Saturday, September 29

WME Flickr Focus - September 2018

Just as the golfing greats of Europe and America do battle in France over the Ryder Cup, so the photostream players of the West Midlands Exploration tour have been out on the course trying to put together a clean round of updates...

Teeing off on the first with a driver is WME Coventry which powers down the opening hole thanks to some Fargo Village offerings (two doses of street art plus the Twisted Barrel brewery tap). Coventry's playing partner is WME Warwickshire, steadily underway with a Wilmcote mileage marker on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and a Leamington Spa station sign.

To the eighth next, a long par five where safely on the fairway we find WME Staffordshire. Himley has registered here with the wonky interior of the Crooked House pub while there's a Moog bus stop from the i54 development on the edges of the county. Successfully hacking out of the rough is WME Wolverhampton, continuing its strong performance across 2018 by supplying Fox's Lane Bridge (on the Birmingham Main Line Canal) and some Mander Centre muscle (shopping murals and a forthcoming Debenhams).

Chipping in from the edge of the twelfth comes WME Dudley, getting up and down for a Gornal birdie care of some Bush and Bull's Head pub signs. WME Sandwell is also in form, spotting a Banks's bonus at Gospel Oak (Tipton) where My Other Half and My Better Half are yet more evidence of the brewery's 'Tells It Like It Is' campaign.

Finally to the 18th where WME Birmingham vies to become our clubhouse leader. Digbeth in particular has proved handy with the putter, arrowing in a beer festival programme and some Dig Brew malt. An evening shot of a Four Oaks bus stop had earlier secured an eagle, meaning a clutch putt involving Harborne's Plough can nail Brum its lofty perch on the scoreboard. With that we settle in the clubhouse bar and wait to see what additions October will bring our way - until then, enjoy the photos!

Monday, September 24

Bridgnorth with the Beardsmores

Saturday 22nd September saw me joining forces with Stephen and John to attempt the Bridgnorth Train Trail, a sequence of locomotive sculptures dotted around the two halves of town. The weather may not be the kindest but the rain won't be stopping play completely...

- Whistle Stop -
The 10:45 number 9 bus is our means of getting from Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth, drizzle already being detectable as we trundle through Worfield. John regales us with fishing tales as we look forward to some trainspotting with a difference; twelve statues have been created to pay tribute to Richard Trevithick's 'Catch-Me-Who-Can' locomotive which was built in the town in 1808. Our first specimen is therefore Whistle Stop on Whitburn Street, depicting local landmarks within zentangle patterns.

- Just the Ticket -
The High Street is very busy as we try to dodge market shoppers before spotting Happy Holidays Express outside Bridgnorth Library. Each of the trains has been fabricated from cast aluminium for long-term durability as it is intended that the trail will be in place for a full five years. Next we descend the hill to the Severn Valley Railway station to spy Just the Ticket among the booking office flowerbeds; this design directly references Trevithick's pioneering steam engine with appropriate date included.

- Town Crier in the George -
Keen to keep out of the worst of the weather, we eye up our first pub of the day. The Railwayman's Arms on the platform is already packed so we pop into the George instead, handily positioned at the bottom of the station driveway. Shropshire ales are to the fore here, Mr B Senior opting for Three Tuns XXX whereas I partake of Hobson's Town Crier. Stephen samples his customary lemonade and blackcurrant while valiantly trying to teach John how to use his mobile phone camera - easier said than done!

- Lavington's Hole -
The rain is refusing to relent but we press on regardless, Underhill Street leading us to Lavington Gardens which are named after a Civil War officer who plotted to blow up Bridgnorth Castle. The gardens serve as the setting for Tracks in Time, an industrially-inspired creation showcasing the aluminium rolling process. Just over the road on the Quayside is Train of Thought, quietly contemplating the historic river bridge along with other prominent features such as the cliff railway.

