Tuesday, 16 October 2018

16/10/18 - Wild Crete Ramblers Holiday

A break from the norm on this blog.   Walking, but not in the UK.   Plenty of beer, but none of it real ale.

We signed up for our first Ramblers Holiday.  Nobody we knew had previously been on one and the review of the exact holiday we had booked appeared in the Times Travel supplement three months after we had paid for it.

Wild Crete was chosen due to an interest in the country and the fact it was at the upper end of their grading scale - Level 6 out of a 1-9 rating. 

Many questions we had before booking will be answered by this blog.

What's included in the price?

Everything apart from your evening drinks, lunch time snacks and entrance to the Samaria Gorge.

What's the food and accommodation like?

As with many places in Greece, the accommodation is basic but clean.  Air Conditioning was only available in a couple of places.   Evening meals are usually shared starters and main courses but all home cooked, traditional and filling.   Post dining raki is obligatory everywhere.

Who will you be walking with?

A small group of 18 like minded people - all of them probably veterans of previous Ramblers Holidays.  I thought the person with the most experience was on their 44th trip but she was top trumped by a gentleman of leisure who seemingly, is permanently on holiday.

The average age was easily post retirement and we were the youngest there by 10 years.   This was a surprise to us, as the walking was challenging and in this era of increased interest in the great outdoors and travel, we expected a broader age demographic. 

We took a lot of inspiration from the group for future UK and International destinations.

The Walk Leader

A volunteer and according to our more experienced friends, the person who can make or break the holiday.

Tony was superb and looked after the group perfectly both during the walks and after.   I went with the expectation that this was something that I would be interested in doing in the future - but within five minutes, I realised I would never have the patience.   Without a hint of a loss of his smile, he dealt with such queries as use of cafe toilets without purchasing goods, harsh lighting in restaurants and how to deal with potential leeches found in rooms.   He was that knowledgeable that he even identified the offending insect as a millipede. 

Of course, safe passage of the group and organising the unexpected are the Leader's main responsibility.   He came into his own when the Samaria gorge was closed due to bad weather and safely got 18 people from the mountains to the coast, which involved private coach hire and commandeering Captain Yannis's water taxi.

The Locations

We move around to five different locations over seven days.  A perfect opportunity to explore the South Western part of Crete - where the isolated villages are tricky to get to by car but a doddle on foot/water taxi.   All very pretty villages, with Loutro and Agia Roumeli standing out for their beauty. 

Chania, on the final day, has a lot to offer any tourist.

The Walks (Click the day hyperlink for full details)

Day 1 - 10 Miles - A ferry from Paleohora to Sougia and walk back along the E4 coastal path, after climbing a short gorge.   A chance for a mid ramble swim was an unexpected first.

Mid Ramble Swim
We walked that headland to be rewarded with an ocean dip
Day 2 - An 8 mile ascent to the top of Mount Gigolos.  Start high and get higher to 6500ft.  Superb scenery but a head for exposure and heights is required.

Mount Gigolos
Mrs M - before realising she doesn't have a head for heights
Day 3 - was meant to be the Samaria Gorge but it was closed due to bad weather.   Our leader not only resolved the issue of how to get to our next accommodation destination but also provided an afternoon walk to the foot of the gorge and Turkish Fort at Agia Roumeli.

Day 4 - the Gorge was part open, so four of us completed a 5 mile there and back walk to the famous Iron Gates, before the scheduled 10 mile walk from Agia Roumeli to Loutro.   Caught up with the main group at Marmara Beech, where a strategically placed water taxi can be used to avoid the last couple of miles.

Agia Roumeli to Loutro
More on the E4
Day 5 - The highlight of the week.  The Aradena gorge is less commercial and wilder than the Samaria gorge and in many respects, even better for it.   We leave beautiful Loutro to climb to the half way point of the gorge, before descending to Marmara Beech.   I will never forget my part in the three man team that helped 75 year old Dorothy over the boulders.

Aradenna Gorge
Another day, another gorge.
Day 6 - Shortest walk of the week, 4 miles from Loutro - plenty of time at one of the Times top 20 European Beaches at Sweetwater Bay before an included lunch at Hora Skafion.

Loutro to Hora Skafion
Most of the Gang on the E4
Day 7 - is our own in Chania - loads of history and a stunning Venetian harbour.   Transfer back to the airport.

Think you can guess that we loved it - and two simple questions remain....

Did it offer Value for Money?

In summary, yes.   You could organise it yourself cheaper, maybe saving 25% of the overall cost.  Getting your luggage delivered to the next day's destination would be tricky if not impossible, as a solo walker.   You cannot put a price on the company or the skills of a the group leader, especially when things need to be adapted.

Would we do another Ramblers Holiday?

