These were from the summer, but I just stumbled across the photos. I would prefer “There’s no god, so grow up and let me live my own life,” but sometimes equivocation is a necessary aspect of diplomacy:
Archive for October 2009
These were from the summer, but I just stumbled across the photos. I would prefer “There’s no god, so grow up and let me live my own life,” but sometimes equivocation is a necessary aspect of diplomacy:
Okay, I thought that spelled this way it was only used to denote Mexican twins but aparently janitorial services here use the extra ‘k’ in the spelling. Hmmm…janitorial…hang on, there….
At just over 20 miles into the Snowdonia Marathon I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see another pub until the end, so the Tafarn Snowdonia Parc Brew Pub (part of the national park) was a welcome sight and a warm respite from the rain and the run. There were crowds of campers and trekkers in there already and most seemed bent out of shape that the marathon was clogging the narrow roadway, but they were especially friendly to me as the only participant that seemed (to them) there for the same reasons…there in the park for the scenic beauty and there in the pub for a complex and refreshing beverage. When I put out a fiver to pay, three stoners stopped me and threw in their own coins to cover it.
We stood by the window and they pointed out several spots where you could just make out the runners at ever increasing altitude. This is the point at which the mountain is climbed on this race and as far as we could make out my compatriots up the hill in the village, there was at least five times that altitude to climb in the next couple of miles thereafter. I should probably have picked up another round and tried to weasel a joint out of the boys, but the race had to be completed sometime and off I went.
The Cwellyn Arms had some rude pub reviews and had I not been so desparate for another pub stop at 16 miles into the Snowdonia Marathon I would have passed it on. But, I thought, what the hell I’m only having one and if they gouge me on the price then I still have another pub visit down. I’m really glad I opted for the stop, though, as this was a very friendly, warm, and charming little pub packed with both diners and folks taking a break from watching the marathoners pass by in the rain (which was starting back up).
I had a Thieving Whippet from Cottage Brewing Company, which was pleasant enough, and tried to chat with the Polish bartender but her ear was barely tuned to the Welsh accent and she couldn’t make heads-nor-tails of mine. A family nearby did talk a bit about the town and how they come out for the race because so many neighbours are in it and it brings a good class of folks to the area that might not otherwise have visited. I wiped off my glasses and my face with the bar towel the keeper brought out, handed her the glass and said my thanks and loped off into the stream of fools.
The Saracen’s Head was the first pub that was both open and directly on the Snowdonia Marathon route. I knew it was coming up just after 12 miles and so while the other runners all veered left toward the water table set up by the race volunteers, I moved to the right and dashed off the course and into the welcoming arms of the pub.
The assembled drinkers (the place was packed at noon:30) had a nice chuckle and one of them asked if I was dropping out. “Nope, just fancied a pint,” I said as I pulled out my beer money. “I’ll have that one, please,” I pointed to a Robinson’s something or other (my glasses were coated with rain and sweat and were fogging up pretty badly). I stood and chatted with the friendly bunch and tipped them off to look for the CNN coverage of the 30 Pack Marathon if they thought this was odd. “Am I the first marathoner in today?” I asked, earnestly. “Ever,” came the reply from both bartenders and the owner who had just returned with a camera.
The food from the Lord Moreton, earlier, was still sticking with us so we just wandered the little village of Criccieth in the drizzling rain after checking into first the race and then our hotel. I remembered reading about the Castle Inn, near the rail station, in the Good Pub Guide so we popped in for a round before heading to the room for the night.
Inside, there is a bar to the left and another in the dining room to the right. If you filter past the screaming toddler (poor dear was upset about something) that lives upstairs and in between the breezeway between the two bars you’ll come to a small games room with a pool table and darts. There were also darts in the lively first bar that we settled into along with a few locals including one that must have been there since opening (not opening that day, but since the ribbon was cut).
The boys throwing darts were speaking a mix of english and welsh and the old drunk was speaking gibberish (something about one of the flies in the bar, but it came out as, “whatsis that?!? bzzzz-bzzzz thing over there and nowsits over there?” along with some wild pointing and the unfocused eyes that seem to say, “I really may not even know if there’s anyone else in the room or not.”). Still, I spotted these charming drink labels mounted next to the bar (Penis Colada is my favourite):
The Lord Moreton appeared on the far side of a roundabout as we were looking for a place to rest and grab a meal a few hours into our drive to Wales. I had all the directions, but since I was also very ill I had opted to drive so that I wouldn’t immediately go to sleep.
