Spotted this Great Western Railway emblem on the benches at Charlbury Station during an earned rest out of the rain (though drenched).
Spotted this Great Western Railway emblem on the benches at Charlbury Station during an earned rest out of the rain (though drenched).
I love a Railway Tavern and this was a pretty good one with London Pride on tap, pleasant enough rock on the speakers, and a bunch of tabloid papers on the table where I sat. The barmaid was friendly and most of the other customers appeared to be regulars. The house still looks like a 19th- or early 20th-century hotel and they have live music several times a week. The only down side is the rail line doesn’t run to Swindon (you would have to change in Reading).
We just received our new visas valid until 2016 but plan to take the next step toward citizenship in a year, Indefinite Leave to Remain…sort of the British Green Card. There is an exam, first, but in general it is all downhill from here.
Additionally, we are in the process of moving house (which is why I rushed the annual report a week forward) from just north of the Oasis over to Old Town to a house situated close walks to either the Beehive or the Castle or the Globe (recently reopened!)—three locals instead of one and all three of high quality—and dozens of others a short walk. The new house has three bedrooms each larger than its counterpart in the old house, the two receptions are larger and made into more of an open-plan configuration, the bath is larger and has a tub (not just a shower), and there is a finished basement; on the down side, the kitchen is a little narrower and more primitive as is the small garden but everything we do and everywhere we normally go in Swindon (save for the butcher) is so close.
The only races I did this past year were the London Marathon (5 pubs plus a can of Carling on the last mile) and the Beerathon (5 miles with a pint and a hefty food item between each) and the mileage run for the year suffered from this lack of focus—1950 give or take about 25 (most estimates pretty good using gmap-pedometer), while the last several years (except for the year of the wreck) were in the 2200-2500 range.
On the runs, I visited 255 new pubs with a stunning 67 new ones (steep part of the graph) in September when I took two weeks off work and ran at least 10 miles per day in new territory each day. The 1000th wasn’t as big a thrill as I thought it would be, but I saw some really nice places and met some really fine folk. The September holiday found me visiting Gloucester, South Wales, Slough (exotic, I know) and Exeter along with some nearer-to-Swindon trips. The 100 Yellow Beer Challenge was responsible for a lot of second visits to pubs I might not otherwise have gone to after an initial stop and many of these seemed better the second time around. Oh, and my Workingman’s Club appears to have failed or at least hasn’t been open the last several times I’ve popped by (I have a grand one scoped out for the new neighbourhood, though).
Best pubs in Year Four (reverse order by First Visit write-up):
The Southgate Inn, Devizes
The Hop Inn, Swindon
Dicey Reilly’s, Teignmouth
The Brass Monkey, Teignmouth
One Eyed Jack’s, Gloucester
Ye Olde Red Lion, Tredegar
The Rose of Denmark, Woolwich
The Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms
The Green Dragon, Marlborough
The British Lion, Devizes
The Blue Boar, Alsbourne (for the Dr. Who connections)
“Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do.”
–credited erroneously to Mary Hopkin, above the bar at the Tavern Inn
The last mile of the run entailed dashing from the Thames Head Inn, down the Kemble/Tarlton Road, through the Kemble Station where I startled some boys doing a bit of Parcours on the rails and post box, over the bridge and out the far side of the station and up to the Tavern Inn where half the clientèle were out having smokes and were not a little bemused by my sunset arrival.
Inside, it was more folks just out from the fields in filthy wellies and talking bollocks to beat the band. Some international rugby match was on but there wasn’t a good place to squeeze in or, rather, no place as good as the empty table near the darts alley. I took by Donnington Two B’s and dumped my bag out to try to sort my dry clothing into an easy to deploy pile. No one seemed to take the slightest notice of this behaviour except for the boxer (canine, not Cassius Clay) that came over for a scratch and a chance to sniff to poo covered shoes and socks while I slipped on my dry ones.
For a railway pub (which, 50 meters from the platform, this should qualify) it seemed particularly local but then again Kemble is tiny and it is surprising they even have a station anymore. It’s worth a stop if you have an hour to spare on the ride between Gloucester and London, though.
