Sunday, January 29

Bearwood and Harborne

Episode 46 of the Chip Foundation Chronicles sees Stephen, Nick and myself picking out pubs along a portion of the Outer Circle bus route. Everyone aboard? Then I'll begin...

- Winson Green Outer Circle -
This latest Chip Foundation tale supplements a series that stretches back to February 2010, meaning we've completed nearly seven years of such adventures. Our aim this time is to cover a little of the Outer Circle ale trail, a promotional idea developed by the bods at Network West Midlands to link buses with beer - sounds perfect to me! Anyway, we arrange to meet at Winson Green metro stop come 1 o'clock from where we can intercept a passing 11A for a ride past the prison, City Hospital and Summerfield Park.

- Something grizzly in Bearwood -
Our first stopping point will be Bearwood where two Good Beer Guide entrants await within a very short distance of each other. We start with the Bear Tavern, enticingly perched on the corner of Bearwood Road and Three Shires Oak Road with some ceramic bears heads looking down from the 'Tempus Fugit' clock turret. Lymestone's Stone the Crows strong ale is our opening tempter while we discuss the dangers of 1950s chemistry sets before pondering the pallid pinkness of Stephen's lemonade and blackcurrant.

- Midland Moments (scarf optional)  -
A few doors down and we have the Midland Tavern, one of the 11 pubs listed on the Outer Circle ale trail leaflet. This former branch of the Midland Bank has been sensitively converted by Black Country Ales and always proves a memorable place to visit - you'd think it'd been a pub for ages but it only opened in the summer of 2014. Nick succumbs to Black Rock Porter here whereas I spend a Chocolate Penny, a Flipside brew with an initial hit of cocoa fragrance - nice! We admire the barrels in the 'cellar' as visible in the next room before checking on our favourite feature, the old Chubbs bank safe in the back corridor, although despite several attempts we still haven't quite managed to crack its code.

- Riding the 11A to Harborne -
From Rutland Road we flag down our next 11A for the short journey through to Harborne, taking us past the Kings Head, Harborne Baths and what remains of the Huntsman (previously known as the Kings Arms, the building was ravaged by fire a few years ago and now looks a sorry half-demolished sight). Alighting for Vivian Road, we complete our Outer Circle riding for the day but note that the ale trail also includes calls at Kings Heath, Hall Green, Acocks Green and Erdington so there is plenty to nibble on for future chronicles.

- Sage wisdom in the New Inn -
Harborne is however our focus for the remainder of this trip and the New Inn is now on our agenda. The pub has a contemporary dining feel mixed in with a few traditional touches such as hammered copper tabletops. I try the New Inn house ale whilst Nick takes a Bunny Hop having possibly been inspired by the rabbit lamps dotted about (although a carved owl becomes his photographic companion for the purposes of this blogpost). All in all, a relaxing place to lose track of time on a sleepy Friday afternoon in January. 

- Sportsman Stephen -
Picking up the pace again, we sweep into the Sportsman on Metchley Lane for half of Davenports Pale Ale (nice enough as a resurrected Birmingham beer). Sporting quotations from the likes of Muhammad Ali and Ian Botham adorn the walls although our eardrums are subjected to Boyzone's Greatest Hits at borderline deafening decibels. There's only so much 'No Matter What' one person can cope with so we swiftly set out in search of chips on Harborne High Street, Stephen having stoically reined in his hunger up until this point. With snacks digested we finish proceedings at the Junction, a rather upmarket pub where Nick gallantly sacrifices his wallet for the greater good. Woodforde's Tundra White IPA does the job of furrowing certain eyebrows, an expensive round in comparison to the rest of the day but the place was undoubtedly popular with an aspirational clientele. The 22 is then on cue to brave the Five Ways rush hour traffic and the afternoon concludes in Birmingham with our respective trains home - cheers!

Monday, January 23

Hub Marketing 2017: Desi Day

The Desi Pubs phenomenon is becoming increasingly celebrated as a feature of Black Country and Birmingham culture. Asian owners rescuing tired old boozers and breathing new life into them through a combination of curry cuisine, sports screens and relatively cheap beer – what’s not to like you may well ask. A community arts project has brought the emergence of such establishments to wider attention and now it was the turn of the Hub Marketing Board to investigate - we'd covered a few Desi places already over the years but hadn't dedicated a specific trip to them until now...

