Sunday, March 31

WME Flickr Focus - March 2019

With the clocks going forward this morning to herald the start of British Summer Time, I shall overcome the loss of one hours worth of sleep by bringing you bang up to date with Flickr photostream progress...

Rubbing its eyes and doing some stretches is WME Wolverhampton, our faithful servant having enjoyed a fruitful March. Calls at Compton have yielded a Swan dartboard and a canal lock sign while over in Penn we have Chamberlains Lane shrouded in estate agent paraphernalia. Pub pickings are evident from the Claregate and the Cleveland Arms, plus there are artistic arrivals courtesy of Bilston Craft Gallery (cue some tennis racquet characters from a Mad Dogs and Englishmen exhibition) - if they don't wake you up nothing will...

Also up and about in sprightly fashion is WME Telford, proud recipient of some more Blists Hill bits and pieces including the chandlery, the foundry and  Madeley Wood Brickworks. WME Staffordshire has likewise cast aside the duvet to summon forth pictures of Bratch Common Road (from the edges of Wombourne), Codsall station footbridge and a curious tree trunk figure spotted on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Castlecroft.

Trying in vain to ignore the alarm clock are WME Shropshire and WME Birmingham. Salop grudgingly accepts some Broseley bonuses (Pound Lane for example) and a Shrewsbury snippet showcasing the Crown at Coleham, whereas Brum stirs itself with a prod from the Boldmere Tap, a Joules pub not far from Sutton Coldfield.

Preferring to stay in bed are our motley bunch of lazy so-and-sos, headed by the erstwhile WME Worcestershire (dreaming sweetly of the George Hotel in Bewdley) along with WME Solihull (a Kingshurst contribution concentrating on the Punchbowl's dartboard). Finally, still fast asleep and snoring their heads off are WME Walsall (a Bridgeman Street bus stop) and WME Dudley (the former Broadstone pub near Colley Gate). That's enough springtime slumbers for the time being so I'll be back soon with some April additions - yawn!!

Monday, March 25

A Stafford Stroll

A March visit to Stafford is threatening to become something of an annual event, 2018 having set the ball rolling with my Marston Road and Parkside wanderings. This time around I've calculated a circular walk covering all the 'W's - Wildwood, Walton on the Hill, Weeping Cross and Weston Road. Here goes...

- Izaak Walton watches on -
Saturday 23rd March 2019 starts with me jumping aboard the 10:15 Manchester train at Wolverhampton. The journey time to Stafford takes just over ten minutes (no time at all) so I'm soon reacquainting myself with Victoria Park just opposite the railway station. It's customary here for me to say hello to WG Grace's statue near the bowling green so by way of variety this time I meet Izaak Walton gazing out upon the River Sow, the renowned author of 'The Compleat Angler' having been born in Stafford circa 1593.

- Queensville Stores -
Navigating my way through the town centre and past the Forebridge Lock-up (a preserved stone cell historically used to detain miscreant drunks), I join the A34 Lichfield Road towards Queensville. The photos are flowing thanks to St Leonard's Primary - a Victorian schoolhouse enlivened by springtime blossom - followed by the Spittal Brook Inn, positioned immediately beside the railway at Queensville Bridge. I also add in the Queensville Stores before crossing the River Penk at Radford Bank with the Stonehouse carvery for company. 

- Wildwood Nature Reserve -
My first 'W' target is the Wildwood estate as situated on the south-eastern fringes of Stafford. Chepstow Drive reveals some relatively modern housing and offers a glimpse of the local nature reserve arranged around an open pool. Wildwood Drive then guides me towards the estate centre where amenities include a Co-op supermarket, a Mormon church and the Wildwood pub (part of the Sizzling chain), whereas the little post office can be found just across the way on Cannock Road. 

- A Walton Welcome -
Continuing via Bridle Road (which becomes a pebbly track halfway along), I emerge onto Mendip Avenue and thence Selworthy Drive with Walton High School proving impossible to miss. The school is one of the principal features of Walton on the Hill, a sizeable settlement that forms part of the parish of Berkswich (as indeed do Wildwood, Weeping Cross and Baswich). The A513 passes through heading for Milford and Shugborough Hall but I aim for Weeping Cross hoping to track down a Bodmin Avenue watering hole. 

- Baswich Library -
The establishment in question is 'bod' although I hesitate to refer to it as a pub as it's really more of a bistro bar, opened in a disused shopfront by the Titanic Brewery - incidentally the Co-op opposite was built on the site of the area's previous boozer (the Lynton Arms) so local pub provision has practically gone full circle. A nice pint of Steerage slakes my thirst amid the lunchtime diners and coffee drinkers; the toilets meanwhile are signified by footwear - brown brogues for the gents and high heels for the ladies. Feeling refreshed, I pitch into photos of nearby St Anne's Catholic Church and Baswich Library as positioned either side of Lynton Avenue.

