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Monday, 27 September 2021

UPDATE - #054 The Fountain Inn, Cheapside, Birmingham

 Contrary to my last post on The Fountain, the pub has been resurrected as The Fountain Inn!

I realise that I'm not the first to bring you this good news, but better late than never. It must be doing some things right, though...note the mobility scooter outside and the 'old boy' getting into the taxi!

Apparently, the refurbishments cost £1 millon and included installing a 1920's car in side the pub - more details here.

For those looking for real ale, it doesn't look promising from the inerior bar shots in the article! Still, it is just great news that a 'lost' pub has returned!

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 6)

 Day 11 - Tuesday

We're on the final leg of our little tour of the Midlands and now moving away from the hub of Life After Football country!

The journey from Atherstone takes us through Hartshill (nice pub, the Anchor, but I haven't been for several years...bad timing!) and through Nuneaton heading for our lunchtime destination of The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction.

The gazebo/tent for outdoor service has gone and the pub is almost back to normal...except that it was table service via an app (which actually worked well!). This meant that for today's Bass porn you don't get to see the hand pump...just an 'interracial' threesome on a bar room table!
I've already played this game on Twitter - guess which is my pint!

Following a very pleasant lunchtime session we set off for a rare trip into Coventry - UK City of Culture 2021. The final 5-mile stretch of the Coventry Canal has become increasingly more pleasant over the past few years as decaying industry and derelict factories get turned into residential complexes. The canal basin at the terminus is still a lovely little haven, although mooring was at a premium as certain places had to be booked in advance because of Coventry's new-found status. We just managed to squeeze Peggy Ellen into a (semi) legal mooring spot.

And so, into Coventry we ventured! In the past we've struggled to find decent pubs in the city, but with the help of Retired Martin we headed for this gem!

Without Martin's excellent blog (and Google Maps) we would never have discovered this lovely pub...the Town Wall Tavern...a proper local in the city centre!

After a couple of pints we moved on in search of food - a lovely Italian - through the rain which always seems to accompany our jaunts into Coventry city centre (whether forecast or not!). Then it was onward to our final pub of the evening.

Yes, The Flying Standard is a Wetherspoon's, but it was now after 10pm and not much else was open! The rain finally eased and, after a couple of pints, we strolled back to Coventry Canal Basin and our slightly dodgy mooring!

Day 12 - Wednesday
In the morning we retraced our route out of Coventry to Hawkesbury Junction where we joined the (North) Oxford Canal. It was way too early to stop at The Greyhound again, so we pushed on to Ansty.
It is a good many years since I've been to the Rose & Castle and it has undergone a complete external transformation (#035 UPDATE). Inside, however, was pretty much as I remembered it. In reality the Rose & Castle is no longer a pub (and hasn't been for many years), but it was almost full on this Wednesday lunchtime so you can't really argue with their model! The food was good, the beer satisfied, so what's not to like!

