Sunday, 9 December 2018

09/12/18 - Good Beer Guide Ticking in Rugby

Number of Pubs - 5
Good Beer Guide Ticks - 345-349

A first overnight visit to Rugby.   A marginal amount of research undertaken - birthplace of egg chasers and jet engines.   Flashman went to school there.   Slightly more research in plotting a route to take in five of the eight ticks available in town.  Even then, mistakes were made.

The Merchants Inn, 5-6 Little Church Street, North Cotswold Brewery Winter Solstice

We can call off the search for who has been placing all the winning bids on Ebay for brewing paraphernalia.   The first thing that hits you when you enter this ancient, roomy establishment is that every inch of wall is covered in a a beer related advert.   This, and a wing back chair, made me feel most at home.

The Merchants, Rugby
Merchants Inn by Night

The Merchants, Rugby
The View from a Wing Back
Despite the dying moments of the Newcastle vs Wolves game, the large screen around the corner is showing the Rugby.   When in Rome.

9 real ales on offer from hand pulls.  I know, because I counted them.  Mainly to try and determine the odds of me choosing the only one that required the bar staff to disappear around the back and pull from a gravity fed barrel around the back.   The result of my Winter Solstice, this;

The Merchants, Rugby
Lifeless in Rugby
My random trips to towns with Travelodges/Premier Inns always pulls up a gem.  I'm adding the Merchants of cracking pubs that I found instantly delightful. 

The Raglan Arms, 50 Dunchurch Road, London Pride

I spend literally seconds on my photo compositions to take the snap just as someone is emerging out of the front door.

Raglan Arms, Rugby
Got away with it
A spacious, traditional boozer complete with a skittles table, a game that no-one really knows the rules to.

I enjoyed having the snug to myself.   Gave me plenty of room to spread out the Sunday Times.

Raglan Arms, Rugby
All alone, but Proud
The Squirrel Inn, 33 Church Street, Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer

This is as mad as pub ticking gets and I only wish I had been braver to take more photos.

To start with, the pub is tiny and stands architecturally alone from the adjacent buildings.

The Squirrel, Rugby
The Squirrel, all very low ceilings
There's far too much noise coming from inside for 8pm in a Sunday night and all is revealed, once I find the entrance and crouch down to make my way to the bar.

At the far end, a band have setup to play.  Synth Machine, a three piece doing exactly what its says on the tin.   Absolutely hilarious, yet spot on, covers of Tears for Fears, Communards and Depeche Mode that the punters were both loving and joining in with.

Beer was decent - and yes, I have spelt it correctly.   The brewery commented on my disparaging Untappd check where I thought the quality deserved a less awful name of Red Nose Reinbeer with a "ho, ho, ho, Merry Xmas".

I didn't mean to sound like the Grinch.

If I hadn't got two more ticks to get, I would have stayed for the 2nd Set.

Wonderful, joyful stuff.

The Alexandra Arms, James Street, Hooky

The warnings were there, have you ever seen a more post apocalyptic pub sign?

Alexandra Arms, Rugby
In the event of a nuclear attack...
I was probably in the wrong part of the pub, as there were signs of life.   Glimmers of people and music coming from a back room that its not obvious how to get to.

Not only was the bar unstaffed but I couldn't find the bell to summons them.

Alexandra Arms, Rugby
Ghost Town
Alexandra Arms, Rugby
Disclaimer:  Except on Sundays.

Eventually, someone comes.  I ask where the bell is and he is unsure.   We eventually agree it might be the tiny thing under the speaker on the right hand side. 

I should have gone for one of Atomic Breweries beers but played safe with a fairly dreadful, hazy Hooky.

I bet Synth Machine are doing Yazoo right about now.

The Seven Stars, Albert Square, Castle Rock Midnight IPA 

Seven Stars, Rugby
Christmas in Rugby
Its that time of year, where you can settle down with a pint and imbibe with someone with an Elf hat on.  Complete with fake ears.

The pub is a blueprint on how a traditional, locals boozer can be run and worthy of its CAMRA Pub of the Year 2017 award.

Nothing fancy, just good beers, pleasant atmosphere and run by a man that knows and loves what he is doing.

