Wednesday, January 27
Friday, January 22
Saturday, January 16
2021 is now a couple of weeks old and January thus far is proving to be a very challenging month, what with Lockdown Mk. 3 and ever-rising rates of Covid infection. Exploration antics have by necessity gone onto the back burner again but I still get out and about with my camera when I can...
Sunday, January 10
Before I get stuck into whatever 2021 has to offer outings-wise, it's only right and proper that I give December 2020's final couple of adventures the attention they deserve. Both trips involved Black Country canals and chilly temperatures...
Friday, January 1
Happy New Year! Yes folks, 2021 is here which means we can all wearily bid a not-so-fond farewell to the traumatic twelve months that comprised 2020. It's bordering on understatement to say that the last year has been dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic and there's no escaping the effect Covid has had on all of our lives; against this backdrop it feels a tad churlish to waffle on about trivial little explorations but I am keen to keep to blog tradition going with my customary annual review...
January: it seems strange now thinking back to a time where we could go wherever we wanted and the pubs were still open. Saying that, one classic Brummie boozer was consigned to history in January when the Eagle & Tun closed due to the HS2 project; Mr D9 and I popped in to say goodbye on its final weekend and also explored more of Heartlands and Highgate into the bargain (the Town Crier still makes me shudder). Elsewhere, I joined Nick for a Leamington jaunt - the candlelit Cellar Club proving especially memorable - and there was an aborted Curdworth trip that landed me in Horseley Heath instead. Brexit of course was the other major news story of 2020 hence D9 and I marked the day the UK left the European Union by wandering around West Bromwich and Wordsley.
February: Covid was starting to hit the headlines more come February but things proceeded as normal, which for me meant outings to Nuneaton (with Nick, including a certain Bedworth Carling incident), to Old Hill (with the Chip Foundation, partaking of Ivan's chips en route) and to the Great British Beer Festival in Birmingham - this winter gathering would turn out to be the only CAMRA event I attended all year. Curdworth belatedly got its moment in the WME spotlight when coupled with Kingsbury and Bodymoor Heath, then Mr D9 and I went clubbing in Wolverhampton and discovered the shed-like joys of the Penn Fields Bowling premises. Little did we know that this would be our last Hub Marketing meeting until early October...
March: which brings us neatly onto the month when everything changed, whereby the first national lockdown was enforced and life simply hasn't been the same since. It wasn't quite business as usual at the start of March but I did complete a solo Stafford special followed by a tour of Stone with the Beardsmores. The rising tide of infections was becoming very much apparent though and historic decisions were taken by Boris Johnson and his Cabinet colleagues. Home working for me began on Friday 20th March (and continues to the present date), while a short Tettenhall Wood tour was my only other photographic contribution of note.
April: the initial grip of lockdown with its restrictions on time spent away from the house meant I didn't venture far at all in April, limiting myself to just a couple of very local walks. That said, I did relish the chance to make doorstep discoveries that might otherwise have eluded me - Compton Park down by the Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground for example. Amidst all the turmoil I was cheered by the simple joys of spring, my spirits being lifted by the glorious blossoms on display in Finchfield and Bradmore. As the year progressed, I enjoyed revisiting these same locations and capturing the changing seasons on camera.
May: my Lockdown Log series of strolls was getting itself established by featuring the likes of Lower Penn, Wergs and Aldersley; by this stage I was becoming well-versed in seeing what I could manage within one hour, although it was certainly a relief when an easing of exercise restrictions allowed me to start venturing that little bit further. May also saw the Smestow Valley Nature Reserve come to the fore as one of my new favourite boltholes, especially with Willow Pond and the Old Nursery to investigate.
