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!
Wednesday, November 28
Saturday, November 24
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
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
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!