Monday, 24 July 2017

23/07/17 - Wye to the Thames Summary

Number of Stages - 12
Start - Hereford on 07/05/16
Finish - Oxford on 23/07/17
Total Distance Walked -  130.5 Miles
Geocaches Found - 68

I forgotten how I found out about this walk, but there's no doubt on where I got the guide book from.  What did I used to do before eBay?

The Book
Think I paid more than £2.50 as well
Published in 1995, it details 12 walks that run between the railway stations on the Cotswold Line.

The Start is Hereford (The Wye) and the end is Oxford (The Thames).  Each stage begins at a railway station, involves a ramble ranging between 5 and 18.5 miles and then catches the train back to your starting point.  Simple but effective.

And with the exception of the industrial estate at Pershore, all of the paths remain.

The walking is uniformly excellent and you pass through some great Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire villages/towns, with some cracking boozers.   I don't think I will ever forget nearly getting press-ganged into the Ledbury faction of the Morris Men at the Prince of Wales pub on Leg 1.

Everyone knows how good the walking is in Malvern but the qualities of Worcestershire Walking in Evesham (arrival by hand pulled ferry) and Pershore are there to be explored on this route.

This of course leads to the honeypots of the Cotswolds, including Moreton in the Marsh, the start of the Cotswold Way in Chipping Campden and Sezincote Hall.

Oxford is a fitting finale to any adventure.

The Morris Men
Almost Joining the Morris Men in Ledbury
Cotswold Glory
A Typical Cotswold Walking Vista

Man, they got free parking at all the stations back in the nineties.  Now you can expect to have to pay via an App or phone call.   After walking for 5 hours, its a little saddening to get whisked back to you starting point in less than 10 minutes and often paying the best part of a fiver for such a short journey.

And GWR seem to stop operating for a couple of hours at lunch time.  Time it wrong and you could be hanging around for a train for rather a while.

The Stages
Blog for each Stage.

Stage 1 - Hereford to Ledbury
Stage 2 - Ledbury to Colwall
Stage 3 - Colwall to Malvern
Stage 4 - Malvern to Worcester
Stage 5 - Worcester to Pershore
Stage 6 - Pershore to Evesham
Stage 7 - Evesham to Honeybourne
Stage 8 - Honeybourne to Moreton in Marsh
Stage 9 - Moreton in Marsh to Kingham
Stage 10 - Kingham to Charlbury
Stage 11 - Charlbury to Hanborough
Stage 12 - Hanborough to Oxford

The Photo Album on Flickr 

Wye to the Thames
Flickr Album (arrows to move through photos)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

23/07/17 - Wye to the Thames - Walk 12 - Hanborough to Oxford

Distance - 11.5 Miles
Geocaches - 3
Previous Walks - Walk 1Walk 2Walk 3Walk 4Walk 5Walk 6Walk 7Walk 8Walk 9Walk 10, Walk 11
Pubs - The Trout Inn, Godstow and the Perch Inn, Binsey

So the journey ends.

I found an old book that detailed 12 walks between the stations of the Cotswold Line Railway.  The plan is you start at a station, have a lovely bimble and catch the train back to your starting position.

I set off on 7/05/16 from Hereford, completed a stage roughly once a month and find myself arriving in Oxford at the end of the line, just over a year later.

As is custom with the end of a project, a celebratory night out is planned.

So this means the first challenge is to get from our hotel (don't do this on a Saturday kids, Oxford hotels are about three times more expensive than on a Sunday) to Hanborough to start the walk.   A combination of bus (conversation to amuse Mrs M with the bus driver - so I can use an all day ticket all day?  As many times as I want?) and the first train out of Oxford on a Sunday means we are heading out into the countryside at about 11:30am.

A post walk nap is in jeopardy.

Hanborough Station has a handy reminder of the journey that has been completed.

How far have we come?
I've walked that
Early stages of the walk are what we have come to expect from Oxfordshire.  Fine views, woodland, pretty little villages.   The first up is Church Hanborough, containing a potential refreshment point in the Hand and Shears pub.   Too early for us and too many miles left to do.

