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Friday, 28 August 2020

#279 The Old Thatch Tavern, Stratford-upon-Avon : 1996 to 2020

 The Old Thatch Tavern has been a feature of Stratford's pub scene for hundreds of years. We first discovered it on the evening of Friday 5th April 1996 on the first of, what was for fifteen years, our annual Easter canal trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Unfortunately, my early photos are all from an analogue age with my trusty Fuji ST-605!

As I recall, it was a small cosy pub that felt like a proper pub...but was often quite crowded, which explains why we didn't necessarily visit every year. The next time we popped in was on the evening of Friday 2nd April 1999.

No real change to the pub.

Another three years and we again popped in for a quick pint on the evenbing of Saturday 30th March 2002.

As you'd expect with an historic pub, no change!

Our next visit on the evening of Saturday 10th April 2004 finally shows off the complete pub!

Then again on the evening of Saturday 15th April 2006.

And we were back on Saturday 3rd April 2010 for another evening stop.

This was our penultimate Easter trip to Stratford and the Old Thatch Tavern was an unchanging feature of the town...always cosy, always a delight, often packed with happy folk!

This isn't the end of our story, though. In the summer of 2014 we hired a boat from Napton and, as an off-shoot of the Warwickshire Ring, we popped down the Stratford Canal 'for old times sake'!

This was on the evening of Tuesday 30th September 2014 and, for the first time there were some changes! Firstly, the hanging sign had changed and advertised it as being a Fuller's pub. Secondly, it had been repainted on the outside with 'Old Thatch' being more prominent. Inside it had lost none of its character.

Our most recent visit to Stratford was at lunchtime on Monday 20th July 2020 and The Old Thatch Tavern was closed...but not permanently so! (Definitely now open according to Trip Advisor).

The exterior had been redecorated again to revert back to black window frames from white previously. (As a Grade II listed building and the only thatched roof building left in the centre of Stratford, I assume that's about all they can do!)

I was very pleased to see that it is still in operation and it is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Stratford.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

#278 Great Western, Warwick : 1998 to 2020 (RIP)

 For all pub fans, I'm afraid that this is a sad tale, reflective of the general malaise affecting English pubs over the past few years.

We begin our tale with something of a disaster - it was August Bank Holiday weekend and Emma Jane broke down just after the Cape of Good Hope locks. For our first (and I think only) time we had to get a far as Kate Boats. Unfortunately it was a Sunday and they were closed!

So, what else could we do? It was time to take a stroll into Warwick and investigate the town. The first pub we went into was the Great Western, just by Warwick Station.

This was at lunchtime on Sunday 30th August 1998, although we didn't eat there. As I recall it was a fairly standard pub with a bar and a lounge. After a pint we moved on to investigate the town. Fortunately, Warwick had plenty of pubs to keep us entertained both for the lunch and evening sessions!

As it was Bank Holiday Monday, Kate boats were able to pump out our bilges and fill us up with diesel, but there was no engineer available to fix our engine. Luckily, we hadn't exhausted the supply of pubs for another two drinking sessions. We did pop back into the Great Western on the evening of Monday 31st August 1998 for another pint.


Our next visit to Warwick was on the evening of Saturday 27th May 2000 and we popped in to the Great Western for a quick pint before moving on to the rest of Warwick.

There was very little in the way of changes to the pub, still a pleasant stop off for a pint of lager before exploring Warwick.

It was a few more years before we stepped back into the Great Western even though we'd stopped at Warwick in the intervening years.

This was on the evening of Thursday 30th May 2007 and the pub had been redecorated externally and somewhat refurbished internally. Although some work had been done, the pub did exude a feeling of gradual decline and decay.

Unbeknown to us, this was the last time we set foot in the Great Western. We visited Warwick several more times, but always walked on by and then, on the evening of Wednesday 5th June 2019, this is the scene that presented itself to us.

