Thursday, 29 June 2017

29/06/17 - The CAMRA Good Beer Guide Pubs of Wolverhampton

An impromptu visit to Wolverhampton last November, prompted me to check the bible to see where we could find pre-comedy refreshment.   I was amazed to find 14 entries.   On that occasion, there was only time for one tick, the Dog and Doublet and I vowed to come back.

With Mrs M hobnobbing it in Manchester as a VIP guest for a New Order gig, I decided to avoid a night in with the TV and see what the rest of the City had to offer.

The Great Western, Sun Street - Bathams

Long been on the bucket list and it didn't disappoint, even on a miserable, rainy Thursday.

The Great Western
The Great Western
Everything that I would want from a pub - plenty of room but a bustling atmosphere.  The exoticism of the natives speaking a different language.  Perfect Bathams.

If I could change just one thing?  Why are the radiators on in June?

The Great Western
Why not indeed?
The Great Western
Mappiman's Perfect Pub

Is it going to be a mistake leaving this oasis of civilisation?

The Moon under the Water, Lichfield Street, Brains SA

With Mrs M far away in the North, I was able to tick a Wetherspoons.  She will not cross the threshold and looks down on me when I do.   And how ironic to pick one named after George Orwell's description of a perfect pub.

I chose to eat here.  Mainly because I know what I am going to get.   And this was a "blueprint" JDW - horrible building, sticky tables, packed bar and young barstaff that cannot cope.  The plaintive cry of "Emma" from my stressed out server will live with me for a long time.

And she asked a packed bar "Who's Next?"

Moon under the Water
Surveillance reporting back to Mrs M that I'm about to do a JDW
And it all went wrong food wise.  I attempted to order the Surf and Turf, freely able to order bolt on extras, as I was dining alone and cash rich.  Emma must have thought there was two of us when I asked for the "steak with the scampi".

On delivery, I pretended my co-diner had gone to powder her nose and addressed the issue in the only way I could think how.

Dinner Disaster
Problem solved.  Peas are poisonous.  
You do have to admire the GBG guide.  Despite this being a horror show of a pub, the beer was very, very good.   Superb condition.

And the pint came free with (2) meals.

The Posada, Lichfield Street, Hobsons

Architecture wise, this is much more like it.  A Victorian, Grade II listed building that would not look out of place next to the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh.

The Posada
But here's proof that you can't have everything.   The Moon had great beer.  The Moon had (too) many people.  The Moon had no music.  Here, we have the opposite - a cloudy pint of Hobsons, no other patrons and Coldplay as background music.

A shame.

The Posada
And incorrect glassware!
The Posada
But nice quotes.

The Lynch Gate Tavern, Queens Square, Purity Mad Goose

A chance to look at some of Wolvo's finer architecture.  This Black Country Ales house is set in a little square next to the impressive St Peters church.

Lynch Gate Tavern
A Black Country Ales Pub.  In the Black Country
Lynch Gate Tavern
Handsome inside

We have a Black Country Ales pub in our town, so I know exactly what to I will be getting.  Several real ales will be on.   Most of them will be from relatively rare breweries from anywhere in the country.  Reasonable prices.

This was no exception, although I was surprised to see a house hold name, in Purity's Mad Goose.

As can be the case with my local, it looked great, but as my mate Paul describes the beer in there - "it was a bit stinky".   A very pungent odour and bitter aftertaste that I don't normally get with Purity's brews.

It might have been Radiohead that turned it.  Nothing gets a party started quicker on a wet Thursday in Wolverhampton than Karma Police over the PA.

Hogshead, Stafford Street, Wainwright

Once again, you cannot knock the GBG.   This looks like the sort of place that should be a million miles from a book suggesting a City's best watering holes.

Think TGI Fridays, with added Americana and a more "chainy" feel.

Is this really in the Good Beer Guide?
Yes, and justifiably so.

With some trepidation, I approached the bar expecting to make a choice between San Miguel and Amstel.  A pleasant surprise was in store, with half a dozen real ales on offer, including one of my recent favourites, Wainwight.  All this under a red neon sign over the bar saying "In Hogs we Trust".

