Solihull Moors

Brueton Park, Solihull: Trentwards flows the Blythe

Among the many exciting breakthroughs made possible by the Internet, citizen journalism is one of the most inspiring.

It creates a world in which everyone can be a broadcaster or publisher, regardless of talent, aptitude, possession of facts or any self-awareness at all.

This is all made possible by one single advance: the removal of expensive and pernickety sub-editors from the process. Sub-editors are the latest victims of a gradual diminution in the variety of skills once thought necessary to journalism. A trainee reporter 40yrs ago would have had to produce material good enough in different ways to satisfy at least five pairs of eyes: those of the line manager (news or features editor), of the sub, of the production editor, of the editor and, not least, of the typesetter who would have regarded his (it was invariably ‘his’) interference as essential.

Now, in the era of citizen journalism, none of those is necessary. Material can be published immediately, with no regard to its factual accuracy, legality, sense, honesty, spelling or grammar. As a result almost nothing you read on the Internet can be trusted. A generation of sceptics will grow to maturity in the online era. By a quirk of irony, scepticism is one of the first requirements of a journalist.

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Be honest: when you first saw the name Solihull Moors on a screen, didn’t you assume it was another typically carefree piece of online editing? Surely ‘Motors’ was intended. In the West Midlands, Solihull Motors made a lot more sense than Solihull Moors, there being neither wuthering uplands nor wandering Berbers in the vicinity. Yes, Solihull Motors must be a former company team, like PSV Eindhoven or Bayer Leverkusen.

It was the occasional presence in the Oldham attack of the great Matt Smith, hero of an FA Cup win over Liverpool in 2013, that brought Solihull’s football team to my wavering attention. Athletic had plucked Smith from the Moors or Motors, as I continued to think of them, then in the sixth-tier Conference North.

In fact Solihull Moors is too young a club to have any links with prominent centres of motor manufacture. A young fan would be as confused by Motors as I was by Moors. The club was formed in 2007 by the merger of Solihull Borough and Moor Green. Moor Green was the older club, originating in Hall Green, south-west of Birmingham. Solihull Borough had originally played under the name Lincoln FC. Moors, then, is not the most confusing name that might have been attached to the club.

The Moors play at Damson Parkway, about midway between Solihull and Junction 6 of the M42. ‘Motors’ would still be appropriate: the ground is surrounded by Jaguar Land Rover premises. And at Junction 6 you’ll find the National Motorcycle Museum).

National Motorcycle Museum: pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans

My first reaction to the National Motorcycle Museum was to feel physically ill. The evocative smell of burned oil and the gleam of polished chromium sent me hurtling down Housman’s “happy highways where I went and cannot come again”. To have owned a Triumph T20 Tiger Cub and, like a fickle lover, to have casually dropped it on the acquisition of a full driving licence… the sight of all the wonderful machines I might have graduated on to was deeply upsetting. An AJS took me back almost 50 years to the temptations of a dealer at Rayners Lane; a Norton reminded me of a test-ride in St Albans, where I was only just strong enough to keep the bike upright at a red traffic light. All around me, middle-aged men in leathers were welling up.

Eventually, by looking not at the bikes I had loved and lost but at the museum as a series of collections, I calmed down.

Second impressions, then. As I approached the museum a number of bikes were sweeping around a modest circuit coned out in the car-park. The sound suited the setting but the speed must have been frustrating for the riders. Within, the museum’s antechambers have the atmosphere of a high-class golf course club-house, but with highly-polished and scrupulously dusted motor vehicles where you might expect trophy cabinets.

There are five big galleries in which motorcycles (and related vehicles) are lined up by age, by manufacturer and in some cases by purpose. It’s an overwhelming prospect at first – 850 or more bikes, beautifully restored and/or maintained, in rank upon rank. Every one of them looks as though you could ride it out of there, pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans.

Copperknob: as though a plumber built it

Mostly, the National Motorcycle Museum is about ogling beautiful engineering and lamenting lost youth. But it’s also educational: who knew that Triumph was founded by German immigrants called Siegfried Bettmann and Mauritz Schulte; that Steve McQueen was among the pursuing Wehrmacht riders as a stuntman failed to jump the wire in The Great Escape? And there are curiosities: a machine and banjo used in the 1935 George Formby film No Limit; the 1929 Chater-Lea ‘Copperknob’, on which the copper-plating looks as though a plumber built it.

