Sunday 31 March 2024

Wrapping up the Black Country - or a part of it, at least!

We’ve reached the final part of the other Friday’s amazing tour around some of the Black Country’s finest pubs, and we pick up the story from outside Sedgley’s Beacon Hotel, where Stafford Paul and I said farewell to Retired Martin. A short walk back to the A459 then ensued, followed by a bus in the opposite direction to that which we’d travelled on earlier. Our destination was the Britannia Inn at Upper Gornal, the second Batham’s pub of the day and one which, like the first, didn’t disappoint either.

We arrived shortly before 4pm, although somewhat foolishly I failed to take a photo of the pub’s exterior. Having already diced with death once, whilst crossing the busy main road outside the Britannia, I didn’t fancy my chances a second time, so readers will have to make do with some shots of the rear of the building, along with plenty of the amazing interior. The main bar at the front of the pub was buzzing and packed with a good mixed crowd of drinkers winding down at the end of the working week. This particular part of the pub was formerly a butcher's shop, but was incorporated into the main building, by Batham’s when they took over the place in 1997.

With the two Batham’s stalwarts of Best Bitter and Mild on the bar, I opted for the former, whilst Paul stuck with the latter. The Best Bitter was every bit as good as it was at the Vine.Paul was keen for me to see the taproom at the rear of the pub, which forms an important part of the Britannia’s nationally important and historic, interior. Upon inquiring discovered he the room was closed, to the time being. The reason for the closure was the taproom was being used to interview potential bar staff and would re-open to the public at 4.30pm.

In the meantime, I took a wander out to the garden, at the rear of the pub, and noticed the adjoining stone-built block, with its colourful sign on the wall, proclaiming the words “Britannia Brewery – Batham’s.” This ties in with the pub having brewed its own beer until 1959, during its tenure under the Perry family who owned the place for many years. It was known then as "Sallie's", after the landlady from 1942 to 1991.

As promised, the rear taproom re-opened to customers, the interviews having concluded for the day. Paul and I made our way eagerly inside and were not disappointed with what we saw. Paul, of course, had been in the taproom before, and was pleased to point out its historic features, the most noteworthy of which was the bank of four, wall-mounted hand pulls, complete with a pewter drip-tray, set against the corridor wall. This arrangement of a servery without a counter, is now very rare, although a century or so ago, such a set up would have been much more common, particularly in smaller and more basic establishments.

I’m pleased we were able to experience this unusual taproom, but there was still one more pub for us to enjoy, before my visit drew to an end. We finished our drinks and stepped outside to wait for the No. 1 bus that would take us back to Wolverhampton. I don’t remember that much about the journey back to Wolves, although I suspect the amount of beer I’d consumed had something to do with that, but upon leaving the bus, Paul and I made towards the railway station. There, on the other side of the tracks, and close to the former low-level railway station lies the Great Western, a former CAMRA National Pub of the Year.

The pub is one of 20 pubs owned by Holden’s, the largest of the family owned, Black Country brewers – I’m not including Bank’s (Wolverhampton & Dudley), as they’re no longer family-owned, and following their reverse takeover of Marston’s and subsequent tie-up with Danish brewing behemoth, Carlsberg, are no longer a serious player in the world of cask ale and traditional pubs.

Holden’s is still run by the fourth generation of the Holden family, who remain just as proudly committed to their history and heritage, as they were when the brewery was founded back in 1915. Holden's acquired the Great Western in 1988, and the pub went on to win National Pub of the Year, three years later. Today the pub interior consists of four areas, front bar, long lounge, snug and conservatory at the back, and is Grade II-listed.

Paul and I sat in the front bar, where we were lucky to grab a seat, following the departure of a group of drinkers. The place was packed – it was early Friday evening, and as I looked around, I had the feeling that I’d been there before. Paul thought the same too but looking back as the various photos I’ve taken over the years, and the times I’ve changed trains at Wolverhampton station I can’t find any record of my having been there. That includes the visit to Shifnal, which was my first Proper Day Out, with members from the Beer & Pubs forum, back in November 2019.

