Archive for January 2010
POOP! (For all the Kimchi out there, this one is for you.)
I went out for 11 miles of back roads and mud trails Sunday afternoon and added 3 more pubs to the crawl (3 short of 300 now). I’ll be moving away from East Anglia soon and it started to hit me along the way. It also brought up memories of past homes and the runs there as well.
The bunkers you see everywhere in southeast England are fairly reminiscent of the occasional, abandoned Titan missile silo you find in the desert southwest. Certainly, that heat is a thing of the past though, but the poop up there at the start reminds me of those other far west hashers in Colorado.
The trails, all damp and unkempt and everywhere you look are almost Dutch in their ubiquity. If there were only cheap and frequent public transport at the ends of the trails (and a coffeeshop or two) this would be hard to tell apart from Holland (except the Dutch have a better command of the English language).
And, what trot down memory lane would be complete without some trailer trash. Only, here the trailer trash live in house boats (not the nice, stylish ones to the left but the actual floating trailers on the right). This is why I don’t get homesick…there are reminders of the past everywhere.
“There is a house in Eyes-El-Ham
They call the Rising Sun.
It’s been the ruin of many a fen jogger and
Lord, I know, I’m one.”
Actually, the Rising Sun is a remarkably friendly gaff with a real family atmosphere and decent prices for the beer. The only other house I have visited in Isleham is the Griffin, a few months back, which seemed bleak and dangerous (both of which are fine attributes, in my opinion) but now seems also a bit sad in comparison.
I had a pint of Adnam’s Abbey and chatted about the run with a couple of folks at the bar, then again at a table when I decided to escape the crowd. Fun place.
After reaching Mildenhall I got a bit muddy running along the river path to West Row and was eager to get back to Isleham for a well deserved beer when the Jude’s Ferry appeared before me as if to ask, “why wait?”
The sun was trying to appear from behing the clouds but it was still cold and damp and the fireplace was a welcome relief to the riverside chill. This village is close to Mildenhall and Lakenheath, two RAF bases that are mostly manned by US Air Force personnel so my American accent hardly even registered with the local barkeep or the Zimbabwean medical contractor.
We had a lively chat about internet service providers and they made some useful trail suggestions and as soon as I finished my Coyote I was on my way again, energised and eager to finish the run.
This is a small bar and the emphasis seems to be on food. The bartender (who I assume is the manager/landlord) didn’t seem especially friendly, which is more or less what I was hoping for, and the two large tables of diners only briefly seemed shocked when I burst in all sweat and dishevelment. I enjoyed a nice pint of some Aspall’s Suffolk Cider and continued on my way toward Mildenhall.
We made a trip to Oxfordshire looking for a rental property as my job is changing shortly from University of Cambridge to University of Oxford. We needed overnight accommodation and, as usual, I found a great bargain on the net. Normally £159 per night we got in for less than 40p on the £ at this 13th century lodge.
Nice, clean, the bed was firm, the grounds lovely, the bar was well stocked and friendly and the full English breakfast lighter than usual (poached egg, startlingly fresh tomato, no beans but some sauteed mushrooms and a couple rashers of bacon). Said breakfast was served in this ancient dining hall with 30 foot high cathedral ceilings and wood paneling that looks like it predates the English Civil War.
Our new house, on the other hand, is in Bicester and was built in the 1990′s. Not much character and the garden is somewhat plain compared to our Stretham garden…and nothing at all like this one out of our window at the Weston:
I got lost and did a couple extra miles on the run from Six Mile Bottom and was happy to spot the Baker’s Arms, one of the two remaining Fulbourn pubs I have been trying to hit. Not really a special atmosphere, just a bunch of guys hanging out after work on a Friday. The place seemed much too nice for their sort and then I came in covered in sweat and mud (in another sub-freezing evening) with a headlamp on and a bunch of twigs from an altercation with a bush that got mouthy on my way down the last hill. The worm turns.
I ordered an Abbot (more Green King), had a sip, dropped it at a windowside table and retired to the Gents to change into the dry clothing I had shlepped the last 8 or so miles. That was a big relief.
The music was sort of crappy dance/80′s stuff and if these guys weren’t so unfashionable I would have reckoned “gay bar,” and it may well still be. Fulbourn seems pretty hip, but not so much so that their gays would have any better taste in music than that. I think they were just run of the mill builders, though. Oooo, and there’s my bus…gotta dash, lads!
