Monday, November 21

Waterways Walks: Galton Valley

With my lingering photographic itch needing to be scratched once more, a Saturday stroll in sunny Smethwick sounded just about ideal for whiling away a spare morning. The ensuing circular walk around Galton Valley made the most of the fine weather whilst also satisfying some canal cravings...

- Galton Bridge -
I haven't done that many waterways wanderings of late so I was eager to take to the towpaths once more, picking out a Smethwick circuit for closer investigation. I'd covered some of the loop before in various stages but there were gaps I needed to attend to, hence my starting point is Thomas Telford's historic Galton Bridge (built in 1829) once I'd alighted my train at the adjacent railway station. 

- Hartley Bridge -
Galton Bridge spans the New Birmingham Main Line Canal as I descend onto the towpath and head initially towards Oldbury. I quickly pass beneath the railway platforms and bear down on Spon Lane Bridge, one of two such named structures along the course of my route. The canal then flanks the derelict Chance Brothers glassworks, the factory having been derelict for as long as I can remember although in its heyday the firm produced lighthouse equipment, cathode ray tubes and rolled-plate glass. The scale of the old works site is probably better discerned from the train but the canal angle does allow an appreciation of Chance Bridge and Hartley Bridge in close combination.

- Spon Lane (Old Main Line) -
The concrete columns supporting the M5 motorway now take centre stage as I reach the Stewart (or Steward) Aqueduct which carries the Old Main Line above its later counterpart. Here I switch onto Brindley's original canal which is notable for a more meandering nature dictated by land contours during its C18th construction. Modern life impinges on the scene these days of course, meaning Spon Lane Junction is a very bleak place almost buried in the bowels of the motorway. The second Spon Lane Bridge is close at hand beside the carriageway underbelly.

- Summit Tunnel -
Thankfully the M5 soon veers off to grace West Bromwich and normal daylight service resumes - there's even the occasional heron to add an unexpected grace to proceedings. Summit Bridge is my next landmark with some impressively imposing brickwork that is somewhat offset by the intrusion of Summit Tunnel's more austere appearance. Beyond the tunnel, Brasshouse Lane beckons with a hint of a nature trail and the unmistakable prospect of a pump house chimney to admire. The chimney is a defining feature of Smethwick's New Pumping Station which currently houses the Galton Valley Heritage Centre, a great place to find out more about the area's engineering endeavours.

- Engine Arm Aqueduct -
After Brasshouse Lane I'm keen to track down the Engine Arm, a feeder branch that supplies the main canals with water from Edgbaston Reservoir. The arm leaves the Old Main Line at a little stone roving bridge and immediately crosses the New Main Line on an elegant aqueduct - the structure is another example of Thomas Telford's construction prowess and is a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument.

- Engine Bridge -
Although I'd photographed the aqueduct a few years ago I hadn't walked the Engine Arm itself before. The branch runs parallel to both the Old and New Main Lines with Bridge Street crossing all three canals within a very short distance. Atmospheric industrial buildings provide a backdrop as I approach Engine Bridge, after which the towpath is gated off while the arm becomes a private mooring basin stretching through to Rabone Lane.

- Smethwick Locks -
Retracing my steps back across the aqueduct, I rejoin the Old Main Line for a look at Smethwick Locks. Sadly the octagonal toll hut has suffered fire damage with its roof timbers exposed to the elements but the locks themselves make for some good photography. There are three locks in all, leading me down to Pope Bridge where my old photo friend the New Navigation pub looks as disused as ever. 

- Smethwick Junction -
With Pope Bridge accounted for, the familiar sight of Smethwick Junction greets me complete with two Horseley turnover bridges and some rusty factory architecture. This is where the separate main lines join forces once more to offer a united route into Birmingham, although my circuit requires me to take the New Main Line back through to Galton Bridge. Rolfe Bridge is a boring modern example as the middle of the Bridge Street three bridges sequence.

- Galton Tunnel -
Brasshouse Lane soon makes its presence felt again, the New Main Line passing through at a lower level with the pump station chimney towering overhead. I'm almost back where I started but there's one final feature to contend with, Galton Tunnel being very similar to Summit Tunnel in burrowing beneath Telford Way and offering little in the way of aesthetic embellishment. The loop is then complete as I troop back up to Galton Bridge station for my train home, the walk having taken just over two hours in total - a fascinating stroll which I would definitely recommend!

Sunday, November 13

Hub Marketing 2016 - Coventry

Friday 11th November 2016 and the time is counting down to quiff o'clock as the Hub Marketing Board prepare to embark on their annual Coventry pub pilgrimage. Our visits to Godiva's fair city traditionally come with a teddy boy theme, so this year the dancefloor is primed for a Holbrooks hop, some Rock 'n' Roll Radford and a Stoke Aldermoor stomp - let the party commence...