This aside, the Great Western was on top form, the Friday before last, as was the Holden’s Black Country Mild, which slipped down a treat. Both pub and beer proved a fitting end to what was, in effect another Proper Day Out, and a splendid one at that! My thanks go to Stafford Paul for the groundwork that went into preparing the tour, and especially the hours he put in sorting out local bus routes and bus times. Most of all, though, I’d like to give him special thanks for his local knowledge, company and good humour, and trust that it won’t be too long, before we enjoy another tour, that is equally enjoyable and rewarding as this one was.




Thursday 28 March 2024

Black Country Walkabout - Part One

Having set the scene for our Black Country Walkabout, it’s now time for the main event, which of course was visiting the five, classic Black Country pubs, as originally earmarked by me, then verified and approved by Stafford Paul, local expert, and Pub Man extraordinaire. Paul had spent a lot of time tidying up the provisional route that I’d suggested last summer, even to the extent of trying out some of the local buses and finding a much more workable alternative to my original idea of starting out from Cradley Heath rail station. This meant some good came out of us postponing the trip, back in August, due to COVID – me, rather than Stafford Paul.

The intention, to begin the tour from Brierley Hill, the most southerly point, remained the same, but this time all we had to do was sit on the No. 8 bus from Wolverhampton, all the way to the first, and arguably one of the best, pubs on the crawl. It took the best part of an hour before the bus and ourselves, parted company, just five minutes’ walk from the Vine, and whilst I had seen many photos of this classic Batham’s pub, I was surprised by its open situation and outlook, across the rolling hills of the Black Country.

Those hills were first described to me by pioneering beer writer Frank Baillie (no relation), in his ground-breaking book, "The Beer Drinker’s Companion," although little did, I think after reading those words, that it would take me 50 years to see the pub for myself. And not only visit it, but step inside its hallowed walls and enjoy a couple of pint’s of Batham’s finest, brewed at the quaintly named, Delph Brewery, behind the pub. Paul had warned me that the Vine, also known as the Bull & Bladder, would be busy, and that we would need to get our food order in quick. This was because the first half of our tour was governed by a tight schedule, for reasons I shall reveal later. So, after pausing to take a few photos ox the exterior, whilst making way for customers eager to get inside, we too passed through the portal and joined the queue that had formed at the serving hatch.

A pint of Batham’s Best Bitter for me and a pint of the brewery’s mild for Paul. Just £2.60 a pint, and a couple of the best beers I’ve drank in a long, long time. Smooth, creamy, well-conditioned, clear as a bell and topped with a white creamy head that clung to the glass leaving “lacings” as the contents were eagerly drained by both Paul and me. It was beer heaven, as far as I was concerned, and I know my companion was equally enthusiastic about this marvellous beer.

Paul went off to order some food, leaving me at a table, in the large room to the left of the lobby, which we shared with a couple of other appreciative Batham’s drinkers. Not long after, our lunchtime meal arrived - steak pie, chips and mushy peas for me, and faggots, gravy, chips, and mushy peas for Paul. Both meals came in at just £5.00 each, which was amazing value. Most of the pub regulars, of which there were many, were eating as well, but with a large room at the rear, plus a staunchly traditional bar at the front, there was plenty of room for everyone. After finishing our meal, we too moved to the latter room, in order to soak up the atmosphere of this amazingly unspoilt local, which judging by the queue outside.

All too soon it was time to move on and so we retraced our footsteps back towards the huge Merry Hill shopping complex, where after a shot wait, we boarded a bus that was travelling in the direction of Dudley

This dropped us at Netherton, where we alighted, and crossed the road to the second pub of the day, the legendary Old Swan, known locally as Ma Pardoe’s. The Old Swan is one of the four surviving home-brew pubs that were around at the time that CAMRA was founded, the other three being the Blue Anchor, Helston, Cornwall, the Three Tuns, at Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, and the All Nations at Madeley, also in Shropshire. The latter is now the only one of those four historic pubs, that I have not been to.

