Saturday June 9th 2018
I cycled over to Sutton Coldfield today in order to take some photographs of the Old Duke Inn at Maney. I needed these to finish off a page for the pub that I had cobbled together with information largely compiled by local historian Yvonne Moore.
Taking advantage of the massive roadworks being undertaken around the Old Library and Broad Street, I managed to pedal through the centre of Birmingham without having to dodge traffic. However, I returned via Sutton Park and Sandwell Valley which provided a little fresh air.
During my visit to the Old Duke I did not get an opportunity to speak to Kelly and Mike Coller, the couple currently running the place. Still, I had a mooch around and found it to be a pleasant traditional drinker's pub, a place where locals can meet and socialise without the nonsense found at many of the town's larger houses where food, music and sport are the main attractions. Here, the emphasis is based around the traditional sense of a proper public house. As you can see, there is a wide choice of beer with which to enjoy during conversation. The pub has some original features but has been altered by breweries and pub companies over the years. However, the interior environment remains pretty good.
Sunday June 10th 2018
Two old codgers on bikes who should know better. Here we are, a pair of ancient grimpeurs with a backdrop of Worcestershire, after huffing and puffing our way up from the former Rose and Crown at Tenbury Wells to the Golden Cross at Clee Hill.
Here we are stood a matter of metres from the former Victoria Inn taking a breather during a long ride in the sun. Our mission is to get a bit fitter in advance of a trip to The Alps for some proper cycling. What is clear from this photograph is that I have to lose a load of weight! This ride helped a little as I climbed 9,051 feet during the 147.54 kilometres, at the end of which I was fairly épuisé. The quest for better legs is relentless. By the way, if you are wondering why many cyclists obsess about weight here is a bit of technical stuff from the mighty Tejvan Pettinger ... he has advised that a ride up Alpe d'Huez, a climb of some 14km in distance with an average gradient of 8.1%, will see a cyclist gain 1,071 metres. If a grimpeur rides this with a power output of 400 watts then weight loss of just one kilogram will save 24.16 seconds on the time it takes to ascend. I have said many times that if I didn't drink beer I'd be a half decent cyclist. However, I only ride my bike for fun and beer is a key part of my enjoyment in life .... ainsi soit-il.
Saturday June 16th 2018
A train trip into Birmingham to obtain an international driving permit at the Post Office was just the excuse we needed to visit a couple of watering holes - we had not supped any beer in Brum for a while. Indeed, we hadn't been inside the Wellington on Bennett's Hill for ages. These days the pub boasts a first floor room and sun terrace. There is also another servery up there! It was possibly a good thing we didn't realise another selection of drinks were on offer upstairs as Titanic Plum Porter was on sale. We have a penchant for this 2015 Champion Beer Of Britain but we would have missed out on some other interesting beers downstairs.
The Wellington has a list of their beers on tap displayed on a large monitor. As a quick reference this is quite handy, though it lacks tasting notes or guidance to beer character. Nigel Barker, the licensee of this much-lauded real ale venue, was one of the first publicans to adopt a monitor inside a pub and, although price, strength and colour are listed, it is possibly not too much of a technical stretch to have a rolling screen to incorporate more detail. Having said that, it would be a bit of a task to execute because the pub can stock more than 2,500 different real ales each year.
I have really gone to the dark side so was chuffed to find a beer that was almost black. The Oakham Hawse Buckler at 5.6% uses three different hops Amarillo, Chinook, and Simcoe, which combine to deliver a kick to the chocolate and coffee malt flavours. Featuring a piracy-themed pump clip, the beer apparently refers to a nautical plate that is slammed into the hole for a vessel's anchor chain when the water gets more than a bit choppy, hence plugging the 'hawse-hole.' Sounds logical, less so if, like a beer brigand, you attempt a session on this ale.
Although the Oakham Hawse Buckler was enjoyable, it was another nautical-themed beer with which I sailed off into the sunset. Each time I have tried a beer produced by Bank Top at Bolton I have really enjoyed it. In fact, it would be a real shot in the arm if I stumbled upon their ales more often. Today, it was great to find the brewery's Port O'Call anchored at The Welly. The secret of this very dark ruby ale is down to the addition of vintage port in the cask to add a complex character to the brew. Bank Top Brewery also uses malt traditionally produced at the UK's oldest working maltings based in Warminster. Certainly, this porter is a voyage of discovery - complex, sweet, fruity and the hint of port guarantees a feeling of "Fair Winds and Following Seas."
Nigel Barker has been the licensee of The Wellington since the former bank building was opened as a public house in December 2004. He also operates the Post Office Vaults, another real ale and continental beer outlet close to The Iron Man. A former publican of the Barton's Arms and prominent member of the local CAMRA branch, one could argue that he has done more for the Birmingham beer scene than anybody else. The Wellington is run in conjunction with Black Country Ales and has become a port-of-call for almost every real ale drinker visiting the city. It was in 2014 that the pub extended upwards by converting the office spaces above. I believe that there are now an incredible 27 handpulls operating in the pub. Of course, this makes me wonder if all of the casks are being turned over at the same rate but I have never had a reason to moan about the quality of beer in here. No food is served but you can bring your own because plates and cutlery are provided for customers. However, The Wellington is primarily a drinking establishment and there are no annoying distractions such as music and fruit machines.