- Claypit Lane Construction Zone -
Friday 20th January 2017 sees Secretary WME enter the action early with an opening West Bromwich stroll exploring Claypit Lane. Educational establishments in the vicinity include the George Salter Academy and Ryders Green Primary School although of prime photographic interest are the new housing developments springing up. Park View is one such example and judging by the Sandwell Council signs there is more construction to come.

- The Oldbury Hub -
For once the Chairman leaves work promptly but his attempts at extorting a WME cob penalty end in failure as the Secretary is swiftly on the scene with wallet unscathed. The number 4 bus is ready and willing to whisk us to Oldbury where the D9 sleeves unearth an Albert Street gem, a former toilet block turned into hub offices proving a perfect place for a marketing pose. 

- Baldness beneath the motorway -
Mr D9 is very much intent on rediscovering lost Oldbury haunts so he leads us on a merry march down Birmingham Street and on past the George - the M5 motorway casts a considerable shadow by Blakeley Hall Road but a certain bald spot is still visible below the concrete carriageway. Turning by the British Queen, we then take Popes Lane among industrial wasteland to eye up the fascinating frontage of Global House; sadly this once-elegant office block has clearly seen better days having become a disgraceful eyesore strewn with skips, fly tipping and smashed window glass. A depressing sight such as that requires an immediate antidote so a rendition of 'Gossip Calypso' by Bernard Cribbins restores a happier disposition - there can't be many hit records with lyrics that mention oxyacetylene welders!

- A Phoenix Pint -
Our ferret takes us full circle back into Oldbury town (via Tat Bank Road) so that we can pick up our 89 connection to Lion Farm, a 1960s-era council estate with street names inspired by Worcestershire villages. The Phoenix on Martley Road has the honour of being our first pub call of 2017, Secretary WME being only too happy to claim a sneaky discount on our pints of Mansfield Smooth. D9 has an affinity with the estate having driven buses around here a few years ago, plus he always likes a bit of high-rise architecture. Rounds Green Library and St James's Church have a little less altitude but still merit a photo or two.

- Desi Detail at the Four Ways -
The Phoenix itself might not be a Desi pub but the Four Ways nearby certainly is. Situated at the junction of Portway Road and Portway Hill, the pub boasts an almost exotic illustrated sign not to mention a whole array of replica animals - you wouldn't normally expect a giraffe's neck to be protruding from an Oldbury rooftop but there you go. Pandas, dragons and who knows what else can be found in the back yard menagerie so we can only speculate what might await inside the actual main building. 4pm opening means we're too early to find out but Blackheath's Shoulder of Mutton is on hand to slake our growing thirst instead - Pardoe's Entire is a cracking drink therein as we talk bus passes with a regular punter and soak up the timeless hospitality of a landmark positioned just across from Blackheath's famous market hall.

- WME Whirlwind wins at the Abbey -
A swift shuffle on the 129 is required to link us to Hurst Green in readiness for the Chairman's planned call at the Full Moon, an estate pub overlooking the shopping precinct off Woodbury Road. A Tandoori grill restaurant occupies half of the building but we settle in the main bar for some M&B Mild and a Sky Sports football transfers update. D9 comes over all peculiar upon leaving the pub and insists on rolling out the barrel by sporting some hi-vis headgear, very strange! He recovers some of his senses in the Abbey at Bearwood but not enough to threaten victory on the oche, WME Whirlwind seemingly intent on retaining his crown for a fifth successive year.

- Guess the pub folks! -
You can't do a Desi Pubs day without partaking of a curry somewhere so our spicy selection will take us to Smethwick. Bearwood still has a surprise for us first though, the Sandwell Snooker Centre having been renovated as the Windsor Theatre Bar complete with Holden's Golden Glow for our delectation. We can then decamp to Smethwick High Street for our chosen culinary target, the Red Cow being a long-serving landmark with a well-known bovine sculpture standing sentry on a pillar outside. The biryani and pakoras here are things of wonder satisfying the most ravenous of appetites - we could definitely get used to this Desi lark if the food is always this good!

- Cheers from the Windsor Castle -
Chairman D9 has a final couple of entries to pluck from the Desi directory so we finish off in West Bromwich by combining the Island Inn and the Windsor Castle. Both establishments are in the environs of Spon Lane, a locality that apparently once had 32 possible pub options but only a handful remain. The Island proves cheap and cheerful enough while the Windsor Castle has D9 misty-eyed reminiscing about how the Lyng looked prior to its wholesale redevelopment over recent years. It's then over to the Midland Metro for our ride home and the first Hub Marketing adventure of 2017 is successfully filed away - cheers!

