Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

The Best Pubs in Walsall

Ahead of our match at Birmingham we were staying at the Park Inn next to Bescot Stadium. There had been no reasonable accommodation in Birmingham and this was handy enough.

I was confused by an item on the reception desk. Was there stuff floating in some sort of liquid?

Apparently so. How odd.

Our room was on the third floor. As we stepped in the lift, I gave Lee a serious look.

‘You realise that I need a poem every time I get in a lift now, otherwise it won’t be the same.’

I was referring to the lift at the Library of Birmingham, which reads a rhyming couplet every time the doors close.

And so it came to pass that, every time we took the lift (quite a lot, as it happened), Lee came up with a little couplet. He’s actually rather good at them. They also provided a little insight into his state of mind on each journey.

Our room was decent, with a wet room type shower and also a desk where Lee could work on his videos. No biscuits – so points docked for that – but I was dieting anyway so that didn’t really matter.

Tonight I was heading into Walsall to catch up with some friends I had made whilst living there. I also had no intention of missing out on the best pint of mild in the world while I was about it…

Katz (The Victoria)

This is a traditional two-roomed little pub, in which I watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon and Wigan win the FA Cup.

Here is the beer board for tonight.

The Christmas lights were a lovely touch.

To be honest, I didn’t read it. I was here for one thing only and that was the Church End Gravediggers Mild. At 3.8% it is harmless enough to drink all night. But boy is it a tasty drop! If I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life, it would be Gravediggers. It’s just so tasty and fluffy and quaffable.

As I didn’t approach the bar in Katz tonight – my beer being kindly provided by Evo (of Evo Boozy Scribbler pub blog fame) and Dennis – you’ll have to make do with the Gravediggers photobombing this shot.

Evo had kindly brought me this fantastic fox teapot that he found in his loft. When he advertised it on Facebook during lockdown, I was straight in there bagging it. Tonight was the first opportunity I’d had to meet Mr Fox in person.

‘I’ve brought a bag if you want to keep him in there?’

‘No way! He’s staying on the table to be admired.’

I’ll explain here that this was not the first occasion Evo and I had been in this pub with a strange friend on the table. Ahead of the pirate-themed Bromsgrove Beer Festival of 2016, I’d had a polystyrene parrot delivered to work. On my way home I met Evo in Katz and I’d felt bad about having the parrot stuffed in a carrier bag, so I perched him on the table. The pub was quite busy that night but no-one said a word about the parrot, as if it was normal to have one on the table.

When we got up to leave, we realised Greg (for he was so-named) had indeed been noticed.

‘Oh are you coming back again with your parrot?’

I started to explain that I didn’t usually take my parrot to the pub but decided it was better not to. I often wondered if I went down in despatches as being the Crazy Parrot Lady and, do you know, I could live with that.

Giving the lie to the above, this photo of Greg was taken in the Drunken Duck in Walsall Wood

But back to the fox teapot. He attracted attention immediately.

‘Ooh can I have a look at your teapot?’

‘Where was he made?’

‘Ooh he’s very light, isn’t he?’

‘Is he a character from something?’

We knew Mr Fox very well very quickly. We noted there was a hallmark on his base but the glazing was too thick to make out the words. He was a dapper fox, wearing a cravat (which dated him, as who wears cravats these days?), waistcoat and jacket. And there was a little chip on the inside of the lid. I felt like I was back at university, analysing an artefact as if for display in a museum.

We were soon joined by Mark, my friend and drinking buddy and, like Evo, a long-suffering Walsall fan. I was really taken by the clarity of Mark’s pint, which was a thing of beauty.

I also noted that I don’t see Green Duck beers in The North, which is a shame, as they are lush. This is a Stourbridge brewery with the most magnificent tap room. If you’re ever anywhere near there, do pay them a visit. Ideally on the cute little shuttle train.

Taken before I got better at photos

Later Brendon and Karina rocked up too – who I became good friends with through Birmingham CAMRA (I met Mark and Dennis through Walsall CAMRA, which proves the organisation is well worthwhile for meeting like-minded people). It was delightful to be surrounded by good friends who had come out on a cold night to see me on my first visit back to my former hometown in perhaps two years.

After a couple of pints of Gravediggers (I’d had no tea, which slowed down my drinking), we headed across to my old local.

Black Country Arms

This is a huge pub and one where I spent many, many hours sitting at the bar, drinking beer and talking nonsense with regulars and staff alike who became friends.

The BCA has a magnificent beer list and here are tonight’s offerings (you can have a paddle of thirds if you can’t decide between them).

Brendon got the last pint of the Beowulf Chocolate Porter (brewed locally at Chasewater, very close to where Chasetown play).

New Invention Brewery is another with an excellent bar at its premises. I think it was opening day when I visited two years ago with The Friends of Highgate Brewery. Tonight I couldn’t resist what Kev the barman billed as a ‘chocolate orange’ stout. And very nice it was too.

It was quite busy in the bar area when we arrived so we grabbed a table upstairs.

The pub emptied as the evening drew on and we decided to relocate to the bar area. Here I caught up with old friend and regular Iggy (also a Saddler).

It was sad to see the pub so quiet on a Friday night, when it would have been busy pre-COVID. Mark informed me that this was how things were round here now. Lots of people had built outdoor shelters and were drinking at home instead of going to the pub. I’ll confess this is something I have noticed in some Blackpool pubs – with people leaving in droves after they’ve eaten, leaving pubs dead around 9pm. And yet other pubs are thriving until close. I wouldn’t have expected the BCA to be so hard hit as it is an excellent hostelry.

There was a new beer on, so I had a half of this.

I have to say that this was the best session in terms of quality beers that I have had in a very long time. Possibly since I left Walsall. Is it that my palate adapted to enjoy local beers during my 20 years living here? I certainly grew to love Indian food much more, possibly as a result of Indian restaurants being so prevalent round here (indeed I would have suggested a curry tonight but for the diet – I have yet to hunt down a nargis kebab anywhere in Blackpool).

They do great food here in the BCA too and I’d often have my tea in here. Landlord Roy’s piccalilli is quite delicious. Their extensive menu includes traditional Black Country Fayre (e.g. faggots and peas) and they do a mean curry too.

Towards the end of the night, I got chatting with a woman at the next table, who was concerned about Mr Fox.

‘Make sure you warm him first, so he doesn’t crack. Just pour in a little hot water and swill it around before pouring the rest in.’

I thanked her for her advice. This was clearly a woman who knew her tea. As I was now two pints and three halves in – with no tea, remember – my emotions began running over and I opened up to this complete stranger about my concerns about Mr Fox.

‘There’s no filter in there to stop the tea leaves. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’

‘Just get a tea strainer – like a little sieve – and pour the tea through. Make sure you get a plastic one, mind, not a metal one.’

I did ask her why but I can’t remember the answer because beer and no tea.

At 1030 it was time to say goodbye to my good friends and retire back to Bescot for the night.

Lee complained that the hotel room was cold (the desk was right by the large window) but it didn’t seem so bad to me (with my beer coat on). I snuggled into bed, completely oblivious to what I was going to wake up to in the morning…

Next up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to Birmingham – Part Two

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