Board here for the Magical Mystery Tour:
[In honour of Albert Hofmann, a couple of days after the fifth anniversary of his transcendance (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008)]
Board here for the Magical Mystery Tour:
[In honour of Albert Hofmann, a couple of days after the fifth anniversary of his transcendance (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008)]
From the King’s Arms in All Cannings to the New Inn in Coate is just about 2.5 miles except when the trails aren’t marked, it’s overcast (so dead reckoning is a bit tough), there are two hills on the map but you only see one, and you have left your compass somewhere. Etchilhampton wasn’t so pleasant as to merit doubling the length of this leg of the journey but I’m really glad I didn’t opt to go straight into Devizes once I realised my error.
I had a Corvus Stout, brewed by Wadworth, although the oaken gravity-fed barrels were tempting. The bartender was quite friendly and she and several of the punters showed a genuine (not just polite) interest in the day’s journey. They all love the Barge and were pushing the music weekends when you are welcome to camp in the field adjacent.
When I pointed out that we never really tried that last year because the hike from Pewsey in the unstable weather with camping gear wasn’t too attractive they pointed me toward a Vale of Pewsey bus service that you have to call and book (so your journey depends on who booked before and after you on the varying but generally circular route).
Apparently this bus service is also a sort of freak show, as well, with all sorts of potty personages (my comment that “we just call them ‘British’ in the rest of the world” didn’t meet with disapproval); one I especially want to ride with shouts, “wheeeeeeee,” on bridges and curves.
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.
There’s not much you might consider remarkable about the September running streak, really, except that I managed to remain clothed in public the entire time (ie, only a streak in that there was an unbroken string). I ran every day of September and (until I got the flu last week) I covered a minimum of 10 miles every day. A semi-statistical breakdown of these follows, and there are a few photos that didn’t make it into other posts last month (maybe just a shot or two from Germany, who knows). The total, 330 miles, is the most I’ve done in a month since my mid-30′s when, tripping and stoned almost continuously, I barely felt the effort (doing it piss drunk is quite a bit more difficult even before factoring in the extra 15 years or so of decrepitude).
Total: 330.2 miles
Swindon: 86.0 miles (10 runs)
other Wiltshire: 103.7 (8½ runs–crossed from Glocs)
Oxford: 40.0 (4 runs)
Gloucestershire: 18.4 (1½ runs–crossed to Wilts)
Devon: 21.5 (1 run)
Berkshire: 15.0 (1 run)
Wales: 23.3 (2 runs)
Germany: 22.3 (2 runs)
Had a trip to Germany for work toward the end of the month and with that and the change of seasons did both of my runs there in the pre-dawn darkness; a shame, really, as both areas (Hamburg near the airport and Borgfeld/Lilienthal near Bremen) looked very nice for this kind of excursion. In Borgfeld, I stayed in a rental room across from this restaurant/microbrewery (the beers were fantastic):
…and the breakfast suited the post-workout refuel although within hours I was crippled with nausea, fever, a mid-range migraine, and a free-flowing waste-relief valve. This continued the next several days, but once home I felt I could try for another — if shorter — run but only managed a mile before turning around and heading back to bed. Yikes.
Big houses, safe streets, and loads of farm roads and wildlife preserves await you in Lilienthal and Borgfeld, if you go:
September 2012 was also the busiest month for pub visits (67 included the 1000th) since I landed in England, largely due to the unsupervised nature of my vacation (Jackie left me to my own devices for two weeks and, surprisingly, there were no legal or medical catastrophes). I stopped including ‘dead pubs’ quite a few months ago unless they are of significant importance or beauty (and, for those, I will still follow the original set of rules); had this not been the case, I could easily have boosted the count by another 20-30.
The #5 bus only runs Sunday, once every two hours between Swindon and Salisbury and if you catch the one at 10:20 it will dump you off in front of the Woodbridge Inn at 11:30…here’s a photo I shot this morning at 11:31 on my way in for a pre-run beer:
That was the plan, largely based on the information available on the pub’s website:
But, the fellow cleaning up behind the bar didn’t want to discuss the discrepancy between this information (upon which basis I was now stranded in the middle of fucking nowhere) and the sign in the window which clearly states that opening time is 12:00 on Sunday.
It was a beautiful day out, though, and I had some nice experiences at the other pubs (two in Upavon, the Red Lion (which, incidentally, became the 1000th pub covered in these pages) in Chisenbury, and two others in Enford and Durrington. Sadly, one that I spotted last winter, the Dog and Gun, is no longer with us (perhaps they had ambiguous opening hours?).
