Friday 31 January 2020

North Downs Way - Otford to Wrotham

I managed to knock off an eight mile section of the North Downs Way last Sunday. This followed me joining a group of local CAMRA members on a rather muddy walk to a classic old country pub, nestled on top of the downs; a pub that will sadly close its doors for good this coming Friday, (today!).

The pub in question was the Rising Sun at Cotman’s Ash; not to be confused with the Rising Sun at Twitton,  just the other side of Otford. Now I intend writing a separate post about the Rising Sun, but my mention of Otford was deliberate, as the village’s railway station was the starting point of our walk.

The North Downs Way passes through this pleasant village, which nestles in a gap in the chalk hills, formed by the River Darent, and after agreeing to accompany my friends on this hastily arranged walk,  the possibility that I could complete a further section of this long-distance trail, began to take shape in my mind.

The walk was arranged by a handful of West Kent CAMRA members, following a Twitter-feed advising of the Rising Sun’s imminent closure. The fact that this ancient old inn is closing on the same day as Britain’s ill-advised departure from the European Union, was a fact that was not lost on many of us, but leaving such comparisons aside, the loss of this classic country alehouse marks the loss of a piece of living history, as well as the demise of a way of life for the pub’s owner.

Our small walking group was made up of just five hardy souls who met at Tonbridge station, before taking the train to Sevenoaks. We then changed onto the Darent Valley Line, before alighting (always a strange term) at the aforementioned Otford. A short walk east of the station leads to a path which begins a long ascent up the aptly named “Otford Mount.”

At first the path is sandwiched between some rather posh looking houses, but these are soon left behind as it continues to climb towards the 204 metre summit – what’s that in old money? I first walked up this path, some 20 years ago, back in the days when we had a family dog. The surrounding area seems much more overgrown than I remember it; evidence of how the advancing scrub-land can easily takeover.

Later on, we came across a group of volunteers, equipped with brush-cutters – industrial-size strimmers, who were cutting down the advancing bushes and infant trees, preventing them from becoming established and converting the grassy chalk downland into the beginnings of a forest.

The terrain levelled out, once we reached the summit of the mount, but we were then faced with the challenge of sticky mud. After one of the wettest autumns and early winters on record, the ground remains saturated, even on top of the normally rapid-draining chalk hills.  Fortunately most of us had heeded the advice to wear stout walking boots, but these intermittent muddy areas still managed to slow us down.

For me though, it was just great to be back out in the open countryside, after being cooped up indoors for three weeks, because of man flu and/or inclement weather. It was mild for mid-January, making walking pleasure, despite the muddy conditions underfoot.

We eventually reached our destination, finding the attractive Rising Sun pub, almost hidden behind a hedgerow. Constructed from a mixture of brick and roughly-hewn local flints, the pub sits in what looks like its own small-holding. A couple of dogs came out to greet us, before we stepped inside.

The interior was like stepping back in time, but I’m going to leave the description of the pub for the separate article, as there’s much to tell. More to the point, there’s another four miles of walking to cover, before we get to the end of this particular section of the NDW.

We didn’t stop long at the Rising Sun, primarily because the pub had run dry. Our party of five were served what turned out to be the last pints of cask left. With closure planned for Friday, the landlady was trying to run down stocks. Consequently there was no more cask waiting to come on tap.

Our original plan had been to stop for a couple of pints at the Rising Sun before heading back. A different  return route was mooted; one which involved missing the muddy fields and woodland, by walking along the lanes which criss-cross this part of the downs. The village of Shoreham, which is the next village along from Otford, also nestles in the Darenth Valley, was mooted as a suitable destination. It has its own station, along with three pubs.

With this plan in mind, we’d all purchased return tickets to Shoreham and, were it not for my desire to complete the North Downs Way, this would have been the ideal place to end our walk, before taking the train home. To my mind though, the miles put in by partially re-tracing our outward route, could be put to better use by continuing eastwards, along the NDW to the village of Wrotham.

