Monday, December 24

Ho Ho Hubs: A Christmas Caper

The last Hub Marketing outing of 2018 brings with it certain festive formalities to be taken care of - the annual awards are to be announced, the Silly Songs chart rundown must be played and the latest Hub calendar will be unveiled. Come join Secretary WME and Chairman D9 (plus the usual cast of crazy extras) as we wend our way through Whitmore Reans...

- Which one's Wolfie? -
Friday 21st December and our task is to investigate various Wolverhampton watering holes that had thus far escaped our clutches. The Chairman is remarkably punctual for a 12:15pm Stafford Street rendezvous meaning we can proceed past the Molineux as planned, saying hello to Sir Jack Hayward's statue and a cartoon depiction of football mascot Wolfie. Our first pub is just over the road from the stadium, the Leaping Wolf having rebranded itself after a few years as the Lounge 107 bar (before that it was well known as the Goalpost). We appear to have gatecrashed the relaunch day celebrations and are impressed by the new look with Wolves shirts of various vintages displayed alongside historic local photos.

- Seeking Santa in the Stile -
Delving deeper into Whitmore Reans requires Staveley Road to lead us towards the Stile; we have been here previously but it more than merits a revisit as an unspoiled backstreet cracker. It's Banks's all the way as we dig out the darts, D9 Destroyer being determined to claw back the ten leg deficit that had accrued over the course of the year. Sadly for the balding one, a 6-4 D9 victory cannot quite close the gap enough and WME Whirlwind retains his champion's crown for the sixth year in succession. We have to be careful that any stray arrows don't puncture an inflatable Father Christmas, but fear not, Santa does emerge unscathed!

- The Hub action doesn't stop for Christmas -
Whitmore Reans is a fascinating inner-city area situated in the shadow of the football ground. Old terraced houses mix with 1960s developments such as the Avion Centre shopping precinct, and there are a number of features and facilities to keep the WME camera occupied. Ever observant to the hub cause, we spot a banner for a Bereavement Information Hub service then Lowe Street is the setting for some song silliness - the full chart rundown will be unleashed later on although we can declare our Christmas novelty contenders, 'Santa Bring Me Ringo' (Christine Hunter) and 'A Cockney Christmas' (Dick Emery).

- Modelling the 2019 Hub Marketing Calendar -
How's about another couple of pubs? Newhampton Road West gives us two to consider in quick succession so a swift half in each will suffice. The Summer House on Lloyd Street is where we stage the 2019 calendar unveiling, Chairman D9 being delighted by the inclusion of Barrel Singh and Hearty Carty (not to mention a few Hoodwinked robin sculptures), while the Newhampton lurks on the junction of Sweetman and Riches streets for Mud City Stout and a ham cob. Indeed, the Newhampton is somewhat revered in local CAMRA circles and it's great to see it back open after it shut down unexpectedly a couple of months ago.

- Windswept in the Winning Post -
One particular watering hole is top of the Chairman's Christmas wish list so a visit to the Winning Post is essential. As the name suggests, this boozer is handily located for Dunstall Park racecourse (on Gorsebrook Road to be precise) and proves surprisingly presentable - not quite the flat-roof dive the Secretary had feared. We have to linger on the doorstep for 4pm opening but manage to avoid getting too drenched by a sudden shower; a mention too for the Pegasus on Jackson Street as another potentially dubious estate effort that exceeded expectations. Our Christmas caper is certainly going well!

- The Emerald Club -
Wolves are playing Liverpool at Molineux tonight and as we enter evening the pre-match atmosphere is really starting to build. Both the Hatherton Arms (North Road) and the Emerald Club (Cross Street North) are getting into full swing with home fans in fine voice; the Emerald is home to the Wolverhampton Irish Centre and marked its 50th anniversary in June 2018. Given that Chairman D9 claims to be a West Bromwich Albion fan, it must be the Guinness that prompts him to join in the Hi Ho Silver Lining and Sweet Caroline singalong - either that or he's still dazed after tripping over a pothole on the car park.

- A D9 drive with bonus baubles -
The Hubbacini chart countdown is underway as Milly Molly Mandy, Larry Grayson and Pluto Shervington occupy the lower reaches of the top 20. We're also gearing up for our annual meeting with Hub founder Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III, however that must wait until we've picked out a present from Penn Fields. The number 2 bus carefully connects us to Lea Road albeit Mr D9 is distracted from his usual driving duties by the presence of wrapping paper, orange 'baubles' and reams of sellotape.

