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Tuesday, 9 July 2019

A Slow 'Race' Around Uttoxeter

I've somewhat fallen behind in reporting on our Proper Pubs Day Out in Uttoxeter, mostly because my holiday jaunts got in the way. The trip has been extensively covered here and here by Pub Curmudgeon. So, I'll try and race through it with a few of observations.

We were a select band of just four (Paul, Peter, John and me) that met up at Stoke Station for the short journey to Uttoxeter on board this train.
The Staffordshire countryside looked lovely, if a little sodden, as we made our way to our destination (although I must say that it was the only time on a train that you could hear overhanging tree branches slapping against the carriage!)

It was a short(ish) stroll from the station to our first pub.
The Old Swan is the town's Wetherspoon's and, at just after 11am it was ticking over nicely.

Next up was a short walk away, which would be something of the theme of the day as most these great boozers are within 1- 2 minutes walk of each other!
Ye Olde Talbot was the scene of my first ever pint of Bass!
I found it to be reasonably palatable and would down a few more before the end of the day!

Next up was our lunch stop.
The Bank House Hotel is slightly away from the centre of Uttoxeter (a whole 5 minutes walk!) and this was where I had my first ever pint of Pedigree. I didn't like it as much as the Bass, but my companions rated it as one of the beers of the day. Lunch was good, both in value and content, especially as we had the personal attention of the chef!

Then we moved on to (probably) the most well-known pub in Uttoxeter.
The Vaults is a tremendous little pub with at least four Bass hand pumps. I partook of the Bass once more! I'd taken this picture a little earlier and it shows the landlady/barmaid just arriving for work as it doesn't open until midday.

Then it was time to move on, but the next pub on our itinerary was about a mile out of town and, as fully paid up members of the Old Codgers Society, none of us were particularly looking forward to the walk. This is where Paul's wife Jackie came to the rescue. By some strange coincidence she was in the neighbourhood in her car and free to take us to The Plough.
It is a pleasant enough little inn that fulfils the criteria of being a 'Proper Pub', but I'm not sure that it would have been worth the walk there and back.

Soon, we were heading back into town for the next stop of the day. 
Thanks to Jackie and Paul for arranging our little 'excursion'.
Next up was The Old Star which was just off the Market Square. By this time my memory was starting to fade. It was another lovely little boozer in a town of lovely little boozers!

Then it was on to our only micro of the day.
The Horse & Dove was a pleasant, airy micro with a good layout and beer. I'm not sure what the building was before and I've been trying to decipher the ghost sign on the upper floor. I've managed this much "Wilks Favourite ***uouse Millinery Dresses", but that only helps a bit.

While we were in the pub I took this photo which gives a good idea as to how close the pubs are.
Ye Olde Talbot being our second pub of the day.

The next pub was a bit further away but still no more than 5 minutes!
The Smithfield Hotel was another proper pub that was fairly busy, it now being 6pm on a Friday evening. Paul had with him a photo of the pub he'd taken in the mid 1980's and in comparison to today's shot there were few apparent differences.

We were on the final leg of our day out heading for what should have been the last pub of the day.
All I remember about the Black Swan is that this is where I finally succumbed and reverted to a half of Carling!

As we had a little bit of time to spare, we ventured back into The Vaults for a final half before the journey home...Carling for me again!

The trains were on time...and so ended another fine Proper Pubs Day Out. Not as many attendees as on other occasions, but we all had a good time so, as ever, its quality, not quantity that matters!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Canal Pub Crawling - Part 3

We pick up our journey having spent an evening in Curdworth at The Beehive and White Horse, neither of which are canalside pubs.

BIRMINGHAM & FAZELEY CANAL - Curdworth to Fazeley Junction
COVENTRY CANAL - Fazeley Junction to Atherstone (above lock 6)

Again, we set out at about 09:30 with the aim of descending Curdworth Locks and having a lunchtime stop at Fazeley.
The first pub we passed was the Dog & Doublet, Bodymoor Heath B76 9JD at 11:30, but it was too early to think about stopping. We have visited there in the past and it is a great little pub.

