Monday, 14 January 2019

Blowing away the cobwebs

Early on Sunday morning, four members of our “Weekend Walking Group” met up opposite the Vauxhall pub, on the edge of Tonbridge. I was one of the four, and in the absence of any further takers we set off to walk to the Dovecote Inn, at the small hamlet of Capel.

Actually I don’t know whether a settlement with a 13th Century church constitutes a hamlet or not, but that is a question for pedants. However, this lovely little church which is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, is now redundant – reflecting either the decline in the local population, or the that of the popularity of churchgoing.

I digress, but this walk to Capel is one our group has undertaken on a number of previous occasions, and as I have also written several posts about the walk as well, I was looking for something different to say.

Our route out of Tonbridge led us past the ornamental lake, at the bottom of the grounds of Somerhill House, a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion which, after a long and rather mixed history, now houses a collection of fee-paying schools. It is said to be  the second largest house in Kent, after Knole House, in Sevenoaks.

The feeder road, up from nearby Tudeley Lane, is not a place for the faint-hearted, at the end of the school day, as all the “yummy mummies” jockey for place, manoeuvring their over-sized SUV’s, up and down the narrow road with all the finesse of a column of Russian tanks, in order to collect their little darlings. Thankfully, Sunday is a quiet day, and apart from the occasional group of walkers, we had the grounds, and the area of woodland at the back of the house, to ourselves.

Coming out of the woodland, the path descends to a valley, before crossing a stream. From there it’s across a field and onto a short stretch of the B2017 road, before  heading off in a mainly southerly direction and into another area of woodland. The latter looks especially lovely during late April and early May, when the woodland floor is carpeted with a stunning display of bluebells, but being mid-January it looked very bare and rather drab.

We eventually left the woods behind us, and after passing along a narrow country lane headed off towards Capel in a north-easterly direction. We could see the church in the distance, so knew that the Dovecote would be close at hand, and roughly two hours after setting off, we found ourselves at the rear of the pub. After pausing to remove our muddy boots, we stepped inside.

We had purposely arrived early, working on the premise that the Dovecote would be filling up with Sunday diners, and whilst the restaurant area to the left of the bar, was reserved, there were plenty of tables at the opposite end of the pub. There were three old boys sat at the bar, and the talk was almost inevitably about the “B” word. We purposely ignored this, as we’d come out to enjoy the countryside, the beer and each other’s company, rather than becoming involved in a debate. So having worked up a thirst, perused the selection of gravity-served ales on sale.

The beers at the Dovecote are kept in a temperature-controlled room immediately behind the bar. Extra-long cask taps protrude through the dividing wall, and out through false barrel ends, made out of wood, set into the wall. This allows the beer to be kept at just the right temperature, and served in the most natural way possible – straight from the cask. From memory, the beers on offer were Deuchar’s IPA, Gales HSB, Harvey’s Best, and Tonbridge Coppernob. I started with the Deuchar’s  - a beer I haven’t seen for some time, before switching to the Harvey’s. 

Both were good, scoring 3.5 NBSS each. Two of my companions also tried the Gales HSB, now brewed by Fuller’s of course,  but as I’ve never been a fan of legendary beers which are no longer brewed in their original home, so I took their word for it.

The pub was starting to fill up, so we ordered some food, sausage sandwich for two of us, plus a rather nice looking game pie, for the others. The sandwich was fine for me, as I knew there was a stew waiting in the oven for when I got home.

After our lunch we decided to make tracks for home, by means of a more direct route, which took us through the churchyard of Capel Church. The wind was starting to get up, and it would be blowing quite fiercely by the time we arrived back in Tonbridge, but it was still warm for mid-January.

We eventually reached the B2017 Five Oak Green Road again, and as the path took us right along the side of the George & Dragon pub, we decided to pop in for a look. However, as the time is getting on, we’ll have to leave it until next time to learn more about this attractive old weatherboard pub.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Piper at the gates of dawn

It will come as no surprise to devotees of the humble potato crisp, that legendary crisp producer Pipers, have been voted Britain’s Best Brand of savoury snack. This is the seventh year, on the trot, that the Lincolnshire-based company has won this award, which results from an annual survey of speciality food products on sale in Britain’s delicatessens, farm shops and food halls.

Pipers are a brand which has seemed to come from nowhere, which kind of ties in with the founding of the company, by three Lincolnshire farmers back in 2004. I first became aware of Pipers at one of CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festivals, and looking back, this would have been some time during the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.

