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Wednesday 30 January 2019

Beers, Boats and Boozers, 2018. No.30.

After a couple of days at Nantwich including the Nantwich Show and the International Cheese Show we were off again down south.

There was plenty of traffic on the canal and the tow path as we headed out of town.

The rolling hills of Cheshire pass by with a good indication of how dry it has been for the last few weeks.

As we approached the bottom of the Hack Green Locks a boat had just left. It suddenly veered left and headed for the winding hole. I did wonder what was happening as he was going at a fair rate of knots. He stemmed the concrete with quite a bash and came up all standing! He recovered winded and got to the long ahead of us.

The stable block at the top of the second Hack Green Lock seems an odd place for one as it seems a very isolated spot indeed. I would have thought Audlem would have been a better spot.

It must be warm as I can see Helen's arms and legs!!

There were a few boats on the Coole Pilates visitor moorings and a cow and geese to keep them company. Through the bridge can be seen 'NB Valerie'. We didn't know that when I took the picture, but as we got close we stopped and had an hour with Jaq Biggs. She has since sold 'Valerie' and returned to America. I'm sure we will hear more from her though. I hope so anyway.

Once we set off again this heifer had found her way out of the field, onto the tow path and the boaters moored nearby were wondering what to do with her!

Past the marina and approaching the Moss Hall Aqueduct over the River Weaver. Lush pasture for the sheep grazing there.

At the foot of the 15 Audlem Locks but a little late to get to the top so we just did one before stopping for the day.

A nice spot with a bit of sun and not too far from the pub.
The Shroppie Fly is iconic on the Shropshire Union Canal and is name after the express boats, or flys, that traded up and down the canal, and had priority over all other craft. The crane outside adds to the photogenic scene, but it was not originally sited here. In 2018 it has been found to be unsafe (the crane that is) and has been fenced off. I think it the pub was closed the last time we passed through, and over the years it has changed hands regularly. I was interested what changes, if any, had been made. The had five hand pulls although there was Doom Bar and Courage on two of them. The decor doesn't seem to have changed much since the last time I was in. The dining area seemed to be well used and the portions required crampons!, or a generous doggie bag.

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I had a pint from Salopian Brewery from Hadnall, north of Shrewsbury. They had originally strated in 1994 behind a pub in North Wales. The year after the landlord/brewer moved to Shrewsbury and changed the brewery name to Salopian after the old name for the county. They were then the smallest brwery, not attached to a pub, in the country with a 2bbl plant. They concentrated on contract brewing until the progressive beer tax came in and they could brew their own cask beers. By 2007 they had expanded to a 20bbl plant and they engaged a salesman. They tripled their sales since then. After increasing to a 30bbl plant they needed still more capacity and relocated to a new 50bbl brewery.

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I had a pint of their Shropshire Gold at 3.8%. It was a little flat and after a taste I could tell it was just going over. I finished it and went to try another. I went for a Dizzy Blonde from Robinson's. It had not cleared by the time I had got back to my seat, and it never did. I took it back and the landlord told me that it should be okay as the barrel had only been on a day. It was have either been shaken, or not left to stand long enough, or it was just a dud cask. I didn't really want to try anymore but he insisted so I tried a pint of bitter from Black Sheep. Can't go wrong with that I thought. To be honest it wasn't right but I finished it. If a pub can't get its beer right they will be on a hiding to nothing. As I chatted to the landlord I suggested that he would be looking forward to the canal festival for trade. He said that they came and looked at the boats , but most stayed up in the village to see the trucks and cars etc. There are two other pubs up there to choose from. This was July 2018 so things may well be different and the food certainly seemed to be going down a storm with the diners.

Monday 28 January 2019

Beers, Boats and Boozers, 2018. No.29

From Maesbury Marsh we headed back up to Queens Head and then had a day in Shrewsbury.

There are a few parts of the Montgomery that are quite reedy. This looks worse than it actually was. I'm sure once more boats start using the canal it will improve.

This is the Canoe and Kayak club at Queens Head. The bus stop is just on the bridge behind us, as the pub, which we diodn't get to on either of our stays. We did catch the bus into Shrewsbury though and had a great day. However we were so busy I didn't get the wink to be able to enter a public house, so coffee was all I had on that trip.

There are one or two widenings in the canal between Frankton and Queens Head so I assume there were wharves that at one time. Again they have grown lilies but with use they will diminish.

We were soon back up onto the Llangollen Canal and heading past the Meres near Ellesmere, and still we didn't stop at this idyllic spot.