For me, Wrotham, with its nearby rail connection at Borough Green, would be a far better place to end the walk, as not only would it mean completion of a further four miles of the trail, it would also provide a suitable starting point for the next station. 

I’d already explained my idea to the walk leader who, having completed the NDW several years before, fully understood the thinking behind it. I therefore bade farewell to my companions, and set off towards Wrotham. It was shortly after 2pm, so I was certain of reaching my destination before dusk. There was also a reward awaiting me at the end of the walk in the form of the Bull Hotel. This was the only one of  Wrotham’s three pubs I had not set foot in, but one which looked particularly appealing so, armed with my OS Guide, off I went, passing through a mixture of woodland and open countryside.

I am quite happy walking by myself, as I can set my own pace, stop for a drink from my water bottle or nip behind a suitable tree to get rid of the excess. I kept up a reasonable pace, finding the trail well-marked and easy to follow. After approximately a mile and a half, the route suddenly descends from the hilltops, by means of a steep path. It then continues in an easterly direction, along the bottom of the escarpment, along a rough, but quite firm track, all the way to Wrotham.

Although the views were nowhere near as impressive, the firm going underfoot allowed me to make good progress, and true to form I arrived in Wrotham before the light had started to fade.  The lack of impressive scenery, meant there was no need to  stop and take photos. I was also keen to press on, especially as an annoying light drizzle has started to set in. I found my way to the Bull, making note along the way as to where I needed to start the next section of the NDW, whenever that might be.

The Bull is an imposing and well-appointed hotel, parts of which are said to date back to the 14th Century. Today, it has a good reputation for food, but is also known for stocking a reasonable selection of beers, often sourced from small breweries. With this in mind I was a little concerned about the state of my footwear, even though I’d managed to remove most of the excess along the second part of the walk.

I needn’t have worried though, as there was a stone floor running from the door towards the well-stocked bar. Even more comforting was the presence of two Old Dairy beers on the bar, Red Top and Über Brew. I opted for the latter, pale in colour and refreshingly hoppy in taste. It was well worthy of a 3.5 NBSS.

The best seats in the pub were occupied by two groups of drinkers, some of whom had dogs with them. The latter is always a good sign that the establishment is not too pretentious. I asked if it was OK to sit in the dining part of the pub, and was told it was fine, apart from at the one large table with the reserved sign.

I settled down to enjoy my pint, congratulate myself on completing this section of the trail, and then use my phone to check the train times from Borough Green and the time it would take me to walk there. There was sufficient time to finish my pint, but not really enough for another.

I therefore set off, but not before dinning my waterproof, as I could see through the window that  it had started to rain quite heavily. Fortunately the road out of the village, as well as the main A227 was well-lit with a proper footpath for pedestrians. I reached the station with time to buy a ticket and catch the train back towards Otford.

I received an enquiry regarding my progress, via WhatsApp, from the group of friends I’d started out with. I sent them a photo of the Bull and also a picture of my pint. They were ensconced in the second of Shoreham’s three pubs and judging by the photos, getting stuck into the beers. I was on a nice warm train, heading back home, secure in the knowledge that son Matthew would be waiting in his car, outside Tonbridge station, ready to pick me up at .

It had been an enjoyable walk, but I’m glad there wasn’t that long slog up the hill, towards my house, to end it off.

Sunday 26 January 2020

Drunk in charge

It’s a  brave, or perhaps foolish, man or woman who writes a post about the vexed subject of children in pubs. Pub Curmudgeon wrote such a piece just the other day, and I believe it is one of several articles he’s produced over the years about the joys, or otherwise of kids running amok whilst he’s trying to enjoy a drink.

I too got myself into hot water after writing a post about badly behaved children causing havoc in an award-winning, working man’s club; even though I was quite rightly apportioning blame to the parents/guardians who were supposed to be looking after them. I also questioned the non-intervention of the club staff, receiving perhaps the most criticism for not having raised the matter myself, with the club’s officials.