With a half hour layover in Newport, there wasn’t time to be choosy about the venue. The Queen’s Hotel wasn’t my preferred sort of pub for a short stop, large and yet crowded, but even had I found a true local it was just after end-of-business on a Friday and I would certainly have sacrificed my advance ticket for the experience–this was better for my purposes.
When I say it is huge, you really don’t get that impression from the photo, below. However, the streets on either side of this frontage are at 30 degree angles to each other and the house stretches back along both of these, expanding as it does, for about 200 feet. Inside, it is a multilevel, gaudy and oddly disconcerting mix of drunken pensioners, yuppies, derelicts, and hybrids of the three.
The final train stop on this journey (seven pubs today starting with three on the 15 mile run then this rail-pub-crawl) put me in Cholsey where there are two fine pubs but they are spaced as far apart in the village as could be so I started with the Red Lion (as it closes at 3 until sometime in the evening).
I had a Brakspear Bitter and it was perfect BUT I still had the aftertaste of the Ringwood from the Catherine Wheel and the bitter was overpowered. Shame, as the texture was awesome.
The staff and customers seemed pretty cool, too, even if we mostly chatted about the weather. The five pubs prior to this one were starting to tell on me as I ranted about weather forecast accuracy being limited to about 6 hours. I had passed this sign on the way and noted that on my 7th pint I would actually be surpassing my THIRD Forty, but I think I kept it to myself:
Someone was hit by a train out between Cardiff and Swindon causing the train to come to a halt inside a tunnel; my train options were all delayed because of the limited traffic during the grim investigation. I walked out of the station and into the open doors of the Great Western Railway Staff Association shack out near the south end of the platforms.
The signs near the bar said guests had to pay a pound and be accompanied by a member, but no one challenged me on this point nor charged me the vig. I went to the porch but it was still hot in the late afternoon sun. The interior reminded me a lot of my old union hall except the building was a lot sturdier there and there was no bar (although most of the old carpenters smelled like breweries).
There are GWRSA branches all over the west of England and bits of Wales. A lifelong rail enthusiast (my grandpa was a signalman for Southern Railways in the States), I will try hard to weasel my way into a few more of these.
As you do when you decide not to carry a map, I ran a longer route than planned and had to blow past another pub on the way to Culham rail station in order to make my train. I ran a bit harder to make up the extra ground and was rewarded with fifteen minutes at the Railway Inn adjacent to the station.
There were several interesting ales on the pumps and I got a porter from Box Steam Brewery (a new-ish brewery and one of my favourites). Rather than sit in the mostly dark bar, I joined the group of locals outside bemoaning the sort of landlord that puts on fancy food over serving the regular customers with consistency and the new ones with courtesy and a modicum of warmth. In too much of a hurry to join in, I drained the glass and moved on.
One of the best museums in the whole country and recently proclaimed THE best tourist site in Wiltshire (beating out the likes of Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Salisbury Cathedral), STEAM is on my doorstep…literally less than 10 minutes stroll from my front door and yet I haven’t been there this entire year…a matter corrected Saturday.
The crowds were heavy as there was also a Christmas market distributed amongst the exhibits; this prompted a special £2 admission rate and every yahoo for 50 miles (and their screaming yahoo progeny) was there. Still, really well done exhibits of all aspects of steam engine and rail car manufacture and the lives of the men and women who did it (and who switched to bomb making during the wars). I’m definitely going back soon with a clearer head.
I’ve been sick with a vile upper respiratory infection for two weeks now; Jackie had it, too, but offset by a week so I can confirm by the matching trajectories (low grade fever for a couple of days overlapping ever-increasing congestion, nausea, and fairly high fever, then body aches and tightness in chest leading to, these last few days, a wracking cough and endless sneezing and what seems to be sudden drops in blood pressure) that I am on the mend. I look forward to the end of the incubation period for all I have been in close contact with..sort of a perverse little advent calendar wherein each day I’m surprised by a new casualty. Merry Christmas.
