Monday, October 26

A Memory Lane Mission

Monday 26th October 2015: Back in the very early days of my exploration activities, before I even had a digital camera, a walk I did fairly regularly was to investigate the Wyrley & Essington Canal near Short Heath and Bloxwich, places that resonated with childhood family memories. That initial flurry of outings has been followed by a long hiatus meaning there are sections of the canal that I probably haven't photographed for ten years or so - a good excuse to lace up my walking boots then...

The result is another Monday Mission, and once again I am accompanied by Stephen who declares himself also partial to the Curly Wyrley (both the chocolate and the canal varieties). Our starting point will be Knights Bridge in Willenhall so we catch the number 28 bus from Heath Town to Coppice Lane via New Cross Hospital, Ashmore Park and New Invention. The Jolly Collier pub is an immediate photo target as we alight, a Mitchells & Butlers local boozer that's had a lick of cream paint since I last took pictures of it.

I was also keen to get some shots of Holly Bank Basin, although my A-Z map initially sends us in search of a non-existent path beside Howes Crescent. Joining the canal towpath instead, we soon encounter the junction with the basin as guarded by a solitary angler; the basin was originally constructed to interchange with a railway line that served local collieries, and today it looks the absolute epitome of autumn stretching away towards Wesley Road in the distance.

- Holly Bank Basin -

We can't explore the basin directly at this point, so we continue with the main canal towpath to Lane Head Bridge (with the Bridge and United Kingdom pubs for close company) and then Adam and Eve Bridge (adjacent to Manor Farm Drive). Leaving the canal at the latter, we go via Straight Road towards Short Heath with landmarks including the Swan (on the junction with Ezekiel Lane) and Short Heath Methodist Church (an impressive structure dating from 1881). Now we're on Wesley Road we can hunt down the other end of that elusive basin, finding a track that leads us to the arm terminus where some geese waddle about on the canal bank.

Curiosity satisfied, we're free to add in a few more Short Heath photos with the Amery Unionist Club, Holy Trinity Church and the Duke of Cambridge to the fore. These are all features I remember from childhood walks near my Aunt's old house, and another contender would have been the Woolpack pub at the top end of Coltham Road but that was replaced by housing some years ago. Bains' Store and the Woodlands Centre meet the shopping needs of local residents and help maintain some sense of a village identity, then Bloxwich Road North contributes Short Heath Clinic and the Woodlands Academy school.

- Rough Wood -

My memory lane theme is maintained with a visit to Rough Wood Nature Reserve, scene of my Geography coursework project many moons ago when I attempted to identify evidence of adverse visitor impacts such as littering, vandalism and footpath erosion. The reserve contains historic oak woodland and presents a pleasant pocket of calm despite the background hum of the M6 motorway. We meander along various paths and tracks to rejoin the Wyrley & Essington at Bentley Wharf Bridge with Stephen keeping a beady eye out for any fish lurking among the lily pads.

As the canal passes below the M6 motorway, we move seamlessly from Willenhall into the fringes of Bloxwich with Edwards Bridge being one of two Curly Wyrley crossing points on Willenhall Lane. Indeed, the road would offer a handy shortcut if we weren't intent on visiting Sneyd Junction with its neighbouring wharf moorings. The junction is where the abandoned line to Wyrley Bank once departed, and you can still see traces of the first lock straight ahead whereas the Wyrley & Essington main line bends off right beneath the junction footbridge. Stephen and I have separate recollections of the pools in the vicinity, including Sneyd Reservoir (the feeder for the canal) and Baileys Pool (where my Nan and Grandad would walk Nipper their pet Jack Russell).

- Sneyd Junction -

All this walking means we're ready for some lunch, so at Sneyd Footbridge we detour into the Dudley Fields estate to collect some chips from George's Fish Bar (a pot of curry sauce is an extra bit of indulgence on my part). Bus routes serving the estate are the 70 and the 326, each partially running along Central Drive and Sneyd Hall Road. Those chips refuel us in readiness for more exertion as we return to the canal and leisurely stroll down towards Birchills, passing the edges of Beechdale and encountering Brick Kiln Bridge, Wall End Bridge and Stokes Bridge in quick succession.

Birchills Junction is where the Wyrley & Essington meets the northernmost reaches of the Walsall Canal, and serves as a suitable location at which to declare our primary mission successfully accomplished. A passage by the George Stephenson pub connects us to Reedswood Retail Park which occupies the site of the old municipal power station. A 70A bus is then on hand opposite Sainsbury's for our link into Walsall, where Stephen bids me farewell having stoically endured enjoyed another one of my extended hikes.

