Sunday, 26 June 2016

25/06/16 - The Staffordshire Peak District

Distance - 8.5 Miles
Geocaches - 0
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Sept 2004, Walk 15
Pub - Ye Olde Crown, Waterhouses, Pedigree

We've done this before.  The kids (22 year old, 18 year old) want to go to Alton Towers.  We can drop them off for a day of thrills and spills and we can head out into some fine walking country.

Last time we did this, it was the honey pots of Dove Dale and the Manifold Valley.  Today, its the wilds of the lesser visited Staffordshire Peak District.

Before heading out, I had completed my research and tweeted that today would be Geocaching 0, Pubs 2.  Cannot remember the last walk that didn't have some tupperware to find.  In the end, even my tweet was wildly optimistic.

People don't place caches around here because its so inaccessible.  In a walk in a National Park, you don't really expect to be faced by poor signage, broken bridges, totally overgrown paths that require detours, killer dogs and frisky cows.  I've been to the peak district before and did expect squeeze stiles that could entrap primary school kids.

There were some decent views once we got going, but in the main, this walk will be filed under "challenging".

Views from Onecote
Early views on the way out of Onecote
Views from Onecote
Upper Elskstone, before the paths disappeared
Between Butterton and Grindon
The better part of the Peak District to Walk
The Big Squeeze
Blue Skies
Coming back into Onecote

What initially appealed about the walk was the way that it linked the villages of Onecote, Butterton and Grindon.  This should have meant refreshment stops.  Butterton is the first village that we hit, guided in by the Church Spire.  I checked, they have a pub.  I checked and the pub was not closed down.  I looked at their website and it said that opening hours were 7-11.  On a Saturday.  Surely they are opening early for breakfast?  I consulted and they said they were open from midday.  I emailed the pub.  They failed to reply.

On a midday arrival, a little old lady preparing free tea and coffees at the church informs us that if we are waiting for the pub to open, we would be there until the evening.  She told us that in 2 hours time we could have a biscuit from her Church group.  Unfortunately, despite a Ford to splash around in, its impossible to wait for 2 hours in Butterton.  Even on the promise of free Garibaldis.

Approaching Butterton
Guided in by the Church Spire
Black Lion, Butterton
Shabby Chic or just plain Shabby?
Black Lion, Butterton
Not the date Built - Closer to the Opening Hours
Butterton Ford
Can a ford provide 120 minutes of entertainment?

Pretty place but seriously lacking in public amenities.  We move on, to Grindon.  This has the "Big Blue Cup of Joy" on the OS Map but pre-walk research shows no watering holes.  On the ground, its impossible to tell which building could have been the pub.  Maybe the cartographer just got slap happy with his symbols.

Like Butterton, we are guided in by the church steeple.

Grindon Ahead
Grinton Ahead
The Church at Grinton

As there is no evidence of any free biscuits here, we complete the final two miles back to Onecote.  We know we are safe here, we parked in the pub car park.  2:20pm may be too late for food, but I have visions of a smorgasbord of my favourite pints, all lined up waiting for selection.

I try the door.  Its bolted.

The small print reveals that they are open on a Saturday 12pm to 2pm.

This might be the first time I swear in a blog.  We have driven 75 miles and gone back 30 years to when pubs closed for the afternoon.

Jervis Arms, Onecote
Look at what I could have won
I almost planned today's walk from the Ye Olde Crown in Waterhouses but was slightly put off by the instructions that we needed to turn left at the cement works.  I should have ignored this. Waterhouses has Geocaches. Waterhouses have pubs that open when punters demand refreshment.

I walk into the bar of this C17th Pub and am greeted by two fine examples of the lesser spotted Mamils (Middle Aged Men in Lycra).  One has a half and a whisky on the go, the other a large white wine.  They insist that I try the Pedigree - claiming it to be the finest beer in the land.  If that's the case, why aren't they drinking it I inquire?

Turns out they've had four already.  And their camel packs when they headed out on the bike ride were full of Scrumpy.

A wobble back up the road is anticipated.

Last time I had Pedigree, I sent it back. It smelt terribly of eggs.  Not wanting to upset my new friends, I try it here.

It was a decent pint and the day is saved.

