Saturday, 31 December 2016

31/12/16 - The Griffin, Chipping Warden - Millennium Way Stage 43

Distance - 10 Miles
Geocaches - 6
Walk Inspiration

A weather warning for fog on the last day of the year.  There is no choice but to head out.  I am committed to doing a walk per month on the Millennium Way, as I work my way through the 44 stages.  I cannot afford to fail on the penultimate leg and tomorrow will be too late.  A new month.  A new year.

Like many legs before it, this starts at a pub.  I spied the Griffin at Chipping Warden on Stage 42 and it looked a fine example of a great countryside pub.  I am sure it will provide suitable  refreshment after this ten mile monster - the longest of all the stages.

The walk is a figure of 8 in the largely flat Northamptonshire countryside.  The early stages share the route with a Battefield trail.  You have to love this country.  To the untrained eye, this may look like a pretty ordinary field but 500 years before I was born, it was the scene of a major battle in the War of the Roses.  There are information boards and signage to link this site with other battlesites (Egdehill, Cropredy) in the area.

Nortrhamptonshire Countryside
Edgecote Battlefield.
There's also a handful of geocaches in the area.  In Northamptonshire, they don't like to give hints.  At the end of the walk, I am quite pleased with my haul of 6 found, 1xDNF.

If I had set off later, there could have been three pubs to visit.  Its a shame that I have to miss out on the three conies at Thorpe Mandeville.  It was a fine enough looking pub on its own, but the date on the sundial showed just how old the building could be.

Three Conies at Thorpe Mandeville
Drovers Inn - The Three Conies
Three Conies at Thorpe Mandeville
1622 - Hardly seems credible.

After the Church Micro Geocache, its over fields (given over to the production of electricity) to Culworth.  Another fine Church (alas, the Church Micro was the DNF) and the promise of another pub.  At 11am, I knew it would be too early and I head back onto the paths.

Little to report as I make my way to the apex of the figure of 8 on a long stretch of countryside.

Nortrhamptonshire Countryside
The Centre of the Figure of 8
The walk does have one last surprise, the C18th Edgecote House and Church.  If it looks familiar, its because it was used in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on the BBC.

Edgcote Manor
Sweeping into Edgcote
Edgcote Manor
Pride and Prejudice

I arrive back at Chipping Warden at the pub friendly time of 12:15.  Change of boots and I am in for a first ever Marstons Bitter.  My hopes for the pub were met - a nice village boozer.  One couple eating, one bloke at the bar with the paper and another getting excited by the horse racing.

The Griffin, Chipping Warden
Marstons Bitter.  Paper Reader.
Fog permitting, the Millennium Way will be completed, on track, in Jan 2017.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

27/12/16 - The Wye Valley from Chepstow

Distance - 8.8 Miles
Geocaches - 7
Pub - The Chepstow Castle, Bath Ales Gem
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Magazine, March 2005, Walk 15

2016's annual Xmas visit to the Wye Valley starts in Wales, at Chepstow, but the majority of the walk is in Gloucestershire. We have high hopes for the town and what it can offer for post walking refreshment. Fortunately we leave early enough to avoid the traffic and crowds gathering for the Welsh Grand National.

The sound from the racecourse tannoy provides a rather surreal background... alternating between hymns, anthems and breathless commentary from the racing.

Chepstow castle provides a most dramatic starting point for any walk and provides flavour of the history that will follow.
Chepstow Castle
Parking at the Castle Dell Car Park
View from the Old Chepstow Bridge
Soon Into England as we cross the Chepstow Bridge for this view

We quickly pick up Offa's Dyke path, taking us uphill and past some impressive stately homes with commanding views and our 2nd historical architectural item of interest, marked as the Look Out Tower on the OS Map.  Someone has granted permission to build some less suitable bungalows in the grounds.

Lookout Tower
Chepstow Look Out Tower
We keep the Wye to our left but rather worryingly lose all the height gained, as we follow paths that are best described as "adventurous".  The highlight (or lowlight, dependent on how you like scrambling) is getting across a bolder field that leave you perilously close to finding out just how deep the mud on a tidal river bank can be.  On my return home, I check the walking instructions, thinking I have made a mistake in route planning, but no - the warning was there in black and white "sure footedness and care are required".

It's well worth crossing, as we are delivered to a horseshoe bend in the river, which used to host the village of Lancaut.  All that remains is an abandoned church, nestled under the high cliffs.  The oldest legible gravestone is 1739.  A beautiful, serene spot.