Also, there were still a few more locks to be negotiated and we finally moored up at Fazeley Junction at 13:10. The pub we selected for our first pint wasn't, technically on our route (we were turning right at the junction and this pub is 100 yards to the left!) but we still went to the Three Tuns Inn, Fazeley B78 3QS.
This view from the A5 doesn't give the impression of a canalside boozer, but the garden at the back leads all the way down to the canal. It is under relatively new management and they don't do food anymore, but it is still a proper boozer. So, we had a pint and moved on to the Fazeley Victory (for Lunch) and the Three Horseshoes (still a great little pub).

So, it was back to the canal and onwards onto the Coventry Canal. It wasn't long before we were passing another watering hole.
The Gate Inn, Amington B77 3BY was the next canalside boozer we passed by at 16:25. Although the picture doesn't show it, the garden was very busy on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon. This is a pub we've stopped at previously, but not very often as it is only 90 minutes away from Fazeley, our preferred stopping place.

We continued our journey, passing another place we've never stopped at (16:55).
The Samuel Barlow, Alvecote B78 1AS is part of Alvecote Marina and is a relatively new addition to the canalside hostelries club having been built in 2003.

Again, it was way too early to stop as we pushed on to Atherstone. We passed through Polesworth which has several pubs, but none of them are overtly canalside. Having been caught in a late deluge, we moored up halfway up the Atherstone flight of locks just after 20:00. As we headed into town I took this picture of another pub we weren't going into today!
The King's Head, Atherstone CV9 2PA is another pub that we've occasionally visited, but when there are so many other pubs to choose from in the town, it tends to lose out! Today was no different and we walked into Atherstone for several pints and a curry.

COVENTRY CANAL - Atherstone (above Lock 6) to Hawkesbury Junction
OXFORD CANAL - Hawkesbury Junction to Newbold-on-Avon

We started off in drizzle and rain which didn't really abate much until our lunchtime stop, but we did pass another pub that we've visited in the past.
It was 11:05 and as tepmting a proposition as it was, it was still too early to stop at The Anchor Inn, Hartshill CV10 0RT. It looks as though it has been refurbished since our last visit, but being about 90 minutes 'sailing' time away from Atherstone it is generally a place we pass by.

After another couple of hours, passing through Nuneaton (no canalside boozers!) and close to Bedworth (and the now defunct Navigation which is a rather large private residence [that is up for sale]) we arrived at Hawkesbury Junction and a pub that it would be a crime to pass by.
The Greyhound Inn, Longford CV6 6DF is a proper 'old school' canalside pub that also does great food. There have been times when it has been so full that we've caught a taxi into Coventry! Being a cool, grey Monday, I was half expecting it to be closed, but it wasn't and we had our obligatory three lunchtime pints and some lovely food.

Now we were on the homeward stretch of the journey as we joined the Oxford Canal by passing through Sutton Stop Lock. The rest of the afternoon was grey and drizzly and we passed no canalside pubs before our evening stop. The Elephant & Castle closed many years ago (and we'd never visited it as it was only 20 minutes away from The Greyhound!) and I'm not counting the Rose & Castle in Ansty. Althoiugh the garden runs down to the canal, there's nowhere to moor and access is always via the road!

So, the next pub we came to was the Barley Mow, Newbold-on-Avon CV21 1HW, by which time it was 19:50.
Back in the day, this used to be two pubs actually next-door to each other! Now they've been combined to provide a pub and hotel. There were plenty of locals in the bar and there is a restaurant section, but we preferred to eat in the bar where there was some was a fairly quiet Monday night!.

OXFORD CANAL - Newbold-on-Avon to Braunston Turn
GRAND UNION/OXFORD CANAL - Braunston Turn to Wigram's Turn Marina

This was the final leg of our journey and, as we both had to dash off to prior engagements as soon as we got back to base...we didn't stop for lunch!

