Monday, 16 January 2017

14/01/17 - Banbury Pub Crawl

Mrs Mappiman and myself find ourselves in the Premier Inn, Banbury and in need of a way of toasting our success at completing the Millennium Way.

There's only one thing for it.  Consult Tripadvisor for the finest place to eat (her).  Dust off the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for the finest places to drink (me).

The Three Pigeons, 3 Southam Road, Doombar

The taxi delivers us to the first of three GBG pubs in town.  The first calling point of the evening will set the tone for the night.  Will it be a boozers paradise full of old men with dogs, delighting me and making Mrs Mappiman wonder what she is in for?

We are dropped off in a courtyard car park, where the outbuildings (former stables?) have been converted into rooms.  If I had known, we could have booked here.

Three Pigeons
Three Pigeons from the Font
Inside, its been decorated to an incredibly high standard, with a fair proportion of tables dedicated to dining.  Mrs M heads off to find somewhere suitable to sit.  I fight my way past the bar to see what delights are on offer to get this into the GBG.

Slightly disappointed to find only two real ales - Purity Gold and Doombar.  And as much as I like Ubu, I didn't fancy a gold.

Purchases made and then I discover what is common to all 400 year old hostelries.... low beamed ceilings.

The very pleasant ambiance is very slightly tainted by a 6ft brummie swearing about having cider all down his strides and a very sore head.

Traumas are forgotten as we slump into very fine wing backed chairs in front of a lovely woodburner.

Three Pigeons
Mrs M Sympathetically informing Facebook that I've smacked my bonce.
Mrs M checks the menu.  She may have regretted not booking our meal here.

Bruises apart, a fine start.

The White Horse, 50 North Bar Street, Lecons Affinity & Everards Tiger

We move on towards the town centre into a pub that I am going to file under "unique".

No photo from outside as there are a couple of smokers who I am sure would appreciate their anonymity.

Inside, its a mixture of styles.  First impressions are that it looks like some has ramraided an auction house.  Full of trinkets, ornaments and pub related paraphernalia.  Seating wise, its just as eclectic - large chesterfield in front of a open wire, standard pub tables and oddly out of kilter American diner style booths.

White Horse
View from a Chesterfield
Before ordering drinks, my eyes are drawn to the signage.  I always worry about pubs that need to tell you how to behave.

White Horse
I'm nice.  As long as I don't bang my head
To the bar, which is unmanned and guarded by some very refreshed men, who hardly move to let me peak through to see the wares.  Eventually, one of the more refreshed men asks the group why his watch is saying "6:20".  They all gather around for a look, presenting a gap for me to squeeze in and try a rarely spotted Champion Beer of Norfolk - Lecons Afinity.

By the time I have been served, my new gentlemen friends have collectively agreed that it is indeed 6:20 and all is good in the timepiece world.

White Horse
Another View from the Chesterfield
The distraction had stopped me from checking my change and I was slightly concerned that a pint and a half of cider had resulted in only shrapnel from a tenner.

Are we talking London Prices here?

2nd round proves it - £5.80 and as much as I enjoyed the Affinity, I decided to go for the equally lesser spotted Everards Tiger.

Great beer.  Interesting decor.  Characters.

The Exchange, 50 High Street, Nothing

No matter how much I plead that my visit will not be complete unless I tick off all the GBG entries in a town, I just cannot convince Mrs M to cross the threshold of a Wetherspoons.

The Coach and Horses, Butchers Row, Old Hooky

GBG Pubs done (sort off), it's Mrs M's booking for food.  I'm delighted she has chosen a Hook Norton tied house.

Coach and Horses
My Sort of Pub
Not one, but two Birthday parties are in full swing - so we had to join in the signing twice.

Tripadvisor had come up trumps here - the food was exceptional, the service was that good that I added a cash tip to card payment and the beer was outstanding.

A proper result, if you are looking for good food.

Ye Olde Reinde Deer, 47 Parsons Street, Old Hooky

And we arrive at the best pub of the night.  Lets admire its qualities;
  • History - Medieval Building, with ties to the English Civil War
  • Architecturally stunning
  • Full range of Hook Norton Real Ales
    • Old Hooky was superb
  • Live Music
  • Busy, but easy access to a well staffed bar
And its not in the 2017 Good Beer Guide.

