Monday, 27 December 2010

2010 - Day Out 4: Worcestershire

Date: 18 December 2010

It was time for the now annual tradition, a Worcestershire trip for our Christmas outing, or so we thought....

Mr SBI meets up with Mr UK Buses at a snow covered Norton to catch National Express West Midlands (NXWM) Service 276 to get to Stourbridge Junction, where we arrive just after 9am, and meet up with Andy (nice to see you again) and Mr WME. We wait at Platform 3 for Mr WME, who eventually arrives and the gang are complete, where we have a discussion to see if we go ahead with the original plan or stay local due to the light downfall of the snow, which scuppered Mr SBI's and Mr WME's outing two weeks previously. The gang decide to go ahead with the plan, is it the right decision?

Our train arrives and we board the 09:19 London Midland train to Kidderminster. We pass through Hagley and Blakedown, passing snow covered fields along the way and arrive at our first destination, Kidderminster. A short walk ensues to Comberton Hill, where we have our ticket money at hand to get our FirstDay ticket, and our first bus arrives, First Midlands X3 to Redditch. We get out of the snow, which seems to be coming down quite fast, and board the X3, a bus which we have to ourselves (some people have sense and decide to stay out of the snow). We are on our way to our first destination - Redditch, or so we thought, the snow is coming down quite heavy now, and we are heading down a snow covered road to Chaddersley Corbett, but the road seems to be disappearing. The bus is clinging onto the road, just, and we head down towards the front of the bus where we have a chat with the driver who asks us what we are doing today, we reply "on a day out", whilst he is wrestling with the bus and the road. The driver must have thought that we were mad. Conditions outside are now bad, and the gang decide to get off at Bromsgrove, when we arrive, and see if we can get back to Stourbridge and spend the rest of the day locally. After the driver is shouting at the cars in front not to stop, because he would become stuck, we finally arrive at our unscheduled stop of Bromsgrove.

The gang decide that a drink is in order, so we head of to the JD Wetherspoons' nearest pub "The Golden Cross", where Mr SBI gets the first round in and the gang chat about the when the 318 is due. We are not quite sure, so Mr SBI comes to the rescue with his new BlackBerry and surfs the net and his own website, to get the number of Hansons', the operator of Service 318 to Stourbridge. Mr SBI rings Hansons' to find out the time of the next bus, but disaster strikes when we are told that Hansons' have called all their buses in as the roads around Stourbridge are gridlocked and nearly impassable, so we are stuck in Bromsgrove. Andy softens the blow when he gets the next round, and once we start supping the drinks, we chat about how to get back to the Midlands. We decide to walk out in the dreaded white stuff and head to the bus station and see what turns up.

Black Diamond, Our Saviour!We arrive and we just miss a 144 to Worcester and a 143 to Birmingham. There is not much left in the station, only a Black Diamond (seen left, Not In Service) which is not moving anywhere after the driver tells Mr UK Buses that nothing is moving as all the roads are gridlocked around Bromsgrove. So we wait to see what comes to our rescue, and while Mr UK Buses decides to pay a visit to the toilet, a First X3 back to Kidderminster is heading for the bus station. Mr SBI runs to the toilet to inform Mr UK Buses, and the pair sprint to the stand to catch the bus and head back to Kidderminster to get a train back to Stourbridge. We head off on our journey and everyone seems happy that we are on the bus, out of the white stuff, and heading back home, or so we thought. We are barely out of Bromsgrove, and the bus comes to a standstill, so we wait in the traffic for five minutes before the driver informs us that the X3 in front is stuck, and that the service has been cancelled, so we head towards Bromsgrove, which takes us about twenty minutes in slow moving traffic to get us back to where we started. We are back to square one when the bus eventually drops us off just past Bromsgrove High Street.

