Author Archives: Richard R

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

I’m not in the regular habit of making New Year’s Resolutions, but exactly a year ago I made one and I’m so glad I did. You would probably not be reading this blog if I hadn’t.

I’m also pleased that I told everybody about it right away – well, at least all my Facebook friends, and other people close to me – the kind of people who I believe generally wish me well and would want me to succeed in the things I do. Much less chance of backing out, or giving up or losing interest when you’ve made that commitment publicly.

OK, so my resolution wasn’t about sacrifice, or giving up anything. Those people that know me would testify that I have never needed a great deal of coercion to go to the pub or go out for a bike ride!  But the same people would probably also say that sometimes I start things that I don’t finish.  A New Year’s Resolution can be about making a plan and sticking to it: a career change, starting a new business, a project, a journey, whatever.

Clearly you can make this kind of commitment at any time of the year. But what better time than now to shake up the Etch-a-Sketch of your life and draw a few fresh lines. Chances are you have a few days off before you get back to your daily routine: to me, things always seem so much more “possible” during the holidays, so seize the moment, have a glass of your favourite tipple by your side if that helps, make some plans, then make a commitment and go for it!

Good luck!    And whatever you do, have a great 2016 !!!

Advertisements

Richard’s Last Orders

With the news full of the previous night’s terrible happenings in Paris, I found it difficult to be upbeat for a radio interview for BBC Kent first thing in the morning. Shortly after, six of us, myself, Dave, Sarah, Bill, Jane & Colin, assembled at my friend Dave’s house and watched as the rain clouds gathered above.

We headed through “scenic” Edmonton and Tottenham and took the first opportunity to join the Lee towpath for a traffic free route to the Thames. Colin is a potato farmer in Lancashire, so you you would be forgiven for assuming he might be accustomed to the wet stuff that comes out of clouds, and come prepared, Alas, that was not the case, so we made a stop at Halfords on the way to enable him to get kitted out. Back on the towpath, Dave noticed that his front tyre was somewhat deflated, so we stopped and sheltered under a bridge while Dave attended to it. Fortunately, Dave can change an inner tube faster than anybody else I know. Unfortunately, that would not be his only puncture of the day!

P1130045   P1130046

We met up with Jacques-Olivier under another bridge and then headed down to the northern cable car station in Docklands, where Mike also joined us.  The cable car is a bit of a white elephant but, incredibly, it does carry bikes, which made it a handy and quirky way of crossing this part of the river.

P1130055   P1130052

We came back down to earth outside the O2 (Millennium Dome) and proceeded along the south bank as far as the Thames Barrier, before heading south towards our first micropub of the day, the Long Pond. But first it was time for Dave to fix puncture number 4! Dave had twice as many punctures that morning than I had over the whole year’s journey!   He will not be allowed to live this down!

Finally we arrived at the Long Pond, about 45 minutes behind schedule, and met up with Kieron, who had driven there, and Stuart, who had ridden with me at the start of my journey and was determined to be there at the end and had ridden across from his sister’s in Lewisham.

P1130075

It was good to meet Michael the landlord of the Long Pond. Andy, landlord of the Broken Drum was also there with some of his regulars, on their bikes, as he had kindly offered to lead us round the day’s remaining pubs. It was also great to see members of Enfield and Barnet CAMRA and also Bexley CAMRA, who managed to keep up with us for the remainder of the day by hopping onto various buses.

Next on the list was Andy’s own micropub, The Broken Drum, opened during 2015.

P1130077

Then onwards to the Door Hinge, where Ray and his regulars gave us a hearty welcome! Stuart’s Mum and dad, Graham and Marie and my wife Sujal and daughter Anya met us in the Door Hinge. Graham and Marie win the award for having travelled the furthest for the day – they had got up at the crack of dawn to catch a train from Crewe! Thank you!  So glad you could make it!

P1130085   P1130121

And finally onwards to the final micropub of the day – and the end of my journey. A pub named The Penny Farthing seemed an appropriate enough place to finish my ride. Owners Bob and Bev were great hosts (thank you!!), and they and their customers had also raised over £300 for my Alzheimers fund!

DSCN2802

It was good to meet in the flesh several people who had been following me and supporting me online, including Jane and Cliff from Bexley Brewery.

P1130097

Also some familiarfaces that I had met along the way such as Tony and Wendy from Firkin Ales and Marianne, landlady of the Paper Mill in Sittingbourne who is also a fellow micropub “ticker” who has visited even more of them than me!

P1130123

And to complete the circle, I’m glad my friends Mike and Diana could make it. It was Mike who first made me aware of micropubs, so in a way he is to blame for the whole thing.

P1130098

One final piece of drama, when it was time for Jane and Colin to leave they discovered they had locked their bikes together outside the Penny Farthing but lost the keys! A frantic search ensued with Colin disappearing off in the hope of purchasing an angle grinder. Landlord Bob also tried a few contacts. In the meantime, Jane discovered the keys hanging of the brake calliper of her bike!