Ye olde Crown, Waterhouses
This is what an open pub looks like
Ye olde Crown, Waterhouses
Abandon all hope ye who enters
Ye olde Crown, Waterhouses
Endorsed by Mamils

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

21/06/16 - The Folly Inn, Napton - Millennium Way Stage 37

Distance - 4.9 Miles
Geocaches - 2
Pub - The Folly Inn, Napton, North Cotswold Shagweaver
Walk Inspiration

Getting to the end of the month, so I need to fit in the next leg of the Millennium Way.  Stage 37.

As is often the case, this short walk starts at a pub.  Very handy.  Bang on the canal, and this provides the early walking.  It must be a good pub, as there's a traffic jam of barges moored up.

Oxford Canal
End of the Parking Zone
Napton Windmill
Early view of the Napton Windmill from the Canal

We leave the canal at the Bridge at Napton - a dead pub, as reported on last month's leg.  There's something wrong in Warwickshire.  They like to kill of their public assets, as we will find later in today's walk.

A stiff ascent of Napton Hill - providing good enough views over Warwickshire that they built a look out tower in WWII.

I feel I am being watched.... a very close flap of wings for the first time in my life, I am being dive bombed by a bird of prey that I can't identify but will affectionately call Stuka.  Twice I get the fly by treatment.

Warwickshire Views
View from Halfway up Napton Hill
Death from Above
Death from Above

It leaves me alone once I summit the hill and take a quick detour to find only the 2nd Geocache of the day.

Napton Windmill
Closer to the Windmill
Napton means settlement on the hill.  You can feel the history of the place as you walk through the village.... its doomsday mentioned and a lot of Georgian architecture juts up against the new builds. My map shows a Big Blue Cup of Joy and I vow to sample its wares, should it prove interesting enough.

Alas, The Crown at Napton is completely and utterly dead.  You've killed another one, Warwickshire.

It looks very sad.  Internet based research showed the last Facebook update in Xmas 2012.  Johnny's leaving shindig.

The Dead Crown at Napton
What 3.5 Years of Neglect Looks Like
A one shop stop for today then.

A drop down the hill and contemplation that if the Warwickshire Lad doesn't like going to pubs, quite how does he entertain himself?

The answer appears to be target practice.

Drive by shooting
Drive By
A couple of fields to cross and back to the canal to be delivered to my refreshment point.

The Folly is an old rambling farmhouse and entering is like walking into someone's house.  Usual choice between left and right.  I head right, finding the less formal dining area - which judging by the number of troughers, is what this place is famous for.

The beer choice is also not bad - I first spot the North Cotswold Shagweaver and once again, refuse to ask my 20 something barmaid for it by name.  I could have also gone for a choice of two Hook Norton's.

Superb pint, taken outside listening the boat people talk of how few miles they are completing over such long holiday periods.

The Folly at Napton
The Folly
The Choice
North Cotswold Shagweaver
The Shagweaver

Monday, 20 June 2016

19/06/16 - Mr Thomas's Chop House - Manchester

Geocaches - 1
Walk - Why walk when you can Uber
Pub - Mr Thomas's Chop House, Black Sheep

Up in Manchester to move our 22 year old daughter into her 8th different accommodation.  This is already four more than me.

Most of the heavy lifting has already been done, so by midday, we have moved what's left from Fallowfield to Salford.

So, how to entertain ourselves in Rainy Manchester?

I turn on the Sat Nav and see that the nearest Geocache is at Salford Lads Club.  This will mean something to discerning music fans of a certain age.  There's a degree of serendipity around this, as its bang on 30 years since the Queen is Dead was released by the Smiths.  The inner sleeve picture went on to become the most recognised art work for the band.

We wait our turn for the obligatory photos behind an eclectic crowd of fans - Mini Buses full of balding 40-somethings, a pair of Asian girls and a surprisingly high number of youngsters who are ensuring the band's legacy remains.

Salford Lads Club
An attempt to Recreate is hard when there's only two of you
The club is open to visitors, so we get a chance to mooch around and see their "Smiths" room, complete with plenty of memorabilia.  Free tea and coffee too.  Well done Salford Lads Club.