If there was ever a pub to take an acquaintance from PETA (of which I have none) it would be the Green Man in Six Mile Bottom. There is more animal carnage represented within arms length of anywhere you sit in this pub than in any of their worst nightmares. Here’s a wall:
Note that amongst the real game animals there are things like a magpie and a ferret:
This picture, on the same wall, left me surprised that the title wasn’t “well the hunting was shit, but I can still shoot the dogs” :
And, speaking of dogs, this antelope looks suspiciously like a greyhound with some antlers screwed onto his head (never mind that the pigeon had probably alit one too many times on a garden ornament):
Oh, the beer is Green King, and the IPA was delicious in the lousy weather.
update 23 January 2010: sadly, I only now noticed Wangford, Suffolk as a location…this really would have fit in well
With only four more weeks in Cambridgeshire I have to choose my running routes wisely. And what wiseguy would pass up a chance to run through a town called “Six Mile Bottom” when it is so close to work? After a pint in the Green Man pub (more on this in a subsequent post), I found my way onto the saturated clay trails towards Great Wilbraham a few miles away where I entered town here:
I had a choice to make and knowing my Ordnance Survey abbreviations wasn’t lured toward this feature on a NW bearing:
that's house, kids...house
and opted instead for the WSW route past this reminder of an old friend of mine:
The rain was torrential and the snow melt had more than saturated the fields. The temperature was hovering around freezing and the wind was gusting to 30 mph. Six miles of running and I had more than two more to go to get back to the office, but it was lunchtime and the Travelers Rest loomed.
It is a fairly large inn, with a discount hotel tacked onto the back. It is part of the Beefeater chain, which I have seen around but don’t think I had ever eaten in. After a quick change into some dry clothes I ordered a medium rump steak platter and a pint of London Pride and dreaded the spread that would be laid before me for my £5.99 (the dread coming not from the beautiful 1930′s–I’m guessing–architecture but from the chain menu and the pop-disco Muzak piped in a bit too loudly).
But the food was quite good. It was the first steak I’ve had here that was tender and flavourful enough not to need any sauce or other seasoning, the salad greens and tomatos fresh, and the chips steaming hot and delicious. London Pride is pretty bombproof and so there were no surprises associated with it being likewise refreshing. The place DOES have more of a restaurant atmosphere than that of a pub and I can’t imagine settling in for a session, but it is definitely on the list for good places to have a reasonable and reasonably priced meal.
And, then it was over, the soaked clothing was put back on and I was on my way back to work. Brrr.
One year ago today we arrived at Heathrow with two kitties, about two weeks worth of clothing, a highly skilled migrant work permit, and a lease on a farm house built in the Fens at about the same time as the first English debtors were being dumped off in the malarial swamps that would become Savannah, Georgia. It was raining torrentially and we were going to have to negotiate a hundred miles of heavy traffic driving on the wrong side of the road in the dark.
We settled in fairly well, and now a year into the stay I am waiting for a new work permit for a change of job and looking for another house somewhere close to Oxford. We are down to one kitty (the dumb one). We have the same accent as ever and we haven’t succumbed to spelling center as ‘centre,’ yet; but, we have learned to put extra u’s into things like neighbour and colour…baby steps.
In the past twelve months I had a mission to see a bit of the countryside by running and to learn a bit about the culture in the only way I know how: talking bollocks in bars. These two projects are inherently linked (I usually have a pub stop along the way in the midst of long runs, sometimes several stops), but I keep up with the progress of each as if they were entirely separate endeavours.
the Queen Victoria from Eastenders, the BBC soap opera, which I would dearly love to visit for a Christmas drink one year
I have had a pint in or (if out of business) a can of beer outside of 290 different pubs in 365 days. There was a peak in the rate of pub visitation in the summer as I had later sunlight to run by. The number pubs remaining in the area that I would consider “new” has also dwindled so lately I find a new one every week or so. Most often, though, I visit the Red Lion in Stretham because the bar is a mere 50 steps from my front door; in Ely, I tend to favour the Town House and my favourite pub of all off the list is the Blue Ball in Grantchester.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the pub numbers for the past year, by county:
Cambridgeshire — 209
London — 17
Oxfordshire — 16
Suffolk — 14
Essex — 10
Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk — 4 each
Bedfordshire, Caernarfon — 3 each
Lincolnshire — 2
Clwyd, Gwynedd, North Yorkshire, Northamptonshire — 1 each
The most common pub names I have hit so far have been:
The Red Lion (8 pubs)
The White Horse (6 pubs)
The Chequers, The Crown, The Plough, The Queen’s Head (5 pubs each)
The Run Across Britain…
[Note: Second year update at this link.]
