A.J. Walker

writerer

real ale

More Pub Distancing

The last Open Mic got cancelled and I was away camping at Bishop's Castle for the one before so I was looking forward to this one. Picked up some excellent ‘White Rat,’ ‘Cold Stone Cream Austin’ and ‘Aiwass’ from Craft on Smithdown on the way home and that was my preparations done –apart from some quick strumming for fifteen minutes. As it happened OM was to prove a low key affair with only four of us on it; with Bobo and Nette, Matt and myself.

There wasn’t too much in the way of singing. Matt started of with a story then Bobo did a couple of songs. I did three in the end and having decided to do new (or very old) ones I went for ‘Half A World Away’ (always contentious doing Oasis - sorry), ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Wild Rover’. Bobo did another and Matt gave us a longer story.

Said to Matt he should try and write for the Seedling Challenge and use all seven of this weeks prompts -  a tough one this week - and that we could then read the resulting stories out at the next OM. We agreed to give it a go.

Then after lots of interlinked chitter chatter about all things travel, pubs, and Covid-19, we went on Jackbox to play some games. Suffice to say funny as fuck – but you would have had to be there (and probably have had a few beers) to appreciate it. Apparently OM is going to go to fortnightly now, which is a shame but I guess a sign that now that things are opening up a little bit people have less time or need for it. Anyway, I am looking forward to it; whenever it is. At least two weeks gives me more time to learn some more new old songs.
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Not That Strange I Suppose

On Friday I drove down to Shropshire to the beautiful village of Bishop's Castle. As I said in my last blog I was a little apprehensive but broadly looking forward at the very least to being out of the house for a few days.

The drive down was uneventful and was the usual 2 hours or so, with just a couple of roadworks there to slow the day down–they do seem to be everywhere at the moment. I was the first to arrive and was surprised to see how busy the campsite was. I paid the £9 per day and set up exactly where we camped last year. But last year there were thirty of us there, partly due to the 'stag' nature of some of the attendees prior to Paddy's upcoming wedding. I wrote up last year's fab weekend in a
blog of course. This time there was to be ten of us, which given the Covid-19 pandemic seemed quite a few people. Especially as I haven't been seeing anyone–no bubbles for me.

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First drink after putting up your tent is always one of the best

Tony K and Jane came next with Jane's son; then Tony and Jeanette, quickly followed by Rob and his cohorts. We all managed to camp close together (socially distanced, of course). Uniquely for a Bishop's Castle camping weekend we didn't go down to the village for a beer or two. It didn't seem necessary as we had lots of beer between us and it is not like there was any entertainment down in Bishop's Castle. Jeanette fed us with a homemade chilli and then we got in with drinking and chatting. All with some tunes from playlists by myself and Jeanette. It was pretty cold and got colder as the sky cleared. But of course that meant with clear Shropshire skies we had a beautiful view–which even encompassed satellites and shooting stars.

Social distancing was pretty well done in the main. The folding chairs and dark night keeping everyone together around a fire pit. It was a nice night.

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Group drinking in the Three Tuns. Wonderful.

The next day started with a sunnier forecast if a little cloudy. Breakfast was sourced either at the Greedy Fox from the Foxholes campsite we were on, or cooked by the various volunteers in the group. And then the final member of the group, Ste, arrived. He'd had to delay due to doing a good thing in terms of looking after a neighbours dog. We then finally headed down into BC around 1pm–again around 2 hours later than we would normally have. On the basis of only two open pubs rather than the usual five or six this seemed to make sense.

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Sunshine pint in the Three Tuns

We first headed into the Three Tuns. There we were asked for one member of the group to scan in a QR code and provide details through that before going in and getting seated. We headed outside to one of the two benches in the yard. Normally during this weekend of the year there would be a music playing and a barbecue going, as well as the Three Tuns brewer selling beers straight out of the barrels there. This time: nothing. Of course. We ended up staying there for about four hours or so before heading up to the Castle. The only issue I had was someone squeezing in between me and someone else on a bench. I shot on up and out of there and left it to the girls. Social distancing guys (and gals)! Went through several pints of Solstice, XXX and Cleric's Cure (which I settled on for a few).

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The Shropshire Way walk into Bishop's Castle

In the Castle the garden was full. Most having being booked in advance. No-one was in the garden on the grass, they were all seated at tables. We stayed in the tables outside at the bottom of the steps. Here the staff all wore visors, which was visibly different to the Three Tuns, where the staff concentrated on limiting touching the glasses (using trays and asking us to load them with empty glasses etc). Like Liverpool last week, every establishment is having to find their own way with the reopening.

Most the boys and girls of our group went into the BC chippy for sustenance. I kept away: just not hungry. Then we all went back on up to Foxholes for the evening. It was spent drinking beer (or wine in the case of Rob and Co.), chatting and listening to tunes. I even got my guitar out and played a few songs–it would have been Open Mic tonight if I had been home. There was no WiFi available to log into Zoom on the campsite. Tony talked loudly all the way through most of the songs. But to be fair that made my 'gig' more like an Open Mic than if he'd kept quiet. There's always one. The night was a clear as the day before and again we saw shooting stars. It closed around 1:30am or so after some surprising spoons and a collapsing chair and table incident.

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Playing in the sun to an appreciative crowd (me)

Sunday brought us even more sunshine. The forecast was it would be there for the day. And boy, it was. I ended up getting a little sunburnt on my face, mainly on the nose and forehead. Steve got off early, as did Rob and the boys, whilst I wasn't sure whether to stay or go. I was torn, as I was off on Monday and was thinking I'd do some writing if I got back on Sunday, but then again another night relaxing whilst away for the first time for months was very attractive. In the end I decided to stay. Tony K took the rest of the intrepid group on a truncated walk (basically adding a few hundred metres to getting into BC and then walking along the road rather than on the Shropshire Way. Most surprising. Not.). They all heading into Poppy's (where we normally go for breakfast on our last day camping) and had a Sunday Roast.

Meanwhile I was still at the campsite listening to the screeching of a couple of the red kites what whirled above the countryside, whilst strumming the guitar and burning my face; before walking down to the Three Tuns. Had a pint of Solstice and three of Cleric's before heading up to the site with a takeout. I began reading '
The Psychology of Time Travel' (Kate Mascarenhas) which seems really good.

The evening was its by now standard form. A couple of beers, some music and bed. But this time finished much, much earlier. Everyone was getting a bit more tired which after a few days trying to sleep in a tent is par for the course.

And then it was Monday and time for me to go. The remaining five stayed in BC to do a walk along the Long Mynd from Church Stretton. I got home at 1pm and it didn't take me long to fall into some serious napping.

All in all the weekend had been excellent. There hadn't been much in the way of any rain and we all got into the two pubs that were open. Clearly the logging in, the directional information, the toilet occupancy, and cleaning stations (as well as staff methods and PPE) make the pubs a different proposition to the BC real ale trail. The lack of entertainment, and a hog roast or two, being an obvious miss. It is hard to see how and when this can come back prior to a vaccine. It really is a worry and I really wonder if even this time next year the real ale trail will be back. That said, even if it isn't I expect we will be. Camping is great. So is Shropshire, the village and the campsite. And of course, most of all, our group of people make the event the success it always is.

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Three Tuns quieter than usual.


Cheers!
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A Strange Return to the Bish

I've been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. But I've got to admit it is going to be a strange one. For years now a group of us has been going to Bishop's Castle for their annual beer festival trail. It's always one of the first things in the calendar. And we camp at a great campsite on the Shropshire Way called Foxholes just above the village. There is always lots of great beer, good food and fab music. And all round good craic.

But this year… well until last week the campsites were closed, as were the pubs. The real ale trail was obviously cancelled ages ago and so it should have been. Normally the entire village is bustling for a day and a half. This year I'm not anticipating many people there at all. And indeed I hope not.

There's a much smaller group of us going to Foxholes. I think most will just be glad to get out of the house for a day or two after over three months staying in the same few rooms. I'm only expecting two pubs to be open, but we may find another one. Both the
Three Tuns and the Castle have decent outside areas where we can do our distancing thing. I'm taking a lot more beer than I normally do as I'm expecting we'll have much less time in the village–it's not like there will be any entertainment on either.

