A.J. Walker

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Another Fab Bishop's Castle

The weekend brought my first camping trip of the year at the lovely Foxholes campsite in Bishop's Castle. As I said in the previous blog, it was my ninth Real Ale Trail here in succession - and I think sixth time camping.

Tent Up
Tent up: celebratory pint

Most of the gang got there well before me, setting up early afternoon, but I put in a day at work and travelled down straight after finishing. Got down there about seven and put up my (new) tent and, after the traditional celebratory bottle of beer (you can't drink a bottle until your tent is up, but you MUST have one after doing so), I headed down to the Vaults to catch up with everyone. Some were more well oiled than others, but it was not a night I needed to play catch up - the festival is officiallly the following day.

There were plenty of Bishop's Castle newbies (and young ones), as one of the Shropshire Lads was taking the opportunity to use the event as his stag do. There were many members of his old cricket club from Shrewsbury - I reckon a few of them will be back next year. Patrick (the stag) did sterling work keeping hold of his teddy AND his faculties over the two days and nights.

Had a few in the Vaults, listening to the music and enjoying the mood of the peeps, then popped down the hill to the Six Bells for a couple and some more live music. After that it was time to walk up the hill back to Foxholes, thankful that I'd remembered to bring my headlamp for the walk through the field of oats (which is split by part of the Shropshire Way).

In the evening there was a fire, which went into the early hours, where I brought out two things for such a moment - a bottle of Bowmore Islay Malt and a guitar. Ste and Tone had already gone bye-byes and Ste was providing his own background music, much to the amusement of the campers who hadn't witnessed such a noise before.

All in all a long and excellent evening.

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The start, in the Three Tuns

In the morning the grass was damp from some light overnight rain - it was time a bacon and egg barm (the campsite brought in hot food last year - they must coin it in, but it is worth it). Before too long it was time to head on down to the Three Tuns, which is the traditional start of the crawl/trail. We always take it in order from there to The Castle, then down the hill via The Vaults, Kings Head and the Six Bells. This year the Boar's Head was staying out of it for the landlord's own spurious reasons and actually closed on the Saturday (an odd business decision, but hey). There was also a small addition, in the form of Mr Whittingham's Gin Emporium, which had three local casks on.

Big Group
Group shot in the Castle garden

It proved a dry day, often cloudy, but when the sun came out it was very warm and required some slapping on of sun lotion. There was music everywhere and it was a fab and (largely) uneventful day (I won't mention burning of stag-do hats or pants…). The Castle had a nice new stage in their garden and the beer was in a different place to accommodate the new layout. Apparently there is some concern from a planning perspective with it being in the area of some archaeological interest (overheard, I can't be sure - I'm no journalist), notwithstanding this it was substantial and looked good for its purpose.

Group Shot
Sun is out in the garden of the Castle

There were free bottles of water spread around the town, which was provided free to the festival by Montgomery Water. This was requested by the police during the meetings for approvals of the festival. It certainly seems a very good idea - especially how hot it often is when this festival is on. It must have helped as everyone lasted the day pretty much in tact (barring the burnt clothing) and much fun was had. Another one to add to the memory banks.

Oh, and I stayed for an additional day. Everyone got off by eleven and I wandered down to the Bish to see where I could watch the cricket World Cup Final. Turned out the the Three Tuns was shut. I didn't fancy the Castle for the match or the Vaults, really, so I headed down to the Six Bells. The pub didn't open until noon. I sat on the bench by the church and downloaded the Channel4 App and watched the match there until 12:20 before heading into the pub. They had no telly. But they had ale, and I got myself a pint of something local, light and pale: it was also £3.30 instead of £4 per pint, which was the blanket price the day before across the festival. I found a corner and set up my phone to watch the match in the company of the two dogs, who's space I was evidently invading. The pub was very quite, with the landlady basically moving the plastic glasses out and bringing back the glass ones. I was, happily, informed that the cask ales out the back were being sold off for £1 a pint to get rid of them. I was very happy to help.

Six Bells
Clearing the Six Bells. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it

I commandeered the corner for the game, and reported the incredible game progress regularly to the landlord, regulars and other customers, whilst continuing to 'help' the pub in the slow clearance of liquids. In the end I was in the same pub from 12:20pm until 7:30pm. Pretty much a full working day. Went back to the campsite via a pint each in the Vaults and the Three Tuns (where there was a relaxed Celtic session on). No whisky or more beer was drunk (there was a little guitar).