- Elsie Mo at the Starting Gate -
Our Penn Fields interlude comes at the Secretary's request as Mr WME insists on trying out the Starting Gate on Birches Barn Road. This micropub housed in a former branch of HSBC is already earning commendable plaudits for the quality of its beer; we perform our own control check and the Castle Rock 'Elsie Mo' passes with flying colours - exemplary! Rumour has it that Mr D9 then models a battered sausage while playing with his baubles again, although the photographic evidence has had to be filed away securely so as not to distress anyone of a nervous disposition.

- And the Christmas number one is... -
Back in a now very wet and windy Wolverhampton, we complete official proceedings for the year by declaring the Hubbacini top three ('The Rovers Chorus' at 3, 'The Tiger's Wide Awake' at 2 and Dick Emery taking chart honours with the 'You are awful (but I like you) Conga'). Charles Pemberton Rowbottom is on hand at the Plough & Harrow for the 2018 Hub Awards - the headline news here is that D9 wins the most expensive round gong for his £4.70 pint in Harborne, WME had the Discount of the Year thanks to the Goldthorn, and Hearty Carty is our lifetime achievement recipient. All that remains is for the Hub Marketing Board to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas... Cheers!

Friday, December 21

WME Flickr Focus - December 2018

Twelve long months of Flickr action have culminated in this, my final photostream posting of 2018. In keeping with the rest of the year, December proved to be productive in bringing my annual additions to a grand total of 389 photos...

With Christmas just around the corner, WME Wolverhampton has taken on the role of Santa by supplying a sackful of goodies. Rather than reindeer though, this sleigh has been pulled by a pack of Wolves in Wolves sculptures including Bayliss (at West Park), Zeus (by the Civic Centre) and Hunter (by the Art School). Other wolves getting in a festive howl or two are Dynasty (Princess Street), Love (outside the Registry Office) and Wild (in the Art Gallery).

Speaking of the Art Gallery, I've dipped into my cultural stocking with snapshots from interesting exhibitions that took place in 2017. Chinese characters therefore make their collective presence felt alongside some gold and green ceramics, plus there's even a guest appearance from Mahatma Gandhi! A curious bird puppet gets in on the act too and I fully expect there to be more artistic arrivals come 2019.

Elsewhere in the wintry world of WME Wolverhampton, I can toast the inclusion of more tiled street signs (Long Street, Whitmore Street), linger by lock seven on the Birmingham Main Line Canal and pause to reflect at the 2015 Festival of Remembrance. Last but not least is a Woodbine sign from across Bushbury way, the pub itself becoming an increasing eyesore awaiting a new lease of life. This is all means Wolverhampton alone has contributed over 100 pictures to the Flickr cause this year, not a bad effort!

Admittedly there have been slim December pickings as regards the rest of my collections, although there were occasional stirrings down the chimney so to speak. WME Walsall sneaked in with a solitary present (a vintage Highgate Ales sign at Willenhall Liberal Club), likewise WME Birmingham which pulls a cracker in the form of Yardley's Ring O Bells sign. The closing word goes to the little-seen WME Worcestershire where the New Street elves have released the King Charles II and Swan with Two Nicks from behind the yule log. With that I'll sign off well in advance of the Queen's Speech - Merry Christmas one and all, I'll be back with more photostream progress in January...

Sunday, December 9

A Kenilworth and Leamington Forage

Astounding. Simply astounding. There are some trips every year that you just know are going to be all-time classics, the annual Festive Forage being a case in point. However, 2018's Nick Turpin Christmas special exceeded even the loftiest expectations, helped by a quirky selection of watering holes that included my first ever experience of walking through a fridge to enter a bar...

- Class 153 train at Kenilworth -
Saturday 8th December 2018 and Nick Turpin has sacrificed his Stagecoach in favour of letting the train take the strain. I am therefore instructed to meet our highwayman hero at Kenilworth, journeying down from Coventry on a single carriage Class 153 unit. The fact that Kenilworth has a railway station again is an immediate cause for celebration - the town had disappeared off the network map in 1965 thanks to the Beeching cuts but can now boast a brand new facility with an hourly shuttle service between Leamington and Coventry. 

- St John's Church -
It's a bright crisp December morning as we set about plundering Kenilworth for photographic prey. Nick acts as our tour guide as we join the busy Warwick Road, pondering references to Walter Scott novels and spotting a disused branch of the National Provincial Bank. A notable landmark at the southern tip of the town centre is St John's Parish Church, positioned pretty much opposite the Green Man pub where we slake our initial thirst. This Ember Inns establishment is listed in the 2019 Good Beer Guide so we enjoy respective halves of X-Panda and Mad Goose sitting in the dedicated grumpy men's corner.