And the beer?  Perect condition.   That's why its in the book.

That's it for tonight.   All the Good Beer Guide pubs of Wolverhampton within the ring road ticked off - plus the Great Western, just outside.

Another 8 ticks in the suburbs await exploration.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

24/06/17 - Heart of England Way - Stage 3 - Cannock Chase Visitors Centre

Distance - 8.15 Miles
Geocaches - 1
Pub - The Bridge, Hednesford, Otter Summer Light
Previous Stages - Stage 1, Stage 2

Stage 2 of the Heart of England Way ended up with us bumping into Don Goodman in the centre of Penkridge.  It seemed quite fitting that we start Stage 3 and instantly bump into another former Albion Player, Saido Berahino.  At least I think it was Saido.  Mrs M fully noticed the trio of three fit men walking towards us but is dubious on account of not noticing any body art.   I am convinced and I was looking at their faces, rather than at their rather toned torsi.  So my vote wins.

I've checked his twitter feed and as to what he would have been up to on Cannock Chase remains inconclusive.

On with the walk.   This is the 3rd month in a row I've been on the Chase and that's enough for any walker.   Yes, its an area of Outstanding Beauty.  Yes, its got decent paths.  But No, there is nothing to look at and its all very "samey".  Throw in annoying gits on bikes who like to show off their little bells and you've got a recipe for boredom, with a smattering of slight annoyance.

Marquis's Drive is a forest track that takes us West to East from the Visitors Centre, crossing railway lines and the A460.   Nowt to see, but the walking is pleasant and route finding easy.

Off Marquis Drive
View from Maquis's Drive
Through more woods in Beaudesert Old Park and the HOEW turns South towards Castle Ring.   This marks the Southern extremity of Cannock Chase.  At least next time, we will be walking in different terrain.

Castle Ring is an old Hill Fort but today its covered in bracken.  I may explore it more in the next leg.  There's also the first Geocache of the Day.   June 24th marks one of only four days in the year that I haven't found a Geocache and I'm keen to fill in my grid.  And you've guessed it.  After a 15 minute hunt, with Mrs M waiting patiently on a nearby bench, I've come up with nowt.  I return and explain the situation.  After answering my predicament with a "Why do you want to fill in your Grid?", she comes to help.   And unusually, she cannot find it either.

Annual Grid
The four missing days of Geocaching.  Will June 24th be completed today?

Back to the walk.  The return is the same as the outbound, heading through woods, skirting the edge of Beaudesert Golf Course and following similar paths/terrain to the way out.   The views are slightly better.

Views looking back
Looking over Beaudesert Old Park
There is one additional cache near the Visitors centre a quick dive into the woods results in a quick find and the swap over of a couple of travel bugs.

Hoorah - the day is saved.  Well, filled in on an on-line grid.

And by the time we are back at the visitors centre, everyone is dressed in WW1 gear, with little camp fires, a medical tent, warnings about the Hun, soldiers in battle dress and a Bi-Plane.

WW1 Re-enactment
Bi Planes and Bikes
All that remains is the post walk refreshment.

The Bridge, Hednesford, Otter Summer Light

In addition to the walking, I've been struggling with the post walk refreshments in this part of the world.  Stage 1 involved stumbling into a very chainy "Eating Inn" pub in Milford.  Stage 2, we forsook the immediate area and went to Penkridge (bumping into the Don).

Today, I have inspiration from another blog.  A man that knows more about the pubs of this country than anyone.

Surprisingly, Hednesford has an entry in the 2017 Good Beer Guide.   A quick investigation through Google Maps showed that it didn't look like the sort of place Mrs M would like.  I'm not 100% sure. It proclaims real ale and then has the logos for Carling and Coors.

The Bridges, Hednesford
If there was a prize for most "Estatey Looking Pub"?
Whatever its like, its not going to be worse than the Eating Inn.

We head in.  The place is massive.  Area for a live band.  Area for a pool table.  Many seats setup for dining.   Ian Dury blasting out of the jukebox.