There had been a fire and it didn't look good for the Great Western. Subsequent research has revealed that the pub closed in 2015 and the fire was in 2017. Interestingly, the pub had obviously been redecorated and refurbished between 2007 and closure in 2015 with the right hand side door having been turned into a window.

Our most recent visit to Warwick was on the evening of Friday 17th July 2020 and this was the new scene.

Further research has shown that there have been several resubmissions for Planning Permission, but it would seem that the final phase of redevelopment has begun and by this time next year all trace of the Great Western will have been erased. A sad end to what was a quite distinctive building!
Also featured on the Closed Pubs website administered by Pub Curmudgeon. 

Monday, 10 August 2020

Canal Cruising in a COVID World (Part 3)

 We resume our journey heading away from Birmingham via Farmer's Bridge and Aston Locks, hoping to reach the safety of Curdworth by nightfall.

Just as we were mooring up at lunchtime we were amazed to see NB Calypso and the bloke who'd stolen our lock at Lapworth (I only saw him after he'd passed by!). He'd obviously done a rapid circuit via Knowle and the Grand Union Canal and I'm glad I didn't actually see him!

Our lunchtime destination was The Bull in Birmingham's Gun Quarter which was under new ownership (but still had the hundreds of jugs hanging from the ceiling!)

The first thing I noticed was a shiny new pumpclip for Oakham Citra (my new first choice tipple) and then I realised there was no Carling pump (Pravha being the recommended swilling lager!).

Following the shutdown they hadn't restarted doing food so it was a lunchtime of crisps, nuts and scratchings. This got us into conversation with the new owner who said that trade had been too slow to warrant putting on food, but that it was beginning to pick up so they might start again fairly soon.

The other interesting part of the conversation was that The Bull is his fourth Birmingham pub...the others being; The Wellington, Post Office Vaults and The Woodman...all venues on our more recent Proper Days Out in Brum. He is a fan of Citra (apparently The Wellington sell more pints of Citra than any other pub in the country!) and he's also proud of the fact that someone once told him that he "couldn't run a pub in Birmingham that didn't sell Carling!" He now has four!

Back to the boat and the slog along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal to Curdworth taking in Aston (11) and Minworth Locks (3). Our evening meal was in the socially distanced, table service only White Horse in Curdworth...very civilised, but an early closing (which we were well informed about!).

Next day was another long session consisting of the eleven Curdworth Locks and the five mile cruise into Fazeley.

The Fazeley Inn was fairly quiet, but there was a Scottish couple checking in to the hotel (unfortunately we never found out what tourist attractions they'd come for!). For us, the Carling was cold and the cling film wrapped rolls/baps/cobs/insert regional name here made for the perfect lunch.

We moved on to see whether the classic boozer the Three Horseshoes had survived. After seeing no mobility scooter outside, our fears were assuaged when we saw the open door!

As it is only a small pub, they've implemented social distancing by means of improvised perspex screens, strategically placed along the bench seating which works well (in conjunction with a garden out the back of the pub!). I can report (for the benefit of LifeAfterFootball) that Bass was being served...but I stuck with Carling!

Our next destination was Polesworth and the worst example of social distancing seen on our trip. Our first pint was in the Royal Oak. All of the signs were in place (as was the hand sanitiser), but many of the locals chose to ignore it all and shake hands with each other (and there was hugging!) This doesn't really bother me and it felt like a proper pub, but it was our first experience of this type of behaviour!

We wandered round to The Yard (formerly Foster's Yard) which was very quiet for a Friday evening so there were no problems with social distancing! Then we moved on to Little India, the restaurant above the Bull's Head for our evening repast.

Little India Restaurant, Polesworth July 2020
Atherstone was our next intended stopping point with only the eleven slooow filling locks to delay us. We made it, but failed to get a pub lunch (Tesco Express to the rescue for a sandwich!) We did manage to get our drink quota in a couple of pubs we've visited before.