What happens though when the boot is on the other foot, and it is the adults who find themselves in the dock, for being “drunk in charge of a child?” Believe it or not, there is such an offence, as according to a licensing act from 1902, it is illegal to be drunk while in charge of a child under the age of seven. Anyone found in contravention of the rules can face a fine – or even a month behind bars.

Enter everyone’s favourite bargain-priced pub-chain, JD Wetherspoon, where one of their outlets has put its own spin on this 118 year old piece of legislation, by limiting  parents from buying more than two alcoholic drinks if they have children with them.  

The pub in question is the Robert Pocock in Gravesend, Kent, which brought in the two-drink limit because parents were letting their children run around uncontrolled. A poster at the pub said they were “Protecting children from harm,” and added, ‘Therefore adults in charge of children will be allowed to have one alcoholic drink and a further alcoholic drink with a sit down meal.”

All very draconian you might think, and the poster provoked the predictable cries of “outraged” parents, but apparently it’s nationwide policy for Wetherspoon’s, which individual managers can choose to enforce. The policy has been in place for some time, but has not been followed rigorously in the past.

The poster which sparked the controversy, has since been taken down, but the limit still remains in place. A representative for the Robert Pocock stated that, “After the limit has been reached, staff have the legal right to refuse service of alcohol."

A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said: "The manager took the decision to put the poster in the pub to emphasise to customers that she would not allow parents to drink while their children were running round uncontrolled in the pub. The notice had a positive effect, with mostly good feedback."

Now I’m not going to get mired in this particular controversy, particularly as my views on Brexit-fixated Tim Martin, are well known. I have once set foot inside the Robert Pocock,  and whilst I would describe it as not one of JDW’s “better outlets,” my sole visit was over 10 years ago, and the pub may well have improved since then.

The only thing I will say is let he, or she, who is without sin, cast the first stone. Mrs PBT’s and I once nearly left son Matthew in the back of a taxi, as we more or less fell out of the vehicle, after returning from a “good lunch” with friends.

Our poor deprived son was also nearly sat on once, whilst he slept in his pushchair, at a party held in an outdoor barn. Yes it was dark, drink had again been taken, and fortunately no harm was done, but didn’t former Prime Minister David (call me “Dave”) Cameron, also once leave his daughter behind at the pub, following a Sunday lunchtime drink?  

We’re only human after all, as the Rag’n’Bone Man sang; even the man whose over-inflated ego proved to be far greater than his intellect - to the detriment of us all!

Friday 24 January 2020

A good roasting at the Nelson

Scrolling through some of the photos I’ve taken on my new phone reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything about last Sunday’s post-Christmas lunch; the one arranged by West Kent CAMRA. As referred to in an earlier post, the event took place at the recently re-vamped Nelson Arms, in Tonbridge, which ensured that a good selection of  beers would be available to go with our meal.

Twenty branch members and friends attended, and landlord Matt and his team did a brilliant job of squeezing us all in at the Public Bar end of the pub. Being mid-January the Christmas lunch option had  expired (everyone's sick of turkey by New Year's Eve), but the Nelson had its usual Sunday roast offering  available instead.

All three members of the Bailey family opted for the slow roast pulled-pork, complete with crackling, roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The meal was well cooked and there was plenty of it. I pushed the boat out and had ice-cream for dessert, but on reflection the apple crumble and custard would have been a better choice – even though I always seem to go for a crumble.

There was an interesting selection of beers to go with the food as well. Matt had obtained three beers from Scottish brewer, Fyne Ales; a decision taken in advance of the forthcoming Tonbridge Beer Weekend. I enjoyed two of them – Avalanche plus the legendary Jarl. The former is a 4.5% Pale Ale, whilst Jarl is a 3.8% Session Blonde. It is also one of Fyne’s flagship beers.

I later moved on to Kent Brewery’s excellent and full-bodied Porter. This 5.5% dark ale has undertones of coffee and chocolate, and was just the beer to finish the session. This was despite being tempted by the Audit Ale from Lacon’s Brewery, which was still on sale three days after I initially encountered it. Weighing in at 8%, and coming on top of the other beers, it wouldn't have been a good idea.