Lancaut - Under the Cliffs
Lancaut Church
A Church that pre-dates the Normans

Having dropped back down to the valley floor, we are of course obliged to re-conquer the heights.  A stiff climb, a small amount of road walking and we are back on a fine stretch of Offa's Dyke Path. Occasional glimpses of the Wye are offered through the trees but there are no decent photo opportunities until we start to head back from Tidenham Chase.  The Severn Estuary comes into view, along with the suspension bridge that will take us home.  You don't need to pay to get back into England.

Views over Severn Estaury
Views over the Severn Estaury
The route back takes us along the Gloucestershire Way, following a disused railway line, delivering us to cache locations and with welcome lanes to take a break from the mud.

Gloucester Way
A less muddy section of the Gloucestershire Way
Three hours after setting off, we are back into Chepstow.  In addition to walking, my other passion is knocking off the Good Beer Guide Pubs of the UK.  There are two detailed in Chepstow (and a Social Club, with the added faff of getting in as a non-member).

One is a Wetherspoons.  A long debate on route about how pubs get into the GBG does not change Mrs Mappiman's stance that she will not be seen dead in one.  Surely a Good Pub has to do do Good Food is her misguided, although eventually discussion winning argument.  The Bell Hanger is walked on by.

The Bell Hanger
Locals Interested in What is Being Photo'd.
We head up through the town centre dripping in history but not so many pubs that offer an outwardly decent appearance to Mrs Mappiman and her quest for good food.  The two meals for a tenner offer at the Kings Head, was not going to do it, so we check out the other GBG Entry, the Queens Head.  A debate about whether a micro pub does food was unrequired, due to Xmas opening hours.

Queens Head
GBG #2 - The Queens Head
Queens Head
Its 12:30pm on the 27th December

I have a internal question to answer as to whether I can tick them in my book, having not stopped in for refreshment.  I've decided I will.  Like Walking 1000 Miles in a year, you make you own rules.

So, its back down town to Tripadvisor's Number 1 food pub, the Chepstow Castle.  Whereas I use a book, Mrs Mappiman uses an App..... and today could prove which is best.

Chepstow Castle
The Chepstow Castle
At first, we are so cold, Mrs Mappiman thinks we are in the wrong place.  Her App says that it has a roaring open fire, medieval tapestries and suits of armour.  I am sent to investigate and come back with a positive that all three are present and correct but the fire is merely ashes.

Three real ales are on - and in homage to my university going son, I go for a Bath Ales Gem.   A decent enough Amber Ale.

And the food?  I'm still debating whether putting a fried egg on a chicken sandwich represents a crime against nature.

Chepstow Castle
Bath Ales Gem

Monday, 26 December 2016

26/12/16 - The Plough at Shenstone

Distance - 6.7 Miles
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Magazine Dec 2016, Walk 7
Geocaches - 1

Sometimes, walk inspiration just falls into your lap.  I awake to an unseasonably warm December morning, and make the most of the Xmas break by catching up on the backlog of Country Walking Magazines. The last but one issue has a local walk. It passes a CAMRA Good Pub Guide Bathams pub and reminds me that I had a 2016 plan to create walks from all the Bathams pubs - a plan that hasn't been added to since May.

There is no excuse not to get up and out there.

This walk is so good, the truly thirsty rambler could actually stop at 5 pubs, including another Bathams.  A fair amount crammed into a 7 mile country ramble.

I start at the Plough at Shenstone - a pub in the middle of nowhere but the quality of the beer (and prices) always ensures that they have plenty of punters.  Bathams have been recently tweeting around their near legendary festive XXX beer.  But will they have any left on Boxing Day?

The Plough, Shenstone
Starting at the Plough in Shenstone
The walk heads South-East on good paths through a hamlet called Cakebole, before heading north to the Fox and Hounds at Chaddesley Corbett and ultimately into the village centre, where there is the chance to revisit the Swan.  As I've already walked/blogged from here, I walk on past to pick up the Monarch's Way through more fine countryside.

Countryside around Cakebole
Countryside around Cakebole
The Swan at Chaddesley Corbett
A Chance to Double up on Bathams
The Monarch's Way is taking me to Harvington Hall, the architectural highlight of the walk.  This is a moated C16th Manor House, famous for its Priest Holes - although not famous enough for Charles II to take advantage of them as he fled from the battle of Worcester to hide in a tree in Staffordshire.

Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall
A full circuit of the Hall provides a chance to admire it from all angles, before reaching the Dog at Harvington.  If anything, the walking gets even finer, as we head North along a tiny brook to reach the ramshackle Stone House Gardens.

Brook at Harvington
The Brook to Stone
Lanes take me past the Hare and Hounds and deliver me to the only Geocache of the day - a very nice hide, sizeable enough to allow a TB drop off.  Onward and back to the Plough.  2 Hours have passed since I left a deserted car park.  Its now full to bursting point - as is the narrow lounge, leaving space only to sit at high bar stools and wait to catch the eye of the busy bar staff.

The three pumps - Mild, Best and XXX are all facing the paying public.  I ask for the XXX.

It sold out before Xmas.  A £2.60, the Best is a fine consolation.

Bathams Best
There's always Next Year

Saturday, 24 December 2016

23/12/16 - Good Beer Guide Pubs of Birmingham - Part 1

The Wonderstuff's annual Christmas homecoming gig brings us to the Second City.  Pre match entertainment will of course be provided by ticking off a few GBG Guide entries before hurrying to Digbeth's Institute.

There's 7 City Entries, so this will be Part 1.  Blogfans may also be interested in previous adventures in the Jewellery Quarter, Digbeth and Harbourne.

The Old Contemptibles, Edmund Street, Purity Gold

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "Amazing pub - the decor and charm immediately make you feel relaxed like a guest in a stately home"

The Old Contemptibles
View from Snow Hill
Chosen, as its closest to Snow Hill Station, where we are duly delivered by London Midland.  This place seemingly has all the ingredients to be a star.  History - named after WW1 Soldiers.  Glamour - Check out the Chandeliers.  Architecture - a beautiful red bricked corner building that looks like a pub blueprint.

However, it fails to hit the spot.

With it being the last working day before Christmas, the crowds were to be expected.  The dodgy pint of Purity Gold was not.  I know the brewery well and their wares are spot on.  This example would be described by my mate Paul as "Stinky".

Mrs Mappiman was getting claustrophobic and I was getting tired of having my drinking arm knocked, so we quickly head off.

The Old Contemptibles
The Glamour.  The Crowds.  A Man who has had his drinking arm knocked
Pure Craft Bar and Kitchen, Waterlook Street, Purity Saddleback

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "It's the type of place where you'll never get a seat because people will sit there for hours nursing a single pint because they have paid well over a fiver for some exotic pilsner and it's fashionable to be there"
We depart and battle the decidedly unseasonable  Storm Barabara.  By name, I was not at sure that and Bar and Kitchen would be my cup of tea.  From the outside, it looks like a restaurant.

Pure Craft Bar and Kitchen
Is it a Pub?
From the inside, it looks like a restaurant but with a modern "distressed" feel.  Mrs Mappiman looks at the ceiling and asks if they have finished decorating.  I suggest the exposed air conditioning ducting is meant to make it hip.

She feels as though this is the sort of place that might offer a cocktail.  I head to the bar to see whats available.  The blackboard behind tells me the ales and I quickly twig that its a flagship house for the Purity brewery.  The only cocktails they do are "Beer Cocktails".  Apart from Shandy, I cannot think what these would be.  She'll have to make do with a half of cider.

I'm seduced by a pump that has an actual saddle on it and I give Purity the chance to show me how good their beer can be.  The Saddle Black was one of the best pints taken this year.  I've not seen it before but I will be looking out for it in the future.

Filing this one under unexpected success and thank the guide for bringing me somewhere I'd never consider.

Pure Craft Bar and Kitchen
Saddle Black.  Distressed Ceiling
The Post Office Vaults, New Street, Kinver First Class Stamp

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "Excellent pub, terrific range of ale & cider. Because it's quite small, it makes it feel lively inside, even when it isn't busy. But then it's always busy!"
This is a near mythical place, mentioned on most Top 10 Pubs in Birmingham lists.  Birmingham is my home city.  I know it reasonably well.  Yet, I cannot ever place where this pub is in New Street.

Before leaving, I spend a good 30 minutes on Google Street View.  It takes that long to find it out.  I'll save you the hassle - if you're near Greggs you are almost there.

A door between shops selling food that is bad for you leads down into the depths of this subterranean oasis.

Post Office Vaults
Blink, and you will miss it.
Its more of a real cider place than a real ale place.  Mrs Mappiman wants a half, so I head to the bar and ask for half a cider.  This is akin to going a CAMRA beer festival and asking for half a lager.  The barman looks at me like the idiot I am and asks me to chose from his blackboard list.  All I can say is nothing "Scrumpy-esque".  He doesn't understand me.