Monday, January 16

Lapal and Hasbury

Saturday 14th January 2017: Halesowen hospitality is what I seek as my 2017 photo archive receives its first Black Country imprint of the new year. A crafty pint, a Chance encounter and a towpath trail are all on the menu as I set out for a winter wander...

- Old Hill Station Sign -
Squally showers at Smethwick have me worried about the weather but thankfully the drizzle fizzles out by the time I reach Old Hill, my opening photographic destination. The station here still resembles a basic breezeblock bunker with a functional green footbridge but the Dudley No 2 Canal is much more enticing. A familiar trio of bridges mark the western approaches to Gorsty Hill Tunnel before Station Road reveals what has become of the Boat pub (converted to flats I'm afraid, even if a nice picture sign remains intact).

- Coombes Bridge -
The Olympia Fish Bar, the Lighthouse and the local pharmacy are all present and correct for my latest Coombeswood roll call but it's the canal that continues to attract my primary attention. I pick up the towpath at the south-eastern portal of Gorsty Hill Tunnel and follow through to Hawne Basin passing the site of the former Stewarts & Lloyds tube works - there are still some industrial remnants to be spotted along the canalside (including a British Steel sign or two) although the open spaces of Coombeswood Wedge ensure there is some natural scenery to enjoy as well. 

- Fomer Canal near Mucklow Hill -
The Dudley No 2 canal historically connected Park Head near Dudley with Selly Oak via Blackbrook Junction, the Lapal Tunnel and Weoley Castle, however the modern day limit of navigation ends at Hawne Basin. The basin itself is operated by Coombeswood Canal Trust as a private members facility so from Coombes Bridge I have to switch flanks and take a path through to Mucklow Hill in order to start investigating the disused stretches in Leasowes Park. The line of the lost canal is clearly discernible and partially in water where not choked with reeds - I'd seen the remains beside Mucklow Hill before but hadn't fully walked through to Manor Way until now.

- Approaching Manor Way -
And what a walk it proves to be, proper ferreting just the way I like it! The views in places are quite spectacular, especially looking out over Breaches Pool, while I also encounter what appears to be an old lock chamber as the canal's course meanders towards Lapal. After a while the distinct remains peter out to leave a line of overgrown vegetation as my chosen footpath passes beside a primary school and then emerges onto Manor Way just below the Black Horse. I've reached the edges of the West Midlands now with the Worcestershire countryside offering yet more appealing vistas towards Illey and Hunnington.

- The Hasbury Inn awaits its fate -
I however keep firmly within the county boundary by skirting the edges of Halesowen in hiking up Dog Kennel Lane through to Hasbury. Halesowen Cricket Club (at Seth Somers Park) and the Hasbury Conservative Club both receive the camera treatment before I attempt a sequence of shots at the Hasbury Inn; I'd heard the pub was under threat so the boarded-over windows suggest the situation might well be terminal, reuse as a convenience store being the likely outcome in the not-too-distant future. 

- The Crafty Pint -
The Maypole on the junction of Bassnage Road and Foxhunt Road has also been fighting for its future in recent years amid similar supermarket plans - it is still trading for now and I hope for many years to come. There is thankfully some positive pub news to report from Hasbury as Wassell Road last year became home to the Crafty Pint micropub, a compact little venture that seems to double up as a cafe during the mornings. A handful of tables are matched by a neat selection of real ales - my Weatheroak Hill Single Hop Sticklebrackt is very refreshing, a quality (and very crafty) pint indeed!

- Huntingtree Park -
Having confirmed that the Maypole is indeed still open, I proceed along Bassnage Road to Huntingtree Park, a Green Flag award-winning open space that seems to be part of a health drive instigated by Dudley Council. Along with an activity centre and a bowling green, facilities include an outdoor gym, sports pitches and a dedicated patch of urban forest. Huntingtree Primary School is just across the road while the wider estate features the Huntingtree pub (previously the Button Factory) plus the Windsor High School and Sixth Form Centre.

- Chance Cheers in the Waggon & Horses -
The main A458 Stourbridge Road then has me bearing down upon The Grove, the non-league home of Halesowen Town Football Ground where the rear gates and turnstiles require some camera concentration. The Yeltz are playing Whitby in the EvoStik Premier Division and I would have been tempted to watch but for the prospect of the Waggon and Horses, a real ale institution that has recently been taken on by Black Country Ales. Some Ruby Porter and a cheese cob equals instant contentment before I am joined by Rog and Rachael for a catch-up pint (in my case some Mallinsons Transpennine Brown Ale). A chat by the fire makes for a classic pub experience, sharing tales about inflatable alligators and Rog's various hairstyles. Alas, all too soon I have to make my way home but the day has one final treat in store - a Wolves victory over Aston Villa at Molineux, excellent!

