Monday, October 31

Birmingham Beer Festival 2016

My October musings are not done yet as I still have the small matter of the Birmingham Beer Festival to report back on, whereby Nick and I made tracks for the New Bingley Hall to sample the tempting liquid treats awaiting us at the Second City's real ale showcase...

- Warstone Lane Cemetery -
Our established custom when attending this particular event has been to meet at Jewellery Quarter station around about the 11 o'clock mark and this year is no different. We can then enjoy a gentle wander down Warstone Lane towards Hockley, passing the local cemetery with its well-weathered noticeboard and the telltale scattering of autumn leaf-fall. Ford Street marks our approach to the New Bingley Hall where a Birmingham City Transport crest is evidence of the building's previous life as a bus depot.

- Championing the Vanilla Stout -
Entering the hall in a most eager fashion, we quickly procure the requisite programme-token-glass combination and survey the various bars which once again are named after Birmingham luminaries from the worlds of music, entertainment and literature. The Jeff Lynne section is our first port of call so that I can make the acquaintance of Burton Town's Modwena (a very appetising oatmeal stout) while Nick arms himself with Bingham's Vanilla Stout, the reigning Champion Beer of Britain no less! 

- A Loose Cannon perchance? -
We've started as we mean to go on so darker ales will be our theme for the day. There are plenty of stouts and porters to choose from in among the 300+ total ales on offer, hence between us we account for the likes of Old Rasputin, Purdy Peculiar, Centwealial Milk Stout and Milestone Honey Porter. I also avail myself of a Loose Cannon Porter (hailing from Suffolk) although I should emphasise that I am most definitely on my best behaviour, even when my attempts to track down a Tibetan-style lager are ultimately thwarted.

- Another Cuddly Chum -
A festival on such a scale requires a suitable finale so a couple of the slightly stronger ales should suffice. Lymestone's Stone Dead (at 6.66% ABV) certainly packs a punch although the Thornbridge Cocoa Wonderland just trumps it for luxurious chocatelyness - very nice indeed. Nick at this point gets grappling with a Kopek Stout as we chat to Mike from Solihull about business trips to Finland and (nearly) Brunei - Winston the charity cuddly toy seems rather less well-travelled by comparison!

- 1000 Trades, Frederick Street -
The festival has lived up to the excellence we have come to expect from it but with tokens spent we must alas bid the place farewell until next year. There's no need to be downhearted though for there are bars beckoning on the way back into Birmingham. The Jewellery Quarter has overseen something of a boom in such establishments with one recent addition being the 1000 Trades on Frederick Street. Stopping off for a half here is an interesting if expensive experience - some nice nods to community involvement and a relaxing ambience but a distinct sense that the craft philosophy carries a price tag. It all goes to show that the WME wallet does occasionally incur collateral damage in the name of pub collecting!

- A stork and a shade? -
That collection is boosted by two further entries as evening draws in. The Rectory on St Paul's Square supplies Wye Valley HPA and a novelty line in animal-inspired table lamps, whereas Edmunds Brewhouse saw us take momentary residence in the library room with bookshelf wallpaper and country club armchairs for a setting that suited us just grand. All that remains is a Snow Hill shuffle for our respective connections home, and that's that for Birmingham Beer Festival 2016. Cheers!

Saturday, October 29

WME Flickr Focus: October 2016

It's that time of the month again when we take a trawl through recent activities on the West Midlands Exploration photostream. October seems to be a month for chores - sweeping up the falling leaves for example - so I've been busy with some figurative sweeping of my own, tidying up a few loose stragglers among my archive so that things are all nice and neat in readiness for winter..

Squirreling themselves into position then are a few acorns from Exploration Extra where Weston-Super-Mare plunders a railway sign and a Westward Ho ferryboat. A further glimpse of Chirk Aqueduct (from a safe vertigo-free distance) joins the fray along with a Two Museums teaser depicting a Midland Red S16 bus at Wythall.

To WME Warwickshire next where the grainstore has been topped up courtesy of general greenery at Rugby's Caldecott Park and a watery scene from Cape Locks near Warwick. The larder at WME Worcestershire has been boosted by the presence of Link Common, the stretch of open ground that both links yet divides the neighbouring communities of Great Malvern and Malvern Link. 