After Newbold you get to Rugby quite quickly and we passed by a pub that we used a few times when it was first built, but it is now a Harvester which seems to have turned its back on the canal.
It was only 09:45 when we passed the Bell & Barge, Rugby CV21 1RG, so we wouldn't have stopped anyway, but you can see how the mooring has become so overgrown.

The next, and final pub we passed was something of a surprise.
It was 11:45 when we passed The Waterside, Hillmorton CV21 4PW and, on another day, we may well have stopped for an early lunch...but not today! However, that wasn't the surprise. The penultimate time we'd passed this way, we did stop at the Old Royal Oak which had been the name of this pub since my first visit on my first canal trip in 1980. Indeed, it was still the Old Royal Oak in September 2018 when we last passed this way, but (from what I can glean from TripAdvisor) it changed from a Hungry Horse into a Pub & Carvery in October/November 2018.

We pushed on, past Braunston (not passing any more canalside pubs) and on to Wigram's Turn.

So, on this leg of the trip we passed 10 canalside pubs and went into just three, which is the best percentage of the whole trip.

In conclusion, in seven days we passed 34 canalside pubs and actually went into just 8 of them. Of those 34 pubs, we have never been in 5 of them! (The trip was 104 miles, passing through 120 locks and took 50 hours 5 minutes)

Had we stopped at every pub, we would never have completed the journey in 7 days, but if time was not part of the equation, you could probably do it in about a fortnight without any stress.

What has really surprised me is that, before we did this, I'd have estimated that we stop at about 50% of the canalside pubs, whereas the reality is 23.5%. (Although, over the years, we have been in 85% of them).

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Canal Pub Crawling - Part 2

Last time you left us at the Navigation Inn, Lapworth at the end of our second day of boating in our week-long trip around the Midlands.

STRATFORD CANAL - Lapworth (Lock 14) to Kings Norton Junction
WORCS & B'HAM CANAL - Kings Norton Junction to Worcester Bar
BCN MAIN LINE - Worcester Bar to Old Turn Junction
B'HAM & FAZELEY CANAL - Old Turn Junction to Saturday Bridge

 The day started off cloudy and dry, but this soon turned to persistent rain and by the time we'd passed through 13 locks and two lift bridges we were ready for a drink and some sustenance...but not here!
The Wharf Tavern, Hockley Heath B94 6QT is a place we've stopped at on many previous occasions, but it was only 12:05 and we still had a long journey into Brum. So we sailed on by.

The next pub along is also one we've stopped at on many occasions.
The Blue Bell Cider House, Earlswood B94 6BP was perfectly placed as it was now 13:15 and we were a few miles closer to our intended evening destination. Since our last visit the pub had been redecorated and had less of a 'tired' feel and the food was very good - still proper straightforward pub grub.

After the refreshment we were back on the water for the long afternoon's journey to Birmingham which necessitated passing more watering holes! First up was Lady Lane Wharf, Earlswood B94 6AH (at 16:05) which is a place we've never visited.
It gets good reviews for its food and beer (it has been, maybe still is, in the Good Beer Guide) but because of its position (relative to our other regular stopping places) and the lack of nearby moorings we are unlikely to break our duck any time soon.

A bit further on (16:55) is a place that we've stopped at on many occasions, usually when we're heading away from Brum, but not today.
The Drawbridge Inn, Shirley B90 1DD is situated next to an electrically operated lift bridge which is on a very busy cut-through so we tend to encouter quite a few impatient drivers as we operate the bridge. Today it was rush-hour on a Friday, so it was even busier than normal!

Further along towards Birmingham is another pub that we've stopped at on previous occasions, but nowadays there is nowhere to moor up as the banks have become overgrown.
The Horseshoe, Kings Heath B14 5EL is an old school boozer on the Alcester Road, not far from the Maypole (for those who know Brum). It was now 17:50 and it was still a couple more hours before we reached Central Birmingham for a safe place to moor.

Further on we come to Kings Norton Junction where we turn right and head in towards Birmingham on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. There are no canalside pubs along this stretch as the canal and railway line (Cross City) keep each other company all the way to Five Ways.