For once, I was glad to be catching the train home, and not cycling.

I have enjoyed (almost) every moment of this trip, and my last day was no exception. Well done all of you who are opening micropubs all around the country and keeping alive the true spirit of the pub!

Your fundraising has resulted in a total so far of almost £6000. I will keep my fundraising page open until the end of the year and then announce the final result, so please stay tuned.

DSCN2798

Bridge across the Ship Canal, Ferry cross the Mersey

Saturday 10 October

Arriving into Stoke station, I used the towpath of the Macclesfield canal as a handy and quiet exit route from the city. The region was, and still is to an extent, known for its Potteries. During the industry’s heyday materials and finished goods would have been transported in and out by canal barge, and there was still plenty of evidence of this heritage along this now sleepy backwater: abandoned and derelict potteries, potteries converted into flats or business units, and occasionally a pottery that was still in operation.

P1120859

A short way outside of Stoke, the canal entered a tunnel, a remarkable feat of engineering, but no good for bikes, and  I was forced to take the high road.

A couple of hours later I was pedalling into the railway town of Crewe, where I located Beer Dock, my first micropub of the day on the Nantwich Road.

P1120861

It was only 10.30 but, fortunately, Beer Dock had opened at 10, being a bottle shop (with a massiive 600 beer selectionn!) as well as a micropub. As a result I was able to imbibe possibly the earliest beer of my journey!  I was joined at my table by a small group of CAMRA members who were recce’ing a bus and rail ale trail in preparation for escorting a larger group around the route at some future date.   That’s my kind of research!

I left Crewe and pressed on further North, and the busy roads gave way to country lanes. Eventually I found myself at a tollgate where a line of cars queued patiently to pay the 25p fee to cross a bridge that lay ahead.  I freewheeled past, assuming that two-wheeled travellers could cross for free, and I never heard anything to the contrary, so that is probably the case.

P1120870

The bridge in question crossed the Manchester Ship Canal at quite an altitude. It seemed in need of a few repairs, and I felt it would require a large number of 25p tolls to fund them.
Soon I was in Cadishead, locking my bike up outside The Grocers, a fairly recent addition to the micropub world, run by Martin. “Lock your bike up round the back”, said Martin. So I did.

P1120879

Bridges across the Manchester ship canal are few and far between, so I had anticipated a lengthy detour to get to the next and final pub of the day in Urmston even though it was not that far away from Cadishead as the crow flies. Fortunately I had the benefit of Martin’s local knowledge and he was able to point me towards Irlam Lock where it is possible to cross on foot  This saved me a few miles and freed up sufficient time for a second cheeky pint in the Grocers!

The Prairie-Schooner tap house in Urmston derives its name from the covered wagons that once crossed the plains in Kansas, which is where the landlord, Robert was born and bred.

P1120898

After making my introductions, I backtracked down the road to the find the house of Mike, my host for the night. When I had contracted Mike a couple of weeks back, via a touring cyclists’ hospitality website he could easily have said no to my accommodation request, as he was having friends round for dinner that evening, but instead he had invited me to join them.  And so it was that I shared an amazing curry that Mike had cooked, and then the five of us went back to the Prairie Schooner for the remainder of the evening – well, where else?
Sunday 11 October

Blergh. After going to bed at 2am, waking up for an 8am start was never going to be easy. First I backtracked across the ship canal at Irlam locks and then criss crossed my way north along quiet tracks, past farmhouses and homesteads so remote they seemed to have no business being this close to Manchester.

Shortly after a railway level crossing with manually operated gates, I reached the A580 and reluctantly followed the cycle path alongside it almost the whole way to Liverpool. It was a fast and easy means of covering the distance, but not one of my greatest cycle touring moments.

Approaching  Liverpool though I diverted off this highway to seek out  one particular cul-de-sac. When Channel 4 first launched in 1982, they commissioned a new soap opera. It was to be based in Liverpool and produced by Phil Redmond. Having grown up on Phil’s other creation, Grange Hill, Brookside became a bit of a cult classic amongst me and my uni mates.  The show was finally axed in 2003, although by then I hadn’t watched it for years (honest!).  The soap had been filmed in real houses, purpose built in a Liverpool suburb.   When the curtain had gone down on the final episode, Brookside Close was sold off as private housing. It was quite nostalgic to ride onto “the close” and I found it eerily similar to how it had appeared on TV all those years ago.

P1120902
But I wasn’t in Liverpool to reminisce, so back to the business of the day. The Liverpool Pigeon can be found in the coastal suburb of Crosby.

P1120911

And, very recently, a second micropub has opened in Crosby in a former post office: the Corner Post was not on my to-do list for the weekend, but it was too close to pass by! I arrived to find the assembled masses of Merseyside CAMRA as it was the first pub on their day’s ale trail.  Among them was former brewster Suzie and I enjoyed listening to her plans of opening her own micropub.

