Archive for July 2010
The Castle still had the pub markings on it when I first visited Olney a few months ago, but I caught wind that it was going to be converted into a curry house soon. Scaffolding was up and the place was gutted, so I planned to toast it at the end of my run today. Having just left the Cock, doing the same for that venerable and much older (and much less recently closed) pub I could still taste the earlier Carling as this one went down. Shame when this sort of thing happens in a town as large as Olney, but the desire for a curry seems to exceed the need for a good meeting place. R.I.P.
Running from Clifton Reynes into Olney and passing the cemetery and then following Silver End I spotted the nearly unreadable sign of the Cock Inn. It had been awhile since I toasted such an old, deceased pub and quickly set out to find a couple of beers (as I was on my way to do this also for the Castle before it opens as a curry house in the near future). Leaning against the wall, legs scraped up and bleeding and otherwise pink from nettles, drinking a can of Carling…an incongruous sight in this prosperous town. R.I.P.
By the time me and Dippy found our way to the circle, the down-downs had already started; but showing up late and drunk, as we did, there was always room to fit in another one. The pack soon adjourned to the Angel and Greyhound and I was planning to join them but needed to hit the Star Royal first (to pick up my dry clothing left earlier in the evening). Maintaining the two themes of the night, I 1) immediately got lost and 2) soon spotted a pub I had not yet visited…this time it was the James Street Tavern.
They had Abbott on for ale, but if I had to have a 5% abv pint I wanted something light and cold so I opted for a Fosters. The bartender, an affable South African fellow, was a pleasure to chat with and we soon found many points of commonality…mostly weather related or how the Brits fail to handle mildly warm weather very well. My addition to this discourse was about how funny I find it when locals complain about the heat when it is 30 degrees out (“that’s a cool summer evening if the humidity dips below 95%”). He has been here long enough that when the forecast is for 15 degrees he gets excited that he can take a layer off, perhaps down to long sleeved shirts.
He gave me directions that were spot on and I immediately bollocks’ed them up and ran an extra 8 blocks before finding my gym bag and heading off to the bus. A very relaxing evening, indeed.
A bit lost, I let Dippy lead the way from Prince of Wales but intimated that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if we stopped for another before returning to the circle. We assumed we were very far behind the rest of the pack when we spotted some other stragglers ahead of us. Here we were faced with a dilemma: they were 200 meters away straight ahead, but the Chester Arms was 30 meters down an alley to the right.
As it was, compared to...
...as it appeared to me
The Brakspear at the Chester Arms was a bit colder than I would have fancied, but the music was hip, the snooker match going on to our near right was lively, and we more or less knew our way back to the down-downs. By this time, I had begun to feel the advantages of several Imperial pints and several more miles at pace. I still had the good sense not to speak with the help, which means I might be welcomed back on a subsequent visit. Oh, and the motto on the sign is from the city of Chester and means “Let the Ancients worship the Ancient of Days.”
We had run several miles, doubling back and forth and largely confused because, as it turned out, we were following the trail in reverse and all the checks were laid assuming the correct orientation. To top off our bad fortune, the Isis was closed so we had travelled the extra bit for naught. Fortunately Dippy needed to take a shit and knew how to get to the Prince of Wales where a potty that met his exacting standards could be found.
neat markings on these girls
better markings here
I had spotted some interesting cows on the far side of the river so it was appropos that I have a pint of Wadworth Farmers Glory. After quite a wait for service (they were busy…packed in fact on a Wednesday night), I started the next long wait for the beer foam to settle (Dippy even commented on how, “it’s not Guinness, for goodness sake”). Finally getting the drink, I found it every bit worthy of my patience: cool, bitter and astringent but with a hint of syrup and floral essences. Yum.
The Star Royal was the starting place for the Oxford Hash House Harriers run and I was, like many of the other hounds, surprised to find no real ale available. However, there was a cider so cold that upon its liberation from its pressurised state immediately froze to a slushy state…yum.
The garden was large and lovely and the bartender was nice enough to stash my dry clothing in the private area beyond the bar.
The run, documented mostly by Amnesia here, http://www.oxfordh3.org/wordpress/?p=153, turned into a long pub crawl for Dippy and myself, as I was lost early on and found only him later. Following the trail backwards (most likely) we covered a bit of ground out to Iffley Lock and opted to stop in a few other venues, namely the Prince of Wales and the Chester Arms, and then later whilst trying to find the Star once more I got lost and decided it was time for another pint at the James Street Tavern. More on those locales soon.
