Archive for February, 2016


Luton Beer Festival 2016

Another year and another round of all our favourite beer festivals begins. There are several local festivals in and around the Bedfordshire area and they are nicely spread across the year. Always the first is Luton, which is run by the South Bedfordshire CAMRA branch. Despite the hectic nature of life I had a free day and was able to attend the Thursday session. I could be lazy and just right “for details see last year’s post” but as I went to look for last year’s post I found that it has not posted or has been lost. So for the first time on this blog let me introduce you to Luton.

For my money Luton beer festival has one major problem, its location. The venue itself is perfectly fine, just getting to the venue can put off some of those who have heard the details of what Hightown is like after dark. If you are local-ish you will know what I mean. If you are from the Anglia region, I’m sure you will have heard about it on the local news. If you are from further afield, just Google it.

Once you have braved the badlands of Hightown you are perfectly safe inside what is normally a local sports hall, given up for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, as a the place to go for the beer drinkers of Bedfordshire and beyond. There are two main rooms. One has the LocAle bar and the cider bar. The other room has the  national parks bar, the everywhere else bar and the bottled beer bar. As variety is the spice of life I suggest a wander around to try something from all the bars. There are great beers to be had at all of them.

Staff of the Black Lion receive their award from Local MP's

Staff of the Black Lion receive their award from Local MP’s

We happened to be in the first room when the local MP’s for Luton (North) and Luton (South) stood up on stage to declare the festival open, even though people had been drinking for six hours by now. They then went on to present the South Bedfordshire CAMRA pub of the year to the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard. I was again with my mate Jonny on this outing and he took much dislike to this. He found that politicising what should be a fun evening out was a step too far for him. Especially as two barrels of beer (one in each room) was sponsored by the Labour party.

Strangely sponsored Barrels!

Strangely sponsored Barrels!

There were some other curious barrel sponsorships as well. One barrel just said “Luton Haiku” with no contact details at all. Google tells me there is a Twitter account that just does Haikus about Luton. That is all I could find on the subject. Apparently Clod magazine has made these short form poems into books, it is now on its third volume. More mystifying that this, however, was the barrel which mealy said “ALAN WHEELER LEGENDARY LUTON LIBRARIAN”. Err… yes, well done Alan.

The important bit to remember is that it’s all about the beer. With that in mind here are a few of my highlights. First of all it was my first chance to try something from the Ampthill Brewhouse. They are a relatively new brewery, taking over from the short lived Ampthill brewery and they are the nearest brewers to where I live. I am pleased to report that their 3.4% Session ale is a beautifully easy drink to settle into a night at the beer festival. Continuing the local theme Leighton Buzzard Brewery had their 4.2% Cuckoo originally only meant to be served in the Cuckoo micro pub in Toddington. Also, staying local I tried a medium/sweet Evershed’s Town and Country Cider, from the north of the county.

Brewdog's Vagabond - Gluten Free Pale Ale

Brewdog’s Vagabond – Gluten Free Pale Ale

Moving further away we tried several beers from far and wide in the non-local room, however the stand out for me in here was a bottle of Brewdog’s Vagabond, 4.5%. We had a lengthy discussion with the chap behind the bar about whether CAMRA should even be serving Brewdog products, not being real ale an’ all. I doubt there will ever be a definitive answer.

One final beer I want to mention was Sorachi City by Golden Triangle, 3.9%. If anyone out there has had a try of this fantastic beer please get in touch and tell me what that flavour is I get on the nose! It is driving me mad. I asked the guy behind the bar and he instantly said blue cheese, his speed in response proved that there has been previous discussions about this beer. I can see where the cheese idea comes from but I can’t be sure that is it. There is certainly a very creamy mouth-feel to the drink which could convince some of the cheese flavour but I’m not so sure.

If you like the sound of Luton Beer Festival it is on the third weekend of February each year at the Hightown Community Sports & Arts Centre, York Street, Luton LU2 0JD. For more information: http://southbeds.camra.org.uk/

 

The Curfew Club is a monthly musical gathering in a small and intimate setting showcasing some of the local talent, especially those with acoustic or Americana bent. The session was first bought to my attention while reading The Bedford Clanger, a magazine highlighting all the cultural and art stuff going on in Bedford as well as getting behind local businesses and local talents. It was only a short article, not much more than an advert really, but it intrigued me. I mentioned it to Jonny, who is always up for a gig, and we decided to go.The Curfew Club poster

The first thing we had to do was sort out some drinks. Not only is this event free to get in but it’s also BYOB, so a great way to spend a cheap night out. So, because we are classy, we made straight for Lidl. A cornucopia of delicious and tempting ales it is not, however it is cheap. I through a few bottles of ale in the basket, Jonny went for the cheap pear cider.