Ye Olde Reindeer
Ye Olde Reine Deer
Ye Olde Reindeer
See, I haven't spelled it incorrectly

If you had foreign friends and wanted to show them a perfect example of an English Market Town pub, this would be it.

We sit and take in the Americana live music - Seastick Steve crossed with early Johnny Cash.

I could have stayed all night but Mrs M declared that we had done enough to declare Banbury a success.

Ye Olde Reindeer
To Banbury - where its an average of £3.80 per pint

Sunday, 15 January 2017

14/01/16 - Millennium Way Summary

Number of Stages - 44
Start - Pershore, Worcestershire on the 1st June 2013
Finish - Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire on the 14th January 2017
Total Distance Walked - 268 Miles
Geocaches Found - 244

The Millennium Way Short Walks
The Millennium Way was brought to my attention through Geocaching Alerts. I was on holiday in Norfolk and received email notification that a new geocache trail had been laid along Stage 32.  If you look closely at the above picture and you can see the Geocaching Symbol against a couple of stages.  The cache listing pointed me to their web site, where I found that Peter Travis had painstakingly detailed 44 short walks that took in the full length of the Long Distance Path.

I'm always looking for walking inspiration, so it was a no-brainer to complete this.  In June 2013, I vowed to complete one walk per month, starting at Pershore and doing the walks in sequence until I reached Middleton Cheney - three and a half years later.

The walking routes are perfect in every way.  A nice map, directions, indications of items of interest and most importantly, nearly all of them finish at a pub.  Absolutely perfect for my needs.

Thank you for the maintenance of the web site and way markers on the ground.  Route finding could not have been easier.

Highlights - Of course, there were many.  Pershore to Henley in Arden are on my doorstep and I have walked the areas extensively but it was always good to be back in the area and discovering new paths.  The areas around Berkswell and Meriden provided some fascinating history and if anything, we went further back in time when walking around Warwick and Kenilworth - with their castles providing a fine photographic backdrop to the walks.

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle from the Millennium Way
Lowlights - I was looking forward to discovering Royal Leamington Spa but found it a real dump.  A dump where if people do clean up after their dogs, they tie the poo bags onto the trees.  The Top 10 County Pub was also closed at Lunchtime.   A minor distraction - don't let this put you off :-) Unfortunately, my trusty side kick - Molly the Labradoodle - didn't quite make it to the end.  I'll forever be in her debt for getting me into walking in the first place and changing my life so completely.

Pershore Bridge
Kicking off the Millennium Way in 2013 with a 10 year old Labradoodle
Last (or First) Millennium Way Sign
Finishing off the Millennium Way in 2017

Each Stage was individually blogged.

Stage 1 - Pershore, 9m
Stage 2 - Stoulton, 7.5m
Stage 3 - Stoulton, 6m
Stage 4 - Crowle, 7m
Stage 5 - Upper Snodsbury, 3m
Stage 6 - Flyford Flavell, 7.5m
Stage 7 - Flyford Flavell, 4.5m
Stage 8 - Inkberrow, 4.5m
Stage 9 - Inkberrow, 6m
Stage 10 - New End, 5m
Stage 11 - Alcester, 6m
Stage 12 - Coughton, 6.5m
Stage 13 - Studley, 8m
Stage 14 - Henley-in-Arden, 5.5m
Stage 15 - Henley-in-Arden, 5.5m
Stage 16 - Kingswood, 7.5m
Stage 17 - Hockley Heath, 4m
Stage 18 - Packwood, 4m
Stage 19 - Heronfield, 7m
Stage 20 - Barston, 4m
Stage 21 - Balsall Common, 5m
Stage 22 - Meriden, 9m
Stage 23 - Berkswell, 4.5m
Stage 24 - Berkswell, 4.5m
Stage 25 - Burton Green, 7m
Stage 26 - Burton Green, 6m
Stage 27 - Kenilworth, 7m
Stage 28 - Leek Wootton, 7m
Stage 29 - Warwick, 5m
Stage 30 - Leamington Spa, 5.5m
Stage 31 - Cubbington, 6.5m
Stage 32 - Offchurch, 7m
Stage 33 - Hunningham, 4m
Stage 34 - Long Itchington - 6.5m
Stage 35 - Long Itchington - 5m
Stage 36 - Napton, 6m
Stage 37 - Napton, 5m
Stage 38 - Priors Marston, 5.5m
Stage 39 - Hellidon, 6m
Stage 40 - Upper Boddington, 5.5m
Stage 41 - Lower Boddington, 5.5m
Stage 42 - Cropredy, 8m
Stage 43 - Chipping Warden, 10m
Stage 44 - Middleton Cheney, 8m

