Sunday, 27 December 2009

Welsh wanderings Day 2

Wales Day 2

We awoke to views across the valley of mountains splashed with wispy clouds and shards of bright sunshine, none the worse for our having raced around North Wales the night before. We were soon out on the coast again, this time at Barmouth, where we somehow resisted the temptation to walk over the exposed railway bridge, before heading inland again to the tranquil Tal-Y-Llyn Valley and it’s lake. We stopped for a photo and to take in the cold fresh air and scenery, which, had you seen it in a photo, you would have assumed was a Scottish Loch.

We pressed on for a brief stop at Cemmaes Road, to take a few pics of the Dovey Valley Hotel. This national inventory listed hotel probably doesn’t open during the day but we expected that, and we wouldn’t have got far with our cameras inside if it had been. It is allegedly quite defiantly unspoilt inside, demonstrated by an explicit ban on photography in the description on the inventory, and demonstrated by complaints from the owner that the hotel’ s inclusion on the inventory had blighted his life with unwanted customers (I have paraphrased this slightly).

We ploughed on into the nearby hills to head to a rather unique mountain village – where the village disappeared and the pub survived. The village of Dylife (pronounced D-liffer ) exists almost only through its sign, a few farms and the pub. The village lost the last of its other services in the 1960’s and there is now just the Star Inn.

We arrived a little late about 14.00 and unsure f the opening hors piled hurriedly in to secure drinks and possibly food. At first the site of the turned round pumpclip made my heart sink but the landlord told us about a beer he had on from the newly opened Waen Brewery. Based in Penstrowed, Powys, they use no finings in their beer, and conveniently for an isolated pub out of season, they supply it in 10 and 20 litre beer boxes. The beer had a very malty nutty taste and was quite heavy, possibly due to it being unfined, but was strangely moreish, resulting in my troughing 3 pints of it with my dinner, which for me and Mr P was sandwiches, given our breakfast feast.

We left as the pub closed up gone 3 and headed down into Llanidloes, a surprise stop that WF had slipped in for me, where we parked up behind the main street and walked to Lucy’s, the national inventory listed Crown and Anchor. The town was busy and all the pubs had throngs of outdoor drinkers, giving me the ideal opportunity to nip round the pub’s many rooms and get some good photos of the interior. WF went for a wander to snap the town sites whilst Mr P and me had some Rev James.

We moved on next to follow the main road from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth, stopping at the Druid Inn at Goginan. This is a small grey stone roadside pub with a sign only visible hanging across the road, so took straight on resembles a house. Inside there are a couple of rooms and a real fire, and a small bar with 3 or 4 handpumps, on this occasion selling beers from Wye Valley. I went for a Butty bach whilst the others had the Pale Ale.

Further along the road and heading towards Pembrokeshire we stopped at the Tynllidiart Arms at Capel Bangor, home of Bragdy Gwynant, the words smallest brewery, although this doesn’t seem to be operating at the moment. This 16C pub is also small, especially inside where it was packed out. Mr P and I tried the Ystwyth Ale from the brewery of the same name; there were a couple of other handpulled beers as wall. This beer was an odd, malty, vegetably red concoction, which was neither unpleasant nor enjoyable. Given the steep prices for the other ales, I think this is a pub perhaps best visited once.

We continued along the main road just behind the coast all the way into Pembrokeshire before turning off and heading for the Gwaun Valley and Pontfaen, to visit the fantastic Dyffryn Arms. This is a proper rural farmhouse pub, no frills, no keg fonts, no food, just cask beer on gravity from the barrels in the servery, a few bottles and a 1920’s to 30’s living room with tables and chairs and a picture of a very young looking Queen on the wall – clearly, based on the other decorations, a late addition.

We all plumped for the gravity dispensed Bass, and took time to soak up the scene before pressing on to Fishguard where we were staying. We found the B+B in the lower town and were made to feel very welcome. The owner even ran us up to the Indian in the upper town in his car. After a filling meal we headed to the Fishguard Arms, a tiny pink fronted pub on Main Street. Inside it is about the size of a small terraced house, with pictures, mirrors and photo’ covering most of the walls, a fine fireplace and a shiny wooden slat ceiling. The bar is tiny with no handpumps, but they serve Bass from the jug so we enjoyed it again here.

Walking down to the B=B we stopped in the Ship round the corner – an unassuming frontage with a small sign in a residential street, inside is reminiscent of a wooden ship’s interior, with a few handpumps dispensing Headstones, and a rare Felinfoel stout keg font, which tempted Mr P and WF. Out the back there is a gents trough, but gentleman requiring a sit down visit need to use the ladies – a very fragrant and comfortable sit down for an outside loo.

We arrived back late to sleep off our refreshments and for WF to rest his driving legs before venturing out in a circular tour the next day.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Welsh wandering


as usual my posts are out of calendar order, but this trip was quite long and theres lots to tell you so am writing it up 1 day at a time.

Cynru’s casks and cromlechs.

The thing about planning a journey to try out pubs and visit the sites in a large area, is that inevitably there are places you intend o visit but don’t, and then places you never previously knew about which you are determined to come back and see. In 2006, me, Wee Fatha, Mr P and Davefromtshop set out on a circular tour of Wales with the result described above. We have inevitably strived to return, so here is the story of how and what happened when we did……

We embarked this time minus Dave, who as his moniker suggests, has a business to run. We set out at the end of September 2009 on a North, South West and Mid Wales route over 5 days. Mr P had to restrict himslef to no more than 3 pints each day owing to some spiteful but essential medicine, so this meant the number of pubs wuld be less than last time, and as a result more sensible; and so as Wee Fatha didn’t go mad in his position as driver, we tried to include plenty of non pub sights along the way.

We started by heading into Cheshire towards Manchester Airport and stopped first to stretch our legs on Lindow Common, where the man of the same name was dug up in the seventies. From here we headed towards the North Wales border and soon after crossing it, arrived at our first pub of the trip, the Pant Yr Ochaig just outside Gresford.

This large pub is set in its own grounds and offers accommodation and a wide range of real ales. It also has a good reputation for food. They have their own Bruning and Price beer brewed at Phoenix brewery in Heywood and offer guest beers from around the U.K.

I tried the excellent Hawkshead organic stout, a bit pricey at over £3.00 but a fantastic beer, whilst Mr P tried the Woods ( their beer, not nearby trees ) and WF the house beer. All were in good nick, and the surroundings were conducive to a long sit down with many drinks, but alas we needed to head on.

Our next stop almost eluded us. We were heading for a main road from Ynarmon Yn Lal, and came out on it with what looked like a pub on our right. Craning our necks revealed nothing that was definitely a pub so we continued, but it soon became clear we had missed Graianrhyd, where we wanted to visit the Rose and Crown. A local pointed us in the right ( opposite ) direction where we found the pub by virtue of the sign on the main road side.

