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.

Tough life behind the bar

Deposited back in Burrough on the Hill an it was almost  a day off, a stroll to the Grainstore brewery at Oakham and then down to Uppingham. A day of lovely villages where churches and houses are all built in the glowing Cotswold-type stone. Somerby, Cold Overton and Ridlington read like something from behind a deli cheese counter.

After a bit of confusion at Grainstore, it’s photos of William in front of the mash tun,  after pint of Osprey, and discussions about the issues of the duty threshold and their half and half line of hand pumps along the bar for tight sparklers and otherwise. In my words, southern flatheads and northern thickheads of beer.

After refuelling on a pastie from the butcher in Oakham I head south towards Brooke village. Beautiful church and the lichen-spattered gravestones glowing in the afternoon sunlight. This was Rutland at its best. A look towards the mediaeval village of Martinsthorpe and on through Ridlington after a chat with the friendly Geordies trying to get power cables across the road as traffic raced along the road. Mad f-&££#rs seemed like a fair description.

Scrambled duck eggs seemed like a good idea for breakfast and I strolled up the drive of Bancroft Lodge. Usual chat followed and kindness of a stranger happened yet again. Don’t bother paying me, put the money in your charity kitty. Most people are generous to a stranger and a cause. Are we harnessing this natural English generosity to the full?

I wander in to Uppingham sorting out provisions for Thursday’s lunchtime nosebag, good to see butchers surviving in these small towns.In meet my next walking mate Pete off the bus and we go with the in-laws to the George & Dragon at Season, another perfect Rutland village.

A great little pub with good food. It’s full for a Wednesday evening but for much of the week pubs hereabouts have to offer half-price meals to entice the punters. Draught Bass and Grainstore 1050 on offer. Beers always good here. Interest from the landlord about the walk, but I know it must seem like a stroll in the park to a couple who used to organise treks in Nepal. It feels good from our side of the bar but I realise how hard is life the other side. Lovely people, lovely pub but such hard work to be successful.

Beer to bost your bonce

Day 15 of the Strathmore Challenge and it was Woodhouse Eaves to Burrough on the Hill. Little in the way of pubs en route but a possible brewery at the end.

The Leicestershire Round footpath was going to be companion for most of the day and so it was across fields, over the Grand Central steam railwayline and round Swithland Reservoir next to the massive quarry to the south of Quorn. Past the Butter Market in Mountsorrel and then along the River Soar Navigation. This was to be a classic central Midlands stroll.

I abandondoned the Round in favour of a road under the A46 imagining an old folks walking group attempting a 50m sprint across the A46 using the official route. Past the restored buildings at Rearsby Mill it was field paths all the way to Gaddesby. Sign to a pub, the Cheney Arms. Pint of Everard’s Original and quick nosebag of one of those stupid mini-baguettes.

All fine but it was the chainey pub in all but name. Landlady looked sniffily at me as went through the lounge, boots in hand, and I felt like an extra in the Cornetto Trilogy. One of those pubs where they were following some regional manager guidance to the letter and reading the Morning Ad’s latest ideas but little in the way of that elusive ‘atmosphere’.

On to Ashby Folville and chance for some sheep nuzzling. Not some strange sexual practice but that moment when instead of running off as usual, one of the sheep wanders over to get scratched. My countryman friend Robert insists that they’re the ones that were hand-reared. Godd fun nevertheless.

I finally leave the Round and head to Burrough arriving just as my father in law pulls in to pick me up. The excellent Grant’s Free House just about closing but I manage to find Baz at the adjacent Parish Brewery. Another beer hero and reputedly the 2nd earliest micro-brewery behind BBB. He pours me a pint of Bitter from the cask outside. I’m still amazed as to how much is produced in these tiny spaces by essentially one man bands. Not the ‘awesomemeness’ of the latest kids on the block but good people who live by their craft.

We chat about how much the beer scene has improved since FIL joined CAMRA at the beginning and how I’ve drunk only regional independents beers all the way down through England. Baz passes a bottle of 12% Boncebuster for us to take home and we head off to my Uppingham billet.

A couple of pints at the Crown in the evening. Chat with the locals, York Pale Ale and Titanic Stout a solid finish to the evening. Sheep nuzzling and boncebusting – a fine combination.

