Archive for the ‘pubs’ Category
We were in the Swindon Arts Centre for another couple of Swindon Festival of Literature talks. Tonight it was Steve Jones (NOT the Sex Pistol’s guitarist) speaking on genetics although, ostensibly, it was supposed to be about his book on the Bible retold as Science; after a short break for a beer and a glass of wine, it was the turn of Tom Holland to talk on the geopolitical situation of the 7th Century (common era) that paved the way for the domination of Islam where once Rome ruled…the drink helped immensely. Last week we caught very entertaining presentations by Ken Liviongstone (former London Mayor known as Red Ken) and Martin Palmer on the things that the urban and rural landscapes inform us about the history of an area.
This is one of the great things about England. There’s a bar EVERYWHERE. This is essentially a library, but there are bars in gyms and leisure centres and several in the Houses of Parliament and, I should expect but can’t be sure, in churches. I’m home!
After an unusually strenuous hike along the Kennet and Avon Canal, a heavy lunch at the Barge (one of the best burgers I’ve had in England that I didn’t make myself), and a diversion through some manor-farm land that piled on the miles in this first of hopefully many hot days this year we opted for a brief wait for the bus to Swindon in the safe confines of the Royal Oak.
Jackie had an unusually disgusting blister on her foot and no appetite for booze (had I misplaced the woman on the tow path?) so I was left to drink alone but with dry company in this fantastic old inn in this fantastic old town.
There were some bikers having a few before heading back out to the wonderful weather but that is really all I could take in since, like the woman, I was absolutely exhausted. the pics above are from the walk, but I would really need to revisit the pub to do a just review.
From the Killingworth Castle there is a lovely and steep downhill saunter through the gorgeous Cotswold village of Wootton to a creek where the road turns west and flattens for about a quarter-mile before an even steeper climb up the other side of the stream. It is exhausting work but a half mile farther along you will find the Duke of Marlborough beckoning.
Inside the house is lushly appointed and seems geared to the travelling diners along the highway between Chipping Norton and Oxford. The landlord reminded me of John Oliver albeit bald, a little more conservative and not nearly so thin; he was friendly and took an interest in my route but like almost everyone I have talked to mid-run the past few years he assumed I was cycling. He pulled an Old Hooky while I grooved on the rock-steady he had playing softly in the background…very nice.
I got the Old Hooky because I knew it was a little darker than the Hooky and I was ready for a stronger beer but on the run from the Killingworth I began to appreciate the Windrush ale I so brutally judged there–the after tastes kept building as I laboured up the hills in the fresh breezes. They were fully in force by the time I settled into this Old Hooky and completely obliterated the flavours I was hoping for…how rude.
I left the sub-competent Sturdy’s Castle and ran down a wooded bridleway that, while solid, has been muddy in the recent past and is now fairly uneven and difficult to negotiate…a very technical run. At the top of a hill near an intersection with another long distance trail and the entrance to some fields I spotted hash markings which I suspect are for the Bicester HHH trail Monday.
The path from Sturdy’s Castle
A perfect spring day, I ran slow enough to take in the variety of trees and terrain as the hill peaked and then fell off toward a churning creek with a tempting creekside trail…tempting but not irresistible since I was heading to the Killingworth Castle (which was closed down the last time I ran through this village a few years ago). Another small hill climb of about a 2/10 mile distance and 40 meters elevation change and I spotted the target from the peak:
The place was busy and yet the three fellows running the show had it under control and chatted easily in multiple conversations whilst pulling me a pint of Windrush (North Cotswold Brewery‘s award winner this year). The colour was deep and dark like a stained oak beam inside the fortress-like pub, but it seemed weak both in a.b.v. and flavour–subtle and with floral hints but not really a beer that I would associate with soaking up some Vitamin D on a breezy day like this.
Realised upon editing…the sign has the pub on it including the sign with the pub on it including the sign with the pub on it….
There were two tables of four inside Sturdy’s Castle and another couple was sitting at a picnic table with their dog out front; there was a waitress (maybe two) and some cooks were helping out with this intolerably mad rush (that’s sarcasm, there, for you literalists) while the manager struggled to key in two jacket potatoes and two beers and the queue for drinks enlarged…I was third in line. Ten minutes on, she finally got the ticket down to something less than the £45 she initially demanded of first-in-queue for the snacks and poured the half pint for the fellow in front of me and then promptly walked away for a couple of minutes, obviously to catch her breath.
