Saturday, 31 March 2018

31/03/18 - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales - Alcester to Henley in Arden

Start - Alcester
Finish - Henley in Arden
Distance - 14 Miles
Geocaches - 8
Walk Inspiration - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales Guide Book
Previous Stages - 1) Stratford to Shipston, 2) Stratford to Alcester

Yesterday saw me arrive in Alcester, 14 miles after leaving Stratford.  I battled my way into the Travelodge just as the heavens opened and they didn't stop all night.

This left me with these conditions for day 2 of my hiking training mission.

Alcester Under Water
Bridges are meant to go over water
I'm not going to sugar coat it.  It's grim.

Alcester's night life was explored last night - and that's something worthy of a pubby blog - and I get chance to say my farewells, crossing the River Arrow and grabbing a couple of micro caches.   The ancient houses of Malt Mill Lane, a highlight as always.

Malt Mill Lane, Alcester
Malt Mill Lane
It's a circuitous route along the mudbath that is the Heart of England Way to Coughton Court.  Conditions terrible, views grey.  I know how the beasts of the field feel in the British Springtime.

General Bleakness
Heart of England Way
Know how you feel mate
Feeling your pain, my bovine chum

The River Arrow is followed to the Arden Way - which takes me all the way back to Henley.  Its slow going but I meet a couple of pensioner aged gents coming in the other direction.   Taking me for a fellow fool, we get talking about Long Distance Walking.   They are members of the Heart of England Long Distance Walkers Association and try to convince me that walking 100 miles non stop over two days is a thing of beauty.

Talk about picking your moments :-)

I am tempted at some of their other more entry level walks and will have a good look at their event programme.

Rive Arrow
Snaky River Arrow
Up to the marketing centre at Studley, which is having a major make over that results in footpath diversions but onwards along on the Arden Way.

Legs aching, feet sore - there's been nowhere to stop until I reach Ullenhall after 11 miles.   The last time I was here, it was a dry village with a closed pub but behold, just for me and my failing lower limbs, The Winged Spur is reborn.

Worth a break for hot soup, beer and football.

Winged Spur, Ullenhall
Winged Spur - Reborn
Purity Pure Gold
Purity Pure Gold - No-one wants to see Tomato and Basil Soup

I asked a local at the church if the pub had re-opened and he exclaimed its virtues and popularity.  My comments about wondering why it was closed in the first place were met with two words. 

Enterprise Inns.

Just 30 minutes was enough for me to be suitably refreshed enough to consider putting my waterproofs back on.

I've got little to say about the rest of the walk to Henley.   Apart from the fact it was mercifully short.

So, two days on the trail covering 28 miles as a training mission for a full week of Yorkshire Moors walking has been an experience.  I've had the worst conditions that Spring can throw at me - so equipment and resilience tested to the full.  But has it put me off going?

I've got a week to decide.

Friday, 30 March 2018

30/03/18 - Alcester Pub Crawl

Two days of Warwickshire Walking find me in Alcester Travelodge.  Nothing to do there, so despite the lack of pavements entrapping me and the heavy rain, a taxi is summonsed to take me pub ticking.

I've been to Alcester several times and admired the pubs, all lined up in a row in the main high street.  Day time visits just doesn't prepare you for quite how lively this pubby little town can be.

When darkness falls, the place is heaving.

The Dog and Partridge, Bleachfield Street, Purity Mad Goose

Dog and Partridge, Alcester
Do Like Good Signage
Bank Holiday.  6pm.  Wolves are beating Middlesbrough 2-0 with just nine men and the place is off the scale busy.   The taxi driver gives me a moral assessment of each character lurking outside on the fags.  The town is full of rogues, should you believe him.

One rouge asked for direction to the side door and I'm in, fighting my way to a brightly lit bar.  There was much debate with Mrs M about where to eat in town and this place was high on the list of options - based on her bible of TripAdvisor.  No food in the evenings, but they seem well noted for their breakfast.

A trainee barperson hands over a filthy looking pint of Purity Mad Goose.  I take it back to the only free table at the far end of the bar and wait for it to settle.   This doesn't happen and back it goes.  A severe reprimand is given by the more senior bar person and much debate is had about how much should be "pulled off".

