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Friday 29 May 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.87.

We continued a walk around Ely in the beautiful weather.

They don't make chimneys like that any more, and if they did just think what they would cost!

Inside the Cathedral was nice and cool and as with all these old place quite inspiring as to how they built it with non of the modern equipment. You can understand why the public were awe struck by the magnificence. 

 The church and monastic buildings are all around and make for a great walk away from the crowds of the shopping streets. (Those were the days!).

The view of the Cathedral from Cherry Hill meadow is the best, other from the river at a bit of distance, and again is a nice spot 'far from the madding crowd'.

We need another drink by the time we got back to the centre of Ely so decided to visit the Minster Tavern. It is said to be the oldest pub in Ely, but I'm not sure whether that means the building, or the building that has been licenced the longest? The place was full of poster advertising products and meals etc, a bit like the Weatherspoon's oulets. The price wasn't quite as low though. There were plenty of TV screens if you were looking for that, but they weren't on loudly, and there were places in the large L shaped room to avoid them.

Robinson' was started in 1838 when the Unicorn Inn was purchased in Stockport. In 1849 the son of the original Robinson started brewing his own beer on the premises. Ten years later there was a demand for the beer so a warehouse at the back of the pub and soon 12 pubs were purchased to ensure the beer was served correctly. The brewery is still run by the fifth and sixth generation of the Robinson family. Although they have built a new Unicorn brewery it is on the same piece of land as the original Unicorn pub was found. However they do brewery tours of the old and new set up.

Image result for robinsons dizzy blonde
This light beer is a nice summer drink with a very hoppy smell. I thin white head and a pale yellow colour I found it refreshing and pretty good on a warm day, but not really special.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.86.

From Upwell we continued on to Salters Lode once again to complete our exploration of the Great Ouse and Tributaries.

We had phoned ahead and arrived about 30 mins before tide time. In fact the lock keeper had us in the lock as the levels equalised but kept us a little time to allow the water to rise a bit. There still seemed a lot of mud as we poked our nose out ready for the short tidal stretch to Denver Sluice.

We had a night alongside, and the pub wan by the time we had arrived. But next day we set off. We passed the old pumping station that had been converted to a residence. I must say I do like the placing of the plaques when things were built or extended, or a new engine was put it, like those that can be seen here. I suppose a lot of it was to 'big up' the Victorian gentlemen involved. It does however well document changes.

We were once again fortunate to find a mooring in Ely, where it seems to be perpetually busy. and once moored up we went up for another look around. We walked up through Cherry Hill Meadow, a nice walk away from the traffic to the Cathedral and Ely Porta. Next to which is the 14th Century barn that was used to store the wheat, malt, salted meat and fish and everything else needed to sustain the establishment. It is now used by the Kings School, who use many of the other buildings too, as appropriately their dining hall.

We found our way up to Silver Street and noticed this War Department boundary marker, and the name of the house. It seems that in 1855, following the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War, the Cambridgeshire Militia was built up. A base was built in Huntingdon, and another in Ely. This part of the town was home to scattered buildings, such as a hospital, barracks, accommodation for men and horses, a drill hall and parade ground and housing for permanent staff. They all seem to be in this area. Hence the boundary stone.

We found our way to the Prince Albert pub on Silver Street. This has three areas. The front bar is a good place for a quiet pint the middle bit is the a decent restaurant and at the rear is a nicely secluded beer garden. I was disheartened when I saw the Greene King sign outside, but they had five guest beers on from independent brewers. It seems that the pub was originally the wet canteen, or the officers mess, as one of the many militia buildings dotted around this area of Ely. The front bar was comfortable and music free so a nice spot to linger over a pint.

I tried a pint from the Milton Brewery. The idea of a brewery was first dreamt up in the mountains of Pakistan, where there is actually little or no beer it has to be said, by two of the three founders. It took a while but finally premises were found at Milton on the outskirts of Cambridge. It took a lot of hard work to convert the building and build a brewery but the first brew came forth on 9th September, 1999 (9-9-99), and quickly became established. Enlargement came in 2012 with a move to larger and newer premises at Waterbeach, and they have gone from strength to strength. They also own several pubs around the eats and south, many of which have won awards, including three in Cambridge.

Pegasus, 4.1%, was actually the first beer brewed and now forms one of the classic range of beers that are named after ancient Gods. It was bronze medal winner in 2012 at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. Maris Otter malted barley is used along with the local water and various hops to create the brew. At first the aroma is flowery and a hop laden first sip. Later comes a fruity sweetness as the malt gets a go. A complex beer that could be supped all night and would satisfy many palates. 

