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Thursday, 16 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 4)

 Day 7 - Friday

Leaving Nottingham meant that we were now officially heading back to the marina - first stop Trent Lock for lunch. Again we passed by the Boat & Horses in Beeston and again it wasn't the right time to stop, being about 10:30am. Once we exited Beeston Lock onto the main channel of the River Trent we discovered just how windy it was that day. It was so windy that our 'life saver' ring blew off the roof despite being laid down flat. Hopefully, this gives some idea of the wind when we moored at Trent Lock.

This time we decided to visit the Steamboat for lunch for a change.
Considering it was now a Friday, the Steamboat was still much less busy than the Trent Lock had been 24 hours earlier. 

It soon became apparent why. The food is more basic (a plus in my book!) and both food and drinks were cheaper than in the Trent Lock, but everything else was just a bit off. I've always liked the quirky décor in the Steamboat, but it looked tired and unloved. It's a family run place and whilst the landlady was left on her own behind the bar (occasionally disappearing to take food orders to the kitchen!) her husband (I assume!) was watching telly with his mates in the corner. Sadly, I've witnessed this scenario too many times and it always results in disappointing service, a drop off in clientele and eventually going out of business - all in a place that should be raking it in!

Still, we'd had our fill and set off towards the Trent & Mersey Canal for a relatively uneventful trip to Swarkestone, passing through Sawley and Shardlow...apart from me (as steerer for the afternoon) invoking the wrath of a fellow boater just outside Shardlow. He'd stopped to help re-moor a boat that had gotten loose and drifted across the cut. I didn't realise this (until I was told later!) so when he tried to pull out just as we were getting to his position, I naturally didn't let him out!

He really sounded off at me and, once I'd understood the situation, I let him pass by and a little later I let the cruiser go past who'd also been helping. Then, when we got to the next lock (double width) we ended up sharing it with the narrowboat as the cruiser didn't want to share. We had a nice chat about it and became 'best of friends' for the rest of the times when we encountered each other over the next few days!

It was getting a bit late by the time we got to Swarkestone Lock, so we moored below it and set off for the long stroll to the pub, getting there by 9pm...just!

The Crewe & Harpur is a pub that I've reported on before (#204) as has Life After Football (here). Our first visit was back in 1986 when it was a proper village pub, but now it has expanded to become a Marston's Rotisserie pub and hotel. The food was good and the lager was cold, so progress hasn't spoiled the experience!

Day 8 - Saturday

Our lunchtime destination was the village of Willington which has been well covered by Life After Football and me in the past. There are three pubs within 100 yards of each other!

First up was The Dragon which has become more of a restaurant than a pub, but they managed to find a table for us despite it being fairly busy. The food and the beer were both very good, but we decided to take the long stroll to one of the other would have been rude not to!

We couldn't quite tell whether the Green Man was open or not, so we went into the Rising Sun for the first time in very meny years.

We hadn't missed much! The bar looked to be the only room open. It is definitely a locals pub and somewhat of a stark contrast to The Dragon, but a village needs both types of pub to cater for the wide range of people you can get.

And then it was time to get back to the boat and head off for a Saturday night in Burton-upon-Trent. We had one goal in mind, but as it is a long walk from the canal we popped into the Oak & Ivy for a 'splash 'n' go' pitstop on our way to the Cooper's Tavern

I failed to get my fellow travellers to veer off into the Devonshire Arms for a quick pint (even though, last time, I'd struggled to get them out of there...before they'd experienced the Cooper's!). It was packed, but we managed to grab a table just as a group was leaving. Apparently, the Bass was very good as was my pint of Joules (one of their seasonal beers). This was also the first time we discovered that we could take our drinks to the Indian restaurant next door (Apne) we did.

After a lovely meal, we strolled back to the boat, but not before another pitstop at the Oak & Ivy to break up the walk!

More than halfway through the trip and we still have the delights of Atherstone and Coventry to relate!

(To be continued)

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 3)

Day 5 - Wednesday 

We were now heading out of Leicester, down the River Soar towards Loughborough and, ultimately, Nottingham! We were heading for Life After Football country! 

First pitstop for lunch was the Hope & Anchor at Syston which is a truly canalside pub!

This pub has a greater significance, for me, than just by being a canalside boozer. As a child of about 10 years old (not sure when we went exactly) we had a family day out to visit the Hope & Anchor to see my Mum & Dad's friend Reg Snelling who was the landlord. Reg was a real character with the appearance and demeanour of Eric Morecambe and he allowed me to pour a pint (keg) and also to make my own shandy! (The pub was not open, so no laws were broken!) I also remember walking down to the bank of the canal, not realising that I'd be making several return journeys over the years.

Over the past 50 years it has lost almost all of it's character with the extensions and major alterations, but there's a little room behind where the bar is now that still has the low ceiling and, just for a moment, I could imagine that I was back in the old pub.

