Tuesday 31 May 2022

Bing makes a thing of distance walking in Sheffield

This post is a bit of a filler, whilst I work on a couple of longer ones, but as it contains an amusing tale, which centres on a case of misinterpretation, it is worth including for its entertainment value.

Apart from the chance of meeting up with a couple of pub-going legends, one of the main draws that took me to Sheffield, was of course the pubs. Like several other prominent towns and cities throughout the land, I was aware that Sheffield possessed a number of legendary boozers

I’d also been looking at the map for locations that were relatively easily doable - i.e., it was possible to travel here and back within a day. Having visited Stockport and Bath, since the end of the pandemic, I knew that three hours train travel each way was perfectly achievable, but four hours would be pushing it. This meant cities such as Manchester, Bristol, Salisbury, and Birmingham were within the scope of a day’s travel, but locations such as Newcastle, Truro, and Swansea, were not.

Sheffield fitted into the three-hour time frame, and I knew it was a city with some classic pubs, so I started researching train fares. That was when the reduced-price ticket offer, appeared on my radar. I managed to pick up two single tickets (outward and return) for £15.50 each, and whilst this restricted me to timed trains (including those between Tonbridge and London), the tickets represented an absolute bargain.

Before confirming my booking, I contacted GBG pub-ticking legend, Retired Martin, who now lives in Sheffield,  to see if he was available on the day that I’d earmarked for the trip. Given his wanderlust and goal of completing the GBG this year, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he would be free on my chosen day. Not only that, he kindly emailed me a map, along with a suggested itinerary. The latter fitted in with my desire to visit the Kelham Island area of the city, and its two outstanding pubs - the Fat Cat and the Kelham Island Tavern.

So, on the allotted day I boarded the 09.09 train to London Bridge, a connecting service to St Pancras, and then the 10.32 train to Sheffield. This was my first journey on East Midland Railway (EMR), since privatisation, of what had been British Rail’s Midland Mainline. The train was sleek, fast, and comfortable, although selling me a window seat where most of the view was obscured by the framework of the carriage, was pushing the envelope, somewhat. I was also surprised to discover that this important stretch of railway had still not been electrified and relied instead on dirty and polluting diesel power cars.

The train pulled into Sheffield at 12.42, which was right on time, but on exiting the station I became a little disoriented. It should have been obvious that I need to turn right, and proceed up the hill, rather than turning in the opposite direction and heading downhill. The map Martin had sent me showed this, but the part which confused the hell out of me and nearly proved my downfall, was the mileage stated in the bottom left-hand corner. This stated 2.4 miles, but as the map only allowed 46 minutes for me to walk to our agreed meeting place at the Fat Cat, I was panicking slightly about being late.

The stated distance was not particularly daunting for a regular rambler like me, but at my relatively slow walking pace, covering 2.4 miles in 46 minutes would have been pushing it. Martin’s map came courtesy of Bing, and I should have known never to trust a Bing map. Three years ago, a work colleague became embroiled in an argument with his boss, over a work-related mileage claim. He had claimed the mileage indicated by his car’s odometer, whereas his penny-pinching boss had looked at the same journey on Bing maps and found it was around three miles shorter than my colleague had claimed. Could Martin’s map have been equally inaccurate?

After finally getting my bearings, I thought of getting a bus, after all I had my OAP bus pass, so after asking a lady waiting at the nearest bus stop, how to get to Kelham Island, I was at least pointed in the right direction. I carried on walking, and after passing Sheffield’s landmark Crucible Theatre, I knew at least I was on course. Soon after, I spotted a sign for Kelham Island, indicating a distance of just three-quarters of a mile. Surely, I hadn’t covered a mile and a half already? It was all downhill after that, and I arrived at the Fat Cat with time to spare, and ahead of Martin. So how could this have happened?

It was only after Martin had pointed out that the mileage on the map was cumulative, and represented both the outward and alternative return routes, that the penny dropped. I felt a fool but after my colleague’s experience carried on blaming Bing maps, and not without some justification. Bing, who are Microsoft’s search engine, are notorious for providing misleading information, as according to Google, "Bing returns disinformation and misinformation at a significantly higher rate than Google does."

You could argue that Google would make such a claim about a major rival, but it suits the story and my continuing narrative to stick with this accusation, although this doesn’t mean I am ungrateful towards Martin, for providing the map. We had a good laugh about it, once I realised, I’d mis-interpreted it, but the story does perhaps underline the unquestioning reliance we place on technology today.