Last Friday’s visit to Ma Pardoe’s, was another first, and it was definitely worth visiting. As with the other pubs, Stafford Paul had done his homework, and discovered that the “wonderfully evocative original bar, unchanged since Victorian times” doesn’t open nowadays until 5pm. Tim Newey, who is  the long-serving licensee at the Old Swan, told him that “most of the bar customers are dead now," although anyone particularly interested can sit in there having bought their pints in the 1980s extension next door. The exterior of the extension can clearly be seen in the photograph below and looks like it may have once been a separate building.

We followed Mr Newey’s suggestion and after purchasing our pints of Olde Swan Original, asked the barman if we could take them through to the original section of the pub. He escorted us round, and left us to admire the interior, which is virtually unchanged from Victorian times. It features an ornate, enamelled ceiling, with a picture of a Swan, and this gracious bird also features on a mirror behind the bar. A standalone burner provides the heating. There is a cosy snug, plus a two-room lounge in the newer section of the pub.

Paul and I were just sitting there enjoying our pints, when a WhatsApp message came through from Retired Martin, informing us that he was in the Swan, but where were we? We put him straight, as to our whereabouts, and he came through an joined us. He had done well in catching us up, particularly in view of his dislike of buses, and it was good that he was able to join up with us at Netherton.  We enjoyed listening to his various escapades, but regrettably there wasn’t time for a further pint at the Old Swan.

I mentioned earlier that we were on a tight time schedule, and this was because the Beacon Hotel at Sedgley, the next pub on our itinerary still keeps old fashioned hours, and closes at 3pm, for an afternoon break. Although we had 75 minutes to reach the Beacon, the journey involved a change of buses in Dudley. The traffic was also heavy, after all it was Friday afternoon, but there were road works as well. With time ticking away, there was a danger we might not make it to the pub before it closed for the afternoon.
Martin came to the rescue and jumped off the bus a few stops before we reached Sedgley. He then gallantly power-walked to the pub, arriving several minutes ahead of us. When Paul and I eventually reached the pub, we found Martin waiting there along with three dimple pint mugs of Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild on the table. This 6% abv dark mild, was a good beer on which to finish the lunchtime session, although I was admittedly quite taken aback by the strength of this ale, which is one of several brewed on the premises, at the tower brewery at the rear of this characterful pub.

The beers are served from a small central hatchway, complete with leaded windows, and we caught up with our friend in one of the adjoining rooms, which was still busy with drinkers finishing off their pints. When I visited the Gents, I noticed a couple of doors marked Brew-House and Fermenting Room, and as you can see from the photo, the brew-house is housed in a substantial red-brick building to the rear of where we were sitting.  

Sadly, it was time to drink up and say goodbye to the Beacon, and also to Martin, who had an engagement that evening, back home in Sheffield. It was good of him to have taken the time and effort to join us, although it’s a pity he wasn’t able to continue the crawl, as there were still two more cracking pubs to go.  You can read about these in the next, and final post from this Black Country Walkabout.  

Tuesday 26 March 2024

To the Black Country

Last Friday's visit to the Black Country was something of a first for me although, spoiler alert, I had been to the region once before. That was only briefly when, as a student I visited the Lamp Tavern in Dudley, with a friend from university, who lived in nearby Staffordshire. My friend had been enthusing about the local Batham’s beer, which like nowadays, was only available in a handful of pubs, and so on a weekend visit to his parent’s house in Rugeley, drove the pair of us down to the Black Country for an evening at the Lamp Tavern.

We put away a fair few pints that evening, or at least I did as my friend was driving, and whilst that was getting on for 50 years ago, the memories came flooding back as Stafford Paul and I rode past on the bus last Friday, whilst on our way to our first pub of the day (also a Batham’s house). Incredibly I recognised the pub, despite it being dark during that first visit, such was the impression that the local beer had made on me.

