Tuesday, February 28

WME Flickr Focus - February 2017

February has been another constructive month on the WME Flickr photostream with a minor flurry of local photos to follow January's examples from further afield. Let's unleash the bullet points!

  • WME Dudley took centre stage this month with the Black Country Living Museum firmly in the spotlight. Various vegetables are therefore joined by general views of Racecourse Colliery and the Lime Kilns, while a West Bromwich Corporation Daimler bus poses outside the Bradburn & Wedge showroom
  • Besides the museum medley, Dudley also contributes a 255 bus on Kingswinford High Street along with the Cobham Arms' dartboard from Howley Grange estate near Halesowen.
  • WME Wolverhampton paid a visit to Bilston in furnishing itself with a cemetery shot, a Metro stop sign and a Trumpet teaser (Holden's jazz pub being a longstanding personal favourite of mine). Blakenhall Library makes an appearance as does the Builders Arms pub sign from Derry Street, All Saints.
  • There are Bloxwich bonuses to report on WME Walsall where a stylised signal outside Bloxwich North Station is accompanied by a memento from the much-lamented Bulls Head, the pub having met its ultimate fate in being flattened last year.
  • Action from WME Birmingham concentrates on Hockley (an illuminated Black Eagle lamp) and Bordesley's station sign although the Post Office Vaults creeps into contention too.
  • WME Warwickshire makes its 2017 debut thanks to a couple of Alcester artefacts - Malt Mill Lane and a twinning mosaic.
  • And finally, solitary shots each for WME Staffordshire (a Banks's sign for the Bull at Codsall) and for WME Shropshire (the Bricklayers Arms on Copthorne Road, a Joules pub in the Shrewsbury suburbs).
The WME photostream now stands at 3,160 published pictures and I hope to continue the steady start to 2017 with further additions through March. Until then, enjoy the photos!

Monday, February 27

Further February Fun

Post number 600 on this here blog brings you details of not one but two February trips. The first saw the Chip Foundation frequenting some classic Black Country pubs whereas the second involved a visit to the Rugby Beer Festival - here come a few potted details for your delectation...

- A (Briar) Rose with a couple of thorns -
The afternoon of Wednesday 22nd February saw the Chip Foundation on Black Country duty, reporting in for lunch at the Rose and Crown in Brierley Hill - we needed a good feed after a long ride on the 255 while the Holden's Tara-A-Bitter also proved worth the bus journey. Brierley Hill High Street is its usual busy self despite a sculptural interlude outside the police station, then we say hello to Thomas Hickinbottom's boxer statue as we make our way to the Delph.

- Bitter and Buffaloes at the Bull & Bladder -
Pub paradise awaits for the rest of the afternoon, starting in the Vine on Delph Road (aka the Bull & Bladder). I've eulogised about this place several times before and on this occasion the Bathams Best Bitter is top notch as we sit in a room dedicated to the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (hence the horns over the fireplace). Switching to Netherton we call into the Old Swan (Ma Pardoe's) for some lovely Dark Swan Mild before setting the world - or at least President Trump - to rights from the safety of the Beacon Hotel snug in Sedgley. Dark Ruby Mild with an accompanying cob proves a most appropriate end to a pretty perfect outing!

- Arnold House -
Fast forward a few days to Saturday 25th February as I join Nick in Rugby for the town's 33rd beer festival. The venue this year is Arnold House, a masonic lodge tucked behind the Merchants Inn where my esteemed colleague is already in situ clutching a Russian Imperial Stout. My ale choices include Cornish Crown Special Pale Ale (from Penzance), Electric Bear's Inspector Remorse (a tasty porter from Bath) and Mr Anderson's Mild (my personal favourite, dark and sweet from Rugby's own Atomic Brewery). Nick meanwhile tumbles into a Quagmire, sips a Sly Rye and ends up manhandling a Fallen Angel, hence I grapple with half of Harlot just so he wasn't having all the fun!

- Beaming in the Bell -
The Merchants Inn and the Rugby Tap are must-do pubs when in Rugby and they both ably step up to the mark. The Merchants offers us Bingham Vanilla Stout and a bit of Six Nations action while the Tap micropub is a sanctuary where we meet Twisted Barrel's Beast of a Midlands Mild, nice! A glance in the Good Beer Guide suggests a visit to Hillmorton might be in order so we hop aboard the 3 for a ride around the local estates. The Stag & Pheasant is an interesting old inn not too far from the canal and then the Bell on High Street provides our GBG tick - Draught Bass plays Adnams Ghost Ship here to fuel us for our respective journeys home. Cheers!