So it's going to be quiet. Fewer beers. No music. Limited food choices. Not sounding like a great advert, but hell, like I say, a weekend away may well be the closest thing I get to a holiday this year. Forecast is dry weather too, which after a couple of wet weeks is a bonus. Let's hope next year things will be more normal – though I'm not convinced it will be.






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Liverpool: Reopening Crawl

So over three months after all the pubs, bars and restaurants (and hairdressers) closed pubs were finally allowed to open again to sell beer to people to drink at their establishments. This has become a thing of dreams to some, but no doubt a thing of nightmares to some people. I wrote a piece previousl about the closure of pubs back in March which you can read here.

The media called it Super Saturday along with other crass headlines. Personally I was looking forward to it with the understanding that it would not be the same and I was intrigued how it would work. But more importantly my hair really needed seeing to as I was looking like a cross between Michael Hestletine and Alan Partridge. I hadn’t booked anything. As I go to a little barbers I wasn’t sure how they’d do it.

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Ready for the bus

First up after putting up the Seedling Challenge page was to get ready to go. I had my bandana of course. It was strange putting jeans, a shirt and my leather on. I don’t think I’ve left the house not in shorts and T-shirt for a couple of months (though recently with hoody or other top due to all the wind and rain). Then it was of to get the number 17 into town. It was my first time on a bus since March 19th.  From the seven people on the bus the only two who didn’t wear masks was what appeared to be a granny and grandson. She seemed mortified as we got on and she realised they had nothing and she told the boy to pull his hoody down over his face.

With stickers on the window indicating which seats were open for use and which weren’t it was interesting to see. I saw a couple of women sat next to each other which wasn’t in accordance with the rules. But in the main it wasn’t too bad and the windows were ajar too.

Got some cash out at a machine on London Road with the intention to walk down the hill past my usual barbers. If it was quiet my aim was to get a haircut. It wasn’t and the customers waiting were sat elbow to elbow in there: not for me!

With a haircut put on hold I was ready to head into a pub or two to see what was going on and to support them. I walked past the Crown towards the Dispensary first. There was a last minute adjustment being made to a rope barrier by the front door, and I asked when it was opening. I was told “Now” if you want. And so it was that I went into the Crown as my first pub for reopening. But as I looked across the floor to see the markings on the and was guided to where I should go and sit I couldn’t see any cask on. “Any cask on, mate?” “There’s only Doom Bar–you’ll be lucky to find any cask in town today, mate.” “I think I know a few places...”

And so it was, my first pub post reopening was left before I got 2 metres from the door, let along 2 metres from another customer. 

I reverted to my original plan to head to the Dispensary, but had to pause to take a photo and genuflect in front of the Sanctuary. Very depressing.

First thing at you spot at the Dispensary are the smart new (and large) tables and umbrellas. A great addition for an outdoor drink or two compared to the ad hoc wee table and chair arrangement they had previously. Indoors I was directed to a single chair to sit at near the fireplace and told before I could order I needed to text a phone number and then when I got a reply text my name. For groups of people only one person in a group would need to do it. It was an interesting way to do it and I wondered how much texting I’d be doing after another few pubs. Service was at the table.
Dizzy1ROC
New Dizzy Seating

There were only three cask on, which is fair enough given the unknowns and the smaller number of people they can get in the pub–with no standing. So my first reopening pint was an
OssettSilver King’ and my second was a RatWhite Rat’. Other than the signing in the only issue I had was the seating. Drinking alone as Billy No Mates you of course don’t get offered a table but a standalone chair without a table. The chair was rickety, so I moved to a second chair. A group of three sat on a nearby table which eventually became six. Once there were six there then they were right on top of me (not 1 metre) so I had to return to the first chair again. Ultimately everyone is on a learning curve. The landlords, the service staff, and the customers. 

DizzyROC
First Reopening Pint: a Silver King in the Dizzy


Bumped into a couple of CAMRA guys who were similarly looking to support the pubs and see what was happening.

Next up I’d decided to head down to the Bridewell. The service is always great with Dom works so table service would be right up their alley anyway. And his ale is always good too. This time the pub was pretty full and I ended up sat outside in the mizzly rain. Not ideal but not the end of the world either. This time there was no texting. Just write down your name and phone number on a record sheet by the door. Less messing about.

BridewellROC
Bridewell Pint: note damp (and long) hair

Read a couple of pages of a book on my Kindle but the rain wasn’t helping. Ended up with two pints once more, this time KirkstallThree Swords’ and ‘Pale’.

Third up was another pub I knew from Twitter/Instagram was open: the Baltic Fleet. Here I picked my beer at the bar and then it was brought around to me. I didn’t fill in any sheet or text anything. At least I got a table inside this time. Had a BrimstageTrapper’s Hat’.

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The Baltic Fleet

I decided I’d head into town. I knew the Ship & Mitre, Rigby’s and Dr Duncan’s was open which were all worth a go. But as it happens I saw a couple of people walk out of the side street by the Cornmarket and found it open. Here I bought the beer at the bar and took it to a comfortable leather sofa by the window. Again I wasnt asked to fill anything in. The pub was quiet, the moment: nice.

CornmarketROC
Cornmarket beer, Alan Partridge hair

Just had the one and headed next to Rigby’s. Incidentally I’d heard earlier that they’d laid of the manager of the Fly in the Loaf which I was incredibly disappointed to hear. The Fly has always been run very well since Dom and beyond. Not sure who or when the Fly is reopening, but it is strange that one of the Okell’s pubs was opening and not the other.

As it turned out I had a mixed blessing at Rigby’s. I was told to wait by the entrance while they found a table for me. I could see an empty table with one chair in front of me. The pub was quite busy though. Whilst I waited some guy came in and walked straight in and sat at the table (there was a couple behind me too). I was then told there was no room at the Inn. I was not a happy puppy. After a bit of a harrumph I left only to find it had been a wonderful conjunction of events, for I walked past a barbers a few doors down which was large and empty. I ended up being the last person in getting a haircut. No issues with social distancing: in and out, and a bloody great haircut. Hallelujah!

HaircutROC
Forget Accidental Partridge, I got an accidental haircut!

Having calmed down I thought I’d try Rigby’s again. I failed to get in again (and the bastard who’d taken my table was still there reading some crap tabloid... grr). Like I said; we’re all on a learning curve. Deep breathe.... ahhhhhh.

After finding Cornmarket was open the next one I found that I hadn’t spotted on Social Media was the Vernon–I knew the Lion wasn’t open yet. Was directed to an uncomfortable position in the back room. Definitely an issue for solo drinkers: if you don't get the choice you’re gonna get given the worse places to sit.

Nearing the end of my Reopening Crawl I headed into the Excelsior. It was pretty quiet. Picked an okay seat and had a Titanic 'Plum Porter'. It was dearer than the last time I was in there–when they were selling it off at £2 a pint on the last day I’d been out before the lockdown closures. It felt symmetrical. The Ship & Mitre had an early closing (and was closed on Sunday to evaluate how it went) so I never made it in there.

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Titanic Plum Porter once again in the Excelsior

When I’d gone out that day (19th March) Dr Duncan’s had been closed. It may have been a bit early closing but it was open again the first chance it could. Hence my last pint, back by Queen’s Square buses, was Dr D’s. Had a nice chat with the staff and a couple of customers. Suitably distanced off course.

All in all a nice crawl and good to see so many pubs open.

Key findings (other than the actual beer):

  • Everywhere is doing the name taking (or not) differently (it is currently guidance, not a legal requirement).
  • Fewer beers on (fewer customers and fewer beers available so no issue with that).
  • Prices had gone up considerably in one pub (I’ll let you discover which one). That may be a difficult balancing act with drinkers used to drinking at home now, but these guys have been shut for ages and need to make money with a smaller number of customers allowed in.
  • A bit random getting seated. And being on your tod, or maybe in a group of two, you can anticipate being hidden in a corner or in an awkward area of the pub where they cant fit a group.
  • It’s not the same having to be seated and not roaming around as and when. But you can still socialise a little with the nearby customers and anyone you spot from your seated positionwhich after over three months not seeing anyone is bloody marvellous.
  • Everyone is on a learning curve - us–the drinkers– and them–the guys and gals serving the stuff. Be good, be calm, be patient.

I had no issues with social distancing other than having to move myself away from a group in the Dizzy, but that was easily dealt with. Everywhere staff were cleaning regularly and there was hand sanitizer available.