That was a one off, so let's wipe the slate clean and regard my recent trip as the first proper visit I’ve made to the Black Country. The area gained its name in the mid nineteenth century due to the smoke from the many thousands of iron-working foundries, forges and thick seams of coal which were easy to excavate due to their shallow nature. Because of the physical nature of coal mining and iron smelting, workers in the region would have developed king-sized thirsts, so one legacy of this is the large number of breweries and pubs that grew up as a result of this industrial activity.

It had long been an aim of mine to visit and enjoy some of the area’s rich heritage of unspoilt pubs, and after exploring this idea with local Pub Man, Stafford Paul on the Beer & Pub Forum, hosted by Tapatalk, the logistics behind such a trip were gradually sketched out. We narrowed the number of pubs down to half a dozen, and worked out an itinerary that would enable us to visit each one, whilst allowing sufficient time to fully appreciate each individual hostelry. We called this plan as a Black Country Walkabout, and originally scheduled the visit for August last year. That was when COVID decided to raise its ugly head again, because just four days before our scheduled tour, I went down with what turned out to be my third bout of the plague.

The trip had to be cancelled, although fortunately I obtained a partial refund on my pre-booked, Advanced rail ticket. With a chunk of autumn taken up with holidays and other distractions, followed by Christmas and New Year celebrations, it wasn’t until mid-March that a mutually convenient date became available for a re-arranged Black Country Walkabout. And so, early on Friday morning I made my way down to Tonbridge station and boarded the first London bound train that arrived at the platform.  Strictly speaking, according to the terms of my ticket, I should have taken the train specified on my travel schedule, which was actually the one that was two departures after the one I caught. I’m of the opinion though, that it’s best to make any onward connections as soon as possible, especially as I’ve been caught out before by delays on the Underground.

I alighted at London Bridge and took the Northern Line in a northerly direction towards Barnet. The carriages were packed as far as Bank station, but after that, the journey onward to Euston was fine, and I even got a seat. I didn't have too long to wait for my Avanti West Coast train to Wolverhampton, which was completely different from my experience at the beginning of December. On that occasion, I travelled to Macclesfield, and there were cancellations popping up all over the place.

This was a welcome change and with plenty of space on the train going north, I was thinking could this be proof that Avanti have started to deliver, when it comes to service and reliability. I say this because the journey home, from Wolverhampton, was just as seamless and trouble free. It was rather disconcerting then to read, the other day, that the government we're looking at stripping Avanti of their franchise and take ownership of services on the West Coast Main Line back into public ownership. We shall see!

Once seated, I settled down to enjoy the journey and as well as gazing out at the countryside, which is quite familiar to someone who has travelled this route dozens of times in the past, I also found time to read my latest book. This was “Cask”, Des de Moor’s magnum opus on what he describes as “The Real Story of Britain’s Unique Beer Culture.” I had knocked off several chapters by the time we reached Birmingham, after which I put the book away in my backpack, switched on my phone, and noticed a couple of messages. These were from Retired Martin, who was supposed to be joining Stafford Paul and myself for part of our Black Country Wander.

The train pulled into Wolverhampton, right on time at 10:29, and after stepping off and walking along the platform, I spotted Stafford Paul who was waiting for me, after travelling down from the town that is the first part of his nickname. It was quite a reunion as after all, this was the trip that had been pushed back from August last year. We walked across to Wolverhampton’s recently constructed bus station, where we waited for the bus that would take us all the way to Brierley Hill where the Vine, our first pub of the day, was located. We climbed up to the top deck, in order to appreciate the view, and it was a changing one as we moved from 1930’s suburbia, towards some more open, and also much hillier countryside.

