Sunday, December 25

Hub Marketing 2016: Christmas

Deepest December means it's time once again for Charles Pemberton Rowbottom the Third, elder statesman of the Hub Marketing Board, to be resurrected for our annual awards ceremony. The Hub Christmas Caper as always comes laden with calendars and the silly song chart rundown whereby Wolverhampton, Essington and Short Heath are on standby to be our 2016 seasonal stocking fillers...

- The Calendar Presentation -
Our Monday medley of festive formalities begins in Wolverhampton city centre where the Chairman pays out a cob penalty due to his late arrival at the Lych Gate Tavern. The upstairs function room has streamers and stout to make members feel very much at home, although the calendar handover is saved until we proceed to the Royal London for Hobgoblin amid the pool tables. Mr D9 can then eagerly peruse the year's pictorial highlights including appearances from Mickey Mouse, Barney the purple dinosaur and the Coventry quiff.

- Wrapped up well for some D9 driving -
With that opening brace of boozers under our belts we catch the 59 towards Ashmore Park, the Chairman being appropriately dressed for his latest driving duty - perhaps a wrapping paper 'skirt' will become 2017's must-have fashion accessory? The top deck of the bus soon resounds to the tune of Nat King Cole's jolly ditty 'The Happiest Christmas Tree' so we alight on Griffiths Drive to avoid torturing our fellow passengers any more than is absolutely necessary.

- Missing the Minerva -
DJ D9 Hub-burn's top twenty countdown is underway as we wander into Staffordshire, a path from Kitchen Lane connecting the edges of the Ashmore Park estate with the South Staffs mining village of Essington. Sadly the Minerva isn't open as yet so we console ourselves with views of the scenic pools off Brownshore Lane. Larchmere Drive cul-de-sacs are subjected to songs about onions, sparrows and trout before the Old Mitre (on Bursnips Road beside the M6) mirrors the Minerva in thwarting our thirst. 

- Tuning in for Jeremy Kyle -
That Essington ferret had still proven fruitful with reminders of former mineral railways, but for further refreshment we needed to return to West Midlands territory and the environs of New Invention. The Milestone is a modern Marston's corporate pub serving the residents of Coppice Farm and Allens Rough; our Banks's Bitter is traditional enough albeit daisy lawn table tops and Jeremy Kyle television booths are less so. A few legs of closely-fought darts then precede the conclusion of the silly songs chart as our 2016 number one is revealed: in the year of Brexit there is really only one candidate for top spot as Bruce Forsyth takes the crown with 'I'm Backing Britain'. Hurrah!

- Duke of Cambridge -
To Short Heath next, dodging along dusky alleyways from New Invention Square to Coltham Road. The homely Duke of Cambridge pub deserves an extended moment in the hub spotlight, a Black Country Ales establishment with a three room layout (separate bar, lounge and games rooms) plus plenty of yuletide atmosphere. It is here that Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III makes his arrival, admiring a cottage teapot collection while announcing our award winners and dozing off at regular intervals. Among the accolades this year are the Kings Oak in Kings Norton (Sleeve of the Year), Stapenhill Cemetery (Closet of the Year) and the Hearty Carty Karaoke (Random Event of the Year).

- A Seasonal Secretary Shot -
Secretary WME had already retained his Pub Games Champion title but rubber stamps this by completing a Duke darting victory by 8 legs to 6 (a double 17 checkout at the end sealing the deal). Members then have two more calling points to contend with on the way home - the Avery Unionist Club offers Mansfield Smooth and the Merseyside derby before the final honour goes to the Manhattan in Heath Town, a place the Chairman has long had his heart set on visiting. With that we're all done for the year, see you again in 2017.
Merry Christmas from the Hub Marketing Board!

Monday, December 19

Banbury Crossed!

With Christmas just around the corner, our highwayman hero Nick Turpin is flushed out of hiding as he embarks on another 'Festive Forage'. Aided and abetted by my good self, our 2016 yuletide excursion sees us banished to Banbury in search of a fine lady upon a white horse...

- Banbury Station -
Friday 16th December and the day begins not with a ride on a cock horse (spoilsports!) but rather a journey in a Chiltern Railways carriage as our Oxfordshire-bound outlaws join forces aboard the train down from Birmingham. Banbury Station seems keen to promote its fast and frequent links to both the Second City and London although as a building it isn't much of a looker - the glazed modern entrance foyer is nice enough but the platforms could probably do with a lick of paint.

- Forage Found? -
Banbury Town now awaits as the River Cherwell almost apologetically sidles past the station. Nick Turpin leads the way, primarily in pursuit of pubs plus any other landmarks that may entice our collective eye. The Town Hall certainly stands out at one end of Market Place while a former supplies store seems to have gone the extra mile in advance of our arrival, emblazoning itself with FORAGE in large letters (albeit if I'm absolutely honest it was the word CAKE that first really captured my attention).

- The Lady is Located -
Parsons Street is a particularly photogenic thoroughfare with blue and white bunting strung out on high, then we must pay a visit to the famous Banbury Cross, a prominent junction immortalised in nursery rhyme. It is only right and proper that we should pay homage to the fabled fine lady as she sits astride her steed, Nick thankfully resisting the temptation to saddle up next to the music-making maiden.

- Ye Olde Reine Deer -
Having got our Banbury bearings we must now avail ourselves of ale, and given this is a Christmas trip there is only one place to start. Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn is a classic Hook Norton pub with a protruding sign that hangs invitingly above the middle of Parsons Street. The inn reputedly served as an operational base for Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War (Banbury Castle being a Royalist garrison was besieged by parliamentary forces), and it's even possible that the future Lord Protector planned battle strategies in the pub's historic Globe Room (a glorious panelled gem that is well worth seeing). A half each of the rich and fruity Twelve Days winter brew keeps our thirsty foragers very much contented.

