Saturday, 16 June 2018

16/06/18 - London Countryway Stage 5 - Oxted to Merstham

Distance - 10 Miles
Start - Oxted
Finish - Merstham
Geocaches - 16
Pubs - 2
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3, Stage 4

Stage 4 of the London Countryway ended unceremoniously in the Oxted Wetherspoons.   A place tainted by the tipsy, reeling and drop down pissed at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon.

It left an undeserved sour taste in the mouth for Oxted.  At 9:30am, a mere two stops from London Bridge, I was more taken by its black and white independent shops and a lovely looking Everyman Cinema.   I could potentially live here, if I was ever minted enough.

And the nicer pubs are out to the West on the Godstone Road.

West Oxted
West Oxted's Pair of Pubs
The main purpose of the London Countryway today is to introduce me to the North Downs Way, which is picked up after a lung busting pull up Tandridge Hill.   Once the height is gained, its all plain sailing on a lovely ridge walk that leaves me begging for more.   The NDW gets added to an ever growing list of future walks.

Climbing to North Downs Way
Climbing Tandridge Hill

The walking is easy, the paths are perfect and the Geocaches are imaginative.  I have an endless roll of photos looking down to the South Downs and when there's a gap in the trees, a few of an unexpected vista of the City.

From North Downs to South Downs
Looking South
Unexpected City Vistas
Picking out the landmarks looking North


8 miles in, with the Water having expired at 5, I'm provided with welcome refreshment at the Harrow, Chaldon.  Reach the folly tower of Whitehill, take a 160m detour to enjoy a freshly changed London Pride that was worthy of its name.

Whitehill Tower
Of no historical importance, a mere folly built in 1862
The Harrow, Chaldon
Chaldon's Harrow
The Harrow, Chaldon
Perfect Pint

A simple drop down into the ending point at Merstham, taking advantage of a trig point for a selfie.

Mappiman on South Downs Way
North Downs Way Selfie
Dropping down to Mershtham
Dropping down into Mestham

Mersthams a small village that had two pubs but only the Feathers remains.  A Food & Football place to wait for the 30 minutes train back to the Smoke.

The Feathers
Pub and Dining at the Feathers
I'll avoid the temptation of saying this is the best leg of the Countryway..... I've read the guidebook and from here to Boxhill comes highly praised indeed.

Let's just say the best so far...

Sunday, 10 June 2018

10/06/18 - Heart of England Way - Stage 15 - Berkswell

Distance - 7.3 Miles
Geocaches - 1
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7Stage 8Stage 9Stage 10Stage 11Stage 12Stage 13, Stage 14

I've photographed Berkswell's church many times but never at 5:45am.

Berkswell Church
The reason for this ungodly, golden hour?  Child #2 needs an airport run.

This is a another chance to revisit many of the paths shared with the Millennium Way.  And they are worth revisiting.

Heart of England Way
Heart of England Way Lovliness
Heart of England Way
And My favourite part of the Millennium Way

Two minor issues with today's walk. 

1) Re-walking the same paths means that I have found the Geocaches.   A single smiley is added to the total today, with a previous find used to drop off a Travel Bug.

2) I'm obviously too early for the pubs.  The unspoiled and Good Beer Guide recommended Bull's Head at Barston is forsaken for an exploration of the Church Yard, noticing it's restored Medieval cross.

Barston's Medieval Cross
Religious Vandalism, Cromwell Style
Great paths of a similar style lead me back to Berkswell, with the peace only interrupted by the roar of the 7:26am Ryan Air to Warsaw.

Up, up and away, Junior Mappiman.

Up Up and Away
Of Course I waved to him

Saturday, 9 June 2018

09/06/18 - Barnt Green

Distance - 7 Miles
Geocaches - 2
Walk Inspiration - Walk 09, Spring 2018 Country Walking Magazine

This walk really demonstrates the strength of Country Walking Magazine.  Easy accessible, varied terrain and refreshments available.   A perfect little ramble.

The starting point is Barnt Green Station.  Arrive by train or park for £1.20 on a Saturday.  No sooner have you got your bearings than you are out in the country park and could be miles from anywhere.