P1120924

One final attraction in Crosby was “Another Place” – an art installation by Antony Gormley set on the beach.  A hundred cast iron figures spaced out across the sands, each looking out to sea.

P1120929

As I was booked onto a late evening (i.e. cheap) train, there was still plenty of time remaining to discover what else Merseyside had to offer in the way of micropubs.
I couldn’t recall ever having “ferried cross the Mersey” so I cycled along the banks of the river, or as close as I could get, with warehouses on one side of me and container terminals and scrapyards on the other, down to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry across to the other side, known as the Wirrall.

P1120947

Landlord Lenny has opened the first micropub on the Wirrall, known as the Lazy Landlord. Time was of the essence as the last return ferry was almost due to leave, so I was restrained enough to only order  a half of their own house bitter (actually brewed by Wentwell brewery) before sprinting back towards the jetty.

P1120942

Back on the north bank of the Mersey, there was just enough time for one last bonus pub before my train departed, so I sought out Cask, the only micropub that’s actually within the city of Liverpool itself.

P1120949

Later, as I sank into my train seat for a well needed semi-snooze I mulled over the bittersweet thought that my epic journey was reaching its concluding chapter. This had been my last full weekend away.

After a month’s hiatus for family commitments, I will set off on a final one-day ride to visit the last three micropubs on my list, all within the sprawling capital city where I was born and bred but about which I still have so much to learn.

Peak Performance

Saturday 26th September

My train pulled into Nottingham at stupid-o-clock on Saturday morning, two weeks after I had last left Nottingham from the same station.

As I rode through the quiet Nottingham streets I noticed Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem on my left, reputedly the oldest pub in England. I’ve long wished to tick this one off my to do list but of course it was not yet open at this god-forsaken hour!

P1120741

I needed to head northwards towards Chesterfield but had deliberately planned a route that would avoid retracing my strips from a fortnight ago. Firstly this would gone me a bit of variety, but more than this it would avoid the frustration if having to ride again past Doctors Orders and The Abdication while they were closed!

So, my route took me via the towns of Kirkby-in-Aashfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield. Then at Tibshelf, I turned onto the Five Pits Trail, a greenway which took me, traffic-free, most of the way to Chesterfield.

P1120747

Chesterfield has one thing in common with Pisa in Italy: both have created icons as a result of shoddy building standards! In the case of Chesterfield, the spire of its church (the largest church in Derbyshire) has become so twisted that it is hard to miss. The local council, and many local businesses, use the twisted spire emblem as part of their logo.   This is probably where the similarities between Pisa and Chesterfield end.

P1120749

Somehow I arrived outside the Chesterfield Ale House just a few minutes after midday opening time.  It was lovely to meet part-owners Trevor and Karen. More about this pub later.

2015-09-26 12.03.17

After a pint there I crossed to the other side of Chesterfield to visit the town’s second micropub: Beer Parlour, which has recently moved to new, less micro, premises. Outside Beer Parlour, I encountered a security guard in discussion with two policemen. Hello? I thought. Trouble? But the reason turned out to be the close proximity to Chesterfield’s football ground, and this afternoon there was a home game. Indeed within half an hour it was impossible to move inside the Beer Parlour!   One of these football supporters turned out to be Chris, a part owner of “Beer House”, a micropub in Sheffield.

P1120770

The climb out of Chesterfield was quite severe, but using the excellent Monsal Trail disused railway cycle path later in the journey at least meant that part of the ride was a slow, gentle climb.  But I was ready for a few beers by the time I arrived in Buxton!

P1120774

Tonight I had arranged to stay at the home of fellow cyclist Dave via a cycle touring hospitality website. Dave, a retired teacher was being visited that weekend by his friend John, also a retired teacher. John came with me to visit Ale Stop while Dave prepared to play a gig at a nearby pub.

P1120792

When John and I arrived at the Ale Stop we realized there was one thing I had forgotten to bring with me: my bike! I made amends by riding past the pub the following morning! Owner Louis kindly presented me with a bucket of coins that the pub had collected for my Alzheimers fund. You can see from the picture below why I don’t collect cash en-route!

P1120786

John and I then moved on to watch David play blues guitar down the road at the Eagle.   A great night. Big thanks to Dave for your hospitality!

 

Sunday 27th September

Before I set off in the morning, Dave gave me some sound route advice and, as a result, I had an amazing and scenic walk/ride up to the Cat & Fiddle Inn which, at 1700ft, is maybe the highest altitude of my trip.

2015-09-27 10.33.16   P1120798   P1120804

Next, for what seemed like the first time in ages, I found myself in descent mode for the long downhill stretch into Macclesfield (a.k.a. Treacle Town).

P1120809

Tim and Bronwen, the owners of the Treacle Tap in Macclesfield had come down to meet me.

