Tuesday, July 31

WME Flickr Focus - July 2018

After weeks and weeks of seemingly endless sunshine, the summer of 2018 may well be one that people talk about for many years to come (in the same way that 1976 is still recalled now). The heatwave may not be over yet but the soaring temperatures have encouraged some WME photostream action with the updates net being cast both near and far...

Starting with the far and our principal heat-seeker in July was Exploration Extra, representing past family holidays and cricketing adventures. The suitcase was initially packed with some Edinburgh essentials, namely the Lothian Buses depot (Annandale Street) and a little bit of Leith Waterfront. Musselburgh muscled in with a Promenade street sign whereas Prestonpans gave us the Gothenburg with its reminders of the former Fowlers Brewery. 

Sticking with Exploration Extra, we lazed around in Leicestershire courtesy of Quorn and Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway - two bits of vintage advertising made the cut there. Suffolk provided some sightseeing most notably in Ipswich where Sir Alf Ramsay's statue, the Fat Cut pub and the County Hotel all joined the fun, then Leeds lingered with the Packhorse pub and some terrific tiling at Whitelock's Ale House.

And now for the near whereby WME Wolverhampton has been monitoring the mercury most of all. The old Acropolis Fish Bar on Rayleigh Road stepped out of the shade awhile but the hottest of the arrivals was undoubtedly Banks's Brewery; I've enjoyed photographing examples of their 'Tells It Like It Is' marketing campaign recently, amusingly acerbic street art that includes the emoji and Big Brother creations that find themselves on photostream parade. 

My other galleries have taken it easy really, the heat making them too lethargic to muster much together. WME Warwickshire breezed into Baddesley Clinton (finding the Ferrers Family tomb) whereas WME Telford made it to Madeley for a further glimpse of the All Nations, always a great place for a summertime pint. A brief bus interlude came care of WME Dudley (a 247A at Stourbridge) but the final word went to WME Walsall and a certain Spongebob Squarepants, star of the Illuminations back in 2007 (sadly this previously annual event at the Arboreutum no longer takes place). With that I'm off to try to keep cool, and we'll see what August can contribute by way of its own summer sizzlers...

Friday, July 27

Two more for the collection!

The nature of my photographic adventures means that occasionally I'll do a little outing that threatens to fall through the cracks in my blog. I wouldn't normally document these but July has provided a couple of memorable pub visits that I thought worthy of mention - one is firmly a traditional village local, the other is an example of the new breed of micropub...

- Darting in for a Plough picture -

First off is the Plough at Shenstone, a small village near Kidderminster that I visited with Stephen a few Fridays back. For a long while this was my final Bathams frontier, the only one of their tied estate that I'd never been to - that was until they opened the King Arthur in Hagley which now takes over the 'still to be done' mantle. Anyway, the Plough required a little bit of finding, tucked away down a narrow lane off the A450 Worcester Road. The location made us wonder how much passing trade they'd get here but the place was bustling which was good to see for somewhere slightly off the beaten track. 

Bathams are one of my favourite breweries and their pubs tend to be no nonsense old-fashioned boozers, purveying Best Bitter and Mild (plus XXX around Christmastime). The Plough certainly fits that template and has an inviting layout of a long combined bar and lounge with a dartboard at one end. It's a place of simple pleasures: cracking beer (the Bitter was excellent), quality snacks (cobs and pork pie to savour) and good conversation, whereby Stephen and I got chatting cricket to a couple of old boys who regaled us with memories of the Birmingham League - they were Worcester supporters but we won't hold that against them! The outdoor spaces were popular, an astroturf patch drawing in the sun-lovers, although we were happy enough sitting indoors among the paratrooper memorabilia. Well worth the pilgrimage!

- Tivi Ale -

The second discovery to tell you about is Tivi Ale in Tividale (Regent Road to be exact), a rare beast of a micropub in that it opens on Mondays - cue shock and outrage from seasoned pub bloggers! It's housed in a former convenience store just up the hill from the 126 bus route and is a very welcome addition to an area which has seen several pubs close over the years; indeed, Tividale is one of Mr D9's old stomping grounds and he laments lost locals such as the Red Lion, Barley Mow and Hangman's Tree. I'm sure there will be a Hub Marketing visit in due course but my first look at the place came in the company of Nick and Ken when we combined it with the Old Dispensary at Langley/Causeway Green, meaning we did two micros on the same Monday evening - wow!