The White Horse is a proper small town boozer, but no food, sadly!
This was only our second ever visit to The Old Swan and despite signs saying to the contrary, food wasn't available.

After lunch we journeyed on, through Nuneaton, to our ultimate destination Hawkesbury Junction, home of one of the best canalside pubs in the country, The Greyhound. We were late, but got there just before the 8pm food cut-off. Quite frankly, we knew it was fully booked and expected to have to catch a cab into Coventry...but our expectations were surpassed! They were taking in 'Walk-Ups' and so they took us in, asked us to order quickly and everything would be fine. We were seated in the new plastic and aluminium gazebo by the canalside. The food arrived, the drinks arrived as did a massive thunderstorm which would have soaked us, but the gazebo did it's job.

Morning After
As the pub began to thin out, we managed to get seats inside where social distancing was achieved by means of the (ubiquitous) black and yellow tape being applied to the edge of each table facing away from the bench seating. At first sight, this appears to halve the capacity, but in normal circumstances the bench seats are always occupied and the stools less so.

Next morning we left the Coventry Canal and entered the Oxford Canal via Sutton Stop Lock. William steered the boat through the junction and past the pub (above) whilst I had the tough job of operating the six inches deep lock...all by myself! (My dodgy back held up under the strain...I may be able to do a couple more on our next journey!)

Next stop, the Barley Mow at Newbold-on-Avon.

Social distancing worked quite well here and Sunday 'lunch' (Roast Pork Rolls with Roast Potatoes and Apple Sauce) was served in polystyrene takeaway trays (first time since the Blue Lias on Day 1!). The Carling was nice and cold!

We were almost on the final leg of our journey. Just the three Hillmorton Locks to negotiate and miles of lock free cruising to Braunston for the evening. After a bit of a delay at the locks we made good progress especially after a boat full of students (a dozen on one boat!) let us past after we'd caught them up. (Normally, it's the other way round as we get caught by 'speeding kids'!)

We made it to Braunston, just in time to get a meal at The Boat House.

Although we'd still got 5 miles to go this was to be our last drinking session of the trip...and it finished with some more minor entertainment!

Shortly after we'd got settled in, the boat load of twelve students arrived! Firstly they had to sit on two separate table (even though they'd been sharing a narrowboat for the weekend!). The two table were adjacent and not far from us, from where we could casually observe what turned out to be an epic drinking session (for them, not us!). Not all of them had food, but they all had shots, pints, cocktails, Jager Bombs and spirits...and not just one round...the drinks kept coming, wave after wave!

At times they got quite loud, but if you don't like the sound of young folk having a great night out then you probably shouldn't be going to the pub any more! At the end, a couple of the young women came over to apologise to us for the noise. To which I said, "It's fine! It's just over 40 years ago that I was in this very pub on my first canal trip (well the old version!) and we had an equally good time!"

The final test came with the bill. Like seasoned eavesdropping professionals that we are, we ascertained that their whole bill was £494! No-one batted an eyelid, no-one tried to do a runner, they paid up and left a substantial tip for the staff (acccording to the gaffer, who'd just seen his profits skyrocket in one night!)

And the moral of the tale...the future of pubs and drinking is safe in the hands of young folk like that...long may it continue!

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Canal Cruising in a COVID World (Part 2)

Following a less than excellent evening out, we returned to Stratford-upon-Avon for our lunchtime session. After navigating our way down Wilmcote Locks we moored on the edge of Stratford before setting out to find a drink and some food.

As we walked along a well-worn route (for us) we passed The Oddfellows Arms (closed...maybe permanently!), Yates's (closed...whole block being demolished), The Olde Thatch Tavern (closed, but not permanently) and The Lamplighter (closed, but being rebuilt!) before reaching The Queen's Head.
This used to be one of our regular haunts when we made our annual Easter trips to Stratford...and it hadn't changed at all. Still a proper backstreet boozer (with added social distancing) with a welcome choice of Roast Beef or Roast Pork Baps for just £3.95 each! And, the Carling was just right, as well!

