Real ale by rail

DESIGNATED DRIVER NOT REQUIRED

Unless you're The Fat Controller, trains are - on the whole - the answer to stress free travel. And the answer to happiness? Country pubs that can be reached care of the Midlands' substantial spider's web of tracks. Here are six of the best.
Pub: The Boot Inn, Old Warwick Road, Lapworth, B94 6JU
Train: Moor Street to Lapworth (Chiltern Rail, 23 mins), £6.50 return
From the station, take a 15-minute walk over the stream and past the village hall to this good looking gastropub. Expect low ceilings, tiled floors, exposed wooden beams and a fire pit-heated tipi in the back garden, of course. Proudly food-focussed - everything we've ever sampled at The Boot has been deeply satisfying. Book ahead for Sunday lunch. Or don't, but that would be a real waste of a day.
Pub: The Weighbridge, Scarfield Wharf, Alvechurch, B48 7SQ
Train: New Street to Alvechurch (London Midland, 32 mins), £4.50 return
This waterside pub by Alvechurch Marina (pictured) has awards by the gallon full and - crucially - is within stumbling distance of the railway station, enabling a pint in hand scenario in under three minutes. A few more drinks might convince you to trade in your return ticket for a narrowboat from the boat centre (next door) and get acquainted with the sunsets of the Birmingham and Worcester Canal.
Pub: The Queens, Belbroughton, DY9 0DU 
Train: Moor Street to Blakedown (London Midland, 37 mins), £6.90 return
Okay, we're cheating slightly here because you will need a six minute taxi journey once you get to Blakedown (Falcon Taxis 01384 393939), or a 2.8 mile walk. But it's worth it. Brum may have five Michelin stars (has anyone mentioned that?) but we’re yet to bag a Bib Gourmand, the Michelin Man’s award for top food at affordable prices. That’s what you’ll find at this 16th Century gastropub with rustic beamed interior. Two courses for £12.50 (Mon to Sat); three-course Sunday roast, £19.95. Book ahead.
Pub: Cross Keys Hotel, 42 Hill Street, Cannock, WS12 2DN
Train: New Street to Hednesford (London Midland, 41 mins), £6.10 return
Dating back to 1746, this former coaching inn is a 15-minute walk from the station and has been Cannock CAMRA’s Pub of the Year for five out of the last six years, so expect decent beer and plenty of it. Sitting right on the edge of Cannock Chase (pictured) and next door to Hednesford Hills Raceway, this pub is the perfect pitstop for dog walkers and mountain bikers alike.
Pub: Codsall Station, Chapel Lane, WV8 2EJ
Train: New Street to Codsall (London Midland, 28 mins), £7.80 return
Past Wolverhampton and a small stretch of green belt lies the semi-rural suburb of Codsall. The train takes the strain on this jaunt with the pub sitting right on the station in the original Grade II-listed mainline building. Belonging to Black Country brewery Holdens, this place is packed with railway memorabilia and has a raised patio overlooking the passing trains. It delivers all the essentials of a great boozer: open fire, real ale, friendly chat and most excellent pork pies.
Pub: The Trent Lock, Lock Lane, Long Eaton, NG10 2FY
Train: New Street to Long Eaton (Cross Country Rail, one hour), £16.70 return
A 20-minute walk from the station past Trent Lock Golf Club, this is the furthest pub on our list, but it’s worth the trip to this splendid waterway junction where the River Soar, the River Trent, the Erewash Canal and the Cranfleet Canal meet. As well as The Trent Lock, which has good food and bags of charm, there’s neighbouring waterside pub The Steamboat Inn, plus the Lock Keepers’ cottage from 1794 which has been turned into a tea room.

