Saturday, November 5, 2022

A York to Remember

Around 3 weeks ago, and not long after this year's beer festival escapades, Amy and I returned to a place that we first visited together last year and immediately fell in love with. Not only were we entranced and fully absorbed into the history and the atmosphere, but we were compelled to return 12 months later to once again throw ourselves into the surroundings, culture and, not to mention, the plethora of fantastic drinking establishments. I speak, of course, of the fine city of York, a city that may well have become our favourite place to visit in all of the UK. Last year, we stayed for 2 nights, over a weekend in the lead up to Amy's birthday. This year, we did things slightly differently. The visit was still in aid of Amy's birthday celebrations, but we would be staying for 3 nights at the start of the week. This was done primarily to ensure that we would be able to do everything that we had planned and with reduced crowd levels. What followed would be a wonderful 3 days of exploring, new experiences, old favourites and new memories, both in, and out, of a significant number of pubs.

We arrived in York just after 12.30 in the afternoon on a not unpleasant Monday, having this time opted to drive the less than 2-hour journey from Nottingham. Last year's experience, faffing around with trains had put us off the idea of rail travel, which was just as well as a rail strike had been scheduled for the day of our arrival. Having checked into our B&B, which just so happened to be the same one we stayed in last year, we wasted no time in heading out into the city proper. We had a little bit of shopping that we wanted to do first thing and, over the course of our stay, had a few things booked, with pub visits worked into the itinerary where possible. Our first stop though was the famous Shambles, where we were intent of stopping by the legendary York Ghost Merchants to pick up some ornamental handmade spooks for home. A wait of just over an hour ensued but, finally, we had procured our miniature wraiths. It seemed high time for a pint. Luckily, we were within spitting distance of one of our favourite pubs and so it seemed logical to break our fast at a place we thoroughly enjoyed last time. Our first beer of many over the coming days, was to be had at the Golden Fleece.

The Golden Fleece dates back to at least the 16th century and is mentioned in the York City Archives as far back as 1503. A former landlord was John Peckett, who was also Lord Mayor of York around 1702. John's wife Alice, known as Lady Peckett, lends her name to a yard at the rear of the building as well as one of the upstairs rooms at the pub. The present inn was rebuilt in the 19th century and was designated a Grade II listed building in 1983. Despite having a very narrow entrance, the building is surprisingly deep, and slopes downwards towards the rear. There are two main rooms on the ground floor. The smaller, to the front, has a small bar as well as tables and chairs for drinking and dining. A narrow corridor connects this to the main bar area at the rear which features a bigger, curved bar and further drinking and dining space, with a small snug and access to a rear beer garden. The toilets are situated along this corridor, as is the internal staircase that leads to the upstairs accommodation, which comprises 4 en-suite rooms. The interior is decorated with various bric-a-brac and old photos, as well as news articles about the allegedly very haunted nature of the pub (more on which shortly). It's a little bit disorientating wandering around the pub as the structure leans at various angles throughout, allegedly the result of being built without foundations. Despite it only being a year since we'd last visited, Amy & I were intrigued to see what, if anything had changed at the Golden Fleece. We immediately took in the pub's commitment to atmosphere and seasonal decor. With Halloween not long away at the time of our visit, the pub had thrown itself fully into spooky season with all the expected trimmings included. We also noticed that the pub's famous skull, a replica of the skull of a woman executed for witchcraft with which we had an odd experience on our last visit, is no longer on display. It was stolen a few weeks after our stay and was eventually returned but is now kept out of sight. From a beer point of view, things had improved too. This is a Stonegate property so had previously had a rather mediocre beer choice. It seems that more scope has been given in terms of options now though as there were a couple of guest beers on that I hadn't expected to see. Both of the 2 bars here have 5 handpulls with beers doubled up across both areas. On the day of our first visit, our choices were Theakston Old Peculier, Bridgehouse Tequila Blonde, Acorn Phantasm, Sharp's Doom Bar and Timothy Taylor Landlord. As intriguing as it sounded, the thought of a tequila ale, even at a low ABV, was slightly off-putting so I instead went for the Phantasm from Barnsley-based Acorn brewery. Amy decided on a pint of Beavertown Neck Oil and we managed to find a table between the bar and the door to the beer garden. It felt great to be back in York and it was also lovely to be back in the Golden Fleece. It helped that the beer was delicious. Phantasm (4.5%) is a very pale yellow ale, hopped with New Zealand varieties to provide citrusy, pine-like aromas and a fruity finish. It felt very apt drinking it in what is claimed to be York's most haunted pub. I'm not sure what it is that draws us to this place so much. Maybe it's the weird atmosphere, or the history and appearance of the pub or maybe, just maybe it's the myriad tales of what goes bump in the night and, somewhat alarmingly, in the daylight too. The pub's haunted reputation certainly precedes it, enhanced by the stories: a Canadian airman, who fell to his death from one of the upstairs windows and continues to be seen in the room from which he met his demise and occasionally in the street outside; the young boy, trampled by a horse in the pub's days as a coaching inn, whose shade has been seen in both bars and is felt by customers as the sensation of having their pockets picked; the highwayman, nicknamed 'One Eyed Jack' seen throughout the pub; the movement of the bed and the sound of children crying in the Minster Suite; strange lights and the sensation of someone unseen sitting on the bed in the Shambles bedroom, along with the movement of objects; dark figures and ghostly laughter in St. Catherine's Room; the apparition of the aforementioned Lady Peckett seen in her eponymous room as well as on the stairs and in the Meadery function room; the spectre of a woman seen running through the wall screaming in the downstairs function room as if being chased, and the phantom of a dog, which may or may not be linked to canine remains found buried under the floorboards during renovation work. Whether you believe the stories or not, the Golden Fleece is certainly an atmospheric place to pop into for a pint. 

