Sunday, May 27

Something from Stowlawn

Thursday 24th May 2018 marks the resumption of the ‘Thursday Taster’ series of mini-trips, rebooting a sequence that has included solo walks to Underhill and Ashmore Park along with Stephen strolls (notably the Rocket Pool rummages, and most recently January’s Ettingshall expedition). Mr Beardsmore is joining me today for some Bilston bits and pieces as Stowlawn takes centre stage, prompted by news from D9 that the Happy Wanderer has closed…

- The stalls take shape -
I begin in the centre of Wolverhampton, Cleveland Street to be exact, where work on the city's new market site (opposite Central Library) is continuing - some of the stall infrastructure has started to appear with diggers and workmen very much in attendance. It is currently anticipated that the facility will open in July, at which point the existing market off Salop Street will close and its land will become part of the proposed Westside regeneration scheme.

- Hickman Park -
Meeting up with Stephen at 8:30am, we hop aboard the Midland Metro for a quick ride to The Crescent and then walk the short distance to Hickman Park. Named after the prominent industrialist and local MP Sir Alfred Hickman, the park opened in 1911 and still plays an important role in the life of the town. Features include a terraced sports arena, open air theatre (presented to the town in 1938), an ornate park shelter and the base of an old bandstand.

- Tennis Terminated? -
Via Shale Street and Arthur Street (passing the Guru Nanak Gurdwara), we reach Villiers Avenue which is home to Bilston Town Bowling Club. The local Lawn Tennis Club also used to be based in the vicinity but the corner with Harper Road is now an empty patch of earth, the old tennis courts and pavilion having been deemed unsafe and subsequently demolished. Further down the road is the Villiers Arms (converted to flats after ceasing trade as a pub) and the Villiers Square shops comprising a general store, a launderette and a hairdressers.

- Bilston Cemetery Lodge -
Next up is Etheridge Road which brings us quietly past the old Green Lanes post office to Windsor Street for our approach into Bilston Cemetery. The lodge building here dates from 1937 and the lawned grounds once featured a memorial to John Etheridge the local philanthropist associated with founding a Sunday School. The cemetery has some significance for Stephen too as we find the spot where his paternal grandparents are remembered. 

- A not so Happy Wanderer -
Emerging back onto Green Lanes, we soon confirm D9's news about the Happy Wanderer which looks distinctly unhappy all overgrown and boarded up. We suspect the pub has been closed for some time and probably won't ever reopen, a shame given I have fond Hub Marketing memories of meeting mannequins, playing darts and supping Banks’s beers. Proceeding deeper into the Stowlawn estate, we discover a primary school mosaic on Middleway Green opposite the One Stop convenience store.

- Studying the fishing form at Grapes Pool -
Two fishing locations provide the finale to our walk. The first is Grapes Pool on the corner of Prouds Lane and Moseley Road, part of a wider area of open space that stretches off towards Moseley Park School. The second (after a wander past Stowlawn bus terminus) is Stowheath Lane Pool, a place that had escaped Mr B's rod radar until now but seems popular enough with the angling fraternity today. The 53 bus then takes Stephen back home while I finish off with pictures of the Merry Boys and Cleveland Arms to conclude another productive photographic morning.

Wednesday, May 23

WME Flickr Focus - May 2018

With Whit Week just around the corner it is time for the Class of WME to receive their half term reports, whereby 'Teacher' has been assessing the latest academic arrivals for evidence of photostream progress...

May's top performer was undoubtedly WME Wolverhampton which has been graded A* for achievement across the curriculum. Most notable here was a Northycote Farm field study (a sniff of the sensory garden plus some lemon balm and soapwort) plus some Wednesfield homework concentrating on the repairs to Pinfold Bridge. A Rocket Pool bus stop and a Park Avenue tiled street sign complete this portfolio with distinction.