Pinsley Wood
Woodland Welcome - Straight through Pinsley Wood
Oxfordshire Views
Oxfordshire Countryside Views
Church Hanborough
Mrs M at Church Hanborough

About an hours walking on overgrown paths, disturbing the tiny Muntjac deer that Mrs M mistakes for "Ginger Dogs" and we are in the deeply weird place of Eynsham.

The approach is down a bridleway which has around 10 decreipt caravans - all flat tyres, broken windows, covered in green moss and inhabited by a community.  A community of what, I am unsure - all young to middle aged men, tending makeshift fires and looking at ramblers encroaching on their manor.

The town itself appears to have something of identity crisis.  The housing estate is a mixture of council houses, with rather posh new builds with names like "Orchard Cottage".   The architecture of the place is summed up in the town centre - a turreted church next to a terrible 1970's style shop.

Eynsham Main Street
We took advantage of the benches opposite the Re Lion (d had fallen off) to take lunch.

Not much walking until we reach the Thames, crossing the Toll Bridge at Swinford where a man in a hut must question his own existence at having to collect 5p from passing cars.  Ramblers go free.

Swinford Toll
Is it Worth It?
River Thames
Over the Thames

It's the Thames Path most of the way now, but the route saves us a mile by taking us inland past Wytham Great Wood.   Its about 9 miles in and we vow to stop at the next pub.

This is provided by the Trout Inn at Godstow Lock.  Like the wasps that attacked everyone in the beer garden, the punters really swarm to this place on a warm summers day.   The finer points of queuing at bars needed to be pointed out to a couple of impatient pensioners, who really should know better.

Mrs M wondered how much change I got back from my two pints.  A not unreasonable £2 from a tenner is the answer, although the Old Hooky was not in great condition.

The Trout
Like Wasps to a Honeypot
Old Hooky at the Trout
Old Hooky looks worse than I remember it

Godstow provided some unexpected history, with an Abbey one side of the river and a nunnery the other side.

Godstow Nunnery
Godstow Nunnery
For thirsty ramblers, the next pub stop is not too far downstream.  About another mile on in Binsey is the Perch Inn.  Its slightly off the Thames Path but their signage and dramatic entrance through a series of fairy light lit arches on a sunken path make it impossible to ignore.

Entrance to the Perch
Cannot be ignored
The Perch and their Shed
The Outside Bar

Another Old Hooky here - gravity fed from a barrel but much clearer than in the Trout, even if it did lose all life within three sips.

Refreshment stops over, its all riverbank walking into Oxford, where we meet the 500 bus at the train station to whisk us back to the Hotel.  Its 5pm.   Mrs M insists she can get an hour in before we head out to celebrate properly.

Oxford Awaits
Oxford Captured in a Picture - The Thames, a boat and a bike riding student
As with all adventures, a summary blog is available.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

18/07/17 - CAMRA Good Beer Guide Pubs of Reading - Part 1

The Number 6 Emerald Bus whisks me away from the Holiday Inn South into the Town Centre.

I'm on a mission to see how many of the 8 CAMRA Good Beer Guide entries in Reading I can tick off.  Its not going to be all of them as a) its a school night and b) I will be back in the area soon and can save some for other adventures.

I'm not a regular bus user.  You can tell by the way I have Google Maps running on the phone so that I know roughly when to ring the bell to get off.  Catch a glimpse of Hop Leaf (1 of the 8) and note its location for the next visit.  I'm going to tackle the West first, and alight at the nearest bus stop to Castle Street.

Castle Street Tap, Castle Street, Bad Seed Brewery Old Skool

Castle Tap, Reading
The Collapsed Sign behind the pedestrian tells you all you need to know
There's a certain frisson to entering a new pub for the first time.  What beholds the thirsty traveler as they push through the door and enter the premises?  Will dart players pause mid arrow?  Will you be advised to stay away from the Oracle?

Nothing much happens.   The single front room looks like this at 7:30pm on a Tuesday.

Castle Tap, Reading
At least there is a Dart Board
The bar is similarly deserted.  At least this gives me time to make my selection and I do see a Bad Seed beer, a brewery that I have been following on Twitter, simply as they must be Nick Cave fans.

When it becomes clear that I have made my mind up - the only "punter" in the place leaves his laptop and headphones next to the bar to come and serve me.   The only communication between us "Old Skool Please", "£3.90".

I was expecting at least a "Fine Choice, Sir".