Inside it was busy and people were ordering some food, all of the noise coming from the conversations between the locals. We sat in the far room with tankards and jugs on the beams, sitting at a large wooden table and admiring the bar front, which appeared to be leather covered, and enjoying the beer. I tried a pint of the local Sandstone brewery beer whilst the others had halves of Hazy Days from a brand new brewery, Betwixt of Birkenhead. Both beers were very tasty and the new brewery beer was probably the better of the two, which is always promising. Mindful of time we set off again without time for more sampling, and went to see a pub we weren’t going in…..

Y Giler Arms at Rhydlydan is Batham's only Welsh pub. Because I had cleverly opted to start on a Friday it wasn’t open when we got there ( we knew this ) but there was faint hope that we might get to visit later as we weren’t that far from where we were staying at this point. We pressed on to see our first ancient site of the trip, at Capel Garmon, above Betws Y Coed.

We followed the path off the road and were quickly guessing at possible structures that on inspection might, but inevitably never actually turned out to, be a burial chamber. Following the path down to a lane we noticed the footpath diversion signs and found ourselves climbing back up the hill and heading back in the direction we had just come. After 20 minutes of walking we headed down a bank and saw Capel Garmon in front of us. This burial chamber commands a great position overlooking mountains and valleys and is intact at the front, but missing the back capstones and entrance covers. Inside there are 3 chambers, front and back, and one at the side, which would likely have been the entrance.

It was great to see that so much remained, and to be able to get in and explore, and also to note the war service graffiti in the covered chamber – carved, with the identifying arrow, along with other Welsh names and words.

We returned to the car and pressed on through the tiny village of Garmon and down to the tourist cheese festival that is Betws Y Coed. Mercifully our accommodation was in a glorious and quiet setting off the main road. We had chance to get our bearings before heading out on an improbable loop around the coast and inland of Wales North of our base.

Our first stop was Cobden’s Hotel on the A5 at Capel Curig. I had read they brewed their own beer, and the handpump on the bar supports this, but the tasty brew is actually from Conwy. Not that this detracts, it’s a good house beer and was admirably accompanied by a half of Snowdon Ale from the brewery at Waunfawr.

We headed up to the coast to see Dinas Dynly, an Iron Age hillfort that aswell as undoubtedly being spelt differently, is slowly falling into the sea. Alas the route turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated and we got there with the light fading. We did clamber onto the hill next to the fort to get a view, and the late arrival did reward us with a fantastic sunset, but keen not to miss any other stops we carried on along the coast to Porthmadog, and Spooner's Bar.

Spooner's, I was sure, was the Purple Moose brewery tap, but the Banks’ signage and advertising and seeming lack of even reference to the brewery in the town suggested otherwise. The bar is on the station at Porthmadog and we were in time to order food with our beer. I had a couple of excellent pints of Brains dark, whilst WF had some Woods Craven and Mr P some of the Three B’s honey ale.

Full up we made a headlight-lit pilgrimage ( well, from the car across a lane ) to David Lloyd George’s grave, before we made our final, and what turned out to be the best, stop of the night.

The Douglas Arms in Bethesda is on the national Inventory and serves real ale. It has a grand but austere looking entrance and inside is plain and as its place on the inventory suggests, unspoilt.

There are stairs on the right with a small hatch bar in font as you enter, and a games room with a full size snooker table on the left, a room through which you have to go to reach the toilets. The corridor on the right leads to private rooms and adjacent to the bar counter is the door to the lounge, with hatch service at the bar where the all-important handpumps are. The pub was packed out and it was noticeable that there were a lot of people drinking the handpulled beer. There was a good mix of customers in the pub, although overall there was an older clientele.

Here we did find the Purple Moose beer – I had a pint of their Glaslyn Ale and Mr P had a Jennings Cragrat. Its not clear whether or not there was a real fire – this is relevant since if there wasn’t, it could only have been the warmth and friendliness of the atmosphere or the impressive intactness of the interior layout and fittings which made me want to stay far longer than was feasible. Usually its a roaring fire that puts me in this frame of mind you see.

Alas we had to travel a good distance back to Betws Y Coed and set off with a clear idea in my mind at least, that we should return to Bethesda. Tomorrow a long journey awaited, which would take us to the very tip of Pembrokeshire.

Wee Beefy

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Norton to Marsh lane - pubs round the edge of Moss Valley


Mr P and I had often discussed a path that he had walked many times in the past, from Norton into the Moss valley and Coal Aston. We had discussed a few times hat fact that ignoring horrors like the Real ale free Chequers, there were 3 other pubs in Coal Aston that we had never visited, so had an ongoing intention to try and find the path. Our recent planned crawl had been cancelled owing to my having been a ill and fighting o off a niggly cold, so it makes no sense at all that yesterday, at the end of November, we agreed to try retracing the path….

We started on Norton Lane and followed Cinderhill Lane in a chilly wind to the path that leads out and across Bochum Parkway. Mr P noted that the last time he had walked the path there was no main road, which led me to question just how reliable this route might turn out to be. Having said that, I had looked at it on Multimap and he had his trusty A-Z and we were quietly confident. We walked down the side of some fields on a muddy path following a wall, spotting a hare heading for the ditch as we headed downwards.

The path soon split and we took the rather uninviting right hand path that walkers forgot, before joining another track, and heading diagonally right towards Hazelbarrow farm, in the hamlet of the same name. After losing the path in the fields below Hazelbarrow we picked it up again in the Nor Wood and then headed down increasingly muddy tracks into the valley, crossing the brook and heading out into the field, bow following the Dronfield Rotary walk signs. After further mud and paths that served as drainage streams we popped up on Birches Lane next to the Royal Oak in Coal Aston, just as it opened.

Inside was a nicely lit and warm pub split into 2 sides but no longer two roomed. There is a traditional Tetley bar, probably 1930’s, in style if not in material, sporting 4 handpumps. We opted for pints of Brains Reverend James at £2.68 a pint, which was a hearty and well-kept pint to start to the day’s proceedings. Warmed and refreshed (it was about 3 degrees when we set out) we set off again; alas we didn’t have time to check out the Cross Daggers or the Yew Tree. We headed into Frith Wood and up through waterlogged fields and quagmire to Summerley, and then up the road into Apperknowle. There was a strange feeling of de-javu as we headed down Barrack road to find the Barracks shut - I am still not certain, but I think they open at 16.00 on Saturday and I always forget. We trudged back up the steep hill to the main road, lamenting the long gone Yellow Lion and headed for the Travellers.

