Saturday, 27 January 2018

27/01/18 - London Countryway - Stage 2 - Sole Street to Borough Green

Distance - 11 Miles
Start - Sole Street
Finish - Borough Green
Geocaches - 16
Pubs - 2
Previous Stages - Stage 1

Stage 2 on the London Countryway, with most of the walking on good paths in the Kentish Downs along the Weald Way.

Alight at lonely Sole Street, and straight into the Countryside to meet the beasts of Kent.

Kentish Countryside
Kentish Countryside
Beast of Kent
Beasts of Kent

One of the advantages of the London Countryway sharing more established Long Distance Paths is the high count of Geocaches.  Most are micro film pots but very occasionally, you get a Cache Owner with a deep imagination and the daring to execute something that would perplex the average Muggle who happened to stumble on their work.

Caching at its finest
Cache of the Day
Although fine walking, there's really not much to photo through the trees until our path crosses the North Downs Way above Coldrum Long Barrow.  Even then, woodland obscures the view until we've dropped to the valley floor.

Coldbrum Longbarrow
Unlike the Barrows in the Cotswolds, this one is fenced off
Coldbrum Longbarrow
The views from the top of the Long Barrow

The rest of the way to civilisation is mud, quarries, geocaches and motorways, crossing under the M20 near where it merges with the M26.

Last of the Scenery
Into the confused villages of Platt, Wrotham and Borough Green to try and unravel the mystery of where one ends and the other begins, with a choice needs to be made for where to dine.

A choice I get hopelessly wrong.

Blue Anchor, Grange Road, Platt, Timothy Taylor Landlord

This could be winner of finest Greene King Pub in the land.  It's quirky, full of nick nacks, has a fine hand written menu of home made delights and has Timothy Taylor Landlord, as a relief from their eponymous IPA.  Friendly land lady, who's only stipulation for service is the leaving of muddy boots outside.  Which is where I leave mine, in the hope my Meindls don't get nicked and leave me with a problem to complete the last mile.

Blue Anchor, Platts
A lovely Greene King
Blue Anchor, Platts
View from a bar stool - I went left, even if the glass suggest right

I really should have settled in for my post walk meal, but its slightly too early and there's distance to go.  I'll see what culinary delights await at the pub over the road from the Station.

Blue Anchor, Platts
Facilities Jokes
Black Horse, 76 Maidstone Road, Borough Green, Doom Bar

The rain is hammering, so I am in full waterproofs when I burst through the door of a boozer which I initially mistook for being closed.

Its not, there are three punters, perched on the end of the bar listening to heavy 70s and 80s rock.  I'm not sure if its the drop in conversation as they spy me, the one light bulb out of three working in the overhead lamp or the single real ale on that makes me question the outside proclamation of "Your Friendly Local Pub".

Black Horse, Borough Green
Friendly Local
To be fair, the landlady is lovely in a Queen Vic Babs kind of way, but I can see from the empty nuts wrappers on the bar, that my chance of home cooked food disappeared when I left the Anchor.

It's a sit at the bar, deep contemplation of whether you are meant to be able to see through Doom Bar and a nod along to Deep Purple in the home of making friends. 

Impossible to spread this out for 90 minutes, I make a dash for a train that my reservation does not necessarily cover and hope for lack of diligence from Southern Rail Ticket inspectors.

Black Horse, Borough Green
33% as welcoming as it should be.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

23/01/18 - Edinburgh Old Town and Best of the Royal Mile Pub Walk

Distance - 4 Miles
Walk Inspiration - CAMRA Edinburgh Pub Walks, Walk 5
Pubs - 4
Previous Edinburgh Pub Walks -  Rose StreetRoyal Mile around the CastleAround the CastleTollcross, Fountainbridge and HaymarketAround Waverley, New Town

Forth successive week in Auld Reekie and still no shortage of walking inspiration.   Tonight's walk combines a tour of the Old Town from a Holiday Which book and Walk 5 from CAMRA's Edinburgh Pub Walks.

Either way, the start is from the Scott Monument and up the hill to reach the castle.

National Gallery
Royal Scottish Academy
To the Castle 

Ignoring many previously found watering holes, I work my way down to Victoria Street, Grassmarket, Candlemaker Row, Cowgate and back up to the Royal Mile, where tonights rewards await.

The Mitre, 131 High Street, Lia Fail

Not looking at its most handsome, bedecked as it is in scaffolding.  Best photo I can get.

The Mitre, up close
It's a Nicholsons Pub and from the inside, I am can only be reminded of the Haymarket - found two weeks ago.  Friendly bar staff asking after my day (significantly improving by the minute), too much choice but a very decent Lia Fail from the Inveralmond Brewery.   Great beer, previously discovered in Malvern, of all places.