So, whilst I think that Nigel Barker is more worthy of a gong than the city's mayor and that I really like the concept of the pub, I often ask myself why I don't patronise the place more often? Perhaps a key reason is that, in recent years, Birmingham's real ale scene has become quite dynamic and when I do venture into the city there is often a new pub, bar or brewery to experience so The Wellington gets missed out. However, there is also one downside to Nigel's pub dream - it attracts some bloody awful customers. We always seem to end up next to a table with middle-aged men with lots of issues, primarily beer freaks with abhorrent body odour, unkempt clothing and generally wielding carrier bags of goodness knows what. Anybody who has been to a beer festival will know exactly the type I am attempting to describe. There is definitely something about real ale that attracts men who, like train spotters, stamp collectors and football ground hoppers, have something going on with the right-side of the brain. Most men seem to have some form of compulsive disorder that very few women possess. I am guilty of being a cycling obsessive and music nutcase. However, like many other fruitcakes who manage to hide their dysfunctional behaviour by attempting to be a normal, social or congenial person, there are some who seemingly have no sense of what makes them a complete and utter tosspot. The real ale brigade is full of such creatures ... and I haven't even started on the subject of tickers or scoopers - I'll save that for another unmitigated tirade. In the meantime, don't be put off by some of the punters, make a visit to The Wellington, just be prepared to move around the room a little to avoid the nutters. With the high turnover of beers at The Wellington there will be something to delight your taste buds.
It is only a matter of metres from The Wellington to the Purecraft Bar and Kitchen on Waterloo Street. Consequently, combining this place offers an almost seamleass drinking experience. It is not the sort of venue that we tend to frequent as we like pubs. However, I do rather like Purity UBU and here it is on sale 365 days per year.
This place opened in March 2014 so it has only taken us four years to get around to nipping inside! In addition to the UBU, patrons will also be able to choose from five other cask ales plus up to 16 craft keg beers on draught. There is also a wide selection of bottled beer from around the world. Looking at this photograph, I am not sure what the Venerable Bead is drinking but I only had eyes for UBU, a full-flavoured beer with a slightly sweet finish. Named after a dog at the brewery in Warwickshire, UBU is brewed with English Maris Otter, Crystal, and Wheat malts, with Pilgrim and Cascade hops. I have memories of drinking this all day at the Moseley Folk Festival a few years ago as the brewery was operating the beer tent. The memory is a bit vague as it caught up with me eventually, though I do recall enjoying every mouthful. UBU is not as ubiquitous as the brewery's other core beers. Each time we visit a pub in Warwickshire they tend to have Mad Goose or Pure Gold on tap. We were once spoiled when Dave Craddock used to stock UBU as a regular ale at the Plough and Harrow in Norton but it suddenly disappeared and we are now reduced to what seems like war rationing.
The kitchen inside Purecraft is in full view of the customers which provides some theatre. However, the menu has limited vegetarian options so we declined to munch here. Besides, it is the sort of place that serves chips in a tin mug or basket which would guarantee a burst of "for fuck's sake" if served to us. They also serve up food in casserole dishes and on chopping boards. One advantage of having an open kitchen is that you can check the chef doesn't gob in your food if you send it back to be served on a "fucking plate!" Hey, great idea springs to mind ... order your nosh, walk up the road with your board or slate, nip into The Wellington who have proper plates, scrape food onto correct china ware, order an interesting beer and dine properly.
Sunday June 16th 2018
Amazingly, I have sold a bike. This is a major deal for a self-confessed cycling obsessive. Instead of continually adding to the fleet, I have decided to let a bike go so that it will enjoy a better life with somebody else. With no domestic touring schedule for the year, and possibly 2019, it would be a crime to see this touring machine sitting around in the garage. It is quite a wrench to let go of a bike that has been a faithful servant on several touring holidays but I am being bold, if a little sad to say goodbye.
I bought this cross bike in 2012 but I quickly converted it for touring and it was used for occasional holidays and trips. The SRAM Apex gears have been click perfect on every ride. I was not a big fan of the original Avid disc brakes so upgraded to Shimano CX77FR front and rear in March 2017. In total, me and the bike travelled a very moderate 3,827 kilometres but we visited some lovely places, mainly around or close to the coast. I had to sell it via e-bay but was relieved that it went to a very nice young man from Bristol who was intending to use it on new adventures. Bon voyage to them both.
Sunday June 17th 2018
I did not have a good window for cycling today so decided to do a little leg training on Brook Holloway at Wollescote. The traffic isn't too bad on a Sunday afternoon so is pretty safe to climb. Making the first ascent, I created a loop so that I would arrive at the foot of the hill again. A little boring in terms of an activity, I just had to develop a mindset for circuit training.
Just saying the words 'circuit training' is enough for some folks. For me, those two words evoke memories of the gymnasium during P Company in Aldershot, a near-death experience that went on for several hours. Compared to such torture, climbing Brook Holloway is a doddle. In homage to L'Alpe d'Huez's bends, I decided to surmount Brook Holloway 22 times which was great for my legs. Customers sat outside the Hare and Hounds were seemingly baffled by some idiot cycling past as if on a loop - which, of course, I was. My ride turned out to be the pub's entertainment but nobody handed me a beer as I went past repeatedly!
Sunday June 24th 2018
With temperatures reaching 32 degrees, it was a scorching hot day - just the sort of weather to lose a few kilograms hauling a bicycle uphill. I headed out to the hilly part of Worcestershire to tackle a few climbs and improve my fitness. I crossed the River Severn at Bewdley and made my way up the old road to Long Bank and Callow Hill. It is a lovely gradient and I always seem to enjoy the ascent up to the southern fringe of the Wyre Forest.
From Callow Hill I followed the main road up to Clows Top, always a little leg-tickler. From here it is mostly flat or downhill through Pensax and Stockton-on-Teme to The Bridge public house. I paused near Lowerhouse Farm to take the above photograph which shows the next part of the ride. There is a long climb past St. Mary's Church at Stanford-on-Teme to reach Upper Sapey. This is the famous Stanford Bank featured on many a road race or time trial. I have lost count of the number of times I have hauled my bike up the long climb which always proves challenging.
I took this photograph of Stanford Bank on the gentle part of the climb up past the church. This is easy enough for me to take a snapshot whilst riding. As you head into the trees the gradient gets tougher and a little trickier to mess about with a camera. It is a little frustrating riding past good pubs such as The Bridge at Stanford and the Baiting House at Upper Sapey but I resolved to forge on towards Stoke Bliss to tackle another steep climb up to the former Bell Inn at Broadheath, a pub now known as the Tally Ho Inn. At least I could enjoy some downhill sections into Tenbury Wells and reward myself with a sandwich.