Once we hit the city centre there is a 90° turn by The Cube where, somewhat inevitably, we meet one of the party boats heading out of town, but manage to avoid any collision.

As we pass through Gas Street Basin we successfully negotiate the Worcester Bar which leads us onto the BCN Main Line for a short stretch. We pass by the Tap & Spile B1 2JT (not pictured) and the Canal House B1 2JR which was formerly the James Brindley. It is now 20:10 and we're ready for a drink!
But we're still not quite there; we pass through Broad Street Tunnel and turn right at Old Turn Junction to enter the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal where we moor up by Saturday Bridge - it is now 20:20 and we'd passed The Malt House B1 2NX, again without entering!
After mooring up, it was straight out to The Shakespeare B3 1JJ and an Indian meal at the Raj Doot, neither of which can be considered as canalside venues.

Day 4
BIRMINGHAM & FAZELEY CANAL - Saturday Bridge to Curdworth

Saturday started out grey and drizzly as we set off down the Farmer's Bridge flight of locks that head north taking you down and under Birmingham. Before we've even passed through the first lock there's a canalside pub.
It is way too early for a drink (09:50) in The Flapper B1 2NU. I haven't been there for many years and it is likely to have been closed and replaced by flats by the time we pass this way again. When I was a student this was the Flapper & Firkin, but now it is a music venue and feels more like an estate pub. A brief summary of the situation is here.

We pass no more canalside pubs until later in the afternoon following lunch at The Bull B4 6JU and after descending the Aston Lock flight. Towards the edge of the city comes a pub that I've never been in and, when you see the canal frontage, you'll understand why.
I give you...Tyburn House, Castle Vale B35 6AA. From this view, if you didn't know there was a pub there, you'd be none the wiser. It was now 17:15 and we had no plans to stop! Britain Beermat has visited the Tyburn House and put his thoughts on his blog Life After Football.

We still had the three Minworth Locks to negotiate before we passed by a pub that we've visited on numerous occasions, but at 18:10, we still had a bit more travelling to do.
The Boat Inn, Minworth B76 9AE is another lovely little local boozer that also does food and, for us, is more suited to lunchtime stops.

We passed one more (that I failed to photograph, being otherwise engaged) which was the Cuttle Bridge Inn, Minworth B76 9DP. This is a place we've frequented both in it's present guise and in it's previous incarnations as The Kingsley, but our destination of Curdworth was just along the cut, so we didn't stop.

So, two more days into the journey and we've passed by another dozen canalside pubs, but this time we only went into one of them! That is a pretty poor return. If we had stopped, and had a pint in each one, the trip would have taken three times as long.

However you dress it up, these statistics are a definite surprise to me!


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Canal Pub Crawling - Part 1

The idea for this blogpost comes courtesy of Life After Football and Pub Curmudgeon - Life After Football has been attempting to cycle to Alrewas from near to Burton-on-Trent (with mixed success!) and has been visiting pubs that we've passed on our canal journeys, but never visited (for various reasons; usually timing).

Pub Curmudgeon suggested that a purely canal based pub crawl must be feasible, so I decided that for our most recent canal trip, I'd take a picture of every canalside pub that we passed...whether we went in or not. I didn't realise it was going to be this long when I started!

Day 1
GRAND UNION CANAL - Wigrams Turn to Warwick (Kate Boats)

We set off at about 10am on Wednesday 5th June 2019. By 11:25am we'd reached The Boat Inn, Stockton CV23 8HQ, but it was too early to stop.
We have stopped here before, but it was many years ago.

Next was The Blue Lias, Stockton CV47 8LD. It was now 12:25, but having just negotiated the main part of the Stockton flight of locks, it still wasn't time to stop!
As with The Boat, we've stopped here before, but quite a while ago.

We finally decided to stop at a regualr haunt of ours along this section, the Two Boats, Long Itchington CV47 9QZ at 13:00.
Whilst there's nothing wrong with either of the two previous pubs, the Two Boats just wins out as our favoured stopping point.

