Saturday September 14th 2019
The weather forecast for today was good so we headed out to Worcester to visit a few churches and pubs around the county. Cycling around the region is always enjoyable, particularly at this time of year. Despite rolling around the county's myriad of lanes over the years, there are still pockets of Worcestershire that we have not visited. Today we intended to tick a few places off, along with calling into some old favourites.
Heading south out of Worcester is lovely on the path following the River Severn. This follows what was the old port of the city. We rolled along to Diglis and out towards Powick Bridge. Altered in the 17th century, the late medieval sandstone structure with brick parapets spans the River Teme. During the English Civil Wars the first skirmish [September 1642] and the last major battle [September 1651] took place on and near this historic bridge. It was during the latter battle that the two northern piers of the bridge were destroyed by the Royalists.
For one reason or another I have not been inside the Red Lion at Powick. I have either been riding to some distant place and unable to stop, the pub has been closed or I have had my fill in some place like the Three Kings at Hanley Castle. Today, we were too early for their opening hours. Not long after this trip the former Whitbread pub closed for a week for a refurbishment so I should have made the effort to see what the previous incarnation was like. The building, along with the adjoining cottages, were used as Oliver Cromwell's field hospital during the Battle of Worcester in 1651 in which the army of King Charles II was defeated.
The Church of Saint Peter is only metres from the Red Lion. Indeed, it is said that the tower was used as a lookout during the Battle of Worcester as it commanded views across the surrounding terrain and the strategically important bridge. Certainly, the tower has pockmarks from small bore cannon balls. The sandstone church stands on a slightly elevated position. The oldest parts of the building are the walls of the transepts which date from the 12th century. The chancel was rebuilt in the following century and the tower, largely faced with yellow ashlar, has been dated to the early part of the 15th century.
The church was closed when we visited but there are plans for a visitor centre to be created in order to celebrate its unique place in English history. We look forward to that but, in the meantime, let's keep a score of the churches that are open today. So far, it is Churches Open 0, Churches Closed 1. It is a sad indictment of the times that these places of worship cannot be left open due to theft and vandalism. What is wrong with people?
The church is much different from the times of the Civil War as the Victorians modified the building in 1849-50. It was reported at the time that the "edifice is so completely transformed that a person who had but casually seen it in its original state would now scarcely recognise it." The interior walls had been scraped, and pointed with red tuck, the open timber roofs were restored, the western gallery and belfry removed, and the tower arch and western window opened to the church. In addition, a new chancel arch was erected, a new lectern and stone pulpit installed, along with a new organ, stalls for the chancel and screens for the transepts. When the church opened for worship again in 1850 the work was criticised for being clumsy and rather crude.
I have recently started to select a headstone at random and taking a photograph of it just to see what turns up when I look up the individuals. These graves at Powick are for the Stallard family who suffered much personal tragedy in the late 19th century. The headstone to the right was erected for Eliza Stallard who died on January 15th 1877. She was the wife of William Stallard of Stocking Farm at Stoke End, Powick. I am guessing she died during the birth of their son Herbert who, as a four year-old boy, was recorded living with his father at Stocking Farm in the census of 1881. William himself died in the following year and his headstone is to the left in this photograph. The headstone of Eliza Stallard also records the short life of their son Walter who died at the age of 3 in December 1876. Following the death of his father, Herbert Stallard went to live with his uncle John, a butcher at Great Malvern.
The lychgate was erected in memory of Arent de Peyster Chance of Wheatfields at Callow End and also to his daughter Theadora Madoc-Jones. He has an unusual name so I thought I would look back at his life. He was born in New York on Christmas Day of 1836 to George Chance and Cornelia Maria Schuyler de Peyster. His mother was part of the influential Schuyler dynasty that helped shape the state of New York, New Jersey and parts of what is now known as the northern seaboard. The family occupied a position of distinction in Paris during the period of the massacre of the Huguenots, when they quit France for Holland, afterwards being among the earliest settlers of North America. His father George was a successful iron merchant with premises in Great Charles Street at Birmingham. He became a partner in the glass business carried on by his brother Robert Lucas Chance. This company became one of the biggest employers in the Birmingham area.
Arent de Peyster Chance was for many years a successful merchant in New York before moving to Edgbaston. The elder of two brothers, of whom the younger, Mr. A. M. Chance, became chairman of the Birmingham Licensing Justices. Arent de Peyster Chance was a prosperous brass founder and employed over 100 people in his factory. After living for some years at Shirley House near Solihull and the Manor House at Northfield, he moved to Wheatfields, a large house at Callow End. Here he entered into all the interests of country life. With the exception of his having devoted many years of his life to the Gem Street Industrial School during the chairmanship of the Bishop of Coventry, he took no prominent part in public life. In 1862 he married Maria Sargant, daughter of the manufacturer William L. Sargant, who also served as the first chairman of the first Birmingham School Board. Whilst travelling with his wife, Arent de Peyster Chance died suddenly at the Hôtel des Deux Mondes in Paris in May 1906. Today, the Wheatfield Park Estate is a permanent and semi-retirement park.
When we are cycling through Powick we normally head towards Upton-on-Severn or along the lane to Deblin's Green, Madresfield and Malvern. However, today we pedalled along Bowling Green Road towards Collett's Green before rolling up to the old Three Nuns Inn. This is an inviting three-bay building painted white with attractive dentils.
The Three Nuns is what many would call a proper village pub that has not been ruined to cater for outsiders and those who seek family restaurant-style houses serving 2-for-1 meals or kids-eat-for-free nonsense. At the Three Nuns you can still wander in for a decent beer and a game of darts or crib in the bar. Regular ales are from the Marston's portfolio but there are guest ales. At the time of our visit this was Malvern Hills Black Pear, a good enough reason to call in as this remains a very fine ale.
New River Retail, the development company that acquired the Three Nuns, attempted to do their usual and build a convenience store on the car park. They have been successful with this sort of development in our area but the plans were rejected by Malvern Hills District Council's northern area planning committee. This was in December 2016 and it was a very close vote. I would not be surprised to see the plans being submitted again in the near future; the company often get their way in the end.
The Three Nuns was kept by a couple called Gerald and Mal for over 30 years before handing over to Dave and Lesley in recent times. The pub started as a beer house in the mid-19th century. The pub was used for several inquests in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. One involved a cyclist who was found dead in the road in May 1904. 33 year-old William James Cox, an undertaker from Worcester, was found dead by a group of cyclists heading back to Birmingham. Dr. Crowe, in giving evidence inside the Three Nuns, supposed that the undertaker had fallen from his bike and, being stunned, sat down for a rest. However, he had suffered a blood clot on the brain from which he died shortly afterwards.
The inn sign of the Three Nuns, though not common, is not unique to Collett's Green. However, I have seen the pub listed as the Three Nuns Revived in May 1875 when the licence was transferred from John Ellis to William Fowler. I have not seen another pub called the Three Nuns Revived so if you know differently please send a message and I will update this post accordingly. Perhaps there is some link to the nearby Stanbrook Abbey, an abbey originally built as a contemplative house for Benedictine nuns. Did three nuns need sustenance on a journey from Worcester to the abbey?
Continuing north-west towards Bransford, we cycled through Middleyard Coppice before crossing the railway line. A few metres on the right-hand side of the road is the Bear and Ragged Staff. The hostelry would have enjoyed some trade from the railway as there was a station close to the building. The lane to the right of the pub leads down to where the platform was located. Mainly used for the transportation of fruit and vegetables, there was also a small goods yard but this closed in 1964. Indeed, Bransford Road Station closed during the following year on the 3rd of April.
According to the pub's website, the Bear and Ragged Staff was "built in 1861 as a base for collecting rents from local tenanted estates. The building only later became the Bear and Ragged Staff." The pub was acquired by Gary Whitby and Lynda Williams in 1997 and the couple have gradually renovated and extended the property. They have elevated the status of the food by employing a skilled chef and by using produce grown in the pub's garden.
I will have to look into the history of this place because if it was built in 1861 it was soon converted into a public-house. A sale of furniture and brewing equipment was held at the Bear and Ragged Staff in April 1863.
It is a curious name for a public-house in Worcestershire as the Bear and Ragged Staff is traditionally a reference to Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. The ragged staff was the device of Warwick the Kingmaker, as he was known, and in its day more widely borne and feared than any other. It was said that Warwick went to London in 1458 with a retinue of 600 men all in red jackets "embroidered with ragged staves before and behind." The tradition of the family is that Arthgal, Earl of Warwick in the time of King Arthur, was called the Bear for having strangled such an animal in his arms, and that another ancestor, Morvidius, slew a giant with an uprooted tree; hence their cognisance.