Great to find these pubs open–and for me to drink in seven of them:

  • Crown
  • Dispensary
  • Bridewell
  • Baltic Fleet
  • Cornmarket
  • Rigbys
  • Vernon
  • Excelsior
  • Ship & Mitre
  • Dr Duncans

Looking forward to the Grapes, Head of Steam, the Lion and the Fly reopening: when they are ready.  Still absolutely gutted about the Sanctuary

And the best thing about Super Saturday? Accidentally getting a haircut. Get in!
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A Pilgrimage To A Real Sanctuary

Note: This article was featured on the GetIntoThis website which I've reposted here following the closure of that website. It is about the last visits to the Liverpool pubs as closure approached in late March and a dream of a crawl after reopening. It is made even more poignant following the news that the Sanctuary is to close:

A Pilgrimage to a Real Sanctuary

I don’t know about you, but I rarely remember my dreams or my nightmares. Sometimes I wish that I did. You know those cinematic ones that you can kinda control in some way? It’s like going to the cinema for free - and with you as one of the main characters. Still, if it’s a nightmare maybe it’s best not to remember, hey? But in all my dreams I have never had one where all the pubs were closed for days, then weeks on end. I mean I’m not sure I could sleep if I knew there was a risk of that. 
And here we are. In that real life nightmare. The pubs are shut. The beers are getting flushed down the drains. And it’s already weeks in. Forget the lockdown bollocks, I want lock-ins.
Of course we could see it coming. Each day, each meeting, the Government reeled out their stats and their methods: how we’d beat Coronavirus. Meanwhile Italy, Spain and the like all closing down. It couldn’t happen here, could it? Damn straight.

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In the final week of open hostelries, as the inevitable approached, I had to go out to support them: to see them one last time. So it was that on the Wednesday and Thursday, before Boris and His Boffins said social distancing needed to be extended to the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, I went into Liverpool for beer. I really did go out without wanting to, just so I could say my farewells; and cry a little into a pint glass in-situ. On the Wednesday evening I went into the Head of Steam. It was only 9pm and tellingly they’d already rung last orders to the six people there. I headed up Bold Street next to the Dispensary - for a White Rat of course, then a quick one in the Roscoe Head before heading up to the Fly in the Loaf. The Fly was already shut for the night; it was ten o’clock. My heart was heavy. I ended up with two pints in the Caledonia before the bus home. As crawls go it felt a wee bit painful. It was like someone was lying in bed for their last hours and we were waiting for the inevitable (sorry, bad analogy, but it was).

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I’d only visited a few pubs and there was a couple of telling omissions. I wanted to go into town even less on the Thursday. But felt duty bound to show my support. Or was it to hold the hands of the grieving? I headed a different way this time, around Dale Street. The Ship was quiet, with barely double figures in there: social distancing was not going to be a problem and the Excelsior was quieter still, despite selling their cask off at stupid pence a pint. I helped them out by getting rid of one of their pints of Titanic Plum Porter I’m nice like that. I chatted to the bar man as he wiped the bar with disinfectant. The pub was pristine. Too clean. Any worse and it’d have stung your eyes. Third up was across the road to Dead Crafty. Now I’m a cask man, but I recognise good beer and good people, and Dead Crafty have both, so it had to be visited. Besides, it was clearly open and there was no telling how many other bars would be. The Lion Tavern was open but deader still; Liverpool’s only just crowned CAMRA Pub of the Year - what timing for the award. I had a pint but wasn’t even in the mood for the free juke box. I needed to head to the Sanctuary on Lime Street. It’s one of my regulars and I didn’t want to miss it in case the pubs would be closed before I made it out again. The staff and regulars are friends; even if I do my best to put them off with the odd open mic performance. On the way I noticed Dr Duncan’s was closed, so I popped in the Crown instead. All this talk of social distancing and responsibility was getting to me. Was I being reckless going to pubs in a time of the virus? It’s less than four weeks - aka ‘a lifetime’ -ago and I didn’t feel so, though I still felt a bit guilty. They kept saying the youngsters were ignoring it and would get the oldsters killed. Well hell, I’m in my 50s and in the Crown I was the younger demographic that night (apart from the stoic bar staff). And so it was that I made it finally to the Sanctuary for a couple. There were three of us there, plus two bar staff. A suitable end to my two day wake.

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And so iIt came on Friday. The 20th March: the announcement that all pubs and bars would be expected to close that night. It still sends shivers down my spine. All those lovely days and nights; the great people who work in the bars and make the beer. All those empty buildings. It’s haunting. I didn’t go out on the Friday, I’d done my bit. One landlady contacted me via Twitter to ask if I wanted a cask which would otherwise go to waste. I turned it down. I couldn’t drink it in a week - not without taking the week off anyway. Me turning down a cask of beer? Strange times indeed.

The two day pilgrimage around some of my favourite (and even the not-so-favourite) pubs of Liverpool was an unusual affair. Not exactly uplifting. But I was glad I’d done it. It was like my own version of ‘Last Chance to See...’.

I’ve hardly mentioned the beers. And of course they are integral to the way of life of a real ale fan, but they are not the be all and end all. I’m not a ticker. I love the pubs, the ambience, the people - customers and staff alike. AND the beer. I’m of the view that if I’m spending a few quid on a beer it’s got to be nice. Like many ale drinkers every time I go out it is not to go to one pub, it is to got to three or four. And boy, I am missing them. I’m still working as usual. My job has not been affected by this virus yet, but my social life obviously has. Jeez, I feel for anyone who is properly locked down. At least I get out five times a week to work. I’m going crazy just missing the damn pubs.

As I say I love beer. Anyone who knows me probably has that as a (the?) defining feature of me - I’ve got a damn Twitter and Instagram account devoted to it. But it’s not the beer I miss. It’s the pubs. I don’t drink much at home at all. A bottle here - and sometimes these days - a can there. It’s not the same drinking at home. It’s probably a good thing for me that I feel that way. 

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Well that was my pre-closure pub pilgrimage, what will the return be like? Firstly, let’s really hope that all the pubs survive this. Margins are tight at the best of times, and this is as far from the best of times as I could have dreamt. But when they do reopen I for one will be taking a couple of days off to undertake the return pilgrimage. It’ll be difficult as I’m sure they’ll be heaving - though many will be nervous about being in crowds again. And of course, when they first open it could be a 2m distancing thing. And a one in one out. Who knows? But all things being equal my first days back will take in the Head of Steam, Dispensary, Roscoe, Grapes, Fly, Dickens & King, the Caledonia.... and the Sanctuary. I can’t wait. Then maybe on the second day I’ll return to the Dale Street for the Ship, Excelsior, Dead Crafty, Vernon, Lion, Hole in the Wall and Rigby’s. They’ll all need supporting when they come back and I for one will try and do my bit. 

Look I can but dream - I just wish I could remember them.

Finally, that’s just the pubs, what they sell to us is the beer and we are lucky in Liverpool now to have so many good breweries on our doorstep. If this had happened a few years ago we’d only have had a couple to miss, but these days there are so many great little ones around Merseyside and the Wirral. My favourites are Neptune, Chapter, Top Rope, Black Lodge and Peerless, and then there’s; Brimstage, Love Lane, Melwood, Rock the Boat, Scrapyard, Southport, Parkers, Red Star. I mean with these breweries you are spoiling us. Sorry if I’ve missed yours off, but you get what I mean, we have so many good options to keep it local - beer and pub wise. 

So whilst I don’t drink much at home I will do a little bit and there are local supplies of local beers for lockdown. So whilst you are waiting for our locals to reopen, if you want to go beyond Oakham Citra from your B&M (which ain’t a bad option though), there are some options out there to slake your thirst. It’ll have the bonus of supporting local businesses too, so you can feel good twice. Here are a few: 


Black Lodge - Delivery only. Online order: www.blacklodgebrewing.co.uk

Carnival - Cans via online store: www.carnivalbreweing.me

Cask micro pub - Bottles and Cask cartons. (Deliveries 5-7:30pm). Check out their Twitter feed: @LiverpoolCask

Craft Taproom - Online store: crafttaproom.myshopify.com

Dead Crafty - Online order for delivery. Check twitter and Untappd for menu. Orders via email: deadcraftybeer@gmail.com

Londis, Penny Lane - Shop. Get yerself down there. (Check stock updates on their Twitter account: @LondisPennyLane

Love Lane - Online shop for delivery or click and collect: lovelanebeer.com/

Red Star - Range limited: www.redstarbrewery.co.uk

Rock the Boat - Boxes available for delivery: www.rocktheboatbrewery.co.uk

Scrapyard (Wallasey) - Beers in a box (£20 for 5l). Check out their Twitter feed @scrapyard_bar

Top Rope - online shop for deliveries: www.topropebrewing.com 



Happy drinking. See you on the other side. Sweet dreams.
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The New Normal (Not So Much)

What's the new normal going to be like? Clue: it’s not.

