Thursday August 3rd : Never Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story
Soggy and windy today so we left the bicycles at home and went to the cinema for the afternoon. We haven't been for a while and were slightly surprised at the entrance fee. Ayup. it were only 1s. 6d. when I was a whippersnapper. We decided to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk." We also thought we would benefit from the big screen. I deliberately avoided broadsheet reviews until I had seen it for myself and I was relieved to find David Cox's piece in The Guardian which slammed the movie. Almost everybody else seemed to have the opposite view. I thought it was a poor film and suffered by its lack of context. Christopher Nolan defended this by stating that he did not want to get "bogged down" with politics. I found the Hollywood-style re-writing of history the most annoying element of the blockbuster. Moreover, after hearing interviews conducted with the French public, I can fully sympathise with their sentiments that much of their contribution had been air-brushed out of this account. And what was Hans Zimmer thinking when using Elgar's "Nimrod?"
I realise that you are keen to get the maximum value from your 1/6d, but is it reasonable to expect a drama lasting 1h 46m to include every single fact and aspect of the Dunkirk story? Every boat? Every soldier? Every Spitfire? Every French girl? And why is necessary to explain in detail the events leading to the evacuation? Surely that suggests the target audience are expected to know nothing of World War Two? If that's the audience they were targeting, that would be terrible marketing. It's a Hollywood entertainment, not a twenty part documentary series with Dan Snow. Also, for David Cox to criticise the film for not using any CGI, he obviously hasn't suffered nearly enough superhero movies. If he didn't like it, why not just say so? David Cross
I think that David Cox's criticism is pretty fair. No, Christopher Nolan doesn't have to dig up every fact but there was little detail in this account. What about not showing a single German? And the audience are led to believe that the evacuation was conducted by a lone naval officer on the end of a jetty. I particularly agree with the comment that during the film "people hit by bombs die discreetly, with no unseemly dismemberment. Even abandoning a torpedoed ship doesn't seem too unpleasant." The beach-landing scenes of "Saving Private Ryan" went some way to show the frailty of human life so why the lack of blood in this depiction of war? Before this film, during the 30 minutes of tedious advertisements, there was a promotion for "Call of Duty WW2" in which being a soldier in war looks great fun. War is horrible so why not show that it is truly awful? At a time when the Battle of Passchendaele is being remembered some people need to be reminded how grotesque armed conflict can be. It is not a time to sell computer games based on war. I accept that Warner Bros. aren't going to fund a documentary but some historical events should not be treated as "Hollywood entertainment."
Friday August 4th : Tomasz Schafernaker Fails Lie Detector Test
Shropshire pub tour today. That lying git Tomasz Schafernaker said there was a risk of the odd shower this afternoon so I wheeled out the Spring Touring Bike. It turned out that I could have upgraded to something I don't normally risk getting wet. Anyway, I had a lovely 120km ride around Shropshire, taking in a circuit of Claverley, Worfield, Coalport, Ironbridge, over The Wrekin, Wroxeter, Buildwas, Jackfield and Beckbury. It was nice and hilly but very beautiful. This area never fails to deliver in the picturesque department.
Duran Duran alert. On my route towards Ironbridge, I cycled through Draycott and stumbled on this chocolate-box cottage. A local couple told me that the cottage's claim to fame was that it was once the home of the keyboard player in Duran Duran. They said that the current occupiers told them how one of the rooms has a zillion power sockets once required for all the musical equipment. In fact, it was guitarist Andy Taylor who lived here after moving from nearby Beckbury. He used to drink in the Seven Stars in Beckbury. By the way, just in case you are thinking it ... I was not into Duran Duran, though I do remember the rather sleazy Rum Rummer with some affection. The Hyatt Hotel now stands on the infamous nightclub where members of Duran Duran kicked off doing odd-jobs. In an odd twist of fate their records were played retrospectively across the road in a place called Flares, a venue that has gone further back in time to 1970's-era Top of the Pops and re-branded itself as 'Popworld'. I had to smile when somebody called Tribune posted on the Birmingham Mail : "I can remember Broad Street as a fine upstanding place, where my fellow drinkers were not to be found spewing up and lying down and urinating in the street. That fortunately was when people had respect for themselves and all others around them. What have the council or property owners here created. Must be great to go for a beer there spend umpteen pounds for the pleasure, come outside and deposit half your stomach contents on the pavement. Pity there are no churches as such on Broad Street, because I bet there are plenty of cries of "Oh God don't let me die" after a skinful."