The gang decide to go into "The Queens Head", for two reasons, one to empty the bladders and two, to have a drink to console ourselves and talk about how we get back, Mr WME comes up trumps and buys the round. It now feels like that we are truly stuck in Bromsgrove and it is even talked about finding a Bed and Breakfast for the night. We finish our drinks off and walk around to the bus station to see if anything is even there, but on the way, Mr UK Buses sees the driver of the Black Diamond 007, stuck in traffic, so we all run over the road, where Des, the driver, one who Mr UK Buses knows through his work, kindly lets us on and hopefully gets us on our way. We sit down at the back of the bus where the gang seems to be happy that we are on our way back to the Midlands. The traffic is moving very slowly, we have been on the bus for about approximately 45 minutes, and we only seem to have moved about just over a quarter of a mile. As we are moving so slowly, Mr UK Buses and Andy have bladder trouble so spot a pub, The Crabmill, and ask Des not to drive off whilst they get off the bus and pay a little visit to use the facilities. We have moved about 10 feet, when Mr UK Buses and Andy get back on, they could have had a quick drink if they really wanted to, as we wouldn't have moved that far. We are slowly making our way to the motorway island, to get back to the Midlands, and we finally reach the motorway island after about two hours. We find out that the motorway has been closed so it will be longer to get back to the Midlands than we thought, especially in the conditions on the roads.

Des, gets us to the back of Rubery where he drops off two old ladies after getting them back from Bromsgrove, it is just down to him to get us back, so we have a slow drive, down the A41 and across Romsley and Huntington, where after about 3 to 3 and a half hours stuck on the bus, we finally arrive in Halesowen. We alight and give our deepest thanks to Des, who if it wasn't for this driver, we would have been in Bromsgrove still. The gang need to get their priorities right, so it is a visit to the toilet first, and then after finding out that there are no other Diamond or NXWM buses in service (with a few NXWM service 9's stuck in snow at nearby Drews Holloway) , we go to our second JD wetherspoons' of the the day, "The William Shenstone", where Mr SBI gets his second round of the day (I'm sure it should have been Mr UK Buses turn), and we sit down to get warm and have a chat about how we get back from Halesowen. After our first drinks, food is ordered to fill our hungry guts, but Mr SBI sits this one out as he has no appetite due to his "Man-Flu". Andy rings NXWM Pensnett Garage, and finds out that the buses are starting to go back out in service as the conditions are starting to improve. A couple more rounds are bought (Mr UK Buses finally gets one!!!) and Mr SBI's eyes light up as we see our first bus since we arrived back in civilisation, a NXWM 9 to Birmingham, so we all head around to the bus station and wait to see what turns up.

The natives are getting restless, so Mr WME and Andy decide to have a play in the snow, and with snowballs flying in many places and faces, a Service 222 turns up, which Mr WME and Andy decide to catch, so that they can see if they can catch a train from nearby Cradley Heath to get back to Wolverhampton (Mr WME) and West Bromwich (Andy). Mr UK Buses and Mr SBI have a further wait, and after about 20 minutes, a NXWM service 9 to Stourbridge arrives, and the pair eagerly get on board and sit down on the top deck, and are glad that they won't be spending the night in Halesowen, and are heading home. Whilst en-route, Mr WME gives Mr UK Buses a call and say that he and Andy are waiting for a train from Cradley, and are waiting in a pub of all places to have a warmth and wait for their train. The 9 finally arrives back in Stourbridge, so Mr UK Buses and Mr SBI decide to walk up to the service 276 stand to see if a bus is due, we wait, but we know that we are going to have to walk it back to Norton and Wollaston to get back to the warmth of their homes, so after a few minutes of the bus not turning up at its allocated time, we head through the town and across the Ring Road on our way home to have a much deserved rest and warmth.

An unforgettable day, one which we will look back on over the years to come, and for Mr SBI, this is his second trip within a month that has been disrupted due to the dreaded white stuff. Our plan should have originally seen us visit Redditch, Bromsgrove and  Stoke Prior, for our Christmas Trek, but we only got as far as Bromsgrove, which we weren't due to visit till later in the day, but we eventually got back to our homes, and we hope to try and stick to the plan when we all meet up again at the end of the January to have our post Christmas outing late, or early (whichever you want to class it as), with the hope of no white stuff getting in our way.

