Wednesday, June 27

WME Flickr Focus - June 2018

The start of the World Cup means football fever is threatening to sweep the nation (ok, that might be a slight exaggeration although excitement over England's chances is building after two opening wins), but here on the WME photostream there is an alternative tournament to report. My various galleries have been playing off against each other trying to make the later stages with barely a dodgy VAR decision in sight...

The first match pits WME Wolverhampton against WME Birmingham, whereby Brum takes a commanding half time lead thanks to Yardley Wood (a class 172 train, a tickets tempter and a look at Behan's Bar). Wolverhampton strikes back though, powering home some West Park blossoms with pub signs for the Grain Store (in the city centre) and Wednesfield's Village Inn. Just when a draw looks the likeliest outcome, Wolverhampton pounces with late goals depicting the 21 Locks and a Vicarage Road street sign. Final score: Wolverhampton 8-5 Birmingham.

Joining Wolverhampton in the next round is WME Sandwell following a scrappy narrow victory over WME Dudley. A dusky Thimblemill Road bus stop opener had been cancelled out by Stourbridge's Chequers Wetherspoons sign until Sandwell's saviour strode forth, Tipton Sports Academy proving to be the match-winner by stooping low with a diving header to seal the win. Final score: Sandwell 2-1 Dudley.

Another closely-fought game sees WME Staffordshire prevailing over WME Warwickshire. Staffordshire's star striker was the august figure of Josiah Wedgwood (goalhanging outside Stoke Station) whilst the Swan Inn at Stone played its part. Warwickshire replied through a ferocious feline rug at Warwick Castle but even its fearsome teeth could not ultimately prevent defeat. Final score: Staffordshire 2-1 Warwickshire.

Our final fixture is alas a one-sided affair, Exploration Extra comprehensively outplaying poor old WME Solihull. Extra maintained its impressive qualifying form by raining shots on target, Guildford (the Royal Oak), Felixstowe (the Spa Pavilion plus a Martello Tower) and Edinburgh (Caley Picture House) among the scorers. Solihull's solitary success - a train at Whitlock's End - was a mere consolation but at least they avoided the dreaded nil. Final score: Exploration Extra 12-1 Solihull.

That completes this set of fixtures and the overall victor is the WME photostream which collects 32 new photos (but not the Jules Rimet trophy). Good luck to England as the real World Cup continues into July...

Monday, June 25

Down Staffordshire Way Once More...

Back in 2012 I did a couple of walks utilising the Staffordshire Way, a long distance footpath which stretches across the county from top (Mow Cop) to bottom (Kinver Edge). Places including Lapley, Whiston - near Penkridge - and Highgate Common had been discovered as a result, and now some six years on I can belatedly add Trescott and Seisdon into the mix...

- Mops Farm Bridge -
Commencing at Castlecroft, my camera sees some early action thanks to the Firs pub and two sporting driveways (Wolverhampton Rugby Club, AFC Wulfrunians and Old Wulfrunians FC are all based off Castlecroft Road, not forgetting the Wightwick & Finchfield Cricket Club). The junction with Radford Lane is my cue to leave suburban Wolverhampton behind as I follow a quiet bridleway which flanks the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. It's a lovely morning, bright but cool and I have a couple of dog walkers for company as I emerge at Mops Farm Bridge by Pool Hall cottages.

- Trescott Ford -
The bridleway continues beyond Mops Farm to lead me towards Trescott, a small hamlet that straddles the A454 Bridgnorth Road. A notable feature here is Trescott Ford where the Smestow Brook crosses Furnace Grange Road; many an unsuspecting motorist has been caught out over the years not anticipating the water to be quite as deep. Thankfully there aren't any stranded vehicles on this occasion although a delivery lorry threatens to splash me just before I attempt some pictures.

- A Reassuring Sign -
Having avoided that potential soaking, I seek out a Staffordshire Way marker just where the pavement ends at the edge of the village. The route from Trescott heads either north to Great Moor and Nurton or south towards Seisdon; I'm focusing on the latter option today and the trail instructs me to pass around the back of a cottage garden and then through a farmyard. I go cross country across an arable field, marching through the crops to a double set of stiles which in turn brings me to a horse paddock and some stables. 

- Seisdon Garage -
The approach into Seisdon comprises an enclosed rough track where I contend with horse manure, bug swarms and waist-high nettles. The boundary walls of Seisdon House then herald my arrival onto Post Office Road where I leave the main trail to do a circuit of the village. It's been nearly eight years since I last visited the area and the Seven Stars has closed in that time (converted to apartments) so the remaining key features are a convenience store (no longer a post office?) and the local garage. 

