Sunday, 17 July 2011

2011 - Day Out 16: West Midlands

Date: Saturday 16 July 2011

It is time for a local trip and I make my way to Wollaston to catch the 0856 National Express West Midlands Service 276, where I will meet up with Mr UKBuses, who will board the bus in Norton. I get around to Norton and Mr UKBuses is nowhere to be seen, so I get off at the next stop, which turns out to be two stops as the driver flies past the one I want to get off, and so I walk back up Shenstone Avenue and arrive at Mr UKBuses usual stop and he is still not there. After a few minutes of waiting, Mr UKBuses, walks into view around the corner, and he is confused as he thought I was on the bus. He is confused as he thought that the bus was due ten minutes later than the advertised time. These things happen, and it doesn't dampen our day, but we are as we are getting soaked by the downpour of rain, and wait for the next 276, which arrives on schedule, and we board to get to Stourbridge. As we arrive in Stourbridge, we get off by the town railway station to catch our train up to the Junction. We arrive at Stourbridge Junction, where after a couple of minutes wait we board the local London Midland service heading to Birmingham Snow Hill.

We are not going to Snow Hill, we decide to change at Smethwick Galton Bridge, where we change to Platform 4, and catch another London Midland train, which takes us through Birmingham New Street and we arrive at our destination, Aston, and our plan is to take a short walk up to Rotola Long Acre depot, but as we walk down the station steps, the rain starts to come down fast again. Luckily there is a bus stop right in front of us, so we take cover. Whilst waiting, a National Express West Midlands Service 67 arrives and we board the bendibus which takes us for a short ride. As we make our way down Tyburn Road, we decide to alight and a short walk around the corner, we arrive in Bromford Lane. The shelter display says that there is a National Express West Midlands Service 11A is due in 9 minutes, but there is one coming now. We board and it is another short ride where we decide to get off at Erdington.

Upon arrival at Erdington, we decide that we will go to Sutton Coldfield, so as we make our way across the many junctions (I decide that Erdington is not very pedestrian friendly), we arrive at our stop, just as a Central Connect Service 167 pulls up, so we get our value out of the Network West Midlands DayTripper tickets we purchase and catch another operators' bus. Service 167 is a service that serves many estates before getting to the final destination, so we have a good ride, even visiting the same Asda store, twice! We arrive in Sutton Coldfield, and the rain has nearly stopped. There are a still a few drops coming down, but Mr UKBuses braves the rain and gets his camera out to take a few photographs. We walk up to the main bus stop area, and it is a bus photographers paradise as there are a lot of buses loading and unloading. We are feeling a little peckish, so we decide to make our way to Walsall so that we can have lunch at the Wetherspoons. Our next bus to take us there arrives, and we board the National Express West Midlands service 77.

St Pauls Bus Station, Walsall
We leave Sutton Coldfield, and we make our way to Walsall. As we make our way there we go through an estate that looks familiar. I realise that we are in Streetly and this was the estate that Mr WME and myself walked through to get to a pub, which I'm sure he went the long way round so that he made me build up a thirst. After a few minutes of riding through the estate, we come out onto the main road, where we pass The Foley Arms, the pub that was the prize for walking around the estate, and a scene that was like the "Bromsgrove Incident", where I had two pints, one to quench the first after my tour of Streetly with Mr WME. With the dreadful reminder out of the way, we leave Streetly behind and carry onto Walsall, where we are looking forward to our food. It is now after midday, and we arrive in Walsall, so we make our way from the bus station and head towards J D Wetherspoons, "The Imperial". Disaster strikes, The Imperial is closed for refurbishment, so our stomachs are not going to be fed yet. We make the decision to make our way to Willenhall and get food there, so after a walk around the whole of the bus station, we go back to the beginning again to catch National Express West Midlands Service 529 to Willenhall.

