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Monday, 21 January 2019

From Attic to Infimary (via Alicia's and the Oak)

I'd thought about doing blog posts away from the usual theme and detail some of my other 'adventures' in pub land like proper pub bloggers know who you are...and our trip to Stirchley's newest microbrewery Attic Brew Co seemed to fit the bill perfectly. (...and I even managed a punny title!!)

As I strolled there to meet my friends I couldn't quite work out whether it was closer to me than the British Oak. (It's about 100 yards further, I reckon) The opening hours are typical micro...4 - 10pm on Fridays and 1 - 10pm on Saturdays.

So, on a cool, damp Saturday at 7:30pm this is the scene I came across.
The place was packed and it was standing room only. So, what beers (all craft keg!) did they have on offer...cue picture of typical micropub beer list!
I had the Session IPA, followed by River Street Czech Pilsener and finished off with a pint of the Munich Wheat. I think that between us we had a pint of everything apart from the Confused Brummie. I enjoyed my three pints although I probably wouldn't go for the wheat beer again!

I like the fact that they're not afraid to sell beers from other local microbreweries like Dig Brew and Birmingham Brewing (also in Stirchley!)

It's a family friendly place as there were lots of children there when we arrived and, remarkably for the new micropub on an industrial estate, there were two toilets.
One final shot of the multiplicity of beards on offer and a young Frankie Boyle!

So, then it was off to Alicia's Micro Bakehouse for our evening repast. Before we went inside there was just time to get a shot of the new, larger premises for the Wildcat Tap which is moving to be almost next-door to Alicia's and opposite the British Oak.

Here in Stirchley, we don't bother with mobility scooters when you can have the real thing!

Inside it is quite cosy and was full again (this being our second visit). It is a quirky place in that you have to go to the counter to order both food and drinks which included taking your own beer from the glass fronted fridges. I chose a bottle of Ichnusa, a Sardinian beer that I'd never heard of previously. And very nice it was too.

I know that, at this stage, I should have a picture of at least one of the pizzas...but I don't! Three out of the four of us enjoyed our pizzas (which isn't a bad average, really!) and so we headed out into the damp Stirchley night for the trek to the British Oak. (Actually, we just crossed the Pershore Road!)
 I hadn't noticed how much drizzle had got onto the lens until I downloaded the photos (but this was the best I managed - couldn't possibly have anything to do with the drink, surely!).

Anyway, after taking a cloudy pint of Wainwright back (it tasted OK, but I didn't want to risk it) it was changed without demur for a pint of Wye Valley HPA. I then asked for a pint of something else (don't remember what) which I only managed to down half before I started to feel unwell.

A visit to the loo to release some of the pressure had a temporary effect, but within a few minutes I realised that I didn't have the strength/energy to walk the ¼ mile home. Whilst waiting for the taxi, my friends grew more concerned about my condition, particularly Julie who is a nurse. (I thought I'd be fine after a good sleep and a dump...not necessarily in that order!)

So, an ambulance was called and after being checked over the crew thought it best to take me into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital A&E. At least I got my first ever ride in an ambulance as a patient!

Fortunately, and somewhat amazingly for a Saturday night the A&E wasn't particularly packed out, but it was still going to be a 2½ - 3 hour wait to get assessed. If I'd been on my own, I would probably have checked myself out and gone home, but my friend Tim who accompanied me in the ambulance was adamant that I should stay and get checked out (especially at "my age"!).

I hung around, trying to doze off, but it isn't the most comfoprtable seating. Waking from one of my brief, micro dozes, I looked up to see a nurse standing over me at first not recognising Helen (Julie's daughter) who works in the QE. We had a chat as she was on her break and apparently, the night before there'd been over 100 people there (there are only about 40 seats!) so I was thankful that it was a quiet night.

I was finally seen by a doctor after 3 hours, they couldn't find anything seriously wrong with me and so I was discharged and finally got home at 6:50 am, not quite 12 hours since I'd set out.

At least there weren't the dramas of Citra's heart attack(s) (blogpost here), but it does highlight the perils of getting old.

After a good long sleep (till 4:30 pm) I let everyone know that I was still here and discovered that Julie had also felt quite unwell. The only thing that we'd consumed in common (that was different to our other friends) was the Wheat Beer and she'd only had a half.

So, a slightly more eventful than normal Saturday night out...I'm just hoping that I'll be 'fit' enough for a lunchtime pint (or two) at The Wellington in town on Monday (Today in fact!)

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

#251 King's Head, Napton-on-the-Hill, Warwickshire : 1994 to 2018

If you're a canal enthusiast, you will have heard of Napton, but if not you almost certainly won't...until someone mentions that it's that place in the Warwickshire countryside with a prominent windmill on top of a hill that you can see for miles around.

