mill at Upper Gornal; WME Wolverhampton pitches Graiseley Recreation Ground and Fordhouses' Poets Corner into the debate; WME Sandwell canvasses on the basis of a Twynings tea sign in West Bromwich, leaving WME Solihull the relatively safe seat that is Dorridge Park. That then is just about that although the photographic battlebuses are on standby for more action in May. All of which leaves us none the wiser as to who will be first past the post where the race for Number 10 Downing Street is concerned, but at least you can Vote WME for the promise of future photostream additions!

Wednesday, April 29


27th April and we're now onto episode eight of the 'Monday Mission' series. This time the action comes all the way from Aldridge with country lanes and cricket clubs, a dabble with the Daw End Canal and even the possibility of a Coalpool cliffhanger...

- The Old Irish Harp -
The first page of today's script stipulates an opening ride on the number 6 bus, heading down the Mellish Road passing both the Dilke and 'Aldridge Airport', an open space that was once home to the Walsall Aerodrome. Staying on board towards Little Aston, I alight at the junction with Chester Road slap bang on the Walsall-Staffordshire boundary. Top target here is the Old Irish Harp, a farmstead-type Marston's pub with a large beer garden.

- Hobs Hole Lane -
Continuing along Chester Road a little further, Mill Green muscles into proceedings with an exclusive housing development, the Plough & Harrow pub and signs for Streetly Sports & Cricket Club (which seems to be located somewhere down Forge Lane). My next directional instruction is to take Hobs Hole Lane, escaping from the main traffic for a relaxing stroll with glimpses of Druids Heath Golf Course and Nuttalls Farm.

- Aldridge Cricket Club -
I need to keep my eyes peeled for a footpath off to the left and sure enough I find the required track, emerging among the sporting facilities collectively known as the Stick & Wicket Club. Besides football pitches and a fitness suite there is a neat clubhouse although I'm most interested in the cricket field where sight screens, practice nets and boundary markings are in place ready for the new season.

- Lich Gate by The Green -
The clubhouse car park leads me onto The Green where Aldridge Parish Church and the local war memorial are close at hand. Before I can photograph those however, I'm distracted by an impressive carved lich gate on another section of The Green opposite Cooper & Jordan Primary School. The lich gate was restored during the 1980s and provides access to a small graveyard.

- Church View from the Croft -
I'm right in the heart of historic Aldridge now and the Parish Church is a fine landmark, a site of worship since at least the 13th century. The flag of St George flutters in the breeze next to the war memorial while the blossoms on Aldridge Croft make for a pretty springtime sight. Somewhat less attractive is the Aldridge Shopping Centre, a block precinct with various stores on Anchor Parade, an upstairs gym (Colossus) and some disused toilets on Court Parade that D9 would no doubt find captivating.

- Tesco in the Tavern -
There is a momentary break in the action when I pause for lunch, but upon the resumption it was time for me to tour some of Aldridge's residential housing estates. Whetstone Lane has me wandering down past the Catholic Church (St Mary of the Angels with the adjacent Friary Club) to reach Churnhill Road where a parade of shops comprise a beauty salon, a hairdressers and a kitchen design showroom. Doubling round by the Aldridge School I reach Paddock Lane for shots of the Tesco Express store based in what was the Aldridge Tavern, formerly a brick Banks's boozer.

- Winterley Bridge -
Dumblederry Lane threatens an industrial interlude although some of the factories up by Middlemore Lane seem strangely silent. I remember the 355 and 357 bus routes serving the units here but the signs these days just say 'bus stop not in use'. At Hopleys Bridge I can join the Daw End canal, following the branch out towards Rushall and savouring the spectacle of the natural world, notably some squabbling geese and a majestic crane that swooped along the towpath down by Winterley Bridge.