Lickey Hills Country Park
Over the road from the Station
A gentle climb uphill on good tracks through woodland.  The only two caches of the day are easily found.

From the Visitors Centre, its over the road to pick up the North Worcestershire Path and the fields of Cofton Hackett.

Field Views at Cofton Hackett
Fields of Cofton Hackett
We are looking for the huge expanse of blue that is Upper Bittell Reservoir.  How can we lose something so big?  Eventually a gap in the trees shows that it has been drained and Internet research shows essential maintenance works were required.   Along with the Herculean effort of rescuing the fish.

Drained Upper Bittell Reservoir
The Boats are in the far distance - the water of Upper Bittell are long gone
The Worcester/Birmingham Canal provides the final change of terrain - easy walking back into Barnt Green for post walk entertainment.

Worcester and Birmingham Canal
Canal - Unexciting, but easy walking with no navigational errors
Only one choice for the post walk pint - Ron Atkinson's local - the Barnt Green Inn.  It's a gastropub with a surprising amount of history - dating from 1651 and reputedly hosting Queen Victoria for a night.

It's now all £12.95 sandwiches, outdoor softrock music pumped from external speakers onto expensive patio furniture and a surprisingly good Purity Ubu, suggesting the Cask Marque award is well deserved.

Barnt Green Inn
Purity Ubu in front of a Grade II listed Gastropub

Saturday, 2 June 2018

02/06/18 - Dropping off a very specific Travel Bug in Warwickshire

Distance - 11 Miles
Geocaches - 42
First Cache
Pub - Kings Head, Aston Cantlow

At the Start of May, I picked up a Travel Bug that had a very specific mission to stay in Warwickshire.  It was part of a complex puzzle that when combined with a number of other TBs, would give the co-ordinates to a mystery puzzle cache.  I'm staggered that 30 people have managed to log the final prize but not surprised that one of them is my caching and twitter buddy, Superted.  I know he likes a challenge.

So, once back from America, I felt that I needed to drop this off straight away so others could find.  A search on for a suitable trail found a new loop in a place that I've not visited before but sounds like a 1930's dandy.  Aston Cantlow.

And would you believe that the TB and caches are owned by the same CO, HKMHill?

Usual MO for these trails - fact finding in the village to get a multi.  Thank god he publishes a checksum, as I'm always screwing these up.

Aston Cantlow Village Hall
One of the pretty buildings in Aston Cantlow

The only questions to answer are a)  will I meet the other cachers who have signed the logs before me today and b) will I find a box big enough to take this quite chunky TB.

The Warwickshire Bug
The TB
Geocache Size:  Huge
Question B well and truly answered

Typical Warwickshire countryside on route - nothing too grand but the occasional nice view.

Warwickshire Views
View from a cache
Second Loop Views
View on the way to a cache

The walk could easily be split into two loops.  It's just as I am thinking of whether to tackle the second loop that I do bump into the other cachers - just as I am signing a log.  Nothing quite like handing a cache to the next cacher to sign.

Despite dwindling water supplies, I decide to make the most of the day and start the 2nd loop.  Stingers cause the one DNF today.  I'll be interested to see if the others have found it today.

Lovely views, as I come back into the village for much needed refreshment.

Coming Back into Aston Cantlow
Aston Cantlow Below
So, the Kings Head.... A pub made of connecting cottages that has a history stretching back to the rumour that Shakespeare's parents breakfasted there on the day of William's Wedding.

Kings Head, Aston Cantlow
Post Caching Refreshment
Four real ales on and I combine a pint of iced water with a locALE Purity Gold.  Water drank first whilst the Purity settles to a wonderful clear golden pint.  Nice to see a busy pub, with a packed beer garden and a number of diners, some of whom are so delighted with the fayre they tip in notes.  And not even blue ones.

Good Looking and Much Deserved
Thanks for another top series Mike...... one day I will be free to come to a Geocaching event launch!