After about twenty minutes, we arrive in Willenhall. Along the way, we recognise where we went a couple of months previously to have a drink with one of Mr UKBuses colleagues, "Raymondo", but there is no sign of Raymondo today. We alight our Service 529 outside of J D Wetherspoons "The Malthouse", but Mr UKBuses has to pop over the road to make use of the HSBC cash machine to pay for his dinner. We make our way inside and we are served by Simon, a person who used to work in the Wetherspoons in Stourbridge. Whilst being served, another face is recognised from his time at Stourbridge. We come all this way and get served by old faces! We find a seat and look at our menus before deciding what to have. We don't go for our usual, Mr UKBuses opts for the BBQ Chicken Melt (without the cheese), and I opt for the Gammon, Egg and Chips (without the egg), and after about five minutes of waiting, they both arrive piping hot, and it is time to tuck in. For the price that we paid for the meals, we got our money's worth, the portions were huge, and there were a load of chips, no Chester sized portions here. After finishing our meals, we have a few minutes to let it go down, and we decide that, even though it is our second visit to this pub, it rates as one of our favourites in the J D Wetherspoon list. Both visits have had friendly and quick service and the building itself makes you feel welcome.

Dinner over, and we decide to make our way closer to home, and we head to Bilston. After a few minutes wait, a National Express West Midlands Service 525 arrives and we board for a ten minutes ride to our destination, Bilston Bus Station. We have time for a few photographs, well Mr UKBuses has, my camera battery failed on me! Our next bus is in the lay over area, Midland's Service 224 to Cradley Heath. The Bilston luck is not on my side, as the driver gets off the bus and starts to walk over to us. The bus is losing air pressure and he cannot drive off, at least the driver did well and came over and told us, so we will have to catch another bus. We don't have long to wait before National Express West Midlands service 583 arrives to take us to Dudley, as we leave the bus station, in the distance, we can see a Diamond liveried "Stourbridge Shuttle" bus, a bit off route 142!!! As we make our way to Dudley a local old age pensioner is ahead of us in his mobility scooter, and he makes his way around the island ahead (yes in the road traffic), and we follow him up the road where he is waiting ahead of us at the traffic lights. This is where we overtake him and leave him in a cloud of dust as the lights turn green! We make our way through Wren's Nest before we arrive at Dudley Bus Station.

We decide to make our way to Wordsley, so we catch service 226, the only one that is is the station is a Diamond operated one, so we decide to catch that. We make our way through Kingswinford before arriving at Wordsley, and we alight just outside The Red Lion. But we choose not to visit that pub, we decide to go to one that Mr UKBuses has never been in before and after driving past for many years, we step inside The Old Cat Inn, which is situated on the corner of the main traffic lights in Wordsley. We have a pint, and after we finish, we walk back around to the bus stop to catch another 226 bus, this time being operated by Hanson's, the original operator of this service. From the "226 Bus War" that is going on at the moment between Diamond and Hanson's, it looks like Hanson's have the upper hand, with a good load on the service. The Diamond bus that we caught earlier, there was only Mr UKBuses and myself on it, and other Diamond Buses 226's seem to be running empty. We head through the Hawbush Estate and Brierley Hill before we arrive at The Merry Hill Centre. From here we decide to catch a bus to Halesowen.

The bus of choice is another Diamond Bus Service, the 002 which takes us to Halesowen. As we leave the bus station at Merry Hill, the same driver who caught Mr UKBuses on a diamond bus on a previous outing spots him again, and heckles him as we head towards Pedmore Road. We make our way through Quarry Bank, Lyde Green and Colley Gate, and I introduce Mr UKBuses to The Lutley Mill as we pass it, the pub is situated at the bottom of Drew's Holloway, with the newly painted colour scheme, which now looks like it is a Wolve's fans choice of pub with the outside painted bright orange and black. Not long after we arrive in Halesowen, and decide to have a pint in J D Wetherspoons "The William Shenstone". After our pint we make our way back to the bus station, and I point out a parked up Black Diamond Liveried bus, stating "That looks like the bus that brought us back from Bromsgrove in the snow", walking further alongside the bus, we also find out that the driver is our "Diamond" driver Des, the bloke who got us back from Bromsgrove in that terrible snow. After a quick chat with Des, we make our way to the bus station, where we catch Diamond's Service 142, branded in the "Nifty Fifty" livery!