Lia Fail at the Mitre
Photo tells all - Nicholsons.  Choice.
Number 1 High Street, 167 Canongate, Deuchars IPA

The guide says Tass but not any more.  We have had external re-branding but this old school boozer has not encouraged the tourists (your's truly, excepted).  Its full of a group of old boys locals enjoying a catch up over a meal.  We are soon joined by an incredibly drunk man, who announces himself to the pub and landlord but in a previously unobserved act of self censorship, decides himself he has already had enough and instantly leaves.

An authentic experience and the only reason I haven't come before is that I'm always seduced by the World's End over the road.  I was not quite seduced enough to try a £29.95 whisky from the menu, but I did cause Mrs M some concern by instagramming a photo and pointing out it was pay day.

Number 1 High Street
Make Over and Tass No More
Number 1 High Street
Sure the head on the bar was attached to a body

Tollbooth Tavern, 1 High Street, A Door in the Face

No sooner have I taken my external shot of the pub than I hear a loud clunk.

Tollbooth Tavern
Wanted to capture the clock.  At the expense of including a Ford.
The dark wooden door, that would not look out of place on the castle itself, has been bolted firmly shut.

The clock reveals its 8:45pm.

Edinburgh pub time keeping at its finest and for the completist in me, the need to come back.

Regent, 2 Montrose Terrace, Deuchars IPA

Post spicy mexican meatballs at Pancho Villas, I am down the bottom of the Royal Mile, looking at Holyrood Palace and Abbey Hill, working my way around to the other side of Calton Hill.

And tonight's first entry from the 2018 Good Beer Guide.

Something New
Working my way past an old school gymnasium vaulting horse to make use of the facilities, I am at first surprised to find two huge boxes of condoms in the gents loos.   I'm sure that in my local, these would be misappropriated for poor attempts at balloon animals making.

I take my pint and sit down to get my bearings.  The wall art is striking and I may have broken Facebook policies by sending a photo with the caption "I've accidentally done it again".

Art at the Regent
A check of the guide, a I find that I've come down into the "Pink Triangle".  An area, I didn't know existed and the pub is definitely deserving it's inclusion in the Bible.  The Deuchars was in fine nick.

Deuchars at the Regent
Going Down Fine
A short walk back to the Scott Monument, via previously unexplored roads, showing new vistas of the City.

Last view over Edinburgh
The City from a new angle

Saturday, 20 January 2018

20/01/18 - Heart of England Way Stage 10 - Whitacre Heath

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

Grim day in the West Midlands but the monthly leg on the Heart of England Way is calling.

Check out the route and there are four pubs, although its hard to tell if the White Swan in Kingsbury is a pub or a Chinese restaurant.  Through on line reviews, the Swan in Whitacre Heath looks the best of the bunch and is chosen as the starting point.

It's the sort of weather that requires head to toe goretex.  The camera needs to be protected from the sleet but there's really not much worth photographing until reaching Kingsbury Water Park.  Even that looks desolate in this weather but the geese do put on a show.

Kingsbury Water Park
A Water Park in the Rain
Duck Attack
And the Native Residents

All six of today's Geocaches are in the water park and I make a clean sweep, even mistaking a log replacement for a potential First to Find.

Kingsbury has a large church, the remains of a medieval castle and a couple of pubs (one potentially a Chinese - confirmation not possible even after walking past).  The short high street is navigated before heading back out into the wilds.

View to Kingsbury
Coming out of the Water Park and into Kingsbury
Not much else to report until the end.   I pass our second MOD firing range of the HOEW, which is being used for live practice today and the weather deteriorates.  The last three miles are a grim mud fest of rambling agony, which makes me question exactly why I am out today.  The map warned me.... Foul End.

2nd Firing Range on the HOEW
HOEW at the Firing Range
How do you spend your weekends?
Walking through muddy cabbage fields in the Snow to get to Foul End

Off with the Goretex, change of footwear and into the Swan at Whitacre Heath.   Its cask marque accredited, has half a dozen punters gathered around a central bar and a log burner that pumps the smoke into the pub, rather than out the chimney.

Beer wise, it fits in with the day.   A downbeat and dull choice of Doombar or Old Golden Hen but at least the DB was in excellent condition.

The Swan at Whitacre Heath
Its all over.  Sanctuary awaits
The Swan at Whitacre Heath
2 Minutes till Cyrille's Minutes Applause
Next leg in Feb.  Shustoke better be good.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

16/01/18 - Squares and Crescents of Edinburgh New Town - Pub Walk

Distance - 3.5 Miles
Walk Inspiration - CAMRA Edinburgh Pub Walks, Walk 7
Pubs - 4
Previous Edinburgh Pub Walks -  Rose StreetRoyal Mile around the CastleAround the CastleTollcross, Fountainbridge and Haymarket, Around Waverley

Like a Brummie Captain Oates, I respond to my colleagues request to meet for an after work meal with "I'm heading out for a walk and I may be some time".   Conditions can be filed under "Arctic".

