Saturday, 28 November 2015

28/11/15 - Top 10 Twice?

Distance - 5.5 Miles
Geocaches - 4
Walk Inspiration - Stage 30 of the Millennium Way

To think, I was looking forward to visiting Leamington Spa.

Back on the Millennium Way, I arrive at a very busy Newbold Comyn Park.  A hive of activity, full of people in every shade of lycra.

A muddy slop down to the River Leam to pick up the Grand Union Canal.

Newbold Comyn Park
River Leam
There's a few caches down by the canal but despite a poor geocaching month in November, my heart isn't in it.  I get the first and last along the stretch and don't really attempt the others.  I can concentrate on the walking.

The part of Leamington Spa the Royal's don't see

The canal leads me to where I started last month's walk on the Millennium Way.  I know there is a Morrisons on the roadside.  I know the Morrisons has a cafe.  The walk is interrupted for a Full English Breakfast.

Besides, I don't want to finish the walk too early, as there are not 1 but 2 Top 10 pubs in Warwickshire to explore at the end the route.

Breakfast consumed, I pick up the River Leam in Victoria Park, which leads me to the Town Centre.  Have a look around.  Its like Cheltenham but in need of a damn good wash.

I've only seen it from the train and I was expecting more of a town that has an Ice Cream parlour called "lickety lick".

Leamington Church
Church is Impressive.  Not sure about the corporate art.
Pump House
Leamington Pump Rooms

Once the town is explored, the route takes me through Jephson Gardens, complete with its sculptures and "sensory garden" playing strange tunes to keep me accompanied.

Oh No... I have to live in Leamington
Oh No - I'm stick in Leamington
Exit the gardens and I should have paid more attention to the GPS.  Top 10 pub 1 of the day is down some side streets and I haven't planned my route on how to get there.  A bit of backtracking is required before I get into the correct street.

It looks nice enough - but why, at 12:23pm on a Saturday Afternoon, is it plunged in darkness?

Somerville Arms
Still a going concern?
I'd done my home work.  Their web site, after promising 7 real ales, states that its open midday on the weekends.  I enquire at the corner shop as to whether its still open but get given directions to a Christmas market, so something is lost in translation.

I guess I will never know why this is number 5 pub in Warwickshire.  If it opened at lunchtime, it may threaten top spot.

Never mind, like buses, there's another one just down the road.  The Newbold Comyn Arms comes in at number 3.

Newbold Comyn Arms
Third Best in Warwickshire

The pub looks like a barn conversion from the adjacent farmhouse - which is now available for functions.  Two real ales on - both Warwickshire based.  I avoid the obvious Ubu and go for a Slaughterhouse Brewery Saddleback.

Slaughterhouse Saddleback
First Time on a Saddleback
And the day is saved.

Monday, 23 November 2015

21/11/15 - The End (or Start) of the Thames Path

Distance - 17.8 Miles
Start - London Bridge
End - Erith
Geocaches - 12

A walk that got less interesting as the weather improved.

Another miserable Saturday in November sees me braving the elements to get the miles in.  I have goretexed up before many a walk but never whilst sitting in a photo booth, handily located at London Bridge Tube Station.  An ideal spot to attempt to get waterproof trousers on, out of the glare of interested Cockneys.

This is the last leg of the Time Out London Walks epic from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier.  I have split into three day walks, and extended it from the Thames Barrier so that it links to the beginning of the London Loop at Erith.  I like to keep things tidy.

Leave London Bridge Tube station, and a shortcut brings me right out at the river.  No navigation problems today - I just keep the river on my left and keep plodding.

I know London quite well but the same old views always inspire.

Classic London View
Timeless London View on a Grim Day
There are some pretty good pubs as well, but this is a bit of a sore point for today.  I pass The Angel, The Mayflower, the Trafalgar, the Yacht, the Cutty Sark - all fine pubs, previously explored - before hitting the last riverside pub at the Hope and Anchor at 11:43am.  And they are all closed.