- Baswick Bridge -
I could investigate Baswich more widely (for example by finding Holy Trinity Church) but I'm keen to sample an unexplored section of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. I thereby pick up the towpath at Radford Bridge and proceed northwards, encountering Meadow Bridge and Baswick Bridge in quick succession. The canal is accompanied by both the Sow and the Penk as the rivers form a confluence near St Thomas Bridge (Baswich Lane), although there used to be a lock and junction here with the former Stafford Branch Canal. The current wider waterscape can best be surveyed from Two Waters Way for views across the flood plain complete with grazing cattle.

- The Morris Man -
After a brief flirtation with Tixall Road, I venture into the Kingston Hill estate courtesy of Birkdale Drive. Kingston Pool Covert is another intriguing example of open space before I reach Alliss Close for the Morris Man, a Desi-type place that seems to specialise in Nepalese and Indian cuisine - Mr D9 would no doubt get excited by the building's box boozer appearance! The A518 Weston Road will be  my route back into Stafford so I top up the photo count with shots of the County Hospital and St John the Baptist church. 

- A Metropolitan morsel -
A tad closer to the town centre, Weston Road supplies further targets in the form of the Prince of Wales and the Metropolitan Bar. The latter of those can claim turnpike associations on the fork with Tixall Road and was previously known as the Gate; the 1930s roadhouse feel here is enough to tempt me inside for a decent drop of Doom Bar. My final approach into Stafford then takes me conveniently past the Shrewsbury Arms, scene of a closing Plum Pig accompanied by crusty pork pie liberally slathered with mustard - yum on both counts! All things told I've covered a good few miles and taken dozens upon dozens of pictures so it's a happy WME that catches the 16:40 train home - cheers! 

Saturday, March 16

Hereford Happenings

Every once in a while the Chip Foundation likes to cast its horizons beyond the immediate West Midlands area by exploring somewhere a little further flung. Shrewsbury, Warwick and Ironbridge have all been graced by visits over the years, and now it is Hereford's turn to tickle our fancy...

- Arrival at Hereford -
Plans have been devised and finalised in advance of the designated date, so come Friday 15th March all we have to do is congregate at Birmingham New Street ready for the 9:50 departure. West Midlands Railway operate an hourly service from Brum to Hereford via Bromsgrove, Worcester and Great Malvern, so we commandeer a table aboard the class 170 set and keep watch on the weather. Additional entertainment comes from Mr B Senior's tales of cruiseship choirs and nosebleed dramas, then we pull into platform 1 just before quarter past eleven. 

- Edgar Street -
This is my first ever look at Hereford railway station and I have to say I rather like it, the facility having originally opened as Hereford Barr's Court in 1853 - there are four platforms and the main frontage has a provincial Tudor style with Gothic elements. We get our bearings with an initial stroll along Station Approach, passing a potential canal restoration site (the Hereford & Gloucester Canal historically terminated at a basin around here somewhere). Edgar Street soon beckons as the footballing home of Hereford FC, a phoenix club created following the sad demise of Hereford United. They currently play in the National League North having risen through the non-league pyramid. 

- Cathedral Crypt -
Trudging past atmospheric turnstiles, we ponder the former location of Hereford Cattle Market (the land now used for modern shopping malls and associated car parks) before heading into the city centre. We dodge annoying drizzle by sampling an opening half in the Lichfield Vaults although the Butcombe Original isn't quite on song, Nick's exposure to such vinegar prompting a full repertoire of disapproving facial expressions! Decorum is restored at Hereford Cathedral, an utterly majestic monument where we lap up the ecclesiastical environs of the crypt, Lady Chapel and the nave. The cathedral is said to have been founded in the year 696 and famously houses the Mappa Mundi, a Chained Library (the world's largest) and a 1217 copy of the Magna Carta.

- Windswept on Wye Bridge -
The history lesson continues with Gwynne Street, possibly the birthplace of the actress and royal mistress Nell Gwynne (1650-1687). There aren't any romantic dalliances on offer today but we do emerge opposite the Black Lion, a characterful black and white inn where my intention is to keep dry out of the rain. Alas I haven't factored in the clumsiness of a certain Stephen whereby a manoeuvre henceforth known as the 'Hereford Hurl' sends the contents of his lemonade and blackcurrant glass gushing in my direction! Having mopped up the spillage, we decamp but a very short distance to the Old Wye Bridge, an ancient river crossing that provides an ideal vantage point for admiring the breezy scenery.

