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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

#132 White Swan, Harborne, Birmingham : 1967 to 2013

As I didn't first visit Birmingham until 1975, you can probably guess that this photo isn't one of mine!
© Phyllis Nicklin 1967
Some months ago I came across this archive held by Birmingham University as part of Project Chrysalis. Phyllis Nicklin took lots of photos of urban Birmingham over a period from 1953 to 1968 and I've spent many a joyful hour looking through them to see a Birmingham I didn't know. Sadly, from my point of view, there aren't enough pubs in the collection, but not everyone shares my obsession.

Over the years I've been in the White Swan (or Dirty Duck as it is also known) several times, although not for quite a few years. It has always been a bit more upmarket than most Brum pubs.

This is the photo I took earlier this year.
© Peter Allen 2013
From the outside remarkably little has changed in the intervening 46 years! The tree trunk is a bit wider and a low fence/hedge has been added. It is also interesting to note how many more lines there are on the road now compared to in 1967!

Monday, 18 November 2013

#131 The Vine, Kinver, Worcestershire : 2001 to 2013

After regaling you with tales of our trip along the Kennet & Avon Canal and the pubs to be found there, its now time to get back to the regular stuff.

This week it is The Vine in Kinver that comes into view. For those of us in Birmingham, the village of Kinver has taken on almost mythical status as a place where lots of pubs can be found selling all manner of different ales. There used to be regular booze cruises in double decker buses, but until this visit I'd never actually stopped in Kinver, although we'd passed through a few times.
This was at lunchtime on Monday 28th May 2001. We'd actually moored at Stourton Junction, expecting to visit the Stewpony & Foley Arms only to find it wasn't there any more! So, after a longer than expected walk we found ourselves in Kinver and in desperate need of sustenance. The Vine was right by the canal bridge and so was the obvious choice. It was Bank Holiday Monday, so the garden was packed for the special event that was on, so the food was burgers or nothing! Perfect for me!

We returned two years later, this time actually taking the boat there!
Another lunchtime, on Tuesday 27th May 2003, and this time we did do a bit of a pub crawl around the village, but not all were open at lunchtime! Fortunately, The Vine had a full menu on and was largely unchanged inside. Outside, there had been a bit of redecoration and pruning.

Another five years later, we were back.
This time on the lunchtime of Monday 26th May 2008, but despite it being Bank Holiday again, the pub wasn't particularly busy. The exterior had been extensively refurbished as had the inside.

The final picture was snapped on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th May 2013 as we were passing through Kinver on the way to Stourport.
We were waiting for the lock, so I managed to get out and take this snap to record the current state of The Vine. Although closed at the time, I can report that it reopened in July. Apart from the scaffolding and pale green paint job, its also interesting to note the new, larger streetlight and that the TV aerial has been re-sited to the far chimney pot!

Monday, 11 November 2013

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

Following our evening in Devizes, it was an early start to take on the challenge of Caen Hill Locks for a second time. It was my turn to steer and, just to make things a bit more difficult we shared our passage with a cruiser! Doesn't sound so bad until you realise that our narrowboat was made of steel weighed more that 5 tonnes and the cruiser was made of fibreglass/plastic and weighed probably less than a tonne. Any loss of control of the narrowboat could result in serious damage (and possible sinking) to the cruiser. Made the descent just a little bit more interesting for me.

Both boats survived the ordeal and we ended up at Sells Green for lunch at this pub.
Three Magpies, Sells Green
A pleasant country pub and fairly busy for lunch, including a raffle for the local pensioners who seemed to be having a good time.

In the afternoon we continued our journey, again not quite getting as far as we expected. We ended up mooring at Semington in a heavy downpour...once we'd found a decent spot to moor!
The Somerset Arms, Semington
Yet another one pub village, but fortunately for us almost all of the village pubs we came across did good food - this was no exception!

Next morning we realised that we still had two full days to go before we had to give back our boat, meaning that we had time to go back to Bath for a third pub crawl around the city. This decision also meant that we could visit  a recommended pub that we'd passed by (twice) and not gone in. This is where we had our lunch.
Cross Guns, Avoncliff
This is not just a pub; it is a tourist attraction with added brewery and well worth a visit. Road access looks quite difficult, but from the canal it is an easy place to get to!