Upstairs, the restaurant is worth a visit. If the museum premises suggest a club-house, the restaurant plunges to the opposite extreme by summoning up the spirit of the transport caff. Outside the window, the dual-carriageway A45 stands in for the motorways beside which such services once fed a nation.

How much Solihull itself has to offer is something of a mystery. If you set out to follow signs to Library Square ‘i’, good luck. From at least two key directions – the town centre and the railway station – the signs point you in the general direction but drop you well before anything resembling a library or even a square interrupts your progress. Perhaps other signs indicating Town Centre Touchwood provide a clue: these pointers show where something was the last time anybody checked, and with luck that’s where it will still be. (Touchwood is, of course, a shopping and entertainment complex – Solihull’s Bonheur des Dames.)

The most obviously old building is the 15th century Manor House). A plaque confirms that it dates from 1495. Now occupied on a Saturday morning by a number of small craft businesses, it is open to anyone to wander in. Further along the intermittently decorative High Street is a 16th century building, but here you’d have to feign an interest in fashion to look inside. Off the High Street, Mell Square with its carousel and coffee house has something almost Parisian in its atmosphere.

Solihull’s medieval Square, apparently from a geometrical era before the triangle had been discovered

But this is clutching at straws. Not having found the information centre I asked the clairvoyant I met in the Manor House what I should look at. She suggested the Church of St Alphage. At the eastern end of the High Street, this is apparently the historic core of the town. Opposite the church is the 16th century George Hotel, now a Ramada Inn, with more half-timbering than a Morris Traveller and enough leading in the windows to cage a flock of budgies. Inexplicably, the Ramada Inn’s website has no photograph of the building’s noble southern face. Instead, it focuses on characterless modern luxury.

Across the triangle of pavement and roadway known as The Square is a war memorial on which the name AA Guest caught my eye. And then you’re into the Church of St Alphege, largely built between the 12th century and 1535. Alphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury who died at the hands of drunken Danish raiders in 1012. A side chapel is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, another Archbishop of Canterbury. What either had to do with Solihull was not clear. To the left of the high altar is an unusual two-storey arrangement of chapels. The chill dimness of the Crypt Chapel of St Francis contrasts with the colour-flecked clarity of the Chantry Chapel above.

Solihull’s other attractions seem to be out of doors, but without ever finding Library Square it’s difficult to be sure. Two parks to the south-west and south-east of the town are, fortunately, hard to miss.

Perhaps that should be three parks. Brueton and Malvern Parks have their own names and characters but they arc towards each other and merge in the flood plain of the River Blythe. There’s water too in Tudor Grange Park, where the Alder Brook feeds a small lake. Tudor Grange also has pitch-and-putt, a cycle track, a skate-park and playground. It hosts the Solihull Summer Festival and the town’s bonfire night party.

A park-run had just finished as I arrived at Brueton Park. Is it harsh to wonder whether park runners are missing the point by driving to the park for their exercise? Perhaps a man who has just driven 100 miles for no better reason than to go to a football match is in no position to make disparaging remarks about leisure runners.

The car-park offers a generous 3hrs free deal. Once the runners had dispersed, most of the takers were dog-walkers and most of the dogs were spaniels. Brueton is the more expansive of the twinned parks. Across the Blythe, which information boards point out flows towards the Trent from here, there’s a substantial nature reserve with different habitats and plank pathways to take you through them. Back in the park itself, around the bend towards Malvern, the variety of trees suggests an arboretum but hardly any are identified; the exception is a hawthorn dedicated to people who were killed or injured in accidents at work.

The Parkridge Centre, operated by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, has a café that opens on to a separate nature area with trails, activities and an arboretum. The Centre is surprising even down to the tiling in its toilets – a line of sculptural tiles carries the wildlife message around the smallest room.

Malvern Park is more formal, with poignant memorial gates, an avenue, so far unplanted ornamental gardens and a fine statue called the Horse Tamer. But this park too has a children’s playground, tennis courts and, for no obvious reason, a small reconstruction of a medieval market hall.

Strictly Come Defending: the Moors, in blue, line up their defense to a free-kick

The football match prompted ungenerous reflections. The Mighty Moors might just be lucky or resilient enough to be promoted. Not notably superior to Havant & Waterlooville, who were relegated by the defeat, Solihull won very late on after conceding what must have been a deflatingly late equaliser.

Solihull Moors 3 Havant & Waterlooville 2

Automated Technology Group Stadium, 13 April 2019