Leaving the Golden Fleece behind for now, we retraced our steps and headed back towards York's imposing Minster, in the direction of Stonegate. We had already made plans for our evening meal but were not quite hungry enough yet so, whilst we built up an appetite, we decided to venture into another place we had visited before. Tucked down an alley just of Stonegate is Ye Olde Starre Inne.

Advertised by an impressive gallows sign that spans the width of Stonegate, Ye Olde Starre is one of York's oldest and most historic pubs. The main block of the pub is timber framed and was built in the mid-16th century with a left wing added in about 1600. The building's position is slightly unusual, as it takes up space at the back of an old coaching yard, behind the buildings of Stonegate itself. The pub was known as Ye Starre from at least 1644, which makes it the pub in York with the earliest verifiable date for its license. Local lore suggests that the pub was used as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers following the Battle of Marston Moor. The pub was sold in 1662 and later inherited by Edward Thompson in 1683. In 1733, the landlord was Thomas Bulman, who is credited with the hanging of the sign that spans Stonegate and has advertised the pub ever since. The pub was extended in the early 18th century and, in the 1840s, a new building was built in the coaching yard and the pub is now approached through a passageway underneath this part of the building. Stables previously stood behind the pub. The late 19th century saw the pub extended again at which time it was known as 'Boddy's Inn'. Various features still survive from the pub's varied history, including an early 18th century staircase, some panelling from the 17th century and an assortment of glass, benches and panelling from the 19th century refit. The former bar screen, made of stained glass, dates from around 1890. The pub was Grade I listed in 1954. Inside, the pub is surprisingly large. A large main bar sits towards the rear, with the interior split into 3 separate rooms and there are also 3 outdoor beer terraces. Furniture is in the form of scrubbed wooden tables and chairs arranged around the room. There are alcove-like snug areas throughout. TVs are mounted on the wall in the area closest to the bar. When we last visited Ye Olde Starre, it was a Saturday afternoon and the pub was packed, meaning we had no choice but to stand at the bar. On this occasion, it being a Monday, the pub is quiet and there is plenty of seating available. This being a Greene King pub, their products are front and centre but, again, there seems to be some much welcome flexibility in the procurement of guest beers. 8 handpulls are located on the bar, 7 of which were in use on this occasion. Available on the day were Black Sheep Best Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Greene King Abbot Ale, Theakston Old Peculier, Ainsty Ales Flummoxed Farmer and Greene King IPA, with Weston's Old Rosie cider also available. I was not going to pass up the opportunity to enjoy a guest beer in a Greene King pub, so plumped for the Flummoxed Farmer. We retreated to a snug-like space just around the corner from the bar, enjoying the contrast between this visit and our last. I had a vague memory of trying beer from Ainsty Ales last time we were here and this time it proved to be a good choice. Flummoxed Farmer (4%) is a blonde ale, brewed with American hops. There are subtle fruit aromas, and the finish is lightly hoppy and dry. All-in-all, it's a very good session beer! I'd forgotten how nice Ye Olde Starre was inside, and it was great to visit on a quieter day so that we could fully appreciate the history that seemed to seep from the walls. Unsurprisingly for a pub of this age, there is a darker side. During its use as a rudimentary field hospital, a portion of the cellar was set aside for surgeons, who faced the grim task of removing bullets or, in some cases whole limbs, with nothing approaching modern medical expertise. Surgery would have left patients in excruciating pain and these screams of pain are said to still be heard echoing from the cellar. There are other, more gentle spectres here too. An elderly lady has been seen walking up the stairs. Strangely, she seems to only be seen by children. Two phantom black cats are also in residence. When they appear, they are apparently so lifelike that more than one customer has reached out to give them the obligatory fuss only to find their hand touching nothing but air. Then there is the phenomenon in the main bar, described only as 'the thing'. Whatever it is, it is only noticed and seen by dogs, who have been known to react in a hostile manner, growling, barking and snarling, at some unseen, but clearly threatening presence. Sat in the snug, looking at the towers of York Minster out of the window, it's hard to imagine that this place potentially houses something sinister. But, in the quiet of night, who knows?