Monday, February 20

Hub Marketing 2017 - Enville and Kinver

Order! Order! It's Friday 17th February 2017 and the Hub Marketing Court is in session as Secretary WME and Chairman D9 cast their judgements over a segment of South Staffordshire. In the dock are the neighbouring villages of Enville and Kinver which together are duly sentenced with hosting our latest explorational experience...

- The Dodger at Stourbridge Town -
Summons have been dispatched in advance so that our trial by transport can commence promptly at 11:30 hours without any need to consult the cob rulebook. A tram ride to The Hawthorns links well for a train connection down to Stourbridge Junction, the journey allowing some preliminary discussion about Kinver's former tramway operations (a Light Railway linked the village with Amblecote between 1901 and 1930). Light rail of a modern persuasion is in evidence on the Stourbridge branch line whereby Mr D9 can enjoy his first ever ride on a class 139 people mover - he was suitably impressed!

- Potters Cross Stores -
Brief refreshments are sought in Stourbridge (courtesy of the Red House Boutique) before the Hansons 228 service conveys our courtly contingent to Kinver. The route visits Wollaston Junction and Stourton then trundles the full length of Kinver High Street to terminate at White Hill. This end of Kinver village is known as Potters Cross so the Secretary sets about procuring photographs of the general stores (containing the local post office), a Methodist Church and the old Crown & Anchor (converted to flats a few years back).

- Animal Antics for the Chairman -
Public transport doesn't extend as far as Enville so Shanks's pony will have to suffice, thankfully the surprisingly mild February weather means it's a nice day for a walk (total distance just over four miles there and back we reckon). Enville Road takes us up past a couple of farms where the D9 bald spot attracts some real equine attention. We then tentatively tiptoe beside the busy A458, the lack of pavement making things a little precarious although we skilfully avoid any onrushing traffic. 

- Going Gothic in the Cat -
The centre of Enville is marked by a war memorial cross and a little green overlooked by the Cat Inn. A large banner proclaims the pub's CAMRA credentials so we simply have to investigate, trooping inside to partake of the Enville Brewery's finest Simpkiss and Gothic ales. Chairman D9 produces a paper periwig when giving the beer his considered seal of approval, then two brewers just happen to wander in so we enjoy a fascinating chat with them learning about the ale production process.

- The Fox, Stourton -
Suitably re-energised by our Cat call we contemplate the return walk to Kinver, the stroll proving relatively relaxing once that tricky stretch of the A458 had been negotiated. Keen to make the most of being in the area, we indulge in a slight detour via Clanbrook Lane to the Fox at Stourton. This is another inn on the main road albeit more isolated than the Cat; the beer garden looks like it would be a nice spot for a summertime drink although the stylish interior is today's setting for samples of Bathams Best Bitter.

- Kinver Constitutional Club -
It isn't too far into Kinver now (passing the High School along the way) and more Bathams is soon on the menu care of the Plough & Harrow - our Bitter here is accompanied by superb snacks, the black pudding pork pie being especially exquisite. We seem to have stumbled upon a little corner of beer heaven this afternoon and next on our agenda is the Kinver Constitutional Club, another place which has been bestowed with many CAMRA awards in recent years. We manage to secure entry, sign the visitors book and delight in some delectable Olde Swan ales of which the Bumblehole was first class. 

- Judiciously driving the 227 -
At the Chairman's request we squeeze in a quick Cross visit (Hobson's Manor Ale) before the final 227 working back to Stourbridge, D9 dressing up for his latest driving duty in (supposedly) full judge's regalia! He is more normally attired for our closing Stourbridge tipples (the Royal Exchange and the Longlands doing the business as evening encroaches), then a scotch-egg fuelled 256 powers us home to Wolverhampton. All of which means that our court proceedings are complete and the Hub Marketing Board is adjourned until our next adventure - cheers!

Sunday, February 5

A Trysull Trek

Friday 3rd February 2017 and I had a mission to undertake in South Staffordshire, seeking out some Holden's hospitality and enjoying an extended walk in the environs of Trysull...

- Wombourne Fire Station -
Beginning at Wolverhampton Bus Station, I catch the 255 bus down to Wombourne and alight on Giggetty Lane  where the ambulance station used to be. New houses occupy that particular site but Cherry Trees Primary School and Wombourne Community Fire Station still ensure there are local facilities with which to set the photographic ball rolling.

- Bratch Top Lock -
Giggetty Bridge provides my access point for the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal today as I plot my course towards Trysull. Houndel Bridge (with the neighbouring Round Oak pub) and Bumblehole Lock keep me occupied before I reach Bratch Locks, a picture postcard location that has been a source of daytripper curiosity for over 200 years. There are three locks here in close succession, all watched over by a distinctive tollhouse and a lock keeper's cottage. Instructional signs are on hand to guide boaters through the tricky flight.

