The joys of The Brown Sign Way not only come in the sheer quantity of brown-signed attractions across Britain but also in their variety. There are 93 different types of attraction and facility that get their own symbol on brown signs, for example:
Birds of Prey
Historic Dockyard/Naval Attraction
Of course there are attractions that don't fit into any of the 93 categories and these either get their own unique symbol (like Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Millennium Dome) or don't have a symbol and have just text on their sign. There are a few niche categories, like heavy horse and brass rubbing centres that get their own symbol and as much as you might think there aren't really enough of them to warrant having their own symbol I like the idea that they're important and British enough to be included.
An attraction that doesn't have it's own symbol but really should (and what a brilliant symbol it would be) are greyhound stadiums, so when Perry Barr dog track in Birmingham signed themselves up to my website it inspired me to research the history of greyhound racing in Britain. The first ever official greyhound races were held at Manchester's Belle Vue Stadium after an American enthusiast brought over the concept (which emerged from coursing) in 1926. By 1927 there were over 40 dog tracks across the UK and the sport proved very popular, especially with the urban working classes. It enjoyed it's peak in popularity just after WWII but as with many sports and leisure activities at the time visitor numbers began to wane in the 1960s, probably due to the ease and affordability of travel and the shifting trends in how people spent their leisure time.
My closest dog track at Catford sadly closed down in the late '90s which I used to frequent with my first ever boyfriend. My dad would give us tips (he's very proud of his short lived stint as a professional gambler and still avidly watches the horse racing and knows everything there is to know about greyhounds) and I used to love watching all the gorgeously sleek and graceful dogs darting after a plastic hare at nearly 40 miles an hour. There are still 25 licensed dog tracks around Britain and I was heartened to find that greyhound racing is still alive and well and hadn't followed the same fate as the track in Catford. As luck would have it the day after signing up a very nice chap from Perry Barr got in touch and asked me to write about them as part of my adventures along The Brown Sign Way, as if I needed any more convincing he was throwing in dinner at their Skyline restaurant for me and my plus one, I was sold and booked the next Friday off work.
My plus one was The Mose who I'd convinced to sack off a proper paying photography job to come with me at short notice and take some brilliant photos of the night. I booked us into the friendliest hostel in the world (Hatter's Hostel) and cained it up the M40 to Birmingham.
This is the sign for the stadium (one of millions of brown signs I spotted around Birmingham, rock on Brummies, I think you must be holding some sort of record there). We got to the track as soon as it opened so Mose could take some pictures and I could sit and calm down before racing began (when I get too excited I feel I might have some panic attack of joy and need to keep myself in check). We were looked after by Kathy Burke (not the unfunny one off the telly but a lovely lady nonetheless) and I ordered a steak and shandy, Jo had pie and a proper pint. The atmosphere at the stadium was great with an amazing buzz of excitement, enhanced by the bugle piping out "The Fan Fair of The Common Man" before every race when it was time to introduce the dogs.
We studied the form and placed our bets with the betting woman who comes handily around to your table so you don't even need to get up. I was most proud of my £8 win on Swift Gin, I did only back him on his name alone, which you're really not supposed to do, but unbelievably I won.
Here are some of the The Mose's pictures of the evening...
I loved watching the dads and sons at the trackside. The boys intently studied the form in their booklets and were consulting their dads on the possible winners, jumping up and down as the dogs were paraded and choosing their favourites. When the dogs sprinted past them at the winning post the boys went mental, they were happy happy little chappies, and it was brilliant to see them really engaged and enjoying themselves....
Incidentally greyhounds make good pets, and you're reminded of this all around the stadium with cute/hilarious posters of retired racing greyhounds in the hope of encouraging you to buy one. I have included a few below...
So, it's not all about museums along The Brown Sign Way and I'm very glad I got the opportunity to go up and visit Perry Barr on my adventures, so next time you see a brown sign for a greyhound stadium why not follow it and win/lose a few quid on the dogs, it's a really quality evening.