I have already chronicled the excellent pubs we visited on that sunny day in Sheffield, a fortnight ago, so I won’t repeat myself here. The journey home was uneventful, but I am pleased to report that I had a window seat on the train. There is something relaxing about just sitting there next to a window, watching the countryside passing outside, as the train speeds towards its final destination.

I’m looking at possibilities for further days out, or even weekends away, with Manchester looking a strong contender. That decision is influenced by a book I’ve recently read and also reviewed, although the city was already high up on my list. All will be revealed later.

Monday 30 May 2022

Farewell to the Caledonian

Like many other beer lovers, I was saddened to discover that the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh, is to be closed by its current owners – Heineken UK. The closure will mark the end of large-scale brewing in the Scottish capital, and the final chapter for a brewery that opened its doors for the very first time in 1869.

The reasons for the closure are the usual corporate nonsense one might expect from a huge multi-national group, but centre on the inefficiencies of the Victorian brewery, and the cost of bringing the infrastructure and facilities up to date. This is despite a statement from UK supply chain director, Matt Callan, that they were acutely aware of what the brewery represents in Edinburgh, and its role in the history and heritage of brewing in Scotland. He ended by saying, “This is something we’re incredibly proud of.”

So proud in fact that they are going to close the brewery, using their own alleged “green credentials” and sustainability commitments as an excuse. Heineken has struck a deal with Greene King, to continue producing Caledonian's main brands - Deuchars, Coast to Coast and Maltsmiths - at their Belhaven brewery in nearby Dunbar, but that is little comfort to the 30 workers at the Edinburgh plant.

The Caledonian Brewery was established by George Lorimer and Robert Clark, in a location next to the newly opened Caledonian Railway Line in Edinburgh’s Slateford Road. The brewery was bought by Scottish & Newcastle in 2008, becoming part of Heineken later that year when Heineken acquired S&N. Ironically, this is not the first time the brewery has faced closure, as former owners Vaux of Sunderland, who acquired the company in 1947, announced plans for it to cease production, in 1986. This followed their decision to withdraw from the Scottish market and concentrate their operations south of the border. 

The brewery was saved, a year later, when head brewer Russell Sharp and managing director Dan Kane led a buy-out and relaunched the business as the Caledonian Brewery Company.  A modern twist on an Indian Pale Ale, Deuchars IPA ushered in a new era of brewing, in 1981, allowing lager drinkers to finally discover the joy of cask ales. For several decades, Deuchars IPA was a “must stock” beer in many of the nation’s free houses, including the JD Wetherspoon chain, but now it seems to have been eclipsed by other beers.

In 1994, the brewery survived a fire which caused extensive damage, although fortunately the historic original brewhouse survived, largely intact. The site was out of action for almost two years, with re-building costs of around £3 million. In 2004, Scottish & Newcastle bought a 30% share in Caledonian to enable the company to continue brewing within Edinburgh, following the closure of their own Fountainbridge site.

Four years later, the brewing giant purchased the remaining 70% of Caledonian, shortly before being bought themselves by Dutch multi-national brewers, Heineken. Now the latter are pushing ahead with the closure of this tenacious survivor from late Victorian times, despite Edinburgh’s proud history of brewing and the stream of highly qualified graduates from the city’s Herriot-Watt's Centre for Brewing and Distilling.

In 1984, I was fortunate to visit the Caledonian Brewery, whilst attending CAMRA’s National AGM, which was held that year, in Edinburgh. Myself and a group of friends had been privileged to enjoy an impromptu tour around the brewery, after turning up on the off chance. Our guide for the occasion had been none other than the late Dan Kane, who was one of the pioneers of CAMRA in Scotland, at a time when cask ale was very thin on the ground. As mentioned above, he was later instrumental in helping save the Caledonian Brewery when it was earmarked for closure by Vaux of Sunderland.

Three years later, I visited the Caledonian Brewery again; this time as part of a day trip to Edinburgh. The visit was arranged by a friend who worked for British Rail, and somehow, he had managed to get me a complimentary return ticket from Tonbridge to Edinburgh.  That return journey involved an early start, catching the 06:20 train to London Bridge, and then the 08:00 service to Edinburgh, from London’s Kings Cross.

This was my fourth visit to the Scottish capital, but as previous visits had either been at night or had involved starting my journey from places such as Manchester or Sheffield, it represented my first train journey from London during daylight hours. Several of my friend’s railway colleagues joined the train at Stevenage, and we then settled down to enjoy the journey and admire the scenery. This was especially true with the section of line which runs along the spectacular Northumbrian coast. The castle at Bamburgh looked splendid against the backdrop of the sea, and as we crossed over the border into Scotland at Berwick, with its three bridges over the river Tweed, our spirits rose in anticipation of the brewery visit that awaited at the end of our journey.