The Millennium Way Flickr Album

Millennium Way Summary

So now it's finished, what's next?  Well, I did discover the Heart of England Way on this walk.  The official guide book shows it can be completed by 32 linked circular walks.

It shall be done by 2020.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

14/01/17 - Millennium Way Stage 44 and Grand Finale

Distance - 8.25 Miles
Geocaches - 0
Walk Inspiration
Pub - George and Dragon, Chacombe, Everards Tiger
Surprisingly, the official route of the final stage of the Millennium Way doesn't finish at a pub.

After 3.5 years, 44 monthly trips out, 268 Miles, 244 Geocaches and Mrs Mappiman muscling in on the glory, we need somewhere suitable to celebrate the final leg of this epic walk.

The George and Dragon at Chacombe will more than suffice and we make this our starting point for the day.

George and Dragon, Chacombe
George and Dragon, Chacombe
The walking is typically Northamptonshire - easy, flat, agricultural.  We head North on the Jurassic Way.  The weather is the only thing that can threaten our good spirits.  After a week of promising glorious sunshine, we are left with sleet.  There are few complaints until we pick up a lane near Upper Wardington and the smell hits us.

My fair weather walking partner finally loses it and mutters "what am I doing out in this weather, walking next to a pile of cow sh*te"?

Its a fair question - but when you have booked a Super Saver Advance No Refund Premier Inn so that you can celebrate in the fleshpots of Banbury, there can be no going back.

Jurassic Way
Jurassic Way - Agricultural Northamptonshire
Heaps of Sh*te
Entertaining Women Mappiman Style - 2 Degree walking next to a mountain of cow sh*te

We are making great progress.  The lack of gradient and geocaches mean we can just plod on with the miles.  Northamptonshire doesn't really do hills.  There's one gentle climb on this walk.  And they have named it "The Hill" on the OS Map.  No need for greater descriptions.

Views from the Hill
View from the Hill
The church spire of Middleton Cheney marks the end of the Millennium Way and we can see it in the distance.  Plod our way across sheep fields until we hit the village.  Pretty little place, but we fail to find a cafe and the pub is on the opposite side to where we need to be.

Packed lunch is taken in the only place to offer shelter.  The bus stop - eventually shared with Banbury bound pensioner shoppers.

Lunch done, we tour the Church, looking for the bunting that proclaims the end of this great adventure.  We make do with finding the last Millennium Way Sign post.

All Saints Church, Middleton Cheney
Middleton Cheney Church
Last (or First) Millennium Way Sign
The End (or Start of the Millennium Way)

A mile left to get us to where we can really celebrate.  We head back along the Jurassic Way, through the grounds of Chacombe House.

Grounds of Chacombe House
The Pub is down there, somewhere

We find the George and Dragon.  The packed lunch was possibly the best decision that we could have made, as the kitchen is closed for refurbishment.  Fortunately, the beer was in top condition.

Don't see Everards brews too frequently and it was a pleasure to be re-acquainted with their Tiger Copper Ale in a busy pub.

Wi-Fi made use of to share the news that the journey was over.

Everards Tiger
Mrs Mappiman uploading Facebook Photos and forgetting the Sleet
The Millennium Way proved perfect walking inspiration and is perfectly maintained.  A full summary of all 44 stages can be found here.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

08/01/17 - The Bell at Avening and Roundabout Geocaching

Distance - 6 Miles
Geocaches - 34
First Geocache

Misty Lanes
Play Misty for Me
You would think that the weather conditions portrayed in the above photograph would be perfect for the clandestine hobby of Geocaching.

