2013 has been a rollercoaster. I’ve not been writing much you may have noticed.
It all started before Christmas when the time came to start our homemade wedding invites, and the dark evenings were extended long into the night, firstly on photoshop, and then cutting, sticking, glueing and tying our handiwork.
Then came Christmas with all its trimmings and travelling, and before there’d been time to play with presents January arrived, and a daily stream of RSVPs for ticking off came through the letter box.
In February I was made redundant and for a few days the world caved in.
Immediately a big red button was pressed in my head and, soaring on adrenalin and tea, I was rushing around interviews, sign on meetings and ‘catch ups’ in a whirlwind of quickly learned answers and soul destroying niceties.
I crashed on my stag do, asleep in a Berlin ping pong bar at 11pm on the first night, uncertain if I could afford a wedding and exhausted from running on empty.
My head finally stopped spinning only two weeks after starting a new job in March. I realised how much I had loved my old job, grieved, and the year which had stalled dramatically started to rev and pull away again.
Not for long. Four days before the wedding day, I received another job offer, one that meant the days before marriage were not so much a reflective calm before the storm, but a pensive, anxious period of conjecture, most minutes spent second guessing a future of vivid pathways to self destruction.
Decision made; now it was time to head to Nottingham to be wed, and amidst a year of much grey hair growing was the best day of my life. Followed by a honeymoon of exploring Icelandic landscape and cuisine with my new wife, and trekking through the commuters and skyscrapers of New York hand in hand in the first sunshine for months.
Which brings me to today. Four weeks after arriving in Reykjavik, I’m sat on the first day of my second week of my third job of the year.
I don’t know whether the renaissance of this blog will last beyond this post. These few words could be an acorn, they could mark the end of the line. Only the rollercoaster knows, and this year I’ve learnt to just jump aboard and worry about the bends later.Tags: berlin, Iceland, new york, wedding
The planes have long blazed across the hazy horizon and we follow their sky trails as we descent into moorland. The landscape is littered with shake holes and marshy ponds who scoff at the lacklustre heat of the second day of summer. It’s a strange world of ochre, brown and hidden drops into darkness, a barren natural landscape pitted with the dormant pillage of man.
Soon we’re back below 300 metres above sea level, trudging through the well quarried landscape under the intensifying heat of a determined sun. The stony path can’t decide if it’s heading uphill or downhill but gradually it aches its way lower, two steps forward, one step back.
We have to take respite in Greg’s Hut, a renovated stone shelter where we find rabbit hutches, camping gear and prayer sheets in what we assume to be an Arabic script. Yes it’s an odd little hut. The guestbook attests to people having sheltered here only days before from torrential wind and rain. It’s a stark reminder that the Pennine Way isn’t always just a majestic wander between pubs.
It’s here we survey the map, calculating our ETAP (Estimated Time of Arrival at Pub), little knowing our frothy pints and plumped up beds are separated by endless miles of grouse country. It’ll be hours before we see a beer at Alston.
My makeshift sun parasol has exhausted my arms (it’s not easy walking whilst holding a folded Ordnance Survey map wrapped in a plastic map case above your head at just the right angle to block the sun). And just as the Way starts to get us down, we hit Corpse Road, a hard under foot lane that leads does into a glistening valley. The descent reveals a church spire and a long string of cottages glowing in the sunshine. Hello Garrigill! And there, overlooking a triangle of green land between the forks of the road, perfectly timed and with plenty of shade, The George & Dragon.
It had better be open…Tags: pennine way
November 6th, 2012Beer and travel
It’s a pub like any other. Traditional, wood panelled (old wood) with a real bar (brass?). There’s a perimeter shelf for empties (nice touch) and a place for coats (polite). Perched on high seats huddled around circular tables with cheap beer mats. The bar is awash with suits finishing work. It could be the bar of a provincial Wetherspoon’s in an old civic building turned public house.
