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Saturday 28 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.76.

We had a couple of dry days to follow but as we are breaking new ground every mile we had enough to think about.

Marmont Priory Lock was the first obstacle but we soon were up and over with the help of the redoubtable Maureen who has been keeping a watchful eye over proceedings since the route was opened in 1979.

We were now in Well Creek and as we passed through Upwell there were plenty of delightful buildings to look at as we passed in the sun.

A few hours later we were at Salter's Lode Lock and third in the queue for passing out onto the river. There wasn't much water in the river when I looked first, but it was soon our turn and off we went. You can see the inner and outer gates of the canal here. The big ones for the river point out and the smaller ones for the canal point in.

It was evening when we had passed through Salters Lode and a 15 minute passage on the tidal Great Ouse to get to Denver Sluice. We passed through and found a mooring and decided to celebrate at the pub, but when we got there it was shut! The next day we set off up the Great Ouse and the wide open skies and wide open water way was quite a novelty.

Excitement grew as we approached Ely and got our first view of the gorgeous cathedral on the hill.

We thought we were going to be out of luck for a mooring  but managed to slide on here by the footbridge despite having to wind to get the stern of the boat on the quay. We had an explore and found.

The Drayman's Son is not far away from the river, just up Foregate. The micro pub used to be called the Liberty Belle until bought by Andy and Jo Pearson around 2016. They renamed it for Andy's father who was that drayman. Then in 2018 they were looking to sell and along came the three guys from the Three Bling Mice Brewery in Little Downham. All parties knew each other as the pub regularly sold their beer as it tries to stay local. The deed was done. They had 12 beers on draft and 20 ciders, so Helen was happy. The beer is kept in the back room as it act as the climate controlled cellar, and beer is brought to the table.

On the board the beers I tried was said to be from Team Toxic. I can't seem to find much out about this gang, but it seems to be a collaboration between Sue Hayward of the Wean Brewery and  Gary Prescot of Hop Craft Brewery. They seem to be based in Liverpool and often use the local Liverpool Brewery, when they have a space, to try out their innovative brews.

However on the pump clip the beer is credited to the Mission Creep Brewery. This seems to be run by Gazza Prescot and so there is a connection with the two breweries. The plot thickens as there is also a tie with Pixie Spring and Hop Craft Breweries as well as Gary was at Steel City Brewing. Needless there is a wealth of experience here. They have managed to brew the reverse of a pint of Guinness with a white body and a black head called Sinistral!

I tried a pint of the Bend Sinister at 5%. As the beer is gravity and from 'out the back' there was no great head but a lovely coffee colour. The taste was as it said on the tin, a beautiful creamy flavour with dark toasted/roasted barley there too. It slipped down very well but we had tea to head back for, plus there were no cheao beers for our northern pockets in this pub.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.75.

We had time to find another pub a little outside of the centre too.

This building is now the hotel attached to the Wetherspoons pub the Hippodrome. In a past life it was the offices of the Middle Level Commissioners and was opened in 1904 and sold in 2014

Above the door is the Commissioners Crest and you can just see that they were formed in 1862. Within the Middle Levels there are also over 30 Internal Drainage boards that look after their little bit. Many are administered from the new offices that have moved to a purpose built building an dock just outside of town.

The old Town Hall was built on the Market place in 1900. To make room the old Market House and fire house had to be demolished. The March Urban District Council was moved out when it became a Magistrates court in 1974. This was closed in 1998 and by the great kindness of a donation The March Civic Trust were able to by it. After refurbishment in 2005 it is now a multi faceted venue for the benefit of the people of the town. The bell is a deep an sonorous one and was presented by subscription to celebrate 60 years of Queen Victoria's reign.

These are the town moorings. Broad Street and the shops are at the bridge, and above the boat is the Ship Inn and a fish and chip shops that had some of the best chips I had had in an age. Opposite is the old Town Hall.

We walked a little in the warm evening air to find the Rose and Crown. This pub is said to be over 150 years old and must have been at least two house at one time as there are room either side of the entrance now. It is slightly old fashioned, but quite interesting for all that. The name Rose and Crown comes from when the Houses of York and Lancaster were united by Henry Tudor. They had about five beers on hand pull.