The Moreton is pretty strange, comprising a whole resort complex not especially near any real attractions (although the Iron Bridge isn’t too far away and there are gorgeous hiking trail all over). Especially good for those travelling with kids (and who’ll need some time to regroup in the kid-free bar) is Billy Badgers Playden…stick the little monstors in there and get a couple pints down you.
I had a cajun chicken pasta that actually had a bit of flavour and a couple of local beers that in my sick state didn’t take note of. Still, it was good stuff overall and helped with the carb loading for the marathon to come, the next day.
One of the best bits was the advert Jamie spotted in the Ladies’ for ‘the Scooter Man,’ who will ride his folding scooter to the pub, pick you up and transport you and his scooter (so he can get back on the job) to your house for less than the cost of a taxi. This is fantastic, and I think more people should consider this sort of service.
The Snowdonia Marathon wasn’t the toughest marathon I’ve ever done (I came in 16th on the steep Whiskey Row Marathon in 2006 after a late session that resulted in us staying out till closing on Whiskey Row just past 4am and having a 6am start), but it was by far the slowest finish I ever had at 4h 17m 33s (chip time); the sting of this fact, documented for the world to see, is not at all muted by the 3:30 pace I kept when I was actually running on the course (more on the pub crawl this turned into, below).
I could tell two weeks beforehand, though, that I wasn’t well prepared (or didn’t feel well prepared) in spite of duly putting in mileage and other workouts in excess of past training. Age is a bitch. So, I feel like this was a race I could look back on to highlight some points of strategy, should I seek to enter another (as inevitably will happen).
Kick out the jams motherfuckers!
–MC5, Kick Out The Jams
1) Make a Good Choice of Venue Key:
The weather in North Wales is awesome. Past Snowdonia Marathons (note the prominent S&M initials) have seen the starters collecting behind the drop vans not so much for shelter as to keep the vans from tumbling over (I believe that was in 1999). There was a staging of the race early this decade that was cancelled mid-race and helicopters dispatched to rescue runners stranded on the final mountain climb. This year, we only had to deal with mild temperatures (10C, 50F), sustained southerly winds of 40 mph, and heavy rain for the delayed start, first 4 and last 8 miles (albeit, with horizontal sleet the last 4).
The initial hill climb from Nant Peris wasn’t very difficult at all and, once cleared, afforded nearly an 8 mile downhill trip sheltered from much of the wind by the rising cliffs and, when the fog broke from time-to-time, spectacular views of the lakes below. Almost every road in North Wales appears to be bordered by stone walls, so women runners were able to hop over to have a wee in privacy (and most of us men were civilised enough to turn our backs to the flow of traffic when the flow of nature called).
Half a mile from the county fair
And the rain keep pourin down.
–Van Morrison, And It Stoned Me
2) Run With a Mix of Music:
Most races ban mp3 players for the sake of safety, and for a shorter run I usually comply. In fact, had I known just how social this small crowd was going to be I would have left mine in the drop bag but it at least kept me company as I huddled under a bridge for an hour awaiting the start. However, I listended to some FM radio for news and current events shows just before heading back across the road to the starting line and my cheap player reset my mix from my planned “show” to alphabetical order by file title. I crossed the start line nearly at the back of the 2000 runners and once the crowd started to thin enough to run at all I turned on the mix. First up was Allman Brothers doing the Beatles’ Rain. “So this is how it’s going to be, eh?” I thought as it was followed by And it Stoned Me by Van Morrison (see first line, quoted above…remainder of quoted lyrics also from the mix).
Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac, yeah
The boy’s a time bomb.
–Rancid, Time Bomb
3) Dress Appropriately
Balancing rain and cool breezes against a need for comfort as the body sheds heat and becomes increasingly less responsive, I opted for a long sleeved t-shirt with another I intended to (and did) dispose of at the start. This throwaway shirt was picked up for a dollar in Chattanooga, Tennessee last winter:
The long sleeved shirt for the remaining run would have been better if my other suggested bit of running kit–moleskin plasters for the nipples–had been remembered. As it was, the front was already turning red from the bleeding by mile 10. I guess I could have dumped it and saved my stinging chest, but I was concerned that as the temperature dropped and my energy flagged I might be trapped out on the trail waiting for the pick-up van with no clothing for warmth. Besides, this would probably be stingingly pleasant in the post race shower so I kept the shirt until I reached the bag pick-up and only then discarded it (dunno if anyone there considered reading the hasher names on the back of it, but that probably provided a laugh or two if they did).