Seven Stars, Rugby
Well run, traditional locals pub
The Sunday Times was completed but alas, Rugby Pub Ticking was not.   A couple of challenges were always going to be out of reach (non Sunday opening Tap houses and clubs that you have to sign in) but there's little excuse for not turning the page.

The Victoria Inn waits for another day.

09/12/18 - Chiltern Chain Walk - Stage 2 - Studham Downs

Distance - 10.7 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Walk Inspiration
Pub - The Bridgewater Arms, Little Gaddesden
Previous Stages - Stage 1

I've adapted the 2nd stage of the Chiltern Chain Walk.   Rather than starting off at a non-descript country lane near Studham, I have chosen to kick things off from the only pub on the route.   I'm always thinking of post walk refreshment.

Straight from the pub car park and we're out on the Chiltern Way to the two highlights of this walk.

The first is the Golden Valley - a lush green ride, breaking up the woodland.   Nice views, easy walking and the majority of today's thin bounty of geocaches.

Chiltern Way
Chiltern Way from the Pub
Golden Valley
The Golden Valley

The next highlight has no name but is a 1.5 mile yomp across a barren landscape of gently folding agricultural land, leading to Nettleden.   Nothing to interrupt the views, with just the red kites and an ever-changing cloudscape above.   Seemed somehow more suited to Yorkshire than Hertfordshire.

A lonely landscape, making for perfect walking
The edge of Great Gaddesden (possibly smaller than Little Gaddesden) is skirted.  Not much else of interest is passed - with the possible exception of a Buddist Monastry - but the paths are good and the views are often superb.

Looking down on Great Gaddesden
Looking down on Great Gaddeston
A4146 Valley
A Valley with the A4146 Hemel Hempstead Road at the bottom
A4146 Valley
Same Valley, looking North

Another enjoyable walk.   Just the pub to report on.

Bridgewater Arms, Little Gaddesden
The Bridgewater Arms
A popular community pub that had one of my pre-requisites after a December walk - real log fires.  I mange to get through the diners to get a perch at the end of the bar, where surprisingly, there are a high number of drinkers.   This includes a couple of old boys who had overdone it on the Red Wine yesterday.   Others were keen to tell them of their indiscretions.

Beer wise, I never expect much from a Greene King.  There were the usual suspects and in an attempt to avoid a GK IPA I asked for a sample of a previously unseen beer called Pocket Rocket.   The pump clip had the picture of an elderly gentlemen on it, so whilst making up my mind, I asked if was a regular.   He was the landlord's recently departed father.

There was no way I could turn it down after this revelation.

Rocket Pocket
Pocket Rocket

Saturday, 8 December 2018

08/12/18 - Ankerdine Hill and the Talbot at Knightwick

Distance - 3.5 Miles
Geocaches - 0
Walk Inspiration - 100 Hill Walks around Birmingham

This is a walk that pack a lot into its short distance.   I'm almost tempted to class it as the finest walk in Worcestershire.

It starts, as all things should, at a Good Beer Guide Pub - the Talbot at Knightwick.   We'll come back to it after sharing how they do recycling in these parts.

The Talbot, Knightwick
Wine Tree
The route takes the right hand side of the pub, where we get a glimpse of the brewery but not the bakery.   Knightwick is self sufficient.  A metaled farm track runs alongside the River Teme.  Its in spate but not presenting a problem to the hunting dog that bravely leaps in to recover a recently shot pheasant.   Guide Dog Joy stays on her leash - if she followed their lead it would present Mrs M with a heart attack.   We are only borrowing her for a year.

Ankerdine Farm
The Farm track to Ankerdine Farm
At Horsham Farm, we turn right a have a muddy climb through a coppice and Joy is presented with her second favourite sound.... after the high pitched whistle that means tea-time, she loves "Go Free", signalling an off lead run.

Ankerdine Farm
Worcestershire Views from Horsham Farm
Joy the Guide Dog
Guide Dog Joy "Gone Free"
We've picked up the Worcestershire Way as it winds its way on lost lanes and through fields and woodland.   Exceptional walking, with views of the Malverns.   Not even a single stile to navigate.

