Thursday, September 29

WME Flickr Focus: September 2016

It's all aboard the good ship West Midlands Exploration as we once more set sail through the open waters of the WME Flickr photostream. Let's take a nautical name-check of the pictures that were press-ganged into service during September...

Taking the helm for this particular voyage is WME Worcestershire, usually something of a reluctant captain but happy to assert some authority with a variety of Worcester photos. The city's racecourse makes its presence felt while Britannia Square and the Garibaldi pub are also willing to bark a few orders and St John's district war memorial keeps a steady eye on the wheel.

Promoted to first mate is WME Staffordshire which takes its second-in-command duties most seriously. Whiston and Wheaton Aston have been summoned into shape, contributing the Swan pub, a Golden Glow sign and a Turner's Garage update between them. There have also been reports of shipshape stuff from Stafford where the Victoria Park glasshouse offers a brace of botanical bonuses.

Down on deck, the busy boatswains include WME Sandwell (the Tilted Barrel at Tipton, a Cottage pub sign from Wednesbury and a reminder of St James's parish church, again from Wednesbury) and WME Dudley (a curious carving from Stevens Park in Wollescote paired with a peek inside the Bird in Hand at Wordsley). WME Wolverhampton meanwhile hauls in Tettenhall Pool and Wednesfield's sadly-closed Pyle Cock to supplement our ship's company.

Finally, a few scraps of sustenance from our galley chefs. WME Coventry serves up a Stoke Aldermoor street scene (The Moorfield), WME Telford rustles up a Cock Hotel circular wall plaque from Wellington, and WME Warwickshire avoids the dreaded weevilled biscuits with a Stag's Head sign from Wellesbourne. That now closes our captain's log for September, but who knows where October's ocean-faring may yet lead...

Monday, September 12

A Walmley Walkabout

Almost two years on from the original Monday Mission outing (September 2014's Rambling Around Rushall), the series has now reached its nineteenth instalment courtesy of some Walmley wanderings with a partial guest appearance from Mr Beardsmore...

I set out solo to begin with by catching the Cross City train to Chester Road ready for an opening whiff of Wylde Green. The primary school and separate nursery are still present and correct in the environs of Green Lanes, while on Emscote Drive the Community Hall remains intact but has lost its branch library facility. My photos here mean I'm in danger of being dragged into a Zumba class so I make a sharp exit in the general direction of Walmley.

Penns Lane is my escape route and proves to be surprisingly interesting. A Mormon Church and the Ramada Hotel (Penns Hall) are noteworthy features either side of Plants Brook, then I locate Walmley Cricket Club as based at the John Findlay Memorial Ground just off Eldon Drive. Part of the ground backs onto the railway near the site of Penns Station, a former stop on the Sutton Park Line where you can still see possible platform footing masonry when looking out from Penns Lane Bridge. Passenger services ceased in 1965 but the line remains open to freight, a fact confirmed when a lengthy wagon trundles through towards Castle Bromwich.

Walmley itself is a place I've visited only sparingly so bits of it are familiar and others less so. The main shops on Walmley Road fall into the first category, as does the Fox pub and the local library although just across the road I can't really remember noticing St John's Church or the bowling club before. A flurry of text messages then precede the arrival of Stephen who has safely negotiated his way across from Sutton Coldfield on the 914 - he soon gets put to work posing at the railway bridge as a further homage to Penns Station.

- Penns Halt Pose -

With mission membership now complete, our wider Walmley walk takes us along Walmley Ash Road passing an array of local schools. The Calder Drive estate beckons with modern housing surrounding an area of open space; amenities here include the Calder Green pub and a small grocery store, otherwise there are pigeon-box cul-de-sacs galore as the road meanders vaguely back towards the village centre.

Lunch - chips come as standard whenever Stephen's about - is partaken of by the original Walmley almshouses, built in 1863 and now housing the offices of the Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust on the corner with Fox Hollies Road. We then investigate more of Walmley Road, uncovering the second of today's three sporting locations in the process. Having already accounted for cricket, now it is rugby's turn in the spotlight thanks to the Roger Smoldon Ground home of Sutton Coldfield RFC where we neatly dodge becoming embroiled in any rucks or scummages.