We arrived at Waverley station, just after one o'clock, and immediately hailed a couple of taxis to take us to Lorimer & Clarks Caledonian Brewery. I recognised the brewery facade as soon as we arrived, after my visit, three years previously. We were offered a drink as soon as we arrived, which was most welcome following our lengthy journey. Caledonian 80/- was the order of the day, and every nice it tasted too. It tasted even better with the sparkler removed from the beer pump, something that caused considerable amusement to our guides, but from our point of view, something which added to our enjoyment of this excellent beer.

The tour was every bit as good as the one I had enjoyed three years previously. The last direct fired coppers in the country were especially interesting, and of particular interest to my railway companions were the sidings and associated loading dock. In days gone by raw materials were brought to the brewery, by rail, and the finished product was also dispatched by the same means. Before being led back to the sampling room, we were shown the old maltings, where the Edinburgh Real Ale Festival took place.

After drinking our fill of 80/- Ale it was time to thank our hosts and say farewell. We headed by taxi back into the city centre in order to catch the 17:00 train home. Our journey back was enlivened by my friend describing various points of interest along the route. We crossed the border back in to England, at Berwick travelling once more through the spectacular scenery of the Northumbrian country side. The sea was on our left this time, and we could see across to Holy Island and Lindisfarne Priory. Shortly after, we were rewarded by the view of picturesque Alnmouth.

Upon leaving Newcastle, we took our seats in the dining car for an evening meal, this being back in the day when it was still possible to enjoy a decent sit-down meal on a train in the UK. We remained there for most of the journey watching as the countryside became progressively flatter as we travelled south. Arriving back at Kings Cross we re-traced our morning's journey back to London Bridge.

We arrived back in Tonbridge, shortly after eleven o'clock; some 17 hours or so since leaving that morning. It had been a long and somewhat tiring day, but a most enjoyable one too. If the closure of the Caledonian Brewery has done nothing else, it reminds me of that epic, return rail journey, but it also brings a real feeling of sadness when one considers how hard people fought to keep this piece of Edinburgh’s brewing heritage, open.

Footnote: as the brewery visits referred to, took place before the advent of Smart Phones, or even digital cameras, I am unable to illustrate the post with any photos from that time. I don’t even think I have anything taken on film from the time, either!

 Photo attributes: 

Caledonian Brewery: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Vaux vintage dray lorry: Creative Commons

Waverley Station: By G-13114 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50407568

Caledonian Brewery Gate: Anne Burgess Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.


Thursday 26 May 2022

I call that a bargain!

I picked up a couple of these bad boys at our local Sainsbury’s, the other weekend.  On sale at the heavily discounted price of just 80p each, the beers were too good a bargain to miss. Somewhat predictably, there were none left on the shelves when I popped in yesterday to grab a few groceries, but why were these bottles so ridiculously cheap, and what was the beer itself actually like?

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Winter Warmer Ale weighs in at a respectable strength of 5.3%. It is brewed at the Eagle Brewery, which I suspect is the old Charles Wells plant in Bedford. The beer is described as “Rich, fruity and malty,” which is not an unreasonable description for a “Winter warmer” and the taste did actually match the description.

I originally tried this beer, last December when it was on sale alongside another beer from the Eagle Brewery.  This Christmas Porter was brewed to the same strength as the Winter Warmer, and looking back at my notes on Untappd, I gave it an appropriately higher score.

I wrote at the time that I could certainly discern the dark fruit, sweet plum, and chocolate, described on the label, so perhaps members of the beer-buying public, felt the same? The Winter Warmer Ale is still quite drinkable, and given the recent fall in temperatures, drinking the beer didn’t exactly feel out of place.

None of this explains why Sainsbury’s are so keen to shift this beer unless their buyers caught a cold and over-ordered. There is still six months’ shelf life remaining on this particular batch, admittedly not quite sufficient to see them past this coming December, but should you come across these 80p bottles, the buyers’ extravagance becomes the consumers’ late-spring bonus.

See if you can spot any of this heavily discounted winter beer at your local Sainsbury’s, because at 80p a pop, you can’t really go wrong!