The day after we arrived home, the Ramblers catalogue dropped on our doormat.   Mrs M was reading it in bed that night.

Looks like Austria and the Alps next year.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

30/09/18 - The Good Beer Guide Pubs of Coventry

Pubs - 5
Good Beer Guide Ticks - #321-326

An afternoon walking the Coventry Canal Art Trail, a bus from Exhall to the City Centre and 5 Good Beer Guide Ticks to be gained in a City that I know little about.   

This pub crawl was combined with an AA walk that pointed out the major buildings of historical significance.

Before we get to the pubs.   A couple of photos from the City walk.

Old Cathedral
Old Cathedral

New Cathedral
New Cathedral

Pub History
Possibly Older than Ye Olde Fighting Cocks and Trip to Jerusalem 

Council House
The Council House
Plenty more besides, but we would be here all day.   Certainly more medieval architecture than in Birmingham.   Onto the pubs.

The Earl of Mercia, 18 High Street, Elliswood Brewery Royal Standard

I was going to ban Wetherspoons from 2019 Good Beer Guide Ticking.   I was mildly annoyed by their pro-brexitering beermats (my dad taught me never mix politics and beer) but was almost angry enough to take a horse to my local when they banned dogs earlier this year.

However, this one in Coventry is in such a beautiful location - with outdoor seating opposite the stunning Council House pictured above - that I was seduced against my better judgement. 

Earl of Mercia
Better looking out towards the Council House
It was, of course, a mistake of packed bar anger, inexperienced staff shouting "who's next", dirty, sticky tables and chronic beer.  I'm sure the Royal Standard is better than what was offered here.   Even when its more than £2.18 a pint.

The Golden Cross, 8 Hay Lane, Adnams Ghost Ship

More like it - deeply impressive medieval building, right next to the Cathedral.  One stray Luftwaffe bomb and it wouldn't be here for us to enjoy today.   Inside, its had a gastro pub make over that can be described as tasteful.  The beer?  A definite improvement but nothing to write home about.

Golden Cross
Golden Cross
Golden Cross
Makes a change from a picture of a pint

The Old Windmill, Spon Street, Hogsback TEA

Here's Coventry's hidden beauty.  Spon street has an amazing collection of Tudor Architecture and is home to a number of takeways, restaurants, one classic pub and the frankly unexpected Samoan Joe's Tiki Bar. 

Spon Street
Spon Street By Night
Ignoring the chance to enter a Coventry Beach Bar, I headed into unspoiled Old Windmill.   If Wetherspoons asks the question "why am I bothering to tick GBG Pubs", this fully answers the question.

The Old Windmill
My Sort of Place
Inside, its a collection of individual wood paneled rooms to take ownership of.  Once settled in with a pint, people may poke their head around the door, but they never intruded.

The Old Windmill
My Cranny for the Night
A quick note on the music.   Tom Jones' Thunderball worked and added a cinematic feel.   Beastie Boys provided some contemporary head nodding.  Sigue Sigue Sputnik meant it was time to leave.

The Town Crier, Corporation Street, Closed on Sundays

Ahh.... I had the chance to be here before 6pm.    Better research required next time.

The Town Crier
No Cask Marque App Check In For Me
Town Wall Tavern, Bond Street, Purity Ubu and Bass

Here we have it - pub of the evening.   What a delight.   A little tricky to find, its tucked down a side street and completely at odds with the other buildings along it, but its worth the effort.

As you would hope, the beer was top draw.  Owed one by the closure of the Town Crier, I had two perfect pints, both served in their ceremonial chalices.  

Inside, there's a friendly bar with plenty of pubby paraphernalia and good pub chat, with more space around the back.   But this pub has a secret - the Donkey Box.

A little door to the front leads to a bar with two stools and enough room, presumably, to fit a donkey.   Perfect for the solo pub ticker, who failed to convince any future punters who mistakenly came in to share the space.
Town Wall Tavern
All pubs should have one
Town Wall Tavern
Space for Selfies
Town Wall Tavern
If you only come to one Coventry Pub, Make it this one

The Gatehouse Tavern, Hill Street, Bass

Not going to leave any Good Beer Guide Pub in the Coventry Ring Road behind, I make the short walk to the Gatehouse Tavern.

Gatehouse Tavern
Night Falls in Coventry
It's a sports pub - even when the only sport on is darts.   In a feng shui disaster, the largest TV is high in the ceiling above the front door.  This leads to the off putting effect of having every one staring at you when you enter.

Anonymity surrendered, I can only hope that my beer choice meets with approval.   Bass seemed to do the trick - and it was a damn fine example.

Gatehouse Tavern
Bass, Under the TV
The end of an enjoyable and varied day in Coventry that exceeded expectations.  GBG 2019 proving to be a perfect guide to a new city.