The afternoon's cruising took us to Rugby with a brief stop for a pump-out at Rose Narrowboats. It was my intention to take my shipmates to some of the fine pubs we visited on our Proper Day Out to Rugby in 2019. As our mooring was well over a mile away from the town centre, we called a cab, first stop The Seven Stars.
My travelling companions were as impressed as I'd hoped, but we had to go after one pint as there were other pubs to see! Next stop the Alexandra Arms...except it only opens on Thursdays to Sundays (and it is now the Alexandra Tavern!)
So, it was back to an old favourite - The Squirrel.
Unfortunatey, for us, it was 'Open Mic' night so the place was packed, but we managed to get seats...without a table! It obviously works well for the pub, but not really our thing. We scurried out after a pint, had a Chinese meal across the road and finished off in The Rupert Brooke.
Yes, I know it's the town Wetherspoon's (two nights running!), but both the Victoria Inn and Merchant's Stores were in the wrong direction for us!
Day 13 - Thursday
Next morning gave us a pleasant session of Hillmorton Locks which can, sometimes, take ages to get through, but with the help of the Canal & River Trust volunteers, we traversed the three locks without delay. This meant a relatively early lunch stop at a pub that I'd visited on my first ever canal trip in 1980 (and moored in the exact same spot!).
formerly The Old Royal Oak
Back then it was a proper country pub called The Old Royal Oak, now it is a Greene King Pub & Carvery called The Waterside.
formerly The Old Royal Oak
Despite the fact it was Thursday lunchtime, carvery was the only menu choice (or hot roast baps!). Not ideal, but we usual!
Our afternoon was taken up with the relatively short stretch to Braunston where our first pub of the trip became our last pub as well.
Our final evening of the trip, back in The Boat House, which was as pleasant and satisfying as ever.
Day 14 - Friday
This just left us the 90 - 110 minute journey back to Wigrams Turn Marina. We'd agreed on a breakfast free, early start, but a mis-communication between the Captain and his crew saw us get underway at the ungodly remarkably early time of 7:10 am! The crew had been expecting an 8:00 am start (after the Captain's morning walk, which never happened!) and were somewhat startled as the engine started up just after 7 am! 
Our Captain (and proprietor) was under the impression that this was normal procedure for the final morning trip back to the marina, but I do believe that he had mistaken us for a different crew that he also journeys along the waterways with! No real hardship and we were back at the marina and on the road home by about 10:00 am at the end of another thoroughly enjoyable trip aboard Peggy Ellen!

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 5)

 Day 9 - Sunday

This is the view from the canal as you leave Burton, heading south on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Next stop Alrewas...passing through several locks along the way. This stretch of the Trent & Mersey is quite pleasant, but there is the constant presence of the A38 that's never far away.

There are three pubs in Alrewas, but it is a few years since we stopped there. This time, we tied up at the first avaialble mooring and headed into the village. The first pub we came across was the William IV, a place we haven't visited for many, many years.

It's a comfortable village pub that was almost full when we arrived. We were informed that there was no space for us to eat Sunday lunch, but we could sit down and drink in the small area reserved for drinkers. However, the landlord did his best to retain us as his customers by suggesting that, if we waited about 45 minutes, he was sure that at least one table would become available...and he was right. One couple left after their meal giving us the opportunity to have the best value Sunday lunch you'll find anywhere (which explained exactly why the pub was so popular!)

This wasn't a carvery, but a plated full Sunday roast was a mere £5.99p, delivered to the table...I almost told him that he should charge a couple of quid more (and it would still be good value!), but decided against it! Certainly one of the best customer service experiences of the holiday!

Then it was back to Peggy Ellen for a somewhat drizzly afternoon trip to Fradley Junction (not the right time for the Swan Inn) and along the Coventry Canal to Hopwas and the Tame Otter.

We chose the Tame Otter because we knew that they served food till 8pm on a Sunday (it's a Vintage Inn) and it's always reasonable.

Day 10 - Monday

Since it was fully opened in 1789, the Coventry Canal has always been a busy route as it links the Trent & Mersey to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and the Oxford Canal giving a link to the Grand Union Canal to London. In the modern era it is still a busy waterway!

Since leaving the River Trent, the traffic had steadily gotten busier and the Coventry Canal was as busy as we could remember it ever being. It is a canal of few locks, but the two at Glascote can add hours to a day's journey. This time we were fourth in the queue, but at the head of that queue was a pair of traditional boats which were being hauled through the locks by a husband and wife team and their two young children. A magnificent sight, but an extra hour (plus) on our journey.

So, rather than pushing on to Polesworth, we stopped at the Gate Inn in Amington.
A pleasant boozer with a perfect location for us boaters as we moored up right outside the pub. It was very quiet (Monday lunchtime!), but both the beer/lager and food were very welcome.

Atherstone was to be our evening stop, but we didn't know at this stage whether we'd have to stop after six locks of the Atherstone flight, or whether we could make it through all eleven before darkness fell.

We were in luck - all of the boats we'd been following most of the afternoon either stopped or turned around...and the traditional pair from earlier had also moored up for the night. Once we'd entered the flight there was a fairly steady stream of boats coming down meaning less work and a quicker passage for us.

Mooring above the top lock at Atherstone was quite competitive, but we found a spot about ¼ mile from the bridge. So, we headed into town for the Market Square.