Think on.  In the course of this decent Geocaching round in the Cotswolds, I was muggled by the following;

  • Jogging ladies in dayglo lycra
  • Cyclists
  • Kamikaze farmers in battered Land Rovers
  • More sedate farmers hand feeding two sheep
  • Various dog walkers, including the one with a cross between a husky, staffordshire bull terrier and a border collie.  This was one dog.  No, I'm not sure how it was created either.  It did have odd coloured eyes.  I asked if it was named Bowie. It wasn't.
  • Americans.  On Horseback.
  • Another family of Geocachers  (Nice to meet you, Carylr and Otterholic)

There is no need for the CO to panic.  With the exception of the last category, no-one else quite saw what I was up to.

The conditions didn't really lend itself to the walk.  I saw little.  I photographed less.  The Geocache trail is perfectly executed - all nice and easy to find and a satisfying bonus to solve by paying particular attention to caches #5 and #23.

Bet its lovely in the Sunshine
The walk is a figure of 8 and named after a circular group of trees that are represented on the OS Map as the Roundabout.  The trail takes us past them twice.  The first time, I couldn't even see them but the mist had cleared as I made the 2nd pass and made my way to the suitably apt bonus.

The Roundabout
The Roundabout
Thanks to the Haiselden family for a  well thought out trail.

I'm delivered back into Avening at 12:15pm and with a change of footwear, I can investigate post walk refreshment.

There may be two pubs in Avening.  The Queen Matilda is named after the William the Conqueror's wife, who stole the land from a previous suitor, who spurned her advances.  In a previous life, it used to be a pub - with the Cross Inn proudly adorned on its flanks.  It now appears to be a luxury Bed and Breakfast, although the large number of barrels outside suggest all is not lost.
The Cross Inn or the Queen Matilda
The B&B formerly known as the Cross Inn
No questioning the pedigree of the other establishment.  The Bell is a classic looking village pub.  Its that full of regulars that the bar staff are berating the elderly chap at the bar for his attempts at yesterday's crossword.  I am assuming he went home in-between.

Four real ales on - and as I am in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, I maintained loyalty with a Wickwar Bob.  The brewery is near by.  I found it on a walk last year.

The Bell, Avening
Perfect Village Pub
Bob at the Bell
Wickwar Bob

Saturday, 7 January 2017

07/01/17 - Caer Caradoc and the Green Dragon

Distance - 6 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Magazine - Walk 11, May 2016
Pub - The Green Dragon, Little Stretton, Ludlow Gold

Much debate was had on the drive up to Church Stretton about how its best to tackle the hills.  Mrs Mappiman prefers a quick steep ascent.  I think she is mental - slow and steady is my mantra.

I've walked Caer Caradoc before.  I know who's going to going to get the most satisfaction from today's walking - its a real lung burster of a hill.

We start by lane walking along the Roman Road of North Watling Street, delivering us into the countryside and the first of three Geocaches - hidden in a little dell.  The Southern Flanks of Caer Caradoc await... Mrs Mappiman sets the pace, losing layers as she climbs.  Is it possible to be hill walking in January with no Jacket?

I'm bringing up the rear... not lagging behind, you understand, just taking many photographs and ensuring we are heading in the right direction.

Halfway up Caer Caradoc
Halfway Up to Three Fingers Rock
Caer Caradoc is a real roller coaster of a hill, with ups and downs aplenty.  The first summit is Three Fingers Rock and home to the 2nd Cache of the day.

Geocache at Three Fingers Rock
Geocache 2 of the day - looking over most of the Shtopshire Hills
A drop and then a climb to the true summit, with its iron age ramparts.  Wonderful views over most of Northern Shropshire and if anything, an even steeper descent down to Little Caradoc.

Shropshire Views
Views over Northern Shropshire

Little Caradoc
Looking Down on Little Caradoc - white blobs, sheep.
The Gradient

Its a shame to lose the height - especially when we have an ascent of Hope Bowdler to come.  I take point, walking much faster than my partner on the flat.  I get to test the ground first, determining its on the wrong side of boggy and having the dilemma of passing on a warning.  Its always more fun just to wait, catching the swearing on the breeze.

Hope Bowdler is a doddle in comparison and provides some views over the Southern Shropshire hills and the mist shrouded Titterstone Clee Hill.  We drop down into the village, in the vain hope of finding a cafe.   A sign for bed and breakfast is even misread as just "Breakfast".  No need to panic, Hazler Lane takes us back to the car in less than 10 minutes.

