A.J. Walker

writerer

real ale

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.

Neptune_Map1

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).

TheEightPubs

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.

AlexGavaghan
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.

Isolated
Isolated walking territory, Snowdonia

Hafna
Hafna Lead Mine, Snowdonia

Maenan
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.

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

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

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

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

Armoury
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'.

SalopianHappy
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.

ColdWash

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.

The Ladies

vows

signing

confetti

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.

Three Amigos

Harpist

Ales

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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.

Tent Up
Tent up: celebratory pint

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

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

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

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

All in all a long and excellent evening.

3Tuns
The start, in the Three Tuns

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

Big Group
Group shot in the Castle garden

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

Group Shot
Sun is out in the garden of the Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cheshire-cheese
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.

jaipur
Thornbridge 'Jaipur'

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Redwillow 'Faithless 108'

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

crackendale
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?

CalamFest

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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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