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Monday, 28 October 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part III (Pewsey Wharf to Newbury)

 After the rain of the previous evening the weather when we set off from Pewsey was reasonably warm, but still a bit damp. Our first stop was for lunch at Stibb Green...well that's what our Nicholson's Guide called it. However, as we were walking up the hill away from the canal (desperately trying to avoid the traffic) the road signs were directing us to Burbage.
Three Horseshoes, Burbage
 It was the right place and a very pleasant lunch was served, even if it wasn't cheap. Then it was back to the boat, taking our lives in our hands, for a pleasant afternoon boating. The rain had passed and we were now descending from the summit of the canal.

Our evening stop for the night was Great Bedwyn, which fortunately for us has two pubs.
Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn
This was the first one we ventured into, but the menu was a bit too pretentious even for us to consider, so we had one pint and moved on down the street.
Cross Keys, Great Bedwyn
The Cross Keys was much more to our liking and we stayed there for the rest of the evening. 

The next day took us through more locks and we reached Hungerford for lunch. It is a pleasant town with quite a few pubs to choose from - and we managed three of them!
The Borough Arms, Hungerford
The Plume of Feathers Inn, Hungerford
Three Swans Hotel, Hungerford
Its not often that we manage a lunchtime pub crawl, but this was a pleasant sampling of the pubs on the main street in Hungerford. The sun was still shining as we headed off again on our continuing journey of discovery.

We reached the village of Kintbury which was a pleasant place to stop and only a short walk to the station so that Andrew could get his train home in the morning. Again we managed to find three pubs.
The Blue Ball, Kintbury
Our first impression was of a busy, thriving, friendly village pub (well, it was a Friday night!). We had, inadvertently, sat at the table which should have been reserved for the regular Friday night card game and we were asked, in a very friendly manner, if we could move to another table by eight o'clock. That part of the pub was very busy so we retreated to the restaurant side of the pub and had our evening meal.

The meal was only OK and so we headed off into the dark and found this next pub.
Prince of Wales, Kintbury
This was also quite busy, but a more down market pub. It also had the right 'village local' feel but after a pint we were on our way again.
Dundas Arms, Kintbury
It is a very upmarket establishment and I ended up taking an interior shot as it was very dark outside. The Dundas Arms has a long history and is a hotel as well as being a pub and restaurant.

Next day, after bidding Andrew farewell at Kintbury Station we set out on our Black Prince hire boat, Anitra, heading towards Reading. We got as far as Newbury.
Lock, Stock and Barrel, Newbury
Despite its ideal location, this pub is a fairly soulless place and we only had one pint before moving on. We actually went into a couple of pubs before we ended up here where we knew we'd get some decent food.
The Hatchet Inn, Newbury
This was the first time on our trip that we'd been saved from potential disaster by a Wetherspoon pub! After a couple of pints and some fairly bog-standard food, we moved on and found a pub that has taken a novel approach.
Allsorts, Newbury
From the outside it looks like a pleasant, proper pub but inside it has been done out like a 50's American café/diner. It's not to my taste, but I'll never knock anyone for trying something different.

We decided that there probably wasn't much more to see by continuing our journey we stayed in Newbury for the evening session. Our lunchtime reconnaissance showed us that Newbury is a very pleasant place with plenty of pubs to sample.
Coopers Arms, Newbury
This time we headed to the other side of town and found the Coopers Arms. After just the one pint we decided to venture forth again...and promptly got lost! This is quite a remarkable feat as Newbury isn't a big town, but we managed it! We soon recovered our bearings and ended up here - 
The Monument, Newbury
This is a fairly typical town centre boozer. We only had one pint before getting out before the band started their set. It was only when we were outside the pub that we discovered the name of the band - Fuckshovel. We went to the local Thai restaurant which was our last port of call for the evening.

And that's where we end for this week.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part II (Bath to Pewsey Wharf)

Next morning, after a quick trip up the Avon as far as Pulteney Bridge, we set off back towards Bradford-on-Avon along the Kennet & Avon Canal. After negotiating Bath Locks again our only viable lunchtime stop was outside The George at Bathampton!
The George, Bathampton
As it was now a Monday lunchtime there was plenty of room to sit and the experience was much better than two days earlier!

After lunch we cast off and spent the afternoon gently navigating our way back towards Bradford-on-Avon, arriving there just after 6pm. This gave us plenty of time to explore the delightful village and the pubs therein.