I could probably have avoided looking so pained, though, had I taken the lead of our friend, here, and chosen something red to wear:
–The Stones, Shattered
4) Arrive at the Start Healthy and Fit
On Thursday before the race, I felt a bit run down as the work day closed and by Friday morning I had a raging fever, congestion, and a severely inflamed sore throat. Perfect for running in any weather, I thought, as the delirium would probably take my mind off things. The symptons eased a bit by Saturday morning at the start, but I still had the buckets of snot to blast out to the side of the road thereby assuring that no one would try to draft off me. The fever probably helped stave off hypothermia a bit, as well.
Last night the bottle let me down
And let your memory come around.
–George Jones, Bottle Let Me Down
5) Proper Hydration and Carbohydrate Maintenance
A half mile into the run I spotted a pub, but it was closed. The next one was at about 4.5 miles in, but it was too far (~100 metres) off the course and I was concerned that I might be pulled from the race if I tried to make it over there. Then, just after 12 miles we entered Beddgelert and directly across from a water table was the Saracen’s Head:
I’ll make a longer entry for this and the other pubs, shortly, but let me at least say that they were especially friendly in there as they were at the Cwellyn Arms in Rhyd Ddu (16 miles) and at the Tafarn Snowdonia Parc Brewpub (~20 miles). Each bartender claimed they have never had a runner pop in from the marathon, which I think is somewhere betwixt a crying shame, shear arrogance, and a misdemeanor against the natural order of things.
Drinking beer in the
I fought the law and
–Dead Kennedys, I Fought The Law
There were at least as many spectators along the trail as there were runners at the start. This makes for a fun run, especially for a small race like this one (fewer than 2000 started, around 1320 finished with my chip time coming in at #660). Some spectators had placards and others had scrawled notes on the roads. I guess “Slow” could refer to any of us at the middle of the pack if it is used as an adjective, but I have to hope that these elaborate and plentiful markers were meant for me. Bless the Welsh and all who sail on them.
The Snowdonia Marathon is well organised, covers some beautiful territory, is remarkably social with a very friendly crowd for the most part (both runners and spectators), and I would highly recommend it for anyone willing to make the effort to join in. Who knows, the weather might cooperate one of these years.
Some of the photos the vendors at the race hope to sell have been posted…here’s what I’ve snagged so far:
Went to Northern Wales to run, as it were, in a marathon. This didn’t go especially well and I’ll probably make some notes and post some fotos tonite. There were also a number of pub visits (three during the marathon itself), to post and some touristy things. In the meantime, here’s some photos lifted from the press last week about girls out for the evening in Cardiff (not where I was, but Wales nonetheless). There’s more than the beautiful landscape to make a southern boy feel right at home:
My photo of the interior of the bridge house came out blurry, which is a pity since the dark wooden floors and the floor plan make for a cozy environment to have a conversation and to watch folks doing their daily shopping. Had I not been wrapped up in a chat about North-versus-South friendliness with this nice couple from Leeds I might have taken another shot at it.
I had a Joseph Holt Bitter and changed my clothes back to the dry set I had worn on the bus out to Great Barford before interjecting myself into the larger discussion about upper respiratory infection treatments between my new friends and the three ladies at the nearby table. My suggestion that chillis were probably the best was met with less skepticism than it probably should have been. I like this place and regret that I had to leave so soon (but the next bus to Cambridge would have put me two more hours later getting home).
I have said it before but with 40 pubs closing a week it is fantastic to see a pub that neither needs nor even wants your business. I went out of my way to hit the Royal Oak in Roxton, making a special effort to get there before the 3pm closing time I arrived at the locked door at 2:35.
A guy came to the inner door and angrily waved me away then scowled at me window-to-window as I moved around to the side of the building to have a seat on the pavement and enjoy the now shaken and somewhat warm Carling I had left over from toasting the Beehive in Great Barford earlier in the afternoon. Bless ‘em.
Down at the River Great Ouse in Great Barford there’s a great big pub called the Anchor. Having just run through the village I figured they would have a pretty posh place here and this was sort of the kind of pub I imagined. It was mostly filled with dining tables and the menu board was pricy and covered with more elaborate meals than typical pub offerings.