But this is a bar like no other. The beer garden looks over a sheer drop to the Thames and smoker’s corner is guarded by an armed police officer. A sign above the bar decrees that ‘Only members’ may purchase drinks. Members as in Members of Parliament.
This is the most powerful working man’s club in the land. I stand, out of place, wondering how many decisions supposedly made in the Chambers along the corridor were actually made in here, the members bar? How many votes have been swayed under the influence of a hand pulled beer rather than the glare of unhappy backbenchers or a fuming whip?
It’s from the Chambers that our host marches towards having just pitched his argument in a debate about air ambulances. Greg Mulholland has an air of relaxed confidence about him as he introduces us to the collection of MPs and industry experts gathered today. And he buys us a pint, which is fitting, because we’re all here to talk about beer.
Actually, I’m a gatecrasher, having assumed my pre-arranged pint with Greg would be down the road in the Red Lion or one of the pubs that scatter Whitehall.
Instead I’m directed to the visitor entrance of the House of Parliament. And then I’m ushered through scanners and eased towards a large lens camera and shuttled to the doors of the Palace of Westminster.
Gladstone stares down at me, Disraeli too. I’ve passed the steps where Spencer Perceval died, the only British Prime Minster to be assassinated.
And after dropping in on all-party parliamentary beer group session with Visit Britain and Roger Protz, I find myself in a MPs only lift shuttling down the creaking floors to grab a beer and chew the cud with the members and industry experts.
Amongst the rotund suits and red faced seats of power are civil servants, guests of honour and representatives of associations, clubs, movements, charities, lobbyists, think tanks, quangos. Least that’s what they look like. In my jeans and brogues and tie-less check shirt I like to think I look like a young entrepreneur or digital strategist or media advisor.
In truth I look like an awestruck school child staring high up at the lofty spires of the Palace of Westminster with naive wonder, thinking of the Empire that grew out from this spot and contracted back towards the banks of the hazy river below.
Three pints later the policy makers are chatting about their wives and their weekends, their husbands and their holidays, and again I’m wondering how many parliamentary decisions are made in the twilight suns as the powers that be overlook the Thames sipping beer and wine.
On a summers evening like this, I wonder if it’s any at all.Tags: London, Parliament, whitehall
November 5th, 2012Beer and travel
Morning in Dufton is heavenly. Soft light glistens on the village green, the distant hills are misty, and the birds seemingly haven’t slept, instead devoting every moment, dark or light, to their celestial symphonies.
No wonder it’s called the Vale of Eden. And the prospect of exploring Cumbria’s fertile land spurs us to leave Dufton. That and the unenviable comfort of youth hostel bedding…
Within minutes of joining the Way we’re surrounded on all sides by undulating fields of faultless farmland dressed in a glorious, consistent green. The land is all one hue, the only difference in colour between fields achieved by the sun that dances on the curvatures of the land. Nature creates art with the shadows of millions of blades of grass, a silent spectacle unfolding beneath a cloudless sky.
As we rise above Cosca Hill, fresh faced and glad we didn’t win a week’s worth of beer at the quiz the previous night, the terrain dissolves into the no man’s land between moor and field; trees thin out, streams narrow, and hedgerows give way to the resilience of reeds and gorse. Greenery darkens, the sun rises towards its late morning perch above the verdant cone of Dufton Pike. Against a dull hill the rigid blue sky is speckled with ever watchful radomes bouncing radio waves against passenger planes in the sky.
This eerie place sits 1000 feet above Dufton. It’s a tough climb for the first day, and our route avoids the curiously new road surface that curves up towards the heavenly looking golf balls. Just to spite us, the detour naturally involves the circumnavigation of a disused quarry shaft, appropriately named ‘Dunfell Hush’ which is exactly the sounds of falling down it when miles away from another living creature. Luckily we skip over any hidden mine shafts and the path pop us right up against the radomes. The spooky spheres are less angelic up close, coloured in roughly with worn-off white and sat atop windowless square boxes that looks like they’d blow away in a gentle gust. They look less airport security and more hideout for mad scientists trying to create a real life Day of the Triffids. On the cheap.