Queen Street
I'm out in this, in the relentless pursuit to find Edinburgh finest boozer
It's not the best weather for finding nano geocaches but the architecture certainly makes up for the conditions. 

Simply stunning locations to live, so close to the City.  An oasis of tranquility, even if parking looks like it could get tricky.

Moray Place
Moray Circus.  If I won the Lottery.
Kay's Bar, 39 Jamaica Street, Deuchars IPA

This former Wine Merchants is small, but absolutely perfectly formed.  Rebus's Guide to Edinburgh pubs describes the area as a "former run down tenement, where the criminals of Jamaica Street could look out their windows to see the judges that would try them in the morning".

It certainly gentrified now and probably only inhabited by judges.

Kays Bar
Tonight's Photos Hampered by outdoor Smokers
Inside is a small room, with seating along the bar that runs the 20ft length of the establishment and a small number of tables under the barrels on the opposite side.   There's a single snug off the back, where I made my presence felt amongst the locals that feel at home there.  It may have been possible to venture upstairs, but I didn't want to run the risk of looking an idiot.

Kays Bar
View from a bar stool
The only one of tonight's four that's in the Good Beer Guide 2018 and no arguments from me as to why that would be.   In a month of fine Deuchars IPA, this was indeed the finest.  My comment to the bar staff stating this piqued the interest of the drinker next to me, who not only became interested in my quest to tick off all Edinburgh's GBG pubs but also knew an awful lot about the pubs of my home patch in the West Midlands.

It would have been a fine enough night to stay here with my new friend, but there's always more to explore.

I will be back.

Clarks Bar, Dundas Street, Theakstons XB

No exterior shots but you're not missing much.  In fact, if you don't pay attention, you would either walk straight past or maybe dismiss its exterior as slightly down at heel.  This would be a mistake, as inside is where it reveals its charms.

Whereas Kay's was small and intimate, this bar opens out to a high ceiling room with spaced out tables hosting clientele that can be best described as "eclectic".   The bar man was friendly and I couldn't help but overhear him talking with some regulars about beer quality, production and value.  Interesting to hear his high praise for English Beers and it was a superb Theakstons XB that caught my eye.

Clarks Bar
Theakstons in a Deuchars with Stuttgart on the TV
Cumberland Bar, Cumberland Street, Stewarts 80/-

Nothing really out of the ordinary from the outside, this bar looks "Upmarket Chain" but like everything in Edinburgh, there's more to it than meets the eye.

My favourite anecdote is that it features in the Alistair McCall Smith books, with 44 Scotland Street almost being around the corner.  (The street exists, the number doesn't).

It has a classic pub history, from down at heel back street boozer, to gentrification and renaming to "The Tilted Wig" to being taken over by the same people who own the Bow Bar and Thompsons Bar (previously explored).  It's also the first establishment found tonight that did food.   Much needed and further evidence that anything "Scottish Fusion" gets haggis added.  Worked rather well on Burger.

I think you can get the idea of the place from the exterior.

Cumberland Bar
Interior matches the Exterior
The Star Bar, Northumberland Place, Guinness

This is one place that a) I had never heard of and b) had a little trouble finding.  It's not deadly obvious that a pub existing down this quiet back street but confirmation with the smokers outside showed that I had found my way, even if they looked questioningly as to why I wanted to be there.

Simple, the guide book told me to come.

Big Light, Advertising Board, No Pub Sign
Three blokes sat at the bar, obscuring the options available, but friendly enough to include me in their conversation and ask if I like Roller Skating.

Could this be part of the initiation?  I haven't been as confused since I was asked if I was a Mod or Rocker at middle school and didn't know the correct response.  I was beaten up when I said I was a Rocker by a goon in a fish tail parka.

It transpires they have a keyboard and are in control of what video appears next on YouTube across the tv screens.  Chet Faker's Gold Video explain all.  Some tune as well.  Always learning on my nights out.

Between my three amigos, I couldn't really see any real ales on besides a solitary bitter and twisted.  I decided to play it safe with a Guinness and appreciate the pubs wonders.  Table football, split level seating and a million and one nick nacks that include Star Wars At-At Walker models and strategically placed dog water bowls designed to ensnare four pints in Brummies.

Three Amigos and Youtube Videos
I was asked for my music selection but panicked and said the name of my favourite video, Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails Hurt.

They correctly pointed out that it wasn't in keeping with the rollerskating girls vibe that they had so carefully developed.

I left with a damp foot to see what the weather was doing.

Still Arctic.