We head to the bar.  Six real ales on.  A few choices from Banks but around the corner is where the gold dust lies.   A never before spotted member of the Otter Tribe.  Otter Summer Light.   That new, it isn't even referenced on the Otter Web Site.  It actually had a hand written sign on the pump, so for a moment, I thought they may have confused it with Otter Bright.  Untapped App confirmed that indeed, the beer is real and correctly named.

And like everything from Otter, it was delicious.

Otter Summer Light
The newest Otter in the Bevy
And the beer is only part of the story.   For £3.25, you can get a handmade burger.  Add 50p, you get a slice of cheese.  Add £2 and you get triple cooked chips.

Never has a post walk lunch been so tasty, filling and cheap.

Mrs M vowed never again to judge a book by its cover.  A cracking boozer.

We may be back following the Stage 4 walk.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

10/06/17 - Cotswold Water Park

Distance - 9.5 Miles
Geocaches - 9
Walk Inspiration - Walks along the Thames Path, Walk 2

3.5 long years since I found the source of the Thames, completing Walk 1 from a wonderful little book that details 25 circular walks along the length of the mighty river.

This weekend, we tackled walk 2 from the book that promised a lot and delivered slightly less.  On paper, the Cotswold Water Park looked decent enough for a lengthy ramble but things conspired against us.

Firstly, Mrs M thought Cirencester was just a little further on than Cheltenham.   She suggested a lie in but neglected to find out how long the walk was.  She failed to factor in a 3pm "toe" appointment at the hairdressers.

I don't think I will ever understand women but I do know our post walk refreshment is in jeopardy.

We park up at a Ringo enforced parking area to the North of Ashton Keynes, saving the best of the walk till last.  We head out into the Blue.   The whole landscape is dominated by filled in gravel pits, creating wildlife sanctuaries and yachting clubs.

Cotswold Water Park
Cotswold Yachting Club
South Cerney is a pretty little place, with some picture postcard cottages next to the River Churn.

South Cerney
South Cerney
Its on exiting South Cerney that the first problem is encountered.  My OS Map is ancient and the book was published in 2001.  The fields to the west are having the gravel extracted to make some more lakes.  As if they haven't got enough already.

Gravel Pits
That's my route knackered then
The diversion is unclear but simply following the barb wired surrounded paths takes on a mile long diversion and delivers us back on the correct route at Somerford Keynes.   A planned pleasant lunch is downgraded to a quick pint for fear of unglamourous tootsies.

Some uninspiring field walking at speed leaves us feeling a touch glum but the walk materially improves when the Thames is picked up at a dilapidated windmill.   Lots of other ramblers out and a series of good geocaches provide entertainment.

A Metaphor for the Day
Thames Path
Thames, about 5 miles from Source

The Thames weaves its way through the lakes to Ashton Keynes and the walks conclusion.  Sustenance is found through homemade flapjacks for sale on a wall, with a £1 honesty box.   The village is a delight, with the houses backing right onto the nascent Thames and on the OS Map, there are two big blue cups of joy.

Ashton Keynes
Ashton Keynes
We have just 15 minutes to spare for a quick pint but a final crushing disaster awaits.

Out of the two pub symbols on the OS Map, I have picked the one that has been converted into private housing.  To rub salt into the wound, the former Plough is Grade II listed, has the pub name etched into the Windows and even has the "Best in the West" ceramic plaque embedded in the wall.

The Plough (closed)
Should have banged the door and demanded refreshments.  They have a moral duty.

For the first time ever, it's a dry walk and the blog needs to be renamed.  But at least Mrs M gets her handsome plates of meat.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

03/06/17 - The Darent Valley

Start - Dartford
End - Sevenoaks
Walk Inspiration - Trail Magazine, September 1995
Distance - 17 Miles
Geocaches - 16
Pubs - The Lion Hotel, Farningham and the Anchor, Sevenoaks

There are some things that improve with age.  An example is Trail Magazines estimation of distances on their walking routes.   This gem of a walk was from back in the nineties, where they seemingly calculated the distance with a sextant.  It is advertised at 13.5 miles, so I planned rail trips on pre-booked trains to give me 6 hours.  I then plotted it in my GPS and was horrified to find it was more like 16 miles.