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.85.

Once we returned to the boat we set off to cover the parts of the Great Ouse tributaries that we had missed before.
We had time to wander in to March for another look and buy fresh goods. The walk down West Street is very nice as it is virtually traffic free with some nice house to pass the time, and the navigation on the other side.

After passing up through Marmont Lock again, without the assistance of Maureen this time as she was out shopping we were soon at Upwell. There are several moored boats and the water is pretty shallow, so there is no going quickly along this section.

There was room on the Well Creek Trust moorings by Church Bridge so we stopped to have a look around the place as so far we have just passed through.

Looking back down Well Creek from Church Bridge it has the same dimensions as the drain near our house in Holderness, East Riding, which isn't navigable, but obviously could be made to be looking at this!

After a wander in the heat we decided to visit the Five Bells pub near the moorings. It looked to be a food oriented pub with little beer that I may be interested in. There has been a pub here since at least the 1770's and has had various names, such as the Rose and Crown, Commercial Hotel, when it was a post house, and the Norfolk Punch Health Hotel? It reverted back to the Five Bells when it became a free house in 1992. 

It may have become a free house but the beer choice wasn't up to much. I had to settle for another Green King beer. The history of the brewery can be found at Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.83

I didn't have the Abbot Ale though but went for an IPA 3.6%. This is an inoffensive session beer with a little of the IPA characteristics. It has three malts, Pale, Crystal and Black  and three hops, Pilgrim, Challenger and First Gold. It is easy drinking but nothing different. The only other beer they had on was  from Sharpe's and the dreaded Doom Bar. This is another beer found everywhere and again does its best to not alienate anybody. Lots of people love it but it is just too ordinary for me.

To read about the beer and brewery check back by clicking here, 

Thursday 14 May 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.84

We were on a bit of a schedule as we were booked to leave the boat at Fox Narrow boats in March as we had to go home for a while, so had to move along sharpish really. However we did have time for a fast diversion down the River Wissey to explore another branch off the Great Ouse. We stopped for water at Hilgay before carrying on up the Wissey

Near to the head of navigation is the aqueduct over the cut off or relief channel. In times of flood the sluice we are approaching is closed and the one to the left opened to divert the water into the relief channel that carries it swiftly down to the coast to prevent flooding in the flood plains of the tributaries.

At the end of the line is Stoke Ferry that at one time looks to have been more important than it is today. It grew rich as in inland port for the wool trade between 1750 and 1880, and had a branch railway line built here. The High Street is a conservation area.

This is the actual head of navigation a bit past the last mooring at a caravan park. You have to put your stern in to the mouth of a field drain to wind.

The river passes right through the Wissington Sugar Beet factory that is interesting. It was not the season so maintenance was under way, but the waste heat is used to heat the, what I believe is the largest legal cannabis facility in the UK in these glass houses. 

We stopped once again at Hilgay and walked up to the village for a bit of shopping and a look around. We had a visit to the church, through the lytch gate and up the drive to see All Saints church as G.W Manby had been the church warden here when he 'invented' the rocket line throwing apparatus used to save life at sea. He is supposed to have fired it over the church to test it. The church was closed so we couldn't see the memorial, but the there was a plaque outside that confirmed he was a church warden.

It is only a few miles to the Denver Sluice Locks and we were soon there with a few hours to kill until tide time. There were a few waiting and we were 'tail end charlie'. The tide was just about dead when we made the turn for the Salter's Lode lock, which actually made it more difficult trying to judge when to turn. There were the usual gongoozlers to see if we made a mess of it.

We stopped the night at Salter's Lode and then pressed on the following day, pausing at Upwell just long enough to pick up a Sunday paper. It always seems to take ages to get to March but the Town Hall clock tower and sonorous bell herald that we are there.Just round the corner are the city centre moorings but as we were booked in to the marina just in case there were no berths free we carried on. Once moored up we walked into March on a lovely afternoon.

We decided to treat ourselves to a meal at at Weatherspoon's and it was the World Cricket Final and Wimbledon on the TV. Wow, what an exciting game that turned out to be. The story about the pub can be found here
It also tells you about Wolf Brewery as I tried another of their beers today.

This time I traied their 'Granny Wouldn't like it!!, 4.8%. It is a dark red beer, nice colour too. There was not much head on it though. They use 100% British ingredients in the brew and to me rather than rich and fruity there was an earthy aroma. The taste was quite oaky too. Not a terrible pint but not at its best I suspect.

