Tuesday, August 9, 2022

West Midlands Wanderer

The West Midlands area has been buzzing.  For once, it's not Peaky Blinders we have to thank for our popularity, but the Commonwealth Games.  

As of last Thursday, we had yet to visit our second city to soak up the atmosphere, although the cycling timed trials competitors directly passed Himley Hall, a ten minute drive from our front door.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find out any information on the start time, so to get a glimpse of the action would have meant carrying a deck chair, finding a suitable spectator's spot and camping out potentially for hours.  Later, there were tales of woe from neighbours who successfully found a spot, only for their view to be obscured by a load of late comers who thought nothing of taking up a position directly in front of them, resulting in some stereotypical British behaviour.  Say nothing, but stew inwardly and have a good moan later.  

We watched the action live from the comfort of our sofa, which was weird given how close events were unfolding and I was a little disappointed to not capture any of the action with my camera. Mercifully we were able to see all of this without anyone's balding head obscuring our view.  There was much excitement when one cyclist crashed on the bend and some hesitancy as to the best course of action.  Whilst the unfortunate athlete tried in vain to free his bike from the barrier, the team took a little too long in taking the decision to provide him with a replacement.  Given my lack of visuals, I'll let my friend Lynne's brilliant photo do the talking, captured on the outskirts of Wolverhampton.

Photo:  Lynne Hewitt (@wmidsphotos)

Post road closures, we visited Himley for an evening walk around the Capability Brown landscaped grounds and the lake.  Incidentally, is there a country house or stately home in the UK not landscaped by Capability Brown?  He must have been exceptionally busy during his time on this earth!

Not Brum's bull, but bulrushes, dancing in the summer breeze.

A fabulous weeping willow providing shade and texture lakeside.

Rewinding a little to last weekend, we squeezed in a visit to the ruins of Buildwas Abbey, just down the road from Ironbridge in Shropshire.  Formerly a Cistercian abbey comprising church and claustral buildings, Buildwas Abbey opened its doors in 1138, although ultimately, like many others, was suppressed in 1536 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.  That said, the remains are remarkable and substantial...see for yourselves.

English Heritage Strimming

As impressive and imposing as the ruins are, my favourite part and the biggest surprise for me, was the Chapter House, or meeting place for monks to discuss business, receive important visitors and mete out punishments to rule breakers. 

The details still visible in the decorative stonework blew my mind and this view instantly made me think of the work of Escher.

But even more amazing was the incredible Medieval tiled floor.  Just incredible!

Visitors, though thin on the ground, appeared perfectly in frame on more than one occasion and even a local swallow obliged me by flying into view at a particularly opportune moment.

The Abbey is managed by English Heritage and free to enter, although parking is quite limited.  I can't believe it's taken me so long to visit.

Another day, another West Midlands destination.  This time, a visit to the city of Worcester's Art Gallery and Museum, principally to see the Magic of Middle-Earth exhibition, celebrating the fantasy world brought to life by Tolkien and the generations of writers, artists, musicians, film makers, environmentalists and game designers it has influenced.  Originally written as a bed time story for the author's son and not intended for publication, a friend of the family read Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and pushed for him to publish the work.  Tolkien deliberately left parts of the story somewhat vague to encourage further development of the world in the minds of the readers. The exhibition contained around 200 rare objects and artworks, including first edition copies of the books...

...Tolkien's hand drawn map...

...artworks inspired by the world he created...

...scale models depicting key battle scenes...

...and albums featuring songs inspired by the books (including local lads Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath).

This song, The Wizard, from Black Sabbath's debut album, was directly inspired by Gandalf. (More on Ozzy later).


It may not surprise you to note that we were possibly the only visitors to this exhibition devoid of black hair dye and facial piercings, although curiously there was no reference to the influence of Tolkien on the "Goth" look.

We wandered off and in the time we had left on the parking meter, checked out some of the other exhibits celebrating the area's industry.

Some early incarnations of the famous Worcestershire Sauce....

A reconstructed Victorian pharmacy...

An Albatross from the Natural History section.  As impressive as this bird is, I was more interested in the window reflections on its glass case!

I was drawn to this portrait and the subject's slightly troubled, pensive expression, by the Ukranian artist Meninsky.  Fast forward 24 hours and Gareth would be playing croquet at Himley Hall with a couple of Ukranian refugees (a free activity he was drawn into just before our Sunday morning walk and coffee), such is life.  War and art, two of life's constants.  

This incredible bronze sculpture by William Calder Marshall (1880) is titled "Throwing Sabrina into the Severn" and tells the story of Sabre and and her sister, Estrildis, being cast into the River Severn on the orders of their mother's lover's wife Guendolen, to remind the world of Guendolen's late husband (King Locrine's) infidelity.  It's a complicated and tangled story of love and betrayal.  You can read it for yourself here. Sabrina and the River Severn (severntales.co.uk) However, Sabre (also known as Sabrina in the Romanised language of the time) was henceforth the name attributed to the River Severn and it was known as Sabrina for centuries until it became Anglicised.  

Outside, Queen Victoria was maintaining her watch outside the Worcester Crown and County Courts.