In a clever manner, Pipers acted as one of the festival’s sponsors, and I clearly remember grabbing a handful of crisps from one of several “help-yourself” bowls, laid out on the company’s stand. They were so good, that I returned, several times, eventually buying a couple of bags to assuage my guilt at scoffing so many freebies!

I stopped attending the GBBF a few years ago, but Pipers and their stand, were still a regular future of the event right up until the last festival I attended. Pipers’ sponsorship of the festival was a canny move on the company’s part, as it brought them to the attention of thousands of discerning beer drinkers, who Pipers knew would be looking out for their brand in their local pubs, and indeed asking their local licensee to stock them.

The three farmers behind the brand describe themselves as passionate people, driven by a desire to deliver the best taste and quality possible, without any gimmicks. The company’s aims is to produce great tasting, quality crisps using local potatoes, and to achieve this they work with carefully selected flavour partners who care as much about their products as they do.

Seeing Pipers crisps on sale is something which, for me, turns a good pub into a truly great pub, as the fact that the licensee has chose to stock this brand, means that he or she is someone who cares about the products sold and this care and consideration will extend to the choice and quality of the beer offered by the pub as well.

So if I notice the brand on sale, I will always buy a packet, even if it’s just to take home and eat later – or even the next day.

Note of caution:  I'm old enough to remember how crisp giant Walkers also started out from humble beginnings, and how,  back in the day, Walkers was the brand which devotees of quality potato crisps looked out for. So there is an inherent danger associated with rapid growth, and the inevitable incremental loss of the attributes which attracted people to the brand in the first place.

Friday, 11 January 2019

A busy start to the year

It’s obviously taking me longer to get back into the swing of things, as after my first full week back at work, I’m feeling absolutely cream-crackered. I hit the ground running through, as it was straight back into a “full-on” manic week of mayhem, and with an order book which is absolutely bursting at the seams, it is definitely been a case of “all hands to the pump”.

We had wondered as to why, even at Christmas time, (a traditionally slack time of year), we’d been swamped with orders, but the truth slowly dawned that many of our customers were preparing for that worst case scenario, of the UK crashing out of the European Union on 29th March, without a deal – the so-called “No deal Brexit”.

My company manufactures dental products; primarily dental cements, restoratives (filling materials), etching agents, glazes and dental polishing pastes - otherwise known as “Prophylaxis Pastes”. The latter are a form of toothpaste, but with much more abrasive properties. This comes from the pumice used in their formulation.

We have informed our customers that whatever happens, we don’t foresee much in the way of supply problems. Our cement and restorative products, are based on finely powdered glass. We don’t handle amalgam-type filling materials, which are mercury based. They are far from being environmentally friendly and may have long-term toxic effects on patients, but those of us of a certain age, probably have a mouthful of such fillings.

What I was leading up to is that our special dental glass is produced in the UK, and the same applies to most of our containers and packaging materials. Despite this, some of our largest customers are playing it safe and are stockpiling. They could get caught out though, as many of our products have a finite shelf-life, so we will have to see.

I wasn’t actually intending to write this much about my workplace, as I really just wanted to say that after such a manic first week, my mind isn’t working as creatively, as it might do normally, and with little to report on the local beer front, there’s not much beer or pub-wise that I can write about. I was that lacking in inspiration earlier, that I dozed off in front of my computer screen – talk about a light-weight!

January is traditionally a quiet month in the licensed trade, but there are several things coming into view towards the end of the month. For the moment though, I’ll just crack open one of my few remaining cans of St Austell Proper Job, before turning in for an early night!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

2018 - The year in beer and travel

First apologies for the late appearance of this review of 2018.The year was quite different to previous ones, especially as it didn’t get off to an auspicious start. Much of my free time during the first two months of the year was spent driving over to Maidstone visiting my wife in hospital, and as anyone who has been a hospital visitor on a long term basis will tell you, this can be rather tiring.

But the year got increasingly better, just as Mrs PBT's herself did, and as it went on there were many good things to experience and enjoy. What I intend to do with this review, is follow the same headings as last year, and see where this takes us.

Campaign for Real Ale
At their Annual General Meeting in Coventry, CAMRA finally voted on the much vaunted findings from their "Revitalisation Campaign". All of the Special Resolutions  put to the meeting were passed, apart from what was probably the most controversial one. Where this takes CAMRA remains to be seen, but with the resignation, soon afterwards, of the organisation’s CEO the wind has definitely been taken out of the Campaign’s sails. The organisation seems to have lost focus, and feels like a rudderless ship, heading for the rocks.

