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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.

Friday, 21 September 2018

#246 The Boat Inn, Gnosall Heath, Staffordshire : 1987 to 2018

I'm back after a bit of a hiatus mainly caused by actually visiting pubs that I've already been to before! I've also resisted the urge to create a pun-tastic title which seems to be de rigeur amongst pub bloggers.

Before we go further Gnosall is pronounced 'Knows-all' (not 'Nozzle' as I've done for most of the past 30 years). Also, for the last 30 years, I've believed that The Boat Inn was in Gnosall, only to find that border with Gnosall is 200 yards down the road and it is actually in Gnosall Heath. (The things you learn on a frustrating Sunday evening when with five pubs within walking distance, not one serves food after 7pm....aaargh! My Co-op Half a Roast Chicken for just £2 was delicious after a pub crawl around the village(s).)

I hear cries of, "get on with it!" So I shall.
This was a lunchtime stop on Thursday 9th July 1987 heading north up the Shropshire Union Canal. I have no recollections about the pub except that it was a comfortable village pub that did food.

We didn't return again until the evening of Tuesday 3rd September 1996 on our return from our first canal trip to Llangollen.
Although taken from the canal perspective, it is clear that The Boat had had an external makeover.

It was another nine years before we returned for another evening stop on Tuesday 30th August 2005, this time returning from Chester.
Again it had been externally redecorated with the standard (at that time) Marston's livery and for the first time give its full name of The Boat Inn. As I recall it was still a comfortable village pub that did meals.

We've been up and down the Shropshire Union Canal many times since then, but because of timings, we've hardly ever stopped there until recently.

This photo was taken as we passed by on the evening of Sunday 7th August 2016 heading for Norbury Junction (#215) where we knew that we would get fed.
It looks remarkably unchanged, but the garden/outdoor areas appear to have been tidied up and expanded.

Finally, we come to the Great Gnosall Disaster of 2018! This was on the evening of Sunday 26th August 2018.
As we moored up opposite the pub I could see the sign which said, "Food Served from 12:00 to 17:30 on Sundays" - the time was 17:45! Very frustrating, but potentially not disastrous until an internet search of the remaining FOUR pubs revealed that The Navigation, The Royal Oak AND The Horns all stopped serving food at 7pm on a Sunday.

This was on top of the fact that we'd missed lunch in Brewood (our own fault!) surviving on snacks and Salopian Lemon Dream.

The one saving grace was the new micro in Gnosall itself, the George & Dragon, which had cling-film wrapped rolls. But, a cheese & onion roll doesn't make for a proper meal which is why I bought a roast half chicken from the Co-op at the bargain price of £2 for later consumption.

We tried to have a pint in all five establishments, but when we approached The Navigation at about 9pm it was firmly closed. We headed for The Boat Inn and had a final pint (or two) there to round off an 'interesting' day.

Normally, we leave it at least nine years before returning - this time it was 10 days - on the evening of Wednesday 5th September 2018 as part of our return journey from Llangollen.
It is still a comfortable village pub that serves good food (till 9pm on a weekday!) so this was an altogether happier visit to Gnosall Heath.

Monday, 20 August 2018

A Tail of Digbeth's Two Spotted Dogs

Until relatively recently there were two pubs, in Digbeth, that went by the name of The Spotted Dog. I've reported on both previously but now seems to be an opportune time to catch up on their fates.

Firstly, we'll start with The Spotted Dog that's on the corner of Warwick Street and Alcester Street (#042) that I last reported on in 2011.

The Spotted Dog 1998

The Spotted Dog 2007
The Spotted Dog 2011
The Spotted Dog 2018
To all intents and purposes, the pub has remained unchanged (virtually) for 20 years. A bit of paint, varying amounts of ivy and over the last few years the hanging sign has gone.

I'm unable to comment on the interior because, although it was on the itinerary of our crawl through Digbeth in July, it never opened and sadly we couldn't sample its delights.

Secondly we get to the other Spotted Dog on the corner of Meriden Street and Bordesley Street, which has had a slightly more colourful twenty years by comparison! I first reported on it in 2011 (#058)

Spotted Dog 1998
Spotted Dog 2002
Spotted Dog 2011
Suki 10c 2012
Suki 10c 2018 (January)
Suki 10c 2018 (July)
It is now a late night music venue, so more a club that a pub, but still in business which is the main thing. Obviously it has undergone some significant external changes which have certainly helped it to stand out from the crowd.

From the pubs I've reviewed so far I'd have to say that The Spotted Dog takes the record for fewest changes over twenty years and that, short of being knocked down, Suki 10c has to be the most radical external overhaul of any establishment I've seen. But, that's Digbeth for you - permanence and change side-by-side in perfect harmony.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Digbeth in the Daytime - A Crawl Through Birmingham Heritage

This stroll has been reported on by Pub Curmudgeon (here and here) and Retired Martin (here, here and here), so I thought I'd give my interpretation as an unofficial guide to the salubrious side of Birmingham (or Eastside as it is now known!).