I am provided with a replacement that initially looks identical.  Mid pour, I plaintively request a doom bar but I am assured it will be OK.

Eventually, #2 did settle averagely.

Dog and Partridge, Alcester
Slow Start with a Mad Goose
The Royal Oak, High Street, Adnams Southwold Bitter

Royal Oak, Alcester
Royal Oak, Alcester
Handsome enough pub, that would probably stand out more in a town with less choices.  One real ale on and I would show you a picture, if only they hadn't put my Southwold Bitter into a Tribute glass.

Moved from a the bar to sit in a comfy chair by a open fire, unsure if the jumper on the back belonged to anyone.  I was able to finish my pint without finding out the answer to this.

The Three Tuns, High Street, Hobsons Best Bitter

For my money, pub of the night.   Its not in the 2018 Good Beer Guide, but I'll await 2019 edition with a high expectation that it will be.  Having said that, research through my extensive library of two editions show that it was in the 2017 and has lost its place.

Packed solid with friendly punters who like to chat to a man in rambling gear on a bank holiday evening.

A full compliment of 8 hand pulls are on offer.  And if you're sick of Jam Jars indicating the hue, they have a novel twist here.

Three Tuns, Aclester
Shampoo Bottle Samples
Along with the beers, there's a fine shelf of Scotch Whiskies and Gins.  Sitting at the bar, I try and avoid passing on pearls of wisdom but when a young lady goes to the bar and asks for a Bourbon and Ginger Ale and the barstaff ask which one of the Scotch Malts she requires, I have to intervene on two counts.

1) Bourbon is from a different continent
2) Ginger Ale shouldn't be allowed in either

My pearls of wisdom are received with a shrug from both parties and I go back to people watching.

A man comes in with a bright red puffer jacket, bright red trousers, bright red baseball boots and a shock of white hair, I tell my fellow bar hangers that when I've seen Santa, its time to go.

The Turks Head, High Street, Timothy Taylor Landlord

Turks Head, Alcester
Classic Pub and Church Shot
The 2018 Good Beer Guide Entry and the good people of Alcester celebrate this fact by packing the place out.  Barely standing room in the front bar.

An exceptionally good pint of TT Landlord gets me in the mood for next weeks visit to Yorkshire.  Even if it did have to be taken alone in a corridor on the way to the loos.

Turks Head, Alcester
Peace and Quiet at the Turks Head
The Hollybush, Henley Street, Shefford Bitter

Lovely little pub this, nestling in the shadow of the Church.  I'm sure on my last visit it was a Freehouse but I have a feeling that its now an Everards pub.   Seemed to be a lot of their ales on.

Unfortunately, external smokes stopped photographs.

A large back room, wooden paneled side rooms and a cosy front room provided a very domestic feel.

With just the Cross Keys to knock off, I decide to call it a night, knowing that the town taxi is going to be popular on a rainy night.

Alcester, you were a pleasure, providing me with the shortest five pub crawl this side of Edinburgh's Grassmarket.

30/03/18 - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales - Stratford to Alcester

Start - Stratford-upon-Avon
Finish - Alcester
Distance - 14 Miles
Geocaches - 20
Walk Inspiration - Warwickshire Cakes and Ales Guide Book
Previous Stages - 1) Stratford to Shipston

First day of a two day walk in Warwickshire, following a couple of legs from the Cakes and Ales Guide book from Bob Bibby.

I'm here as a practice run for a week long adventure on the Inn Way to the North Yorkshire Moors.  A plan that has not really been thought through.   I mean, what's going to happen if I don't manage to complete this 2 dayer without freezing to death in the British Spring?  Or drowning?  Or having my slipper like 8 year old Meindl Boots decide to destroy my feet?

Think I have gone a bit far with the foreshadowing.

A twenty minute train ride takes me from Henley in Arden to Stratford on Avon.  Plenty of photo opportunities and a handful of micro caches before I'm getting my stride on.