We'd worked up enough of a hunger by this point to make our way to our chosen destination for food. This would be at a place that was only a few yards from Ye Olde Starre and was another location that had stood out for us on our last visit. We were very excited to return to the Punch Bowl.

Confusingly, there are two pubs in York with this name. This particular one stands on Stonegate and operates as a Nicholson's venue. Dating from the 17th century, the Punch Bowl has been rebuilt on more than one occasion having been the victim of two separate fires. The name is an historical reference to the political Whig party, for whom punch was the preferred tipple. Any pub showing a punch bowl sign was declaring their allegiance to this specific brand of politics. Inside, the pub has three distinct areas. To the front is a small drinking and dining section, with a larger section to the rear. Another, restaurant style space is to one side. All three areas are linked by a central corridor and served by a single bar. Decor is brass furnishings with a combination of scrubbed wood and banquette seating. This is yet another pub that was heaving on our last visit. Last time, we were lucky enough to get the last table. This time, there was no such issue and we made our way into the rear section, next to a large fireplace, sadly no longer in use. The primary reason we were here was the food, specifically the excellent homemade pies. Amy had selected this place for her birthday meal as we both very much enjoyed it last time. The pies, by no word of a lie, are the size of your face, very filling and delicious. But what of the beer choice? 4 hand pumps sit on the bar. At the time of our arrival, 3 of these were occupied, proferring a choice between Black Sheep Best Bitter, the house Nicholson's Pale Ale and Adnams Ghost Ship. We both decided to go for the Adnams this time and promptly ordered our pies. The pies were just as good as we'd remembered, and we were very glad that we'd come back to have them again. They also made up for the quality of the beer. The Ghost Ship wasn't terrible by any means but it was just OK. I've certainly had better Ghost Ship elsewhere and the beer selection wasn't a patch on when we last came and Abbeydale Moonshine had been on the bar. Still, things don't always pan out how we hope. The food, at least was top notch, and this is still a cosy and relaxing place to while away some time, as long as you don't come on a Saturday. Once again though, this pub comes with a hidden side. At least 3 ghosts are reported to roam within these walls. Isabella, a barmaid from the 17th century when the pub was allegedly a brothel, can still be seen and heard screaming and running down the stairs, replaying her attempted escape from the spurned patron who beat her to death. A former landlord, who perished in a fire has been seen walking the route of the old cellar steps to the location where her met his end. The Grey Lady completes the spooky trio. She is believed to have taken her own life after her lover was unfaithful. She is now said to roam the pub, on the lookout for unfaithful men to have her revenge. 