But I can't really leave this week's blog there without touching on the star attraction and location at the centre of that catchy earworm of a tune on everyone's lips right now, Brum!   Did you know we've been hosting the Commonwealth Games?  Yesterday, we finally made it into our second city on the final day of the games.  In 27 degree heady heat, we walked in through Digbeth, where the local street artists had made their own Commonwealth Games tribute to a young Scottish boxer.

In the centre, the city was heaving, awash with colour and the party was still in full force.

We obviously headed to the star of the show.  Nope, not this one (which incidentally, I have to thank for putting my back out after daring to bend at a 45 degree angle after doing so well lately).  

This one!

I got a little carried away with my camera, desperate to capture the bull from a different angle.  For the sake of this blog post and for my own sanity, I created a Facebook album of the day, which you are welcome to view here.  (1) Facebook

I confess I became somewhat fixated with the bull's rear end and his impressive chain and anchor tail.  I suppose you could say it's a bum ting! 

Vix will be pleased to learn that we also finally made it to Dishoom, the Indian Restaurant on Chamberlain Square, savouring our choices of Chilli Broccoli Salad, Gunpowder Potatoes and Dishoom Chicken Tikka Rolls, washed down with a Kingfisher beer.  I was persuaded to try the Basmati Kheer described as "silky caramelised basmati rice pudding cooked with vanilla-infused coconut milk, cardamon and cashews, cooled a layered with blueberry compote."  All very impressive and demolished before either or us thought to take a photo, so you'll have to make do with one of us!  

We continued on our way, suitably refreshed.  As I stalked an orange haired woman through the crowds, we noticed a reassuring police presence (although the automatic weapons were new).

We ended our day with a look around Red Brick Market and made it back home in time for the closing ceremony and Birmingham's own Prince of Darkness, Ozzy, performing with Black Sabbath.  

A perfect day!  

I'll leave you with a short video of the bull in action.  In the coming days we will be heading off over the border and into Wales for a much needed break.  Don't hesitate to leave a comment.  I love to hear from you.  See you shortly!


  1. Viva the West Midlands! isn't it exciting to be in the spotlight for positive reasons?
    I'm so pleased that you visited Dishoom and that gorgeous photo of yourselves more than makes up for the lack of Instagram w@nker foodie shots! I love that majestic lady with the red hair and white dress and was fascinated by the bull's tail,too. I wondered if it was a reference to the anchor being the hallmark for Birmingham silver.
    Al's mate, Jim, represented the Falkland islands in the road racing - he's a Walsall lad but moved over there for work a few years ago, they went and cheered him on! xxx

    1. It is so exciting and I'm glad we made it to Dishoom. It was lovely being able to sit outside and bask in the sunshine, with live music playing in the background. I wish every day was like that! You could be right about the anchor. The Titanic anchor was also made in Netherton wasn't it? Plus we have the chain making history. It could be symbolic of all of those things. I saw Liz's post on Instagram about Jim. They must be so proud! xxx

  2. Buildwas Abbey is still on our list, those tiles are stunning! Loving the sound of the Magic of Middle-Earth exhibition. The Commonwealth Games aren't much known here in Belgium (I think) but as a kind of honorary Brit they aren't for me, even if I'm not much of a sports fan. I've also seen the BBC "It's a Brum Ting" spot, obviously. Well done Brum! The mechanical bull is fantastic, by the way. As for watching the action live from the comfort of our sofa, we've done the same when the Tour de France passed through our village ... if only to see if we could spot our house from the air! xxx

    1. We went on a whim to Buildwas, so I had no idea what to expect - the tiled floor was magnificent! There's a campaign to make the bull a permanent fixture, but it's made mostly from foam and fibre glass. At least you're guaranteed a first class view from the sofa! xxx

  3. so much sportive exitement! :-D
    thank you for taking us along on your wanderings....... fabulous photos!! the country house is beautiful and the abbey stunning - this floor tiles!
    i´m more the "museum type" then into athletics :-D so Worcester's Art Gallery and Museum looks very interesting to me..... did you know that there was a "Worcestershire Sauce" fabrication in dresden during GDR time - they even had made up their own recipe.

    1. To be honest, we're not particularly enthusiastic about athletics, but it has been hard not to be swept up in all of the excitement! I didn't know about the Dresden "Worcestershire Sauce" - fascinating. The Worcester Sauce factory was at one point turned into a pub - we used to eat there. Sadly it's now been reconfigured into apartments. xxx

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  5. Oooh, I really enjoyed watching some of the Commonwealth games on t' tele. What a buzz it must have been in person. Hmmm, do you think Capability Brown perhaps got a trainee to do all his work for him, whilst he drank brandy and hobnobbed with wealthy prospective customers? Chapter House really is something special. That Black Sabbath album artwork is my favourite! Now, can you and Vix stop talking about the deliciousness of Dishoon and please send some food parcels out to us poor blog readers. My mouth is watering! ;) xXx

  6. That ruin is wonderful! Love the tiles!

    The Tolkien exhibition looks great too! As a member of the Alternative community I have to say Tolkien and fantasy are popular. But I think everyone loves Tolkien! Perhaps those of us who wish to escape do love fantasy a little more? Who knows.

    I was very excited about that bull as I am a big Steampunk fan!


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