- Mouthy mat in the Bear & Ragged Staff -
Kenilworth is a place that seems to have pubs at regular intervals and we're somewhat spoiled for choice. The Earl Clarendon is a traditional little Marston's local while the Lion has big screen sport and cheeky patio gnomes. Sport is also to the fore in the Bear & Ragged Staff, a standard Greene King boozer where we can choose between watching rugby or football. Rocking Rudolph whets our whistle here, a decent malty Christmas ale which we quaff while testing out the Chris Kamara beermats - I'm not sure it suits me though!

- Abbey Fields -
Prior to becoming a dandy highwayman/ace cataloguer, Nick Turpin did a mid-1970s stint as a Saturday assistant at Kenilworth Library. Alas it shuts at 1pm today so we can't fully revisit his old stomping ground, then an ill-timed shower sends us scurrying for shelter in the Almanack (cue expensive halves of UBU in a gastropub setting). The skies clear soon enough and we're free to proceed over the Abbey Fields, excitedly exploring the earthwork remains of St Mary's Augustinian Abbey as the Finham Brook burbles by. More tangible building remnants include an intact former barn (now a museum, it may have historically been the Prior's Hall) and the remains of an ancient gatehouse.

- Old Original, Virgins & Castle -
St Nicholas's Church is also close at hand as a landmark of distinction; the young Nick Turpin rang the bells here on occasion but today we satisfy ourselves with a glimpse of the altar and a peek at some organ pedals. Our lunchtime location is the Virgins & Castle, a fascinatingly atmospheric inn on Kenilworth's old High Street. Everard's Old Original (5.2% and immaculate, our only full pint of the day) washes down a delicious bowl of Chicken Ginataang curry, a Filipino culinary treat. I however fail my highwayman's apprenticeship course by reminding the barmaid to take for our beer, a commendable moment of honesty when we would've had a free drink otherwise. 

- Rail Reflections -
We haven't quite finished with the Kenilworth pub scene just yet - New Street reveals the Royal Oak (Butty Bach plus Jeff Stelling in full Sky Sports Saturday flow) whereas Stoneleigh Road supplies the Cottage Inn (a Charles Wells tied house where the Eagle IPA is a tad iffy). Darkness is descending by the time we make tracks back to the station, catching the 16:44 to Leamington as Nick reflects further on the welcome return of Kenilworth's railway connection - it may be in time that services continue through to wider destinations such as Nuneaton or Stratford-upon-Avon.

- Back to the Drawing Board? -
Our arrival in Royal Leamington Spa means Nick can attempt to flummox me with weird and wonderful discoveries from the town's burgeoning beer scene. First stop is the Drawing Board as an eclectic Newbold Street gastrobar - they're clearly keen on comics here as the bookshelves are crammed full of bygone annuals while the walls are adorned with framed covers of Spiderman, Captain America, Groo the Wanderer and such like. I've never been anywhere quite like it and the Elephant Wash ale is rather nice too, produced locally in conjunction with the Old Pie Factory Brewery in tribute to Leamington's longstanding liking for all things elephantine.

- An Apehangers Acquaintance -
Next on Nick's itinerary is a walk south/sarf of the river (prompting my best efforts at a dodgy Danny Dyer accent) and a backstreet trail that eventually leads us onto the twilit towpath of the Grand Union Canal. Navigating in the dark is never easy but we successfully stumble across Clemens Street where the Procaffeinate coffee shop conceals an amazing hidden surprise. Step through the Smeg fridge - I kid you not - beside the counter to enter a subterranean world of motorbike helmets and Charles Aznavour LPs. This dear reader is the Apehangers Bar, a basement drinking den with the stairwell guarded by a tinsel-strewn lady mannequin. Dortmunder Vier pale lager is our tipple as I try to comprehend what on earth is happening. 

- The Beertorrent Samosa Stop -
No, we haven't entered a parallel universe and to prove it Nick now introduces me to the Beertorrent tasting room, tucked away in a railway arch and dispensing vegan-friendly concoctions - how much more 'craft' can one place get? The 8.1% Belgian Christmas brew is impossible to ignore so I pace my sipping while munching bargain samosas; Nick meanwhile avails himself of a Smoked Wheat stunner as we park ourselves on a long bench seat. All good things must sadly end and this particular forage concludes with two swift halves of Guinness, one in the Railway Inn (a nice enough two-roomed town pub) and one in Kelsey's (a studentcentric club venue that was eerily quiet, enlivened only by us trying our hand at table football). Half past eight or thereabouts heralds our trains home and a simply astounding pubcrawl for the ages passes into history - cheers!

Sunday, December 2

D9 does Dudley Winter Ales... again!

Having enjoyed our visit to the Dudley Winter Ales Festival so much in 2015, our redoubtable Chairman was keen to repeat the dose for more beery business. Friday 30th November 2018 therefore saw the Hub Marketing Board targeting the Town Hall during an afternoon also notable for pepperpots, puppeteers and Parkfields...