After 43 years as a mostly active CAMRA member, I have been questioning whether I wished my membership to continue. It was only the inertia of the Direct Debit kicking in at the beginning of last month, which prevented me from cancelling my membership, but apart from the excellent BEER magazine, there is very little happening within the organisation which persuades me to remain a member.

Since writing these words, CAMRA have appointed a new Chief  Executive Officer, and the new appointment is a promotion from within. So perhaps things will improve with the Campaign, but I will review my decision next autumn, when there is still time to cancel my subscription, should I so desire.

Best Brewery Visits on Home Turf
For the first time in several years, I didn’t partake in any brewery visits in the UK, despite my local CAMRA branch running two trips. Both were connected with the previous year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival, and were designed as a “thank-you” to all those who helped at the event.

So whilst both Dark Star and Old Dairy Breweries are well worth seeing round, I visited them the previous year, in the same capacity. The fact that both these concerns picked up awards at the festival, is obviously something for them to be proud of, it was not so good for people like me who appreciate a bit of variety.

This year should be better though, as renowned Sussex brewers, Harvey’s of Lewes, picked up an award for their excellent Bonfire Boy. Word has reached me of a visit to the brewery, although I have a nasty feeling that this may clash with a proposed business trip.

Best Brewery Visits Abroad
Stone Brewing – Richmond VA
Well I was in the United States, so no apologies for the use of the word “awesome”, as there is no other adjective suitable for describing the impressive scale of this newly-built brewery, which was constructed to produce for the eastern side of the America.  The Richmond facility now produces just over one third of Stone’s total brewing requirements.

Triple Cross Brewery – Richmond VA. The smaller and much more laid back neighbouring brewery to Stone. Nice tap-room and restaurant, excellent beers and superb pizza, from a wood-fired oven.

Best Beer Festivals
Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival 2018.  This event was the festival which my own (West Kent) CAMRA Branch organises, in conjunction with the SVR Heritage Railway. The unique selling point of the festival, is there are different beers available at the stations up and down the line, as well as on the trains themselves. This obviously encourages visitors to buy a ticket and enjoy a ride on the trains; so if you enjoy preserved railways, as well as beer, then I highly recommend this festival.

As in previous years, I worked behind the bar, as a volunteer, although I wasn't involved in the actual organisation of the event. 

SIBA South-East + Tonbridge Juddians Beer Festival 2018. A quick mention should be made of this annual event which, due to the luck of the draw, clashed last year with an important game for the England football team, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Because of this, attendance figures on the Saturday were considerably down on those for  previous years, despite the hot and sunny weather. There was an impressive range of beers on sale, including some real corkers. You can read more on this story, here.

Best Beer on Home Turf
Harvey’s Sussex Best. As in previous years, no beer comes close to beating Harvey’s Best.  For everyday drinking it is a real classic and one of the finest examples of a full-bodied and well-hopped southern bitter. If I could only choose one cask beer to drink for the rest of my days, this would be it.

Two local seasonal beers also ticked all the right boxes for me. Both of them are dark ales.

Tonbridge Brewery Ebony Moon, described as a “Quaffable Porter”, this rich dark malty ales has been quite widely available in the West Kent area this winter.

Larkin’s Porter, is stronger and packs in masses of flavour. Still my favourite winter beer by far,  this excellent  Porter makes this cold, and often depressing time of the year, much more bearable.

Best Beers Abroad
Aecht Schlenkerla  5.1%. On what was my sixth visit to the lovely city of Bamberg,  I once again enjoyed the world’s finest Rauchbier in the packed surroundings of its home tavern.  Nothing more to be said, apart from pure class in a glass!

Mährs Bräu Ungespundet 5.2%. On the same visit to Bamberg, enjoying a few cool mugs of this unfiltered “Natürtrüb” beer, in the shady beer garden area in front of the brewery tap.  

Bucket List
A train trip across the USA
OK, not right across the United States, and not even half way, but the journey I undertook, from Richmond VA to Chicago, as a passenger on one of AMTRAK's iconic trains, was something I had wanted to experience for years.

With the section through the American mid-west, plus the scenic passage through the Rocky Mountains still to do, this particular bucket-list item remains at only one third complete.

Reykjavik Iceland. A brief stop-over in the Icelandic capital, whilst on my way to Washington, for the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference, gave me an all too brief taste of this spectacular country and its laid back capital. Iceland is definitely somewhere I would like to return to .