We ignored the Canal Tavern and walked past The Three Horseshoes finally ending up here.
The Bear Inn
The Bear Inn, Bradford-on-Avon
Despite its traditional exterior, inside was quite modern and stark. As it was early evening on a Monday it was quite quiet, but a few people were turning up for the quiz night, just as we were leaving.

Next was the Dandy Lion which has the feel of a proper pub and provides very good food.
The Dandy Lion, Bradford-on-Avon
Contrary to what you'd expect, it hasn't been a pub for that many years. Most of it's 200+ years of existence was as a variety of shops (including shoe shop!) I can't remember the details, but I think it has only been a pub for about 20 years. It felt much older than that.

After more beer, wine and food it was time to head back up the hill to the canal and we just had time to pop in to The Barge for a nightcap...or two!
The Barge Inn, Bradford-on-Avon
As The Barge Inn is just over the cut from where we were moored it seemed like a good idea. However, the only lagers available were 5% and served in non lager glasses...not a good combination. It also felt more like sitting at a farmhouse kitchen table than a cosy pub! However, there was an unexpected memory to take away.

All experienced boaters know that pubs tend to offer the best option for toilet facilities and we usually take advantage when necessary. One of my fellow travellers (I won't name him here!) needed to pay a visit and, when he returned a few minutes later he related a strange occurrence. Apparently, as he was sitting there he suddenly had the sensation the the room had tilted to 45°! After a suitable pause, I needed to go as well. As I was sitting there I experienced nothing strange and was beginning to think my friend was going soft in the head or had drunk too much. But then I stood up to sort out the 'paperwork' and suddenly the room tilted to 45°...very weird!

Next morning we were on our way again heading east and we ended up at Seend Cleeve for lunch.
The Barge Inn, Seend Cleeve
Another Barge Inn, but a much more satisfactory experience than our previous Barge Inn visit the night before!

Back onto our boat Anitra for an afternoon of working locks up to the bottom of the world-famous Caen Hill flight - sixteen locks rising 130 feet towards Devizes.
Caen Hill Locks
That was something to look forward to for the next morning, but our immediate problem was - where is the nearest pub? The village of Rowde was about a mile away and we were hopeful that we'd find something.

There were two pubs, so that was us sorted for the evening!
Cross Keys, Rowde
The Cross Keys is a fairly standard pub, but food wasn't available on the night we were there. Not the end of the world because there was another choice.
George & Dragon, Rowde
The George & Dragon isn't really a pub, but rather a hotel with a restaurant, so we were happy! After a pleasant meal we headed back to the Cross Keys for a couple more before strolling back to the boat ready for an early(ish) start to tackle the locks next morning!

Next day it was quite misty when we set out up the locks. It took us a little over 3 hours to negotiate passage to the top, but this included a ½ hour wait for a wide beam boat coming down at about the eighth lock. After all the hard work, this was our mooring.
Black Horse, Devizes
Mooring up at a pub garden is always the best! Lunch was pleasant and we were off again a couple of hours later. After three more locks we then had a long flat stretch of canal all the way to Pewsey. This turned out to be the longest travelling session of the holiday (and also the first time it rained!). It was my turn to steer and 5 hours later we were mooring up (illegally) at Pewsey Wharf in the dark and wet.
Waterfront Bar & Bistro, Pewsey Wharf
Fortunately for us it was open and serving food. Again, not really a proper pub, but it passed all the criteria we needed - food, drink and a seat. It felt more like a clubhouse for the local boaters (it was quite busy when we arrived) and the landlord/owner was a real character who'd had many previous jobs including owning one of the early hire fleets on the Kennet & Avon Canal. All-in-all a very good night of eating, drinking and talking (and we were the last to leave!).

This seems like an appropriate point to press the 'Pause' button.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part I (Bradford-on-Avon to Bath)

Most of the pubs featured in this blog are ones that I've visited on our canal holidays over the years. Since we sold our boat Emma Jane last year we've been able to visit 'new' canals that I've never been on before. From a holiday point of view this has been great, but it means that, for this blog, the supply of pubs has diminished somewhat. I've still got quite a few to get through, but as it is still fresh in the mind I'm going to detail the pubs we visited on our most recent trip along the Kennet & Avon Canal. Who knows, in a few years if we revisit the canal again I can add them to the collection.

Our trip started from Bradford-on-Avon with lunch in one of the nearest pubs to the Black Prince hire base.
Canal Tavern, Bradford-on-Avon
Like all of the buildings in Bradford it is built from local stone. Inside it was quite 'pubby' and pleasant for a lunchtime break before our boat was ready.