Fortunately for us, the canal goes around the hill, so it is a flat walk to the pub. The Kings Head has never been one of our 'go to' pubs in Napton, but we may become more frequent visitors now that the good ship Peggy Ellen is moored near by and The Bridge Inn is now closed!

The first time we visited the King's Head was on the evening of Thursday 1st September 1994.
The reason that we ended up here was because we'd stopped quite early and had eaten in The Bridge Inn we decided to explore Napton for the first time. We walked into the village...up the hill...had a pint (or two) in the Crown and then headed back down the hill where we found the King's Head. As I recall, it was a typical (for the time) country pub that also did food.

It made such an impression on us that we didn't visit again for 20 years! This time we'd hired a boat from Wigrams Turn Marina and this was our destination on the last evening - Thursday 9th October 2014.
Amazingly, it was no longer an Ansell's pub, but had transformed into a fully fledged gastropub. It was what you'd expect in the Warwickshire countryside - somewhat upmarket with prices to reflect this.

We returned with the new boat Peggy Ellen for her new permanent mooring at Wigrams Turn Marina and so we ended the journey with another visit to the King's Head.

This was on Thursday 1st October 2018 and the pub had hardly changed in the intervening four years. It still is a place where you could just have a drink...but it is a restaurant, really! Just for those who like this sort of thing - they now serve Hook Norton ales, a guest ale and craft brews such as Carling, Estrella and San Miguel...bring your cheque book! We did enjoy the food and the evening so it worked on both levels!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

#250 Market Tavern, Atherstone, Warwickshire : 1995 to 2018 (RIP??)

Atherstone is a place we visit fairly frequently on our boating trips and, for a small town, it still has a lot of pubs. One of our favourites is the Market Tavern which has a chequered past and an uncertain future.

Although we'd stopped in Atherstone previously, my first experience of the town itself was on the evening of Monday 4th September 1995. Even then there were a lot of pubs in the town and it was difficult to see how they could all survive, even in the halcyon days before the smoking ban.

Sadly, not one of my best pictures! This was probably our third or fourth pub of the night and gave us a taste of what was to come in the future. It was (and still is) a lovely two room pub, but when we arrived there was only the barman in the place. We ordered our pints of lager each and discovered that he was the stand-in manager as the previous incumbent had left. As we were chatting another customer came in, ordered a half, drank it in about 10 minutes and was gone! We finished ours and followed him shortly afterwards, looking for food.

We didn't return to Atherstone until lunchtime on Saturday 20th August 2005 to find the Market Tavern still going strong!
I don't recall too much about our visit, just that it had changed remarkably little in the intervening 10 years.

We were back again on the evening of Tuesday 25th May 2009 and still there was little discernible change.

Another five years passed and we returned on the evening of Sunday 5th October 2014.
Although it appeared unchanged, the Market Tavern was now owned by the Warwickshire Beer Company. Inside it had been tastefully refurbished and retained its character as a proper boozer.

We were back in Atherstone again on the evening of Wednesday 2nd September 2015.
It just so happened that Wednesday night was quiz night at the Market Tavern, thus killing two birds with one stone as there were sandwiches included with the quiz (so no need to search out a dodgy curry...or worse!).

Of course, we did the unthinkable and won the quiz (its a small pub so there weren't many teams...and there were only two of us!) The prize was a bottle of wine and a gallon of beer (in one pint vouchers). So we did what anyone else would (to maintain order and dignity) we took the wine had a pint each and gave the rest of the vouchers to the other teams...well, it was late and we'd never have managed to use them up.

On our most recent trip to take Peggy Ellen to her new moorings at Napton,   we stopped at Atherstone again. This was on the evening of Saturday 29th September 2018.
The Market Tavern was to be our first stop of the evening, but it was closed! As we discovered later, they were looking for a new tenant/manager, but from current internet searching it would appear that it is still closed.Whether it gets a resurrection is still unknown, but I hope it does survive.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

#249 Sandbrook Vaults, Market Drayton, Shropshire : 1987 to 2018

I was all ready to produce a tale of our visits to the Sandbrook Vaults starting in 1999 when, in a pique of thoroughness, I rechecked our log books and photo albums to discover that we made our first visit way back in 1987.
This was taken on the evening of Thursday 9th July 1987 and that's all I can add to the recollection (and that's why I take the photos because I would not have remembered visiting here.) Interestingly, it was run by McEwan's Scotch Ales and the large hanging sign to the top right of the picture is for the Elephant and Castle, which I assume was next door.