I had a few moments to admire this solid, Cotswold stone structure but only in the Lounge as I feared giving up my place at the bar. My patience was eventually rewarded with a pint of Hooky (£3.20) that would prove to take less time to consume than to purchase and that was sharp and citric like I remembered from my last Hooky. I took it outside to enjoy in the cool breeze and beneath a willow mapped out my path to Wootton, a few miles northwest from here.
When the youths from the Marlborough College are packed on the bus and you are trying pass through the aisle with a flimsy shopping sack full of wine, vodka, and tonic you might have a sudden epiphany about the origin of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies whilst popping one of these privileged shits in the chest with an off-balance and accidental (we’ll go with that) elbow and dragging the bottle filled bag at skull level past three others until the rest duck-and-cover. Earlier, on my way to the Queen’s Head, I passed Golding’s former digs next to the Church, so maybe that’s what brought on these literary thoughts….
The contrast between the gaggle of students and the friendly–if a bit surreal–patrons of the Queen’s Head was striking. As a stranger negotiating the several small rooms to reach the back side of the public bar took a moment; it is a fairly old house but I am reckoning Edwardian or late Victorian despite the sturdy and ancient looking beams.; I’m sure the landlord will correct me as he seems as much an authority on any topic as he is authoritative and benignly autocratic…or the guy I’m assuming was the gov may have just been another punter.
I gave the pump clips a squint and decided on a Directors which made the three younger men at the bar burst into laughter as if they had been sitting on this merriment for minutes and could no longer hold it in. ”What’s that then?” the one next to Maybe-The-Gaffer asked. ”Courage,” he answered. “It’s a good strong ale.” They all laughed again. ”Courage? What’s that?” ”It’s a brewery.” ”There is a Courage Brewery down near my house. But, what’s that?” Another ejaculation of laughter…I concluded these boys were tripping and sat back for what turned into an Abbott and Costello (or maybe more like Abbott and the Three Stooges) bit.
Horse racing features in the room to the left with some great photos of jockeys being dismounted mid jump, and boxing is highlighted to the right but the room seems more a shrine to the career of Muhammed Ali.
This is my new favourite pub in Marlborough (although the Bear and the Dragon are a little easier to get to on a tourist trip).
With 20 minutes to kill, I wandered Cirencester only to find myself in Somewhere Else. It has a history as a pub (the Three Compasses, I think) but now looks like the lobby of a Hotel Ibis near an airport in some town heavily damaged in WW2–very modern with very modern body builder waiters in tight outfits…you’d think you were in some yuppy part of Frankfurt or Hamburg if they didn’t speak with so much effort to disguise the West Country accents. Bless.
I had a pint of Amstel and watched many large glasses of wine pass by. Everyone in there looked like they would smell like money but I couldn’t work up the nerve to do the experiment (I mentioned the waiters that look like bouncers, right?). Still, it is comfortable if not exactly pub-like.
It was while logging this entry that I noticed this was pub #1100. I don’t consciously try to make the multiples of 100 something special (and when I do put forth the effort, tend to fail) but this really would never have made the short list on merits of what you find on the web. To be fair, I have done a lot worse on this long crawl.
I tried to follow the trail from the Bee’s Knees: blobs of flour and ‘checks’ (circles where decoy trails go in alternate directions to the ‘true trail’); but, alas the markings seemed incomprehensible to me — local traditions are something you just have to learn through hard graft. But, I eventually did come across the Golden Farm, an exceptional old inn near the River Churn; more over, they had a tasty beverage with a pump clip that looks just like Fat Chix, a nefarious Tucson hasher (in keeping with the theme, this was my choice of refreshment).
It is a huge house and quite old but one large back room is entirely dedicated to billiards (with full size tables) and some of the drinking tables serve double duty as drafts/chess boards. There is a huge beer garden wrapping from the front around to the south side.
Perhaps that was an old trail as I never spotted any obvious hashers at the pub (although there were a lot of likely candidates for walking trails — short trails, certainly, but the fellows around the bar looked like a hint of beer and sweaty females on offer would be all the incentive needed). I may be underestimating the effect of inertia, though.
An early afternoon trot around Cirencester is always a welcome thing, especially when you get dropped off nearly in front of a pub as welcoming as the Bee’s Knees. Traditional architecture and hospitality but with a healthy dose of modern “sport bar” fixtures — there was sumo wrestling on tele! — combined for a good first impression. I got an Arkell 3B and headed out to the smoking garden (since the other few early customers were all out there hacking up lungs).