My plan at the beginning of 2009 was to run 2009 miles (nothing compared to Brownie’s 3000+ last year, but that boy ain’t right). I was coming off the triple century over Christmas–100 beers + 100 miles in 100 hours–and almost 2000 miles in 2008 before you count hashing (ie, Hash House Harrier events, in which I also had the 30 Pack Marathon, a couple of Ultra-Hashes I hared, over 100 hashes I either ran or hared); the mileage shouldn’t be a problem with all the new territory to see. Plus I expect to do more hashing than the pitiful 10 runs I went to this year now that I will have better transport options.
However, I had a nagging pain in my foot from as far back as October 2008 and it became unbearable on the uneven farm trails I was now engaging. Diagnosis: stress fracture; prognosis: immoblise the foot for two months. I lost some of February and April and all of March to a fibreglass reinforced footbrace. My 2009 mileage suffered as a result, but I managed to log 1545 miles in spite of it all with 570 of those on new ground.
The new mileage is the important bit for the Run Across Britain effort. A year ago, the only place I had run on Her Majesty’s realm had been in Bermuda in 1999 (where we thought it would be the best possible place we could afford to get stuck if the Millenium Bug had actually happened) and these wee trails in Edinburgh on an interview trip in 2001:
The main bits have been on public trails and rights-of-way in Cambridgeshire and slightly across the membrane into surrounding counties. I have touched North Sea water at the mouth of the River Ouse in King’s Lynn and on the beach at Hunstanton, but the King’s Lynn run actually connects to other routes done and could be how I connect these trails to the Atlantic sometime later this year:
northern segments of East Anglia...Wisbech, King's Lynn, Hunstanton
central bits of East Anglia runs...Cambridge and Ely the real hubs of this region
and southern East Anglia reaching into Essex and Hertfordshire
Preparing to move to Oxford, we have spent a few days out there with some early morning and even some evening runs done. Bus and rail transport is much better in the vicinity and I expect the map to fill in nicely in the near future (whilst most assuredly boosting the pub roles, as well):
London is a regular trip for us. After Chicago and Amsterdam, this has become my favourite city (supplanting New York and Vancouver from the #3 spot). I have some odd runs planned in the city later this year (including the London Underround, a route that takes you to the edge of the platforms of 42 tube stations whilst covering 26.2 miles, and the London Monopoly run (visiting all the landmarks on the board of the London version of Monopoly); for now, my London runs look like this:
The only remaining bit I have covered this year (aside from a couple of 10K races that were too remote to include on this report but have been included on the master map), was York while on a weekend getaway and the Snowdonia Marathon. I’m eager to get back to both North Yorkshire and North Wales because the places are so gorgeous and strange:
There’s still snow on the running paths, especially on the hilly bits between Cambourne and Bar Hill but I was able to find my way into the village of Boxworth to try out the Golden Ball. More of an Inn than a Pub, it was staffed by waiters–as opposed to bartenders. I make this distinction because waiters tend to be openly aloof, self-centered and self-important whilst bartenders do an admirable job of masking those irritating qualities.
There appears to be money in Boxworth, the kind of money that is just high enough to know not to be conspicuous but not so much as to be very comfortable about the fact…maybe not so much ‘new money’ as ‘new class,’ and I’m not even sure that describes it well, but I believe ‘old class’ could have pulled off the feigned welcome and minimal level of politeness better than the staff at the Ball. I guess the idea is to seize the upper hand from the unwelcome customer, but then once he has been grudgingly served and then blatantly ignored he has the time to look around; it’s at times like those that you notice such pretentious items as a bit of fake Bayeux tapestry or wine layed on it’s side in spite of it being screw cap wine ( “yes, Chas, let me dust off this bottle…a whimsical MD20/20 I imported from across the pond, you simply must try it.”)
To be fair, it is a very nicely maintained house and they were just finishing a banquet set for some ancients (who were friendly the way that the staff and proprietor could not managed, see ‘old class,’ above) and I was covered with sweat, underdressed for the -1 deg C weather, and only purchasing a beer but the place looks for all the world like a Public House from the outside. I quickly finished my Elgoods Thin Ice (which was an especially tasty–perhaps even capricious I should say in the spirit of this otherwise awful review–dark ale) and continued my run with directions gleaned from some of the friendlier clientele.
Okay, I heard this on The News Quiz, but it is worth sharing with all my likewise immature friends out there:
Full article can be found here, but the only thing really worth sniggering at is the headline.
