Saturday, September 26

Colton Hills and Sedgley

Times are tough and there isn't much positive news around at the moment so we have to take our pleasures where we can. Friday 25th September saw me counting my blessings when a beautiful autumnal day presented the chance for some Colton Hills exploration and a pint or two over Sedgley way...

- Bradmore Bowling Club -
We may all be living under further restrictions again but at least I can't fault the weather, glorious sun-filled skies smiling down as my walk begins in Bradmore. The local recreation ground is starting to get a crunchy carpet of leaf fall as befits this time of year, with berries on the bushes and fruit in the trees, although there hasn't been much activity at the bowling club of late. St Philip's Church is having some repair work done and Beckminster Road has a sleepy quality as I prepare to pick my way past Penn. 

- Colton Hills Countryside -
One of my recurring lockdown themes has been to seek out corners of Wolverhampton I hadn't visited before, whereby the open spaces near Colton Hills School certainly fit that brief. Goldthorn Crescent and Coton Road combine in bringing me to a public footpath that effectively flanks three edges of the school boundary - on one side you can see playing pitches and educational buildings, to the other are charming views towards Penn Common and Sedgley Beacon.

- Colton Hills Community School -
My only previous encounters with Colton Hills Community School had involved seeing it from afar when nosing around the Goldthorn Park estate, so this change of angle works rather nicely. As a mixed secondary and sixth form facility, the school has been based here since 1975 and has its main entrance down a long driveway off Jeremy Road. I get a picture or two of the CHCS crest and then track down my next footpath, this one passing the back of the Ramada Park Hall Hotel and carefully plotting a course between private land near the Beacon Centre for the Blind. 

- The obstacle course awaits... -
Unsure where this path was going to come out, I'm pleasantly surprised to emerge at the Northway from whence Greenleighs can connect me onto a further footpath bound for Hickmerelands Lane. When spotted in the A-Z this looked like an ideal shortcut into Sedgley but in practice it turns out to be a tricky narrow right of way pressed tight against garden fences, ducking through undergrowth and hurdling farm stiles - not as straightforward as I'd hoped! A wary fox watches me from a safe berth as I scramble beneath more low branches and eventually breathlessly extricate myself onto Ettymore Road West. 

- Bring on the Dark Ruby! -
Almost midday in the centre of Sedgley and folk are queuing at suitable distances waiting to get into the Clifton Wetherspoons. I however have only one watering hole in mind, the Beacon Hotel being a place of WME pilgrimage where I must pay homage to the wonder that is Sarah Hughes' Dark Ruby Mild. Abiding by instructions to wear my face mask when not seated, I put the NHS Covid app to the test and successfully check in - all very surreal but if the reward is classic Black Country ale and a pack of scratchings any minor inconvenience is worth it, plus I can't fault the pub's efforts to provide as virus-free an environment as possible. 

- A Moden Hill Moment -
The Dark Ruby is on typically excellent form in readying me for a Cotwall End detour, my intention being to enjoy more pastoral scenery on the fringes of the Black Country. Catholic Lane serves as base for the Brockswood Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit organisation that rehabilitates sick and abused animals - I recall coming on trips here when I was at infants school many moons ago. Moden Hill has me fearing a steep climb but it isn't quite as arduous as anticipated, the views soon making up for any aching muscles. 

- Journey's end at the Jolly Crispin -
All of which brings me to a Jolly Crispin conclusion in Upper Gornal, this former shoemaker's cottage having become renowned for quality beer with links to the Fownes Brewing Company (which started life in an outhouse here prior to relocating to Brierley Hill). Crispin's Ommer is the fresh-as-you-like house ale while I also succumb to Titanic temptation courtesy of a rollicklingly good pint of Raspberry Wheat. The months ahead are likely to be particularly difficult for our pubs so please support them if you can, and of course stay safe and Covid alert in the process - cheers!

Sunday, September 20

Kingswinford, Lawnswood and Wordsley

The news has been awash with talk of second spikes and local lockdowns lately, creating a backdrop of continuing Covid uncertainty against which I intend to keep my exploration bandwagon rolling as best I can. To that end, Friday 18th September saw me undertaking a cautious circuit of Kingswinford in search of pints and pictures...

