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Wednesday, 23 June 2021

#284 Three Goats Heads, Oxford : 1998 to 2021

This will only be a short entry, but it is a proper pub and well worth a visit...especially if you like Sam Smith's.

Our first visit was on the evening of Saturday 5th September 1998 and, as it was quite late, this was my only shot of the pub.

I have little recollection of the pub other than I remembered it for more than just it's unusual name. I recalled that it was a good, proper pub, but that's about all!

So, on our recent visit to Oxford, the Three Goats Heads was one of the pubs I wanted  to revisit. However, I had no idea where it was located, but in this day and age of Google Maps, that wasn't a problem. We'd finished lunch in the Four Candles (#263) and, after consulting the map app on my phone, I realised that it was very close to us. This how it looked on the rainy afternoon of Friday 21st May 2021.

This was the first Saturday that indoor opening of pubs had been allowed, but it was very quiet inside. (Probably because of the cold, wet weather, a lack of tourists/shoppers and a reluctance to go out!)

I'm not a fan of Old Brewery Bitter, so I had a pint of the Double Four Lager, which was OK, but it's no Carling! The décor was typical of other Sam Smith's pubs I've been to - dark wood and lots of framed photos - not particularly to my taste as it all seems to be a bit too regimented. (I like the more random, higgledy-piggledy look of old school boozers!) Still, there are many worse.

We chatted a bit to the landlady who informed us that it has been a Sam Smith's pub since the mid 1980's. 

If you can find it, the Three Goats Heads is well worth a visit, especially if you're a Sam Smith's fan!

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

UPDATE: #264 The Bell, Lower Heyford, Oxfordshire : 1998 to 2021

This isn't something that I'd normally do less than two years after the previous visit, but we live in strange times so, why not?

My original report (from September 2019) can be found here. This is what the pub looked like at lunchtime on Sunday 28th July 2019.

Less than two years had passed by and we were back at lunchtime on Sunday 23rd May 2021.

The first thing you notice is that it is busier despite certain restrictions still being in place (and despite the cool, damp weather!). Then you notice the sign which says just 'The Bell' in a more traditional style. And finally, the new owners (I assume!) have removed the last vestiges of the ivy from around the front door.

I certainly wasn't expecting such a complete change of signage in less than two years...that would normally take closer to ten years for a village pub like The Bell. The Sunday lunch was good, the Carlsberg was cold and it felt like a local village pub/restaurant. All-in-all, well worth a visit!

Monday, 7 June 2021

Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times (Part 2)

 You left us last time as we were staggering back to Peggy Ellen after a 3/4 pub lunchtime session in a cool and damp Oxford. This gave us a couple of hours rest before we headed out into Jericho for the evening.

This was our mooring on the Oxford Canal and, after a short stroll over the cut, this (below) was to be our residence for the evening.

It was 7:30pm and, fortunately there was a small table available, right in front of the bar, so table service worked well for us. It is now as much a French restaurant as a pub, but they didn't mind that we only wanted to drink. We did get quite comfortable as it felt like we were back in a proper pub with some atmosphere for the first time on our trip.

Our plan had been to explore more of the pubs in Jericho, but we got so comfortable that we stayed all night...even pushing the boat out for some Garlic & Chilli Chips and a Tomato & Onion Salad to keep us sustained!

Next morning we were up and ready to resume our journey back to Napton, but there was the little matter of turning the boat. Our previous trips had been in the 35ft long Emma Jane which could be turned easily without leaving the canal. Peggy Ellen is 57ft long which necessitates the use of Isis Lock to descend onto a backwater of the Thames, turn the boat and negotiate the lock again to get back onto the canal.

This was our first real queue for a lock on the trip; we were fourth in line which is quite ironic as we were moored so close to it overnight! The delay was exacerbated by one boat not following instructions which resulted in them having to be towed away from the weir on Castle Mill Stream! To be honest, if the instructions hadn't been pointed out to me I'd probably have done the same thing!

This delay meant that by the time we reached The Highwayman we were too late for lunch as there was no food served between 2pm and 6pm!