Malvern Views
The Malverns from the Worcestershire Way

Joy the Guide Dog
She shouldn't but too good a location not to stop for a pose
Once Ankerdine Hill is conquered, its a simple task for winding the way down its flanks to get back to the pub.

The Talbot is a C14th former coaching house.  If you're thinking of doing this walk, try the second Sunday of the month, when they host a Farmer's Market.   Not that there isn't produce to purchase on a regular day.   Whilst I am eyeing up the brews, Mrs M has noticed that there are home made doughnuts for sale that "we go very nice with an afternoon cup of tea".

So the brews?   Their own brewery has been mentioned and the beers are called This, That and T'other.   Although they could do with some re-arranging.

This, That, T'Other
Makes No Sense
There's not much to go on to help with selection.   No little sample pots at the front.  I ask the barstaff what's the difference and they simply point to the chalk board to the right, where a full description is available to those that haven't left their glasses on the table.   I chose a "That".   It's met with approval by the two drinkers at the bar.

It's a That
Its that good that I ask if they sell bottles to take away.

Keep your eye on the maths, Blogfans.   Its £2.75 a bottle or £9.50 for three.   I cannot resist a bargain, so go for the 3.   And two doughnuts.

Out the corner of my eye, I notice that Mrs M is furiously tapping numbers into her Smart Phone.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

01/12/18 - Good Beer Guide Ticking in Windsor

There's nothing finer than when all your hobbies combine.

The 10th Stage of the London Countryway, delivers me into Windsor.   And can there be a more spectacular entry into any town than the "Long Walk", coming down from the Copper Horse?

Copper Horse and Long Walk
George III on his Copper Horse
The Long Walk
The pubs are at the end of the Long Walk

The Corner House, 22 Sheet Street, Inspector Remorse, Electric Bear Brewing Company

A slight deviation from the Long Walk brings me to the first tick of the day.....  A impressive building that looks like its going to do what it says on the tin.... A pub in the corner.

Corner House, Windsor
Up close and Personal
Corner House, Windsor
Christmas Bar

Getting in the place proves slightly tricky.   The corner doors in the corner house stick.   The large glass windows make it easier to look out of than into and once inside, you can laugh at the others finding it impossible to gain access.   Several times, I hear the barman shout "the doors stick - keep pushing".

Anywhere else, a sign would be put up.   Probably got something to do with planning permission why this hasn't been actioned here.

My glasses steam up following the change in temperature from cold walk to warm surroundings.  Two men in Orange Marshall jackets emblazoned with the acronym APSE are mistaken as to who they represent.   On first viewing, I think you can guess who I thought they worked for.

My choice from the 10 handpulls was mainly because I am aiming to drink more Porter/Stout this winter and not because of its comedy name.

Inspector Remorse my Apse.

Corner House, Windsor
The Sticky Doors and my Inspector Remorse
Queen Charlotte, Church Lane, Black Sheep

The country's shortest street is in an area that contains a high volume of pubs.   A perfect escape from the tourist hordes.

Queen Charlotte, Windsor
Proof that its a tiny street
Queen Charlotte, Windsor
The Queen Charlotte

From the exterior and chalk written snack board (Wasabi Nuts and Olives, neither of which were dry roasted), you could describe this as an unlikely entry into the Good Beer Guide.

We are firmly in the territory of GastroPub here.

My Untappd check in of Black Sheep caused Mrs M to mistake good lacing with a monster head.

I made my exit before weights and measures had been informed - but not before a photo of the a grand vista from the pub loos.

Queen Charlotte, Windsor
Winner of Pub Loo View 2018
The Carpenters Arms, Market Street, London Pride

This traditional Nicholson's pub has more of a claim to being in the Country's shortest street.

Carpenters Arms, Windsor
The Real Thing
And I was never going to cross the threshold without wondering whatever happened to Ashby's Ales.  One minute, you are a greeting, the next a forgotten relic akin to Hofmeister.

Carpenters Arms, Windsor
All Hail Ashby's Ales
The bay window provided a perfect vantage point to view the Reindeer Parade.

The London Pride was pint of the day.

The Acre awaits for another visit and before the Good Beer Guide in Windsor can be marked as "Complete".