Geocaches and pub visits are in serious jeopardy if I need to keep up an average of 2.8 mph.

Route Guidance
22 Years Old, The route remains - longer than advertised
I choose to begin the walk in Dartford, picking up the River Darent in the park.  Dartford looks like a place filled with civic pride.  Lots of posters of Dartford celebrities - Mick and Keef, the most recognisble.  Information boards everywhere, including on the side of their pubs.

Wat Tyler
Wat Tyler Pub, Dartford

First Sign of the Day in Dartford Park
Day's First Signage in Dartford Park

The walking is very easy, all flat and following the River Darent in the main, with the odd excursion along leafy lanes.  There's a fair amount to keep the history buffs interested - Roman Villas, Castles, memorials to WWII fighter aces and the villages are picture postcard perfect.

River Darent
Mainly, the walking is like this.
The first village is South Darenth.   Three pubs, if you inlcude the Chequers in Darenth.  None were never expected to be visited, as its only 10:30am.

Guess the Pub Name?  You got it, The Bridges

Out into the Fields
Out under big skies
The geocaches start in earnest, but with limited time, I avoid any lengthy hunts, caches with latin hints, caches requiring waders and caches where little children are sat at GZ.  On a day with more time, I could have bagged up to 40 smilies, showing that geocachers know the best routes.

Farningham is simply too pretty to be avoided.  The route brings me into the beer garden of the Lion Hotel.  Its a handsome looking C16th Boozer, next to a folly bridge and a beer garden full of cyclists and families picnicing.  It was neither the obligatory visit from Charles Dickens or the Cask Marque sign that convinced me to stop for a 10 minute breather.  Only disappointment was the one real ale on.

Stop 1 - White Lion, Farningham
Time constrained, but unavoidable
Doom Bar
No, its not Rev James.  Its Doom Bar.
Farningham looks mainly like this.

A long stretch along the wonderfully monikered Sparepenny Lane.  Memorials to crashed Spitfires and views over Eynsford Castle, built by Normans.

Eynsford Castle
Eynsford Castle
The countryside is picked back up as I make my way down to Lullingstone Castle - been in the same family since 1497 & host to Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, history fans.

Big Skies
More Big Skies on the Darent Valley Walk
Lullingstone Castle
Lullingworth Castle

Hop fields and lavender fields take me to Shoreham, a place that I really should have stopped at.   The George looked wonderful, but I checked my progress and can only afford one more stop.  I'm hoping that Sevenoaks Station has a suitable watering hole to celebrate the end of the walk.  I actually make my way to the George bar, unclipping my rucksack when Sensible Mappiman mutters into my head about delayed gratification being the best gratification.

Lavender Fields
Fields of Purple Lavender
Hops Fields
Where the magic comes from
Should have Stopped at the George, Shoreham
Should have stopped.
It was a mistake.

There's a good five miles to Sevenoaks.   The water runs out.  Its a route march into the town, where there's not even a shop for refreshment.  By the time I get to Sevenoaks Station, I'm dryer than Ghandi's flip flop.

Still, the good news is I have 50 minutes before my train.   Every station in the country has a rough pub next to it, usually called the Station or the Railway Inn.  Not Sevenoaks.  Its got a funeral parlour. a Lamborghini showroom and of course, a Costa.

Coffee ain't going to do it, so I walk the mile up to town - looking all the way for a pub.  Is that a pub sign on the side of a building?  Kind of, but on closer inspection, it's a Chocolatier.

Chocolate ain't going to do it.  By the time I reach the Anchor (my first Good Beer Guide tick in Kent, so all was not in vain), I can barely speak to the landlord (possibly Barry) to get my order across.

The Anchor, Sevenoaks
Good Beer Guide Entry - The Anchor
Harvey's Best, Water Chaser, Doom Bar Glass
Harvey's Best, Water Chaser, Doom Bar Glasses

If the future Mappiman does this walk again - remember, you need more than six hours and don't walk on by the George in Shoreham.