Not much to explore in the main bar, so out around the back for the giant TV screen in a back room and a collection of drinkers sat in the courtyard.

The beer didn't disappoint.

The Nag's Head, Russell Street, West Berkshire Brewery Good Old Boy

It must be a problem having another, well established Real Ale Bar, just around the corner.  Maybe this explains the lack of Tap customers and the fact that this place fills up nicely in the evening.   Or maybe its because the staff and other patrons interact with strangers (and when I say interact, I mean pinch their paper when they go to the loo).

The Nag's Head has near legendary status.   Their glassware announce there is a beer festival 365 days a year.

The Nag's Head, Reading
Down a side road, just out of Town
The Nag's Head, Reading
Plenty of Choice at the Daily Beer Festival
There's 12 real ales on but the staff are happy to help you decide, offering advice and tasters.

Tonight it was West Berkshire Brewery (when in Rome) Good Old Boy.   My sort of pint, a dark classic bitter.

Enjoyed with the Sudoku (at least whilst my bladder held out), admiring the surroundings.  The CAMRA awards, the Good Beer Guides going back over the years kept out of reach above the bar and the light fitting made of Malt Whisky tubes.  An inspiration for my next lounge makeover.

The Nag's Head, Reading
Awards Aplenty
Just as I am thinking of moving onto the next place, something meteorological happens outside.  The first of the summer thunder storms.

There's worse places to be trapped for 90 minutes.   The other 6 will have to wait.

And I'll have to make do with a Pork Scratching/Crisp combo for my tea.

The Nag's Head, Reading
Rain stops Ticking

Saturday, 15 July 2017

15/0/17 - Heart of England Way - Stage 4 - Castle Ring

Distance - 6.5 Miles
Geocaches - 20
Pubs - The Nelson Inn - Olde Trip, Park Gate Inn - Lancaster Bomber
Previous Stages - Stage 1Stage 2, Stage 3

After three months and 3 walks, the Heart of England Way finally takes me out of Cannock Chase. The walking there has been fine but something was missing, as the experiences left me slightly underwhelmed.

That something has been identified on Stage 4.  Geocaches and pubs.

After finding about a grand total of 10 caches on the first 3 legs, I manage to triple my count for the Long Distance Path today.

And after having passed next to no pubs (There is one at the start in Milford, but I wouldn't recommend it), I walk past 4 today.

It's all kicking off in Staffordshire.

The walking is far more varied today.  The woods are left behind for common land, country lanes and some very good footpaths.

There might even have been elevated views over the West Midlands but the weather put paid to that.

Views over the West Midlands
Looking over Gentleshaw
It's all downhill, diving into bushes for cache retrieval and working my way across lanes and common land.  Good walking, good caching but little to photo.

A couple of pubs are passed.  Tempted by the Drill Inn but at 11:47am, the door was firmly bolted.   Only 20 minutes further on before I hit the Nelson Inn in Creswell Green.

Halfway round is always a good place to take a breather.

Nelson Inn
Nelson Inn
Nelson Inn
Olde Trip

I can tell by the amount of cars pulling emergency stops that this is a hard place to find.  I imagine it was a run down sort of place that has had a make over.   They've added "Country Dining" to the signage.

It's immaculate.  The toilets smell as chemically fresh as a municipal swimming pool, no doubt scrubbed to within an inch of their life.  It caters for families, with small kids.  I tried to take my pint outside but was beaten by very wet garden furniture.

And the pint?  There was a choice of 5, most were uninspiring and well known (think Abbot Ale) and I thought I would go for a Olde Trip, following a taster.

It was Greene King.

Moving on, its all uphill, with not quite the same amount of caches.  One cache does offer decent views at Ground Zero.

Views from GZ
The walking back is OK, but the planned route does have to be changed twice because of lost footpaths.  I really ought to get on to Staffs Council about the one at 52°41.822'N, 1°54.049'W, the footpath north has been fenced over with no access and a detour along Lower Lane was required.

Some encounters with Staffs Wildlife - past a field of happy free range pigs and a through a field of laid back bovines and I'm at the Park Gate Inn.

A much more satisfactory walk on the HOEW.  I'm positively itching to get back for Stage 5 and hit the fleshpots of Lichfield.