As I said, the turnout was good and afforded the opportunity of catching up with several old friends and acquaintances. Mrs PBT’s enjoyed the event too. She was born and grew up in a house in the next road, back from the Nelson, and was pleased to see several of her late mother’s old neighbours. I’m sure if you asked her nicely, she’ll tell you tales about sitting out on the pub step, as a child, with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps – but perhaps not!

As us diners finished our meal, Matt and his staff cleared the area, and the big screen came down. I gather there was some sort of football match taking place between a team from Manchester and one from Liverpool. More importantly, the third Test between England and South Africa, was being screened in the other bar.

The Nelson is like that; a real community pub, catering for the Barden Road area of Tonbridge. You can fully understand why it was so important to people in this part of town, that a group of residents banded together to help save it, after Shepherd Neame called time on the pub, a few years ago. It was their determination, combined with licensees Matt and Emma’s drive, and of course, hard cash, that brought it back from the brink.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Tapping back into Untappd

I’m sure that I mentioned previously that I’d bought a new Smartphone over the Christmas period. My trusty old Galaxy J5 was out of space; in fact the phone memory was so clogged up that I couldn’t install updates or even run certain apps, as there just wasn’t sufficient room.

I did a fair amount of research, and one manufacturer whose name kept cropping up was up and coming Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi. I visited their London  outlet, the Mi Store,  in Shepherd’s Bush’s Westfield Shopping Centre, at the tail end of November and, as I wrote at the time, it provided the perfect opportunity to view and try out the company’s range of Mi phones at first hand.

I resisted the temptation to make a purchase there and then, instead waiting for the inevitable Christmas offers to appear. I eventually purchased the model I was after from that well-known online store, but because of the Christmas rush, it didn’t actually arrive until 10 days ago. There then followed the ritual of swapping over the SIM card and transferring all my contacts, and MP3 files, from my old phone to my new one.

Last weekend I thought it appropriate to upload a few apps, and with almost 42 GB of available space, there was plenty of room. I didn’t go mad, as I remember what had happened before, but one app which did catch my eye, was that modern day, answer to a beer-tickers’ prayer -  Untappd.

I wrote a post about Untappd, back in 2015, in which I claimed that the world of beer-ticking had moved on from the days of scruffy, barely-legible lists, maintained in tatty old exercise books. I stated that with the advent of the Smart Phone, and the growth in associated Apps, electronic versions of “ticking” were now available, bringing the “delights” of this hobby/obsession to a completely new audience.

Untappd is undoubtedly the best known electronic beer ticking app, and whilst American in origin, it continues to be extremely popular on this side of the Atlantic as well. “Un-tapping” beers became a favourite pastime for many drinkers; initially amongst the craft-beer faction, but with the passage of time the App has found increasing popularity amongst cask drinkers as well.

Five or six years ago, I tried Untappd myself, but gave it up after a short while, for a number of reasons. The majority of which were phone-related, but there were other more mundane reasons, such as I forgot to use it or sometimes, I just couldn’t be bothered, but now we’ve reached a new decade I have decided to give Untappd another try.

The amazing thing was that after all this time my old account was still out there, fully operational and enabling me to pick up from where I’d left off. The only thing I need now is a new contract to go with my shiny new phone; one that will allow me much more data, for those times when the pub or bar hasn’t got Wi-Fi, the quality is poor, or it just doesn’t work at all.

That will be my task this coming weekend, but before closing this post, here’s Untappd’s mission statement, lifted straight off the App’s website:

“Untappd is a new way to socially share and explore the world of beer with your friends and the world. Curious what your friends are drinking or where they're hanging out? Just check their profile where you can toast and comment on their beers! Untappd will offer you beer recommendations based on what you and your friends have been enjoying, so you’ll have no reason to not try something new! As additional encouragement, Untappd allows you to earn a number of cool badges for completing a variety of different criteria.”

Sunday 19 January 2020

Purely for medicinal purposes!

