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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

UPDATE: #264 The Bell, Lower Heyford, Oxfordshire : 1998 to 2021

This isn't something that I'd normally do less than two years after the previous visit, but we live in strange times so, why not?

My original report (from September 2019) can be found here. This is what the pub looked like at lunchtime on Sunday 28th July 2019.

Less than two years had passed by and we were back at lunchtime on Sunday 23rd May 2021.

The first thing you notice is that it is busier despite certain restrictions still being in place (and despite the cool, damp weather!). Then you notice the sign which says just 'The Bell' in a more traditional style. And finally, the new owners (I assume!) have removed the last vestiges of the ivy from around the front door.

I certainly wasn't expecting such a complete change of signage in less than two years...that would normally take closer to ten years for a village pub like The Bell. The Sunday lunch was good, the Carlsberg was cold and it felt like a local village pub/restaurant. All-in-all, well worth a visit!

Monday, 7 June 2021

Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times (Part 2)

 You left us last time as we were staggering back to Peggy Ellen after a 3/4 pub lunchtime session in a cool and damp Oxford. This gave us a couple of hours rest before we headed out into Jericho for the evening.

This was our mooring on the Oxford Canal and, after a short stroll over the cut, this (below) was to be our residence for the evening.

It was 7:30pm and, fortunately there was a small table available, right in front of the bar, so table service worked well for us. It is now as much a French restaurant as a pub, but they didn't mind that we only wanted to drink. We did get quite comfortable as it felt like we were back in a proper pub with some atmosphere for the first time on our trip.

Our plan had been to explore more of the pubs in Jericho, but we got so comfortable that we stayed all night...even pushing the boat out for some Garlic & Chilli Chips and a Tomato & Onion Salad to keep us sustained!

Next morning we were up and ready to resume our journey back to Napton, but there was the little matter of turning the boat. Our previous trips had been in the 35ft long Emma Jane which could be turned easily without leaving the canal. Peggy Ellen is 57ft long which necessitates the use of Isis Lock to descend onto a backwater of the Thames, turn the boat and negotiate the lock again to get back onto the canal.

This was our first real queue for a lock on the trip; we were fourth in line which is quite ironic as we were moored so close to it overnight! The delay was exacerbated by one boat not following instructions which resulted in them having to be towed away from the weir on Castle Mill Stream! To be honest, if the instructions hadn't been pointed out to me I'd probably have done the same thing!

This delay meant that by the time we reached The Highwayman we were too late for lunch as there was no food served between 2pm and 6pm!

So, it was another session of nuts and crisps washed down with cold lager. Not ideal, but we survived! It is also an hotel and it had fairly modern décor inside. By the time we'd downed our third pint it was way too late to expect to get to Lower Heyford and find a seat, so we made a momentous decision to have a 10 minute afternoon cruise to The Boat Inn at Thrupp. This time there was plenty of mooring space (which was filled within half-an-hour of us pulling up)!
Another long walk to the pub! We'd booked in advance because The Boat Inn is really a restaurant these days and a bit of a tourist destination as it has featured in "Inspector Morse" - indeed, we were seated in the Morse Room. This was another pub that closed when most people had gone home. Unsurprisingly we were last out! Not overly busy for a Saturday night; a combination of the weather and the pandemic restrictions I suspect.
Next destination, The Bell at Lower Heyford for Sunday lunch (booked in advance!)
The journey had taken somewhat longer than anticipated, but after ringing the pub from one of the locks, they held onto our table. It was quite busy and the Sunday lunch was served differently to anywhere else I've encountered before. Essentially, you bought a sharing platter for two (for £28-95p) and that was your Sunday lunch! It seemed to work and it was all cooked and presented well.

Our next stop, for Sunday evening, was Aynho Wharf. We knew that there was no way we'd get there before the 6pm Sunday closing time (not to be blamed on the pandemic as this was becoming increasingly common before the plague struck!)
Our plan had been to get a taxi into Banbury, but after an afternoon of cold and rain followed by an increased downpour shortly after we moored our plan was abandoned. There was no point in wandering around Banbury in the rain trying to find pubs that might be open...and boy, did it rain!! So, it was an evening of beer/lager and sandwiches.
Next day we were back in Banbury for lunch...and no guesses for which pub we visited!
It was even quieter than before, but it was a Monday lunchtime!