The village of Long Itchington boasts a good number of pubs including the Cuttle Inn, Long Itchington CV47 9QZ which sits directly opposite the Two Boats on the Grand Union Canal.
It is a place we've occasionally visited, but the Two Boats always wins out.

We left the Two Boats at about 15:00 and planned to get to Warwick for the evening. This meant passing more canalside boozers, the first a classic estate pub that we've never been in; The Fusilier, Leamington Spa CV31 1NJ.
By now it was 18:00, but still too early to stop. On the far side of Leamington are two pubs, on opposite sides of the canal which have been built in the last 20 years. First is The Waterside Inn, Leamington Spa CV31 3JZ which was originally called The Tiller Pin. We've never stopped here.
It was now 18:23 and as we passed under the A452 bridge, it was still 18:23 when I took this picture of The Moorings at Myton, Leamington Spa CV31 3NY.
This is a pub we have visited, once, but not on this occasion. We pressed on to warwick where we moored up at 19:10, spending the evening in various pubs in the town.

Day 2
GRAND UNION CANAL - Warwick (Kate Boats) to Kingswood Junction
STRATFORD CANAL - Kingswood Junction to Lapworth (Lock 14)

We set off again at about 09:30 and were passing by a classic canalside boozer that we, sadly, haven't visited for many years, The Cape of Good Hope, Warwick CV34 5DP 
This view, from the second Cape Lock, was taken at 09:50, so way to early to stop. 

Our next challenge was the Hatton Flight of locks which we completed and moored above the flight by 13:55. This gave us plenty of time to sample the delights of what is now a gastropub and not quite as canalside as it advertises!
It is quite a walk up the hill to the Hatton Arms, Hatton CV35 7JJ (formerly The Waterman), but we persevered for some good food and drink. This is a place we've visited on many occasions because, irrespective of whether you are going up or down the flight, the next pub is three hours away (at least).

After our obligatory (and customary) two-hour pit-stop we were back on the water heading for Lapworth, but there was one more boozer gastropub that we would pass by (although we have visited in the past).
It was 17:15 as we sailed by Tom o' the Wood, Rowington CV35 7DH. It isn't exactly on the canal bank, but a lot closer than the Hatton Arms!

Once we'd moored (at about 18:30) we visited The Boot Inn, Lapworth B96 6JU which isn't quite canalside either, but near enough.
We had one pint in the (very successful) gastropub that is The Boot and moved on to try our luck at a proper canalside pub (although not one that we'd pass by on this trip).
The Navigation, Lapworth B94 6NA is a pub we've visited on many occasions. It still is a proper pub, albeit with a large restaurant area, but it was nowhere near as busy as The Boot had been.

 So, after just two days, we've passed twelve canalside pubs but only went into four of them.

Before I started this entry, I expected that there would be half this number of pubs, but I will continue the journey soon.


Monday, 3 June 2019

#260 Lord Combermere, Audlem, Cheshire : 2007 to 2018

On the Shropshire Union Canal the village of Audlem is well known for its flight of fifteen locks and the two canalside pubs which I've previously reported on (#255) and (#122).

It is a village that we've visited many times, the first being way back in 1981 on only my second ever canal trip. That will also reinforce our sometimes lack of adventure in finding pubs when there are ones so close to the canal. Although, this is quite extreme as it only took us 26 years to venture the 100 metres to the Lord Combermere!

Our first visit was on the evening of Monday 3rd September 2007.
As I remember it was a decent enough pub that didn't really have too much character.

We returned on the evening of Monday 8th August 2016.
It hadn't changed much apart from extra exterior seating, I assume in accommodation of the smoking ban.

Our most recent visit was at lunchtime on Tuesday 4th September 2018.
We'd ventured there as we'd had a terrible lunch experience at the Shroppie Fly a few days earlier and decided to take our custom elsewhere. The pub had had a bit of a makeover and was as pleasant as previously. For a more comprehensive review of the interior of the pub see BRAPA's excellent blog. I can't say that I disagree with his conclusion.

