Archive for August 2010
The Highwayman lies between the Oxford Canal and the railroad tracks on the north edge of Kidlington. I was served my Brackspear efficiently and cheaply (£2.60) and ignored. But, to be fair, there was a repeat of the Ashes tournament from last year on telly.
"...fucking foreigner thinks it has something to do with the Prince of Bloody Wales..."
There were three regulars in the place by the time I left and one of them had salvaged a carved coat of arms from somewhere or other. The other two went with him to the car park to inspect and came back saying that it was strange, and had some sort of Latin phrase (their words) carved on it: “Ich Dien.” They were horrified when I spoke up and the collective look of shock on the bartender’s and their faces put me off for a second or two before I pointed out that it is the motto on the pub sign of every pub called the Prince of Wales in this country (like this one in Didcot, or this one in Bluntisham, or this one in Iffley, or you get the picture) . “Ya, I guess that could be it,” the collector muttered as they turned back to themselves. Obviously they’ve never really paid much attention to their own coinage (see above) or, indeed, to common courtesy (as appears to be the case in general according to these other reviews). I drank up and left saying, “thank you,” and received absolutely no response at all.
In trying to make the run today reach the full 20 miles I took some detours after Adderbury to loop out into a farm and and later around the village of Deddington, but then I spotted the Red Lion I was targeting and decided that enough was enough. It was still raining pretty steadily and I interrupted a rousing conversation about the various punters’ kids’ exam results to get a Timothy Taylor Landlord…and a dry bar towel.
A round of the obligatory comments about running in the rain ensued which were put to rest when the bartender asked where I had run so far. I said that I had started in Banbury to run to the Red Lion in Middleton Cheney, etc, etc, and that this was my fourth Red Lion of the day. So far. It took a couple of minutes for the momentum of the previous gaggle to recover, which was very satisfying.
I asked where to grab some snack food, but nothing I really wanted was opening till later. Still, they directed me to a deli across the street where I got a chicken and bacon sandwich on some of the most fantastic bread I’ve had in over a year. I got a wedge of stinky brie to squish onto the sandwich and a scone to chase it all down. As I left with my recovery meal, the bus arrived and I had a nice, dry, scenic view to enjoy as I refueled.
From Middleton Cheney I followed a bit of the Jurassic Way, a long distance public walk, and only got lost in a couple of places where the farmers pulled down the way markers. There are some nice bridges on this route down to Bloxham, and lots of other pubs to hit. In fact, I had just about given up and was heading into the highly recommended Elephant and Castle when I spotted the Red Lion, my goal, 100 meters away.
The Lion is a Fullers pub and they had HSB on with two other ales. An old guy muttering to himself over a gigantic cup of coffee snatched a television remote away from in front of me and flipped through two or three channels then tossed it on the bar and wandered out. But the food smelled tempting and the staff seemed reasonably sane.
It is right on the main road and appears to be maybe 100 years old but has a lot of traditional construction features to it and could easily be much, much more aged. The small public bar is cozy (except for Mr. Grumpy), and the lounge/restaurant is large and has windows most of the way around.
I intended to do a 20 mile run while stopping in at least 4 Red Lion pubs but underestimated the distance and wound up with only about 19.5 miles. It was rainy and a bit cool out but I eventually found my way to beers at the Red Lions in Middleton Cheney, Bloxham, Adderbury, and Deddington. The trail was moderately hilly and I spotted a lot of other interesting pubs along the way and I am sure that in more pleasant weather (even if colder) I will be back to hit those as well.
A couple of miles into an eleven mile run around part of the Oxford bypass road I popped down the London Road and into the Britannia Inn for a quick pint. It was Hancock’s and only £1.99 for the pint, so I was a happy bunny.
I guess the neighbourhood is sort of crappy at times or maybe the staff just gets lazy, but I noticed that the garden chairs all have a U-bolt over one of the leg stabilisers so that you can move the chair out a bit and turn it a little, but not take it home and enjoy it in your back garden. Or, it could be that this keeps it from being wielded as a bludgeon. Not that I got that vibe at this place, but you can never really be sure until close to closing time.