Just to be a little sensationalist, I must tell you about the incident of July 1955 in which there was a murder attempt in the Bear and Ragged Staff. Stephen Archer, the landlord of the pub, told Worcester County Magistrates Court that he was bending down behind the bar one lunchtime when he heard the ricochet of bullets from behind him. He was giving evidence against 55 year-old Wilfred Frederick Matthews, a local farmer who, it was alleged, called a customer in the bar a double-crosser, and then shot him. Matthews, of The Meadows on Bromyard Road, was committed to Worcester Assizes for trial on the charge of attempting to murder Hubert Granville Hodges, also a farmer, of Upper Hill Farm, Leigh Sinton, with a shotgun. Another customer at the inn, William Harold Bond, a haulage contractor of Alfrick, said he also got a pellet in his eye and two in his shoulder. Matthews had apparently apologised for shooting him. Hubert Hodges was shot in the face and arm, was severely injured, and taken to hospital. The incident arose from a dispute between the two farmers over an orchard. Wilfred Matthews was later found guilty of wounding with intent and jailed for five years.
From the Bear and Ragged Staff the road goes down to the brook and there is a shallow climb up to the road junction with Chapel Lane. Turning left here we headed towards one of the lesser-known churches of Worcestershire. Dating from the 13th century, the Church of Saint John the Baptist is home to the Orthodox Church Community of Saint Anne & All Saints of Worcestershire. Typically for us, there was to be an open day on the following weekend and we found the building closed. The setting however is enchanting and a lovely place to visit. Featuring a pyramidal roof, the weatherboarded and louvred bell turret of the church is supported by timber posts with diagonal braces. The timber porch is thought to date from the 16th century. So, although we bathed in the tranquility of the setting, our scoreboard was updated to Churches Open 0, Churches Closed 2.
We rolled back down the hill and headed to Leigh, a village that not only lost its castle, but lost a couple of pubs, the police station and its railway station. However, Leigh has a very fine church and the largest full-cruck barn in the country. These are next door to each other so this is where we headed on our bikes. Hooray! The church was open. Actually, I am not sure whether it is always open but preparations were being made for a wedding later in the day so we were in luck.
The church setting is one of the finest in the county. Pretty as a picture, it would be even better if trains still passed between the building and the River Teme but the Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster Railway closed in September 1964. Knowing the Teme Valley from cycling up and down the hills, the train journey must have been truly picturesque. Leigh Court railway station was a short distance to the north-west of the church. Some fragments of the buildings have survived. Taken from near the bridge spanning Leigh Brook, the above photograph shows a crowd of people emerging from the lane to the station. They may have arrived for the hop-picking season, the village once being an important centre of production.
These hop kilns at Leigh Court Farm can be seen from the entrance to the church. The soil conditions of the rolling landscape in the parish were ideal for hop-growing and there were ready markets in Worcester, Birmingham and the Black Country. Today, the hopyards of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire are known as Hopshires and, together, they produce more than half of the hops grown in the United Kingdom. Leigh used to be an important part of the Worcestershire crop but this seems to be a thing of the past. The buildings you see here have been converted into residential use. In Victorian times special trains would bring 'poor' folk from the Black Country who came every year to work on the harvest. With picking centred on Bransford, Leigh and Wick, people would work from sunrise to sunset, stripping as many bines as possible as the pay in the 1890s was between four and six bushels the shilling.
Erected on land granted by King Edgar in 972, the Norman church of Saint Edburga was built by Benedictine monks from Pershore Abbey in the years following the Domesday survey. As one of the patron saints of Pershore Abbey, the dedication to Edburga, daughter of King Edward the Elder, was pretty much a given. Other churches connected with Pershore Abbey were also dedicated to the grand-daughter of Alfred the Great, including those at Abberton, Yardley and Broadway. The feast day of Saint Edburga is celebrated on June 15th.
The nave and chancel of the church are Early Norman, other parts of the building date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The tower was built around 1400. The Victorians tinkered with the building, particularly in 1855 when the south aisle was entirely rebuilt, the roof of the nave improved by having been made an open timbered one, and the chancel paved with encaustic tiles of a rich pattern. The screen in the south aisle was restored in its original colours by the Revd. E. Bradley, a curate of the parish. The rector at this time was the Revd. Henry Somers Cocks.
Visitors to the church are generally drawn to the fine monuments in the chancel, particularly that of William and Mary Colles. Originally based in Suckley, the Colles family were landowners in other parts of the country. Following the Dissolution of Pershore Abbey, William Colles, held the lease of the manor, advowson and demesne lands of Leigh. The memorial has the figures of William in armour, along with his wife Mary kneeling and facing to the east. The arms behind the figures are surmounted by the crests of both sides of the family. The pale sinister of the shield is quartered. The first and fourth quarters are the Palmer arms, the other quarters are thought to be those of the Harthill and Mountney families. William Colles married twice; Elizabeth his second wife was the daughter of Lord Cromwell. However, the 12 figures below were all children of William and Mary. The first son was Edmund but he and his father struggled with debts. Indeed, the debt with mounting interest was such that it was described as "a snowball rowlinge downe from Malverne's hyll gatherethe greatnes." The trustees of the estate sold to Sir Walter Devereux of Castle Bromwich who erected an alabaster tomb in St. Edburga's but was not used as he succeeded to the title of Viscount Hereford in 1646 and was buried in Ipswich.
After wandering around the churchyard and enjoying the peaceful character of this ancient pocket of Leigh we nipped next door to look at Leigh Court Barn, a remarkable example of English medieval carpentry. Measuring over 42 metres in length, it is the largest cruck-framed structure in Britain. The building has 18 cruck blades, each being made from a single oak tree. Radiocarbon dating reveals that the trees were felled in the spring of 1344. Built for Pershore Abbey the barn was principally used for storing of produce and threshing of grain harvested from the abbey's agricultural lands in the parish. It is thought that the steep pitched roof may originally have been thatched.
After 700 years of use, the building was in a precarious state by the mid-1980s. In the latter half of the decade English Heritage funded the restoration of the barn and it is now open daily to the public during the summer months. The barn is guaranteed to create a sense of awe on entering the building. The north-eastern end of the barn is used to display a traditional cider mill, along with exhibits from cider production. Not long after our visit the stupid sons of Eddie Grundy broke the screw mechanism of their cider mill so they may have to bring their apples here to be crushed with the help of Bartleby the horse. What? The Archers is all a fiction? Next you will be telling me that Linda Snell's plays are all made up!
In the old days it was possible to cross the river by ferry and follow a track to the Church of Saint Leonard at Cotheridge. However, today one has to go the long way around, past the Fox Inn at Bransford Bridge and along Otherton Lane. In addition to the loss of the ferry, a lime tree-lined avenue from the main road to Cotheridge Court has also gone and ploughed over. The historic manor house of Cotheridge Court was the birthplace of the pioneering Victorian photographer Herbert Bowyer Berkeley. In recent times the 18th century house was sub-divided into apartments. Elements of the formal gardens, including the fishpond and ha-ha, have survived.
We were already enjoying a lovely day and the weather was glorious. Cycling along the lane to the Church of Saint Leonard our mood was further enhanced by the lovely scene of this rather unique church. Well, they are all unique really. That is one of the wonderful things about visiting churches around Britain - no two are alike and all possess unique properties or character. Moreover, each building has its own story.
Though probably made of sandstone, the walls of St. Leonard's are whitewashed. The nave and chancel are Norman with flat buttresses. The windows are of Norman origin but were enlarged in work thought to have been undertaken in the 18th century. Featuring good tracery, the large Perpendicular window to the south of the nave is probably 15th century. The relatively small church is dominated by an exceptional weather-boarded timber tower thought to date from the early 14th century.
The barrel-vaulted ceiling dates from restoration work following the collapse of the older roof after a severe a gale in 1947. Most of the parishioners were unaware of the damage until they arrived for the service on Sunday November 16th. The service had to be held in the drawing-room of Cotheridge Court. It took some years for the work to be undertaken as the 200 parishioners struggled to raise the necessary funding. The chancel was repaired after an initial surge of donations and services for 80 people were held in there for a number of years. This was probably the reason that the chancel arch was fitted with doors, and the flanking openings glazed. These add charm to the interior but they originally made it very much an "us and them" style of church, the clergy no doubt talking about the congregation in Latin. When the lingua franca was supplanted by a language ordinary folk could understand, the rector chose to bark at his subjects by overlooking them from a hexagonal pulpit dated from c.1784. By the way, chancel arches and openings such as these were largely ripped out by the Victorians who at least had a greater sense of impartiality, though partly from fear of proletariat insurgency.
Though I find it fascinating to look at the memorials and monuments within churches, I do sometimes struggle with the relationship between the patronage of the gentry and the obsequious nature of the church establishment. Even the floor of St. Leonard's exemplifies this with its medieval tiles featuring the arms of Berkeley, Elyot and Throckmorton. I sometimes wonder what the churches would be like had we not been invaded by the Normans? Pessimism aside, our visit to the Church of Saint Leonard was most enjoyable. This building bestows one of county's most ardent uplifting experiences.