- The Cross rekindled -
Catching the number 15 bus out from the Merry Hill district of Wolverhampton, I alight in Kingswinford on Moss Grove where the old police station has been turned into the 'Learning Journey' day nursery. It's not the only building to have gained a new lease of life this year as next door the Cross Inn has recently reopened as a JD Wetherspoon's free house - judging by the popularity of the beer garden, it's already going down a storm with local residents. 

- Summerhill School -
Swerving the prospect of an immediate drink, I'm intrigued to see more of Summerhill as one of my lesser-explored sections of Kingswinford. The Royal British Legion club soon declares its presence, followed by Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and a doctor's surgery. The road then morphs into Lodge Lane as it heads for Staffordshire, although Summerhill Secondary School still manages to squeeze within the West Midlands county boundary. The school like so many facilities is having to put extra measures in place to combat the pandemic.

- The Park Tavern -
Satisfied with having seen the school, I retrace my steps back to Swindon Road/Cot Lane junction where a Travelodge stands next to the Summerhill House Harvester restaurant. Cot Lane itself invites me to renew acquaintances with the Park Tavern, nowadays a Greene King establishment that nonetheless retains a respectable guest ale line-up. The Golden Glow is absolutely pristine - possibly the best pint I've had post-lockdown - so I simply must stay for a second selection, in which case the Wye Valley HPA is equally as exemplary. 

- Looking around Lawnswood -
Buoyed by that commendable beer quality, I press on into the Lawnswood estate via Mount Pleasant. You could say the residential aspect here is pleasant by name, pleasant by nature with cloudless blue skies helping the suburban scene to sparkle. Neat gardens and dormer bungalows accompany me out to Lawnswood Road where the eponymous flat-roof pub (one for Mr D9 perhaps?) adjoins a shopping precinct that comprises Holbeache Travel, Sir Winston's chip shop, a Spar store and a vintage Washeteria coin-operated laundry. 

- Richardson Hall, Wordsley -
Lawnswood Road is then tasked with leading me on into Wordsley, a place that is no stranger to the WME blog of course but it's always good to put a fresh photographic spin on things. King George V Park looks pretty in the autumn sunshine but my camera concentrates on the Mere Education Centre, a musical facility based in a 1910 schoolhouse. Another prime target is the Richardson Hall which originally opened in 1884 as a Drill Hall for the South Staffordshire Regiment before being presented to the people of Wordsley in 1907 when William Haden Richardson gifted it in memory of his late sister Martha.

- Time for an ex-hospital landmark? -
The New Inn (Bathams) and the Queens Head (Black Country Ales) are tempting as I proceed towards Stream Road for a wander around the former Wordsley Hospital site, now repurposed for housing after closing in 2005. The clock tower still stands tall among the apartments of Marshall Crescent, and a couple of other heritage buildings have been retained too. Finally I come full circle (or rectangle to be more geometrically accurate) back to Kingswinford and conclude matters with a swift Banks's Amber in the Swan - cheers!

Sunday, September 13

A Portion of Penkridge

I didn't realise it at the time but last Wednesday's 'Lost Pubs Part 15' posting was actually a milestone moment, marking my 800th such submission since the West Midlands Exploration blog began. Post 801 arrives with equally as little fanfare to tell us of a trip where Stephen and I popped across to Penkridge...

- The Monckton Centre -
Friday 11th September 2020 necessitates a Wolverhampton rendezvous so that Mr Beardsmore and I can catch the 10:22 Lime Street train. The journey to Penkridge takes all of eight minutes, not even enough time for my glasses to stop steaming up with facemask fumes, and upon arrival we investigate what treats may lie in wait beyond Penkridge Station's overflow car park. Both the Hatherton Hotel and the Monckton Recreation Centre have an edge-of-village location off Pinfold Lane, with the latter facility acting as a base for the local rugby club. 