As the match wasn't over yet I managed to force another pint down, and this time I had another beer from a brewery I had only tested a few days previously. To find out about the Brewsters Brewery see here;

This time I tried their Aromantica, 4.2%. Tis is a nice amber ale and came with a good thinnish head that lasted well. The aroma was quite fruity, but not full on. When in the mouth it wasn't just full of hops and like a glass of fruit juice, but there was a nuttiness to it also. I wasn't expecting much, but a very nice drink with a more nuanced flavour than I was expecting. A definate pint for a nice sunny day.

And of course England won over New Zealand in a very exciting finish. I can't remember who won the tennis though!!

Monday 11 May 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.83.

After the Hemingford's our next stop was Earith where we stopped for fuel and water at Westview. We missed out St. Ives this time.

One of the resident seals was taking it easy on the pontoon. We had been wondering if we would see them in this tidal section of the river, and one of them was. Apparently there are three adults and one pup in the area. This one didn't want to move to allow a lady to her boat and made an awful row. In the end we gave her a lift round to it when we left.

Our first over nght was just past Stretham pumping station. It was built in 1831 and had a double acting rotating beam engine that drove a scoop around at 4 rpm and picked up 30 t per hour.

We were on our way down stream again the next morning. We stopped at Ely for water and to dump the rubbish and carried on. Outside of Ely we turned right here at the junction of the River Lark.

We stopped for the day at Prickwillow, named after the willow skewers that were made here. It was a lovely day and other than a walk around the small village we took it easy in the sun.

The next day we continued up the River Lark. We passed this 'pepperpot' that is the remains of an old fenland wind pump, that before steam was the only way of keeping the water at bay.

After passing through Isleham Lock, the only one on the navigation, that is by River Island Marina, the river gets a little overgrown in parts, although there seemed to be sufficient water for us everywhere.

The head of navigation is now Judes Ferry Bridge and there is a landing, fairly rickety it has to be said by the pub garden of the pub. It would have been rude not to have called in for a pint to celebrate getting as far as we could, The place was quite nice and obviously had busy times, but this wasn't one of them. The men that were in all had a radio with them and they were listening to the air control tower at Mildenhall airbase as they were all plane spotters and expecting something 'special' coming in. Jude's Ferry has been called Ferry Inn  and Ferry House, as well as Jude's Ferry House. I don't know who Jude was and there was a ford here for many years and there are articles about coach and horses being overturned here and begging the navigation to not increase the depth of water to 4'6" as it would be impassable. Maybe this was when the ferry was established. We passed a memorial to a Minister that carried out total immersion baptisms in the Lark before arriving, but it seems that they were also carried out at Jude's Ferry by the West Row Baptists Church and I have found the around 2000 people witnessed them on occasions between 1889 and 1930! In the 30's swimming galas also took place here with the drainage board raising the level in the river by 1 foot. Also in the 1930's there were repeated re-introductions of fish to the river, bream roach and brown trout. By 1890 there were calls for a bridge to be built. The wheels ground exceedingly slowly and with one of the land owners being a little awkward and the council requiring the locals to pay for some of it, it didn't get built until 1898. The iron bridge made the chain and windlass ferry redundant and this was put up for sale to be used else where.

There was only one 'real ale' on tap and this was from the Greene King Brewery. As you can see on their logo the brewery was founded by Ben Greene in Bury St. Edmunds in 1799, when he was 19. The writer Graham Greene was he great grandson. By 1806 he had bought a competitor in the town Wrights Brewery and in 1887 another local competitor, Fred King, amalgamated with Greene's and the company became Green King and sons. In 1938 they built a new brewhouse in the town and this is still in use today. They were well placed for WWII and had to use the Theatre Royal opposite as a barrel store! After the conflict they continued to grow and in 1961 they purchased Wells and Winch Brewery. They also leased the Theater to the National Trust as it was the only surviving Regency Theatre remaining. They continued to grow and obtained the Morland Brewery from Marstons with the Old Speckled Hen brand. They continued to grow and in 2005 got Belhaven Brewery as well as T.D. Ridley and Sons from Essex. The following year they bought Hardys and Hansons. Green King became ubiquitous and is in every one of the many pubs they own as well as Weatherspoon's pubs.