Not wanting to make the same mistake with the Ale, I go for a Kinver First Class Stamp.  A seemingly good choice, as its brewed only for them.

Kinver First Class Stamp
Kiver First Class Stamp.  Mrs Mappiman checking her non scrumpy into Untappd.
A proper pub feel in here.  Just try not to think about how you would get out if there was a fire.

3 down, 4 to go in the City Centre.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

21/12/16 - The Good Beer Guide Pubs of Kidderminster

Distance - 3 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Pubs - 4

A month ago, I visited two pubs in Kidderminster.   The Station Inn is deservedly in the Good Beer Guide but not a patch on the King and Castle which isn't.  I vowed to come back and to save my blogfans any future heartache, by categorically finding the best pub in the town and determining if we can trust the Good Pub Guide as a guide for thirsty strangers in a new place.

But first, how to get there?  I could have gone Diamond Bus but a leisurely jaunt along the canal enabled me to get the final three geocaches on this stretch.  Nothing like combining pleasures.

Weavers, Park Lane - Three Tuns

Random PubsGalore Quote - "Enter to old living room, carpeted with granny wallpaper"
There used to be a pub along here called the Parkers Arms.  I mistakenly thought that this building was it, but no, that used to belong at the blank space next door.  As an 18 year old working at Brintons (when Kidderminster had industry) we used to head there for four Friday lunch time pints.

It was the acceptable in the 80s.

To be fair, if I still worked in Kidderminster, I would probably be tempted to do the same here - such was the quality of the Three Tuns.

Park Lane Weavers
Weavers - Park Lane
It's like entering someones house - through the lounge to a bar and the opportunity to go into another room, which I will describe as the parlour.  At least 8 real ales on - and despite vowing to try something new, I ended up with the Three Tuns.  It's just too good to resist.

Three Tuns
Ceremonial Glass
The parlour was packed, so I headed back to the lounge and roasted my chestnuts on the open fire, sharing the space with a friendly rottweiler.

Worthy of the GBG - Yes
Better than the King and Castle - No

The Swan, Vicar Street - Wye Valley HPA

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "Bit of a run down doss house kind of place"
10 years ago, they used to move the furniture out, turn on the disco lights, crank up the volume and allow any potential punters bored of waiting for an afternoon bus the chance to strut their stuff.  I'm glad to report that things have improved, significantly, but not quite enough.

The Swan
Roland Hill guarding the Swan
They had three Bewdley Brewery Ales on - which is a nice touch, supporting the Local Brewers.  Again, I played safe and went for a Wye Valley HPA.

The Swan is now a typical town centre pub.  Bright, fruit machine, football on the TV, chicken in a basket meals.  Its OK - but with no individual character, there's just nothing to remember it by.

Worthy of the GBG - No
Better than the King and Castle - No

Ye Olde Seven Stars - Coventry Street - Woods Santa's Ales

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "Has to be the best pub in Kiddy. An award that is similar to being the thinnest woman in the roly polys."

To be fair, this was an old review and the Kidderminster drinking scene has dramatically improved - mainly through the introduction of the new Weavers Real Ale Bars and the change of approach to lunchtime discos at the Swan.

Ye Olde Seven Stars
Beer and Cob House Sign is on the other side

Ye Olde Seven Stars has had a makeover.  Its now advertising itself quite loudly on the front as a "Beer and Cob House".

It's now even better than I remember.  Its still Tardis like - seemingly bigger on the inside than indicated by the outside.  Very friendly locals and landlord - who was freely distributing Game Pie, along with home made pickles.

But its the beers that make it stand out.  There was a choice of half a dozen.  I missed the Theakstons Old Peculiar (have I ever seen this served in Worcestershire before?) and went for a festive Wood's Santa's Ale.

It was absolutely stunning, although I kind of expected Santa to like his festive ale darker.

Woods Santa's Ale
Kidderminster's Pint of the Night
Worthy of the GBG - Yes
Better than the King and Castle - I'm going to declare it a Tie.

Weaver's Real Ale House - Comberton Hill - Three Tuns

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "Despite being in a modern shop type building this place had quite a pub feel to it"
An intermission from proceedings, as Mrs Mappiman joins me for a decent curry at Sher-E-Punjab.

The last of the Kidderminster set is housed in a new build over the road.  For completeness, I am prepared to put myself out for you blogfans, and make sure the Kidderminster review is complete.