If Wolverhampton was teacher's pet, WMEs Walsall and Warwickshire also gained high marks in being commended to the headmaster. WME Walsall excelled in History (the Walsall Wood Colliery Memorial) and Art (a snazzy snap of the New Art Gallery), whereas WME Warwickshire favoured Literature (Nuneaton's George Eliot Hotel) and Religious Studies (a jolly friar at Rugby's Merchants Inn). Both students therefore receive a gold star each, well done!

Special mention must go to WME Shropshire which has overcome some severe shyness by supplying its first pictures of 2018 - the photos in question showcase Shrewsbury with the Loggerheads pub, St Mary's Water Lane and a trio of trains. Equally as reluctant normally is WME Solihull but they too have shown sparks of imagination courtesy of some Olton offerings (the Olton Tavern Ember Inn and an Old Lode Lane bus stop).

Not among the high achievers but still making valuable classroom contributions this month are WME Birmingham and WME Sandwell. Brum busies itself with Minworth (Mansell's cycle/lawnmower repairs workshop) and a street sign from Old Oscott, while Sandwell raises its hand for Old Hill (the Horseshoe Inn then the sad burnt-out remains of the Wharf). Elsewhere on the register, WME Staffordshire proves it has been paying attention by sampling Stapenhill Gardens and Stoke's derelict Cliff Vale pub.

Finally, bunking off round the back of the bike shed we have WME Coventry and WME Dudley which both narrowly avoid detention thanks to a solitary submission each. Coventry's is a repeat showing for some Tile Hill station signage, and Dudley's is the dartboard of the Somerset House, a lost Stourbridge pub that was part of the Enville Run crawl. With that, the bell rings for home time and school is out for another month, phew!

Saturday, May 12

Banbury Beer Festival 2018

There's been something missing from my 2018 explorations thus far - a beer festival outing! Usually Nick and I have done at least a couple by the time May rolls around but this year the beer bandwagon had largely stalled until this Oxfordshire outing, revisiting the scene of our 2016 Festive Forage...

- Banbury Station Sign -
Yes Banbury is our destination once more as the Chiltern train takes the strain, Nick and I boarding at Warwick Parkway and Solihull respectively. After an enlightening chat about USB memory stick storage, we alight at Banbury Station ready to survey the facility. The platforms still look a little shabby in places (nothing a touch of paint couldn't fix) then I dodge queuing taxis to get my shots of the main glazed frontage.

- Certainly a Fine Lady! -
The festival opens at mid-day so we have an hour or so beforehand with which to tour the town centre. Certain features are familiar from our previous visit - the Town Hall (a Victorian Gothic landmark dating from 1854), the Market Place and Parsons Street among them. Nick is keen to get our bearings as regards a couple of micropubs we have in mind for later, then Horsefair leads us past St Mary's Church, Grade I listed and distinctively constructed out of ironstone. Banbury Cross beckons next as we keep our intended date with a certain famous maiden, not forgetting her white horse of course.

- Our festival awaits -
The Army Reserve Centre off Oxford Road is today's festival location, meaning Nick has adopted the name 'T.A. Turpin' for the day (albeit resisting any calls to become enlisted). We join the eager throng gathering at the entrance gate as the clock strikes noon, then in we all troop to collect the all-important glasses and tokens. Perusing the programme, the array of ales includes several milds (CAMRA celebrate this traditional beer style every May) plus some tempting stouts and porters to keep us occupied. 

- Mandarina Bavaria -
My first sample however is an amber concoction, Mandarina Bavaria from the Turpin Brewery while our own 'Turpin' concerned himself with Salopian's Morning Glory (breakfast in a glass apparently). I couldn't resist the milds for long though and soon availed myself of Hook Norton's Special Dark Mild (a satisfying festival special) followed by Wilfred's Mild (courtesy of Loddon Brewery and named after the war poet Wilfred Owen). Nick's other early selections are Merula Stout and Thornbridge Lucaria, staying firmly on the dark side as we take residence in whiteboard corner.