It could’ve happened to anyone, but Jackie was the culprit…she filled up the car with diesel, which would’ve been great if it had a diesel engine. So, after a quick note to work begging off for the day, I spent a bit of time draining the petrol tank and fuel lines, walking up to get 5 liters of petrol and some fuel injector cleaner, starting the engine with the help of some ether, and watching the enormous white cloud of burnt diesel churn around our car park for a few minutes as the car sputtered and quit several times. Eventually, I limped it down to the Shell station and filled up with premium then went for a long drive in the country to try to burn off the residual diesel.
The roads I took travelled through Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon and I eventually developed a bit of a thirst. Some of the village pubs I drove past were closed for the afternoon, but I found the Carpenter’s Arms in Kineton to be a safe harbour.
I parked up the hill by the now-defunct Swan Hotel and I only mention that here because it probably won’t be on my pub count although I HAD planned to grab a can at the Post Office (see above…back home we have drive through liquor stores where you can buy hunting licenses, but this is a distant second on the weird liquor purveyour scene) and salute it according to the rules but stayed a bit too long at the Carpenter’s.
Had to pass it by, but I MAY be back to tick this one off
I had alread shot my photographs and someone made a comment about wanting to see them as I came in and ordered my beer, an Everard’s Beacon which was smooth and lightly chocolate in flavour. I didn’t immediately pick up on what was said to me and I went off to a window and sat alone when it occurred that they were being friendly. Once I finished, I went back for a Little Drinks Company Buccaneer Ale (just a half, this time, and good call as it had a foul, peaty aftertaste) and had a nice visit with the three at the table pushing my camera across for them to have a bit of a look.
They weren’t, after all that, interested in the photos but showed quite an interest in the drinking and pub-visiting aspects of the blog; this may have been out of politeness but I DID get some good tips on pubs to visit in the future including the Castle near Ratley and on top of a big hill giving a panoramic view of the surrounding counties. We’ll either drive there together or I’ll get Jackie to drive back from Stratford after dropping me for a run to Banbury and I’ll hit it myself.
Having struggled through the crowds in Oxford and Cowley and dodged thugs in Blackbird Leys, I looked forward to a beer in Garsington but the pub was closed (hopefully it still opens at night). Then, I got a bit lost in the weeds and turned up at the Cricketers Arms in Littleworth a minute or so after lunch closing, but the landlord was kind enough to direct me to the Sun in Wheatley, about a half mile away.
Very posh digs in the Sun, and it looks a bit restauranty but people were knocking back some afternoon vino as I came in. There were three good ales on, but I opted for just the one (had to get back to work) and really enjoyed a pint of Saxon Archer…a bit light bodied but the flavour grew on me as the glas emptied.
The landlady was pretty helpful and went upstairs for some Ordnance Survey maps and helped me plot my route back to Barton where I could catch a bus back to the labs. Without this I would’ve surely dragged in a half hour later and drenched by the ensuing rains (at which point I would’ve been better off with the multiple beer run).
Not a mile from the White Lion in Fewcott stands the Fox and Hounds in Ardley. Cool, two beers at the midpoint of a run is always a good sign that a Sunday is a successful one. I had to go around to the side entrance and noticed a VFW Post in a barn to the back of the car park…strange, and I assumed it was something other than the sort of VFW I am used to seeing but, no, it is for the US Veterans of Foreign Wars. Bless ‘em, but I only had American Legion membership (my foreign “war” was Grenada and I was only there for 3 weeks, a week or ten days short of the VFW qualification).
The Fox was quite nice, though, and it has a really tempting menu with a lot of seafood. The family that runs it were very friendly and it had all the feel of a small town restaurant in teh southern US without the dark undertones of hatred and intolerance.