I didn’t manage to knock anything else off my "bucket list" (the one which isn’t written down and which changes on a fairly regular basis!), but I have a few things planned for 2019.

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer
In the UK. There were quite a few places where I enjoyed a beer over the course of last year. I think pride of place should go to somewhere a bit different, and somewhere definitely off the beaten track.
Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath The Rock is an old drovers inn, which has retained many original features. It is close to 500 years old, and is so named because it is close to one of several of the rocky outcrops which are a feature of this remote corner of Kent.

Being a rural pub the Rock obviously attracts country folk, but they are proper work-a-day country people, rather than the "green Wellington brigade". The floor of worn bricks means that muddy boots, and equally muddy dogs are welcome. Larkin’s beer, including Porter in season.

The Bull Inn, Three Leg Cross. This unspoilt gem is one of those pubs I’ve wanted to visited for as long as I remember, but somehow never got round to. I finally managed a visit in February last year. This unspoilt gem is at Three Leg Cross, on the outskirts of  the village of Ticehurst, close to Bewl Water.

The Bull also happened to serve me one of the finest pints of Harvey’s Sussex Best ever to cross my lips - cool, but not chilled, and with just the right amount of condition, this glass of beer contained the perfect balance between sweet-juicy malt and peppery, earthy hops.

Further afield. With visits to Bavaria, Iceland and the United States last year, I drank in some pretty amazing places, and there are a couple of places which really stand out.

 Mahrs Bräu, Bamberg, Franconia.
Sitting out in the beer garden at the front of the brewery-pub, under the canopy in the front courtyard, sheltering from the fierce May sunshine, with a group of friends from Maidstone CAMRA. Good beer, and equally good company. The Mährs Bräu “U” and Helles, were both exceptional.

Bravo Bar, Reykjavík.
Sitting on a bar stool, whilst enjoying a couple of locally-brewed Viking beers at one of the most popular bars, in what has to be one of the coolest capital cities in the world.  Cosy and atmospheric, with plenty of opportunity of observing the comings and goings amongst the mainly young crowd, which included quite a few Americans.

The Viking Stout was excellent; full-bodied and brewed in a typically Irish dry style. At 5.8% it packed quite a punch and was by far the best of the beers I sampled in during my short stay in Reykjavik.

Best Days Out
Beer Writer’s Post-conference excursion - Richmond VA
Spending the day in Richmond Virginia, following the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s event., where we were the guest of Visit Richmond VA. After being bussed down from the conference hotel at Sterling, we spent the day visiting breweries and brew-pubs in the city which was the Confederate capital during the US Civil War.

Sandusky, Lake Erie, Ohio.
Visiting three bars in this pleasant resort town on the shores of Lake Eyrie with my sister and brother-in-law, on a hot and sunny August afternoon. We visited three contrasting bars, and had a meal in the most up-market of them. This was at my sister’s behest, as the bar offered a better selection of wine than the other two bars we visited. Sandusky was a nice town in a lovely setting overlooking Lake Erie, and had a real resort feel to it.

Würzburg, Franconia
 Spending a hot day in May, visiting this lovely old city on the banks of the River Main, which suffered so much, unnecessary devastation during the closing stages of World War II, which saw around 90% of the historic old city destroyed.

Wandering around the immaculately laid out gardens around the Residenz Palace, overlooking the city, followed by a walk back down into the city and across the ancient stone bridge over the River Main. There was then a strenuous hike up to the impressive Marienburg Fortress on the opposite side of the valley.

The day ended in a nice cool beer garden, with a plate of local Spargel (white asparagus), and a few mugs of Würzburger Höfbräu beer.

Blog Highlights
1,000th Post. The article posted on 27th September (about a visit to the Yorkshire village of Haworth), was the 1,000th article posted on Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog! This was a real milestone for a blog which I started writing in my spare time, but I actually missed this significant anniversary and didn’t realise until a couple of posts later!

10th Anniversary. The other exciting news was that the following month Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog celebrated its 10th birthday, which represented a further milestone.

Looking back, my very first article was posted on Sunday 23rd November 2008. I won’t say anything corny, such as it feels like only yesterday. I was 10 years younger then, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and a lot of beer has flowed too, since that first post, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed writing the blog and sharing some of my experiences with you all.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Canned Job

Well I’m a little behind with my posting, as I’m still working on my “Year in Beer” review of 2018, so for something to be going on with, here’s a very short post about a bargain I picked up at Tesco over the Christmas-New Year break.