- Bathams in the Black Horse -
Crossing the Severn into Low Town, we pause for our second pub interlude. The Black Horse certainly meets with our approval, supping excellent pints of Bathams Best Bitter in the comfortable surroundings of the lounge. Unfortunately we've missed out on the Tom Jones impersonator so John offers (or is that threatens?) to sing us some Frankie Laine numbers by way of compensatory entertainment; thankfully we manage to persuade him that his vocal talents are not required and the regulars are thus spared a unique rendition of 'Jezebel'.

- Choo Choo Choose Bridgnorth Rugby Club -
From the Black Horse we troop to Fox Corner, noting the presence of Filtermist Steams Ahead as sponsored by a local manufacturer of air pollutant extraction units. The Bandon Arms becomes our venue for lunch as we tuck into gammons and smothered chicken washed down with Banks's Amber (good old Banks's Bitter under its modern marketing moniker). It's then a short but soggy walk to the Severn Park home of Bridgnorth Rugby Club where their Choo Choo Choose train tempter carries a confirmed nod towards Twickenham. 

- The Great Bear -
We complete our sculptural sweep courtesy of Flame Grit and Noise (a fiery find at the site of Hazeldine's Foundry), Central Station: Great Bridgnorth High Street (outside the Card Stores), and The Great Bear (a Lego-like example with a beauty spot lookout perch on Friar's Street). A closing Holden's pint in the Golden Lion allows us to keep up to date with the football scores, Stephen squeezing in under the television as Wolves secure a memorable 1-1 draw away at Manchester United. The 16:53 bus takes us home and wouldn't you know it, the rain has stopped - typical! 

Sunday, September 16

Crewe Rail Ale Festival

Friday 14th September 2018 saw Nick and I choo-chooing into Cheshire by visiting a railway-related beer festival. Ales and trains, what more could anyone want?

- Braced for Beer! -
Admittedly we had originally reserved the day for visiting Melton Mowbray but got our dates slightly wrong, hence Crewe becomes our last minute contingency destination. The journey from Wolverhampton takes just over half an hour and we arrive in the midst of a drizzle flurry, so after a few platform shots at Crewe Station we dash to the festival hoping not to get soaked. Thankfully the venue isn't far as we plot our way via Mill Street and down the side of a Tesco supermarket to discover the Heritage Centre, slap bang beside the West Coast Main Line.

- The InterCity APT -
Handing over our £7 admission, we enter the main exhibition hall where a long line of ales are waiting to greet us. Nick immediately seeks out a peanut butter concoction whereas I avail myself of the 1918 Double Stout from Goodall's of Alsager, at 5.9% quite a potent starter! Getting our festival bearings, we admire several model railway installations and take a pew in a mock Class 47 driver's cab, Nick eagerly pressing the various buttons and switches. The star attraction however has to be the InterCity Advanced Passenger Train, the only surviving example of the APT-P high speed tilting design developed in the 1970s/1980s. 

- Cask in the cab -
Nick is so taken with the peanut butter beer that I have to try it for myself, the resultant half of Sandstone's Peanut Butter Milk Stout proving deliciously drinkable in the APT driver's seat. The continuing drizzle cannot dampen our enthusiasm as we try to figure out the cab controls, Nick getting to grips with the brake lever while I check the overhead line and keep watch for any tilt faults. We then settle in the standard class saloon, chatting to Mike from Solihull about university student recruitment and campus transport access issues.

- Crewe North Junction -
With the rain momentarily easing off, we set about investigating the wider museum site starting with a green Crosville double-decker bus parked up opposite the APT. Crewe North Junction signalling centre is definitely worth a look, comprising a cafe and gift shop plus the relay store and a viewing zone where we can watch mainline trains go rumbling by. The upstairs control room is particularly atmospheric, showing the facility as it was when it closed in 1985 complete with musty odours, two banks of signalling desks and some rather complicated route diagrams.

- Relaxing in First Class -
Two further signal boxes next require our attention: Crewe Station A (opened in 1907 and also decommissioned in 1985) and Exeter West (preserved and rebuilt here having spent its working life positioned at one end of Exeter St David's station). We then collect our closing festival tipples - which respectively are Marble's Manchester Bitter for me and Lincoln Green Tuck Porter for Nick - before lapping up the luxury of the APT's first class compartment. It looks as if Nick may be getting a little too relaxed though, threatening to nod off in his reclining chair. He wakes from his slumber to concur that the Crewe Heritage Centre really is an unforgettable festival location. 