We could have followed Lightwood Lane to head towards Upper Broadheath but we cycled eastward to visit the Church of Saint Thomas at Crown East. The building was locked bringing our score to: Churches Open 2, Churches Closed 3. Theft and vandalism of churches is not a recent trend; this building was forcibly broken into and robbed in the late 19th century.
The Church of Saint Thomas dates from 1876 and largely paid for by Henry Bramwell who had acquired Crown East Court on the opposite side of the former turnpike road. The complex of buildings, including a church, had been erected by the Rochdale banker Albert Hudson Royds who became the High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1865. Located on the corner of Crown East Lane, the Church of Saint Thomas was a replacement for the estate chapel. An older chapel was recorded at what was known as Crow's Nest in the 13th century, but there is no traces of this edifice. Interestingly, however, there is a 12th century font inside this Victorian church. It is almost certainly from Saint Cuthbert's Church at Lower Wick. The font was discovered at Manor Farm in Lower Wick during the 19th century. Largely demolished in the 14th century, some remains of Saint Cuthbert's form part of an outbuilding at the farm.
From the Church of Saint Thomas and former school, we headed along Crown East Lane towards Lower and Upper Broadheath. Unless you pay an entrance fee it is not possible to see The Firs, the cottage in which Edward Elgar was born. This seems a little mean-spirited given that places like Mary Arden's House in Warwickshire can be viewed from the outside. The house is worth the entrance fee but we were on a different mission today and could not devote a large window to justify a tour of the place. Next door to the entrance is The Plough. However, this had ceased trading and the rooms empty of furnishing when we rolled up to the premises. It looks as though the pub have been closed for some time. The Firs has not enjoyed bumper tourist numbers in recent times and this probably affected passing trade at The Plough. I believe that the pub is now owned by the National Trust and plans for a revival are being mooted.
I cannot recall cycling along Ankerdine Road from Broadheath so I will have to rectify this in the near future. All of my experiences of Ankerdine Hill have involved heaving my arse up the climb from the Talbot Inn at Knightwick. I have even been involved in a time-trial up the hill dubbed the "Wall of Worcestershire." What was I thinking? Anyway, today we turned along Bell Lane where we were distracted by the Dewdrop Inn, a pub where the focus is on dining but sells a few cask ales. A Wye Valley beer is generally on sale. Or you can have a cream tea!
In 1970 one girl fighting for equality from her home at the Dewdrop Inn was 15 year-old Susan Parkes. A keen all-round footballer, she played as a centre-forward for a local women's side, along with turning out with the boys for house matches at her secondary school. She made the news when she undertook a course to become a referee. However, at the time, the football authorities would not allow women referees to take charge of matches even if they had passed all the necessary examinations. Susan Parkes, whose other sporting interests included judo and karate, told reporters: "I wouldn't be worried about being in charge of a men's game. I think I could control them." I wonder how she got on during the 1970s?
Just up the road from the Dewdrop Inn on the junction of Martley Road stands the Bell Inn, another pub with an emphasis on food. However, beers from Malvern Hills or St. George's are known to be sold at the bar. In years gone by it was homemade cider for which the house was noted. Cider continued to be made on the premises until the 1950s. The Hayward family, who kept the Bell Inn for four decades, would struggle to recognise the place today as it has a contemporary makeover with settees and the like. Frank Hayward also traded as a coal merchant from the Bell Inn. A large extension to the pub that perhaps housed the cider press has since been demolished.
We tried the doors of Christchurch at Broadheath but, alas, they were locked, bringing our score to: Churches Open 2, Churches Closed 4. It is perhaps a more recent building that one might imagine from first glance. I imagined that it dated from the mid-19th century and was surprised to learn that it was in fact put up during the Edwardian period. Designed by Charles Ford Whitcombe, it was built between 1903-4 in the Perpendicular style. There was previously a chapel of ease to Hallow and this formed part of the school. The old bell was however transferred to the new tower. The church was consecrated in September 1904 by the Bishop of Worcester. The cost of the church was kept to a minimum by numerous contributions in kind, such the pulpit and windows. The most important gifts were the site of one acre given by members of the Lord family, of Hallow Park. The whole of the stone was given by the Earl of Dudley, from quarries on the Witley estate, while the parishioners did the whole the spade work in levelling and laying out the churchyard, headed by the curate in charge, Rev. A. Griffiths. Local farmers supplied horses and carts for this work.
From Broadheath we made our to the barns at Wichenford Court, particularly impressive structures on the roadside. They are thought to have been built in the late 17th century, possibly using timbers from the medieval manor house that was demolished around this time. The comprise of an eight-bay and a five-bay box-framed barn forming an L-shape. Wichenford Court was once the residence of the Washbourne family and the house, one of the largest mansions in the county, featured a moat and drawbridge. The present red-brick house replaced the old property following the sale of the manor by William Washbourne 1712. The new owner was Edmund Skinner, Sheriff of Worcestershire. In the 19th century Wichenford Court was sold to Daniel Britten, father of Rear-Admiral Richard Frederick Britten.
A public footpath provides access to the dovecote at Wichenford Court but now owned by the National Trust. Built in the 17th century, the half-timbered dovecote sits on a red sandstone base and is surmounted by a glazed lantern. Restored in the 20th century, the dovecote was built to a square plan, with walls of wattle and daub infill. Inside the building there are 560 nesting boxes. The cobbled floor has seen plenty of feet traipsing across to tend to the boxes over the centuries. Standing inside you can almost hear and smell the birds that once occupied the dovecote.
A little further to the north, and set back from the road, stands the Church of Saint Lawrence. Attached to the Church of St. Helen, Worcester, there was an ancient chapel here at one time but the Early English chancel of this building dates from the 13th century. The nave and tower are thought to be from the 14th century. A new spire was erected in 1863. The architect, Abraham Perkins, also added a porch and vestry. Undertaken by the Worcester builder James Hurn, the work was completed and the church re-opened in October 1863. Deemed unsafe, the older spire was removed in the early 19th century. In the interim period the village mason put up a brick replacement but this was regarded as rather crude and unsightly. Abraham Perkins also inserted four new windows, including a stained glass window at the east end, by Messrs. Chance, of Smethwick, given by Daniel Britten of Kenswick, in memory of his father. Replacing a low plastered ceiling, the interior was opened up by a new black-and-white open timber roof. Other new additions included a stone pulpit, lectern, stalls, altar and reredos.
Restored by Mr. Wells of Worcester in 1863, the Church of Saint Lawrence contains highly decorated 17th century memorials to the Washbourne family who held the manor from the early 15th century. Pictured above, the large memorial in the chancel was erected in 1631 by John Washbourne in memory of his father, himself and his two wives. Lying beneath, his father was Anthony Washbourne who died in 1570. Both men are dressed in armour. Above John Washbourne are the kneeling figures of his two wives, Mary Savage and Eleanor Lygon.
In the nave there is another memorial [pictured above] to another John Washbourne who died in 1615. He lies alongside his wife Alice Robinson and kneeling below are their two daughters and a son. Another John Washbourne fought for the king at the Battle of Worcester. It was his grandson, William, who sold the manor in 1712 to the aforementioned Edmund Skinner.
By now we were close to one of the pubs we try to visit each summer, if only to check that the place remains as the old comfy carpet slipper of Grimley parish. One day we will roll up to find that it has been bought by some knobby pub company and ruined completely. Or perhaps we will be saddened to find it has been de-licensed and converted into a private house. Consequently, each time we cycle to the common and pedal along the bumpy track to the Fox Inn we breath a sigh of relief when we find that normal service is being maintained. Phew!
Monkwood Green is a funny old place; only a few kilometres from busy Worcester and yet it feels like you are in an isolated rural backwater. Life seems to pass at a slower pace here. This characteristic has seeped into the fabric of the Fox Inn where folks leave the hustle and bustle of life on the doorstep where it blows away with the leaves to maintain the tranquil equilibrium.
A throwback to a previous age, the Fox Inn will not appeal to everyone, particularly the Ikea generation who would reel in horror at the idiosyncratic nature of the layout and furnishings. It is clean enough but a little scruffy - it is shabby without the chic. However, for those seeking a sense of history, a tavern with a burning soul, then the Fox Inn is just the ticket. Those visiting in their glad rags also run the risk of being licked by a dog. The pub has a couple of labs and plenty of the regulars bring their four-legged pals with them.
A small servery awaits the customer when entering the Fox Inn, it is left for the cosy fire or right for the games and telly. The gaffer will probably be sat in there reading the Guardian, glancing up at the cricket or rugby. The beer engine always seems to be on its last legs but dispenses fine ale from the Malvern Hills or Wye Valley. There was a time, when brewer Jim Wonders worked his magic at Uphampton, that Cannon Royall beers were a staple. Cider drinkers however can bask in bit of scarcity ticking with the Barker's cider and perry which is produced up the road at Hallow. I believe the Fox Inn is the only known permanent outlet for their noted fermented juices. Funny how cider has never got my juices going. It has to be beer for me!