Stratford - In Black and White
Foot Bridge
And Glorious Colour

Walking should be easy but slip sliding along mud alongside the river Avon is few people's idea of fun.  Head west and the first civilisation is Wellford on Avon.  Too early for pub one of the day but plenty to admire in the village, with its pretty churches and black and white buildings.

Along the Avon
Bell Inn remains unticked.

The first port of call is a little further along the Avon at Barton.  If I had a pub, I might steal the name and call it the  "Cottage of Content".  Probably draw in more visitors than my original idea of the "Bucket of Blood".

The C&C is an old world rural pub, offering four real ales but importantly having stone floors so that I don't have to perform a one man version of the Full Monty to receive refreshment.

Cottage of Content
Why's it called the Cottage of Content Mappiman?
Cottage of Content
Sit in that red chair with a good pint of Hooky and you will know the answer, Blogfans.

Whistlestop, as I am not far from Bidford on Avon.   Research done and the legendary Falcon pub of Shakespearean repute has been a private house for many years.  There are other choices, but the rains are threatening, so I decide to get a bit of distance before the worst of it comes. 

Bidford on Avon
The Three Pub town of Bidford on Avon looking ominous.
It's not too far to the Good Beer Guide listed Broom Tavern.  The listing talks about it being reopened by two experienced chefs and that tells you what you need to know.  I am the only non dining patron.  Its not just the rucksack that makes me stand out.   An average Jumping Jack Flash from the North Cotswold Brewery is taken whilst I compare the chalkboard menu with my chicken cobs taken earlier in the on a damp bench.

Broom Tavern, Broom
The unpubby looking Broom Tavern
The little door to the right in the picture was where I was forced into a wardrobe change.  It;s started raining cats and dogs.  Like a Generation Game challenge gone badly wrong, I manage to get my hardshell coat and over trousers out of the rucksack and on, only annoying a small handful of punters trying to get in or out. 

After a 10 minute herculean effort, it's stopped raining.

So off I rustle, heading North on the Heart of England Way, knowing I will be revisiting these paths in the near future.  Another challenge has me completing monthly circular walks on this LDP.  I'm currently at Meriden.

Heart of England Way
Pointless Style on the HOEW
The pubs comes thick and fast - Wixford has a choice of two and I choose the overly funky Fish.   It's full of jokey slogans, has a shark over the entrance, is hotter than the sun inside and despite having about 6 hand pulls, offers just a single Wadworth 6X.   Too busy inside, so out I go to the back where the new sport of outdoor Pool has been invented.

Fish Inn, Wixford

Fish Inn, Wixford
Outdoor Pool and a not a bad 6X

Alcester is not far now - just need to climb the only hill of the day to Oversley Castle, slopping through an ever increasing mud fest, using Geocaching as a distraction.   For the first time today, a strange yellow orb briefly appears in the sky but it doesn't last.

Warwickshire and the Strange Orb in the Sky
Strange celestial phenomenon at Oversley Castle. 
There's no easy way into or out off Alcester's Travelodge but I find a footpath and take my life in my own hands crossing 4 lanes of a bypass to get there.

Looks like a taxi will be required to paint this town red.

But first, I need to get my stuff clean and dry for tomorrow and review foot related injuries.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

27/03/18 - The King Arthur, Hagley

Distance - 5 Miles
Walk Inspiration - AA 50 Walks in Warwickshire & West Midlands
Geocaches - 1
Other Walks from Bathams Pubs

New Bathams Pub Klaxon!

The King Arthur opened on Worcester Road, Hagley in September 2017.  I've waited till British Summer Time to celebrate this fact with a new entry on my list of Walks from Bathams Pubs.

Plenty to recommend this one too.   Good Beer is guranteed but not many of my walks have visits to Greek Temples and the discovery of historical murder most horrid.

This ramble starts right at the pub's front door.  You don't necessarily need to avoid the temptation of pre match sustenance, but I did.   Never has five miles been walked so quickly, as I await my reward.

Head up Worcester Road to pick up the North Worcestershire Path, that meanders through a housing estate, past schools and delivers you into the countryside.