That's a bit of the VFW barn behind the pub
I left the gym for a 12 mile run but didn’t judge how well the security fencing at the former RAF base would block my proposed route. If you take a look at the runway (zoom in on the map) you’ll see that it is just used as a car park nowadays, but MOD security measures are still in place in the event it is ever again needed. The detour shortened my overall distance, but did naught to attenuate my thirst as I arrived at the White Lion in Fewcott.
It is an old stone-and-timber building and you have to enter from the parking lot as it is built right up to the edge of the roadway. There is a long, narrow hallway with a packed bookshelf before you enter into a dining area to the right or a bar (hooray!) to the left. There were four ales on, and I don’t remember which I got (would’ve taken a photo but the batteries were flat in my camera).
The four guys in there when I showed up spent the entire time reading jokes to one another off there mobiles, so it was a laugh. They were friendly enough to inquire about the run and asked what the weather was like out there (I believe they had been in for awhile), but mostly kept to themselves.
I had heard of the King’s Arms and was confused. Everyone kept saying how great a place it was, and it turns out they were right but I had been in the OTHER King’s Arms a mile or so away and technically in Gosford not Kidlington. That King’s Arms should be avoided like crablice. This one was quite the nice place to spend a bit of time.
A darts match was raging as I entered. Well, maybe not raging, but every now and again someone would get up from a bar stool and toss an arrow; they were keeping score, I can vouch for that.
I had a Top Totty, mostly on the strength of the name and the pump clip, but it turned out to be pretty good…floral, light and with an astringent finish. And, cheap…Top Totty should always be cheap.
A couple of old guys came in and sat nearby, and appeared to be in their regular places. The picture on the wall nearby with their names under it was of those two old hecklers on the Muppet Show. They held forth on the merits of various holiday venues and one had actually passed through Atlanta for more than a plane change.
I’ve seen a lot of bad reviews of the Black Bull but it seems like a good bar to me. Just after work on a Friday there was a crowd of people noisily enjoying some beverages and blowing off steam at the end of a week. There was this decrepit old guy sitting back at the far end of the room with a scruffy beard and an ill fitting suit that made him look like some sort of Weimar Republic character. All in all, I think that the bad reviews are just from folks that are afraid of working folk (or that some of that class difference might rub off on them); felt like home to me, though.
Odd collection of 50's tunes (like Mario Lanza stuff) emanated from this
The bartender was out for a smoke when I arrived and spotted me a half second before I spotted him spotting me. As he mashed his ciggy into the wall I tried to stop him: “no hurry, pal, finish your smoke,” but he just shook his head, smiled and came on in to peddle another pint. The house is pretty big, the kitchen does chinese takeaway (standard but large menu), and there is music on occasion.
I ran down to Bladon from the A44 roundabout with plans to trot past Churchill’s grave but spotted the White House right off the bat. It was definitely worth a stop.
A lively bunch of regulars held forth on football and Formula One (or “F1″ as the Queen says to Phillip when she decides to talk dirty), festivals, and the relative merits of different banner materials (vinyl is definitely more durable).
There’s billiards to the right as you enter, the bar is straight ahead, and there’s a long room full of tables and with windows looking out toward the street. Photos of Churchill are everywhere. The building itself looks like an American roadside restaurant from the 1940′s or 50′s, long and low and narrow. Friendly local, though.
From the Swan at Long Hanborough, I trod the undulating trails to cross the River Evenlode, past the rail station at Combe, and into the woods on the western part of the Blenheim Palace grounds. I got off the official paths a bit and saw some experimental plots before pulling out the compass to determine how to finish off the run. Eventually I passed the Palace itself (really impressive as the sun broke through for the first time all day), the Column of Victory, and the gates that lead you into Woodstock. Not 50 meters from the gates I entered the Bear Hotel.
The Bear seems posh, but the sort of tweedy posh that not only says old money, but just plain old. Everyone in the place (save the nubile Polish girls wandering about in the hotel uniforms) could tell you where they were when they heard the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar. I opted to change into some dry clothing before ordering.