A warm fire greeted us here as well, and some 5 real ales, including 2 from Bradfield Brewery. We both opted for Spire Brewery Dark Side of the Moon, which was on good form and about £2.40 a pint, and settled in the small snug on the right. Given that it was dinnertime we asked the barman if we could eat our sandwiches, and he agreed, and I bought a half of Bradfield Yorkshire Farmer to help my rather poor sandwiches down. We left the pub to walk up Moor Top Road, past the farm and a rather impressive looking tumulus and headed right and then straight on for Middle Handley. Arriving in the village we saw all its facilities in one vista – the chapel, the phone box, the post box and the Devonshire Arms.

I probably only got to visit about 3 times when it was run by the previous incumbents who sadly had to close the pub after the death of the long serving landlord. Since then its been reopened for a couple of years, but has in that time kept slightly restricted hours, and for one reason or another I have only been in 3 times since it has been reopened. The Restaurant has been under construction throughout that period, and is now finished, and disappointingly, despite the fact that the rest of the interior is not brand new, the pub still has the clinical atmosphere and harsh aroma of a cold new build. It is a traditional pub with quite a modern interior, in that the fittings are still befitting of a country pub, tables and chairs, open fireplaces, pictures of animals, but the materials are very modern, and the open fireplaces never seem to be lit.

The paintings are modern with traditional subjects, and the bar, whilst facing the door and sporting some traditional adornments, is wider and more open that the original, made with light wood and very brightly lit. That said there are 4 handpumps as well as Pilsner Urquell on draught and some good bottled beers. The Devonshire was the first pub I ever saw and drank Brampton Brewery beers and there is still a very good range of Sheffield and Derbyshire ales on – I had Bradfield Farmers Blonde at £2.60, Mr P the Kelham Island roll it out at £2.80 a pint, with Absolution and Stones also available. After a good rest we headed to Marsh Lane, where we found the Fox and Hounds keeps traditional hours, being closed at just gone 15.00.

We went in the Butchers, now reopened having seemingly swung between closure and reopening regularly over the last 2 years. I had last been in December 2007 when we had a very nice meal and some excellent Abbeydale beer. Now there are still 2 handpumps in the lounge, 1 was in use selling Old Speckled hen from Greedy King. We both had a half., costing £1.15. We caught the bus into Eckington with the light fading, and having missed our intended ride out decided with some trepidation to try and find a pub selling real ale. Eckington used to, as well as having something like 15 pubs, have a majority selling real ale, but I heard last year that only The Bird in Hand now bothered, and that looked close on he way in. We headed round the back of the bus station, and ignoring the pedestrian street and carried on. We noticed the Mansfield pub on the corner had reopened, but there was only one handpump with no clip, and no customers. Up the road the lights of the George blazed and we headed in on the off chance.

Although the Wells Bombardier was off, there was cask Stones and we soon realised we had found the best place to drink in Eckington. It would be pointless visiting if you had an aversion to sport – both TV’s in either side of the pub were showing the rugby, followed by the unsavoury details of another hopeless Owls performance on Final Score. The pub was packed out and the staff friendly, and although I would have loved to have had another beer to choose from at least they had the right idea, and it was only the necessity to get the bus and head home the persuaded us out of the pub. We took a quick ride to Mosborough and walked along Duke Street to the Alma.

Me and Wee Fatha used to go to the quiz there almost every other Tuesday for years, always drinking Vaux Samson, usually being fed and steadfastly never doing anything as reckless as winning. After Jim and Jean retired around the time Wards closed, I visited much less, but it was nice to be back, and to find real ale on, this time Wychwood Hobgoblin. The lounge was packed out but there was only us most of the time in the taproom. I always wonder whether this is because the new owners after Jim and Jean left tarted up the Tap Room, which was better in its plain appearance. I always think now it looks a little incongruous, but it doesn’t detract from the fat that the Alma is a cracking pub. A short walk away we caught the 30 and back in Handsworth for some spicy casserole and for me, perhaps unwisely, some more alcohol. A warming and enjoyable end to a great day, with some excellent pubs en route.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bank Holiday Monday Staffordshire pub trip


       sorry have not been on for a while, my eyesight problems have reoccurred and haven't really felt like posting, although that hasn't restricted my trips out.

Please note, there will be info on Cretan Kafenions I promise, but am writing up the Crete diaries on another blog and on the computer first, and theres a loy of info.

Anyhoo, have some pubs and crap weather.....

It was the latter part of summer and the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend loomed empty and frustrating. The weather wasn’t promising much and I was only just recovered from a very long Friday night where real ale had taken a back seat on a late night works do. The only solution was a crawl.

We started our journey by heading into Bakewell, a dubious transport bluff that I am not going to be blamed for, which saw us sit in solid traffic for 15 minutes. Once out, we headed towards Over Haddon and Youlgrave and carried on, arriving at Arbor Low about 14.30. The rain siled down sideways in a nithering cold wind and we parked as far as possible from the ancient monument, perhaps so as to fully appreciate traipsing in the deluge to the stone circle as if we were dressed of the period.

After an invigorating walk of solemnity round the flattened circle, we carried on through Hartington and out towards Stoke on Trent, mainly Hanley where we were looking for Lichfield street. The thing is, although the GBG mentions the A50, its not clear that long ago the pub we were seeking was on the A50, but was now set back a streets width and a pavement from the roaring main road, standing firm against council plans to knock it and surrounding businesses down for no reason at all.

Because its not clear on a road atlas where each A road comes off the Potteries way we came out at the roundabout above and travelled for 15 minutes down nearby tributaries, struggling to find anyone who had heard of the address or the pub, before we finally spotted the Coachmakers more by accident than anything.

Inside it was clear why it was on the N.I, and abundantly obvious how vibrant and popular it was. A traditional 3 roomed local, it has a bar and hatch, a snug, games room and lounge (or parlour), we settled in the snug on the left and surveyed the endless pump clips, on the wall, ceiling, and on pumps on the bar.

Pick of the ales was the Paradise brewery Mild, but there were tasty offerings from other local brewers, and those from further afield. We all signed the petition to abandon the planned demolition and the landlord was very informative and helpful.

We had spent so long in the pub and so long getting there that it was nearly tea time when we left, so we popped in the takeaway a few doors up. Once fed, we undertook the soul destroying journey along endless A roads and ways to Tunstall, to find a pub we had been to once 10 years before. I had provided rudimentary maps and details and we were doing well on Churchill way, but the main road into Pitts Hill eluded us, partly based on making our memories fit the scene, combined with a lack of signs.

We pulled into a garage and a friendly local put us in the right direction – the road we wanted was off a dead end street that used to be a main road, and once we were on it we had to remember which of the myriad turns to take, off which was Naylor Street, and the Vine.

Coming back down we somehow picked the right one and turned first right to see the pub just as it got dark. After parking up outside we went to take in the scene.