The net for the day on these gently rolling hills next to the MOD training sites of the Salisbury Plain was 13.5 miles and a bit of sunburn. Oh, and the River Avon may have risen ever so slightly as a result of my visit.
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.
My first PLANNED pub was the Black Prince which I only knew was in Ynysddu and had its own bus stop but I had no other detail about it. That’s probably all I needed to know as the couple of drinkers and the landlady were friendly and brilliant. She asked, “so, you’re not from around here, then?” “Oh, aye,” I answered, “born and raised.” The fellows perked up and looked at me. She followed up with, “really?” “No, don’t be silly, woman,” I answered and took a sip of my lager.
The village of Pangbourne is so posh that the rail station pub is a gastropub and the little children in the dining families order sparkling water with a lime twist. But, if you try to order the Swan‘s own ale they are out of it and the waitron will say “but, we have a nice IPA.” Looking at the tag you will quickly realise that the house ale is just that same Greene King IPA with a house label on it. I had a Becks.
Out on the dining decks you could cut the middle-class aires with a knife but it would come back dulled from the effort. Very sad, but, then again, just across the street a train was due every thirty minutes and I needn’t linger…I dare say, the crowd probably was happier when I left, too.
The August Bank Holiday weekend has been hot and sunny the past few years, so this one was an especially big disappointment weather-wise; still the entertainment was superb.
The Swindon Mela, an asian festival now in its tenth year, was Saturday in the Town Gardens and there were more and better vendor stalls than ever before, with the community welfare based ones (NHS screenings, yoga, massage) largely grouped together in a part of the park not used last year and more and better food stalls than ever before. Also, they stock ice-cold Cobra lager in the tents.
There were some very good musical acts, including a bunch of avant-garde types (or, maybe just hippies) that call their act Coach and played some very appealing psychedelic rock. There was an acoustic group that played Bollywood classics, too, and they were brilliant (didn’t catch the full name of the act but the dude on 6-string was called Jazz); they were followed by a very sad display of Asian hip-hop so we left the Bowl and tried the other stages.
The dance acts were (as last year) a hoot mainly because there is always one talented middle-age Indian woman and two or more clumsy middle-age white ladies and then a bunch of children whose talents range the gamut of age and experience; they all seem to be having a grand time and that and the music is infectious. A men’s drumming group did a 15 minute set and they seemed to be having a better time than the dancers. Another successful Mela, I think.
Sunday was nice out and I barbecued a large hunk of pork shoulder and got in a bit of a run.
Monday, we went to our second (previous one written up here) Devizes International Street Festival (the 100th anniversary of the Devizes Fayre, it turns out). Devizes rules, and I could spend a week wandering the medieval trails around town (rumour has it there are smugglers’ tunnels between most of the pubs and out to the canals, as well, but I haven’t found any…yet). The Festival is our regular visit together even though I use this as a running start or finish once every few months.
I had hoped to catch Ska Cubano, but we already planned to leave before their set was to start, but we did catch Jon Amor’s Blues Band who seemed to be playing for each other as much as for the crowd–that always helps get the crowd on board but it doesn’t hurt that they are one of the best blues-rock acts I’ve seen in a couple of years. There was also a group from Mali, headed by Vieux Farka Touré whose guitar sounds reminded me a bit of the African bits of Graceland. These guys were fun but every now and then one of them would look out at the crowd and appear to be thinking, “these poor white people must be starved for entertainment…standing around in this cold, hellish deluge when there are perfectly good, warm bars to go into;” but, no, they’re just English (and they’ll be in the bar as soon as they need a refill).
We caught this bit of street theatre as well, made to look like a silent movie with a pianist accompanying the players. Everything was broad gestures and all the sets and props were black, white or grey. It was loads of fun, if a bit too long, and the rain held off until the last few minutes when the chase scene started. After getting some more beer and cider after this performance, we continued on to tour some of the town but the Millenium Cross at the Church was so spectacular it deserves its own blog entry.
Returning from Germany via Heathrow, I transferred to rail at Reading Station. While they are both towns, both Swindon and Reading seem more like cities but Reading seems like a mid-sized city and is really busy on Friday evenings. I pushed through the crowds to the bar at the station pub, The Three Guineas, and found a choice of six ales awaiting me. Welcome home, me! I got a blackberry porter and found a spot to watch the slatterns strut by.