Considering it was a Monday evening, The Angel was doing a very nice trade and we struggled to find a seat...but the Citra was very nice! After a couple of pints we went in search of food. I think it's fair to say that Atherstone isn't a place for gourmet dining (we've had previous bad experiences!), but we managed to find an Indian restaurant which was perfectly adequate!

Then we moved on to the next pub we came across - the Black Horse (and a bit more Bass porn for the afficionados!)

Bass porn

A cosy little pub that we've been unable to get in previously, but it wasn't very busy on a Monday evening (despite/because of having hand pulled Bass available!!)

...and there I must leave you again! Our journey is nearing it's conclusion, but I didn't think it would occupy this many posts!

(To be continued)

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 4)

 Day 7 - Friday

Leaving Nottingham meant that we were now officially heading back to the marina - first stop Trent Lock for lunch. Again we passed by the Boat & Horses in Beeston and again it wasn't the right time to stop, being about 10:30am. Once we exited Beeston Lock onto the main channel of the River Trent we discovered just how windy it was that day. It was so windy that our 'life saver' ring blew off the roof despite being laid down flat. Hopefully, this gives some idea of the wind when we moored at Trent Lock.

This time we decided to visit the Steamboat for lunch for a change.
Considering it was now a Friday, the Steamboat was still much less busy than the Trent Lock had been 24 hours earlier. 

It soon became apparent why. The food is more basic (a plus in my book!) and both food and drinks were cheaper than in the Trent Lock, but everything else was just a bit off. I've always liked the quirky d├ęcor in the Steamboat, but it looked tired and unloved. It's a family run place and whilst the landlady was left on her own behind the bar (occasionally disappearing to take food orders to the kitchen!) her husband (I assume!) was watching telly with his mates in the corner. Sadly, I've witnessed this scenario too many times and it always results in disappointing service, a drop off in clientele and eventually going out of business - all in a place that should be raking it in!

Still, we'd had our fill and set off towards the Trent & Mersey Canal for a relatively uneventful trip to Swarkestone, passing through Sawley and Shardlow...apart from me (as steerer for the afternoon) invoking the wrath of a fellow boater just outside Shardlow. He'd stopped to help re-moor a boat that had gotten loose and drifted across the cut. I didn't realise this (until I was told later!) so when he tried to pull out just as we were getting to his position, I naturally didn't let him out!

He really sounded off at me and, once I'd understood the situation, I let him pass by and a little later I let the cruiser go past who'd also been helping. Then, when we got to the next lock (double width) we ended up sharing it with the narrowboat as the cruiser didn't want to share. We had a nice chat about it and became 'best of friends' for the rest of the times when we encountered each other over the next few days!

It was getting a bit late by the time we got to Swarkestone Lock, so we moored below it and set off for the long stroll to the pub, getting there by 9pm...just!

The Crewe & Harpur is a pub that I've reported on before (#204) as has Life After Football (here). Our first visit was back in 1986 when it was a proper village pub, but now it has expanded to become a Marston's Rotisserie pub and hotel. The food was good and the lager was cold, so progress hasn't spoiled the experience!

Day 8 - Saturday

Our lunchtime destination was the village of Willington which has been well covered by Life After Football and me in the past. There are three pubs within 100 yards of each other!

First up was The Dragon which has become more of a restaurant than a pub, but they managed to find a table for us despite it being fairly busy. The food and the beer were both very good, but we decided to take the long stroll to one of the other would have been rude not to!

We couldn't quite tell whether the Green Man was open or not, so we went into the Rising Sun for the first time in very meny years.

We hadn't missed much! The bar looked to be the only room open. It is definitely a locals pub and somewhat of a stark contrast to The Dragon, but a village needs both types of pub to cater for the wide range of people you can get.

