Blog Surfer

Friday, 21 September 2018

#246 The Boat Inn, Gnosall Heath, Staffordshire : 1987 to 2018

I'm back after a bit of a hiatus mainly caused by actually visiting pubs that I've already been to before! I've also resisted the urge to create a pun-tastic title which seems to be de rigeur amongst pub bloggers.

Before we go further Gnosall is pronounced 'Knows-all' (not 'Nozzle' as I've done for most of the past 30 years). Also, for the last 30 years, I've believed that The Boat Inn was in Gnosall, only to find that border with Gnosall is 200 yards down the road and it is actually in Gnosall Heath. (The things you learn on a frustrating Sunday evening when with five pubs within walking distance, not one serves food after 7pm....aaargh! My Co-op Half a Roast Chicken for just £2 was delicious after a pub crawl around the village(s).)

I hear cries of, "get on with it!" So I shall.
This was a lunchtime stop on Thursday 9th July 1987 heading north up the Shropshire Union Canal. I have no recollections about the pub except that it was a comfortable village pub that did food.

We didn't return again until the evening of Tuesday 3rd September 1996 on our return from our first canal trip to Llangollen.
Although taken from the canal perspective, it is clear that The Boat had had an external makeover.

It was another nine years before we returned for another evening stop on Tuesday 30th August 2005, this time returning from Chester.
Again it had been externally redecorated with the standard (at that time) Marston's livery and for the first time give its full name of The Boat Inn. As I recall it was still a comfortable village pub that did meals.

We've been up and down the Shropshire Union Canal many times since then, but because of timings, we've hardly ever stopped there until recently.

This photo was taken as we passed by on the evening of Sunday 7th August 2016 heading for Norbury Junction (#215) where we knew that we would get fed.
It looks remarkably unchanged, but the garden/outdoor areas appear to have been tidied up and expanded.

Finally, we come to the Great Gnosall Disaster of 2018! This was on the evening of Sunday 26th August 2018.
As we moored up opposite the pub I could see the sign which said, "Food Served from 12:00 to 17:30 on Sundays" - the time was 17:45! Very frustrating, but potentially not disastrous until an internet search of the remaining FOUR pubs revealed that The Navigation, The Royal Oak AND The Horns all stopped serving food at 7pm on a Sunday.

This was on top of the fact that we'd missed lunch in Brewood (our own fault!) surviving on snacks and Salopian Lemon Dream.

The one saving grace was the new micro in Gnosall itself, the George & Dragon, which had cling-film wrapped rolls. But, a cheese & onion roll doesn't make for a proper meal which is why I bought a roast half chicken from the Co-op at the bargain price of £2 for later consumption.

We tried to have a pint in all five establishments, but when we approached The Navigation at about 9pm it was firmly closed. We headed for The Boat Inn and had a final pint (or two) there to round off an 'interesting' day.

Normally, we leave it at least nine years before returning - this time it was 10 days - on the evening of Wednesday 5th September 2018 as part of our return journey from Llangollen.
It is still a comfortable village pub that serves good food (till 9pm on a weekday!) so this was an altogether happier visit to Gnosall Heath.

Monday, 20 August 2018

A Tail of Digbeth's Two Spotted Dogs

Until relatively recently there were two pubs, in Digbeth, that went by the name of The Spotted Dog. I've reported on both previously but now seems to be an opportune time to catch up on their fates.

Firstly, we'll start with The Spotted Dog that's on the corner of Warwick Street and Alcester Street (#042) that I last reported on in 2011.

The Spotted Dog 1998

The Spotted Dog 2007
The Spotted Dog 2011
The Spotted Dog 2018
To all intents and purposes, the pub has remained unchanged (virtually) for 20 years. A bit of paint, varying amounts of ivy and over the last few years the hanging sign has gone.

I'm unable to comment on the interior because, although it was on the itinerary of our crawl through Digbeth in July, it never opened and sadly we couldn't sample its delights.