The NHS will probably track me down as Patient Zero when the audience at the Write Stuff all head off to hospital in a week or so. We were in London Wednesday–when I had the one good half day before relapse–with plans to hang out in Kensal Green Cemetary on the afternoon then head over toward Broadcasting House; this didn’t pan out as Jackie’s train was delayed but she got there with time enough for a nice dinner before the shows. We saw two tapings, and if you listen to the one with H. G. Wells as the featured author, that continuous barking noise out in the audience is me coughing out my esophagous.
On a one day consultancy callout to my old job at Cambridge I took two days to arrived early, relaxed, and to get a nice run and a few new pubs under my belt beforehand. I had some issues with a new computer for the wife which put my escape from Swindon back a couple of hours later than optimal so I didn’t stray too far from the rail station in London (although I had some gems picked out). Still, Miller’s Bar just around the corner from King’s Cross Station was pretty good if for no other reason than the Young’s Best on as a guest only set me back 2.70 in Central London.
A single room bar, it has the air of a local boozer in a much smaller city and with much less diversity of language and even accent spoken. A Dutchie pulled up next to me and order ‘cold beer’ in a way that said he was older than he looked (my age or more) and from further out in the provinces than Amsterdam or the Hague: his English was shit, which just doesn’t happen until you get close to Germany.
A pair of American couples that seemed to be fresh off the plane for their first trips over came up and ordered lot’s of stuff separately and generally confused–but never shook–the barlady. I guess what I’m saying is there are a lot of foreigners in this one, but it is the real thing and it is three minutes from the furthest platform in King’s Cross (8 minutes in Paddington).
It is a small bar, but Off the Rails has everything you could ask of a local: good beer, friendly publican, a couple of good ciders and it’s right on public transport…literally on the platform of the rail station. We had twenty minutes until the train so I got a Rich’s Farmhouse Cider and settled in to a comfy corner to watch other travellers and folks that just popped over for some beverage and chat.
The left side of the room is fairly sterile which is probably good as that is the station buffet, but the right side with the bar is dark and full of character. The cider seemed watery with very little flavour other than a combination of pine resin and iodine, like cheap single malt, but its astringent quality made my teeth feel a bit cleaner than before I ordered it. But, the price couldn’t be beat, at £2.20 for the pint of swill it was cheaper than a similarly sized bottle of water back on the beach.
I didn’t really need another beer and this was more of a café than a pub, but I couldn’t possibly resist a bar named Steamers (see this Urban Dictionary entry if you aren’t already smirking). I got a Grolsch which was green. Not the container but the beer itself: for the uninitiated, when you store a beer and it gets very warm then very cold for a couple of cycles it tends to become foul tasting and somewhat viscous. Yum yum.
As a side note, several of the Atlanta area Hash House Harrier kennels (Southern Comfort was my first ATL HHH) initiate newcomers to their trails with a can of Non Alcoholic beer that has been driven around in the boot of a local hasher’s car at least one summer long (average evening temperatures exceed 80F/27C with sunny days regularly reaching upper 90′s F/upper 30′s C and an occasional weeklong period in excess of 104F/40C). At least they serve it to you warm. At Steamers it shows up cold and is as surprising and unwelcome as a turd on your chest (see this Urban Dictionary entry if you aren’t already smirking).
I met the wife after her conference and we grabbed a bite then an early train back to London, and as we were not only on advanced sales tickets for a late train from Paddington Station to Swindon (reserved seating means you can only use the train for which you are scheduled) but that train was delayed we had time to kill. We made our way upstairs to the Mad Bishop and Bear which looked from the façade like an airport bar (and the prices were evocative of that, as well). Inside, however, the venue complements the fantastic architecture of the station itself. The Edwardian lighting and the art nouveau touches here and there made for a very civilised place to hang out and watch the Arrivals/Departure boards for the 20:55 to Swansea.
The morning of Jackie’s conference I started reading some papers on structure and function of GABA receptors, membrane proteins in the blood/brain interface that act as ion pumps when insulted by the blood chemistry of, for instance, alcohol consumption. Inspired to think about something besides my aching legs and ready to do a biochemistry experiment related to the topic, I stretched, dropped our luggage at the front desk, and stepped out for a run down a bike trail the used to be the rail bed between Hatfield and St. Albans.