The Weillie's interior

The Weillie’s interior

We had deliberately got into town early for two reasons. Firstly, being a small gig in a small venue it is limited to 40 people and Facebook said that there were 48 going. We wanted to make sure that we got in any queue early as to avoid disappointment. The second reason for going early is that just down the road from the venue, #44 Harpur St., are a couple of pubs (I think you can see where this is going).

Pint of Welsh Black

A Pint of Welsh Black in the wellie

First of all is the Wellington Arms, or the wellie as it is more commonly known. Previous visits to the wellie and its 14 handpumps had shown us the delights of B&T’s Fruit Bat and bottled beers such as Timmermans Kriek. With it’s range constantly changing who knows what we had in store. It’s always hard when you walk through the door of a pub and the bar maid immediately asks you what you would like. There are 14 choices and you haven’t even read them all yet. I went with Great Orme’s Welsh Black. As the name suggests it was a dark beer, a mild in fact and as dark as they come. It was a nice, if a bit lifeless, I’m guessing it was coming near to the end of the barrel.

A Pint of Doom Bar

A pint of Doom Bar in The Flower Pot next to an open fire (which isn’t blue, unlike this picture makes out)

After the wellie we moved on to the Flower Pot, I always thought it was a Greene King pub, but not serving any of their beers I guess I was wrong. They do serve Fuller’s London Pride and Sharp’s Doom Bar. Jonny and I both went for the Doom Bar. We sat by the open fire with views out of the window down Harpur Street so we could look out for any queue that might form.

No queue did form and we ended up having two in the Flower Pot, who can argue with a pint of Doom Bar and a warming fire on a drizzly February evening?

We were admitted into the venue at around opening time, it all seemed very friendly. I had worried that I had misunderstood the BYOB thing but no one queried our bags of beer as we walked through. Eventually the room filled out with more and more arrivals. I didn’t notice anyone getting turned away but I would have said that there were about 40 people there.

Gwinny performing at 44 Harpur St.

Gwinny performing at 44 Harpur St.

By about half 8 the first act was on stage and doing what she does. Her name was Gwinny and it was just her and an acoustic guitar. The act had two very distinct parts for me. The first half were all songs which had a distinct Laura Marling bent to them. This is a girl who clearly liked the album alas, I cannot swim. The second half of her songs, were much less easy to pin down, more individual in many ways and just as enjoyable as the first songs. For me the stand out song was Come away with me, which isn’t anything to do with the Norah Jones song of the same name. Gwinny was accompanied, for me at least, by a bottle of Bornem Abbey Blonde Beer which I found to be quite a sharp and didn’t settle well after the well served Doom Bar in the Flower Pot.

The Darling Mundaring performing at 44 Harpur St.

The Darling Mundaring performing at 44 Harpur St.

The headline act was The Darling MundaringAfter the bread and water that a girl + acoustic can be it was great to hear the full roast dinner that a full band can be. A much more polyphonic affair but nevertheless taking the same acoustic route as Gwinny had before but with added cello and percussion. It was a gorgeous , rich and beautiful noise which I loved listening to.There were several songs which they performed which I could easily see, given the right set of circumstances, could get picked up by the mainstream. October, Books, and As good for me are all stand out tracks that could get these guys on the radio. Their accompanying beer was a bottle of Hatherwood’s Golden Goose, a beer brewed specifically for Lidl (Not all that great either).

To sum it up them The Curfew club provides a showcase of some fantastic local talent in the Bedford area and allow you to discover some great new acoustic music. Both of the acts we saw were great. Lidl provide beer that is cheap.

More information of the Curfew Club’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/curfewclubbedford, the next session is on 9th March at the Cavalier Barber Shop.

First walk of the new year

I know what your thinking. New year? But it’s February. That’s true. I just haven’t been for a walk so far until now. I had mentally been telling myself that I needed to get walking again. I have been lounging around at home doing very little and slowly the numbers on the scales are creeping up. This will not do. On top of that I have been neglecting the blog, hardly posting more than a handful of times a year. I uaed ro excuse myself for not posting because my phone was terrible but I have a new one now, and a good one at that. This is supposed to be the turning point. New year, new phone, new posts.

The route out of town.

The route out of town.

So I woke up this morning to bright sunlight streaming into the bedroom. I instantly thought that today would be the day that I’d finally get back to walking. I was ready to go in half an hour.

New phone in tow I set about turning on the GPS tracking app. Last time I had used one of these was two phones ago and drained the battery in a few hours. This phone should do better. Being the size of a dinner plate it can afford a huge battery. One which so far has been lasting several days at a time. Will the power hungry GPS put pay to that? We’ll just have to find out.

I left hime by the path that skirts the edge od the woods. The path leads out to Steppingley is muddy on all but the driest of summer days. I was going to get muddy today anyway so why pussyfoot around the first path? The wind was quite strong and there was a bit of a chill in the air. Wet, muddy, cold. What a great day.