- The Borough Arms -
Tokens all spent, we chug happily into the heart of Crewe in order to consider the town's Good Beer Guide contingent. The Borough Arms is to be found on Earle Street where crossing the road seems particularly perilous. Once safely inside we can reward ourselves with Purple Moose Snowdonia Ale and Woodforde's Wherry; this pub has a clear liking for Belgian brews and the same can also be said of Hops on Prince Albert Street, a place that prompts me to dabble with a Kriek (a bright pink cherry-infused fruit beer) whereas Nick satisfies his inner Russian courtesy of Gorlovka Imperial Stout.

- Hobson's in the Hop Pole -
From Hops to the Hop Pole as Wistaston Road leads us to an earthy two-roomed local boozer. We really like it here, the traditional layout boosted by the presence of a bowling green while the huge cheese and onion baps for a mere quid are definitely to be recommended! We've left ourselves scope for a swift half near the station albeit the Blind Beggar has us a little nonplussed; the beer is decent (Howard Town's Super Fortress) but the 'wiggling butt' rap soundtrack and stripped-back interior aren't really our thing, the homeward 18:19 train thus bringing relief to our eardrums. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 5

Bears on Tour: Colwyn Bay

For our 2018 cricketing getaway, Stephen and I followed Warwickshire to North Wales where Colwyn Bay Cricket Club at Rhos-on-Sea was the venue for the County Championship clash against Glamorgan. It was certainly a memorable few days...

- Eastgate Clock -
Tuesday 28th August 2018 saw the Beardsmobile powering along the A41 and A55, making smooth progress up past Whitchurch. We broke the journey at Chester, enjoying a walk along the City Walls spotting the racecourse and the Shropshire Union Canal (specifically Telford's Warehouse and Northgate Locks). Lunch came courtesy of the Bull & Stirrup Hotel, a red-brick Wetherspoons on Upper Northgate Street where the Ursa Minor ale was apt for a Bears adventure, and we also made sure to admire Eastgate Clock which was installed in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

- Colwyn Bay Promenade -
Having arrived in Colwyn Bay mid-afternoon, we checked into our Premier Inn accommodation near Llandudno Junction then set about exploring our surroundings for the week. Colwyn Bay is a curious place, the North Wales Expressway gouging its way right through the heart of town. There are some hints of elegance among the shops of Station Road while the Promenade is rather nice, the pavement punctuated with interesting snippets depicting a Monty Python foot (for Terry Jones's birthplace) and Prince Madog's legendary voyage to America.

- A shady spot at the Embankment End -
Wednesday 29th August was the first day of the game so Mr B and I took residence at the Embankment End gazing intently upon the sporting action. With the sun out the ground looked an absolute treat, plastic white chairs around the boundary edge. Glamorgan batted first and were hustled out for 203, Craig Meschede top-scoring with 53 not out. Olly Stone bowled impressively quickly to claim 4/28 while Bears skipper Jeetan Patel chipped in with three wickets of his own. Add in an ice cream and the setting was pretty much perfect, Warwickshire reaching stumps on 116 for 3.

- Rabbiting away in Llandudno -
The close of play on Wednesday heralded a ride to Llandudno, whereby we caught the number 12 bus via Penrhyn Bay and Penryhnside. The town has a splendid sweeping seafront and is home to various carved characters from Alice in Wonderland, hence we met the White Rabbit at North Western Gardens (complete with waistcoat and pocket watch). After a stop for chips, we gathered some twilight shots of Llandudno Station with its late Victorian architecture and glass roof. The station is the terminus for trains along the Conwy Valley line from Blaenau Ffestiniog.

- Bring on the Bass -
Another transport aspect we were keen to investigate was the Great Orme Tramway, meaning a look at Victoria Station was essential; although closed for the evening we could still spot tramcar 5 through the railings, one of the funicular fleet that operates the mile or so up the famous headland. Our Llandudno experience was then rounded off with a pint in the Snowdon on Tudno Street, a particularly relaxing and comfortable pub that served up a faultless pint of classic Draught Bass.