Tuesday 24 May 2022

Some classic pubs in steel-city, Sheffield

Over the course of my day out in Sheffield, I visited six pubs. These were the Fat Cat, the Kelham Island Tavern, and the Millowners Arms – all within the Kelham Island area. Next on the list was the Wellington Hotel, just on the edge of the latter, the Bath Hotel, close to the city centre, and finally the Sheffield Tap, which forms part of the city’s main rail station.

The Fat Cat, at Kelham Island, was the obvious starting point, especially in view of the closure of local brewery (Kelham Island), so it was there that, in, I arranged to meet Martin, and possibly Will, (Sheffield Hatter). Martin had kindly supplied me with a map (Bing), along with a screen shot of the pub’s menu. The prices looked an absolute bargain, particularly when compared to Kentish prices, so the Fat Cat it was.

I shall recount, in a later post, my confusion regarding the distances shown on the map, but suffice to say, once I had got my bearings after leaving Sheffield station and was confident, I was heading in the right direction, the walk down to Kelham Island was a breeze. It was all downhill for a start, and with the clouds dissipating, and the sun breaking through, it was the perfect weather for a stroll to this formerly, heavily industrialised area of Sheffield.

Arriving almost on the dot of 1.30pm, our agreed eta, I just had time to order myself a pint of Kelham Island Best, before noticing that Martin had arrived in the other bar. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Martin suggested we order lunch – possibly mindful that it was missed of the itinerary on our visit to Bath, a couple of months’ previously.

Lunch it was then, along with another pint, this time Kelham Island’s legendary, and award winning, Pale Rider. The barman had already informed me that there was roughly just a week’s stock of Kelham Island beers remaining, so it was a good idea to sample them, before they disappear completely. So, a sad, and slightly poignant experience, having to say goodbye to this excellent, pale, and well-hopped beer – one that was something of a trailblazer, in its day. 

The steak pie was excellent, with potato wedges, mushy peas, and gravy, all for just £5.50. You could expect to pay double and in some places triple, for that in the south east! Will arrived soon after, and filled us in as to what he had been up to.

The Fat Cat shares a name with an equally famous pub in Norwich, and also serves a wide and varied range of beers, all from mainly local independent breweries, but apart from that there is no connection between the two. It is a multi-roomed, pub, with bars leading off form a central serving area and corridor. I visited a couple of similar pubs in Stockport recently, all reminding me of my days as a student in Salford, Greater Manchester.  

Martin suggested I visit the museum next door, whilst him and Will called in at the adjoining Millowners Arms. The museum pays homage to Sheffield’s industrial past and its role as one of the most famous steel-making cities in the world. It allows visitors to grasp the development and scale of its furnace and steel forging and industries and is the sort of place you could spend several hours in, if it wasn’t for the fact, you would be wasting valuable drinking time! So, after a quick tour, I joined Martin and Will who were sitting at a table, outside the Millowners, overlooking the river Don, as it runs through Kelham Island. 

The pub was created from an old storeroom, and opened as a full-time pub in November 2019. It is operated by the same people as the museum cafe. Up to six cask ales are available, but I just had a swift half of Abbeydale Moonshine, as Martin and Will were keen to move on. I found out later, that the Millowners houses a display showcasing Sheffield’s brewing heritage – now that would have been far more interesting than steel making, even though as a scientist, I’m supposed be interested in such things!

Moving swiftly on, we made our way through more of the post-industrial landscape, arriving at the area’s other famous pub, the Kelham Island Tavern. This gem of a pub was rescued from dereliction in 2002 and was awarded CAMRA National Pub of the Year for two years running, (2008 and 2009). Up to twelve hand pumps dispense an impressive range of beers, which normally include dark beers, such as a mild, a porter and a stout.

There are two rooms inside, plus a small, but attractive, L-shaped garden at the side and rear. According to my notes on Untappd, I enjoyed a rather tasty pint of Port Out Porter, from Half Moon Brewery. The Tavern certainly lived up to its reputation, and it almost seemed a shame to go, but there were a few more pubs to visit, so it was onward and upwards.

It was certainly upwards in Martin’s case, as he had to nip home for a change of clothing. He was off to a gig in Leeds that evening. The upwards comment refers to his house being situated at the top of a steep hill! Will and I headed to the Wellington, another classic local pub, boasting three cosy, rooms, along with a good range of beers. There is a connection with Neepsend Brew Co, whose beers form the core range, although they are brewed on a separate site.