- The Fallen -
Secretary WME's day begins in Wolverhampton checking out some new wolf developments. Remembrance sculpture The Fallen has been brought back to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice (find it in the Archives gardens at the Molineux Hotel) whilst over in the Wulfrun Centre a pop up store is showcasing Professor Heinz Wolf as an extra creation that didn't feature in the original trail last year. The shop is aiming to raise money to repair the South Staffordshire Regiment's tablet memorial on Thornley Street.

- BizHub at Burnt Tree -
The hub action proper commences with a ride on the X7 Platinum bus from Wolverhampton to Burnt Tree island, Mr D9 ready and waiting to board at Dudley (he's so early there's not even the remotest sniff of a free cob). The massive Tesco store is our cue to alight, not because we need groceries but rather we have a photo location to visit, the D9 sleeves revealing the BizHub office block next to the Toby Carvery place. The requisite pictures are quickly taken before we tiptoe tentatively into Tividale, renewing our acquaintance with the Albion where WME is nervous about the pub's strong Baggies allegiances.

- Back on the old D9 patch -
The Chairman used to live in Tividale and uses his previous home advantage to secure a narrow darts victory by two legs to one; WME Whirlwind does have the consolation of the day's highest checkout (a count-them-up 44). Regent Road takes us past the former D9 residence in bringing us to Tivi Ale, a micropub housed in an old shop premises. Here we dry out after a sharp shower by force-feeding spicy samosas to an innocent reindeer while enjoying a pint of some golden ale we can't remember the name of!

- D9 Doolittle strikes again -
Two pubs down and it's time for a ferret, but not just any old random wandering. No siree, Secretary WME has been thorough with his research in realising we have a missing item from our pepperpot mission (last staged in January 2013). The open spaces of Warrens Hall Farm therefore beckon as we make tracks from Oakham Road, shuffling down the side of a care home to pass the riding stables. Mr D9 momentarily tries his hand at horse-whispering though the neighbourhood nags seem wise to his approaches. 

- A Pepperpot Pose -
Our 'Getting Shafted' adventure over five years ago had seen us tracking down several examples of the canal ventilation shafts that serve the Netherton Tunnel. One of the structures - known locally as pepperpots due to their cylindrical appearance and domed tops - had however escaped us back then so today we go cross country over the paddock to complete our set. Shaft No. 6 is that which we seek, perched halfway up a hillside with a vintage British Waterways Board nameplate. 

- A Pepperpot Spot -
With No. 6 captured on camera we squelch our way over more of the reserve, listening to silly songs including 'The Beard' (by the Four Beards, chosen by D9 in tribute to any hirsute hipsters we might meet at the beer festival later) and 'The Tiger's Wide Awake' (a slightly off-key answer to 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'). Pictures are taken of Pepperpot No. 4 for good measure - complete with a balding intruder - as we emerge onto Dudley Road ready for a ride on the X8. We share the bus stop with a puppeteer lady who has a festive elf on her arm and gives us a brief ventriloquism demonstration - how unexpected!

- Programme Poised -
Once in Dudley we make a beeline straight for the Town Hall where the 2018 Winter Ales Fayre is already well underway. The Secretary considers this to be his favourite beer festival as there's always scope to sample some stronger darker ales you wouldn't normally encounter. Tokens purchased we plot a path through the programme, opening with respective Lunar and Murderer's Yard tipples. D9 is then enticed by the Lunartic Porter whereas WME opts for Ratmus Pudding, tasting almost medicinal due to the festive flavourings. 

- Molten Glow -
An essential element of coming to DWAF is tucking into grey peas and bacon plus picking up some bargain beermats (albeit the main breweriana stall didn't seem to be there this year). Among the Secretary's other ale selections are Gregory's Porter (Ilkley) and Charlie Blackout Extra (Toll End) although special mention has to go to Holden's Molten Glow, brewed in tribute to the industrial pioneer Abraham Darby I who was born in Woodsetton. D9 meanwhile opts to go strong and exotic, supping his way through Mango Junction, Peach Milkshake and a Chocolate Orange IPA. The beer quality as ever proves exceptional.

- Parkfield Central Bar -
Our last traces of tokens are exchanged for Beat's Cosmic Pop (a black IPA) by way of a festival finale, and then we exit into the evening primed for further fun. Our aim now is to hoover up a few Wolverhampton watering holes we hadn't yet visited, so the X8 down the Birmingham New Road gets us underway again. The Garden Bar (previously the Copper Bowl, historically the Staffordshire Knot) specialises in Asian cuisine on the corner of Laburnum Road, and mixed grills are also to the fore on Martin Street where the Parkfield Central Bar is a backstreet revelation. This used to be a working men's club with Jack and Vera Duckworth-style stone cladding that has become something of a Desi gem.