Carpenters Arms, Windsor
Only bettered by ESB
I'd had enough to drink today.   The building opposite looked straight.

Carpenters Arms, Windsor
Its fine, honest

01/12/18 - London Countryway Stage 10 - Sunningdale to Windsor

Distance - 8 Miles
Start - Sunningdale
Finish - Windsor
Geocaches - 7
Pubs - Three Good Beer Guide Ticks in a Separate Blog
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7Stage 8, Stage 9

The half way point of the London Countryway and it seems a good time to take stock.  Last December, I set off from Gravesend, vowing to make a monthly trip to the Smoke to knock off the individual stages.   I never expected that following a 30 year guide book would be so rewarding.   

It's exceeding both the Capital Ring and the London Loop - similar walking endeavours, encircling the capital. 

I've had the hop fields of Kent, Neolithic burial tombs, Medieval manor houses, the joy of walking the Greensands Way and North Downs Way through vineyards and the Surrey hills.   The paths have been excellent (and thankfully still there) and surprisingly, when you consider it's in the South East, a huge variety of wild terrain.   Woodland, vast expanses of common land, ancient sunken paths and  waterways.   Roads are rarely crossed, let alone walked.

It's the sheer variety of walking that make this route such a joy.

And today's leg adds something else, former Royal Hunting grounds, man made imitation Scottish Lochs and a little bit of Tripoli are tacked onto to the list.

Sunningdale Station is left behind to pick up the back alleys of this exclusive enclave of expensive housing.   All gated properties and when I cross a sports ground, of course its a Polo pitch.

The aim is Virginia Water - somewhere I've not walked before.  It was created to represent a Scottish Loch.  The man who commissioned it, the Duke of Cumberland, must have really enjoyed his involvement in the battle of Culloden Moor.   A battle so brutal it earned him the nickname "The Butcher" and forced a lot of 80s schoolchildren to watch documentaries on it.  I can still hear the voiceover repeating "severed below the knee".

Today, its a fine place for dog walking and Geocachers.

Virginia Water
A first glimpse of Virginia Water
A notable Geocache is at Leptis Magna.  Unexpectedly, in a particularly leafy part of Berkshire, are the ruins of a Roman temple, stolen from Libya in the early 1800s.   English Imperialism at its finest.  For the Geocache, I have to collect the information from notice boards to find the treasure's location.

Leptis Magna
Another Multi Cache available using information from the "Cascade"

After large spells of splendid isolation on the London Countryway, Great Windsor Park is packed with people enjoying the wood land and valley gardens.  Always something unexpected around the corner - whether its a Santa race or a 100 ft Totem Pole.

Totem Pole
A gift from the Canada to the Queen in 1958.
The final highlight is the Copper Horse and the Long Walk.   I've been here before and its a hell of sight - although you do need better conditions than those experienced today to really appreciate it.  I have the horse to myself, making a lovely, if not slightly damp, stop off point for lunch.

The Copper Horse
Approaching from the South through the gloom

Copper Horse and Long Walk
Mappiman's Lunch Spot
I'm not exactly sure how long the long walk is.   I'm tempted to describe it as "never ending".  It certainly feels it when you can see the entire route ahead in an unobstructed view of Windsor Castle and knowing that the Good Beer Guide pubs of Windsor (four for the thirsty) await at the end of the days walking.

Normally, my blogs end in the pub - but with this much work to do in Windsor, it's worthy of a separate entry.

The Long Walk
Usually more handsome than this
Windsor Castle
Getting Closer
Windsor Castle
A last Windsor Glimpse before heading back to Waterloo
I'm half way through and I'm already excited as to what will be discovered in 2019.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

18/11/18 - Stockport Good Beer Guide Ticking

Good Beer Guide Ticks - 338 to 341
Number of Pubs - 4

I leave my family of gig goers hopping into an Uber, heading off to see Johnny Marr at Manchester's Apollo. 

I mentioned in my last blog, how ticking Good Beer Guide pubs is a moving target.   I could have happily spent an evening knocking off the 10 remaining ticks I have in the City.  Instead, I navigate the railway systems of the North to get a return ticket to Stockport.   If only using Virgin Trains, £3.30.   £4.50 for a fully flexible ticket.   Who would have thought Richard Branson offers the best value?