The Vine is a true unspoilt back street pub, with a long corridor to the private quarters, a lounge on the left, a narrow bar on the right, a hatch opposite the games room, and outside loos. When I visited in 1999 the lounge was literally that – tablecloths and place mats and vases on the tables, family pictures on the walls, more or less a residential living room. The interior is a littlie more sparse now. The landlord explained that 10 years ago it was kept like that for the older female clientele, it seems they have mostly passed on or stopped coming so its reverted to a plain working man’s lounge, although maybe parlour would be a better description. There is no bar counter in this room.

Its not a real ale haven, and its not meant to be. Keg Boddingtons is perhaps the best draught option, I went for bottled Guinness, sadly the original, but a nice change all the same. A few more regulars turned up, one had been serving behind the bar for a bit, and they were chatting with Wee Fatha, Wee Keefy and I before we made our excuses, since we had another couple of stops before home.

After squeezing our way out of the tiny streets and picking the right main road out, we missed the next turning and WF boldly took us up a random residential street. He claimed to know where he was going, but there was disquiet in the navigator’s seat, and tensions mounted as we guestimated where we might pop out. Full marks to WF though, as we turned up the side of an estate with open ground to our left I thought I saw Mow Cop ahead, and sure enough we were soon in Harriseahead, and parking up to go in the Royal Oak.

It was packed inside, sporting a range of permanent beers and guests. There was excellent Oakham on, sadly nothing from local brewers, but a clearly popular and well-kept range nonetheless. We topped up (well, not WF) on real ale before our next stop out on the Moors.

The weather hadn’t really improved all day and visibility was dire as we headed over the Leek to Buxton road, alas when we got to Royal Cottage, the pub f the same name was shrouded in darkness. Keefy hasn’t ever been in, but me and WF managed on a Friday folk night in February last year, and it’s a very friendly rugged pub inside. There are locals who go in, and it seems, like anyone who knows it who is asked about when or why it’s not open, there is a calm assurance that they know when it does. If in doubt, cut your losses and stop off at the excellent Butchers at Reapsmoor near Longnor, ask the landlord, even if he doesn’t know for certain you can always stop for a pint or two at his excellent pub.

We ploughed on through fog and then lashing rain and stopped finally at the Bulls Head in Monyash. None of us fancied Farmers Blonde, tempted as we were by the novelty of Burton Ale, but were slightly disturbed by the price – more than £3.00 a pint.

The landlady admitted it should come with a health warning – the less forgiving observer might have suggested an easy to spot price list - but she pointed out that the locals all drank it and complained if it was not on, and she couldn’t get it cheaper on account of its strength. I wasn’t sure if I realised it was strong before, but it was a nice pint and she was friendly, crucially, open, and selling a choice of 3 beers.

All in all an interesting trip to contrasting pubs, well worth a go yourself, and who knows, if you plan it for a first Friday of the month the Royal Cottage might even be open.

Wee Beefy

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Real Ales In High Peak Pubs

Now then,

a further report on travelling to pubs in the surrounding area - this time its a new year yomp to the high peak - this was written January 2008, so as with these first few posts details might change.

New Year, New Beers 2008
On 2nd of January, with the house still full of beer, I persuaded Wee Fatha to take a drive around the high peak, sampling a few pubs and real ales. The only potential problem was the threat of snow, and the fact that a lot of pubs might not open on a freezing cold January Wednesday......

We drove through fog to Dove Holes, and being a bit early for visiting the Queens, took a tiny single track road down to the village of Combs, near the reservoir of the same name. Despite being quite small, the village boasts a large stone pub called the Beehive, already open at 11.40, and setting the tables for lunchtime diners. The pub's website made no mention of real ales so I was pleased to find Bass, Boddingtons and Landlord. We didn't try the Bass for once, but the other beers were well kept and priced at £2.40 a pint.

We followed the road into Chapel en le Frith, where we parked up and went in search of the Memorial Pub. All we knew was it used to be the Memorial club and had recently reopened. It took a while before we found anyone who new where to go, but after walking back to almost where we started we found the memorial hall next to the town hall. The inside still looks like a social club, but the bar is festooned with pump clips. There are 4 handpumps in all, but unfortunately only the Pedigree was on - judging by the clips they recently sold Thornbridge and Howard Town beers. Transforming the business into a pub is going to be a big job because of the sheer size of the building, but if they can fill it with thirsty real ale drinkers they should be able to maintain a good range.

We carried on over Eccles Pike into Whaley Bridge where the reality of new year pub crawls hit home - the White Hart, Goyt, Navigation and Jodrell Arms were all shut so we pushed on to find refreshment elsewhere. Having recently read about the White Lion at Disley selling a range of real ales, we were surprised to find that this renaissance mirrored that of the Meadow in Sheffield. The pub was already boarded up and fenced off only a month or so after the report of its success. Undeterred we drove into the Goyt Valley and through Hague Bar to New Mills, only to find the Rock was shut and our stomachs rumbling.

We decided to go for a tried and tested venue and the Sportsman at Strines did not let us down. This popular pub has always been packed when I have visited before, but the near empty rooms suggested why other pubs in the area had chosen to open later or not at all. The four real ales were Cains Bitter, Dunham Massey Big Tree Bitter, Shaws Cascade and Boddingtons. We tried all but the Boddies and they were well kept and priced between £2.00 and £2.20.

After lunch we drove over to the Werneth Low country park, where the weather had cleared enough to get reasonable views over to Hattersley and Hyde. The Werneth Low pub was open but its chef and brewer signage put us off and we continued on to Compstall. The Andrew Arms is a Robinson's pub in the GBG and has a traditional layout and fittings with real fires. There are 3 pumps dispensing Hatters and Unicorn Bitter, and we spotted a tiny poly barrel of Old Tom on the bar. This gave us the opportunity for a pint of Grandma or Mother-in-law - we went for the Grandma (old and mild) which despite the strength of the Hatters still packs quite a punch. This is a friendly pub and it seemed to be bucking the trend for the day since all the time we were there it was busy.

It was turning colder as we drove through the dark lanes to Rowarth. The little mill inn was bathed in light when we arrived, probably quite annoying for the few local residents but at least we knew it was worth parking up. Inside we found a spot by a very hot range and had pints of Coachouse Thoroughbred at £2.25, with Banks Bitter and Pedigree also available. Although not far from the road to Mellor, the location at a dead end in a wooded valley makes the pub seem very isolated, but we tore ourselves away from the warmth of the fire to visit the Oddfellows Arms at Mellor.

Seeing the Oddfellows car park in the dark is quite difficult since its only signed in one direction, but after more than 5 minutes perseverance we were at the bar choosing from a range of 4 beers. We had a pint of the Adnams Explorer and a half of their bitter and sat down in a cosy corner, once again appreciating the fire. The beer was well kept and the same price as at the Little Mill, but the £10.50 fish and chip supper seemed a bit steep. We pressed on thinking we'd get something a little more competitively priced later on.