The best thing of all, as I left for the start of the run there were blobs of flour at the door from which I inferred that a Hash House Harriers trail had been laid there recently; with any luck, it would lead me to another pub…which, eventually it did.
The bartender got up from a conversation about Chuck Berry being white (Buddy Holly was on the speakers at the time) and rushed over to pour my Taunton Cider, a VERY dry beverage with almost no apple taste or sugar to speak of but a walloping hit of alcohol…cheers.
He had the long and highly manicured fingernails of a professional musician on his right hand and a friendly attitude. The place was packed to be so early but the kids would be leaving soon and it would probably become even nicer.
Out in the smoking area/beer garden the atmosphere was just as friendly albeit a bit quieter…still busy but with no tannoy blaring music (Elvis was Caught in a Trap and Couldn’t Get Out when I exited).
The back is a little less obvious an entrance but you might stumble upon it coming from the Market Square. It is hard to believe I left this one so long before visiting.
The Bell is a pretty venue with a great location for people watching in and out of the bar and fantastic appointments well maintained. However, the three blokes at the end of the bar had to shout to hear one another over the Boy Band/X-Factor/Britain’s Got Talentless Fuckers videos blaring out of the large screen tv.
I had a Weston’s Old Rosie Scrumpy which is sweet and apple-y and good for a warm afternoon. The bellowing/humming/bad R&B mix was relentless, though. Two of the guys left for a smoke and the third started watching the vids and even singing along with them. What has happened to humanity that this is considered acceptable? I am depressed.
A visit to Devizes is always good, though, and if you find yourself in front of this pub considering a pint…the British Lion is about a hundred steps away.
While not a big fan of comic books*, I have really enjoyed the TV version of The Walking Dead although most of the pleasure comes from its setting (and location shooting) in the hinterlands where I spent the bulk of my youth between Griffin, Newnan, and Atlanta, Georgia. I can assure you that there have always been savage, unthinking monsters threatening the safety of the general public there and the depictions are as much horror show as they are like a family reunion. Very pleasant except for the occasional moments of terror.
So, the publication of Black Charity, a “graphic novel” [comic book] set in Swindon (my new home town) is greeted with some measure of excitement. I haven’t read it, but probably shall do. Thumbing through to find the drawings of dungeon scenes at the dominatrix’ flat some local landmarks featured in this blog have sprung to light including my local just down the Western Street hill, the Beehive, and another pub over in Wanborough, the Harrow.
Black Charity by Bal Speer, an art lecturer at the local college, is available at your local book store (don’t give those fuckers at Amazon any money).
*As a kid, I tried to read comics but couldn’t really buy the story lines and generally stuck with the satirical periodicals. Mad Magazine got me through my early years although I had to have most of the superhero references explained to me. As I grew, I moved on to National Lampoon and then, in my teens made the leap to adult satire by reading the New York Times. Now I get most of my news and humour from the fortnightly delivery of Private Eye.
A nice touch is the vent hose that appears to be, indiscreetly, coming from the attic
The Corridor is a pub and the landlord is fairly traditional–not so much Al Murray’s Pub Landlord, but definitely an affable fellow with a cheery disposition and a take-no-bullshit undercurrent simmering beneath his hippy/beatnik exterior…the pub landlord I would imagine myself to be (quite wrongly as I am delusional) should the happy occurrence ever come to be.
But it is also (from all superficial appearances and the overwhelming lager, cider, and shooter offerings) a youth oriented party place. I really like this sort of place when it’s dead (like just after opening or when all the youth have left town, both of which were true this visit); unfortunately I was the only customer and you really get the best sense of the bleak nature of the neighbourhood when you get the professional drinkers in that come despite the amateurs that keep the books in the black. I will have to try again if there’s a heat wave this summer or during the long Christmas break.
The New Inn in Chippenham is probably one of the oldest pubs there. It is small and cozy and they had a fire going on this cool spring day. I took in a bit of racing on tele and settled into enjoying my beer with my new best friend, the largest labrador retriever in the world.
Some lads came in and told a sad tale of some 14-year-old that took some bad doping advice by snorting a gram of X followed by some massive dose of MeowMeow. I get the feeling they were going to visit the dealer to adjust his user instructions; as I left, the younger fellow nodded my way and said to the older one, “maybe we shouldn’t have said all that.” I had a bet to place, though, and no time for their amateur dramatics.
There’s something reminiscent of a Tom Waits song about the Brunel on a sunny but still cold early spring afternoon. It is a very comfortable, old , warehouse-like interior with bad service but good beer and populated by old drunks. Very “Fumblin’ With the Blues,” or “Yesterday is Here,” or, for that matter, any alcohol soaked railroad blues. Too bad the piped in music was such pop shite.