So how do Students get around?  Well, they don't walk.  They fire up their Smart Phones and hail an Uber.  You get a map showing where you are, where your cab driver is and some details on who he is, ready for future ratings.  Long gone are the days when you wait expectantly, hoping a cab will turn up on the same day as you ordered it.  And the best thing, Dad's don't have to pay.  The £3 charge is automatically on Ellie's account.

I've seen the future and I like it.

There was slight concern that we had too much time to kill before our lunch reservation.  Little did we know that today was Manchester Day and there is a full on carnival taking place in the streets.
Think the opening scenes of Spectre.  Sitting in the undercover alcove of the Cask Marque Dutton's Bar, directly opposite the Town Hall was a wonderful place to watch it.... even if we did have to endure the banter of the two minor Mancunian Celebs on the tannoy system.

Manchester Day
Wonderful - Manchester Day
And on to lunch.

Mr Thomas's Chop house is a throw back to a by gone era and hasn't changed inside or out since 1901.  Outside, you'd need google to appreciate the fact that it was Manchester's first iron framed building.  Inside, you can appreciate the recently restored original tile work for all its glory.

Former patron's include LS Lowry.  Presumably before they put the prices up.

For good reason, it's one of CAMRA's best heritage pubs.

Mr Thomas's Chop House
Has a New York Feel from the Outside
Mr Thomas's Chop House
Lifted from the Net - We Sat in front of the Metal Gates

There's a fair amount of slagging off of the place on the usual beer web sites.  I can understand the comments about price but not of the tourists.

I wouldn't necessarily choose it as my local, but I would make it a destination after travelling 120 miles.  It needs to be experienced.

And the beer - the holy grail pairing of Timothy Taylor Landlord and Black Sheep.  Like choosing a favourite between your children.

And the food - my mother in law enquired if I had enjoyed the chops.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

18/06/16 - Cookham to Gerrards Cross

Distance - 9.9 Miles
Walk Inspiration - Time Out Country Walks Near London - Walk 40
Geocaches - 8
Pub 1 - The Jolly Woodman, Littleworth Common, Sharps Coaster
Pub 2 - The White Swan, Hedgerley, Little London Pryde
Pub 3 - The Ethorpe Hotel, Gerrards Cross, Black Sheep

The guide book suggests that this linear walk should start at Gerrards Cross and finish at Cookham. They are 100% correct.

Cookham has history stretching through Ancient Briton, Saxon and Roman times and is detailed in the Doomsday Book.  Famous artists are buried in its 1140AD Church.

Gerrards Cross has a mega Tescos.

Still, its a four train epic between home and Cookham and I decided to get any travel problems out the way, early doors.  I needn't have worried, with efficiency that could only be dreamed of, everything was on time - with the last two trains waiting on the platform for me to join them.

It's with a spring in my step that I am finding my first sidetracked geocache at 9:45am.

I walk through Cookham.  It's very, very pretty.  I count off the pubs.  By the time I reach the Thames, I have used all of my right hand digits, noticed several nice restaurants and tea rooms and they even have a bonus village fete on Cookham Moor - complete with a huge Marquee labelled "Beer".

I've been to Gerrards Cross before.  I know it cannot compete with this smorgasbord of delights.

Cookham - History and Bunting
Pick of the Pubs
Pick of the Pubs - C17th Kings Arms
Thames at Cookham
Over the Thames

This walk is mainly through woodland, following several Long Distance Paths, including Shakespeare's Way (on the bucket list) and initially Beeches Way.  There's a castle on the top of Harvest Hill that some describe as the only thing worth looking at in Buckinghamshire.  Even that's not authentic - a sham castle built in 1793 in memory of mad King George III and known as Lord Boston's Folly.

Beeches Way
Beeches Way - Alongside the Thames
Lord Bostons Folly
Lord Boston's Folly

Woodland provides good walking but little to photograph.  Only a police operation can add an element of frisson to the walk.  Just what are they investigating?  My money - doggers.

What's Happening Here?
Police Operation - Hopefully, Operation Strimmer
Its only 11:23am and I need something to report on.  The Jolly Woodman in Littleworth Common has the potential, but will it be open?  Pleased to report that it's an early riser.