We didn't visit Market Drayton again until 1996, but we didn't venture back into the Sandbrook Vaults until the evening of Monday 6th September 1999.
The basic appearance of the pub was unchanged but the signage was completely different and, if you look closely, it had gained an 'S' now being called Sandbrooks Vaults.
We returned almost exactly a year later on Tuesday 5th September 2000 and the pub had gained some vegetation, but all else was the same.
Lo and behold! We were back again on the evening of Tuesday 10th September 2002 - amazing; no visit for twelve years and then three times in four years. The external signage had changed and the name reverted back to the original. Judging from the lighting (and the 'soft' focus) I think that these last visits were after our curry just across the road and represented out final chance for a drink each night. My recollections are that it was a basic town boozer inside that catered for a more music minded crowd. That probably explains why, despite visiting Market Drayton on numerous occasions it was another sixteen years before we ventured back inside.
Again, we left it to the last stop of the night on Tuesday 4th September 2018 (again after our curry...different restaurant, though).

Now it is a Joule's pub and hasn't been given quite as severe a makeover as most Joule's pubs as it still felt like a live music pub. Amazingly, the pub next door is stilll open as well and called the Clive and Coffyne (haven't been in for many years!)

So, although the Sandbrook Vaults looks to be completely unchanged over the passing years this belies many subtle changes that have taken place in 31 years - not least the change from McEwan's to Joule's.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Jolly Boys Outing to St Albans

This was to be a first for me in more ways than one - first ever visit to St Albans; first Proper Pubs Day Out away from Birmingham; first time meeting several members of the beer blogging glitterati!

We met in the Robin Hood at about midday and all of the major players have been introduced in Richard Coldwell's excellent blog Beer Leeds ( I'm the one in the green and gold rugby shirt.
Robin Hood, St Albans - November 2018
Most of the attendees are primarily beer bloggers who obviously have to go into pubs, whereas I was probably the only regular Carling drinker amongst the group. However, as we were visiting specially chosen pubs for the beer, I did stick to proper beer all day...and very good it was too. I think that I only had one that I wasn't keen on (fortunately it was only a half - my only half of the day!). It wasn't 'off', just not to my taste.

So, after a pint in the Robin Hood we moved on to the next stop on the itinerary, The Mermaid.
The Mermaid, St Albans - November 2018
Another lovely, proper pub just away from the town centre - I had a pint of Citra here, but that's the limit of my memory. (If I was that bothered I'd start taking notes like the assembled professionals who were noting each beer consumed and its NBSS). My notes are the photos I take...when I remember!
Jolly Boy's Outing St Albans - November 2018
This was the scene as we strode away from The Mermaid towards our next stop, The Boot. Although it wasn't a race, I want to go into Peter O'Sullevan mode to tell you that, "Striding out in front is the Stafford Mudgie a long way clear of Roger Protz, @StephenPie and Lulu, closely followed by Retired Martin and Beer Leeds, with Citra coming up on the outside (a remarkable performance considering his recent myocardial infarction!). Bringing up the rear are Mrs RC and the Pubmeister with Joe Public stone last."
The Boot, St Albans - November 2018
The final 'race order' may never be known, but we reached The Boot unscathed. It is another lovely pub, but perhaps in need of a little tlc as it was a little careworn. Still a pleasant pub, though.

From here, the itinerary went downhill, literally, as we headed down to the old town through some lovely, quaint English streets. It was at this stage that I thought the organisers had gone mad. We seemed to have passed lots of pubs which looked nice to me and ahead I could see two more that we weren't going into, either! However, it turned out that the two pub signs were hanging outside private homes which had once been hostelries. We carried on to the Lower Red Lion.
Lower Red Lion, St Albans - November 2018 
By now we'd missed lunch, but as we were drinking plenty of fluids, we were safe to continue. Another lovely pub.
Where to now?
Six Bells, St Albans - November 2018

"...and they're off again..."
We were now on the way to what had been billed as the final destination of our tour - Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans - November 2018
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans - November 2018
So, where to next? This had been planned as the final stop, but having missed out the lunch stop there was time to get to the Great Northern. This was in completely the wrong direction for me, but I still had plenty of time to kill and it was a very interesting stroll taking us past the cathedral.
St Albans Cathedral - November 2018
Great Northern, St Albans - November 2018
This was the final port of call on the regular tour and another nice place too. However, I still had almost three hours to kill before my train back to Brum, so Lulu volunteered to introduce me to a couple more of her favoured pubs which would also take me in the right direction.

First was the White Hart Tap (I think, as I forgot to take a picture) and our final port of call the White Lion.
The White Lion, St Albans - November 2018
From my point of view, it is a good job that St Albans isn't on the canal as we'd find it difficult to leave with all of these fantastic pubs (I don't think that I've ever walked past so many good looking pubs in one day!)