As there was no choice I settled for a pint of Abbot Ale, 5%. There are records in the Domesday Book of 1088 of brewers in the old Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds and so the beer is well named. It poured with a very thin head, but the deep amber colour was appealing. Lifting then glass the aroma is quite sweet and fruity. To me the taste is what some would call balanced, but I think of as bland. There was nothing that stood out that you could savour. I suppose, like larger, it is a drink that does not offend anybody, so everybody can drink it. I prefer something with a bit of character though. Still an easy to drink pint that didn't touch the sides. I only had one though!

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

Firstly I would like to own up that I have an interest in the following subject, I spent almost 40 years working at sea. Not only that, my son currently is an 2nd Engineer on container ships plying between China and Far East ports and West and South West African ports.

I always have an ironic smile when I listen to TV or radio where people are bemoaning the fact that they are separated from their loved ones for Bank Holiday, Easter or Christmas periods of a few days. I think I spent around half of every Christmas when I was working on ships away from home. I'm not complaining as I knew that it was likely to happen, and luckily a found a girl who could cope extremely well with out me been present all the time and bring up our family and manage the house with out me there. At this time of COVID19, and lock down, and mass praise for the NHS, shop workers, refuse collectors, delivery drivers and all the others that do a sterling job of keeping the wheels of the country turning, I would like you all to think for a moment about the seamen, of all countries, that are away from home at this time.

Since 9/11 life at sea has been very different as it has been extremely difficult for folk at sea to get ashore. A lock down started where every ship and crew were suspected as a source of terrorism and not allowed to go ashore. My longest period alongside was in Guatemala for about 8 weeks, brilliant! My son is lucky if in a three month trip he steps off his ship just once. This is not only due to terrorism but also due to the size of the ships these days requiring deep water ports that are many miles away from anywhere you would want to go ashore, and containerisation means turn round times are hours rather than days. To make for some sort of compensation periods away at sea have reduced from 6 months to three, but for many other nations they are still on contracts of 12 months. There are also compensations in the form of being able to contact home via the internet most days. It was a letter every now and then and with luck a phone call once a trip in my early days. This has meant that basically once aboard crew members are isolated from the world other than their fellow crew members, none of which may be of the same nationality either.

Currently there are around 65000 ships transporting the very fabric of life around the world. These vessels are manned by around 1.2 men and women. Internationally 90% of all trade is carried by sea. In the UK it is over 95%. If ever there was a job that warranted being designated key worker status it is crews of these ships. It is shipping that has allowed world trade to prosper and to mean that you can buy a TV made in the Far East at so low a price. Containerisation has been the driver of trade and cheaper consumerism. It costs approximately £1000 to ship a 40' container from UK to Hong Kong. The container has around 65 sq. mts and that can hold an awful lot of television meaning the cost of bringing them to the UK adds very little to the cost to the consumer. Obviously this is also true for shiploads of raw materials too.

Many millions of pounds were spent bringing 'holiday makers' back to the UK from around the world at the start of the current pandemic. Currently there are approximately 150,000 seafarers that are working beyond their expected contract period. Whilst delays to repatriations have always been a risk for those at sea as the weather etc can not be planned for and delays to schedules are common, and expected. However when you are away at sea you mentally pace your self to get through the separation and there was the well known phenomena of the 'Channels' when somebody was getting close to going home they were cheerful and happy and lighthearted. Named after the sailing ships returning home and getting to the English Channel after a year or two away. Even when delays occurred there was always the knowledge that it would be the next port. At the present time there is no such assurance. Once again compulsory socially distanced seafarers are denied repatriation as ports deny them landing, governments cancel all flights and restrict land travel to get relieving crew in, and the tired and time served seafarers home.

Shipping companies are adept in normal times at finding ways to move crews about but currently it is not possible. It needs a concerted effort from all involved to realise the importance of shipping and seafarers to make it happen. It will need boarders to be opened to allow flights in and out. Maybe a few designated ports in each area where it would be easier. This will add time and money as vessel have to divert etc. But to keep crews at sea beyond their contracts could well mean more accidents and incidents aboard as mental health suffers. It is extremely hard to be so far away from those you love when they could be in danger.

So next Thursday, and every other Thursday, when you out clapping for the NHS and other key workers please spare a thought for those at sea who wont be able to hear you, but deserve to be remembered for the work they do to benefit us all. 

There was another occasion when the Merchant Navy was largely ignored, and we are going to celebrate that on Friday. Britain was kept afloat by the men of the Merchant Navy of many nations who had no chance to fight back, and many, once back on dry land, were vilified for not been in uniform. 30,248 British merchant seamen lost their lives, proportionally greater than any of the other three services. Try to make sure they are not OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.