An intriguing footpath opposite the rugby club driveway points to New Hall Valley Country Park, which comprises 198 acres of greenbelt land connecting Walmley with Sutton. The park partially straddles a landscaped section of Plants Brook and contains significant buildings such as New Hall Hotel, a 13th century hunting lodge that nowadays is said to be England's oldest inhabited moated manor. Our chosen track bypasses the hotel but does reveal New Hall Mill, a surviving water mill that has occasional open days during the summer months.

Emerging onto Wylde Green Road, we pass Vesey Cottage and Bishop Walsh Catholic School to reach Maney Hill, steadily plodding our way to the third sporting specimen of the mission. Whilst also hosting matches involving Aston Villa Ladies and Romulus, the Central Ground on Coles Lane is primarily the headquarters of Sutton Coldfield Town FC - given the club's nickname is the Royals, it may have been more appropriate to have Nick on hand for the requisite photos but Mr B gallantly steps up to the mark!

- Something Strigine -

Duke Street provides our approach into Sutton Coldfield town centre where I do battle with a Barclays cheque-swallowing machine in the Gracechurch Centre. There are eye-catching literary benches on display along the mall (including a particular striking Narnia lion design), plus one of our old owl friends from last year's Big Hoot has been retained for continued community enjoyment. With said strigine sculpture suitably snapped (strigine means owllike, another example of my occasional penchant for swallowing the dictionary), we are clear to catch the Walsall-bound 77 by way of rounding off the mission. Boldmere, New Oscott and Streetly all offer varied scenic service from the comfort of the top deck before I wave Stephen farewell and make my way to proper work - mission accomplished!

Saturday, September 10

Star Trekking to Tamworth Beer Festival

For the 23rd staging of the Tamworth Beer Festival, organisers have adopted a Star Trek theme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the cult television series' first ever airing. Friday 9th September therefore saw me taking some fledgling steps aboard the USS Crudgington 6X...

- Dolphin Inn, Glascote -
My journey across to Tamworth involves an altogether more conventional mode of transport as the 10:03 Glasgow train from New Street gets the day moving. Upon arrival in Staffordshire I refrain from immediately entering deep space in favour of some local exploration, boldly setting course for Glascote while seeking out signs of photographic life. The Dolphin Inn is reward for my bravery while other finds include a cemetery, a fish bar and the William McGregor Primary School.

- Glascote Top Lock -
You never quite know what you might find when venturing into alien territory and in this case the Coventry Canal supplies the surprise of the morning. I join the towpath at Bridge 73 next to the local Co-op (a building that was previously the Anchor pub) for a short stroll that reveals a couple of locks and a basin marina. Top Lock and Bottom Lock both boast attractive accompanying cottages that demand documentation in my lieutenant's logbook.

- Matchday Entrance -
Kettlebrook Road is next for navigation in marking my approach to the Lamb Ground with its rustic red and white corrugated appearance. Taking its name from a lost landmark pub that once stood where the car park entrance can now be found, the ground is the footballing home of Tamworth FC (nicknamed The Lambs) who currently play in the Vanarama Conference North division. I eagerly grab a turnstile shot or two as evidence of visiting another notable non-league location.

- Kettlebrook WMC -
The wider Kettlebrook area offers further interest to those of an intrepid disposition, so before long my curiosity uncovers St Andrew's Chapel, a working men's club (complete with old M&B sign) and a British Telecom depot, not to mention a corner shop and some welding workshop units. A riverside footpath with colourful subway murals then conveys me towards Tamworth Castle and its surrounding parkland. The fortress flag flutters in the breeze as I continue through by Lady Bridge where the stone arches span the confluence of the rivers Anker and Tame.

- Raisin The Bar -
I must not delay my festival attendance one moment longer so I swiftly teleport to the Masonic Rooms on Lichfield Street, the event having relocated here while usual host venue the Assembly Rooms is out of commission due to renovation works. Collecting my USS Crudgington glass and souvenir programme (the cover of which features porcine versions of Spock and Uhura), I survey the stillages in the main room and prepare to spend some tokens. My opening tempter is Church End's Raisin the Bar, a golden rum and raisin brew that launches me into ale orbit, which I follow up with Sperrin's Lovin' the Muffin with its promise of blueberry and vanilla.
- Market Vaults -
One ale I'm particularly keen to try is Sperrin's Beam Me Up Hoppy, not just because it cheekily encapsulates the Star Trek theme but also because the beer serves as a tribute to brewer Craig Sperrin who sadly passed away in August. I then finish with Anarchy's Sublime Chaos, a powerful breakfast stout that would no doubt have a certain Nickolenko in raptures should it ever pass his lips, and for once at Tamworth I've avoided any carrot-crunching episodes! My intergalactic interlude may be drawing to an end but one last landing point is required before my homeward voyage can commence. I thereby seek out the Market Vaults, a Joules establishment that just so happens to be the local CAMRA Pub of the Year and where the Titanic Plum Porter was out of this world! Cheers!