Our afternoon trip to Cropredy should have been fairly uneventful, but for the first time in many a long year, I was caught outside during a hailstorm! Whilst the hailstones weren't particularly large there were moments during the downpour that I couldn't see the front of the boat from my position on the tiller. We were in a lock, so this wasn't critical!
At Cropredy, the sun finally reappeared giving a lovely evening glow. To avoid the problems we had on the way down to Oxford, this time we'd made a booking!
The Red Lion was fairly busy again, mostly with diners, but discovered quite a few locals in the other rooms. The food was good and the landlady (same one as on our visit in 2019) was as attentive and chatty as ever. So, again feeling close to being back to normal.

Next day brought us the final, long leg back to Napton...unless The Wharf at Fenny Compton was open. (The landlady of the Red Lion seemed to believe that it was closed!)
As we passed by, it looked as though she was correct.
It didn't look open, but there was someone watering flowers so it may be on the way back. However, up-to-date internet information is not to be found. So, another lunchtime of sandwiches on the move!

Another pub we passed by (that was definitely open) was The Folly at the bottom of Napton Locks.
It is many years since we last stopped at The Folly - this time it was because our mooring is only half an hour away and the King's Head is only a short walk from the marina.

...and so this is where we finished our journey.
It's fair to say that the King's Head is more restaurant than pub, but I doubt that it would have survived in it's previous incarnation just as a pub that did food.

So, after a week-long trip how is hospitality holding up? We didn't manage to get into as many pubs as I expected and we missed more pub sessions than I thought we would. This was partly due to the route we chose as there are long stretches of canal with no pub making the ones that have survived even busier. It was also, in part, because we'd set off the day after the restrictions had lifted.
It was quite an eye-opener to see the magnificent efforts taken by those pubs with outdoor space to maximise that area with some fantastically inventive structures. Hopefully they will reap the rewards from their efforts.
Our next trip is planned for August - will the pubs be fully open by then? I would hope so, but given the record of this government and it's loose regard for consistency, who can say?

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times (Part 1)

 For our first boating trip of 2021 we waited until indoor hospitality was open again, albeit under Summer 2020 rules. Our destination was Oxford on the basis that we hadn't been there (for a good session) in a long time.

Travelling from the boat's home marina at Napton-on-the-Hill presents a bit of a dilemma as the refreshment stops between there and Cropredy (9 hours cruising away) are limited. There is The Folly which is just half an hour from the marina and The Wharf at Fenny Compton which is about 4½ hours away, about which we had no information regarding it's status.

So, it was a lunch on board without stopping!

We arrived at Cropredy in plenty of time and it was a pleasant sunny evening. There are two pubs in the village; the Brasenose Arms which had been open (outdoors) for several weeks serving food to a massive garden.

Unfortunately for us, the chef has his day off on Tuesdays, so the pub building was closed and there was no food available...only drinks were being served in the garden.

We strolled round to the Red Lion only to find, unsurprisingly, that it was fully booked and we couldn't even get a drink! So, it was back to the Brasenose for a sumptuous fare of crisps, nuts, scratchings and not cold enough lager!

So, our first pint of 2021, inside a pub, was in Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury.

This time we found it without too much trouble and there was no problem finding a free table. It was disappointing that it wasn't busier, but it will take time to get back to some semblance of 'normal'. As many people are noting, the full range of (Hook Norton) beers wasn't available, but there was sufficient choice for us.

For the evening we'd already booked our table at the Great Western Arms at Aynho Wharf. Even before the pandemic, this had become an upmarket gastropub, but it was remarkably quite busy.

Our table was in the Lavender Garden which is a semi-outdoor area taking maximum advantage of existing outbuildings. All-in-all, a pleasant experience.