So this weekend, on the 4th July, a normality is to return. With pubs and restaurants to reopen. And almost more importantly... barbers. I for one can’t wait. 

Or can I? It’s been over three months since the pubs closed the door because of Covid-19 and one of my major pastimes was given the heave-ho. Have I got into drinking at home instead? Will I stay in and save money with a few bottles rather than going down the pub for a couple? Will I hell.

I love my beer, don’t get me wrong. But beer comes with the pub, it's not for watching the TV. Not in my book at any rate. Can’t wait to get back to doing little five or six pub crawls around Liverpool city centre. Or getting on the train for the Southport run, or a CAMRA coach trip to Derby or Leicester (?).

Apart from it’s not going to be normal yet at all. If you live in a village with a lovely old coaching inn with big gardens then you’ll be okay, maybe you won’t notice much difference at all. But for the 99% of us who live in an urban area–particularly a city–we are going to be buggered. Or, more importantly, the pubs are. 

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The rules are such that there can’t be more than 30 people in a pub–however big it is. I mean one size does not fit all. Asking pubs to serve outside where it is safer is all well and good, but how can a little pub on a city street accommodate that? Taking names and details from all the customers is going to be fun. Minimise contact with the staff, but take their life story (okay, not life story–and it does make sense). No live music, or football to be shown: nothing to get the customers excited lest they spit out their germs everywhere. Then there's the PPE, the hand-washing and the one way system and one in/one out to the toilet. No standing at the bar chatting to the staff. No... well no anything.

So pubs are reopening and normality is returning. Apart from the pubs can’t attract enough people to survive. Can’t generate atmosphere. Can’t entertain. Can’t make their customers feel comfortable. Oh yes, definitely back to normal.

How can the pubs survive with so few customers? Without the joy of a group of friends out for the evening? How can the music economy (the proper gig economy) survive this? It's all a matter of time before more and more establishments fall at the wayside. This will damage individuals who work or own these businesses and harm the towns and cities we live in. The impact of this virus is going to go on for years even if a cure falls into our laps this year.


We put a lot of faith in everyone not to catch and spread this most strange of viruses. And seeing the recent footage from parks, beaches and of course our Pier Head, that faith is not held tightly. If we look at what happened in the US where hardly anyone wears masks, and they opened up businesses as if there was no virus, it is rampant like never before. Trump's inability to say 'Wear a mask' has fucked them. They opened bars like they were normal in many respects so it was no surprise what has happened, and we are not doing that so maybe we will be a lot better of in terms of the virus. But in terms of the business it is untenable without government support.

Whenever you do go out, be sensible. Follow the guidance. Because if the Covid-19 numbers get out of control or even just take longer to come down then it'll be a longer time before the new normal becomes the old normal. It's simple folks:
keep your distance; keep your hands clean; limit touching your face; wear a mask in enclosed areas or in close proximity to others. That's it. It ain't rocket science. Be calm and patient and be very, very nice to all the staff looking after you.

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So far I’m not sure which if any pubs are open on Saturday–obviously when I say pubs I mean real ale pubs and not the Concert Square or Wetherspoons variety. I want to give my custom to my favourite pubs that I used to go to: they deserve it, even if I don’t. I am going to head into town first thing though to see if I can find a barbers to deal with my problem and then I’ll see if I can find a pint in an environment that doesn’t make me want to cry.  I may well come back with no luck on any front at all. Watch this space.
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There Is No Sanctuary Anymore 

Well this weekend brought the news that the Sanctuary on Lime Street is to close its doors permanently. One of the first confirmations of pubs in Liverpool to be closing as a result of the damnable pandemic: it won't be the last.

It goes without saying that I wish the owners and all the staff all the best at this time.

It has been a great little boozer for the last few years for me. One of my most regular haunts. Often I would pop in at the start or the end of a wee crawl–or even both ends of one. It was always laid back. There was always music on (I’m not saying it was always to my taste, but hell yeah. Music!). The decor was ‘interesting’ if built-in distressed is your thing. From outside if looked like it could be a wine bar with the logo on the window, whilst inside it was spit & sawdust. It was a contradiction in many ways.

Beer choice could be a little up and down, but usually there was one or two–sometimes even three–that were worth staying for–or else I wouldn’t have, would I?

There wasn’t a big turnover of staff. And all of them were friendly and outgoing. Going out of their way to look after the customers (even giving me control of the music on several occasions. Yeah, an evening of Frank Turner, Wilco or Magic Numbers anyone?). One of last year's highlights was going in there for a few pints whilst waiting for the parade for the European Cup. We watched the progress of the parade on my phone so knew exactly when to leave to catch the buses, got some fab photos and then went back into the Sanctuary within about twenty minutes or so. A perfect afternoon, which unfortunately we won't be able to repeat for any parade for winning the league.–more's the pity.

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Best of all I was in one Thursday evening reading a book when I noticed someone walk upstairs with a guitar and found out it was Open Mic. I popped up to watch, telling myself if they weren’t all shit hot I’d get up and play a song–partly on the basis that I didn’t know any of them and I need not show my face again if it all went tits up. I nervously strummed a couple of songs in super fast time and sweated like a pig… and since then I’ve hardly missed any. I hadn’t played in front of anyone for about twenty years. Unfortunately I hadn’t been practicing much either. But rediscovering the guitar was great and it has been the highlight of many a week since.

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The continuation over recent weeks of the Open Mic online has been a lovely way to break up the week, especially the monotonous evenings (so much TV watched). Our little Zoom Sanctuary has been great, but it’s not a pub. It’s not the same.

It won’t be the last pub to go and I’m fearful for which of my other favourites may not survive this most painful of years. I’ll miss meeting up with the Open Mic crew at the Sanctuary. I’ll miss the banter with the staff and customers. I’ll miss sitting there reading or writing. Hell, I’ll just miss the Sanctuary.

RIP The Sanctuary. It was good to be in you.
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Planning on Planning

The last few months - and longer - have been difficult one way or another. And I have not bothered with New Year's Resolutions. Then again, there shouldn't be a time for resolutions. If you decide you need to do something don't wait til January 1st to get it into motion. Anyway, it's the well into the second half of January and I ain't doing resolutions, but I am doing planning. In that I am planning on planning with respect to all sorts including; work, writing, reading, guitar, and fitness.

Will put some of the planning up here and then track progress as the year goes on.

But now I've got to get some of these plans down. Catch yer later…
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The (New) Dispensary

HaircutMe

It's been an interesting couple of weeks seeing how the Dispensary transitions after the long reign from Pauline and Dave came to a quite abrupt end. It is understood that the tenancy came to an end on the 15th September and they decided not to renew it. The Dispensary under their stewardship won the Liverpool CAMRA branch Pub of the Year on multiple occasions and the beer choice and quality was never less than exceptional. They kept their decision to leave pretty quiet and it was only in the last ten days of their rule that it became common knowledge. Wherever they end up going and whatever they end up doing I wish them the best of luck.

In the meantime the new managers of the Dispensary require luck and hard work to maintain the tradition of the excellent cellar here, lest it become just another pub. I've been in a few times since the change of the guard and although it's very early days things are looking good. There have been a few changes which are mostly positive or at least neutral. The board with the beers on now has prices on it which is always handy in decision making and getting your money ready at the bar. And talking of money they have entered the 21st century and like many of the other nearby pubs now take card payments. Yay!

The beer choices so far comprise the same breweries that Dave and Pauline took, including Titanic, Ossett and Rat. Definitely a great big plus. Got to be good to have White Rat still available.

DizzyBoard

WhiteRat

There is now no fear of the answer at the bar if you ask for a coke (not that I ever would) but sometimes people require a soft drink. Here is my mate with half a coke…

Coke

They still have TVs and the footy channels (BT and Sky) for those interested. And Liverpool are still winning. They've retained the bar staff too.