We took a brief trip into Hayfield to check out the food on offer there but nothing especially caught our eye, and after finding the Lantern Pike at Little Hayfield was not serving food ( and was creditably packed despite that ) we headed back to the Beehive at Combs. This time we both had the Bass, and a generous meal which was good value, despite the fact that hadn't saved any cash. We were very impressed with the quality and service (and the real ales) so will bear it in mind for the future. Our penultimate stop was back at the Quens at Dove Holes.

By now an icy gale was blowing in and the pub was quite busy with locals who seemed immune to the wintry weather. There is Tetley's and a guest beer at the Queens; this was Idle Brewed from the assumedly not idle brewery. I was feeling a little full up by now so only had a half but the beer had a good fruity flavour to it, and was priced at £2.40. We finally arrived at the Cheshire Cheese in Hope around 22.00 to catch the quiz night and enjoy a half of Hartington Bitter from a range of four beers. Although it is admittedly small, the pub was packed out and they seemed to be selling a lot of real ales, proving that the most depressing week of the year doesn't have to be spent at home if you are lucky enough to have an excellent local pub on your doorstep

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Moss Valley's disappearing pubs


please find below news on the pubs between Eckington and Coal Aston. This was written over 12 months ago, and its likely a few changes have happened since then - it may be worth looking on the web to find out the fate of the Black-a-moor, which I understand is open again ( but you never know )

Heres a quick guide to....Moss Valley’s disappearing pubs

When Wee Fatha moved to Westfield in 1992 it gave me a handy excuse to drink real ale in pubs around the Moss Valley. I still regularly walk in the area, and recent visits show that much has changed, notably the pubs. Comparing the number of pubs selling real ale in the villages around the valley then and now, indicates that few of the changes have been for the better.

At the Eastern end of the Moss Brook, a lot of Eckington’s pubs sold real ale, including the White Hart, next to the Church. This large pub had a traditional taproom and lounge and sold Youngers No. 3 and Best Bitter. Its subsequent closure for conversion into a retirement home mirrors the fate of many pubs in the village, and a steep decline in the availability of real ale. A recent CAMRA survey showed only the Bird in hand selling real ale, (although on their website, the Mossbrook claims to sell Pedigree) whereas previously you could find it in the Angel, Duke of York, and Prince of Wales, not to mention the 6 or 7 pubs further up the hill.

Following the brook into the valley the nearest refreshment is in Mosborough. Like Eckington, in the Nineties finding real ale in Mosborough was easy, whether at the British Oak, Queens, Royal Oak, Vine, or at the Alma on South street. Nowadays this is the only Mosborough pub that I know of regularly selling real ale. Situated overlooking the valley the Alma is a small back street pub currently selling Tetley’s. There is another handpump but it doesn’t seem demand can sustain another beer at present. The Alma was previously pub of the month, prior to Wards closure, and its good to see that he pub still has decent beer and retains its traditional layout.

On the opposite side of the valley are Marsh Lane, and Middle Handley. When the Devonshire Arms there closed in 2006, with the George on Lightwood Road having been demolished for housing, things looked bleak, but the Fox and Hounds continued to sell real ale and, from only selling John Smiths, the Butchers started stocking local guest ales. The Devonshire Arms reopened in 2007 and all looked positive, but 12 months on things are less certain. The Fox and Hounds has been packed on my last 2 visits this year and sells 1 or 2 real ales, Thwaites Double Century and Adnams Broadside over Easter. However, I have not found the Devonshire open in the last 6 months and the Butchers now has a lease for sale sign outside, and also appears closed. Hopefully this will not be a long-term situation.

Heading back into the valley the Bridge at Ford continues to serve food and offers 3 real ales including Stones and Lancaster Bomber. I visited 3 times last year and the beer was always good, and little seems to have changed over the years.

From here, you could head into Ridgeway where there are two pubs. Last time I visited the Swan sold real ale, but I’ve never been in the Queens Head or Phoenix at High Lane. Alternatively, you can walk through Birley Hay to Troway, and the Gate. Wee Fatha and I always used to visit with trepidation, as all too often we’d slog up the hill only to find the pub wasn’t open. Twice last year I found the pub closed when I ‘d have expected it not to be, so I was concerned that the Gate may have shut permanently, but I needn’t have worried. The present incumbents seem committed to keeping to their advertised hours, and over Easter I found the pub packed, and selling Theakstons Best, Jennings Golden Host and McMullen IPA. The pub doesn’t do food so they need to be busy, and the unreliable English weather demonstrates how difficult running a small country pub can be – visiting in torrential rain just days after Easter there was just 1 customer in the pub, and only 1 room open. The real ales were still well kept though, and now that I know to get in well before 15.00 I can see myself visiting many more times in the future.

Climbing up the steep hill to Snowdon Lane you’ll see the Blackamoor, a pub that has seen many changes since I first visited, including a spell hosting beer festivals and serving up to 4 real ales. Since then I have always found real beer on sale - Kelham Island Pale Rider, Bass and Pedigree on three separate visits, but by October last year nobody at the pub seemed interested in serving customers when we visited. Unfortunately, perhaps as a result of constant tinkering and makeovers, the Blackamoor is currently boarded up. If it reopens I hope that, although they’ll undoubtedly have to serve food, the pub will concentrate on being good at both dining and real ale.

The valley is now behind you and it’s easy to rejoin it and follow the paths out to Jordanthorpe, but there are plenty of pubs if you head south into the Drone Valley. Follow any paths across from the Blackamoor and you reach Apperknowle. The GBG regular Yellow Lion closed in the last 5 years, and although its bar still lives on at the Carlton in Attercliffe there’s little indication now that there was a pub on the site at all. It’s not all bad news though, as the two remaining pubs, the Barracks and Travellers Rest now serve an improved range of beers, with food available at the Barracks. I visited the Travellers at Easter, where there are up to 5 beers available, sampling the Bradfield Irish Dexters and Brown Cow. This small pub gets very busy in summer, but like the Barracks offers excellent outside drinking.

It’s a short walk from here to Coal Aston, where there are buses into Sheffield and 4 pubs, although as far as know only the Cross Daggers sells real ale. Head down the hill however and you can call at the Miners at Hundall. I first visited in 1993 and the pub displayed Youngers signs and livery, although none of their beers were on sale. Now the pub has two handpumps dispensing Taylor Landlord and a guest, this time Bradfield Blonde. The pub also does food.

Continuing past the pub you come out at Unstone Green. The Fleur De Lys in Unstone also used to proclaim that it sold Youngers, which it did. Nowadays I hear it no longer sells real ale, and walking past on Easter Sunday en route to the Coach and Horses in Dronfield the pub was closed - perhaps the reintroduction of something worth drinking could make it viable to open during the day?