Catching up on memories at The Bell
We make our way through Hasbury, Oldnall, Wynall and Pedmore Fields before arriving back in Stourbridge. Time for a few shots, and we make our way into the town centre. First of all we make enquires about swimming at The Crystal Leisure Centre, before heading next door to The Bell. On the way to the leisure centre, Mr UKBuses tries to wind up the Stourbridge Shuttle Driver, Steve, a couple of times - once in Church Street, and then outside the leisure centre. Whilst in The Bell we have a couple of pints and recall more memories of our time working at the pub all them years ago. Mr UKBuses is spotted by another Pensnett Garage driver who is off duty and has called into The Bell for a drink. After our drinks, we make our way to the bus stops in Birmingham Street, where we are in time to catch the last National Express West Midlands Service 276 back to Norton and Wollaston.

Another brilliant day out with a rainy start, but the weather brightened up in the afternoon for our local unplanned trip.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

2011 - Day Out 15: Liverpool

Date: Saturday 02 July 2011

This trip sees a welcome return for all the WARP's (Woody, Andy, Paul and Rog if you are unsure), and we decide to go to Liverpool, a trip that began to be organised when we were in Weymouth. First of all I meet up with Mr UKBuses, where I catch the 0706 National Express West Midlands (NXWM) Service 276 from Wollaston or should that be 0704!), by the time I get my seat I am halfway across High Park Avenue, so there is no time to text Mr UKBuses to say that I am on the bus. Luckily when I get round to his bus stop, he is there, and he boards the bus, then abruptly takes his seat. We arrive a few minutes later at the bus stop on Stourbridge Ring Road, where virtually straight away, a NXWM Service 246 arrives, which we catch to Dudley. As there is not a good direct service into Wolverhampton first thing on a Saturday morning, we have to go to Dudley, then Wolverhampton! So we are directly off the plan after our first journey, and as we arrive in Dudley, the NXWM Service 126 is waiting, so we jump on that bus. We arrive in Wolverhampton quite a bit ahead of schedule, so we decide to visit JD Wetherspoon's "The Moon Under Water", where Mr UKBuses decides to have a bacon roll. Bacon roll finished, Mr D9 arrives, and he duly orders a bacon roll. His arrives in a much quicker time than Mr UKBuses, so Mr D9 duly finishes off his roll, and we make our way to Wolverhampton Railway Station. On the way, Mr WME makes an appearance and the gang is complete. A quick "breath of fresh air" is needed before we board our train, and whilst this is happening, Mr D9 gets the money out of his account for the day ahead, and some mad bloke decides to pop out of the railway station shouting at other people along the way.

Mr D9 promptly pays me for the tickets (I could have waited, but thanks for the prompt payment), and we head for Platform 1, where our 0919 London Midland train arrives and takes us to our destination for today, Liverpool. Whilst on the journey, I take on the role of Mr D9, and visit the toilet, and Mr D9 coped with not going (his bladder must have swapped places for the journey!), and after a journey time of just under one hour and 30 minutes, we arrive in Liverpool Lime Street, where we are met with Ken and his tickling stick. First of all, we buy our "Saveaway" ticket, which at £4.60 is good value for all the journeys that Mr UKBuses has planned for us today. Tickets purchased, we head outside so that I can get a "breath of fresh air", whilst the rest of the gang take photographs of the city buildings. We head down to the hub of Queens Square, where we catch our first bus of the day.

Brookside Close
We head to stand 6 and our first bus service of the day, Arriva North West Service 13 to Deysbrook Lane, takes us to our first destination of the day. Mr UKBuses has done his research using Google Street View, and we alight the bus just after the small cottage building on the corner, and he is as always correct. We walk past said building, and walk up the road a little further, where we have to take a left turn and we arrive at our first destination, a place called "Brookside". We walk through the normal residential housing, and just around the corner, past the now redundant security post, we turn the corner and view a new residential area (Well it is not new as the housing was already built), it is the original housing from a now defunct soap called Brookside. I take a few photographs, as does the rest of the gang, and the thoughts going through my head is that I am now standing on ground that once graced the steps of Ricky Tomlinson, Claire Sweeney and Sue Johnston. Builders are still on site and I'm told they were shouting "Barry" at me (surprised as I'm sure that Barry Grant had black hair), and it is back to the bus stop, but before we do, a group shot is taken at the Brookside sign. Shots over we walk back round to the bus stop and whilst doing this we have to undertake a TUAR (Turn up And Run), with the race earlier in the year coming in handy, I get to the bus first, but we all make it, a good effort by Mr UKBuses, especially with his knee. We board and we make our way back into the city.