Secondly we get to the other Spotted Dog on the corner of Meriden Street and Bordesley Street, which has had a slightly more colourful twenty years by comparison! I first reported on it in 2011 (#058)

Spotted Dog 1998
Spotted Dog 2002
Spotted Dog 2011
Suki 10c 2012
Suki 10c 2018 (January)
Suki 10c 2018 (July)
It is now a late night music venue, so more a club that a pub, but still in business which is the main thing. Obviously it has undergone some significant external changes which have certainly helped it to stand out from the crowd.

From the pubs I've reviewed so far I'd have to say that The Spotted Dog takes the record for fewest changes over twenty years and that, short of being knocked down, Suki 10c has to be the most radical external overhaul of any establishment I've seen. But, that's Digbeth for you - permanence and change side-by-side in perfect harmony.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Digbeth in the Daytime - A Crawl Through Birmingham Heritage

This stroll has been reported on by Pub Curmudgeon (here and here) and Retired Martin (here, here and here), so I thought I'd give my interpretation as an unofficial guide to the salubrious side of Birmingham (or Eastside as it is now known!).

Over the years I'd visited every pub on the list, bar one, but it had been a while for most of them.

I arrived at the Wellington (in town) just after 11 am and had my earliest pint for many a long year - for the record it was Citra...and very pleasant it was too.
The Wellington, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham - July 2018
Once we had gathered the bulk of the 'Crawl Crew' we set off for the next pub on the list, The Woodman. It isn't the most straightforward of routes if you're unfamiliar with Birmingham (and with all the building work!) but we found our way there, via the currently defunct Fox & Grapes only to find that The Woodman wasn't open...well, not for another five minutes!

The Woodman, Eastside, Birmingham - July 2018
Inside was pretty much as I remembered, but a bit soulless as it had just opened and there wasn't a lot of atmosphere. I had a pint of something hand-pulled, but not sure what!

Then it was the (very) short stroll to our next destination, the Eagle & Tun.
Eagle & Tun, Eastside, Birmingham - July 2018
This was also pretty much as I remembered and again lacking in an atmosphere so early in the day. I had a pint of Green Duck which wasn't brilliant, but they did offer to change it. Why I declined I just don't know!! I didn't venture into the Off License, but it was reportedly magnificent.

Our next destination, and lunch stop, was a reasonable stroll away which enabled me to get a new picture of Suki10c which had been made over since my last visit in January.
Suki10c, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
This used to be the Spotted Dog (another one!) but was converted to a music venue some years ago.

Our destination was the Big Bull's Head which is a pub I'd never been in.
Big Bull's Head, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
It is a much bigger place than I'd appreciated and actually more interesting as well. Unfortunately, for my companions, there was no cask ale available, but my pint of Carling was very welcome. The food was very good, proper pub grub at a reasonable price.

From now on, my recollections (and photos) become a little more sketchy. We moved on after our sumptuous lunches to The Anchor.
The Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham - January 2018     © Photo Digital Art
This was pretty much as I remembered and although I did have a pint of cask ale, I don't remember what! The nearest pub was the White Swan, but that didn't open until 4pm so we moved on with the aim of sneaking the Old Crown onto the list.

The Old Crown, Deritend, Birmingham - July 2018
This is Birmingham's oldest pub although the interior is nothing special. A few of us went inside and found that Hobgoblin was the only ale on and everything was being served in plastic glasses in view of the upcoming England game. We decided to give it a miss and move on to the next one on the list.

The Wagon & Horses is a gem of a pub that is a little bit off the beaten track being round the back of The Rainbow (currently closed) and back through the viaduct.
Wagon & Horses, Bordesley, Birmingham - August 2011   © Photo Digital Art
From the outside, it didn't look to have been decorated since 2011; inside we got a friendly welcome and another pint of cask ale that I don't remember the name of! It was here that someone (probably Retired Martin) that we go 'off-piste' and visit The Ruin which was given a good write up by Life After Football (here).

This stroll tested my intimate knowledge of shortcuts through the Custard Factory and if we'd been a couple hours later that route would have been blocked by England fans in an impromptu fan zone being set up under the ubiquitous arches of Digbeth.
The Ruin, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
Inside, The Ruin lived up to its name being completely decorated (or not) in a shabby chic style. Not to everyone's taste, but if they can make a go of it here then good luck to them. For my seventh pint, I had a pint of something 'Hedgehoggy' that gave some money to a hedgehog charity.