There is a road between Coalport and Jackfield that is jam-packed with historical interest. You could spend hours just on this section of road. The Brewery Inn makes a good refreshment stop as you look at the old bridge at Coalport and visit the China Museum. Or you could call into the Shakespeare Inn after looking at the adjacent Hay Inclined Plane. Today, however, I was heading to other places so I rolled through and enjoyed views of the River Severn before passing the always-intriguing old furnaces and Lloyd Cottage on the right. A lot of work has been undertaken here in order to stabilise a landslide that would have caused a serious blockage to the river. Demolished in the 1920's, the site of Madeley Wood Hall, former home of the Anstice family, is at the eastern end of Lloyd's Coppice.
From Lloyd's Coppice I had to resist the temptation to head up to the All Nations on Blists Hill - one to save for another day. It is only a short distance to an area with a few excellent pubs dotted around. The Robin Hood Inn almost looks out across Jackfield Bridge, a structure opened in 1994 that replaced the Haynes Memorial Bridge of 1909. Actually, the new span replaced a bailey bridge which was in use for around eight years during the interim. Holden's Brewery acquired the Robin Hood Inn around the turn of the Millennium and is a good port-of-call for some Woodsetton ale. Just a few yards towards Ironbridge is the Bird in Hand which boasts a commanding view over the River Severn. The 18th century inn has been run by the Poulton family for a generation and well worth your patronage. Check out the above image to note the narrow lane leading up into the trees. The road signs show that the lane is closed to traffic [except for access] and this generally means it is irresistible to the cyclist. In fact, this slope is a nice little leg-cruncher that takes you up to the Golden Ball Inn where I normally find an interesting beer on sale. The bike I was riding today wasn't equipped with gears that I would normally use for this type of steep ascent but I couldn't resist the temptation. It must be approaching 30 per cent in a couple of places. With no easy sprockets, I had to get out of the saddle but suffered from wheelspin on the rough tarmac and gravel. There's even moss to thwart your traction. And when I sat down I lifted my front wheel off the ground during my effort. This makes the climb all the more challenging and rewarding when you roll up to the Golden Ball Inn for a well-earned glass of ale.
I stopped for a nosebag upstream and sat a few yards from the world's first iron bridge erected in 1779 and one of Britain's best-known industrial monuments. Loaded with scrambled eggs, I headed towards the railway viaduct at Coalbrookdale. This once formed part of the Wellington to Craven Arms Railway, a line that must have been quite beautiful for passengers looking out of the windows. As you can see [above], today the railway structure and surrounding nature forms a lovely scene with bulrushes and reeds amid the watercourse. This, for me, is a moment of tranquillity before the long, and often steep, climb up Darby Road to The Huntsman at Little Wenlock. You can just see the start of this lovely hill climb through the arches. By the way, I had wanted to have a beer in the Coalbrookdale Inn but it doesn't open 'til 4pm. It's at times like this that I preferred to old school opening hours - you knew where you stood back in the day. Oh well, another time. After cycling over The Wrekin, I pedalled over to Wroxeter where a cyclist can get a free view of the Roman site - and if you've got a decent camera you can even read most of the information boards. No, I didn't take abuse their free hospitality but did stop for a quick look at the place.
From Wroxeter I normally pedal up to Much Wenlock, home of the Olympic Games. Today, however, I rode back towards Buildwas. Not long after the Kynnersley Arms you get one of the best views of the River Severn from the B4380. You can even wait to see an oxbow lake if you are prepared to stick around for a few hundred years. And then it was on towards a Shropshire pub that has to rely on a generator to power its beer engine. Fed up with inconstant supply during the depression, the Meadow Inn at Ironbridge decided to construct their own power supply in the beer garden in 1932 [see above photograph]. It's OK, I'm making it all up. However, less removed from the truth is that the power station at Buildwas was owned by a German company - the English being unable to do anything these days. I'm glad I took this photograph of the Meadow Inn because the cooling towers, along with the rest of the site, is to be demolished in the autumn of 2017, two years after the power station had been decommissioned. The alternative spectacle from the rear of the pub is to watch some heave-ho on the river as the rowing club is nearby. The Meadow Inn combines hearty meals with real ale - though the latter is limited to one beer at times. From here I meandered back home through more familiar Shropshire villages and back to the Black Country. A most excellent cycle journey.