St. Albans is a cathedral city and has quite a nice one just up the hill from the site of the Roman village of Verulamium on the River Ver. Well, I say ‘city’ but the designation ‘city’ is conferred upon a town by monarchical edict and with a cathedral you are almost a shoe in. Ely and St. Albans are cities that are smaller than the ‘towns’ Swindon and Reading. Calling a town a city or vice versa can start a fight. I am not sure what to think, therefore, about the trickle of water that makes up the “River” Ver.
I hit a few pubs on this trip, locations shown below, and three in the course of this run including one (Ye Olde Fighting Cocks) that makes the dubious claim that it is the oldest pub in Britain.
In the past, I have attended an “organ festival” or two. Hey, I grew up in the 70′s. But, I believe St. Albans to be really obsessed with organs (although, mind you, we may be talking about two different things here…but this nicely brings the slideshow back to the opening image):
A couple of hours after a set of 400m repeats at the Oxford University track on Tuesday I started to feel ill with a fever and congestion accompanied by a sore throat. These became progressively worse as the work week continued and I left early Friday, staying in bed until noon Saturday, feeling awful. But, as quickly as it came on the funk left me so that Sunday I felt up to a bit of a run again and headed out across some trails in Cheney Manor. The sky was overcast and I left my compass again so my intended 45 minute tour stretched out to 80 minutes (plus a ten minute break, below) by the time I returned. Along the way I found a good trail along a disused canal and a stretch of railroad construction I think belongs to the Swindon and Cricklade (Steam) Railway.
Well, I say “found,” but actually I was completely lost a couple of miles from where I thought I was. I came out in some new builds, an American style suburban neighbourhood that immediately gave me the creeps with its excessive sized houses of dubious quality (they look good today but give the distinct impression of an impending slum in ten years time). Ten minutes of trying to find a way out of this nightmare was fruitless and I dashed over to a middle-aged couple out for a stroll to ask them for directions; when I got close they turned out to be no older than 30-years-old but seemed haggard for some reason. They were, however, quite helpful or, rather, they tried to be. When I asked if there was any escape from this estate they chuckled and asked where I was trying to go; when I said the Town Centre, the fella gasped and said it was very far (in a delightful Get-Moose-and-Squirrel accent, or for you non-Americans, a Compare-the-Meerkat accent). A full three minutes later they still had not figured out how to get out of their own neighbourhood but had given me directions that included “you will pass a pub.”
Pass a pub, indeed. I got more concise directions when I focused them on the Tawny Owl and then, thanking them, ran off in that direction. As I did so, I began to notice that this was a breeder neighbourhood with many, many children governed ever so tenuously by more haggard looking young parents. At nearly 50-years-old, I could be a great-grandfather in this buurt and I welcomed the sign at the pub that said that the bar area was for 25-year-olds and older (although this could be a Logan’s Run sort of trap). I took my 3B out to the garden area.
Families. Yuck. The average age of the 50 or so folks (excluding me) out in the garden was about 7-years-old and they were running around screaming and without a tether or anything. Of the ten or so adults, the oldest was about 25 and looked longingly at the doors back to the bar (and gave me a confused look as if to say, “hey, you don’t have to be out here…go, save yourself!”).
There will be a point in 6 or 8 weeks where the training schedule will start to become a drag, but for now there is the exhilaration that this sort of structure lends to the running regimen. My [admittedly modest] goal is to be ready to do one-and-a-half hours (or 1:40 with a pub stop and quick pint) on the brand new Oxford 1/2 Marathon course 14 weeks from now, and a similar performance on the Swindon M/2 two weeks hence.
Today’s run was an easy hour that took me down the old tramway to the town centre, up Victoria hill to Old Town then west into the Town Gardens, through some neighbourhoods we can’t afford to live in and down a bridleway to a rails-to-trails bike path. This followed an arc-like path westward to the old Swindon Canal and the canal dropped me back near the Eagle with 25 minutes left on my run, so I headed up the King’s Hill and thought about which Old Town pub I’d way-lay in at the top when down Clifton I spotted the Clifton Inn…downhill, Arkell’s and open: result!