We’re not halfway done for the day but lunch is calling. The afternoon trek towards our hostel seems an age away. We can’t even begin to think of a pub yet…
Our lunch stop marks the tallest part of the entire Pennine Way so far, surpassing the more foreboding features of even the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent. Cross Fell’s summit roars with wind and we join two southbound walkers sheltering behind the meagre walls of its dry stone cairn. The air is pregnant with cold and hot air which sweeps along the inclines of the fell and gives birth to the Helm Bar, an innocuous enough looking line of cloud that rustles the winds into a turbulent force of nature. They say Cross Fell is named for the typical English meaning of the words – think angry, grumpy wind demon sitting atop a desolate fell trying to keep pesky explorers away. “I don’t care how windy it is, it’s MY fell!”
Suddenly two fighter jets accelerate cloud wards over nearby Dun Fell, so low against the brow of the hill that we could pluck the pilots faces out of a police line up. But even the power and noise of their twin jet engines fails to out muster the Helm Wind which sweeps across the tops and batters us into the cold hard discomfort of the shelter walls.
Along with our fellow explorers we re-gather our strengths – bananas, dried apricots, Mars Bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches consumed via osmosis in the teasing gaps when the wind doesn’t batter us blue. Even without our lunch the views from our lofty plateau lift us – a panorama of vale and fell in equal measure spreads out for miles below. From this vantage point we can track the wandering of smoke from distant factories which cloud the view towards the peaks of the eastern line of the Lake District.
We rise and turn into the wind, and very soon lunch seems insufficient and a pint seems unimaginably far away.Tags: alston, dufton, pennine way
November 1st, 2012Beer and travel
Football is mostly about what happens during the game, but if you ask anyone who goes to away games regularly they will tell you it’s more about what takes place outside of the match.
The 2011-12 football season was a fairly disastrous one for Wolverhampton Wanderers, culminating in their relegation from the Premier League. However for three of their loyal supporters, it wasn’t a complete disaster.
Friends Russ, Darb, and Graham decided to start a ritual for away games involving another passion of theirs; drinking beer.
Let’s face it, travelling up and down the country every other week by train can be quite monotonous, so the lads always took along a few cans of beer for the journey.
One week, Darb decided to do something a little bit different and brought a long an assortment of international beers for the lads to get stuck into. In sheer amazement with the selection on offer, Russ suggested “Stick a picture of the bottle label up on Twitter, and see if anyone can guess the nationality.”
As a result, the Away Day Beer Challenge was born.
From here on, the lads have taken it in turns to find beers from across the world to sup on their travels. There have been the odd exceptions to the rule, where a bottle of (readily available) Cusqueña or Cobra has made an appearance, but usually it is a mixture of the weird and the wonderful.
“We hired a limo bus to take us to the Arsenal away game during the Christmas period, and I knew I had to do something special to go with the occasion.” said Graham. “I popped in my local one night and noticed Hobsons Brewery were offering ale in 18-pint polypins (beer-in-a-box) for the festive period. The box got warped quickly, so there we were, travelling to Islington, pouring auburn coloured liquid out of what looked like a catheter bag! I’m glad the windows were blacked out.”
Since the challenge started, the lads have consumed beer from all over the world; including Kenya, Estonia, Ukraine, Iceland, Nigeria, Norway, Japan, Laos, Mauritius and most recently Corsica. A photo of the label is taken, and posted to Twitter, where it is developing a cult following, along with the hashtag #awaydaybeerchallenge.
It’s not only about the international beers, a few real ale pubs are visited upon arrival at their destination. The Unicorn Inn in Hanley, No Sign Bar in Swansea, Huddersfield’s The Sportsman and The Scarborough Hotel opposite Leeds Station have all received high acclaim.
Wherever the destination you are guaranteed to find these guys supping beer en-route to watch their football team, and keeping their twitter following greatly entertained.