So far January has been pretty much a “dry” one for me; not through choice but, as a result of one of the worst colds I’ve had in years, I just haven’t fancied a beer.  A cold seems to affect ones sense of taste in such way that makes overtly hoppy or bitter beers unpleasant to drink. It must have something to do with those taste buds that are responsive to bitter compounds.  

With this in mind, a beer that was both strong, and on the sweet side seemed the best way for me to ease me back into  drinking again,  so when I saw this 440ml can of strong milk, imperial stout on sale at Tesco yesterday morning, it was just what I was looking for.

Weighing in at 7.5% abv, London Beer Factory Big Milk Stout does exactly what it says on the tin – and it comes in a strange tin at that because, as with other LBF beers, the entire top section of the can is removable, once the ring pull has been cracked open and the seal broken.

I am not certain that this is a good idea, because to me, the beer seemed slightly lacking in condition. I wonder therefore whether it is harder to achieve and maintain an adequate seal, all the way round the top perimeter of the can.

The beer is described as full bodied and robust; a description I would not disagree with. It is a “big beer,” smooth dark and full-bodied, with plenty of added lactose, to impart a rich and creamy texture.

Additional flavours come from the inclusion of vanilla and cacao nibs. So a can of this lush and chocolate rich stout, drank shortly before bedtime, was the ideal nightcap, and just what my body and I needed to get ourselves back on track.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Just what the doctor ordered

I started to feel slightly more human yesterday, so much so that I ventured out for a while during the evening. I needed to pick up a few groceries, whilst son Matthew wanted to buy himself a case of beer. There was also the small matter of calling in at the Nelson Arms in Tonbridge, to discuss a small matter relating to this Sunday’s post-Christmas meal.

It has been something of a tradition in my local CAMRA branch, as I’m sure it is in many other branches, to arrange a meal, in a local pub, for members and their families, as a means of celebrating the festive season. More most of the 35 + years I have been associated with West Kent CAMRA, the meal has been held prior to Christmas, but with this being the busiest time of year for most pubs – what with Christmas parties, plus the annual invasion of what many might call the “amateur drinkers,” the branch took the decision, a few years ago, to move the event into January.

This switch suited many CAMRA members as well, especially as the run up to Christmas is often a hectic time for those still working, or with families to consider, so this year’s post-Christmas get together will be taking place at the Nelson. 

The Bailey clan will be attending, and Matthew has very kindly offered to drive us there and back. This is because Mrs PBT’s still doesn’t feel up to walking a distance of around 2. 5 miles there and back, so it is good of son Matt to step up to the plate.

Matthew also drove us yesterday evening, and after we had bought the item we were after in Waitrose, dropped us both outside the Nelson Arms. The pub was reasonably busy, especially for January, and supporting local pubs during this notoriously quiet time of the year, was another factor in the decision to postpone the Christmas meal until the New Year.

I did my usual quick scan of the hand-pulls as we approached the bar, and could not fail to notice the clip for Harvey’s XXXX Old Ale. This delectable dark ale is one of my favourite seasonal beers, But yesterday was the first time this winter, that I’d seen it on sale anywhere. I had intended on only having a half; the reason being this cough and cold I’d been suffering with had put me off my beer, but with the bright-red pump clip just inches from my face, meant I just had to go for a pint.

I was glad that I did, as despite my taste buds having taken a knock, the beer was very it as good as I remember it from previous years. Matthew and I grabbed a seat, which allowed me the opportunity to try out the camera on my new Xiaomi phone.

A little later on, Matt the landlord appeared behind the bar, so I popped across for a chat. I’d also noticed the presence of Lacon’s Audit Ale on the bar. This legendary beer, from Lacon’s of Great Yarmouth,  is a resurrection of an historic style of beer, brewed by the original Lacon’s Brewery, back in the 1930’s.

Audit Ale has been a fairly regular feature on the bar of the Nelson, ever since it won an award at CAMRA’s Winter Ales Festival, last year. The story goes that after enjoying this 8.0% beer at the festival in Norwich,  Matt was so impressed with  that him and his wife pre-ordered some casks from Lacon’s, and then drove up to Yarmouth to collect them.