[Note: on our last evening out in Cambridgeshire before our move to Bicester we stopped in at the Dog and Duck to have a couple drinks, some delicious food (although we arrived too late for the Wild Boar pate) and to drop off the puzzle]
Linton is a strange little village to come into from a run down the Roman road that stretches northwest-to-southeast and lies a little to the north of town (and a little to the south of Fulbourn, where I started this trot). The Roman road–more of a track anymore but nice hiking/running/biking material–is dead straight for miles as was typical of the Romans, whilst the streets of Linton are all medieval curves and higglety-pigglety and disorienting to a casual visitor (the English say, “disorientating,” but I haven’t got the hang of the language, yet). I eventually came out on the High Street and spotted a pub sign down the hill and headed toward it.
I’ve never been to Linton before, but the pub seemed strangely familiar from a distance. Up close, it finally struck me that it was the Dog and Duck pub featured in the jigsaw puzzle we completed on Christmas Eve to clear the dining room table for the feast to come. We have been using the photo of the puzzle, at top, as the computer desktop for the past week or so. I had to go in.
The bar was busy and I had time to remove the back pack full of dry clothing and look around before ordering a pint of Abbot and intercolating myself into a friendly conversation on scotch and the relative merits of mixers for other fine liquors.
The pub has a big dining room and boasts a fine Italian menu that I hope to try before we leave East Anglia (Jamie likes the Roman road walk so an early start might give us a weekend lunch stop here). The back garden lies on the River Granta and looks inviting if it was better/warmer weather.
Every year at some point close to the winter solstice, I put together a cassoulet and then eat until I’m sick. The leftovers last a few days and each batch I reheat I also tend to eat until I am sick. It is very hard to stop, this stuff is so good.
Here’s the recipe as it worked out on New Year Day (there is no way to make this for vegetarians, so don’t even try):
You start the day before by roasting a duck and putting 3 or 4 cups of small white beans in cold, salty water to soak overnight (navy beans are good). Save the duck fat and chop up all the meat and store it in the fridge until the last moment.
The next morning, drain the beans and re-cover them with two quarts of water and bring them to a boil with 2 whole onions with some cloves stuck in them, some chunks of carrot, and a big handfull each of chopped celery and fresh parsley. Instead of water, I opted to use some broth I made from the re-roasted carcass of our Christmas goose and a few onions and a bunch of celery…this makes for a richer taste but the end result is so flavourful this might be a wasted effort. While they boil for an hour, cube (about 1/2 inch cubes) 800 grams of lean pork and 500 grams of lamb and fry them until brown in all but 1/4 cup of the duck fat. Dump those into the beans.
Immediately after that, saute a cup of chopped onion, a cup of chopped shallots, two very thinly sliced stalks of celery and about 6 large cloves of garlic in the remaining duck fat until the onions just start to go clear and the mercaptan-like compounds have evaporated. Some people use a cup of tomato sauce for the next bit, but I like to dump 2 or 3 cups of fresh tomatos into the saute at this point and a large glass (or half a bottle) of dry white wine…I had an Orvieto in the fridge and this worked nicely. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for five minutes then dump it into the bean and meat pot (start with a pretty big pot).
Next, cut a cured sausage into ~1 inch chunks and dump those into the pot. I had about 350 grams of a Hungarian paprika and garlic sausage, but I think a good French garlic sausage is what you are supposed to use. In the past I always used a Polish sausage but Britain is not the place to look for good, cured sausages…they seem to find the bland, overly breaded atrocities produced on the island superior to others and it has become something I just have to work around.
Let everything boil lightly for about an hour or until the pork and lamb are tender. The intermediate steps along the way are perfectly timed for making some bread and as you might imagine a crusty baguette goes pretty well with the end product.
The final step is the odd one. Put it in a flame proof crock, sprinkle the duck meat over the top and put it in an oven at 350-375 degrees F (neighbourhood of 175 deg C) and let it cook, uncovered for about 45 minutes. Although this is the right way to do it, the whole effort except for the frying and saute-ing could be done in a crock pot, but the end result always seems slightly more magical done the proper way. Dig in!
Here are some things that make a good New Year’s Eve race:
1) Not racing, but rather just enjoying a brisk run on roads closed to automotive traffic with a few hundred like minded compatriots
2) Christmas socks:
3) Clearing one’s head of the previous evening’s hangover and starting on the next one with a lovely beer, brewed especially for the race (better award than one of those annoying finishers’ medals):