Tenbury Wells is an odd place on Sundays because it is largely shut. It seems to me that the local economy is missing out because this is quite an important town on the river with plenty of interesting buildings, including the historic spa. And yet the main street is quiet and pretty much deserted. Thankfully Mr. Thom's was open and here they made me a fresh sandwich to fortify me for the impending climb up to Clee Hill in the baking heat. There is very little tree cover on the way up through Nash and Knowle and I was dripping with sweat by the time I arrived at the Golden Cross.
Keeping an eye out for roaming sheep, it is a terrific ride across the wild landscape. Equally enjoyable is the slightly downhill romp across Catherton Common before the steep drop into Oreton. I can remember some years ago when the New Inn was closed and put up for sale. I feared it was the end of the road for the old stone cottage that once served as a lock-up for local miscreants. The New Inn closed around 2006 and remained shut for almost nine years before, as if by magic, it re-opened in October 2014. The 200 year-old building remains simple and they concentrate on selling locally-produced ales. Well, fairly local. Wye Valley HPA was on sale alongside the Ludlow Gold. These are served via handpulls but the beers were formerly served straight from the cask in the back room. But who's complaining when the pub is back-up-and-running?
I realise it was a very hot day and that I had been riding for several hours but, even taking this into consideration, I have to declare that the Ludlow Gold served on this day inside the New Inn was the best example I have ever tasted. Absolutely top-notch presentation and taste making it sheer perfection. Brewed over the hill in Ludlow, Shropshire Gold waltzed off with a bronze medal in the Golden Ale category of the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain 2017 awards. It is by far the most popular beer produced by the brewery and accounts for a whopping 65 per cent of sales. They also do a rather nice cycling jersey which I should be wearing when riding around this part of the Midlands.
Crossing Farlow Brook, I cycled to nearby Stottesdon and past the former Fox and Hounds, once famous for the brewery of Dasher Downing. This fondly-remembered homebrew pub is now a private house. However, the former Cock Inn, trading as the Fighting Cocks since the mid-1970s, is still going strong. I headed to Buttonbridge and crossed the River Severn at Upper Arley which added to the ride's elevation that totalled 7,037ft over 121.15km - not such a bad effort in the heat.
Monday June 25th 2018
Today we headed off to Gloucestershire for a mini-break of cycling and visiting some pubs. With baking hot sunshine, it sounded like a great plan. Once ensconced in our hotel, we rolled around the docks before attempting to miss the afternoon traffic by skirting around the northern fringe of the city. Unfortunately, most of the people who live and work in Gloucester seem to have adopted these roads as rat runs so we found ourselves amid plenty of vehicles.
After the roar of cars around Innsworth and Churchdown we found some tranquillity in Badgeworth, a small settlement with a lovely old church. Largely Perpendicular, the Church of the Holy Trinity was erected in the 13th and 14th centuries though, inevitably, a Victorian restoration saw some rebuilding. This work resulted in the removal of a tapestry portraying Moses and Aaron to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Interest is however aroused immediately on entering the building because the step into the nave is thought to be a grave marker from a Crusader tomb.
The interior of Holy Trinity has many fascinating relics and pieces. A Decalogue beneath the east window of St. Margaret's Chapel is remarkable in that it features the ten commandments beautifully inlaid in wood. We were rather captivated by the sundial that must have landed the stonemason in a bit of a quandary as he incorrectly spelt the donor's name. We wondered whether he was paid for his efforts? The pulpit you can see [above] was formerly in the abandoned church at Newington Bagpath as the local woodworm took a liking to the original and truly made it holy. The rood and screen is by H. H. Martyn and Co., of Cheltenham, the wood, stone and plaster carvers famous for their work in the House of Commons, notably the Speaker's Chair.
We pedalled the short distance to the Church of Saint Paul at Shurdington, a building dating from the 14th and 15th centuries and noted for its remarkable broached spire. This has had to be repaired on many occasions, mainly from being struck by lightning. Local folklore has it that the builder of the nearby Saint Peter's Church at Leckhampton was so distraught by his inability to equal this architectural masterpiece it led to his suicide. Key elements to look for at this charming building are the sun dial dating from the mid-17th century and the Green Man high up on a wooden beam spanning the nave.
Shurdington is also home to the famous Cheese Rollers pub, though the name only dates from relatively recent times. The roadside tavern was once the New Inn. The building was re-named to commemorate the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, an annual event held about two miles away each Spring Bank Holiday. The event was formerly staged at Whitsun. The pubs in Brockworth are, of course, closer to the hill on which the 'race' is held but the name was applied to this pub in the 1970s. A recent refurbishment and overhaul has seen the removal of the nice pictorial sign that use to hang outside the pub. Thankfully, I took the above photograph of the sign in 2004. In more recent times the event has attracted participants from around the world. Traditionally, a Double Gloucester Cheese was rolled down the hill and competitors would chase after it. Dating back centuries, it is thought to be the most dangerous foot race in the world.
Our route then took an upward south-easterly direction. Our destination for this late afternoon ride was the Black Horse at Cranham and I was trying to find a relatively easy route in consideration of La Goddess du Vélo who dislikes gradients approaching 20% Consequently, Birdlip seemed to be the answer - I just had to figure out a way to avoid the traffic. The combination of Dark Lane and Dog Lane through Bentham misses out some of the busy Ermine Street surmounting Crickley Hill. Of course, the upper section has to be ridden on the pavement that claims to be a cycle route but is poorly maintained. Somehow amid all the carnage of motorway-like traffic, the Air Balloon manages to remain viable. Over 37,000 vehicles go around the roundabout in front of the pub EVERY day. However, there is talk of a major road scheme which would see the Air Balloon being demolished.