Oakham Ales was found in Oakham, Rutland in 1993  with a 10bbl set up. They found success quickly and moved to Peterborough when they took over a disused Job Centre to start possible the largest Brewpub ever. The brewery was behind a glass screen and was 35 bbl size. They expanded again by moving to a purpose built brewery in Peterborough with a 75bbl capacity. They sold the old kit from the brew pub and installed a 6bbl so they could experiment and brew small batch beers. They have increased the number of fermenters and other equipment to keep up with demand.

The brewery has several beers that are well known nationally but perhaps Citra is the best. The 4.2% golden beer i was the first in the UK to use 100% Citra hops that was 'discovered' in 2009 by the head brewer. It had only been released by the growers in 2007. He rushed some back home and created the session beer as he didn't have enough to make lots of stronger beer. The first brew was 20th November 2009 as a seasonal beer. It became a permanent beer on the lists in 2011 and now they brew 1.7 million pints and 1.7 million bottles of it every year. It has a nice colour, but a thing white head. This can be forgiven as the hops real are what this beer is all about. At a beer festival I have had girls saying that they don't drink beer and got them to try this, and they love it. Avid beer bellied blokes also love it. It has something for every one. The taste and aroma at first is just like you are drinking grapefruit juice, then there is the dry bitterness in the mouth that gives you that clean refreshing taste too. This beer always makes me think of summer.

Friday 20 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.74.

We has a little longer in March so were able to explore the place, and the pubs. a little more.

From Broad Street Bridge we look back to where we left the boat for about half an hour. The service block is on the opposite side. This mooring is under trees, and as we saw a boat move off from the Town moorings we went back and moved her up into the sun.

The Hippodrome (now the Wetherspoons) was not the only cinema in March. In fact the first one was this, the Palace, that opened in 1912. Apparently it is still quite well preserved inside despite it accommodating various businesses. I would have thought that this could be restored to an Edwardian splendour (actually opened when George V was on the throne). It closed in 1930's maybe because it couldn't afford to update to the 'talkies', or maybe due to the competition of the Hippodrome that opened in 1928.

At the top of Broad Street is this ornate fountain that is dedicated to the Coronation of George V in 1911. I don't think there is any water there now, but it does make an attractive statement at the busy junction. I do like the street light on the top too.

At the other end of the square is the war memorial. This is a very pleasing Grade II Listed memorial that is made of Cornish Granite and the soldier at rest, leaning on his Lee Enfield rifle is of Scicilian Marble. It was designed by W.G. Stoor-Barber of Leominster who had been a private in the Marines in WWI and was unveiled in 1921. Plaques for the names of those lost in WWII  were added, and interestingly in 2009 a further nineteen names were added to the WWI plaques.

Just by the Town Moorings is the Ship Inn. This pub reopened in 2010 as a freehouse. The building dates from the 1500 and 1600's with the dormers been added in the 1900's. The thatch means it stands out. The downstairs ceilings are particularly and the pub is Grade II Listed. There is a small games room to the rear. It is a cosy place and had several real ales on hand pull when we were there.

I tried one from Church End Brewery which is now near Nuneaton. It started in 1994 in an old coffin works in Shustoke behind the Griffin Inn with a 4 bl plant. They moved to their present site and upgraded to a 10 bl plant, the old one going to Slaughterhouse Brewery. They had to upscale once again in 2008 and this time to a 20 bbl set up. They obviously trying out different brews as they have got around 200 on their lists.

I tried their seasonal summer beer Sunshine at 4.6% It has a lovely pale gold colour with a nice thick white head. It is brewed using Mount Hood and Cascade hops and a great citrus aroma and taste. Then comes the clean tangy bitterness that makes it so refreshing on a warm summers day. Perfect for the beer garden.

Monday 16 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.73.

We had a walk around Peterborough and also managed to renew our week EA licence at the Tourist Information Centre. As you have to give 24hr notice to use Stanground Lock we had an extra half day in Peterborough so made full use to visit the museum, cathedral etc etc.