And bloody hell, that cricket match was one of the best sporting events I have ever watched. Brilliant stuff.
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Camping at Bishop's Castle (Again)

This weekend it is my now annual pilgrimage to Bishop's Castle, in Shropshire, for the Real Ale Trail Festival. I think it's my ninth in a row as ten years ago I was at T in the Park, in Balado, this weekend in 2009 watching bands including; Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol, Blur, The Killers, Regina Spektor, Mogwai and Squeeze (incidentally, looking at the band list I note that Mumford & Sons were playing in the King Tuts (first on, on the Saturday) though I didn't see them).

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Once I stopped going to T in the Park with my music festival buddies (after 2009) I began to go to Bishop's Castle Beer Festival with my ale drinking buddies instead. So basically this weekend has been a big one for fifteen years or so, albeit with very different festivals. Both involve camping though and I very much enjoy it. Every time I do it I wonder why I don't do it more. It will be my first camping trip of the year and will be swiftly followed by camping the following weekend where I am camping for a wedding! I dare say there won't be too many people leaving their tents suited and booted (although I believe there will be at least one more doing the same).

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Last year at the festival it coincided with England doing rather well in the World Cup. There was a lot of sunshine, lovely booze, boss people and all round good vibes (these peeps in the photo are all looking suitably in the pink). Incidentally, Rachel in the front there, behind her dad on the right, is the lovely lady getting married next week - and the groom is lurking there on the left too.

It's nice to get a new Eurohike tent for this year - even if it is the same design as I used to use. It served me very well (including back in T in the Park).

Roll on a couple of weekends of fun camping, lovely beers, decent bands (largely in the Vaults), and good people & times.
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Number Six - On The Fly

Oh Happy Days! Yep, yesterday Liverpool got to Number 6 with that loverly cup which we have that love affair with. Not the bestest match but who the hell gives a toss about that?

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I've been lucky enough in the past to go the UEFA Cup Final in 2001 in Dortmund, which Liverpool won 5-4 on a Golden Goal against Alaves, and then again in Istanbul for the miracle, 3-3 and then winning on penalties v Milan. In 2007 I went to Athens but didn't get a ticket (or get in) but had a great time with the build up and watched the match in the Craft Beer Bar (where else?). I also went to Paris for the European Cup when Arsenal got beat by Barcelona as I'd booked flights and a hotel 'in case' Liverpool got there, which I had done for Athens.

PreMatch

Anyway, I am not in a situation now where I can currently follow Liverpool like that (money - I'm not banned from travelling or anything) so for the last couple of years I've been following Liverpool in the pubs and bars of Liverpool. Usually this is in the Dispensary or the Fly in the Loaf, and this season it's largely been the latter. For the second leg of the semifinal versus Barcelona there was just me and me mate on a table in the Fly. The pub was not heaving at all. Not enough belief in our brand of European brilliance! But yesterday it was bound to be mad in town, and it was. Needless to say we had to get into town early and grab a spot to watch it, whilst leaving enough time to find somewhere else to go if it was already full. As it happened me and Ste got in the Fly for 4pm and grabbed the last couple of seats. Yes! Other mates risked it getting in an hour or so later and we all managed to watch it together perched on tables or against the walls.

In summary, the atmosphere was great. The beer was great. The result was great. And the Fly was great.

LFC Post Win

Managed a celebratory pint in the Sanctuary after the match and more incredibly got the last bus home!

SanctuaryPost win

Now got to go off into to town for the parade. There will be oceans of beautiful red everywhere. Bring it on.
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Liverpool Beer Fest

Made it to the Liverpool Beer Festival last night after work - a little later than I would have liked. Thursday night is the opening session and has the advantage of being the cheapest ticketed session (a bargain £3) and of course all the beers are available - come Saturday afternoon and evening the cask choice will be getting limited.

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It was a nice session, busy but not so much that you couldn't walk around. Didn't have any beers that made me go "Wow!" but certainly had some nice ones. Liked a couple of the local ones including the Ad Hop 'Robusta' and the Liverpool Brewing Co/Team Toxic 'Koheutek'. The Hawkshead '5 Hop' went down well. But I was disappointed with my beloved 'Jaipur.' There was some talk that the beers were not at the best and that that maybe partly because of the unseasonably warm weather (it was T-Shirt weather yesterday, which is ridiculous for February). There is no entertainment on the Thursday which is a bit of a shame (particularly with me missing the Open Mic night). Still, it was a good night. And anyone heading there will no doubt have a great time.

cheers
No guitars, but a Liverpool Supergroup.

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Missing Mike

It's Open Mic tomorrow in the Sanctuary Bar and this will be the first one I've missed since discovering it and my new found love for all things singer songery.