Its Cask Marque accredited, although despite a thorough search, I fail to find its barcoded sign for app logging in.  As the only punter, I must assume the staff must think they are providing service to a rambling nutter.  Eventually I give up on looking around and sit on a Chesterfield and sup my Sharps Coaster in front of a well stocked and lit wood burner.  In June.

Loved the signs outside.  I followed the instructions to remove my muddy footwear.  I noticed that they have a Jazz night on Mondays.  I noticed that they are closed on Mondays.

Post pint research shows that I need to watch Carry On Dick again, where the exterior was used in the film and called the Cock Inn.
Jolly Woodman
A beacon in a sea of trees
Jolly Woodman
Front Sign - Live Jazz on Mondays.  Rear Sign - Closed Mondays.
Jolly Woodman
Sharps Coaster

Back into the trees.  I am now in Egypt Woods, part of Burnham Beeches.  I love guide books - Egypt Woods is so called as it used to be a Gypsy encampment.  The name Gypsy, derives from Egyptian.  I live in a town that is subject to annual mass invasion of our public parks by Egyptians and I didn't know that.

Pleasant walking, but with the exception of the odd deer and geocache - little to comment on.

Egypt Woods
Egypt Wood
What I like about long(ish) linear walks is the increased chance of discovering something new.  When I headed out at 6am this morning, I had no idea that I would be arriving at Buckinghamshire's Best Kept Village later in the day.

That's what Hedgerley is - and they are very proud of it.

1994 - 1999 - The first of the Hedgerley Lean Years
I am wildly optimistic that a best kept village must have a best kept village boozer and I am delighted when I stumble on the Good Pub Guide entry, the White Swan.

I de-boot for the 2nd time today, admiring a window full of award stickers.

White Swan, Hedgerley
White Swan, Hedgerley
A choice of left or right on entry.  I make the initial mistake "Right" - I am in a restaurant that appears to have a chiller cabinet full of delightful nibbles that wouldn't look out of place in Gerrards Cross Tescos.  I have my own pork pie, buried deep in my rucksack, so I back away gently and head "Left" into the Public Bar.

Its proper old school.  Wooden everything and a small little serving hatch, with the beers detailed on little star shaped fluorescent cut outs.  There's around 8 and I have only previously heard of the Rebellion IPA.  I ask the bar man for a recommendation and after discussion on the type of thing I like, we have narrowed it down to the aforementioned IPA and a Little London Pryde.  In the interests of experimentation and a new check in on Untapped, I take Pryde.

Oh dear.  What a mistake.

I should have noticed that there were no pumps for these 8 starred ales.  Instead, the barrels are behind the bar and its open tap and let gravity do the work.  I hate my real ale like this.  It reminds of the dull and lifeless stuff you get at beer festivals.

By the time I have taken the obligatory arty photo with dart board background, the head has disappeared.  A taste and I am getting hints of vinegar.  I really should have taken it back, but you know how it is when you are a barefooted stranger in town.

Things are not helped when the village Octogenarians come in with their pint and a half of delicious looking, and headed, Rebellion IPA.  They say that knowledge comes with age.

Pryde, Little London
Last we saw of that head
A shame, but on with the walk.  Up to the church and through some (you've guessed it) woods to cross the M40 and enter Bulstrode Park.  Its impressively huge and the headquarter for WEC.  I have no idea who WEC are until I consult the guide book - the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade.  I knock their door and ask if they have considered adding hand pulled ales to their manifesto for evangelizing.

Huge grounds, where the only person I meet is a dog walker.

Bulstrode Park
Bulstode Park Grounds
A few streets of very pleasant housing and I am in Gerrards Cross - delivered to the door of the station, under the neon glow of the supermarket.  A bit of time to kill before my pre bought ticket home - so I close the walk off with a nice bit of symmetry by finding a Sidetracked geocache.

Then I fire up the Cask Marque app and see there is an entry around the corner.  I do not let the fact that it has Hotel in the name put me off.  Its a Chef and Brewer.  There is nothing to write about.  The beer was not vinegary.  They didn't have a dart board.  I couldn't find the bar code.

