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.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

09/01/18 - Finishing off Edinburgh's Waverley Circuit - Cafe Royal and Guildford Arms

Inspiration - CAMRA's Edinburgh Pub Walks - Walk 1
Pubs - 2
Distance - About 250 Yards
Previous Edinburgh Pubs Walks - Rose StreetRoyal Mile around the CastleAround the Castle, Tollcross, Fountainbridge and Haymarket

A quick blog about two pubs that are going to be my "local" for the duration of my Edinburgh sojourn.  Believe me, they are worth it.

Walk 1 in the excellent CAMRA Pub Walks additional details Tiles, a place visited as part of my Around the Castle walk last week.

Cafe Royal, West Register Street, Broughton Pale Ale

A richly deserved, legendary Edinburgh pub.   I first learned about it from the author Iain Banks and then noticed it popping up in various Ian Rankin Rebus novels.  In the Bank's Complicity, a character comments on the optical illusion created by the myriad mirrors;

I can see those bottles on the gallery ahead of me and I can see their reflections behind them but I cannot see me.  I cannot see my own reflection!
We've all been there.

Perfectly positioned, its always been a first calling point for me.   I've been to this place more regularly than some of the pubs in my home town.

I think the reason is that I cannot quite believe such an opulent pub is available to the likes of me.  The price of entry - the cost of a pint.

Cafe Royal, Edinburgh
We'll start with the Interior
The central bar (lamps and all) hides the full length Doulton tiled murals depicting scientific innovators like Faraday, Watts and Stevenson.  Bizarrely, there are stained glass windows detailing sporting themes that also include a cricketeer.  A particularly English pursuit, I would have thought.

Place too busy for photos of these - so use Google Images to satisfy your curiosity.

About 10% of the time, I manage to get a seat and about 10% of those times - its one of the delightful leather clad booths.  Tonight we were lucky, even if myself and 6 other colleagues had to pack into the smallest one available.

Once in, it was impossible to easily extract oneself for another round. 

At least that was his excuse.

Cafe Royal, Edinburgh
The Cafe Royal's Exterior
Guidford Arms, West Register Street, A Wynters Ale

Externally, the Guidford Arms may be even more striking that the Cafe Royal.

Guildford Arms, Edinburgh
Right next door
It's also the only pub I can think of that comes with a revolving door.  I'm sure this must be the source of several chucking out time misadventures.

I've always considered it to be the slightly rougher cousin of the Cafe Royal but on a quiet Tuesday night, I will re-consider.  Once the bar is not packed with standing room only, its beauty can be fully revealed.

Guildford Arms, Edinburgh
Not too Shabby Either
I do like the description in my guide book;

... that by letting people drink in opulent surroundings, their behaviour would be suitably civilised.  And just in case it wasn't the central bar allowed the landlord to easily wade in quickly before things got out of hand.

Superb beer range in here and since following them on Twitter, I can see how frequently the guest ales come on board.

Two pubs in Edinburgh that really should not to be missed.

Monday, 8 January 2018

08/01/18 - Tollcross, Fountainbridge and Haymarket Pub Walk

Distance - 3.5 Miles
Geocaches - 2
Pubs - 5 x 2018 Good Beer Guide Entries
Walk Inspiration - Edinburgh's Hidden Walks - Walk 11
Previous Edinburgh Pubs Walks - Rose StreetRoyal Mile around the Castle, Around the Castle

A break from CAMRA's Pub Walks in Edinburgh, as I have bought a new guidebook to show me the sights.   And would you believe it, but I pass 7 Good Beer Guide ticks, leaving a couple for another day.

I head off from my Princes Street hotel and up and over North Bridge.  Everywhere, there is inspiration and distraction.

Offer of a Pub Crawl
No Need!
Greyfriars Bobby
Note his golden nose caused by "Rubbing for Luck"

First pit stop - A visit to the vicar.

Cloisters, 26 Brougham Street, Swannay Brewery, Amarillo

I've been to pubs wholly enclosed in Church Yards.  I've been to the UK pub that is closest to a church but I have never been in a pub that was part of a church.

Cloisters is self contained in the former All Saints Parsonage.  I did think the seating looked "Pew Like".  I didn't realise that the bar was made from reclaimed church wood.

That would be an ecumenical matter
A lovely, airy pub with plenty of space.  Hot air from the log burner hits the coldness of my glasses and I have no hope of identifying the ales on the chalk board through the steam.   After a pleasant bar chat I plump for a Swannery Brewery, not realising until UnTappd Check in that I previously found their wares in Kirkwall.

Another top pint and a good start to the evening.