June: the most surreal of summers is underway and you're never too far from a debate about facemasks or the 'R' number. I stayed close to home in filing logs about Furnace Grange and Perton whilst continuing to put a new spin on familiar locations, often preferring Sunday mornings as a good time for taking pictures without encountering too many other people. Stephen and I met up for the first time since March in order to undertake a socially-distanced recce of Springfield Campus developments, the University of Wolverhampton's flagship new Built Environment facility was nearing completion in regenerating a disused former brewery.
July: the initial peak of the virus had passed now and some of our freedoms were being restored, even if only for a precious few months of respite. Pubs were permitted to reopen from the 4th July - hurrah! - so I needed to get my head around myriad interpretations of the track and trace regulations. My explorational gaze was tentatively cast towards Coseley and Tipton, ferreting about the Foxyards Estate or catching up on Bilston Urban Village progress. It was however Bewdley on the 30th that really stole the show - glorious weather, Severnside scenery and a wonderful pint in the Real Ale Tavern, memories to treasure there...
August: Oldbury and Orton were the key trips in August, the first of those being a canal-based circuit with Stephen (attending to the Gower Branch along the way) whereas the second utilised the South Staffordshire Railway Walk followed by a portion of Penn. Sunday morning snippets included family visits to Priorslee (spotting minion-themed painted stones at The Flash) and Newport (where the town's Bench Trail was more interesting than it perhaps sounds to the uninitiated). I even went back into the office one day a week as another small step towards normality!
September: a perky Penkridge perambulation saw Stephen and I staking out the Staffs & Worcs Canal (cue sausage rolls at Otherton Lock), a day also memorable for Draught Bass in the lovely Cross Keys. Pub perfection was likewise discernible in Kingswinford thanks to superb ale in the Park Tavern, and then via the classic combination of Sedgley's Beacon Hotel and Gornal's Jolly Crispin as savoured on my Colton Hills ramble. The Ruby Mild and Crispin's Ommer that day were suitable reward for some cracking endeavour, scrambling along Hickmerelands Lane and hiking up Moden Hill.
October: Mr D9 and Nick both made their long-awaited returns to exploration dispatches in October, courtesy of Stafford Hub Marketing and the Packwood Patch respectively. Combined highlights of these trips must make mention of the Sandonia Cinema, Packwood House and Knowle Locks while pub gems such as the Princess Royal and the Ale Rooms were great too. On a solo note, I was out and about in Oldswinford (bagging myself bostin' pints of Bathams at the Bird in Hand), but infection rates were becoming a concern again and tighter restrictions would be just around the corner.
November: indeed, the second national lockdown came into operation during November and my horizons were necessarily reined in once more. Fordhouses was handy for spotting wolf sculptures on the Stafford Road before working my way through Dovecotes and Palmer Cross to reach Tettenhall Green; Whitmore Reans meanwhile featured as part of a Wolverhampton Waterways Walk that gave nods to Wolf Mountain, Wildside Activity Centre and the Tunstall Water Bridge. Beyond those two trips there wasn't much else to report.
December: with the West Midlands in Tier 3, a couple of cautious catch-ups had me crossing paths with Nick (in Solihull, gleaning what we could from the Grand Union Canal) and Mr D9 (playing Popmaster Champions League prior to Bradley Locks, the Walsall Canal and Pleck). Two further waterways-themed wanderings focused separately on the Dudley No 1 Canal and then Ryders Green Locks in bookending my Christmas break (blogpost to be submitted in due course), thus bringing 2020's curious collection of adventures to a close.
It has been a year like no other, and it is clear that the pandemic is far from over. The implementation of a mass vaccination programme offers hope that we can beat the virus but the next few months are likely to be difficult ones; the West Midlands has been escalated into Tier 4 so it remains to be seen how far I'll get with outings in the immediate future. The most important thing of course is staying safe so fingers crossed there will soon be better times to come. My thanks as ever go to those hardy souls who have contributed to my adventures and otherwise kept me sane during the Covid crisis - especially D9, Nick, Stephen, Mr B Senior, Dad and Ken - so here's to a happy and healthy 2021!