This is what you get when you think you can shortcut a trail
A bit longer than planned run was punctuated with the italics of a light summer rain, the tilde of misdirection, and the exclamation mark of a pint at a proper, old English pub. In that latter case, it was a Warwickshire Golden Bear in the Blacks Head in Bletchingdon. When I asked for the beer it was the only one out of the four taps I could read with the fogged over glasses and the rain and sweat still rolling into my eyes. The bartender, whose marvelous rack did not require prescription lenses to see, asked if I was sure about that and offered me a sample (of the beer, you letches…and the camera wasn’t handy so you’ll have to go see for yourselves); it smelled a bit floral but tasted light and beer-y and I bought it on the spot.
After a quick change into my dry clothes, I headed back to the public bar (the lounge was fairly crowded) and listened into a seemingly endless discussion of how to add ring tones to a phone. This, mercifully, was interrupted when a Dutchman came in and baffled the tech-duo with his accent, they him with theirs. He was looking for a post box and, in typical English style, the effort at being understood involved raising the voice and making the accent a little more colloquial. I opted not to ask where to find Christopher Wren’s boyhood home on this trip.
I had made this trip, in fact to see the rectory where Wren lived as a boy. I’ll be hitting a few more Wren sites in coming weeks, as I have a short story in mind that will besmirch his reputation with abandon and implicate him in all sorts of famous high crimes and misdemeanors of his time…all in good fun, of course.
The wet run from work to a pint
I caught the end of a conversation as I ran into the Mitre on the last leg of my run from Bicester. A woman was leaving an making some comment about funding Tourette’s syndrome patients and I agreed immediately whilst jerking my neck violently to the left and letting fly a couple of expletives. No one was amused and she left. “Tough crowd,” I said as the door closed behind her, and I ordered a Hyde’s Loose Cannon at which the remaining customers and the barkeep laughed nervously.
The oldest pub in Buckingham, I had targeted the Mitre on this run more as an entrant in the 2009 Good Beer Guide, the Bible of the Campaign for Real Ale. It was a good choice, with several friendly folks to chat with, a good garden, and a nice old bar/lounge area. I lingered over this beer with a fellow about my age, chatting about world travels as a working class boy, then later I took the bartender’s advice for a run route the rest of the way to the bus stop and was treated to a creek, a disused rail bridge, and a paved wooded path nearly the entire remaining distance. Awesome.
The Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the friendlier pubs I’ve been to in recent weeks, which was pretty lucky as I hadn’t planned on going there. Instead, it just caught my eye as I emerged from a narrow street having crossed a few farms from Preston Bissett and heading on into Buckingham to hit the Mitre.
There was a couple throwing darts and having some colas, and a middle age woman who seemed in charge but had the young man behind the bar mix her a lemonade in which he stuck an umbrella. Funny kid, he also gave me an ironic pause when I asked what there was to do in Buckingham; the same pause might well have meant, “I don’t understand the question, what on earth are you on about,” in less skillfull hands, but I took it to mean, as it turned out to do, “fuck all.”
Caulcott, on the other hand, is teeming with activity not least of which is the upcoming knacker waxing at the pub. I stopped on my way out of town and asked directions from the only guy I saw and was soon on my way, sad that I’d be away for teh big event (31st July):
The White Hart is the only pub left in the small village of Preston Bissett, but it is surprising the hamlet can sustain even it. Milton, the son of the chinese owner, seems an affable if ill-informed bartender (he seemed arumentatively certain that the earth’s atmosphere was at least 22% hydrogen–kaboom!). The menu ranges from chinese to italian to english, and I’m guessing it is worth a stop for a meal, but it is sort of remote…not near any main roads and halfway between Buckingham and Bicester. I only found it because I was out for a long run in the countryside anyway.
The Osney was a bit of a weird experience, overall. From the outside it looks like the sort of bar you’d find in Pittsburgh PA, near a closed steel mill, so you can be excused for being surprised to find the inside decorated like a yuppie wine bar. Too good for the likes of me anyways.
The customers, though, appeared to be local colour and probably walked in from homes in the surrounding neighbourhoods (I like the Botley Road area a lot, for what that’s worth). There are also quite a few large chain stores nearby and some smaller local businesses which may have supplied some of the traffic that night, none of whom seemed the least bit concerned that there were no ale taps. Guinness seems popular, though, and my Fosters was cheap and cold.