- Penrhyn Bay Panorama -
Thursday 30th August dawned with the sun shining brightly on Rhos-on-Sea where our morning promenade perambulations introduced us to the tiny St Trillo's Chapel, the altar of which stands over a sacred well. The rocky foreshore gave a sense of ruggedness when looking out towards Penrhyn Bay, Stephen pondering the numerous wind turbines that have appeared on the horizon since he was last here thirteen years ago (Warwickshire secured a ten wicket win in 2005).

- Piling up the runs -
With thoughts turned back to the current cricket where we watched on in admiration as Ian Bell batted the Bears into the ascendancy. We were delighted to be joined by Dave and Denise who travelled up from Worcester for the occasion - Bell's exceptional 204 was certainly worth the journey, mixing trademark cover drives with plenty of accumulation through third man. Able support was provided by Sam Hain (61) and Keith Barker (43*) so the lead was mounting going into the third day. Pleased with those efforts, Stephen and I partook of pints in the Boat House (a Banks's branded boozer in Rhos-on-Sea centre) and Colwyn Bay's Royal, where to Mr B's utter amazement I was seen drinking Fosters lager.

- Bowling towards victory -
Friday 31st August brought about the denouement of the game as we totalled 503 all out;  Barker converted his overnight 43 into a handy half century while Olly Stone struck some lusty late blows. The lead stood at exactly 300 as the Bears attack got to grips with the Glamorgan second innings. Two early wickets for Barker and then it became the Jeetan Patel show, the skipper spinning us to victory with a superb haul of 7 for 83. Despite some last stand fireworks from Smith and Hogan, Warwickshire won by an innings and 35 runs.

- A celebratory drink -
The win means Warwickshire remain in pole position for promotion back to the first division of the County Championship, and feeling in a celebratory mood Mr B and I descended upon Old Colwyn to sample a couple of contrasting pubs that were practically next door to each other. The Sun Inn was a lively Welsh local with a penchant for rugby balls whilst the Red Lion seemed a quieter establishment. Once again Draught Bass was my tipple of choice (and very nice it was too), Stephen having his customary lemonade and blackcurrant.

- Ffestiniog Railway -
Saturday 1st September had been scheduled as the final day of the cricket but with the match already over we did some bonus exploration instead. First off was a ride on the Conwy Valley line down from Llandudno Junction - there was scenery to savour with the river estuary, hilltop castles and little request stop stations to consider, culminating in a long tunnel that emerged among the silent slate heaps of Blaenau Ffestiniog. A shroud of mist gave the town a peculiarly bleak quality as we surveyed the Ffestiniog Railway platform that flanks the main line station.

- Pont Fawr, Llanrwst -
Blaenau Ffestiniog is definitely a place that gets under your skin with the ghosts of the slate industry all around you, though strangely enough most of the shops seem to be closed on Saturdays. We paused in the Manod Hotel for a lunchtime drink then proceeded back up the Conwy Valley line to the small market town of Llanrwst. Pont Fawr - a three arch stone bridge - is a particularly notable landmark here, crossing the River Conwy in connecting us to the Llanrwst United football/cricket grounds. The Eagles Hotel also appealed and is where we kept up to the date with the Wolves score as the men from Molineux secured their first Premier League win away at West Ham.

- Conwy Quayside -
The final calling point of our stay in North Wales was historic Conwy, famed for its mighty castle as constructed in the 1280s following Edward I's Welsh conquest. The fortress offered a spectacular backdrop as we tucked into chips on the quayside with some fishing boats for company. We then rounded off the holiday at the Albion Ale House, a Grade II listed inter-war pub with a well-preserved 1920s interior; having been served at the hatch in the snug, we settled in the Smoke Room opposite a baronial inglenook fireplace - very special indeed! The drive back home on Sunday morning was a happy one after a most enjoyable break, and for the remainder of the season it's very much a case of Come On You Bears!