Thursday, April 28

WME Flickr Focus: April 2016

The one-armed bandit of photostream progress is primed to reveal April's additions. Let's load some coins in the slot, pull the lever and see whether we can hit the jackpot...

Our pictorial penny arcade begins with a visit to WME Shropshire, which racks up points aplenty from Craven Arms (a station sign accompanied by Tuffins supermarket), Shrewsbury (the Bird in Hand pub sign on Coton Hill) and Church Aston near Newport (another pub sign, this time for the Aston). Add in a steam engine shot from the Severn Valley Railway at Bridgnorth and you have a suitable Salopian selection for starters.

Another tug on the lever and the Flickr fruit machine spins us a sequence of updates. There are cherries from WME Wolverhampton (the Swan at Compton, the entrance to Carvers Building Supplies and summertime shots of Bushbury Churchyard), lemons from WME Staffordshire (Cowley Tunnel on the Shropshire Union Canal near Gnosall, pretty pink flowers at Burslem Park) and watermelon slices from WME Sandwell (the Cradley Heath Chainworkers memorial statue plus the Coachmakers pub sign in Wednesbury).

Bashing away on the buttons, we attempt some nudges to increase our prospective winnings. WME Dudley thereby spins in some more mementoes from the Black Country Living Museum, although rather than fruit we seem to have landed two batches of vegetables alongside a presidential visit in narrowboat form. Applying a hold or two, we switch to WME Walsall for a Coppice Farm bus stop and the British Waterways noticeboards at Birchills. 

We just about have enough credit for a couple more plays. WME Warwickshire is busy in Bidford-on-Avon with the medieval bridge and a not-so-ancient bus stop sign, before WME Birmingham tests our luck to the limit with views of the Digbeth Branch Canal near Curzon Street. How have we done? Well the jackpot eluded us, but we still have the sweet sound of coins rattling through the dispenser as our payout is secured. Call back in May for more photographic prizewinning!

Monday, April 11

Raiding Codsall's Crown Joules

As something of a confirmed pub enthusiast, there are certain brewery companies that I hold in high regard for the kind of watering holes they create. Black Country Ales, Batham's, Holden's and Titanic are among my favourites for both ale and ambience, and to that list I must also add the Joule's Brewery of Market Drayton. The Coopers Tavern (Burton on Trent), the Red Lion (Market Drayton) and the Dolphin (Shrewsbury) are just some of the Joule's pubs I have considerable affection for, and now the brewery has an outlet virtually on my doorstep...

- The Crown -

When the Chip Foundation visited Codsall back in February I reported the ongoing refurbishment of the Crown, a longstanding landmark that watches over the village square. Now with the makeover complete, Dad and I set out with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation, riding the number 4 bus to Bakers Way terminus ready to see the finished result. The pub now bears the hallmark of Joules' house style, namely flagstone floors, solid wooden furniture and plenty of red cross breweriana - I very much like it, although it perhaps doesn't yet have that imperceptible sense of cosiness I particularly look out for. The customary Joule's beer range (Pale Ale, Blonde and Slumbering Monk) is augmented by a tempting selection of guest brews including Moorhouse's (White Witch), Oakham (JHB) and Peerless (Milky Milky) offerings, so there is much to be commended.

The changes at the Crown further bolster Codsall's growing reputation as a beer destination. Dad and I therefore make sure to try out the other local hostelries too. The Bull sits on the corner diagonally opposite the Crown and is a very presentable Banks's boozer boasting several selections from the Marston's portfolio. Just down the road we have the Station, somewhere I have commented on before but it more than merits a revisit, especially with the enticing prospect of supping Holden's Golden Glow among all the railway memorabilia. The lesser-spotted Holden's XB is also available on this occasion alongside Dancing Duck's Imperial Drake oatmeal stout at 6.5% ABV (for once I actually resisted the lure of the darker concoction). Both pubs prove to be lively and welcoming, a pleasure to visit.

- Finest Firs -

No crawl of Codsall can be considered complete without a visit to the Firs Club, even if we have to do battle with the doorbell to gain admission. As Wolverhampton CAMRA's reigning Club of the Year we have high expectations of this place but there is no danger of disappointment; in fact Dad is blown away by the quality of his Three Tuns XXX and no wonder, it was superb! Codsall is in easy reach of Wolverhampton either via train or bus (routes 4 and 5), and with the option of including a call at the wonderful Hail to the Ale in Claregate along the way, a visit to the village is respectfully recommended!