Saturday, 12 May 2018

12/05/18 - London Countryway Stage 4 - Sevenoaks to Oxted

Distance - 14.8 Miles
Start - Sevenoaks
Finish - Oxted
Geocaches - 17
Pubs - 3 (all GBG ticks)
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2, Stage 3

Stage 4 of the London Countryway and I make my first border crossing - from Kent into Surrey.  The walk is getting into its stride now and although the terrain is quite similar today, the walking is superb.

It could be described as a walk of two halves.

The first section sees me escape Sevenoaks through a series of alleyways and private roads to be delivered into Mill Bank Woodlands.  Fine Forest rides and some perfect Geocaches to hunt for, not too difficult and high in volume.

Mill Bank Woods
Got some logging to do, but not this much
For the second part of the walk, I pick up the Greensands Way and follow to today's destination, Oxted.  It follows the high ridge of the Sevenoaks Weald, through National Trust owned land of Ide and Toy Hill and offers never ending views to the South Downs Way.  There are a lot of photos, but they are all similar and usually containing Bough Beech Reservoir.

Sevenoaks Weald Views
First of he days views to South Downs Way
Bough Beach Reservoir
Bough Beech Reservoir

There's a myriad paths, that makes some routefinding difficult.  As well as following the original guide to the LDN Countryway, I have a couple of blog resources available.  Des De Moor stopped for lunch at this picnic table back in 2009.   Its still there, even if I was lunchless.

Ide Hill
National Trust Land, providing good paths
Route Finding Issues
Occasionally, too many paths 
Picnic Set in the Weald
Deep in the Woods Picnic Stopping Point

Pub wise, it's could be a marathon over the 14 miles.   First met is Ide Hill's Cock Inn.  Despite missing the opportunity to ask a bemused local how far the Cock Inn is, I decide to delay gratification.  This is nothing to do with it being a Greene King, but the fact that time is precious.

Running out of water means that I cannot ignore the Carpenters Arms at Limpsfield Chart.  A gastro pub in the truest sense of the word, with an extension built on to squeeze in extra tables.  Its also a Westerham Brewery house - not one I am aware off but LocALE from Kent.  The 1965 was in superb condition and the staff called me Sir, even if I was in a damp raincoat.  I was quite content.  Even more content when I get home, check the bible and determine I've accidently gained another tick.

Carpenters, Limpsfield Chart
Gastro, Gastro, Gastro
1965 at the Carpenters
With decent Westerham Ales

I forget to ask for a water refill, but there is nothing to fear.  Old Oxted is about another hours walk and in a High street that can't be more than 150 metres long - there are four pubs.  Old Bell is handsome, the George Inn looked closed down and the Wheatsheaf looked estate.  I have taken a 1 mile detour to get a Good Beer Guide Tick at the Crown Inn.

The Crown, Old Oxted
Note the Entrance Sign - It's on the first floor
Four real ales on and I played safe by taking an average London Pride to a nice Chesterfield sofa in a different room to where the diners and their screaming kids were.  Really nothing much to write home about but it was infinitely superior to my final GBG tick of the day in new Oxted.

Positioned strategically next to the Station is the Oxted Inn.  It's appearance matches its near industrial estate address of Units 1-4, Hoskins Walk.

In a long list of crimes against landlord-ery that I won't bore you with here, the beer was terrible.  My first request of an Oakham JHB died a third into pouring.  The replacement Windsor and Eton Windsor Knott was hazy and lifeless.

There's a reason for this - in a packed pub of people, many of whom have obviously been here since 9am, I am the only person drinking a real ale.  Everyone else is on lager, with the exception of one bar hanging dandy on the sauvignon blanc.

When I am king, I am banning JDW from future Good Beer Guides.

Oxted Inn, New Oxted
Mama told me not to come.  Good Beer Guide insisted.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

10/05/18 - Heart of England Way - Stage 14 - Berkswell

Distance - 6 Miles
Geocaches - 1
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7Stage 8Stage 9Stage 10Stage 11Stage 12, Stage 13

8 hours in an Office based Workshop and the unenviable prospect of the M42 at 6pm rush hour.

I know a way I can improve the day.  The Heart of England Way is now dangerously close to my place of work, so a beautiful late spring evening is the perfect moment to tick off the latest monthly leg.