An unusual end to 2010 regarding our trips, but one that we won't forget in a hurry. Thanks to Andy, Mr UK Buses and Mr WME for the last few trips together during the end of 2010, and look forward to more in 2011. The webmaster wishes all visitors to his site a Happy New Year for 2011.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

2010 - Day Out 3: Birmingham

Date: 11 December 2010

The post title above should not be stating "Birmingham", the original plan was to visit Worcestershire and the villages of Belbroughton, Chaddesley Corbett and Cleobury Mortimer. Due to the snowfall in the week prior to the day out, a last minute decision was made, the evening before, where we would postpone the original plan and instead visit the Birmingham area, where we would be able to safely get back if any more snow came and there was more chance of services running relatively normal in the West Midlands, rather than in the countryside.

So Mr WME and Mr SBI meet up in Stourbridge Town, for our first (and last!) solo outing of 2010. After a few photographs are taken of the works undertaken on the redevelopment of Stourbridge Bus Station, it is off to our first destination of the day, so we get on the train to Spring Road, changing at Birmingham Snow Hill along the way. Spring Road is a little station after Tyseley, but the old station building could be demolished to make the station look nicer. We have a little walk and around the corner, Mr WME decides to surprise me and we soon come across the bus garage at Acocks Green. A few photographs are taken, and then it is time to have another walk down towards Hall Green, where we pass the greyhound racing track for more photographs, and end up outside the Hall Green railway station. We then walk a little further to the nearest bus stop, where we catch the world famous National Express West Midlands 11 Outer Circle service.

We duly take our seats on the top deck, where we have a lovely view of fog, that is until we wipe the front windows and we can see where we are going. We pass through places such as Kings Heath, Harborne and Bearwood along the way. Mr WME makes sure that I'm still awake when he tells me to get off the bus, when the bus has only just stopped, so we rush down the stairs and off the bus before the driver even had the chance of shutting the doors. We alighted at Summerfield Park, which is situated on the City Road. We tread carefully accross park in the snow and head towards the Edgabston Resevoir, where I can take some more photographs of The Tower Ballroom, a location that was used in the classic ITV series "Boon" starring Michael Elphick. After our visit to the reservoir, we walk to Monument Road, where we wait for a National Express West Midlands' service 8 Inner Circle bus to take us to our next destination, Hockley.

Upon arrival, we decide to have a warm and head to our first public house of the day, The White House, which is owned by Holden's, and is a nice cozy little establishment. After a quick chat and a warm, we decide to get to our second public house of the day, and we walk towards Aston and head to a place called The Barton Arms. Upon arrival we wonder what we have let ourselves in for, when we walk towards the pub, a person comes out of the bookmakers opposite and decides to relieve his bladder up against a wall. After seeing that we head into the unknown and into The Barton Arms, where I was surprised of what the pub had in store for us. The Barton Arms did not let us down, and the interior was tiled and the pub was quite spacious. We order our drinks and we check out the menu. The pub also acts as a Thai restaurant, so we ditch the usual tradition of "beer and burger" and opt for a Thai lunch. Mr WME opted for a Thai curry and Mr SBI opts for a BBQ pork. The meal was gorgeous and I could not complain about the £5.95 price tag. It is time to set off again and Mr SBI decides to use the facilities of the establishment, or he thought so, he entered through the door and went straight through the other door which led to another part of the restaurant. Confusion over, it was time to make a move, and we head into Birmingham, where we walk past Moor Street Station and into another one of our favourite areas, Digbeth.

Mr SBI and Mr WME in The Spotted Dog
After a short walk and behind Birmingham City fans, we arrive at Warwick Street and the location of our next public house, The Spotted Dog. As we arrive the place empties, but not due to the fact that Mr WME has walked through the door, more Birmingham City fans make their way to St Andrews and watch their match after finishing their drinks in this establishment. So The Spotted Dog goes quiet, and we make ourselves comfy. We see a little bit of the snooker that is taking place in Telford, so we keep our eyes glued to the set to see if Mr UK Buses can be seen, we don't see him (but speaking to him a couple of days later, he stated that he was towards the front, and he nearly had enough coverage on TV, than the snooker taking place). The snooker is short lived, as the Landlord turns the TV over to the Birmingham City match which is taking place up the road, quite interesting, especially as the commentary seems to be in a foreign language - German I think! The Spotted Dog seems to be a friendly place and also it is a pub which caters for the Irish community. Whilst we were there I thought I turned into Sam Tyler as the jukebox was playing out some 70s cheesy classics. Drinks downed, it was time to move onto our next destination.