It's going to be a pint in Erith.  A statement designed to give any sane man the Fear.

If you are going to attempt this walk, I suggest that you really like Canary Wharf.  As the Thames Path runs in a perfect U Shape, you get to see the vista from three angles and it dominates a large part of the walk.  At least the rain stops for me to de-gortex and walk without rustling.

Canary Wharf
Have to Love Canary Wharf - you will be looking at it for a large part of this walk
Greenwich has always been a favourite part of London for me.  I skirt the edges of it, with fine views of the Cutty Sark, which can be seen from a mile off.  I am asked by a group of middle eastern men if I know where the meridian line is.  I do, I have Sat Nav, but they are looking for some sort of architectural representation.  The only advice I can give them is to come back at night when there is a laser pointing out the divide in the night sky.

Cutty Sark
Gateway to one of the Finest Suburbs of London
Don't quite get to walk around the O2 arena, as the traditional Thames Path has a short cut across the Greenwich Peninsula, made slightly more complicated than necessary by the new buildings going up.  A minor diversion and I am back on track.

02 Arena
02 Arena
Walking starts to deteriorate, as a succession of industrial workings are passed on the way to the Thames Barrier.  It's grim.

Thames Barrier
Thames Barrier - Start (and End) of the Thames Path
I could stop at the Thames Barrier but as the Thames Path has been extended, I plod on.  Take in the information through a very informative virtual geocache and then brave up to plod onto Erith.  The map is particularly spartan and there is good reason for this.

There is nothing really there.

Like this all the Way into Erith
Mainly like this, after the Thames Barrier.
But still, Erith is where I must go.  The Thames widens.  A glance behind at the 13 mile marker shows that I can still see the Shard in the distance before a turn in the river hides it from view.  Must be fantastic to enter London on a cruise ship.

Arrive at Erith and there is time for a pint before my train.  I have done my research.  The best pub in Erith is the Ship.

This is akin to saying "he was the nicest member of the Nazi Party".

No real ale but a deserved pint of Stella, which for these parts, was reassuringly inexpensive.

No Real Ale today
When no real ale is available - go posh.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

14/11/15 - Harborne Pub Crawl

Distance - 5 Miles
Pubs - 4 - The New Inn, The Junction, The Harborne Stores and the Plough
Geocaches - 7

With Mrs Mappiman working in Birmingham, an opportunity presents itself to add another pub crawl to my adventures in the urban suburbs.  Having previously knocked off the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth, its time for Harborne to be explored.

Internet research is completed and the map perused and its looks wholly possible to put a walk together from the City Centre that avoids too much pavement pounding.

A secret escape route from Snow Hill Station, marked "St Pauls", takes me into the heart of North West Birmingham.  It's eerily quiet and I feel like Cillian Murphy in 28 days later as I walk the deserted streets.  There's got to be an opportunity for an entrepreneur here - there is no end of derelict Victorian industrial units waiting for a hoxton style hipster revival.

And its so close to the City.

The hinterland of North West Birmingham
Where is everyone?
Having this part of the City to myself makes for successful caching.  There are a number around and I take a circuitous route to knock them all off without getting arrested for looking suspicious.

Leave the backstreets behind and a short stretch of walking along the busy Spring Hill road brings me to Summerfield Park and the Harborne Walkway.

Summerfield Park
Custom built for my needs, the Harborne walkway is a disused railway line that is going to take me all the way to my destination.  Opened in 1981, it reminded me very much of London's Parkland walk.  Except it doesn't seem as well known.  There are only a handful of dog walkers and joggers making use of this secret path.

Harborne Walkway
Take me to the Pub

1.75 miles of quiet, flat walking and I am delivered to Harborne High Street.

And the pubs - my reason for being here

PUB 1 - The New Inn
It's 11:45am and I am not totally sure that it is open, despite the sign outside inviting me in to Chill and a sign on the door saying we are open.  I try the door, which re-assuring opens and tentatively enter into an old school pub that has had a recent and very tasteful re-vamp.

