Tony Goulding hops on a train or three in the West of England
Editor Dave Richardson and myself have a very strong interest in the operations of our railway system, and I still enjoy rail travel and observations of long-gone infrastructure, buildings, platforms, signals etc, sometimes hidden in the vegetation that seems to grow all over the railway. Often, we combine this interest with beer and cider!
It was decided to travel from Oxford to Bristol, then up via Gloucester to Worcester, returning via the North Cotswold route. Last time I did any serious drinking in Bristol was 30 years ago, with a small number of visits around 1999 and 2000. I know that Bristol has now become a destination scene for many interests including beer and cider, but nothing prepared me for the massive transformation, with many large building projects, and the Waterfront and nearby streets now awash with pubs, cafés etc.
Hidden among the high-rise buildings was a gem of a 1770-built free house, the Cornubia. The interior was very inviting with normally eight hand pumps and four real ciders, but this being during outside trading only, the garden served us well, with capacity among the flowers being about 60, mostly undercover. There was great service from very knowledgeable staff, including the manager who was sitting in the garden and joined us for a drink.
A very tasty Yeovil Ales Ruby Porter was enjoyed by Dave and a typical midday starter for me (!), a 7% Brislington Brain Twister cider. The Cornubia had five real ales and two real ciders on, which was very commendable. The pub was formerly two shops, a Wigmakers and Clock repairs, and today’s customers support our Armed Forces and veterans. I did not want to leave, and for a food bore like me, it was a proper pub with just snacks and pork pies.
Next up was a barge moored at the Quayside, Apple. Yes, you guessed it, a cider bar, with normally 20 real ciders and a couple of kegs, and no cask beer. Dave did try a cider – he looked peeved – and I enjoyed another Brislington product, Kingston Black. Apple has lots of outside seating, but not much shelter from the weather. We then moved a short distance to another great pub, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, but it was not open. You can’t always believe what websites tell you, so with great disappointment we moved a few yards to the King Street Brewhouse, with a large covered area. This is a modern ground floor bar that would normally have seven of its own cask ales and six of its own kegs available, but no decent cider. We both had a tasty 3.8% Mild Mild West (a dark mild), and then it was time for the train.
Worcester in the 1980s was a regular drinking spot of mine three or four times a year, and I also visited its beer festival regularly until a few years ago as it became one of my favourites, being held at the racecourse with up to 100 ciders. I can also remember the Lowesmoor brewery, where you had to sign in to an almost Private Club, passing the West Midland Tavern on the corner, continuing to the Cardinal’s Hat (a Davenports pub) and the nearby Swan with Two Nicks. Today though, in search of a snack, we found a shabby Wetherspoon, the Crown, a real crap experience, saved by a cheap but tasty Angry Orchard cider. There was no real ale at all – not even Doom Bar! – and Dave had to make do with a chilly pint of keg Shipyard Pale Ale when he was already so cold he kept his gloves on. Could it get any worse? Yes, it could – it started raining, but a friendly couple let us share their covered table.
After a stroll along the High Street we found the Oil Basin Brewhouse, formerly the Eye of The Nile, (a strange name), becoming an optician and then a micro-brewery, which was visible at the end of the very cosy bar. Up to five real ales are available, with Dave drinking a Vienna Pale and Greedy me a very nice 7% Hecks dry cider, in a very pleasant outdoor drinking ambiance. The last pub of the day would have been another interesting old bar in St Johns, a 15-minute walk over the river past the County Cricket Ground. The Bull Baiters would have served up to six real ales and eight ciders but again, despite several checks, we found it closed although the website told us it was open. But I will very definitely be back to both Bristol and Worcester, which provided a great day’s travel and drinking. Hull, via just about everywhere, is our next long-distance outing.
Closer to home, my new-found “office”, the recently opened Tile Shop Ale House in Headington, has done me proud. I make two visits most weeks to reward it for getting in three good ciders, watching and sometimes chatting to fellow drinkers enjoying Tring Brewery’s Side Pocket for a Toad and Ridgeway beers in very comfortable and quiet surroundings. There is lots of food available nearby, but not here, as this is a proper pub. Within 10 minutes’ walk are the Masons Arms, the Butchers Arms and the White Hart, all great real ale pubs. Enjoy your drinking, and use common sense.