You may recall me saying that St Austell Proper Job was one of my “go to” beers over the Christmas period, so whilst picking up a few festive goodies from Tesco – not a store we normally use, (simply because the nearest large outlet is at Sevenoaks), I also noticed these bad boys.

Yes, you are seeing correctly, Proper Job is now available in nicely-presented, 330ml cans. Unlike the bottles, the canned version is not naturally conditioned, but that doesn’t detract from the taste at all.

These six-packs normally retail at £7, but over the festive season, Tesco were knocking them out for just £5 a pack. Needless to say, I stocked up, especially as they’re so handy to slip in the fridge, but sadly I’m down to my last pack now.

I haven’t been back to check, but I would imagine that the £2 off promotion has come to an end. It was good whilst it lasted, but this sort of presentation must be something of a first for a premium ale brand.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

All change at the top

It makes a nice change to see some positive news about CAMRA in fact it’s good to see any news, as the organisation has been rather quiet of late, but I’m sure that the story which broke just before Christmas will be welcomed by all of the Campaign’s 191,000 members.

The good news is that CAMRA has finally appointed a new Chief Executive, and the person who will  head the Campaign is none other than Tom Stainer, the organisation’s former Chief Campaigns and Communications Officer.

Tom took up his new position at the start of this year along with Ken Owst, another head office colleague, who has been promoted to Deputy Chief Executive. The appointment of Tom and Ken to their new positions follows the departure of former CEO Tim Page, who resigned last May, in order to return to the charity sector.

Page was appointed in 2014, despite having little experience of campaigning; although he did have considerable skills in fundraising and signing up new members to the charities he worked with. His appointment certainly raised a few eyebrows at the time, and ruffled a few feathers as well, but by concentrating too much on increasing CAMRA membership, there were concerns that Tim was missing the bigger picture.

I’m rather surprised that it has taken the Campaign so long to replace Page, particularly when there was some home-grown talent waiting in the wings,  but I’m pleased that CAMRA have recognised Tom Stainer’s talent  and achievements.

I assume the same applies to Ken Owst, although I’ve never met him, unlike Tom. Whatever the reason(s) for the delay, I’m delighted that the organisation has decided to promote two individuals from within., rather than looking outside again.

Tom has worked at CAMRA since 2006, when he took over as editor of its monthly newspaper, "What's Brewing". His background is in journalism, and he previously worked for  the Morning Advertiser, before being hired by CAMRA. Since joining CAMRA, Tom was responsible for the launch of the successful and award-winning BEER magazine before becoming CAMRA's Chief of Communications and Campaigns.

Tom said: “I’ve worked for CAMRA for more than a decade so it’s an organisation I deeply understand and hold a great affection for… My job now is to help our national executive develop the strategy to continue CAMRA’s growth, support our branches and continue to deliver effective campaigning – especially to ensure the Pubs Code is working as intended, to protect pubs from unfair business rates and to ensure tax on beer served in pubs is reduced.”

Ken Owst has had a long and successful career in retail, and prior to joining CAMRA he served for more than three years as Director of Finance and Corporate Services and Company Secretary for a national children's' charity. Ken joined CAMRA in May of 2018 as Chief Support Officer and will continue to be responsible for support operations at CAMRA's  head office in St Albans. He will also remain as Company Secretary.

Ken added: “Since arriving at CAMRA it has been apparent that all the CAMRA staff are committed and keen to be as effective as possible in supporting our members to organise great festivals and effective campaigns across the country. We need to make sure our systems and staff continue to develop to their full potential, so they can give the most effective help to our volunteers across the country.”

CAMRA national chairman Jackie Parker said: “I am delighted that Tom and Ken will be taking up their new roles as 2019 gets underway, and am confident they’ll provide strong support for our volunteer leadership and lead our dedicated professional team at head office to build on our campaigning successes.”

There’s not much more I can add at this stage, apart from echoing the views of many other CAMRA members about being glad to see the back of Mr Page. What I will say though, is congratulations and best wishes to the two new incumbents, who I’m sure will work hard to get the Campaign for Real Ale back on track.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

2019 - Looking ahead

Well after last year’s dramatic turn of events at the beginning of January, I learnt my lesson about not making too many plans, either in advance or ideas that are so rigid that they appear set in stone. When you’re not sure quite what life may have next in store for you, it does pay to be a little flexible, so this year I’ve left things a lot more flexible. So even though nothing has been confirmed yet, I’ve still been looking ahead through 2019 and sketching out a few ideas, which I thought I might share with you.