- Cat charming in the Crown -
Indeed, the Desi theme continues with the Builders Arms on Derry Street, All Saints. The place is packed with a mixture of football fans and curry connoisseurs giving a lively backdrop to a swift swig of Banks's, noting an impressive old frosted window that tells of the pub's Butler's Brewery heritage. Last but not least comes the Crown on Cartwright Street, an almost unspoiled old school industrial boozer where we watch Wolves take the lead against Cardiff (sadly that scoreline couldn't last). The Chairman though is more interested in the felines than the football, and with one closing purr we call it a day - cheers!

Wednesday, November 28

WME Flickr Focus - November 2018

There has been a certain amount of sleuthing taking place on the West Midlands Exploration photostream in November, yet we haven't been graced by appearances from Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Let's don our detective garb and see what's been afoot...

Far from being a mystery, the major recent development has been the arrival of certain Big Sleuth bears from last year's Brum-based art event. As you would expect, WME Birmingham leads the way with a selection of sculptural snapshots - Spock, Shakesbear, Poddington and Captain Blue Bear chief amongst them. Birmingham has also furtively gathered a couple of pub pluckings, filing away the Cock at Rubery and the Station in Sutton Coldfield for safekeeping.

Beyond Birmingham's boundaries, the Big Sleuth presence has been felt by WME Sandwell and WME Solihull. Solihull rummages around Resorts World to retrieve bears inspired by Mary Berry and Citizen Khan, whereas Sandwell casts its magnifying glass over Bentley the Bearwood Bear (found lurking in Warley Woods). Not to be outdone by Birmingham, Sandwell can unpick its own pub plottings thanks to the Red Cow at Smethwick and another showing for Tipton's Tilted Barrel.

Our powers of deduction next identify suspicious stirrings from WME Warwickshire as two Festive Forage haunts slip into the spotlight - Rigsby's Cellar Bar seems suitably subterranean enough to entice a private eye or two while the Wild Boar has previous where the Nick outings are concerned. Elsewhere, plainclothes ops in the Rowington area have resulted in pictures of the Tom O'The Wood and the Rowington Club being obtained, all valuable intelligence. WME Coventry meanwhile comes over all clandestine in ruefully registering the closure of Whitefriars Olde Ale House.

This whodunnit ends with reference to WME Wolverhampton whose gumshoe qualities have been utilised to infiltrate Tettenhall (a Wergs Road ceramic street tiles), Underhill (the Talisman pub sign) and Tettenhall Wood (a pair of likely reindeer characters spotted staking out Blooms Florist). Our forensic finale involves two bandstand views from West Park (one summertime shot, one autumn) and that's your lot for November - case closed!

Saturday, November 24

More Coventry Chronicles

Friday 23rd November sees the Chip Foundation plus Mr Beardsmore Senior setting forth on an autumnal adventure. Our destination is Coventry, the third time we've visited Godiva's fair city over the course of our chronicles - what mischief awaits???

- Cultural Considerations -
Although Nick, Stephen and I know Coventry reasonably well now, John hasn't been for over 40 years (or so he claims) which means he's keen to see the main sights. Whether Coventry railway station counts as scenery is open to debate but it's a busy place at 10:30am or thereabouts with hoardings promoting the successful bid to be 2021 City of Culture. The Quadrant, Cheylesmore Manor and Ford's Hospital all feature as we stroll into the centre keeping an eye out for places of historical interest. 

- Ecce Homo -
A must-see location is of course Coventry Cathedral where the ravages of conflict seem especially poignant as we mark the centenary of the First World War armistice. We seem to have gatecrashed a university graduation gathering with mortarboards being thrown aloft at regular intervals. In among the swarm of students we can still explore the cathedral ruins and note the presence of Ecce Homo, a marble sculpture carved by Sir Jacob Epstein. A look at Lady Godiva's statue (no doubt feeling chilly in the autumn air) and a peek at some Priory remains completes our initial tour of duty.

- Hawkesbury Village Green -
Time now to head out of the city centre to see what we might find in terms of lunch and pub possibilities. The 20C bus was introduced at the end of September linking Coventry with Walsgrave Tesco so we hop aboard for a slow grind along the multicultural Foleshill Road. The route also passes Longford Park in reaching Alderman's Green where we alight on Lentons Lane. We're touching the very edges of Coventry here, a corner I've never explored before so it's interesting to uncover Hawkesbury Village Green (a squelchy patch of open space) and the local Baptist Church.