It's a mate's birthday celebration which means I is going to be at the Liverpool Beer Festival in the wonderful Lutyen's Crypt of the Roman Catholic cathedral. As excuses go for not attending to the Open Mic it's not a bad one.

Take Me Down
Realising I'd had five attempts at recording the song without the mic working.

Notwithstanding my night off from the Sanctuary I'm still looking at expanding my range of songs available to play at future events. After last week going back to an old one I used to play previously with the Smithdown gang (the Saw Doctor's "N17") I've gone to a song from a similar time. I'm not sure we played it back then, certainly we probably did when messing about in Kev's front room, but I'm not sure it ever got released into the wild. It's another one of my favourite bands that I could never understand weren't successful in the mainstream (like Green on Red and Chuck Prophet): Cracker. If you can get your hands on a CD or find them on Spotify do it. Loads of great stuff.

Anyway I chose another slow downbeat one (cos that's what I do) called 'Take Me Down to the Infirmary' from the album Kerosene Hat. I may do the title track at some point but the vocals are hard to get right - probably another capo song.

I recorded about five versions of me playing it before playing it back and finding the mic wasn't working. Not sure whether it wasn't plugged in right or what. Bit odd - as I would have thought if it wasn't plugged in then the laptop's mic would have kicked in in its stead. So I put the USB mic back in and gave it one more go. And that, my friends, is now up on the YouTube thing along with my other meandering practices.

At this rate by the time I've practiced all my current repertoire I'm gonna have a difficult choice to make at the future Open Mics. Which is a good thing, of course.

YouTube

It astounds me that I have 5 Subscribers. Thank you whoever you are. Wonder how long it will be until I start writing and playing my own songs... Not imminent, but then again maybe over the next few months.


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Wanted: New Job

It's the new year and I definitely need to find a new job. Something that pays enough and provides me with a decent work-life balance. Ideally something I enjoy doing. But if it pays enough then I can live without that - as long as I earn enough to live and have proper hours so that I can have the enjoyment outside of work that balances out the tedium from any crap job.

So to that end I'll be updating my various CVs, including my writing one.

Of course I still have the problem of not knowing what I want to do when I grow up, which is not ideal. It's hard to look up jobs when you're open to consider lots - you end up seeing countless useless soul destroying adverts.

I'm not even sure what my ideal job would be. I mean I love writing, reading, music, beer, football, social media (well Twitter anyway), websiting from my Mac, photography, driving, train journeys, flying (in planes), boats (less so). Britain, Europe, the world, the planets. I love conversations and enjoy solitude too.

So what the hell would be the perfect job then?

Writing content for a beer and music site with lots of travel and a bit of footy thrown in - based in Merseyside with plenty of world travel. Look I'm your man for that. Not seen the advert for it yet and not sure where to look for it. Searching for 'Dream jobs' isn't delivering that. I'll keep looking. You never know.

In the meantime I'll carry on practicing my writing, reading and strumming the guitar and I'll keep an eye out for jobs and training opportunities. If you see this advert anywhere in the coming weeks, please drop me a line!

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The Weekend Starts and Ends Here

I've got me a one day weekend. Back in tomorrow. So will be out for beers later in Liverpool for a wee crawl, after buying a few bits and bobs, then it'll be time to catch some footy. Should be another great game between Liverpool and that Chelski shower with a quick retribution in mind following Wednesday night. May even catch some of the Mancs match. Expect I'll get to five or six top hostelries - you'll have to check out Twitter to see how I do.

Started beta-reading a FlashDog novel this morning. Up to the third chapter and it's really good so far. I shouldn't be surprised by now that there are such accomplished writerers within the FlashDog community. After meeting everyone via the very short stories we composed in Flash Fiction Friday and Angry Hourglass it is with great respect I see all these guys stepping on up and out to novels. Hoping to finish the book this week and get my comments out by next weekend.

In the meantime it is anticipated that 'DeadCades' will be released this week. Exciting stuff. And releasing a horror book in October... seems like it's almost by design. Many thanks to Steph and David in advance for all their work on getting to this point. Definitely top dogs (in a good way).