Sunday August 6th : A Man on a Mission
This sunny Sunday was spent pedalling to Malvern via a circuitous route through quiet villages such as Elmbridge, Crowle and Defford. I called into the Brewers' Arms at West Malvern, a pub that has a chalkboard claiming the garden has the best pub view in Britain. Unlike the Carlsberg adverts, they don't even drop in the 'probably' caveat - no, they are confident that they have the best panoramic view in the whole of the UK. And because I love looking out over Herefordshire and the Welsh mountains I'm not going to argue with them. I was heading back towards Worcester when I caught up with Owen Simpson with whom I cycled for about 20 miles. I first asked where he was heading with all that kit on his bike. It turned out that he was riding from Land's End to John O'Groats to raise funds for The Dan McAllister Foundation - SToRMS who are doing great work to help people experiencing mental health problems and preventing suicide. Owen is studying at Bristol to become a mental health nurse - he's coming up to his final year. He is using the summer break to complete this ride to the north of Scotland. Since departing from Land's End he had ridden alone so I was glad to have provided some companionship, albeit for a brief part of his journey.
Friday August 18th : Pub Re-birth and Survival
We undertook an urban cycle ride today and tried to make our journey into Birmingham as green as possible. Heading over towards Frankley Reservoir we rolled into the churchyard of St. Leonard's Church just in case it was open. We have cycled past this church many times only to find it locked. But lo-and-behold some of the parishioners were decorating the church with flowers today and our luck was in.
Dating from the 15th century, the grey-and-red sandstone building is simple inside, though this is one of its charms. There are records of an older church dating back to the 13th century when it came under the jurisdiction of Halesowen Abbey. The ancient cross in the churchyard suggests a place of worship of greater antiquity. Rebuilding of the church during the 15th century is thought to have been instigated by Sir Thomas Lyttleton who lived nearby at Frankley Hall, part of which is demarcated with the remains of a moat. The hall was torched by Prince Rupert during the English Civil War.
We rolled down Merritt's Hill to pick up the Merritt's Brook Greenway, a cycle route that was unknown to us before today. Following the small watercourse, it turned out to be a most pleasant ride through Manor Farm Park before cycling along both Griffin's Brook and The Bourn, emerging close to Bournville Green. Of course, we have been here many times but it is always enjoyable to ride past the Carillon and the Manor House. We took a spin around Cadbury's factory before heading past the lovely library and baths at Stirchley. From here, we picked up the Rea Valley Cycle Route at Hazelwell Park and headed downstream through Cannon Hill and into Highgate. There is always something new to spot along this route, though we did encounter a lovely boxer dog that reminded us of our old four-legged friend. It has been a few years now since we lost our mad boxer but we still miss her greatly.
One of the key reasons for heading into Birmingham was to try out what sounded like a good cycling pit-stop. However, the Cranked Cycle Café in the Custard Factory complex was a real disappointment. Things seem to have changed from the original concept I have seen posted on the web. The place has gone minimal. So minimal they have ditched the food offer. Consequently, it is just drinks with a few cakes on the counter. I was beginning to think that the lack of customers was also a preconceived plan not to clutter up the 'urban chic' interior. On the plus side, the coffee was very good and the tea was up there with the best I have had in a café. But what about our empty cycling bellies? Well, we walked a few yards along Gibb Street to find Yumm Café offering lots of veggie stuff for very reasonable prices. The place was extremely busy, custom that could be picked up by Cranked Cycle Café if they opted for a different business model. Incidentally, almost opposite Yumm Café is Clink Beer, the much-praised craft beer tap room.