The journey took the best part of an hour, as it followed an urban, dual carriageway route which Paul said had been constructed back in the 1930’s as a job creation scheme, to assist workers affected by the economic depression that was affecting much of the area, at the time. To our left we could see the imposing ruins of Dudley castle, high up on a hillside, and later in the day, we passed the same castle from the other side of the hill, whilst on our way back to Wolverhampton.

We visited five pubs in total that day, all of them classic and totally unspoilt pubs several of them on CAMRA’s list of national, heritage pubs. Every pub visited, offered beers packed full of flavour and character, produced by a handful of long-established, Black Country breweries. The names Batham’s, Old Swan (Ma Pardoe’s), Sarah Hughes, and Holden’s might not mean much to today's’ drinkers, but they represent a heritage that stretches back through several generations of hard-working, local family brewers.

Join me next time, as we move onto the main part of this visit to the Black Country and learn about how Paul and I enjoyed some of the finest, and also some of the cheapest traditional beers in Britain. Furthermore, we enjoyed them in some of the most unspoilt and unchanged boozers in the country.

Sunday 24 March 2024

In eager anticipation.........

It’s strange, although possibly just a fact of life, but in the space of just a couple of days I’ve gone from having nothing to write about, to having a real abundance. As anticipated, Friday’s visit to the Black Country, postponed from last August due to me contracting COVID, has provided a wealth of material, ranging from some truly classic and unspoilt pubs that offered beers from a number of small, family-owned breweries, which have managed to survive from a time that predates the birth of CAMRA.

Three of the five pubs visited had been on my bucket list for many years, so it was doubly satisfying to experience them at first hand, and be able to enjoy some truly excellent beers, in surroundings that have changed little over the past century. Sharing these riches with others who not only appreciate them but are much more familiar with their charms than I am, added to the experience.

Before launching into a full-blown article about my day out in the Black Country, I want to finish off a piece which I’d started earlier in the week. It is one which designed to tie in a few of the loose threads left over from a previous article about the joys of going out for breakfast at the weekend, so please bear with me until this post is out of the way. I mentioned in my Ides of March post that the lad and I were planning on enjoying a Sunday breakfast at a local pub, but as is sometimes the case, the best laid plans can often go astray. This was certainly the case last Sunday when, after selecting the Ivy House in Tonbridge, as somewhere to enjoy a traditional English breakfast, we ended up being disappointed.

The Ivy House is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge. It is an attractive old tile-hung building which dates back to the 15th Century. Formerly known as the Elephant & Castle, the pub is said to take its name from the mass of ivy that once covered the exterior. The pub has had quite a chequered history, particularly in recent years. When I first came to Tonbridge, it was a two-bar establishment, popular with bikers and those of a slightly "bohemian" disposition. Later, when I last worked in Tonbridge (1996-2001), the Ivy House had a good reputation for food, and the company I worked took full advantage of this and used the pub as somewhere to wine and dine visiting customers.

There has been several changes at the Ivy House, since that time, the most recent being just after the pandemic. Mrs PBT’s has been in the pub more times than I have, since those changes, having dined there, with friends, on several occasions, and following her recommendation, I decided that Matthew and I would give the pub’s breakfast option a try. When we arrived the other Sunday, it seemed as if half the population of Tonbridge were also there for the same purpose, as the place was heaving. We were asked whether we had a reservation, and whilst I had considered making one, I decided against this, primarily because I was unsure of the time, we would be ready.

The discipline of rising at a certain time for work, during the week, leads to a much more relaxed feeling at weekends, and because of this I didn’t want to commit to a specific time. I had also noticed from the pub’s website, that “walk-ins” were available, so to my mind, at least, there was no requirement to book a table. Unfortunately, the girl on the door advised they could only honour bookings, due to the non-appearance of a member of the kitchen staff. Sorry, and all that, but as mentioned above, we could see the situation the pub was in, so we thanked her and departed, in search of somewhere else.