- Park Lime Pits -
We are reaching the climax of the show now as I exit at Daw End Bridge for a repeat showing of the Manor Arms pub and the Park Lime Pits nature reserve. My intended plot line was to follow some footpaths across to Lady Pool but I require some improvisation when detouring across playing fields at the back of the Elmwood School. Lady Pool was an attractive beauty spot but seems to be at risk of drying up completely, hence I only spotted a rather brown patch of reeds and didn't even take any photographs :(

- Ryecroft Cemetery -
There's time yet for a late twist though so Cartbridge Lane offers a taste of Goscote Valley, a green corridor of nature sites I'd like to explore in more detail. Ford Brook is one of Walsall's historic water courses and has been landscaped in part within a new housing development. A path leads me into Ryecroft Cemetery where more blossoms add a certain beauty to a solemn location (I might well have ancestors buried here somewhere) before the Coalpool Lane cliffhanger scenario takes hold. The 29 bus threatens to be the villain of the piece, and the tension builds as the clock ticks ever closer towards the start of my shift. Thankfully the Diamond 29 appeared in the nick of time and I make it to work with seconds to spare. Mission accomplished, credits roll...

Wednesday, April 15

Highlights from Hamstead

A slice of Scott Arms, a pinch of Perry Hall and a ripple of the Rushall Canal - could this be the recipe for my latest 'Monday Mission'? Here's what I cooked up with my trusty camera on the 13th April...

- Rushall Locks (No. 8) -
My opening ingredient on this occasion was the Rushall Canal, joining the towpath at Bell Bridge (Walstead Road) adjacent to lock seven. Heading south, the next couple of locks follow in quick succession as the canal skirts the edges of the Yew Tree estate with Shustoke and Hill Farm bridges for company.

- Rushall Junction -
Shortly after passing beneath the M6, the Rushall Canal terminates at Rushall Junction where it meets the Tame Valley Canal. This could be quite an appealing location if it wasn't for the presence of the motorway, and the slip road accesses for the M5 also seem eager to get in on the act. The Tame Valley enters a deep cutting as it makes its way through Grove Vale whereby Brickfields Turnover footbridge provides a route into the surrounding streets before Scott Bridge towers on high overhead.

- Scott Arms Shopping Centre -
Having satisfied my initial canal cravings, next on the menu is Newton Road and the Scott Arms so I can greedily gobble up some photos of Great Barr. This is a major crossroads junction with shops and local facilities on all sides, notably the Scott Arms Shopping Centre with stores including Ladbrokes and Greggs.

- The Scott Arms -
A defining feature of the area is of course the Scott Arms pub, which is effectively grafted onto the end of the precinct in typical 1960s flat-roofed style. The Scotts from which the pub takes its name were a prominent local family based at nearby Great Barr Hall, a listed building that has sadly been in a perilous condition for many years. A brief bite of the A34 Walsall Road then gives me tasters of Great Barr's branch library and the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church.

- Red House Park -
Nibbling along Cross Lane, I close in on a landmark that has dished up photos on a couple of previous occasions and repeats the treatment today - Red House Park is always worth a visit even though the future of the house itself remains uncertain. A travelling funfair is just setting up on one of the playing fields as I pause by the memorial obelisk dedicated to Princess Charlotte Augusta. Add in a portion of pictures documenting the park's pools and I feel nourished in readiness for the rest of my walk.

- The Hamstead -
Another place that usually delivers meaty morsels is Hamstead, an area I first photographed back in December 2004 that hasn't changed a huge amount over the intervening decade. Green Lane crosses high above the Tame Valley Canal as I emerge by the Hamstead pub (in shades of salmon pink) and the junction where the 16 bus turns around. Hamstead Road features in turn the local primary school, the Tanhouse Community Centre and Library, and a Tesco Express store in what used to be The Joker public house.

- Hamstead Colliery Memorial -
Continuing along Hamstead Road I reach the area referred to as Hamstead Village, complete with a bus turning circle where the 654 terminates. The Beaufort Arms provides more photographic food while there is a solemn note of reflection as represented by the Hamstead Colliery memorial, a symbolic coal truck that remembers the day in March 1908 when 26 people died at the mine in a fire-related disaster.

- The Garden Gate -
Hamstead Station marks the crossover point between Sandwell and Birmingham, with Hamstead Hill climbing up towards Handsworth Wood to reveal the Garden Gate - I'm not sure the pub itself was open except for a car wash service on the yard outside. Cherry Orchard Road is a leafy street of semi-detached suburbia, a pleasant estate where a clutch of local shops on Coopers Road includes Wards Chemist.

