Tuesday, October 29

WME Flickr Focus - October 2019

There's no need for any 'flextension' where the West Midlands Exploration photostream is concerned, as I've successfully been able to negotiate a resolution regarding my latest pictorial package...

October has been one of those occasional months when Exploration Extra takes centre stage, stepping up to the despatch box with a selection of pictures plucked from beyond my usual West Midlands constituencies. This time around the new arrivals include representatives from Nottinghamshire, Wales and Merseyside (among others) with even a rare foray into Scotland! 

Starting with the Welsh contingent whereby there are two contributing strands at work. 2018's cricketing getaway to Colwyn Bay supplies some Rhos-on-Sea content, namely the promenade clock (complete with seagull appendage), the Cayley bus stop and a willow fisherman. These are then complemented by items from my Fishguard holiday with a particular emphasis on Parrog mosaics at Goodwick and a mention for a timeless pub classic, the Dyffryn Arms at Pontfaen.

Nottinghamshire (or rather just plain old Nottingham) has been particularly vocal, stating its case with strong support from Sneinton Market - I seemed to develop a minor obsession for avenue lettering last year, an affliction I probably haven't recovered from yet. Hoodwinked robins are also the fore, especially two Station Street sculptures showcasing vintage robots and the judiciary. A glimpse of the Gresham Hotel is garnered alongside Melrose Street signage from the suburb of Sherwood. 

Elsewhere, Scotland stakes its claim thanks to two Leith tempters focusing on pavement poetry and a warehouse acknowledgement for the Vaults, the original home of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Merseyside matters meanwhile concentrate on New Brighton (the Perch Rock Hotel) and Liverpool itself (the Roscoe Arms pub sign). As for the rest, Ipswich sneaks in with an Adnam's addition for the Lord Nelson whereas over in Lincolnshire the solitary snap is of Louth war memorial. Last but not least is a scoreboard shot from Horsham, not that I want to be reminded of Warwickshire's outground capitulation in 2014 - now all I need to do is sort out some nuggets to bring you in November...

Saturday, October 19

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Six

Having once more dangled a line into the pictorial pool that is my photographic back catalogue, a further four perished pubs have taken the bait ready to remind us of their expired existence...

- The Hearty Goodfellow -
First bite this month comes from the Hearty Goodfellow, a former Banks's boozer on the edges of Dudley town centre. Maughan Street was the precise location for this one, close to Grange Park and handy for the Russells Hall estate (where the Old Park and the Plume of Feathers have also fallen by the wayside). The building would later become a Hot Shots fast food outlet.

- The Woodcutter -
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so make your own mind up whether this hostelry from the Hollinswood area of Telford counts as handsome or hideous. I somehow doubt the Woodcutter won many prizes for aesthetic appeal although I'm sure Mr D9 would have appreciated its dubious charms, seen as pictured on a dreary day in October 2013. The pub was demolished to allow for the construction of a new neighbourhood centre off Dale Acre Way. 

- The Station Inn -
Some modern day users of Stourbridge Junction may not be aware that the original station was located further to the north before being moved by the GWR. This earlier positioning was however alluded to in the name of the Station Inn, a fairly standard watering hole that overlooked the junction of New Farm Road, Rufford Road and Hungary Hill. A future as a One Stop convenience store was to be the fate here.

- The Gate Hangs Well -
Hurst Hill used to be home to two gate-related pubs, both of which are sadly no more. I only about just remember the Old Gate on the corner of Gorge Road and Clifton Street, but have much clearer recollections of the Gate Hangs Well as this photo demonstrates. Standing on the Wolverhampton side of Hurst Road, this was a Banks's establishment which would get converted into a Tesco Express. I may have something from the Dudley half of the locality to bring you in due course, albeit that will have to wait until Part Seven!

Sunday, October 13

Sniffles around Solihull

I've been feeling slightly under the weather this week - runny nose, sore throat, that kind of thing BUT definitely not full scale manflu as yet. A few coughs and sneezes can't stop me from exploring though so I pack an extra handkerchief and set forth for Solihull...

- Hampton-in-Arden Station Sign -
Saturday 12th October and sniffles or not I'm determined to pay my first 2019 visit to Britain Beermat's old stomping ground of Solihull. I actually start in Hampton-in-Arden having caught the 11:14 train out from Birmingham New Street. Hampton Station has particularly long platforms, an echo of the days when this was a significant stop for airport connections prior to the opening of Birmingham International. 