P1120813

The ride to Stoke-on-Trent was mostly traffic-free thanks to the towpath of the Macclesfield Canal and a disused railway. First stop was the Bursley Ale House in the suburb of Burslem.   Then a short ride into Newcastle-under-Lyme to the Bridge Street Ale House where a great welcome awaited from owners Tansy & Grum and many people who had turned up from the local CAMRA group.

2015-09-27 17.07.07

Riding to Stoke station to catch my train home, I noticed that the moon seemed large and somewhat redder than usual.   Alas I had no idea that a lunar eclipse was about to occur.

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP - MARCH 03: The earth's shadow passes over the moon for the first total lunar eclipse in three years March 3, 2007 over Gaza City, Gaza Strip. The next full lunar eclipse will occur on August 28, 2007. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP – MARCH 03: The earth’s shadow passes over the moon for the first total lunar eclipse in three years March 3, 2007 over Gaza City, Gaza Strip. The next full lunar eclipse will occur on August 28, 2007. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

And, no, I’m afraid that’s not my own photo of the moon, I borrowed it from the internet!

Adventure before dementia

Several weeks ago, I spotted this sign in the rear window of a camper van.

P1120066

A few of the people that have looked at this photo said they felt it portrayed a rather pessimistic outlook: glass half empty rather than half full.   I beg to differ.

My father spent his life looking forward to retirement, in the sense that it would be the point when he and my mum would do all those things they had planned.   Alas, shortly after he retired it became clear that Dad was suffering from the early stages of some kind of dementia. To cut a long story short, he passed away at the age of 74.   Let’s just say that Dad’s retirement did not turn out the way he had planned it.

I imagine that those camper van folks might have been affected by one of their loved ones suffering from dementia. If so, then they will have learned not to take anything for granted. Not only that, but they might also have been advised that they carry a slightly higher risk than most people of developing something similar later in life.

On receiving this kind of news, it’s hard not to find yourself worrying each time something trivial happens like being unable to remember somebody’s name. From time to time you find yourself looking over your shoulder for that metaphorical demon that may, or may not, be there, coming up behind you to steal your mind and your memory one piece at a time.

I like to picture those camper van people looking this demon squarely in the eye, defiantly sticking two fingers up and saying: “if you’re there, we’re one step ahead of you!”. That’s not pessimistic. It’s win-win for them: if they’re worrying about nothing then they will still have their retirement to go on many more adventures!

I’m not suggesting that we should live our lives in fear of what might happen in the future, but neither should we take anything for granted.

Here’s hoping that future generations will no longer need to look over their shoulders, at least for this particular demon. And clearly that’s one of the reasons for my choice of charity.

But, in a way, over this past year I’ve been having my own adventure; (hopefully not) before dementia. I have my wife, Sujal, to thank for tolerating my frequent departures, and all that accompanies my returns: damp tents drying in the living room and all that!   Thank you Sujal!! And I am acutely aware that you are due some adventures of your own!

Another week off

 Most of this trip has been undertaken in short weekend stages, with me trekking back and forth to my last finishing point by train – often at unearthly hours in order to bag the “cheap” (i.e. affordable) advance train tickets.   Back in April, I had taken a whole week off work to enable me to tackle the far Northern leg of my journey without all this to-ing and fro-ing. And I have done the same thing this first week of September, with the plan of covering the micropubs between Devon and Nottingham, via South Wales and the Midlands!

And so it was that I found myself spending my Friday evening on a train back to Tiverton Parkway just a fortnight or so after having returned from there.   Fortunately, this time nobody was on strike so I was able to do the journey in a couple of hours, direct from London rather than it taking more than 6 hours via Birmingham!

 

Friday 4th September

I arrived into Tiverton “Parkway” (nowhere near Tiverton!) at around 9pm and headed down the dark lanes to seek out the campsite that I had telephoned a week previously. On the phone I had explained that I was booked on the 9pm train so would not be arriving till after dark, and would that be OK?   The voice on the phone had explained that reception shut at 7pm so was there any chance I could get there before then? Not without a time machine, I had explained – would that still be OK? And the answer had been “Yes”.

But now, on arrival there were two problems. Firstly, there was nobody about to consult as to where to pitch a tent, and secondly, it seemed to be one of those campsites mostly given over to caravans and motor homes. There didn’t seem to be anywhere obvious to pitch a tent.   I asked a couple of people who were milling around in the dark, but nobody seemed to know where the “duty warden” resided out of hours. So I made the best of the situation and quietly erected my little tent between a hedge and a monster caravan that completely dwarfed my tiny abode.

This was the first time that I had “stealth camped” in a camp site!

Saturday 5th September

Fortunately, my adopted neighbours did not seem too perturbed that a small green canvas thingy had appeared outside their caravan overnight.   I explained the situation and made my apologies as I packed up and sought any sign of life at reception. I was pleased to encounter the “deputy duty warden” an hour before reception was due to open, and paid her the princely sum of eight pounds, and then I was back on the road – Ilfracombe bound!

