Sunday, 26 February 2017

25/02/17 - Lea Valley Walk Stage 3 - Hertford to Harependen

Distance - 16.4 Miles
Geocaches - 9
Start - Hertford North Station
Finish - Harpenden Station
Pubs - 2
Previous Stages - Stage 1, Stage 2

Bleary eyed, the day started with a 5:10am check on Twitter to see if the country had got back to normal following Storm Doris.  As per the norm, I was soon sidetracked and reading a blog about some impressive pub ticking and retweeting the link.

So you can imagine my delight when this 16 mile walk provided double the amount of ticks.  At this rate, I will only need to live to 230 to complete the Good Beer Guide.  The irony of that sentence is not lost on me.

Following an incident packed train journey, where I helped unprepared Walsall FC fans open their breakfast alcopops and an unconnected lady in the seat behind me discreetly threw up in her handbag, I arrived at Finsbury Park Station waiting room.

I'm not the only person in goretex and gaiters.  I very nearly gatecrashed the Blackheath Ramblers in their jaunt from Watton-at-Stone.  A decent conversation followed whilst we waited for the 9:02 train.  I may well be joining.   Beer blogger, Des De Moor, appears to be a member.  Their future walking programme looks excellent.

I'm on Stage 3 of the Lea Valley Walk.  This was a tough leg, knowing I have 16 miles to complete in 6 hours - including any pub visits.

Through pretty Hertford and pick up the Cole Green Way at the town's football ground.  This is a former railway line and provides the first caches of the day, easy walking but no sight of the actual river.

Cole Green Way
Cole Green Way.  Geocaches.  Muggles.
Holwell Court turns out to be a bit of a disaster.  I have an Old OS Map and a downloaded GPX route on my GPS and I cannot make my plans match with what is on the ground.  I can't afford lengthy detours and the fact that I find the White Swan symbol occasionally gives me the confidence to climb fences and plough on as planned.   On getting home and completing some research, I can see that a permissive path no longer has permission.

At least the adventure brings me to the River Lea and a decent stretch lasts until another disappearing permissive path through Hatfield Home Park forces me to walk alongside the deeply unpleasant A414 dual carriageway.

River Lea Cecil Saw Mill
The River Lea, at last.  Cecil Saw Mill  
I don't usually have the space to blog about individual Geocaches, but the one at Mill Green Museum brings a smile to my face.  Its in the museum grounds, which is closed today, but confidence to cat burgle is provided my a nice little sign out front.

Mill Green Museum
Another Smiley for Mappiman
I'm back in Hatfield (worked there for 12 years, apologies accepted) and the route takes me around Stanborough lakes and under the A1(M) to pick up Brocket Hall Golf Course.  I've walked here before on summer evenings when staying over for work - fine paths and previously found Geocaches.

Brocket Hall
Brocket Hall
13 miles and four hours in, I am making decent enough time to contemplate a stop.  Good river walking brings me to Wheathampstead - a pretty village that takes pride in its history.   Every buildings seemingly has information signs detailing the past.  I read all about the Bull Inn but the fact that its a bit corporate (Miller and Carter Steakhouse) means I make the correct decision and take a 15 minute break at the Swan at the top of town.

Coming into Wheathampstead
The Lea coming into Wheathampstead
The Swan, Wheathampstead

Superb choice and I must be getting adept at sniffing out the best places in new locations.  Its Cask Marque Accredited (bottle opener bagged, T Shirt 12 new pub visits away), its in the Good Beer Guide 2017 and it sells Timothy Taylor Landlord.

The Swan, Wheathampstead
13 Miles.  Earned.
The Swan, Wheathampstead
Since the 1500s

Enough to fortify me for the last hours walking into Harpenden.  Nothing to really report walking wise, start on a high ridge overlooking the valley and then drop down to a disused railway line before pounding the streets to get to the planned GBG Entry - the Cross Keys.