Overall this area of North East Derbyshire has lost a lot of real ale venues and a lot of pubs altogether, but the variety and accessibility of hostelries means that in spite of spiralling costs, there will always be pubs for Moss Valley walkers to drink or eat in.

Manchester, Holmfirth, High Peak and other articles to come soon.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wee beefy's kentish casks


I have a blog already about my travels round Crete, unfortunately I seem to be encountering a few problems accessing this, or indeed ever finishing it. So as there are two prongs to my travel interests, I have started a second, about interesting, out of the way or unloved pubs, as well as ones that are none or all of the above and sell cracking real ale.

For pubs to feature, the qualifying criteria is not in city centre's, not owned by Greedy King ( although this is proving difficult ), not being places to buy or sell goods, and not being packed with aggressive simpletons. Ideally the pubs are either in the Good Beer Guide, or better still on the national inventory of unspoilt pub interiors.

These are details of my jaunts around the U.K on public transport, on foot, driven by car ( can't drive ) and usually accompanied by devotees of good beer and exploring.

The first post is an article that I penned for Sheffield Camra's beer matters. They were very kind to print the first 3 parts of it, but then stopped, citing advertising space being required. I have to admit to being a bit put out by this, they were at the time in possession of a lot of prose on this favourite subject. So the first few blogs are intended as a catch up. This does mean that the info is likely a couple of years out of date, but am travelling about on trips all the time so more up to date details and posts will follow.

Below is the whole Kentish casks article.

Wee Beefy’s Kentish Casks

In a quest to visit the best pubs in the UK I recently decided to travel east, to the Garden of England. Wee Fatha offered to drive and Mr P joined us to share in the experience of drinking Kent beer in Kent pubs.

We set off early, and headed into Rutland, where Wee Fatha announced that the Grainstore Brewery Tap in Oakham opened at 11.00 AM (on a Sunday). Despite my looking forward to this I did wonder if this had been double checked. Despite the sign proclaiming food from 11am, all the lights being on and a full compliment of staff present, the brewery tap was steadfastly not going to open up. Normally, publicans refuse to open to save electricity and staff costs - Grainstore however were content to fully staff their premises and remain closed.

Unfazed, we crossed into Northamptonshire and the village of Gretton, a rural utopia based on it having 4 pubs yet only being the size of Bradfield. The Hatton Arms is hidden away down a narrow back street but still appeared busy. They sell beer from Great Oakley brewery nearby and we had their 3.9% What's Occurring along with Elgood's Cambridge, and Pedigree, all between £2.20 to £2.40 and a good accompaniment to the food.

Travelling back into Rutland we visited the Exeter Arms at Barrowden. Fatha and I had been here a few times before and we weren't disappointed by the 4 real ales from their brewery, Beach boys, Bevin Boys, BBC and a new beer Hop Gear. The weaker beer Beach boys was a bit disappointing alongside the Bevin and the Hop Gear but all were well kept.

We headed on through the rain to The Red House on the great North Road at Longstowe. This is a regular outlet for Potton beers but we had just missed their regular brew so tried the Woodforde's Wherry and Fullers Chiswick. Only enough time for a half unfortunately, we needed to make time to visit Brambles in Buntingford.

This pub is on a quiet road away from the town centre and sells Buntingford brewery beers and guests. I would normally avoid an establishment that sounded like a nursery or B+B but this is a traditional drinker’s pub, where we enjoyed locally brewed Red Squirrel Mild and the 3.8% Highwayman and IPA from Buntingford brewery. Before leaving the county we stopped at the Gate in Sawbridgeworth where we all tried halves of the 4.2% Is It Yourself? which was also in fine form. This friendly pub was very busy, and it was good to see them selling local beer, but we didn’t have long to soak up the atmosphere and soon arrived in Rochester to book in.

Seeking food, Wee Fatha suggested we visit the Horseshoe and Castle at Cooling, hoping for some Kent beers. There was no sign of the Larkin’s toted in the GBG but they were quick to recommend the Master Brew - apparently they turn over 2 or 3 Kilderkins a week, which should explain why it tasted so nice. It didn't persuade us to stop however because we were seeking something a little more adventurous.

We dashed through lanes to Gravesend and the Crown and Thistle, a small friendly pub with a good range of ales and the brilliant foresight to enable customers to order takeaway and eat it at tables at the back of the pub. The beer was very good, especially the Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers, and the Cotleigh Kookaburra.

Full up after more beer and a massive curry we headed back to Rochester and tried to remember where the Man of Kent was, based on me and Wee Fatha's last visit 10 years ago. On finding it we fought our way to the bar to get served ( as it was gone 10 ) whilst Wee Fatha parked. The pub was packed out and we were very lucky to spot space enough to sit down. We chatted to a couple from London who wanted to know why we'd come such a long way. The answer of course was in our hands. All the beers sold were from Kentish breweries; on this occasion Goacher's Fine Light and Gold Star, Whitstable East India Pale ale and Hopdaemon Incubus, whetting our appetites for more Kentish beers the next day....

Day 2
After a refreshing walk in the rain to clear our heads, ( scrambling up a muddy slope to see kits Coty House is a sure fire hangover smoother, it has been alleged ) we headed across the county and set about finding a pub with no sign. Our first refreshment was at another Old House, this one being situated in a country lane in Ightham Common. Once known as the pub with no name, this national inventory listed pub has 2 rooms, with a small lobby as you enter through what looks like someone’s front door. The only way we deduced that we’d found the pub (in addition to knowing which lane it was on) was the 10 cars parked outside.

Once inside there are two rooms leading off, a large public bar on the left with an enormous fireplace and a smaller lounge or parlour on the right with its own small serving hatch. Regular beers are Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers and Flowers IPA with two guest beers. Mr P opted for the Flowers which I avoided on account of having grown sick of it when I was just a fledgling drinker. The guests were Daleside Gravesend Shrimpers, Oakham JHB and Purity UBU on gravity. These beers are brought from the back of the bar from behind a curtain; only the Flowers is on handpump.

The pub has that knack of lulling you into a feeling of relaxation and belonging and had it not been for inconvenient concerns like food I could have happily stayed all day. Alas we needed to move on, and opted to try the Padwell Arms in Stone Street. Overlooking hop fields and orchards this small pub is set back from the road and seems very popular. This may be something to do with excellent Larkin’s beers and guests with up to 8 beers in all. The food was also excellent which helped.

We had pints of Larkin’s Best, Westerham Freedom Ale, and halves of Badger Stinger and Whitstable IPA. I was disappointed by the Westerham beer; it was a bit tired and had a bizarre malt flavour, which transpired to be a feature of other Kent micros as we later discovered.