Tags: beer, football, world beer
“Graham is better known as @graham_large and started enjoying beer about 11 years ago. His fascination with Beers Of The World has only strengthened since working in conjunction with a bottle label manufacturer. When not drinking beer, Graham is found writing various football features for his website It’s Round and It’s White
and is currently writing his first book.”
The first time I visited it was a chilly September night. S and I navigated our way via smartphone to find ATJ neck deep in a chalice of something golden and fizzy. We followed suit, once we’d navigated the smorgasbord of beers on the bar, each rarer and more expensive than the last.
The second time I visited I waited patiently for my date, having used a combination of memory and verrrryyy sllloooww loading Google maps. A local glazier kept me entertained until J’s arrival, mostly with his Phil Mitchell innuendo and flashing of his big wad of cash. I think he’d like to have been Ronnie Kray, but I duly accepted a pint with nothing more than dirty water on my hands.
The third time I turned up on my tod and with no prospect of kinship. Alone amongst a sea of pump clips and trendy bearded bar staff, with only an empty hotel room and an empty evening ahead, I clinked my change together until I could afford a Mikkeller and sunk back into a chair with a book and a weary head.
Only one thing joins the dots between these visits and that’s that each time a decision was made in advance.
‘Meet you in Craft?’
If ever a pub didn’t need a description of its tall curvaceous fonts, its terrifyingly eclectic mix of beer (37 draft beers including 16 hand pulls), its exposed floorboard and its trendy use of typefaces, then this is it.
There is no doubt, Craft is a pub that you decide to go because its somewhere worth going.
And next time I’m in London I’ll surely be going back.Tags: clerkenwell, craft london, london pubs
An overwhelming sense of dread overcame me as the quivering bar staff newbie repeated my order back to me – less in a manner of making sure the order was correct but with a hint of worry and trepidation. I was worried also, when newbies pull a pint of proper beer anything can happen.
Faced with a pint of dirty pond water, I sneered obnoxiously. A nugget of hope remained, “Maybe it’ll settle” I thought, in the same way Guinness changes from gone off cream to looking like a sophisticated evening suit with its contrasting head.
It didn’t, but with it being a sweltering day, and being a parched Englishman in a Scottish pub, returning to the bar to ask for a repour was a no go. I gave it an anti-clockwise swirl, a bit of a sniff (it smelt like wood with some pepper), puckered up and took a hearty and rather noisy gulp of the brick red-brown bitter. I was pleasantly surprised, seeing as it looked like it’d look exactly the same on exit as it did on entry. With oodles of mouth satisfying flavour it was a very full on beer, probably better suited to winter nights in a cosy pub. But duty called, and you can’t criticise a beer for tasting good can you?
I got an immediate suggestion of fruit – possibly figs – with a touch of peppery spice identified on smelling and a lively bitter but malty finish that killed it off perfectly.
I would definitely buy The Terror of Tobernory again from a more experienced publican, even if my first poorly pulled pint caused my stomach to swim 2/3 of the way through, but it still tasted good, and has great potential when pulled properly, if not gratifying like a proper pint should be. Afterwards I fancied a sausage roll or a pork pie to soak it up.
But having tried it in its spiritual home, Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, it seems like a spectacular stroke of bad luck to have a dodgy pint there, of all places. I’ll be seeking out some bottles online to pour myself post-haste.Tags: scotland, tobermory
September 11th, 2012Beer and travel
(…or ‘How to lose pub quizzes and alienate local people’)
Appleby and it’s border of police tape falls behind us, but the sun is relentless. It pours from an open sky, an azure coloured two fingers raised up to the sun cream at the bottom of my pack. And the sunglasses that sit forgotten in my man drawer at home. The man drawer on which sits one of the three copies of OL31 that should be guiding us towards Dufton.
Sitting a few miles north of Appleby, Dufton’s loudest residents are the songbirds that flutter and sing each evening as they perform their nesting rituals and celebrate another day in Cumbrian paradise. We’re in no rush as we amble forwards – the hostel won’t open until after five o’clock, the sun is out, and The Stag Inn is open ’til late. What could go wrong?