Elsewhere, WME Birmingham perks up its pantry with evidence of pub demolition in Weoley Castle, the site of the Raven looking rather sad and sorry for itself prior to the construction of a residential care home. WME Sandwell musters up the Old Mill, a pub that nestles in the residential hinterland between West Bromwich and Wednesbury, while WME Staffordshire scoops up the Cross Guns at Codsall Wood, a building that is sadly no longer with us.

Finally, October was the month in which a couple of almost forgotten archive items were unearthed once more. A Trent Barton bus at Derby joins the afore-mentioned Exploration Extra where it is braced for a ride on the number 5 route towards Nottingham, whereas WME Solihull takes grateful receipt of a platform view at Dorridge station, a photo that was originally taken over ten years ago. I'm not sure what pickings might await during the rest of the year so I'll merely sign off by wishing everyone a happy Halloween. 

Sunday, October 16

South Birmingham Hub Happenings

The Hub Marketing Board's South Birmingham session has become a firm fixture among our autumnal adventures each year and for 2016 we would be braving Balsall Heath and the Bristol Road...

- Depot Demolition -
The board rulebook states that every full day hub excursion should begin with a ferret so we maintain decorum with a morning mooch around Balsall Heath. Bygone boozers will be our theme, the area having lost a number of watering holes in recent years - to that end we begin on Belle Vue at the site of the Firebird, an M&B roadhouse sandwiched between the Bristol and Pershore Roads that became the scene of a squatters protest prior to its final demolition. Balsall Heath Road offers something of a wild flower meadow near the River Rea cutting, then we home in on Highgate Road where the bald spot can witness the dismantling of the old corporation bus garage. 

- Getting down with the chicks -
Ladypool Road is not a street our erstwhile Secretary can remember encountering before, which seems strange given its apparent multicultural significance. It's certainly quite a melting pot of sari shops and curry houses although a succession of terraced sidestreets offer variety of a Victorian vintage with St Paul's School to the fore. There are plenty of abandoned household artefacts for Chairman D9 to inspect (including a fridge, a fax machine and several grotty armchairs) but it's the urban farm which really captures our imagination thanks to a clucking welcome committee.

- The Brighton -
Looking out for lost pubs, we successively spy the Clifton (now Pepe's Piri Piri), the Railway (on the corner with Malvern Street) and then the Brighton Arms with a distinct air of faded grandeur opposite Balsall Heath Park. The Chairman has lost his touch with the pussy cats but seems to have become a dog magnet instead as we proceed via Taunton Road to Stoney Lane where we flirt with the back end of Sparkhill. The Volvo Parts Centre on the junction with Esme Road is a particularly nice find, a 1970s timewarp shop complete with Bosch window stickers.

- D9 driving at Yardley Wood -
The surroundings become increasingly leafier as we follow Yardley Wood Road through the edges of Moseley, pausing at the Covered Wagon for our opening pint of the day but with Chairman D9 committing the cardinal sin of leaving our darts behind as we made our exit. In fairness to the bald one, he was too busy concentrating on collecting 'Hearty Carty' from his perch in the pocket of the pool table where our chosen character for the day had been watching some cricket highlights. A ride on the number 2 bus is next on our agenda, wending our way to Warstock by passing Moseley Bog Nature Reserve and Yardley Wood Garage.

- Secretary at Solihull Lodge -
Hoping to avoid any risk of wasp-chewing, we alight at Solihull Lodge where the local pub (the Lodge) has received something of a Greene King makeover. Swish sofas and trendy decor mean D9 must wait a little longer to declare his dive of the day, then the Secretary sniffs out more pub heritage at Waterway Court, a spot that served as the location of the Warstock which in its day was a typically large suburban Birmingham boozer. We cobble together what remains of our darts collection for a few legs in the Prince of Wales before availing ourselves of the 49 via Maypole, Pool Farm and Cotteridge.

- Longbridge Cycle Hub -
Secretary WME has been rustling those sleeves of his again and out plops the Kings Oak, a precinct pub on Vardon Way grafted onto the side of the shops. The Chairman is beside himself with excitement just to look at the place, especially with the traditional chainsmoking granny standing guard on the doorstep. Some M&B Mild, a pack of scratchings and various bits of Bluenose banter make this our pub of the day, a treat followed by another 49 blast and a photocall at the Cycle Hub bike shelter next to Longbridge railway station.