- VJ Day Wreath at Penkridge Memorial -
Further amenities on Pinfold Lane include a busy medical centre and one of the entrances into Penkridge Market (for which the main trading days are Wednesday and Saturday). The Peace Memorial Hall dates from 1926 and serves as a popular meeting venue whereas St Michael's & All Angels is altogether older, the present church having commenced construction in the early 13th century. Church Road is where we find the village war memorial complete with poppy wreaths commemorating the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day.

- Poised above the River Penk -
After circumnavigating the churchyard (a location that can provide truly timeless views when seen from the platforms above), we ponder the glum main frontage to Penkridge Station - the old stationmaster's house stands shuttered up and devoid of purpose even though it has been given a new lick of paint. Stephen tries his best to get entangled in some holly bushes on St Michael's Road but extricates himself in time for pictures of the Littleton Arms and the White Hart, two of Penkridge's most distinctive coaching inns. We can then pause to admire the River Penk with the familiar arches of the 1837 railway viaduct as a backdrop. 

- The Star says "Stay Safe" -
The shopping heart of Penkridge is to be found on Crown Bridge and along Market Street, with a selection of traditional independent stores such as Dickens of a Tea Shoppe and Jasper's Bakery. Market Street itself is bookended by pubs, the Horse & Jockey being at the bottom of the road with the Star at the top (next to St Michael's C of E First School in fact). We confirm that the old gaol-turned-heritage centre is closed for the time being due to Covid, meaning Stephen narrowly avoids incarceration and is free to study the Star's rather striking mask-themed mural encouraging residents to stay safe - amen to that!

- Draught Bass (in a Hobgoblin glass) -
As tempting as the Star is, another watering hole waits in line to be our refreshment stop today. Getting there involves a combination of Francis Green Lane and Princefield Bridge before the towpath of the Staffs & Worcs ushers us neatly to the Cross Keys, a boozer which is about as unspoiled as a canalside pub can get. Vintage red M&B block lettering sets the scene as a quaint beer garden looks out over Filance Bridge, then inside I'm delighted to spot a certain red triangle lurking among the pumpclips. The Draught Bass did not disappoint one iota - even allowing for the Hobgoblin glassware - and a bit of Beardsmore cricket chat made for a perfect pub experience, complete with Rosie and Sam painted barge buckets. 

- Lyne Hill Bridge -
Our analysis of Warwickshire CCC and Wolverhampton Wanderers prospects continues when we rejoin the towpath, bearing south-eastwards to encounter Cross Keys Bridge (Wolgarston Way) with Lyne Hill Bridge thereafter. Estate surroundings gradually give way to field vistas with horse paddocks and a sleepy marina, making this a pleasant stretch to wander along despite the best efforts of the M6 to elicit a distant traffic hum. The sun somewhat grudgingly has decided to put in a brief appearance and it almost feels like summer again.

- Otherton Lock -
Our canal exploration ends at Otherton where a team of strimmers are busy getting to grips with some overly long grass. Otherton Lock seems as nice a place as any to stop awhile for lunch - cue Jasper's sausage rolls getting the Stephen seal of approval - prior to Otherton Lane Bridge prompting Beardsmore recollections of frozen-off fishing contests several years ago. The lane offers a gentle route back into Penkridge, passing Willows Farm and scattered hamlet cottages to emerge on Boscomoor Lane below the community fire station. It's then just a simple case of catching the 14:16 train home and our portion of Penkridge has been polished off in style - cheers!

Wednesday, September 9

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 15

As I continue to plumb the depths of the WME Archives, it strikes me just how many pubs have closed completely in relatively recent memory - this series really is only the tip of the iceberg. We've reached Episode 15 now with the searchlight casting its gaze upon five more that have gone forever...

- The Lagoon -
The Lost Pubs series has already accounted for one Princes End casualty (the George & Dragon, see episode 5) and here we have another in the form of the Lagoon, a particularly notorious haunt that stood on the High Street opposite the junction with Upper Church Lane. The pub had something of a troubled existence and at one stage its Sunday League football team was briefly sponsored by the BNP. The site stood empty for several years after the building was demolished, waiting for a mooted housing development to come to fruition.