Saturday, January 7

Two Days, Two Walks

How's about a little bit of local exploration to welcome in the New Year? My photographic account for 2017 is opened courtesy of a couple of Wolverhampton wanders, one concentrating on Castlecroft and the other having something of a factory focus...

- Bantock Park -
'Bracing' is a word probably invented for crisp January days with a chill in the air, and the description is certainly befitting on the morning of Thursday 5th. A ride on the number 3 bus is intended to get me to Castlecroft but I can't resist alighting at Bantock Park where the frost-tinged playing fields are bathed in watery sunshine. My parkland pause is followed by Finchfield where I top up my archive with further photos of the branch library (on White Oak Drive) and the Chestnut Tree pub.

- Approaching Castlecroft Stadium -
Another public house with an arborescent name is the Firs on Windmill Lane, one of the defining landmarks in Castlecroft with the adjacent curved shopping parade also being a familiar feature. Castlecroft Avenue then takes me past the local medical centre and the bus terminus to reach the driveway for Castlecroft Stadium, home to AFC Wulfrunians and the Wolverhampton Rugby Union Club. A little cricket ground also catches my eye here and with sporting settings captured on camera I can weave my way towards Wightwick via Castlecroft Lane.

- Wightwick Mill Lock -
Thursday's walk concludes with a stroll along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal where thankfully any mud along the towpath seems to be frozen solid so as not to cake my shoes. The stretch from Windmill Lane to Compton is punctuated by a couple of locks (Wightwick and Wightwick Mill) where you almost feel you're in secluded countryside, the wintry scenery warming the heart if not the fingers! At Compton I sweep up a couple of shots of the Swan, a fine old coaching inn at the bottom of The Holloway, before catching the Arriva 10B back into Wolverhampton.

- Goodyears Goodbye -
The exploration action resumes with Factory Friday (6th January) and a walk intended to investigate Wolverhampton manufacturing past, present and future. The Goodyear plant between Stafford Road and Bushbury Lane will sadly become but a memory before too long; production ceased in December and the remaining site is now being scaled down towards final closure later in 2017.

- Ranger Drive under construction -
Goodyears had already been a much-reduced concern from what it once was, with the redevelopment of former factory grounds steadily taking place over the last few years. I've previously commented on the arrival of an Aldi supermarket and the Gatehouse pub but on this occasion I had a closer look at the ever-expanding new housing estate. Several roads have been created and houses occupied but clearly there is much more to come - Akron Drive and Columbia Crescent allow glimpses of Ranger Drive where the latest batch of houses are in the process of being built.

- Chetton Green Flats -
I will resume my manufacturing musings at the i54 development but to get there I now encounter the combined delights of Oxley, Rakegate and Wobaston, all places with which I have a strong childhood affinity. Ribbesford Avenue flanks the eastern edges of Oxley Park Golf Club before I dart across Oxley Moor Road (beside what used to be the Hop Pole but is now a convenience store) to reach Rakegate. Renton Road has me recalling formative memories of Rakegate Primary School while a Methodist Church (Renton Grove) and the bus route 4 timing stop (Sheldon Road) keep my camera busy. It always saddens me to see the old Oxley Library building looking ever more abandoned but I move swiftly on via St Anne's Road into Wobaston to reacquaint myself with the Harrowby Arms and Chetton Green flats.

- Moog, i54 -
Patshull Avenue in turn leads to Wobaston Road where I can access i54, a place I last photographed back in April 2013. The technology-based business park has certainly grown since then, and companies like Moog and Eurofins are now firmly established Wolverhampton employers. Innovation Drive is served by several bus routes - the 4, 6, 25, 54 and 154 - that together provide a network of important transport links across Wolverhampton and into South Staffordshire.

- Jaguar Land Rover, i54 -
i54 also points towards the future of cutting-edge manufacturing in Wolverhampton with Jaguar Land Rover expanding their operations here through the construction of additional engine production capacity. The scale of the JLR works is certainly impressive and it will be interesting to see if further companies may be enticed to take advantage of i54's Enterprise Zone status. A handful of Pendeford pictures (most notably of St Paul's Church) round things off nicely meaning 2017 is off and running in solid photo fashion. Bye for now!

