Tuesday, 31 January 2017

31/1/17 - The CAMRA Good Beer Guide Pubs of Covent Garden

Covent Garden - often agreed as a destination meeting point when hooking up with friends.  Without anyone actually knowing the best pub to meet in.   Invariably, a suggestion will be made and we'll end up in some hideously packed hell-hole, drinking substandard fayre and wishing we were  somewhere else.  The Lamb and Flag is excluded from this appraisal.

So, on a very rainy night in Soho, I head out with the GBG Bible to try and track down the three entries that ring no bells with me.  Holborn is the easiest tube to get to.  By the time I have made it down Great Queen Street to Wellington Street, I am soaked to the bone.

Its not all giggles, this pub ticking.

The Coach and Horses, Wellington Street - Tribute

Random BeerintheEveningQuote - "I always try to find time to visit this little diamond; like many of my favourites it is small, friendly & seemingly out of place in its inner city location."

Did I tell you it was raining?  Battery on my phone is at a low 10% and I don't want to risk water damage so I kind of get into the right area and am lured in by marketing.

It would appear that I am not the only one ticking tonight.

The Signage is enough to get me out the Rain
More Tickers
Bar Scrummage

It was OK.  Once the harassed looking barmaid asked for ID, they melted into the night.

It left me chance to order a perfect pint of London Pride, peruse my surrounding and determine that I had peaked slightly early.

Covent Garden Pride
Pride in Covent Garden
In my defence, the Globe is next to the Marquess of Anglesey, which is next to my real destination. My navigational skills needed correcting, but not before I had taken my tea.

The Coach and Horses is a small independent Irish pub offering the best pint of Guinness in London.  I'm not falling for that again, I've been to the Toucan.  It's a community pub, so a well fed, very damp looking stranger gets eyed up on entry but only so they know the amount of gusto to put into their greeting.

These sorts of places always amaze me.  Out of the handful of people is man who has popped in after taking his dog for a walk.  I find it incredible that normal people who frequent classic boozers still live in this part of the city.

Only two real ales on - a Tribute or a Adnams - looked after and served with care by a man who has an identical outfit to Al Murray's Pub Landlord.

File under success.

Coach and Horses
Excuse the photo - needed to get out of the rain
Tribute at the Coach and Horses
Perfect Tribute

The Cross Keys, Endell Street, Wadworth 6X

Random BeerintheEveningQuote - "The barman was friendly. The interior felt less cluttered than on previous visits."

I can only guess at how cluttered it must have been.  If its brass, its hanging from the ceiling.  Pots, pans, musical instruments.  A long bar, with dimpled glasses hanging from hooks.  Every available wall surface covered in pictures and memorabilia.

I loved it.

The other thing the reviews have pointed out is the prices.  £3.60 for a perfect pint of 6X was easily the cheapest in the area by some distance.

All was going well until the landlady came out with the brasso and started polishing.

6x at the Cross Keys

Cross Keys
Another Dodgy Outdoor Night Photo

Well done to the GBG - highly recommended and this will be my future rendezvous point, whether my friends like it or not.

The White Swan, New Row, Orkney Dark Island

Random BeerintheEvening Quote - "The last time I was here the pub was an O'Neils and pretty bog standard it was too"

I have just enough battery on the phone to navigate myself to the White Swan.  I'll be finding an alternative way to scan in the Cask Marque certificate, proudly displayed just inside the door.

Its directly opposite the Round House.  One of the more ghastly previous rendezvous points.  Despite it being grade II listed, it looks corporate - especially on the inside.  It instantly looks like a Nicholsons pub and you can see how it used to be something much, much worse.

Time is getting on... moments after ordering an unexpected Dark Island from Orkey, the bell is rang with a vigour that is only ever found in Central London pubs.   Its 10:51 and they obviously cannot wait to get home.

To be fair, apart from a damp man taking a photo of a certificate in which to scan it later when his phone has power, its a slow night with just three other punters.  They are sat huddled together - with the patriarch telling his adult child about will provisions.  The future recipients protestations were not convincing enough to suggest he wasn't disappointed.