We did venture of piste and 'did' the Prees Branch to the end. It is another very peacefull mooring after the rush of Llangollen.

We had to go home so 'Holderness' was secured in Swanley Bridge Marina for a while. The sun was still holding when we left and headed north, yes north, before getting to the Hurleston Locks.

This photo is quite sinister to me as I imagine giant cartoon characters striding across the landscape enslaving the humans in a sort of 'War of the Worlds' distopia! It is Snugbury's Ice cream parlour though.

We headed down Hurleston locks, pleased that no fat boats had got stuck in the shrinking locks. It wasn't busy, and there was no queue to use them at the bottom.

At the bottom we turned right and headed south to Nantwich. The moorings at the aqueduct were busy but we found a spot at the end of the moorings, just after the pale boat. We stayed to enjoy the Nantwich International Cheese show too.

We went up in to Nantwich and visited the Crown Hotel. It was the principal hostelry in the town for a long time. The present building is from soon after the Great Fire of 1583 when the old one was burned down. It cost £14 to  rebuild the three story timber frames hotel. It was a coaching in and still has the arch through to the stables etc. Queen Elizabeth I contributed cash to the rebuilding of the town. It is on the central square near the church and is now a pedestrian area. There were five hand pulls on the bar and it was busy. There are several sitting areas along with a grill.

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First I tried a beer from Downton Brewery, from the village of that name on the outskirts of the New Forest in rural Wiltshire. The brewery was started in 2003 and has grown to a 20bbl plant size.

I tried the 3.8% session beer, New Forest Ale. It poured with a fair head and a good colour. It had a nice malty aroma and it was the roasted malt that came out in the flavour too. Not bad, but a little 'thin' for me.

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I next tried a beer from the relatively new Severn Brewing Co. They are based on the edge of the Cotswold, near Wooton under Edge, overlooking the Severn. They have been going from the end of 2017 but they took over the Severn Vale Brewery that had been on the site for twelve years previously. The head brewer is the same too.

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I went for the dark beer in the line up, Ruby Porter 4.8%. It poured beautifully with a lovely head that made me wish I had a mustache! It was a Satan black and smelt of roasted malt, as it should I suppose. It was balance from being dry on the tongue with enough hops to. It all added up to a real mouthful that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even Helen had a sip. That was all I would give her.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Beers, Boats and Boozers, 2018. No.28

After our trip down to Oswestry the next day we were on the move again towards the present head of navigation of the Montgomery Canal.

We were straight a way into the three Aston Locks. They are a bit spaced out but easily accomplished and got our limbs moving again.

All finished and now on our way.

You have to book to head down the Montgomery Canal, not only to go through the staircase lock at the head, but mainly to limit the number of boats on the canal as it has a very special habitat after having had no boats on it for decades. At the foot of the Aston Locks a new freshwater habitat that is linked to the canal has been established. This has lots of benefits for water storage etc I suppose the main object is that the flora and fauna of the canal can establish itself out of the canal as well as in it, so that the disturbance of species that don't like it will be okay. In the end that will mean that more boats will be allowed down the canal.

We had the company of helicopters flying in formation for some of our trip. These were from RAF Hawbury that was a a WWI air base and from 1950 was the school for Air Traffic Controllers and since 1976 also is home to the helicopter pilots school.

Just outside Maesbury Marsh is this old factory that started out as a lead smelting business in the 1800's, using local lead. It then became a fertilizer factory in 1860 where cow and horse bones were boiled down to get gelatine for glue and the rest for fertiliser. There was an even bigger chimney until 1892!

In Maesbury is this warehouse building. It may have been but in 1896 it had seven stables for boat horses and ten rooms for their handlers.

A little further and we are nearly there, just the Croft's Mill lift bridge to negotiate.

Here we are at the current end of the line, Gronwyn Bridge. The little basin on the right has boats in it and is the winding hole. Many heads were poking out as I spun round to head back to Maesbury. I think much to their surprise I didn't touch any of them!

We later went for a pint at the Navigation in Maesbury Marsh. Right by the canal. In fact the rear of the building, (to the right) is the warehouse, cum stable cum accommodation from the previous photo. It looks like three buildings in one to me. There was a pub and a shop, or home and then the warehouse.