Monday, September 5

The Turners Hill Trip

'Trip' being the operative word on this latest escapade from the Hub Marketing Board, for the Secretary almost came a cropper during an accident-prone tour of Rowley Regis and Lower Gornal...

- Samosas for Starters -
First things first, a meeting in West Bromwich where our cunning Chairman supplies some spicy samosa snacks by way of sustenance for a ride on the 121 bus. The route passes through Oldbury towards the Brades then climbs by Bury Hill Park into Tower Road, Mr D9 recalling memories of his younger self undergoing beer garden training back when the Barley Mow was still in existence. The Wheatsheaf has happily survived to supply our Oakham opener, trying out the Golden Glow in Quadrophenia corner.

- A Turners Hill Vista -
Our chosen ferret involves a look at Turners Hill Quarry, taking us across one of the highest points in the whole West Midlands. The initial access lane seems to terminate at some security gates so we follow a public footpath across a golf course to enjoy some bostin' Black Country panoramas. In fact, the Secretary gets so distracted by the scenery that he loses his footing on a slippery slope and ends up coming down the hill much quicker than expected! Thankfully there isn't any lasting damage from the tumble so its onwards to Springfield where Mr WME can recover with photos of the primary school, a social club and the former Hailstone pub (now a Bangladeshi restaurant).

- Spot the Pepperpot -
Hawes Lane takes us from Tippity Green to the Rowley Bar & Grill (previously Rowley Regis Conservative Club) where we are impressed to find a tempting real ale selection. Three Tuns' XXX gets our vote for a quality pint over a game of darts, D9 Destroyer racing into a 3-0 lead before WME Whirlwind pulls a couple of legs back aided by a splendid 68 checkout. A short hop on the 140 bus then has us in pepperpot territory at Warrens Hall, the bald spot eagerly grappling through the undergrowth to reveal a half-hidden shaft structure.

- A bit of argy-bargy? -
Our spur of the moment exit off the 140 hadn't just been prompted by the Netherton Tunnel's ventilation vessels - we'd also caught site of the Royal Oak as was, a pub we'd mistakenly written off as a shop conversion only to discover it's still an operational watering hole. These days it calls itself the Royal Harji Bhaji, making us wonder if it might be purely a restaurant but there is a public bar. Once inside we instill our own brand of oche argy-bargy at the dartboard where WME Whirlwind summons up a rare double finish.

- Hub Happenings with the Bald Spot -
With the 140 bus once more on hand we next proceed into Dudley, weaving our way through the town centre past the Magistrates Court to confirm the sad closure of the Shakespeare on Stafford Street - alas no tarmac to be tasted here today! Compensation comes in the shape of a bonus hub photocall, although whether the Chairman's bald spot qualifies as an immigrant is open to some debate! The edges of the Russells Hall estate allow for discount Ansells Mild in the White Swan (Holland Street) with the presence of a fiery cob inspiring a silly song rendition of Susan Christie's 'I Love Onions'.

- Red Cow, Grosvenor Road -
Milking Bank and Lower Gornal take care of our early evening agenda with Dibdale Street eliciting memories of D9 driving lessons (so that's where he learned the art of pizza platter steering). The Hilly House and the Meadowlark are standard corporate brand entities (Marston's and Sizzling respectively) so it's the Red Cow that holds the most interest for us. Tucked away on a spur of Grosvenor Road, the pub scores the Secretary a satisfying sleeve success not to mention an excellent pint of Abbeydale Absolution. The place is packed so we aren't the only ones enjoying some top notch Black Country hospitality.

- Upper Gornal Closet -
From the bovine to the ursine with the Black Bear on Deepdale Lane being another must-visit Gornal boozer. The house IPA comes courtesy of the Kinver Brewery as the pub perches on the hillside, part-supported by sloping buttresses. Its a steadfastly old-fashioned kind of pub very much to our liking, and something else that most definitely floats D9's boat is the old Upper Gornal toilet block adjoining what was the Green Dragon. The closet is captured on camera to conclude the day's business, and with that the hub brigade head safely homeward without further mishap. Cheers!