White Swan
Might have been harsh - looks better than initially observed

Orkney Dark Island
Just me, the will makers and Trump.  Recipe for a good night.

So GBG - All three were new locations to me - despite coming to the area for 25 years.

And two out of three ain't bad.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

28/01/17 - Lea Valley Walk Stage 2 - From Cheshunt to the Camra GBG Pubs of Hertford

Distance - 13.4 Miles
Geocaches - 18
Start - Cheshunt
Finish - Hertford
Pubs - 3
Previous Stage

I spent 13 years working in Hatfield and looking for better places to spend my nights away.  Both Hertford and Ware were investigated before I settled on St Albans for my regular lodgings.  In those days, I simply knew it had good pubs but didn't realise it was CAMRA's home.  Youth, wasted on the young.

It was with some mild excitement that I plotted the 2nd leg of the Lea Valley Walk and realised that it would be taking me through these two Hertfordshire towns.  A chance for a first visit in over 10 years.

Easy walking from Cheshunt - like plodding along the banks of a canal.  Unlike Stage 1, there is really nothing much of interest until you get 11 miles in and arrive at Ware.

Its a good job I have the numerous, well maintained geocaches to keep the interest levels.  If there hadn't have been so many muggles, I would have got so many more.  A stretch of three consecutive caches was interrupted by a fisherman who firstly demanded I had a feel of his rod, and then proceeded to follow me upstream as "he looked for perch".

I'll leave you with some photos of the walk into Ware.

Deadly Accurate Signage - I discovered a Heron
Fish and Eels Pub
One of the more handsome Riverside pubs - The Fish and Eels
River Lea
Somewhere near Hoddeson
River Lea
Somewhere Near St Margaret's 

The Waterside Inn, Ware

3.5 hours after leaving Cheshunt at 9am, I arrive into Ware.  There is one CAMRA GBG pub in the town but it is a fair way from the river, so I make the most of the two waterside pubs at the town bridge.  The Saracen's Head announces its presence with Scrabble Style signage. The Waterside Inn is Cask Marque accredited.  Only one winner for the Mappiman Dollar.

Waterside Inn
Waterside Inn - Cask Marque
A friendly greeting from an Antipodean behind the bar (instinctively bred for bar work), she takes my order from a choice of six real ales.  She even looked disappointed when I failed to either produce, or desire a stamp on a loyalty card.  I tried to explain that having not been to Ware in a decade, I am unlikely to show the required loyalty needed to claim a freebie.

Ringwoods Razorback at the Waterside Inn
Ringwood Ridgeback delivered in a Presentation Cup
A functional place for a pit stop and the pint was perfect, even down to the chalice served in.

On with the walk.

From Ware, things improve.  There are things to look at and for the first time, the Lea can be described as a River, rather than a Canal.  I get to dodge dope smoking youths, admire the street art underneath the A10 and find the source the of the New River, which could be an inspiration of another waterway based London Adventure.

Looking like a River
Lea, looking like a River
New River, New Inspiration
The Start of the New River - running all the way to Islington
Under the A10
Under the A10 and a mortality reminder from some blue toes.  With eyes.

A fine delivery into Hertford, which from the River is far prettier than I remember.  A couple of hours before my scheduled train back, so a chance to tick off two of the four GBG establishments in the town.

The first, the handsome looking Old Barge is right on the water.

The Old Barge, Hertford

Old Barge
The Old Barge
There's a snug on the left hand side of the front door, with a little service space to the central bar.  More room on the right hand side, where a long bar with high stools leads to an extension based dining area.

I make myself comfortable on a stool and experience the kind of service which is good for starting fights.  I start my wait alone.  Three bar staff are all refusing to make eye contact with me, busying themselves with making rounds of orange juice and lemonades, messing with the till or serving food.

I am joined by a lady, holding a menu.  I joke about my cloak of invisibility.  Another five minutes and we are still not acknowledged.