Tivi Ale is barely a couple of months old having first opened on Saturday 9th June; I'm hesitant to judge it too much in its fledgling stages though I have to say I'm impressed so far. There were three ales on when we went - Holden's Golden Glow, Salopian Golden Thread and Kelham Island Golden Axe - of which I enjoyed a very good pint of the latter. There's only so much you can do with an old shop interior but it worked for me, the presence of some bookshelf wallpaper helping the librarians among us feel at home. Somehow or other we managed to resist the homemade cakes which did look seriously tempting, likewise the cheese salad cobs, but we did indulge in some detailed Brexit discussion and general political ponderings. Micropubs can divide opinion but I'm generally supportive of them, especially if they fill a void where other pub provision has been wiped out. I expect we'll see more such establishments springing up over the next few years, although not all will stand the test of time. I hope Tivi Ale does as it made an encouraging first impression. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 25

Standing Tall in Worcester

Owls, wolves, bears, ducks... which animal would be next for the art trail treatment? I doubt I'd have guessed giraffes but that's precisely the species chosen for 'Worcester Stands Tall', currently underway in and around that most regal of Midlands cathedral cities. Stephen, Mr B Senior and I therefore put our best necks forward by undertaking a snapshot safari...

- Fabella at Foregate Street -
Friday 20th July 2018 and the three of us make use of a GroupSave off peak return deal when journeying down to Worcester from Wolverhampton. Alighting at Foregate Street Station, we immediately commence our giraffe gathering mission thanks to Fabella, bright red with black pears in the shadow of the landmark railway bridge. Other early contenders include The Dreaming Giraffe (on the courtyard of the Hopmarket) and A Tall Order (a 'head chef' giraffe overlooking Angel Place and the bus station).

- A Crowngate Interloper -
The main trail of 30 giant giraffes is accompanied by a selection of 27 giraffe calves dotted around the malls of the Crowngate Shopping Centre. These smaller specimens have been designed in partnership with local schools and community groups, although my efforts at documenting 'Fun and Happiness' result in a bit of Beardsmore photobombing! The calves can mainly be found along Friary Walk and Chapel Walk although 'Lily the Pink' guards the entrance to Worcester Cathedral.

- Bones -
To High Street now where we can get acquainted with Bones, a skeleton design keeping tabs on the busy lunchtime crowds. The Cornmarket is slightly quieter when introducing us to Arthur the Giraffa in Banana Pyjamas, a definite kiddies favourite brazenly parading about in his jimjams. Also close at hand is Chang Jing Lu, depicted in the style of a Chinese dragon outside the Sports Direct store in the St Martin's Quarter - our safari seems to be going rather well!

- Worceraffe -
New Street and Friar Street combine to present not just giraffes but also some pub photo opportunities thanks to a sequence that includes the King Charles II, the Swan, the Old Greyhound and the Eagle Vaults (with its lovely brown tiled frontage). We refrain from having a pint just yet, instead focusing upon Worceraffe who stands sentry beside Laslett's Almshouses. This design is clearly inspired by Worcester's many architectural gems, including the half-timbered almshouses themselves which were constructed in 1912 to provide accommodation for elderly people of limited means.

- Brew XI in the Sebright Arms -
The time has ticked round to pub o'clock whereby my choice of establishment is the Sebright Arms, a London Road landmark that has latterly been taken on by the Cannon Royall Brewery. Admittedly it's further out of town than I'd anticipated but the walk is interesting, passing the Mount Pleasant Inn, St Martin with St Peter's Church and the Seacrest Fish Bar. Our persistence is rewarded by a throwback interior evoking a sense of 1970s timewarp with musty upholstery and sticky tables. The beer is decent, Arrowhead Bitter for yours truly while Mr B Senior approves of the Brew XI, so we're glad we came.

