Whistlers Cafe Bar, Chipping Norton, July 2017

The ladies were next door but one in the wool shop, squishing things and buying things (although not as much as expected). The men retired to the drawing room, or this cafe next door, for a quick coffee. As it turned out, the ladies didn’t spend too long in the wool shop, so they also joined us, although not in time to witness Steve crack his head on the stone fireplace behind where we sat. Ouch, that hurt. And I was only watching.

We did seem to get funny looks when we just ordered coffees and teas, but the staff were perfectly pleasant. Some cafes do forget that they are cafes at times. The coffee was a decent cup, and the food certainly looked nice. We chilled out for a short while and then went on our merry way.

The Hydro, Buxton, April 2017

A short and sweet post. We were meeting up with friends for a wander round Buxton, but first we needed some quick refreshment. We had arranged to meet here and were soon settled in and ordering teas and coffees.

I had a reasonable latte, although the service was rather slow. And that’s about all there is to say.

The King’s Head Hotel, Thirlmere, January 2017

Tropical storm Desmond brought us here.

After the utter devastation that December 2015 brought to many parts of Cumbria, the county was almost cut in half by the closure of the A591 between Grasmere and Legburthwaite, due to parts being washed away near Dunmail Raise and landslip alongside Thirlmere. In 2009 it was voted “Britain’s favourite road”. In 2016 it was the subject of major works in order to get it back open again.

It reopened in May 2016, and in June 2016 we drove down some of it in order to get to a walk on the west side of Thirlmere. From the west side you could see across Thirlmere and get glimpses at all of the work that had done over the previous six months, as well as seeing some of the damage, the tiny trickles that have since turned into ravines.

Fast forward to today, and we had a walk that started from the Steel End car park at the south western corner of Thirlmere. Owned by the evil empire of United Utilities, it is still free to park in, their way of giving something back to the county. We walked along the eastern edge of Thirlmere, along many newly made and restored paths. The devastation was there to see in close up.

At the end of our walk, we found ourselves at The King’s Head Hotel in Thirlmere. It is one of those handy establishments that doesn’t stop serving food at 2pm, which was just as well as we didn’t get here until some time after that. We have been here once before, but just to park before our ascent of Thirlmere…

Off to the bar first, and time for a former Lakeland classic (now part of the Marston’s empire), Cocker Hoop by Jennings Brewery, a classic bitter golden ale.

Food next, and somewhere between the order being taken and heading off to the kitchen, my ham and cheese panino turned into bacon and brie, which is essentially just ham and cheese by another name. It was very nice, but not what I ordered. At this time, I was too tired to debate the matter, so tucked in. Nice side salad and always good to see some classic pickle on the plate too.

By this point, we had some time to kill before we caught the bus back to our starting point, so it was time for a coffee, a most unusual thing for me in a pub!

The story of the bus will follow in a moment, but The King’s Head is a great place for lunch if you are in the area – there aren’t many options to choose from, so it’s always nice that the option that you have is a good one.

Summer House Beer Festival, October 2016

There is of course no such thing.

This “beer festival” was a self-curated drinking session featuring myself and regular MOFAD drinking companions Matt & Steve. We had a focus on dark beers tonight, and we had all brought a selection of bottles with us to share and try.

We started with Umbral Abyss by Vibrant Forest Brewery (procured by Matt). Whilst it lacked the now legendary Vibrant effervescence, there were good smooth coffee notes running through this one. Definintely one for coffee-ists like Bruce and Alec.

I took a quick turn away from the darkness here, for another Vibrant Forest brew, a Radicale Belgian Zuur Bier, which was tart but mellowed nicely – a good sour beer.

We stayed with Vibrant Forest for their Black Forest, which was a piquant porter indeed.

We moved on to some of my bottles next with an Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 by The Kernel Brewery, which was thick, brown and very chewy. We then moved on to Export Stout London 1890 by The Kernel Brewery, another of mine, which was very dark and very delicious. One of my beers of the night for sure.

This was followed by another favourite, a Bourbon Oktober again by Vibrant Forest Brewery. The second time I’ve had this big bourbon vanilla beast this year.

A mis-step next. We opened two bottles of Belgian Dubbel by Vibrant Forest. The first was very flat and tasted pretty off. The second had more carbonation but was still not right. We should have been getting raisins and similar but we just had to pour them away. Something not right with the batch perhaps?