We make our way back to Queens Square on Arriva North West Service 12, where we visit our first Liverpool pub of the day, and it is JD Wetherspoons "The Fall Well", a pub that I had previously visited, and as we walk in, Mr UKBuses agrees that this is quieter than the Wetherspoons that they had previously visited. Well it was time for dinner, so Myself and Mr D9 opted for the standard beer and burger, Mr WME had his usual gourmet burger, and Mr UKBuses has his usual Chicken Tikka. Good choices, even though that the prices for a Wetherspoons were a bit steep (probably because it was a very central location). Whilst waiting for the food, a "Homeless" person came up asking for money, I duly gave him a pound in change, but later found out that he was sitting outside with his mates (I'm duly changing my way to charitable causes, but after this experience I was duped and it is a shame for charitable donations in the future). Food has arrived and we duly chomp it down, and we all make a visit to the toilet before our next destination.

Dinner over, we head over to Stand 2 in Queens Square where we catch our next bus to our next destination, a "Cumfybus" C4 service to a place in Liverpool called "Dingle". After a journey of just over 20 minutes, we arrive in Dingle, and even though this was a filming destination, we are not happy being here. Anyway we are off the bus now, and after just a couple of minutes walk we arrive at the top of Elswick Street, the destination being the street where "Bread" was filmed. It looks so different to what it was on television, but we decide to walk down the street, where we walk past Number 30, which was home to "The Boswells". Once reaching the bottom, we have a quick look over to the Mersey, and then we decide to walk back up the street, but we can't decide which house was home to Julie, the girlfriend of Billy. As we arrive at the top of the street, we head back to the bus stop after a surreal experience. This seems to be a close knit community, where everyone is sitting around outside their houses, and with kids playing in the streets, it takes me back to my childhood, where I used to play with the local kids, a scene which is not seen to much nowadays. We arrive at the stop to find out that the bus does not actually stop here any more, and as we choose which stop to stand at, A C5, the bus we are supposed to catch, goes past. Whilst waiting, I purchase a lottery ticket from the local shop, which is all behind a safety screen, which puts me at unease even further, and meet the rest of the gang around the corner at the correct bus stop. After a wait of around twenty minutes, our C5 turns up, and takes us back around the estate, twice! After eventually escaping the estate on where Bread is filmed, we arrive at Grove Street, where we alight to find out the filming location of The Liver Birds, we are unsure which flat was used, but Mr D9 makes sure that he has a picture by taking several pictures of the different buildings standing in Huskisson Street.

Mr D9's Bald Spot!
We walk to the end of the Huskisson Street, where we are greeted by a TUAG (Turn Up and Go) service of Arriva North West Service 86, which takes us back to Liverpool and the bus station called "Liverpool One". We forget to get off the bus, and we duly arrive in a bus layover area, which we have to make sure that we get out alive due to Health and Safety and no Hi-Vis vests. Out of the lay by area, we make our way through Liverpool One, and we are just outside the Albert Docks, so we have time to visit them, and we ask Mr UKBuses if he wants to do an impression of Fred Talbot doing the weather on "This Morning", obviously without the weather map, for some reason he declines. After a quick look around the docks and failed bald spot pictures by Mr WME and Mr UKBuses, I now present the first Mr SBI Bald spot picture of Mr D9, right, (Mr D9 wasn't expecting that!!!), which can be seen left. We are in need of a drink and visit the pub opposite, "The Pumphouse" which in the end we decline as it is too busy. So we head around to Pier Head, so that we can get our pass for the Mersey Ferry, but as we do, we spot a bar in the same building, but by mutual agreement, we decide to "stay on our own" after seeing the prices and decide it is not fair to include somebody for a round. A quick refreshing drink, and we make our way to the ferry terminal, where after a little wait, and a big crowd of us waiting to get on, I experience my second trip on the Mersey Ferry. As we make our way towards the estuary, we turn around and head to Seacombe, where we have to get off, but whilst on the way, I make my way inside for a couple of minutes before reappearing on the side of the ferry. A few minutes later we arrive, and I cannot get off the ferry quick enough, and quickly make my way outside the building so that I can have a well deserved "breath of fresh air". As I'm smoking, I'm still suffering from the swaying, so we make our way to the bus stand where I can sit down for a few minutes for the bus to arrive.