Then it was time to return back up the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal with Wootton Wawen being our evening destination. Because of the pandemic, we were forced into stopping at different places on the way back - The Crabmill at Preston Bagot (now Brunning & Price) wouldn't be open until August and the Fleur-de-Lys at Lowsonford was only opening Wednesday - Sunday - so, The Navigation Inn at Wootton Wawen was our choice! (Viewed from the used to be a 40mph limit!)
Again, one of our regular haunts from years gone by and, again, remarkably unchanged! The Navigation has endured several new owners since the original West Brom supporting gaffer left, no-one has yet turned it into a gastropub (hurrah!) and it still does proper pub meals! There were clear social distancing guidelines (and tape on the floor!), but because of the layout it didn't really affect the main part of the pub.

Next morning we resumed our northward journey towards The Navigation at Lapworth (again!)
Amazingly it was completely unchanged from our previous visit. Excellent food, as always, and this time I partook of the Lapworth Gold which I find very pleasant.

So, it was back to the boat to complete the final 18 locks of the 27 lock Lapworth flight. This got off to an inauspicious and unpleasant start. As our first lock was filling, William, my fellow cruiser (and main lock wheeler) went ahead to the next lock. It was empty, so all he had to do was open the bottom gates and it would be ready for when I got the boat there.

It was no more that 100 yards away and as William returned to let me out of the full lock, I could see someone at the next lock closing the gates! I gave a toot on the horn to let him know that we were on our way (if he hadn't seen us). After a few more blasts on the horn it was clear that he was going to fill the lock and bring his boat through in direct contravention of lock rules, canal etiquette and general decency.

In 40 years of boating, this was the first time that we'd seen such a flagrant disregard for the rules! To cap it all, when he exited the lock (as I was trying, and failing, to take a surreptitious photo of him) he accused me of being "a disgrace" and in the wrong! Unbelievable! His boat is named Calypso.

After a stop to refill with water we resumed our journey with the Blue Bell Cider House at Earlswood as our evening destination.
Unfortunately, we were too late for food, but after navigating the extensive one-way system we managed a night of ice-cold Carling (served in refrigerated glasses!) with crisps and nuts for sustenance...well...we'd had a full lunch at the Navigation in preparation!

Next morning we took a detour along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal for lunch at Hopwood House.
As it was a Wednesday afternoon we thought about not booking, but relented and booked online (it's a Marston's pub). When we arrived and saw the car park I realised what a good idea that had been. It was about 2pm and the place was probably as full as could be allowed at the moment. The table service was efficient and the numbers started to dwindle not long after we'd arrived.

After a pleasant lunch it was back towards Birmingham and my first venture into town for many months. Our eating destination, the Rajdoot, was booked and not a problem...but where to drink? Both of our go-to pubs were closed - the Prince of Wales and The Shakespeare. This was to be another occasion where it was Wetherspoon's to the rescue...and my first visit to The Soloman Cutler.
It used to be (maybe still is!) a Lloyds No 1 bar, but was just right for what we needed. The fact that Broad Street is currently dug up (for the tram extension to Five Ways) means that everywhere along there is even was the Soloman Cutler...apart from Brendan the Irishman who was celebrating his birthday in traditional style!

He was with his wife and was extremely pissed. After a bit of banter with the table of young women next to him, which almost got out of hand, all seemed calm until one of the bar staff turned up with the massively over-ordered food in 'doggy bags' to take home!

"I'm not a f***ing dog!" shouted Brendan at the bar staff as he threw the food around his table. There followed many more expletives and an almost punch-up before Brendan and his (long-suffering) wife were ushered from the premises. The sad thing is that Brendan looked to be about our age...late 50's/early 60's.

The rest of our evening passed by uneventfully and we had another excellent meal at the Rajdoot!

There's more to follow as we escape the 'big city' and head back into the countryside!