And as you do, we finished with coffee. Guatemalan Coffee Extra Porter by Buxton Brewery to be precise. Massive coffee nose, big coffee flavours and some vanilla too. This was also a highlight of the evening.

It’s fair to say that our curated and self-hosted mini beer festival was a success. Buy beers, share beers with friends. It’s a great way to spend an evening.

Pub of the month – July 2016 – The Needle & Pin, Loughborough

A slightly different pub of the month post this month.

It’s been a quiet month for pub trips, with most of my visits to pubs coming in just one day, during a small and impromptu “walking tour of Loughborough”, much in the style of last year’s walking tour of Skipton.

We start with The Swan in the Rushes, a previous winner back in March 2015, and the second stop on our walking tour. It was a warm day, so we had a couple of drinks. First, a Barista Stout from Theakston. With a name like that, you’d be expecting big coffee flavours, and there’s no false advertising here. Good coffee flavours in this classic stout. A little more coffee would not have been a problem.

We’d spotted BrewDog Elvis Juice in the fridge, so decided to stay and have one. Elvis Juice is a grapefruit infused IPA, and once again, no false advertising , as it’s full of lovely, happy, grapefruit hoppiness. A classic BrewDog brew.

The White Hart is next in the list. Our detailed planning of this walking tour (a few tweets earlier in the same week) had identified The White Hart as a suitable dinner stop.

The White Hart is a pub that I have been visiting on and off for the last 24 years. Way back in October 1992, a group of fresh faced students came down here on a Sunday night and won the pub quiz. I do recall drinking lots of Addlestones cider here (I was a cider drinking youth, ale came much later into my life).

As with so many pubs nowadays, it has had several makeovers since 1992, and the latest one is very tasteful, giving it both an old and new feeling at the same time.

We enjoyed a pint of Crazy Like a Fox from Totally Brewed, who live just up the A60 near Trent Bridge in Nottingham.

We also ate here, my choice was the classic beef burger, which was juicy and delicious. The cheese and bacon were also good, and the gherkin mustard went very well. Just one problem. No plates! We want plates! Boards are for chopping, plates are for eating from 🙂

We did enquire about another drink, but the five different bottles above the bar from Eden brewery in Cumbria (one of my favourites) were for display purposes only. They display beers that they do not sell. This confused us, so we moved on…

The Needle & Pin was the winner back in May 2016, when I probably mentioned that it was my new favourite Loughborough pub. With the temporary (24 hour) return of former regular MOFAD drinking companion Bruce, we decided that we had to start and end the day here.

A Magic Rock High Wire “unapologetically hop forward in character” started proceedings, and it delivers on that promise with mango, lychee, grapefruit and hops hops hops.

An international mash up followed. New Zealand hops (motueka, and it was amusing to hear Alec’s attempted pronunciation) made into a beer by North Riding Brewery in Scarborough. Sadly it needed loads more hops to bring out that distinctive NZ hoppy goodness. Pleasant, but not a showcase for this hop.

We returned to the fridge and another reliable Magic Rock brew, this time Inhaler, their take on a session IPA with a total of six hops (Amarillo, Citra, Equinox, Galaxy, Mosaic, Simcoe). It could have had a few more chucked in there for my hophead palate, but it was still a very decent session IPA. (Edit: at the time of tasting it was a limited release, but has since become part of their core range).

Always a pleasure to be at The Needle & Pin, it’s just a great pub with so many great beers to choose from, and changing all the time.

Gloucester Services (Southbound) (again)

A week is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in service station visits.

Another Friday off work, another camping trip, another visit to that lovely M5. Just like last week, there was an oasis in this desert of tedium that we call the M5. A second visit to Gloucester Services.

In case you missed it last week, Gloucester Services are owned by the Westmorland Family group, who also own Tebay Services/Westmorland Farm Shops, near junction 38 of the M6.

Gloucester is a modern day carbon copy of Tebay. The grass on the verges still hasn’t grown yet (it’s a lot to expect in just a week).

Once again we stocked up on tasty provisions, to be consumed later in our journey, as well as some nice coffee to consume in the meantime. There was something immensely satisfying about buying really nice sandwiches and crisps and drinks and salad and what not, and then stopping at another service station later on to eat all of that nice stuff, before the final leg of the journey.

Weymouth is a long way from Leicestershire. At least there’s somewhere pleasant to stop along the way.