Dickey the Donkey and the Perfect Pub

As CAMRA paddles round in circles whilst battling dodgy craft, I thought I’d continue my search for defining pub perfection. We set off on a stroll from the main part of East Bergholt, deep in ‘Constable Country’.

Our friends tell us we are doing a short stroll to a pub (with no food) called Dickie’s; but that’s not what it’s really called. There’s another one to add to my pub perfection list. Surely pubs known by an alternative name are always good?

We amble out of the village (the protest signs against major expansion insist that East Bergholt is a village not a town) and across the fields to arrive at the Royal Oak with a sign including the usual Charles II in the tree. So why isn’t it called Charlie’s?

The local lads are out the back playing petanque before the pub opens. We try the front door just before opening time and the landlady opens up with a friendly greeting and insists we leave our walking boots on. Inside it’s a Greene King pub that’s thankfully missed the corporate makeover. Quarry tiles on the floor and mock wooden panelling that reminds me of my grandad’s pub in the 1960s and the simplicity of the Duke of York at Elton in the Peak District.

We enjoy a pint of Nethergate’s Growler – tasting like tradition in a glass, but I suspect if I was in a blindfold even the GK IPA would have tasted fine. We admire the mish-mash of stuff in the snug including the photo of Sgt Bilko and his mates drinking beer. We convince ourselves it was taken in the pub but the landlady admits its just something her husband put on the wall – “he’s like that”, she says. Nowt wrong with a touch of idiosyncrasy.

The ‘lads’ come in for a well-deserved pint acknowledging us on their way through the bar and asking after our walk. (Back to East Bergholt along the Donkey Track since you ask.) We wander back past the well-fed horses and we’re happy that the world is good and populated with folk with a smile on their faces.


Laminate feed a speciality


That was my most worthwhile pint for a while. So there’s more to add to the pub perfection list.

  • Pubs that aren’t called by their sign name
  • Landlords for whom the pub is part of their personality
  • Where everyone gets a welcome

PS As for the name, Dickey is East Anglian dialect for donkey and the pub is thought to have been called the Kicking Donkey beer house in earlier times.




Beers, Walks and Old Slippers

I needed to get back into this walking and pubs lark – where better than to head to old Peak District haunts. The plan was to saunter round the White Peak with a lunchtime pub stop, but as increasingly is the case, Monday wasn’t a good day. A quick bit of interwebbing showed six decent pubs around Youlgrave all closed on Monday lunchtime.

Grudgingly I accepted it might have to be Greene King at the Farmer’s Boy but I was saved, yet another pub website with the wrong opening hours, it was closed as well. For some basic country pubs it strikes me that fancy websites that they struggle to maintain come a poor second to running a Facebook page with simple info on beers, food and opening hours.

Thankfully the Lathkil Hotel at Over Haddon was open and the walk was on. We gathered outside the YHA in the old Co-op in Youlgrave. (As the rooms are named after old Co-op departments I hear you can bed down in Ladies Underwear.) Lovely weather as we headed down to the River Bradford. Heron, Kingfisher and limestone cliffs – it was going to a good walk. As we moved past the rare breed sheep at Alport, they seemed to look mournfully at the signs advertising their demise for £90 a hogget.

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Onwards along the old trout beds of the Lathkill, walking past fully-laden DofE youngsters trudging on cheerfully. How about a DofE award for seniors involving beer knowledge and grumbling? We passed the site of the medieval village of Conksbury and crossed to the other bank watching Dippers racing atop the water.

Up the track into Over Haddon and time to reacquaint ourselves with the Lathkil. I’d not been in for a few years but it’s still owned by the same family and like every good country pub it felt like finding a pair of old slippers. As comfortable as ever – good food and like many places round here an excellent choice of beers including brews from Hartington, Blue Monkey and Springhead. The Springhead Bitter was a classic walking bitter – almost rehydrating don’t you know. I’d never heard of them, despite their pedigree of 25 years of brewing.