We took a circuitous route back home and trundled around Eastside. It is great to see the doors of the Eagle and Tun open again. Closed for many years, it seemed this pub was doomed. However, after something like an eight year hiatus, the terracotta building was converted into a pub and off licence operation. Today, the pub was selling beers from Purity, Thornbridge, Sadler's and Green Duck. The friendly gaffer offered us in-house cycle parking - I like this dude's attitude. The Eagle and Tun and neighbouring Woodman now form a good combo for real ale choice.
Cycling up through Hockley, we noticed that the old Hen and Chickens on Constitution Hill is now called Cask and Curry. They have tidied up the exterior but the rain was coming down and we were making a dash for it. Must come back to try a mix and real ale and some spicy food. As a footnote, I was amazed to see that the Soho Foundry Tavern at Smethwick is still trading - I thought the decline of Avery's would sink this place so it is great to see them still weighing in!
Saturday August 19th : Another One Bites The Dust
Quite what I was thinking riding my bike in blustery gales with rain is another thing. However, I found myself riding along Gerrard Street this afternoon and was saddened to see yet another pub boarded up. I am not sure how long the Gunmakers' Arms has been closed - I generally only learn of these things when I cycle past and see the place looking truly grim. This closure is quite a loss as it was one of the great Ansell's houses in Lozells. However, thieves took most of the interior in the autumn of 1996 which saw the treasured tiled servery being severely damaged. This was a real rarity and only a few remain in the region.
Sunday August 20th : It's a Tough Life Being a Cyclist
Sunday morning and I'm well ahead of the weekly training target - yes, you read that correctly, there is a weekly target that has to be met at all costs. An elevation target too. And you thought cycling was all fun! Well, today was fun as I could undertake a short leisurely 58 kilometre ride to tick off the box before starting all over again tomorrow with a new target for the following week.
The only trouble with trying to enjoy a leisurely ride on a decent quality racing bike is that it cannot ever be that leisurely. One has to be constantly on the lookout for hungry young whippersnappers who might sneak up behind you in order to give you a roasting and a fly-by on Strava. I mean you cannot dress to kill and then suffer from roadkill yourself. Thankfully, I have never had my bidons blown away when riding on fast carbon but, as the years advance, it's only a matter of time before I have to face such indignity. When riding heavier metal machines I have, however, been passed by somebody who looks like they are in the middle of an elite time trial. Generally, they are either thirty years younger or transporting 10 kilograms less weight. Time, as they say, waits for no one and the cyclist feels the decrepit decline of the body more than most.
Today, however, was a good day. The sun was shining, the bike was purring and the legs didn't ache too much from Saturday's effort. Bewdley always makes for a good short journey and I took a scenic route to the River Severn before heading downstream to Stourport. Heading north through Wilden I remembered there was a Strava segment that I had narrowly missed bagging recently. So, yes, I admit it ... I targeted the incline of Barnetts Lane as it was up for grabs. I lost momentum on the right-hand turn as I had to wait for the oncoming traffic but I emptied the tanks on the uphill slope. Some golfers had the fright of their lives as I yelled 'fore' when they thought about wheeling their clubs across the road. I figured it was the one quick shout they'd react to - and it worked! "Bloody cyclists" they probably muttered. But hey, the seconds are ticking away and, despite my slow start, I feel like it's going well. I mean, does Peter Sagan stop for golfing trolleys?
And then it's all over and you get the e-mail that bigs you up, issues the kudos and tells you that you've blown away the rest. Simultaneously, another cyclist is being electronically informed that another rider has just taken their KOM [King of the Mountain] for the segment they once commanded. In addition, the message is suggesting they get their arse back out on the road to take it back. And on it goes. Complete and utter madness. We need locking up and the key thrown away - providing, of course, the cell contains a turbo trainer.