30/09/18 - Coventry Canal Art Trail

Distance - 7 Miles
Geocaches - 1
Walk Inspiration
Pub - Good Beer Guide Tick 320 - The Greyhound, Sutton Stop, Coventry

This is the sort of thing that has to admired but needs to be maintained.   In an effort to promote the regeneration of the Coventry Canals and encourage people to get some exercise, a 27 item, open air gallery has been created.   There is a web site, a map and an i-Spy style sheet to be printed off and ticked as you find them.

The Map and the Art Work Locations
However, the actual art works are looking tatty now.  Used by tramps to sit on and drink, covered in litter and generally run down. 

And once you have seen a dog paw print in a human poo, there's no erasing the image from your brain.

Here's an example.  Of the art work.

Coventry Basin
James Brindley - Art #1 in Coventry Basin
Greenway Sign
Frequent Signage
Fish Seats
Scabby Fish Seats.  I wouldn't sit on them.
Tunnel, not Art
Tunnel lights were intended to come on as you walked past.  
Sofa Art
Inspired by a construction seen on the canal locally.  Cov Huckleberry Finn?

Other things seen - the M6 and Coventry City's (is it?) Ricoh Arena.   Who would have predicted 24 hours earlier a 3rd tier football game would have involved Cov vs. Sunderland?

An easy walk and the real reward is at the end.

A 2019 Good Beer Guide Tick at the Greyhound, Sutton Stop.   It's a proper gem.

It sits in the heart of the Canal infrastructure at Hawkesbury Junction - where the Coventry and Oxford canals meet.   Plenty of architectural items of interest, along with the pub itself - a handful of canal cottages knocked together.

Greyhound, Sutton Stop
End of the Walk Reward
It's proud of its awards - with the bible detailing how it has been a frequent CAMRA Pub of The Year and four time winner of the Godiva Award for best pub in Coventry and Warwickshire.  Pre-empting the smoking ban by 24 years, it was this trophy that took my eye.

Greyhound, Sutton Stop
Are B&H still a thing?
The pub is impossibly busy.  I struck lucky in both getting a table outside, remembering its number and it still being free by the time I had queued and ordered refreshment.   The Black Sheep (in a Bass glass) was good, but its the beef bourguignon pie with Stilton Flakes that is going to stay in the memory for a long time.

A highly recommended pub.

Black Sheep, not Bass
Black Sheep - Some one Mooring up for a Pint
A couple of final items of interest, as I make my way to Exhall to catch the bus back to town.

Bang on the time predicted by Google Maps.

Canal Engine House
Engine House

Uncle Albert opposite the Bus Stop

Saturday, 29 September 2018

29/9/18 - Heart of England Way Stage 18 - Into Henley

Distance - 6 Miles
Geocaches - 6
Pub - Good Beer Guide Tick 319 - The Three Tuns, Henley in Arden
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7Stage 8Stage 9Stage 10Stage 11Stage 12Stage 13Stage 14Stage 15Stage 16, Stage 17

So what exactly made the 18th Monthly Walk in the Heart of England Way the best so far?

A combination of bright blue skies, varied footpaths and the first new pub tick from the 2019 Good Beer Guide.   It was also a delight to have the company of Mrs M and Guide Dog in training Joy.

I've never really got on with Henley-in-Arden - even with the mix of historical architecture along its never ending mile long high street.   I walked from here many times and the pubs were always a let down.   We've suffered in the past from poor service (White Swan) and poor value (The Bluebell).   After cross ticking my entries in the new guide, I realise that there is a previously unvisited boozer to look forward to.

And the free parking is always a bonus.  Just tricky finding your way through the courtyards to the High Street.

Henley Church
Ancient Henley
We pick up the Heart of England Way instantly, passing the 2nd church of the day and heading up to the Norman Castle site of Beaudesert Mount. 

Views from the Beaudesert Mount
View from a former Norman Castle Site
The walking is steady, rather than dramatic.  Careful checking of livestock to see if the dog can "go free".  All we find are their droppings, which are strangely delicious to a 7 month old puppy.

Working our way across Warwickshire
Coppice Corner provides the half way point and a change of scenery as we enter dense woodland.

Coppice Corner Woods
Into the Woods
Preston Fields Lane is navigated, along with its ford.  Joy hasn't quite determined whether she likes water yet.  Once it gets past her knees, she legs it back to terra firma.  She's dried out by the time we reach Preston Bagot Church and happy to pose for photos.

Preston Bagot
Preston Bagot - right in the middle of nowhere
Guide Dog Joy
Guide Dog in Training Joy

To aid her training, she is introduced to sheep, cows and horses in the fields on the way back to Henley.

Waiting for the Muggles to Pass
Back in Henley
Onto the pub.  The Three Tuns is the chosen one, proudly displaying its brand new bright red "we're in it sticker" in the window.