I stopped to do the obligatory photos, seen here, then was mocked soundly when I entered but I believe this was only because the program about the Border Agency was at a commercial break. One guy said something about they were all saying, “cheese” for me but like a smart rat I didn’t take the bait. “Yeah, something smells a bit cheesy, here…3B, please sir.”
The UK Borders show was back on and we watched a lorry driver get busted for smuggling over 100,000 packs of smokes hidden in a cut out section of a stack of particle board. I had a look around and thought this was a nice sized little back street boozer, with a civilised little clientele in a neighbourhood that’s on our shortlist when we move away from the white trash currently next door. Regardless, I shall keep this in mind for running breaks in what is becoming one of my favourite hilly parts of town.
An early start to the day found me leaving the Banbury rail station and running down the towpath of the Oxford Canal. The wind was furious and there was a nip in the air so when I spotted the Great Western Arms across the canal as I reached Aynho it seemed ripe time for a pit stop. The friendly young barmaid promptly served up a delicious pint of Ali’s Ale, the house brew named for one of the proprietors and supplied by Hook Norton (which is always a good thing).
I’ve always been something of a rail buff, spending quite a few weekends in the 70′s hopping on freights in Griffin and Atlanta, Georgia, to find out where they would end up. My granddad had been a brakeman for Southern Rail, as well, so all the Great Western RR memorabilia around the pub was pretty interesting.
As I said, it was pretty early so there weren’t any other customers, yet. In chatting with the staff I found out that the place only reopened in June 2009 after some ‘dodgy’ landlords left it in a shambles. I spotted the ‘measures act’ statement, as you do, and made note of the size of their standard wine glasses and spirits measures, but was especially happy to see that the spirits had proper spouts on them and none of those awful, inverted, idiot-pour contraptions that are at every other pub in the land. Well done!
I didn’t hang about too long, as I had 13 more miles to go before I got home and there was a very real threat of rain. This pub is a bit out-of-the-way, but worth a visit if you just happen past.
There were a few runs of note this week. One was from Witney to Eynsham via South Leigh, and it took me along a nice dismantled railbed; however, the fuckers that should do some minimum amount of trail maintenance to keep trekkers from walking OFF the right-of-way had, in addition to pulling down all the trail marks, also piled up all the slag and concrete that originally had made up the dismantled railway and piled it on the old path. Made it a lot less of a moral dilema to trespass, though, so bless ‘em.
The other kind of cool path was a loop from Ludgershall to Brill and back. This route requires a 140 meter climb as you approach Brill just after passing the Vale Brewery, but yields some choice views of the countryside (there should be a few pictures in the Pheasant pub review soon to follow).
The way back also resulted in some confusion, but this was mostly my fault and the trespassing I did was entirely malicious but it did take me past some fine horses. After the trails were once again found, I spotted some good nature reserve trails and a nice old railway bridge and tunnel.
This part of England is much more interesting than East Anglia, for a runner, anyways. The topography isn’t breathtaking, but it is loads better than the flat coastal plains out east. We are planning a trip to Shropshire in a couple of weeks, though, and I really think that is going to yield some prime new territory for the run notebook and some pretty new scenery.
Continuing up the road toward the train station, I noticed the Red Lion and although I don’t go into every Red Lion I see I do make it a point to stop if it is at all convenient. This one was an especially nice find, too. The landlord is a retired soldier and a gregarious sort of dude from Peterborough, although his wife is a nearly local girl (from Bicester). Their border collie is also fairly friendly and will pester you with a slobbery tennis ball as long as you are willing to tolerate it…although the regulars seemed not to be sucked into his playfulness.
I had a Hook Norton Bitter (I think that’s what it was) and took a look around at the large garden, equally large dining room/lounge, and the smaller but still good sized public bar with a big open fireplace. I’ll have to stop by again in a week or two as they were closing for major refurbishment after the weekend to redo the floors (good hardwoods there) and splash a bit of paint around. Some outside work also appears to be slated (a better photo of the Red Lion without the scaffolding is on the pub’s website).