Archive for April 2010
Best bit? The chicken on top of the helmet
The Strickland Arms was the venue for the Oxford HHH trail start and On-After yesterday and this odd shaped little pub in an oddly medieval little village was definitely up to the job. A Wadworth house, it featured Henry’s IPA (which I’ve had before and really liked) and St. George and the Dragon which I tried several times on this visit and was equally impressed…it had floral hints without being overtly fragrant and the aftertaste was bitter and astringent.
The garden is small but there’s room for Aunt Sally and the place seems to host Morris Dancing (although we were lucky enough to be there on poker night, instead). The folks that were eating had these massive platters that smelled fantastic and looked great, too.
Here’s the Oxford Hash House Harriers ‘Hash Trash’ related to this trip:
I missed the Bicester Hash a couple weeks ago when it ran out of the Red Cow in Chesterton so I opted to stop in on a post-work run home (starting in Gosford then following public footpaths and bridleways through Weston-on-the-Green and on into Chesterton, then more dirt paths the rest of the way to Bicester).
The Cow is friendly enough Greene King pub and the barkeep asked if I knew about hashing as I was soaked in sweat and my legs were covered in nettle wounds; in answer, I just gave him a frown, a weak shake of the head, and a, “no, not really…they sound like asses, to tell the truth.” I was there fairly early (they open at 6, I hit it as the doors opened) and took my IPA out to the large, walled garden and watched the clouds pass. Ideal.
Coming back from Bucknell, I popped into the Star to tick off another Bicester pub. The place was completely empty and Mr. Personality behind the bar neither knew nor cared why…perhaps there’s a clue. He is a Greene King place keeper it turns out, and when GK sends out someone to keep a pub-in-transition open and who has this much of a rod up his ass it usually doesn’t bode well for the future of the pub. I left him to ‘read’ his copy of the Sunday Sport and walked about the holding-cell-like venue long enough to finish my Carling (£2.25/pint) and then be on my way.
The Trigger Pond website doesn’t post the hours of the place AND it makes it look like more of a gastro pub than a local, but don’t let that put you off. It gave every indication on my visit that it can pull off both feats…folks had mouth watering plates in front of them, the conversations were lively and varied and involved the staff as much as the broad cross section of patrons, and there were 3 ales to choose from at the bar (and as it was their pub beer festival, another 6 casks lined a wall leading out toward a conservatory). I had a limited edition Mild from the Pint Sized Brewery which was like a coffee and mocha beer and quite refreshing.
Bucknell seems a bit affluent for a rural village out in the midst of nowhere, but I ran through a bunch of proper farms as well as the expected upper class paddocks on my way out.
Out in the garden I witnessed my first ever game of Aunt Sally, this medieval throwback where you throw logs or brickbats at an effigy of a woman (it seems this is only played in Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire). Heaving the boards at the head-on-a-tee looked like fun.
I ran up to the Angel after an 8 mile loop of the perimeter of Bicester and squeezed past the two guys on the doorstep that seemed unwilling to yield any space. All heads turned as I entered, and I realised the patrons aren’t used to strangers wandering in (even less so, foreigners dripping with sweat).
I had a Wadworth 6X and wandered toward the back but found that it had a drum kit taking up a big part of the room and most of the seating had been pulled up toward the bar so some sporting event could be watched on the small television on the wall. I found a place at the bar and observed the crowd which greeted everyone else that came in with handshakes or kisses and hearty “y’alright’s.”
It seems a friendly enough place, they just don’t appear to get a lot of strangers through. Finished and with about a mile to go, I headed out and slid my earphones back in and noticed the curtains swing open to my right and several heads poke into the window, trying to discern just who their visitor might have been.
We were in Olney, a small market town about halfway between Milton Keynes and Northampton, to check out a museum for which Jackie might reorganise/modernise the research library and archives. The town was home to (and the museum devoted to) William Cowper (a poet and translator of Homer that was much admired by the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge) and John Newton, a reformed slave trader that became a vicar and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Cowper kept bunnies as pets, so he gets my vote of the two.
For lunch we stopped in the Two Brewers where I washed a duck liver pate based Ploughman’s lunch down with an IPA. The pate was rich and came with some really good bread, some pickles and pickled beets and onions, a bunch of mild cheddar cubes, some salad, and some slaw. Jackie had a really tasty meat lasagne.
The pub has two bars with the dining area taking up the larger one and a huge garden out back. If Jackie opts to take this assignment (it’s a long trip for a volunteer post, but it is a cool job nonetheless), I’ll come back to the Brewers, for sure.
The Eagle and Child was just the sort of plaace I needed…a bar.
I had sprinted from work to my busstop to try and catch the last bus that would get to Bicester in time for the club run that night, and as I dodged traffic crossing the last street I saw the bus a hundred meters down the road. I flagged the bus, the driver put his blinkers on and I started to filter my way past the long line of riders waiting for other busses. A woman at the front of the line, assessing the intentions of all of us, decided that none needed that bus and waved the driver on (what a fucking asshole!); at that very moment a big plop of bird shit hit my shoulder. I was due a drink.