Our final destination (on the official tour sheet) was the White Swan.
The White Swan, Digbeth, Birmingham - January 2018   © Photo Digital Art
It was here that I finally succumbed and had a pint of Carling when there were hand-pulled beers on offer. I couldn't face a pint of Banks's Amber Bitter (or whatever it is called these days); almost everyone else rated it as the beer of the day. It was here that the (in)famous Cooking Lager joined us for a pint. As acerbic in real life as in print, but ameliorated by the smile and twinkle in his eye.

That should have been that, but I was persuaded to pay a visit to Dig Brew which is a microbrewery and pub just beyond The Ruin (and so new that I don't have a picture of it!). By this time, the World Cup Semi-Final was imminent, but fortunately, Dig Brew was well set up and I managed to get my ninth pint of the day and a seat with a reasonable view of the screen. My fellow pub crawlers (John and Sheffield Hatter [I think]) left midway through the first half, but I stuck it out to half-time.

That ninth pint finally did for me and so I caught a cab from outside The Ruin and watched the demise of England from the comfort of my own home.

All in all, an excellent day (what I can remember) with great company, interesting beer and some of Birmingham's finest pubs. I look forward to more trips, as and when I can make them.

Friday, 29 June 2018

#012 Forge Tavern, Digbeth : 1998 to 2018 (Revisited)

These were my observations in 2011: -

Back in 1998, this was a pub I'd driven past on many occasions (to and from work) but had never ventured inside.

Then in 2000, we made an unscheduled detour through the less salubrious areas of Birmingham on our narrowboat. This photo was taken at about 9 pm on Thursday 1st June 2000 (same day as the 2nd photo of the Dog & Doublet - Pub #002 in this series). Earlier in the trip, we'd visited the centre of Coventry on my recommendation that we had enough time to do that and get back to our moorings by Friday evening - I'd miscalculated slightly! We'd moored at Bordesley Junction and were concerned that it wasn't the most secure of moorings. This was after finding that our first choice was actually private property and we couldn't access the road! Fortunately, the boat was safe and we had a quick pint here before venturing into Birmingham to find food...and more drink! As I recall it was a fairly basic Marston's pub and we got a friendly welcome - pretty much all you want from a pub!

Good news! It is still there and been redecorated at least twice since 2000!

Sadly, the news in 2018 is not so good. There was a fatal stabbing outside the Forge Tavern in July 2017 (link) and the pub's licence was revoked. It has been closed ever since with no imminent hope of reprieve. This is how it looked on Tuesday 23rd January 2018.


Friday, 1 June 2018

#060 The Moseley Arms, Digbeth : 1998 to 2018 (Revisited)

This is what I wrote in 2011: -

The Moseley Arms is a pub I'd never been inside when I took this picture in 1998. In fact, I hadn't really noticed it even though I must have driven past it on numerous occasions on the way to work (one of my alternate routes when the main one was blocked)!
A typical street corner M&B pub, but a bit off the beaten track for Digbeth pubs.

As we move to 2011, I still haven't been inside the pub, but I was pleased to see that it was still standing.
It is not now an M&B pub and the outside has been extensively redecorated and re-signed, but essentially it is unchanged. It appears to be thriving and has its own website (now broken), although this is still a little spartan at the moment. The Moseley Arms is, like many Digbeth pubs, a music venue.

So, now we're in 2018 and I'm pleased to report that The Moseley Arms is going strong, but has now transformed itself into a 38 room hotel.
The signage looks to be unchanged, but the rest has been redecorated and the hotel rooms added to the left of the original pub building.

Interestingly, the website describes it as both a pub and as a hotel - yet another survival model that seems to work here for what was once a simple back-street boozer.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

#245 The Station, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands : 2004 to 2018

"But the Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield isn't on the canal!", I hear you say.
"And, you'd be right", I reply. "Let me tell you a tale...if only I could remember the details!"