After a less than average lunch, we headed off for Loughborough as our night time stopover. This meant passing through Barrow-upon-Soar (which has some very good pubs) and Mountsorrel (below).

We managed to secure a mooring outside The Boat in Loughborough and we popped in for a pint!
We then set off for, what I hoped would be, pastures new. It turned out that we'd visited The Windmill on a previous occasion!
A bit of Bass 'porn' for those who like that sort of thing!
I don't remember exactly when we last visited there, but it is still a proper little boozer! So, after a lovely Italian meal at Caravelli (just across the road from the Windmill) we ended up in The Three Nuns for our final drinks of the evening.

Apparently the pub got it's name because of a spelling mistake/typo and they decided to keep it! It's another lovely little pub that had the best screens I've come across in any pub or elsewhere. They had been installed by the landlord and his son. The plastic was perfectly transparent, the wooden frames were painted to exactly match the bar and they were sized perfectly to allow for ease of access to your pint whilst also giving perfect sound for communication across the bar.
Day 6 - Thursday
We made an early getaway as it was a long way to the River Trent. We were still in Loughborough when we passed what had been (to me) one of the best pub experiences in the land. Sadly, a pub no more!
It was called The Albion and every time we visited it felt as cosy as if you were in someone's house, but it was decorated in a nautical/seaside style and I always felt as though I was by the coast in a 'smuggler's cove!
It was another pleasant sunny day as we travelled down the Soar Navigation towards Trent Lock where the River Soar meets the River Trent and the Erewash Canal. We mmored just on the Cranfleet Cut of the Trent and headed for the Trent Lock pub.
This is a pub that Life After Football (here) and I (#188) have both reported on in the past. As it was such a nice day, the pub garden was pretty full and there weren't enough bar staff to cope adequately. We sat inside and had a pleasant lunch and three pints...not being too affected by the shortages the pub was experiencing at the time. All too soon it was time to return to Peggy Ellen for the short afternoon trip into Nottingham.
Just after exiting Beeston Lock I kept a lookout for the Boat & Horses pub recommended by Life After Football. It was easy to see from the cut, but even if we'd wanted to stop (it was only 4:30pm) there were no available moorings. Less than 90 minutes later and we were moored at our regular mooring spot in Nottingham.
The first stop on our evening's entertainment was the VAT & Fiddle which is the taphouse for the Castle Rock brewery...and only a short walk from our mooring!
It was quite early in the evening and consequently it lacked clientele and atmosphere! There was a full range of Castle Rock ales available, all very good, but I feel that they could do a bit more to the pub to make it feel is just a normal, unremarkable boozer at present. Then it was time to find somewhere to eat. 
In this day and age, Google Maps is your friend...except when left in the hands of a friend who isn't fazed by a 1 mile walk (mostly up hill!) to a Chinese restaurant which turned out to be very good (but I reckon there must have been just as good places closer by!)
Then it was the route march back (down hill now!) to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.
We could hear the final throes of a pop concert in the castle grounds as we approached the pub, but the pub itself was very quiet. For the first time ever, I think, we easily got seats in the first bar as you enter and we had an entertaining last couple of pints in the company of one of the pub's regulars!

Six days into our journey and it was time to commence the journey back to Napton and Wigrams Turn Marina.

(To be continued)

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 2)

 Day 3 - Monday

Usually, at the start of the week, it can be difficult to find pubs that are open, never mind serving food, at lunchtimes. Today was not one of those days!

We were travelling along the summit level of the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal which meant that we had to negotiate Foxton Locks. Ten locks arranged in to two staircases of five locks each; a magnificent setting and a magnet for gongoozlers of all ages! There was a bit of a wait at the top and we were the fourth boat in the queue - it could have been much worse! This is the view from the first lock of the second five.

With help from the volunteer lockkeepers we were soon down at the bottom where we turned left (heading for Leicester) and moored up for lunch in the imaginatively named Foxton Locks Inn.

For a Monday it was pleasantly busy, but table service was the order of the day. The food was good as was the beer and so we returned to Peggy Ellen for the next stage of our journey.

At the bottom of Foxton, you can turn left towards Leicester (leading to the River Soar) or right towards the terminus at Market Harborough. Most boats took the latter option whilst we headed towards Leicester.

As it was early August and the canal had been very busy up to this point, we were hopeful that we'd have plenty of company to share the many wide locks en route to Leicester. Sadly, this was not the case and we saw only a handful of boats all the way to Leicester.

Our first stop along this route was at Fleckney which isn't exactly a canalside village!

This was the walk into the village, which boasts two pubs...neither of which was serving food on a Monday night! (and the chippy was closed!)

We've visited the Old Crown in the past and it is a perfectly decent local village pub. Ordinarily, it would have been a one pint and we're moving on pub...except...although they weren't doing food themselves, parked out front was a pizza van making freshly made pizzas that could be consumed in the pub. What a result! They have different vans/trucks on different nights...a fantastic idea!

