Tuesday, March 31

WME Flickr Focus - March 2020

So here we are, a week and a bit into 'lockdown' due to the coronavirus pandemic with potentially several(?) months of restrictions still ahead of us. In line with government advice, I will be staying at home as much as possible so photographic excursions are likely to be limited. On the flip side, having more time on my hands means I can dedicate extra attention to the West Midlands Exploration photostream, starting with these March morsels...

Only venturing out for essential supplies is WME Wolverhampton which has managed to pick up its customary batch of street signs (Duke Street in Penn Fields, Lytton Avenue in Penn) alongside a Portobello bus stop and another look at Sir Jack Hayward's statue. A bunch of birdcages in the Parisian (previously Slater's) are probably a luxury given the prevailing situation, although Parkfield gets suitably stocked up with Primary School and Central Bar snapshots.

Elsewhere, WME Staffordshire has strictly adhered to the 'one session of exercise per day' rule by homing in on Pattingham (the local club) and Perton (an RAF memorial tablet); a stroll down the Staffs & Worcs Canal counts as appropriate exertion so Rocky Lock near Ashwood Marina gets itself an airing. It's a similar story over on WME Shropshire where Shrewsbury's Abbey Foregate has been the focus of bus stop and Dun Cow pictures. Shifnal contributes a Wheatsheaf pub sign and a railway station underpass whilst Rudge Road at Shipley gives us a welcome dose of country lane freshness. 

Ordering in items for home delivery are WME Birmingham and WME Telford. Brum fills its larder with glimpses of the Perry Barr One Stop shopping centre and Harborne's Queens Park, whereas Telford goes all 'Quackers' thanks to the presence of Peace Duck and Mawster Peaquack. The store cupboards here are also replenished with a couple of Oakengates pub snippets, namely featuring the Coalport Tavern and the Station Hotel.

Keeping social contact to the absolute minimum are several galleries which have received just a solitary new arrival. WME Dudley thereby collects Kingswinford's Oakleigh Walk and WME Sandwell accounts for the Cook Shop in Old Hill, a bastion of Black Country cuisine that sadly closed back in 2014. WME Coventry meanwhile grabs a Norman Place Road bus stop and last but not least comes WME Worcestershire with the Granary at Shenstone. Until next time, stay safe and healthy in these extraordinary circumstances...

Sunday, March 22

Tettenhall Wood and Tinacre Hill

There's no getting away from it, these are scary and unprecedented times. The coronavirus outbreak and the necessary restrictions that have arisen from trying to combat this deadly disease have had a huge impact on everyday life and individual freedoms right across the country. Like many of you, I'm trying to digest the implications of announcement upon announcement - schools closed, pubs shut, government economic interventions, home working and no doubt more to come. 

It therefore comes as no surprise for me to state that my outings and blog activities are likely to be somewhat limited for the foreseeable future, but I'll try to keep things ticking over as best I can. To that end, here's a quick summary of a socially distanced Wolverhampton walk I did earlier this morning... 

- Towards Compton Halt -
Sunday 22nd March 2020 and it feels ridiculously trivial to be posting anything explorational at this moment of national crisis. That said, it is nonetheless important to get exercise where possible and a local stroll will do me the power of good provided I stick to government guidelines regarding social contact. Luckily, Smestow Valley Nature Reserve and an old railway walk are right on my doorstep so I can venture out into some glorious sunshine with an opening stretch down to Compton. 

- Springtime in Compton -
Having contemplated Compton Halt (a former stop on what used to be the Wombourne branch line railway), I confirm that both the Oddfellows and the Swan have closed until further notice. COVID-19 can't suspend the natural cycle of the seasons though and there's an uplifting hint of spring in the air, especially when Bramstead Avenue presents a carpet of delightful daffodils. Grove Lane then clings narrowly to the hillside as I clamber my way into Tettenhall Wood, renewing acquaintances with the local Institute (a community facility that dates from 1893, according to the inscription above the front door).

- Tettenhall Wood United Reformed Church -
Christ Church C of E and Tettenhall Wood United Reformed Church are both handsome buildings that have fallen strangely silent for a Sunday morning. There aren't many people about full stop as School Road takes me to Tettenhall Wood bus terminus - it is here that the 1 completes its journey from Dudley although the number 10 to Perton also calls. The Bird in Hand pub used to watch over Metrobuses and Tridents during its M&B days but has since been converted into an interior design showroom with a coffee shop to the side. 