Couldn’t even be on time for a brewery

Weather forecast was rain all day but my mum told me to “go and do that walk for me”. Fully kitted out for 6 miles of pavement bashing to the other side of Burton and a proper marathon distance for the day. I had a spring in my step, not many days when you’ve a brewery visit for 8 in the morning.

I passed Gates brewery (one bloke in a suburban garage) in Reservoir Road, Shobnall and the mighty Marston’s – bottler of most of Britain’s ales. The frontage buildings made me think – old fashioned veneer to a very modern business. On to the centre of Burton passing closed down pubs, Smoke Room etched on the windows of one.

Already soaked I get to the Burton Bridge Brewery. Always amuses me that what is reputedly Britain’s first micro-brewery has the now disparaging initials BBB – how wrong are the crafterati in this case. I went through the yard to the door marked reception knowing that the other side would be a bunch of cheery blokes. Morning – they turn round. You must be the walker. I am. You’re late they say with a smile. It’s all go as it’s the day to get the beers out to pubs but friendly chats, good wishes and a badge to wear proudly – I’m feeling better already.

Across the old Trent Bridge, a look up towards my old school then a slog up the Ashby Road out of town. Soaked but at least I wasn’t in the usual queue of cars trying to cross the river. Memories of family come flooding in, that will have to wait for a book. Get to Upper Midway and head across the fields in the direction of Foremark Reservoir – rolling wooded countryside but the rain keeps on coming. I call in at the Tollgate brewery but no one at home. All very tidy round here must be the cosmetic effect of the National Trust on the Calke Estate.

Now into the old Leicestershire coal-mining area around Whitwick and Coleorton. Scattered settlements and not even a bus shelter or church porch to eat my snap. Pass a pub that’s shut at Gelsmoor and feeling grumpy when I see a pub offering words of a friendly welcome. Cynically I think the reality will be, don’t come in here in those wet clothes. How wrong could I be?

The New Inn at Peggs Green is an Irish pub – not that mock Oirish nonsense and all false craic. These are folk who’ve known the pub trade all there lives, where it really does feel you’re part of the family and the regulars gently josh to make you feel welcome. I dripped happily and my tale unfolded and other stories were exchanged. Lovely Bass from a jug, and a Bath Ales rugby-themed beer as well as Pedigree. With its quarry tiles and little rooms it felt unspoilt, but in a perfect and gently ordered way. The pub as real hostelry, discuss. I’d now walked nearly 200 miles and found the New Inn. It was worth it to unearth a gem.

I pressed on happily passing the monastery of Mount St Bernard Abbey with long views to the north as the weather cleared across Charnwood Forest. Very strange, all stone walls and rocky outcrops – not what I’d expected. Under the M1 and across Beacon Hill, I’d made it to my destination of Woodhouse Eaves. Wet, exhausted but one pub and one brewery had made all the difference. Love ’em.

Free beer tonight

Kirk Ireton to Burton was always going to be a day to blast through. My first day that didn’t include a National Park or AONB. 22 miles and most of it on ‘country’ lanes. Those lanes in rurban areas that are owned by pristine 4x4s, hot hatches and smart sports cars. I could have been back in Hertfordshire. For once I had empathy with cyclists.

Lovely rolling countryside but with not much in the way of footpaths and pubs it was grin and bear it and develop techniques to slow down drivers. A slight mock stumble became my favoured option – oh don’t lets dirty the bonnet with that grubby tramp darling..

I fringed a few villages and pubs on the edge of Burton but I couldn’t bring myself to go in – I looked through the window of a pub in Rolleston-on-Dove. I decided with the massed ranks of folks in their M&S v-necked sweaters and slacks chowing down it wasn’t the place for me. I wondered, had I been spoilt by the pubs over the last few days? The choice in these pubs would inevitably be Deuchars, Doom Bar or Pedigree.

At least it was free beer tonight – I’d stashed some bottles of Landlord at my mum’s. Great to share a few bottles with my son over a curry. Tomorrow is a rest day was a final exhausting thought.

But it’s all downhill from here

It’s always so easy to underestimate the southern end of the Peak District. Rolling limestone scenery with miles of easy going ex-rail trails. I’d set myself up for 44 miles in two days to get from Litton on the northern end of the White Peak to my mum’s place on the outskirts of Burton-upon-Trent. It was downhill all the way.