I've made it to Berkswell - a place that needs no introduction if you have completed the Millennium Way.  I kind of got bogged down, with four of the Circular walks starting from here.

So I'm used to this Domesday mentioned village, with its impressive church and er... Well.

Berkswell Church
The Well
The 16ft Well.  The Dots are flies - the place is infested.

The walk is agricultural West Midlands at its finest.  The mud has dried, the colours are abundant.  The paths may look dull to those who don't walk but I couldn't be happier.

Farmland Loveliness
We reach the Queens Head, fine refreshment stop at the end of the last leg, and investigate Church Farm.   Some Heart of England branding teaches me that the Way is also part of the European E2 Long Distance Path - running from Galway to the French Mediterranean.  Options for an extension to this walk for when I reach Bourton on the Water.

Church Farm, Meriden
Church Peeping at Church Farm
HOEW - Note the E2 logo bottom right

More of the same on the way back.  All the Geocaches found when doing the Millennium Way, apart from 1.

Farmland Loveliness
More of the Same - No Compaints
Berkswell has an ancient boozer, the Bear.  Its been run as a Chef and Brewer, so you now its mainly catering for diners.  However, amongst the Greene King IPAs and other associated dull beers was a Theakstons Old Peculiar - table served to my garden patio, as my Eastern European bartender declared it "Rather Lively".

It was as gorgeous as the walk.

The Bear, Berkswell
The Bear - Chef and Brewer delivering Old Peculiar 

Monday, 7 May 2018

07/05/18 - All around the Wolds from Andoversford

Distance - 11.5 Miles
Geocaches - 2
Walk Inspiration - Trail Magazine Route
Pub - Royal Oak, Andoversford, Otter Bitter

Would you believe it?  A bank holiday Monday and the weather is beyond gorgeous.  Having burnt my neck on yesterday's geocaching trip in Warwickshire, I am forced to wear protection in the Cotswolds.

Flaps Down
Flaps Down in the Cotswolds
Its OK though.  No one knows me in Andoversford.  I've not even heard of Andoversford before and I thought I knew the Cotswolds like the back of my hand.  This is a tiny village on the outskirts of Cheltenham that's self sufficient.  It has a pub.

I head west, making steady progress through very boggy horse fields to make a climb of Kilkenny Hill.  Sounds more Irish than Gloucester, but fine views are available of the county capital.

Ascending Kilkenny Hill
Marching up Kilkenny
Early Views to Gloucester
Gloucester in the really far distance

This walk provides a circuit of the Coln Valley.  The walk is evenly split - when you've had enough of the amazing views, you drop into Withington Woods for some bluebell infused shade.  You cannot help but smile when you're sharing the route with squirrels, deer herds, the odd rabbit and unidentified birds of prey circling overhead.  Out for four hours and I see a grand total of two walkers and three horse riders.

For the Views
Oh... and Sheep of course
Withington Woods
Bluebell Woods of Withington

Time the walk correctly and you could have a two pub walk.  Withington Village is handsome, containing some fine buildings - including an impressive church and one of the most idyllic pubs I've stumbled upon.  I can see this being a base for a future walk.

Withington Church
The Mill Inn, Withington
The Mill Inn, Withington

Out of Withington and a climb from the beautiful Coln valley floor.

Coln Valley
Coln Valley Floor

Water reserves expire a mile from Andoversford, which means I burst into the bar of the Royal Oak in a fashion not observed since Alex Guinness in Ice Cold in Alex.  The Oak has not been in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for at least a couple of years but it looks like they used to have a good relationship.

Royal Oak, Andoversford
North Cotswolds CAMRA POTY - 2016
Royal Oak, Andoversford
Classic Cotswold Boozer

In another pub, lunch would have been a fish finger sandwich but here, it was Cod Goujons, with a choice of ciabatta or brioche bun.  I might of been out of my depth with the cuisine but I know my way around the bar.  An Otter Bitter could only be improved on a day like this with a water chaser.

An Otter with a Water Chaser
Two Drinks Mappiman