- The Old Crown -
Lentons Lane will serve nicely as our lunch location courtesy of the Old Crown which awaits back on the corner with Alderman's Green Road. The 2 for £9 main course deal sounds perfect for our needs and we're soon tucking in to gammon, mini fish and ham, egg and chips respectively. Apple pie is our universal choice for a cheap pudding, and while the lack of cask ale is a shame (a Doom Bar delivery was due), the pub still makes a good impression with a warm welcome and comfortable interior. In other news, Mr B Senior regales us with tales of his recent cruise and then contrives to misplace his mobile phone only to realise it's been in his pocket all along!

- Grinning at the Greyhound -
Panic over, we walk off the meal by joining the towpath of the Oxford Canal at Tusses Bridge (No. 4, next to a fishing tackle shop) and heading for Hawkesbury Junction. It's becoming a very misty murky afternoon, the air humming with the crackle from nearby National Grid transformers. Nick forges ahead past narrowboat moorings, eager to reach the Greyhound which overlooks the roving bridge at Sutton Stop. This classic waterways hostelry is in fine form despite the presence of some scaffolding and proves so popular that we have to take our drinks outside to get a spare seat. The Draught Bass is delightful while Nick heartily approves of his Sharp's Sea Fury.

- Sutton Stop -
Sutton Stop is one of those canal locations that has a gentle timeless appeal, even on a grey day in November. The little lock and roving bridges offer a certain charm and I rather like the 1909 service hut too, not to mention Hawkesbury Engine House which stands silently on the side of the Coventry Canal. We next nip through a new estate to Black Horse Road but the Boat Inn hasn't opened yet; the detour isn't a complete waste of time though as we spot a bit of railway heritage whereby the Wyken Way footpath marks the course of a dismantled line - something to investigate in more detail perhaps?

- The Longford Engine -
That can wait for another time however as we have a couple more watering holes to account for today. We resume our towpath task with the Coventry Canal, weaving its way below the M6 motorway and through to the Longford Engine for respective Purity halves of UBU and Mad Goose (or John Smith's bleach if you're of the senior Beardsmore persuasion). Nick positions himself in a corner labelled 'God's waiting room' but thankfully lives to tell the tale while the staff are busy dressing the bar counter by unfurling exotic fabrics although we're not exactly sure why.

- Passing the tea cosy test! -
We're relying on the Coventry traffic being kind to us for the rest of the trip and the 20 bus does at least play ball in connecting us to Lythalls Lane, passing through Longford Square en route. Lythalls Lane Industrial Estate is home to Byatt's Brewhouse Bar, surprisingly well-appointed considering the workshop unit surroundings. I came here with D9 last year so I know what to expect - quality ale for a start - although I wonder what Nick and the Beardsmores will make of it. Luckily they all approve albeit Stephen has to endure the Billy Connolly tea cosy trust test, passing with flying colours! Black Imps and Byatts Golds duly supped, we battle the rush hour to eventually get back to Coventry Station for our trains home, a little later than planned but that's how it goes - cheers!

Sunday, November 11

Snippets from Stoke

Saturday 10th November 2018 saw Dad and I joining forces with Nick to visit the Potteries where the Spode China Halls were hosting the 38th edition of the Stoke Beer Festival...

- Venue located -
Yes we're all aboard the beer bandwagon once more as Dad and I meet Nick on the 10:49 train from Wolverhampton. The journey takes little more than 30 minutes in giving Dad chance to regale Nick with observations from a works training trip to Germany. Upon arrival in Stoke, we set about tracking down the festival venue which actually proves very straightforward - the China Halls are located on Kingsway just across from Stoke Town Hall and the Cenotaph. Lyn Sharpe (CAMRA recruiter extraordinaire) is on hand to greet us and recommends a quick look around Stoke Minster while we await opening time.

- A Titanic Tipple -
After a drizzly walk around the block, the clock has now ticked past midday and we eagerly make our way inside the China Halls. The interior presents a vast post-industrial space that is finding a new purpose staging events - it's certainly bleakly atmospheric in among the grim girders! Getting stuck straight into the ales, we start our sampling with Titanic's Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, Fixed Wheel's Through and Off, and Brampton's Lest We Forget (highly appropriate at this time of national remembrance). 

- Tokens at the ready -
Also among our selections are Old Man (Long Man Brewery), Charrington IPA, Brewsmith Bitter and our old friend Titanic Plum Porter. Sadly the Plum Porter Grand Reserve has sold out but Marts Dutch Letters still gives us our fix of 7.3% potency, a heady resinous treat. Additional entertainment comes from the Trentham Brass Band with a repertoire including a lively Abba medley. Some of the ales are starting to run low so we return our glasses, cash in our unspent tokens and set out to see what the local pubs have to offer...