They also now sell Guinness. It is a drink from my past, but I have often heard people ask for it here and been disappointed not to find it. Not a big fan these days but hey, at least they've got themselves a nice old school pump display for it. They also have a small heater perched at the end of the bar for pies and whatnot. Food in the Dizzy! What next…?

Guiness

… well, toilet roll in the toilets for a start which is nice.

In the last few days there have been returning customers who were previously banned or at least felt unwelcome. No doubt the customer base will settle down in the coming weeks when the novelty value has ended.

So, in summary, a positive start for the new guys. The key to its continued success will be all about the cellar and the bar staff.
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Neptune Saturday: Beer & Footy

Saturday was a nice day weather-wise, beer-wise and footy-wise. First up I went up to the Neptune Brewery Tap in Maghull, for the first time since going on the opening weekend, for a couple of beers with my good mate, Tony. It was Tony's first visit.

King Jester
'Jester' and 'King of the Sea' in the Neptune Brewer Tap

Started with a couple of cask ales, which were 'Jester' and 'King of the Sea' (they have two cask lines and then the rest in keg) and then I went for their collaboration beer with Brass Castle 'Bozza Don't Surf'. So that's why there's a rare pic of me with a half pint glass. The ale (7.3%) is gorgeous and I thoroughly recommend getting your mitts on some if you see it around.

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A rare event for me… a half AND it's a KEG! (don't tell anyone)

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Pump clips for some of the many beers Neptune brew - one of each please…

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Merchandise, branding and snacks in the Neptune Brewery Tap

As it was a Bank Holiday weekend they had food on from The Great British Chip Shop on the Sunday and Monday - not on the Saturday. Nice to see companies working off each other that way. Les and Julie and the rest of the crew have done a fab job creating the tap and I'm sure it will be a brilliant success. If you are ever in the Maghull area over a weekend you should check if the Tap is open and get your chops around a few of these guys beers. You won't be disappointed. The brewery is at Unit 1, Sefton Lane Industrial Estate, Maghull, L31 8BX. Easiest way of getting there is usually just to get the train to Maghull Station and from there get a taxi - Blueline taxis have an office opposite the railway station.

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Had a problem waiting for a taxi to return back to Maghull Station (should have booked it earlier: I blame the taste of the beer making us want to stay longer). Julie very kindly volunteered to run us down to the station. A star!

Got the train back to town and went to meet Ste in Fly in the Loaf where we watched the Liverpool v Arsenal match. Well, what can I say. Another nice ale or two in the Fly and a fab win from Liverpool (3-1). Happy Days!

Like I say, it was nice weather wise too. But largely it was spent indoors. Enjoyable nonetheless.

If you wanna check out these guys on Twitter they are:
Neptune Brewery - @neptunebrewery and neptunebrewery.com
Brass Castle Brewery - @BrassCastleBeer

Fly in the Loaf - @FlyintheLoaf

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Eight Pubs

On Saturday, as I mentioned on my previous post, I decided in the absence of the North Wales CAMRA coach trip to go on a local jaunt around many of the Liverpool hostelries I enjoy. Here is how the afternoon transpired.

I got the infamous No. 17 into town and got off on London Road. My route for the day was undecided at that point, but it was best place to get off and get some cash out by the Tesco. I took out thirty quid and then made the happy mistake to go into Henry Bohn's - a wonderful second hand bookshop at the bottom of London Road by the Empire.

Twenty minutes later I came out with a much heavier bag (and eleven quid lighter) having bought two Terry Pratchett's: The Wee Free Men and Nation, and an Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men. However the day transpired this would make it a good one.

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I was in the process of reading 'Moscow Drive' by a local guy, Mark Porter, who I'd met on the aforesaid infamous 17, in which he name checks lots of Liverpool hostelries I have been know to frequent, including the Raven at Walton Vale, and in town the White Star, Lion, and Ma Egertons (which I'd just got up to in the book). Ma Egerton's is behind the Empire so it seemed the obvious place to start in a way. Unfortunately it hadn't crossed my mind that it was only around an hour or so before kick-off and Everton had their first home game of the season at 3pm. Egerton's was an obvious meeting place, being next to Lime Street Station and a taxi rank. So it was packed. I walked in and then out. Ma, I'll catch you another time. Instead I went to the Crown. It too was busy with a fair few fans, but I'd timed it to perfection as far as service was concerned. Sizing up the selection I went for a beer (and brewery) I hadn't had before, a 'Sunshine IPA' from Wooha Brewing Company. A decent, hoppy, low abv pint for the start of a session. I drank it in the backroom, the only place I could find a seat, and perused my new old books surrounded by people eating massive coronary inducing platters (looked good).

Next up was only a hundred metres down the road and one of my regulars, The Sanctuary. Here I bumped into a Twitter friend I've never met before, but knew was a regular at the Sanctuary, Stephen Ackers aka @beefynets. He has got into doing VSS365, which - as well as liking ale - makes him mighty fine. Here I went for an Adnams 'Mosaic'. Whilst it is a bit of a large brewery for me I do like the single hop brews, and it was a nice (hoppy again) choice. After bidding farewell to Ackers, whose bags were heavier than mine thanks to Lidl's 'beer festival', I went on to number three. The area of attack was now clear - I couldn't be out for too long (having work on Sunday) and I never want to miss the Grapes, when I have the choice, so basically I knew I was bound to continue around the Hardman group of hostelries. Therefore next up was the Dispensary.

Say what you like about the Dizzy (and boy people do) the cellar is the best kept there is. They had White Rat and King Rat on from Rat Brewery. Whilst not ideal for a session I went for the stronger (5%) King Rat for the extra oomf. Was not a mistake. Gorgeous. Got into conversations with Dave, the landlord's husband, about things football and CAMRA related. We agreed to disagree on some and agreed to agree on others. Liverpool scored against the run of play whilst I was there (not on telly) whilst Archer was beating the daylights out of Steve Smith (also not on telly).

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Next up was the Roscoe Head, one of only five (who knows, maybe fewer now) pubs in the entire country to have been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide. I'd bumped into Carol (the landlady) on Wednesday in the Fly and said I'd pop in soon. She wasn't in, but I bumped into a couple of people I knew. After the heavier abv. in the Dizzy I went for another light one and the Red Willow Brewery 'Effort Less', whilst I continued to read some more of Moscow Drive.
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(the Strawberries and Cream was from a different day - these images are from my @realeliverpool Instagram account)

Got a quick bite of something and nothing from the Co-op before heading on to The Grapes. It's a wonderful pub and one of the most improved over the last couple of years - just be careful if you are visiting Liverpool not to mistake it for the aberration (at least from a beer perspective) for the Grapes on Mathew Street. Here it was time for a local brew from Neptune Brewery (I think the best brewery on Merseyside, but there are lots of great ones these days) and another new beer for me, the Cabo Baja Sur. Sat in the bar on the right I got chatting to another reader (she was reading the Time Traveller's Wife, but was not over enamoured with it). Good beer, nice chat. Excellent. But I couldn't be resting up, as I'd intended to make eight different pubs and time and beer was of the essence.

I headed next back over Hardman Street and up to the Hard Times & Misery, which is now called the Dicken's and King. I was happy to see they had another Mosaic on and, even better, it was from Neptune. It was lovely. Probably my Beer of the Day, if I was handing out awards. Again bumped into a couple of people for chats about things beer, football and writing related.


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The late kick off was Man City v Spurs and as a Liverpool fan I had a little interest in it, even if it is so bloody early in the season (Liverpool had beaten Southampton in the 3 o'clock kick off, after apparently playing pretty poorly). Anyway, it made sense to head next to the Fly in the Loaf and catch a beer and the end of the game there. It was 2-2, then Man City scored in injury time to get the winner. A big cheer went up as there were Evertonians in the house post their game and they already want City to win the league - can't think why. Thankfully VAR stepped in (ridiculously) and disappointed blue noses of several persuasions. I enjoyed it muchly with an Ilkley Brewery 'Summer Golden Ale'.

That was pub number seven. So where for eight? There were plenty of good local options including the Pen Factory, the Belvedere, even the Phil, but I went for the Caledonia. They've had an Americana festival on all month, and there was a chance I could catch some music. As it happened I did catch a couple of tunes from Alex Gavaghan all accompanied with another local brew a 'Session IPA' (words that really shouldn't go together in my view) from Liverpool Brewing Company.

Good beer, fine music, interesting conversations and reading. All in all a damn good crawl.