Looking at a map of Europe, I realised there are more than a few countries I’ve yet to set foot in. Most of these are in eastern Europe, where I’ve only scratched the surface, but there are still two significant Scandinavian countries (Norway & Sweden) which I haven’t visited.

Mrs PBT’s has been talking about a mini-cruise; one which acts as an introduction to cruising - a “taster cruise” if you like. My wife’s sister and her husband are experienced and avid cruisers, but as neither of us are sure whether this will be our thing, a mini-cruise would be the ideal way to find out.

We were originally looking at Hamburg as our cruising destination, but a short voyage across the North Sea to Norway, with the option of flying back, sounds better to me. This would afford the opportunity of ticking off another European country, whilst experiencing life afloat at the same time. I would certainly like to see the fjords at close hand and enjoy a bit of Norwegian culture..

Poland is another European country which has long been on my list of places to visit, and whilst Krakow, Warsaw or Gdansk might seem the obvious cities to travel to, the south-western city of Wroclaw is the one which is commanding my attention at present.

Wroclaw hosts a beer festival with a growing in reputation, called the  Festival of Good Beer. I’ve known about this event for a number of years, but back in August, whilst I was at the Beer Bloggers & Writers’ Conference in Virginia, I met up with Polish Beer Blogger, Tomasz Kopyra.

Tomasz and I were the only European representatives at the Virginia event, and I got talking to him whilst we were at the end of conference party at Lost Rhino Brewing. I had met Tomasz before, albeit briefly, at the 2015 European Beer Blogger’s Conference in Brussels, but the whilst tasting our way through a myriad of different beers at Lost Rhino, I asked him about the Wroclaw Festival of Good Beer.

Tomasz of course, strongly recommended a visit and, bearing in mind we had both consumed a fair amount of beer that evening, offered to point me in the right direction with regards to finding a hotel etc. The beer festival is the biggest such event in Poland and takes place in June, and getting there should not pose too much of a problem.

Both Ryanair and Wizz-Air operate direct flights to Wroclaw from the UK; either from Stansted or Luton, but given Ryanair’s problems last year I’d prefer to give Wizz a go, especially as several of my east-European colleagues have first hand experience of this Hungarian airline and given it good reviews. I’m trying to persuade son Matthew to accompany me, as I’m sure he’ll enjoy a visit to somewhere a bit different,  so once dates are confirmed I will look at booking flights.

On his Zythophile website, Beer Writer, Martyn Cornell produced a lengthy write-up of his 2015 visit to the festival, which he attended as the guest of Tomasz Kopyra. Reading through Martyn’s article again, has certainly whetted my appetite, not just for the beer, but for the food as well.

There is also the historical and cultural aspect, as Wroclaw has had a turbulent past, despite being one of the most culturally and architecturally diverse cities in Central Europe. Wroclaw was known as Breslau until 1945 when, at the end of the Second World War, the city, and most of Silesia were transferred to Poland. Breslau/Wroclaw had been reduced to rubble at the end of the conflict, but since then the city has been painstakingly rebuilt.

Moving on, I’ve got quite a stash of Nectar Points that I’ve built up, so I’m thinking of putting them towards a Eurostar trip. Belgium, rather than France, is the obvious country, particularly for anyone interested in beer, and if Mrs PBT’s feels sufficiently up to the rigours of continental train travel to accompany me, Ghent or even Antwerp would be my preferred destinations. Also, seeing as Belgium is not a large country, it would be easy to nip across into Luxembourg, if only for the day, thereby knocking off yet another country.

Later in the year, Mrs PBT’s wants me to drive us up to Scotland, stopping off at a few places on the way up and the way back. Nothing more definite than that has been decided at the moment, although we will probably stop off  in Yorkshire for a few days, to visit her relatives.

Matthew has been badgering me, for some time, about a return visit to the Czech Republic, so that is another location we will have to try and fit in. Could another cross-border trip be arranged? This time to neighbouring Slovakia.

As I hinted at earlier, it’s early days yet and much depends on what happens both here in the UK and abroad. I won’t mention the “B” word, but we’re now less than 90 days away from the government’s self-imposed departure date from the world’s largest trading block. If the Pound decreases any further in value, then Eastern Europe is certainly looking a lot more financially attractive for holidays, than countries in the Euro-zone, so it could be Poland and Czechia, rather than Belgium and Norway!