Time was getting on, so when Matthew suggested Spoons, I agreed, much to his surprise. We walked back along the High Street, dodging the puddles produced by the heavy rainfall, and whilst the Humphrey Bean was also very busy, managed to find a table on the raised section, away from family groups with their “well-behaved” little darlings. The Spoons offering was around half the price of that in the Ivy House, or at least the £4.99 Traditional Breakfast I opted for was. Being a growing lad, Matthew ordered the £6.59, Large Breakfast – quelle surprise, so after bunging him sufficient to cover my repast, plus a refillable coffee, I despatched him to the bar, and settled down to read about the current Spoons Beer Festival.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have missed one of these, and it’s encouraging that Tim is continuing with them, including the practice of visiting brewers from overseas, visiting these shores in order to brew a special beer, based on a brew that is available in their home country. Companies with sufficient capacity, such as Banks, Adnam’s and Fuller’s usually provide the facilities and equipment necessary to produce such beers, but being something of a purist, I would rather have the real thing, imported from the visiting brewers home country. To my mind, these guest “foreign” brews lack the provenance associated with the real thing, although I’ve been criticised as a "beer snob” before, for expressing such views.

I mentioned that the Humphrey Bean was crowded, and I believe this was due to the inclement weather. Sunday morning is traditionally the time for those families with sporty off-spring, to bring their charges down to the sports ground, a large flat area, enclosed by a loop of the river Medway that contains a large number of playing fields – football as well as rugby. These sports mad kids can let off steam to their hearts content, whilst their parents (usually the fathers), shout words of encouragement from the touchline. Sometimes, when emotions are running high, the encouraging words will be exchanged for insults, which doesn’t set a good example, but these highly competitive, "pushy parent" types, forget that what takes place on the pitches is only a game!

The staff at the Humphrey Bean coped admirably, with the larger than expected number of customers, and I was quite happy sitting there enjoying several flat white coffees from the reliable machine, before our breakfasts arrived. The pub itself, seemed to have mellowed somewhat from what I remember, or perhaps it was just me in a more relaxed mood.



Thursday 21 March 2024

Adam's ale

Yes, you did read that headline correctly, and I wasn’t talking about Southwold’s finest, after leaving a letter out of their name. Instead, I’m talking about water, yes plain, unadulterated and some might day boring water, even though without this molecule there would be no life on earth, and none of us would be here.

Water (chemical formula: H2O) is a colourless and transparent fluid which forms the world's streams, lakes, oceans, and rain, and is the major constituent of the fluids of organisms. As a chemical compound, a water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms that are connected by covalent bonds.

"Adam's ale" is a colloquial expression, that referred to plain water. The term is thought to have originated in 16th or 17th centuries and is a reference to the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where water is said to have been their only drink. In this sense, "Adam's ale" is used to refer to water as being a natural and basic necessity for life, much like it was for Adam & Eve.and if water was good enough for old Adam, it should be good enough for us. That's if you believe such people existed, of course, but even if you don't the allegory is there and remains valid, for discussions such as this.

It goes without saying, of course, that Adams ale is not to be confused with “Adnams ale”, which refers to the product of the well-known brewery from Southwold in Suffolk. The term Adams ale became popular in Victorian times, particularly with the rise of the anti-alcohol, Temperance movements, and yet the majority of us tend to eschew the fluid that is literally the “water of life.” Water is essential for life. It helps with everything from transporting nutrients around your body to controlling your temperature. It can even help you to have healthier skin.

UK Government advice on fluids is to consume 6-8 glasses per day (around 1.2 litres in total, which equates to 6 x 200ml glasses or 8 x 150ml glasses). Those doing strenuous physical activity or living in hotter or more humid climates may need more than this, so it is important to drink sufficient fluids in order to keep your body hydrated. Most adults need between 2 to 2.5 litres of fluid a day, which is around 8 glasses. We get most of the fluid we need from drinks, but some also comes from the foods we eat, such as soups, stews, fruit, and vegetables. It is important to make sure we replace the amount of fluid our bodies lose each day, in order to prevent us becoming dehydrated.