EXHIBITION:
IF I WERE THE DEVIL


You know how movie trailers inspired video games trailers and, in turn, book publishers started making trailers for new books? Well, now there's such thing as art exhibition trailers and they are, on the whole, terrible. This one is good. Very good. It features the late American radio commentator Paul Harvey’s prophetic ‘If I Were the Devil’ speech, which was broadcast to a US audience in 1965. From drugs and alcohol to sex and gambling, Harvey’s speech postulated what the devil might do to corrupt society. Decades later, much of it is bob on and the speech is the inspiration for Wolverhampton artist Keith Maiden's brilliant (and free) exhibition of the same name. If I Were the Devil runs March 12 to 20 at Castle Fine Art. More pics, the trailer and a transcript, right here.
 

WIN A YEAR'S WORTH OF WAGAMAMA


If you're struggling to call out your katsu from your kimchee, wagamama is giving one wise and worthy subscriber to I Choose Birmingham (that's ALL of you, then) the next twelve months to find out. Get yourself a meal for two, each month, for the next year. That's £360 worth of brothy, rameny, herbaceous goodness to be slurped at wagamama Brindleyplace, Bullring or New Street. To enter, all you need do is be a paid up subscriber of this here (always free) e-mag and tell us who you'd share your spoils with over on Facebook. The fact that wagamama was created by the same man responsible for both Hakkasan and Yauatcha may or may not help your chances. Okay, it won't help your chances at all but in terms of trivia, we're pretty pleased with it.

SONIC THE HADRON


What do a north African remake of Purple Rain, a picnic in the desert and the Hadron Collider (pictured) have in common? All feature at UoB's Arts and Science Festival, which this year explores memory and forgetting, through free exhibitions, performances and screenings. The pick of the busy bunch arrives in the form of a collaboration including Switzerland's CERN and the Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research - which absolutely did not gain its title based on the acronym it creates. The pairing will present a performance involving the sonification of data streams from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most complex particle accelerator. Experimental data will be the raw material for improvised music and visualisations programmed by the ensemble. BEER: Dark Matter is a happenin' on March 17 at BOM. Nomad is of course involved, and you should expect a physics-inspired menu (we have no idea what you should expect).
Venue: Antep, 368-370 Ladypool Rd, B12 8JY; website
Choice: Adana Kofte (£7.45)  Chooser: We chose. It's our "control" dish.  

Regular readers will know that we tend to do everything we can to avoid starting sentences with something as drab as "regular readers will know", but sometimes that just ain't possible. With that in mind, regular readers will know that we've been on a one magazine mission to find the best Turkish in Birmingham. It started 60 issues ago at Rod Roj, went via Marmaris and has landed here, at Antep. Sweet, sweet Antep. The smokiest of charrings care of their thunderingly big okackbasi grill gives the Adana's minced lamb a barbecuey blush, which combined with deep spice and juicy, guilt-poking fat lifts this kebab high above the previous two restaurants' take on the dish. That, coupled with by far the most upmarket interior of the three (prices rise accordingly) make it a strong contender for your Friday night dine out. Next stop Nemrut.
 
  • Kinome Kitchen is launching a Japanese pop-up at the Kitchen Garden Cafe. There's a £10 preview night on April 1. Consider this space watched. Attentively
  • We're at least a 32th Irish. And on Sunday from 12pm, that will count for everything. Here's the map for this year's Paddy's Day Parade. Yes, the mini-Guinnesses represent an en-route pub
  • Remember when movies came with live music? Us neither. But they're back - at the Mockingbird, where Whiplash will be accompanied by live music before, during and after the film. March 18. Tickets
  • For one glorious night, Birmingham will become the pizza mecca we know it all deserves to be. Brum's Big Fat Pizza Festival is in the JQ on April 30. Early bird tickets sold out within hours
  • Control the beer foam at the Gunmakers Arms on Tuesday, with Dr Chris Hamlett, who is speaking as part of a series of scientific talks about the brown bubbly stuff. At 7pm. More
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WORDS: Mary GriffinKaty Drohan, Tom Cullen
PICTURES: Cannock Chase (Flickr Commons), Alvechurch Marina (Flickr Commons)

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