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Alex Gavaghan in the Caledonia
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Pub Crawl

Time has been a bit short this week, with the new routes in Wales I've been given one of the short straws with Llanwrst and Trefriw. Bugger of a route with narrow roads, one ways, wrong geocodes, named houses and some very isolated properties – even deeper into Snowdonia, past old lead mines, deep in forest and into hiking territories. With up to 80 drops a day a single drop that takes 30 minutes is very frustrating - however beautiful the locality. I was lucky to just get back in time to watch the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday, which has been the highlight of the week.

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Isolated walking territory, Snowdonia

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Hafna Lead Mine, Snowdonia

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Maenan Hall Folly

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Gwydir Castle, Llanwrst

Was originally hoping to be on a real ale trip to Conwy and Colwyn Bay today with the Wirral Branch of CAMRA, but the coach was booked up. Meanwhile my usual couple of cohorts went on a last minute holiday up to the Isle of Bute, which looked lovely. So I have been left to my own devices. Um'd and ah'd about going to Manchester, or doing the Southport Run or maybe Chester or a Wirral trip. But hell I've opted for closer to home and a go-with-the-flow wander around Liverpool hostelries. Will try to get to a few more than usual, which means shorter stops and quicker drinks. Unfortunately I'm working tomorrow, which means I can't be out this evening.

Will see how it goes. Will try and take some photos and make a few notes to turn into a blog - partly because I haven't done any blogs this week. I'll also try and do my
Seedling Challenge.

Have a good weekend folks.
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Shrewsbury Pub Walk

As I was down in Atcham, just outside Shrewbury for the wedding, I thought it was a nice idea to stay for another day to spend a day wandering the streets of Shrewsbury popping in a few decent boozers – I\d been to the town a few times before but it had been a while.

I walked from the Ishmore to Shrewsbury, which is around a five mile march, but I had a pit stop at the Mermaid and had a farewell chat (and cider) with the Lee's (and newly named Rachel Higham) before plodding on.

I ended up visiting eight pubs, which in order were:

  • Wheatsheaf
  • Three Fishes
  • Coach & Horses
  • Albert's Shed
  • The Armoury
  • Shrewsbury Hotel
  • Salopian Bar
  • King's Head

The best pubs were the Three Fishes, Coach & Horses, and Salopian Bar – though I enjoyed watching a singer-guitarist in the King's Head, called Luke Day.

First up after the somewhat sweaty walk in was the Wheatsheaf. At least I could sit outside to cool down. Had a pint of Ringwood (can't recall the actual beer unfortunately). It was okay, then again after the walk in anything would have been.

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Pub 1. Wheatsheaf. With a Ringwood. A little hot and bothered.

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Pub 2. Three Fishes with a pint of Thornbridge 'Twin Peaks'

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Pub 3. Coach & Horses with a Salopian 'Oracle'.

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Pub 4. Albert's Shed with a Salopian 'Lemon Dream'.

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Pub 5. The Armoury with a Three Tuns 'XXX"

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Pub 6. Shrewsbury Hotel (a Wetherspoons) with a Tring 'Colley's Dog'.

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Pub 7 (and 9). Salopian Bar with an Oakham 'CItra' and HappyToo and HappyTwoToo

I may have had a five mile walk in, but I was always going to get a taxi back to Atcham. It didn't break the bank at £7.40.

All in all a relaxing and rewarding afternoon.
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Did I mention the cheese?

Just had a cracking weekend down in Shropshire once more. I'd booked a camping spot in a National Trust site at Atcham (Ishmore Camping Site) and got down there about 8:30pm thanks to the high volume of deliveries on Friday from Prime Week. Having set up the tent last week for Bishop's Castle it was an even quicker process this time and it was sorted by 8:45pm when I had my post-put up pint of BrewDog 'Instamatic'. There was only one other tent there when I arrived and another started putting up their family sized teepee whilst I was finishing off. Turned out the first tent there was for a couple also going to Rachel & Paddy's wedding the next day. I followed them down to Atcham to go to the Mytton & Mermaid pub – it's the only pub in the village and many of the bride's side were staying there. The walk was about a mile through grassland first then along a busy A-road. Fifteen minute walk and a nice pint awaited. Or did it?

Not initially, no. The Mermaid had a Summer Ball on and in their wisdom was closed to the public; only the people of the Ball or guests could get a drink. We were told that we could sit in their garden, but we couldn't buy a drink. The other two set about finding where the nearest alternatives might be; over a mile further on. I called Chris, the father of the bride, who was staying there. They were on their way (they'd had to drive elsewhere to get something to eat of course, 'cos the kitchen was focused on the Ball). Bit of shoddy treatment for a wedding party really. In the end they arrived on mass and finally I got a deserved drink about half an hour later than anticipated. The staff were then happy to take our money once w'd been served with the guests – *sigh*

Left the Mermaid around midnight after a most pleasant evening with many of the Lee's, including the bride, parents and Sam, and some of the lads who had been at Bishop's Castle the week before.

Thankfully the wedding was relatively late on the Saturday (2:30pm) so there was plenty of time to relax before getting ready. The campsite was very basic – two composting toilets and a sink with a cold tap. Washing my hair in the morning was very cold and surprisingly refreshing. I can't believe how many people thought I'd have trouble getting ready in a tent – I mean, why on God's earth would I take my suit into the tent. I dressed in the car park of course. The weather proved to be better than anticipated, in so much as showers were forecast but seemed to miss us. The rain on Friday daytime had been very heavy but the campsite showed no evidence of it at all, thankfully.

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Shropshire Camping

Ste and Tony were staying in a Holiday Inn east of Shrewsbury, quite close to Atcham and they headed to the Mermaid (which handily is adjacent to the church, St. Eata) and I met them there for one pint in the sun before going to the church. The bride looked stunning in her dress and the bridesmaids weren't put in the shade either. All the boys in their tails looked very different from the week before in Bishop's Castle. Some of them scrubbed up surprisingly well. And of course there is always someone in a kilt – I'm half Scottish so I just wear tartan underwear for the occasion. Or do I?

The service was lovely – although the digs at the scousers by the local vicar felt a little uncomfortable (to paraphrase 'put something on the plate, don't take the money off it' – I ask ya!), but overall he was fun and largely a hit. The Lee's had kidnapped their own priest to come and do a cameo, which was nice (and he didn't have a go at the locals in retaliation). After a bit of miming to hymns I didn't know, with occasional bursts of words coming forth by accident, and then the vows getting done without incident (no mobile phones went off at all) I managed to get a shot of the couple after signing the book, then it was time for throwing some confetti and taking some photos before heading up to the house for the reception. It was a bit disorganised about how people who weren't driving were to get up there (the ushers need some retraining), so myself and the other two amigos headed up on foot. Thankfully Chris and Sue were driving past and picked us up.

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vows

signing

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I won't talk about the house – I'm sure it's not the done thing – but boy, what a house and grounds (end of). The reception was in a massive marquee (I think there were 128 guests) and on arrival we were attended in the grounds by a myriad of lovely ladies and gents who plied us with champagne and canapés. It's hard to pick a favourite canapé - the monkfish was nice, the cheese and asparagus thing was beautiful, the mini-beef and Yorkshire puds were lovely and the wee Scotch Eggs (quail, I assume) were spot on. Meanwhile the harpist was playing cool pop songs, but acoustically the harp isn't really made for outdoors gigs. It was then an hour or two of canapés, champagne, ales and chatting to friends from Bishop's Castle and friends we hadn't met yet and all that malarky. The Higham's had laid on a couple of casks of local ales from Salopian: 'Oracle' and 'Darwin's Origin'. The Higham's, with the Lee's, basically put on a perfect event.

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The speeches were great from the three boys – all funny, with no meanness. Then the meal was spot on - no starter - just main course, a venison Wellington, with second servings ('Want some more?' 'Er, go 'ed.') and a dessert of Eton Mess. Tony liked that so much he decided to eat Sue's. I rescued his and did a swap. Oh my, I almost forgot the wedding cake. CHEESE, CHEESE, CHEESE and some pork pie. Did I mention the cheese? The blue cheese from the Lakes (not Shropshire Blue, surprisingly) was lush. Let's say that again… they laid on real ale and cheese. If I should ever meet the right person and one thing leads to another, it will be ending in ale and cheese too.