2015-09-05 10.48.19

But between myself and Ilfracombe was Exmoor. So, a steep climb up to a plateau at 1500 ft above sea level, but actually quite a flat ride for most of the day.   And, compared to my previous forays into such elevated terrain (read my accounts of the North York Moors and Shap summit!), quite mild weather, so it felt less bleak.

P1120248   P1120246

Right the middle of Exmoor, a public house was marked on my map. Not just the usual anonymous “PH” symbol, but specifically “PH (The Sportsman’s Inn)”.   Unsurprisingly, my wheels took me in its general direction, although a little voice in the back of my head told me to prepare for the worst. If pubs these days struggle to survive in the suburbs of North London, what hope was there for a pub that seemed to be at least 10 miles from the nearest village.

But I needn’t have fretted; I’m delighted to say that The Sportsman’s Inn is alive and kicking, and serving well-kept Exmoor Ales. Although that Saturday lunchtime things were relatively quiet, the landlord of over 20 years explained that t was generally packed in the evenings and that many local community groups, the local farmers, choral societies, you name it, met there.

2015-09-05 12.32.19

Back on the road, I met a chap called Harry on a red Colnago racing bike and we chatted for a few minutes, until the road divided and we went our separate ways.

Later that afternoon I got my first glimpse of the North Devon coast and the sea in the distance.

P1120255

At the end of the day it felt like I burned away much of the rubber of my brake blocks during the unbelievably steep descent into Combe Martin.

P1120259

I found my campsite, Little Meadow, just beyond Coombe Martin on the road toward Ilfracombe. If you are ever looking to camp somewhere near Ilfracombe then this is the place! Incredible views and a lovely spaced out, terraced layout.   What a view!

P1120270

Sunday 6th Sept.

Today would be a short break from cycling.   When I first planned this trip I had wondered for a while how I would cover the distance between Tiverton in Devon and Mumbles in Wales – not far as the crow flies but a very long way by road – perhaps 3 or 4 days’ cycling at my loaded pace! I expected there would be a ferry service somewhere across the Bristol Channel, but alas there is not!   And then I had discovered PS-Waverley: the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer. PS Waverley was saved from the scrap-yard in the 1970’s by the paddle steamer preservation society and since has operated excursions at various points around the coast of England and Scotland.   When the 2015 excursion timetable was released back in April, it was clear that there was only one day, Sunday 6th September, when it would be possible to use PS Waverley to cross from Devon to Wales.   And so it was that I quickly snapped up a ticket from Ilfracombe to the Cardiff port of Penarth, with a two hour stopover on Lundy Island as an added bonus!!   The rest of my year’s schedule had all been contrived to get me to this precise point on this very day. So, after all that forward planning, imagine if I had overslept and missed the boat.

Of course I didn’t! I was up bright and early and packed up and into Ilfracombe well before my 12.00 departure time. I explored the harbour, then explored the harbour again, marvelled at Damien Hirst’s artwork “Verity” adorning the quayside. As one might expect, this has received a mixed reception from locals.

P1120281

The departure of PS Waverley from Ilfracombe harbour was quite an occasion. The town crier had come along, and there seemed to be as many people lined up on the quayside to see us off as there were packed onto the decks of Waverley herself.

P1120290

I thought back to the Conqueror micropub in Ramsgate, how that pub had been named after a steamer that had been skippered by landlord Colin’s grandfather and imagined that this must be a similar kind of vessel.

P1120291   P1120312   P1120325

A couple of hours later we docked at the small quay at Lundy Island.   Those of you who are more into small pubs than big paddle steamers bear with me.   There is a very small pub on Lundy and, of course, it was my first destination! But first there was the small matter of nearly a mile of walking uphill – and I thought my legs were going to get a rest today!

P1120337

The Marisco Arms serves Lundy Ale (alas, not brewed on Lundy) and ALSO ALES FROM THE St Austell Brewery. On the walls hang lifebuoys and other memorabilia from the many unlucky vessels that have sunk off Lundy Island over the years.   I felt glad that our steamer had made it this far!

P1120344   P1120345

Finally there was the long downhill walk down the steps back to the Waverley. Overhearing the family in front of me was rather like listening to an episode of Outnumbered:

Girl: “Mum, why did grandma stop on a seat and not come all the way up?”

Mum: “Well, she needed to catch her breath. That’s what happens when you get old.”

Girl: “But she was 80 today and this was her birthday present. She didn’t really use it, did she?”

It was a long sail (or should that be paddle?) back from Lundy to Penarth (via Ilfracombe). The sun had set and it was 10 in the evening by the time we finally manoeuvered our way into Penarth.

I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip on PS Waverley!   Check out their schedule and the Waverley’s history at www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk

A 4 mile ride, via the Cardiff Bay Barrage brought me to Cardiff Youth Hostel, my lodgings for tonight. Youth Hostel? More like a hotel! Plasma TV in the room, en-suite shower room, bar open till 2am. But somewhere to dry my tent, still damp from the morning’s dew? Err, sorry, but no.