An information board inside the Air Balloon states that the building was named the Balloon around 1796 and the Air Balloon by 1802. The name probably commemorates the use of Birdlip Hill as the launch site of pioneering balloon flights in the mid-1780s. Romantics such as myself like to think that it was named after a balloon flight of Edward Jenner which landed close to the pub in 1788. In the late 18th century Europe had seemingly gone balloon crazy as many bold inventors and pilots tried to emulate the success of the Montgolfier Brothers, followed by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier in 1783. The inn sign of the Air Balloon has changed quite often over the years and I have several different images. I have posted the best in my opinion - the photograph of this Whitbread sign dates from 1976.
From the Air Balloon we followed the line of the old road up to Barrow Wake Viewpoint from where you can see the Statue of Liberty in New York. Well, not quite, but you can see for many, many miles, particularly on a clear day.
The Barrow Wake name derives from the discovery in 1879 of three skeletons lying in a stone-burial tomb. The central remains were those of a woman around 35 years of age. A bronze mirror is the prized possession found next to her and is on display at Gloucester City Museum.
As we passed the Royal George at Birdlip, a couple came up the steep hill to the hotel and then collapsed in a heap in front of the building. At least they were laughing amid their huffing and puffing. They looked as though they had just bought a pair of bikes so this possibly represented their first real climbing challenge so well done them for making it up the 16% incline.
The cycle ride through Witcombe Wood is lovely though I was disappointed that I did not spot any deer. Then it was time to wear down our brake pads on the road to Cranham only for us to find the Black Horse Inn closed. Bugger. I had checked out this 17th century stone-built free house in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide before selecting it as a place to enjoy some decent ale and a hearty meal. The guide states that the Black Horse Inn is open on Monday evenings but evidently this is not the case. A local resident stopped cutting his hedge for moment to inform us that the pub does not open on Monday. I was already on the verge of binning the CAMRA annual tome and this has tipped me over the edge. It is simply out-of-date as soon as it rolls off the press and of little value to the tourist.
We had to accept that we would not be patronising this delightful-looking village tavern and come up with an alternative strategy for beer and food. The immediate area does not have a wealth of pubs attractive to us, though I did consider the Royal William as an option. Most other local pubs seem to belong to big chains. In the end we decided to ride down The Portway to Gloucester, ditch the bikes at the hotel and walk into the docks as this would offer more choice.
Gloucester's Llanthony Road and its offshoots are so jam-packed with bars and cafés one has to wonder how they all turn a profit. We ventured into an old stable block of the docks that has been converted into a bar called Tank. This is operated by the Gloucester Brewery and, whilst it is not our style of venue [we would rather be in an old pub], we had to see for ourselves a place where the owners proclaim that "we put the drinking experience over margin and profit, quality over arbitrary brand loyalty and real knowledge over fads and trends." The brewery, founded in 2011 by Jared Brown, was located here until larger premises were acquired across the dock in 2015. Appropriately, the new brewery site is located in a former malthouse.
We did enjoy our experience in Tank. The beer choice is good, prices are fair and customer service was friendly. It was however the bar's quiz night and, with serious cash prizes up for grabs, the atmosphere was a tadge intense. I forgot to enquire if they sold flight boards so simply ordered a range of the Gloucester Brewery beers. Well, when in Rome and all that! The bonus is that most of the ales produced by this brewery are vegan. I quite liked the Dockside Dark but there is no doubt that, tonight at least, the American Pale was the star of the show. 6.4% of hoppy bang laced with grapefruit and mango. On a hot summer evening this was just the ticket. The pizzas are also pretty good - for £9.95p I had a belly-busting Woodland Mushroom Pizza with mozzarella, shaved parmesan and rocket. Oh, and more beer. This was an excellent place to drop anchor and dock for a carb load to help with the next day's cycling.
From Tank, a brewery tap, we walked the short distance to a brewpub called Brewhouse and Kitchen. I probably arrived here with some preconceptions as this is part of a chain of outlets and the business is backed by Puma Investments, themselves part of the Shore Capital Group. We are rather adverse to corporateness but we were curious to see what these places are like. Brewhouse and Kitchen was established in 2011 by Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell, their aim was to create pubs that would offer both fresh food and a range of craft beers brewed on site. And, indeed, each of the outlets does have a brewer. Moreover, if you visit at the right time there would be some theatre in watching the beers being made within the pub. Unfortunately, the beers on offer during our visit were rather indifferent. Indeed, after drinking in Tank, they were a real disappointment. Service was also apathetic from a young woman who seemed to possess little or no beer knowledge. I would also have to question the fresh food policy as the menu seems to feature much of the stuff delivered by frozen food trucks. Just to check it wasn't just us, I looked at the reviews posted on sites such as Trip Advisor and this venue gets panned by many patrons. So, overall, could be great if the operation was tightened up. However, go and try the place as you may drop lucky when things are running smoothly and the beer batches are on song.
As we wandered back through the docks we went on a tour of the Black Country in the form of a ghost sign for G. & W. E. Downing, a firm established in Smethwick. The sign is part of a large malthouse built by the company in 1895 and features the locations of branches in West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Blackheath and Walsall. The sign also features Bristol, Tewkesbury, Oswestry, Oxford and London. The business established by George and William Downing was a large concern. They established their first malthouse at Gloucester in 1876 and, as the business developed, added more large buildings to process barley being imported into the docks. In 1931 Downing's were acquired by Samuel Thompson & Sons, also of Smethwick but a firm that had merged with other companies to form Associated British Maltsters Ltd. Despite attempts to modernise processing, the malthouses at Gloucester were outmoded by new automated plants and finally closed around 1980.
Tuesday June 26th 2018
Another lovely day of hot sunshine for cycling around the Vale of Gloucester and Vale of Berkeley. We headed out of Gloucester via Hempsted which, because of its location between the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and the River Severn, manages to retain some individual identity rather than being a suburb of the city.