- Mill Lane Windmill -
Aiming next for Wightwick, I make use of Mill Lane and am pleased to catch a glimpse of the former windmill which gives the street its name. A lack of pavement isn't an issue with so little traffic to bother me, and there are photos to be had along Perton Road courtesy of the Fieldhouse pub and Boundary Farm. Wightwick is widely recognised as being one of Wolverhampton's most desirable districts and it's easy to see why given the array of huge houses with what Hyacinth Bucket would call 'room for a pony'.

- Wightwick Hall School -
Emerging onto Tinacre Hill, I pass the entrance to Wightwick Hall School which is housed in a repurposed stately home. A gentle climb up Windmill Lane into Castlecroft awaits, and I round off my walk with some Castlecroft Road snaps of local shops and a telephone exchange. Hopefully I'll still get chance to unleash the WME camera occasionally over the next few months but this very much depends on how the coronavirus pandemic progresses and what further lockdown arrangements might be required. Above all, it's absolutely vital to be considerate, heed expert advice and ultimately save lives, and if that means missing out on the things we enjoy for a bit then so be it!

Saturday, March 14

Turning to Stone

The Staffordshire market town of Stone is situated on the A34 roughly equidistant between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent; it is also positioned on the A51, the West Coast Main Line railway, the River Trent and the Trent & Mersey Canal. A population of around 16,000 people means a lot of chimneypots in Britain Beermat parlance, so the town was deemed a suitable destination for an opportunistic outing with the Beardsmores...

- Desiro at Stone Station -
Friday 13th March 2020 and coronavirus is certainly dominating the headlines at the moment. We're not in a lockdown scenario just yet so the trip goes ahead as planned, hence I join Stephen and John at Wolverhampton in advance of the 10:40 train. The outward journey takes 26 minutes via Stafford, and we alight to admire Stone's elegant Jacobean-styled station. The building was designed by Sir Arthur Henry Hunt and a blue plaque tells us it first opened in May 1849; the station sits on the junction of lines from Norton Bridge and Colwich although the latter side no longer has any operational platforms. 

- Peeping at the Priory School -
Getting our bearings, we venture along Station Road past the Talbot pub and soon discover St Dominic's Priory School, part of a wider Catholic complex that includes a convent and the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Stephen takes a peek through priory doorways before Newcastle Street connects us to the Trent & Mersey Canal, a waterway with which Stone has a proud historic association (the town having served as the company headquarters of the Grand Trunk as it was originally known). Mileage markers confirm the distances to the canal's extremities at Preston Brook and Shardlow. 

- Star Lock (No. 27) -
Heading out of town to begin with, we have a look at Stone Top Lock (No. 30) where Mr B Senior is impressed by the dry dock's crane equipment. We briefly flirt with Newcastle Road, spotting a Tennis & Squash Club while Dave Fox Cars has some vintage motors on display - Stephen reliably informs me that one lime green classic is a Lotus Esprit. Back on the canal, the Crown Wharf development is nearing completion and will see Joule's Brewery making their rightful return to the town. Workhouse Bridge precedes some visitor moorings then Stone Bottom Lock (No. 27) is immediately adjacent to the Star public house.

- Keeping abreast of Wetherspoons matters -
Mentioning the Star, it's a higgledy-piggledy Marston's establishment arranged across several different floor levels and certainly fits the bill as a traditional canalside boozer. After respective halves of Sunbeam and Pedigree, we swoop over the road to see what the Swan can tempt us with. Rainbow Trout from the Izaak Walton Brewhouse is the result, a zesty number that Mr B Senior heartily approves of (he is fond of the fishes at the best of times). Our lunchtime location is the Poste of Stone Wetherspoons at Granville Square, fittingly furnished with a pillar box-themed carpet as a nod to the building's post office heritage. 

- Ruminating in the Red Lion -
Managing to avoid the sharpest afternoon showers, we investigate Stone's pedestrianised High Street. Key landmarks here include the Crown Hotel coaching inn (an example of Henry Holland's 18th century architectural prowess), the town library and some banks, while the Falcon Hotel is now a Thai restaurant having been a flagship for the now-defunct Bents Brewery. Church Street unsurprisingly is where we find the parish church of St Michael and St Wulfad, the second of whom was a legendary local martyr said to have been murdered by his father for converting to Christianity. Thankfully there are happier familial relations on show in the Red Lion as the Beardsmores pose obligingly when keeping tabs on the Cheltenham Gold Cup action - Al Boum Photo was the winning horse. 