As agreeable as the interior is we ordered our beer and, like the rest of the customers, sat in the garden. This is also a little unkempt but it is more enchanting than an ultra-neat manicured garden. The bird feeders ensure wing-flapping sounds as the tits and sparrows dart in and out for their snacking. The plants attract bees and butterflies, some of which may have drifted over from the neighbouring Monkwood Nature Reserve, a semi-natural ancient woodland that is renowned for its ground flora and butterfly species. We sat and enjoyed a couple of the Malvern Hills Feelgood, a light golden ale with a floral spicy aroma and a pleasant bitter finish. At 3.8% it is an ideal beer for a sunny garden. According to the brewery Feel Good was first produced for the Lynton Festival in Herefordshire where Dr. Feelgood was playing. The original 1970s line-up would no doubt have needed a bit more oomph in their ale but nonetheless Feel Good is a tremendous session beer. The Malvern Hills Brewery was established in September 1998 by Julian Hawthornthwaite, a former engineer who built his plant in an old quarryman's gunpowder store at West Malvern. It all started as a hobby but the business has gradually evolved simply because the product is very good. Whenever I see the MHB pump clip on the servery I usually dive in.
There is no roadside inn sign for the Fox Inn and I imagine that some folks do not realise they are passing a public house. To outsiders, the New Inn at Sinton Green also hides itself away behind the hedgerows and trees. Again, there is no large signboard disclosing its status to passers-by. It is as though these two houses are deliberately trying to fly under the radar.
The New Inn is just around the corner from the Fox Inn. We cycled north through Monk Wood and followed the lane around to Sinton Green. Sometimes I feel a little guilty that I have not worked off any calories before stopping again so soon. However, stop one must because the New Inn is another treasure from a bygone age. Little wonder that property prices in the area are fairly steep - people are outbidding each other to have these two pubs as their local. I can remember years ago when buying a house that I ensured some good pubs were within walking distance of the front door - forget access to schools, shops and other services, a good pub is the key factor in choosing a location.
I did not take any photographs of the New Inn today so have slotted in some from a couple of years ago. I can do this because nothing changes at the New Inn. Hopefully, we will be able to say this in the next decade. A central servery divides a traditional bar and lounge, though I don't think too many people venture into the latter, apart from watching the horse-racing. One element that was noticeable today was that the publican, David Preece, was only selling Wye Valley HPA. He used to offer three different beers but is possibly electing to stick to one and keep it well. We have always had good beer in the New Inn. The villages around Worcestershire used to be littered with simple pubs such as this. However, whilst most pubs have either closed or become rural restaurants, the New Inn has gradually become increasingly rare and its intrinsic value cannot be underestimated.
From Sinton Green we sometimes ride back via Holt Fleet and Ombersley but today we cycled through the quiet lanes of Ockeridge and headed to Great Witley. There is a lovely church at Little Witley but, having visited recently, we picked up the road through Sankyn's Green and stopped at Saint Mary's Church at Shrawley. For some reason, although we have ridden the rollercoaster road from Stourport to Holt Heath on many occasions, we had not turned off and looked inside this church. The doors were open which was an equalising score of: Churches Open 4, Churches Closed 4. To be honest, I found the interior a little cold and uninviting, perhaps because of the rows of box pews.
Standing on an elevated position, the chancel and nave of Saint Mary's date back to the 12th century. These were built with red sandstone as was the west tower which was rebuilt in the 17th century. Although much altered over the centuries, the Norman nave has a part-embattled parapet to the western end and has retained part of a string course with zig-zag ornamentation favoured by the French. A key feature of the interior is the Norman font with trumpet scallop carving. It is capped by a 17th-century conical cover. There are memorials to the Vernon family of Hanbury who owned much of the land in the parish during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The New Inn stands on another elevated part of Shrawley, further north on the way towards Dick Brook where, in the 17th century, the former Parliamentary soldier Andrew Yarranton established an ironworks. This was prior to him working as an engineer and attempting to improve the navigation of local rivers.
There is a lovely Edwardian photograph inside the New Inn that shows a couple of bicycles leaning against the front wall of the pub. We parked our bicycles in a similar position for something of a "now and then" illustration. We didn't want to trash the plant so we parked our bikes together on the cellar trap. Although cyclists have called into the pub over the years, in recent times it is walkers and ramblers that are the more regular patrons because the pub is close to Shrawley Woods. The pub is nice and traditional with a separate dining room. With a tiled floor, dogs are welcome in the bar. Wye Valley beers are available, along with Sharp's Doom Bar. We tried some Butty Bach which was OK but not dazzling. The beer garden is quite nice and there is a surviving old well which perhaps supplied water for homebrewed ales in the past.
Heading towards Astley Cross, we rolled past the mysterious Stanley Baldwin memorial close to Astley Hall. Mysterious because nobody seems to know how the statue of a three-Prime Minster disappeared. The West Country Ales plaque on the former Squirrel Inn at Astley Cross also vanished after the pub's closure.
First mentioned in the 12th century, the Church of Saint Bartolomew at Areley Kings commands a lovely position overlooking the River Severn. The scene and mood here is the antithesis of that across the river in Stourport.
The church is of particular interest to the antiquary as the priest around 1200 was Layamon, a poet and author of "Brut," the first to present the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in English poetry.
Sadly, the nave from Layamon's time has gone; it was replaced and a north aisle added in the Victorian period. These are divided by an arcade of four bays, supported by columns alternately circular and octagonal. The medieval chancel has survived and the tower dates from the late 14th century.
The Old Rectory stands close to the church. This is thought to date from 16th century but was extensively remodelled in the 18th century. There is also a Tudor timber-framed church house that dates back to 1536. The building was formerly used to hold celebrations known as 'church ales' and later as a school and stables. The building was renovated in 2006 and is now used for events and meetings.
We cycled through Wilden and Churchill in the late afternoon sunshine but too late for the churches to be open. Oh well, another time. We headed to Lye to round off a superb day with a few excellent beers at the Beat Brewery. Man, their ales are so good. Cosmic Pop has become one of my favourite beers.
Wednesday September 18th 2019
It was a fine sunny mid-September day so we took our folding bikes on the train to Lichfield and cycled out to the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas. Sustrans Cycle Route 54 follows quiet lanes to Fradley and Alrewas so the route is fairly traffic-free and enjoyable.
Bordering the River Tame and located in part of the maturing National Forest, the Arboretum's key objective is to honour the fallen and recognise the service of military and civilian people and organisations. The site covers 150 acres so it takes a fair amount of time to walk around.
The most haunting and compelling memorial is to those who were shot at dawn, a monument that commemorates the 309 British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed for desertion and cowardice during the First World War. In more enlightened times it is now understood that many of those shot were suffering from shell-shock and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Sculpted by Andy Decomyn, the central figure is that of Private Herbert Burden who, although born in Lewisham, served with the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. He was found guilty of desertion and shot at Ypres in 1915. He was 17 years-old and the youngest soldier to be executed by the British Army. In 2006 Private Herbert Burden was granted a posthumous pardon.
If I have one criticism of the National Memorial Arboretum it is that there is not enough information next to the majority of the memorials. The Polish War Memorial and the Burma Star Memorial are two examples of where it has been done very well. With information panels, visitors can quickly appreciate a particular operation or theatre in which the service were engaged.
By the time we had covered much of the arboretum we were quite hungry so filled up with sandwiches and cake before heading back towards Lichfield. In addition to some new micropubs opening since our last visit to the city, I was told by a local resident that the Pig and Truffle was now an outlet for the Derby Brewing Company. Shortening the name to The Pig, they took over the building at the start of the year but I am not certain when it opened its doors to the public. Anyway, I was quite excited by this addition to Lichfield as they produce good beers.
Changing the name of the pub is a bad thing in my book, especially as the reason cited by managing director was "to emphasise the change in ownership and development of the brand." This just sounds like marketing piffle to me. Indeed, there was an opportunity missed here - the pub was once known as The Acorn but some years ago when Wetherspoon's opened a couple of doors away they took that name for their branch. So, the Derby Brewing Company could have trumped Tim Martin by naming their pub The Oak, a name that is much mightier than the relatively new seed a few doors down on Tamworth Street. Moreover, an Oak name could also reflect or serve as an analogy for the Derby Brewing Company's growth since launching in 2004.
2004 is only the start of a chapter in the life of founder Trevor Harris. Back in 1987 he acquired The Brunswick Inn on Railway Terrace in Derby and then set about establishing the place as one of the great real ale pubs of the Midlands. In 1991 he added a microbrewery to The Brunswick and further elevated the status of the pub. People would travel from all over the country to experience the marvellous renaissance of The Brunswick and its brewery.