Our lunchtime stopping place for the next day was Lower Heyford. Unfortunately, The Bell doesn't open on Thursday lunchtimes and the Barley Mow was completely closed, awaiting new management. So, this was the venue for another sumptuous lunch!

A brief stop to stock up with essentials like cheese and corned beef for a beer and sandwiches lunch on board the good ship Peggy Ellen. Then we resumed our journey south - next stop Thrupp.

Along the way we passed by former "EastEnders" actor Phil Daniels and his boat Tuppence, moored in an attractive tree lined cutting, just before we came across the sad sight of the now closed Rock of Gibraltar pub.

It's a pub that I've never actually been into...and now never will!

After miles of canal where the pubs are half-a-day's cruising apart, you get to Thrupp where there are three pubs within a 15 minute walk of each other! There were no mooring spaces outside The Boat Inn, but plenty of room outside The Jolly Boatman!

This shows how close we were moored. It is a pleasantly run pub - they managed to find us a table, the food was good, the lager cold and they pre-warned us that closing time was dependent on how busy they were. In the event, it was around 10pm when they closed the bar allowing us a relaxed drinking up period. Luckily for us, the pub's one-way system led us out through the garden/smoking shelter, almost to our front door!
Next stop Oxford! It was another rainy day when we moored up in Jericho and strolled along the last few hundred yards of the canal and into the city. Dreaming spires, fantastic old and characterful've guessed it though...Wetherspoon's Four Candles was our first stop!
Amazingly there was no queue, although there weren't many free tables. We were downstairs, so the technical glitch with their app didn't affect us as we got the table service, which worked very well. After a couple of pints and lunch we moved on in search of a pub that we'd been into in 1998, but remembered little else about apart from it's name - the Three Goats Heads.

What a fine pub it is and, unexpectedly, it's a Sam Smiths boozer! I'm not a fan of Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter, so I was on the lager and my travelling companion went for the OBB! Sadly, it wasn't very busy - most likely a combination of the pandemic restrictions and the fact that it was rainy and cold!

Next we wanted to find a pub that neither of us could remember the name of. We knew that it was a small corner pub close to one of the colleges and that it had a magnificent collection of ties. This is when a smart phone with a map is your friend.
As they used to say in local cinema adverts, "'ere Bert, this is the place!" We stepped inside The Bear and it was seemingly unchanged except that, in these curious times, it was full...with just three people inside! Sure, we could've had a drink in the 'beer garden', but what's the point? With the current rules, I don't know how many more pubs there are in a similar situation, because that just isn't viable.

Moving on, we found a lovely little pub that we'd never been to before for our last pint of the session.
The White Horse is somewhat TARDIS like in that it goes back a long way inside which meant that there was plenty of space for us! Obviously, no-one was drinking outside, but the rain had finally begun to ease. I don't really recollect too much about the interior other than it felt like a proper town pub...and they served food as well.

By the time we'd had a pint it was almost 5pm and so time for the long stroll back to the boat to 'prepare' for our evening session. As we walked back past the 'Spoon's we could see that a queue had formed. A little further on and we came to the terminus of the Oxford Canal...only a few more steps to our mooring!
(Next time - a night out in Jericho, a 10 minute afternoon cruise between pub sessions and a river almost in flood - stay tuned for more tales of "Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times"!)

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Concluding the Digbeth/Eastside Update

 With the pubs being back open again (well, for outdoor table service only) I realise that I've left a few of the Digbeth stragglers without an up date. So, here we go: -
#064 White Swan, Bradford Street, Digbeth
Last year I reported the depressing news that this magnificent boozer had closed with little prospect of reopening in the near future. This is the scene that I discovered a few weeks ago.

White Swan, Digbeth 2021

On the face of it, there would appear to be few prospects of it reopening any time soon with extra layers of grafitti having been added. However, appearances can be deceptive. That whole plot of land behind the White Swan is owned by Seven Capital who are also now the owners of the pub. They have pledged to reopen the pub and, as they own the land, they plan to have an extensive 'garden' area at the back of the property - details here.