This was my first taste of this award-wining ale, and I was surprised at how pale in colour it was.  Unsurprisingly it had a tremendous depth of flavour, and was just the thing for someone suffering the after effects of a cold. Needless to say I restricted myself to a half, particularly as I'd been off the beer for the best part of a week.

Matt told me that he’d only just put the beer on, and that it would be even better by Sunday, after it’d had undergone a further period of maturation in the cellar. If the Harvey’s Old lasts out until Sunday as well, this year’s post-Christmas dinner should certainly be an occasion to remember!

Monday 13 January 2020

A pint of "Brexit Best?" - No thanks!

Somewhat predictably, and perhaps almost inevitably, there have been calls for brewers to produce a "commemorative beer" to mark Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. The calls have come from a group of Conservative MP’s, led by Kate Griffiths, the newly elected MP for Burton-on-Trent.  Ms Griffiths called for a special “Brexit pint” to mark what she calls this historic moment.
In the House of Commons she asked the Brexit secretary to support her proposals. "Would my right honourable friend agree that to mark us leaving the European Union, our fantastic local breweries in Burton-on-Trent should brew a celebratory Brexit beer?"

Responding for the government, Stephen Barclay said: "Mr Speaker from the reaction of the house my honourable friend strikes an extremely positive note. I know her constituency is famed for its beer and am sure many members of this house would welcome them celebrating this occasion in such a way.”
Not everyone in the House of Commons agreed, with the Scottish National Party in particular, less than impressed. Their spokesman said that “Brexit would not be a moment of celebration for many people across the UK, but rather a moment of considerable concern.” 

Unsurprisingly I am in total agreement with the SNP.  Brexit is an unmitigated disaster, which has already cost the UK economy almost £70bn – the equivalent of around £1,000 for every person in the country, and no amount of flag-waving is going to change that. Like the event itself, Kate Griffith’s Brexit-inspired beer, is much more likely to leave a nasty taste in the mouth, than be a cause for celebration.

There are no sound economic reasons for us to be turning our backs on our nearest neighbours, in the world’s largest trading bloc; only ideological ones. The people behind Brexit are a relatively small, but rather cunning clique of right-wing, libertarian, ultra-free marketeers who, quite cleverly, managed to convince sufficient voters that the ills which afflicted large areas of the county, were due to our membership of the EU.

In doing so, they conveniently forgot to mention that the austerity measures introduced by a previous Conservative government, were the real reasons behind many of the nation's problems. These Euro-sceptics were aided and abetted by a hostile press that had spent the past three decades painting the European Union in the blackest of lights possible.

Given this background of suspicion and outright hostility,  the outcome of the 2016 referendum was hardly surprising, and that’s without taking into account the influence of the Russian government and the shadowy activities of groups such as Cambridge Analytica.

Given the narrowness of the result, the triumphalist calls  from MP's such as Kate Griffiths and Stephen Barclay, for a celebration, are at best insensitive and at worst damn right insulting! They ignore the fact that in the December 12th  general election, by a margin of more than one million, more UK voters backed parties calling for a second EU referendum than supported those arguing for withdrawal without a confirmatory vote.

In addition, with less than three weeks to go before 31st January, a new poll has shown that voters are now split by the highly symbolic margin of 52-48 per cent in favour of Remain; the reverse of the result of the 2016 referendum.

I for one certainly won’t be celebrating on 31st January, and neither will I be buying any Brexit beer. The only consolation is that with this sorry event taking place in winter, the obligatory calls for Union-flag bedecked street parties, a good old fashioned sing-song and all the other jingoistic nonsense can safely be ignored.

The best laid plans and all that - or man-flu again!

Unfortunately the man-flu returned with a vengeance, just in time to scupper any plans I my have had for the weekend. I thought I’d shaken my cough and cold off whilst in Dundee, but according to Mrs PBT’s, who knows far more about these things than I do, I must have picked up another bug, during my time away.