Clean, airy and Good Beer
Bennets Bar, 8 Leven Street, Keliburn Goldihops

Good to see the International Bar on route to Bennets.  Its not troubling the Good Beer Guide, but 18 long years ago, I was following a different Pub Guide and invited work colleagues into a long walk from New Town, based on the review.   They were not impressed by either the Jack Russell perched on the bar, barking at us or the fight that happened.

I have been forced to explore pubs solo ever since.

Bennets Bar, sitting snuggly next to the Theatre, would surely have impressed them more.  A perfect pub, inside and out.

Bennets Bar
What lives behind the Lead Windows
The Guide describes it as "the Zenith of late Victorian Edinburgh Pub Architecture".  I cannot argue.

Bennets Bar
Picture Perfect Pub
Regulars sit at the end of the bar leaving the tables free for Spanish Tourists, Students and Pub Tickers.   Everyone gets on fine.

Haymarket, West Maitland Street, Deuchars IPA

Fortified for a longish walk through Fountainbridge, I learn that Edinburgh has a canal.  In all the years coming here, I had no idea.  This provides a handrail to the Dalry Road and ultimately, the Haymarket.

I've been to the eponymous pub before and I must admit to being surprised to see it in the guide.  I think I know the reason.

Choice at the Haymarket
All down to Choice - 12 Hand Pulls.
It's a Nicholsons pub and has a very "chainy" feel to it, but it has been tidied up considerably since my last visit in the early 2000s.  I would have described it then as "Earthy".

Choice at the Haymarket
Tidied Up Haymarket
Monty's. Morrison Street, Timothy Taylor Landlord

There's only three people inside to see that I have ordered an English Beer.   Two of those are Antipodeans who have driven up from London.   They believed in Google's 6 hour estimate.  They now understand how the M6 works.

This is a pleasant, modern bar, where a cocktail would not look out of place.

I was happy with a perfect example of one of my favourite brews.

Montys Bar
Loved the Ceiling
Thompson's Bar, Morrison Street, Deuchars IPA

In classic suspense style, I have probably saved the best until last.   And there have been some prime pub examples on this walk.

I knew I was in the right place, as the signage offered "Wellness, Nutrition and Beauty".

Thompsons Bar
Ending on a High
With the exception of a couple of old boys sat at a table, I had the place to myself to really admire the interior in all its wood paneled and mirrored beauty.

It really is an exceptional looking pub.

Thompsons Bar
Can a pub interior be any nicer?
I'm back with the CAMRA Real Ales Walks guide tomorrow, finishing off the Waverley Circuit.  I may even find interiors to Top Trump this one.

That's how good the Edinburgh pub scene is.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

07/01/18 - Walking from the Snitterfield Arms

Distance - 7.5 Miles
Geocaches - 2
Walk Inspiration - Jarrold Shakespeare Country, Walk 21

First walking blog of the new year and we may as well award the prize for "Rude Sign 2018" now.

First Rude Sign of the Year
Not quite beating last years "Minge Lane" in Upton on Severn
We are starting in Snitterfield, a Warwickshire village just off the A46 and halfway between Henley and Stratford.

And what a boster of a walk to herald in the New Year.  Gorgeous blue skies, frozen mud and plenty of variety.

We head South, aptly picking up the Monarch's Way on the aptly named King's Lane.  This leads us to some superb views over the Avon Valley and all the way to the Cotswolds in the far distance.

Warwickshire Views
Warwickshire Views under Blue Skies
The Obelisk in the Welcombe Hills Country Park can be seen for most of this walk and we have plenty of time to guess what its in honour of.  Not a War Hero, just a rich Mancunian Cotton Business Man who built the nearby home, now a hotel.

Welcombe Obelisk
Mark Phillips, Cotton Manufacturer
Downhill, to pick up the River Avon for some superb upstream walking, along the riverbank and through sunken lanes.

River Avon
River Avon
Sunken Paths Home
Great Paths

The last couple of miles back are along quiet lanes and through fields that are just starting to thaw out.  Entertainment provided by a solo deer trying to find an exit but being thwarted by the high fences.  It keeps us company more or less all the way back to the Village.

Great walk, but will the Pub match it?

The Snitterfield Arms is very smart both inside and out.  Cask Marque Accredited and the certificate is proudly displayed to become my first scan of 2018.  I would say its almost a Gastropub but as the only watering hole in the village, there have kindly left space for the drinkers at the bar.

Real Ale wise, they have a choice between Brakspear Bitter, Greene King IPA and Rev James.  I may have made a mistake with the Brakspear.   Both worringly cloudy and served in a Doom Bar glass.

The friendly service and Sunday Lunch were much better than the pint.

Snitterfield Arms
Snitterfield Arms
Brakspear Bitter
Brakspear Bitter - More opaque than I would like