Harpenden is as nice as Wheathampstead but much bigger.  A long, broad high street takes me past many of the pubs I know from previous visits to one that is seemingly furthest away from the Station.

It was worth it for a traditional boozer.  Silver tankards hanging from the roof beams, lead windows, bar with three real ale choices, a roaring fire and all the newspapers a man could read in the 30 minutes he has before the train back home.

Almost justified the £4 pint of Landlord.

Cross Keys, Harependen
Traditional and another Cask Marque Check In
Cross Keys, Harependen
40ps worth - gone in a sip

A final leg of the Lea left - as it takes me to its source in Leagrave, near Luton.  I may make a trip of it and stop of in CAMRA's home town of St Albans and revisit some old friends.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

18/02/17 - The Good Beer Guide Pubs of Chesterfield

After a first and very lively night out in this oddest of market towns, our cab driver asks us how we enjoyed out night in Che Vegas?

Here's the answer.

The Market Pub, 95 New Square, Timothy Taylor Landlord

The death of the Great British Pub is much exaggerated, on the evidence of this bustling town centre pub that is doing a roaring trade.

Planets have aligned.  I have chosen to come here because its in the Good Beer Guide.  Mrs Mappiman has used Trip Advisor to find the best pub food in town, to reward ourselves after a day on the hills.

Market Pub, Chesterfield
Pub #1 in a new town - The Market Pub
The first pub can set the tone for the night.  And things do not get off to necessarily the greatest start.  I like a busy pub, but not when I have to fight my way to the bar.  Fortunately it is well manned and I am soon explaining we have a table booked and a delightful lady who calls me "laddie" explains the rules.

  • Food must be ordered at the bar.  I feel another bustle coming on.
  • Payment is cash only.
  • Meals are selected from a menu that is the size of a duvet.  
  • Haggis is available on all courses.

Drinks taken to a dining area next to a small open-plan preparation area (you can see through the door). Somehow, they are able to manage a table of 16, a table of 10 and us two out of towners from a kitchen sharing dimensions with a medium sized caravan.

And they do it perfectly.  The food is all freshly cooked and superb in both size and quality.  The beer is in fine fettle and I also try a Copper Dragon Golden Pippen - last seen in Yorkshire.

We have plenty of time to determine why they have got this so right.  It could be the largest collection of wine by the glass in Chesterfield.  It could be the theme nights - and I am slightly disappointed that I won't be around for the £40 per head Irish Whiskey tasting evening.  Its probably the honest fayre served at reasonable prices.

Market Pub, Chesterfield
The View from near the Kitchen
The Royal Oak, 1 the Shambles, Wellbeck Abbey Portland Black

We head out into the night, taking in the size of the Market and make our way towards the famous twisted spire, outshining even Cleobury Mortimer's architectural cock up.

The chance of a Geocache sends us into the Medieval part of town and signs that simply cannot be ignored by any self respecting beer tourist.

Royal Oak, Chesterfield
Search for the Holy Grail
Royal Oak, Chesterfield
We're suckers for Timber Framed Ancient Pubs

The chance to sup in a C12th building was never going to be passed by.  We find a door and enter into the smallest bar in the world.  No chance of a seat.  Limited chance of getting to the bar.  Despite the protestations of the locals ("don't leave, the company's better in here") we determine we can exit, and re-enter through another door, into a much larger bar.

A choice of three real ales on - I leave Mrs Mappiman to get the round, whilst I have a second, futile attempt at the Geocache.

Eventually, having been muggled by a collection of elderly painted ladies on the prowl in inappropriate (for age and girth) clothing, I abandon hunting for treasure to concentrate on connecting with the past.

I admire the medieval drawings and ancient pictures, enjoying my porter, thinking of the people that have passed through the doors over the ages and what their stories would have been.