- Perry Hall Moat -
I've got the taste for new corners of Birmingham now and one place I'd never visited before was Perry Hall, where the park and playing fields flank either side of the River Tame. Of particular interest was a rectangular ornamental moat which is all that remains of the stately hall, home to the Gough family but demolished in the 1920s. Elsewhere, the park features an attractive 'Welcome Garden' and dedicated wildlife areas, so there is plenty for me to get my teeth into.

- Hamstead Station -
All that remains are a few final garnishes and my recipe will be complete. I therefore round off with Rocky Lane, undulating its way back to Hamstead Station with a peek at Perry Hall Methodist Church. My 14:43 connection is on time and some real work now awaits, but as a springtime serving of photo possibilities this outing had certainly satisfied my Hamstead-based hunger.

Monday, April 13

Hub Marketing 2015: Bescot and County Bridge

Into April and the Hub Marketing Board embark on an afternoon adventure encompassing parts of Wednesbury, Darlaston and Willenhall. Silly songs and devious discounts await along with old canals, clay posts and closets, not to mention a pot of piccalilli...

- The Bescot Hotel Hub -
We pick up the action on Delves Green Road where the Chairman arrives fresh off his 45 and immediately gets excited about a disused Co-op store with window stickers for New Zealand lamb. The Secretary meanwhile has some sleeve items to unleash, beginning with a Broadway bus stop recalling the discontinued X80 service. In the Fullbrook there are Saddlers football flags to admire over an opening half of ale, then we home in on a hub photo opportunity courtesy of the Park Inn hotel on Bescot Crescent.

- Banks's Stadium Baldness -
The hotel and hub is situated right next door to the Banks's Stadium, home to Walsall Football Club since 1990. The photos continue with the Community Stand and the stadium's main entrance, although at one point a certain bald spot rudely interrupted the view! Having acknowledged the current ground it was only right and proper to include a Fellows Park homage, whereby the sight of Morrisons supermarket had Chairman D9 remembering days driving the 414 when it terminated outside the store.

- Pleck Park Closet -
It was now time for another example from the WME sleeve repertoire so we venture into Pleck Park where the green block groundkeeper's hut includes a locked up gents conveniences for Mr D9 to drool about. Elsewhere in the park, the cricket pitch was being prepared for the summer season while a bowling green boasted a reclaimed bus shelter seating area behind a security fence.

- Mild in the Myvod -
From Pleck Park we next brave the bowels of the M6 motorway, 'enjoying' the urban art represented by concrete support columns as we make use of the Junction 9 underpass footpath. Wood Green Academy is silent during the school holidays, then we mosey on over to the Myvod for a well-earned pint of Banks's Mild. Currently part of the Sizzling brand, the pub is situated on Park Lane just down the road from where the FH Lloyd Steelworks used to be. Their James Bridge foundry had been a major local employer prior to closure in the 1980s.

- Fallings Heath Cemetery Closet -
The Secretary's sleeve successes were coming thick and fast now, with arguably WME's finest discovery being the old closet block in Fallings Heath Cemetery (complete with brown tile ladies and gents lettering). The cemetery was formally consecrated in 1936 and the gates bear the proud crests of Wednesbury Borough Council from the days when the town was its own municipal authority.

- Station Street and Salisbury Street -
Back on Park Lane, we reflect a little more about the aforementioned FH Lloyds site before crossing into Heath Road for a ferret into Darlaston territory. Station Street feels quite industrial with factory chimneys whereas Salisbury Street Primary School provides a sense of continuity. The Chairman is on the lookout for disused bus stops and soon spots a prime candidate further up the road, then we have railway heritage to consider as we briefly investigate the footpath marking the old line behind Darlaston Swimming Baths.

- Richards' Fasteners -
Continuing along Richards Street, we soon reach the Imperial Works site that for many years was home to Charles Richards Fasteners Limited. Although much of the factory has been derelict for several years it is still an impressive and imposing feature either side of Heath Road. We speculate that some of the firm's former workers might well have drunk in the Nags Head on The Green back in the day, so we have a swift half in their honour and a couple of legs of darts.

- Bald Spot by The Boat -
Another pub that might have been frequented by Richards' employees could be the Boat on Bentley Road South, situated adjacent to the Walsall Canal. Although closed for some time, the pub building is still standing  (minus much of its roof) and appears to be the base for another of those ubiquitous car wash enterprises that crop up seemingly here there and everywhere. The Chairman's bald spot pays solemn tribute to a lost watering hole before a towpath stroll takes us the short distance to Bughole Bridge.