It was the evening of Tuesday 31st August 2004 and on our journey back from Oxford (the long way around) we moored for the night at The Kingsley (#178) on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. This was a place we'd often stopped at but, for some reason that escapes me now, we caught a cab into Sutton Coldfield. (I presume that it was because we fancied a pub crawl in, relatively, new surroundings than a night in one pub we were very familiar with.)

I had been to The Station previously (and enjoyed it) but not as part of a canal holiday.
As I recall it was a proper pub...but no other memories remain. (We did visit a couple more pubs and finished the night in a local Chinese restaurant where I encountered the best ever Chinese curry sauce! Not yet returned!)

I don't think that I've actually had a drink in The Station since then, but in my other life as an artist, I frequently attend craft markets in Sutton and the cheapest car parking is in the station car park. (No not the pub car park, but the one in the actual station next door to the pub - clear?)

So, on Saturday 17th August 2013, I took this picture on my way back to the car park. Unsurprisingly, it had undergone a complete redecoration. The Station is one of the most popular pubs in Sutton Coldfield and also hosts a comedy club.

I was back, with my camera, but not at the market on Saturday 5th May 2018 to see the newly redecorated version of The Station.

Quite a bold repainting job; and I'm pleased to report that The Station is still as popular as ever.

This is what it looks like given the Photo Digital Art treatment.
© Photo Digital Art 2018

© Photo Digital Art 2018


Friday, 18 May 2018

Seeing the Light at Burning Soul

This is going to be a slightly different entry from usual and the 'blame' lies with squarely Pub Curmudgeon, West Midlands Exploration, BRAPA, Life After Football and Retired Martin. Whilst all of us share a love of pubs, their constant blogging about the joys of real ale and the incessant photography of pints/halves of (mostly) 'nectar' have turned my head.

I'd got to the stage where I would choose Oakham Citra over my long-term choice, Carling. That was before Saturday! Some friends had been so impressed on a brewery tour of Burning Soul that they wanted to return for a session.

 In typical micro pub/brewery style, the opening hours are extremely limited (Friday 4 - 8 pm; Saturday 1 - 8 pm).
It was a cool, overcast evening, but seats were still difficult to find. I imagine that on a warm summer's evening there would be twice as many people there.

There were seven different beers on the list which kept on changing as beers ran out and were replaced with new ones; all served in half-pint measures.

My first impression wasn't good as the beer I'd chosen ran out as it was being poured. To my untutored eye as a confirmed lager man, I was struggling to find something that appealed, but I did make a choice and sat down.

The first mouthful changed my demeanour, instantly. It was cool, fruity, tasty, complex and refreshing - words I never expected to be using in relation to real ale. I sampled two more of their beers (can't remember any of the names!) which were equally superb. They are all a bit stronger than normal ranging from 4% up to 7% ABV which is why they only serve in halves (and why I can't recall what I had to drink!).

Inevitably, 8 pm arrived all too quickly and we had to leave to search for some nibbles and more drink. It was only a short walk to The Church.
The Church is a lovely street corner boozer which has been well refurbished and was nicely busy. It is now an Everards pub and they had Sunchaser on. I've had this before and quite enjoyed it. I ordered a pint and one of my companions ordered a pint of Tiger. Well, what a comedown! My pint was lifeless, flat and might as well have been dishwater; the Tiger was similarly unimpressive. Neither were actually 'off', it's just that after Burning Soul's fresh, brilliant beers anything else was always going to be a disappointment.

For the first time, I understood what the real ale aficionados had been wittering on about for years - I'd finally seen the light! After a shared bowl of nachos and some chips (which all helped the beer to go down), we moved on to the newly refurbished Jewellers Arms.
It has been taken over (and refurbished) by Black Country Ales. They've done a good job, but on a Saturday evening, it wasn't that busy. Again, I can't remember what I ordered (but it was something that I liked the look of) and, again, it was dull, dull, dull! (Although not quite as disappointing as the Sunchaser.)

So, have I undergone a Damascene conversion?! I now understand what the esteemed gentlemen, above, have been going on (...and on...) about for years, but I've not been converted to the real ale scene as a born-again beardie! It has, however, opened my eyes to the new world of craft/real ale and from now on I'll be much more likely to try out new beers.