- The Fox at Shipley -
Seisdon's nearest pubs are now the Bell at Trysull or the Fox at Shipley; I've been to the Bell recently so the Fox is due for a WME visit. It's straightforward enough to get there, Fox Road doing the honours although I have to be careful looking out for oncoming traffic - the Staffordshire Way crosses through here on route to Highgate Common so I know where to connect with it again in future. As for the pub, it's a longstanding landmark overlooking an A454 crossroads. The Marston's lunchtime deals seem popular judging by the number of retired folks queuing up at opening time. I however content myself with a pint of Ossett's Big Red Bitter and a sit down in the sunkissed beer garden.

- Rudge Road -
I might not be on the Staffordshire Way anymore but there's still plenty of walking to be done hence Rudge Road is tasked with taking me to Pattingham. It's turning into a stunning afternoon, barely a cloud in the sky and just the faint whisper of a soothing breeze as I proceed in leisurely fashion feeling highly contented with life. The scenery consists of fields, hedgerows and a couple of farmsteads plus the occasional grander residence; I also spot a curious circular enclosure at one forked junction and speculate it might be a former pinfold. 

- St Chad's Church -
I think I may have crossed into Shropshire for a short while though I'm definitely back in South Staffordshire when Rudge Road feeds into the lower end of Pattingham High Street. A quick bite to eat precedes further refreshment in the Pigot Arms (Hobson's Twisted Spite being the ale in question while I watch some of the Brazil v Costa Rica World Cup clash), then I can catch my homeward 10A bus just as the bells of St Chad's ring out in celebration of a summer wedding. Maybe I might not leave it six years until I next tackle a section of the Staffordshire Way!

Friday, June 15

Hub Marketing 2018: Sedgley and Gornal

The eagle-eyed readers amongst you may have noticed there has been a lack of Hub Marketing happenings recently, but fear not - the Board is back! Our first outing after a three month gap sees Chairman D9 and Secretary WME teaming up once more ready to sniff out some gems in Sedgley and Gornal...

- Grinning in the Goldthorn -
It may have been a while but some things never change, hence the Chairman is running fashionably late for the 12 noon rendezvous. With his cob penalty forfeit confirmed, we board the number 1 from Wolverhampton to Fighting Cocks for a ride along the Dudley Road. Phoenix Park is our cue to alight so that we can mark our hub resumption with an opening pint in the Goldthorn, a former social club where the Carling is served with a whippy head (all it needs is a flake!). 

- The Sedgley Hub -
If the Goldthorn provided a gentle reintroduction, we go through the gears once we arrive in Sedgley. The Red Lion (overlooking the Bull Ring) and the Seven Stars (on Gospel End Road) keep the pub quota ticking over, the latter of those being a Marston's establishment that was saved from closure a few years ago. In between times we have the small matter of a photocall at the Sedgley Hub, an AgeUK community cafe at the top of Ettymore Road.

- Cotwall End Nature Reserve -
Secretary WME is always eager to throw a spot of ferreting into the mix so a walk along Cotwall End Road fits the bill, passing a primary school and then the Brockswood Animal Sanctuary. The leafy country lane setting is ideal for unleashing some silly songs, hence the strains of 'Don't Jump Off The Roof Dad' by Tommy Cooper echo across the nature reserve. Cotwall End Valley is an area of open space combining ancient woodland. lowland heath and a number of natural springs.

- The Fiddlers Finished? -
Emerging onto The Straits, we prepare for a glance at Gornal Wood by admiring the Baggeridge Social Club, a large workers institute building that recalls the days of Baggeridge Colliery; the pit  was the last of its kind in the Black Country and sadly closed in March 1968. A much more recent loss to the community is the Fiddlers Arms, a farmstead pub that looks a sorry sight all boarded up - I sincerely hope it will reopen at some stage and not be gone for good.

- Glowing in Gornal Wood -
The Bulls Head on the corner of Himley Road and Bull Street is also currently shut but the Five Ways opposite is thankfully going strong, serving the absolute nectar that is Bathams Best Bitter accompanied by a warm sausage roll. Whilst in the vicinity, we make sure to include the Bush on Summit Place where we can sup Holden's Golden Glow amidst the teapot collection - the Secretary does love a good crockery display so this place becomes an automatic personal favourite!

- Spotted in Sedgley Hall Park -
Availing ourselves of the 27 bus, we sweep back towards Sedgley to see what the Swan has to offer (no cask ale so John Smith's has to suffice). The Northway estate is next on our hitlist so we wander down Ettymore Road and take the scenic route through Sedgley Hall Park, historically the grounds of Sedgley Hall although the house itself was demolished in the mid 1960s. It is here that the Chairman puts his bald spot back on parade, hopefully without startling any of the native wildlife.