But, the place still had something of the feel of a village local, with cheap drinks (compared to a lot of bars) and an unpretentiously rustic overall decor. There were three old guys finishing up their beers before heading out for an afternoon of fishing, and a couple of pepperpot ladies reading articles from the Bedford newpaper to one another and not listening at all to each other. I had a Courage Best Bitter and enjoyed the jazz on the stereo then headed on my way up the river paths.
David “Donkey’s Ass” Allison was not a friend of mine, but, like most of my Tucson acquaintances he was a drinking buddy I had spent some too-long evenings with (and, in some situations, that is more important than real friendship). He got squashed by a car October 9 in Natchez Trace, Mississippi and the news has sort of trickled through the hashing community. My own tribute presented itself with The Beehive, a pub near the busstop in Great Barford and that likewise is dead-as-a-doornail .
The pub looks great, and there has been some ground work in the car park but I don’t hold out high hopes for it reopening. This is a shame but the village seems a bit, um, snooty and already has another pub down by the river that carries reasonably priced beverages and overpriced meals. I bought a couple of Carling’s at the local shop and had one in memory of these sad passings. RIP
We had wanted to go into the Angel and Greyhound for a while mostly because of the great name and sign, plus it’s fantastic nickname: the Oranges and Lemons (it is on St. Clemens Street). But, we were also hungry after the long drive and the short job interview and the pub was next to the public car park so in we went.
My friend Matt has already moved to the Oxford lab and complains that while the pubs are generally pretty good, most of them look exactly the same inside due to Ikea-esque modernisations and refurbishings. When he described this phenomenon, the interior of the A&G is exactly what I had pictured: clean, comfortable yet sterile, and without a drop of character.
The beer is from Young’s brewery, which is usually a pretty good choice. I opted for a St Austell Tribute which was astringent and medium dark like I like. It went well with the pizza, which seemed to be topped with aged white cheddar and sauted red onions and some ham and had a pretty passable sauce. The crust was a bit dry and yeastless, but Brits think pie is a bowl of stew with a piece of pastry or some mashed potatoes spread across the top so this was a noble effort.
The back garden is surprisingly nice seeing as it opens out onto a public car park. the foliage shields this view whilst allowing a glimpse of the park along the river in the distance.
I have said before that, as regards hashing, I’m not a big fan of dead (pre-laid) trails, but I have to admit that last night’s Cantabrigensis HHH trail is an exception to that rule.
Twenty hashers met at the St. Radegund on King Street, Cambridge and were transported by taxi to the start at the Blue Ball in Grantchester where we were treated to a half pint of a dark ale. But, no sooner than each glass hit the table the member of the pack hit the trail, some in great haste.
I didn’t note any trail markings but I have to admit it was fairly dark out. Fortunately, the pack didn’t spread out too much and I followed a few of them into the Red Lion (also in Grantchester) for what turned out to be another rapid beer stop before heading out to the Grantchester Meadows and following the public footpath north to Newnham where we dashed through the Hat & Feathers to find yet another half pint awaiting us. God bless the hares and may He keep them safe and warm!
This trail continued in this way through a total of 10 beer checks including one each at the Red Bull (Newnham), Granta (Cambridge), the Mill (Cambridge),the Pickerel (Cambridge), the Old Spring (Cambridge), the Fort St George (Cambridge), then back to the Saint Radegund. I believe this map shows True Trail for the evening:
With the pub approximate spacing as follows:
Blue Ball, start
Red Lion, 0.30 miles
Hat & Feathers, 1.80 miles
Red Bull, 2.00 miles
Granta, 2.34 miles
Mill, 2.58 miles
Pickerel, 3.27 miles
Old Spring, 4.07 miles
Fort St George, 4.30 miles
Rad, 4.669 miles
All joking aside, the event was remarkably well planned and executed especially seeing as it was organised and perpetrated by hashers. A pub crawl in the middle of last week got the pubs to donate the racers’ beverages so that most of our £15 entry fee (about the price of 5 pints anyway) could go to the recipient charities: Parkinsons Disease Society and Afrikids.
Volunteer umpires were stationed at each pub, one to make sure the liquid found its target and the other to keep the glasses of both umpires damp with their own beverages. They also made sure the 20 half pints for the contestants were lined up in advance of our arrivals.