Went to the PO earlier to pick up a parcel from a couple of weeks ago. Er, I'd been sent me some cheese and biscuits. I wish I'd known I'd have made an effort to pick it up earlier. Not sure if the cheese is supposed to be this stinky. Will report back later... many more thanks for the surprising gift! You know who you are ;-)

Apparently it's World Guitar Day - who the hell makes all these things up? - perhaps I'll strum a little later. Made me think who are some of my favourite guitarists. It's a tough call, and if I thought longer or on a different day, my top picks (no pun intended) would no doubt be different and just as defendable. Here's today's top four anyway: Ry Cooder, Chuck Prophet, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

RyCooder Chuck

Jimi SRV


As for guitars, I have two; a lovely dark green Telecaster (I know three of the four above are on Strats, but hey I love a Tele) and a Takamine 363 semi-acoustic.

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Lovely York

Only went to York for little over a day, but it was great. Think I should make it an annual event for me birthday - it's past the summer holidays and before people invade the place on the run up to Christmas.

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It is a Mecca for real ale enthusiasts with countless ale pubs within the famous walls. Clearly they are not really countless but probably 70 or so (that's a guess - there were 55 ale pubs a few years back and more bars have opened since).

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The day started with the helping hand of a Liverpool victory at Wembley against Spurs. Can't be bad. Last year when we lost to them in Game 9 we had 13 points, this time up we've played 5 and have 15 points. Bloody excellent.

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Had a lovely load of beers across countless (really this time as I can't recall them all) York pubs with several mates and it all ended up without any of us dancing on tables, falling over, falling asleep in the corner or any other embarrassing stuff - not even a kebab (though I did have a battered sausage with chips and neon green mushy peas - yum!).

Some of the pubs we got to that I do remember the name of included in no particular order: Brew York; House of Trembling Madness; Blue Bell; Hop (Ossett tap); Duke of York; the Wonky Donkey (aka the Three-Legged Mare); Old Starre Inn; Old White Swan. All nice pubs set in a beautiful and interesting city. Lovely stuff.
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Haven't Changed A Bit

Well it's this chap's birthday weekend. I don't normally do much special on my birthday and certainly not parties since I was a kid. A couple of years ago I went to York on me tod and went to about 20 pubs over two days. Now that was pretty much ideal. Anyway this year it's York again but with a few mates. Should be good. Very good. Got to get to York early to get ensconced in the first Sky real ale pub we can find - for it's Spurs v Liverpool at 12:30. Really hope Liverpool can start the day off with a bang. Just for me of course.

Worry AJWalker copy

Expect many pictures of pubs and beers on Twitter - until the battery dies on me phone.

Haven't changed a bit:

Me Thru 50








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Over All Too Quickly

This weekend was hot hot hot in on the Welsh borders of Shropshire but being in Bishop's Castle it at least meant there was plenty of liquid options to keep hydrated and cool with. This year rather than just the three usual suspects camping (Toe, Ste and yours truly) we were accompanied by double figures of top ladies and gentlemen from Liverpool and beyond. Pop-up tents filled the Foxholes campsite almost as much as the snoring.

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The festival actually seemed a little quieter than usual. Not sure if that is with people staying at home and having home made BBQs and wee festivals while the World Cup was on. The England match was shown in a couple of pubs and we watched from the car park of the Castle Hotel. It was a cauldron in Samara and seemed at least as hot in the tarmac bowl. The result made it worth while.

Saw several good bands in the Castle Hotel and The Vaults over the two days. Hats of to them for their work in the heat.

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Saturday evening inevitably ended up with regular renditions of Vindaloo and Three Lions between the bands playing in the Vaults. Top night.

The weather, the music, the company and even the England match all made it a top weekend. The beer wasn't bad either. Not sure whether it was the footy in the middle of the day or the size of the group we were with but boy the weekend absolutely flew by. See you again, Bishop's Castle. You always deliver.

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Have put a selection of photos up from this weekend in an album on Flickr.

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Bishop's Castle (Again) 2018

It's Bishop's Castle Beer Festival this weekend. I've lost count of how many times I've been now, but I'm of there again camping on Friday and Saturday at the fab Foxholes campsite. There's a shed loads of us going this year from Liverpool. Well, well into double figures anyway. It's always a cracking day (or two if you go camping) and usually the weather is wall to wall sunshine. Of course with the way the weather has been in the last few weeks this won't be different this year.

There's always loads on at all the pubs and a great atmosphere (my fave is the Vaults for the live music). As well as plenty of lovely beers there will be great food and loads of bands on. What's not to like?!

This year this is happening at the same time as the World Cup Quarter Finals. Not sure how easy it will be to find anywhere to watch the England match on Saturday afternoon. But shouldn't have a problem finding room to watch the Brazil v Belgium match on Friday night I expect.

Need a decent weekend. So roll on Bishop's Castle.

Lots of photos next week I predict and a wee blog.
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