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Marquee

Then that was almost it bar the shouting, avoidance of dancing (apart from 'Sweet Caroline') and lots of good natured chats and banter. The three piece band were excellent. Oh, and there was the small matter of a mahoosive fireworks display before getting the minibus back to the Mermaid and a happy stagger back to the tent.

In summary: Congrats to Rachel and Patrick Higham. It was a truly wonderful wedding. Did I mention the cheese?


That's enough for now, I'll do a small follow up blog about Sunday and the pub crawl in Shrewsbury.
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Camping Weekends: Part 2

Of to Atcham today for a wedding tomorrow. Camping at a National Trust site beside Attingham Park, less than a mile from the church - St Eata - where the wedding will be; and handy for the one pub in the village (the Mermaid) where some of the friends and family of the bride will be staying; so all in all a handy location.

Weather poorer than last week with rain a lot of today and showers tomorrow. Ho hum. I've remembered to buy a gas lighter for my Triangia stove - just need to get hold of some more meths today.

May go and see the Roman ruins at Wroxter on Monday, or even tomorrow morning before the wedding? And a Shrewsbury pub crawl on Sunday if I'm up to it. A busy weekend all in all.

Van packed. Just need to get through a day's work first.

See yous later…
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Steeling Myself

Going on my second Wirral ale trip tomorrow. Back to the great Yorkshire beer city - Sheffield. Looking forward to it. Know my way around the city's boozers pretty well by now.

Yesterday I played at the Open Mic in the Sanctuary once more. I was back in a checked-shirt (green). As well as being back in a proper garb, we were also back were we were supposed to be upstairs with a microphone and PA. Huzzah! We were down one Bobo though, who was home with Delhi Belly or some such. Shame. Hope the evening's rest did him good.

I was first on (always good for me, as following Dave Jones is a killer!). Played six songs, including an encore (well the next guy had gone for a smoke) and got asked for a request ('Couldn't Get Arrested'), which I played. A request… that's a first!

Yesterday's set;

  • Sweet Carolina (Ryan Adams)
  • Somewhere Down The Road (Chuck Prophet)
  • Take Me Down to The Infirmary (Cracker)
  • Whiskey in My Whiskey (Felice Brothers)
  • Save It For A Rainy Day (Jayhawks)
  • Couldn't Get Arrested (Green on Red)

Couple more newbies turned up later on, who were both great.

Si supplied some nice beer including a new local one from Tyton Brewery and the famous Beartown 'Creme Bearlee'.

A good evening, as ever.
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Buxton Beers

Had a very enjoyable trip to Buxton on Saturday, on a real ale trip arranged by the Wirral branch of CAMRA. Visited some lovely pubs and had a few great pints — including my beloved 'Jaipur', and another Thornbridge 'Crackendale' and some great Redwillow 'Faithless 108' (in the Redwillow Tap, surprisingly).

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Cheshire Cheese

Buxton is an attractive town, quite similar in appearance to Harrogate — which I guess shouldn't be surprising given the location and age of the towns (and of course the similar geology). It's not a big walk around the town centre, but there are plenty of nice pub and bar options. I went to eight pubs.

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Thornbridge 'Jaipur'

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Redwillow 'Faithless 108'

If you're considering visiting the town I can thoroughly recommend it.

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Thornbridge 'Crackendale'

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Redwillow Tap
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Open Mic & a Return to Ale Trips

It was Open Mic again yesterday in the Sanctuary and once again I made an appearance. We were shifted downstairs, as upstairs was occupied for some Light Night shenanigans, and just being in a different room makes it feel like a different 'gig'. In another effort to make it different I was not wearing a checked shirt for the first time here. In a shocking turn up I had one my 2012 Frank Turner Wembley T-Shirt.

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Ollie was there again, so I made it up for my songs second again.

I ended up doing five songs:

  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Heart Breaks Like the Dawn
  • Whiskey in My Whiskey
  • Down By the Water
  • The Flushing Song

The first two by Chuck Prophet, the third by Felice Brothers and the fourth by Decemberists… and the fifth… yep, that was the one I wrote last week. So I've performed a self penned song for the first time in over two decades (the last one was a similarly daft ditty: 'Stood Up, Deffed Out and Desperate' which I don't remember all the words or the chords for. It was a Saw Doctors style pastiche with some interesting lyrics). Anyway, The Flushing Song went down pretty well, and I was glad I gave it a go.

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Afterwards one of the regular attendees commented that she was becoming familiar with my songs, after not knowing them previously, and that she enjoyed them. That was nice to hear. My next task, other than practicing the damn guitar, is to try and write a song that's not just tongue in cheek. Then again a few Loudon Wainwright III style songs wouldn't be a bad destination either.

Onwards and upwards.

In other news, tomorrow I am going on my first CAMRA real ale trip for many months. I used to go on every Liverpool branch CAMRA coach trip, which are undertaken on a roughly monthly basis, but have stopped going as a stand against their move to booking through Eventbrite. That decision was frustrating as it disenfranchised so many of the regular trip goers - who maybe didn't want to start paying for things online (put it this way, I am part of the younger demographic on the trips). So tomorrow I am going on a trip to Buxton with the Wirral branch, who in any case pick up at the same place as the Liverpool branch (only difference is that it's 15 minutes earlier).

Looking forward to the trip. Buxton is a nice place and, as it happens, one of my favourite beers I've had this week was Buxton Brewery's SPA on cask in the Grapes.

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Of Mics and Men

Open Mic at the Sanctuary last night actually had a mic and multiple guitars. Huzzah! There were multiple singers as well as poetry and short story readings. Excellent, as ever. Not sure why but all the open mic'ers are men. Come on ladies, bring your plectrums.

I didn't play Shed a Tear, which I was working on this week, in the end I went for my current favourites:

  • You Couldn't Get Arrested
  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Sweet Carolina, and
  • Heart Breaks Like the Dawn

I sing most each song with my eyes closed. Don't know why or how I stop that - or even whether I should. That said a brief video has emerged on Instagram showing that maybe they're not quite as closed as I thought they were... click on the photo.

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Couple of mates turned up, including one who doesn't have a musical bone. Not sure he'll be back often unless it's just for the beer (didn't like the stories or poetry either). It takes all sorts to make a world.

I was made 'spare' on Friday so at least it meant I could have a couple of drinks. Unfortunately there weren't extended drinks in the bar so had to settle for one in the Fall Well (Wetherspoon) here I had a lovely Peerless Oatmeal Stout whilst I waited for the bus (not even the last bus).

Plans re the guitar playing include in order: work on strumming patterns; write some songs! Then maybe get into scales and riffs. Strumming and songs very much first though.

In other news I have a beta reader of my first six chapters of the 'book' I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November and it's getting to the point where I should get on with writing the rest of it. I reckon it should be another 30-40k words. If I did 50k in one month then I should be able to do that in a month too should I? It's all about motivation and getting in the groove again with it. Having not touched it since getting to the 50k at the end of NaNo I need to finish reading where I'm up to and get writing.

I'll give myself six weeks (I have the guitar to work with too - which I wasn't playing until the second part of November). So watch this space. Could I finish my first whole book?
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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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It's The Caledonia Americana Fest

Caught half the set last night from the always excellent Nick Ellis in the Caledonia. There was a good appreciative audience in there and it is nice set up for the upcoming music festival.

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It's good to see the return to the Cali of their Americana Fest, which this year runs from Monday 31st July until 13th August. There is no pub better in Liverpool to see (always FREE) great quality music. Always a good bunch of people in there and they sell real ale there too (other drinks are apparently available too). So what's stopping you?

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The schedule (9pm start unless specified):

Monday 31st - Hannah Aldridge + Louisiana
Tuesday 1st - Donkey Hokey
Wednesday 2nd - Cajun Session
Thursday 3rd - Speakeasy Bootleg Jazz Band
Friday 4th - Blind Monk Trio
Saturday 5th - Dirty Cello
Sunday 6th - Martin Smith Quartet (4-7pm)
Sunday 6th - The Desperate Measures (9pm)
Monday 7th - The Big Easy
Tuesday 8th - Yellow Belly Stragglers + Swampcandy
Wednesday 9th - Howlin' Ric & the Rocketeers
Thursday 10th - Rosenblume + The Whisky Situation
Friday 11th - Marley Changes
Saturday 12th - Amanda Brown & the Common Ears
Sunday 13th - Loose Moose String Band (8.30pm)

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Keep up to date on the Caledonia website.
Follow @thecaledonia
Tweet #calamfest


www.thecaledonialiverpool.com

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Another Year Another Bishop's Castle

2017 at Bishop's Castle for their Ale Trail weekend and it was another cracker. The forecast two days of grey proved wrong, with just a smidge of rain on Friday evening and some very hot sunshine for much of Saturday. Dehydration was a risk despite the ale on offer.