Saint Swithun's Church is a Norman building and was one of the first endowments of Llanthony Priory shortly after the latter was founded in 1136. A fascinating item inside the church is a canvas that was found beneath several layers of wallpaper when stripped from a room in Home Farm House in 1953. There is a Holy Well to the north of the church. The limestone structure features a sculpture that may be a depiction of Saint Anne.
We pfaffed about a bit looking at interesting buildings before we realised that we still had plenty of kilometres to our destination pub. As a result, we had to put our foot down a bit in order to get down to Berkeley Castle where we enjoyed some tea in the garden. Despite our penchant for real ale, we also like a cuppa when out on the bike.
We still had time to mooch around Berkeley, the town where the imprisoned King Edward II was murdered. We visited The Chantry, the former home of Edward Jenner that has been transformed into a museum. He was buried in the family vault at the adjacent Church of Saint Mary, a remarkable 13th century structure noted for its medieval wall paintings and detached tower.
And so it was time for our key destination. We cycled less than a kilometre to Ham in order to finally patronise the Salutation Inn. I say finally because we planned to visit this pub some years ago when we were on a touring holiday that took us across the River Severn and into Chepstow and on to Monmouth. However, we missed the lunchtime session and the pub is closed during the afternoon. We made a mental note to return whenever possible and today was the day. It was worth the wait for this is a lovely pub.
Looking back, it was May 2010 that we found the front door of this pub shut for the afternoon. During the interim years the Salutation Inn has won CAMRA's National Pub of the Year award, along with scooping the Gloucestershire Pub of the Year each year between 2014-17. I am going to be honest, I had no idea the pub had become so successful in terms of awards, we simply liked the look of the place years ago and vowed to return.
There are some people who will not see what makes this rural pub so special. Like some of the wonderful pub experiences we have enjoyed at, say, the Red Lion at Snargate, The Royal Oak at Fritham, Three Kings at Hanley Castle or The Woolpack at Slad, this pub has that intangible quality that sets it apart from the rest.
Eschewing the London rat race, former business analyst Peter Tiley and his partner Claire made a considerable lifestyle change and moved into the Salutation Inn during 2013. A hobby brewer for some years, Peter established a brewery behind the Salutation Inn during February 2015. The first brews of pale ale proved to be popular and a range of other beer styles have been added to the range. If learning how to run a pub was a steep learning curve, Peter found that operating a brewery takes a few years to hone and perfect. Not all of the beers we sampled were fantastic, though they were pleasant enough. For my money the Ordinary Bitter was the best of the three on offer. By the way, other beers are available but when you are in a homebrew house you really should be ordering the fruit of the publican's labours.
The interior of 'The Sally' is lovely and the regular customers we met were very sociable. I believe the pub is well supported by the local community and traditional pub games thrive, along with a busy skittles alley which is used by several teams. The historic photographs of the pub that adorn the walls are fantastic, particularly the image featuring a boxer dog behind the servery ready to greet customers. The affable woman running the bar during our visit asked us if our visit had been worth the wait .... "it sure was," we replied. When 'The Sally' was featured in The Telegraph, William Langley opened his article with the superb paragraph "That the Salutation Inn, a Gloucestershire village boozer of defiant old-fangledness and pleasing decrepitude should be named as Britain's Best Pub raises some awkward questions. Such as: how can the place be saved from the ravages of popularity?" Tucked away in the Vale of Berkeley, I think the pub is remote enough to be spared ruin. However, we won't be waiting another eight years before returning again.
We had time to rummage around Berkeley before heading off. Because of its location and historical importance, the town has plenty of former pubs. Some are easier to find than others but I took photographs of a number of them for the website. I found the old inn sign for the White Hart in a surprising place and smiled at the old motor in front of it for my first car was a Morris Minor, though not the 'posh' convertible featured here. No, mine cost £50 and was so rotten I could see the road beneath me through the rust holes of the floor pan. The body rot was so bad that my back light once fell off. In those days you simply bought some plastic padding and bodged it back in! Cars were much easier back in the day. On one trip the accelerator cable snapped off. It was a Sunday and the garages were closed so, undeterred, I obtained a length of string from a household, tied one end to the carburettor and ran it through the quarter light of the window. I tied a loop around my finger and simply yanked it to rev the engine. Job done, it got me home.
From Berkeley we cycled towards Tites Point at Purton where a breakwater separates Waveridge Sand and Cotterday Hole from The Royal Drift. Buoyed by our wonderful visit to the Salutation at Ham, we went in hope that maybe another pub legend would have the front door open. I took the above photograph on our touring holiday of 2010 when the place was closed for the afternoon. After making a successful return to the Salutation Inn perhaps our luck could continue. We were aware that the Berkeley Arms has restricted opening hours but, as we were in the locality, we thought it would be amiss if we did not have a quick look to see if the place was open. To be honest, as we are strangers to the area, I wasn't even sure that the pub was still trading so I had to go and check it out.
The Berkeley Arms is billed as "a completely unspoiled, no-frills rural pub" which makes it a dream ticket for the likes of us. Listed on the hallowed CAMRA National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, the prospect of a "Victorian servery, flagstone floor, large curved high-backed settle" was making us salivate in anticipation. If all this isn't enough to make you go all goo-gah, check out some of the nostalgia associated with this tavern. In his excellent 1954 book "The Vale of Berkeley," Lewis Wilshire discussed the old cricket ground located between the pub and river on which "to score a six ... you have to either knock the ball into the river or hit walnut-tree or pub. If you break one of the windows of the pub you not only don't have to pay the cost, but the landlord will stand you a bottle of whisky." There were a few steps down to the cricket ground, though the ground had been built up to cover the original 22 that led down to Purton Passage where a ferry connected to the 'other' Purton on the opposite side of the Severn.