Crowds of other spectators (more hashers…of course) showed up and followed us around or cheered our foolhardy behaviour as we passed through. Unlike the 30 Pack Marathon, most of the onlookers seemed to have homes (other than cardboard) and showers to use. Also, I believe everyone staved off the impulse to purge until after the finish (although there was a shower of beer delivered to the car park of the church across from the Rad soon after certain finishers time was taken). I am informed there was gambling involved, as well.
I’ll post the results if someone sorts that part out. I think I was in at 38 minutes so the run was not too slow…8:09/mile including ten beer stops; but, there were a lot of folks ahead of me [this is a very fast hash overall].
The ‘winner,’ or at least the first across the line found a special way to capture everyone’s attention by going AWOL for a few hours. This caused enough concern that searches of several flavours were initiated and attracted enough attention to prompt this local posting:
So, the bus was a 45 minute wait and I walked the High Street until I spotted a chippie (was really hungry and thought a piece of cod would hit the spot) behind the Cross Keys Hotel. I drenched the fish in vinegar and downed it as quickly as the searing heat allowed then went into the Keys for another IPA.
The bar and restaurant have low ceilings with great timbers and loads of dark snugs to settle into to. It is a proper modern hotel, but the ground floor resembles nothing so much as an 17th or 18th century inn. I dispatched the beer quickly because I wanted to get a newspaper for the long rides back to Ely but I noticed a familiar bit of poetry/religion on a board propped in the old fireplace:
The Duke of York was also dead late in the afternoon but I didn’t think I had time to socialise anyway so downed my pint of Flowers IPA whilst inspecting the small establishment centered on a half circle bar. Good windows out on the High Street )D of Y is at the south end of town) and an alleyway for smokers. The friendly barman seemed quite pleased that I liked the IPA, but the bus only runs once an hour and who could be sure when that next departure might be?
The Crocus is in a modern building out on the hill south of Saffron Walden in the midst of the modern housing that has developed as S.W. has grown. I stopped in to rehydrate with a Fosters (no ales) and to change back into my dry clothes. I could’ve done it at the bar as there was no one there and the keeper was busy texting when I wasn’t interrupting her (I felt quite rude about that but the place was dead and I was sort of wound up after the fun run).
Turns out, the place is open late…2 am or so…and doesn’t pick up until about 10 pm when folks are getting bounced from other bars. It is a little bit of a hike back to the town center so if you were staying in town you’d have to put in some effort to see the place in full swing. If you did, then you’d see a large back room and fairly substantial front one with all the charm of an American Legion Post in a modern US suburb. Still, I bet the chat would be especially good and I, personally, would be willing to go out of my way to give it a try (I’m sure 99% of the customers live within a block or two or maybe a little more if stumbling is taken into account).
About 2/3′s through my little run I passed through Widdington and took a break at the Fleur de Lys which looks like a barn on the outside but has every aspect of a large village local crossed with a fine dining establishment inside. Drenched with sweat and not wanting to linger lest I become drenched in the impending rains, I opted to sit at the small bar where I enjoyed a Brock Bitter from the Tring Brewery (four other ales on tap all looked equally tempting).
The muzak was from the landlady’s i-Pod and the first song as I entered was Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood), followed up by It Ain’t Necessarily So by Frank Sinatra; thinking I spotted a Frankie theme I was disappointed and pleased in equal measure to hear Diana Krall tossing out some Gershwin next.
Two large rooms in this giant building and a walk in fireplace to boot. This would be a fine spot to relax with some brandies after a winter hike through the hilly, Essex countryside.
The Queen’s Head is about 100 meters from the rail station in the pretty little town of Stansted which seems intact despite (or more likely because of) the WWII air base next door (now London’s Stansted Airport).
Anyway, it was a windy, damp and cool afternoon and I needed a place to change into my running clothes and thought that a little carb-loading couldn’t hurt either and this little Pubmaster house seemed just the ticket. It was lacking any real ale (or at least I didn’t spot them) but the Kronenburg was cold and crisp and helped cut the fatty scents and hints of burnt herbs and batter from the kitchen pretty well (the smell of the place made me nostalgic, in a sort of “temps perdu” way for the dumpy little fried catfish shacks back home). The small entrance room seemed packed with diners but the smaller bar/pool room off to the right was empty except for a large, stuffed monkey crumpled in the corner.
Friendly place, it seems a nice spot to pop in before heading off to check in at the airport and would probably be a nice place to pick up some local tourist tips as well.