Starting from my cosy  b&b in Litton on Day 11, a gentle stroll through squeeze stiles had me wondering if there’s some kind of British Standard that allows ramblers through but keeps the sheep out. I felt strangely lost along paths I’d walked so often before. I creak down the steep steps with the right knee (I no longer accept it as mine) complaining at every step.

I emerge into Cressbrook Dale and the converted mill. Odd to compare the inhabitants of the smart mill apartments with the lives of renditioned orphans from London who worked under the looms. From my CACI working days I vaguely remember the demographics of the modern residents was similar to the middle-class flat dwellers of Islington. Probably the same streets that spawned the wretched orphans.


A friendly chat with black lab owner and the dog and I crossed the River Wye to go up the track on to the Monsal Trail. This was easy walking I’d be in tonight’s destination, Kirk Ireton in no time. Through the tunnel at Monsal Head and I can hear my daughter reciting lines from The Railway Children, “there’s a boy still in there Bobby”, or some such. I remember my dad doing a deal with the cafe owner at Monsal Head to ‘borrow’ his broken cast iron railway bench to do reproductions. Funny how when wandering alone the thoughts come flooding in.

I pass Thornbridge Hall (home to their limited runs) and head up a track towards Bakewell. After passing medieval Holme Hall it seems odd to be walking into Riverside business park given the warnings about No Footpath. After the compact simplicity of earler brewery visits on the trip it seems odd to be facing the wonder of Thornbridge. But it all proves my mate Stewart’s view that nice people make beer.


Thornbridge is a mighty craft but the welcome was friendly and photos taken with Jaipur in hand. Many thanks to Alex in marketing and the man from Milan. The brewery is a stainless supercraft but then it was off to the shed with the heady aromas of the wooden barrels where the fruits of the collaboration with Brooklyn are being aged. Beer brewed with cider yeasts and stored in bourbon casks with the results likely to be bottled soon – one worth waiting for.




After stocking up with provisions in Bakewell I walk south out of town stopping for a chat with a wise elderly lady who tells to walk in the hills while I still can. Up Intake Lane and as I pass an old fluorspar mine I chat to an old fellow out walking. I listen to his stories, swop thoughts on painkillers (he prefers those with caffeine) and move on to Alport. More minor lanes with hardly any traffic. It’s now standing stones, stone circles and butties at the rocks of Robin Hood’s Stride on the Limestone Way.

Now south of Winster and I’m into quarrying country. A noisy damaged landscape but one that gives employment and keeps the Peak working. Long tracks to be followed over Griffe Grange and I meet my old friend the Pennine Bridleway. I stroll on past a nest of wind turbines and move over Carsington Pasture to see the reservoir below. I struggle down a steep drop to Carsington village. The Miners Arms is closed until 6pm so no chance of a Draught Bass. Around the reservoir path and through the fields to Stainsbro’ Lane. It becomes Moor Lane and I’m in Kirk Ireton home to the Barley Mow. Never again do I underestimate the White Peak – 22 miles of rise and fall and I’m knackered.

I’ve written before about the pub. I meet my school mate, Johnno, and we admire the casks on stillages for our evening’s delight. Finally is it the moment when there’s no creamy head on the beer. Is this the line in the sand or will I see sparklers later.

As ever Lord Marples, Hartington IPA and Summer Sovereign provide simple pleasures in a chatty pub, a combination of community local, some e-cig vapers, and those who’ve travelled for real ale in simple surroundings. Strange but good to compare the hi-tech craft surroundings of Thornbridge to the simplicity of the bar where I drink their beer. Not a bad combination.

Ridden outa town

A day restin’ and a 14 miler across the White Peak from Hayfield to Litton beckoned – my first day on my own. The Pennine Bridleway almost joins Hayfield and Tideswell and it was good to have a day of easy navigation.

Ian, my host for the past two nights, and his sidekick Phil the Mill decided I needed to be ridden out of town. Phil kitted out in boots and shorts was ready for a decent stroll but Ian my walking pardner for the badlands of the Pennine Way declared his intentions with footwear for softies.

We walked out of town onto the Bridleway (Ian heading off for tea & crumpets) and we rose up towards South Head with Mount Famine (evidently the steers won’t graze there) on our left and Kinder in the misty distance. Phil strode back into town his job done to rid the town of another drunken critter.