- 13 bus at Whitmore Park -
With Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran programmed into the jukebox, Chairman D9 and Secretary WME arrive into Coventry at 08:30 ready to inspect the improved boulevard outside the railway station (much better than the grotty subway it replaced). Smithford Way seems quiet as we wander among the shopping precincts before catching the 13 to Whitmore Park. The ride involves the ceremonial unveiling of the 2016 quiff, a laminated black effort with a misbehaving elastic band, while the route in general allows a look at Cheveral Avenue, Jubilee Crescent and Nunts Lane.

- Trolley time with the 2016 Quiff Design -
Whitmore Park terminus is virtually on the city boundary at Wheelwright Lane where the Hub pub requires some repeat marketing action. A breakfast call at the Hungry Haven cafe satisfies our craving for bacon, hash browns and black pudding, fortifying us for a Holbrooks hike round past the John Shelton Primary School. Lythalls Lane has a scattering of leaves as we locate the Cherry Tree private members club and the Hey Machine Tools workshop - interesting finds in a corner of Coventry we haven't visited before.

- Brookville Cinema -
Holbrook Lane is home to the Hollybush (a large M&B pub turned balti emporium) and the former Brookville Picture House (now masquerading as a Karpet Kingdom showroom). Both are fine landmarks even if they've seen better days, and together they precede a stroll around St Paul's Cemetery where we pause for some Armistice Day reflection at the allotted hour - the sacrifices of war should never be forgotten regardless of time's constant passage.

- The Pilot encounters bald spot turbulence -
Onwards we go and Burnaby Road soon has us bearing down on the Pilot, a sprawling Radford roadhouse on the corner with Catesby Road. This really is a massive pub that simply demands we take a closer look, hence we partake of pint and darts in a games room bedecked with library bookshelf wallpaper (sadly such surroundings did not inspire the Secretary to any sporting success). With D9 taking an early lead, we continue to nearby Jubilee Crescent to survey the elegant shopping parades as arranged looking out over the oval green. The neighbourhood facilities include a branch library although the adjacent public toilets have closed, much to D9's predictable dismay.

- Peugeot Works Regeneration -
Something in our memories was now stirring with thoughts of Stoke Aldermoor, scene of a brief 'Keeping up Appearances' visit back in 2011. Keen to see Onslow and Daisy's fictional residence once more, we combine the 13 with the 16 (via Terry Road) to reach The Moorfield. Michell Close is the street where Hyacinth Bucket would grudgingly visit her relatives although we make sure to do a wider tour of the area courtesy of Barley Lea and Pinley Fields. Besides that nugget of television history, Stoke Aldermoor also has some automotive heritage with the Humber-Hillman (latterly Peugeot Talbot) car plant being located between Humber Road and Aldermoor Lane. The factory site has been widely redeveloped in recent years with new housing springing up where the offices once stood.

- Poppy Ale in the Humber Hotel -
The Stoke Green area tempts us for a trio of pubs, starting with the New Inn on Bulls Head Lane where we retake to the oche and resume darts hostilities. Aided by some shamrock-styled flights, WME Whirlwind plots his now-customary comeback to claim a narrow 5-4 victory thanks to a deciding leg double 16 checkout (not bad after being 4-0 behind). The Bulls Head is just at the end of the road for a standard Sizzler experience but it's the Humber Hotel that really captures our collective imagination. The building has plenty of Edwardian-era detail plus a rare bagatelle table so we arm ourselves with some Otter Poppy ale (a special remembrance beer) and enjoy a Gene Vincent singalong. Be Bop A Lula!

- Greetings from the Gosford Hub -
From the Humber it is but a short walk to eclectic Far Gosford Street, passing the Gosford Community Hub for a surprise photocall along the way. Fargo Village is a quirky creative enclave showcasing vintage clothing stores, street art, tin man sculptures and the Twisted Barrel brewery. The bar here is in the 2017 Good Beer Guide but we're a little too early for the 5 o'clock opening time, hence the 16A bus steps into the breach and transports us back across Coventry for a thrash up the Radford Road. The journey heralds the return of Chairman D9's bladder botherations, the situation almost assuming critical proportions until the Wallace comes to his rescue. 

- Coundon Cheers with the Chairman -
Three more pubs will now round off proceedings just nicely, starting with the Grapes for good old Guinness and some classic craic. Flags of Irish provinces decorate the bar room walls as we listen to a Bob Brolly-style soundtrack of ballads and tunes from the Emerald Isle, wonderful stuff! Hewitt Avenue has the task of leading us to the Coundon Hotel for some dusky Doom Bar, then the final Coventry curtain falls courtesy of Black Cherry Stout at the Town Crier on Corporation Street. With that we catch the 19:22 train home to Wolverhampton after another day of very happy hubbing - cheers!

