After Beerheadz, I had a bit of spare time and so decided to get ahead of the game a bit and ride on to Gainsborough. To lighten my load, Beerheadz kindly stowed away my luggage in their cellar.
I had not planned this extra journey, and had neglected to bring a paper map with me. My Garmin Edge Touring is billed as “the sat-nav for your bike”, but this is the area that it really does not excel in (or not always!). For recording where you have been, it is great. And for guiding you with turn-by-turn directions along a route that you have pre-planned on a computer and downloaded to the device, it is also wonderful (and that is what I use it for the most). However, to plan a route on-the-fly, it can be a little bit erratic. In this instance, it decided that the best route for cycling from Retford to Gainsborough (8 miles apart) was via Newark, a route of 64 miles!! (If you have a Garmin, then try this at home, folks!) All this, it seemed was to avoid riding for about 100 metres on a busy A-road that was the only way of crossing the River Trent for miles in either direction. So I got my phone out, and opened up Google maps and found my own way there. Thanks, Garmin.
As I rode though the Lincolnshire countryside, I contemplated how this region seemed to be the unsung powerhouse of England. Much of the population of England seems unaware of the existence of many of the Lincolnshire towns, but this does not prevent the enormous county from generating a fair proportion of our energy and growing a great amount of produce. Everywhere I looked, I saw coal-fired power stations (the past, but still going) wind-farms (and there is plenty of wind there to be farmed) and , perhaps the most forward-looking, whole fields of solar arrays.
Despite my naughty Garmin, I made it to Gainsborough, then rode back to Retford, in time for another pint at Beerheadz before my train. When I retrieved my luggage from the beer room at Beerheadz, I noticed that they had acquired a delightful hoppy aroma about them that lasted several days!
Beerheadz is in the centre of Retford, just off the market square behind the town hall and its ornate clock tower whose very audible chimes serve to remind you just how many hours are passing while you sit and drink beer (!). Again, if you’re in the market sq and wonder which archway to look for then take a look at my photo. They opened last October, just in time for the Retford beer festival. It’s a good, professional fit-out.
I visited on a quiet Sunday lunchtime and almost had the place to myself, but Chris assured me that trade is generally brisk (I came back the same evening, and it was definitely much busier). They are even looking into opening more Beerheadz branches in the area. A branded “chain” of micropubs…hmmm could that be getting a bit macro?. Also on offer were Beerheadz badges, t-shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, caps and underwear (ok, not the last one!) Tight git that I am, I just pinched a beermat as a keepsake smile emoticon
Being a Sunday, I was able to sample a free selection of cheese and biscuits on a table in the corner, which is a nice touch. But on to the beers … 5 cask ales and 3 ciders all served by handpump at the bar, although the temperature controlled beer room is right next door and visible through a small window. There’s also a large fridge behind the bar with a good selection of international bottled beers and soft drinks. I tried the Knops East Coast Pale and Skye Porter, both were excellent and good value. All in all, another great addition to the micropub stable.
Early on Sunday morning, I packed up camp and prepared for the road. So did Andy and his friend Adrian who was visiting Andy for the weekend (but not camping in the garden!). Andy and Adrian showed me a good route out of town, and then rode with me as far as Tuxford windmill where we stopped for coffee and cake and then went our separate ways and I headed on to Beerheadz in Retford. Thanks for putting me up, Andy!
Just Beer in Newark was the 3rd micropub to open, way back in 2010, which is positively ancient by micropub standards! It is yet another micropub that is tucked away down a side alley. You would be unlikely to stumble upon it by accident but, going by the crowd that was in there on Saturday night, clearly a lot of people have discovered Just Beer and it has a loyal band of regulars. It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Robin and Duncan, just two of the four partners in this venture, all of whom have been on the local CAMRA committee in a past life. The pub consists of a long rectangular room with a bar at the far end, and furnished with traditional pub furniture. The bar has 8 handpumps serving cask conditioned ales and also ciders. Just Beer is open for longer hours than most micropubs – I guess that’s one of the benefits of having a number of people involved in the business: on the Saturday that I visited it was open 12 till midnight. I really enjoyed my evening at Just Beer, it has an amiable crowd and a great atmosphere!
Two weeks after leaving Spalding, I was back again. This time alone, and this time by train (they DO run on Saturdays!). The minute I rode out of Spalding I was back in the surreal landscape of the fens. Almost featureless on the horizon, your eye becomes drawn to the finer details nearer to you. Lone daffodils growing in a ditch, abandoned tyres strewn by the side of the road, everything becomes noticeable. I marvelled at how people lived in such relative isolation here, many houses being on their own, not part of a village or even a hamlet and no other houses to be seen for miles in any direction. One such house was surrounded by rows and rows of old suitcases (at least a hundred of them) and a sign: “last day 12th April”. I stopped to find out what was going on. The keeper of the suitcases, who turned out to be called Jane, and told me her life’s story and explained that she and her husband did house clearances, but were packing up soon to move to Scotland. The suitcases turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, and I wandered through acres of makeshift shopfloor, without buying anything as I would have had to carry it!
In Grantham, I met up with Jenny and her friend Becky for coffee. Jenny’s daughter used to go to school with mine before Jenny moved up to Grantham. It was good to see her again after all this time.
After Grantham, there followed a peaceful traffic-free (but not Swan –free!) ride along the Grantham Canal on Sustrans NCN 15 and then I arrived in Newark, and located the home of my warmshowers host, Andy. “Are you sure you want to camp?” said Andy, “I’ve heard the temperature is going to drop below freezing tonight and you’re welcome to stay in the house”. It was a kind offer, but I did not want to have lugged my camping gear around all weekend for nothing, so I put my tent up in his garden, as planned, and then went down the pub!
Nathan and Charlie, joint owners of the Priors Oven really hit the jackpot when they found the premises for their micropub! A 700 year old former monks prison / former bakery / former tea room. Certainly the most historic and full-of-character building for a micropub that I’ve seen so far. The main room is hexagon shaped (if I remember rightly) with an amazing vaulted ceiling. We really appreciated the layout, with a central circular bar that can comfortably accommodate about 10 drinkers. It feels a bit like sitting round a big round table and the setup encourages conversation between strangers, which is much of what micropubs are all about. A twisted spiral stone staircase leads up to a more conventional lounge and games room.
As you know, once the cycling is over I like nothing more than to settle down with a dark and full-bodied pint and on Sunday evening Rutland Beast did this job admirably.
It was great to meet and chat with you all, including Jason the manager, and a pity we couldn’t stay longer until the singer arrived but, as so often seems to be the case, we had a train to catch!
Remember what I said about cycling in the Fens being easy? Well, of course, when you change direction and head into the wind it is a different story! And so it was that we arrived at the Cask in Hand in Holbeach more than a little knackered (and thirsty!). My thirst was quenched by a pint of “Metro Pirate” from the Bootleg Brewing Co in Manchester. At 3.8%, perhaps a bit on the weak side for an IPA, but pleasant, very thirst quenching and just what I needed to get me another 10 miles up the road to Spalding. The Cask in Hand consists of a largish bar room with a mix of chairs & tables and comfy sofa’s and a second smaller room with a pool table.