The flat ground next to the river was the site of a racecourse where the Purton Races were once staged. Furthermore, the Berkeley Arms once witnessed the daily commute of eighty Purton men who could earn a decent living during the heyday of salmon fishing in The Vale. It was one of these fishermen, George Cooke, who led a lifetime campaign to maintain the public footpath to the old slipway by riding his pony and cart up to the farm gate on one day of the year and demanded of the farmer that he should open it. For sixty years he successfully upheld the rights of local people to use the path leading to the river. Ironically, the gate to the Berkeley Arms, which remains a working farm, was OPEN when we rolled through on our bicycles. I noticed that the inn sign had been refreshed so evidently this was still a public house. We parked our bikes in the shade of the tree across the car park so were well away from the building when suddenly a woman, who I assume was Mrs. Wendy Lord, the licensee, appeared and shouted at us "this is private property so I'd like you to leave." We immediately grabbed our bikes and made our way to the gate which she was ready to close behind us. I could see that she had a face like thunder so deliberately kept my composure. I said to her "we are sorry to have have been an imposition but we thought you were a public house and that you may have been open," which only served to inflame her foul mood and she vented some more anger towards me. Before pedalling back towards the swing bridge, I said: "I have apologised, so I don't understand why you are being so rude to me." And that was it, the romance of the Berkeley Arms and the whole setting was completely shattered for us. Our hopes that this would be a highlight of the holiday was left in tatters.
Notwithstanding the redoubtable Mrs. Lord, there is plenty of intriguing interest in Purton. A few yards from the pub there is a World War 2 pillbox, one of several strategically positioned along the Severn. I can just imagine the local Dad's Army volunteering to spend a shift in here with a covert beer or two to maintain morale. Further along the foreshore, and accessible from the Severn Way, there is one of the largest collection of redundant boats in what is known as the Purton Ship's Graveyard. Between 1909 and 1965 these were deliberately beached here in order to prevent the river eroding into the canal embankment. The vessels were allowed to fill with silt and helped to form a barrier that now forms an enigmatic, almost poignant nautical remembrance parade.
Back across the swing bridge into Purton, where there was once a flour mill, stands the former Berkeley Hunt Inn. This photograph of the pub was taken by Mark Shirley, a beer and cider connoisseur who journeyed around the Vale of Berkeley in search of cider and cider makers in the 1990s whilst also seeking out shuffle boards and skittle alleys. His memory of the Berkeley Hunt, which he described as a national treasure, was that through the front door there was a short corridor to the counter, with a couple of barrels and local cider still aged behind. Through a door on the right was a basic tap room, to the left a lounge which was basically like your granny's front room, old sofas etc. Mark, who was rather gutted when it closed in February 1998, remembers ordering a ploughman's with his cider for which the the combined total was £1.50. He was served a paper plate with a wedge of cheddar, bread, and a homemade pickled onion, before he sat by the canal in bliss.
If one heads south-east to the next swing bridge, opposite the red telephone box there is another former pub that traded as the Pilot Inn. It was also known as the Canal Pilot in the mid-19th century. James Woodward was the publican during this period; he left to run the Fox and Goose at Halmore in 1884 when the Pilot Inn was taken over by the Scottish-born carpenter and publican Angus Robertson whose wife Eliza operated a grocery and tobacconist's from the premises. By the end of the Victorian period the pub was owned by the Wickwar-based Arnold Perrett & Co. Ltd. The pub closed in 1965. Next to the former pub is a lovely old cottage built as the Customs House. It features stepped voissours and a pedimented Doric porch. The classical-theme was adopted for the bridge-keeper's cottages along the canal, an example of which can be seen across the road from the old Pilot Inn. Featuring Grecian porticoes, these were built in the 1840s, probably to the designs of William Clegram, engineer of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal.
We cycled southwards towards Halmore past the aforementioned Fox and Goose [an enlarged and extended building now known as Halmore House] before turning left along a quiet meandering lane to Slimbridge on which we became embroiled in a club run of the Stroud Valleys Cycling Club. However, we saw them roll down the road as we paused to look at the Church of Saint John at Slimbridge, described by architectural historian David Verey as "probably the best example in the county of the Early Gothic Style of the 13th century." We then cycled alongside the River Cam to the George Inn at Cambridge, a former Stroud Brewery hostelry associated with serving passing traffic on the Gloucester to Bristol road, a role which was also provided by the former White Lion Hotel. The latter pub closed around five or six years ago. Another pub long since lost was the Drovers' Arms, a little way along the main road and another house to be operated by the Stroud Brewery.
Our next port-of-call was Frampton-on-Severn, a village we had visited in 2010 but Rosamund's Green is always worth another look as it thought to be one of the largest village greens in the country. Actually, we were rather parched by the time we rolled into the village so I suggested a quick beer at the Bell Inn. It was 31 degrees outside and our tongues were as dry as a desert lizard but the fact that we both passed on the pub's offering of Otter Bitter and Wadworth 6X shows the utter disdain we have for these beers. We voted with our feet and bikes and decided to try our luck at the next pub. You can guess with the luck we were having that the Ship Inn at Upper Framilode was closed. However, we stopped to admire the building as its location is quite enchanting.
The Ship Inn sits on the old Stroudwater Canal and was a short distance from a basin next to the Severn. Used mainly for transporting coal, the canal was highly profitable in its early years, though the Kennet and Avon Canal took some of its trade in the early 19th century. The canal remained in operation until 1954 and it was almost 20 years before a restoration programme was initiated, though this section remains a duck pond. It is unlikely that funding will ever be found to overcome the land and road infrastructure issues that prevent a connection from the Thames to the Severn via Framilode. However, on the plus side, drinkers sitting in the beer garden can enjoy seeing a wide variety of birds zipping in and out of the reeds in the water. It would seem that even they cannot resist flying into the Ship Inn because, in 1904, Mrs. Poyner, wife of the licensee, discovered a robin's nest inside one of her saucepans. The nest, which contained three eggs, soon turned into a family with the two parents becoming quite tame, taking no notice of people coming and going at the Ship Inn.