You may have noticed that our first three pubs were revisits of venues that we'd been to in the past. However, it was now time for something new and something completely different. For the majority of our remaining time in York, barring a couple of exceptions, we would be ticking off new places, some well-known, others less so and some more historic than others. Our first new venue of this trip was a place of pilgrimage for the beer lover and somewhere that we'd heard excellent things about. Our ultimate plan for the evening was a ghost walk that we had booked for later on but, in the meantime, we had plenty of scope to explore a few drinking establishments. We now made our way to Lendal and the fantastic House of the Trembling Madness.

The biggest of two venues of the same name in York, House of the Trembling Madness Lendal occupies a building that was formerly a saddlery and harness maker. The restoration of the building into its current guise was a joint winner of the York Restoration Design awards in 2018. Make no mistake, this is a beer lover's paradise, spread across multiple floors. The basement boasts a craft beer shop, similar to its sister site on Stonegate. The ground floor bar features 11 keg lines and 3 craft lines, seating in an adjacent raised area. The first floor has an additional bar with another 11 keg lines, a large spirits range and a full food menu. The toilets and kitchen are on the second floor, with a function room on the third floor. It's frankly bonkers, not just in the beer selection but also the decor, which features recreations and copies of classic surrealist artworks as well as other quirky asides. I was a little bit overwhelmed by the beer selection. There was a lot of it. At the ground floor bar, there were the following keg beers: Turning Point x Emperor Pulpatine, Burning Sky Blanche, Azvex Consolation Prize Fighter, Overtone Four Candles, Binding Schofferhofer, Verdant People, Money, Space, Time, Ayinger Fest Marzen, Polly's A Cosy Decomposer, Vault City Lychee & Ginger, Overtone Strat in Silence and Overtone Everything Changing. That was alongside 3 cask ale lines which offered Brass Castle Bad Kitty, Track Sonoma and the knowingly titled Have You Got Cask or Is It All Craft? from Deya. I eventually managed to clear my head enough to order the Deya, Amy ordered a Vault City and we made our way to the first floor where we managed to find a table. We were sat conveniently close to the first-floor bar which enabled me to see what the second lot of keg lines had to offer. The upstairs lines had the following: Saint Mars of the Desert Crumbling Splendour, Deya Dust My Broom, Hogan's French Revelation, Verdant x Baron x Rivington 3 Way Handshake, Ayinger Lager Hell, Deya Steady Rolling Man, Azvex Cookie Cutter Approach, Verdant Little Mountains We Move, Huyghe Delerium Tremens, Vault City Strawberry Woo Woo and Northern Monk Smug, The Reincarnation. Like I said, A LOT of choice. I have to say, this place is awesome. The beer choice is phenomenal, the decor is great and the food that we saw being taken out looked sensational. Did I feel silly for having picked a cask beer in the face of so much craft? No, not at all. The cask beer is brilliantly kept. This place is in the Good Beer Guide 2022 for a reason. Have You Got Cask? (5%), is a pale ale hopped with Strata and UK Chinook, giving floral, orange and pine with a clean, dry, long bitter finish. It's very very good! I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Amy and I were familiar with the smaller sister venue (henceforth known as the Shop of Dreams) from our last visit so were expecting good things. It did not disappoint. Another thing that stood out was the decor. As I mentioned, reproductions of surrealist and satirical art adorn the walls. We were sat underneath a reconstruction of the 'Hell' panel from Hieronymous Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights' and opposite a copy of Quentin Matsys' 'The Ugly Duchess'. The quirkiness even extends to the toilets. Did I ever think I'd go for a pee in the same room as a statue of the Virgin Mary and a framed photo of the naked lower half of a woman? No. No I did not. 

With still more time to kill before the ghost walk, and keen to stay in the area where we needed to be, our next stop was considerably more down to earth. Leaving House of the Trembling Madness and turning left, we crossed the Ouse over Lendal Bridge, continued on and then turned left onto Skeldergate. A short walk further on, nestled amongst much newer building, and not far from the river edge, is the Cock & Bottle.