Monday, January 2

WME Review of the Year - 2016

Happy New Year! Before we get down to business with 2017, let's pause to reflect on what the previous twelve months had in store. 2016 will no doubt be remembered for Brexit, Donald Trump and several celebrity deaths, although on a personal level I have many adventures to look back on with fondness...

January: the old year began with a Bloxwich Monday Mission that also involved pieces of Pelsall's former railway line, not to mention some Mossley moments by Bloxwich North station. Other solo expeditions took me from Widney Manor to Olton (via Shelly Farm and Sharmans Cross) then separately around Acocks Green (a circular walk covering Tyseley and Hall Green with a Fox Hollies ferret). Nick Turpin meanwhile was woken from his post-Christmas slumbers for a January Jaunt at Warwick Castle, meeting medieval mannequins and surreptitiously sneaking into Daisy Greville's bed chamber!

February: more Monday Mission action here with a second peek at Pelsall's railway remains, this time squelching through towards Brownhills and Ogley Hay. Both the Chip Foundation and the Hub Marketing Board opened their accounts for 2016; Stephen and Nick joined me for an afternoon in Claregate and Codsall (the dual delights of Hail to the Ale then the Firs Club) whereas Chairman D9 attended a hub double-header comprising Wolverhampton wanderings followed by a Stourport session (seeking out the Stagborough Arms and several silly photo opportunities). Elsewhere, Rog and I memorably discovered the Fixed Wheel brewery tap on a Blackheath trading estate while Nick Turpin twice took to his Stagecoach, requisitioning ales around Alcester on Friday 5th before nudging into Northamptonshire during Daventry duty on Monday 29th - it's always wise to make the most of the extra day in a leap year.

March: the action continues with two Rog afternoons to report, one in Ashmore Park (which we commenced by sampling the newly opened Slater's Bar in Wolverhampton) and one in Gornal (a destination Mr Chance had always historically avoided). March was the month that heralded the welcome return of 'Towpath Turpin' who joined me in inspecting the canals around Polesworth and Fazeley (our cue for fantasy footbridges and abbey antics), Nick also being present for the Walsall Beer Festival complete with a Cafe Metro Bilston bonus. Not to be outdone, the Hub Marketing Board spent St Patrick Hughes Day in East Birmingham before chasing crumbs of lost canal during a Golds Hill Good Friday bash - rumour has it we actually got back on time that day!

April: a relatively quiet month by comparison although there were visits to the Stourbridge Beer Festival (after which the Green Duck brewery bar on Rufford Road certainly made an impression, Mike from Solihull joining Nick and myself to see what awaited behind the green door) and to Codsall (my first visit to the refurbished Crown, now operated by Joule's). I made the most of my annual 'Unchained' pass for a solo session at the Black Country Living Museum, not forgetting a family day in Shropshire whereby the Anvil in Shifnal proved to be another excellent pub find. April was almost at an end when the Chip Foundation clocked in once more, their Penkridge penance requiring a country lane hike to Whiston and back.

May: the WME blog celebrated its tenth anniversary in May 2016, a milestone I remain rather proud of as I now near my 600th post. In terms of exploration, Hub Marketing was to the fore courtesy of two trips,  Ellesmere with Oswestry being the day of D9's parking penalty notice distress before the Cold Case Unit attempted to solve a West Bromwich murder mystery - despite scouring the crime scene for clues, all we found was a rather familiar bald spot! The occasion of the Kidderminster Beer Festival meant it was Towpath Turpin's turn to pose with purple dinosaurs and such like at Stourport while over in Nottingham the Warwickshire batsmen scored good runs at Trent Bridge (centuries apiece for Chris Woakes and Keith Barker). 

June: Cricket was a prime consideration heading into the summer so Stephen and I spent a few days in Sale whilst witnessing the Bears take on Lancashire at Old Trafford. My bostin' birthday outing saw the Chip Foundation tracing Tipton canals, making merry at the Black Country Museum then fossil hunting at Wrens Nest nature reserve - I'm not sure Nick really counts as a preserved historic specimen though! Nuggets of North Birmingham were on hand for the Hub Marketing brigade who combined Pype Hayes and Kingstanding with a serving of Spaghetti (the musical meatballs were purely optional). A Kingswinford encounter with Rog featured a few pints at the Woodman where Mr SBI met someone else with the Chance surname, and I must mention an excellent Earlswood excursion linking up with The Lakes and savouring a stroll along the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