Comberton Hill Weavers
New Build
The original and sister pub to the Park Lane Weavers - it has all the same ingredients, with the additional bonus of free mince pies on the bar.  We were poppadom full and couldn't take advantage, although I was prepared to let another pint of Three Tuns slip down the sides.

The beer in here is great, as you would expect.  They have tried to make it a pub like experience and done a reasonable job but its more akin to sitting in a cafe and having a beer.  I like the nooks and crannies of our traditional boozers.  I like to bang my head when I move between rooms in a building that was erected when the average height was hobbit.

Comberton Hill Weavers
Mrs Mappiman waiting patiently for the Kidderminster Review to be over
Worthy of the GBG - Yes (for the beer)
Better than the King and Castle - No

So that's Kidderminster done.   Did the Good Beer Guide provide a worthy manual for a stranger?  I think so in the main.

Although if you are coming here by train, please don't miss out on the King of Kidderminster, a stone's throw from the platform.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

17/12/16 - Wye to Thames - Walk 7 - Evesham to Honeybourne

Distance - 10.3 Miles
Geocaches - 4
Previous Walks - Walk 1Walk 2Walk 3Walk 4Walk 5, Walk 6
Pub - The Thatched Tavern, Honeybourne, Abbot Ale

The vale of Evesham is not the most exciting place in the world to walk.  I've been here before and remember flat, agricultural fields offering little of interest.  As I make my way from Hereford to Oxford, I think I will be filing walk 7 under "Filler".

Hit the centre of Evesham at 8:30am, just as the Christmas markets are setting up, avoiding the temptaion of Bratwurst.  Have to find the bridge to get over the River Avon.

Avon at Evesham
Avon at Evesham
The route shares paths with Shakespeare's Avon Way - a long distance path from Naseby to Tewkesbury.  Initially, I thought it was the Shakespeare Way - an LDP from Stratford to London, but had misread the sign.  Who would have thought any one man could possibly have two LDPs named in their honour?   I now have an extra item on the bucket list.  My OS map shows the paths but not the new Wimpey housing estate that has sprung up.  Fortunately, the footpaths remain and take me to Offenham - a village that appears to be celebrating Christmas through the erection of a huge totem pole.

Christmas in Offenham
Walking is less than average, crossing muddy cabbage fields and failing to find Geocaches.  The only climb of the day is up Windmill Hill.  It offers no views, but does take me into Middle Littleton.

There are three Littletons.  The pubs are in North and South Littleton.  Middle Littleton has a Tithe Barn, a church and some very friendly animals.   Never before has a sheep come up to me for a stroke.

Middle Littleton Tithe Barn
Tithe Barn - comes with its own Car Park
After the friendly Sheep, a friendly porker
The Alpacas keep their distance

More fields lead me to a caching trail around an institution called Long Lartin.  It rings a bell, but its not until I arrive that I realise its a prison.

HMS Long Lartin
Farm paraphernalia and a Category "A" Prison
Once the prison walls have been negotiation, more agricultural fields take me into Honeybourne.  A two pub metropolis.

Last time I was here, I said it would be the C13th Thatch Tavern that received a visit.  Initial disappointment that its a Green King pub was relived by lovely service from an Antipodean and Italian couple and a very decent pint of Abbot.

The Thatched Tavern
The Thatched Tavern
Abbot Ale
Fish Finger Sandwich is Imminent

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

12/12/16 - Imperial Tavern, Worcester

Following an afternoon spent decorating a Christmas tree, Mrs Mappiman announces that she needs some new reading material.

In an unusual twist, Worcestershire has actually invested in Libraries - provided you are prepared to travel.  The Hive in Worcester is a £60m joint investment between the public bodies and the university.  We visit once every three months or so and come out with more books than we can comfortably carry.  It's like a ram raid on Waterstones and almost worth the monthly Council tax contribution.

To make the most of the journey, we try to knock off a new pub - with the Camra Good Beer Guide usually providing the inspiration.

The Imperial Tavern, St Nicholas Street, Worcester

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "For decades this place has suffered from a chronic identity crisis with each version seemingly worse than the last. At last it's been returned to the splendour of a traditional Victorian pub, courtesy of the Black Country Ales concern"
This is another one of those pubs that you need pointing out to you.   It's in a prominent traffic jam spot, one that I have been stuck in many times, yet it has taken the GBG to reveal its whereabouts.