#048 Adam & Eve, Bradford Street, Deritend (RIP)
When I last reported on the Adam & Eve in 2018 it had closed as a pub and resurrected itself as Evolve - a café and event space designed to provide young people with training. Now into 2021...there's been no change!

Adam & Eve, Deritend 2021

#018 Subside (aka The Dubliner), Digbeth
For many years this was The Barrel Organ, which then morphed into The Dubliner and, when I last reported in 2018, it had changed name, again, to Subside which is more of a nightclub than a pub. Here in 2021, nothing much has changed.

Subside, Digbeth 2021  

#068 The Ruin, Floodgate Street, Digbeth
Another pub that I last reported on in 2018 and another Digbeth survivor that has had many names over the past few years...and another that has changed very little over the past few years.

The Ruin, Digbeth 2021

#012 The Forge Tavern, Digbeth (RIP)
When I last reported in 2018 The Forge Tavern had been closed down following a fatal stabbing in 2017. Unfortunately, in the intervening years it would appear that only decay and dereliction have followed.

The Forge Tavern, Digbeth 2021

#056 The Woodman, Digbeth
Surprisingly, I haven't reported on the Woodman since the original blog post in 2011, although it has appeared in several posts in the meantime. Although it is a few yards away from the site of the much missed Eagle & Tun, The Woodman is guaranteed to survive the building of the new HS2 terminus.

The Woodman, Digbeth 2021

So, depite the tremendous upheavals in the vicinity, The Woodman has been back as strong as ever since the pubs were allowed to reopen!

#040 Eagle & Ball, Gopsal Street, Birmingham City University 
The Eagle & Ball has been one of the success stories of this area with the old Moby Dick's being resurrected as the Eagle & Ball. I last reported in 2018 when it had reopened, and real change!

Eagle & Ball, Gopsal Street, BCU

And finally....

#013 Mist Shisha Lounge, Adelaide Street, Deritend

When I first pictured this establishment it was the Carpenters Arms, but by 2011 it had become the Moon Shisha Lounge. I last reported in 2018 when it had changed to Mist Shisha Lounge. This is the scene in 2021.

Mist Shisha Lounge, Adelaide Street, Deritend

It has been redecorated in the ensuing years and still appears to be a going concern.
So, there you have it, a whistlestop tour through the last few pubs in Digbeth and Eastside. Not many more have gone for good, but the next few months will be critical for the survival propsects of many. Let's hope for a warm summer with good football to swell pub attendances!

Friday, 16 April 2021

It's Bandwagon Time!

 To misquote The Bard of Avon, "Is this a bandwagon which I see before me, Come let me jump aboard!" Ever since the 'glorious' twelfth (of April) any reputable (and a few disreputable) beer/pub blogger has been revelling in and reporting on our new found freedom to have a proper pub pint in a proper!

Who am I to buck this trend? Yesterday I took my first steps back towards normality with a lunchtime session at the Sacks of Potatoes pub by Aston University. I haven't been to 'The Sack' for many years, but I have previously reported on it on this blog (#205).

We chose here because our regular local, the Country Girl in Selly Oak, hasn't yet reopened (26th April). We booked online, but it was possible to just turn up.

This was the scene, a typically beautiful sunny day in Brum...with a bit of a chill wind! It is so long since my last visit, I was convinced that they'd moved the pub as it wasn't quite where I thought it should be!

On arrival we were shown to our table in the outdoor smoking dining area and asked to fill in their track and trace forms (as neither of us have the app!). Service was swift and efficient...and the Carling was as good as ever!

The limited food offering was just right for us, although on another day I may have bemoaned the lack of a proper sandwich...but not today, I was just happy to be back out in the real world!

Drinking at home and with friends is fine, but you don't get the banter with bar staff or the unexpected (brief) conversation with a stranger (and Rangers fan) about how much longer Stevie G might stay north of the border before taking over at Liverpool. Nor do you get the frisson of excitement/apprehension as when a group of young Asian men and women turn up without booking and just sit down at a table. After a brief chat with the bar staff, it wasn't a problem! Reassuringly reasonable...all's well (so far) in publand!