The Park Gate Inn is a former farmhouse - complete with a well outside and a similar, rather scary hole in the main bar - leading to the wine cellars.  Fortunately protected by iron railings.  It too, has the Country Pub Eating motif pasted to the sign but has a more down to earth feel than the Nelson.

Park Gate
Round the Back of the Park Gate
Park Gate
Next to the Well

Four real ales here - two from Sharp's (Doom Bar and its shyer brother, Atlantic).  A rather too lively Lancaster Bomber was chosen.   It wasn't the best.

Whiled away the time in the garden researching the history of the pub.  This article provided the most interest on Staffordshire Pub and Paranormal goings on.  But I was forced to stop reading once I got to the bit about the Sasquatch of Cannock Chase.

Hard to read with tears in your eyes.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

10/07/17 - CAMRA Edinburgh Pub Walks - Walk 4 - The Castle

Another visit to the most beautiful of European Capitals, using the CAMRA Book of Pub Walks to explore it's nooks and crannies.

After using the guide to get reacquainted with the new town in Walk 6, I'll use the same approach to investigate the area around the castle.

All uphill from Princes Street, but a nice break is lined up at the foot of Cockburn Street.

The Malt Shovell, Cockburn Street, Belhaven IPA
Malt Shovel, Edinburgh
Foot of Cockburn Street
If you had to describe a chainy, Greene King pub, this would be it.  Big menus, corporate branding and a tariff to make anyone draw in air over their teeth.... even the book author when he saw my tweet, capturing the beer selection chalk board.

Everything is north of £4.  The Green King Amplified coming in at a whopping £4.70.  Still, the pump dispenser is in the shape of a microphone, so you get some value.

Malt Shovel, Edinburgh
Eye Watering
My IPA was functional - much like the pub.   I wouldn't end the walk here, unless you want to dine at the lovely Mexican next door.

To work off my Chicken Mole, I followed the book route up News Steps.   Sherpa's and oxygen recommended.

The Castle Arms, Johnson Terrace, Stewarts Edinburgh Gold

I've been travelling to Edinburgh regularly for work and pleasure for many years.  It remains the only city where I've been asked to leave a premises with my teenage children when we have looked to get a meal.

So it was a touch surprising to find this place full of American families eating Tex Mex at 9pm.   They must apply for different licences, the closer you get to the touristy bits.

I am unsure I have been to the Castle Arms before.   I certainly should have.   It's a fair summary of the geography of the city.  You can enter through a little door at one level and go looking for the loos, going down, down deeper on down, until you have lost all the height you have gained from climbing News Steps.

Castle Arms
The Castle Arms
The view from the Terrace over West Bow makes it all worthwhile.

View from back of Castle Arms
Smoker's Paradise
If you can find an exit that doesn't involve a final abseil, one of Edinburgh's finest, the Bow Bar, is down below.

Worth the visit and one to remember, should I find myself looking for food with little people.

The Ensign Ewert, Lawnmarket, Stewart's Edinbugh Gold

Going off piste now.  This, surprisingly, is not in the Guide.  Not in this walk or any other in the book. It's got the credentials - established 1680, and a lovely story about the Hero of the Battle of Waterloo.

I've been before and liked the way that the landlord would decide not enough tourists were drinking and close up at a time to suit himself.  You don't tend to get that elsewhere too much.

Enticed by the live fiddle music coming from within and to ensure that the interior had not changed like the exterior, I ventured in.

Ensign Ewert
Lick of Paint
Pleased to report the full length painting of Waterloo is all present and correct.

And I can probably shed some light why it didn't make the CAMRA guide.   Same pint as over the road and this was a ghastly colour.  More gloop than gold.

I should have complained but how can you when fiddles are blasting and Canadians are working their way through a Whisky menu.

The Jolly Judge, James Court, Applecross Red Rock

There is a sign on the Royal Mile for this cracking boozer, hidden down one of the little court yards but really, you need someone to show you where it is.  Once you know, you'll keep coming back.

I was introduced to it on a previous visit by joining in with a guided "Literary Pub Walk".  A great idea, should you ever find yourself in a strange city and needing entertainment.  We did the same in New York.  There wasn't such an option in Wolverhampton.