My thanks go to the organisers for such a fine selection of hostelries and my special personal thanks to Peter and Lulu who went the extra mile to look after me when the 'official' proceedings were over.

Friday, 19 October 2018

#248 Wynnstay Arms, Llangollen, Denbighshire : 2007 to 2018 (RIP?) And A Flock of Seagulls Member!

Our boating trips to Llangollen are quite infrequent, but is is a great section of canal to travel along. The town of Llangollen has some interesting pubs (see previous entries) and I'm surprised that the Wynnstay Arms hadn't featured before.

We didn't go into the pub on our first visit in 1996, but we did venture in on the evening of Friday 31st August 2007.
As I recall, despite appearances from outside, it was quite a small, intimate local boozer on the inside (a sort of reverse Tardis effect!)

Our next visit to Llangollen was at Easter in 2014 when we hired a boat from Chirk Marina.
This visit was on the evening of Saturday 19th April 2014 and, as far as I could tell, the Wynnstay Arms was unchanged (outside or in).

On our most recent visit to Llangollen, on the evening of Friday 31st August 2018, this was the scene.
We'd already had a couple of pints, a meal and approx a bootle of wine (each) and were looking forward to seeing whether it was still a proper little boozer. At first glance it looked remarkably unchanged...but the closed front door is a bit of a giveaway (this was 10:40pm). Somewhat disappointed, my friends headed off to the Bridge End Hotel (where we'd started our evening) and this is where my evening turned into a somewhat bizarre experience.

As I was taking my pictures I got into conversation with a scouse gentleman who was having a fag outside the wine bar next door to the Wynnstay Arms. I think he started the conversation (but I'd had a lot to drink so don't really remember much detail!) by telling me his name and that he was a member of the band A Flock of Seagulls. I didn't recognise him and, quite frankly, I didn't really believe him, but I carried on chatting with him because...well, I'll talk to anyone! (And I quite liked A Flock of Seagulls, back in the day.) It was his idea that I take the picture.
Later, after a quick check on the internet, it looked as though I might have been talking with Mike Score who was the lead singer with the band. Subsequent research, back home proved that it wasn't him as he now has an American twang to his voice. I finally found a recent interview with the whole band and there he was...Frank the same shades, wearing the same watch and crucially with exactly the same voice. Don't ask me what he was doing in Llangollen, because in my pissed state I couldn't remember!

Anyway, back to the Wynnstay Arms. Subsequent research shows that it is to be refurbished "to transform it into a destination bar, restaurant and cocktail bar" as outlined on the Welsh Government website. Whether this actually goes ahead is anybody's guess, but hopefully it will continue as a drinking establishment in some form. 

Monday, 8 October 2018

#247 Horse & Jockey, Grindley Brook, Shropshire : 1996 to 2018

Grindley Brook is a small village on the Llangollen Canal just outside Whitchurch. The only pub in the village is the Horse & Jockey which we've visited on the few occasions that we've stopped there.
Our first visit was at lunchtime on Sunday 25th August 1996 and this was the welcoming sight. As usual, I have little recollection of the interior, but as the sign says Food was served from 12 - 2 pm and 7 - 10 pm Every Day so we obviously were well fed. (as an aside, whatever happened to those sorts of food serving times? Admittedly, 2 pm is a bit early to stop. Definitely shows the changing times and eating out habits over 22 years.)
The Llangollen canal isn't one we take on too often and so we didn't return to the Horse & Jockey until another lunchtime on Sunday 2nd September 2007.
In the passing 11 years, the Horse & Jockey appears to have changed hands and was no longer a Banks's pub. Interestingly, aside from the complete redecoration, a 'porch' has appeared around the front door and a chimney has sprouted from the low roof on the right.
Coincidentally, it took us another 11 years to return and on this trip, we paid it two visits.
Firstly on the evening of Wednesday 29th August 2018 and then again - 
 on the evening of Sunday 2nd September 2018 (exactly 11 years to the day from the previous visit!). It has undergone yet further refurbishments both outside and in. One thing that hasn't changed is the civilised food times on a Sunday (til 9 pm).
The d├ęcor is what I would call, modern rustic, a style many food led country pubs have now adopted. The food was good with an interesting menu that changes monthly, but I have one quibble - why is it a modern trend to serve a meal with the various components piled on top of each other?
My fish and chips arrived with the battered cod on top of a stack of chips (piled Jenga style) meaning that the fat from the batter inevitably softens what were crisp chips! On the second visit, the roast beef (and Yorkshire Pudding) were on top of a pile of assorted vegetables which hid the abomination that is cauliflower cheese. The manner in which this was rectified was exemplary, which is the sign of a well-run establishment.