I’ve been on a bit of a whistle-stop tour of East Anglia this weekend. My busy itinerary included a spot of sight-seeing, a visit to a Heritage pub, a stop to pick up a few bottles of Rauchbier – to satisfy my “smoke beer” cravings, and finally, the highlight of the weekend, meeting up with prolific blogger and Good Beer Guide enthusiast, retired Martin, along with Mrs retired Martin.
The main purpose of my trip east, of course, was to visit my father. I wanted to see a little more of him this time around, so I decided to leave off work at 12.30pm on Friday afternoon and travel straight up. It perhaps wasn’t the wisest of moves, as I hit queuing traffic a couple of junctions before the Dartford Crossing. This added at least half hour to my journey time. I also hit heavy traffic to the north of Cambridge.
After numerous journeys around the M25 and then up and the M11/A11, I decided to take a slightly different route, and to stop off somewhere en route. The city of Ely caught my fancy, as it is a place I have journeyed through by train on several past occasions and yet it is somewhere I have never stopped at.
An evening there, followed by some further exploration the following day, would still mean me arriving at dad’s care-home shortly after lunch. I could then spend some time with dad, before meeting up with my sister later in the day. I could then stay somewhere local on Saturday evening, before calling in on dad on Sunday morning. I also wanted to visit the Woodland Burial Ground, at Colney on the outskirts of Norwich, where my mother’s ashes have been laid to rest. I then planned to stop off at another CAMRA Heritage pub on the drive home.
So all in all a busy weekend and one where I achieved all my objectives except the last one. That was scuppered by road works and traffic delays, which I heard about on traffic bulletins on my journey south. Not wishing to get caught up in queuing traffic again, I postponed that particular pub visit for another time, and continued straight on down the M11, and then the M25 back into Kent.
To put a little more flesh on the bones, I stopped off on my drive up to Cambridgeshire, at the lovely and unspoilt Blue Ball Inn at Grantchester. Looking out across the famous meadows, immortalised by Pink Floyd on their 1968 album, Ummagumma, this was a pub I would have liked to spend more time at.
Instead I continued northwards, skirting the east of Cambridge, before arriving at the Red Lion at Stretham; a village about five miles south of Ely, and my stopping place for the night. It was from here that Martin and his wife picked me up and drove us into Ely for a spot of pub exploration. We had a most enjoyable evening, and visited three excellent and slightly contrasting pubs, but most of all it was great to do this in the company of Mr & Mrs retired Martin. (There will be much more about Friday evening in Ely in a separate post).
After breakfast the following morning, I checked out of the Red Lion and drove the short distance into Ely. I parked up and had a wander around this charming little cathedral city, taking the time for a more detailed look at Ely’s massive cathedral. The city’s market was also well worth a wander round.
After a couple of hours, I left the delights of Ely behind and continued north along the course of the A10 trunk road. I crossed both the Great and the Little Ouse rivers, along with the Great Ouse relief channel, as I headed up towards Kings Lynn. Eventually the open and very exposed flatlands of the Fens gave way to more wooded and slightly hillier country, and before long I was turning down the small road which leads to the Beers of Europe warehouse, close to the village of Setchey.
As mentioned earlier, by prime objective was to indulge my “smoke beer” fetish, and I did this in the form some bottles of Bamberg’s finest - Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. I also picked up a few other beers which caught my fancy, including Augustiner Maximator – the best brewery in Munich's strong, dark 7.5% ABV Doppelbock, brewed specially for the Starkbier Saison.
I arrived at dad’s care home shortly after 1pm. He was looking OK but not making a lot of sense. As the effects of the Alzheimer’s he is suffering from become more debilitating, I suppose this is only to be expected, but it is still very sad when I remember how intelligent and quick witted he was, even up until just a few years ago.
I met up with my sister for a late lunch afterwards. We chose the Romany Rye, which is the Wetherspoon’s outlet in Dereham. My sister lives in the town, so the pub was the obvious choice really. I had a pint of Exe Valley Bitter to go with my panini, and we spent a pleasant hour or so catching up. Phillippa is the “baby” of the family, being 14 years younger than me, but as she reminded me she will be turning 50 in a couple of years time!
After going our separate ways, I headed off in the car to the town of Watton, where I had booked accommodation for the night. Over the course of the past seven or eight years, I have stayed in numerous hotels or bed & breakfast establishments in the Dereham area. Availability, and cost, have dictated my choice of overnight accommodation, but this was the first time I have stayed in this mid-Norfolk town.
The unusually named Hare & Barrel Hotel, was my base for the night, and very pleasant it was too. My room was in one of the converted stables behind the main building, and it was both quiet and comfortable. Old Speckled Hen was the sole cask offering, but the keg East Coast IPA (also from brewed by Greene King), was very palatable. It was also the perfect accompaniment to the rather hot Thai chicken curry I ordered.
I returned to my room after the meal, and had every intention of going out exploring afterwards, as there was a pub a the other end of Watton which had caught my interest. I flicked the tele on and started watching a programme about the restoration of Britain’s canals. Part way through this programme I fell asleep; the combination of a heavy meal on top of a busy day, having caught up with me. When I eventually woke up, it was too late to be walking a mile or more to the other end of town, so I decide to have an early night instead.
Dad was a lot more with it the following day, even though he kept nodding off. After taking my leave, I drove along the A47 towards Norwich, and made my way to the Woodland Burial Ground. I managed to find mum’s plot, which is in small clearing about five minutes walk into the woods. It’s a lovely peaceful spot to end up in, and at this time of year the trees are all coming into leaf and the primroses have just about finished flowering. When the time comes, dad will be interned beside his lifetime partner, but that’s for the future.
The Heritage pub I was aiming for was the Walnut Tree at Great Waltham, to the north-west of Chelmsford, but with the aforementioned roadwork, which basically involved the complete closure of the A12, in both directions to the south of Colchester, I decided this pub could be visited on my way back from a future trip to Norfolk.
I arrived home, just before 3.15pm. My wife was surprised to see me so early. I’d like to think it was a pleasant surprise, but who knows! After unpacking I managed a couple of hours in the garden, which was both a bonus and a good way to end what was an excellent weekend.