This is a moderately sized, single-roomed pub with a traditional stone floor and wooden beams. The bar is central with seating spread around the room, and a small, raised area in one corner. TVs are mounted on multiple walls and there is a large, stove fireplace. The cosy ambience is enhanced by subdued lighting. 3 handpulls sit centrally on the bar with 2 of these being available at the time we wandered in. Faced with a choice between Rudgate Jorvik Blonde and Wadworth Horizon, I went for the Wadworth. Amy fancied a soft drink by this stage and went for a Diet Coke and then we took a table at the far side of the room, not far from the raised area. There were a small number of locals in but we felt perfectly welcome. I appreciate that, after the previous few pubs, that this seems like an odd choice of locale but, dear reader, there is method in the madness. The Cock & Bottle is renowned for being one of the most haunted pubs in York. Whilst tales of strange activity had long been linked to the pub, proper reports began circulating in the 1970s when the Stanleys took over the pub. Prior to this, there had been sporadic reports of sightings of a ghostly man in old-fashioned clothing, spectral footsteps and noises reminiscent of a wooden door being broken down. The Stanleys, having been made aware of the alleged activity, decided to document their experiences. To begin with they experienced things that tallied with prior reports. The sound of a door being smashed occurred several times, at a louder volume. The phantom footsteps manifested on both floors of the building. A considerably more sinister phenomenon is a sudden sense of impending evil and dread which has been known to overtake people all of a sudden, leading to them being rooted to the spot with fear. Luckily, the sensation is said to pass after a few seconds. Mrs. Stanley herself had a face-to-face encounter with the ghostly man, who is described as being of average height with dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair and with a big nose. He is said to wear a heavily embroidered jacket with lots of buttons. Research by local press has suggested that the ghost is that of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who once owned and operated a workshop on the place where the pub now stands. Random additional fact: his father, the 1st Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in Portsmouth by a religious fanatic. A pub opposite the site of the murder is named after him. Villiers the 2nd was a favourite of Charles II and spent much time in London and York before he died at Kirkby Moorside. Perhaps he has returned to his old workshop? The activity continues to this day and the pub is alleged to be one of the most paranormally active in the area. During our stay though, the scariest thing we witnessed was a customer offer to fight the barman. Did I mention this was at 7pm on a Monday night? I can at least confirm that the Horizon was in good condition. Plus we made friends with a dog. 

We left the Cock & Bottle and began to make our way back towards the ghost walk pickup point. We still had a little bit time of go, decided to find one more pub for the evening. Back on the other side of the river and only a short walk from Lendal Bridge is the Blue Boar.

Located in Castlegate, the Blue Boar replaced a previous pub of the same name that was demolished in 1730. The former, Medieval, inn hosted many guests, including Roger Cottam, envoy to Henry VII as well as Royalist soldiers preparing for the Siege of York. Local tradition states that the body of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was taken here after his execution and displayed in the cellar, having been rather unceremoniously nailed to a board, with the landlord charging money to see it. Given the rather grievous desecration, it's perhaps no surprise that Turpin himself reputedly haunts the pub and makes himself known by moving objects and stamping around. In 1770, the Robin Hood pub opened on the same street, although there is a suggest that it may have occupied the same building, where it operated as a coaching inn. The Seven Stars pub from Walter Scott's novel Heart of Midlothian is thought to be based on the Blue Boar. The front of the pub was rebuilt in 1851 and, in 1894, it was renamed as the Little John. It has since been internally rebuilt and extended and was Grade II listed in 1971. Now owned by Enterprise Inns, the pub closed temporarily in 2011 but reopened the following year when it reverted to its current name. It being a Monday night, it was perhaps not surprising that the pub was empty when Amy and I arrived. The interior of the pub is modern, with soft furnishings, bright colours and a central bar along the far wall, upon which are 2 handpumps. The options here were Wychwood Hobgoblin Gold and Timothy Taylor Boltmaker. We both decided on the Hobgoblin and took a seat on a small table near the door. Shortly, a few more people entered so we were at least not the only customers. The overall feel of the Blue Boar is that of a student hub. Many of the posters and deals we saw advertised certainly seemed skewed towards that demographic. It's easy to imagine how busy the pub gets in the daytime and at weekends. The layout is effectively one long room, with a kitchen at the far end and, off to one side, a staircase that leads to the toilets and the downstairs function in which, at least according to our ghost walk host, a replica coffin has replaced. If the pub wasn't already haunted, that would certainly do it. In terms of the beer, the Hobgoblin Gold was passable enough. I hadn't expected a prime beer selection but visiting the pub for the Turpin links was fun. We finished our pints and headed back to the river where our ghost walk would begin. 90 minutes later, it finished in the shadow of York's hulking Gothic Minster. We turned and returned to the B&B, our heads full of stories and our hearts full of joy at being back in a city we love.