We don't stay for long.  Mrs Mappiman says it "smells fusty"

Royal Oak, Chesterfield
Porter and Rose
The White Swan, St Marys Gate, Wolds Way

The Spire guides us to the next Good Beer Guide Pub, fighting our way through the masses.  A couple of photos of the church before we find the White Swan, a RAW brewing tied house (don't know them) and re-assuringly known as the Mucky Duck.

White Swan, Chesterfield
Wonkiness captured
This is my 121st tick in the 2017 GBG.  Its also the first GBG Pub to have bouncers on the door.  Presumably, CAMRA discounts have been asked for with an out of date membership card.

Proof that entry into the guide is not down to architecture or ambiance but simply down to the quality of the beer on offer.

And there's plenty to choose from here.

White Swan, Chesterfield
I counted them out and I counted them back in - 12
Mrs Mappiman gets into the spirit of things by questioning how a boozer can ensure the quality of the ale with such a large choice and presumably not achieving the required turnover to ensure freshness.

I'm so taking her to the next Wyre Forest CAMRA meeting.

The Rutland, 23 Stephenson Place, Otter Ale

The Taxi rank location established (Pub Ticking Training - never get into somewhere, without knowing how you are getting out), we walk around the heart of the town's social scene.

A young lady tries to lure us into Waikiki Beach Bar with the lure of free shots.  I'm on my way before I'm reminded that a) I am old enough to be the grandfather of the Waikiki Bar regulars and b) we have one more GBG to knock off.

Rutland Hotel, Chesterfield
Close up of the door shows it in its best light
It looks well lived in from the outside and is going to need a lick of emulsion if its going to compete with the alternative hostelries available nearby.  Or give out free samples of Thackeray's Old Dangleberry Ale in the street.

Fortunately, it saves the glamour for the inside.  Large bar with 8 real ales on and all Malt whiskys are £4.25 for a double.

An Otter Ale round off a surprisingly livelier than anticipated evening.

Che Vegas indeed.

Rutland Hotel, Chesterfield
Otter.  Table decoration there on arrival

18/02/17 - Curbar and Baslow Edge

Distance - 7.5 Miles
Geocaches - 10
Walk Inspiration - Our 2017 Calendar

Only 7 weeks into the new year and we already have a strong contender for "Walk of the Year".

This varied walk has it all.  River, geocaches, endless views and a rather convenient pub at the half way stage.

We start in the pretty village of Baslow.  Nicely geared up for walkers with a long stay car park offering more than the usual facilities that you can expect.

Within moments, we are out of the Village on Gorsebank Lane, finding the geocaches and enjoying the classic Peak District views as much as we can in the gloomy mist.  We are optimistic that by the time we reach the heights, the sun will have burned the worst of it away.

Gorsebank Lane
Gorsebank Lane
A fine geocache trail keeps us entertained, showing us some sneaky hides and how telephone boxes have been re-used as map laden information points.

The River Derwent is picked up at the impressive Calver mill, which we follow northwards to Frogatt Bridge, always in the shadow of the Edge.

River Derwent
Easy Walking along the Derwent
There's a pub at Froggatt.  Its more or less the exact half way stop and we want to ensure we have the best of the weather for the hard fought views.  It would be rude not to.  We share the Chequers Inn with a couple who are celebrating exactly 51 years since they met on a date there.

Maybe Mrs Mappiman and myself will come back in 2068 and reminisce on the time I had £1.75p change from a tenner for two pints.

Chequers Inn
Chequers Inn - Frogatt.
Peak Ales Bakewell Best Bitter
As LocALE as it gets

Fortified for the climb, we head up on a fantastic wooded path, gaining height quickly and delivered straight into the heart of the action.

Climbing to the Edge
Close to the Edge
Curbar Edge
Where there's lots of this going on

Fortunately, there is an easy way to get onto the Edge that doesn't involve ropes.

The next two miles are simply awesome.  You can walk right on the rock edge and are rewarded with constantly superb views.  Many great spots for lunch, a couple of geocaches and endless photo opportunities.