And then it was time to get back to the boat and head off for a Saturday night in Burton-upon-Trent. We had one goal in mind, but as it is a long walk from the canal we popped into the Oak & Ivy for a 'splash 'n' go' pitstop on our way to the Cooper's Tavern

I failed to get my fellow travellers to veer off into the Devonshire Arms for a quick pint (even though, last time, I'd struggled to get them out of there...before they'd experienced the Cooper's!). It was packed, but we managed to grab a table just as a group was leaving. Apparently, the Bass was very good as was my pint of Joules (one of their seasonal beers). This was also the first time we discovered that we could take our drinks to the Indian restaurant next door (Apne) we did.

After a lovely meal, we strolled back to the boat, but not before another pitstop at the Oak & Ivy to break up the walk!

More than halfway through the trip and we still have the delights of Atherstone and Coventry to relate!

(To be continued)

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 3)

Day 5 - Wednesday 

We were now heading out of Leicester, down the River Soar towards Loughborough and, ultimately, Nottingham! We were heading for Life After Football country! 

First pitstop for lunch was the Hope & Anchor at Syston which is a truly canalside pub!

This pub has a greater significance, for me, than just by being a canalside boozer. As a child of about 10 years old (not sure when we went exactly) we had a family day out to visit the Hope & Anchor to see my Mum & Dad's friend Reg Snelling who was the landlord. Reg was a real character with the appearance and demeanour of Eric Morecambe and he allowed me to pour a pint (keg) and also to make my own shandy! (The pub was not open, so no laws were broken!) I also remember walking down to the bank of the canal, not realising that I'd be making several return journeys over the years.

Over the past 50 years it has lost almost all of it's character with the extensions and major alterations, but there's a little room behind where the bar is now that still has the low ceiling and, just for a moment, I could imagine that I was back in the old pub.

After a less than average lunch, we headed off for Loughborough as our night time stopover. This meant passing through Barrow-upon-Soar (which has some very good pubs) and Mountsorrel (below).

We managed to secure a mooring outside The Boat in Loughborough and we popped in for a pint!
We then set off for, what I hoped would be, pastures new. It turned out that we'd visited The Windmill on a previous occasion!
A bit of Bass 'porn' for those who like that sort of thing!
I don't remember exactly when we last visited there, but it is still a proper little boozer! So, after a lovely Italian meal at Caravelli (just across the road from the Windmill) we ended up in The Three Nuns for our final drinks of the evening.

Apparently the pub got it's name because of a spelling mistake/typo and they decided to keep it! It's another lovely little pub that had the best screens I've come across in any pub or elsewhere. They had been installed by the landlord and his son. The plastic was perfectly transparent, the wooden frames were painted to exactly match the bar and they were sized perfectly to allow for ease of access to your pint whilst also giving perfect sound for communication across the bar.
Day 6 - Thursday
We made an early getaway as it was a long way to the River Trent. We were still in Loughborough when we passed what had been (to me) one of the best pub experiences in the land. Sadly, a pub no more!
It was called The Albion and every time we visited it felt as cosy as if you were in someone's house, but it was decorated in a nautical/seaside style and I always felt as though I was by the coast in a 'smuggler's cove!
It was another pleasant sunny day as we travelled down the Soar Navigation towards Trent Lock where the River Soar meets the River Trent and the Erewash Canal. We mmored just on the Cranfleet Cut of the Trent and headed for the Trent Lock pub.
This is a pub that Life After Football (here) and I (#188) have both reported on in the past. As it was such a nice day, the pub garden was pretty full and there weren't enough bar staff to cope adequately. We sat inside and had a pleasant lunch and three pints...not being too affected by the shortages the pub was experiencing at the time. All too soon it was time to return to Peggy Ellen for the short afternoon trip into Nottingham.
Just after exiting Beeston Lock I kept a lookout for the Boat & Horses pub recommended by Life After Football. It was easy to see from the cut, but even if we'd wanted to stop (it was only 4:30pm) there were no available moorings. Less than 90 minutes later and we were moored at our regular mooring spot in Nottingham.
The first stop on our evening's entertainment was the VAT & Fiddle which is the taphouse for the Castle Rock brewery...and only a short walk from our mooring!
It was quite early in the evening and consequently it lacked clientele and atmosphere! There was a full range of Castle Rock ales available, all very good, but I feel that they could do a bit more to the pub to make it feel is just a normal, unremarkable boozer at present. Then it was time to find somewhere to eat. 
In this day and age, Google Maps is your friend...except when left in the hands of a friend who isn't fazed by a 1 mile walk (mostly up hill!) to a Chinese restaurant which turned out to be very good (but I reckon there must have been just as good places closer by!)
Then it was the route march back (down hill now!) to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.
We could hear the final throes of a pop concert in the castle grounds as we approached the pub, but the pub itself was very quiet. For the first time ever, I think, we easily got seats in the first bar as you enter and we had an entertaining last couple of pints in the company of one of the pub's regulars!