July: One of the highlights of any year always has to be my annual Telford tour which in 2016 comprised an extraspecial Madeley medley, the All Nations Inn serving as the centrepiece of a day that nibbled on Randlay and Brookside for good measure. Mr D9 has his own idea of God's Country and we were there with Nick to take in the Bromsgrove Beer Festival albeit there still hasn't been any update about my mislaid topiary balls - no garden ornaments were however detected when Rog and I celebrated Mr SBI's 40th birthday with a perky Delph and Brettell Lane pubcrawl. The Monday Mission series creaked back to life with a Willenhall railway rummage whereas the Hub Marketing Board tried to avoid any Brexit fallout by soaking up the Staffordshire sunshine over in Burntwood. One of the most notable omissions from the blog this year was a Nick Turpin Nottingham adventure, a 'tram-tastic' day riding the length and breadth of the Nottingham Express Transit network from Hucknall to Clifton with bits of Beeston too. 

August: the reason that Nottingham trip didn't receive its due record was that I got preoccupied instead by a family holiday in Faversham. A whole week of Kentish exploration was simply superb with Broadstairs, Deal and a day at the Canterbury cricket being among my cherished memories - Kent seems to be the spiritual home of the micropub movement with several examples of such establishments although my favourite pub was actually of a more standard size, so take a bow the Ship Centurion in Whitstable. Once back at home in the West Midlands I busied myself with some little local larks (Pattingham or Warstones for example, or a Mesty Croft missive to satisfy the curiosity of Mr Beardsmore). There was Monday Mission correspondence from Erdington (stopping off at Stockland Green and Short Heath in the process) before Bridgnorth served as the Chip Foundation's summer away day where Ken and Mr B Senior swelled our membership to five.

September: early autumn next and a month ever enshrined in hub legend thanks to my traumatic tumble at Turners Hill - I needed a few ales afterwards in Rowley Regis and Lower Gornal to aid my recovery! In other news, the Tamworth Beer festival had a distinct Star Trek theme as I got to grips with Glascote Locks, then Nick and I enjoyed an afternoon ramble over Barr Beacon prior to trying out the Turtles Head micropub in Aldridge. The end of another cricket season was marked by an evening drink in Brum's Fiddle & Bone while my sequence of Monday Missions also drew to a close care of a Walmley walkabout with Stephen - the series totalled 19 exceptional episodes over two years but has been put on hold due to a change in my working pattern. 

October: keeping the camera occupied was a hunt for the Red Admiral, an endangered Great Barr pub which Stephen and I tracked down on the Gorse Farm housing estate. Birmingham took its customary spot on the beer festival calendar as Nick and I were Hockley-bound for the multitude of ales at the New Bingley Hall; Mr D9 was likewise of a Brum persuasion when the Hub Marketing bandwagon rolled into Balsall Heath, Ladypool Road and Warstock, all rounded off with some Rednal reconnaissance.

November: no 2016 mention for Coventry yet but the Hub team could not overlook one of their favourite stomping grounds. The quiff was therefore in pole position for Whitmore Park, Stoke Aldermoor and Coundon as the Humber Hotel paid host to the full Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent singalong session. The canals of Galton Valley were the subject of a solo Saturday stroll in Smethwick, the Engine Arm being of particular interest among the array of tunnels, bridges and junctions. The Chip Foundation concluded their 2016 Chronicles thanks to an alluring afternoon in Albrighton while special praise has to go to the volunteers who came together to stage the Dudley Winter Ales Fayre this year - the event had been at risk of being cancelled a few months ago but thankfully did go ahead, thus claiming its rightful place as our traditional festival finale.

December: all of which brings us to the small matter of December whereby recent excursions to Burton and Banbury remain fresh in the memory. A splinter group of the Chip Foundation braved wild and wet West Bromwich for a seasonal nod to the Sow & Pigs and the Crown & Cushion (not to mention a rather bizarre encounter with the New Soho Tavern), while the Hub Marketing year ended with a toast to Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III in the Manhattan (a Heath Town pub that had long been on D9's Christmas wish list). That just leaves one final outing as the year's exploration activities ended as they had begun - in Bloxwich. Nostalgic recollections were evoked as Mr WME Senior and I visited former haunts and formative places from Dad's youth, culminating with the timewarp-like treats of the Kings Head in Blakenall becoming a notable last minute addition to the 2016 pub portfolio.

So there you have the year in summary, twelve more epic months of adventure and memory-making. As ever I would like to thank all of the people who have been part of the story in 2016 - particularly Nick, Stephen, Andy, Rog and Ken - and I very much look forward to whatever awaits in 2017...