Views to Wychbury
Hagley Views - we are making our way to that far distant hill
We pick up a very posh housing estate at Ounty John Lane, where the local vandals have had a field day with a slight alteration of the first letter on the sign.  Our goal is the Monarch's Way, climbing muddily to the top of Wychbury Hill.

Monarchs Way
Glorious Mud.  Hope the King Arthur doesn't have carpets

So, we've all seen the obelisk from the A456 but how many have been up close to it.  Of course, I was intrigued by the grafitti - "Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?"

Wychbury Obelisk
Wychbury Obelisk
Wychbury Obelisk
Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?

A quick google and the tale is revealed.  It's graffiti that first appeared in 1944 following the discovery of a woman's skeleton in a hollow tree trunk by three lads poaching in Hagley Woods.  The murder has never been solved but the wiki page presents theories ranging from a local prostitute, to a German World War 2 Spy.   And if those fail, you can always blame the gypsies.

There's more to discover on this walk.   You can, of course, take the Monarch's way back to civilisation but on the other side of the hill is a Greek Temple built in 1758 so that Lord  Lyttleton could have a good view of the Malverns.  Not strictly on the footpaths but if lads can go poaching on private land in the forties, I'm sure a sneaky visit to an item of interest would be tolerated.

The Temple of Theseus
Temple of Theseus
Views to Malvern
And the views to Malvern
The North Worcestershire Path and Monarch Way take us back into Hagley, where the best is yet to come.

King Arthur, Hagley
Newest of the Bathams
The pub has been converted from offices but inside and out, it looks perfectly traditional to me.

Not a table free and this is a Tuesday night when England are just about to kick off.   They are all here for one thing and one thing only.

There's something deeply satisfying about being in a gang - to a man and woman, every single person has a pint of Bathams Bitter on the go.   I exaggerate slightly.  There is one child with a coke.  But as soon as she turns 18, I'm sure she will be imbibing uniformly.

Do you want to be in my gang?

Saturday, 24 March 2018

24/03/18 - Heart of England Way - Stage 12 - Fillongley

Distance - 7.5 Miles
Geocaches - 1
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4Stage 5Stage 6Stage 7Stage 8Stage 9Stage 10, Stage 11

A full calendar year on the Heart of England Way and I arrive at Fillongley.

Nope, never heard of it either.

As usual, the walk starts where refreshment can be found.   I am going to hold the Manor House to its advertising claims.

Manor House, Fillongley
Manor House, Fillongley
Advertising the Legend
Googling Advertising Standards - Should it be needed later

Plotting this leg on the HOEW, showed featureless terrain and a distinct lack of Geocaches to break the apparent monotony.  There are three multis in the village and I complete the first one, using the digits of the telephone box to bag "a nice pair".

Onto the walk, which can only be described as fields and lanes.   And that's it.

One of the more exciting fields
One of the more exciting lanes

2 hrs 30 minutes and I am back taking photos of Fillongley's lovely church.

Fillongley Church
Muddy shoes off and into the pub.   Indeed there is TT Landlord.  I know this, as I get to stare at the pump for a good ten minutes before someone comes out the back to serve.  I even made a move towards ringing the bell but thought the table of youngsters would think I was calling time.

First, I enquire about Lunch.  There is none.   The lady says that the Cottage Inn up the road does food but it still leaves me with a dilemma.  Do I forsake my favourite beer for a meal?

I risk it to be rewarded with a choice of four ales - surprisingly including the rarely spotted (in these parts) TT Boltmaker.

But a certain red triangle caught my eye and should go fine with a Ploughman's.

Bass - in Ceremonial Chalice
Ceremonial Glassware
Cottage Inn, Fillongley
Cottage Inn - middle of nowhere

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

21/03/18 - Good Beer Guide Pubs of Birmingham - Part 2

Nothing stays the same.  We started our second city ticking at Xmas 2016, using the 2017 version of the bible as a guide.  There were 7 pubs to be visited and we only managed 3, always knowing we would come back.

15 months later and here we are, armed with the 2018 bible.   Horrifyingly, the number of City Centre entries has dropped to just 4. 

To justify the journey, we cobble a pub crawl from the two editions and throw in our own stupid mistake.