Refuelled we went back down to the river and headed westwards to meet Cales Dale and a stiff climb up the Limestone Way on to sheep fields. It had been the perfect White Peak walk – dales, stiles through drystone walls, a welcoming pub and I’d lied about the distance. We followed our noses back down to Youlgrave and scuttled off to Dale End for home-made cakes. Not a distance to deserve cake but enjoyed nonetheless.

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Next day we went north to Little Hayfield and went up and over Lantern Pike. Again it was a lunchtime punctuated by pubs advertising open when they were closed so we pressed on into New Mills with two difficult filters on the pub selection. We didn’t want Robinsons (sorry Mudgie) and it had to be open. Not easy this close to Stockport.

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At least the local pie was a good alternative to the missing barm

Running low on hope we shuffled into the Pride of the Peak. With Spitfire and Timothy Taylor on offer we weren’t thrilled. (Stonch’s recent post on TT Landlord goes some way to explain my aversion to the beer outside Yorkshire.) Anyway this was the last saloon in town and it was TT Golden Best so we gave it a go. Wonderful pint from a friendly landlord. He topped the beer quality by suggesting that as they’d stopped serving food why didn’t we get pies from the bakery over the road and bring them back. Top man. I’m all for #murkshaming but it’s also worth letting a bloke when his beer is top notch – he seemed quite pleased that I’d had the best pint of TT outside Yorkshire.

A quick bus ride back to Little Hayfield, more cake and then to the food-centred Lamb Inn at Chinley. A really good pub at what it does and a fine pint of Wren’s Nest Bitter from Glossop’s Howard Town brewery. Sometimes difficult to find an open pub but the chances of a decent pint seem to get better every year.

The Strathmore Challenge – the awards

In over 300 miles of walking I went in a few pubs, had a few beers and visited a few breweries. I always had the opportunity to drink regional independent beers often from the county where the pub was located. And I was fed and billeted from Co Durham to Hertfordshire in some fine establishments.

Best Pub: The New Inn at Peggs Green, Leicestershire – a place that offered a friendly welcome, excellent beers and that elusive ‘atmosphere’. (I’ve excluded the pub perfections at the beginning and the end as it didn’t seem quite right and I didn’t want to be responsible for a duel on the A1 hosted by the Earl of Strathmore.)

Best Brewers: Yorkshire Dales, Askrigg; Wharfedale, Ilkley; Burton Bridge, Burton; Parish, Burrough on the Hill – all true lovers of their craft (in the proper sense) and pioneers in the micro-brewery world. Rob, Stewart, Geoff, Bruce and Baz couldn’t have been more welcoming to someone interrupting their busy lives.

Best Beer: Howgate, Yorkshire Dales – I’d never have expected to choose a light blonde beer before the trip. But it just goes to show there’s a beer for every occasion. In this case the first pint of the night, in The Crown at Askrigg, was refreshing with just the right level of bitterness.

Best Pie: King’s Arms, Askrigg – a steak pie filled to the brim with the finest ingredients.

Best B&B: The Old School House, Bolnhurst – invaded by my travelling circus of walkers, wives and a car recovery vehicle, they offered calmness, generosity and a fine breakfast to send me on my way with a spring in my step.

Best Food: The Plough, Bolnhurst – very much a pub restaurant but excellent food, good beer and very relaxed.

Best Tea Shop: The Bulwick Village Shop, Bulwick – a grand place to sit in the sun in a lovely village. And the pub next door looked good as well.

Best Footpath Signposting: Leicestershire – whether on the Leicestershire Round or on minor paths.

Thanks all for a memorable trip.