I approached the Ludgershall ( pronounced LUH[
d]-grrrr-SHAWL) Castle ruins with about 20 minutes to spare before my bus but my attention was grabbed by the Old Castle working men’s club on my left. Unable to resist, I barged in and dodged the border collie on my way to the bar.
“Is the club for members only?” I asked. ”Not in this economy, mate. What do you fancy?”
I had an ale, but can’t remember which one only that it was something from Ramsbury. The dog was chasing a toy that a variety of the punters threw for him. The full-sized snooker table (about the same dimensions as an Olympic swimming pool) was forlorn as Man United barely hung on to defeat Sunderland (crikey). I could have spent hours here as it was the best (barely) of the three bars in town (ahead of the Queen’s Head and the Crown), but duty called.
When I first scoped out Ludgershall ( pronounced LUH[
d]-grrrr-SHAWL), I heard the live music from up the road but I was on a time constraint and wanted to take in as many venues as possible. Thus I delayed the trip to the Queen’s Head but soon remedied it as I headed toward the Castle grounds. Inside, I negotiated the crowd and got a Flying Scotsman at the bar (the Scotsman is always a good choice with the sort of iodine aftertaste you usually expect in malt whiskey).
The pub was hosting a family day, a sort of town fête with a number of bands, some barbecue, and far too many children. But, the music was decent.
The band on while I was there were the Imposters, a cover band (of course…everyone in England is in a cover band) but a very good one…better than you would expect to open this sort of thing. Still, I had a shirt to dump and had to move on.
In Ludgershall ( pronounced LUH[
d]-grrrr-SHAWL) after my short but hilly run, I found my bus stop and commenced to pub crawl, starting with the Crown at the War Memorial. Ludgershall is almost as much a barracks town as Tidworth is, so I wasn’t to surprised to find this a lager bar (they had John Smith’s and superchilled Guinness, both of which are technically the good stuff but abominations compared to their room-temperature cousins).
The crowd was friendly enough and there was a great boob-shot of someone at a biker rally posted above the Guinness spout, so the teenie-bopper music video channel was made somewhat tolerable. I also appreciated the exposed old timbers in the ceiling (while we’re on exposure). Soon, however, I changed from my Tucson Marathon shirt after a Carling and headed toward the music I heard down the street.
I only knew of one pub in Tidworth, although as it is surrounded by a large military installation there MUST be more, so the Ram was my choice as a stop on the course this time. They had Coors Light and Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch Budweiser, not the Czech stuff) and a load of other lagers so I opted for a Fosters (which was on special according to a banner out front). I was the only patron in this cavernous and dark and eerily quiet early-20th-century structure so it was mine to explore.
With Jackie sick, I was just going to do the minimal run rather than make a whole day of it (the return bus was every two hours). On the short but hilly jog to Ludgershall I spotted this nice but ineffective bit of signage vandalism:
The t-shirt retirements continue, with the race shirts joining the exodus started by the hashing shirts…the up-to-date map of the hashing shirt gravesites is here.
3 March: At first glance this might seem out of place, but two things make this particular shirt dumping hash relevant. First, it is in the loo of the Hare and Hounds (as hashy a pub name as you could hope for). Second and more to the point, I traded a Gypsies hash sweatshirt for a Carolina Trash t-shirt that was too tight on the poor shivering owner, and they say chivalry is dead; the first month in England a barman spilt my beer on that shirt and I traded him it for the shirt we have at hand:
16 March: The Thame 10K shirt is another dual-qualifying garment as the night before the race we stayed up till the early morning drinking and listening to old records the night before so that I spent the first portion of the pre-race vomiting…good times. This one, with the date and distance but not the race name (just the lone sponsor’s logo), was dumped in the Plume of Feathers as I changed into some dry clothing.
30 March: One of the few races I ran under my given name (or, at least, my family given name) while there, the 2006 Tucson Marathon was also my best ever performance at the distance as I steamed ahead of a half-dozen hash relay teams and snagged the first–nay, first three–beers as the jHavelina HHH beer check was still setting up. Also, a guy I hobbled along with the last two miles collapsed in the finishing chute and died as the emergency crews tried to help. Excellent day for me, not so much for the better athlete.
The shirt, like its caretaker these many years, is frayed, a bit too thin to be seen in public, and inappropriate in professional situations. We both visited the Ludgershall Castle, but only one of us returned.