- Thumbs up in the Vaga Tavern -
The river has burst its banks in places, flooding an adjacent rugby field so we have to go the long way round to our next pub. Belmont Road and Hunderton Road combine (eventually) to lead us to the Vaga Tavern, a backstreet boozer owned by the Wye Valley Brewery. The main bar here has a down-to-earth ambience with dimpled leather seating and a sporting emphasis (two dartboards, a pool table, a skittle alley and a multitude of trophies). The regulars are gearing up for the racing action at the Cheltenham Festival as we sup respective halves of Butty Bach and Wye Valley Bitter (thankfully minus any unexpected tidal waves of purple pop).

- Hunderton Bridge -
A short riverside stroll confirms the extent of the flood as we reach Hunderton Bridge, a lattice structure that spans the River Wye in carrying a leisure footpath along what used to be the Barton Station section of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway (part of the GWR). We follow the path past a Sainsbury's supermarket and a Travelodge hotel, jink down the side of the Herefordshire Cider Museum and stumble across the Whitecross Fish Bar - that's lunch taken care of. Our chips are munched with an apple mill contraption and woodpecker sculpture for company, the nearby Bulmer's (Heineken) cider plant also being noted in dispatches. 

- Beardsmores getting Fleeced? -
Our further investigations of Hereford city centre introduce us to the Bull Statue and the Black & White House, both of which are positioned where High Town meets Commercial Street. St Peter's Street meanwhile takes us towards the Shire Hall, almost next door to which is the Golden Fleece as a narrow Marston's establishment that seems very well prepared for St Patrick's Day. Anticipation is building for the Cheltenham Gold Cup although Ken resists the urge to don a plastic jockey's cap or pose with an inflatable champagne bottle. No fizz for us, just plain old Banks's Bitter!

- Beaming in the Barrels -
What pray tell would St Owen's Street have to offer us pub-wise? Nick and I have high hopes for the Victory and its memorable galleon-inspired interior when shock horror... it's shut! Any nautical novelty value is therefore thwarted but our disappointment doesn't last long, not with the Barrels on hand to cheer us up. The Wye Valley taphouse duly lives up to its longstanding Good Beer Guide billing, the Wholesome Stout proving most praiseworthy indeed. There's just time to call into the Commercial Hotel (St Austell Tribute while watching a Didier Drogba goals montage) before we catch the 17:39 train home. A cracking day in the capital of cider - cheers!

Tuesday, March 5

Rugby Beer Festival 2019

March has certainly been out of the traps quickly this year thanks to a 48 hour flurry of photography, exploration and ale. Two trips in two days mean that the Rugeley Hub Marketing recce is instantly followed by a visit with Nick to the Rugby Beer Festival...

- A Stagecoach Starter -
Saturday 2nd March starts with a fresh and breezy morning as I wend my way to Warwickshire, catching the 10:54 London Northwestern train from Birmingham New Street towards Euston which reaches Rugby at 11:31. My stroll into the town centre takes me along Railway Terrace, passing the Stagecoach bus depot in the process. The offices here include a travel shop while there are some Megabus vehicles parked up on the yard.

- Silhouette Stout -
The Arnold House masonic building off Elsee Road is on hosting duties again for what is Rugby's 35th annual beer festival. Nick is already in attendance partway through a Black Rose Porter as I arm myself with the requisite commemorative glass and programme. Silhouette Stout is next up for Nick whereas my opening tipple is Hollow Stone's Krubera, equally dark and brooding with tempting hints of mocha. This is then followed by the "opulent and lush" McColl's Black Forest Stout - who could resist a description like that?! 

- A little light reading -
Plotting our path through the programme, we account for Gloucester's Six Malt Porter, Black Pit's New Leaf Mild (rather nice) and Pentrich's Tomb of Juice, the latter billed as a 5% sessionable porter with citrus and pine flavours (let's say it's an acquired taste). Besides the beer, we tuck into a memorable mushroom stroganoff - not your usual festival food - and narrowly fail to win on the tombola. Sadly the large fluffy blue hippopotamus toy didn't have Nick's name on it after all! 

- Crafty Banker -
I may have mentioned before that the Merchants Inn is a must-visit establishment when in Rugby so we make sure to drop by, availing ourselves of Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild and George Wright Black Swan respectively. The pub is a treasure trove of breweriana so we feel right at home among all the enamel signs and Tetley lamps. We then switch from an old favourite to a new establishment, the Crafty Banker micropub having only opened last April. The Mr Grundy's 1914 Stout here is seriously impressive, almost marshmallowy with traces of blackcurrant.

- Town & County Club -
Another hitherto unexplored watering hole awaits on nearby Henry Street where the Town & County Club greets us with red dralon seating and Church End's Gravediggers Mild. Club entries in the Good Beer Guide always have an extra novelty factor and this one felt particularly comfortable and relaxing. Our crawl concludes with Plum Porter in the Seven Stars (Rugby CAMRA's current Pub of the Year) and Old Golden Hen in the Wheeltapper, an imposing yet down to earth landmark not far from the railway station. Cheers!

