Wednesday, August 31

WME Flickr Focus: August 2016

The final day of August brings with it the twice-yearly merry-go-round that is Transfer Deadline Day, where football clubs up and down the country join the mad scramble to finalise their playing squads ready for the months ahead. Not wanting to miss out, the West Midlands Exploration photostream has its own hectic comings and goings to report...

Our biggest spender this transfer window is WME Staffordshire where recruitment has reached double figure proportions. Among the intake are Pye Green Fish Bar, Cannock's Shoal Hill Tavern, a field near Shareshill and a crafty canine mural from Stoke Market. Bridges have been bagged from the Shropshire Union Canal with No. 18 (Wheaton Aston) and No. 32 (near Gnosall) eagerly joining the fray, plus a pair of pottery players have been picked up from Spode.

Also busy wheeling and dealing in a Barry Fry kind of fashion we have WME Birmingham, snapping up street signs from both Hawkesley (Shannon Road) and Stirchley (Pineapple Road). An evening shot of a Sutton Coldfield station sign was a last minute registration, beating the 11pm deadline by a matter of seconds (with thankfully no need for a fax machine).

WME Dudley has bolstered its defence courtesy of a flurry of Stourbridge-related arrivals (a Parry's People Mover at Junction station, an evening Class 153 at Stourbridge Town, a bus station rebuild snapshot) whereas WME Wolverhampton has sought attacking reinforcements in the form of Tettenhall Library, a Showell Circus bus stop and two separate sightings of Springfield Brewery. 

Every deadline day traditionally offers up a smattering of free transfers and loan deals among the lower divisions, although in this case WME Warwickshire has prised open the chequebook to secure the signatures of Stratford Racecourse and the Old Thatch Tavern. WME Walsall was very much concerned with bargain buys, thus rummaging around on the Rushall Canal for a sequence of lock scenes, while WME Sandwell coaxed the Scott Arms out of retirement for one final attempt at glory.

With that the window has slammed shut, but whereas the football fraternity now have to wait until January before their next batch of signings, the WME photostream will be permitted to continue squad-building right the way through the year. Until September then, enjoy the photos!

Sunday, August 28

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Bridgnorth

Friday 26th August 2016 sees the Chip Foundation at full complement in order to celebrate Nick's birthday over in sunny Shropshire. Beautiful Bridgnorth awaits...

- A Riverside Scene -
Mr Beardsmore Senior and Ken are joining Stephen, Nick and myself for such an exalted occasion and we collectively board the number 9 bus departing Wolverhampton at 10:45. The route replaced the 890 in providing through connections beyond Bridgnorth to Ironbridge and Telford, although we have the familiar sights of Trescott, Shipley and Rudge Heath to keep us occupied along the A454 complete with country smells and several garden centres. We alight on Bridge Street for a Low Town lurk, seeking out a Severnside path with High Town atop the opposite bank.

- Anyone for ice cream? -
The Beardsmore clan scan the Severn for fishing potential as we cross the old stone bridge then head up the Cartway hoping for our opening tipple. A giant ice cream model proves but a momentary distraction before the Black Boy claims our custom - the inn is said to take its name after King Charles II's swarthy complexion, and although I behave myself with a half of Rowton's Galaxy, Nick and Ken insist on manhandling a couple of Spikey Blondes.

- Cliff Railway Carriage -
An engineering chat during which Mr B Senior declares his love of welding precedes a ride on the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, said to be the oldest and steepest inland funicular in the country. Two single carriages counterbalance each other, one going up and one going down in perfect synchronicity. The ride is short but atmospheric with the compact booking offices at either end very much contributing to the charm.

- A Severn Valley Snippet -
From the Cliff Railway to the Severn Valley Railway next, making our way via Castle Walk and Cannon Steps with more river vistas to enjoy. The SVR station is photographic gold especially with a steam locomotive arriving right on cue to add to the fun - the 'Still Going Strong' badge on the engine could apply equally well to our venerable birthday boy and not just the restored heritage operation (the railway celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015). Lest Nick should get overexcited, we take the precaution of calling into the Railwayman's Arms for our second supping stop, availing ourselves of either Batham's Best Bitter or Bewdley's Station Porter; the refreshment room setting is a treasure trove of totem signs and other assorted rail-related artefacts.