I opted for the Neepsend Hati, a New England Pale Ale, that was hazy, and thereby true to style. We joined the drinkers in the left-hand room, several of whom, Will knew. (I told you he’s a real pub man!) There was a bit of banter, plus plenty of swapping of news concerning local beers and pubs, which meant the Wellington was the place where it would be only too easy to end up spending the rest of the afternoon.

The next pub was back in the city centre, at the top of the hill, but fortunately there was the option of a tram to take us there.
Even more fortunate was the conductor accepting my bus-pass, as Will thought that only local passes were valid. So, as I mentioned in the previous post, this was my first ride on a tram for seven years, and my first ever within the UK!

The pub we were making for was the Bath Hotel, a pub with an interior of historic national importance, which retains, most of its original 1931 layout and fittings. This makes it an unusually complete example of a Sheffield corner public house. Until just a few weeks before my visit, the Bath had been managed by Thornbridge Brewery, but has now become a free house, employing the same staff, and keeping much else the same too. 

The bar is situated between a tiled lounge, a small corridor drinking area and a cosy well-upholstered snug. The latter seemed popular with local students, but Will and I were content to stand in the corridor, in sight and in reach of the bar. It wasn’t long before Martin re-joined us, looking ready for a night out in Leeds. Beer-wise I opted for a pint of Barnsley Bitter from Acorn Brewery. This chestnut-coloured beer is well-hopped and is based on the famous Barnsley Bitter which was originally brewed in the town, until the early 1970’s. 

We left the Bath Hotel and headed for the station. Martin departed on foot, leaving Will and I to make use of our bus passes. We met up at the Sheffield Tap, situated on platform 1b of Sheffield station. The tap was built in 1904 and opened as the first-class refreshment room for the old Midland Station. After many years of neglect the main bar area was carefully restored in order to highlight many of its original features. As with the Bath Hotel, the Tap is included on CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. 

Being early evening, the pub was packed, both inside and out, but we manage to find room to stand whilst enjoying a few of its impressive range of beers. I chose a beer from the other side of the Pennines, in the form of Manchester Bitter from Marble Brewery. Deep golden in colour, with a robust bitterness to match, it was the perfect beer to finish on. Martin departed to catch his train to Leeds. I had a little more time and Will tried persuading me to have another. I’d had my fill by then, so after declining his offer and thanking him for his company, I too wandered off and made my way to the London-bound train, waiting on one of the opposite platforms.

If you’ve read this far, and looked at the photos, you will know that I had a good day, and was impressed by Sheffield, its pubs, and its beers. So, with special thanks to Martin and Will for showing me around steel-city, and looking after me, I shall sign off now.  


Saturday 21 May 2022

Sheffield for the day

I had a fantastic day out in Sheffield on Thursday, where I enjoyed the fine company of Retired Martin and Sheffield Hatter. Both are renowned pub men, with a good knowledge of what is happening on the local pub scene, even though Martin is a relatively newcomer to the city, after moving there from the Fens. (I think he wanted some hills to challenge himself!)  The pair took me to some excellent pubs where we all enjoyed some good and reasonably priced beer, and in one, a bargain-priced pub meal.

Sheffield city centre seemed eminently doable on foot, and for those times when speed was of the essence there was the option of both bus and tram. The latter was a real novelty, as I haven’t travelled on a tram since my last visit to Prague, back in 2015. The weather was kind too, with warm temperatures, wall-to-wall sunshine; factors that helped show off the city of Sheffield at its best. This was an added bonus, as it had been tipping down with rain as I walked from home to Tonbridge station that morning.

The highlights of the day were the Kelham Island area of the city, with its two award winning pubs. The nearby, and very traditional Wellington Inn at the bottom of the hill, and then the tastefully renovated, multi-roomed Bath Hotel, at the top. Finally, there was the delight of the impressive Sheffield Tap, situated next to the station. The perfect place for a few pre-train beers.

As for the trains, I travelled to Sheffield using the East Midland Railway service, from London St Pancras, having first reached the latter using a Thameslink service from London Bridge. The trains ran to time and the various connections all passed smoothly. This was my first proper visit to Sheffield, as with the previous ones I was literally, just passing through, primarily in connection with walking holidays in the Peak District.  The railway station seemed vaguely familiar, but that was about it.

This is only a brief snapshot of my visit, and a much more detailed report will follow in due course. In the meantime, thank-you to Retired Martin, and Sheffield Hatter, for acting as my guides, and also to whoever it was in the Department of Transport for releasing those cut-price rail tickets. They obviously had the right affect, as the train was quite full – so let’s have more of the same please!


