Sunday, 31 December 2017

31/12/17 - Heart of England Way - Stage 9 - Middleton

Distance - 9 Miles
Geocaches - 8
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7, Stage 8

Final outing of 2017 and I just about manage to fit in the monthly walk on the Heart of England Way.

Today, I start at Middleton, Warwickshire.  A quiet village with everything required, pub, church and shop.  Two our of the three amenities will come in useful, post bimble.

Fields take me to Drayton Basset.  A place without a pub.  A multi geocache at the church proves fruitless, as I am sure the clue items have been chopped down.  I was meant to collect data from information boards on trees but at GZ, there is just suspicious piles of sawdust.

Drayton Bassett Church
Drayton Bassett Church and GZ
More success at Drayton Swing bridge, where information is collated, plotted into the GPS and the prize is on my route along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.  Never made my way over a canal on a more picaresque crossing.

Drayton Swing Bridge
Up the spiral staircase and over the bridge...
Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
... for a couple of flat miles along the canal

The canal takes me to Kingsbury Water Park.  Plenty of paths available and many families taking advantage of them.

Kingsbury Water Park
Work your way through Kingsbury Water Park
Bodymoor Heath sounded familiar to me and the reason is revealed on arrival.  Aston Villa's training ground.  A rather flash Mercedes SUV is leaving as I cross the boundary but as I don't watch Championship football (this year, although the Baggies are keeping me on my toes), I fail to recognise if the young man driving was a first team regular.

Entering the Villa
The warnings get increasing officious - including no photograpghy
It's hard work getting back to Middleton - a new gravel pit has removed the old Right of Way detailed on my OS Map and I am forced to walk the perimeter in a pointless three sides of a rectangle fashion.  The reward is there.

The Green Man, Middleton
The Green Man, Middleton
The Green Man is the focal point of the village - dominated in the extension with dining tables but a nice little bar can be found at the front.   The Old Farmers having an early start to the New Year festivities dominate nearly all available space but I manage to squeeze in with my London Pride, rudely served in a Doom Bar Glass.

Pride in a Doom
Pride in Doom

Saturday, 30 December 2017

30/12/17 - Horse and Jockey, Knighton

Distance - 8 Miles
Geocaches - 0
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Magazine, August 2017, Walk 27

Two new year's resolutions here.  Never listen to either Mrs M or the BBC Weather App.  To be fair, Mrs M gets her info from the BBC Weather App, so the two things are the same.

This morning, I descended the stairs with my finest winter waterproofs only to be told its a balmy 11 degrees and wall to wall sunshine.  Only half of that sentence was true.

By end of the day, this walk became known as the "shittiest, good walk ever completed.

It promised so much - in a town I was convinced was new to me but upon arrival quickly recognised.  If we hadn't have started in town, it would have been completely in Shropshire.

Half in Wales, Half in England.  Totally in the wrong clothing
Half in Wales, Half in England.  Totally in the wrong clothes
We've started at the Offa's Dyke Visitors Centre and its this path that takes us across the River Teme and up the flanks of Panpunton Hill.  It's a lung gasper but on a fine day, you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the Teme Valley.   Like us blogfans, you will have to make do with this.

Teme Valley
Things have not been this grim in 2017 since the Langdale Valley.
No point taking photos.  It's a case of trudge on and try and keep the camera safe from the horizontal rain that completely soaked one half of your body, leaving the other half relatively unscathed.  The only way to try and improve morale was by me completing a spectacular fall - a skid, windmill like leg movements and a mud bound plonk. 

Mrs M creased herself, but she may have been delirious through hypothermia.

Trough the farm at Five Turning, along a broad farm track and downward scramble through Holloway Rocks.  I remember that someone said if the weather is grey, try turning your camera to Monochrome setting.

Descending through Halloway Rocks
Slightly better than the mirk
Stowe Church before a couple of godawful, sheep poo strewn fields, where we get in quite a state.  We wonder whether Knigton pubs will allow us in, but we do find a stream to get the worst off.

Stowe Church
Stowe Church - where the Sun Peeps

A quick walk through this pretty town, passing the Railway Station.  There are two lines - one way to Shrewsbury with two stops along the way.  The other to Swansea with 120 stops along the way.  All in places I've never heard off. 

There's also a high degree of specialism amongst the shops.

Train Station
Unique in that the Station is in a different Country to the town it serves.
Yes, this is a Subbuteo Shop

So the pubs.  The 2018 Good Beer Guide was consulted and there is a single entry - the Red Lion.  But not before we are forced to walk past an interesting looking boozer, the Horse and Jockey.  Mrs M is that desperate for refreshment, I have to drag her out.