Incidentally, the ground on which I am stood was once the site of some of Bewdley's quays. At one time, during the heyday of Bewdley's time as a Severn Port, these quays had slipways between them. They were subsequently joined into one continuous length. From here the Severn Trows would transport manufactured goods from the local areas down to Gloucester and Bristol. The boats would return with tobacco, spices and wines to be sold in Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
Monday August 21st : Post-War Architecture at Risk
I cycled past the Bunch of Bluebells at Saltwells, Netherton today and noticed the building was fenced off. I always fear the worst when fences are erected. Putting shutters on the windows often means that the pub's operators are looking for a new tenant whereas fences generally indicate that the building is about to be demolished as part of a redevelopment. There is plenty of ground on this site - enough for a builder to put up a number of houses. But, I speculate. It would be a shame to see the building go as it is in the unique Ansell's style of the post-war period. The Aston brewery built a number like this and they all seem to be disappearing. The Fountain at Worcester was quite similar to this building, the pillared entrance in particular. This building was formally opened in April 1957 and Len Owen was the first gaffer. Thirty years later it was converted into a Holt, Plant and Deakin outlet, rather incongruously as the faux-Victorian interior did not correlate in any way with the building's façade. Still, a lot of people spent some happy times in the Bunch of Bluebells so it is sad to see the place in this condition.
Wednesday August 23rd : Bookseller's Son Moves Out of Town
I called at Dr. Johnson at [where else?] Lichfield the other day and learned that John Newnes, the licensee has been here for 24 years. He had just signed a new lease with Punch Taverns that will see him at the pub for another five years. Will he hang up his bar towel I wonder? Perhaps he will devote a bit more time to his golf which is a key part of his downtime. His barman, Ben, has also been here for nine years - there's clearly something about Dr. Johnson that makes people want to stay! Benefiting from a recent spruce-up, particularly in the outdoor seating department, Dr. Johnson is a key hub of the local community. It's a no-frills place with sport on the telly, occasional entertainment and serves a bit of real ale and cheap pub grub. I do find it odd that Lichfield's most celebrated figure is only commemorated on an inn sign on the outskirts of town rather than in the city centre.
Thursday August 24th : How To Lose Weight and Gain Pounds in One Day
Today, it would seem, was a day of shedding calories in order to pile them back on again. I undertook a terrific ride over to Tenbury Wells and a wonderful climb over Clee Hill during which I could almost feel the calories dropping off - the sweat was dripping off the peak of my cap I was working so hard. I was back home early in the afternoon and enjoyed a chill-out zone during which I could ruminate on how the summer's fitness was progressing. Rather well I thought on reflection. Then I blew it all by attending not one, but two beer festivals. Rather like two buses coming at once, Shell Corner had an extravaganza of ales and cider over the same Bank Holiday weekend within a stone's throw of each other. Here you can see staff at The Swan in Long Lane preparing for the onslaught of sales in the pub's marquee. To be honest I hadn't realised that this Halesowen pub had such a large space to the rear. But fill it they did with a massive array of real ales and ciders all under one tent. Paul Hicks and Liz Rogers have continued to build on the firm foundations laid by the previous gaffers and offer a terrific choice of beer and cider throughout the year. An incredible amount of work must have gone into this festival and it was an impressive sight to behold at the rear of the pub. We visited fairly early doors and the staff running the outside bar were only just coming to terms with the locations of all the beers on offer. I concentrated on the darker ales such as Kelham Island Cabby Chino, Shiny Tomahawk and Fownes Korvaks Porridge. Billed as an oatmeal porter I couldn't help but wonder how that was going to pour! This brewery was also represented by the lighter Broddrs Swan Song, a beer that Paul and Liz had a hand in production at the production unit in Upper Gornal. Who knows, Paul may even kick his lager habit and delve into the dark side of real ale! The Swan was offering one of the largest selections of cider I have seen on sale at a pub festival - this was on a par with a town festival not just a beer garden. Full marks for effort and presentation.
After an enjoyable visit to The Swan we headed a short distance into Blackheath for the Fixed Wheel Brewery August Bank Holiday Festival. Much less beer choice than that being offered by The Swan but more than compensated by the fact that there were several devastatingly great beers. We dived into the homebrew selections of meister-brewer Scott Povey and both fell in love with Big Mig, all 6.2% of Saison divinity that Senor Miguel Indurain would be proud of. Mild Concussion, the brewery's house mild was also sensational. We probably drank too much Burning Soul Belgian IPA and topped off our visit with some Cloudwater BA Stout at 11.5% which I am drinking here in this photograph. If I am looking a bit pissed then you can put it down to the fact that I was rather tipsy. Damn, I had to be up early the next morning for a 100km bike ride. Oh well, calories on, calories off.