The E&C is a pretty old bar with low ceilings and long narrow passages that serve as the seating areas. It seems a good place to go enjoy a bit of conversation with one or two friends but unless the back area opens up a bit it probably isn’t right for a large gathering. The beer, a Purity Brewery UBU, was cheap and served in a glass with a handle which would have come in handy to throw at a bus line busybody or a magpie.
We had a half hour to kill before the taping of the Vote Now Show (a special series of the Now Show, topical comedy and satire sort of like a British version of the Daily Show on radio) so we walked a few blocks up and ducked into the Horse and Groom. This was a good choice, architecturally, as it was covered in etched glass and Victorian tiling and filled with dark brown wood and odd patrons. In addition, the drinks were cheap but there were no hand pumps for the ales. I had a Sam Smith’s Stout which was fairly pleasant if no more challenging than a Guinness.
There is a front bar and some snugs at the back with a large skylight and yet more etched glass and some nice stained glass ornamentation. When I used to think about British pubs before moving here, this is the sort of place I had in mind.
We finished up and made our way to BBC Broadcasting House for the taping. The building is one of those 1930′s wonders that even someone as illiterate in architectural styles can place. There are Art Deco scultures within and without with allegorical significance to the people of the time and if I wasn’t already bootlegging the performance I would have risked taking a few photos. Google BBC Broadcasting House and Eric Gill if you are really interested.
George Orwell worked here in the 1940′s and modeled Room 101 (from the novel 1984) on a meeting room there where he had to endure the torture of mind numbingly tedious scripting meetings.
After a morning spent prowling the stolen antiquities at the British Museum we were a bit peckish and set off through the University of London neighbourhoods to try and find some nourishment, but wound up looping back to the area adjacent to Russell Square tube station before we found the Friend at Hand (actually there was a really nice looking Italian place next to the tube stop but it closed at 2:30 and we got there at 2:31).
After a week without air traffic, you can actually move freely in tourist sites
I had a Mad Goose Pale Ale from Purity Brewing and ordered up the roast beef which was served up a bit overdone with roast potatoes to complement the big plop of mashed potatoes; there were also peas and carrots and it really was delicious in spite of the overcooked beef. Jamie enjoyed her big glass of wine more than the chicken caesar salad but it was really just some ballast for continued tourism.
There was a smattering of live entertainment that the Irish manager (hey, maybe that explains the slavish devotion to the taters) pointed out as a truck driver tried to maneuver a huge tractor-trailer rig into one very narrow street from another one that was even smaller and through an approximate 135 degree turn. Fortunately for the drunks behind us (a middle aged businessman and a much younger–but not young–female companion) the outside fixtures that the truck hit several times during the multiple attempts at the turn weren’t sent hurtling through the window and onto their table, not that they would be likely to notice. What a fun place!
Google satellite view as of 28 May 2011...don't remember low flying aircraft on our visit
I usually get the Guardian on Saturday because it is like a normal paper’s Sunday edition, but I decided to go a little more mainstream this weekend and got my second favourite, the Independent. The Magazine had a cover story on folks and organisations that have done good environmental things and they even printed it on recycled paper, then packaged it in a plastic bag (an irony that seems to be lost on the printing staff):
Continuing up the Thames from the Isis, the plan had been to follow river trails then cut back to Radley rail station at the last opportunity (and get a plate of chips and a beer at the Bowyer Arms to kill time while I waited). However the trail was diverted just before Fiddler’s Elbow and I was forced to find my way along cow paths and streets and fully expected to wind up in Abingdon (which would’ve worked but it would’ve been a bus ride). As it turned out, I wound up very close to the station anyway and everything worked out.
The Bowyer Arms is huge. You could fit two of most pubs inside its two main bars and the outer garden is gigantic…due to be a hashing bar at some point in the future (as it seems to have been on occasions in 2003 and 2007). It seemed even more cavernous since it was empty, but there probably isn’t much traffic in this sleepy little village, even with the rail stop, except briefly at rush hour. Greene King IPA was the tipple, and the plate of chips I wolfed down seemed adequate.
The lunch run took me out to the Isis Tavern out on the Iffley Lock of the Thames on the far side of the river from any roads. It used to be a hotel long ago (there’s a good picture of it in the 19th century on this site), but now just appears to be an average bar run by slackers with a bent toward the sort of earth-dog food that goes well with the bong-making set (I speak authoritatively on this and the rhubarb crumble was very good).
There seemed to be an awful lot of family action (young children and dogs accompanying their owners) and the music was a mixture of bluegrass and someone doing a pretty good impression of (that is to say, they were just as annoying as) Fairport Convention. Well, the cloudy winter wheat beer that the Matt-Lucas-but-skinny waitron served me was mighty fine, regardless. Marks out of 10? 5 or 6, I think; the run then continued to Radley.
scenic beauty along the Thames
I am going to refer to Yates’ as the tardis from now on. From without, it appeared to be just a little storefront (and a crappy one at that), but inside it is huge, well appointed and full of wonders.