Having tasted great beers by the Derby Brewing Company, and having been a patron of the aforementioned Brunswick, it was a crushing disappointment to find that the ales in The Pig were so poorly kept. Having targeted Lichfield for some time and finally taking over a solid pub in a good location, the brewery should really make sure they install somebody who knows how to keep and serve beer.
We ordered three beers of which only one was drinkable. The Rude IPA was like sludge and when I returned to the counter to seek redress the pump clip had been removed. So the person behind the bar knew he was serving unpalatable beer but still took my money for it. He said he was changing the cask so I asked for a different beer. However, he said he could not deal with the other glass of vinegar he had poured even though he said it had probably been sitting in the line since the previous evening. This confirms that the pub does not pull off any beer in the morning which is very poor practice. Beer at the room temperature end of the python [beer pipe] and swan neck should be pulled off when left for any lengthy period. It is only a tiny amount of ullage.
Although there were no other customers waiting to be served he said he could not deal with our other glass of vinegar until he had changed the cask of Rude IPA. So customer service comes behind cellar routine in this pub too! In fairness, the glass of Quint Essential was perfectly acceptable. However, as much as we could drag it out, we had both long finished our beer whilst he was still pulling liquid through the Rude IPA line. It wasn't going well. I am not convinced that a cask that had been settled was being brought online. Whatever, it was going to take forever and a day for him to deal with our other bad beer so we simply walked out and went to The Whippet Inn across the road. A very poor state of affairs.
Lichfield has a growing number of micropubs but the Whippet Inn was the first to be established in April 2014. Located in an old dress shop next to the former Regal Cinema on Tamworth Street, the real ale outlet was opened by Debbie Henderson and Paul Hudson. The name for their new enterprise was cheekily borrowed from the 1971 film "Carry On At Your Convenience," which used the double entendre as the name of the boozer patronised by workers at a lavatory factory. The film was the first box office failure of the Carry On series but in Lichfield the micropub has proved to be a hit. Within a year of opening, CAMRA were bestowing Pub of the Year awards on The Whippet.
We intended to drink in The Whippet when we visited Lichfield a few years ago. However, we called into Beerbohm, another new micropub that had opened next door and ended up staying in there for a session. Sometimes, when one drops on a beer that hits all the right notes and in the right order, you just have to stick instead of twist. We are not beer tickers or scoopers and when we find a devastatingly good beer we will continue to empty the cask and fill the till. So, we never did make it to The Whippet on that occasion. When crossing the road from The Pig we made for The Whippet to make amends.
The Whippet Inn is now owned and run by the congenial James Bullivant with help from a cute four-legged friend behind the servery. Hailing from the Barton-under-Needwood area, the former transport manager escaped the 24/7 demands of logistics to focus on a more people-oriented career running The Whippet Inn. He took over the reins in March 2018 and has successfully added craft keg, gin, wine, rum and cider to the offer. With some experience of home-brewing and wine-making, he is something of a beer aficionado. Consequently, he strives to sell interesting ales and keep them in good order.
There are four cask ales and four keg lines to choose from. These are augmented by a range of speciality beers in bottles and cans. I opened my account with a cask ale, the Redwillow Brewery Breakfast Stout being a limited edition brew. The Macclesfield-based brewery bill this as a "dangerously drinkable Vietnamese coffee stout that starts with an assertive roasty bitterness from the dark malts, giving way to a smooth rich dark chocolate and hazelnut finish." Although enjoyable, I did not find the finish to be smooth but rather harsh. La Goddess du Vélo, meanwhile, had dived straight into the craft keg stuff by ordering the Vivid Dreaming, a pale ale by the Bristol-based Left-Handed Giant, a brewery that will always have a place in our hearts after their 2019 collaboration with Uiltje Brewing Company to produced the mind-blowingly awesome Woodland Creatures.
The Whippet Inn also had a remarkably good craft keg beer on sale too. Having just watched Primož Roglič winning the Vuelta a España how were we supposed to resist a beer brewed at Hernani to the south of San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain? The award-winning Basqueland Brewing Project is actually run by three Americans influenced by Basque culinary culture. They are also surf nuts so the coastline along the Bay of Biscay lured them to Europe where they took up residence. Head brewer Ben "Jerry" Matz had previously worked at the highly-regarded Stone Brewing in Escondido, California. Clocking in at 7.6%, the copper-bodied Hop Space, a collaborative brew with Malandar Craft Beer, has quite a fruity tropical flavour but is laced with sweet caramel malts. I thought it had the character of ice cream but with enough hop bitterness to make it very moreish. La Goddess du Vélo wanted to camp overnight to finish off the keg but we tore ourselves away from what was a super beer and a most enjoyable drinking experience. We wished James all the best and climbed back on the bikes.
Thursday September 26th 2019
It was all kicking off in the Yorkshire Dales so we headed north to be in the middle of the action. That's two-wheeled action I am talking about. We were going to join the fun at the UCI Road World Championships, mostly centred on Harrogate but featuring routes all over The Dales. The Men's Elite race turned out to be one of the most brutal days on the road for many years. The riders had it pretty tough too.
Of course, I not being irreverent to the peloton but we did have to endure hours of wind and rain ourselves, drying out on the train which we used to hotfoot it from Skipton to the finish at Harrogate only to get wet again! But I am getting ahead of myself. Rewind to Thursday evening and our arrival at Skipton.
We are no strangers to the place named after sheep and have stayed here on a number of occasions, mainly as a cycling basecamp and gateway to The Dales. An attractive town with plenty of historical interest, Skipton has been voted the best place to live in England on a couple of occasions. With a recent growth in real ale and craft beer outlets it may scoop the prize once again.
Our first port-of-call was the Narrow Boat, an established mainstay within the real ale scene in Skipton. Heck, it has been here since the last century. Only just, mind you, having opened its doors for the first time in 1999. We have always enjoyed good beer in this place and tonight the pub was selling the multi-award-winning Milk Stout produced by the Bristol Beer Factory. This was a bonus in that it is much cheaper here that it is in Bristol where the bar tariff is one of the steepest in the UK. In Yorkshire, where a degree of parsimony prevails, daft prices are a thing for southerners.
Creamy and full-bodied, Bristol Beer Factory's Milk Stout harks back to the brewing days of the late Victorian period. Chocolate overtones during the initial taste followed by a fruity coffee bitterness, this recipe landed the CAMRA National Champion Stout in 2009, a mere four years after the 10 barrel brewery had been established in the former fermenting block of Bristol's Ashton Gate Brewery. The brewery was founded by ex-Courage Brewery engineer Simon Bartlett, along with George Ferguson, a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and former Mayor of Bristol. Simon Bartlett is still at the brewery which has, through further investment partners, continued to develop and grow.
The pizzas at the Narrow Boat were apparently out-of-stock but this information was relayed to us in such an apathetic fashion we took it to mean that they couldn't be arsed to switch the oven on and roll some dough. We drank up and headed to Bizzie Lizzie's, Skipton's famous chippy. According to the Welcome to Yorkshire website, "No visit to Skipton and The Yorkshire Dales is complete without tucking into the award-winning chips served at Bizzie Lizzie's." However, whilst fairly enjoyable, they were not a patch on proper Black Country chips. These guys need to nip down to Wednesfield, Bilston and Darlaston and see how a chip is cooked to perfection.
Loaded with chips and mushy peas we returned to hoppy edification by mooring at The Boathouse, a bar that enjoys one of the best locations in Skipton. The prime seats here look out across the basin and dock yard on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the junction of the Springs Branch Canal. I am not sure how long this bar has been operating but when we visited in 2017 it had not long been refurbished by the Clarke family who acquired the business during the previous year. They also operate a narrowboat hire business at the canal basin.
It would be ridiculous for The Boathouse to be decorated in anything but a canal theme. Accordingly, the walls and ceilings are adorned with artwork and paraphernalia relating to the inland waterways and, in particular, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. This furnishes the bar with an agreeable aura and character. We may have stayed for a few beers but the interior reeked of disinfectant. I think that the staff may have had to clean up some doggy accident but the smell was such that it was affecting our enjoyment of the ales.
Notwithstanding the stench, The Boathouse sells five cask ales, some of which are locally sourced. In addition, they sell a couple of craft keg beers. Indeed, La Goddess du Vélo ordered the Route Beer, a 4.8% Session IPA which was refreshing but with little equipoise so proved harsh on the tastebuds. Personally, I think the Leeds-based brewery need to go back to the drawing board with this recipe.
If the North Brewing Co's Full Fathom 5 had been on sale I would have been rather excited as their coconut and coffee porter sounds terrific. Still, The Boathouse does have a policy of selling one dark beer so I opted for the Dark Matter, a blackcurrant porter by the Vale of Glamorgan brewery voted Champion Beer of Wales on several occasions. I have really enjoyed this beer in the past but today it seemed way too sweet and rather sickly - or was my sense of taste being affected by the overpowering stench of disinfectant?