The temptation is to blame being cooped up in an aircraft where there’s the risk of contracting something nasty from a fellow passenger, but last week’s flights were only just over an hour each way, and having read up on how air is circulated, and filtered on a plane, I’ve discovered the environment is far healthier than you might think. So all in all, it’s a bit of a mystery.

The main event spoiled by this particular bug, was another pub walk; this time to the Spotted Dog, near Penshurst. Mrs PBT’s visited the pub just over a week ago, and came back with glowing reports – although she didn’t relay any information about the beer. So when a couple of members from our WhatsApp Weekend Walking Group put forward a walk to this attractive, but rather isolated old pub, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately I started feeling rough on Friday morning, and by the time I arrived home from work, the cold was in full swing. An early night didn’t help matters and neither did a lie-in. I drove Mrs PBT’s down to Waitrose to pick up some shopping, and then called in at the Post Office to collect a couple of Passport renewal forms – one for her and the other for Matthew. They’ll no doubt be getting those nasty, new blue passports, but my own maroon one, still has six years left on it.

Despite feeling under the weather, I used the time wisely, sorting out and putting away some of the things I got for Christmas. With bottles and cans of beer featuring high on the Christmas list, I worked out I’ve got sufficient beer to float the proverbial battleship, or put another way enough to last me well into spring.

I also treated myself to a new phone, and whilst I ordered it prior to Christmas, it only arrived on Friday. I therefore spent some time setting up and optimising my new Xiaomi Mi 9T phone. Unfortunately I’m not a tech-wizard, and for some reason I was unable to transfer across all the contacts from my old phone.  I’ll get one of my technicians at work to have a look at it.

The main reason for me upgrading my phone was the memory on the previous one was so full, that many of the apps had stopped working, but the other reason is the Mi 9T has a 48 MP, triple lens camera capable of use at low levels of lighting. This should prove handy when taking photos for use on the blog.

I had another electronic device to play with as well, in the form of a “Sports Watch” which will synchronise to my new phone. Now me and the word “sports” don’t exactly go together, but the watch will come in useful for tracking my lunchtime walks and also counting the number of steps I undertake each day. The plan is that it will assist me with increasing my fitness levels  over the coming months, and help me lose some weight as well.

It would have come into its own, had I felt well enough to have participated in this morning’s pub walk. I haven’t really felt the need for a beer, and whilst I did crack open a can of Jaipur last night, with my taste-buds not functioning as they should, this normally excellent beer, tasted absolutely foul. So it’s a cup of coffee instead and then another early night. We’ll see then what next week brings!!

Friday 10 January 2020


I arrived back home from a three day business trip to Scotland at around 6.30pm on Wednesday evening. I want to emphasise that it was a business trip, so there was precious little opportunity for sneaking off and doing some pub exploration of my own. Despite this, it was an enjoyable, and at times fun, experience and, as the old cliché goes, just good to get out of the office!

I travelled up with our Business Development Manager, in order to give a presentation to the sales representatives from one of or
largest UK customers. This was new experience for me, but everything went well, we picked up some first rate feedback and met lots of interesting and useful (from a business perspective), people.

Dundee was our destination, and was my first visit to the city which looks out across the Firth of Tay. We debated the best way of travelling there and back, with flying coming out on top, despite me wanting to let the train take the strain. Our fly-drive was definitely the best option, as it meant we had the use of a car whilst in Dundee. In addition the flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh was only just over an hour, compared with four and a half hours by train and seven and a half hours by car, should you be foolish to attempt the drive in one hit.

There is one direct, daily return flight to Dundee, with Logan Air; never heard of them, then you are not alone. They are a Scottish regional airline which operate out of Stansted for the Dundee route. We drove past Dundee Airport on Monday evening, when we took a quick drive into the city. Let’s just say it was small, with a tiny, 1930’s style control tower, perched on top of the flat-roof terminal.