Not least among these wonders are questions of sartorial physics…solved, it appears, by women too young to purchase drinks (although they try, repeatedly, with a “I.D.? Oh, just a minute I’ll be right back”). I don’t believe I’ve seen skirts that short nor heels that tall since we moved away from Amsterdam. Bless ‘em.
For those of us who CAN have booze, the beer selection is mostly fizzy but they do have John Smith Extra Smooth on the chilled taps. As this was my post Alchester RC club run, I was actually fairly well satisfied with a Foster’s and a comfortable leather chair by the window onto Sheep Street.
Fleur de Lys is a fine pub in the center of the small village of East Hagbourne. The landlord was cheerful and patient with the 30 or so (I would’ve said 30-odd, but with hashers that would’ve been redundant) poorly dressed freaks that had descended on his venue and I had a nice Golden Glow (and then another before we went out for the run).
Some hashers on trail, as seen from a point fairly well off trail
On our return (from the trail that took us on a wide, clockwise arc east, south, and then west before finishing), the place was half full of regulars and in spite of the two large rooms and some of the kennel already leaving, it was a cozy crowd to say the least. Then, I noticed that I had 13 minutes till the last train I could catch and still make the last X5 bus back to Bicester; I made my excuses, donned my backpack, finished my Morland’s Bitter and sprinted the 1.8 miles to the train (boarding just as the whistle blew…excellent end to an excellent journey).
Here’s the Oxford Hash House Harriers ‘Hash Trash’ related to this trip:
I didn’t find this on my own but heard that there was a poster with a similar blindness to irony:
The White House is proof you can have a modern interior, serve a classier customer base, and still not be so far up your own arse as to lose sight of the fact that you are running a pub. Friendly staff, reasonably priced beer served quickly–I had a Hook Norton First Light which was especially refreshing if lacking in that hoppy bite I expected–and interior design that complements the historic tollhouse’s architecture are all things the White House does right.
There’s a bright back garden, two fairly large rooms, 3 or more ales on tap, and it is a two minute walk from track 3 at the Oxford Rail Station. I suspect the kitchen does a passable job as well, judging from the damn-near-licked-clean plates of the two diners I spotted.
The Shakespeare is on the far side of Bicester from my house so last night’s run through Chesterton and Bignell Park was the first real opportunity to drop in. I had a John Smith’s Bitter and got caught up in the eight-way discussion going on about what you would do with the winnings if you hit the lottery.
The streets in the neighbourhood are all authors: Shelley, Spencer, Burns, Byron, Swift, Browning, Bunyan, Kipling, Hemingway, and on and on. There’s a sports ground behind the pub, a community center in front of it, and a few shops just to the left of the joint…it would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was here. That’s too bad, because it has the immediate and tangible feel of a community gathering spot. I can see a future wherein I finish many runs with a pint here and then finish the last mile-and-a-half back to the house.
The Swan Inn, Bicester, Oxon After a quick Sunday run looping through Ambrosden and Merton, I finally found my way back to Bicester and opted to try out the Swan Inn. Quite an overpriced place judging from the menu board and my beverage price and although it was dead empty they didn’t seem to want to serve me my Addlestone’s Cloudy Cider (which was not especially good, either…a bit thin and not very, erm, ‘apple-ish’). Anyway, they took my £3.50 and although I was seated at the bar on one side of the cash register the woman placed my glass on the other side just a little more than an arm’s length away. The pounding disco music might have eventually vibrated the glass back toward me, but I was hot and thirsty and opted to walk over, retrieve the glass, and return to my seat in time to hear her make some thinly veiled illicit drug references to the kitchen technician who twice shot her a “fer fuck’s sake, shut up” sort of look…so, maybe they didn’t really need my business after all.
There were two yuppies at the bar that appeared to have escaped from the shopping hell that is Bicester Village (a strip mall full of outlet shops), but they seemed to have found precisely the same sort of habitat here. The BeerInTheEvening.com reviews are often off the mark, but I believe some of the worse ones about the Swan. Even the ones that try to make it sound sophisticated and elegant come off as if they were advertising a coke den (which might go some distance toward explaining the spelling and grammatical errors in those entries). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The day-trip to Aylesbury did little for the muscle spasms in my lower back, but we DID get some cool stuff. At a store in Waddesdon (pronounced “Wadston” although it looks like you would say “What is done”) we got a convex wall mirror (Jackie thought the guy said it was a convict’s wall mirror) and some books. My favourite is Gamesmanship by Stephen Potter…this was made into a movie called “School For Scoundrels” that is a bit slow to get going but incredibly funny and is all about pushing the borders of fair play to the very edge of cheating, or even as far as damn near criminal behaviour. Really cool picture, though I can’t speak for the Billy Bob Thornton remake.
The name of the store is what originally attracted our attention:
There was also another building near where we parked that had this unusual label: Hygenic Steam Bakery. It sounds more like a rude euphemism than an industrial process, but the world has changed a lot in the intervening years, I guess.