The trip to Bath was slow (again), but we managed to get there and moor up above the locks so that we could 'attack' the city from a different angle. We passed a few pubs that we earmarked as possibles for the last drink of the night on the way back to the boat! This was the first port of call.
Pulteney Arms, Bath
Judging by the décor and memorabilia, this is a stronghold for Bath rugby followers...and also a proper pub. It was while we were pondering our next move I realised that, if we'd continued along the road we'd been on before going into the pub we would have found The Star Inn. This is the other Bath pub listed in the book  Britain's Best Real Heritage Pubs. So we set off up the hill and this is what we found.
The Star Inn, Bath
On the one hand it was pretty much as expected - a proper old pub with several small rooms and wood panelling all tastefully maintained in the same manner as for the past countless years. Most old school city pubs tend to have a narrow frontage, but then go back an improbably great distance so that you end up with a place that is much larger than it looks from the street. But, The Star Inn has a wide frontage and, from what I saw didn't go back too far, almost as though it had been built sideways. A real gem and well worth the visit.

We then went for a long stroll through the city looking for somewhere to eat, getting quite lost, but finding a nice, reasonably priced Italian restaurant. Then it was time to head back toward the canal and see which pubs we could find. Not as easy a task as you'd imagine even on a Thursday night!

The first one we tried was signposted off a main street and advertised as a welcoming, traditional English pub. It was neither, having been redesigned in a modern style and after five minutes waiting no-one appeared behind the bar to serve us. So we left!

The next one we attempted, looked promising. There were a couple of people inside, but the door was locked. One of the people came to the door to tell us they were closed. It was only then that we noticed their opening hours blackboard. Sundays they close at 6pm; Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat it is 11pm, but on Thursdays closing time is 10pm. It was 10:05!

Back on the road, we finished up at one of the pubs we'd passed earlier and went in.
Crown Inn, Bath
A fairly large pub, but with hardly any customers. So after getting served and bearing in mind out recent experiences we asked what time they expected to close. Probably 10:30 was the answer, but it depended on how many people were in the pub. Apparently, the owner studies the CCTV footage and, if there aren't enough customers he'll give the manager grief over staying open when he should be closed!

The next day was the final full day of the trip, so we headed back to the hire boat base at Bradford-on-Avon. On our first trip along this bit of the Kennet & Avon Canal I didn't fully appreciate the scenery, but this time I realised what a spectacular piece of cut it is running halfway up the valley sides of the River Avon and crossing over the river twice on magnificent stone aqueducts. We decided to have lunch by the first of these, the Dundas Aqueduct.
Angelfish Café & Restaurant
We were expecting a pub, but as they only served bottled beer we had one drink and decided to to move on to the Cross Guns which is by the other aqueduct at Avoncliff.
Cross Guns, Avoncliff
Another pleasant lunch in the Cross Guns where the music of choice was Roger Whittaker's Greatest Hits!

The last leg of the holiday took us back to Bradford-on-Avon where we moored up at the hire base in preparation for departure on Saturday.
 But there was still time to visit some of the pubs we missed on the last visit.
Three Horseshoes, Bradford-on-Avon
This was our first stop. A proper local pub that was very lively with people seemingly having drinks after work - it was like pubs used to be on most evenings and shows that pub going isn't dead...yet! Next we strolled into the centre of Bradford and went into a pub that had been shut on our last visit.
Bunch of Grapes, Bradford-on-Avon
From the front it looked like an upmarket café/restaurant, but the back room housed a very comfortable lounge bar. Considering what a pleasant place it is we were surprised that there were hardly any people in there.

Our final stop...and final pub of the trip was this one.
Swan Hotel, Bradford-on-Avon
From the outside it looks like a traditional small town hotel, but inside it had been 'modernised' making it bright, but characterless. Still, we had a couple of pints and had a chat with a couple of people that worked at the Bunch of Grapes who filled us in on the gossip as to why it wasn't doing so well. (Basically, the previous tenants had moved to the pub opposite and taken most of their customers with them!)

That concludes our odyssey along the Kennet & Avon Canal and a brief snapshot of the pubs we visited. Hopefully, one day we'll revisit this part of the world and catch up on the changes (if any) to the hostelries we visited.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Kennet & Avon Canal - Part IV (Newbury to Devizes)

After the previous evening's excesses it was time to turn our boat Anitra and start the journey back towards Bradford-on-Avon. It was a lovely Sunday morning and we made it as far as Hamstead Lock. On the way down the local pub had been recommended to us by a fellow boater and we weren't disappointed.
The Red House, Marsh Benham
It is a bit of a walk from the canal and is actually in the middle of nowhere - it would be difficult to find via road as well - but it was busy with the type of people who drive Bentleys, BMW's, Range Rovers, etc. In reality it is more a restaurant than a pub, but equally welcoming to drinkers and diners alike. One neat touch, there were no 'Reserved' signs on any table, but instead we were told that we could sit at any table that didn't have napkins on it!