Edinburgh in the Snow
Edinburgh in Snow #1
Edinburgh in the Snow
Edinburgh in Snow #2

Saturday, 13 January 2018

13/01/18 - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales - Stratford to Shipston

Start - Stratford-upon-Avon
Finish - Shipston-on-Stour
Distance - 16 Miles
Geocaches - 14
Walk Inspiration - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales Guide Book

You know its going to be epic, when your adventure starts on a double decker bus, hurtling along country lanes.  Top deck, front seat.  Shouting, watch out for that bike.  And those trees.

Today's marathon comes from a guide book called "Warwickshire Cakes and Ales".  I have an interest in at least 66% of that title.  It details a 100 mile circular walk around the counties market towns, to be completed over 7 long sections.

This section looks doable with public transport, which is why I find myself waiting with several others for the 9:03 bus 50 to Stratford.  In an unexpected twist, it turns up at 9:03.  My lack of trust in public transport extends as far as having a backup route for today, in case it never materialised at all.

At 9:23 and £5.10 lighter, I am out with the Japanese in the achingly beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon.  Photos at the bridge and of the Royal Shakespeare Company before I head out to find the "Stratford Greenway".

Bus drops me off at the bridge
Royal Shakespeare Company
Touristy shots done

The Stratford Greenway is a disused railway line and provides arrow straight, perfectly flat walking for the first 5 miles of today's walk.  There's a tricky combination of dog walking muggles and several geocaches and not much to break up the monotony, other than a laugh at Dr Who's downgrade.

Stratford Greenway
The Start and a high muggle count
Dr Who Downgrade
Hopefully a Female Only Tardis

Meon Hill in the Distance
Distant Views to Meon Hill.  I'm off there
I leave the trail at Long Marston and pick up the Heart of England Way/Monarch's Way which takes me cross county to Lower Quinton.  It's midday and the pubs are open but the pub is near the church, about 0.5 miles off piste.  I decide to save myself for Ilmington, trying not to get freaked out by the legends of Meon Hill.

Lower Quinton Church
Looks Close but its a telephoto lens
So what's spooky about Meon Hill?  It's the crime scene for Warwickshire's oldest unsolved murder case.  In 1945, Charles Walton was found with his own pitchfork embedded in his throat and the sign of a cross carved into his chest.   This is how you kill a witch, in Warwickshire and there were some parallels to a similar killing in the 1800's.  Plenty of documentaries on YouTube.

The View from Meon Hill
View from a Murder Scene
A couple of miles on to the previously unvisited village of Ilmington.  It's a delight of quirky buildings, handsome ancient church and two pubs.  First the Church.

Ilmington Church
Ilmington Church
Ilmington Church
With the door unlocked
Ilmington Church
Medieval Cross

The Red Lion is not on route but the Howard's Arms is.  All looks good, its set amongst a handful of attractive cottages, recommended by Sawdays Special Places and its own sign boasts "Great Food, fine ales". 

Howards Arms
First Pub Stop
Four real ales on but I must have made the wrong selection.  My Landlord was hazy, vinegary and had tiny bits of gunk floating in the head.  I would have complained but they had jovially topped up my water supply and if I'm being truthful, I couldn't be arsed to pull myself out of the fine Chesterfield I was tempted to take a nap in.

Howards Arms Landlord
Looked better here than it tasted
But move on, I must, with another couple of hours to walk.   Fine views over Ilmington (I will come back to try the Red Lion), a long trudge over fields and about 1.5 miles along the A429, fortunately footpathed.

The Shipton-on-Stour Sign is a sight for sore legs.

Looking Back over Ilmington
The End
Nearly Back

My visit to Shipston is another first.  An appealing market town, seemingly specialising in Country Outfitting shops where all colours are available as long as you like green tweed.   There is a clock shop that has an external timepiece proclaiming "Remember, time lost cannot be regained".

Its two hours out.

There's four or five pubs (Falcon looks closed) available for the post walk analysis.  I wander around each off them.  The Horseshoe Inn looks ramshackly authentic.  The George Townhouse is Cask Marque but far too posh.   Eventually, a man who has seen my aimless wandering asks if he can help.  I tell him I cannot make up my mind on which pub is best and he tells me with some conviction its the White Bear.

It's a Donnington Ales house - which means delightful pub architecture but lot's of negative reviews from beer bloggers.   I have to say, the Cotswold Gold was a perfect pint.  No complaints for me.  I'll be trying Arkells next.

Shipston Church
Four PM at the Clock Shop
White Bear
After much deliberation, its the White Bear
Donnington Cotswold Gold at the White Bear
The Donnington Range

A most enjoyable ramble and 2018 may see me have a go at some of the other sections, provided I can get the Public Transport to work as well.