Sunday, March 3

Rugeley Power Rangers

At Mr D9's request, the third Hub Marketing adventure of 2019 saw us undertaking a Staffordshire-specific mission aiming to bid farewell to Rugeley Power Station. Situated beside the River Trent, the 'Rugeley B' facility has been a fixture on the local skyline since the early 1970s but is due for demolition later this year...

- Arriva alertness on the 70 -
A morning meeting in Wolverhampton is necessary so that Hub members can make our way to Cannock. The Chairman is unfortunately detained by a miscreant Metro so we miss our intended 70, although the delay does allow a brief Fallings Park bonus gathering pictures of the Golden Lion (recently given a Marston's makeover) and the Heron Foods store (formerly the site of the Clifton cinema). The next 70 along gives D9 his driving fix, avoiding Featherstone tailbacks and then rumbling through Cheslyn Hay past the Hawkins Colliery Social Club.

- A Pit Stop cuppa -
We alight on Delta Way at the Arriva Cannock depot where the Pit Stop Cafe can be found to the rear of the driver training centre. Despite being on garage premises the cafe is open to the public so we are perfectly at liberty to make this our breakfast location. The £4 Full English is a thing of wonder, served in classic canteen style with tea, toast, proper streaky bacon and a disc of black pudding. It comes as no surprise that the place is popular with drivers and the maintenance crew given the stonking value on offer - we may well be back for a future brekkie!

- Ascot Baldness -
Feeling contentedly stuffed, we walk off the feast by strolling into Cannock town centre via the Longford estate. The Ascot Tavern is still standing for now, boarded up and apparently doomed to demolition so the balding one has to make the most of it while he can. Wolverhampton Road then echoes to the strains of 'Save Your Kisses For Me' - the Arthur Mullard/Hylda Baker version - and we suspect those two vocalists(!) might not look out of place in the Royal Oak on Market Place, a pub packed with memorable characters and seasoned drinkers. We keep a low profile by attempting to play darts, D9 Destroyer bagging a 5-3 victory in what is shaping up to be a competitive year.

- There ain't nobody here but us chickens -
WME Whirlwind licks his wounds as we board the 63 to Rugeley, hoping that the gearbox isn't about to conk out on us. The worrying grinding noises near Cannock Chase Hospital turn out to be a false alarm and come Chadsmoor its full speed ahead through Hednesford and Brindley Heath. Touchdown at Rugeley Bus Station means we can admire the indoor market hall and nip over the road to Elmore Park, scene for D9 to come over all Doctor Dolittle again by conversing with the chickens in Pets Corner. The park closet also grabs the Chairman's attention whereas Secretary WME tries not to upset the waterfowl when getting pictures of the lake.

- One for aficionados of red triangles -
Time for our second pub of the day whereby the Vine Inn on Sheep Fair is high on the WME hitlist, and not just because it has a lovely Bass lamp above the front door. This establishment brews its own beer to recent acclaim so we duly sample the Vanilla Porter and Vine EPA respectively, both pints hitting the mark nicely as a lively Jack Russell prowls around trying to sniff out scratchings. The traditional multi-room interior is also part of the appeal here, giving a comfortingly worn lived-in sense of a pub that has stood the test of time. 

- Decommissioned Cooling Towers -
Chairman D9 is charged with leading our Power Station ferret and eventually gets his bearings to guide us past Rugeley police station and St Augustine's Church. Power Station Road is a helpful clue though you can hardly fail to see four large cooling towers looming on the horizon. The plant was coal-fired and served the energy market for over 40 years before operations ceased in June 2016. Now the towers, chimney and wider infrastructure await their final fate - Rugeley won't quite seem the same once they're gone. Chairman D9 needs consoling about the loss of such heritage so we call into the Albion (basic Banks's) and the Crown (historically a Butler's tied house) by way of a pick-me-up. 

- Rusty Barrel -
Rugeley has railway connections via the Trent Valley and Chase lines plus it's located on the Trent & Mersey Canal so it is easily accessible. We complete our town sweep by seeking out the Springfields estate, home to the Rusty Barrel in a unit of the Fernwood shopping parade. Secretary WME is particularly taken with the Revolutions Clash porter as we ponder how this micropub effectively replaces the Moderation, the estate's previous watering hole having been turned into a supermarket a few years back. We break the return 63 ride at Chadsmoor care of the Jolly Collier on Huntington Terrace, chatting with the regulars about bygone boozers, but any hope of further nightcaps is scuppered by severe late running on the homeward 70. Cheers!