Looking South from Hope Bowdler
South Shropshire Hills from Bowdler Hill
Just time for the "Welcome to Church Stretton" Cache, where I get talking with an elderly rambler in Plus Fours tucked into knee length socks and a flat cap.

I ask "are you on your way out?"

He laughs that hard he has to hold on to me to stop himself from collapsing.  When he regains his composure he states "I'm 94, I think I am on my bloody way out"!

This makes my day and I hope to be doing the same at that age.  We are slightly concerned he is going the way we went and hope he knows what he's in for.  Still, maybe the way to live to 94 is to regularly climb big steep hills.

All that remains is post walk refreshment.  The Good Beer Guide has one entry in the area - a couple of miles away in Little Stretton.   The Green Dragon is an example of how pubs can be a success, even in the most remote of locations.

It's packed at 12:30pm, but they squeeze us in.  Perfect service, superb sandwiches and the Ludlow Gold is Pint of the Year.

Green Dragon, Little Stretton
Right to be proud of their GBG Status
Ludlow Gold
Ludlow Gold - Early contender in Pint of the Year

Saturday, 31 December 2016

31/12/16 - The Griffin, Chipping Warden - Millennium Way Stage 43

Distance - 10 Miles
Geocaches - 6
Walk Inspiration

A weather warning for fog on the last day of the year.  There is no choice but to head out.  I am committed to doing a walk per month on the Millennium Way, as I work my way through the 44 stages.  I cannot afford to fail on the penultimate leg and tomorrow will be too late.  A new month.  A new year.

Like many legs before it, this starts at a pub.  I spied the Griffin at Chipping Warden on Stage 42 and it looked a fine example of a great countryside pub.  I am sure it will provide suitable  refreshment after this ten mile monster - the longest of all the stages.

The walk is a figure of 8 in the largely flat Northamptonshire countryside.  The early stages share the route with a Battefield trail.  You have to love this country.  To the untrained eye, this may look like a pretty ordinary field but 500 years before I was born, it was the scene of a major battle in the War of the Roses.  There are information boards and signage to link this site with other battlesites (Egdehill, Cropredy) in the area.

Nortrhamptonshire Countryside
Edgecote Battlefield.
There's also a handful of geocaches in the area.  In Northamptonshire, they don't like to give hints.  At the end of the walk, I am quite pleased with my haul of 6 found, 1xDNF.

If I had set off later, there could have been three pubs to visit.  Its a shame that I have to miss out on the three conies at Thorpe Mandeville.  It was a fine enough looking pub on its own, but the date on the sundial showed just how old the building could be.

Three Conies at Thorpe Mandeville
Drovers Inn - The Three Conies
Three Conies at Thorpe Mandeville
1622 - Hardly seems credible.

After the Church Micro Geocache, its over fields (given over to the production of electricity) to Culworth.  Another fine Church (alas, the Church Micro was the DNF) and the promise of another pub.  At 11am, I knew it would be too early and I head back onto the paths.

Little to report as I make my way to the apex of the figure of 8 on a long stretch of countryside.

Nortrhamptonshire Countryside
The Centre of the Figure of 8
The walk does have one last surprise, the C18th Edgecote House and Church.  If it looks familiar, its because it was used in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on the BBC.

Edgcote Manor
Sweeping into Edgcote
Edgcote Manor
Pride and Prejudice

I arrive back at Chipping Warden at the pub friendly time of 12:15.  Change of boots and I am in for a first ever Marstons Bitter.  My hopes for the pub were met - a nice village boozer.  One couple eating, one bloke at the bar with the paper and another getting excited by the horse racing.

The Griffin, Chipping Warden
Marstons Bitter.  Paper Reader.
Fog permitting, the Millennium Way will be completed, on track, in Jan 2017.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

27/12/16 - The Wye Valley from Chepstow

Distance - 8.8 Miles
Geocaches - 7
Pub - The Chepstow Castle, Bath Ales Gem
Walk Inspiration - Country Walking Magazine, March 2005, Walk 15

2016's annual Xmas visit to the Wye Valley starts in Wales, at Chepstow, but the majority of the walk is in Gloucestershire. We have high hopes for the town and what it can offer for post walking refreshment. Fortunately we leave early enough to avoid the traffic and crowds gathering for the Welsh Grand National.