- A Titanic Time awaits -
Our final port of call hopefully won't give us any sinking feelings given we're targeting a Titanic tipple in the Royal Exchange. A definite Paul pub this, nicely done out by Burslem's finest and the Raspberry Wheat is on tip-top fruity form with a pinkish tinge. Stephen meanwhile grapples some purple peril (a.k.a. lemonade and blackcurrant) whereas Mr B Senior successfully straddles an Iceberg. Glasses drained, we troop back to the station and time our arrival perfectly to coincide with the incoming 16:34 departure, getting home to Wolverhampton just after 5pm - cheers!

It remains to be seen just how much of an impact coronavirus is going to have on the country, but at this stage it seems fair to assume that scope for outings is likely to be somewhat reduced over the next few weeks/months. I'll still try and get out and about whenever possible - whilst of course taking all necessary precautions - so we'll see how it goes. For now though, look after yourselves and stay healthy!

Saturday, March 7

Stafford Strikes Again!

A solo visit to Stafford is rapidly becoming a mainstay of my March schedules as this is the third year in succession that I've completed such an outing. 2018 set the ball rolling with Marston Road and Parkside, then 2019 stepped up to the mark with Wildwood, Walton and Weeping Cross, meaning 2020 has a tough act to follow. Could Rickerscote and Highfields provide some exceptional exploring? Let's find out...

- St Austin's Primary School -
Saturday 7th March 2020 is the date in question as the 10:14 Manchester train gets me to Stafford in little over ten minutes. For snapshot starters I've earmarked the stretch of A449 Wolverhampton Road where it leaves the town centre behind; alas it's too early for me to sample the Good Beer Guide-listed Star & Garter but the surrounding residential roads are narrow and interesting with hints of heritage. Garden Street offers neighbouring primary schools, St Austin's being of the Catholic persuasion while St Paul's is Church of England. 

- Saint Peter's, Rickerscote -
Back on the main road, I cross above the railway into Rowley Bank then branch off bound for Rickerscote. The Rising Brook as a watercourse passes through a rather desolate children's play area before Merrivale Road has me detecting a shed-like community centre off Thirlmere Way. In common with most council estates, it isn't particularly pretty around here and the 75A bus splutters along almost apologetically. I presume I've reached the centre of Rickerscote when I spot Saint Peter's Parish Church on the horizon - a fairly typical suburban place of worship as it goes.

- Site of the Rickerscote Arms -
There doesn't seem to be much else in terms of local facilities - Silkmore Lane has a chip shop and that's about it, so I figure there must have been a pub somewhere in the vicinity. Indeed there was, right next to the church in fact, but the land is now being given over to housing. For the record, the Rickerscote Arms was a Bass-branded roadhouse that opened in 1940, ceased trading in 2015 and ultimately got bulldozed in 2018. The continuation of Rickerscote Road starts to take on more of a countryside character thanks to farmers fields and riding stables, plus the inescapable scent of manure.

- Burton Square Shopping Precinct -
School Lane doesn't actually offer any glimpses of a school (unless I somehow missed it?) though there is the Post Office Sports & Social Club to keep the camera ticking over. Rejoining the A449, I can renew my knowledge of Rising Brook as the only segment of today's circuit that I'd covered previously. Stafford Manor High School and a community fire station supplement my more customary targets of the local branch library and Burton Square precinct; I'm pleased to see that Postman Pat still holds court in the post office window.

- Entering Highfields -
Next up is the Highfields estate with West Way providing my means of access. The number 9 bus is doing the rounds as Barnes Road showcases some startlingly yellow maisonettes and a squelchy football pitch - the flats at least look more inviting than the Highfields Social Club, although I understand the latter might be subject to redevelopment in the near(ish) future. Using the sequence of bus stops as my guide, I proceed into Western Downs where the modern shopping parade on Cape Road includes a Spar store and King Cod takeaway. 

- The Oxleathers -
The local boozer for this part of Highfields is the Oxleathers, a 1980s Banks's number that has a really commendable community focus. I'm more than a little apprehensive as I venture inside but some well-maintained window boxes tell me this isn't going to be a rank dive. Far from it, there's a warm welcome to be had and some football to watch (Liverpool coming from behind to beat Bournemouth 2-1). The pub pets are the stars of the show though, a cheeky green budgie and a waddling dog ensuring bonus points for personality. Marston's Smooth, a cob and a packet of crisps has lunch easily sorted!