- A Shakespearean Segment -
The White Star is thus immediately on hand for more Titanic temptation whereby we indulge in Plum Porters all round to accompany our well-priced lunch (the giant onion ring on my beefburger proves especially notable). The wider sights of Stoke then beckon as we do a little exploring, spotting the markets building and the former town library (the latter complete with porthole windows and a mosaic depiction of William Shakespeare).

- London Road Ale House -
Passing a Sainsbury's supermarket, we follow the London Road out of the town centre to happen across two more establishments that require our attention. The London Road Ale House is a micropub which boasts an extensive array of continental beers; Dad therefore comes over all Belgian while Nick and I stick to the Irish Stout. A few doors back towards town is the Sutherland Arms, wonderfully cosy with a proper coal fire to warm us up. Black Grouse Stout here goes very well with a bit of rugby watching, England agonisingly losing 15-16 to the All Blacks. 

- 'bod' on Stoke Station -
Finally we have something of a curiosity to investigate prior to our homeward train. Platform 1 at Stoke-on-Trent Station is now home to 'bod', a newly opened cafe-bar operated by the afore-mentioned Titanic Brewery. Several of their ales are on show (Lifeboat and Plum Porter among them) as we settle in for a swiftish half - this is definitely my kind of waiting room! The departures board tells us that the 18:07 is imminent so we sup up and say our Stoke farewells. Until next time, cheers!

Monday, November 5

Getting to Grips with Greensforge

Saturday 3rd November is a murky grey day in the West Midlands, not that the overcast conditions deter me from doing some exploring. My target is a quiet stretch of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal on the edges of Kingswinford where I'm enticed by a couple of pubs I hadn't visited before...

- 15 at Wall Heath (Blaze Park) -
The trip gets underway with a ride on the 15, a new number for a familiar route (the 255 having been reassigned under the latest Dudley Network Review). A steady journey through Wombourne and Swindon brings me to Wall Heath in readiness for pictures of the Church of the Ascension. The Prince Albert and the Horse & Jockey receive their customary shots before I venture along Enville Road, passing the local Community Centre to reach Blaze Park turning circle. Short workings of the 15 terminate here giving Wall Heath a fifteen minute frequency to the Merry Hill Centre.

- Here comes Hinksford -
That's enough of the West Midlands for this trip as I'm now set for South Staffordshire. Mile Flat is the direct route to Greensforge but I take Swindon Road instead, nipping through Hinksford for a look at the waterworks (a redbrick landmark which has been operational since 1900) and a residential mobile home park. I connect onto the Staffs & Worcs at Hinksford Bridge - No. 37 or so the nameplate says - and gently meander my way to Greensforge passing some long-term moorings. 

- Greensforge Lock -
Even though its a dank and gloomy morning, the canal still has an enchanting quality thanks to the chug of the narrowboats and the musty smells of autumn. Greensforge Lock feels like it could be in the middle of nowhere, nestled between the Navigation pub and a Canal & River Trust maintenance wharf. I attempt various angles of the lock gates and chamber, noting the adjacent keeper's cottage and some benches fashioned out of disused balance beams.

- Ashwood Marina -
I've still got a while before the pub opens so I decide to investigate Ashwood Marina, situated off Ashwood Lower Lane near the plant nurseries. I always enjoy a bit of gongoozling so it's fun to linger on the bridge looking down on the boats, spotting some heavy duty winches and lifting gear. The marina occupies a half mile long stub off the Staffs & Worcs with sections named after different canal engineers (Brindley, Telford, Rennie and Smeaton); it also has its own social club with regular entertainment bookings.

- Greensforge Bridge -
Time for a pint whereby the Navigation is now open and proves very welcoming to the thirsty walker. From a choice of 'Locales' I opt for the Kinver Edge, a satisfying Best Bitter that slips down a treat as the bar gradually fills up with regulars (mainly retired folk here for the home-cooked food). My chosen corner features a curving little fireplace and some leafy wallpaper as I settle back and relax. Edge thus imbibed, I rejoin the canal with some further photos of Greensforge Bridge - you can just see the roof of the pub to the right of shot. 

- The Hinksford Arms -
My second pub and final pub of the day awaits back in Hinksford, with the Hinksford Arms handily positioned just across from the pumping station. Formerly known as the Old Bush, this has the feel of a modern establishment and has appeared in recent editions of the Good Beer Guide. The Golden Glow lives up to such a billing, quality quaffing matched with a crusty cheese and onion cob. Several screens show Sky Sports action although I'm more interested in the enlarged historic Ordnance Survey print adorning one wall - I do like old maps! Draining my glass, I scamper to catch the next 15 along and that's the end of that - a nice way to pass a couple of hours. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 30

Hub Marketing 2018: Coventry

The leaves are turning gold, there's a chill in the air and the Chairman has been crafting quiffs out of cardboard. This can only mean one thing - yes, it's time for the Hub Marketing Board's annual visit to Coventry...

