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Monday, 13 October 2014

Is Long Itchington THE Most Expensive Place for Blackcurrrant & Soda?

I don't normally use this blog for a rant, but today I'm going to make an exception. I've just returned from a two week canal cruise around the Midlands (essentially the Warwickshire Ring) and an incident at our first lunchtime stop prompted me to compile the information and write this post.

Over the last few years I've taken to drinking pints of Blackcurrant & Soda Water at lunchtimes on our boating holidays, mainly because, quite frankly, I'm getting old and can't take my drink at lunchtime. (I still drink in the evenings and, on this trip, had the equivalent of 74 pints of Carling!).

Our first stop was at the Two Boats a lovely canalside pub at Long Itchington that we've visited many times in the past (#100).
Two Boats, Long Itchington - 27th September 2014
As usual the food was very good, but I was charged £2.10p for a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda! When I queried this I was told that this was the cheapest available in Long Itchington and that The Cuttle Inn (across the canal) charged £3.40p. If it had been bottles of soda water I could've understood it, but the soda water is on tap and is, in essence, carbonated tap water. Upon further investigation it transpired that if I'd ordered a pint of soda water it would also have cost £2.10p as shots of blackcurrant are free in the Two Boats. So, as I tried to build a drink that would cost less, the (I assume) landlord accused me of "pissing him about" which was the trigger point for compiling a price list of Blackcurrant and Soda prices and the writing of this post.

I can now confirm that, having drunk pints of Blackcurrant & Soda in 16 different pubs, the most expensive is £2.10p per pint in the Two Boats at Long Itchington, a Charles Wells establishment.

The least expensive pint of Blackcurrant & Soda was just £0.40p, the location of which I will reveal at the end of this post. This is a massive range of pricing and in this day and age when many pubs are struggling I would have expected them to want to encourage drivers by offering cheaper soft drinks, but some establishments seem to want to take the profiteering route!

The second most expensive pub was the George & Dragon in Stoke Golding at £1.90p per pint.
George & Dragon, Stoke Golding - 7th October 2014
I'm reluctant to be too critical as I was originally told that the price was £1.15p, but then corrected to £1.90p, so £1.15p might be the actual price! The George & Dragon is now run by the Church End Brewery 

The 'prize' for third most expensive goes to the Hatton Arms near Warwick at £1.80p a pint.
Hatton Arms, Hatton - 28th September 2014
This was the day after our visit to the Two Boats and really demonstrated how ridiculous the pricing is in Long Itchington. The Hatton Arms (formerly The Waterman) is now really an upmarket restaurant and so I wasn't surprised at the £1.80p price tag for a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda, whereas the Two Boats is just a standard country pub with a great location.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a tourist destination and so you'd expect higher prices and the Dirty Duck/Black Swan didn't disappoint at £1.65p per pint.
Dirty Duck/Black Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon - 30th September 2014
The Dirty Duck is part of the Old English Inns chain, part of the Greene King group and is a pub we've visited many times in the past (#033).

Next on the list is the Old Royal Oak at Hillmorton also at £1.65p a pint.
Old Royal Oak, Hillmorton - 9th October 2014
The Old Royal Oak in Hillmorton (near Rugby) is a Hungry Horse pub (also part of Greene King) aimed at families, so I was surprised at the price. However, talking with another barman revealed that £1.65p is for 3 shots of blackcurrant and that if 2 shots is enough, the price was £1.10p! It is a pub we've visited on quite a few occasions as well (#077).

The next two pubs offer an interesting perspective on the whole soft drinks in pubs issue. BOTH of these pubs charged £1.50p for a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda.

The Fleur de Lys in Lowsonford has, for quite a number of years, been more of a restaurant and I've reported on it previously (#026).
Fleur de Lys, Lowsonford - 29th September 2014
This was the third day of our trip and at £1.50p a pint the price was dropping from the first day, but still a bit expensive for a pub where the majority have to drive to get to it.

Also coming in at £1.50p a pint is the Swan & Mitre in Aston (Birmingham).
Swan & Mitre, Aston - 4th October 2014
It was a rainy Saturday morning and we'd negotiated the Farmers Bridge and Aston flights of locks. It isn't a place we'd normally stop, but the next viable, regular stopping places were at least two hours away! At first glance it was a potential disaster. It was a match day and Aston Villa were at home, so the pub was only letting in people with passes. Fortunately for us it was a 5:30pm kick-off and after asking nicely we were let in. Inside the Swan & Mitre was like stepping back in time, the bar was just like a proper old time Birmingham pub! A real basic pub where the only food was a choice of Ham & Tomato or Cheese and Onion rolls and the regular range of snacks - perfect for our needs! And yet, a basic boozer like this still charged £1.50p for a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda, the same as an upmarket country pub/restaurant...go figure!

Next up, at £1.40p a pint is The Anchor Inn at Hartshill.
The Anchor Inn, Hartshill - 6th October 2014
The Anchor Inn at Hartshill is an Everard's pub and I've reported on it before (#027). It is a lovely canalside pub and is aimed at both drinkers, diners and families in the extensive garden. You would expect them to charge a lower price for soft drinks especially as most people have to drive to get there.