- Black Sheep Beckons -
More seasonal supping is possible in the Exchange, a Wetherspoons pub on Banbury High Street where we try out the festive menu. Black Sheep's powerful Riggwelter chestnut-toned concoction is paired with either a turkey pie or a bacon and breaded brie burger for a well-earned lunch. We follow this with two Good Beer Guide pubs in close proximity - the White Horse has relaxing armchairs with owl cushions where a somewhat Shakespearean Nick Turpin comes over all Dashingly Dark, then the thatched roofed Three Pigeons proffers some Purity Pure Gold.

- A Historical Character (or two) -
Banbury's Civil War connections are our topic of discussion as we investigate a short stretch of the Oxford Canal from Spiceball Park to the town's bus station; along the way we pass Tooley's Boatyard and meet a military character crafted out of wicker. Our closing pub is back past the railway station on the Grimsbury side of the tracks - the Bell on Middleton Road providing some attempted darts and a half of Wychwood's 12 Drummers (complete with flashing pumpclip). We're all done and dusted in time for the 17:24 train and another terrific year of Turpin tours is complete. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 14

Hub Marketing 2016: Burton-upon-Trent

Whenever the Hub Marketing Board have done a December double-header in the past, tradition dictates that the first of the two trips should be a Staffordshire special. Uttoxeter and Tamworth have risen to the challenge as December destinations in previous years, meaning our 2016 selection Burton-upon-Trent has much to live up to when taking its turn in the seasonal spotlight...

- Station Starkness -
Burton of course is a place renowned for its brewing heritage so Board Members brace themselves for a beer bonanza when catching the 11:19 Nottingham train up from Birmingham New Street. The journey takes a shade under half an hour before we alight to savour the undoubted ugliness of Burton railway station, the functional flat frontage of which really does not do the town justice. 

- Brewery Infrastructure -
It's difficult to avoid evidence of Burton's principal industry as bits of brewery seem to be everywhere. For example, Station Street offers glimpses of the extensive Molsen Coors plant with its metallic towers and concrete footbridge forming the backdrop to a belated breakfast at Rumble Tums Cafe. Our Full Montys here come complete with a "Hello duck" greeting straight out of the East Midlands phrasebook, then just around the corner on Cross Street is the wonderful Coopers Tavern with its array of Joules and Bass memorabilia. 

- Stapenhill Cemetery Closet -
Fortified by some No. 6 Winter Warmer ale, we breeze along Burton High Street then cross the stately Trent Bridge to explore the other side of the river. The community of Stapenhill clings to the opposite bank as we swiftly get stuck into some prime exploration. Stapenhill Cemetery offers a treat for the Chairman when we discover a closet within the bowels of a chapel building (Mr D9 hopes that his blast on the hand drier didn't disrupt a funeral service too much), while the neighbouring Elms Inn has some evocative painted Bass signage to accompany a draught pint of Burton's most famous brew.

- The Stapenhill Swan -
Further Stapenhill landmarks include St Peter's Church (standing on high above the river) and the parklands of Stapenhill Gardens where a large swan sculpture is considerably less vicious than its real life counterparts - perhaps it was the sight of the bald spot that started them hissing? Mr D9 racks his brains trying to remember a village near Drakelow Power Station that he once drove around, whereas the Secretary is busy spotting a couple of pubs ahead on Main Street - the Barley and the New Inn.

- Secretary meets Snowman -
The second of those pubs provides the setting for the day's darts as a giant inflatable snowman referees over the now-inevitable WME Whirlwind victory. We're not sure if Frosty is partial to a drop of Marston's Pedigree but he did a good job of keeping score and making sure that D9 Destroyer did not overstep the oche. The Secretary is now 99% assured of retaining his Hub Games Champion of the Year title barring a minor miracle taking place during our awards presentation trip later this month.

- Baldness on Baron Burton's Bridge -
Stapenhill and Burton were once connected by a passenger ferry boat service which was replaced in 1889 by the construction of Ferry Bridge, an elegant semi-suspended structure that was gifted to the town by Michael Arthur Bass (Baron Burton). The bridge has been subject to a recent refurbishment project and was ceremonially reopened a few weeks ago (Friday 21st October to be precise) following a year-long closure - it's fair to say the bald spot was impressed by the end result! 

- Burton Bridge Inn -
Ferry Bridge links us neatly to Lichfield Street where the Leopard has a rather fine facade that includes some impressive carved lettering for Charrington's Fine Ales. Just down the road is the Dog Inn, one of the newer additions to the Black Country Ales estate where the Bosun's Mocha Stout is very much to the Secretary's taste. The Fuggle & Nugget is of interest as an example of the micropub trend (the Ashover Milk Stout here also rates highly), but it's the Burton Bridge Inn that steals the show with some Bramble Stout, an inquisitive dog and a whopping great chimney breast which divides the cosy bar in two.

- A Burton Bah Humbug! -
Passing the National Brewery Centre (where D9 spies a cast iron urinal on the courtyard), we take Horninglow Street over the railway to reach our final trio of taverns. The Derby Inn is on the main Derby Road towards the edge of town; some Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker is a nice tipple here as we make the acquaintance of our second dog in quick succession. The Loaf & Cheese then bestows us with more Draught Bass before a closing Pedigree call at the Duke of York, a backstreet corner local tucked away among the terraces of Victoria Street. Despite the presence of a Bah Humbug hat there is no sign of any scrooge-like behaviour and the train journey home is a very happy one indeed. Cheers!