I leave Stockport's rather posh railway station to get my bearing and determine which of the 8 available ticks I can squeeze in tonight.   It may not be the closest, but The Blossoms had to be first up.

A 20 minute walk along a busy road, offering the chance to admire Stockport Civic Pride.

Everything has gone green at the home of Britain's biggest Wurlitzer 

The Blossoms, Buxton Road, Robinson's Unicorn

So Blossoms (the band) are one of my Son's favourites and the only way I could get him vaguely interested in my night time plans was to tell him I was off to investigate if they were named after the pub.

Initially, I was a little disappointed that my brave walk has only been rewarded with a Robinson's Pub.   I've always found their output functional and rather forgettable.

Tonight's Unicorn definitely fell into that category.

The pub itself was traditional and full of things that make pubs great.   Bar hanging raconteurs, private alcoves, with a proper pub interior.   Low lighting only emphasising the rather lovely stained glass windows.

Blossoms, Stockport
Found here, above the door.
An upstairs function room for live music pointed to a connection with the Eponymous band, as did an overheard conversation between two elderly gents.   One insisted his fellow imbiber must have heard of them, as they are played on Radio 2 all the time.

My son will be horrified.

30 minutes to get back to town before the micro pub closes at 9pm.

The 192 Bus looks the best bet.

The Petersgate Tap, St Petersgate, Hawkshead Windermere Pale

The locals are helpful.  During my 5 minute wait for the 192, I was reminded by an open windowed car hollerer that I am indeed a "Bus Wanker".

Once off the main road, there was plenty to admire in Stockport Centre - bridges running over roads (reminding me of Edinburgh), well lit casinos, ancient Market Halls and lots and lots of boozers.

The Petersgate Tap is one of the better micros encountered.   The handful of punters were all downstairs - including a booth held laptop user, a man who had drank 6 pints of barley wine and a younger man on about the same number of units declaring the Beatles as the best band that ever lived.

A friendly welcome from the barman confirmed closure was indeed at 9pm but I wouldn't have to rush my very decent Hawkshead.

Excuse the photo.  Smartphone is rubbish at night, but I think you can see the former betting shop dimensions.

Petersgate Tap, Stockport
Ubiquitous new town micro
The Bakers Vaults, Market Place, Butcombe Haka

Whenever one of these excursions are completed, there's always one place that stands out as the "this would be my local, if I lived here" winner.

I'm not going to argue with the Guides "Gin Palace-Style Interior".

A new Butcombe to enjoy but not before I had got my £1 for four plays money worth from a proper 60s style jukebox.   The volume was refreshing loud and clear, including the speakers piped into the loos.   I can only hope my "playing for the pub audience" selection of PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop, Kate Bush and the Rolling Stones was met in the spirit it was intended.

Bakers Vaults, Stockport
On reflection, Stripped Back Gin Palace
The Chesterfield sofa provided a perfect place to finish the Sunday Times. 

Remedy Bar and Brewhouse, Market Place, Velveteen by Dark Revolution

I'm always on the look out for new experiences - so how could I turn down my chance to visit my first "Steam Punk Bar".  I have no idea what this means but I wholeheartedly agree with the choice of music.   Out of the two others in the pub, one man is in charge of the laptop that's providing the tunes and he has selected the Queens of the Stone Age.

Remedy Bar and Brewhouse, Stockport
The Other Punter - far away from another Chesterfield
As the name indicates, this is both factory and shop.   Behind a glass wall is the brewing equipment, in all its pristine glory.

My choice of the two hand pulls available was not from here but it called to mind my promise to myself to drink more stout in Winter.   I couldn't have chosen a better example.  This velveteen was one of he best experienced.

I check the train times and I need to move quickly if I am going to get to meet the family back at the Lass O Gowrie.  Chosen as a bonus tick back in the City and because the Guide says its open till midnight. 

Of course, it was closed at 10:56pm.

Stockport - you have been lovely.  I don't know when I will be back for the next four ticks but I sincerely hope it won't be long.