Jolly Judge
Once you know its there!
A great locALE pint here, where they allowed a tester to make sure it met with the Mappiman seal of approval.  Cheapest of the night at £3.25.   Are you watching Malt Shovel?

Always a good atmosphere in here and tonight no exception.   Watching a load of Americans try and win a pub quiz about the Lions tour was quite interesting.   Even with Smartphones, the closest score to winning the £200 clean sweep prize money was a 4 out of 6.

Prize money is rolling over to next Monday.   Get yourself down there, quizzers.

The Halfway House, Fleshmarket Close, Stewarts 80'

Tonight's new visit.  I thought I had done Edinburgh too.

Fleshmarket Close needs no introduction to Ian Rankin fans.  I've taken photos of signage before but head down and just before you reach Waverley Station, is a delightfully old school little boozer.

Whats Down Fleshmarket Close?
Scaffolding ruining the ambiance

A tiny little pub - but as there were only two other punters in, this did not present a problem.   Cracking pint of wee heavy too.

The list of "must visit" Edinburgh pubs grows by one.

The Halfway House, Edinburgh
The Guide comes up trumps again.  Cheers Bob.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

08/07/17 - Wilmcote Geocaching

Distance - 6 Miles
Geocaches - 22
First Cache

This is a walk that demonstrates why Geocaching is such a great hobby.

Mrs M needs to work in Alcester.  Its about 25 miles from home.   A quick peruse of the Geocaching Map shows that I can drop her off and in another 10 minutes be out on a 6 mile geocaching trail that should take me around the 3 hours needed before whisking her away from her toils and a pub lunch.

The cache trail starts in Wilmcote, a place I've never previously visited but like so many places in Britain with a story to tell.

It hosts Shakespeare's Mothers farmhouse.  Of course the pub is called the Mary Arden.  But that's a Greene King and the Mason's Arms looks far more interesting.

Masons Arms, Wilmcote
Mason's Arms - Prettier of the Two Wilmcote Pubs 

Mary Arden House
Shakespeare's Mom's Gaff
The Mary Arden Pub
Pub Number 2 - The Mary Arden
The walking is through some delightful Warwickshire Countryside.  I enjoy it that much, I leave the first cache trail laid by Spunky Spider to add in a few from my most found CO (by 1 cache until these are logged) HKMHill.  Thanks very much for the hides Mike and er, Spunky.

Into the Warwickshire Countryside
Warwickshire Walking at the Start of the Walk
Aston Cantlow Below
Sweeping down into Aston Cantlow
The caches were well maintained, well hidden and in one particular case, stunningly put together. You have to a) admire the ingenuity and b) wonder what a muggle would think on accidentally finding them.

I'll only put a photo of the cache container king on here but I will be tweeting the clever cache.

King of Cache Containers
Ammo Cans - King of Cache Containers
The calls from Mrs M start coming in at 2 hours 30 minutes.  You don't want to get between Mrs M and her lunch, so I rush through the last four or five finds to head back to Roman Alcester.

We've been walking here twice before (walk 1, walk 2) and I was looking forward to a return to the Hollybush - easily the best of the Alcester pubs.   However, just like last time, on entry and asking about food availability we were met with the missive that they are between Chefs.  Exactly what they said when we went in 15 months ago.

The Bear Hotel wins the Mappiman Dollar on account of its lovely beer garden and the fact that it has had a major spruce up.   Disappointingly, the Hobsons was off and the alternative, Doom Bar, was served in a short measure.  Some would argue this is not a bad thing, but I find the ubiquitous bar OK if kept right.  Topped up after protest, this was as good an example as ever found.

And the sandwiches were lovely.

The Face of Man with only 3 DNF
The Bear, Alcester
The Bear Hotel, Alcester

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

04/07/17 - 5 CAMRA Good Beer Guide Ticks in St Albans

A beautiful walk along the River Ver from a faceless business hotel in Redbourn delivers me to CAMRA's headquarters in St Albans.

A city I know and love well.

It's been three and half years since my last visit, when I previously blogged only about walks.   A visit tonight provides the chance to record 5 of the 8 Good Beer Guide ticks available.