So, it was another session of nuts and crisps washed down with cold lager. Not ideal, but we survived! It is also an hotel and it had fairly modern décor inside. By the time we'd downed our third pint it was way too late to expect to get to Lower Heyford and find a seat, so we made a momentous decision to have a 10 minute afternoon cruise to The Boat Inn at Thrupp. This time there was plenty of mooring space (which was filled within half-an-hour of us pulling up)!
Another long walk to the pub! We'd booked in advance because The Boat Inn is really a restaurant these days and a bit of a tourist destination as it has featured in "Inspector Morse" - indeed, we were seated in the Morse Room. This was another pub that closed when most people had gone home. Unsurprisingly we were last out! Not overly busy for a Saturday night; a combination of the weather and the pandemic restrictions I suspect.
Next destination, The Bell at Lower Heyford for Sunday lunch (booked in advance!)
The journey had taken somewhat longer than anticipated, but after ringing the pub from one of the locks, they held onto our table. It was quite busy and the Sunday lunch was served differently to anywhere else I've encountered before. Essentially, you bought a sharing platter for two (for £28-95p) and that was your Sunday lunch! It seemed to work and it was all cooked and presented well.

Our next stop, for Sunday evening, was Aynho Wharf. We knew that there was no way we'd get there before the 6pm Sunday closing time (not to be blamed on the pandemic as this was becoming increasingly common before the plague struck!)
Our plan had been to get a taxi into Banbury, but after an afternoon of cold and rain followed by an increased downpour shortly after we moored our plan was abandoned. There was no point in wandering around Banbury in the rain trying to find pubs that might be open...and boy, did it rain!! So, it was an evening of beer/lager and sandwiches.
Next day we were back in Banbury for lunch...and no guesses for which pub we visited!
It was even quieter than before, but it was a Monday lunchtime!

Our afternoon trip to Cropredy should have been fairly uneventful, but for the first time in many a long year, I was caught outside during a hailstorm! Whilst the hailstones weren't particularly large there were moments during the downpour that I couldn't see the front of the boat from my position on the tiller. We were in a lock, so this wasn't critical!
At Cropredy, the sun finally reappeared giving a lovely evening glow. To avoid the problems we had on the way down to Oxford, this time we'd made a booking!
The Red Lion was fairly busy again, mostly with diners, but discovered quite a few locals in the other rooms. The food was good and the landlady (same one as on our visit in 2019) was as attentive and chatty as ever. So, again feeling close to being back to normal.

Next day brought us the final, long leg back to Napton...unless The Wharf at Fenny Compton was open. (The landlady of the Red Lion seemed to believe that it was closed!)
As we passed by, it looked as though she was correct.
It didn't look open, but there was someone watering flowers so it may be on the way back. However, up-to-date internet information is not to be found. So, another lunchtime of sandwiches on the move!

Another pub we passed by (that was definitely open) was The Folly at the bottom of Napton Locks.
It is many years since we last stopped at The Folly - this time it was because our mooring is only half an hour away and the King's Head is only a short walk from the marina.

...and so this is where we finished our journey.
It's fair to say that the King's Head is more restaurant than pub, but I doubt that it would have survived in it's previous incarnation just as a pub that did food.

So, after a week-long trip how is hospitality holding up? We didn't manage to get into as many pubs as I expected and we missed more pub sessions than I thought we would. This was partly due to the route we chose as there are long stretches of canal with no pub making the ones that have survived even busier. It was also, in part, because we'd set off the day after the restrictions had lifted.
It was quite an eye-opener to see the magnificent efforts taken by those pubs with outdoor space to maximise that area with some fantastically inventive structures. Hopefully they will reap the rewards from their efforts.
Our next trip is planned for August - will the pubs be fully open by then? I would hope so, but given the record of this government and it's loose regard for consistency, who can say?

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times (Part 1)

 For our first boating trip of 2021 we waited until indoor hospitality was open again, albeit under Summer 2020 rules. Our destination was Oxford on the basis that we hadn't been there (for a good session) in a long time.

Travelling from the boat's home marina at Napton-on-the-Hill presents a bit of a dilemma as the refreshment stops between there and Cropredy (9 hours cruising away) are limited. There is The Folly which is just half an hour from the marina and The Wharf at Fenny Compton which is about 4½ hours away, about which we had no information regarding it's status.

So, it was a lunch on board without stopping!

We arrived at Cropredy in plenty of time and it was a pleasant sunny evening. There are two pubs in the village; the Brasenose Arms which had been open (outdoors) for several weeks serving food to a massive garden.