Monday, 20 May 2019

School Trip to Rugby

Another Proper Pub Day Out, this time to the home of 'egg-chasing' and Flashman - a place that I've visited several times via the canal, but obviously failed to find most of the good pubs (as usual!).

Arriving by train, this time, gives a shorter walk to the town centre, but still a bit of an uphill slog for someone as unfit as I am these days! But lo! There was a pub in sight just to keep me going...but it isn't on our list...aaagh!

The magnificent looking Wheeltapper serves as a beacon for those weary walkers from the station...but I resisted and strode on up the road to the right. Onwards to the Seven Stars...and it was well worth it! (and I wasn't the last one to arrive!)
Proudly proclaiming to be the Rugby CAMRA Pub of the Year 2018 and I wouldn't argue against that description. Whilst you will get better internal descriptions from Retired Martin and Beer Leeds and an in depth blow-by-blow account of the beers (and some of my pictures) from Pub Curmudgeon, you'll just get the external shots and whether I liked the place for each pub...Yes in most cases!

As commented elsewhere, I could have stayed here for much longer, but we had a lot of ground to cover (pubwise, if not in terms of distance!). Next was a very short walk away.
I took my photo on departure as the Coors van had moved on by then, but the weather had turned into a re-run of Huddersfield...almost! This was another good pub that, on another occasion, we'd have stayed for more than just one pint.

Our next destination was one of the pubs I'd visited before, but I doubt I could find it again from Martin's 'meandering' route there!
The Merchant's Inn is an interesting place with more pub memorabilia and breweriana than the average ten pubs combined and I've never seen so many pump clips in one place! This was our lunch stop as well. The food was good, so, it's another "Yes" from me!

Then it was the longest walk of the day (almost 10 minutes) away from the town centre to this place.
The Victoria was well worth the walk. We turned left and entered the bar at the pointy end of this classic street corner boozer. My second pint of an Atomic Ales beer - both very pleasant.

It didn't seem long before we were on our feet again and heading for the best pub I'd previously visited in Rugby.
The Squirrel is a very compact pub and, whilst still a very good pub, it wasn't quite as wonderful as I'd remembered it. Possibly because previous visits had been in the dark and The Squirrel was the best pub of the evening, but on this trip we'd already been in three pubs that I'd now rate higher! It's still a "Yes" from me, though!

Now we were headed for micropub territory!
A relatively new addition to the watering holes of Rugby, The Crafty Banker was somewhat better than some other micros I've been in. There seemed to be more space than in many, but with modern d├ęcor. As a pub I'd rate it as OK.

Then it was another micro, which had grown out of the bottle shop next door.
The Rugby Tap Room felt more like a pub than the previous micro, but was also more cramped. Again, I'd rate it as OK, but I expect that it gets quite a lot of trade from tourists come to marvel at Rugby School which was just over the road and the Rugby Museum which is next door.

Then it was another stroll to the final pub that we all made it to.
As I'd had a pint in all the previous seven pubs, I have no recollection of how to find the Half Moon. (But Rugby isn't such a big place that it will remain lost to me!) This was quite a lively little boozer (well, it was about 6pm on a Friday!) and it gets the thumbs up from me!

Our final stop was right in the centre of town, but only me and the assorted 'Mudgies' ventured inside.
The Bull (not sure if I've been there before!) was the place which broke my resistance and I had a half of Carling Punk IPA (as I've been reliably informed!). After confirming England's victory in the cricket, me and the Mudgies headed for the station. (What is the collective noun for a group of Mudgies? A Snug of Mudgies?)

It was quite a trudge back to the station...but at least it was downhill. We walked past the Wheeltapper again, which looked even more magnificent through the haze of 8½ pints!
If we'd known then about the train delays that we were about to experience, we may well have popped in for a swift half...but we didn't and had a longer wait on the platform than anticipated. We all got home at a reasonable hour.

It was an excellent day out and, next time we're passing Rugby on the canal I'll know where to go for the best pubs!