Curbar Edge
Lunch Stop
A fine spot for Lunch
More views

Worth the wait for the Blue Skies
Eagle Stone and the Wellington monument mark the end of the Edge walking and we have a fine descent along Bar road to take us into Baslow.
Bar Road to take us home
Bar Road to Baslow
There's some debate as to whether to celebrate the success of the walk with Bakewell Tart in the Cafe or a pint at the Devonshire Arms.

It's been the type of day where both are justified.

Devonshire Arms
Inn, Kitchen and.....
Black Sheep
... purveyor of Black Sheep

Sunday, 12 February 2017

11/02/17 - Wye to Thames - Walk 8 - Honeybourne to Moreton-In-Marsh

Distance - 12 Miles
Geocaches - 5
Previous Walks - Walk 1Walk 2Walk 3Walk 4Walk 5Walk 6Walk 7
Pubs - The Inn on the Marsh & The Black Bear in Moreton-in-Marsh

When looking in the guidebook of the walk from Hereford to Oxford along the stations of the Cotswold Railway Line, I always knew that stage 8 would be the "poster boy" for the entire route.

Plotting on the map and incorporating Dovers Hill, Chipping Camden and taking in long stretches of both the Monarch's Way and Heart of England Way should get the pulse racing of any amateur walker.  Finishing at a CAMRA Good Beer Guide pub in bustling Moreton-in-Marsh seemed unnecessary garnish.

A bit of snow thrown into the mix counteracted the lack of views caused by the lack of clear skies.

So, back to Honeybourne and an unnecessary detour into the village to look at the last leg's pub.  I can just about see the snow on the hills, but first I have to navigate the mud and frisky horses to get to Weston Sub Egde.  Handsome pub that will be checked out at a more convenient time and the first of today's geocaches, where dog muggles stop searching.

Seagrave Arms - Weston Sub Edge
See you next time, Seagrave Arms
Weston-Sub-Edge Church
Weston Sub Edge Church.  Failed on caching.  Learned about Medieval Fish Farming

The guide book warned me that this leg was more strenuous than others and I have a reasonably stiff climb up to Dover's Hill.  I remember it well from the Cotswold Way and other walks.  Normally, the views are more extensive.

Dovers Hill
Looking North over the Vale of Evesham
Dovers Hill
Looking East

Familiar ground on the Cotswold Way as I drop into the Chipping Campden.  Gorgeous as ever and full of temptation (euphemism, read pubs) but even on this, my upteenth visit, I find something new.

Chipping Campden and Graham Greene's House
New Blue Plaque - Grahame Greene Lived Here. 
As well as the Cotswold Way, CC is the meeting point for a number of other long distance paths.  I seeminly stumble on the 630ish mile Monarch's way everywhere in the country and I am rather pleased to get a taste for my next challenge, the Heart of England Way.  No issues in walking this section again in the future.

Its takes me to Broad Campden, smaller in scale to CC but equally full of interest (euphemism, read pub and ancient Quaker House).

Broad Campden
Bakers Arms just out of Shot
Next up, Blockley.  Reached on decent paths and a place that I have not been to before.  This will be rectified today and in the future for a more extensive visit.  Built on a hillside, it consists of multiple layers of streets revealing typically beautiful Cotswold architecture and an impressive church.

Near Blockley
Take me somewhere new
Blockley Church
Blockley - Lovely and worth a future exploration

Its more or less downhill to Moreton-in-Marsh now, skirting the edges of Batsford Arboretum before navigating field systems and delivered right into the centre of ultra wide high street.

12 miles done, no need to resist temptation any longer.  90 minutes until the train, I can fit in 2 of the 8 pubs.  First up, and slightly out of town, is the Good Beer Guide Entry.

