You can certainly tell we're into the winter months now given that the start of December has coincided with plummeting temperatures. Wrapping up warm, I brave the chill for a Saturday Study around Brandhall - here comes the tale of the trip...
Sunday, December 3
- 'Rupert' in Waterstones -
Before I get started on the Sandwell segments, let me first tell you about the festive fun on offer in Wolverhampton. After successful previous iterations involving nutcracker soldiers, jungle animals and dinosaurs, the Enjoy Wolverhampton team have devised a trail involving gingerbread characters as part of the city's Christmas festivities. Ten such specimens have been dotted at locations around the main centre, including 'Rupert' who has the honour of guarding the bookshelves in the Waterstones store on Victoria Street.
- With 'Lucille' at the Central Library -
Keen to track down more of the gingerbread folk, Stephen and I spent a good hour on Friday morning seeing how many we could find. We managed six in total, from 'Goldie' the dog in Compton Care to 'Ed' in the Art Gallery (craftily hidden behind their Christmas tree). 'Lucille' proved a particular favourite, taking us back to our old Central Library stomping ground where she holds court by the Adult Lending counter. Each character is decorated with mock icing and cute little buttons; you've got until January 2024 to find them all should you so desire.
- Royal Ruminations at Rowley Regis? -
To Saturday 2nd December and my Brandhall brief requires me to set forth from Rowley Regis railway station, a regular stop on the line between Birmingham Snow Hill and Stourbridge. The bridge beneath the booking hall has been brightened up no end thanks to the creation of two colourful murals; the one on the Stourbridge-bound platform features King Henry VIII and the Black Country chain flag, while its counterpart on the Birmingham side depicts horses, flowers and a Class 170 DMU train.
- Brandhall Golf Club -
Cakemore Road inches me over the M5 motorway then I venture through the estates either side of Grafton Road. Causeway Green Primary School has a separate alleyway leading to its caretaker's house while the Grafton Lodge Resource Centre has shut down due to asbestos concerns. Brook Road has a rudimentary block of shops comprising a Costcutter store, the Angel Garden takeaway and the Friary Fish Bar, but the most interesting discovery (in my opinion) awaits on nearby Heron Road where the sad remains of Brandhall Golf Club require inspection. 116 years worth of golfing history here have unfortunately drawn to a close after Sandwell Council chose to cease operating the club as a municipal facility.
- Brandhall Golf Course -
Having surveyed the fenced-off club house with its hints of 1970s lettering, I nip through onto the golf course proper which continues to act as a popular area of public open space. It's very frosty underfoot as I crunch my way over towards Queensway, pausing for occasional vistas of statuesque trees and abandoned tee positions. A dog walking gathering is underway, hence the presence of several excitable hounds, while the freezing fog of early morning is gradually burning away to give icily bright cloudless skies. Proposals to build 190 homes and a new school here have met with considerable opposition but the scheme is expected to go ahead.
- Brandhall Library -
Emerging onto Queensway, I tentatively proceed into the centre of Brandhall as marked by the provision of several amenities along Tame Road. A Co-op supermarket overlooks two Foley Drive bus stops while the Oak Tree Centre is part of the Kings Community Church. Elsewhere, the neighbouring branch library and Labour Club are seemingly engaged in their own private battle, trying to outdo each other in terms of flat-roofed architectural appeal. The latter serves as the constituency office for John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley since 1992.
- The Old Bush Revived -
Those Brandhall endeavours have primed me for a pint, in which case the Swan on Long Lane isn't too far away (once I've nimbly plotted a course through Hurst Green that is). Happy as Larry from Heritage Brewing is my opening tipple - aided and abetted by a huge ham salad cob - as some West Brom fans congregate to watch the lunchtime kickoff against Leicester. Never one to subject myself to too much Albion spectatorship, I wisely seek out additional Black Country Ales hospitality courtesy of the Old Bush Revived on Powke Lane, Blackheath. This place was a Banks's free house for many years but I do like what BCA have done with it, retaining the inherent cosiness when applying their usual stylings.
- Holden's Hopster at the Waterfall -
WME law dictates that a visit to the Old Bush Revived goes hand-in-hand with a call at The Waterfall just down the hill, and I'm not about to break the habit of a lifetime today. Holden's Hopster rewards the descent, sitting in the French-flavoured front lounge from whence I can watch the sun slowly setting over Old Hill. I'm not in any particular rush to get home so a Fixed Wheel finale care of Wheelie Thirsty works well, finishing off on a Mount Olympus Pale Ale (Burning Soul) as the December evening really draws in. Once again I've had a superb day out and about in the Black Country, you just can't beat it - cheers!