The Ship Inn would have served tough thirsty boatmen during the canal's boom years. The former beer house was one of a few dozen boozers that lined the route of the Stroudwater Navigation between Framilode and Wallbridge. Being operated by the Stroud Brewery in the Victorian period, it is possible that beer was supplied via the canal rather than road. Boatmen could be rough customers and Joseph Mabbett was hauled before the magistrates in February 1875 for assaulting the publican's wife Mary Ann Gower. Sometimes it was the people at the Ship Inn dishing it out. In 1878 Mary Ann Lewis of the Ship beer house was charged with assaulting Mary Wallkley for which she was fined. By the way, the fact that this was a beer house means that it was not, as suggested on some websites, opened as a pub when the canal was constructed.
In modern times with plenty of light pollution, we tend to forget just how dark it was in the old days. Mrs. Mary Wintle, a regular customer of the Ship Inn, died when walking home in the dark from the pub. Her normal route from the beer house to her home in the village was along a narrow towing path beside the canal. However, in the winter of 1875 she called at the pub to fetch some beer for herself and her husband. She stopped to chat for a couple of half pints before setting off for home. She was offered a candle but insisted that she knew the route by memory. However, she did not return home and her husband went to look for her. All that was found at the time was a bonnet floating in the canal. She was later recovered from the water.
Harry Rudge kept the Ship Inn for many years until his death in 1938 at the age of 73. He was also the village butcher. There was once a skittles alley at the Ship Inn which, like many pubs in the area, became a Whitbread house. After a period of closure, the Ship Inn re-opened in June 2016 with Harry and Caroline Edwards in charge. Things have come full circle for I believe that beers from the 'new' Stroud Brewery can be found on sale here. Established by Greg Pilley in 2006, Stroud Brewery beers are brewed to organic standards and are certified by the Soil Association.
Just to the north of the Ship Inn, and right next to the river, is the Church of Saint Peter. Consecrated in 1854 for workers on the estate of Sir Lionel Darrell, along with watermen and other labourers, the families of which numbered some 800 people. Featuring semi-circular chancel, the church is Norman in style and has an Italianate tower. The building was designed by the Gloucester architect Francis Niblett. The interior wall and roof painting, a memorial to Sir Edward Tierney, dating from 1857 has survived and is a key feature of the church. From Saint Peter's, a short distance along the Severn Way, stands the former Darrell Arms. Dating from 1878, this building replaced the Passage House Inn, from where a ferry operated to Crown Point on the opposite river bank.
We cycled alongside the Severn to Epney where the Anchor Inn was also closed for the afternoon so we resolved to head back to Gloucester. It was an enjoyable ride through Longney, Elmore and Hempsted. After freshening up we treated ourselves to an Italian meal before walking towards the cathedral. The paucity of pub listings in the Good Beer Guide suggests that Gloucester is not a great city for real ale. One pub seems to stand head and shoulders above the rest - so much so that CAMRA have heaped award after award on The Pelican, an historic tavern in St. Mary's Street. The pub, with a history going back to the late 17th century, was 'rescued' by Wye Valley Brewery in 2012. According to their webpage for the pub "Landlord-extraordinaire, Mike Hall is the winner of CAMRA's Gloucester City Pub of the Year 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018 and Cider Pub of the Year 2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018. The Pelican serves Wye Valley Brewery's full range of beers together with guest ales from other brewers. Ten real ales are always available on the bar, as well as at least ten proper ciders and perries." It would seem therefore that for any other pub to win Gloucester's City Pub of the Year award they will either have to up their game to the highest levels possible or send in Jason Bourne to sort out Mike Hall.
Apart from the excellent range of beers, the Pelican Inn also has a very fine interior. Having visited a couple of the brewery's houses, it would seem that they make an effort with sympathetic restorations. In the years between the new millennium and 2011 the pub went through what can only be described as turbulent times. The difficult years started in the 1990s when Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd. acquired the place and changed its name to the College Arms. Things went truly downhill when it was later operated by Avebury Taverns. The pub closed a couple of times at a time when it developed a bad reputation. Under the stewardship of Mike Hall the Pelican Inn has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance.
The story of the Pelican Inn has followed a familiar path in these parts. A former homebrew house, it was acquired by the Wickwar-based Arnold Perrett & Co. Ltd. This company's merger with the Cheltenham Original Brewery in 1924 meant a change of beer supply at the Pelican Inn. The pub later fell under the umbrella of West Country Breweries Ltd. before being mopped up by Whitbread.
There was an interesting choice of ales on offer in the Pelican Inn but I only had eyes for the Wye Valley Wholesome Stout, described by the brewery as "a dark and indulgent beer boasting roasted coffee notes and plenty of hop bitterness." Perhaps not too traditional with the punchy finish, this is, nonetheless, a terrific stout. The brewery are keen to stress that it is only the second beer to gain beer writer Roger Protz's five-star rating. Certainly, both beer and drinking environment were marvellous. The Pelican Inn is a most excellent pub.
Wednesday June 27th 2018
We upped sticks from Gloucester for our last ride of our mini-break. We opted to start and finish a ride from a destination pub. It was very tempting to head to the Boat at Ashleworth, a much-cherished Severnside tavern. However, we are familiar with that pub so elected to visit another hostelry on the banks of the River Severn. By adding the Red Lion Inn at the bottom of Wainlode Hill, we are slowly ticking off each of the surviving public houses associated with the River Severn.
The territory around this area is easy-going and this was generally the plan for the morning and early afternoon spin. However, we found ourselves getting closer and closer to the Cotswold Escarpment where map contours almost touch. I was starting to entertain the idea of a little climbing, or at least one hill in particular. I have hauled my backside up some steep hills around the UK but when talking to other cyclists about, say, Asterton Bank or Trooper Lane, some would quip "ah, yes, but have you gone up Bushcombe Lane?" This innocuous-sounding road is one of three vicious ascents up Cleeve Hill from Woodmancote but is widely regarded as the beast of the trio.