The Inn on the Marsh, Stow Road, Ringwood Bitter
GBG in Moreton
GBG told me to come
I'm hoping for a roaring fire to get some warmth back in.  I am only disappointed in the fact that other buggers have got there before me.  I can sit in front of the bar on proper old school furniture or move into the annex on the left and relax on a lovely battered sofa.

If it had been nearer the fire, I might be still there now.  Gently snoozing, holding a half consumed Ringwood Best Bitter.  It was never going to happen, the cuckoo clock make a hell of racket on the hour.

Fine locals pub, with one other Ringwood, Hobgoblin and two unnoticed real ales.  The real surprise was the price.

£2.90.  And I am in the heart of the Cotswolds.  Bargain.

Ringwood Bitter
View from a Comfy Sofa
The Black Bear, High Street, Donnington BB

Black Bear in Moreton
Donnington Tied House
Two things brought me in here.  A peak through the window showed the football was on.  On lots and lots of TVs.  It makes sense that suggests that the landlord is an ex professional footballer.

Secondly, I have a sense of lotalty to Donnington Brewery when in the Cotswolds.  They have their own Long Distance Path to all their tied houses, so when I get around to doing it, I will be here again.

Its a long, cavernous pub full of dog walkers, diners (the stew smelled delightful to someone who ate a cheese and onion baguette on the hoof two hours ago), old school gentlemen boozers and the odd football fan.  I am not surprised at its popularity, the Donnington BB was an better value £2.70.  Take that, Banbury.

I settle at the last available table.  The referee blows for full time.

Donnington BB
When in Rome, count your change from three quid

Sunday, 5 February 2017

05/02/17 - The Good Beer Guide Pubs of Saffron Walden

Distance - 6.2 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Walk Inspiration - AA 1001 Walks, Walk 639
Pubs - The Old English Gentleman and The Kings Arms

"Which plant is Saffron produced from?" is one of those classic pub quiz questions that always have you scratching your head and announcing to your team that you know this one.

As we have it on good authority from reliable sources that there is little of interest in Bishops Stortford, we stop off on route to Stansted Airport (and hopefully sunnier climes) to see if we can determine the answer.

Unusually from such a reliable source as the AA book, the walk isn't all that.  We get a glimpse of the impressive church but will leave investigations of SW until we return.  Once we are through the grounds of Audley Park and found a couple of caches, the walking gets a little agricultural.

Saffron Walden
SW Church - Up Close

Audley Park
Looking back to SW from Audley Park
Is this where the Crocus Grow?
Rest of the Walk is mainly this - perhaps full of crocus in a different season?

The walk has proved functional and infinitely better than looking at the inside of a Premier Inn room. It also drops us back into the town, where amongst other architectural gems are two Camra Good Beer Guide Pubs.

The holiday starts here.

The Old English Gentlemen, Gold Street, Theakstons XB

The English Gentlemen
The OEG to its Friends
Gold Street provides a suitably impressive portal to the town and at the far is the OEG, one of two GBG entries in the town.

Its all perfectly functional - four real ales on and as per last week, I was tempted by a Woodforde Wherry but I couldn't resist another chance to have the best pint I found in Yorkshire last year.

I placed my Theaskstons XB on our little table and Mrs Mappiman inquired as to where the head might be.

I explained they like it like that in these parts.

The Kings Arms, Market Hill, Woodforde Wherry

A nice bimble through the ancient streets and we are delivered to GBG #2, the Kings Arms, making great use of their external bootscraper to get the most of Essex from beneath our feet.

The Kings Arms
Mrs Mappiman in a rush to get to the boot scraper.
Now this is exactly my sort of pub.  Bustling but with myriad rooms.  If one is busy, just try another.

I make my way to the bar, see the wares on offer and it had to be a Woodforde.  Previously not seen since Norfolk and now found it three times in a week.

Drinks are taken to a lovely quiet lounge with mini chesterfields, the Sunday papers and a roaring fire.

There's not really any need to leave the UK is there?

Woodforde Wherry at the Kings Arms
All is right in the world