- D9 denied a discount? -
Early evening and tummies are rumbling as members make the acquaintance of the Robin Hood down on The Crescent. The Chairman knows this Black Country Ales establishment quite well but his hoped-for happy hour discount didn't quite materialise because we had a Bude beer rather than the BFG. Nonetheless, the ale quality was impressive as were the cobs and pork pies, the latter being accompanied by some piccalilli as the Secretary enthusiastically raided a fine selection of condiment jars.

- Bentley Canal at County Bridge -
There was one final flush of ferreting to account for before the day was done, hence canal remains were now set to become the centre of attention. Members therefore make their way through the County Bridge estate in search of Hopyard Bridge, Devon Road suffering some Des O'Connor-related chop suey-cide along the way. The Bentley Canal once connected the Wyrley & Essington at Wednesfield with the Anson Branch at Bentley Mill with parts of the old canal bed around County Bridge retained as a grassy walkway. 

- The Secretary Secures Victory -
A wander along the track from Hopyard Road takes us past the location of County Bridge itself to reach the spot where Farm Bridge once stood, now marked by some low red railings. From here it's but a short walk to the Noah's Ark off Clarkes Lane, a Marston's pub where the Secretary nearly scores a three-dart 101 checkout but still closes out a convincing 5-1 darts victory. The Chairman's consolation is a nightcap half in the Workers Rest in Willlenhall and a 25A bus ride home. A preserve-packed afternoon of marketing merriment and entertaining exploration is complete - Cheers!

Sunday, April 5

A Postcard from Cornwall

The week leading up to Easter saw me enjoying a holiday down in Cornwall. Staying in the charming fishing port of Looe, I was determined to capture some of the county on camera by combining seaside scenery with inland investigations. Here's what I got up to over a memorable six days or so...

- A First Look at Looe -
Saturday 28th March: The journey down to Cornwall takes about four hours with a slog along the M5 followed by glimpses of Tavistock and Gunnislake. We arrive in Looe at about lunchtime to find our cottage on the steep Barbican Hill - it's going to be an energetic few days walking up and down the street. Looe is a town of two halves either side of the harbour and connected by a historic stone bridge. East Looe has the main shops and railway station while West Looe is a little quieter but both have a picturesque prettiness.

- Looe Station -
Sunday 29th March: A wet and windy day on the Cornish coast means it isn't really worth travelling too far so Sunday is spent locally getting to know Looe a little better. Although the weather is foul, you can still appreciate the rugged beauty of the area as the rainy gusts sweep in from the sea. Looe's collection of pubs offer some shelter and a chance to sample some Cornish ales including Proper Job in The Globe and Tribute in the Ship (later in the week we would also enjoy the Old Salutation with its shark-fishing gallery and the low beams of the Jolly Sailor). As the elements ease, I take my first look at Looe station where the single platform sits next to the river as the outer terminus of the Looe Valley line from Liskeard.

- Seal Sculpture Scene -
Monday 30th March: Conditions are altogether brighter on Monday as I enjoy an early morning stroll - it's fascinating seeing the town gradually coming to life with businesses getting ready for the day's visitors. Mid-morning involves a family walk from West Looe to Hannafore Point where the coastguard's hut looks out towards Looe Island. Another feature keeping watch over the tidal comings and goings is a statue commemorating 'Nelson', a much loved (and much missed) one-eyed seal who regularly appeared in Looe Harbour seeking a fishy lunch.

- Safe Harbour at Fowey -
Monday afternoon brings with it a ride out to Fowey (pronounced 'Foy'), a place I remember from childhood holidays mainly because of the steep walk from the main car park down to the harbour. That approach remains little changed but the exertion is worth it for the chance to explore the narrow cottagey streets where landmarks include the King of Prussia (a bright pink quayside inn) and the Parish Church (accompanied by daffodils). Back up the hill a little way is the Safe Harbour, a landmark pub that serves as the bus terminus for the 24 route linking Fowey, St Austell and Mevagissey. We round off the day in the Barbican, a friendly local estate pub at the top of the hill in East Looe where we attempt to play darts with Mom beating Dad in the grudge decider!!