- Fort Royal Park -
Back along the London Road we go, uncovering an important slice of history at Fort Royal Park. It was here in September 1651 that Parliamentarian forces captured an artillery fort during the Battle of Worcester, hastening the Royalist defeat to bring about the end of the English Civil War. Commemorative cannons mark the spot as the modern-day park offers excellent views of the Worcester skyline and plays host to our next giraffe, the brightly coloured Diversity is Us which celebrates the beauty of being unique.

- Edward Elgar -
From the hilltop park we descend to Sidbury, saying hello to Girafficus in the guise of a Roman legionary - he even has his own shield. The Royal Worcester porcelain museum is where we meet Deco (boasting geometric patterning in reference to the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s), then at Severn Way we can 'Have A Giraffe' in the company of a joke-themed creation adorned with ha ha has and LOLs. I'm not sure what the esteemed composer Edward Elgar would have made of this artistic invasion; his statue on the High Street looks a tad bemused by the presence of Robo-Giraffe's robotic countenance.

- Kneck-er Bocker Glory -
Our giraffe-spotting exploits are put on hold during a luncheon interlude at the Crown, a Wetherspoons based in a prestigious old coaching inn. We partake of ultimate burgers and ham, egg and chips, narrowly averting a tantrum over a John Smiths shortage when the replacement Doom Bar thankfully meets with Mr B Snr's satisfaction. There is some debate over egg preferences (crispy edges? runny yolks?) then dessert comes in the form of Kneck-er Bocker Glory although this is one ice cream that Stephen definitely can't eat. Of all the giraffes this is probably my favourite, wafer cone legs and hundreds and thousands to the fore, not forgetting a long tongue licking away most contentedly.

- Bumble -
The prehistoric playfulness of Giraffic Park briefly tempts us across the river to Cripplegate Park before we buzz along to the Hive, an iconic golden building that houses Europe's first ever joint public/university library facility. As settings go this is a highly-appropriate place to meet Bumble, a bee-themed giraffe with yellow and black stripes and delicate little wings. We're gradually nearing the climax of our safari though Castle Street supplies us with Giraffa Chameleondalis by the far racecourse gates.

- Sociable Stephen -
The end is nigh yet there's time enough for a couple more pub visits prior to our train. The first of these is actually more of a brewery bar, Britannia Road being home to the Sociable Beer Company where Stephen models the soft drinks selection while his dad protests that the Bash is too warm. Table football, a rocking horse and a vinyl vault make this a drinking den with a bit of a difference whereas the Saracens Head is an old-school boozer on the Tything; John Smiths, Hooky and a leg of darts see us right there. The 17:56 departure beckons but not before we've accounted for Swirly Whirly Worcester Land, our final giraffe next to the City Art Gallery & Museum. A total haul of 27 giraffes plus several calves is not bad at all, and our intrepid trio travel home satisfied with their day's work. 

Sunday, July 15

Hub Marketing 2018: The Cheslyn Hay Crawl

Situated to the south of Cannock, Cheslyn Hay is a South Staffordshire former mining village that together with Great Wyrley and Landywood forms the focal point of the Hub Marketing Board's latest adventure. The outing combines sunshine, showers, football and ale on what will be remembered as our World Cup wander...

- Featherstone witnesses some D9 driving -
The number 70 bus from Wolverhampton is our opening steed, the Chairman emerging out of his hub hideaway to join the route at Park Lane. Once settled on the back seat, he can unleash his full driving repertoire up through the Scotlands to expertly negotiate the twists and turns of Featherstone. There is a fair bit of traffic approaching M6 junction 11 but things free up past the Hollybush Garden Centre, allowing us to alight by Saredon Road near Cheslyn Hay High School and the local leisure centre.

- 'Spotted' by the Nile Practice -
The heart of Cheslyn Hay comprises a one way loop involving High Street and Low Street, whereby the first of those leads us on a library hunt. The branch was originally located in what is now the Nile Practice doctors surgery before moving to its current location at the village hall on Pinfold Hill. The presence of a certain bald spot prompts thoughts of beer so luckily the Colliers Arms is nearby - cue Golden Glow in the beer garden, the Secretary resisting the temptation to play mini-football on the pub's parched lawn.