The Six Bells, St Micheal's Street, Tring Brewery Ridgeway Bitter

If you are admiring their handsome patio annexed to the car park, you can thank Rory McGrath.  In 2011, in a move that would have stunned Alan Partridge, he managed to convince Channel 5 to commission a TV series of him going around some fine British Pubs.  He would sit on the sidelines, shouting encouragement and supping beer, whilst archaeologists attempt to recreate civilisations form a dug up sandal.

I can only assume this was more palatable to the TV execs than Inner City Sumo.

The programme made Rory very happy.  Just look at his face on the Channel 5 website.

Tonight, it's the first calling point after a five mile walk and I was similarly happy.   A perfect example of a British Boozer, right down to its low ceilings and hard seating.

It's not often I will forsake a Timothy Taylor Landlord, but I chose to go locALE and try a brew named after a great long distance path.

A fine start to proceedings.

Six Bells, St Albans
Six Bells and a Cask Marque App Check In
Six Bells, St Albans
Classic Pub Interior
Six Bells, St Albans
Patio, courtesy of Channel 5

The walk to Pub 2 couldn't have been nicer - a lovely amble through Verulamium Park.

Into the Park
As good as a Pub Crawl Gets
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, Abbey Mill Lane, Woodforde Wherry

Famous for being the oldest pub in England.  Unless you are from Nottingham.  Or Stow on the Wold.

It's definitely a destination pub - a must visit to tick off.

Ye Fighting Cocks, St Albans
You are correct.  I think I will have my tea here.
Ye Fighting Cocks, St Albans
Classic view.  God Damn the Peugeot for mucking it up

Its a delight to report that its both exactly the same and better.   The decor is untouched, with the sunken fighting pit still hosting the Chesterfields.   The beer choice and importantly, quality, has improved.

If only the staff were trained to know what was on.

They have different ales on both of the bars and asking is pointless.  Ordering requires a look at the 4 on one side - a dash round - and a panicked choice from the 4 available at the other side.

After all, you don't want to make a bad choice.  And my Woodforde Wherry was not a bad choice.

Ye Fighting Cocks, St Albans
The former Cock Pit
Another stunning amble to pub 3, passing the Cathedral, the gate house and St Albans School. Just as the evening bells were rang.

St Albans Cathedral
St Albans Cathedral
The Lower Red Lion, Fishpool Street, Paradigm Win Win

It may not be as old as the Cocks, coming in at only C17th, but people of St Albans, how spoiled you are.

If I lived here, I would be torn on which one to make my local.

I always make a mistake on entering through the porch of this pub.  Should I turn left or right?  I seem to remember the bar being on the right, so that's the route I took.

Lower Red Lion, St Albans
Lower Red Lion
And true to form, the Hertfordshire Whisky tasting society are in the other bar, asking for a knife to knock the seals of the three Malts and a Bourbon they have brought in to "sample".

The central bar saved me from myself.

To demonstrate the gentility of the City, just as I was leaving a punter popped in to return a pint glass he had taken home with him the night before.

How very civilised.

The Farriers Arms, Lower Dagnell Street, Betty Stogs

A perfectly functional, yet very narrow back street boozer that was formerly a grocers and a butchers.

You can squeeze in to sit at the bar but your backside is never far from the street.

Farriers Arms, St Albans
Tiny Back Street Boozer
Its labelled as a McMullen house - a stalwart in Hertfordshire - however, I found more beers from Cornwall, including the lesser spotted Betty Stogs.

Fond memories of holidays at the Lizard.  I would have told the two old boys next to me all about them, but they were engrossed in a F1 race from the 80s on the corner TV.

A quick google, and I was able to shout the result on my departure.

The Boot, Market Square, XT 1

The fifth and final one of my meandering night and always a favourite.

The Boot St Albans
The Boot
I love the Boot.  I love the limbo to get in.  I love the fact that you don't know what sort of crowd is going to be in.  Sometimes students, sometimes old boys, sometimes solo beer bloggers worrying everyone by taking surreptitious photos.  How can you not love a place where you can read about the Battle of St Albans in the War of the Roses, exactly where it happened.

With more good news, I can also report further improvements to SA.  The beer here was previously never that great but the pub's gone through a bit of a spruce up, including a makeover of the wares on sale.

The XT 1, a beautiful blonde ale, was the pint of the night.

In a night of very good pints.

People of St Albans - you are massively lucky.   I hope to be back for the remaining three ticks.