We take a short walk and we end up back at one of our favourite Digbeth pubs, The Lamp Tavern, which we had visited in 2010. The pub is still enjoyed by a fair few people, and we take up residence in the same seats that we occupied on our last visit. Mr WME decided to opt for one of his favourite tipples, "Stanney Bitter", and we have a bit of a warmth and another chat whilst perusing the Merseyside CAMRA publication, and we try to find any of the pubs frequented by himself, Mr UK Buses and Andy on their last visit to Liverpool. Alas, we couldn't find any, but we still enjoy the warmth and friendliness of the pub, but it is getting dark and we decide it is time to make our way back to the Black Country, so we finish our drinks and head through Birmingham to get to Moor Street to catch our train, Mr SBI thinks that a visit to Digbeth should be on the cards in 2011.

Mr WME gets chance to dry off at The Bell and BearWe catch our train and we head towards Rowley Regis. We arrive and start walking through Blackheath, where, on the way to our next destination, Mr SBI finally locates the JD Wetherspoons in Blackheath, not bad when he has only been looking for it for about three years. Anyway, we head through the darkness steadily across the snow covered paths, even though most of it has now turned to slush or been washed away. We head down towards Coombswood along Gorsty Hill Road, chatting away as we walk along, when Mr WME decides it is time to have a closer look at the pavement, but he blames the ice (I couldn't see a fair lot of it!), but after finding out if Mr WME is okay, Mr SBI finds it hard not to laugh, but the next destination is in sight - The Bell and Bear. Upon arrival, the barmaid asks if it is wet outside, I presume she must have been talking to Mr WME as I was totally dry, whilst Mr WME looks like he has had an unfortunate accident. We can at least have a bit of a break and warmth and Mr WME has a chance to dry off within the pleasant surroundings of the establishment - Mr WME would have no break about his recent fall though. It is time of the year, that once you get cozy, you don't want to move, but move we did and it is off to another destination.

We brave the cold, and having survived a steep gradient and back streets - with no slipping over, we end up on Station Road, and wait for our National Express West Midlands' service 222 bus outside Old Hill Station, where after a shirt ride, we alight at Cradley Heath. Having done some research earlier in the day, we find our next destination - The Hollybush. We enter the establishment, which seems to be closed for a private party, but we enter into the bar where we are asked "Are you part of the party?", on replying no, the landlord states "Well you look alright anyway", so we are allowed to stay and after purchasing our drinks, we find a seat next to the roaring fire, a chance to get a bit of warmth in our bones and for Mr WME to dry off even more. We decide after about five minutes of being in the pub, that this is one nice establishment, even more so after the landlord comes over to talk to us. He asks us where we have been, how we heard about his place, and he even knows the places that we have been on our trip today very well, giving us stories and information along the way. It is getting very cold outside now, but we do have to get back home, so with dragging heels, we make our way through the cold streets of Cradley Heath down towards the railway station. We find out what time our train is due, which gives us enough time to have a wander down the road to "explore" before going back to the station for our train to Stourbridge.

After a short train journey we arrive back at Stourbridge Town, where we have to say our goodbyes, with Mr WME having to make his way back to Wolverhampton, where he is going to stay up most of the night watching the Ashes. Mr SBI makes his way back into Wollaston, to get back home, via the Chinese takeaway and then upon arrival at home, gets warm to eat his supper.

Another delightful trip with some great public houses finds by Mr WME, his pub radar seems to be getting better - how many more great establishments can he find. A great day out for our only solo outing of 2010, but I think there may be plenty during 2011!