- Salem Church -
Another prominent High Street landmark is the Salem Methodist Church, dating from the 1850s with its Sunday School next door. We turn here for Landywood Lane then find Dundalk Lane to the tune of footballing songs from yesteryear - Edric Connor's 'Manchester United Calypso' joined by 'Back Home' by the 1970 World Cup squad. England's semi final exit this time around cannot dampen our enthusiasm so we raise a glass to Gareth Southgate and his team in the Mary Rose, a Moons Lane pub that historically was a farmhouse but is now operated by Greene King. 

- Cheslyn Hay War Memorial -
The Mary Rose is handily located for the Wyrley Branch footpath which traces the course of a lost canal through towards Bloxwich. We have a little look before continuing on our Cheslyn Hay way, pausing by the war memorial after being entertained by Lonnie Donegan's ditty about the 1966 football mascot 'World Cup Willie'. Pub-wise, the New Talbot on Low Street hasn't opened yet but we have better luck with the New Inns (watching a bit of Wimbledon wheelchair doubles) and the White Horse (an estate pub near Glenthorne Drive where WME Whirlwind claims a 4-2 darts success, D9 Destroyer narrowly averting a total whitewash).

- Greeted by Great Wyrley -
Cheslyn Hay almost blends straight into the adjoining village of Great Wyrley, whereby Station Road marks the crossover point near St Mark's Church. Great Wyrley High School briefly catches our attention as we proceed to Walsall Road, noting both the Royal Oak (an olive green Marston's establishment) and the Swan as pub options on the busy A34. Like Cheslyn Hay, Great Wyrley is a place with a mining heritage due to the presence of local collieries; however, the area also achieved notoriety due to the 'Great Wyrley Outrages', a series of attacks on animals that prompted an investigation by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

- D9's coming home -
Thankfully there are no crimes to concern us today so we can maintain our footballing focus, posing at a mini-roundabout which has been painted with the England flag. We follow this by tracking down Wolfie's Bar on Hazel Lane, a watering hole based at the Wolverhampton Sporting Community Football Club ground so it fits our theme perfectly. The club originally started out as the works team for the Chubbs locks and safes factory in Heath Town so it's good they've been able to survive albeit in a new guise. We partake of some refreshing Boddingtons as a sharp shower suddenly sets in, the first rain we've seen for absolutely ages.

- Davy Lamp no more -
We'd almost forgotten what a puddle looks like yet we get plenty of chance to remind ourselves as we splash into the Star, another A34 Walsall Road hostelry. A swift half of Golden Glow primes us for the stretch down Hilton Lane to the Quinton Court shopping parade at the junction with Wardles Lane. Among the stores here are a Co-op, several takeaways, a Bargain Booze (housed in the former Davy Lamp pub) and a bakery, while other amenities include a shopfront community library, a medical centre and St Andrew's Church.

- Andys' Ale House -
The precinct is also where we find a new(ish) micropub, Andys' Ale House being named after its two owners and most definitely not in tribute to our Hub Chairman! This is a welcome addition (especially given the closure of the afore-mentioned Davy Lamp) where we happily partake of Beowulf's Dark Raven and Bristol Beer Factory's Long Summer Days, quality pints both. It's then but a short stroll to Landywood station for our train to Walsall whereupon Mr D9 requests a closing pit stop in the Globe on Darlaston Road to satisfy a long-held curiosity. With that the final whistle is blown and we look forward to our next Hub Marketing fixture - cheers!

Tuesday, July 3

Going Quackers continued

At the start of June the Chip Foundation visited Ironbridge to seek out some of the sculptures that feature on the 'Let's Go Quackers' art trail. Now I was back in the area to make more duck discoveries as part of a solo Shropshire spectacular...

- Bridgnorth Town Hall -
The bright blue skies provide a perfect invitation for photographic action as I begin the day in Bridgnorth. Alighting off the number 9 bus in Low Town, I have a wander along Bernard's Hill (spotting the Hare & Hounds) through to Lodge Lane, an estate served by a Co-op store, St James's Church Hall and St Mary's Bluecoat Primary School. High Town then provides a dash of history thanks to the fabulous Town Hall, an oak-framed structure atop stone stilts which provides a distinctive market place focal point.