There were no ales on tap, just in bottles. I ordered a Guinness and as has been my habit lately in these pub visits I started the digital voice recorder on my mp3 player so I could accurately quote anything of interest. This would have gone to waste since no one spoke with me but it did give me an accurate timing of events.
Most of you realise that pouring a Guinness is an involved, multi-step operation that is usually started immediately upon receipt of the order. I was instructed to take a seat and someone would bring it out to me, but as I had a bus to catch I wanted to pay my tab now…it took 3 minutes and 15 seconds for the hostess to realise she didn’t understand how to operate the till for cash. I offered to pay by card and eventually got a receipt for £3.95. I retired to the garden assured that they would bring me the pint that they had not yet commenced to pour (now 6 minutes since I place the order).
Ouch...well at least the service sucked, too
Ten minutes later I flagged down a guy in a suit and asked if I was going to ever receive this beverage. He assured me it was on its way and at 20 minutes 12 seconds after ordering (having missed one bus and probably well on my way to missing the next one) my Guinness showed up with an apology that squarely placed the blame not on any memeber of staff but on the new computer. The stout was ice cold, at least 10 degrees celcius lower than it should be. It came in a tall cylindrical glass more suited to serving fruitbased rum drinks and that I was only convinced by measuring with a business card was in fact an Imperial pint.
Just across the street is a pub called the Star Inn. They will treat you much better.
(Forgot my camera, so the photos are harvested from the web.)
Another hour into the resumed run I found myself in Long Hanborough. I had been here for a hash in the past hitting a couple of other pubs, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that this village supports at least another one, the Swan at the north end of town.
Like in the Bull, I got a trainee at the taps but the other staff were pretty supportive (all very young women, I might add), and she managed to top up the Hooky pint just fine. I asked for some crisps and three of them went scurrying off to the back to find some. Very nice.
I’m not generally a Michael Buble fan, but they had a pretty swinging CD of his playing in the background. This and the shelter from the weather (and the fact that I really didn’t want to face the last 4 miles of this run) convinced me to examine my maps for a moment or two longer. To get here from Charlbury, I grazed Cornbury Park, Finstock, the delightfully named Topples Wood (which I thought was Topless Wood until this point), and East End. Despite the lousy weather, this was turning out to be a nice afternoon trek.
(Forgot my camera, so the photos are harvested from the web.)
The run from Chipping Norton to Charlbury via Chadlington and Shorthampton took 1 hour 3 minutes and there before me at the crest of the hill was the Bull Inn. Break time!
The Bull is another really nice old coaching inn that now specialises in dining. As I walked in, the bartender (who turned out to be still in training) was emerging from the celler behind some ornate metalwork. She promptly pulled me a pint of the Bull Bitter which is probably (but she isn’t sure) brewed specially for the pub by the Loddon Brewery in Dunsden Green. It was dark and rich and not so bitter as I would have thought, but I liked it very much.
The house is all stone and timbers and has an atmosphere of gravity to it. There is a link to the menu on their web page.
(Forgot my camera, so the photos are harvested from the web.)
Hopping off the bus in Chipping Norton, I immediately spotted a Hook Norton pub in the Fox Hotel. It was too cool out and a bit rainy to really believe it was still summer and I felt a need for fortification before heading out for the 21 mile run through the countryside (near Charlbury, Finstock and Long Hanborough before plowing through the Blenheim Palace grounds to finish in Woodstock. A pint of Old Rosie Scrumpy would do the trick, and I settled into the old bar surrounded by grannies enjoying multiple cups of tea and making that odd dove-like cooing noise with which they communicate.
The bartender was a right pistol and tried maybe a bit hard to be entertaining, but we all do that and her heart was in the right place. Everyone there is very friendly and the food that appeared for the other punters smelled great.
Chipping Norton is the highest town in the county, and fairly hilly within its bounds. Small, you could probably do all the touristy things you would want to do in an hour or so but it is very pretty, even with the rain pissing down as it was. At least the run would be more downhill than up.
(Forgot my camera, so the photos are harvested from the web.)