You can guess what's going to happen.  A local comes in, is engaged with "I'll be with you in a minute" and then promptly offered service.

Counteracting my in built politeness. I point out that I was next and got met with "Well, we cannot keep on top of everything".  I would have accepted this, but menu lady went off at the deep end and fired off a broadside about how she either should have asked who was next or at least acknowledge us as we had both been there for quite a while.

On the plus side, it provided plenty of time to work out what I would have.  It was nearly a Woodforde Wherry (last seen in Norfolk) but I did a bit of #TryJanuary and went for an Otter Dark.

And I thought I had met all the Otters.

Otter Dark
My first pint of Mild?   I tried to hide the Doom Bar Glass.
The Old Cross Tavern, Hertford

The GBG provides a chance to sample all sorts of environments.  From the too busy to cope Old Barge, to the three punters strecthing out a pint with the papers, Old Cross Tavern.

Landlord at Old Cross Tavern
Already looking like my sort of place
I take the place of the gentlemen escaping to keep up the numbers.  Its a single room pub, with a single gent sat in each nook around the room, so none of us can really see each other.  Not a sound, apart from the tick tocking of an ancient timepiece.

#Tryjanuary is knocked on the head, as I shun the four unknown real ales for a Perfectly Served Timothy Taylor.

The silence is only broken when a couple come in - look around and leave in a fit of giggles.

A couple of one liners "was it something I said?, they don't know what they're missing, etc." and we we all heads down and back to our papers.

Bliss, and another GBG success.

Landlord at Old Cross Tavern
A little bit of Yorkshire in Hertfordshire

Sunday, 22 January 2017

22/01/17 - Seven Springs and Cockleford's Green Dragon

Distance - 5.5 Miles
Geocaches - 11
Walk Inspiration - Last Year's Calendar

The Mappiman Family Calendar has many entries - Gigs for Child #2, work appointments for Mrs Mappiman and trips to the smoke for me. As you might expect, it's a walking themed calendar and on 2016 close down,  I looked through the monthly offered routes to determine suitability.

A localish walk to Tomtit's Bottom simply could not be ignored.

Walking directions suggest starting at Seven Springs, where there is both a layby to park in and a pub to seek refreshment.  Google Maps show its a Hungry Horse.  Further investigation suggest that the Green Dragon Inn may be far more suitable for pub connoisseurs who have no use for a plastic tree to play on in the beer garden.

Green Dragon
And the opening hours look good.
There's a fair amount of lane walking on this route, but it does keep us out of the mud.  We head west, past the Girl Guide Centre and the impressive Cowley Manor house.  The guides are on some sort of activity that involves collecting wood on a trolley.   You can spot the future captain of industry by the way one particularly vocal Guide is cajoling the others into the hard graft.

Cowley Manor
Best view of Cowley Manor House
We continue on lanes to Cobberley before picking up the Gloucestershire Way.  Only discussion point is where black cows fit into Mrs Mappiman's bovine danger ranking.  On passing through their field, we can file them under docile.

Lane Walking
Lane Walking to Cobberley
Seven Springs is roughly the half way point.  We see what we could have won in all its glory before picking up a bridleway I must have previously walked, as its marked the Cotswold Way on the OS Map.

Seven Springs
Seven Springs Inn - for Hungry Horses
The bridleway brings us to Upper Coberley, where the pre-requisite for living here is a surly disposition.  We attempt to get an hello out of an elderly horse rider but should have realised the futility of this when we spotted he was beating his charge with crop and concentrating on shouting "Giddy Up".  Fair play to the horse - it refused to buckle under septuagenarian delivered corporal punishment and continued at its own leisurely pace.

The village does lead us to a high level path with great views, which no doubt would have been more impressive once the weak winter sun had burned off mist.

Mrs Mappiman not helping with the Cache finding.
Tomtits Bottom is nothing more than a wooded copse, unworthy of its name.  It does lead to Cockleford Farm and ultimately, the return to the Green Dragon.