It really is rather nice.  And I have it all to myself.  Five real ales on, and I go for a perfect pint of Ubu Purity, which makes me question my previously held belief that the first poured pint of the day is usually terrible.

The New Inn
Old School Exterior, Lovely Interior
Ubu Purity in the New Inn
Purity Ubu and its starting to feel a little like Xmas.

A more than satisfactory start and I cannot help but think I have peaked to early.  Even if Robbie William's Swing Album on full blast eventually drove me out.

Onto the next.

Pub 2 - The Junction, Timothy Taylor Landlord
A striking pub, positioned at the top of the high street, directly opposite the madness that is the Waitrose Car Park.  Harborne must be posh, if people are prepared to queue to get in.

Another lovely looking pub - huge restaurant area around the back and a series of leather bound snugs near the bar area.

A smorgasbord of real ales and the fact that its started raining, mean that I could have wasted the afternoon here.  However, with other places to go, I pick the best - A very lively Timothy Taylor Landlord and watch the wet shoppers.

The Junction
Up the Junction
Landlord in the Junction
TT Landlord.  Eventually went clear

Pub 3 - The Harborne Stores, Guinness
After two hipster haunts, things get a bit more earthy here.  This pub doesn't look too much from the street but was packed to the rafters at 11:30am, before I went into the New Inn.

It has to be explored simply because of it's wonderful name.

There's a reason why it is so packed.  The prices are on the pumps - and the cheapest is £1.75 for a pint of IPA.

I feel like I have gone back in time to the mid nineties.

This sub Wetherspoons Prices.  Even I think this is too cheap to be any good, so I splash on a very acceptable Guinness - the first in England this Winter.

The pub is packed with old boys, postmen (they always know where to drink) and betting office pens.  One old boy disappears for a fag and on his return, bemoans that his beer mat has been taken.  His mate comes to the rescue, pulling a wad of them out of his inside pocket.

This is advanced drinking in action.

The Harborne Stores
Harborne Stores
Guinness in the Harborne Stores
Guinness and Horse Racing

Pub 4 - The Plough, Butty Bach
Move my way to the top of the high street, to the edge of Edgbaston.  This is where my bus stop is and also the chance to try either the Green Man or the Plough.

I try the Plough. Its packed solid - the people of Harborne must really love their Halloumi.

The Plough Harborne
There goes the Neighbourhood

I just about manage to squeeze up to the bar and decide that a Wye Valley Butty Bach will be my choice from the four real ales on.

Two things have me reaching for my Untapped App to protest to the world.  The bar man has long gone, explaining to punters what they can have in their Calzones.

A) It's £4.30.  Maybe the Harborne Stores has changed my expectation of what is acceptable for a pint of beer here - but I have walked through Ladywood, not Hampstead.  Its a good pint, but its also good in my local where it is £3.10.

B) For £4.30, you don't even get a full pint.

The world needs to know about this.

The Untapped App links to Twitter and often embeds the venue in the Tweet.

And to be fair, by the time I have worked out how to use the bus system to get back to Snow Hill, I have received the offer of a free pint next time I am in Harborne.

Can't say fairer than that really.  For a 33% increase in price, you do get great customer service.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

07/11/15 - Country Retreat

Walk Inspiration - Stage 13 of the Ridgeway
Start - Princes Risborough Station
Finish - Tring Station
Distance - 15 Miles, all on the Ridgeway
Geocaches - 7

I arrive at Birmingham International Station at 7:01am, bleary-eyed and in need of caffeine.  Check the departures board and the 7:14am to Leamington is on time.  This is good news, as I only have a 6 minute window to change trains for Princes Risborough.  Order my americano, sit on a comfy seat and take another glance.  Train cancelled.

Still, if this is the worse that happens today, I will be OK.