- A feline friend -
Our quest for lunch sees us troop uphill into the main town centre where we find a chip shop on Waterloo Terrace. A bench overlooking the Cliff Railway is a nice perch to watch the world go by, although we do attract the attentions of a brazenly curious cat who seems more partial to mini-fish than faggots or battered roe. Strangely enough Puss soon scarpers once all the chips have been eaten, no doubt intent on finding other gullible kindhearted day-trippers willing to offer a free feed.

- Chivalric Chums in the Old Castle -
The pubcrawl continues with two West Castle Street establishments in close proximity. The Old Castle almost tries to conceal its identity behind a riot of hanging baskets, then has a suit of armour waiting to greet us in the entrance lobby so that two historic relics can pose next to each other! Further evidence of the pub's green-fingered credentials can be found in the beer garden where pretty pot plants and Hobsons jumbrellas form a perfect backdrop to a chat about our earliest memories. Thwaites' Lancaster Bomber and Wye Valley HPA act as our ale choices here.

- Porter Pose with the Seaside Special -
A few doorsteps along is the White Lion, tempting taphouse of the Hop & Stagger brewery who are based in a converted cowshed just a few miles away. The delectable Bridgnorth Porter demands urgent inspection (I really like it) although others of our party are inclined to take a Golden Wander; not Stephen though as he has some unexpected lime to tickle his teetotal tastebuds! Besides the liquid considerations, the pub's most memorable feature is a Seaside Special railway mural, prompting Mr B Senior to prepare for an imminent coach trip by parking himself in Llandudno corner.

- Homeward Bound on the 9 -
This just leaves us one final curtain call with the Kings Head on Whitburn Street getting the nod for combinations of Hobsons Champion Mild and Town Crier. The building boasts an impressive timber-framed frontage along with flagstone floors and original oak beams. Things get even better when I spot a surprise in the rear courtyard - another pub! The Stables Bar has set up base here as a showcase for the Bridgnorth Brewery, a joint Sadler's/Craddock's collaboration with wares concocted in one of the outhouses - a swift Monarchs Way is therefore a must before the 16:53 number 9 home. Cheers, and Happy Birthday Nick!!

Thursday, August 18

Mission Log: Erdington

The resurrected Monday Mission series rolls around onto its 18th episode, and with barely a cloud in the sky there's a sweltering stroll in prospect as I link Stockland Green, Erdington and Kingstanding...

- 323219 at Gravelly Hill -

 Monday 15th August 2016 and its go go go from Gravelly Hill, my chosen station starting point on the Cross City line. I've only ever taken photos here once or twice before so it's useful to be back - the main booking hall is on the Birmingham side stretching up above the platform with zigzag ramps for mobility access. The customary Class 323 electric multiple units are in attendance for some opening camera action, then I seek out Slade Road as my walk commences.

- Village Green -

Stockland Green has featured periodically over the years with the various ups and downs of the Stockland pub being a running thread through my archive. Having spent time as a Chinese restaurant then seemingly closing down completely, the pub has sprung back to life under the Flaming Grill banner and is now calling itself the Village Green. The adjacent Plaza bingo has seen little change by comparison, still sporting its Gala logos much as it did when I first saw it. John Banks Menswear has been a Slade Road fixture for several decades while the local post office, primary care centre and Highcroft health complex also add a sprinkling of photo interest.

- Erdington Abbey -

Now for Erdington, passing a covered reservoir site to reach Six Ways junction (a notable bottleneck on the Outer Circle bus route) followed by the High Street. It always seems busy here and today is no exception - plenty of traffic, plenty of shoppers and plenty of sunshine! St Barnabas Church happily displays its full glory again having suffered a devastating fire in 2007; a new extension combining glass and steel is visually impressive, bringing cutting edge design to the historic church structure. Other prominent Erdington features include the Wilton Market, the local library (on Orphanage Road) and the leisure centre although it's Erdington Abbey that most intrigues me, a Gothic-styled building that formerly served as the base for Benedictine monks.

- 65 at Short Heath -

Sneaking stealthily along Station Road, I renew my photographic acquaintance with both the Red Lion and the Royal Oak before branching off along Short Heath Road. A monkey puzzle tree on the corner of Court Lane catches my eye, as does the entrance to Bleak Hill Park. Short Heath itself is one of those places I've somehow avoided until now, usually passing through on the 65 bus without stopping. I correct this omission by investigating the local shops at the junction with Streetly Road with Kimbellino's Cafe, Pete's News and the Atlantic Fish Bar among their contingent.