The run from Besselsleigh continued down A420 into Cumnor, but the bartender said they were opening late at the Vine because he hadn’t yet pulled his finger out, so I continued swiftly down the hill and as I got back to Oxford spotted the Seacourt Bridge off to the left. For my heroic efforts I was treated to a pint of Honey Bole (at the regular rate, of course):
The pub was packed but it appears to be a popular restaurant at the same time. Families were passing through and the staff was kept quite busy. I retired to a window seat and had a good laugh at the cover of the Sun:
It was late by now (or late enough) and I still had a mile or so to go back to the bus. Seemed a pleasant enough place to park it for one, though.
Having missed my stop in Cumnor, I opted to strat my run at the next bus stop which turned out to be way out the A420 in Besselsleigh. No problem, though: The Greyhound was there to take care of me! It is a big house and appears to be geared toward food, and from the clean lines (not antiseptic at all, but very attractive and functional at the same time) I got the feeling you could drop a wad on a meal here and feel like you got a bargain. The menu was tempting (busy day at work meant lunch was an apple and a can of OJ), but I never would have gotten out for a run with a plate of haddock in my tum.
Perusing the line of ale taps (at least 6 were on), I opted for the Holden’s Burton Runner simply because of the name. It was quite refreshing, crisp in spite of being a little cloudy. The entire staff–manager, assistant, bartender, and wait–appeared to be women (this does not seem to be the case on their web page, but I’m judging by my visit), and quite attentive as well…a little something for the feminists, a little something for their lecherous hubbies.
Out for a brief lunctime trot around town hoping to find some junk food, I finally gave up on finding a new kebab place and headed toward the Mission for a burrito. Just then, I got surrounded by tourists and dove into the Old Tom to escape. The joint is also a Thai restaurant, but it is definitely a traditional looking pub on the inside. And, while it was a Greene King gaff, they had Humdinger by J Holt on tap, so I had nothing really to complain about. Next time I’m in the mood for Thai, I’m definitely going back (but by then I had already set my heart on some habanero salsa and carnitas).
no camera with me...screen caps from google maps
The Royal Sun is a really old house, claiming to be a 17th century inn. The poor old pub dog that staggered over and whimpered until he got a sufficient number of scratches and rubs was probably there when the cornerstone was laid.
Whimper, stagger, whimper, sigh, flop, fart, snore...
Neither ale tap was open as I ran up to the bar roughly halfway back to Oxford on this medium-long run, so I had a Fosters and went to the garden. Right on the dual carriageway, this isn’t the ideal spot but the day was warm and sunny and the breeze passing through the shade there more than made up for the rumble of lorries passing through the adjacent roundabout.
Word is, the food here is particularly good but I was already sort of stuffed from the stop at the Punch Bowl a few miles back. Instead, I settled for the indigestion induced by realising the new batch of calling cards were bollocks’ed up. Wheeee!
The Punch Bowl is the first pub past the gates of the Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and it serves the Arkell’s range of brews. These were two facts that grabbed my attention as I prepared for the run back to Oxford. They also serve some quite blandly battered chicken chunks with an awful dipping sauce alongside some salad made of the most succulent tomatoes, crispest bell peppers, and tastiest lettuce and onions you could ask for, and the pint of Arkell’s 3B and this surprising treat only came to £4.50. Wheeee!
The last batch of the calling cards went out in random order, but since there are only ten printed at a time and the next big milestone (500th pub) is still a few weeks off, it doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter is the typo on this batch…shit:
Bristish. What a moron.
From Hampton Poyle, the evening run continued on the Circular path back to Kidlington where I could catch the bus to Bicester. Along the way, though, I spotted the Six Bells and went in for another beer, hoping for one as nice as the Oxfordshire Ale I had just consumed at The Bell Inn. Low and behold, they had Triple B on tap and it was only £2.30. Result!
The little dog that my bar stool neighbour had brought in seemed really interested in my shoes for a minute, but I think the sheep shit put him off. Another customer and the bartender were discussing the various news articles in the Sun, and we all had one or two comments about the Nigerian black couple that had (or she did) a caucasion baby…not albino, but caucasion. The concensus amongst we learned few gathered there was that it was quite a clever roll of the dice if both of their DNA is in this kid, and quite a lot more believable if only her’s are present…just saying.
Oh, smashing pub, by the way.