The sound from the racecourse tannoy provides a rather surreal background... alternating between hymns, anthems and breathless commentary from the racing.

Chepstow castle provides a most dramatic starting point for any walk and provides flavour of the history that will follow.
Chepstow Castle
Parking at the Castle Dell Car Park
View from the Old Chepstow Bridge
Soon Into England as we cross the Chepstow Bridge for this view

We quickly pick up Offa's Dyke path, taking us uphill and past some impressive stately homes with commanding views and our 2nd historical architectural item of interest, marked as the Look Out Tower on the OS Map.  Someone has granted permission to build some less suitable bungalows in the grounds.

Lookout Tower
Chepstow Look Out Tower
We keep the Wye to our left but rather worryingly lose all the height gained, as we follow paths that are best described as "adventurous".  The highlight (or lowlight, dependent on how you like scrambling) is getting across a bolder field that leave you perilously close to finding out just how deep the mud on a tidal river bank can be.  On my return home, I check the walking instructions, thinking I have made a mistake in route planning, but no - the warning was there in black and white "sure footedness and care are required".

It's well worth crossing, as we are delivered to a horseshoe bend in the river, which used to host the village of Lancaut.  All that remains is an abandoned church, nestled under the high cliffs.  The oldest legible gravestone is 1739.  A beautiful, serene spot.

Lancaut - Under the Cliffs
Lancaut Church
A Church that pre-dates the Normans

Having dropped back down to the valley floor, we are of course obliged to re-conquer the heights.  A stiff climb, a small amount of road walking and we are back on a fine stretch of Offa's Dyke Path. Occasional glimpses of the Wye are offered through the trees but there are no decent photo opportunities until we start to head back from Tidenham Chase.  The Severn Estuary comes into view, along with the suspension bridge that will take us home.  You don't need to pay to get back into England.

Views over Severn Estaury
Views over the Severn Estaury
The route back takes us along the Gloucestershire Way, following a disused railway line, delivering us to cache locations and with welcome lanes to take a break from the mud.

Gloucester Way
A less muddy section of the Gloucestershire Way
Three hours after setting off, we are back into Chepstow.  In addition to walking, my other passion is knocking off the Good Beer Guide Pubs of the UK.  There are two detailed in Chepstow (and a Social Club, with the added faff of getting in as a non-member).

One is a Wetherspoons.  A long debate on route about how pubs get into the GBG does not change Mrs Mappiman's stance that she will not be seen dead in one.  Surely a Good Pub has to do do Good Food is her misguided, although eventually discussion winning argument.  The Bell Hanger is walked on by.

The Bell Hanger
Locals Interested in What is Being Photo'd.
We head up through the town centre dripping in history but not so many pubs that offer an outwardly decent appearance to Mrs Mappiman and her quest for good food.  The two meals for a tenner offer at the Kings Head, was not going to do it, so we check out the other GBG Entry, the Queens Head.  A debate about whether a micro pub does food was unrequired, due to Xmas opening hours.

Queens Head
GBG #2 - The Queens Head
Queens Head
Its 12:30pm on the 27th December

I have a internal question to answer as to whether I can tick them in my book, having not stopped in for refreshment.  I've decided I will.  Like Walking 1000 Miles in a year, you make you own rules.

So, its back down town to Tripadvisor's Number 1 food pub, the Chepstow Castle.  Whereas I use a book, Mrs Mappiman uses an App..... and today could prove which is best.

Chepstow Castle
The Chepstow Castle
At first, we are so cold, Mrs Mappiman thinks we are in the wrong place.  Her App says that it has a roaring open fire, medieval tapestries and suits of armour.  I am sent to investigate and come back with a positive that all three are present and correct but the fire is merely ashes.

Three real ales are on - and in homage to my university going son, I go for a Bath Ales Gem.   A decent enough Amber Ale.

And the food?  I'm still debating whether putting a fried egg on a chicken sandwich represents a crime against nature.

Chepstow Castle
Bath Ales Gem