We still decided to move on for a couple in the more upmarket Golden Shield; Fleckney's other pub.

Last time we'd been to Fleckney, this is where we'd eaten, but the restaurant wasn't open on a Monday. It seemed to be little changed from the time the late Alan Winfield visited it ten years earlier and reviewed it on Pubs Galore.

Day 4 - Tuesday

From Fleckney it is a long journey to Leicester through 20+ wide locks (with no one to share the joy work!) and the next pub was a long way away ay Kilby Bridge. We moored up at about 2pm!

The Navigation is a lovely old, proper canalside pub and we were happy to see that it was open. Unfortunately, they weren't doing food and when I asked about cobs/rolls I was given a quite brusque, "No, we don't do them they only get left uneaten!" Oh well, a lunch of crisps, nuts and scratchings wasn't the end of the world!

Then, about 15 minutes later, the other barman (possibly landlord) appeared with large trays of freshly made sandwiches, mini scotch eggs and sausage rolls which were offered to us and the other half dozen people in the pub...for free! Fantastic customer service!

So, after a great lunchtime session, we set off again for Leicester. Still very little traffic and some quite shallow sections, but we made it to Leicester without too much hassle.

The Globe was our first port of call and, whist it is a great old pub, it was disappointing to see it so empty! Unfortunately, we only had the one pint before we set off in search of food. We found a lovely curry at a place called Tandem and then went for more beer at the High Cross...the local Wetherspoon's...which was considerably busier than The Globe had been (as were many of the other bars in that vicinity)!

And that was it for our night out in Leicester, but in our defence, we didn't moor up until after 8pm and the canal/river is a bit of a walk from the city centre.
(To be Continued)

Friday, 10 September 2021

Boozin' & Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 1)

 It's been a while since my last post and a few weeks since we returned from our most recent canal trip, which compared to recent years, was relatively uneventful!

Day 1 - Saturday

We left Wigrams Turn Marina at Napton just before noon and arrived at our designated lunch stop, The Boathouse at Braunston in plenty of time.

It's a pub we've visited many times in the past and it is still a solid Marstons pub that majors on food. It delivered again!

The canal had been very busy on the trip to Braunston and we were unsure how long it would take us to negotiate the six locks that lead to the tunnel - especially as there is a hire base nearby!

We struck very lucky, two boats exited the bottom lock just as we were approaching and only one of the hire boats was ready to depart, so they shared the lock with us. There was little drama in ascending the lock flight and I even had time to take a photo of the Admiral Nelson which stands by the third lock up.

Sadly, there was no time for a pint, but in the past we've managed to squeeze in a swift half (or more) whilst queueing for this lock. So, it was onward and upwards through the rest of the locks and a busy Braunston Tunnel to our evening destination of the New Inn at Long Buckby.
It is a pub I've reported on before and, whilst it is a lovely pub it has been seriously let down by it's management in the past - #192 - again it didn't disappoint on that front. It was 6:45pm, the pub was virtually deserted and yet, they were fully booked for food! After a brief discussion, we called a cab and went into Daventry...for the first time in many years!

The taxi driver dropped us off in the town centre and we went into the first pub we found.

The Plume of Feathers was a lively proper town centre boozer that did have cask ale available. However, we were getting a bit peckish by now so strolled along the High Street until we found our saviour!
Where else is there to eat on a Saturday night in small town England apart from the local 'Spoons! The Saracen's Head was also quite busy and they were still operating table service for food.

After our sumptuous repast, we popped across the road to a pub that I did remember from a previous excursion to Daventry.

Last time we were here, the Dun Cow was a fairly standard boozer; a far cry from the modern day, upmarket gin palace that it has become! All too soon it was time to call the taxi firm again and return to the canal.
Day 2 - Sunday
Sundays are rapidly becoming the most difficult days on the canal for finding food and drink at civilised times!
Our first obstacle was Watford Locks which have restricted opening times and there was a queue. Fortunately, there was a full complement of volunteer lock keepers so the whole process flowed smoothly and efficiently. However, it still meant that we were quite late arriving at Crick, not getting to the pub until 1:45pm.
Fortunately, The Wheatsheaf was still serving food and a very pleasant Sunday roast it was too.
At this stage we knew that there would be no food available at our evening stop in North Kilworth so we acquired supplies from the village Co-op over the road from the pub.
It is quite a stroll to the pub in North Kilworth from the canal, but after our Chicken Carbonara we were ready for a few pints to wash away the taste it down and the pub website said that they were open until 11pm.
We arrived at the White Lion just after 8pm only to find that they were closing! They did serve us a pint each and after chatting to the bar staff we understood what had happened. Apparently, the gaffer had been making a really good go of it and the pub was doing very well. But the pandemic came along which knocked the stuffing out of him and he'd lost interest! (A not uncommon tale I suspect!) Hence the 'To Let' sign outside!