Cockleford Farm
Idyllic Cockleford Farm
The Green Dragon is a fine example of a Cotswold pub and its remoteness has not affected it popularity.  The car park is full at 12:10pm and once we have debooted and entered, the only place available to sit is at the bar.

Possibly unlike the Hungry Horse, there are no light eating options available.  Its a £13.95 Sunday Lunch or nothing.  Its not that we are tight, just that kids (and both of them are home) may be disappointed with beans on toast for tea.

A superb Hooky and Steak and Ale Crisps will have to suffice.

Imminent Crisps

Thursday, 19 January 2017

18/01/17 - Old Street Good Beer Guide Pubs

I find myself at a customer meeting at Old Street Station, looking completely out of place with no discernible facial hair or wheeled transport more suited to a toddler.

Great Eastern Street
Street Art.  Trains.  On Buildings.  We must be near Hoxton.
Meeting completed and there is time to tick off the two Camra Good Beer Guide Entries in the area.

The Crown and Shuttle, Shoreditch High Street, Adnams Southwold Bitter

I had checked the view out of Google Maps.  It looked exactly my sort of place.

Crown and Shuttle
Crown and Shuttle
Unusually, this pub has no entry on beerintheevening.  Other web resources show that this former Trumans (got that from the Architecture) was closed down for 12 long years before reopening in 2013.

Good work.  The building really couldn't have been used for any other purpose.

Inside, it's a hipsters paradise.  Chairs that look like they have been salvaged from schools and extended to high stools by someone who is handy with a welder.  Two rooms, both bare brick, with the backroom hosting a street food serving cart.

Three real ales on in the front bar - there may have different options in the back room.

Crown and Shuttle
That's mine - Southwold Bitter

Crown and Shuttle
Check out the Chairs.  Check out the Street Food Dispensery
A little bit different to the usual GBG Entries and I imagine it all makes more sense when its much busier at night.

The Old Fountain, Baldwin Street, Hackney Best Bitter

Having rectified my wrong exit selection mistake at the Old Street Roundabout, I find the Old Fountain in a tiny little side street around the back of Moorfields Eye Hospital.

And this is why I love the Good Beer Guide.  There is no way I would have ever found this place without it.

Old Fountain
Crane still putting the finishing touches onto London
Traditional looking boozer both inside and outside.  I enter and am met with a cheery hello by the barman who explains where all the beers are and how I can use the blackboard to make my choice.

Old Fountain
Such Choice - An no more expensive than Banbury
Hackney Brewery Best Bitter was chosen and it proved to be a perfect pint.

It was tough to wrench myself away from this classic boozer, but now I know where it is, I'll be sure to come back.

Old Fountain
Timeless Pubiness

Monday, 16 January 2017

14/01/17 - Banbury Pub Crawl

Mrs Mappiman and myself find ourselves in the Premier Inn, Banbury and in need of a way of toasting our success at completing the Millennium Way.

There's only one thing for it.  Consult Tripadvisor for the finest place to eat (her).  Dust off the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for the finest places to drink (me).

The Three Pigeons, 3 Southam Road, Doombar

The taxi delivers us to the first of three GBG pubs in town.  The first calling point of the evening will set the tone for the night.  Will it be a boozers paradise full of old men with dogs, delighting me and making Mrs Mappiman wonder what she is in for?

We are dropped off in a courtyard car park, where the outbuildings (former stables?) have been converted into rooms.  If I had known, we could have booked here.

Three Pigeons
Three Pigeons from the Font
Inside, its been decorated to an incredibly high standard, with a fair proportion of tables dedicated to dining.  Mrs M heads off to find somewhere suitable to sit.  I fight my way past the bar to see what delights are on offer to get this into the GBG.

Slightly disappointed to find only two real ales - Purity Gold and Doombar.  And as much as I like Ubu, I didn't fancy a gold.

Purchases made and then I discover what is common to all 400 year old hostelries.... low beamed ceilings.