Monday 8th Sept

This morning I discovered that Cardiff YHA was a failed Mercure Hotel that YHA had snapped up on the cheap. So perhaps not so surprising that it was hotel-like.

I weaved my way through the city centre of Cardiff and then through its surprisingly cosmopolitan inner suburbs. Then, all of a sudden the city had come to an end and I found myself in open countryside.

P1120392

Most of my route as far as Bridgend / Pen-y-bont was on quiet country lanes and I barely saw a soul. Clearly nobody had felt the urge to remove this particular tree, which appeared to have been blocking this road for a considerable time!

P1120395

After Bridgend, I joined a Sustrans cycle route which alternated between meandering along the backstreets of Port Talbot and Neath and running alongside busy and noisy dual carriageways. But if at any point I felt the need to moan to myself about the gradient I only had to take a look to my right to see how much worse it could have been!

P1120399

And then I arrived in Swansea and had the pleasure of riding along the promenade for the 5 miles or so to Mumbles. It was close to the end of day 3 of this leg of my trip and only now had I reached my first micropub!!

P1120416

The Mumbles Ale House is owned and run by Rod and Karen. Like many micropubs, they do not open on Mondays but they had kindly agreed to open up for me to avoid delaying my journey by a day. I’ll do a proper write up of the pub in due course. It was lovely to meet Rod and Karen. They had offered me a bed for the night but reluctantly I declined as the next micropub, which I planned to visit the following evening, was 90 miles away so I needed to beak the back of that journey today. Rod gave me 3 bottles of beer to sample and I gratefully crammed these into what little spare space I could find in my panniers and then went on my way.

20150907_162703

I retraced my steps back through Swansea and Port Talbot. As I reached Bridgend it grew dark. I had no planned accommodation for that night as I had intended to wing it. Along the way I had seen numerous signs for campsites but just when I needed one they all evaporated.  After riding onwards in the dark for about half an hour I spotted the entrance to a field that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Too tired to bother with the tent, I rolled out my groundsheet and bivvy bag and bedded down for the night after downing one of Rod’s beers as a nightcap.

Tuesday 8th Sept

I awoke at first light. No idea what time that was, but the first thing on my mind was that, in the cold light of day, my resting place was not quite as remote as i had imagined. To say I was sleeping in the farmer’s back garden would be an overstatement, but let’s just say that if he had peered out of his bedroom window it would have been difficult to miss me! I’m not a confident wild camper, only having popped my wild camping cherry earlier this year, so I hastily packed up my stuff and within about 5 minutes i was back on the road. Like a responsible wild camper, I had done no damage and left no trace that i had ever been there – or so i thought. About an hour down the road, when the sun grew brighter, it became apparent that in my haste I had left my sunglasses behind in that field.

P1120439

Anyway the early start had come in handy. By 9am I had reached Cardiff where I took my time over an enormous cafe breakfast, safe in the knowledge that I was ahead of schedule.

My route out of Cardiff took me through the St Mellons area, where mobility scooters seemed to be the default mode of transport for anybody over the age of 40! The last part of Cardiff, before the countryside kicked in, was an industrial estate where all the roads were named after 1960’s programming languages!

P1120446

During the afternoon, the early start began to take its toll which meant I was unable to fully appreciate the undeniably attractive places I passed through such as Usk and Monmouth. But I made a mental note to return one day to this region.

2015-09-08 18.04.52

My micropub destination, Coleford, also turned out to be a beautiful little town. Unfortunately for me it sits on top of a hill, so the only way was up!

I had a great visit to The Dog House micropub (formerly one of three Cobblers micropubs in the region), and then it was time to head to Wye Valley youth hostel for the night. Fortunately, the only way out of Coleford is down!

P1120456

Wednesday 9th Sept

YHA Wye Valley is as unlike the Cardiff YHA as it is possible to be! Car access is via a crumbling track with hairpin bends and barely wide enough for a single car.

P1120460

As my first micropub stop of the day was less than 20 miles away and did not open until 4pm, I could have a bit of a lie-in for a change.

Shortly before midday I checked out, and scrambled up the steep precipitous path from the youth hostel to the main road and headed along the quiet but somewhat hilly roads toward Hereford.

In Hoarwithy village, my planned route would have taken me left up what appeared to be a steep incline. The road to the right, following the river Wye looked far more inviting (and flat). A sign indicating there was a pub called the Cottage of Content in the next village clinched it – so I turned right and soon was enjoying a swift pint in said pub in the delightful village of Carey..

P1120473

But the hill was ultimately unavoidable without a long diversion, so on leaving the pub I took a left turn and gritted my teeth for the climb.