- Awbridge Bridge -
With Wombourne gradually receding on the horizon behind me, the towpath offers field views looking out towards Orton. The next landmark on from The Bratch is Awbridge, marked by an old stone bridge with a perforated parapet and another lock. I leave the canal here to join Union Lane, following in the tractor tracks of the local farm to reach Trysull village.

- Trysull Pound -
An historic settlement said to have been mentioned in the Domesday Book, Trysull is a place I have explored before, usually with a visit to the Bell Inn being high on my agenda. The pub will certainly be featuring today but not until I've had a little stroll around the village. All Saints Church is very much worthy of a closer look (worship has apparently taken place on this site for over a thousand years) while School Road leads - naturally enough - to All Saints School which overlooks the village green. A new discovery for me is Trysull Pound, a post-medieval brick enclosure used for rounding up stray animals which was restored for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

- The Bell -
There's something pleasingly traditional about places where the church and the pub are right next door to each other, and in Trysull's case All Saints has the Bell for an immediate neighbour. I must admit I really like the Bell, and not just because it serves as a Staffordshire outpost for one of my favourite Black Country breweries -  Holden's. The building has a bit of character to it and both the beer and the food seem reasonably priced, hence the small army of pensioners flocking their way here to partake of the lunchtime menu. A pack of scratchings will do me nicely as an accompaniment to Golden Glow and Batham's Best Bitter, quality ales in a nice setting.

- The Hollybush -
I was hoping to pair the Bell with the other pub in the village centre but alas the Plough on School Road is closed for refurbishment work. All is not lost though as a willing wander up Trysull Holloway brings me to Ebstree Road for the Hollybush, seemingly quite remote with only fields and farms for company. The pub is quiet, the level of trade presumably not helped by the canal closure at Dimmingsdale following a recent accident that damaged the canal bridge. Having established that the pub is open, I call in for some Enville Ale and a relaxing read of the daily newspapers.

- Avian Art at Market Lane Bridge -
With the weather set to turn wetter and the breeze already picking up, I make strides for Lower Penn where I join the South Staffordshire Railway Walk at Greyhound Lane. Orientation boards mark the former location of Penn Halt, a discontinued stop on the short-lived Wombourne branch line, then at Market Lane Bridge I encounter an unexpected splash of colour thanks to street art depictions of birds, dogs and pouting ladies. The sights at Castlecroft are more mundane by comparison but I can at least reacquaint myself photographically with the Firs pub before catching my bus connection home, and that's that!

Wednesday, February 1

WME Flickr Focus: January 2017

Gently does it! After a quiet couple of months in November and December, the West Midlands Exploration photostream has lurched back to life thanks to photo additions from near and (fairly) far...

Exploration Extra has been leading the way in January with contributions claimed from across the country. My Arnside archive has been raided once more for glimpses of the Lake District (Derwent Water and Keswick's Lake Road Inn) along with Lancashire (Moor Lane Bridge on the Lancaster Canal), whilst my cricket-focused Sussex stay in April 2012 has become the subject of a new Hove album containing stadium seating, Hove railway station views and a strange shellfish I spotted on Brighton beach.

April 2012 must have been a busy month as it has also provided content for that year's Rail Rover album, currently showcasing a quartet of Cromford Canal shots including Grattens Bridge near Ambergate. Of a more recent vintage I can offer a platform clock at Loughborough's Great Central Railway (photographed in January 2016) whereas last February's visit to Daventry and Braunston supplies the knitted resemblances of everyone's favourite canal characters, Rosie and Jim - how cute!

Further back in time, I've dug out a couple more pictures from the Chase Farewell Running Day in April 2007 - one at the Chase Depot and one at Arriva's Delta Way Garage - to round off Exploration Extra's recent haul. Complementing these, WME Staffordshire has itself received two bus photos taken that day (the 870 at Cannock, the 381 at Lichfield) with the latter of those representing one of Chase's last ever workings - it's hard to believe it's been nearly ten years since Chase and their distinctive orange-liveried Leyland Nationals ceased independent bus operations. 

Glancing elsewhere reveals that WME Birmingham has dropped in on Acocks Green (a railway station sign) and Aston (the Britannia pub sign plus Lock 5 on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal). The final word however goes to WME Worcestershire which combines bus 44 at Worcester (loading for Malvern) with an Alvechurch assortment featuring Crow's Butchers, a Cross City train and the Crown Inn at Withybed Green. The photostream can therefore consider itself safely resuscitated for the time being, and we wait to see which pictures will keep the pulse beating as we head into February...