Mud is what could go wrong.
Under oppressive heat (not helped by hastily repacked rucksacks) we precipitate rather than perspire, and it’s not pretty. In the distance Pennine hills glimmer like a Saharan horizon rather than the northern countryside. Two pints to lubricate the short walk soon seem like a bad idea…
But despite the rousing display of solar prowess it’s not long before our pleasant lane becomes a narrow bog of brown sludge stretching from the fences that hem us in. Despite the hottest day of the year so far, the long trail ahead is cloaked in a slimy foot-deep puddle of danger.
“Some walk in the park this turned out to be!”
Taunts directed at my father – whose idea this whole thing was – are short lived. Mid-sentence I navigate a rocky outcrop sticking up from the mud like a mischevious iceberg, an iceberg hiding a sea of stones and pain and soggy brown shorts should I hit the deck.
And promptly I lose balance, spin under the weight of my pack and frantically grab thin air with one hand, whilst conducting a wild balancing action with the other that would have an orchestra dropping their instruments. Flapping and wobbling, my hand meets a solitary wafer thin branch and somehow I piroutte to safety. Phew.
And then I realise my right shoulder doesn’t seem to have stopped moving. That’s because my right foot seems to be sinking beneath me into a world of mud. Another branch comes to the rescue but this one is decorated with thorns the size of pint glasses. I look up, still sinking, just as John wobbles along the hedgerow cursing the red liquid also trickling down his arm.
It couldn’t get much worse, right? There’s no way that the powers that be would punish us by making us circumnavigate impassable mud flats lined with sharp as nails bramble in dehydrating sunshine and then throw us delirious into a steep sided forest of blood sucking insects clearly starved and awaiting their first feed of the summer? No, there’s obviously no-one up above because that would just be pure evil.
We’re not even on the Pennine Way yet and we’re caked in mud, sweat, blood and bites. I mutter something that starts with ‘f’ and ends in ‘idiot dad’ as I watch the mud rise above my ankle yet again.
But an hour later the orienteering is soon forgotten as we sip our first pint at The Stag Inn. Mud, midge and map woes are long washed away with a hot shower and a cold beer. Food barely touches the sides, cool pints of Cumbrian pale ale wipe the memories clean from view. Before long dusk fills the beer garden, the village green glints and glows in the lowering sunlight, and avian evensong is the only thing stopping us retiring for a sensible rest in preparation for tomorrow’s twenty mile hike to start leg 4 of 5 proper.
“Trust you’ll be in the pub quiz?” an over enthusiastic voice breaks the magical spell. Wide eyed and under the influence of buxom smiles we nod obediently and throw a clutch of pound coins towards the pint glass thrust towards us. “But don’t win, eh?! The locals won’t like it.”
Four pints later, having navigated the thorny inquisition of Dufton’s premier quiz master, that voice pierces the calm again.
“Pennine Wanderers? Pennine WAN-DER-ER-ERS please?!”
Isn’t that us?!
“You’re in the tie break lovelies If you win you get to pick next weeks quiz master And you’ll win a round of beer for the night There’s just one question It’s DEAD easy Immediate answer please No dilly dallying The other teams already answered so I’ll crack straight on… How many bones in the human body?”Tags: appleby, cumbria, dufton, pennine way, pub quiz
August 30th, 2012Beer and travel
We practically roll down the sharp hill into Appleby, and with only a few miles stroll to tomorrow’s starting point at Dufton, buoyed by sunshine and the freedom of not being office-bound on a Thursday afternoon, we simultaneously chirp “Pub?”.
(The question mark completely unnecessary).
Soon a pint of lager in a glass of condensation glistens in my hand – a pint of smooth looks gloomy in John’s. Someone hit the on switch of summer and our backpacks stare back at using the afternoon heat, looking heavier than when they were frugally packed last night.