So all things considered, our choice of plane plus hire-car, was the best, and least stressful option. I was impressed with Edinburgh Airport, despite the construction work being carried out to improve its capacity. It is well-laid out making it easy to navigate one’s way around.

There are good public transport links, not just to the city centre, but to two peripheral stations, where onward journeys can be made to various Scottish destinations, as well as some across the border into England. On the way to collect our hire car, we passed the tram terminal. I made a mental note of it for future reference.

Our route to Dundee took us north across the recently-opened Queensferry Crossing, which carries the M90 motorway across the Forth, and runs adjacent to the Forth Road Bridge. Use of the latter is now restricted to buses, taxis, cyclists and pedestrians, following the discovery of a number of structural defects in 2005.  Visible the other side of this 50 year old suspension bridge, is the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, which opened in 1890. 

After crossing the River Tay, to the south of Perth, we turned onto the A90, which took us all the way to Dundee. The city’s Double Tree by Hilton Hotel was our home for the next two nights. It was comfortable, well-appointed and reasonably priced at £66 per night; a rate which included a decent buffet breakfast, or kippers, if preferred.

The presentation we attended was held at the nearby Invercase Hotel, which had fine views across the Tay estuary. We returned to the hotel on the Tuesday evening, for a dinner and fancy-dress party. It was a long and tiring day, especially for my colleague who talked himself hoarse, but it was good for our company and we received some really positive feedback about our products and the service we provide.

I said at the beginning of this post there would be very little about beer or pubs that I could write about, and for a start, I saw no cask on sale. On the first evening, my colleague and I walked along to the local Beefeater restaurant, at Gourdie Croft, largely at his suggestion.

It was only a 15 minute walk, but quite a dodgy thing to do, as the route followed the A90 dual-carriageway, and whilst there was a pavement along one carriageway, we had to cross over to the other side - a move that included hopping over the crash-barrier on the central reservation!

There were two hand-pulls on the bar, both with their Doom Bar clips turned round. The bar manager was quite apologetic, but the non-availability of DB was no great loss as far as I was concerned. I consoled myself with a couple of bottles of Erdinger Wheat Beer. The meal was pleasant enough, even if it was standard Beefeater fayre.  We walked back along the grass verge on the opposite carriageway, as I said I would rather end up with muddy shoes, than get knocked down by a speeding car!

The beer selection at our hotel was actually better than the Beefeater, as the bar offered bottles of Schiehallion Lager from Harviestoun as well as Brew Dog Punk IPA. At the Invercase Hotel though, it was Tenants, Stella or a real blast from the past in the form of McEwan’s Export (keg of course). I had a pint of the very bland Tenants, before moving on to red wine for the rest of the evening.

My colleague was careful not to consume too much alcohol that evening, as although we took a taxi to and from the evening party, there was the small matter of him having to drive the following morning. I’d warned him about Scotland’s draconian drink-driving laws, as had several other people, because given the much lower permitted blood-alcohol limit, it is quite possible to be over the drink-drive limit the morning after the night before.

Fortunately he heeded the advice, although as it was 11am when we checked out of our hotel, I imagine there was ample time for the alcohol to be fully metabolised. Our flight wasn’t due to depart until 14.55, so we took a leisurely drive back to Edinburgh Airport.

There was still time to kill before our flight, so after returning the hire car, and passing through security in double-quick time, we decided that a drink and something to eat was in order.

There is a large Wetherspoon outlet airside, at the airport in the form of the Sir Walter Scott, and cask is obviously a feature, but my eye had been caught by the nearby Brew Dog bar, so that’s where we ended up. A pint of Lost Lager for my colleague, plus a pint of Indie Pale Ale for me,  was just right.

Afterwards we each grabbed a baguette from Pret A Manger, before boarding our Easy Jet flight back to Gatwick. My train journey back to Tonbridge took the same time as the flight, as there were delays due to signalling problems.

It was an interesting trip, although I unfortunately picked up another cold, whilst away – hence the delay in publishing this post! The photos are rather random, but they should convey something of the flavour of my short trip north of the border.