Eagle Eyed Pub Tickers may be able to spot the mistake from our Route
Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Salopian Golden Thread (2017 Guide)

C19th Theatre Bar 
Nice start, with the Bitter and Twisted pub company rescuing a C19th Theatre Bar.  We know from our visit to one of their other pubs (Rose Villa Tavern) that this will be decorated to a high standard and provide the sort of pub you can lose yourself in.   Side rooms for exploration, quirky decorations and cocktail/whisky menus to peruse.

Punter-wise we have a mixture of the after office crowd, slagging off useless Project Managers and a random odd bloke ordering a 2nd pint before finishing the first and disappearing, leaving both drinks his table.  I can identify with both parties.

Things to do, People to see
Always a fan of Salopian brews and this first Golden Thread didn't disappoint.

The Shakespeare, Lower Temple Row, Moonstone Hadley Brewing Company

Short walk around New Street and we are in Pub 2.

I'm perplexed as to why a City Centre Identikit Nicholson Pub should be troubling the Good Beer Guide.

Seen it all before
See previous comment

The answer?  It isn't in the guide.

Don't tell Mrs M, but I have made a monumental screw up in planning - the Shakespeare we wanted is in Summer Row.

Still, it was less of a walk to this one.

The Wellington, Bennetts Hill, Staropramen (2017 and 2018 Guides)

Should need no introduction to anyone still interested in reading this blog.... its been a stalwart of the Real Ale scene in Birmingham for many years.

It kind of works and it kind of doesn't.

Architecturally, it a stunning Georgian Town House, split over at least three levels.  We might have been able to climb higher in the quest for a seat but decided to cash in under heaters on the external terrace.  Nice in the summer, not so great in the Winter that never ends.

The Wellington
The Wellington as Night Falls
Its a Black Country Ales tied house and there's an ever changing selection of 18 hand pulls on - most of which are unheard of to me.  Confusion always reigns at the packed downstairs bar.   At our upstairs bar, they were just turning the HPA Clip around to cancelled, with a perplexed bar man looking at the grim looking swill water that had come out.   This left just one ale, Oakham Citra.

We had a quick expensive Continental lager, made our excuses and left.

Always too busy.  Always too confusing.

Queens Arms, 150 Newhall Street, Wye Valley HPA (2017 Guide)

Another handsome Victorian pub that has disappeared from the guide.

Need to see it in daylight really
Rare spotting of Mrs M getting a round in

The owners have invested in keeping it pleasant.  Inside is just as nice as outside and many distractions are available.  Mrs M challenges me to a game of Connect Four.  The pub sport of Kings.

Whether the patrons appreciate the attention to sophistication remains to be seen.  Ever so slightly intimidating feel oozing from some well oiled patrons.

The Gunmakers Arms, 93 Bath Street, Two Towers Hockley Gold (2018 Guide)

Been looking forward to visiting this place.  The Gunmakers are the kings of Social Media Marketing - frequently tweeting about Birmingham events and history and not always beer related.

And you wouldn't think anywhere that's a 5 minute walk from Snow Hill could still manage to be in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Bang in the City Centre
A really friendly welcome awaits from the barman and the regulars.

Barman - Have you been before?  Would you like help choosing?  The Two Towers brewery is next door.  This silver tongued charmer talked Mrs M into her first ever real ale.   In 33 years of drinking with her, this is a first.

A Regular on spotting a group of Scousers supping in the Corner - "I've put something on the jukebox that you chaps will like".   The opening chords to Echo and the Bunnymen's Never Stop are met with "they're Birkinhead Scum".

Can't win them all.

We commandeer the Jukebox for a bit of Bad Seed Action and I try and work out how much I am enjoying my pint.   Quality but maybe over hoppy for me.  I'd need another to be sure.

Only Nick Cave'has a Red Right Hand
We have a choice on whether to make the last on the List - the Woodman.  Its a 15 minute walk and the trains are irregular at this time.

I suggest a compromise.   After the row has fizzled out and Mrs M hears the compromise, we catch the 20:58 home and have the pint of the night.

Bathams at the King and Castle, Kidderminster Station.