Ethorpe Hotel
Ethorpe Hotel - Gerrards Cross
Black Sheep
Black Sheep - Palate Cleanser

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

14/06/16 - The Royal Oak at Gretton

Distance - 5.9 Miles
Walk Inspiration - Walk 1 - Walks Through History in Gloucestershire
Geocaches - 1 (a drive by on the way into Winchcombe)
Pub - The Royal Oak, Gretton, Wye Valley HPA
Detailed Walk Instructions and History Information - For Download Here

Winchombe has everything I need and has always been a favourite.  On top of the fine pubs and many walking routes there is some real history in the town.  The last time I came, I remembered to look at the courtyard of the old George Inn.  This time, I remembered to look up at the stone "Grotesques" adorning St Peter's Church.  On reviewing information about King Kenulf's coffin in the Church, I read about how you can see musket ball pock marks on the west wall from a firing squad in the English Civil War.

Damn.  Looks like I am going to have to return.

Today, I am primarily here to investigate one of Gloucestershire's Top 10 county pubs.  The Royal Oak in nearby Gretton comes in at Number 4.

But first the walk....  and importantly, can I complete it inbetween weather that is somewhere between the thunderstorms of the American Plains and the precipitation of the Amazon Rain Forests.

I start in centre of town and instantly the heavens open.  Take refuge under a conveniently placed awning.  The rain is fierce but lasts moments and I can move on.  Through the square, past the old favourite of the Plaisterers Arms, down Vineyard Street and past the entrance of Studeley Castle to gain entrance into the countryside.

Vineyard Street - Winchcombe
Where the Ducking Stool cured Naughty Ladies
Out into the Countryside
Thanks for the heads up, telegraph pole
Sudeley Castle
Frequent views of Sudeley Castle

A gentle climb up past Humblebee Cottages (does a home with a finer view exist in the Cotswolds?) and onto the historical highlight of today's walk.

Humblebee Cottages
Humbebee Cottages
And their View
And their fine, fine views

No doubt footfall is higher since Julia Bradbury described its virtues on TV with a frankly ludicrous linear walk that would have left amateur walkers stranded on Cleeve Common with no way of returning.

With the thunder rolling in over the Evesham Plains, the 3000BC Burial Tomb of Belas Knap is an evocative place.  It was a toss up about whether to wait things out in a sheltered entrance or continue back to town.  My meteorological skills deduced that the storm would pass me by.

There is a storm coming
There is a storm coming
Belas Knap
3000BC Burial Chamber
Belas Knap
The Portal was nearly Mappiman's Shelter

And I was almost correct.  Follow the Cotswold way downhill and past the Cricket Club.  I get oh so close when the rain starts again.  A proper soaking means I have to wait things out in the shelter of woodland near a layby.  The boredom is broken up by a Yodel delivery man putting his hazard lights on and leaping out of his van.  What could cause someone to voluntarily cede shelter?

All is revealed when he opens his flies and releases his little Yodel.  Still, the look on his face when he saw a man in a bright red goretex coat waving at him from beneath a tree was priceless.

Descent into Winchcombe on Cotswold Way
Dropping Down on the Cotswold Way for a Yodel based Flashing
Back into town and I try and get a few photos of the Grotesques on the St Peter's Church.  They really are worth investigating.

Top Hatted Grotesque
Far too damp to head into the Plaisterers Arms, I return to the car to dry off everything electrical and attempt to make myself presentable for the Royal Oak.

Its a traditional Cotswold building from 1830 but with a bright, contemporary interior.  It's real selling point (on better weather days) has to be its huge garden with a frankly wonderful view of the Cotswold Escarpment.  Get in on the right day and a steam train from the Gloucestershire - Warwickshire Railway will come chugging down the foot of the garden.

Royal Oak, Gretton
Unassuming Exterior
Royal Oak, Gretton
Views East
Royal Oak, Gretton
Views West

The pub has a separate drinking area for those wanting to partake in one of the five real ales on - I went for my usual Wye Valley HPA - and two separate rooms for more formal dining.  Quite full at 8pm on a Wednesday, with ladies who have already lunched and my personal favourite - an old boy complaining that his impulse bought bucket of chips were just "sliced potatoes".

Wye Valley HPA
Today's Reward - Wye Valley HPA
A first drive through Gretton, which has many architectural highlights.  Another return visit required but alas I cannot frequent the Bugatti Inn.  It's now an Indian.