The Red Lion sits delightfully next to the town square clock tower and keep ridiculous hours.

I mean come on - a pub (classic, not micro) that doesn't open till 17:30 on a Saturday?

Red Lion
Looks Good.
Red Lion
Looks Bad.  Doesn't even bother on a Sunday or Monday

With much contrition we head back to the H&J.  Window stickers show that this was a 2017 Good Beer Guide entry and as we are still in the year, I'm counting a tick.

Horse and Jockey
Mrs M wondering why we are walking past.  If only she knew as much about weather.
All turns out fine in a most serendipitous way.  The H&J has a lot more going for it - Medieval origins, an interesting horseshoe shape of ramshackle buildings, excellent Three Tuns Beer and the icing on the cake - the best beef and onion baguette known to humanity.

Really, you have to go there.

Sustenance taken and the misery of the previous three hours was very nearly forgotten.

Horse and Jockey
Loved the layout of this former coaching inn
Horse and Jockey
Almost as much as this

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

26/12/17 - The Old Nags Head, Monmouth

Distance - 7 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Walk Inspiration - Jarrold Wye Valley, Walk 21

Another Xmas trip to the Wye Valley, an area that never disappoints a hardened Rambler.  This walk is an absolute boster.

We start in Monmouth.  The hardest part of the walk is working out how to escape the car park and then how to get back into it from the high street.  Its as if the town planners don't want you leave.

Once out, its over the ancient bridge and walking downstream to Upper Redbrook.  Beautiful.

Wye Valley
Beautiful Wye Valley
At Upper Redbrook, we pick up Offa's Dyke path which provides some height.  The highlight is a hill called Kymin, which offers a couple of architectural oddities - a naval temple, built in 1800 to celebrate British victories at sea and the Round House - a place for the gentlemen of Monmouth to have a booze up.

Offa's Dyke Resident
Notice we were separated by a bit of barbed wire
Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke Path
Views from the Kymin
Views over Monmouth from the Kymin

Its a maze of bizzare little footpaths between dwellings clinging to the side of the Kymin to bring us back to town.

Plenty of pub choice, but we had to visit the town's sole entry in the 2018 Good Beer Guide.  The Old Nags Head is a wonderful old school boozer, quite busy today with people who still haven't had quite enough Xmas Cheer.

Old Nags Head, Monmouth
Old Nags Head
Old Nags Head, Monmouth
Front Bar and Pool Room are both full

I should have completed my research before heading off, as I failed to notice the pub forms part of the town wall defences.  The building incorporates a C13th round drum tower on the opposite side to the front door.  I did inadvertently visit the room from the inside, as part of my pub exploring

Beer wise, it's a Brains house with Rev James the best selling beer.   However, after yesterday's miscalculation with Port, I surprise Mrs M by taking only a lemonade.

Normal service to resume during my next blog.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

23/12/17 - The Bell at Trysull

Distance - 3.75 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Walk Inspiration - Walk 29, Best Pub Walks in South Staffordshire

Mrs M didn't look too enamored when I answered the question "where are we going walking today" with Wolverhampton.

She needn't have worried.  There's some stunning countryside in South Staffordshire and Trysull is a pretty little village with plenty of interest.

Not least, the 2018 Good Beer Guide Pub, The Bell, our starting point and first walk from this guidebook.

The Guide
The Ghosts of Mr and Mrs Mappinan Future
In no time at all, we are out into the Countryside for some very pleasant walking.

Countryside around Wolverhampton
Staffordshire Countryside
This is an easy walk, perfect for a Saturday morning, leaving the afternoon free to listen to the Albion get relegated.  We walk along quiet lanes, over the Staffordshire/Worcs Canal and return along a disused railway that once ran from Wolvo to Kingswinford.

Staff and Worcs Canal
Over the Canal
Former Wolverhampton Kingswinford Railway
Peaceful walking along an old railway line

Soon back in the village to admire the architecture - first the church with some fine stone carvings over the door and then the pub, opposite.

Trysull Church
Trysull Church

The Bell, Trysull
Very league of Gentlemen
The local beers were Holdens and an unexpected Bathams.  Perfect pint, as always.

West Midlands Ales
Local Beers
The guide contains a further 29 walks in the area.  2018 will be busy if they're all as good as this one.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

20/12/17 - Rural Ticking - Lion o' Morfe in Upper Farmcote

I'm not as competitive with my Good Beer Guide Ticking as I am with my Geocaching but occasionally, there's a chance to bag a rarity.