London Pride
Just about make out the Sticker in the Window
It's simply too nice to be inside, so we make the most of the street benches to soak up the sun.  Which is a shame, as inside, this C16th is a pubby gem of dartboards, exposed beams and proper pub seating.

Pub cosiness
Perfect for when its raining

2019's First Tick - The Three Tuns
Perfect for when its dry
We'll be back in Henley on the next leg of the Heart of England Way.   The White Swan - the town's 2nd Good Beer Guide Entry - will be beer tested.

The London Pride at the Three Tuns has set a high bar.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

22/09/18 - London Countryway Stage 8 - Horsley to West Byfleet

Distance - 9 Miles
Start - Horsley
Finish - West Byfleet
Geocaches - 4
Pubs - The Anchor - Pyrford Lock and The Station - West Byf;eet
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6, Stage 7

The only question for this month's leg on the London Countryway is whether to go full out mental, following the Dick Bowman 19.9 miles to Sunningdale or a take a more sedate 10 miles on Des De Moor's amble to West Byfleet.

I've got all the time in the world.

I've had a great run on the London Countryway - some stunning walking on the North Downs Way - so I expected a more pedestrian leg was coming.   This is nowhere near as exhilarating but does have plenty of variety and well spaced refreshment stops.   It's still a fine way to spend a damp September Saturday, with more than a hint of Autumn's approach.

Nothing much happens from Horsley through the ancient village of Ockham.  If you've heard of Ockham, it's because you have been reading too much crime fiction.  50% of them mention Ockham's Razor - the theory that the simplest solution is always the most likely - usually just before the most convoluted denouncement imaginable happens.  I'm talking to you, Peter James, with your hijacked helicopters over the streets of Brighton.

Lane walking, some posh gaffs, horses and the Black Swan pub, where the Geocache tells me the locals call it the Mucky Duck.   Of course they do.  It's tradition.

Ockham - Proud of their Philosopher Sons
Black Swan, Ockham
The Mucky Duck - At 10:45am

Horse fields are left behind for the surprisingly sandy commons of Ockham and Wisley.   Narrow paths disappear into the ferns and there is the accidental stumble into a herd of friendly cows.   The highlight to seek out is Chatley Semaphore Tower - the finest remaining relic of a post Napoleonic Communication line running to the sea.

Chatley Semaphore Tower
Operational from 1822 to 1847
Ockham Common
Not all the paths on Ockham Common are this broad.

Crossing the A3 - Copying Des's Photo
Two commons split by the A3 - Photo style taken from Des
Next, the River Wey navigation needs to be found.   The blog is going to be a tale of bridges, that will bore the casual reader but may be important to anyone thinking of walking the route.

Des points out that Pigeonhouse Bridge was washed away in 2013 storms.  As a simple wooden structure is going to cost £400K (!) to replace, it remains missing to this day.   There is a golfers bridge seconds away, but agreement was not reached to allow right of way access for the casual walker.   Des's instructions detail a diversion to Walsham Lock and a warning not to trespass.

I thought I would check things out on the ground and a series of "Tow Path" diversion signs encourage me to make my way to Pigeonhouse Bridge.   And Joy - since August 2018, agreement has been reached with the golf club and ramblers can use the little footbridge.   And in a twist, the diversions are in place because Walsham Lock appears to be inaccessible.

I didn't read the smallprint on this but the London Countryway can be completed, just as Keith Chesterton expected.

Diversion in Place for 1 month
Yellow Sign is old - the new laminates are sending you over....
Golfer's Bridge - now a ROW
This strategically placed golfing bridge

Having survived bridge confusion, the Wey Navigation provides easy walking more or less all the way to West Byfleet.   Where you have canals, you have pubs - and the first stop of the day is Hall and Woodhouse's Anchor Inn.

The Anchor at Pyrford Lock
Handy Stopping Point
Headless Badger
Good colour.  Headless Badger

Despite its handy location for cyclists, ramblers and anglers, every table - bar the one with the above pint - is setup for fine dining.   How I hate this disregard for the drinker.   The beer had left its head in Dorset but I did make friends with the two blokes crammed around my table - one in waders and one in lycra.

Back into the rain and along the canal into West Byfleet.   Trains are plentiful back to London, so I can take my time and see if the Station breaks the unwritten rule that any pub named after the railway infrastructure is a horror.   It doesn't look much from the outside but cavernous, clean and with a nice little area for drinkers to sit and watch the early game.

The Station, West Byfleet
The Station - next to the Station
Meantime IPA - Nice Glass, average taste
Jamie Redknapp warning me that Meantime IPA is all fancy glassware

Like Des, I am done for the day.   Dick would have merely been half way.