- Birchills Junction -

I still have a half hour window of exploration going spare though, a gap neatly filled by a mooch around Chuckery where the Corner Cafe (Selbourne Street), St Luke's Church and Chuckery Green's patch of a park all boost my picture haul in a most acceptable fashion - even in a corner of Walsall I've covered quite thoroughly, it seems there are still new photo gems to be found. With that I declare the outing complete, and I'm delighted that those nostalgic nuggets along memory lane have been caught on camera once more.

Thursday, October 22

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Wellington

Now that another English cricketing summer is at an end, the Chip Foundation are able resurrect their winter programme of occasional outings beginning this year with a wander around Wellington...

- Arrival at Wellington -
The 10:25 Shrewsbury stopper train from Wolverhampton gets things underway as we discuss recent happenings in the Rugby World Cup and the lack of northern hemisphere involvement in the semi finals. We reach Wellington as the clock strikes eleven and alight to a prolonged musical medley from the bells of All Saints Church. Wellington Station has been a personal favourite of mine since my first photographic visit here back in 2004, and I certainly relish capturing the GWR architecture on camera again today.

- The Charlton Arms -
As an old Shropshire market town Wellington offers plenty in the way of character and interest as we enjoy a stroll around. Along with the church, landmark features include the Charlton Arms Hotel (a sadly disused former coaching inn building), Edbgaston House and Market Square while among the local hostelries are the Dun Cow, White Lion and the Raven.

- Cricket Club from afar -
Leaving the town centre behind for a while, we follow Haygate Road out in search of the local cricket ground. The Haygate pub and Bowring Park are encountered on route before we spot the Orleton Park base of Wellington Cricket Club looking attractively autumnal in the shadow of The Wrekin - Stephen remembers umpiring here a good few years ago.

- Turnpike Turpin -
Next up we have Holyhead Road where Nick adopts the guise of 'Turnpike Turpin' with reference to the route's historical significance in forming an important link between Holyhead and London. A mileage marker seems a suitable location to try and extract some tolls, although neither myself or Stephen were forthcoming in paying for our passage.

- At home in The Wickets -
Just a little further and we find our first pub port of call, the Wickets Inn on the corner of Wrekin Road. A welcome half of Thwaites' Wainwright Ale goes down nicely for myself and Nick while Stephen takes the opportunity to recover from a bout of cramp by seeking out the healing properties of lemonade and blackcurrant.

- A Royal Route? -
With Mr B restored to some kind of fitness, we proceed with a further Holyhead Road stretch to encounter the Cock Hotel and the Railway in quick succession. Neither establishment is open on a Wednesday lunchtime but there's still entertainment to be had from a local sidestreet name, no doubt so titled as to make our very own royal feel most welcome. 

- The William Withering -
Returning to Wellington town centre, we call into the William Withering Wetherspoons for our next spot of refreshment. An autumn real ale festival is underway here (and indeed at Wetherspoons pubs across the country) so we select respective tasters of Minagof Smoked Porter and Oakham's Owl & Pussycat Ale. As for William Withering, he was an eighteenth-century physician who was born in the town and first prescribed the medical use of digitalis (an active compound extracted from foxglove leaves).

- The Sausage Shot -
No Chip Foundation outing is complete without lunch, so today's comes courtesy of the Silver Fish takeaway on Tan Bank. Chips procured we commandeer a bench on Walker Street by the Civic Centre and tuck in, Stephen offering a variation on the customary chip photo pose by showcasing a selected sausage.

- Cappuccino Contentment -
Our third and final Wellington pub is the Pheasant on Market Street, which serves as the base for the Wrekin Brewing Company (effectively the Ironbridge Brewery renamed and relocated). There are Titanic tipples to tempt us here, Nick clutching a Cappuccino while I availed myself of some excellent Blackberry Gold. As if the ale alone wasn't memorable enough, the Pheasant secured its place in Chip Foundation legend when Stephen received a seminal phone call offering him a job which he duly accepted.

- A Harp Hurrah -
News such as that needs to be celebrated so we break our homeward journey with an hour-long stay in Albrighton. The village is home to four pubs of which the Harp Hotel tickles our fancy, this being part of the Hop Back Brewery's tied estate albeit somewhat distant from their Salisbury headquarters. Dark Drake is the ale sampled as we sit in a wicker settee corner furnished with white leather cushions.

- The Great Western -
All good things come to an end and this particular outing concludes with a visit to the Great Western, a firm Chip Foundation favourite down by Wolverhampton's old Low Level station. Here we are joined by Ken who brings news of bowling victory as we toast Stephen's employment success. Cheers!

Monday, October 12

The Roger Reunion Continued...