Peterborough Cathedral was fantastic and we were lucky enough to turn up just as a free tour was starting. There was too much information to take in but a real insight into the church. The fan vaulting is a remarkable feat, and so beautiful to behold.

This is the promenade at Peterborough. The river is wide and traffic noise minimal but I would park away from benches as folk seem to congregate there in the evenings drinking. Water and pump out are about half way down. It is a short distance to walk into town. It was not very long after leaving before turning onto the Middle Levels and arriving at the lock.

The water on the Middle Levels takes you past the old clay pit that supplied the brick factories that can be seen. It seems that atleast some of them are still working as there was smoke from a couple of them. The one on the right was the tallest chimneys in Europe at one time, at 400m!

The next and only other lock of the day was the other side of Whittlesey and not the easiest to work but we were soon on the move again and heading form March.

Luckily for us there was room on the town moorings so we were soon off for a look around. The Hippodrome was close by and as it was a Wetherspoon's it would be rude not to call in. As you can see the pub was a former cinema that was built by the March Amusements Co in 1929. It had a little over 900 seats and could be used for stage performances with five dressing rooms and a stage door etc. In the 1960's a new company had bought it and by 1970 films were stopped in favour of Bingo, the fate of many cinemas at the time. Later attempts to reintroduce films failed until the circle was redeveloped into the cinema with comfy seats and all mod cons with Dolby Sound etc. Bingo continued below. It was once again bought in 2009 and the films stopped but bingo continued for a bit longer until it was once again sold, this time to Wetherspoons and the pub opened in 2010.

Wolf Brewery was set up by Wolfe Witham who was part of the Norwich Reindeer brew pub in the 1980's. The first set up was a 20 bl plant in Attleborough in the old Gaymers Cider site in 1996. It increased to a 25 bl in 2006 and by 2009 it needed to move to a purpose built set up and bottling plant a couple of miles up the road in Besthorpe. They use local ingredients and seem to be very successful supplying over 300 outlets.

I tried a pint of the Lupus Lupus which is of course the Latin name for a wolf. It is 4.2% blonde beer with a nice colour and pleasing head. The taste, while hoppy is not over citrus and allows the barley to come through too. It was a very satisfying drink and I will look out for other Wolf Brewery beers.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.72.

Just the one night was spent at Fotheringhay and the next day the sun was shining and lured us onward.

The valley widened out and the views were longer, but there was more room for the river to make wide sweeping bends to add interest to the trip. Here at Elton Mill I was surprised that such a delightful building was empty. It had been built in the 1700's and then rebuilt in 1840 and worked up until 1966 when it ended its working life. It hasn't been used for much since then. What a waste of a building.

This is the village of Wansford in England, so named following a traveler who fell asleep in a hay rick was carried away by flood waters whilst asleep and upon waking asked of a person ashore where he was? On hearing the answer 'Wansford' he replied what, Wansford in England? And it has stuck. It looks an appealing village but there appears to be nowhere to moor up to get a look around.

Actually not very close to the village of Wansford is Wansford Station of the Nene Valley Railway, and as luck would have it there was nobody on the EA ponton just by the bridge, so we stopped and had a walk around the station and the area. We were lucky also when this Battle of Britain Class loco '92 Squadron 34081 came across. It was built in 1946 and after several refits looked just as good now, as then.

The next day we pushed on to Peterborough. When you cross the Nene on the train it doesn't look that appealing but once under the rail bridge and Town Bridge it widens out and there is a promenade and plenty of mooring. The first Town Bridge was built in 1308 out of wood and it lasted until 1872 when it was replaced with one of iron. That didn't do nearly so well and was replaced with this concerete one in 1934. Next to it is the Old Customs House that was built in 1790 and is not the Sea Cadets local HQ.

The Bumble Inn is found on Westgate in Peterbrough and the micropub has been open since 2016, when it was converted from a chemist's shop. They have five hand pulls and plenty of bottled beers. They like to have some unusual beers on the go too.