Climbing legend Simon Warren featured Bushcombe Lane in his book "Another 100 Climbs." I am not sure why it was omitted from the first volume of his guide to suffering on a bicycle, particularly as he awarded the climb a 10/10 rating. That's 10/10 in terms of difficulty not enjoyment. Having said that, there is a kind of perverse pleasure in tackling these devilish ascents. Mr. Warren also included Bushcombe Lane in an article for The Guardian entitled "Britain's Top 10 Toughest Cycle Climbs," making this lane rather enticing to a fool such as I. As we rode towards Woodmancote I thought I"m having some of that!" La Goddess du Vélo was having none of this self-inflicted torture so deposited herself in a café in Bishop's Cleeve, ordered a coffee and relaxed with a newspaper as I headed off up Station Road.
The start of the climb is nice and gradual past some houses. The few people who are tending to their flower beds stop for a moment to chuckle at another idiot hurtling towards doom. Bushcombe Lane rises steadily up to 10%, then you are up to 14% before things start to get worringly difficult. I was gradually making my way through the cassette when I started to realise that I only had a couple of sprockets left and I was on a stretch of 20%. The real horror of this extended 20% gradient is the sight of two road signs that warn motorists of an impending 25% section. I had one gear left but the tarmac was going up so steep I couldn't risk crunching the chain so decided to forge on in my present sprocket. As the 25% section continued for what seemed like an eternity I was really wishing I had selected that last gear beforehand. Simon Warren describes this section as "one of the toughest bits of road anywhere in the UK" and I have to concur that it is rather eye-poppingly 'orrible. However, it is only about 2km to the top where the lane meets the main road so what is a little anguish when you are having so much fun! I am not sure which is the greatest sensation - the thrill of making it to the top with heart and lungs still in place or the relief that you didn't fail. Oh, the joy of cycling uphill.
A highlight of touring around the Vale of Gloucester was our visit the Church of Saint John the Baptist at Tredington, a building dating from the 12th century known for its wooden tower, medieval stone benches, and the fossil of an Ichthyosaurus displayed upon the floor of its porch. The plaster ceiling also features some lovely rosettes and figures that survived the Victorian restoration of this enchanting small church. The Church of Saint Lawrence at Swindon was also highly engaging, particularly the hexagonal tower with its unequally sized walls.
The reward for pedalling around The Vale in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees was to wind up back at Wainlode Hill to enjoy a lunch at the Red Lion Inn. The L-shaped main room is perhaps not to my liking but the walls are adorned with some marvellous old photographs of the pub and locality. There are also two small dining rooms but these are a bit trendy and, on the whole, the historic feel of the building has been eroded somewhat. However, in the summer months people come here to sit at the tables between the pub and the river bank and there are few better locations on this stretch of the Severn. In the old days the 'beach' formed by the river's bend attracted those who wanted to swim in the Severn. During winter customers would possibly have to swim, or at least wade to the building as it often flooded.
The three Wye Valley beers we ordered at the Red Lion were excellent, particularly the Butty Bach. We munched on cheese sandwiches with a side of chips and salad. This was fine but not dazzling. I mean you cannot really mess up a butty and chips but some places do something extra special to upgrade the predictability of such a meal. This was pretty ordinary. But like I say, the backdrop is sensational. I wanted to like the Red Lion Inn more than I did simply because it is a survivor of the Severn's horse-drawn barge trade. I just wished the interior captured the fundamental essence of that period rather than its gentrification.
Friday June 29th 2018
Today, I cycled out to Worcestershire to enjoy a potter through some nice villages such as Chaddesley Corbett, Rushock and Feckenham before turning north towards Tardebigge. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I had not visited the Cross Inn at Finstall since its re-opening in the Spring. I went to have a look at this old Whitbread boozer that closed last year. It was thought that the sale of the property would result in the loss of Finstall's only pub but it was acquired by Black Country Ales. Angus McMeeking, head of the brewery and pub group, said that "the sale may not have been possible if Bromsgrove District Council hadn't voted to list the pub an Asset of Community Value."
After an extensive refurbishment, the Cross Inn re-opened on April 26th with a new licensee. Ryan Carr, a Bromsgrove chap who had moved away from the area but saw a role at the Cross Inn as an opportunity to return to his roots. I am not sure what the locals think of the new, expansive interior but they must surely approve of the vast increase in beer choice. Prior to its closure the pub sold Enville Ale and Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter. Not bad, but now there are up to 12 cask ales with some unusual beers from small breweries. During my Friday visit the Cross Inn was getting ready to stage a mini beer festival on the following day. An outdoor bar was being prepared outside.
I have to be honest, it has been a few years since I had been inside the Cross Inn so I cannot quite remember the former layout. The servery has certainly been moved and this, along with other modifications, has created a larger space. However, on the whole it seems to work and the pub generally has a good feel. In keeping with the brewery's theme of acknowledging some history of the locality, the walls feature a collection of historic photographs of Finstall and Bromsgrove. Certainly, it good to see that Finstall has its focal point for the village back up-and-running again.
Though somewhat faded by the sunshine over the years, this is a very nice image of an old maltster leaning on his malt shovel. This old Ansell's inn sign was still fixed to the Malt Shovel at Bubbenhall, a building with a rich heritage as a malthouse in the early 19th century.
I took a photograph of this inn sign in 2010 when it was rather weather-worn and had rust stains. Retaining the same image, it has since been re-painted. I suspect that the scene depicted is in the nearby town of Berkeley though I am not sure of this. Certainly, this pub name is ancient and was a religious sign referencing the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. As an inn sign, it fell foul of the authorities during the Puritan period. The fact that a salutation is a greeting or acknowledgement of somebody's arrival or departure made it a popular sign during Britain's coaching age. Again, this could be a link to Berkeley as it was an important place in times past when it served as a port and market town. It was also on the road between Bristol and Gloucester and benefited significantly from the coaching trade.