The bar itself was pretty nice as well. There aren’t enough rail station pubs left out there and this is one of the busier hubs on the network so it is a welcome surprise. It looks like it dates to the early 20th-century but might be post-war (Reading was heavily bombed); the lore of the place seems to claim one of Brunel’s locomotives as the source for the name but I would be surprised to find out this is a 19th-century house. Regardless, the new station which is being built on the site is going to incorporate and absorb the Three Guineas so it will remain to serve us for the foreseeable future.
The beer was like a dessert drink, but quite refreshing. I don’t think I would want to make this the evening’s tipple for a long session (the hangover would be horrendous), but while awaiting a train after a long voyage it was just fine. I was going to try to work in the phrase, “I have a cunning plan,” but thought better of it:
The rest of the week in Bremen was wrapped up in 9 and 10 hour work days running experiments in the lab followed by some experimental dining (with mornings and one afternoon either running or taking long strolls to cover a bit of the city and its outlying neighbourhoods, mapped above). Our colleagues at the instrument manufacturer took us to a Turkish restaurant (Tendüre) that I would highly recommend (you could make a meal off the mezze, alone).
Left to my own devices for Wednesday night, I found a lovely Italian bistro called Pizzeria Cassetta in the Neustadt about a mile from the hotel (and a few doors down from the pool hall where I later watched the Spain v Portugal football match). Cassetta looks like a neighbourhood bar but was packed largely on the merits of the cheap but incredibly authentic Italian food cooked by incredibly authentic Italian dudes. I ordered a cuarto litro of the house Montepulciano and watched the service like it was a floor show.
I marveled as plate after scrumptious platter of fine Italian cuisine emerged from the kitchen where one busy chef plated like a machine. When mine (a ziti with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic and a cream-based tomato sauce) came out, it never saw what hit it as I devoured it and a second quarter liter of the house wine in mere minutes. Wonderful and a perfect foil to the heavy German fare during the day.
I had less interest in watching the Italy v Germany match than in watching the German fans so I sought out a venue that would allow me to observe while I enjoyed my Thursday supper. I have, in the past, sworn off and sworn at Mexican food in Europe but decided to give Mexcal, a restaurant I had spotted on a run earlier in the week, a shot.
Wonder of wonders, I was the only one of about 30 customers that wasn’t watching the game despite, wonder of wonders, this being the most authentic and delicious Mexican meal I have had outside of places in Nogales, South Tucson or, at a push, the Buford Highway Guatemalan/Mexican corridor in Atlanta. Granted, the chiles were not hot but otherwise the spices were perfect.
My ‘taco’ had marinated grilled chicken slices and succulent beef along with mouth-watering shrimps. The burrito was a complex and challenging compilation of chicken, beans that retained texture but were flavoured like delicate broth throughout, and rice that failed to be bland or dry. The guacamole was made with sour cream instead of mayo and was, therefore, something I could (and did) slather on everything. Wonderful.
Even more wonderful, the Germans like their beer cold and will serve it in pitchers (at a price about the same for 1.5 liters as two pints cost in Britain). I was a bit dismayed by the claim, on the little collar/napkin on my glass, that König Pils is the king of beers, but I’ll let you decide who to follow:
Perhaps not so much “King of Beers” as the Kaiser:
I left Mexcal at halftime and the streets’ large beer gardens were still full of singing football fans, their collective voices eerily echoing all over the town centre. I veered off toward the hotel a few miles away but soon needed a toilet and found refuge in a bar called Charly Treff, occupied only by two old dudes (one sewing buttons on a corduroy vest like those that appeared in several hundred photographs and artist renderings all over the walls of this weird little establishment). The game was on the tele when I returned but no one was watching with the home squad behind 2-0. I had a beer and then completed my journey home for the night.
The last day at the lab we had a breakthrough just before I left to do a couple of hours worth of daytime tourism before my flight. I ventured up as far as the Hauptbahnhoff, a marvelous example of rail station architecture, then continued north to the Bürgerpark looking for a beer garden (yet finding none that really called my name).
The Germans of the modern world are much more accepting of alternative lifestyles, I believe, since on the search for a tram back to the centre I spotted a designated alley to cruise men:
In town, the area called the Schnoor is a network of medieval streets too small for most motor vehicles and, as I learned, overrun with tourists during the day. This was a shame since I had spotted many good bars on evening runs (when the tourists give way to the local populace) and only had the will to venture as deep into their midst as Gasthof zum Kaiser Friederich, about 100 meters from my tram. Still, a very tall, very cold, very refreshing glass of witbier suited my temperament and fortified me for the trip home.