Then, at £1.30p is The Garrick Inn in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Garrick Inn, Stratford-upon-Avon - 30th September 2014
The Garrick Inn, which I've also reported on previously (#020), is also part of Greene King's Old English Inns brand, but charges less than the Dirty Duck!

Just down the road is The Windmill Inn which is yet another Greene King pub!
The Windmill Inn, Stratford-upon-Avon - 30th September 2014
Despite being situated between the Dirty Duck and The Garrick Inn, at £1.00p a pint, The Windmill Inn comes in as the lowest price for Blackcurrant & Soda of the three Greene King pubs in Stratford that I went into on that day.

I do believe that £1.00p per pint for Blackcurrant & Soda to be a reasonable price and that once it goes much above this constitutes a rip-off. So, onwards to the pubs that offered the best value.

First up is the Wharf Tavern in Hockley Heath at £0.80p a pint.
Wharf Tavern, Hockley Heath - 2nd October 2014
The Wharf Tavern is a pub I've reported on in the past (#083) that has been extensively refurbished since our last visit in 2011. The refurbishment is good leaving the Wharf Tavern with the happy balance between being a pub and serving lots of good pub food...and reasonably priced Blackcurrant & Soda!

Then comes the Three Tuns Inn in Fazeley at £0.70p per pint.
Three Tuns Inn, Fazeley - 5th October 2014
The Three Tuns is a pub we've visited on many occasions, but I've yet to report on it here. It has a great location, backing onto the Coventry Canal at Fazeley Junction (with the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal). It is a proper pub that has never let us down on our many visits.

Next, we have a tie with two pubs offering a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda at £0.60p. First was The Woodman in Birmingham.
The Woodman, Birmingham - 3rd October 2014
The Woodman has recently been refurbished to restore it to its former glory, very successfully in my opinion. It is a pub I've reported on in the past (#056) and one that I'm very glad to see open and thriving again.

The second £0.60p pub is The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction on the outskirts of Coventry.
The Greyhound, Hawkesbury Junction - 8th October 2014
The Greyhound is a traditional canalside pub with an ideal location at Hawkesbury Junction where the Coventry and Oxford Canals meet. It is always busy for both food and drink and, unlike many pubs that have great locations and don't need to try to be good, The Greyhound still offers reasonably priced food and drink at a high quality.

Only two more to go, and just missing out on the 'star prize' is the Navigation Inn at Wootton Wawen with Blackcurrant & Soda at just £0.45p a pint.
Navigation Inn, Wootton Wawen - 1st October 2014
Despite its canalside location (picture taken from the aqueduct over the main A3400 road) in the affluent Warwickshire village of Wootton Wawen, the Navigation Inn is struggling, mainly because in all the years we've been visiting it there has been no change to its interior and it can no longer compete with the many gastropubs that have sprouted up in the past 10 - 15 years in the area. The food is still good and the pub provides the sort of dishes that I like (i.e. standard, traditional pub grub), but that isn't what sells these days. I fear that without major investment, the Navigation will be gone next time we're passing that way.

Finally (and thanks for staying to the end!) we come to the 'winner', at £0.40p for a pint of Blackcurrant & Soda it is The Windsor in Birmingham.
The Windsor, Birmingham - 3rd October 2014
The Windsor is a pub I hadn't been into for years. It is now part of M&B's Oaktree brand of pubs and offers Wetherspoon type of service quite successfully as the pub was very busy for a mid afternoon by the time we got there.

So, we made it to the end and I have to conclude that Long Itchington must indeed be THE most expensive place in the UK for Blackcurrant & Soda prices if the Two Boats is offering the lowest price at £2.10p per pint. Is it a rip off? I'll let you be the judge of that! 

Friday, 3 October 2014

#155 Eagle & Sun, Hanbury Wharf, Worcestershire : 1997 to 2013

Although close to where our boat was moored, we only use the stretch of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal down to Worcester every five years or so. On those occasions when we have taken this route, we didn't stop at Hanbury Wharf (near Droitwich) until 1997.
This first visit was a lunchtime stop on Monday 26th May 1997. It was an unscheduled stop as we'd been delayed by a break in the throttle cable which had required a replacement. We received excellent service from the engineer at Black Prince Narrowboats who fitted the new one; we were amazed to find somewhere open on what was a glorious Bank Holiday Monday!

As I recall, the pub was pleasant and served good food - just what we'd needed after an eventful morning.

The next visit was on Thursday 29th May 2003 in the middle of a long day working up from Worcester to Alvechurch for the evening - just the 55 locks to navigate!
As is evident, the pub had undergone a complete makeover, but it was still a welcoming place and the food was good.

However, on reflection, it can't have been that good as we've never been back! (only kidding!) Our schedule has meant that whenever we've been passing by it hasn't been a suitable time to stop as happened in 2008 and again in 2013. On our last trip up the Worcs & B'ham Canal I took this picture.
This was on the afternoon of Sunday 12th May 2013 and the photo was taken from the canal as we sailed by, so it is difficult to see what changes (if any) had occurred in the past 10 years. I think that the restaurant section overlooking the canal is new or maybe just enlarged and re-roofed. 

The Eagle & Sun is now owned by The Number Works Pub Company who seem to specialise in country pub restaurants. (Although it is strange to find it still listed as available on the Enterprise Inns website!)