On the benches outside the Hare & Hounds red-faced locals soak up sunshine with Stellas. From our shady window seat we opt against sweating our energy away before we’ve even started walking, instead studying the walls which bustle with a sepia tinted history of Appleby Fair in photographs.
In a sun faded golden frame a young man stares defiantly at anyone who’ll look, legs akimbo on a well worked filly, bedraggled after stomping through the river. Each year the gypsy and travelling community swarm to this little town on the edge of Cumbria, and next week they come again. From Ireland to Estonia caravans roll along the A and B roads towards Westmorland. Since the nineteenth century Appleby has been a Romany mecca, though horses have been washed and traded here since a Royal Charter of 1685.
A little later, and only a little tipsy, we cross the very same river and tread its banks, taking in the calm before next week’s storm. ‘Do Not Park’ police tape, only just yellow, loops over hedges and gates that straddle the winding road towards the outskirts, towards Fair Hill, the temporary home to the revellers. A man scrawls ‘No Parking’ on his driveway in chalk, looks up and celebrates the cloudless sky, and pulls plant pots closer to his porch.
We leave the quiet of Appleby discussing our jobs, our recent adventures and the route ahead. The drinkers at the Hare & Hounds raise a glass to sweaty brows and discuss fairs gone by, and the spiritual diaspora that rumbles slowly towards them.Tags: appleby, cumbria, hare & hounds, pennine way, romany, stella
1August 29th, 2012Beer and travel
It’s not like this trip wasn’t planned in advance. It’s year four of five, day sixteen of twenty four. We booked the rooms six weeks ago. Without much thought or effort I could have procured all the necessary equipment, accoessiries and maps at any point in the last four years, when this Pennine adventure began.
So why am I crouched, at 12.39, on platform 5C, arms flailing in and out of my rucksack, clothes tangled in a blizzard of futile prayer to St Stephen, desperately, frantically searching for Outdoor Leisure 31 (North Pennines) as the far more prepared passengers (that is the rest of the passengers) aboard the 1245 Leeds to Carlisle service.
Of course the map that will get us to this years starting point – the short walk from Appleby to Dufton – is at home (specifically one copy is on the arm of the sofa where the cat sleeps, whilst one copy is on the bookshelf in the spare room. A third is in an envelope ready to be posted back to a forgiving Amazon bookseller after I over ordered). It’s the only map in the world that I own three times and it’s the only one that eludes me as the train guard prepares his whistle and flag. Sometimes I don’t know how I’ve managed to get to twenty eight years old…
The driver fires the train up ready for it’s ponderous trek through Shipley, Saltaire, Settle and Kirkby Stephen. Soon radiant sunshine pours over the ethereal moorland below Ribblehead Viaduct and the entire carriage of tourists climbs out of real life for a moment to appreciate the beautiful landscape that the Settle-Carlisle line navigates through.
For once mist doesn’t obscure the views northwards, towards the unmarked graves of navvies who laid the huge pieces of rock supporting the track nor southbound, towards Leeds and my now redundant trio of maps.
The sun is bright and the view from our 22-arch vantage point prompts a blooming of SLRs from surrepritious camera bags. Lenses are detached and reattached to a theme tune of oohs and aahs and pointing fingers. No-one, not even the cynics, even contemplates the inevitable disappointment of realising viaducts are best viewed when not on top of them.
I’m still restlessly, hopelessly poking around in my bag for the elusive map as we roll into Appleby mid-afternoon. (At one point I’d caught a sprig of the familiar Ordnance Survey orange as we flew past Ruswarp’s statue at Dent, the UK’s loftiest mainland station; but it was a false call: we don’t need OL42 until Monday, and even then it’s only for the last short slog into Bellingham, 58.5 miles away from us along the Pennine Way).
“At least our sun cream and shades will come in useful” Dad offers as we tumble towards Appleby town centre under an eager sun.
Oh balls…Tags: appleby, dufton, ordnance survey, pennine way