We walked across the other side of the canal to volunteer for a shift in the Old Fire Station. I jest, of course, for the building has been converted into a microbar with a focus on craft beer, live music, cask ales and artisan gin - that's the order they have chosen on the building's signage. Whether this reflects the hierarchy or pecking order of their business model is not clear. More perceptible is the affability of Steve and Julie, the couple running the place. Steve amusingly waved a table-top chalkboard in front of us as we ordered a couple of craft beers, hinting that the prices had raised the odd woolly eyebrow or two among the locals. We told him that, as we had recently been drinking in Battersea, the prices seemed pretty bargain basement to us.
We arrived as Yorkshire singer-songwriter Carrie Martin was performing a set in the Mess Room. Her material is not really our cup of tea but we recognised that she has a really good voice and is an accomplished guitarist. I think one of our issues was her choice of cover songs which belies her rock-chick youth. Another musician who grew up listening to his father's record collection is Jake Dixon who played at the Mess Room when we called in again on Saturday night. However, unlike Carrie Martin who stamped some of her own hallmark to old songs, Jake Dixon's covers were mere parody. His treatment of old classics was clearly not to the liking of many and the Mess Room started to clear during his set. This is not good for business on a Saturday night and perhaps highlights a key issue for the Mess Room's business model. I can see the laudable aims being attempted within the Old Fire Station and Steve and Julie are offering free live music to the people of Skipton which is commendable. The snag is possibly that you cannot please all of the audience all of the time.
The fact that we also called into the Mess Room on Friday night is a clear indication that we liked the place, particularly as they were selling some good beers. We both enjoyed supping ales to a soundtrack of late 60's and early 70's soul and funk. The bar sells three cask ales and has three or four craft beer lines. During three visits we made a determined effort to empty the kegs of two beers. La Goddess du Vélo took a liking to the Emotional Support Hamster, a cloudy, hoppy New England IPA produced by Nightjar Brew Co. based at Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire. Some beers may sell by a colourful pump clip but the title of this ale is a winner - who could resist such a name? Clocking in at 7.0%, this highly-quaffable beer has plenty of tropical fruit flavour. Nightjar Brew Co. is a relatively new name but the business evolved from Slightly Foxed Brewing Company, an enterprise established in 2011 by Simon Trapp and Matt Bell. They acquired the plant from the Brass Monkey brewery at Sowerby Bridge where they had been cooking up recipes on a part-time basis in what is known as a cuckoo brewery. The modern trend for new beers and microbreweries is making it all very confusing for consumers!
There is no confusion regarding the Bad Kitty Porter brewed by Brass Castle - it's blinkin' marvellous. Coupled with the fact that the company produce vegan and gluten-free craft beers means a totally win-win situation. This small but developing brewery also sprung up in 2011 when long-time home brewer Phil Saltonstall starting commercial production in a garage on Brass Castle Hill in Pocklington. At this early stage he could only roll out four casks at a time but within two months Brass Castle scooped the Champion Beer award at the York CAMRA Beer Festival.
Gongs generally have a dramatic impact of sales so Phil Saltonstall, a coastguard and keen sailor, had to move to larger premises at Lord Halifax's historic Garrowby Estate brewhouse. However, demand kept on growing so new plant was installed in Malton where gluten-free production was made possible by considerable investment in the production process. Named after the antics of the two original brewhouse cats, Bad Kitty was one of the early recipes of Phil Saltonstall. And what a beer it is. Bad Kitty, a robust porter laced with vanilla, was initially brewed for halloween and meant to be a seasonal ale. But once the secret was out people demanded that the annual All Hallows' Eve should be celebrated all year round. It is very dark, very smooth and extremely moreish. Amazingly, it is only 5.5% but packs as much punch as being hit over the head with a Jack-o'-Lantern.
Friday September 27th 2019
Today it was all about Pateley Bridge because the Men's Under-23 road race was whizzing through the village before the hard slog up Greenhow Hill late in the afternoon. Cycling fans tend to concentrate where the riders are going to suffer and we joined the crowd to gather on the tough Greenhow slope.
On the journey to Pateley Bridge we wandered around Grassington which seemed closed for business today. Only a few cafés were open for walkers and tourists but the shopkeepers were seemingly taking the day off. The UCI Road World Championships have not been welcomed by many retailers in the Yorkshire Dales as road closures can have a detrimental effect on the local economy. However, it was hard to see how the racing affected Grassington on this day so it was rather curious to see the place so quiet.
The Foresters' Arms was serving breakfast. Being as they offer accommodation, I guess they have to get the cooker going early anyway - may as well get a few extra punters in to cover the gas bill. Run by the same family for many decades, the Foresters' Arms seems to be popular with the locals but tourists and visitors have a different opinion. The old inn has notched up 22 'terrible' reviews on Trip Advisor and a further 24 who have declared it 'poor.' This is an extraordinarily high number for any business offering food and accommodation. There are many complaints about the carpets! I certainly would not drink in the Foresters' Arms as the local CAMRA branch have stated that they use economisers, a practice not uncommon in Yorkshire where a creamy head is demanded by the old lags. However, in my opinion hygiene is a key factor in this system. Besides, better cellar management and good pouring technique does not even require a sparkler. More importantly, the bitterness of beer is lost when not served naturally.
A bonus of travelling from Grassington towards Pateley Bridge is that we could call into the café at Stump Cross Caverns for tea and cake. As we had time to spare it was amusing rather than annoying to watch the woman behind the counter getting into a flap over our order of tea, coffee and one Bakewell tart. It was like being in a charity shop where the elderly volunteers don't know how to use the till or the coffee machine. She ended up putting the cup in the microwave to warm up the coffee! Whilst she was getting into a fluster making the tea, I noticed that a Caveman's Breakfast is a whopping £12.95p. The mind boggles with how this place can cope with producing a cooked breakfast - getting a Bakewell tart out of the display cabinet almost tipped this woman over the edge. Throughout our stay there was some awful easy listening piano music drifting across the tables. We were begging for them to make it stop. Indeed, it was tempting to don a hard hat and descend into the caves simply for some audio relief.
We cycled through Greenhow when we rode the Way Of The Roses route in 2015. Pressed for time, we did not have an opportunity to walk up to Coldstones Cut so today we had the chance to address this omission. It is about a kilometre up the track to the massive sculpture overlooking the quarry and Nidderdale beyond. We were not going to see too far as the persistent rain that was forecast started as we headed up the hill. In no time at all it was raining sideways!
To mark the Grand Départ of the Tour De France in Leeds on July 5th 2014, and forming part of a Dales Yellow Bike trail, a huge MTB-style bicycle was plonked next to the signature stone of Coldstones Cut. If you own a fat bike and think your machine is big then think again because this mother has earth-mover wheels!
Created by the artist Andrew Sabin and opened in 2010, Coldstones Cut is an interactive sculpture overlooking the quarry operated by Hanson's. The artwork is claimed to be a sculptural response to the Coldstones Quarry, though sceptics might argue it is a public-relations exercise by a company extracting 600,000 tonnes of limestone aggregate every year. However, there were a lot of bodies involved in the project. Whatever, it is a free visitor attraction, though donation boxes are dotted around the site and cark park. It is worth the trudge up the hill simply for the views across Nidderdale and the surrounding countryside. We would have spent a bit longer at the viewing platforms but we were getting soaked and did a runner back down the footpath. The sideways rain meant we didn't even stop to look at Toft Gate Lime Kiln. By the way, you cannot use a brolly up here as it would last all of two microseconds!
It took about ten minutes to explore Pateley Bridge because it was shut. Cycling? The local inhabitants and traders were not having any of it. They had flipped the open/closed sign and buggered off for the day. A curious thing to do when, even despite the pouring rain, there were more people milling around Pateley Bridge than there are on most days of the year. At least the pubs had their tills on standby for some much-needed revenue. As the race approached Nidderdale we joined the crowd that had gathered inside the Royal Oak at the bottom of Greenhow Hill to watch the race on the telly. The bar was packed with members of Sliabh Luachra Cycling Club, riders who know a thing or two about riding up steep hills in the pouring rain. Sliabh Luachra, a mountainous area along the Cork/Kerry border, is tough cycling terrain.
We grabbed a bag of pear drops from England's oldest sweet shop and headed up the hill for a decent position on the roadside. We were joined by a Polish family who had made the long journey to support their riders, in particular Stanislaw Aniolkowski and Szymon Sajnok. Over the next few days we would see cycling fans who had travelled to Yorkshire from all around the globe.
Greenhow Hill is a bit of a slog on a bike. Although the average gradient of this long climb is only 7.3%, there are three steep sections which rise up to 16.9%. However, there are a few easier sections where it is possible to recover a little. Closer to the summit it is likely that riders will be faced with a stiff breeze that can make it a long haul to the top. It is certainly a climb that can prove decisive in a bike race. Professionals tend to climb the hill in under eleven minutes; the Strava leaderboard features names such as Chris Froome, Greg Van Avermaet, Nathan Haas and Connor Swift. Standing at the roadside, I was amazed at how fast the peloton went up the steep gradient near the bottom. One of the great things about cycling is that the strugglers at the back, those who have punctured or suffered a mechanical, fallen off or those who are simply exhausted get the biggest cheers and encouragement from the fans.