Sat Nav tells me I live 13 miles from Upper Farmcote.  If I type it into Google Maps, it points me to a Farmcote near Winchcombe.  It's not, the one I am after is somewhere in the wilds of Bridgnorth.

First, I need to get to 1000 Geocaches for the calendar year.   This part of the world is saturated with caches, all laid by Blokie Bloke - a man who's email notifications must ring off the hook.   A nice couple of miles bimbling through the Shropshire Countryside and I reach 1006, with 13 for the day.

Geocaching Views
The Geocache Laden Shropshire Wilds
Onto the pub.  Help is at hand to let you know you have arrived at the right Farmcote.

Upper Farmcote
Not in Winchcombe
The Bible provides the background.  The name is nothing to do with Tony Hart's clay man.  It states that its a former farmhouse, converted to a pub in the 1850s and popular with walkers and locals.  What locals?  There's scarcely another building around.

But it is busy on a Wednesday lunch time and there's a good reason.  It's a classic country pub - from the outdoor loos to the pre-aga aga and furniture that was bizarrely labelled as being used in episode of Morse.

I loved it - and here is why.

Red Lion, Upper Farmcote
Classic Country Pub
Red Lion, Upper Farmcote
Unique porch glassware
Lion o' Morfe, Upper Farmcote
View from the Morse Bench to the Pre-Aga Aga

But Mappiman, what about the beer?  Does it deserve to be in the Good Beer Guide?

Well, yep, all my favourites are here - Three Tuns, Wye Valley HPA and Butty Bach but in honour of a particular pub ticker whom I can never hope to catch, I went for one of these.

Bass in the Lion o' Morfe, Upper Farmcote
Only my 3rd Ever Pint of the Red Triange
And as its Xmas - here's a bonus and how I imagine his living room to look.

Lion o' Morfe, Upper Farmcote
Carefully Avoiding Catching my Reflection

Monday, 18 December 2017

18/12/17 - Kidderminster's King and Castle Makes It

The annual amble along the canal to Kidderminster.

Last year, there was much work to do, ticking off a high number of Good Beer Guide Pubs in a town that could be considered by many to be dying on it's arse.  Although the pub scene has much improved, I couldn't understand why the King and Castle was excluded from the 2017 Bible.

Well, either my blog hit home or Wyre Forest Camra also recognised it's qualities.

There's also another new GBG entry - the Beer and Cider Emporium.  In the spirit of all good micro pubs, this keeps odd hours.   On Mondays and Tuesdays, it keeps no hours at all.   Note to self - next year's walk needs to happen later in the week.

So a blog for a pub that can nearly be described as my local, positioned perfectly next to my closest railway station.  It's the starting point for any trips to the Hawthorns and the only part of the day guaranteed to be pleasurable.  It's the end point for many 2hr 45 minute train journey from the Smoke.  The longest train journey in the world without refreshment services.

By the time I've checked out the Boar's Head (new ownership, £2 for a decent pint of Wainwright) a pea souper has descended.

King and Castle, Kidderminster
Festive King and Castle
I wasn't going to.  But I did.   Like the man that stares at the overhead menu in a chippy for ten minutes and then orders "Fish and Chips", I looked at all the options, familiar and new, and ordered the usual Bathams.

But shock/horror and other associated gasps of incredulity.  It was only when I took it to my table that I noticed that it was a cloudy, flat abomination of a pint.   I never like taking beer back, since the 1st time I tried to take the world's most vinegary pint of Pedigree back to a very drunk landlord who assured me it was fine.  But take it back I did.

The barstaff were equally horrified.  They changed the barrel immediately and then sent a team member to offer a replacement pint to any recent purchasers of Bathams. 

Much conversation about other horror stories of trying to take back dodgy pints in dodgy boozers.

But not at the King and Castle.

King and Castle, Kidderminster
2nd Attempt and Happy Bathams Drinkers

Saturday, 16 December 2017

16/12/17 - London Countryway - Stage 1 - Gravesend to Sole Street

Distance - 7.23 Miles
Start - Gravesend
Finish - Sole Street
Geocaches - 11
Pubs - 3

2017 started with a number of goals.  Walk 1000 miles.  Find 1000 Geocaches.  Start the London Countryway.