After a chat with an official with poor iPad skills, I determine that I can change route, go into Birmingham and out on Moor Street.  Eventual delays of 51 minutes.  This gives me a slight concern, as I now have 6 hours and 7 minutes to walk 15 miles an get my advanced booked train back from Tring.

Still, if this is the worse that happens today, I will be OK.

The weather, once again, is absolutely shocking.  You can guarantee that when I plan a trip on the Ridgeway, will have rain.  And today, is the worst yet.  And that is saying something.  Nothing for it, I goretex up from head to foot and leave Princes Risborough - instantly picking up the path, sharing it's course with the Icknield Way.  The rain is that bad that I don't notice the nozzle of my camelpak water carrier coming off and a torrent of water running down my jacket and into my boots.  That's more than half my water supplies gone and a walk back down the track to find the errant nozzle.

Still, if this is the worse that happens today, I will be OK.

For the first time since before Streatley, this section of the Ridgeway offers some great walking.  On this leg, we have items of interest, great views through the rain and some seriously good paths, climbing hills and dropping back down to do it all over again.  After a couple of dull legs, the Ridgeway has regained its Mojo.

The first climb is a stiff assault to on Brush Hill.  The incline is made bearable by the installation of steps.

Stairs to the Ridgeway
Stairway to Heaven
Brush Hill
Brush Hill and the Vale of Aylesbury

The first of only a handful of caches are found today - one making me laugh out loud and reminding me why I do this mental activity.  Not going to give it away here, but I will probably tweet a picture of the cache for my three caching followers in Japan.

The height is lost and an unexpected pub is passed by.

The Plough at Cadsden
The Plough at Cadsden - obviously closed at 10:15am

Next up is Chequers - country retreat of the Prime Minister.  For some reason, I have always wanted to see this place and on foot is as close as you are going to get without having an invite from Sam and Dave.  As a rambler, you literally get to cross the grounds - with constant reminders that you are being watched.  With the weather, I am sure that Security had a good laugh at my predicament.

Note the Monument - of course, we are going to climb there
No Entry to the PM
Signs a plenty

Cross Chequers tree lined driveway and back up into the hills to check out the Boer War Monument at the top of Coombe Hill.  A hell of a vantage point of the Vale.

Coombe Hill Monument
Coombe Hill Monument
Down into Wendover.  Its after 12 and the pubs are open.  This is nice, as the last slurp on my camelpak produces the final gurgle of air and water.  I look at my progress - 2.5 miles per hour.  The Tring train is in jeopardy.  Look at my attire - drenched and my bottom half covered in mud.  No publican is going to want me in this state.  Its with a heavy heart that I pass by three decent looking boozers but I will be back.

Still, if this is the worse that happens today, I will be OK.

Wendover, you looked lovely.
Out of Wendover, and guess what?  Another Hill Climb.  The remainder for the walk is through woodlands, offering fine autumnal walking and shelter from the worst of the wind and rain.

Wendover Woodland
Wendover Woodland
Free from distractions of public houses and only a smattering of caches, I pick up the pace - getting to 2.8 miles per hour and there will even be a chance of getting a post walk pint if there is a hostelry near Tring Station.

Even the sun comes out to great me as I reach the A41 - showing the hills of the final section of the Ridgeway in all their splendour.  If only I had a drink - Wendover was 8 miles previous.

Sun Coming out at Tring
Gap in the Clouds - and the rest of the Ridgeway
45 Minutes to spare.  But Tring is a dry station.  There is not a pub to be found.  Nevermind, I can get an earlier train to Milton Keynes and grab something there.  But I've forgotten - that when they built MK, they remembered concrete cows and forgot the basics.  The nearest pub is a Wetherspoons and its a 0.8 mile round trip.  I've done 15 and cannot take anymore.  I sit in Costa - minus a real ale and watch the pseudo tramps drinking special brew and hassling travellers for coins.

This is the worse that happens and I am not OK.