One exception to that however was at the Swan at West Peckham, home of the Swan on the green brewery. This pub is in a picturesque setting, on the green, as you'd expert, and uses local hops to flavour the beers brewed on site. The beers are light and hoppy and we tried them all – the Bewick was my favourite. At this point I should mention prices. Typically in Kent we were paying £2.30 to £2.60 for standard strength beers and 20 or 30p on top for stronger ones. The Swan was no different, I should point out, but we averaged £6.30 for a two and a half pint round and some topped £7.00. Whilst I recognise that things in general are more expensive in Kent it brings the lower duty paid in France into sharp focus when they are so close by.

With Larkin’s beers being an early favourite we head off to find another outlet. The Dovecote at Capel sells an impressive range of real ale, but the friendly couple behind the bar explained with some dismay that before they took over the owner had sold the lease to a large pubco with the result that Larkin’s was no longer available. They make up for it with a friendly welcome and up to 8 beers on gravity. We tried fantastic Gales HSB, 1648 brewery St Georges Ale and Harvey’s best, all tasting better for being on the stillage behind the bar.

Before we left they mentioned that we might get Larkin’s at the Tudeley Oak nearby, but the Larkins proved very popular and had gone, so we turned our thoughts to food. We ate at the Halfway House at Brenchly, who were having a real ale festival and we were able to sample some interesting beers. The Ballards Wassail is a favourite of mine and its rare to see it on draught so I was glad to find it. Between us we also tried Otter Ale, Bank Top Samuel Compton and Vale Wychert. The pub is very old and inside they have left the beams that showed where the walls were - without the walls. Novel and interesting at first, they should be given credit for trying to keep the original floor levels and layout, but if I'm to be honest, I soon got fed up with wandering through the medieval scaffold.

We headed back to Rochester but did not get to the George 5th at Brompton as planned. The rain and darkness proved insurmountable and we gave up after 20 minutes searching , just in time for the wipers to break. Back at the B+B Wee Fatha retired early, but revived after sleeping all the way to Brompton, I joined Mr P in the Man of Kent for more Whitstable IPA, Goacher’s and Hopdaemon. There was also a beer on from Millis brewery called Kentish Red. This, like the Westerham, also featured an unappetising Horlicks aroma but was clearly as fresh as a daisy. Despite the best efforts of the knowledgeable barman I couldn't enjoy the beer, and went back to excellent Goacher’s gold star to finish the day.....

Day 3
Whilst Wee Fatha awaited road side assistance Mr P and I went to look around Rochester. As the rain started to fall again we sought shelter in the Coopers, an old black and white timbered pub with Courage beers and guests. Here we both tried Nelson Trafalgar ale and once again ran into disappointing malty strangeness, this time with a tart edge. It’s as if Nelson, Westerham and MiIllis breweries have colluded to pioneer an alternative to the traditional hoppy beers of Kent and make Ovaltine instead. What's strange is I have since tried bottle conditioned beers from the same brewers and found the Westerham excellent and the Nelson odd at the very least. Most disappointing.

Wee Fatha returned with a working car so we went to the George 5th in Brompton. Thus is a deceptively large pub with a room as you go through the corner entrance followed by a bar on the right and a room on the left. Although disappointed not to find the elusive Goacher’s Mild, the Harvey’s xxx Mild was a perfect replacement, and we ate a very sensibly priced lunch accompanied by Dr Johnsons IPA, a wheat beer from Okells and more excellent Elgood's Greyhound.

We headed South West next to the village of Trottiscliffe (pronounced Trosley). We parked up and followed a well worn path to see coldrum long barrow, in an impressive setting looking down a lush Kentish valley. The burial chamber was originally surrounded by standing stones, now laid around the edge, which provides an excellent frame. It was actually now very warm and sunny as we returned to the car so we sought refreshment. The pub in Trosley was shut, as was the Vigo Inn nearby, so we headed across country via numerous road closures and diversion to Stansted, and the Black Horse.

Stansted is a quiet isolated village and the Black Horse has the novel idea of opening all day. We found a good selection of beers, Mr P and I had Larkin’s and Wee Fatha tried the Millis Kentish Red and their Dartford Wobbler. The jury is out - I still didn't like the Millis beers. Retracing our steps we drove to Faversham, the home of Shepherd Neame brewery. Setting off for the old part of the town we took a narrow lane down towards marshland. We soon came to a sign (in felt-tip pen) saying "pub" and followed what was now a track for half a mile to a couple of wooden buildings.

The Shipwrights, at Hollowshore, is a white boarded pub in a spectacular location with views over the marsh and the Oare Creek. Inside is cosy and warm and there is a large stillage behind the bar serving up to 8 beers from the cask. I finally got to try a pint of the Goachers Mild, and it was well worth the wait. From the other choices we tried and enjoyed the Whitstable IPA again, a pint of Goachers Shipwrights ale and a half of Hopdaemon Golden Braid. It would have been great to stay for some food and more excellent beer but we had a long journey ahead of us.

We made up a bit of time so had chance to nip into the Bull at Beneden for a couple of halves of Dark Star hophead, before we arrived at our accommodation, the White Hart at Newenden. We decided to eat here, and were rewarded with good food and an excellent range of beers. Once we'd eaten and got the keys we decided against going out again and stayed to drink a few pints of Harvey’s best and Rother Valley level best, both in excellent condition. There were three other beers on offer but the Rother Valley and Harvey’s were too good in the end.

day 4
Breakfast at the White Hart is down to earth - a pot of tea and three full English. Although vegetarian, Mr P probably got more here than his veggie breakfast in Rochester, which prepared him for the day ahead. We aimed to head towards the Eastern tip and then down the coast and inland back to the pub.

Our first stop was at the Gate at Marshside, our first Shepherd Neame pub. The attraction here is that all the beers are served on gravity so we had a good opportunity to try most of the range in its best condition. I was surprised to find mild on draught - I never knew Sheps did a dark mild – but it was one of the pick of the bunch, with Early bird being the best, and complimented by excellent food. We soon reached Broadstairs via ferry queues, and parked outside the Brown Jug. The pub is packed full of breweriana and other adornments and is run by the friendly landlady who we ended up talking to at length with a couple of regulars. We were a little disappointed to find Greedy king beers but to be fair the Olde Trip was in very good nick and we ended up having quite a lot. The pub was quiet but homely, but if you do go there, be prepared for a bit of a trek to the outside loos.

Nearer the harbour we visited the Neptune’s Hall, an impressive Shepherd Neame pub that is on the national inventory. You enter either through the public bar entrance in the middle or the private bar entrance on the left side. There is another private bar entrance on the right but that only leads to a corridor, but the left sided one is perhaps unique. The bar is actually a small 2 seater booth which could quite conceivably have been separate from the rest of the pub. This is because there is a separate bar counter and a door behind it which I suspect was to allow the affluent and well to do to have their own barman whilst the proles in the middle section vied to get served.