I tried a beer from the Newport, Wales Brewery. It was started in 2012 by two brothers in law who liked home brewing. They were both electrical engineers. They decided to go for it as a career and had almost instant success as they won gold, silver and bronze at their first Great Welsh Beer Festival and didn't look back having to also take on the industrial unit next door. By 2017 they had to move to a purpose built unit and upgraded to a 30bbl plant and now have 18 fermenter tanks, increasing the capacity five fold. The logo comes from a brother of the couple who had set up a design company after moving back from America and had this name and logo, so they shared it. They thought it appropriate as they were tiny, just the two of them, and they were rebelling against the same old stuff as they brewed what they wanted and added unusual stuff to their brews too.

I tried a pint of their Send Mild a modern Mild at 3.8%. It seems to be a seasonal beer as it was only found between June and October last year. It was a nice dark colour with a nice thick head but had no dicernable unique tasting point ]despite having being brewed with Bramling X and Citra hops.

I next tried a different brewery, Thornbridge. This started in 2005 when two young brewers were recruited to start up a brewery in the ground of Thornbridge Hall, Grade II listed Jacobean Hall 2 miles north of Bakewell. They started with a second hand 10 bbl set up. The first beer they brewed was a bitter, Lord Marple, which is still on the menu. The second was a to be an IPA with a bit of bite to it, and Jaipur was born. This won awards hand over fist and became a massive selling beer. Demand soon outstripped supply and a move to a new brewery had to take place. A purpose built place was constructed at the Riverside in Bakewell in 2009, but since then there have been three major expansion on the site. They still have the original brewery at Thornbridge Hall to experiment, make specials and help out with demand at the main plant. A real success story.

Elio is a Thornbridge seasonal ale, and with that name (elio is Spanish for sun, it could only be a summer ale). It was a new beer to the brewery in May 2019. At 4.7% I thought it would lose a little flavour with the alcohol but the yellow/gold colour and nice white head heralded a great tasty pint. At first the hops come through with fruit and flowers but there is a nice bitter'ish taste to follow. I really nice pint for a pub garden on a summers day. A 'cheerful' pint if ever there was one.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.71.

We were off the next day in fairly drab weather, but not really raining.

After passing under a road and rail bridge we come to the earlier transport link that became the A14. The original brisge was washed away but this one dates to the late 1700's, and once again not thought has been put in to the passage of the river traffic as the approach is not straight forward.

We stopped for the night almost in the car park of the king's Head in Wadenhoe, but found that it was closed and for sale! Most of the village is owned by a trust who guard it strongly and so it is still picturesque with little in the way of modernity on view. Well worth a stop.

The next day was a little fairer and warmer, and we passed through the lovely tree lined landscape by Lilford Lock. The bridge leads to Lilford Hall that was at the time up for sale for £50 million. It has 100 rooms and 350 acres with it. They can afford to have plenty of trees as there is plenty of room!

There are regular locks that coincide with old mills on the river to take advantage of the change of levels. The lock at Upper Barnwall has the standard guillotine lower gate. The mill dates from 1690's. In the 1960's it was converted to a restaurant. There were big floods here in 2008 but it was refurbished but ceased trading ain 2014. There is some activity going on but it was for sale for close to £1 million.

We moored up by the castle of Fotheringay rather than here by the church. There is very little of the castle left now, but it was home to Richard III and was where Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded. The church is a shadow of its former glory as it was almost the same size a again to the right. It is a lovely church inside due to its patronage I suppose. There was a lantern in the tower to guide the way through Rockingham Forest in the past.

Other than the church there is nothing other than the 

I tried a new brewery to me, Stoney Ford Brew Company was set up by amateur brewers Simon Watson and Tim Nichol in Ryhall 2 miles north of Stamford. There vision was to brew just classic beers that had no gimmicks but were brewed with Lincolnshire malts and UK hops and everything else from as local as possible. They started with a 2.5 bbl plant and have grown to full capacity. In April 2018 they found that their brewery became unavailable, as well as uneconomic and the pair decided to close the business, despite their growing trade. However William Davis, the co-owner of the Grainstore Brewery moved in to rescue them. The brew plant was moved to the Grainstore Brewery at Station Approach Oakham and allowed to continue to create their own beers. The original owners siad the advantage is their investment wasn't lost and they benefit from a better distribution network and extra capacity when required.