- T.A. Turpin? -
An extra sheet of tokens is required if we are to cover all the beers that interest us, so with ration reinforcements purchased we proceed through Mr M's Porter (CAMRA's 2018 Champion Porter of Britain) and The Panther (oatmeal stout promising hints of Irish whiskey). We take turns on the tombola - Nick maintaining his winning custom but I emerge empty-handed - then vote for our festival favourites. The decadently nutty edge of Mad Squirrel's De La Nut wins out for Nick whereas I'm most impressed by Phipps' Golden Mild, recreating a recipe from the 1950s. The festival has certainly been fun and T.A. Turpin carries out an impromptu transport inspection as we leave.

- Bailiff's Tap Micropub -
The remainder of the afternoon is given over to our micropub mission, starting with Bailiff's Tap on Southam Road; Salopian's Midnight Express and some swivel chairs are the order of the day here as we discuss how history might ultimately judge the Brexit referendum. Our political ponderings continue in the Old Town Ale House, Church Walk over a half of Surrey Hills Albury Ruby - this micro boasts a commendable range of real ciders too. In between times, there is continental cuisine to consider whereby Nick and I show European solidarity by tucking into some Dutch pancakes at Little Amsterdam. A memorable first ever encounter with schenkstroop ensues, a sugar syrup that works surprisingly well with the bacon, cheese and mushroom pancake topping.

- Bridge 166 -
Those Dutch delicacies prepared us nicely for a final drink in the Banbury Cross, a Charles Wells pub half-hidden on Butcher's Row round the back of the market. Youngs Bitter accompanies T20 cricket from the Indian Premier League here, Nick admiring the hitting power of Joss Buttler. Back to the station we then must go, finding just enough time to note Bridge 166 on the Oxford Canal before catching the 18:48 train home. Hopefully there will be more beer festival moments to come during the rest of 2018 - cheers!

Wednesday, May 9

WME Walks - Trysull and Wombourne

What is this rare beast I see before me? A Bank Holiday weekend with swathes of sunshine, wonders will never cease! When the weather gods present such a gift it is only right and proper to make the most of it, hence a circular stroll soaking up that Staffordshire sunshine...

Sunday 6th May 2018 and I've plotted a route involving waterway and train track, starting out with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal from Compton. The locks at Wightwick Mill and Wightwick have become familiar over the course of several Wolverhampton wanderings but once I'm beyond Castlecroft Bridge the towpath is less travelled. I'm not the only one enjoying this glorious morning though; the local anglers are out in force, each with their own perch and intently watching for signs of a catch. 

- Castlecroft Bridge -

Mops Farm Bridge is somewhat in shadow before I meander my way through Dimmingsdale, the bridge here having been thankfully repaired after last year's traffic collision. Dimmingsdale and Ebstree locks are both peaceful places to watch narrowboats go about their business, gongoozling proving as relaxing as ever with the occasional butterfly for added spectacle. I leave the canal at Awbridge only to meet some nervous cows on Union Lane; a brief stand-off ensues until they trot on by, leaving the way clear for me to proceed into Trysull.

- Ebstree Lock -

Bell Road leads me naturally enough to the Bell pub, a Holden's tied house I've mentioned before yet it always merits a revisit. A patio bench is the perfect place to ponder life, looking out at the village church and some pretty thatched cottages - when the weather's this good Trysull is the equal of anywhere else in the entire country. Admittedly the scratchings and ale add to the appeal, my respective pints of XB and Sarah Hughes Sedgley Surprise frothily overflowing when poured so I try not to leave a trail of drips between the bar and the garden. Beer from the Black Country is hard to beat!

- A hint of Holden's -

As is my Trysull custom, a few village photos are mustered with a focus on All Saints Church and its associated primary school. Unfortunately the Plough Inn on School Road is still closed (hopefully not for good) so my next pub stop will be in Wombourne; I could rejoin the canal to get there but instead favour a road-based ramble heading down Woodford Lane. Passing stables and a turning for a kennels, I cross over the Smestow Brook and reach Clapgate Farm - it's a nice walk sure enough, the only fly in the ointment being news Wolves are losing at relegated Sunderland (but the Championship title is in the bag so it doesn't really matter).