- George Fentham School -
I've visited Hampton-in-Arden quite a few times before so many of the features are familiar. The war memorial sits on the fork of High Street and Shadowbrook Lane while the local church is dedicated to St Mary and St Bartholomew. I take pains to gather repeat pictures of both the branch library and the village primary school, the latter named in reference to the 17th century benefactor George Fentham who bequeathed a trust fund to help support the poor of the parish. 

- Walsal End -
The White Lion - recently reviewed by Mr Beermat Esq - is tempting but I have a different watering hole in mind today. As such, I plot a cross country route to Barston via public footpaths, field edges and plank footbridges. The walk introduces me to the hamlet of Walsal End, a tiny settlement notable for exclusive barn conversions - all a far cry from the Walsall I'm more used to frequenting! At one point I take an unintended detour into a farmyard where the pungent cowshed odours help to clear my blocked airways.

- The Bulls Head -
The exercise is doing me the power of good as I emerge onto Oak Lane for the centre of Barston. St Swithin's Church does its best to distract me but the main attraction is undoubtedly the Bulls Head, a longstanding favourite of Solihull CAMRA. 25+ years in the Good Beer Guide is sure indication of the ale quality although I believe selection rules regarding changes of licensee mean it isn't eligible for the 2020 edition. Nonetheless, the Adnams Southwold Bitter is on good form as some old boys discuss heart attacks, Eric Lyons meat pies and gently tease the barmaid. 

- Well hello there Catherine -
Catherine de Barnes sounds less like a West Midlands village and more akin to a femme fatale from a Mills & Boon bonkbuster - imagine the scene...

"Darling", Ms de Barnes whispered as he knelt down beside her, "where have you been all evening?" His lips were still moist from an encounter minutes earlier and he knew he would have to tell her he loved another. Yes dear reader, he'd lost his heart to the fragrance, the allure and the foamy head of... Draught Bass!

- Catherine de Barnes Village Hall -
Back in the real world, Catherine de Barnes is a well-to-do place on the side of the Grand Union Canal. There's a village hall - housed in what looks like an old school building dating from 1879 - plus a Londis store and a posh pub called the Boat Inn (part of the Chef & Brewer chain). Sadly I can't engage in any Bass-based romantic misdemeanours here and have to content myself with a decent pint of Abbot Ale, paying £4.02 for the privilege - why the extra 2p?

- Red House renovations? -
Thankfully the resultant pocketful of change doesn't weigh me down too much as I close in on Solihull. The Grand Union towpath is closed off for resurfacing so I take the standard roadside option, Lugtrout Lane passing a couple of football pitches and the Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club seconds ground. I'd earmarked a suburban Thwaites boozer for a final drink of the day only to find my research has let me down - the Red House is currently fenced off albeit I'm not sure if the situation is terminal. With a sneeze and a splutter I make it thence to Solihull Station, catching the 15:54 for a lozenge-fuelled ride home. Cheers!

Saturday, October 5

A Wyrley & Essington Meander...

It's been a little while since I last filed a Waterways Walk post so by way of upping my canal content I offer you a Walsall-based wander along the Wyrley & Essington. As an added bonus, I am joined by Stephen - who usually prefers his Curly Wyrleys to be of the chocolate variety - as we chew on Coalpool and polish off Pelsall...

- Hoppy -

Friday 4th October 2019 and our starting point is Walsall town centre, saying hello to 'Hoppy' the concrete hippo who stands sentry outside the Central Library. We then aim north via Stafford Street, pausing to ponder St Peter's Church (with associated community hall) after locating the AJ's Ales brewery base on Long Acre Street - the Victoria Corn Mill provides an additional item of interest, historically built by JE Dolman Ltd for the preparation of animal feeds.

- Forest Community Centre -

Forest Lane gives us our first glimpse of the canal as we cross a green metallic footbridge, but before we turn toward the towpath I'm keen to have a look around Harden. This is an area I don't know so well despite the fact my Nan grew up near here, although the street she used to live on no longer exists. Local amenities include the Forest Arts Centre (which acts as an important hub for the performing arts) and the Beeches Social Club while the main shops are clustered around the junction of Harden Road and Chestnut Road complete with a curving corner pharmacy.