- Darts Conqueror in the Cabin -
The Northway is a sprawling undulating residential area that is home to Alder Coppice Primary School and the Alderwood shopping precinct (with its adjacent medical centre). The local watering hole is the Cabin, bedecked in the flags of footballing nations in preparation for the football World Cup even though our choice of sport is the darts. WME Whirlwind already leads 2-1 after some earlier legs in the Seven Stars and promptly proceeds to a 5-2 victory; honourable mention must however go to D9 Destroyer for getting the only genuine double checkout of the day.

- D9 drives home -
Time has flown and all of a sudden the evening is upon us, meaning we must make haste and head home. Mr D9 rises to the challenge with his customary steering expertise as the number 1 does its duty, giving us just enough of a window to visit the 'Tram Waiting Room' (a.k.a. the Wheatsheaf) before the final curtain falls. That thereby completes this overdue outing, hopefully it won't be quite as long until the next Hub Marketing adventure - cheers!

Thursday, June 7

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Coalbrookdale

Saturday 2nd June 2018 saw the Chip Foundation going 'quackers' in Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge, seeking out duck sculptures whilst continuing our mission to visit all of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums...

- More museums moments -
The entire Chip contingent is present and correct as I join the number 9 bus at Compton for the now-familiar journey through Bridgnorth and Broseley. Conversation covers topics such as digital storage, cricket and the many charms of Southport before we reach Coalbrookdale eager to experience Enginuity - the big kids amongst us certainly had fun playing with the various exhibits including a fly wheel and electricity generators. The Museum of Iron then awaits just across the courtyard so that we can ponder the giant whaling pot and objects from the 1851 Great Exhibition.

- Vote or no vote? -
A new feature since I was last here in January is the 'Vote or No Vote?' installation, created to celebrate the Votes for Women centenary. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave some women the right to vote for the very first time, so life-sized silhouettes represent the 37 local ladies to which the franchise was extended while noting that full voting equality was still another ten years away. The display can be found on the Green in front of the Old Furnace, the remains of the site where Abraham Darby I commenced iron production.

- Swallowed by a Stovepipe -
Our museum medley continues with a look around the Darby Houses, home to various generations of the Darby family. Dale House is the older - dating from 1717 - and is still used as a Quaker meeting place, while Rosehill House has been restored to give an impression of factory owners' living conditions circa 1850. The costume room is fun, trying on various hats and bonnets although the tall stovepipe isn't perhaps the best fit where Mr B Senior is concerned!

- Mr B meets 'Natural Bee-uty' -
Afternoon refreshment comes courtesy of the Coalbrookdale Inn, a Victorian pub on Wellington Road where the Hobson's Champion Mild proves worthy of the 2018 Good Beer Guide - a cracking pint. We can then begin our Quackers Quest whereby ten duck artworks have appeared at locations across the Gorge. The first of these is Natural Bee-uty, a wildflower and bumble bee inspired design at Dale End Park. As with similar projects such as Wolves in Wolves and the Birmingham Big Sleuth, the aim is to have fun, encourage tourism and raise money for charity.

- Doctor Duck -
Further duck discoveries are positioned on the Merrythought car park (Mr Darby) and beside the Museum of the Gorge (Doctor Duck, complete with stethoscope). None of us are in need of a medical consultation but some lunch would be nice, so we call into the chip shop where Mr B Senior performs a disappearing wallet magic trick - it was in his coat sleeve all along! Panic over, we can discuss the importance of iron as an industrial innovation without which the Black Country might never have existed.

- The Coracle Shed -
Next on the agenda are important coracle considerations, starting with a look at the old Coracle Shed beside the River Severn. Said to be the last remaining structure of its type, the shed now lies empty but there are plans to restore it and tell the story of the Rogers family, generations of whom crafted the distinctive bowl-shaped boats. The Coracle also happens to be the name of a newly-opened micropub on Ironbridge High Street so naturally we just had to investigate; Nick and I thus savoured some Gorgeous Ruby Porter (brewed locally), Ken dabbled with a drop of cider and Mr B Senior took a dislike to the Salopian Hop Twister until placated by a set of dominoes.

- Lady Victoria -
Resuming our duck hunt, we briefly cross the famous Iron Bridge to meet Lady Victoria (with apron and sweeties) who lives by the tollhouse. There are ten ducks in total; we saw five so I will need to find the rest on a later trip (hopefully very soon as the trail finishes on 8th July). In the meantime, the White Hart on the Wharfage brings this outing's pub-going to a close - Ringwood Razorback is the tipple of choice with Ken and Nick gamely battling a sofa so comfortable they struggle to stand up again afterwards. The homeward 9 from Ironbridge Square rounds off our day but keep an eye out for more quackers action in the near future...

Tuesday, June 5

A Postcard from Wales

Whit Week sets the stage for the 2018 WME family holiday which this year comprises five days in West Wales. The quaint fishing town of Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire Coast is our base for some exceptional exploration...