Our stroll back to New Street Station took us past one of the seemingly less loved of Birmingham's statues - Bruce Williams 1996 sculpture of Tony Hancock.

This is my retouched version because in real life it is looking somewhat shabby after many years of neglect.

And so to home to spend the rest of the day sleepily thinking, "Why did I have that fourth pint?" Worth it!

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

#025 The Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021

 Whilst my fellow bloggers and pub tickers renew their acquaintance with beer gardens and blogging, I've still got one or two Digbeth classics to catch up with, and today's offering is The Anchor. Here's what I wrote back in 2011: -

"The Anchor in Digbeth is a success story in a world where proper pubs are disappearing, this pub is thriving. This is the eleventh in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Here it is in 1998 and at this time I'd never been inside. This is another example of a pub built by James & Lister Lea and it is a Grade II listed building. Since taking the photo I have visited and found it to be a great place and 'unspoilt by progress'.

Here we are in 2011 and from the outside very little has changed. Even the lamp post is still the same one, although it has been painted in the intervening years! The inside is listed on the National Inventory of Pub Interiors which is run by CAMRA and shows pictures of the various rooms. The Anchor website is fairly extensive and also has plenty of useful information (not any more). If you find yourself in Birmingham (especially if you're at the Coach Station), The Anchor is well worth a visit."

Moving on to 2018 and I paid two visits to The Anchor. The first was in January when I took this picture.

As you can see it has had a bit of an external makeover...and the streetlight has disappeared! Apart from that, very little has changed about The Anchor as we found out on my second visit of the year for July's Proper Pubs Day Out trip around Digbeth.

So, as we reach 2021, how has The Anchor changed?

You'd have to say, "Not a lot!" The main question is, "When will it reopen (if at all)?" The good news, according to their Facebook page, is that The Anchor will reopen on 21st May (assuming the government don't do a U-turn)! 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

#044 Sir Charles Napier, Highgate, Birmingham : 1955 to 1998 to 2011 to 2021

 This is another pub that I've never been in, but it still thrives despite this! Here's what I wrote in 2011: -

"This is another of those pubs that I first discovered on my initial 1998 trip around the area. The Sir Charles Napier looks like a typical back street, corner pub of which there were many more then than there are now.

I've still not set foot inside, but I was pleased to see that the Sir Charles Napier was still in business when I returned in 2011.

Apart from a lick of paint it doesn't appear to have changed in the intervening years, aside from it not being an M&B pub any more. The shamrock leaves indicate that it is another Irish pub. It's unlikely that I'll ever visit the Sir Charles Napier for a drink as it is a bit off the beaten track from my usual pub crawls around the 'Eastside' of Birmingham

This is the twentieth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

As I was researching the Sir Charles Napier I came across this website - Digital Photographic Images (broken link) - which has many old photos of Birmingham pubs. One of the images was of the Sir Charles Napier from 1955. So I've acquired the postcard and scanned it so that you can see how the pub has changed over a longer period.
The main difference, and I can't quite work out how it was achieved, is that in 1955 the junction was a right angle as was the corner of the pub. However in 1998 the junction is an obtuse angle and the pub looks to have been similarly altered, but with no change to the overall appearance of the building! 

When I started this blog my intention was to use only photos that I'd taken, but I think in a few cases these old photos add to the detail and interest."
Moving on to 2018 and we get another external redecoration.
Lovely bright paintwork which is often a sign that the pub is still thriving.
I can't seem to find any information about when the Sir Charles Napier will be reopening, but their Facebook page seems to be active and promoting other local pubs and businesses.
This is how it looks in 2021. Another slight redecoration, but still looking vibrant!

As I've been writing this I wondered, "Who was Sir Charles Napier?" Not as simple a question as I'd hoped - it turns out, according to Wikipedia, that there were three of them!
General Sir Charles James Napier (1782 - 1853)
Admiral Sir Charles John Napier (1786 - 1860)
Captain Sir Charles Elers Napier (1812 - 1847)

So, I'm still not sure who the pub is named in honour of!