Not really hungry when I arrived at Bremen Airport, I opted for lunch when I realised the place in there was preparing the pasta to order with a real chef tossing the noodles with one of about 15 sauces of your choice. The line was big so I ordered two glasses of wine to get me through the wait and the dining…and this was almost too much except that the food was better than I would have expected in a restaurant OUTSIDE the airport. What a treat! I will miss this city until I get another chance to explore it in more detail….
Similar to the Monks Retreat, this Wetherspoons bar has more of a real pub (and an old pub) feel to it despite being tucked away on a mezzanine level between the This Mortal Coil, but I found a nice seat and jotted down this and the previous two entries while having a pint of the Windsor Castle house ale (which I suspect is just a bog standard IPA if they would tell the truth about it). The prices are double what they are in other ‘Spoons, which is to say about in line with what most pubs charge out in the real world…and still cheaper than anything else in the airport.
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 have frequently run the hills around the Folly (built by the eccentric Lord Berners, dubbed during its construction as “Lord Berners’ monstrous erection” by a local newsman). It has been two years since the first time I tried to go to the Folly pub and it was worthy of the repeated effort (another example of failed Folly-ing is here). Well, I don’t know how much effort tonight was, as Jackie has some guitar lessons till 9 on this night all month so I will do a pub with late doors somewhere on/near the bus route each week, starting here. Still, it was the first time I ever found the place unlocked.
The publican saw me weigh the taps and swing to the bar on the right whereupon he suggested theWorlds Biggest Liar, a Jennings special brew that he claimed had a bit of a chocolate taste but was in fact a bit light and watery. A good start on their World’s Biggest Liar competition later in the month, it was not bad just not very good.
The pub dog is a big fat lab that wandered around with a beer mat in his mouth while the half dozen or so regulars talked shit and made each other (and me) laugh. It’s very small but had twice as many patrons as any of the others just down the hill toward the town centre. As I left, everyone said hearty farewells and I felt like I should do this one again once I hit a couple of the other guitar night possibilities.
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).
A guy in a high visibility jacket came to the crowd I was in and asked, “is anyone here waiting for Route 66?” Shit, I rushed over to catch the one at quarter past it was now 5 minutes late with this guy continuing, “it has broken down and the next one will be in a half hour.” And, as a result it will be picking up two loads of passengers all the way to Swindon.
Oh, well, I figured, let’s go get a pint. The nearest place I haven’t yet tried was the gaudy little nightclub called Wahoo, open in the afternoon and at those times mostly, from what I can tell, populated by sad but vaguely creepy, middle-aged alcoholics. More than vaguely creepy, I hoped nonetheless to fit in.
The place is a cavern, painted bright blue, and made to be too loud for a chat. The multitude of giant screen tellies were tuned to a multitude of sporting events but it was sunny out and I really didn’t fancy standing around this alcopop bar with some infant that not only probably HAS a bartending certificate but will have earned it (or a gold star on it) for knowing how to make 30 types of shooters. I watched the tourists and new students wander past the Wahoo bike racks (which should have tipped me off to the regular other clientele’s age (and therefore the draw for my fellow creeps) and finished my overpriced Amstel.
The race over, all that remained was the long bus ride home. I was lucky enough to catch the 11:45 but as we topped the hill into Hilmartin I thought I deserved a celebratory pint and hopped off at the Duke, a mid-19th century inn of remarkably thick-walled construction.
The staff are quite friendly to the punters they recognise, at least to their faces. A family coming in was gossiped about (nothing unkind at all, except that any gossip at all is a bit low when they are coming through your door to hand you your wages). Once inside, they were glad handed and asked about their week and treated like long lost family members.
I on the other hand was the red-headed stepchild and had waited patiently for my Wiltshire Gold while the bartendress chattered with the chef about the only other customer in the place when I came in, again being a bit gossipy only this time within earshot of the target.
I reckon the food must be good.
To get to the Chippenham Half Marathon on time, I had to catch a bus from Cardiff to Bristol and a train after that. This left me a layover of an hour and fifteen minutes which I used wisely by going to the Commercial Rooms for a bit of fluid replacement and carbohydrates via a guest ale I didn’t have the presence of mind (or time) to note.
This is another of those cool Wetherspoons that occupies and preserves an historic or at least historically interesting building. The Bristol Commercial Rooms retains a bit of the atmosphere of an old gentleman’s club while still serving the sort of crowd more suited to a modern “gentleman’s club.” Except for some diners, I was the only customer in the place and pretty much ignored on this Sunday morning.
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).