The End is Nigh, but I’ll have a beer before I go

The last big day was a marathon followed by a 5 miles stroll on Sunday morning and the weather was set for perfection. Bolnhurst to Hitchin, a surprisingly deserted landscape for an area so close to London. Plenty of country lanes (and boy racers) sped me along to Moggerhanger to meet two men and a dog. We walked past a pub in Ireland (there’s a first) and headed off to Shefford. Friends (and parents to the others) met us on their tandem to guide us to the Brewery Tap for the B&T brewery..facebook_1443440097045

Pleasant enough pub with decent own ales and guests. A local dark mild in Hertfordshire shocker. Strangely old-fashioned sort of place compared to pubs I’ve seen over the last few weeks. We pressed on over the fields and the occasional village to arrive into the estate housing of north Hitchin. After 3 weeks of rural England it was all a bit of a shock. Traffic, towns and people. A night at the Sun Hotel (Greene King) and the strange North Head and South Head option for the font for the IPA. Best stick to the Argentine Malbec.

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The following day it was south out of Hitchin to the walk’s final destination – the Strath down south. A walk via Preston over in no time and Danny the landlord brings out my pint – worth walking 300 miles for a free pint. Bottles of Peak Ales’ After the Walk seemed appropriate.

Strathmore Danny & Ian

Any half-decent beer blogger would report on what was on the bar – this time I forgot. All I can tell you is that there are two Strathmore Arms in England with excellent beers and they’re both worth a walk, perhaps between them. Cheers to Danny down south and Selina & Anthony up north – wouldn’t have done it without you..

For Pete’s sake let’s have a beer

Last day for strolling with Pete and we’d got a grind it out 22 miler to deal with. South out of Oundle and down the Nene navigation for a while and then on to Barnwell – castle remains, high church spire and the last of the ‘Cotswold’ stone villages.  The 16th century Montagu Arms with its local ales looked perfect in the morning sun – at this early hour we pressed on.

Farm tracks and country lanes delivered us to the perimeter of RAF Molesworth, otherwise known as a USAF air base since 1951. We were hoping for a bit of jet action but then worked out there wasn’t a runway. It’s a centre of ‘military information’ with 600 personnel in the middle of nowhere. The USAF are reportedly leaving soon.

More tracks and the joys of walking along the B660 brings us to Bolnhurst. A night out at the local Plough. As gastropubs go this is at the top of the pile. Superb food and good beers including Adnam’s Southwold,  a Langton rugby special as well as Tribute. More of a restaurant but excellent nevertheless.

It’s my last big walk  tomorrow – 25 miles to Hitchin, it’s been a walk and a half, 300 miles through the centre of England.

Tapping Dick’s Extraordinary

Off from Uppingham and onwards to Oundle through glorious Rutland villages. First Bisbrooke and then Seaton home of last night’s George and Dragon. Next it was the magnificent Harringworth (or Welland) Viaduct – the OS and the Rail Authority can’t seem to agree on the name.

Across the A43 and into the pickled village of Bulwick, Northamptonshire. Tea shop, deli and jam/pickleproducer – not a bad place for a stop. Sadly too early for a stop at the Queen’s Head, Bulwick with its four local real ales. Field paths and country lanes brought us to Oundle. It could have been Oakham or Uppingham and none the worse for that. Lovely buildings many of them connected to the school.

Staying in The Ship, time for a pint of some citra-dominated Hophead or other. All OK but a bit of a sad bar with not much sense of community. In CAMRA guide for 2015 but not my glass of beer. We head off to the Nene Valley Brewery’s Tap and Kitchen bar and restaurant on the edge of town. All stripped back metal and timber, it was a smart but relaxed fit-out with good food (mine was Vietnamese/ East Midlands fusion) and unsurprisingly good beers and lagers including an extensive guest list.

A pint of Dick’s Extraordinary Bitter, a fine malty chestnut ale, and Simple Pleasures, a light pale ale made for a good evening. It’s worth a visit to the Tap and Kitchen whether for beer or food. It reminded me of the chilled-out approach of the New Zealand brewery eateries such as Hallertau. It’s a good way forward for our independent breweries.