It was now easy well-marked walking along the ancient drovers’ track and even the fords offered footbridges. I paused to chat to the men in red out walking for the day. We discussed my stroll and they recommended Simon Armitage’s Walking  Home – the tale of his poetry and perambulation along the Pennine Way.

Much acclaim when I said it was my companion volume for the trip. A fine read if only I could stay awake. They told me his latest Walking Back book (tales of poetry readings along the South Coast) had flopped in comparison. I loved their explanation – well you wouldn’t have as much to write about when the locals down south don’t talk to you, would you?

We moved on in this spirit of national unity and I mentioned my forthcoming monitoring of when beer won’t have a thick head from sparklering (best estimate a wiggly line just north of Burton) and the switchover moment when folk move from talking to strangers to considering a bloke with a rucsac to be an axe murderer. I’ll report later.

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I moved on following a bloke in fluorescent top and trousers who stopped every few yards. Catching up with him I saw the Network Rail logo and guessed he was checking the Cowburn rail tunnel fathoms below. A brief friendly exchange and he told me he was looking for the air shaft and did I know a path. I expected him to bring out a heavy duty tablet with Ordnance Survey map displayed. Nah, a dodgy b/w photocopy of a Google Maps extract and the instruction from his manager that it might be a bit boggy. (Yes Carol this is the state of our railways).

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Nice idea, but No Café today

I moved on quickly covering the miles past Rushop Hall and the No Car cafe (closed today). Still the  Pennine Bridleway, little traffic apart from farm buggies and the  postman. Often wonder why we don’t get the rural posties signed up as Formula One drivers – bendy roads, phenomenal speeds, they’d be ideal. Meet a bloke on a frisky horse spooked by a line of washing – then a bench in Peak Forest village and it’s Ginster time. Essential carb loading for the endurance walker.

An insignificant short cut brought me to Dogmanslack Farm. It’s been a good morning and I was ready with my friendly greeting to the farmer. How are you..I’ve had better…Which way then..Don’t you know…I thought I’d ask an expert…You’re a pest..what hikers not you…stile’s by the first tree.

No sign of stile but plenty of nettles and brambles. He drives down on the tractor to the gate and I ask if he wants me to open up. No, it’s locked, has to be. You couldn’t find the stile, knew you wouldn’t. Determined not to descend into open warfare I asked which way he’d like me to go. He then opens up and tells me how some hikers cuss him (mmm possible to understand) and some like me he likes to have a chat with.

Finally we bonded over footpath signage failure and he tells me how someone’s been snooping round the outbuildings looking to thieve and he’s spent the morning getting a calf out of an old barn where some miscreant had broken in. Is there a moral – I’m not sure, but give everyone a bit of time isn’t a bad start.

I came out onto the main road to Stockport and found the Limestone Way. No traffic and stone walls in every direction. More nosebag, as much to slow me down as for food and then down into Tideswell. Notice in the church grounds for Carol Ann Duffy performance – that’ll divide opinion I bet. New High Nelly’s cafe provides excellent tea & cakes. Anywhere with Pete McKee prints on the wall, can’t be bad I surmise. Up Church Lane to Litton remembering the many family and friends I’ve walked with along here. Happy days, good people.

Time on my hands and time for a cuppa in the village community shop in Litton. More folk arriving and our little table gets ever more crowded and friendly. Perfect day.

A regular b&b stop with hosts away but the stand-in sorts me out and says goodbye just as I look like a Freemason with rolled up trousers and anti-imflammatory gel round my knees. I settle down to cleaning duties various and a knock at the door. “We’re not stopping here but we’re trying to find another b&b in Gratton, no-one in the pub’s heard of it”. An out of date UK road map is their navigation aid. Hudl to the rescue and we find their billet. Looks very nice but I have doubts that they’ll find it.

My mates arrive from Sheffield and we settle down to pints and nosebag in the Red Lion. Bakewell Best Bitter, Abbeydale Absolution and Derby’s Double Mash – a worthwhile card to run through and food to match. The Red Lion is a typical Peak village pub – the landlord is the vital spark and it’s good to see it back on form.

Time for sleep I’ve an appointment at Thornbridge tomorrow morning.