Unfortunately for us, the chef has his day off on Tuesdays, so the pub building was closed and there was no food available...only drinks were being served in the garden.

We strolled round to the Red Lion only to find, unsurprisingly, that it was fully booked and we couldn't even get a drink! So, it was back to the Brasenose for a sumptuous fare of crisps, nuts, scratchings and not cold enough lager!

So, our first pint of 2021, inside a pub, was in Ye Olde Reine Deer in Banbury.

This time we found it without too much trouble and there was no problem finding a free table. It was disappointing that it wasn't busier, but it will take time to get back to some semblance of 'normal'. As many people are noting, the full range of (Hook Norton) beers wasn't available, but there was sufficient choice for us.

For the evening we'd already booked our table at the Great Western Arms at Aynho Wharf. Even before the pandemic, this had become an upmarket gastropub, but it was remarkably quite busy.

Our table was in the Lavender Garden which is a semi-outdoor area taking maximum advantage of existing outbuildings. All-in-all, a pleasant experience.

Our lunchtime stopping place for the next day was Lower Heyford. Unfortunately, The Bell doesn't open on Thursday lunchtimes and the Barley Mow was completely closed, awaiting new management. So, this was the venue for another sumptuous lunch!

A brief stop to stock up with essentials like cheese and corned beef for a beer and sandwiches lunch on board the good ship Peggy Ellen. Then we resumed our journey south - next stop Thrupp.

Along the way we passed by former "EastEnders" actor Phil Daniels and his boat Tuppence, moored in an attractive tree lined cutting, just before we came across the sad sight of the now closed Rock of Gibraltar pub.

It's a pub that I've never actually been into...and now never will!

After miles of canal where the pubs are half-a-day's cruising apart, you get to Thrupp where there are three pubs within a 15 minute walk of each other! There were no mooring spaces outside The Boat Inn, but plenty of room outside The Jolly Boatman!

This shows how close we were moored. It is a pleasantly run pub - they managed to find us a table, the food was good, the lager cold and they pre-warned us that closing time was dependent on how busy they were. In the event, it was around 10pm when they closed the bar allowing us a relaxed drinking up period. Luckily for us, the pub's one-way system led us out through the garden/smoking shelter, almost to our front door!
Next stop Oxford! It was another rainy day when we moored up in Jericho and strolled along the last few hundred yards of the canal and into the city. Dreaming spires, fantastic old and characterful've guessed it though...Wetherspoon's Four Candles was our first stop!
Amazingly there was no queue, although there weren't many free tables. We were downstairs, so the technical glitch with their app didn't affect us as we got the table service, which worked very well. After a couple of pints and lunch we moved on in search of a pub that we'd been into in 1998, but remembered little else about apart from it's name - the Three Goats Heads.

What a fine pub it is and, unexpectedly, it's a Sam Smiths boozer! I'm not a fan of Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter, so I was on the lager and my travelling companion went for the OBB! Sadly, it wasn't very busy - most likely a combination of the pandemic restrictions and the fact that it was rainy and cold!

Next we wanted to find a pub that neither of us could remember the name of. We knew that it was a small corner pub close to one of the colleges and that it had a magnificent collection of ties. This is when a smart phone with a map is your friend.
As they used to say in local cinema adverts, "'ere Bert, this is the place!" We stepped inside The Bear and it was seemingly unchanged except that, in these curious times, it was full...with just three people inside! Sure, we could've had a drink in the 'beer garden', but what's the point? With the current rules, I don't know how many more pubs there are in a similar situation, because that just isn't viable.

Moving on, we found a lovely little pub that we'd never been to before for our last pint of the session.
The White Horse is somewhat TARDIS like in that it goes back a long way inside which meant that there was plenty of space for us! Obviously, no-one was drinking outside, but the rain had finally begun to ease. I don't really recollect too much about the interior other than it felt like a proper town pub...and they served food as well.

By the time we'd had a pint it was almost 5pm and so time for the long stroll back to the boat to 'prepare' for our evening session. As we walked back past the 'Spoon's we could see that a queue had formed. A little further on and we came to the terminus of the Oxford Canal...only a few more steps to our mooring!
(Next time - a night out in Jericho, a 10 minute afternoon cruise between pub sessions and a river almost in flood - stay tuned for more tales of "Canal Cruising in Continuing COVID Times"!)