After another pint and a vain attempt to get a taxi to anywhere nearby for less than £25, we bought some wine and beer to take out and shuffled back to the boat for a quiet night in!
After promising you that this trip was relatively uneventful, it was quite a 'difficult' first couple of does get better!
(To Be Continued)

Friday, 13 August 2021

#288 Old Bookbinders, Jericho, Oxford : 2004 to 2021

Still catching up with pubs from our recent jaunt down the Oxford Canal, although the Old Bookbinders is a pub we've only visited twice in almost 17 years.

The first visit was at lunchtime on Saturday 21st August 2004, but I have little recollection about it other than it was a pleasant backstreet corner pub.

As I recall, we'd had lunch in a nearby Lebanese restaurant and were embarking on a mini-crawl for the afternoon as we were not setting sail again until Sunday morning. I suspect we had the one pint and moved on.

So, moving on just the 17 years (almost) and we're back at the Old Bookbinders on the evening of Saturday 21st May 2021.

We'd spent the somewhat damp afternoon on a small pub crawl through the centre of Oxford and were planning a little wander through the streets of Jericho for the evening. However, we managed to snaffle the last available tabe, close to the bar, and so we stayed for the rest of the evening!

The Old Bookbinders is now much more a foodie place, but for the first time on this trip it actually felt like we were in a pub as it was as full as social distancing regulations allowed.

Friday, 6 August 2021

#287 The Boat Inn, Thrupp, Oxfordshire : 1998 to 2021

 We're back on the Oxford Canal and another pub that has hardly seems to have changed over the years, but look a little closer and you'll find the differences!

The Boat in Thrupp has appeared in "Inspector Morse" and there is a 'Morse Room' with pictures from the episode on the walls. Our first visit was at lunchtime on Friday 4th September 1998.

Back in 1998 it was still a quite upmarket dining pub, but still a pub nonetheless. It was a Morrell's pub, but research indicates that 1998 was the year that the brewery closed (after a family dispute) and the tied houses were bought by an American entrepreneur.

We didn't return until the evening of Sunday 28th July 2019 - on the surface it was largely unchanged.

However, on closer inspection you can see that it is now The Boat Inn and is a Greene King pub! After 19 years, I don't recall how much it had changed inside (not a lot probably), but it was definitely more of a restaurant than a pub.

Our most recent visit was another evening session on Saturday 22nd May 2021.

This picture better shows the changes from 1998 which, apart from the signage, are quite minimal. We were lucky to get a mooring close to the pub as, on the way down to Oxford there was no room at all, but on our return we managed to get a spot close enough that even I couldn't moan about the walk to the pub!
Yes, that's our vessel...the good ship Peggy Ellen...moored as close as you can get to The Boat Inn!

It will be a good number of years before we're back here as Peggy Ellen is moving back to Kings Bromley Marina in a few weeks time making journeys down the Oxford Canal less likely!

Monday, 26 July 2021

#286 Brasenose Arms, Cropredy, Oxfordshire : 1998 to 2021

 Trips along the Southern Oxford Canal are quite rare for us and so the first time I ever visited Cropredy was on the evening of Wednesday 2nd September 1998 - just 18 years into my canal adventuring!

There are two pubs in Cropredy and on this first visit, we sampled both, but I'll concentrate on the Brasenose Arms this time.

Do I have any recollection as to what it was like?! Looks like it was an M & B pub from the lantern above the entrance.

Our next visit was a lunchtime stop on Tuesday 24th August 2004 on a trip that started out in Oxford.

It would appear, from my image library, that we again visited both pubs in the village. We probably ate in the Red Lion and had a final pint in the Brasenose Arms before setting off again.

All new exterior signage and it would appear to be one of Enterprise Inns stable of pubs (M & B lantern has also gone).

Our most recent visit was on Tuesday 18th May 2021, the day after the second relaxation that allowed eating and drinking INSIDE pubs and restaurants.

On this occasion, I chose the Brasenose Arms because it had been serving a large garden of customers with food since the first relaxation to outdoor drinking/dining and so, I reasoned, they'd be best set up to serve us a decent evening meal. If only I'd paid more attention to the website, which clearly stated (I saw later) that Tuesdays were the chef's days off. So, no food, also they'd taken the decision not to open the pub, just garden service!

Well, we tried the Red Lion, but not surprisingly, it was fuly booked. So, it was back to the Brasenose Arms for an evening of not-cold-enough lager, crisps, nuts and scratchings! Could've been worse, at least we managed a few pints!

From the outside, the pub appears to have changed little, but it is no longer part of Enterprise Inns, who are now part of Stonegate pubs. As far as I can ascertain it is now privately owned.