- Queens Head -
Second up is this handsome roadhouse from the Londonderry area of Sandwell (Smethwick to be more exact). The Queens Head had a prime site overlooking the roundabout where Londonderry Lane meets Queen's Road, and was the subject of a fleeting Hub Marketing call back in May 2012 when Mr D9 and I dashed in for a nightcap half of Brew XI. The pub suffered an arson attack in May 2014 but the building was happily saved and has since been converted into a veterinary surgery. 

- Rough Hills Tavern -
To the Parkfield area of Wolverhampton next and a mention for the Rough Hills Tavern, not that you'd know from the missing lettering on the above picture. Rooker Avenue was the location for what was a run of the mill Banks's affair - if I remember correctly, my cousin had her wedding reception party here sometime in the mid 1990s. It often surprises me how many houses can be squeezed onto former pub land, and in this case the Tavern Close cul-de-sac crams in a fair few.

- The Crown -
Perhaps one of the more unexpected new uses for a bygone boozer is to become the head office of a swimming pool company but that's the fate that befell the Crown in Ruiton when it ceased being a Holloway Street watering hole. I don't know how much call they get for pool and sauna maintenance around Gornal to be fair, but in its pub days this always struck me as a cottagey local perched on a bit of a hill. I sadly never got chance to sample it myself but I have enjoyed photographing other Ruiton landmarks such as the Upper Gornal Conservative Club and the Hermit Street non-conformist chapel. 

- The Monica -
We finish September's selection with a specimen from Small Heath where the Monica used to be a popular haunt with the Irish community. Situated on the junction of Somerville Road and Monica Road, the building has a distinctive concave frontage and a 1930s look about it; latterly repurposed as a community hall with function room for hire, I believe it is partly used as a children's nursery too. That completes this month's parade of perished pubs, so until next time - cheers!

Tuesday, September 1

WME Flickr Focus - August 2020

One of the chilliest August Bank Holidays in living memory has heralded the onset of September, and as I chalk another month off the calendar it's time once again to review recent photostream progress. Here's what the last throes of summer sent our way...

Taking top billing for this sprightly summary is none other than WME Solihull, a gallery that usually struggles to register many updates at all. Not so this month for it has suddenly found a new lease of life, powering forward with a combination of buses and Barston. The bus pictures all hail from Solihull Station Interchange and represent routes such as the 40A, 42C and 60, whereas the Barston set focuses on the Bulls Head, the Malt Shovel and Oak Lane.

The second of our leading lights of late is probably more predictable. Exploration Extra maintains a healthy level of output by busying itself with Belper, thus bringing through the early stages of a Rail Rover 2019 collection. Station mosaics and running boards are to the fore alongside a carved lion, although all of this is arguably upstaged by the arrival from Betws-y-Coed of Edith the bottletop rhinoceros, surely one of my favourite photographic discoveries from the whole of last year. 

Not to be overlooked are the erstwhile efforts of WME Dudley and WME Walsall. Dudley delivers bonuses from the Black Country Living Museum (the fairground cakewalk, a Kieft car and several sticks of rhubarb) whilst Walsall has some Aldridge additions to celebrate care of a Morrisons supermarket and the local cricket club. In fact, Walsall also benefits from further sightings of Barr Beacon's magnificent war memorial, not forgetting a glimpse of the 394 bus at Brownhills Parade.

Where next? WME Birmingham tentatively raises its hand, ready to declare some Aston action (Rocky Lane and a piece of platform numbering) before bettering that with a classic shot of Bartley Reservoir. WME Staffordshire takes to the airwaves when claiming the BBC Radio Stoke studios for its fledging Hanley collection, then WME Telford tempts us with an Admaston trio showcasing a jubilee boulder and a portion of Bratton Road.

That's almost all of August's arrivals but it would be remiss of me not to mention WME Worcestershire, proud recipient of the 551 bus route and Arley's traditional village store. That just leaves the not insignificant matter of WME Wolverhampton, stepping out of the limelight for a change yet still doing enough behind the scenes to contribute two Autherley Junction scenes sampling the early reaches of the Shropshire Union Canal. At the end of all of that, autumn awaits so lets hope for more photographic fruitfulness over the weeks and months to come - cheers!