Monday, November 7

Ales in Albrighton

Chip Foundation Chronicles No. 45 and a trip otherwise known as the 'Beardsmore Birthday Bash' sees Nick, Stephen, Dad and myself set our sights on Shropshire to partake of an Albrighton pubcrawl...

- Station Temptation -
Saturday 5th November and despite it being Bonfire Night later on we're aiming to keep any fireworks to a minimum with a relaxing roam around Albrighton. The village is only ten minutes or so on the train out of Wolverhampton but feels altogether more sedate than its urban near-neighbour. Albrighton's railway station has proven photographically enticing over the years (especially the Grade II listed footbridge and main station house) but its allure has recently been enhanced by the opening of a new micropub - more about that later...

- This way to the pub! -
A Shaw Lane stroll has us on target for our opening pub, passing St Mary's primary school and then the Albrighton medical centre. The walk allows for some in-depth engineering conversation whereby the term 'versatility matrix' makes its first appearance in the Chip Foundation lexicon. We are belatedly celebrating Stephen's birthday today (decorum dictates that I won't declare his precise age but he is not too far off Joe Root's test match batting average) so many happy returns Mr B!

- A Harp Hotel half -
Pub 1: The Harp Hotel has the honour of opening our ale account on this occasion, the pub being situated on Albrighton High Street overlooking the leafy green and a sequence of local shops. We actually came here during our Wellington outing last year so this revisit sees us reclaim our adopted corner with the wicker coffee table and stapled frieze of brewing pictures. The Harp operates as an outlet for Wiltshire's Hop Back Brewery so it's only appropriate to try some of their Entire Stout and very nice it was too, malty and deep. Three Tuns XXX and Clerics Cure were also available as we learned the finer points of engine manufacture from Mr WME Senior.

- The Crown awaits -
Pub 2: Our second stop is an upmarket Marston's experience courtesy of the Crown, a landmark inn situated at the main village crossroads. A half of Thwaites Lancaster Bomber is our choice of tipple here, picking up on the aviation theme whereby the pub makes reference to nearby RAF Cosford - it's not too often you find a vintage ordnance survey map reproduced on a ceiling! Attention quickly turns to dissecting the food menu as we ponder the merits or otherwise of "BBQ Brisket Burnt Ends", a delicacy that somehow didn't appeal to us although it must be presumably popular among folk who have a gluten intolerance.

- The Old Bush -
Pub 3: Just the other side of the afore-mentioned crossroads lurks the Old Bush, a basic Banks's boozer in some ways but with some impressive traditional detailing (give me a couple of etched windows and some bits of old stained glass and I'm instantly a fan). This pub could almost have been transplanted straight out of the Black Country and would look equally at home in a Bilston or a Cradley Heath say, but it serves as a pleasing counterpoint to the food-focused approach elsewhere. The Wainwright is the obvious ale choice here as we watch a bit of rugby action and discuss the forthcoming American presidential election.

- The Shrewsbury Arms -
Pub 4: I am only prepared to let Donald Trump intrude so far into proceedings so we soon make tracks for the top end of the High Street where the Shrewsbury Arms stands opposite the Church of St Mary Magdalene. Both are handsome buildings, the pub being half-timbered in places with beams and sandstone elements. There are some interesting artefacts waiting to be discovered inside including a mounted gun that Nick soon takes a shine to.

- Deep in Discussion -
We set up base by a hearth with a spinning wheel where Stephen takes us through his pictures from a recent visit to the Swiss city of Basel. Our selected beer is Sadler's Worcester Sorcerer, a golden Best Bitter that goes down nicely when admiring several shots of the River Rhine. We're into the evening now and the illuminated village clock shimmers in the encroaching darkness as we wander on down Station Road to our final port of call.

- Platform Ale House once more - 
Pub 5: and so we've come full circle back to the railway station where we succumb to the temptations of the Platform Ale House. The micropub has brought the station's disused former booking hall back to life, a development that definitely deserves to be celebrated as we also raise a closing toast to Stephen's birthday. Some Little Fox from Newbridge (a Bilston-based microbrewery) accompanies a flickering coal fire while Nick takes a bite out of a Vampire Rye Ale. This is an ideal place to while away the time until your train is due, and as 18:21 approaches it's a simple case of switching platforms for our homeward connection. The stopper service from Shrewsbury arrives right on cue, thus concluding another chapter from the Chip Foundation Chronicles. Cheers!