So, after a good lunch we took charge of the narrowboat Anitra and, after the obligatory boat familiarisation and safety talk we were off towards Bath. We consulted our Nicholson's Guide and expected to be in Bath by the evening. What we hadn't bargained for was the sheer number of moored boats along the way. You have to go very slowly past moored boats and there were few opportunities to get up any speed so we only made it as far as Bathampton.
The George, Bathampton
This was the perfect mooring site as that's our boat you can see right outside the pub! The George, sadly, is a Chef & Brewer pub and it was Saturday night. All of the tables were occupied or reserved and it was fully booked. Not for the last time on this holiday we consulted our smartphones to see what else was available nearby. The bar staff were no help, but technology pointed us towards Bathampton Mill and a quick phone call reserved us a table.
Bathampton Mill
This is an upmarket restaurant in what used to be a large pub by the river...although the riverside setting was rather lost as it was very dark (hence the not so great picture!). I'm not sure I should classify this as a pub, but as it used to be I'll include it even though it is an expensive eatery with a bar area.

Next day we tackled the short journey into Bath, via the six locks and moored up on the River Avon. Time for lunch so we headed into Bath to discover the delights of the city. Fortunately there are lots of street maps because to the unwary tourist Bath can become quite bewildering.
The West Gate, Bath
This was our first port of call - The West Gate is larger than expected and was fairly unatmospheric at that time on a Sunday lunchtime.

Back in May I reported on Britain's Best Real Heritage Pubs and the pubs that I'd visited in there. I'd taken it on holiday expecting to find a few new pubs to explore. There are two in Bath and we discovered one nearby.
The Old Green Tree, Bath
This is a proper old school pub - as you walk in the bar is in front of you, to the left is the front room and another room at the back, which is where we sat.
Allied to very friendly bar staff you get a perfect pub!

Cornish Pasty for lunch, a tour of the sights of Bath and back to the boat for a breather before a second foray into the city for the evening session. After a bit more sightseeing, this was our first pub.
The Huntsman, Bath
The Huntsman is a large fairly characterless pub, but it served its purpose! One pint and it was onwards.
Saracen's Head Tavern, Bath
This is a fairly bog-standard boozer...which is what I like! As we were getting a bit peckish we moved on again, to eat. Then it was back to the pubs and we found this little gem.
Coeur de Lion, Bath
Apparently this is the smallest pub in Bath and I'm not surprised. The upstairs bit was closed (well it was late on a Sunday night), but the downstairs bar is tiny but full of interest. Still time for one more, hopefully!
The Canary Gin & Wine Bar, Bath
My memory is fading (nothing to do with the drink, officer!) as this was our last stop of the evening, but it was a pleasant place. Not quite a pub, but perfectly acceptable for a last drink of the evening.

That seems to be a reasonable point to end this first instalment of our Kennet & Avon adventure. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

#130 Crown Inn, Alvechurch, Worcestershire : 1987 to 2013

The Crown Inn at Alvechurch is just a few miles away from me, but the only times I've drunk there has been on our canal trips as it sits (almost canal side) on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

My first visit was on the evening of Saturday 4th July 1987, at the start of a trip that would take us as far south as Worcester and as far north as Middlewich!
As I recall, we spent the whole evening there in a proper, cosy village pub.

A combination of circumstances meant that our next visit to the Crown Inn was on the evening of Monday 12th August 2002.
This shows how close to the canal it is without actually being canalside. The exterior had been extensively refurbished, but inside it was largely unchanged. This visit was part of a short local trip that we'd undertaken with the idea of doing some boat painting along the way.

We were back again in less than a year.
This was on the evening of Thursday 29th May 2003 near the end of our Stourport Ring journey. This view is from the canal bridge and shows that it hadn't changed externally.

Another five years passed before we did the Stourport Ring again and this time it was a lunchtime stop at the Crown on Thursday 29th May 2008.
Finally I took a picture from the front again so that the changes from 1987 are more apparent.

Another five years passed and we attempted the Stourport Ring one more time. This time we started from Worcester, so we popped in to the Crown Inn at lunchtime on Monday 13th May 2013.
It is quite remarkable that the outside has hardly changed in the past 11 years and is still advertised as an M&B pub. Inside it still has the same layout and is still the same cosy village pub that it was in 1987. If you're in the area, it is worth a visit and here is their website.