The very pleasant ambiance is very slightly tainted by a 6ft brummie swearing about having cider all down his strides and a very sore head.

Traumas are forgotten as we slump into very fine wing backed chairs in front of a lovely woodburner.

Three Pigeons
Mrs M Sympathetically informing Facebook that I've smacked my bonce.
Mrs M checks the menu.  She may have regretted not booking our meal here.

Bruises apart, a fine start.

The White Horse, 50 North Bar Street, Lecons Affinity & Everards Tiger

We move on towards the town centre into a pub that I am going to file under "unique".

No photo from outside as there are a couple of smokers who I am sure would appreciate their anonymity.

Inside, its a mixture of styles.  First impressions are that it looks like some has ramraided an auction house.  Full of trinkets, ornaments and pub related paraphernalia.  Seating wise, its just as eclectic - large chesterfield in front of a open wire, standard pub tables and oddly out of kilter American diner style booths.

White Horse
View from a Chesterfield
Before ordering drinks, my eyes are drawn to the signage.  I always worry about pubs that need to tell you how to behave.

White Horse
I'm nice.  As long as I don't bang my head
To the bar, which is unmanned and guarded by some very refreshed men, who hardly move to let me peak through to see the wares.  Eventually, one of the more refreshed men asks the group why his watch is saying "6:20".  They all gather around for a look, presenting a gap for me to squeeze in and try a rarely spotted Champion Beer of Norfolk - Lecons Afinity.

By the time I have been served, my new gentlemen friends have collectively agreed that it is indeed 6:20 and all is good in the timepiece world.

White Horse
Another View from the Chesterfield
The distraction had stopped me from checking my change and I was slightly concerned that a pint and a half of cider had resulted in only shrapnel from a tenner.

Are we talking London Prices here?

2nd round proves it - £5.80 and as much as I enjoyed the Affinity, I decided to go for the equally lesser spotted Everards Tiger.

Great beer.  Interesting decor.  Characters.

The Exchange, 50 High Street, Nothing

No matter how much I plead that my visit will not be complete unless I tick off all the GBG entries in a town, I just cannot convince Mrs M to cross the threshold of a Wetherspoons.

The Coach and Horses, Butchers Row, Old Hooky

GBG Pubs done (sort off), it's Mrs M's booking for food.  I'm delighted she has chosen a Hook Norton tied house.

Coach and Horses
My Sort of Pub
Not one, but two Birthday parties are in full swing - so we had to join in the signing twice.

Tripadvisor had come up trumps here - the food was exceptional, the service was that good that I added a cash tip to card payment and the beer was outstanding.

A proper result, if you are looking for good food.

Ye Olde Reinde Deer, 47 Parsons Street, Old Hooky

And we arrive at the best pub of the night.  Lets admire its qualities;
  • History - Medieval Building, with ties to the English Civil War
  • Architecturally stunning
  • Full range of Hook Norton Real Ales
    • Old Hooky was superb
  • Live Music
  • Busy, but easy access to a well staffed bar
And its not in the 2017 Good Beer Guide.

Ye Olde Reindeer
Ye Olde Reine Deer
Ye Olde Reindeer
See, I haven't spelled it incorrectly

If you had foreign friends and wanted to show them a perfect example of an English Market Town pub, this would be it.

We sit and take in the Americana live music - Seastick Steve crossed with early Johnny Cash.

I could have stayed all night but Mrs M declared that we had done enough to declare Banbury a success.

Ye Olde Reindeer
To Banbury - where its an average of £3.80 per pint

Sunday, 15 January 2017

14/01/16 - Millennium Way Summary

Number of Stages - 44
Start - Pershore, Worcestershire on the 1st June 2013
Finish - Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire on the 14th January 2017
Total Distance Walked - 268 Miles
Geocaches Found - 244

The Millennium Way Short Walks
The Millennium Way was brought to my attention through Geocaching Alerts. I was on holiday in Norfolk and received email notification that a new geocache trail had been laid along Stage 32.  If you look closely at the above picture and you can see the Geocaching Symbol against a couple of stages.  The cache listing pointed me to their web site, where I found that Peter Travis had painstakingly detailed 44 short walks that took in the full length of the Long Distance Path.