There was Shepherd Neame Master Brew on draught, a good pint enjoyed in a relaxing place to sit and catch our thoughts. All too soon however we had to get back in the car and return to follow the coast to Ramsgate. Overlooking the town is the Foy Boat Tavern. The fact that I don't usually like seaside hotels as drinking venues probably stopped me enjoying this bar., but the beer was certainly not a problem, since there were 3 or 4 real ales on offer including Ramsgate Brewery Gadds No 1. This was a really refreshing beer , so much so in fact that by the time wee Fatha had joined us I had finished my pint.

We continued down the coast to Deal, a town with perhaps the world’s longest street. Regrettably, the pub we were visiting was more than half way down it. Middle street it transpires, runs for untold miles and through the middle of almost all of Deal. It was 15 minutes before we found the Prince Alfred, a small and very friendly pub selling up to 4 real ales. We opted for halves of the Burton Bridge Silver Medal which was excellent. After our hike we decided to head inland to Northborne on the promise of food, and the Hare and Hounds did not disappoint. Along with our meals we enjoyed a good range of beers, particularly the Harvey’s Sussex Bitter and the Mauldons Black Adder.

We didn’t stop long as the prospect of the Red Lion at Snargate pushed us on. However, as darkness drew in, Kent’s councils and highways engineers conspired to close the main road through Romney Marsh and not provide a diversion. Absurd chaos ensued as hundreds of vehicles tried to squeeze down the only country lane to New Romney, only to find that before you entered the town the road was closed again. With just enough space for cars to pass (off road) we pushed on past other traffic refugees to arrive an hour late at Snargate.

We had time only for a half each, but having visited the Red Lion before, even in the dim light I could tell that this national inventory pub had changed little since then. It is unfortunate that we had so little time because the interior is well worth seeing and the atmosphere worth taking in. Whilst Wee Fatha quizzed other Romney evacuees about our best route back me and Mr P supped Gateshead Gold and Archers Mild and one for the road. We arrived back at nearly 11 to find the pub still busy so stopped for another couple of pints of excellent Harvey’s Best and Rother Valley Level Best before retiring.

Day 5
On our last day we enjoying more honest fat laden fare, but by now I had managed to come down with a shocking cold and stomach upset, which did not sit well with my hangover. Luckily the warm, sunny weather perked us up and we stopped off at Bodiam Castle nearby.

At midday we arrived at the New Inn at Hadlow Down in East Sussex, a pub that for the last 5 years has taken its place in CAMRA's national inventory. I had seen a picture of the pub, so this roadside former hotel was easy to spot. We parked up and found paint peeling, the front door locked and a man sat outside the open cellar drop. We asked if the pub was open and were advised that the landlord had just popped out, but unfortunately he did not open during the day. Other people had just driven away before us but I didn’t want to miss the chance to visit, and when the landlord returned we asked if we could pop in to look around.

The landlord, surprised to see so many people said " I take it you want a drink as well?” We couldn't refuse of course and he told us confidently that his Harvey’s was one of the best in the area. I can't say I disagree. The landlord took our correct money and piled it on the bar before leaving us to it. We chatted to his mate whilst admiring the interior of the bar room - an excellent barrelled ceiling and an impressive one piece bar back with three or four large old hand pumps in front of it dispensing Harvey’s and guests. The Hotel part of the building had not been kept open due to the unviable cost of heating lighting and maintaining it ( even as a function room ) so we could only see the two rooms, including the most basic games room I have ever seen - literally just a pool table a juke box and a serving hatch in the corner.

The landlord briefly reappeared and we bought some very reasonably priced bottles of Harvey’s ( creating another pile of coins on the bar) and after a final few photo's we had to move on. The landlord apologised for not having been able to chat but he needn't have, since we'd enjoyed excellent beer in a very unusual pub.

Heading further into Sussex the level of hospitality dropped. Deep in Winnie the Pooh country, The Hatch at Colemans Hatch was a stark contrast to the New Inn. This unfriendly restaurant stocks a few beers to sell to its valued food customers and had no proviso for either welcoming or seating financially unrewarding drinkers. Squinting in pretentious near darkness at the pumps we selected Larkin’s traditional and more Harvey’s before finding a much sought after seat in the garden. The beer was fine, but when my Dad took the glasses back (as a courteous person would) the bar person looked at him with derision, and then glared at us when we said goodbye. Judging by the prices I am sure that the pub can easily afford to alienate drinkers, but it’s disappointing that financial demands should affect visitors to that extent.

We were hoping to find a friendlier welcome at the Queens Arms at Cowden Pound a few miles away, alas the pub does not open until 17.00 - at least they had the good grace to advertise their hours on a sign outside. With hunger setting in we headed to the Wheatsheaf at Marsh Green, arriving just in time for food. Being quite unwell I only managed a half, but my companions tried the Harvey’s, Archers Perfect Guest and more Burton Bridge Silver medal. There is a wide selection of beers available at this pub.

Heading north now we reached the Surrey Hills and the Plough at Coldharbour, in a beautiful setting near Leith Hill. The brewery in the garden was in the middle of another batch as we sat outside in the sunshine, and the smell complimented the beer well. Still feeling grim I missed out on the Crooked Furrow and Hoplily Ever After from the brewery at the pub. I am assured they were tasty and refreshing beers on quite a hot day.

We followed winding lanes through the hills from the pub to Gomshall, where we visited the Compasses. 10 years ago Wee Fatha and I stopped in here for a pint when it was still a Gibbs Mew pub (and the beer was nearly as expensive then). The pub is the Surrey hills brewery tap and we tried all of there ales - Gilt Trip, Ranmoor and Shere Drop. A sure sign we were in affluent Surrey was the price, averaging £2.90 a pint.

Our penultimate stop was abandoned as once again traffic mayhem changed our plans. Only Wee Fatha knows why he opted to take the M25 and M40 in rush hour, but he did and this added 2 hours to our journey. Suffice to say we were a bit tired hungry and thirsty by the time we parked at Bourne End Station and walked down to the Thames ( or it could be the canal based on.... ) and along the towpath to the Bounty at Cookham, a pub accessible only by boat or foot. As we reached the entrance we heard the sound of blues guitar, and inside we got to the bar with minutes to spare for ordering food. Tea came with Rebellion Blonde, IPA and another of their range, the Blonde was very refreshing and perhaps the best on offer, but as soon as we had drained our glasses we had to head home.

Overall, we managed to visit all but one of Kent's national inventory pubs and it seemed that many of the pubs visited were some of the county's best. As always it was difficult to pick a favourite but we probably all rated The New Inn, Shipwrights Arms and George the 5th. And given the other point of the trip, our favourite beer? Well, consistently the best beer was Harvey’s, but Goacher's and Larkin’s came close behind, and the Rother Valley level best was my personal favourite. Finding our favourite beers in Kent from Sussex was a surprise result, but demonstrated only that we had to go again to make sure we were right…......