The WARPS at The Mackenzie
A few minutes later, our Arriva North West service 409 turns up and takes us on our short journey to Birkenhead. This is where my part of the trip kicks in, and a quick bypass of the shopping centre, we walk past the Wetherspoons, and we head to a pub I visited last time, so I introduce the gang to "The McKenzie", see left, where we have a well deserved rest, and I can get over the experience of the ferry. The gang had reservations about this pub before we even got to Birkenhead, but they soon say that I found a good pub, and after a couple of drinks in the establishment, we make our way back to the bus station. Mr D9 realises that it is a PPPP (Pizza Pavement Purple Pub), which can be titled due to some pizza topping style marks on the floor and walls outside! We walk back to the Birkenhead bus station, and decide to get an earlier bus, even though it is on the same route, and catch First Chester and Wirral Service 1, which takes us briskly back into Liverpool, via the Mersey Tunnel. Even though it is my second time through the tunnel, it still freaks me out that you have oncoming traffic right next to you with no central reservation or no protection.

Our last drink in Liverpool at The Crown Hotel
We arrive back in Liverpool and alight the bus just around the corner from Queens Square, our hub of the day, and we have time to sample a couple of pints before we head back home, so we walk past The Crown Hotel, and enter an Irish-American Bar, "McHales", where we sample a quick pint. We decide to stay in the quieter part of the pub, with Karaoke taking place in the room next door. When the compere speaks, me and Mr UKBuses think it is a blast from the past as he sounds like "Karaoke Dave", who used to do the hosting in The Bell when we worked there, so further investigation was needed. Thankfully it wasn't Dave, so luckily it wasn't a case of "Now it is time for And, Paul, Rog and Woooody!!!". We have time for one more pint before we catch our train, so we pop next door and sample "The Crown Hotel", see right, where Mr D9 confuses the barmaid with the drink order. Drinks purchased, we head upstairs, somewhere I didn't know existed last time I visited, and we get a seat in a quiet part of the pub. With little time to spare, we make our way back to Liverpool Lime Street, where we "do a London", and go into M&S and purchase a sandwich for our trip back. We have little time to spare now, and we make it back onto our Virgin Train back into Stafford. A pleasant and fast journey takes us back to Stafford, where we also down our tea, and we alight at Stafford to change trains to take us back on the slower London Midland train back into Wolverhampton. I try and sneak a cigarette in outside the station, but the rest of the gang realise that we have to go onto Platform 3, so we make our way there to be greeted by a few people dressed in fancy dress. It's a shame the woman didn't do the belly dance for us, she was dressed for it!! After passing through Penkridge, we arrive back in Wolverhampton. Time for a quick cigarette as Mr UKBuses and myself make our way to Queen Street to catch our bus back to Stourbridge, so we say goodbye to Mr D9 and Mr WME.

I said don't blow the bloody doors off!
Our bus is on time, and we are on our way. We get to Penn, and suddenly we hear a bang at the front of the bus, the door has fallen off. We cannot go any further due to the safety features on the bus, so we are stuck in the bus stop for a while. I take this opportunity to have a cigarette or two, and also a chance to pop across the road to The Holly Bush, to use the facilities. After a wait of around half an hour, an engineer finally brings a replacement bus, so we all swap buses, and take our seats ready to complete our journey back into Stourbridge. There is a slight problem, even though we have a fresh bus the air pressure seems to have gone down, so we are having problems departing the bus stop. After a few minutes and a completely understandable driver, we finally get under way, with cheers from the other passengers. We make our way through Wombourne and Kingswinford and finally arrive in Stourbridge. We get off at the stop just before the ring road, and walk to Birmingham Street, where finally at 22:05 our Black Diamond Service 276C takes us back home.

Another good day with all the WARP's, beautiful weather, some good filming locations found, and I have to take this opportunity to thank Mr UKBuses for getting all the locations in a plan on a well though out day out.