- Aberystwyth Castle -
Monday 28th May: it had been absolutely ages since I last set foot in Wales but the Bank Holiday soon changed all that, journeying down via the A458 from Shrewsbury via Welshpool. Our lunchtime stop is Aberystwyth, admiring the ruined castle and getting some photos of the linked railway stations - the mainline terminus building is partly a Wetherspoons pub (Yr Hen Orsaf) with a walkway connecting to the Vale of Rheidol station for the heritage line to Devil's Bridge.

- Fishguard Town Hall -
Monday afternoon heralds our arrival in Fishguard where we settle into our caravan before getting our bearings. The town is effectively in two halves, the main town centre on top of the cliffs and then the pretty harbour area down below. Landmarks include the Town Hall (in a fetching shade of mint green), the Abergwaun Hotel (currently closed) and the Fishguard Arms, a rustic tavern which serves Bass straight from the barrel and provides a memorable singalong setting when we gatecrash the tail end of the local Folk Festival. 

- Castle Square, Haverfordwest -
Tuesday 29th May: onto Tuesday then and a visit to Pembrokeshire's county town, Haverfordwest. Besides being an administrative centre, there is a castle (dating from circa 1110) and the River Cleddau (with two interesting bridges) to investigate. A quick call at the railway station and a bite to eat at Guymer's Cafe completes a productive morning, plus I get pictures of the war memorial and a couple of imposing churches (St Mary's on the High Street, then St Martin of Tours).

- St David's Cathedral -
Tuesday afternoon offers the chance to savour the United Kingdom's smallest city and the ecclesiastical capital of Wales, namely St David's. The ancient cathedral combines with the majestic ruins of Bishops Palace to provide a serious history fix, an impromptu gospel choir performance adding extra layers of wonder. The compact city centre has its charms too - most notably a centuries old Celtic Cross - although things do seem a tad more commercialised than I remember from childhood. 

- Fishguard Harbour Station -
Wednesday 30th May: Fishguard takes the spotlight for a morning stroll covering both of the town's stations plus the ferry port village of Goodwick (spotting the Rose & Crown pub and a brass band hut). Of the railway locations, Fishguard Harbour is perhaps the most intriguing as it is part of the Stena Line terminal from where passengers can connect onto boats for Ireland (Rosslare). Goodwick's Parrog then presents a stretch of seafront promenade albeit with some industrial surroundings.

- Tenby Harbour -
Wednesday is also our day for a ride out to Tenby, a popular South Pembrokeshire seaside resort set within 13th century town walls. The harbour here is particularly enchanting with different pastel shades on display, and apparently Mr SBI is in the area although I don't actually see him. In fairness I was distracted by the prospect of the Buccaneer, a 2018 Good Beer Guide pub that serves as the taphouse for the Harbwr Tenby Brewery - my chosen ale RFA Sir Galahad is named after the town's former lifeboat.

- Mosaic on Goodwick Parrog -
Thursday 31st May: more action from Goodwick to begin with as I study the trio of mosaics located along the Parrog. One of the designs focuses on the events of February 1797 when Fishguard was subject to a military invasion by French forces (the most recent hostile landing on mainland Britain). An element of folklore has developed around what actually took place but it seems the Royal Oak inn on Fishguard Square played a role in receiving news of the French surrender.

- Cardigan Bridge -
Thursday's afternoon destination is Cardigan, perched on the banks of the River Teifi in Ceredigion. A Norman castle overlooks the river crossing with an otter sculpture keeping a close eye on comings and goings across the old bridge. The adjacent Prince Charles Quay is a scenic spot at which to sit, relax and contemplate the words of 'Y Cei', a poem by Ceri Wynn Jones which considers the contrasting emotions of arrivals and departures. I must admit I took a liking to Cardigan and not just because of my background working in libraries!

- Draught Bass awaits! -
Our return route from Cardigan takes in a Pontfaen detour to track down the Dyffryn Arms, a time capsule of a pub tucked away in the Gwaun Valley. Affectionately known as Bessie's in reference to the longserving landlady, this is a complete throwback to a type of hostelry that has all but disappeared. It takes a bit of finding down the narrow country lanes but the Bass is worth it, served from the jug through a hatch in the front parlour. I simply love old-fashioned boozers, especially ones this rare, and sitting outside on a battered bench in the sunshine is pretty much pub heaven!

- Royal Pier, Aberystwyth -
Friday 1st June: alas the time has come to bid Fishguard farewell, our final day in Wales proving somewhat damp and drab as we see Lower Town harbour through the morning mists. Before heading home to the West Midlands, we squeeze in another stop at Aberystwyth for a glimpse of the Royal Pier, one last lingering seaside sighter and then Wolverhampton beckons once more. What a week in Wales that was!