- An Elmer Encounter -
Friday 26th October and we have an action-packed agenda as we take the tram to Grand Central followed by the 9:54 Euston train from New Street. Our morning mission is to investigate Canley, an area the Secretary last photographed some eleven years ago. Alighting at the railway station we confirm that the Herald pub as was has been replaced by a care home, then Prior Deram Walk entices us with its little park, local shops and community centre. A few more houses have sprung up here since 2007 but the branch library is still on hand complete with mural of Elmer the Elephant.

- A Phantom Bald Spot? -
Our Canley circuit also includes a loop of Cannon Park shopping centre as we note a number of international students (Chinese especially) making their way to the University of Warwick campus. St John the Worker Church precedes a wander along Shultern Lane, uncovering a cottagey corner of Coventry where we contemplate some silly songs (Larry Grayson's Pom Poms meets Brian Taylor's Donkeys Tale, both suitably awful). Canley Crematorium is busy with a funeral service which may explain the wake buffet being prepared in the Phantom Coach across the road; this pub is one of several Sizzlers we'll sample today, although the bald spot seems more excited about potential closet remains attached to the main building.

- The Sovereign, Charter Avenue -
Continuing with Canley and Charter Avenue keeps us entertained with a swathe of estate agent 'For Sale' boards - Henry's in particular seem to have property under offer almost everywhere, sparking us into a rendition of Gone Gone Gone by Johnny Mathis (a disco classic which we cheekily misappropriated). Further fun awaits in the Sovereign, a standard estate boozer that serves as today's darts destination. For once D9 Destroyer was on top form - possibly aided by a steady flow of Carling bleach - in triumphing 3-2 although it was a close run thing!

- A Telegraph Tempter -
Into the centre of Coventry we now go, making use of a 16A bus which rumbles back around Cannon Park before powering along the Kenilworth Road past War Memorial Park. We are aiming to swiftly switch onto either the X1 or the 7 but the plunging temperatures are playing havoc with the Chairman's bladder, hence an emergency call at the Stag is required. Along the way Lamb Street reveals some intriguing remnants of the former Coventry Evening Telegraph offices, presumably these storage units will be disappearing soon as part of the redevelopment of the wider site. 

- Ready for the Rock & Roll singalong -
After that speedy Stag half, we do indeed make use of the X1 for our link along Holyhead Road spotting Alvis Retail Park and Coundon Shopping Parade. The Chairman has had his eye on the Tollgate as an essential target for many a year so this is the trip when his wish is finally granted. The pub is particularly notable for its late 1930s Art Deco architecture even though these days it operates as a Stonehouse carvery outlet. Further Carling lubrication means our voiceboxes are fully oiled in advance of some Rock and Roll karaoke, whereby the 2018 edition quiff (a little beige creation) is unveiled to the sounds of 'Poetry in Motion' and 'Blue Moon'.

- Strange Sheep -
The afternoon sees members concentrating on Coundon thanks to a slice of classic suburban Coventry investigation. There are discoveries to be made (Christ the King Church and Prichards mortgage brokers on Westhill Road then Bablake Playing Fields off Norman Place Road), plus pubs to photograph (the Brooklands and the Lion's Inn, the latter formerly known as the Cedars). The Nugget on Hollyfast Road is another Sizzler where we bump into a spooky skeleton and the Chairman tinkles the ivories of the resident piano in Bobby Crush fashion. If that isn't surreal enough for you, we offer next the Old Shepherd's luridly coloured sheep, quite a sight on Keresley Road!

- Quiffy driving on the 16A -
Evening is encroaching upon Keresley Green as we pick out the local medical centre and the Bell Inn as items of Bennetts Road South interest. The Coronation Club also looks intriguing but doesn't appear to be open yet, so we flag down another 16A and unleash a full scale Ron West driving re-enactment. The route in full links Keresley Village with the Warwickshire Shopping Park at Binley via Coventry City Centre and Stoke Aldermoor (operating a joint timetable with the standard 16). Just look at the focus of Mr D9 as he attempts to keep the quiff in place!

- Cheers from the Old Dyers Arms -
Our arrival back in central Coventry allows scope for a nightcap or two prior to the train home. The Old Dyers Arms at Spon End by the rugby ground gets the nod for some Adnams Broadside (this establishment is said to be popular with the biker community), before the final curtain falls care of the Aardvark and a swift Wadworth 6X in a fancy (i.e. dimpled) glass. Hub happenings are therefore concluded in Coventry for another year and the quiff is safely stowed away until 2019 - cheers!