- A Rugby-Related Ruin? -
Some of the roads have a poetic theme (Milton, Wordsworth, Chaucer) as I twist and turn past Castlechurch Primary School to eventually exit onto Newport Road. The King's Horse stands out as a recent Greene King/Hungry Horse chain establishment situated beside the former home of Stafford Rugby Club - it's eerie to see the pitch and stands all abandoned since the club moved to a new base near Doxey Marshes. I survey the boarded-up clubhouse, leftover sponsorship hoardings and spectator terrace before making tracks for the railway station and my train home to Wolverhampton. A very worthwhile few hours!

Sunday, March 1

D9 Goes Clubbing!

Another week, another storm or so it seems given the wild weather recently. Wolverhampton has gotten off lightly compared to other areas of the Midlands (and indeed the country as a whole), but the Hub Marketing Board still need to don their waterproofs when preparing for whatever Jorge might throw our way...

- Electrical excitement? -
Friday 28th February 2020 and the rain is already bucketing down as members meet at Wolverhampton St George's tram stop. The foul conditions can't dampen our enthusiasm though as this is a day dedicated to clubbing, albeit not of the rave-cum-dancefloor variety (the Chairman had a full head of hair the last time he did that kind of thing). No, we'll be acting our age by seeking out some of the local social club establishments we'd never got round to visiting, starting down Chapel Ash with the Electric Club on St Mark's Road. 

- A Meldrew moment on the dartboard -
Having its roots in the Electricity Department at Wolverhampton Council, the club has been based at this site since 1946 and is represented in many local sporting leagues (snooker, darts and dominoes among others). Visitors are asked to put 50p in an honesty box so we happily oblige before taking to the oche ourselves. Armed with quality pints of Holden's Golden Glow, we share the opening two legs with Chairman D9 exclaiming "I don't believe it!" when his treble 11 goes in. Unfortunately for the Destroyer that's as good as it gets because WME Whirlwind summons up a deadly double 17 checkout to take a narrow 2-1 victory. 

- Literally an Old School hub photo -
Pubby possibilities in the Chapel Ash area include the Clarendon Hotel, the Combermere Arms and even the Grill House (though that's more of a restaurant these days). We however test the robustness of the route 1 bus timetable by heading across town to the Dudley Road, Secretary WME wanting to cash in a sleeve hub at the former schoolhouse. The multicultural nature of Blakenhall is very apparent with a range of sari stores and Indian sweet shops, whereas the Old Ash Tree is a throwback Banks's boozer near the Fighting Cocks junction. 

- The Secretary after a dodgy pint? -
Still on the Dudley Road, we note that the British Queen (on the corner with Chapel Street) has been gutted with a view to redevelopment - another pub bites the dust perhaps? Back towards town, the New Bar & Lounge (previously Billa's) was historically known as the Ship & Rainbow, a famous music nightspot in its time having hosted the likes of Raymond Froggatt, Alexis Korner and the Spencer Davis Group during the 1960s. A quick Carling helps us pay homage to this musical heritage and then a soggy trudge through Graiseley gives us some street art to admire - no that isn't a WME self portrait!

- Poised for Pennfields -
At Lea Road a wait for the 2 means we linger by the spot where the Midland Counties dairy once stood; a true Wolverhampton landmark, the dairy was demolished in 1988 and ignominiously replaced by a drive-thru McDonalds - apparently you used to be able to see the milk bottles whizzing around on conveyor belts. Onwards we go to our second club of the day, Pennfields Bowling & Social off Coalway Road. This turns out to be a real treat, sitting in an atmospheric hut looking out over two crown greens with St Philip's Church for a backdrop. Holden's Bitter and Samuel Smith's Taddy Lager are our tipples of choice here, very enjoyable indeed.

- Penn Bowling & Social Club -
A suburban evening stroll through semi-detached Penn gives the Chairman chance to hone his shooting skills on a discarded table football set. Penn Road has a clutch of shops and takeaways, plus the Roebuck as a Banks's roadhouse, then our final clubbing call is the Penn Bowling & Social Club on Manor Road. Immaculate facilities and excellent ales make a stonking first impression with Castle Rock's Snow White pale drinking very nicely - only bettered in fact by the hefty cheese, onion and black pudding cobs. So concludes possibly one of the most restrained clubbing sessions on record - cheers!