- Witton Lakes -

Heading towards Perry Common, I note St Margaret Mary Catholic Church with its saintly shrine then get distracted by the open spaces flanking Witton Lakes. Originally constructed to supply drinking water for Birmingham's burgeoning industrial population, the lakes now fulfill a leisure role and provide me with some peaceful pictures as I take the path to Gipsy Lane. Cemetery walls accompany me to College Road, then I say hello to Perry Common Library and the neighbouring fire station.

- Hawthorn Shopping Centre -

Warren Farm was a calling point during one of my early missions back in November 2014, although today I approach from a different direction. Hawthorn Road is my main focus here and boasts a lengthy sequence of local shops running almost continuously through to Kingstanding Road. Charlton Road Gospel Hall is a new find then Burford Road teases me with playing fields as I plot my way through to the Golden Hind, gathering an extra shot or two to supplement those I took with D9 earlier this year. 

- Pub in Peril -

Another pub picture is what I have in mind by way of a finale, although the Hare & Hounds (Pudding & Pint) is a forlorn fire-ravaged sight with charred roof timbers sticking out like a blackened skeleton. I understand the building was already derelict before May's flames surely rendered the situation irretrievable and it can only be a matter of time before demolition is its ultimate fate. On that sombre note I catch the 934 through to Walsall and prepare to do some proper work for the rest of the afternoon. Mission once more accomplished!

Saturday, August 13

Pattingham and Perton

Thursday 11th August 2016 and the prospect of watching some test cricket and Olympic sporting action means I'm keen to stay close to home for my latest photographic assignment. A little ride out into South Staffordshire sounds just about ideal, so armed with my camera I board the bus to Pattingham...

- Pattingham Village Sign -
The 10A is the route in question, operated by Arriva for a gentle trundle through Compton, Tettenhall Wood and Perton, including the section of bus lane between Yew Tree Lane and Gainsborough Drive - the service is effectively the same as the former 517 I remember exploring courtesy of Midland Rider. Beyond Perton there are country lanes with church spire views prior to the terminus at Pattingham's High Street shopping parade, where upon alighting the carved totem sign outside the village hall is ready and willing to provide my first pictures of the day.

- St Chad's Church -
Although I've visited Pattingham numerous times over the years, I'm eager to tease out some new photo targets if possible. The Pigot Arms, the Crown and St Chad's Church are all familiar from previous outings but still very much worthy of additional attention, the church lych gate especially so with an attractive garland of summer blooms. The edges of the village are where discoveries can be made so taking High Street towards Claverley reveals the Pattingham Club and a vicarage noticeboard before Rudge Road offers haystack horizons over farmers' fields. 

- Double Decker Duty on the 10A -
Returning to the village centre, I'm tempted next by Patshull Road for a wander in the general direction of Burnhill Green. Patshull Park is roughly a mile and a half away, offering golfing, fishing and hotel facilities for those so inclined, but I merely content myself with a short walk for shots of hedgerow-lined lanes. Lunchtime involves a spot of refreshment in the Pigot Arms, some Brough's Springfield ale accompanying coverage of the Olympic swimming heats, and then an Arriva double decker appears outside the shops for my ride back to Perton.

- Perton Upper Lake -
Essentially a dormitory village for Wolverhampton overspill, Perton's large housing estates occupy the site of a former airfield. Amenities include the Anders Square shopping precinct (with a Sainsbury's store as its centrepiece), a civic centre, a branch library, The Church at Perton and a play area. A couple of lakes present a more natural type of scenery although the local geese seem to be avoiding the water in favour of occupying Perton First School's playing fields.

- Pear & Partridge -
Perton's pub contingent comprises the Wrottesley Arms (centrally positioned as part of Anders Square) and the Pear and Partridge (which has a more peripheral location on The Parkway orbital link road). The former is corporate Marston's, the latter a John Barras establishment with a name that reflects Perton's pear-growing heritage. A photo of each completes proceedings on this occasion, leaving me free for the bus ride home and an afternoon of medal-winning entertainment thanks to Team GB. 