More Photographs from August 2017
Wonky housing - there used to be buildings like this all over the Black Country but they are mostly gone now. I rather miss their quirkiness. Generally, these are known as pit-pulled houses. This one between Jackfield and Ironbridge was abandoned for a while and I thought it would be demolished. Restored, it now looks occupied again. Lloyd's Coppice to the rear was mined on a small scale from the 14th century but upgraded in the mid-18th century with the help of a pumping engine, the remains of which are still visible today.
A view of the ruins of Viroconium's public baths at Wroxeter, once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. For just over £6 you can wander around the remains and explore a reconstructed town house from the period. The nearby Church of Saint Andrew was partly built with stone from the old Roman city.
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"At each Inn on the road I a welcome could find; At the Fleece I'd my skin full of ale; The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind; At the
Dolphin I drink like a wheale. Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff; They'd capital flip at the Boar; And when at the Angel I'd tippled enough, I went to the
Devil for more."
Mail Coach Guard
Related Newspaper Articles
"Birmingham is beginning to see a great deal of its Welsh water scheme. On the road between Solihull and Northfield, considerately placed notice
boards warn cyclists that soon a sharp look out will have to be kept for excavations. Between Frankley and Northfield Station great pipes are being hauled continually. From
the higher parts of the road may be seen a long line of these pipes across the fields, rising and falling over hill and dale, and looking, with their tar-coating, glistening
in the sun, like the folds of some fabulous serpent. This line furnishes an unmistakable clue, which followed up, brings one to the great service reservoir near Frankley
Beeches, It was followed yesterday by a party of thirty or forty from the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the members of the Institute Scientific Society, under the
leadership of Councillor Martineau. Passing through the navvies' temporary village, the party were met by Mr. F. W. Macaulay, the resident engineer, who took them over
the works, and described the purpose and construction of the reservoir and its adjuncts. It is from this reservoir that Birmingham will directly receive its supply. The
storage is two hundred million gallons, which, at the rate of thirty gallons per head per day, would, without renewal, serve for about ten days the population in and around
Birmingham, dependent on the scheme. Semi-circular in plan and divided into two by a wail forming a sagitta of the arc, the reservoir has a water surface of
twenty-five acres and a depth of 31½ft. when bank full. Roughly the reservoir is about 650ft. above the level of Birmingham, but though it will give a higher
average pressure than is now possible, it will not serve the higher parts of the city and suburbs. Water, therefore, will be pumped from it to still higher reservoirs at
Warley. The work is going on to the satisfaction the engineers, who, have no doubt of being ready within the Parliamentary time limit. The larger portion of the main walls
has been erected, and a considerable portion of the blue brick and asphalt lining is ready. The filter beds are well in hand, and several of them are about half completed.
The pipes now being got into the ground are for the 3ft. 6in. main to Birmingham. At first the inlet to the reservoir will consist of two cast-iron mains of this size,
but ultimately there will be six, and all permanent works are constructed with this view. The six pipes would bring
the water from Wales at the rate of a hundred million
gallons a day, filling the reservoir in two days instead of in six. With the tunnel through the hill at the back of the reservoir good time is being kept, about half of its
length of a mile having been completed. At present some 450 men are employed on the works, the supply of labour having been largely drawn upon for other works in the
vicinity, such as the Hollymoor Asylum and the pipe-laying contract. The latter has been given to Messrs. John Aird and Son, while the contractor for the reservoir is
Mr. J. Kellett. Only a short afternoon had the visitors allowed themselves, but under the guidance of Mr. Macaulay they were able to get a good idea of the magnitude of the
works, and the nature of the various operations, among which those performed by the steam navvy - already described with other details, of the works in the Daily Post
- excited much admiration. Need it be said that the visitors thanked the resident engineer very heartily for the opportunity he had given them."
"Frankley Reservoir - Scientific Society's Visit"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 3rd 1900 Page 11