It is 5 minutes walk from the visitor moorings and on a sunny Friday night it was quite busy. There was only one person at the bar and one in the galley. They started to get a bit fractious with each other! There were three hand pulls on the little bar. There were several room and dining areas to chose from all quiet chintzy 

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Two of the beers on were from a local, only 2 miles away towards Oswestry, brewery, Stonehouse. They were set up in 2007 by the Parrs along with the in laws the Reids and have been going from strength to strength. They have added larger and cider to their portfolio and have a 10bbl plant that can brew around 29000 pints a week if they need too. They do sell bottle far and wide but their cask outlets are usually no more than 30 miles from the brewery. They have a brewery tap at the brewery too.

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I had a pint of the Cambrian Gold, 4.2%. The head was a bit thin and the pale yellow colour but it wasn't too bad on a beautiful warm evening. There were no really intense flavours.

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This session beer had a very pale colour and this head. The brewer is from Australia New Zealand. I would like to try some of their bitters or dark beers to see how they compared. Not a bad pint, but not standing out to me. Both cost £3-50.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Beers, Boats and Boozers, 2018. No.27

After a few days in Llangollen, which included a train ride and several walks, we headed off once again. The weather was still fantastic and it meant that there were a lot of vacant moorings for us as everybody was looking to moor under trees for some shade.

We headed past the wharf where the horse boat had already left with it's first coach load of passengers for a trip to the Horseshoe Falls. As it is so narrow, and no winding holes on the stretch the boat has two sharp ends and the horse just changes end. The motor boat does trip up and over the Aqueduct.

After only a mile Llandyn Cottage and bridge are passed in the trees. The main road is just down the hill but you feel very remote.

It didn't seem so busy at Trevor and we had no wait at the turn on to the aqueduct. As we lurked before the bridge I was able to watch several boats attempt the very difficult turn into the bridge hole. Not easy to do in one go, especially if there are loads of boats lingering about in the way. No problems for us today though.

Today was a two tunnel and two aqueduct day as we now crossed the Chirk Aqueduct with the railway to keep it company.

We were soon at Frankton Junction and our booking to head down the Montgomery Canal. The volunteer was busy with another boat, and told us he didn't know anything about us, but still let us down.

We dropped down the staircase and two other locks and moored up in the remaining stub of the Weston Branch after taking water. It was so peaceful there after the hustle and bustle of the Llangollen. We sat and soaked up the sun until late in the evening. The services in the building on the left we perfect too. After taking water we pushed over to the other side.

In 1936 a breach occurred just by this Perry Aqueduct which was a major reason that the canal was closed a few years later. We haver a lot to thank those volunteers and activists that managed to get it re-opened.

At the north end of the Montgomery there are long straights as the topography is nice and flat. This is the opposite of how the canal appears on the map of the unopened length. There are not too many places to stop and the offside trees over hand somewhat but I'm sure this will change as more boats use the canal.

At Heath House there is suddenly lots to say Rednal Basin is passed, then a rail bridge then this lovely old warehouse and another bridge that turns out to be a turn over one as the towpath swaps sides. After all that excitment the canal goes into dead straight again!

We moored up at Queens Head, near the canoe club. The mile posts are lovely and I hope that we are still able to cruise when the next 31 miles are re-opened as they will be so interesting.

The next day we caught the bus into Oswestry, as we had never been there before. It is a nice little market town, and the remains of a castle. It wasn't market day but we had a good poke about. There are lots of pubs to choose from but we selected the Bailey Head. The pub is opposite the GuildHall and the Market Place or Bailey Head, as the castle is just behind the 1893 built Guild Hall has been the centre of the town for centuries. The pub has been called the Castle Tavern and the Eagle and lately belong to Marston's. However in 2016 a couple from London took it over. They had run a members club in London that had won CAMRA awards and were looking for a place to make the heart of the community. They seem to have done just that. They have won many CAMRA and other awards, including most dog friendly pub. They have 6 or 8 hand pulls on the bar with plenty of craft ales too. So many they are listed on a TV screen with plenty of ciders too. The food looked good also. It is only a 20 min bus ride from Queen's Head moorings.

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I had a pint from Hobsons Brewery. The business is run by the Davis family. They had been in the pub trade in one way or another, but not brewing when they thought in 1993 that they would try it. They found premises in Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire and set off on their journey. They have now been running for 25th years which makes them veterans of today's brewers. They also make a draught cider under the name Oldfields.
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I had a pint of their Twisted Spire. The blonde beer is named after the spire of St Mary's the Virgin church in Cleobury Mortimer. It is only 3.6% but is full of taste to make up for any lack of alcohol. It has three different malts and Maris Otter malted barley. It has a great balance between the hops and the bitterness. It had a great head and was lovely and 'thick' on the tongue, with a great sweet after taste. I loved it. £3-25 which seems to be just under the norm in this part of the world.