Since our initial reunion catch-up around Wordsley back in March, Roger and I have completed a couple more outings with Wolverhampton and Cradley Heath acting as the respective host destinations...

Firstly I offer you news of our meeting in July, during which we sampled the delights of Hail to the Ale in Claregate, Wolverhampton. This Morton Brewery micropub has been voted CAMRA's Pub of the Year for the entire West Midlands region, no mean achievement when you consider the quality of the competition right across Birmingham and the Black Country. Morton's own Jelly Roll and some Titanic Stout were the ales of choice here as we savoured the relaxed community atmosphere and admired the canine-themed pets gallery.

- Clockwatching in Compton -
Other July calling points included the Claregate (which had recently campaigned successfully to avoid closure) followed by two WME favourites. The Swan at Compton is an old inn at the bottom of The Holloway; Roger timed how long it took us to walk there with my prediction proving surprisingly accurate! Then came the Chindit on Merridale Road, an end-of-terrace former off licence where we attempted to play pool while supping from the selection of blonde and golden beers. A nice afternoon on WME's home patch.

- Improved Interchange -
Fast forward a few months and the story is brought right up to date courtesy of a Cradley Heath visit last Saturday. For me this meant a first experience of Cradley Heath's refurbished transport interchange, which at first glance isn't hugely different from how I remember it looking before although the improved facility does boast a higher specification of bus-detecting doors, shiny silvery stands and better protection from the elements.

- Chainmakers Commemorated -
While waiting for Roger to arrive I strolled the short distance to Mary McArthur Gardens, a park and open space named in honour of a prominent women's rights campaigner from the early twentieth century. The gardens include a sculptural memorial to the female chainmakers of Cradley Heath who successfully staged a strike in 1910 as part of their struggle to gain a minimum wage.

- Nectar in the Plough & Harrow -
With Mr SBI in attendance we had a wander along Cradley Heath High Street, strangely devoid of traffic due to works digging up the gas mains. Corngreaves Road leads us to the Plough & Harrow, a former Banks's boozer now operating under the auspices of the Worcestershire Brewing Company whose Nectar Bitter proved very aptly named. 

- The Bull Terrier gets castrated?! -
Our next intended port of call was to be the Bull Terrier on Surfeit Hill Road but alas it has been converted into a Family Shopper convenience store, a shame as I rather liked the pub when I visited it with D9. The number 53 bus just happens to be passing though so we catch that for a short hop down to Old Hill before watching the F1 Russian Grand Prix qualifying in the Riddins Tavern.

- Waggon & Horses -
With Nico Rosberg confirmed on pole position, we had clearance to continue through to Reddal Hill Road for a look at the Waggon & Horses, which is now back open as the sister Ostlers Alehouses pub to the White Horse in Harborne. We were rather impressed with the resulting 'urban ale venue' effect, partaking of some Green Duck All American Blonde and a tasty cob each.

- Where's Frankie Vaughan when you need him -
Now then, what to do by way of a fitting finale? Well, checking in on two relatively recent brewery developments certainly seemed to fit the bill, starting with Sadler's Bar literally a stone's throw from Lye Station. This is a welcome companion to the nearby Windsor Castle and we eagerly availed ourselves of some Yoricks Skull while enjoying views of the mash tuns. Next up comes the Badelynge Bar, the public face of the Green Duck Brewery as accessed by a bright green door off Rufford Road - thankfully we didn't need any secret handshakes or whispered passcodes to gain entry! With duck-themed ales obtained we pulled up a pew for some World Cup rugby action and made the acquaintance of Diesel, a very handsome husky dog who liked the occasional howl. A Gigmill nightcap and a meeting with Roger's very own canine chum (hello Alfie) set the seal on a highly enjoyable outing - cheers!

Tuesday, October 6

A South Birmingham Scrummage

The Rugby World Cup is well underway (the less said about England's performances the better) and there were suitably-themed ales afoot as the Hub Marketing Board braced themselves for a day in South Birmingham, rucking and mauling their way from Highgate to Hawkesley...

- Spotted outside Snow Hill -
This would be a full day blast and an early start to boot, with the Chairman's bald spot already documented at just turned 8am in the morning. D9 was being distracted by the Phyllis Nicklin archive exhibition outside Snow Hill station, admiring various vintage photos depicting Birmingham in the 1960s.

- The new New Street -
There is plenty of scope for an elongated morning ferret so an early target is the redeveloped New Street station, now fully open (and extremely shiny) along with the Grand Central shopping mall. The reaction to the improved facility appears to have been extremely positive thus far, and there is still the completion of the Midland Metro extension to look forward to in the not too distant future.