Sunday, April 10

Museum Musings

The Black Country Living Museum featured twice among my explorations last year, and with an April Friday afternoon going spare, I headed back across Dudley way to make further use of my 'Unchained' year-long pass...

- King Arthur no more -
The 126 bus from Wolverhampton gets things moving, an uneventful journey until I reach the site where the King Arthur had stood. This well-known Birmingham New Road landmark is sadly now just history, hence the scene greeting me is one of JCB diggers huddled over levelled earth like vultures picking over a carcass. Admittedly the pub had become a derelict eyesore in recent years, and the land will soon be home to a new Aldi supermarket judging by the banners currently in situ.

- Dudley Tunnel Portal -
A short stroll down the Birmingham New Road brings me to the updated headquarters of the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust, an impressive facility that incorporates the Portal visitor centre and Gongoozler restaurant. A little path catches my eye, leading down to the water's edge for a close-up view of the tunnel entrance. It certainly looks dark and claustrophobic inside with not much headroom for a tall chap such as myself; one day I might be brave enough to take the boat ride into the caverns but not on this occasion.

- Vintage Guy Bus -
Some useful pictures in the bag then and I haven't even reached the museum itself as yet. That soon changes though as I negotiate the entrance in the former Rolfe Street Baths building as reclaimed from Smethwick. Whereas my previous visits were relatively quiet affairs, this time the Easter holidays mean an altogether livelier experience with many kiddies enjoying trying to find all of the egg pictures dotted around the various attractions. I keep away from the main crowds though, taking a leisurely wander over by the school where I find a lovely preserved Guy bus in West Bromwich Corporation livery parked up by the bottom tram shed.

- Traditional Pub Fare -
My top target whenever I come to the museum has to be the Bottle & Glass, a proper parlour pub in the finest Black Country tradition. A frothy pint of good old Banks's Mild is a must here, especially when the beer is joined by its erstwhile companion the cheese and onion cob - perfect. Open fires, dim candles and period potplants add to the magic while I watch a working pony being tethered up in the adjacent carter's yard.

- Lime Kilns -
Reluctantly prising myself away from the inn, I venture uphill to a part of the museum I hadn't really investigated before. The lime kilns are certainly an interesting industrial relic and it can be unnerving looking down the chimneys from on high. I also make sure to do a full circuit of the Castle Fields Boat Dock where narrowboat President is letting off steam amid a series of high-pitched whistles. The dock includes a rolling shed, a fascinating wheeled structure typical of local boatyards where craftsmen would shelter from the elements while carrying out their repairs. Other boats in attendance include Kildare, Bessie and Diamond while a roaming blue gospel ministry caravan also adds to the excitement.

- Limelight Cinema -
Next up is a further look around the main village, where I eagerly raid Cook's Sweet Shop for bags of assorted bonbons and rum fudge, cracking confectionery! Another curiosity is the Limelight Cinema, originally located in Harts Hill but now rebuilt brick by brick complete with basic bench seating and marginally more luxurious tip-up chairs. Visitors here can relive the golden age of silent films by watching the likes of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin in all their grainy glory.

- Racecourse Colliery -
The queues outside Hobbs' fish and chip shop are predictably long as the famous dripping-cooked chips appear to be attracting quite some attention. The 1950s fairground is likewise doing a roaring trade where the holiday fun is soundtracked by Hit Parade musical memories from Kay Starr and Eddie Fisher. My repeat tour around the museum grounds is almost over, but I do allow myself a Racecourse Colliery rummage accounting for the mine shaft, pit wheel and coal wagons, not to mention the miners' hovel.

- Guarding the Zoo Entrance -
Once again the museum was a delight to explore, and I thoroughly recommend a visit to nostalgia-seekers and anyone remotely interested in local history or industry - it's excellent value too when you just pay one admission to get access for the next twelve months. Dudley's tourist attractions as a whole are being linked more seamlessly together, hence I follow a road leading directly through to the zoo where some sculptural wildlife examples keep watch over the entrance. I just have time to say hello to the Earl of Dudley's statue before catching my bus home, and that's that. 
Go on, visit the Black Country Living Museum, really you must!!