As the broom wagon chugged up the hill we all piled back into the Royal Oak to watch the race unfold as it approached Harrogate. Tom Pidcock, the local young talent, was in with a good chance of a gold medal. We, meanwhile, were in the warm drinking Theakston's Best Bitter hoping that the Leeds-born emerging star could bag the win. The tension grew as the race neared the finish. There was a roar during the final bunch sprint at Harrogate in which the Dutch rider Nils Eekhoff proved to be the strongest in the field. He had crashed earlier in the race but had got back into the action by drafting behind the team cars. It was for this 'offence' that he was disqualified and the gold medal went to the Italian Samuele Battistella. Tom Pidcock, who had finished fourth, was promoted to the podium and collected a bronze medal. It was a dramatic and exciting race.
We travelled back via Whithill and Skyreholme before dropping down into Appletreewick for dinner at the Craven Arms. We have visited this pub on a couple of occasions and the beer has been excellent. However, although the ales were kept and served well, nothing really hit the spot today. The Dark Horse Night Jar was alright and the Wensleydale Blonde tasted a bit thin. On the plus side, the Old Peculiar was served from the wood and was nice and fruity with a liquorice character. Despite being very busy, we did not have to wait too long for excellent plates of veggie linguine featuring aubergine, courgette and fennel. The Cravens Arms is a good pub but it is, well, a bit middle-class.
Saturday September 28th 2019
Staging the UCI Road World Championships in The Dales in late September was always going to be a risk. Last year the weather was great. Indeed, the temperatures during the previous week were very good. Unfortunately, the rain had created havoc throughout this week with crashes and punctures as a result of heavy rain. Today, however, the clouds cleared and the sun came out for the Trapping Hill climb out of Lofthouse, a key element of the Women's Elite Road Race. Consequently, we headed out again to Pateley Bridge before a pleasant journey up Nidderdale to Lofthouse. Having crashed last week, I was unable to cycle to the hill and felt a little envious of those who pedalled up the valley - and there were lots of them.
The village hall at Lofthouse was doing good trade with the villagers flogging homemade cakes and pouring cups of tea. A carnival atmosphere was in the air, the mood further ramped up by the arrival of the caravan where all manner of goodies were being handed out to the crowd. Of course, Lofthouse has seen it all before because races often divert to Trapping Hill as it is a whole world of suffering for riders.
Dubbed the Côte de Lofthouse, I particularly like this climb. It is fairly difficult but the scenery is so good it helps to mask the pain. Most of the suffering takes place in the first half of the 2.86km of the climb where there is a lengthy stretch of 17% gradient. I rode up here in 2017 and posted a fairly respectable time. Well, respectable for a plodding tourist cyclist.
We made our way up the hill nice and early to nab a good spot looking back down the steep section. Other fans were busy writing the names of their heroines on the tarmac. They are rather polite or green here in Nidderdale and were using chalk rather than paint. One road inscriber was dressed as a nun and there were plenty of other costumes being worn by nutters on the hill. We had a lovely view of Middlesmoor in the near distance. Those lucky to live in Middlesmoor have a fantastic view down Nidderdale and Gouthwaite Reservoir.
What we didn't know when we nabbed our position was that it was at the precise point where Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten made her decisive move to launch an incredible solo breakaway 100 kilometres from the finish in Harrogate. You can see this in the short video I took of the race. Local favourite and former World Champion Lizzie Deignan tried to go with her at first but the attack by van Vleuten was so devastating nobody could follow her wheel. She posted an incredible time of 8:53 for the climb, a mere six seconds behind the fastest man to have climbed the hill. That honour goes to Tejvan Pettinger, a former winner of the British National Hill Climb Championships.
After the wonderful experience on Trapping Hill we walked back down to Lofthouse before heading off to Middlesmoor. I cycled up the steep hill to this hamlet a few years ago and was surprised to find a hostelry in such a remote place. I did not think it was possible for such a large establishment to turn a profit this far up Nidderdale. For motorists Middlesmore is pretty much the end of the road. From here there is simply a track up to Rain Stang and Scar House Reservoir. Apart from the local trade I guess they are fairly reliant on walkers and campers. In 2017 the pub was closed for the afternoon so I was eager to go inside the Crown Hotel this time around.
Wow! The interior of the Crown Hotel is near perfect and just how I imagine a Dales hostelry would look in the 1960s, simple wooden furniture on a flagstone floor and decorated with superb photographs of the past and life in the locality in years gone by. None of your contemporary makeover jobs here and the Crown Hotel is all the richer for it. Oh how I wanted to fall in love with this rural pub. Unfortunately, a few things spoiled our visit which put a dampener on my appreciation of the building's fabric.
We arrived at about 13.45hrs and were warmly greeted by some walkers sitting on the bench outside. A good start. However, when we went inside and wandered up to the servery the woman behind the counter revelled in telling us the kitchen was closed. No problem as we did not come to eat but this seemed to irk her somewhat. A positive element of our visit was that the landlord insisted that she poured off a pint of the Black Sheep Velo before serving any to us, thus demonstrating that he takes some pride in the quality of beer served in the house. The Black Sheep Bitter was also one of the best examples I have tasted in a few years and this despite the fact that the pub is using the Autovac system.
The gaffer here holds court on the customers side of the servery. I think it was the fact that I remarked how much I liked the interior of the pub that we got off lightly. And to his credit he allowed me to take photgraphs of the place. However, according to reviews on Trip Advisor, his rudeness is legendary. We were spared anything unpleasant but he and his regular patron constantly moaned about the cycling despite the fact they knew this was the reason for our visit. The woman behind the bar and the bloke perched on a bar stool simply blanked us even when I tried to contribute to the conversation. It was all rather uncomfortable and we were clearly unwelcome. A great pity for the interior is so lovely.
So for your guidance I should warn you to turn up on time and be on your best behaviour otherwise you will be joining the many others who have posted reviews online using phrases such as "rude and unfriendly," "extremely rude landlord," and "obnoxious landlord." Have a look at the Crown Hotel's Trip Advisor pages because some of the posts are so shocking that I actually started laughing out loud. Oh, and if you do look you will note that it is extremely unwise to ask for a vegetarian option!
For the second day running we found ourselves passing through Appletreewick so we had a chance to visit the New Inn. I believe that the fortunes of this place have rollercoastered over recent years. New owners took over in July so hopefully things will get back on track. I wish I had visited in the days of John Pitchers who took over in 1986. A keen beer fan and cyclist, he was passionate about the New Inn. In addition to being listed in the Good Beer Guide for over twenty years, he scooped a string of awards for keeping a good pub.
Going back a little further in time another publican called John Showers made the national and international news when he declared the New Inn as the "First No-Smoking Pub in the World" in the early 1970s. A character, the likes of which are rarely found behind the servery nowadays, he always did unusual things at the pubs he kept. After taking over the New Inn, he opened out the interior space and created a wood-panelled Danish theme pub selling Denmark-style sandwiches on rye bread. He also sold beers by Tuborg Breweries of Copenhagen. I wonder how this all went down with the locals?
Today we were greeted with a warm welcome and a good choice of local beers. Represented at the bar were the Yorkshire Dales Brewery, Ilkley Brewery and Oscar's Brewery from across the county border in Lancashire. The New Inn had a nice atmosphere and seems to attract a different crowd from that patronising the nearby Craven Arms.
As a cyclist who has ridden over both sides of the Buttertubs, a spectacular road connecting Wensleydale and Swaledale, I only had eyes for one beer in the New Inn.
Surprisingly, given that this beer has been produced in the Wensleydale village of Askrigg since November 2005, this was my first encounter with it in a pub! Where have I been, you may ask, but I have been into a number of pubs in the region and have not previously seen this on sale - one of those curious conundrums I guess?
To be quite honest I thought that a golden ale clocking in at just 3.7% would be like water. So it came as a most pleasurable surprise to find that Butter Tubs has plenty of taste and is a most refreshing session beer. Brewed using Maris Otter Pale Malt, Crystal Malt and Torrefied Wheat with an infusion of Northern Brewer and Cascade hops, Butter Tubs has a very nice light fruity character with a hint of citrus. The next time I ride from Hawes over to Muker I may have to top up my bidon with this delightful ale.