- Holy Trinity, Coalbrookdale -
Resuming my number 9 journey, the bus is subject to a diversion involving Morville (notable for the Acton Arms and a pretty parish church) and the edges of Much Wenlock before burrowing into Broseley. Back on the normal line of the route, I hop off at Coalbrookdale for a closer look at Holy Trinity. This church dates mainly from the 1850s having been endowed by Abraham Darby IV, hence it had strong links to the famous ironworks nearby and still commands enviable views overlooking the Gorge. 

- Closed Crown -
No duck-spotting just yet as I have a couple of closed pubs to add to my archive. I say closed though I'm not sure if the White Horse has fully ceased trading; its location near the Junction of Church Road and Lincoln Hill requires a fair climb up from the village, a hike to put off all but the most determined drinkers. Hodge Bower is where I find the Crown as was, now resembling a building site although the pub's rather handsome facade can still be seen behind the hoardings. 

- Peace Duck -
The morning has all but disappeared so I'd better get quacking! To Bedlam Furnaces I thus go, delighted to confirm that Peace Duck has been happily restored following an unfortunate vandalism incident. The psychedelic design references the Flower Power movement with swirls and 'Love' slogans that form a colourful contrast to the historic brickwork backdrop. The furnaces themselves are a riverside remnant of the Madeley Wood Company, preserved by the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust with a new protective canopy installed last year.

- Paddlington -
It's a warm day so I refresh myself with some strawberry cider courtesy of the Coracle micropub (plus some Eley's of Ironbridge pork scratchings as an extra treat) then continue the duck hunt. The Lloyds is home to the burnished golden hues of Once Upon a Fairytale framed by the mighty Jackfield Bridge before the Severn Valley Way footpath beckons. Here I meet a certain Paddlington, inspired by Michael Bond's lovable bear complete with the essential marmalade sandwich. 

- C-Ellie-Brate -
Further along the former railway track I find C-Ellie-Brate (a party duck with balloons and a rainbow beak), then last but not least is Mawster Peaquack at Lloyds Head boasting peacock plumage beside the old level crossing gates. All ten ducks have therefore been accounted for and the trail has been a lot of fun so I hope the project raises plenty of charity funds. The ducks will soon move to Southwater in Telford Town Centre for a few weeks prior to being auctioned off. 

- Wenlock Priory -
The afternoon is yet young and a glance at the bus timetable suggests the 18 is due, ideal timing for an impromptu visit to Much Wenlock (via Broseley Wood and Benthall, testing the tree deflectors to the limit). The town's beguiling timeless quality stems from the presence of several medieval buildings, chief amongst which are Holy Trinity Church and the 16th century Guildhall. The ruins of Wenlock Priory look particularly photogenic in the bright azure, the Cluniac order having established their priory on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon monastery.

- St Owen's Well -
Much Wenlock has its fair share of tempting taverns with the Gaskell Arms Hotel being especially conspicuous on the main A458 Bridgnorth - Shrewsbury road.  I've had my eye on this old coaching inn for a number of years so a pint is a must, Sunshine from the Bewdley Brewery drinking like nectar in the idyllic beer garden. A mention too for the Talbot on High Street (some nice Hop Shed Sebright Gold here), plus I stumble across St Owen's Well on Queen Street as an example of an ancient spring.

- The Shakespeare -
The 436 is charged with returning me to Bridgnorth where I can investigate two pubs which have latterly changed brewery ownership - the Golden Lion (now Holden's) and the Shakespeare (taken on by Joule's). Both establishments appear to be in fine fettle so long may they prosper, and together they set me up well for a memorable ride on the 114 to Shifnal. This is a proper wiggler of a route that covers several small villages (Worfield, Stableford, Ackleton, Badger and Beckbury), negotiating extremely narrow lanes collecting stray bits of vegetation in the process. Shifnal brings the curtain down with a hint of carnival preparations and that's that, a thoroughly quacking adventure!