Tuesday, August 9

Out and About in Kent

Family holidays in recent years have taken me almost the length and breadth of England, from Cumbria to Cornwall via Lincolnshire and beyond. One area I've never visited though is Kent, the county sometimes referred to as the 'Garden of England' being a notable gap on the wider WME map. Our getaway for 2016 would change all that, so here I bring you news from Faversham of a seven day stay...

- Faversham Creek -
Day One: Saturday 30th July involves a steady journey down from the West Midlands followed by the chance to get to know our new base a little better. The M1 and the M25 pose few problems with even the notorious Dartford Crossing moving freely, meaning we reach Faversham just after 10 o'clock. The town is home to the Shepherd Neame Brewery and features several pubs from their tied estate, such as the Sun Inn, the Albion Tavern and the Railway Hotel. We enjoy a stroll along Faversham Creek, an ancient waterway link from the Swale that helped the area become prosperous through trade with London.

- Broadstairs Brass -
Day Two: Sunday 31st July offers considerable contrasts between neighbouring seaside resorts. A morning in Margate reveals faded glory and an especially offputting grotty block of flats, although Old Town and the Harbour Arm definitely have their merits. Broadstairs meanwhile looks beautifully presented as the sun shines down on a brass band performance par excellence, traditional English entertainment perfect for a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Adding to the magic are a couple of micropubs whereby I indulge in rhubarb cider at the Thirty Nine Steps and Old Slug Porter at Mind the Gap - superb!

- Canterbury Cathedral -
Day Three: Monday 1st August and the new month gets off to a spectacular start among Canterbury's cerebral streets. The city is served by two railway stations - Canterbury East and Canterbury West - and I survey both along with the Kings Mile and various stretches of old wall fortifications. The majestic Canterbury Cathedral can be tantalisingly spotted on the skyline although it costs £12 to enter the precincts for a closer view; I get my history fix among the ruins of Canterbury Castle instead.

- Deal Castle -
Day Four: Tuesday 2nd August brought with it the only adverse weather of the entire week. A drenching in Deal is therefore in store, but not before plenty of pictures have already been harvested, notably of the pier, promenade and distinctively-rounded castle (a Tudor artillery fortress built at the command of King Henry VIII). The Just Reproach is my micropub moment here, savouring Lacons' Affinity ale before the rain sets in.

- Cricket at Canterbury -
Day Five: Wednesday 3rd August combining three of my favourite things- railways, cricket and beer. The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence is home to Kent County Cricket Club who are playing Worcestershire during Canterbury Festival week. £5.50 covers my day return between Faversham and Canterbury East, then I can settle in at the ground enjoying views of the famous lime tree on the boundary's edge. Worcestershire are batting but making hard work of it, eventually crawling along to 211 all out while I raid the CAMRA marquee for a couple of Kentish brews, Goody Ales' Good Health followed by Goacher's Mild. The carnival atmosphere here is a joy to match the lovely weather - a few days later Kent would go on to complete a comprehensive victory.

- Whitstable Harbour -
Day Six: Thursday 4th August for another seaside special plucking prime pictures from refined Herne Bay and wonderful Whitstable. Lunch is that highly memorable Cockney classic, pie mash and liquour (a green parsley-flecked sauce) in the shadow of Herne Bay's clock tower, while the subsequent constitutional pier stroll features a cute 'yarnbombing' array of knitted characters. As for Whitstable, the working harbour has seagulls on sentry duty eyeing up the oysters and crabs. The Ship Centurion on Oxford Street is my watering hole of choice, admiring the vibrant hanging baskets while supping some Tonbridge Old Chestnut. A ride on a Southeastern Javelin train (named after swimmer Rebecca Adlington) rounds things off - a GroupSave ticket means the return fare from Faversham was a bargain £2.50 each, now that can't be bad!

- Rochester High Street -
Day Seven: Friday 5th August sees us on the trail of Charles Dickens with some Rochester roaming by the side of the mighty Medway. I cross the river awhile to investigate Strood on the opposite bank, finding an unsightly railway station in the process, then return to Rochester for a Dickens-themed dalliance picking out buildings that inspired the author's celebrated works. A final Faversham flourish involves a couple of pints in the Elephant, a popular free house with a stunning beer garden, and then on Saturday morning we make our way home to the West Midlands at the end of a cracking Kent week!