Six days into our journey and it was time to commence the journey back to Napton and Wigrams Turn Marina.

(To be continued)

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Boozin' and Cruisin' through the East Midlands (Part 2)

 Day 3 - Monday

Usually, at the start of the week, it can be difficult to find pubs that are open, never mind serving food, at lunchtimes. Today was not one of those days!

We were travelling along the summit level of the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal which meant that we had to negotiate Foxton Locks. Ten locks arranged in to two staircases of five locks each; a magnificent setting and a magnet for gongoozlers of all ages! There was a bit of a wait at the top and we were the fourth boat in the queue - it could have been much worse! This is the view from the first lock of the second five.

With help from the volunteer lockkeepers we were soon down at the bottom where we turned left (heading for Leicester) and moored up for lunch in the imaginatively named Foxton Locks Inn.

For a Monday it was pleasantly busy, but table service was the order of the day. The food was good as was the beer and so we returned to Peggy Ellen for the next stage of our journey.

At the bottom of Foxton, you can turn left towards Leicester (leading to the River Soar) or right towards the terminus at Market Harborough. Most boats took the latter option whilst we headed towards Leicester.

As it was early August and the canal had been very busy up to this point, we were hopeful that we'd have plenty of company to share the many wide locks en route to Leicester. Sadly, this was not the case and we saw only a handful of boats all the way to Leicester.

Our first stop along this route was at Fleckney which isn't exactly a canalside village!

This was the walk into the village, which boasts two pubs...neither of which was serving food on a Monday night! (and the chippy was closed!)

We've visited the Old Crown in the past and it is a perfectly decent local village pub. Ordinarily, it would have been a one pint and we're moving on pub...except...although they weren't doing food themselves, parked out front was a pizza van making freshly made pizzas that could be consumed in the pub. What a result! They have different vans/trucks on different nights...a fantastic idea!

We still decided to move on for a couple in the more upmarket Golden Shield; Fleckney's other pub.

Last time we'd been to Fleckney, this is where we'd eaten, but the restaurant wasn't open on a Monday. It seemed to be little changed from the time the late Alan Winfield visited it ten years earlier and reviewed it on Pubs Galore.

Day 4 - Tuesday

From Fleckney it is a long journey to Leicester through 20+ wide locks (with no one to share the joy work!) and the next pub was a long way away ay Kilby Bridge. We moored up at about 2pm!

The Navigation is a lovely old, proper canalside pub and we were happy to see that it was open. Unfortunately, they weren't doing food and when I asked about cobs/rolls I was given a quite brusque, "No, we don't do them they only get left uneaten!" Oh well, a lunch of crisps, nuts and scratchings wasn't the end of the world!

Then, about 15 minutes later, the other barman (possibly landlord) appeared with large trays of freshly made sandwiches, mini scotch eggs and sausage rolls which were offered to us and the other half dozen people in the pub...for free! Fantastic customer service!

So, after a great lunchtime session, we set off again for Leicester. Still very little traffic and some quite shallow sections, but we made it to Leicester without too much hassle.

The Globe was our first port of call and, whist it is a great old pub, it was disappointing to see it so empty! Unfortunately, we only had the one pint before we set off in search of food. We found a lovely curry at a place called Tandem and then went for more beer at the High Cross...the local Wetherspoon's...which was considerably busier than The Globe had been (as were many of the other bars in that vicinity)!

And that was it for our night out in Leicester, but in our defence, we didn't moor up until after 8pm and the canal/river is a bit of a walk from the city centre.
(To be Continued)