- Woodford Lane -

Clapgate Road and Giggetty Lane combine as my approach to the Waggon & Horses, a Marston's roadhouse rotisserie beside Wombourne Bridge on the Staffs & Worcs (both the bridge and the pub are locally known as the Brickbridge). Having worked up a thirst I pause here for a pint of Ringwood Boondoggle, trying to find a spare seat among the scores of family diners. It's a popular enough place but the food emphasis meant I was only ever going to stay for one, my patience with restless children and indecisive pensioners deliberating which dinner to have only stretches so far.

- The Waggon & Horses -

The homeward leg of my plan involves a sizeable stretch of the South Staffordshire Railway Walk, a leisure footpath that follows the course of the lost Wombourne Branch line - this once connected Wolverhampton with Kingswinford (and thence Stourbridge) via Tettenhall, Wombourne and Pensnett. Common Road is my access point and I head north, passing over the Wom Brook and then below Planks Lane and Ounsdale Road with hints of wildlife graffiti.

- Wombourne Wildlife? -

Although I've been before, I am looking forward to seeing Wombourne Station again. The building only actually operated as a railway station for seven short years (1925 to 1932) before the passenger service was withdrawn, and has therefore seen longer service in its current tearoom incarnation than for its original function. The Stourbridge-bound platform has been preserved with railings and awning very similar to the old station at Tettenhall further along the line; I gather a few photos and treat myself to an ice cream, a necessary indulgence on what is becoming a very warm afternoon.

- Wombourne Station -

From Wombourne to Castlecroft is probably a good three miles or more and there are views towards Orton to consider as I cross above Flash Lane. Next up is Greyhound Lane with the site of Penn Halt close at hand; the line was single-tracked here so the halt had a solitary platform which was little used. Still in the vicinity of Lower Penn, the bridges at Market Lane and Langley Road feature in quick succession to leave me with the final section to Castlecroft and walk's end. I would estimate I covered getting on for eight miles all told and enjoyed every second (Wolves result notwithstanding), if only all Bank Holiday weekends could be this sunny!

Monday, May 7

WME Flickr Focus - April 2018

The WME orchestra is preparing for its latest photostream performance which will be a recital of April's pictorial arrivals. The conductor is poised, the players have been tuning up their instruments and the audience is awaiting the opening notes - here we go...

Our symphonic selection begins - drum roll please - with WME Solihull which provides a little Meriden medley courtesy of the local Spar shop and a Meriden Green bus stop. Providing immediate accompaniment is WME Warwickshire, not usually one of our most prominent musicians but getting into the melody this time with Keresley Library and and the Hillmorton Manor Hotel (or rather a sign for its car park).

The brass section oompahs into life with contributions from both WME Sandwell and WME Dudley. Sandwell trumpets the inclusion of Lion Farm (a bus stop and the Phoenix pub sign) and heralds some Tipton tuba from the Gospel Oak; harmony is happily provided by Hill Top and Hateley Heath so it's hello to a swan sculpture and the local opticians. Dudley meanwhile supplies some Netherton notation (library opening hours) and a solitary Hadcroft horn from Lye, memories of a Rog pub visit last year.

Next we have the soaring strings of WME Wolverhampton with an ensemble as follows: on violin is Fallings Park (an airing for the Otter & Vixen); on viola we have Northwood Park (spotting colourful shrubs); cello is that old virtuoso the Wyrley & Essington Canal (a Moathouse Bridge reprise) and then there's Bilston on the double bass (scrap metal ponies and a Loxdale Metro sign). 

The percussion section is WME Staffordshire's domain with a backing beat of Lower Penn canine street art and Codsall country lanes. The whole performance reaches a woodwind crescendo from none other than WME Walsall, combining clarinets and oboes to the tune of Leamore's Railway Inn and Broadstone Avenue. One closing clash of cymbals brings our rousing recital to an end, and you'll just have to wait until May by way of an encore...