I have never been to Hereford before and it appeared very impressive with its charming bridge and views of the Cathedral. In many ways it is a pity that I’m “only here for the beer” and have rarely had sufficient time available to fully explore the towns and cities that I have been passing through.   But at least the memories and the glimpse of what each place has to offer can be used to inspire future weekends away.

P1120476

I grabbed a cheese & onion pasty from a nearly shop then went to find Beer in Hand. Still half an hour till opening, so I proceeded to devour the pasty outside. But Mitchell, the landlord had spotted me from inside and invited me in for a before-opening beer. I’ll write about Beer in Hand separately.

2015-09-09 15.30.25

Alas, I could not stay long, as I had an appointment to keep on the outskirts of Newent. I was to be met by some cyclists from Newent Cycling Group who would escort me into Newent and to the Cobblers micropub along their very own cycle route.   After they had received a lukewarm reaction from their local council about developing and signing some cycling routes in their area, this gallant bunch decided to take matters into their own hands. Raising their own funds, they sought permission to erect their own signage and consequently signed two circular routes based on their own local knowledge. Not only that but they designed and produced a map and guide to the routes. And hence the Newent Loop was born!

P1120497

Thank you Linda, David, Colin and Bill for your insight into your worthy project – if you are ever in the area then check out http://newentloop.org  and bring your bike with you !!

P1120500

While I had been in Cobblers it had grown dark. Needing to get to Stratford on Avon for opening time tomorrow I need to make some headway towards that town, so I had booked myself into a campsite at a pub called the Lower Lode Inn near Tewkesbury.   It was beginning to get a little chilly as I set off down the dark lanes. The Newent Cycling Group had come up trumps yet again and Linda had nipped home to print off a section of Ordnance Survey map upon which she had marked the best route to my campsite.

A couple of miles down the road, I encountered another nocturnal cyclist called Will, who was “just out for a ride”.

The dark lanes in the area were not as quiet as I’ve might have expected at that time of night. Will explained that this was all due to the controversial badger cull, and that the groups of people hanging around the lanes or parked up in lay by’s were either those included in the cull or those trying to monitor or prevent it. From time to time a police car would also pass.

Eventually I located the Lower Lode Inn at the end of a 2 mile dead end lane, a aforethought it want really a dead end. The inn was on the banks of the River Severn and the lane continued on the opposite bank linked by a small passenger ferry. I put my tent up and noted into the Inn for a final pint – rude not to!

Thursday 10th September

Next morning I packed up my dewy tent and looked around for any sign of the ferryman. I had been told last night that Tewkesbury was only a mile away from the opposite bank, but without the ferry was a 5 mile detour by road. A man emerged from the building next door: I asked him if he knew what time the ferry started.

P1120515

“Lunchtime” he said. And then he broke into a grin and explained that he operated it so it started when he decided. We loaded my bike into the small motor launch and set off across the Severn. In the couple of minutes it took to cross I learned that in the recent floods this whole area had been under water. The pub I had been in last night had been submerged up to bar height and there were still the remnants of trashed boats languishing half way up the banks of the river.

P1120517   P1120518   P1120520

I bid the ferryman farewell and pedalled the short distance into Tewkesbury and ordered a large breakfast from the Wetherspoons – yes, they have their uses!

On the cyclepath to Stratford I met a man who was touring the country on an electric bike.  Personally, I have struggled to keep my phone and GPS in a constant state of charge throughout this trip and wondered what it must be like to keep a bike constantly charged up.

A couple of hours later I was riding into Stratford-upon-Avon, but as a different kind of tourist.

P1120534

After chat and a pint with Phil at the Stratford Ale House I made tracks for Warwick where I visited the Old Post Office and meet both the current mayor and the new incoming mayor.

P1120544

My legs were growing tired by the time I reached Bromsgrove. After 3 nights of camping, two nights in youth hostels and one night of sleeping in a field even the lowly Travelodge that I had checked into for the night felt like a palace!   Receptiion were happy for me to bring my bike into the room too.  I got showered and changed and then ride the short distance into town to the Little Ale House.

P1120548

Friday 11th September

I expected today to be more of an urban ride, flitting as I would be between various Midlands Towns, but there turned out to be quite a lot of greenery between them. First on the list was Kidderminster, the town famous for its carpets, where I visited the Weavers Ale House.

P1120560

Next destination was Wolverhampton where I received a spectacular welcome, and a huge cheque for Alzheimers, at Hail To The Ale.   This pub is run by Gary and Angela Morton of the eponymous Morton Brewery.

P1120592

Things were getting late and so I pressed on towards the wonderfully named “Whippet Inn” in Lichfield. I literally had to whip in and out of there as I still had quite a way to go to Tamworth before the Kings Ditch closed.

On my way, my Garmin directed me off the road and onto a narrow track. Shortly afterwards, a sign warned of an artillery range. I soldiered on, assuming nobody would be doing target practice at this time of night! After a few wrong turns in the dark, I finally met my nemesis in the form of a locked gate about 6 feet high! Having come this far there was no way that I was going to turn back, so I painstakingly removed each piece of my luggage, throwing them over one by one and then finally lugged the bike over the gate and reloaded on the other side.