- Park Point -
Board members last visited Longbridge three years ago to see what was afoot in terms of Rover redevelopment, so it was useful to update ourselves as regards more recent progress. Phase 2 of the scheme is now complete with a shiny Marks & Spencer store taking centre stage while a multistorey car park and other retail outlets (such as Poundland) have also opened. Austin Park has bedded down nicely as a prime area of public realm open space, meaning the focus of further activity now switches to Phase 3 homebuilding and the provision of additional retail, educational and leisure facilities. 

- Something Spooky -
The outing draws to a close with something of a Rubery rampage, ticking off another trio of taverns amid the outlying estates around Rednal Hill and Leach Green Lane. The Coppice (Edgewood Road) and the New Rose & Crown (New Road) sandwich a memorable call at the Toby Jug on Newman Way, scene of ghoulish goings-on in the lead up to Halloween - rumour has it that the Chairman forcibly attempted to make a skeleton drink half a pint of Worthingtons! We shake off the cobwebs with a Bristol Road ride all the way back into Birmingham, the top deck of the 63 being subjected to some reggae karaoke in an affectionate tribute to Hearty Carty, nanny goats and all. Cheers!

Monday, October 10

The Hunt for the Red Admiral

Inspiration for my outings can take many forms - a half forgotten memory from years ago, a chance conversation, a puzzling picture or sometimes a post on someone else's blog. On this occasion it was an Express & Star article that prompted me into action by mentioning the proposed closure of a pub I must admit I'd never heard of - it was therefore time for Stephen and I to get grappling with Great Barr...

- Commemorating the Colliery -
The mysterious Red Admiral is the watering hole in question and Mr Beardsmore is on hand to join me for a trip that sounds like something akin to a spy novel. We begin at Hamstead Station, plodding forth for a look at Hamstead Village where the Beaufort Arms and the Colliery Memorial merit some attention. The commemorative coaltruck stands proud on the junction of Hamstead Road and Old Walsall Road, recalling the fateful mining disaster that claimed 26 lives in March 1908.

- Gorse Farm Bridge -
Further along Old Walsall Road and the Piercy Aqueduct marks our approach onto the Tame Valley Canal. We're only walking a brief section today but it's long enough to spot a majestic grey heron and to ponder the fishing potential among the lily pads. Spouthouse Lane Aqueduct is also encountered before we reach Gorse Farm Bridge, a turnover structure that connects the adjacent estates either side of the waterway.

- The Red Admiral -
One of those estates is our prime target as we venture deeper into Gorse Farm, spotting the grounds of Ferndale Primary School before we proceed along Gorse Farm Road. A leafy roundabout forms the centrepiece to an assortment of local shops (fish bar, off licence, rudimentary barbers and such like) with the scene also watched over by the remains of the Red Admiral. The pub has only recently shut down, hence the freshly-sawn nature of the wooden boards covering over the windows - what the future has in store for the building remains to be seen but at least it has now been deposited into the WME photo archive.

- Gorse Farm Wood -
Quite how the place had escaped my camera until now is one of life's quirks of fate as I distinctly remember visiting Gorse Farm Wood on one of my Monday Mission outings last year. The nature reserve is literally just the other end of Eastwood Road from the pub so it goes down as a case of so near but yet so far, although Stephen and I do at least enjoy an in-depth stroll through the wood this time around by way of compensation, even if the resident pool apparently doesn't meet the strict Beardsmore criteria as a potential fishing location.

- Princess Charlotte's Obelisk -
A Scott Arms shuffle then precedes another look at Red House Park where I'm keen to introduce Mr B to Princess Charlotte's Obelisk, a rare memorial paying tribute to the only daughter of the subsequent King George IV. Royal lineage and potentially the whole course of British history could have been totally different had the young princess not tragically died during childbirth in 1817. Her death provoked much national mourning at the time but she seems to have been largely forgotten over the centuries.

- Bishop Asbury's Cottage -
Weaving through the Grove Vale estate, we emerge onto Newton Road for a closing look at Bishop Asbury's Cottage. Asbury is considered an important figure in the growth of Methodism in America, and this humble dwelling was his childhood home - the cottage is now maintained as a museum by Sandwell Council whereby it hosts group visits by appointment and occasional open days. Across the road, the pub formerly named after the bishop is now a spice restaurant although Asbury's portrait still features on a sign that supplies our final photos of the day. A useful little outing!