- Harden Pharmacy -

Our canal intentions are delayed still further as we venture into Coalpool, noting the Edgar Stammers Primary School as patrolled by Cougar Security - one hopes they don't set big cats on any misbehaving pupils! Every time I come to Coalpool something else has vanished; the branch library went a few years ago but we now confirm that the Dartmouth House NHS rehabilitation complex has gone along with the adjacent resource base. At least the Ryecroft Fish Bar remains intact, beckoning to us with aromatic wafts of freshly cooked chips.

- Coalpool Bridge -

We however refrain from takeaway temptation in favour of finally joining the towpath, emerging from an alleyway just below Coalpool Bridge. The cut is seriously gunged up with a browny-green algal sludge through which you can just about spot the occasional rusty shopping trolley. In keeping with its 'Curly Wyrley' billing, the canal wiggles its way to Little Bloxwich offering glimpses of Goscote Valley en route. I'd never actually done the stretch between Hildicks Bridge and Goscote Hall before so I'm intrigued to pass the former grounds of Goscote Isolation Hospital (replaced with modern facilities for palliative care). Hollands Bridge precedes the Stan Ball Centre, neatly landscaped on the far bank as a flurry of drizzle makes its presence felt.

- Hollands Bridge -

The Beardsmore bladder is almost as notorious as Mr D9's so a relief stop becomes a matter of increasing urgency. The Beacon Way at Little Bloxwich proves Stephen's saviour, the pub being a welcoming estate example even though it has suffered a few smashed windows recently. Some ladies golf is on the big screen but audible entertainment comes from Gold Radio's non-stop number ones, hence we're treated to big hits from Buddy Holly, the Byrds and Abba. Banks's Mild and a cheese cob ensure I'm fully prepared for the next stage of our walk while Stephen duly refuels on lemonade and blackcurrant.

- Mr B in the Beacon Way -

The resumption of our ramble takes us beyond Lower Farm and out into edge-of-conurbation countryside. Freeths Bridge has cows for company when we plod past a farm, then Fishley Junction feels rather desolate with more rain blowing in on the breeze. The turnover footbridge here has painted eyes giving a sense of being watched as I scramble over to investigate the inlet remains of the Lord Hays Branch, an abandoned offshoot that would have headed off in the direction of Bloxwich Golf Club. It is possible that the branch might be brought back as part of the Hatherton Canal restoration project.

- Hints of the Lord Hays Branch -

The rugged heathland scenery of Pelsall North Common greets us as we near Pelsall Junction, a favourite spot of mine that I seem to come back to every so often. Pelsall Works Bridge is a reference to the vast ironworks that were once located in the vicinity (these operated from 1832 to 1892 before being demolished in the 1920s) - today you're more likely to see swans rather than swarf, and it's a peaceful place at which to discuss fishing rights and Wolves's prospects of downing the mighty Manchester City. We leave the canal at Yorks Bridge beside the Fingerpost pub having probably covered six miles or so since we started.

- Pelsall Works Bridge -

We've a little bit of walking left to do as we finish off in Pelsall village, blue skies threatening to break through almost as if to spite us. Moat Farm Pool looks choked with reeds next to the fingerpost junction (a landmark crossroads happily still adorned with traditional lamp and pointing digits), Norton Road thereafter conveying us into the village centre so that we can collect bakery treats and tiled street signage. I'd never previously noticed the ornamental boulder that celebrates Pelsall's millennium, the settlement having been first recorded as existing in the year 994.

- Old House at Home -

Time for another drink we think so the Old House at Home gets our custom more out of curiosity than anything else. A Marston's establishment with a modern slant, it's geared up mainly for family dining with kiddies zones and the usual corporate stylings; my pint of Courage Directors is decent enough as we battle the bus app trying to figure out if the connection to Bloxwich is due... answer: it isn't, so we're better off heading back via Walsall instead. Arriva's 3 service does the trick, linking seamlessly onto the Wolverhampton-bound 529 and that folks is just about that. The Wyrley & Essington is largely unheralded as a constituent part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations and yet its meandering route does make for some satisfying strolls - cheers!