Ready for a few more facts – our bodies lose about 1.5 litres of fluid a day when we pee, around 200ml in a typical bowel movement, and about 500ml through sweat. In addition, we also lose fluid just by breathing. To complicate things further, the exact amount of fluid we need depends on things such as, age, exercise, plus climate and environment. To elaborate, as we get older our bodies store less water and our kidneys don’t work as well as they once did. In addition, the more physical activity we undertake, then the more we need to drink, and finally if it’s hot and are sweating a lot, then we need to drink more fluids.

Returning to Adam’s ale, water is a good choice when it comes to meeting your body's needs for fluids. It doesn't have any calories and if you drink tap water – it’s free. If you don’t like the taste, then you can add a slice of lemon or a little sugar free cordial. 

The flavour angle is an interesting one, as for years I steered clear of water, purely because I didn’t like the taste. Instead, I preferred squash, or fruit juices, and although I enjoyed fizzy drinks, whilst in my teens, I soon realised that these so-called “sodas” – as the Americans would describe them, weren’t terribly good for one, given their high levels of sugar or, even worse, artificial sweeteners. 

It was when I began long-distance walking that I switched to drinking water – mainly the stuff that comes out of the tap, but sometimes shop bought, bottles water instead. I managed to put aside my dislike of its taste, and whilst beer, tea and coffee will always remain as my favourite drinks, I am more than happy to enjoy a swig of Adam’s ale, straight out of my water bottle. This is especially true, after a strenuous hill-climb, when out on a cross-country ramble, or whilst stopping for a “breather,” on a long, and an equally demanding walk.

It's only when you are really thirsty though, and I mean so thirsty that your mouth is dry, your tongue feels cracked, and all you can think about is a glass of cool, clear, and refreshing water, that Adam’s ale really comes into its own. For this reason, my water bottle is filled and ready, every time I set out on a hike, and if the weather is especially warm, and the walk long, then I will often take a second bottle of water along with me as well.

There is normally a glass of water by my bedside at night, as well, because it isn’t that unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, with a dry mouth and feeling thirsty. I also have my water bottle perched on my desk at work, as I feel it’s important to stay well-hydrated throughout the day. So, whilst beer remains my favourite, and go-to drink, water now fulfills a role when drinks such as tea and coffee are not available, and when drinking alcohol, would not be a good idea (at work, before getting behind the wheel of a car, first thing in the morning, etc)


Saturday 16 March 2024

The Ides of March

As I gazed out over the rain-soaked landscape, last Tuesday, I was left wondering whether it’ would ever stop raining. As we move from winter into early spring, it’s hard to recall a wetter period of weather, even though prolonged spells of wet weather probably aren’t that unusual at this time of year. What’s perhaps more disconcerting, has been the almost total absence of frosts this winter, and whilst some might welcome the relatively mild conditions, give me any day a bright, crisp, and dry morning, even if it does mean having to scrape the car, before leaving for work.

Fruit trees, so I’ve been told, require periods of frost during winter, in order the bear a reasonable crop of fruit - something to do with the tree going into a deep hibernation (if that's possible), before springing back with a flourish with the arrival of spring.  In addition, sub-zero conditions are also the gardener’s friend, as they help break up lumpy soil, as well as killing off numerous garden pests, but this year cold snaps have been few and far between.

For those of us itching to get our hiking boots on and head out into the great outdoors, the current damp conditions are doubly frustrating as because even with
the right footwear and assorted protective rainwear, there’s nothing more soul-destroying than walking through a rain-soaked landscape. I’ve still got a stage and a half of the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk to complete - Eridge to Groombridge and Groombridge to Southborough, so what ought to be a relatively easy walk to complete, is turning out to be anything but.