I was in a bit of an inquisitive mood and took a lot of paths that I wouldn’t ordinarily use. The first was on the way into Steppingley. Usually I’d take the road past the Drovers Arms but today I took the back way, taking the footpath past the church. As I walked up the path a girl came the other way walking a dog. She was talking to herself and crying almost uncontrollably. What do you do in this situation? Do you ask if everything is OK? If you do you have to sit and listen to a tale of woe that I really wasn’t that interested in. If you don’t are you just a bastard? I decided just to smile. She tried to smile back but it was clearly difficult for her. I’m sure the dog will keep her company.

Steppingley postbox

New post box design

Walking into Steppingley from this direction is new to me and I never realised what fantastic houses there are around here. Some are clearly very old indeed. I covet these places dearly. Moving on I passed the church and the pub. The village bus stop has now got a small library in it. I’m not sure why you would leave books in the minimal shelter of a bus stop but there you go. Just down the road the village postbox has been revamped. I don’t know if this is the new desing being rolled out across the country of if its just here but I like it.

My destination was the Rose and Crown in Ridgemont. And to get there was no more than an hours walk from Steppingley. I walked out of the village via a country lane with high hedgerows on either side. In the distance was a Red Kite circling overhead. I had hoped to catch up to it but, alas, it was gone.

Most of the route from Steppingley to Ridgemont was fairly uneventful. I said hello to some cyclists. I followed the usual footpaths. I crossed over the roaring M1 on a farm bridge. I paused for a moment, as I often do, just to marvel at the motorway. I find it amazing that we all get in these little tin boxes and ride up and down these thin strips of tarmac at a steady speed, smoothly all getting to our destination without crashing (mostly).

Segenhoe Church

Segehoe’s abandoned church

I also marvel at how quickly the roar becomes a murmur. A small background noise that van be drowned out by the wind in the trees. By the time I passed the abandoned church at Segenhoe I could barely hear it at all. I don’t know what it is about abandoned churches that I like so much. Perhaps it’s that you get to appreciate the beauty of the building without the fear of being accosted by a member of the clergy, trying to bring you into the fold. Anyway, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to make this a fairly quick walk as the weather report wasn’t great after three o’clock.

Rose & Crown - Ridgemont

The Rose & Crown in Ridgemont

The Rose and Crown in Ridgemont has been on my list for a long time. It’s so near and yet so far. I wasn’t expecting anything special but its another one tick off. When I arrived I noticed a cask marque sign (good start). I scraped my boots on the scraper by the front door (must be walkers friendly, even better) and walked in. The bar maid was friendly and helped me with WiFi. A pint of Directors went down too quickly as I talked to the girl behind the bar and before I knew it I was back on the road going home by another route.

Millbrook Warren

The path around Millbrook Warren

I crossed the M1 and the A507 simultaneously as a new footbridge crosses them both. This is the new route of the Greensand Ridge path, a route I want to do in its entirety one day. I followed the GRW as far as Boughton End and turned to take its original route back across the main road. This path soon took me to the edge of Millbrook Warren or as most people now call it Centre Parcs™ – Woburn Forest. I have mixed feelings about the holiday resort on my doorstep. On one hand the Warren is now fenced off, only accessible to paying customers. The rights of way have been striped and we, the public can not enter. On the other hand employment is up and the nearby towns are prospering from the tourist money. On top of that there are new footpaths replacing the old routes through the Warren and other existing paths have been improved considerably. These are obviously good things, but it doesn’t mean I have to like the heart being ripped out of what was once a peaceful place.

I took one of the new bridleways to the road and one of the improved footpaths via a new bridge over the railway into Ampthill. Us walkers have never had it so good, and neither have the train spotters who use the bridge to get a better spot for taking photo’s of trains. Two were sitting on the steps by the up line with a camera and a big telephoto lens. They were to engrossed in train chat to even pass the time of day.

On the other side of the line is an industrial estate. It’s dirty and unkept but we need somewhere to put the scrap metal merchants and the digger merchants. As I walked through I heard the sound of a train passing. I could tell it was a diesel freight loco. Good, I thought to myself, I’d imagine the trainspotters on the bridge will be pleased with that.

The final part of my walk took me back to my teenage years as I followed the route I used to walk home from school. It has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. A new housing estate, the petrol station has been towrn down and replaced, there is a football academy on the field I used to use as a shortcut and they seem to fit in new houses in the smallest of gaps. Progress I suppose.

 
Total distance: 11.93 mi, Max elevation: 410 ft, Min elevation: 190 ft, Total climbing: 4718 ft
Total descent: -4741 ft, Average speed: 3.07 mi/h, Total Time: 04:29:50,
Download .gpx ile of this route