- Highgate Closet Homage -
Members proceed next to Highgate where Gooch Street allows views of the Charles Napier pub, the local post office and the Horton Square shopping precinct. Star find however is evidence of a former closet built into the bridge over the River Rea, whereby Chairman D9 is beside himself with glee at the sight of original tiles and the former ladies entrance.

- Cannon Hill Park -
New Hope Park and the former Peacock pub also feature in these Highgate investigations before Clevedon Road leads into Cannon Hill for views of Calthorpe Park and some Cheddar Road terraces. D9's bladder is suffering the consequences of coffee consumption but luckily the historic cast iron urinal on Court Road corner is still operational so he is able to continue into Cannon Hill Park in a state of relative comfort.

- Which way to the cafe please? -
Secretary WME was now keen to explore a pocket of Birmingham he didn't know so well, namely Moor Green. Russell Road provides a leafy approach route to emerge by the intriguing Ideal Benefit Society building, then Reddings Road brings us into Moseley, passing the site of The Reddings rugby ground in the process. Moseley is nominated as our breakfast destination although finding a traditional cafe might prove tricky - perhaps the compass on the wall of the Fighting Cocks can help?

- Site of The Reddings -
A loop of Moseley Village reveals the Patrick Kavanagh bar (Woodbridge Road) and the All Services Club (Church Road) as potential photo targets prior to a pit stop in Demaines on St Mary's Row. This establishment is definitely more gastro than greasy but it solves our cravings for bacon, egg and black pudding, powering us up nicely for more Moor Green. A further homage to The Reddings thus follows; Moseley Rugby Football Club played here for 125 years until the year 2000, after which the stadium was replaced by a small housing estate comprising Twickenham Drive and Harlequin Drive cul-de-sacs.

- A Highbury Highlight -
With a quick look at Highbury Hall and the former Britannic Assurance offices we reach our first pub of the day, the Highbury on Dads Lane. This 1930s M&B roadhouse is an ideal setting for an opening rugby-related brew (Wadworth's Dirty Rucker) and a ding-dong darts duel that saw Whirlwind WME prevail by four legs to two. 

- A WME Darts Whitewash -
Another landmark pub soon awaits us, this being the Hazelwell as located at the far end of Pineapple Road (just off the Outer Circle bus route). Members investigate potential closet remains represented by an intriguing outbuilding before the Secretary builds on his darts lead by reeling off four successive legs including a lesser-spotted double checkout. No wonder I look so pleased!

- The Hazelwell Hub -
The Chairman's consolation after that 8-2 defeat is a marketing moment courtesy of the Hazelwell Hub, a community leisure and conference venue next door to Hazelwell Church. The requisite photo shoot is staged and we are clear to home in on Kings Heath where the Red Lion appeals with its handsome Cotswold-style limestone exterior (provided it isn't covered in scaffolding) and the Kings Heath Cricket Club allows us in as CAMRA members for a nice sample of Abbeydale Elgar.

- Sulking in Shirley -
The afternoon agenda is Mr D9's domain but things go slightly astray when the 76 drops us off in Yardley Wood just as his misbehaving bladder starts to play up again. With the situation nearing critical proportions, the number 3 bus offers a solution of sorts through an emergency visit to Shirley and the swiftest of halves in the Colebrook. An expensive round with the risk of chewing wasps was not what our crestfallen Chairman had in mind but needs must, and I'm not sure the Tight Head ale was to his taste either!

- A Gladiatorial Bald Spot? -
After that unintended Shirley interruption we were obliged to concentrate on deepest South Birmingham for the rest of the day. Matters are therefore rectified with a ride on the 49 to Druids Heath where despondent D9 is soon revived by the sight of tower blocks, a 1960s shopping parade and the disused shell of the Gladiator (a flat-roofed pub that also traded for some time as the Phoenix).

- Tackling the Tunnel -
Firmly back on message as regards our original brief, we hitch another lift on the 49 to travel the short distance into Hawkesley. Two estate pubs await us here, the Greenwood Tree (off Teviot Grove) and the Shannon (or is it the Tunnel) by the local shops. Neither would win any architectural awards but as hardcore hostelries they hold a certain fascination, plus a half of Rugbeer keeps our themed beer thread ticking over.

- Homeward we go -
Cotteridge is now calling as our culminating checkpoint, but not before a few dramas negotiating the local bus network. It was the 18 (driven by a chap D9 referred to as Jesus) that ultimately connected us to Cotteridge for our closing half in the Grant Arms, with the Chairman then tasked with steering the Outer Circle on our way home. This concludes an excellent excursion that had been eventful and entertaining in equal measure - cheers!!