What's the London Countryway, I hear both my blogfans ask?  Well, its a 1978 Guide written by Keith Chesterton detailing a circular walk around London.  Think the Capital Ring and the London Loop but further out.  Here's the book and the route which is going to keep me busy on monthly trips to the Smoke.

The Guide
Not Sure who or where they are
The Route
Oh Yes, I'm going to Marlow, where the Butchers is also a Pub

Couple of considerations.  Where to start?  The book arbitrarily suggests the most Southern point of the Loop but in keeping with the Capital's other great circular paths, I start at the most Eastern point.

The 2nd consideration is how accurate is a 30 year old book going to be?  Fortunately, a couple of handy on line references from Beer Blogger Des De Moor and Dick Bowman, who provides GPX files, help enormously.

So Gravesend takes the prize as starting point, even if Keith says "Gravesend is rather a disappointment....  Tilbury is better to be in and Gravesend is better to look at".   Keith is off his tits.  No-one who has ever got lost looking for the ferry terminal has ever said such kind words about Tilbury.

Alighting the train, I am met with a cacophony of brass bands and carol singers.  Nice touch, but I can't hang around, I need to find Pocahontas' statue.   Google her - she's more than just a Disney Character.

Pocahontas - 1596 - 1617
Red Indian Princess in Gravesend
Early stages of the walk are not too much fun, we need to get out of Gravesend and there's no real green paths to take.  Instead, I follow in Dick's footsteps and head up Windmill Street and along Central Avenue.  Nothing to see here.

A couple of obstacles get in the way of the first piece of greenery, Jeskyns Park.  The old A2 is now a cycle track and a new 6 lane superhighway has been built.  I think about playing frogger for a nanosecond before ignoring out of date OS footpaths and cross at Singlewell.   It's a good job I did, as its the only place to cross the HS1 train line.

Jeskyns is a nice enough wide open place for Kentish folk to hand feed cows (unsure what with) and walk dogs.

Jeskyns Park
Feed the Cows
Jeskyns Park
Cobham Entrance to Jeskyns Country Park

Cobham village wasn't visited in the guide book, but every one on-line recommends it.  Who wouldn't want to have a pint in a pub frequented by Charles Dickens and mentioned in the Pickwick Papers?

The Leather Bottle, Cobham, Eponymous Beer

Well, that depends on the quality of the pint.  There's no doubting the authenticity of the pub, it's picture post card and plays up to its literary connections to the max.

Leather Bottle, Cobham
The Leather Bottle's Credentials
It's a Greene King.  They sell a best bitter called "The Leather Bottle".  It was near undrinkable.

Leather Bottle, Cobham
London Glory - My Aris
I don't stay for long.  Surprisingly, for a small village, there are two other pubs.  Take my advice and avoid the Ship Inn - it's more London Glory and massive laminated menus.

The Darnley Arms, Canterbury Ales Reeves Ale

The signage gives the appearance of a pub closure but this is where the locals drink.  Never heard of the brewery, but a much better pint and some bar hanging locals who were keen to know what I was up to.

Darnley Arms, Cobham
I assure you, it is open
Darnley Arms, Cobham
That's how I like my pubs on a sunny day

Not far to go to the end of Stage 1.  It's up past the church and into the Kent Countryside.  The most direct route is through the hop fields, but there are some Geocaches to get that will lead me to the same destination.   I did say I was after 1000 before the Jools Holland does his hootenanny.

Cobham Church
Nice Circuit of Cobham Church
Hop Fields
View of the Hop Fields from the Geocaches
The Cock Inn, Luddesdown, Harvey's Sussex Best

The best pub is saved until the end of the day.  Less than 0.5 mile from Sole Street Station is a gem of a county pub, standing isolated in a country lane.  Its even got a multi geocache, where the pub phone number is used to reveal the location of the treasure.

Further home based research show that its also a regular in the Good Beer Guide, inlcuding the latest edition.   When I set off this morning, I didn't even know that I was going to Luddesdown.   Nice to think that my own observations of a place closely matched those of the local CAMRA representatives.

It's a wonderful treasure trove of nick nacks, roaring fires, photos of Winnie and top, top quality beers.   None are labelled but the chalk board reveals an old favourite, served in absolutely tip top condition.

The Cock Inn, Sole Street
Pub of the London Countryway - so far
The Cock Inn, Sole Street
Never felt more British

The final half mile delivers me rather more muddy than I would have liked to Sole Street Station for the 15:00 to Victoria.  Fittingly, there is no other traveler on the either platform.

I'll be back to see if there are more travelers in the mornings.  Tickets for Stage 2 are booked in January.