After a very satisfying lunch it was back to the boat for a pleasant afternoon's boating in the Autumn sunshine. We moored up at Hungerford with the expectation that we could have a proper pub crawl - how wrong we were! The first pub we approached had closed at 6pm, so we had a pint here.
The Bear Hotel, Hungerford
Perfectly pleasant, but quiet and without atmosphere. Although it looks like a traditional hotel, the inside had been modernised with the consequent loss of charm that small hotels often have.

At the next pub, the Carling ran out just as we got there and there was no-one present who could change the barrel successfully. In the absence of a suitable alternative, we moved on! After a stroll through the town, we quickly realised that Hungerford was pretty much closed on a Sunday evening! Off the beaten track we found this pub.
The Railway Tavern, Hungerford
This is a typical, proper pub which I'm sure would have more atmosphere when there are more people than the handful that were there on that night. After one pint it was back out into the dark to find somewhere to eat. For the first time on this trip, the only place open (that we could find) was the Indian restaurant. On most previous holidays, we'd have had at least a couple of curries by this stage, but so far we'd been well served by the pubs along the way!

Time for a final pint on the way back to the boat...and a repeat pub.
Three Swans Hotel, Hungerford
Pleasant, but very quiet like the rest of Hungerford!

The next day, like so much of the two weeks was grey, but quite warm and we continued the climb towards the summit of the canal. Along the way we came across a new sight for us. Although we'd seen the boat at Bath, we'd not seen it in action before. The owner is disabled and operates the boat on his own. I got quite a shock to see him at the lock and the boat coming towards him under radio control! Fantastic use of technology...I want one of those!

For lunch we intended to stop at Little Bedwyn, but the moorings were so poor that we pressed on to Great Bedwyn where the moorings were a little bit better.
Cross Keys, Great Bedwyn
Another pleasant visit to the Cross Keys...and then it was off again to tackle the last few locks before the summit. The summit level of the Kennet & Avon Canal is quite short and we were soon on our way back down to Wootton Rivers. It was quite dark when we moored up and so we didn't get to see much of what is reputed to be a pretty village with almost all the buildings having thatched roofs.
Royal Oak, Wootton Rivers
Fortunately for us, the only pub in the village was open and serving food. It was busier than I expected for a Monday evening and we had a pleasant chat with some Aussie tourists who were on a driving holiday, staying at a nearby village. By 9:55 we were the only people in the pub and I casually asked the barman, as he was cleaning tables, what time the pub closed. "10 o'clock" was the surprising reply! However, he did let us have one more so we were all happy!

Another grey day and we were now in the Vale of Pewsey with a White Horse cut into one side of the valley. For lunch we moored at Honeystreet and a visit to a famous pub.
The Barge Inn, Honeystreet
It featured in the BBC One programme "Village SOS" in 2011 which followed the pub's resurrection as a community pub with a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. The pub was built in 1810 and has a fantastically varied history which includes a devastating fire, the filming of an episode of "Inspector Morse" and is now a centre for crop circle 'studies'! More details are on The Barge Inn website. It was quiet while we were there, but we were served a very good lunch of proper pub grub.

In the afternoon we continued our journey down towards our evening destination of Devizes...just before the Caen Hill flight of locks.
Black Horse, Devizes
The perfect mooring the pub garden! However, this was a perfect example of how not to run a pub. There were a handful of people in the place, the manager (I assume) was reading her paper at the bar and, whilst the service was fine, it wasn't the most welcoming I've ever had! Our plan was to go on an exploration of Devizes and have a final pint back in the Black Horse, but when we asked when they were going to close we were told that it would probably be sometime between 9 and 10 pm! (Essentially when there was no-one left!) Not unreasonable in the current economic climate, but the main killer is that the other room was closed...and this is the room closest to the road. When we left to go into Devizes it looked as though, from the road, that the pub was shut, so there's unlikely to be any passing trade. Looks like a vicious cycle of decline to me!

After quite a stroll, I'm not sure that we found the real Devizes, but we did find a couple of pubs and somewhere to eat. This was our first port of call.
The Crown, Devizes
This was reasonably busy for a Tuesday night, but there was a large party eating in the back room and a few people watching the Champions League football. (Something the Black Horse didn't offer even though they have a large screen TV!)

Our next find was this place.
White Bear, Devizes
Although this is a hotel, the bar felt like a proper pub which is quite rare these days it would seem!

We then went to eat at the nearby Chinese restaurant and then had a final pint in The Crown before heading back to the boat. The Black Horse was long closed for the night!

In the morning we were due to tackle the Caen Hill lock flight again and I'll take up the story from there next time.