- Liskeard Station -
Tuesday 31st March: a day to let the train (and the bus) take the strain, making use of the £5 Looe Valley Explorer day ticket to go to Liskeard and back via Polperro. The Looe Valley line is a gem of a branch railway, complete with riverside vistas and seemingly resident local characters to add extra personality. There are a handful of intriguing halts along the way (Sandplace, Causeland and St Keyne) although Coombe Junction is the most memorable as the driver changes ends to bring the train into Liskeard, where the line terminates at a detached bay platform. Liskeard itself is a historic stannary town with plenty for me to investigate including the Guildhall, the cattle market, Webb House and St Martin's Church.

- Polperro Harbour -
After a goulash lunch, we're off to Polperro courtesy of the 573 bus route which tackles many narrow winding lanes, hills and sharp bends. St Keyne village and Duloe feature, as does a reverse turn outside West Looe's fire station and a similar manouevre at the Camping Caradon caravan site. Alighting at the Crumplehorn we can then savour the delights of Polperro in the sunshine; I visited some captivating places over the course of the week but this was arguably my favourite with picture postcard views at every turn. Add in a pint of Sharp's Own in the Blue Peter Inn and it was altogether rather perfect.

- Newquay Train at Par -
Wednesday 1st April: There was no fooling about as Wednesday was my designated day for tackling the wider Cornwall rail network armed with the excellent value of a £10 Ride Cornwall day rover ticket. I retrace Tuesday's ride to Liskeard where I connect onto a main line service for Penzance. I alight however at Par (partly to escape the stench of a flooded toilet) where the station serves as the junction for the Newquay branch, cue for a bonus train photo or two. A steady stroll around the small centre reveals the Royal Inn, the Par Inn, a branch library and a scout hut although I don't venture quite as far as the beach and harbour.

- Falmouth -
From Par I continue on to Truro where I pick up the Maritime Line branch down to Falmouth Docks. This is another journey to savour, calling at Penryn (where there is a passing loop) and Penmere before the two Falmouth stations (Town followed by Docks). Falmouth is renowned as a deep-water harbour and the docks are currently managed by the A&P Group. I glimpse some of the cranes and an adjacent marina before wandering into the main town, seeking out shots of Custom House Quay, the Moor and the Prince of Wales Pier. I also found time for two pubs - the Front is a quayside bar where I supped some Skinner's Heligan Honey while the Seven Stars is an unmissable Cornish time capsule serving ale straight from the cask and with distinctive curiosities including a coffin hatch and a keyfob collection.

- Holy Trinity, St Austell -
Thursday 2nd April: the last full day of the holiday puts the focus firstly on St Austell, one of the largest towns in the county. We came here during a holiday back in 2004 and I could remember the joint railway/bus interchange but not that much about the town itself. I certainly added to my knowledge this time around, most notably attempting various angles depicting Holy Trinity Church while the White Hart, the Stag and the Hop & Vine were all pubs clustered close to the churchyard. As for the interchange, the tired bus stands I recall from 2004 have been replaced by a more modern stops positioned directly next to the railway booking hall, while the old lattice footbridge connecting the station's platforms is intact but no longer in public use.

- Mevagissey Harbour -
A short drive from St Austell is the fishing village of Mevagissey, cue for yet more quay and harbour roaming. It's a delightful place to explore on a bright spring afternoon but I imagine it would be altogether different in the bleakness of winter. I investigate the craggy lanes either side of the main quay, climbing up onto the coastal path for a higher vantage point - you don't get views like this in the West Midlands!

- A Study of Seagulls -
I was also keen to capture some of the closer detail on the quayside, from the buoys and netting to the creels and other assorted fishing equipment. A couple of beady-eyed seagulls seem to be intent on keeping me company, that is until they spot some nearby fish and chips and I'm soon left in peace! Besides the harbour, Mevagissey's attractions include a model railway and the Fountain pub.

- Banjo Pier -
Friday 3rd April: the Easter weekend is underway although Good Friday is also my day for saying goodbye to Cornwall. Before the homeward trek I squeeze in one final lingering look around Looe, pausing on the windswept Banjo Pier to breath in the sea air before the last climb up Barbican Hill. It's been a great holiday, getting to see part of the country I rarely visit and developing a taste for hake, proper Cornish pasties and traditional cream teas!