What walk next though, the Greensand Ridge, perhaps? It is quite remote in places but passes through some stunning countryside. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the convenient public transport links which characterise the North Downs Way, so there is potential for a few overnight stops, preferably at a location or two where there’s a decent pub. Meanwhile, back to the weather.

Too much persistent rain can also lead to flooding, a situation that none of us wish to see, but one that has become all too common in recent years. It’s noticeable on my commute to and from work when the drive can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare. Whichever route I take involves crossing the river Medway, which is the main channel into which the local streams and ditches discharge their surplus of water. With little respite between weather systems and the ground already saturated from previous heavy rain, it isn’t long before water running of from the fields, starts washing across the roads, and before you know it, they are axle deep in flood water and virtually impassable.

So, what has all this got to do with pubs, beer, and the enjoyment of both? Well, more than you might think. Shops and other retail outlets often report a reduction in footfall during spells of persistent wet weather. The hardware store where son Matthew works certainly does, and I’m sure that pubs are affected in a similar fashion. After all, when the rain is lashing down outside, who wants to step outside and leave the comfort and warmth of their own home?

As the week wore on, there was a gradual improvement in the weather, and by the time Thursday arrived it was quite pleasant. Time for a few cheeky beers you might think, but unfortunately, I’d agreed to sort some stuff out at home, for Mrs PBT’s. We’ve embarked on a joint, sort out- de-cluttering operation that’s been long overdue. She might not thank me for saying so, but my good lady wife is an inveterate hoarder, and now having finally realised the extent of her hanging onto things that really aren’t worth keeping, she’s gone into full-blown clear-out mode.

We’re therefore on a bit of a roll at the moment, and to complicate matters further, I thought it good to get ahead of things on the garden. I managed to get a fair amount of preparatory work done in both garden and greenhouse, during the previous “dry” spell, including digging over what will be my new vegetable patch. I’ve also been attaching some trellis work to the fence, ready to provide support, when needed, for the climbing plants that Mrs PBT’s bought the other week.

There has been something of a lull on the beer front, but if all goes to plan, that should change next week, with that long-postponed visit to the Black Country scheduled for a weeks’ time. That should fulfil a long-cherished ambition to enjoy s few of the area’s finest heritage pubs, as well as renewing my acquaintance with Batham’s and Holden’s fine ales. Both companies are long-established Black Country brewers, whose products seem confined to the local area, and are rarely seen beyond the immediate local area.

As for more local matters, there seems very little happening at the moment, although West Kent CAMRA have two presentations to make this coming Wednesday in relation to this year’s Pub of the Year competition. There are no prizes for guessing the winner and runners up, but as it’s all becoming a little too predictable, I doubt I shall be showing my face. That’s not to take anything away from the worthy winners, but I would rather call in at the pubs in question (they are both in Tonbridge), when things are a little quieter.

Earlier today, Eileen and I took a drive over to the ASDA superstore at King’s Hill (site of the former West Malling airfield). We certainly know how to live, but it was worth it for the new pair of casual, boots I bought, reduced down from £35 to just £16. An absolute bargain, and leather as well. Part of the store’s “George” range, whoever George is - Mrs PBT’s will tell you, as she’s up on such matters, whereas the only things I am concerned about are their comfort and durability, plus, to a point, how they look.

Breakfast tomorrow, and once again a pub will probably be the venue. It’s as though events are starting to answer the question I raised, just three short posts ago. It could be that more and more public houses are waking up to the potential of opening their doors early, especially at weekends. The pub as we know it continues to evolve, and by doing so helps ensure its own survival.

This concludes this rather indulgent set of ramblings, looking back over the first half of March, the first two weeks of spring, no less. I know that some readers enjoy a sprinkling of domesticity woven into the blog, but as with Marmite, others find them boring and irrelevant. As the old saying goes, life isn’t all beer and skittles, and neither is it cakes and ale, but rest assured gentle reader, now that I’ve caught up somewhat on house and garden matters, normal service should be resumed very soon.