I tried a main stay of the brewery Sheepmarket Supernova, Straw at 3.8%. It started out as a Christmas Ale named Andrew's Angle Grinder Ale after the bloke that helped them set up the brewery in a garage cum barn conversion. It became this pale summer ale named after Stamford's market with a little bit of show biz at the end. The straw tag is for the colour. It is made mainly with pale malt, with a touch of amber for the colour. The head was medium in height but the colour was pleasant. The first taste was disappointing with little in the mouth, but after a gulp the Challenger, Boadicea anfd Pioneer hops do their thing. It is not like an astringent mouth wash, but a lovely fruity, treacle bitterness comes through. Very nice indeed, so I had another pint!

Saturday 7 March 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.70.

We moved off from Wellingborough and moored for the night by the Nene Valley Water Ski Club on a FOTRN mooring. A lovely quiet night there.

The river got quite overgrown in places where it narrowed. C&RT have their critics regarding cropping back off side trees etc, but it looks as though they may knock the EA into a cocked hat on that score. As the river was not busy when we were there it didn't really matter and made the days sail more of an adventure.

 Higham Ferrers Lock is quite unusual as after the first couple most of the locks have guillotine gates at the low end. They were all generally very well maintained though, but then again I suppose they don't get the use of a lot of the C&RT system

Old A6 bridge reminded me of being on the Thames again. The bridge was set at and angle to the current and you couldn't see approaching boats! It is still used, but I think for one way local traffic. It has been rebuilt in 1666, 1754 and 1922, and by 1930 it was not large enough and a new bridge was built, and still in use despite the vastly great number of vehicles to those times.

Woodford FOTRN moorings were nice and rural but only a short walk from the village, and we had them to ourselves. The church was great to visit, with good views across the valley and then we walked up to the green in the village.

The Dukes pub overlooks the Green and is a busy little place and seems to be the heart of the community with music, comedy, fund raising etc etc. It is the longest licenced premises in the village, and probably the oldest too. It was probably called the Queens Head first and was an inn so had to supply food, drink and stabling and these were found to the right of the entrance to the car park. In the mid 1700's it was the Falcon Inn, and by the late 1700's had become the Lord St. John's Arms, or more commonly, the Lord's Arms, up to 1836. From 1839 it became the Dukes Arms and now the Dukes. The later name comes from the Duke of Wellington who was a frequent visitor to Woodford House after Waterloo to visit his friends the Arbuthnots. The lady of the house died in 1834 and the Duke started to remain at Apsley House in London and Lord Arbuthnot joined him there. As it was about this time the name of the pub changed, hence the name association. It has two bars and serves food which was very good. There were several hand pulled beers on sale too.

I tried one from the Hopback stable. The founder of the Hopback Brewery was at the forefront of the micro brewery boom of the 1980's and in 1986 John Gilbert decided to set up on his own. He found the Wyndham Arms that had sufficient space for a brewery as well as two bars and a function room. The basement was soon brought in to production and the first brewing was 1987. Above the door to the pub was a stone carving of Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, and this was adopted as the logo for the new brewery. By 1992 sales had grown so much that a move to new premises for the brewery were required and they are still at Downton, Salisbury. The number of pubs owned has grown though to over ten and they sell beer all of the country with production above  16000 barrels a year.

I settled on a pint of Summer Lightning that the brewers reckon has one the largest number of awards for a beer in England. At 5% it is quite high in alcohol for a 'normal' beer that is sometimes called a bitter and sometimes a pale. It has a straw colour, rather than golden I would say, and a quite thin head but nicely white/ The aroma really hits you as you lift the glass and you get an early indication of the hops, Golding and Challenger,  nice and fruity. However the first taste is bitterness but the sweetness comes through later. Not too bad.

I also tried a pint of  Hopback's Crop Circle at 4.2%. This is also billed as a bitter and is even more pale than the lightning, almost lemon yellow. I didn't get much bitterness in the drink or tratness from hops but it was a nice drink, and I preferred it to the first. It shows what I know as the Summer Lightning has won so many awards.

The pub is well worth a walk up for the moorings and a stroll around the village to boot.