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Thursday, 29 August 2019

#263 The Four Candles, Oxford : 1998 to 2019 (That Déja vu Feeling All Over Again!)

It is very rare that the same pub crops up in consecutive posts on this blog (under the original premise, it should be impossible) and yet here it is.

As we sat upstairs in the The Four Candles I had the feeling that I'd been here before. I thought I remembered it as the place where a fairly distinguished middle-aged gentleman claimed to know me. He was well-spoken dressed in proper teacher/lecturer mode (complete with elbow patches on his jacket). He sat down with us and expected a pint. In these circumstances, I'm far too nice, but, fortunately my friends (in no uncertain terms) told him to go away!

But, no! This couldn't be the same place. So I dismissed the idea and didn't mention it to anyone. That was until today, when I was going through my old photos looking for potential new blog posts and I came across this picture from 1998!
I'm fairly sure that it was lunchtime on Saturday 5th September 1998 (We had three sessions in Oxford on that trip!). Back then it was a Yates's Wine Lodge and I have no other recollections about it.

Fast forward to lunchtime on Saturday 29th July 2019 and this was the view.
Further research (What Pub) shows that it, briefly, became a Slug & Lettuce pub in 2007/08 and then became a Wetherspoon's in 2008.

This is a perfect example of why I first started taking these pictures in 1986 and there will be another example in the following weeks of how memory doesn't necessarily log everything for future reference.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

"I come to praise Wetherspoon's, not to bury them"

If you'd told me, many years ago, when I visited my first Wetherspoon's pub that I'd be writing a post in praise of them, I'd've said, "Yer what?!?"

When they first appeared, I thought that Wetherspoon's pubs were something of an atmosphere, bad layout, poor service, dubious décor...not really proper pubs.

Over the years, though, they've evolved and many of my initial criticisms have disappeared or been ameliorated to some extent such that I am happy to drink (and eat there) in the absence of a 'proper' alternative.

Over the years, on our canal boating trips we've been saved from 'starvation' by various Wetherspoon establishments and it is my intention to offer thanks and praise.

The first, and finest, example of this is The Plaza, Rugeley. We first ventured in there in 1999 and I was 'blown away' by the interior of this converted cinema. It has saved us on many occasions, bieng one of the few places to get food in the centre of Rugeley...lunchtime or evenings. It has featured as #218 on this blog where you can read more about it.
Plaza, Rugeley 1999
 What follows will be a potted history of the other examples of when and where Wetherspoon's pubs have saved us in some very 'dodgy' places.

This next example doesn't quite fit the pattern, but it is a Wetherspoon's that we've visited more than once - The Golden Bee, Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Golden Bee, Stratford 2002
The next one fits the bill perfectly, although we even had to get a taxi to the Golden Cross Hotel, Bromsgrove. The canal doesn't pass through Bromsgrove, but on this occasion we'd missed getting served food in the canalside hostelries near to Stoke Pound/Stoke Prior, so "Taxi!" it was. Similar circumstances forced us back there several years later.
Golden Cross Hotel, Bromsgrove 2002
Now for one that I had completely forgotten about - The Bear & Ragged Staff, Bedworth. As I recall, The Navigation by the canal was closed (or not doing food) meaning that we had to walk into Bedworth which, back in 2005 was quite a deprived area following the closure of the local coal mines, so pubs serving food were few and far between.
The Bear & Ragged Staff, Bedworth 2005
 Although we've visited quite a few Wetherspoon's just for a drink (Coventry, Rugby, Leamington Spa, Leicester, Stone, Wolverhampton to name a few) this next one was one of the best 'Saviour Pubs' on the list. We'd moored by the Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, the first two pubs we visited were dire (in different ways) and walking further into the town gave only the prospect of pizza, kebab or fish & chips on the street for lunch. Then we espied the shining beacon that was The Thomas Telford, Ellesmere Port. Lunch was excellent!
The Thomas Telford, Ellesmere Port 2012
Later on that same year, we found ourselves in Bingley (twice) on the Leeds & LIverpool Canal. At lunchtime there were no pubs doing food and the town was overshadowed by the brooding, boarded up, brutalist building that had been the headquarters of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society. However, we were saved by The Myrtle Grove, Bingley. On our subsequent evening visit we found proper food in a proper pub.
The Myrtle Grove, Bingley 2012
Along the Ashby Canal stands the town of Hinckley which we'd visited in the past and not had a problem finding food. On this occasion, the only place we could find was The Baron of Hinckley. And very welcome it was too!
The Baron of Hinckley, Hinckley 2014
Ilkeston, on the Erewash Canal is not somewhere that we visit often and with the town standing on top of the hill that the canal skirts around, it is quite a slog to get to the town centre. There are several pubs there, but only The Observatory, Ilkeston was doing food.
The Observatory, Ilkeston 2015
This next one is somewhat embarrasing for me. We were in the centre of Birmingham (my home city!) and yet still managed to miss the last orders for food in several places that stopped serving food at 8:30 - 9:00 pm. I was very frustrated by this lack of opening times and we ended up eating in The Briar Rose, Birmingham.
The Briar Rose, Birmingham 2018
This is one that you'll find most difficult to believe, but on our most recent canal trip, we found ourselves in Oxford one lunchtime and the best place we could find was The Four Candles, Oxford. We were moored on the river for the first time, so didn't really know where we were and didn't really have time to do much exploring, so it was a joyous moment when the Wetherspoon's hoved into view! I had one of the best value pizzas ever, here!
The Four Candles, Oxford 2019
 Finally, we move on to Hayes on the Grand Union Canal. There were quite a few basic boozers available but only The Botwell Inn, Hayes was offering food.
The Botwell Inn, Hayes 2019
 It was after three pints here that I contrived to fall into the canal...but that's another story!

So, here endeth my paean to JD Wetherspoon and how their pubs have saved us from 'starvation' over the past 20 years of canal boating...all hail Tim Martin!!

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

#262 Swan Hotel, Brewood, Staffordshire : 1987 to 2018

Another village that we probably could have visited more is Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal. There are three pubs (were four, but the Admiral Rodney is now a small housing estate!)

The pub we're most likely to visit in Brewood is the Bridge Inn (#224) which is the first pub you come across as you ascend from the canal cutting into the village. There are occasions, though, when we make the short walk into the centre of the village where both the Red Lion and Swan stand on the sides of the village square.

The first time we ventured into the Swan Hotel was on the evening of Wednesday 8th July 1987.
Back then it was an M&B pub and quite a lively, basic village local.

It was a good number of years before we set foot in the Swan Hotel again.
 This was a lunchtime visit on Wednesday 31st August 2005, just 18 years since our first encounter. The main change was that it had beome a Free House. Inside it was little different from before.

We didn't leave it so long before the next visit which was on the evening of Wednesday 8th September 2010.
This time there were no discernible changes - inside or out.

Our most recent visit was a lunchtime stop on Sunday 26th August 2018.
Remarkably, it was still unchanged from 2005. It also doesn't do food on a Sunday lunchtime so I survived on a diet of pub snacks and a couple of pints of Salopian Lemon Dream, which was gorgeous!