Imperial Tavern, Worcester
The Imperial Tavern
Its a Black Country Pub establishment.  We have one of these in my town (The Hollybush) and I have knocked off a couple in the Black Country.  They stock their own beer but always have a large and eclectic range of others from around the country.   Almost certainly beers that you would not find easily elsewhere and no-one could ever accuse them of being LocALE.

The Landlord of the Hollybush showed me how selections are made.  They get an A4 catalogue of beers with the description, price and tick off which ones they want to order.  Considering myself something of a beer expert, I offered to help him choose once.   I had not heard of 90% of the choices and just made it up, ensuring there was a range of colours.

Mrs Mappiman is more concerned with the lights.  Full on illumination and curtainless windows mean that its very, very bright.  Once on the foyer, she asks if we can just knock it off without entering.

We'd be cheating no one but ourselves.

So in we go.  Central island bar with several open plan rooms fanning out around.  Lots of photos of old Worcester pubs on the walls and a rather festive display that is good, but no competition for Chez Mappiman.

A look at what's on offer at the boards and I go for a Exmoor Dark - largely because I know the brewery.  As you would expect from a real ale pub, its in fine condition.

Exmoor Dark at the Imperial Tavern
Dark beer - Bright Lights
The only other punters are a group of middle aged men, all clutching volumes of books.  We wonder if this could be an example of the lesser spotted all male book club?  If so, I am joining.  I have 3 months of reading material in the boot.

Just the Wetherspoons to knock off in Worcester now, where I am sure the lights will be even brighter.  Maybe a breakfast blog is required.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

10/12/16 - The North Cotswold Brewery

Distance - 7.2 Miles
Geocaches - 5
Pub - The Plough, Stretton-on-Fosse, North Cotswold Brewery, Cotswold Best

Just like this time last year, we find ourselves in the Northern Cotswolds, completing a walk and visiting a brewery.  Last time out, it was Hook Norton.  This year, in recognition of Hung, Drawn and Portered being my pint of 2016, we are off to find the North Cotswold Brewery.

In a nice instance of serendipity, we can also start the walk at a CAMRA Good Beer Guide recognised boozer.  Car parked up at the Plough, Stretton-on-Fosse at 9am.

First visit to Stretton.  It's all thatched cottages and Cotswold honey stoned loveliness.

Cross the Fosse Way for the first time today and head out into the agricultural heartland that is this corner of Warwickshire/Gloucesteshire.  Conditions are grim above, and grimmer underfoot.

Early Stiding
Hood Up
Half of Warwickshire is coming home with us

The mud adds to the workout.  It's like walking in deep sea divers boots, as we make our way South East to the medieval village of Ditchford Frary.  No evidence of former dwellings, but there is the first geocache of the day.

First Geocache GZ
Geocaching GZ and the Brick Hut
Todenham Church Spire acts as our reference point across the fields.  We skirt the edges of Todenham Manor and can hear the serfs on walkie talkies arranging to start a-flapping.  They are there to scare the pheasants out of hiding, so that the line of toffs can blast them out of the sky.

There's something rather disconcerting as a working class Brummie to be walking past a line of country folk with shotguns.  Thank god my map reading is up to scratch and I provide them with no excuses.

Reference points ensuring we didn't stray from the path
And pheasants, evolution would have done you a better service, if after that initial dash to the sky, you didn't just glide.

The crack of firearms, combined with the mud, completes the Somme-like experience.

There's nowt wrong with the Northern stretch to the very edge of Shipston-on-Stour.  A cache trail presents part of its circuit.  We talk to a number of dog walkers, who we see twice as they complete a circular route.  The conditions don't really lend themselves to photos.

South West for a couple of miles of hard going to reach Ditchford Farm.  This is where the magic happens - in a little shed on the side of a farmyard.

Where the Magic Happens
All Joy Contained
There's a little shop.  Its open till 1:30pm.  We will be back for supplies, after praising the lady running the place on her fine produce.

A country lane delivers us to the Fosse way and ultimately, back to the Plough. The locals ignore the sign outside saying "Opening Time 12am".  The bar is packed at 11:45am.

The Plough, Stretton-on-Fosse
The Plough, Stretton-on-Fosse
It's a fine, fine pub and quite deserving of their place in the Good Beer Guide.   A chalk board tells me whats on and what is coming.  Maintaining loyalty it's a first NCB Cotswold Best.
Cotswold Best
Cotswold Best
After a drink, a fine lunch and the option of a ceremonial lighting of the open fire, all thoughts of rain and mud are forgotten.

There's just time to hot foot it back to the Brewery to purchase a mixed case.  This will keep us going over the festive period.