Over the years I'd visited every pub on the list, bar one, but it had been a while for most of them.

I arrived at the Wellington (in town) just after 11 am and had my earliest pint for many a long year - for the record it was Citra...and very pleasant it was too.
The Wellington, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham - July 2018
Once we had gathered the bulk of the 'Crawl Crew' we set off for the next pub on the list, The Woodman. It isn't the most straightforward of routes if you're unfamiliar with Birmingham (and with all the building work!) but we found our way there, via the currently defunct Fox & Grapes only to find that The Woodman wasn't open...well, not for another five minutes!

The Woodman, Eastside, Birmingham - July 2018
Inside was pretty much as I remembered, but a bit soulless as it had just opened and there wasn't a lot of atmosphere. I had a pint of something hand-pulled, but not sure what!

Then it was the (very) short stroll to our next destination, the Eagle & Tun.
Eagle & Tun, Eastside, Birmingham - July 2018
This was also pretty much as I remembered and again lacking in an atmosphere so early in the day. I had a pint of Green Duck which wasn't brilliant, but they did offer to change it. Why I declined I just don't know!! I didn't venture into the Off License, but it was reportedly magnificent.

Our next destination, and lunch stop, was a reasonable stroll away which enabled me to get a new picture of Suki10c which had been made over since my last visit in January.
Suki10c, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
This used to be the Spotted Dog (another one!) but was converted to a music venue some years ago.

Our destination was the Big Bull's Head which is a pub I'd never been in.
Big Bull's Head, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
It is a much bigger place than I'd appreciated and actually more interesting as well. Unfortunately, for my companions, there was no cask ale available, but my pint of Carling was very welcome. The food was very good, proper pub grub at a reasonable price.

From now on, my recollections (and photos) become a little more sketchy. We moved on after our sumptuous lunches to The Anchor.
The Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham - January 2018     © Photo Digital Art
This was pretty much as I remembered and although I did have a pint of cask ale, I don't remember what! The nearest pub was the White Swan, but that didn't open until 4pm so we moved on with the aim of sneaking the Old Crown onto the list.

The Old Crown, Deritend, Birmingham - July 2018
This is Birmingham's oldest pub although the interior is nothing special. A few of us went inside and found that Hobgoblin was the only ale on and everything was being served in plastic glasses in view of the upcoming England game. We decided to give it a miss and move on to the next one on the list.

The Wagon & Horses is a gem of a pub that is a little bit off the beaten track being round the back of The Rainbow (currently closed) and back through the viaduct.
Wagon & Horses, Bordesley, Birmingham - August 2011   © Photo Digital Art
From the outside, it didn't look to have been decorated since 2011; inside we got a friendly welcome and another pint of cask ale that I don't remember the name of! It was here that someone (probably Retired Martin) that we go 'off-piste' and visit The Ruin which was given a good write up by Life After Football (here).

This stroll tested my intimate knowledge of shortcuts through the Custard Factory and if we'd been a couple hours later that route would have been blocked by England fans in an impromptu fan zone being set up under the ubiquitous arches of Digbeth.
The Ruin, Digbeth, Birmingham - July 2018
Inside, The Ruin lived up to its name being completely decorated (or not) in a shabby chic style. Not to everyone's taste, but if they can make a go of it here then good luck to them. For my seventh pint, I had a pint of something 'Hedgehoggy' that gave some money to a hedgehog charity.

Our final destination (on the official tour sheet) was the White Swan.
The White Swan, Digbeth, Birmingham - January 2018   © Photo Digital Art
It was here that I finally succumbed and had a pint of Carling when there were hand-pulled beers on offer. I couldn't face a pint of Banks's Amber Bitter (or whatever it is called these days); almost everyone else rated it as the beer of the day. It was here that the (in)famous Cooking Lager joined us for a pint. As acerbic in real life as in print, but ameliorated by the smile and twinkle in his eye.

That should have been that, but I was persuaded to pay a visit to Dig Brew which is a microbrewery and pub just beyond The Ruin (and so new that I don't have a picture of it!). By this time, the World Cup Semi-Final was imminent, but fortunately, Dig Brew was well set up and I managed to get my ninth pint of the day and a seat with a reasonable view of the screen. My fellow pub crawlers (John and Sheffield Hatter [I think]) left midway through the first half, but I stuck it out to half-time.

That ninth pint finally did for me and so I caught a cab from outside The Ruin and watched the demise of England from the comfort of my own home.

All in all, an excellent day (what I can remember) with great company, interesting beer and some of Birmingham's finest pubs. I look forward to more trips, as and when I can make them.