We regrouped back in Skipton and headed into town for a relatively early session. Due to the opening hours of another new-ish micropub, we had not called into Early Doors, the name of which reflects when you will find the front door open. However, I gather that it was named after the BBC sitcom set in The Grapes at Stockport. Generally, the micropub closes around 20.00hrs with an extra hour on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Opened in the Spring of 2016, Early Doors sells one regular beer and five guest ales. The pub had a few beers I have never heard of. This is nothing new as there are so many new beers and microbreweries springing up that, even as a regular pub goer, it is hard to keep up. Unlike the scooping brigade I don't fret about it and just enjoy what I encounter on my travels.
Two of the beers at Early Doors were very disappointing. The Brunswick Rocket New World IPA is supposed to feature a "multitude of Australian and North American hops to give pleasant citrus and apricot flavours." However, this was possibly beyond its best and tasted of very little indeed. Worse still was the Beartown Atlas. The beer from this Congleton brewery is normally good so this made me wonder if the ales are being kept properly at Early Doors?
Redemption at this micropub in Newmarket Street came with the Blackthorne Stout produced by the Worsthorne Brewing Company at Burnley. This was quite excellent. Featuring chocolate and liquorice overtones, this dark stout is rich and full-bodied, and further enhanced by the addition of ripe berries which help to furnish the beer with a smooth bitter aftertaste.
Founded in 2011, the Worsthorne Brewing Company is not actually based in Worstone. Although it was intended to be based there, suitable premises could only be found at Siberia Mill in nearby Briercliffe. Run by Michael Whittaker, a retired policeman and former homebrewer, the brewery operates a 10 barrel plant with head brewer Rob Hockedy cooking up recipes.
We returned to the Narrow Boat to see if pizza was back on the menu. We wished we hadn't as it set a new low benchmark for pizza-making - and then some. The board on which they were served was dripping with oil to the point it was running off and spreading across the table. It was a horror show.
On the positive side, the pub had introduced a spiffing good beer in Brewed Awakening, a 4.7% coffee-infused stout by Cromarty Brewing Co., a small brewery up in the Highlands close to the mouth of Cromarty Firth. The business was founded by Craig Middleton who, after gaining a first class degree at Heriot Watt University, had gained valuable experience working for a number of breweries in the United States and at the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore. With help from his family, Chap and Jenni Middleton, he created a purpose-built brewery in a new building with plant from Bavarian Brewery Technologies. The first brews were rolled out in December 2011. The beers are unpasteurised and unfiltered so that the flavours burst through. Apparently, the coffee beans for this Brewed Awakening are grown locally. If I am honest I did not know this was possible in the Highlands. Maris Otter, Crystal, Chocolate, Carafa and Wheat malts combine with Oats in the brew and uses Cascade and Columbus hop varieties. I think from now on every time Cromarty is mentioned on the shipping forecast I will think of this fantastic stout.
I guess somebody had to come up with the title but Rhubarbra Streisand tastes better than what could be regarded as something of a novelty beer. It may not be to everyone's taste as it is really rhubarby. And more rhubarb. Officially it is described by the brewery as "a deliciously tart, yet creamy, big-bodied milkshake IPA rammed with rhubarb and just a smidge of fiery ginger!" Founded by beer nutters Wayne Smith and Lee Grabham, York Brew was launched in April 2016, only the second brewery to operate within York's city walls. They operate a ten barrel craft brewery and their beers are vegetarian friendly.
Though we did not visit them on this trip, there are two other micropubs in Skipton. But there's the rub .... we did not patronise ANY of the old pubs of Skipton. The Cock & Bottle, Castle Inn, Woolly Sheep other houses are OK but we went in search of interesting beers from small brewers, along with some craft keg. I wish that these were available in the old traditional pubs but most of these are run by big companies and strictly control the beers sold over the counter. I would love the combination of a lovely old pub and exotic beers but these are as rare as rocking horse shit.
Sunday September 29th 2019
The forecast for today was for rain, heavy rain, torrential rain and flooding. Just the sort of conditions that would see north Europeans toughing it out on the roads of Yorkshire, leaving behind those who enjoy hot climates and warm training camps. The winner of today's road race would be hailed as a hard case for the rest of their professional career. Although the organisers shortened the race by 23.5km, it turned out to be a long brutal day in wet and cold conditions during which the tough nuts put the fair-weather riders to the sword.
The plan for today was to watch the race pass through Skipton and then rush off to the railway station and travel to Harrogate for the circuits and finish. It was a good plan and we had a great day. However, by the time we walked into Skipton we were already soggy. The start of the race was delayed so we had to hang around in the pouring rain to see the race whizz through the town. When they arrived it was hard to tell who was who. The conditions were so bad that the riders looked like a ragbag bunch on a club run, wearing all manner of odd clothing to keep warm. The above video shows the leading bunch coming up the High Street led by the American Alex Howes. Hot on his tail were Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz, Primoz Roglic, Jan Polanc, Magnus Cort, Petr Vakoc, Silvan Dillier, Maciej Bodnar, Jonas Koch, Hugo Houle. They actually had a large gap but I edited out that bit of non-activity. The large contingent of Danish fans across the street are dressed in white t-shirts in support of Michael Valgren. Although his bid for glory was doomed, they would ultimately be jubilant when fellow countryman Mads Pedersen crossed the line in Harrogate.
The journey to Harrogate was a doddle as lots of extra trains had been laid on from Leeds. We had plenty of time before the race arrived and did the usual milling around, buying merchandise. Unlike the Tour de France of 2014, the organisers did not erect a large screen in the main square which was a bit infuriating, particularly as the fans zone was closed off due to flooding. The prawn sandwich brigade in the corporate marquees had live coverage which only served to compound our disappointment.
Surprisingly, we nabbed a premium window seat in Betty's where, contrary to popular belief, the cost of a nice lunch and delicious cakes is quite reasonable. The renowned service was impeccable. The corner windows were taken up by a Chinese family who showed no interest in the race but completely took the piss by making a pot of tea last over an hour. The manager was itching to turf them out and was completely exasperated when they ordered a second pot of tea. And so their children continued with their colouring books and they scrolled their phones whilst the race was tearing past the window panes!
Specialized had taken the upper two floors of Betty's so that their UK retailers could get together for a jolly. Knowing that the guys at our local bike shop would be there we nipped in to say hello and were allowed to stay for a bit watching the race from the upper floor. I suddenly found myself stood next to former England and Leicester captain Martin Johnson. He really is a big unit! The sight of him brought back memories of playing rugby years ago at Aldershot. I was faced with a bloke called Graham Easton coming towards me at a rate of knots. I knew Graham and, off the field, he was a most congenial chap. However, weighing in at about 20 stone and running at full tilt, he looked a formidable sight as he came hurtling towards me. In rugby you cannot pull out of a tackle otherwise you would be slaughtered by your team mates. Consequently, although I knew it was a lost cause, I dived in to stop his run to the line. If you have not played the game you may not realise how difficult it is to stop such a big bloke running at high speed. He simply ran over me, leaving stud marks all up my white shirt. I must have looked as pathetic as Mike Catt when he was steamrollered by Jonah Lomu in 1995. If you are too young to remember that game take a look at the You Tube clips available online.
We were roadside for the final few laps and got a great spot near the top of Parliament Street where the riders had about 350 metres to go to the finish line. It was from this position that we saw Matteo Trentin, Mads Pedersen and Stefan Kung playing cat and mouse as they approached the run-in for the final sprint. Trentin, the Italian favourite for the sprint, launched his bid from 200 metres but found to his surprise and horror that his legs were like lead. The 23 year-old Pedersen sailed past to become the first Danish men's winner in history. He was supposed to be a work-horse for his compatriot Jakob Fuglsang but ended up, in the words of Bradley Wiggins, as "Dane of the Day."
The queues for the trains to Leeds were massive but we had planned to stick around so we could sample a few of the beers in the Harrogate Tap. Most folks would be hard pressed to do the card here because they sell eleven cask ales and nine craft keg beers. The Harrogate Tap is part of the Tapped Brew Company who have similar railway bars at Sheffield and York. Here they have restored a neglected part of the station and created a retro-style bar that an Edwardian drinker would recognise as a public house.
I started off with the vegan-friendly London Thunder, a 4.2% porter by Rooster's Brewing Co. Full of roasted malt and chocolate flavours, this complex dark porter uses a blend of seven malts and English hops. This was so good I could have stayed on this for the evening but had taken a sip of the beer ordered by La Goddess du Vélo. Also produced by Rooster's Brewing Co., she had hit the jackpot with The Accomplice, a 5.7% American Pale Ale that could have been plonked on the podium and declared a world champion - it is truly awesome. I quickly switched to this beer line before the rest of the pub realised it was liquid gold and we made a valiant effort to empty the cask. What was really great about this beer is that it was cask. The better beers, or at least the ones with the most flavour, that we had been drinking this week were craft keg so this restored our faith in the old method of brewing and dispensing. It was also good to be drinking beer from this brewery once again. We do not see their ales that often in our neck of the woods. The Accomplice, originally a collaborative brew with Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colorado, was most certainly the beer of the week, probably beer of the month, and a contender for beer of the year.