I'm always looking for walking inspiration, so it was a no-brainer to complete this.  In June 2013, I vowed to complete one walk per month, starting at Pershore and doing the walks in sequence until I reached Middleton Cheney - three and a half years later.

The walking routes are perfect in every way.  A nice map, directions, indications of items of interest and most importantly, nearly all of them finish at a pub.  Absolutely perfect for my needs.

Thank you for the maintenance of the web site and way markers on the ground.  Route finding could not have been easier.

Highlights - Of course, there were many.  Pershore to Henley in Arden are on my doorstep and I have walked the areas extensively but it was always good to be back in the area and discovering new paths.  The areas around Berkswell and Meriden provided some fascinating history and if anything, we went further back in time when walking around Warwick and Kenilworth - with their castles providing a fine photographic backdrop to the walks.

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle from the Millennium Way
Lowlights - I was looking forward to discovering Royal Leamington Spa but found it a real dump.  A dump where if people do clean up after their dogs, they tie the poo bags onto the trees.  The Top 10 County Pub was also closed at Lunchtime.   A minor distraction - don't let this put you off :-) Unfortunately, my trusty side kick - Molly the Labradoodle - didn't quite make it to the end.  I'll forever be in her debt for getting me into walking in the first place and changing my life so completely.

Pershore Bridge
Kicking off the Millennium Way in 2013 with a 10 year old Labradoodle
Last (or First) Millennium Way Sign
Finishing off the Millennium Way in 2017

Each Stage was individually blogged.

Stage 1 - Pershore, 9m
Stage 2 - Stoulton, 7.5m
Stage 3 - Stoulton, 6m
Stage 4 - Crowle, 7m
Stage 5 - Upper Snodsbury, 3m
Stage 6 - Flyford Flavell, 7.5m
Stage 7 - Flyford Flavell, 4.5m
Stage 8 - Inkberrow, 4.5m
Stage 9 - Inkberrow, 6m
Stage 10 - New End, 5m
Stage 11 - Alcester, 6m
Stage 12 - Coughton, 6.5m
Stage 13 - Studley, 8m
Stage 14 - Henley-in-Arden, 5.5m
Stage 15 - Henley-in-Arden, 5.5m
Stage 16 - Kingswood, 7.5m
Stage 17 - Hockley Heath, 4m
Stage 18 - Packwood, 4m
Stage 19 - Heronfield, 7m
Stage 20 - Barston, 4m
Stage 21 - Balsall Common, 5m
Stage 22 - Meriden, 9m
Stage 23 - Berkswell, 4.5m
Stage 24 - Berkswell, 4.5m
Stage 25 - Burton Green, 7m
Stage 26 - Burton Green, 6m
Stage 27 - Kenilworth, 7m
Stage 28 - Leek Wootton, 7m
Stage 29 - Warwick, 5m
Stage 30 - Leamington Spa, 5.5m
Stage 31 - Cubbington, 6.5m
Stage 32 - Offchurch, 7m
Stage 33 - Hunningham, 4m
Stage 34 - Long Itchington - 6.5m
Stage 35 - Long Itchington - 5m
Stage 36 - Napton, 6m
Stage 37 - Napton, 5m
Stage 38 - Priors Marston, 5.5m
Stage 39 - Hellidon, 6m
Stage 40 - Upper Boddington, 5.5m
Stage 41 - Lower Boddington, 5.5m
Stage 42 - Cropredy, 8m
Stage 43 - Chipping Warden, 10m
Stage 44 - Middleton Cheney, 8m

The Millennium Way Flickr Album

Millennium Way Summary

So now it's finished, what's next?  Well, I did discover the Heart of England Way on this walk.  The official guide book shows it can be completed by 32 linked circular walks.

It shall be done by 2020.