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In case you aren't aware of the place it is in Shropshire on the Welsh borders near Montgomery. For the last 21 years they've had this real ale trail where most the pubs in the village get involved and put on extra beers, food and entertainment. It is thoroughly recommended. I think I've been nine times now. Our local branch of CAMRA (Liverpool) until recently had the trip as the first one penned in every year and has even run two coaches on occasion due to the high demand. But for the last couple of years they haven't run the trip. I think people have been Bishop Castled out. It's a shame it's gone but having it as an annual trip probably was over the top with all the other options out there. Not that it matters if I can camp there and make a couple of days of it anyway.

Three of us went this year. It was almost four, but let's not go there. And thanks to Tony getting in early and booking it we got our place in the always excellent (and always full for the weekend) Foxholes campsite. The site is fab and at £8 a night including showers etc is a bargain. It is just a short walk downhill across a field (along the Shropshire Way) into the village. Usually the field is full of barley or wheat but this year was a desert so there were no people shaped holes in the barley this year where people inevitably fall off the path on the way back to the campsite after a few beverages and realise they've forgotten to bring a torch.

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About five years ago, when the Liverpool branch took two coaches of thirsty Scousers to the village, there was an issue at the festival. Nothing to do with them though. Two coaches of Brummies arrived who were supposed to be attending a music festival that weekend arrived after that festival was cancelled. In their wisdom with the coaches booked they'd found the nearby 'Bishop's Castle festival' and put two and two together and come up with a triangle. Needless to say when they turned up mid afternoon and found the village full of CAMRA types enjoying ale and music from covers bands it was not what the youngsters wanted. And after they'd drunk what they could of bottled and canned lagers on the street they started fighting amongst themselves. A few cars were apparently damaged in the fracas which was kicking off as the Liverpool branch coaches left.

Of course local journalists being what they are (lazy stereotypes are always right aren't they?) well when they heard there was trouble at the festival and there was coach loads of Liverpudlians there then it was surely obvious who the troublemakers were. And the 'journalist' actually called up the branch for comments about it. Sigh.

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The following year the festival was altered for good thanks to this and we could no longer drink from glass, but have to use plastic glasses. Booo! Still, they are pretty good glasses. And have been very handy to take to End of the Road and Glastonbury festivals ever since. The plastic glasses have remained a fixture as part of the permissioning to hold the festival. Ho hum.

Friday this year was the usual three pub effort. A pint in the Three Tuns. A pint in the Castle Hotel and then down to the Vaults for the rest of the evening where they always have a good band and good vibe. No change this year.

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After a night ending kebab it was back to Foxholes. A relatively incident free night ,bar some 'sexy dancing' by someone who will remain nameless.

Waking up at 4am I was lucky enough to see a beautiful sky developing and it heralded the lovely day ahead.

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Saturday was perfect. Bacon butty. Real ale. Sunshine. Bands. Sausages. Real ale. Music. Real ale. In addition to the three pubs from Friday (which we did again of course) we went to the Boar's Head and the Six Bells (the King's Head was understaffed and beer choice underwhelming so we walked in and walked out). In addition there were beers available in the Town Hall which made a nice change - and gave us a fab view down into the village (pic at top of page). Ste was suffering a bit at this stage from the heat but soon seemed to improve thankfully (going back to red faced from red faced via a very pale grey one).

Sunday, and I was met with a snapped tent pole. I have been totally underwhelmed by the quality of this tent (it's a Gelert Chinook 2-man). My last tent (a Euro Hike) survived ten years of festivals (multiple Ts, Vs, EOTRs, Glastonburys and Bishop Castles) and was easy to put up, this one is not as easy to put and to add insult to injury (fibre glass through fingers) has survived - just - three years and three festivals. Bloody awful.

Never mind. It didn't really spoil the weekend. I never got to like it so retiring the tent will not be painful to me.

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All in all a top couple of days with Tony, Ste and me. Smile!

Bishops Castle Flickr

A selection of photos have been uploaded on to Flickr (click on image above).


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Bishop's Castle Real Ale Trail

Yeah! Off to Bishop's Castle in a couple of hours for their annual real ale festival. I'm not sure how many times I've been now, but guess this will be my eighth or ninth time. It's my fourth time camping there too so I get to enjoy a relaxed Friday as well as the Saturday. Always enjoy a cool pint in the Three Tuns before the most of the evening in the Vaults for their music (and last year... mucho Jaipur!)

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It's usually sunny or at least dry and it's lovely that all (or nearly all) the pubs in the village get involved. Live music, great food options, interesting people, pretty village and lots and lots of real ale choices. What's not to like?

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Some good stories from previous trips, usually painless. The most eventful year involved the hottest day for years several years ago and walking back to our campsite through a
midnight car rally stage - scary! Perhaps that story will make it into one of my Memoirs pieces... I'm over due a new one.

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Even managed to get some writing in first with a quick Microcosms this morning... now where's my tent?


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Day Twenty Six: Na No Yes Yes

Day Twenty Six and it's my one day off for the week. The only days I haven't written at all on have been two days I had off work. Today though, so close to the end, I intended to lay down some words and I have done so I'm that bit closer to the finish now.

It was Chapter 9, the last of my cunning plan chapters, which took me to Birkdale Golf Course and a bit of hiding in the woods with a homemade lethal weapon, I've all but finished the chapter now. Will complete it quite quickly tomorrow (after work) and then start either the last chapter or go back to the problem Chapter 6. It'll probably be as well to carry on to the last chapter and then go back and fill in Chapter 6 at the end, as I've got momentum and direction which can run on into the last one.

With the chapters averaging at around 4-5000 words then even if I do shorten them it will take me over the 50,000 words aim somewhat, which is fine. I just need to make the writing time fits with the time available: 4 days left after today.

Because of the chapters I have to finish I may not actually finish the novel until the last day, although I should hit 5000 a day or two before that.

Anyway, to any of you guys doing this; good luck!

I've found the experience interesting and seeing how quickly (just) writing 1667 words a day mounts up its great. Clearly some times it's about momentum but you should never get down about missing days either. We all need to have breaks, reset and recalibrate. After writing so many stories between 100 and 500 words this has been eye opening. And I know now I can do it. Again - so, thanks NaNoWriMo!

Now I'm off to reward myself at Beer Street, a beer festival at the wonderful Tap & Bottles in sunny Southport.


Today's WC: 2132
Total WC: 46,192
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Day Twenty Five: A Silver Celebration

Day Twenty Five was a working day of course. I was delivering parcels in Deganwy again on a beautiful sunny day. It truly was lovely. Cold though, but let's face it, it is towards the end of November so put on another layer and get over it.

I was working on the first half of Chapter 9 - 110% for the Gaffer and got down 1868 words, which again was spot on. Anything between 1500 and 2500 words I'm happy with now. And that leaves me with just 6000 words to go. Four days of 1500/day or three of 2000: Absolutely Fabulous!

Then it was down town for a pint in the Fly, Hard Times & Misery and the Dispensary. A good Friday. Though it did become a black one too.


CHEERS!


Today's WC: 1868
Total WC: 44,060
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Day Twenty Four: Hours from Deganwy

Day Twenty Four was another working one, and one with not a bad day at work. Got back okay to do some writing mid afternoon, which was good 'cos I wanted to meet me da for a pint or two. Huzzah!

After four successive days writing more than 2000 words a day the pressure was off a little, but I needed to finish off Chapter 8, if I could. And I did.

I've now got three chapters to go until I finish - Chapters: 9, 10 and yep, 6. With six days left that's two days per chapter, which is certainly doable. Thankfully I think the last chapter will be shorter - we'll see - so should fit okay.

Today my suspect Google searches were largely confined to 'ketamine' and 'roofies' - such larks!

Ended up completing Chapter 8 with 1877 words this afternoon and in the process creating mayhem in the straight at Cheltenham racecourse.

Racing 300


Today's WC: 1877
Total WC: 42,192

241116 NaNo
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