Tuesday 17 May 2022

Getting to know you

I said I would add some more thoughts about my recent trip to Cambridge, but before going through these, I want to explore the wider picture, of what exactly is involved when visiting a new location for the first time.  First, it’s almost a given that you only really scratch the surface, on that initial visit. Taking this a stage further, it’s fair to say that all cities, large towns and even some of the smaller ones, require more than one visit to properly do them justice.

Some require substantially more, but it’s safe to say that two or three stays at an unfamiliar destination, does leave you with a sense of knowing the place to a reasonable extent. More importantly, it becomes increasingly easier to find your way around, as you become more and more familiar with the intricacies of the public transport system. You end up intrinsically knowing the relation of a city’s prominent building’s or must-see sites to one another and, most importantly, you know where the best boozers are.

I have made umpteen trips to both Munich and Prague, and have visited other European cities such as Barcelona, Cologne, Bruges, Regensburg, and Nuremberg, several times. Each visit I have uncovered something new, as well as re-aquatinting myself with some of the best bits of these locations. 

It’s the same with certain towns, although depending on their size, familiarising yourself is significantly easier. There is always something though to surprise, and occasionally delight, even the most seasoned visitor, especially if one looks hard enough. Understanding the geography and layout of the location, is perhaps the key to becoming better acquainted. This is particularly true if the city lies on a river, as the majority of them do, as the water course acts as a focal point. Other features such as royal palaces, main railway stations, cathedrals, churches, and parks, all act as way-point to help on get one’s bearings.

The best way of describing this process is, after the couple of visits, you’ve probably visited several different areas of a city, but as you journeyed to these districts in isolation, you don’t yet realise how they interconnect with each other. It is only after three or four visits to a location, sometimes made over a time span of several years, that you finally understand the relationship between these different districts and start to appreciate the bigger picture.

Cambridge was no exception to this process, as one visit has only provided a brief snapshot of this historic and bustling university city. My first impressions were of a vibrant city that definitely seems to have got its mojo back after the dark days of the pandemic. Pedestrian-friendly, in the main, and easy to get around on foot. If I visit alone, I can make full use of my bus pass, as well. The student population adds an atmosphere and charm of its own.

Last Thursday’s visit did at least give a glimpse of the lie of the land, and whilst none of the various parts really came together, I got a good feel for the place. That is an important consideration, as I now know the best way to reach the city centre on foot, from the station, and also know that many of Cambridge’s most prominent colleges are sited down by the river. The visit allowed me to discover the delights of a small number of the city’s pubs and made me aware of others that I want to try, on subsequent visits.

These include some of the pubs close to the Free Press, mentioned in the previous post, and also include the Champion of the Thames, Cambridge’s sole city-centre National Inventory listed pub. Perhaps next time, I will make it to the Cambridge Brewhouse rather than the Cambridge Tap!

It is on those visits that I intend doing some of the more cultural stuff, that son Mathew was reluctant to participate in. This means, a visit to Kings College Chapel, in order to get a feel of where the Christmas Eve service, of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast from.  In addition, I shall cross the river Cam to take a wander along the Backs. I might even walk as far as Grantchester and its famous meadows, as immortalised by the Roger Waters/Pink Floyd track of the same name.

It’s worth noting the brief visit I made to Grantchester, several years ago, on one of my many trips up to Norfolk, when my father was still alive. I’d booked an overnight stay at the Red Lion, in the village of Stretham, just to the south of Ely, and had arranged to meet Retired Martin for the first time. That evening Martin and Mrs RM called to collect me, and drove us to Ely, where they showed me around the city and introduced me to a few of its finest pubs.

On the way to Stretham, I stopped off for a pint at Grantchester’s historic and unspoiled Blue Ball Inn, which features on CAMRA’s National Heritage Pub Register. As I recall, parking was a bit of an issue, (that's my car in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo), so it would be good to walk out there again, without having to worry where to leave the car or restricting my beer intake, because of having to drive.

It’s interesting trying to compare Cambridge with its rival university city, Oxford.  I have visited, and stayed in the latter, several times back in my own student days, and would say that without doubt, Oxford too is worthy of a revisit.


This is especially true after a gap of 40 years, although the sad demise and closure of the city’s only established brewer, Morrell’s, means the beer scene in Oxford is somewhat diminished from what I knew back in the late 1970’s.

So, there we have it, Paul’s perhaps over-thought description of the steps involved in becoming familiar with a new destination, and how the process applied to Cambridge

Does any of this sound familiar, or am I just making it all up? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.