P1120606

Eventually I rolled into Tamworth just as it began to rain – the first rain of the week. Luckily, it turned out that the Kings Ditch opened until 10.30 and not 10 as I had previously thought.

P1120612

Saturday 12th September

It was still raining when I looked out of the window in the morning. I ambled downstairs for breakfast and then headed off towards Tutbury.  On the way, the rain became torrential and I was glad that I had donned not only my waterproof top but also legs and overshoes.

Tutbury turned out to be a delightful little town, with a castle, museum, but also proper shops to complement the inevitable touristy establishments that are inevitable in such a location. The town was well connected with a train station and regular buses. Even the weather finally delivered and the clouds drifted away allowing me to spread out my things to dry. Which was handy, as I had arrived over an hour before the Cask and Pottle was due to open.

P1120619

After a quick pint at the Cask & Pottle I rode on towards Melbourne where I had a date with the Chip & Pin.

A great welcome awaited me at the Chip & Pin. It was great to meet David and Elaine who run the pub, but also aspiring micropub landlords Shaun and Jane who are soon to open the Fuggle & Nugget micropub in the nearby brewing town of Burton-on-Trent.

P1120641

Shortly before I left the Chip & Pin, a young gentleman introduced himself to me. It was Steve, who had contacted me via Facebook about possibly cycling with me for some of today’s route. Steve was able to join me until the next pub, the Chequered Flag, but would had another engagement later so unfortunately would not be able to ride in to Derby.

P1120642

On the way to the Chequered Flag, Steve and I passed through the grounds of Donington Park racing circuit. We tried to blag our way into the museum, but unfortunately it was closed.

P1120643   P1120645

However, The Chequered Flag micropub in nearby Castle Donington is almost a motor racing museum in itself. More about that later.

P1120655

It was time to move on to Derby.   I bid adieu to Steve a few miles down the road and headed into Derby along NCN6, which avoided all the main roads and followed the River Derwent.

My friend and work colleague Stuart had been due to meet me in Derby in order to catch today’s last two micropubs and then ride with me the following day, but I started receiving texts from Stuart hinting that all was not going well with his train journey.

P1120674

At around 6pm I arrived at the Little Chester Ale House, who had done a splendid job of raising £81 via a raffle.   Alas, no Stuart. He would now get into Derby after 8pm so instead of cycling to Belper with me he would catch the train and meet me there. A very sneaky way of avoiding a steep hill!!

I arrived into Arkwrights Real Ale bar only a few minutes before Stuart himself arrived.

After a couple of pints there we made our way along the road to the George and Dragon where we were staying for the night.

 

Sunday 13th September

Stuart and I packed up and headed off to the nearby Morrissons supermarket for a hearty breakfast. Then on the road and out of Belper towards our first micropub stop, the Marlpool Ale House in Heanor.

2015-09-13 11.49.42

Stuart’s parents, Graham and Marie, joined us in Hucknall at Beer Shack.

P1120709

A short ride via NCN6 (again!) took us to The Abdication in a northern suburb of Nottingham.

P1120714

Finally, a visit to Doctors Orders and then it was time to head home after another week on the road that, again, had felt like a whole month!

2015-09-13 17.13.08

At Nottingham station, Stuart caught his train back to Peterborough and I boarded mine to London. It had been a long and eventful week. 20 more micropubs visited and an adventure I hope to remember for years to come.

Beershack, Hucknall

Beershack is one of a trio of micropubs set up by James, the other two being in Burnley and Mansfield.  A single storey building with a high pitched roof, there is a certain “shackiness” about the exterior.  The lines of empty casks outside help to carry this off.  While we’re still outside, it’s also worth noting that Beershack have installed bike racks outside – a nice touch, and one that should be good for business, as a bike is such a great way to get to micropubs – but then I would say that!

20798964963_541471ee70_z

No nonsense inside – all fit for purpose.  A plain, square-ish room with stripped pine floor.  A long bar counter down the left wall and the remaining floorspace filled with standard pubby furniture.  There’s an old hanging inn sign (The Flying Bedstead) on one of the walls (I forgot to ask if there was a story behind it, but a quick google search when I got home revealed it to be the name of a former Hucknall pub that had succumbed to “development” and become a co-op store.  The pub itself had been named after a prototype vertical takeoff flying machine that was tested at Rolls Royce Hucknall in the 1950’s). The remaining wall space is filled with the pumpclips of beers gone by – and there have been many of those!

21232999529_2e6c9b237c_z

Ales are served by hand-pull, with the casks in a separate temperature-controlled room.   Cider boxes sit on the bar and are served at room temperature.  We chatted with barman/manager Dave who was friendly and knew his beer.

21428318091_a0296dafbe_z