Day 2 in York was an unseasonably warm and sunny Tuesday. Following a full English, we were up and out and back to the Shambles in no time, now with a different target in mind. Having hit the local Harry Potter themed shop for some Hufflepuff merchandise, we once again decided to queue for the ghost shop in the hopes of adding to our collection. The queue was already into the 2 hour mark when we joined. Following a trip back to the B&B to drop of my Harry Potter purchases, I returned to find Amy only a few yards further forward than where I'd left her. After a few more minutes of not really getting anywhere, and safe in the knowledge that we'd been able to get in the day before, we, quite literally, gave up the ghost and decided to press on with our day. Our plan for our second day was simple. With only one activity booked, and no set time to attend it, the majority of the rest of the day would be pub related. And, with almost two hours of standing in line behind us, we were much in need of a sit down and a beer. Luckily, the Shambles itself provided both in no time at all, in the shape of the Old Shambles Tavern.

Simultaneously a cafe, bar, bottle shop and gift shop that opens at 9am (!), this is a deceptively large space located on the Shambles. The front entrance leads through to an L-shaped bar with cans and bottles on shelves behind, keg taps and 6 handpulls, arranged in 2 groups of 3. A small corridor leads through into a rear section with seating and a rear entrance onto the famous Shambles market. There is also further seating, both outside to the rear and on the first floor. We were very pleased to see all 6 pumps in use. 3 of these were given over to their own Shambles brewery, showcasing their Stumbler, Dark and Bitter, with the remaining 3 occupied by guest beers, specifically Brew York Tonkoko, Turning Point Wavelength and Bad Seed Burn Rate. I was automatically drawn to the guest beers and the Burn Rate from Bad Seed, just down the road in Malton. Amy went for the Tonkoko and we retreated to the back room for a sit down and a refresh. I was already immediately impressed with this place. From the front it just looks like a micropub but there's significantly more space than it would appear at first glance. The beer was cracking too! Burn Rate (4.2%) is a pale ale brewed with El Dorado hops. This gives it a firm bitterness and bright tropical fruit flavours with notes of pineapple and mango. As a way to start the day, this place had been the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle. There's something magical about having a delicious beer, mere feet from one of the UK's most iconic and historic shopping streets. Ten points to Hufflepuff!

Beer finished and feeling rejuvenated, we headed off for our booked activity, namely visiting Clifford's Tower. Essentially, this is the last remaining structure from York's original castle, perched on an earthen mound a little down the road. It's a very interesting historical site and it's impressive to walk around the very top of the ramparts with views over the city. It's also a bit disconcerting when in the areas where notable subsidence has occurred. You'd be forgiven for thinking you'd had more to drink than you actually had. Having spent a bit of time exploring the tower, we made our way back down and out into the definitely-not-autumnal feeling weather. Indeed, we were both rather warm as we made our way to our next location. I had a little side quest I wanted us to complete before the second pub of the day and, after passing a Wetherspoons (boo!) and with not much effort, we found what we were searching for: the grave of Dick Turpin himself, rather anticlimactically located in the grounds of an old church, in a small patch of grass on the edge of a housing estate, a rather ignominious end for an historical figure whose reputation is rather more than the sum of its parts. It was back to pubs now and our next stop was a location that we'd had to leave off of our itinerary last year due to time. Following the back streets into an area of lots of student accommodation, we emerged at Peasholme Green and the Black Swan.

Believed to have been built around 1417 for William Bowes and Sheriff of York, the Black Swan stand on Peasholme Green, so called as it used to be a water meadow that was used for growing peas. Originally a private house, the building has been much altered and an inn is known to have stood on the site in Medieval times. It was long believed that a passageway under the road linked the pub cellar to St. Cuthbert's Church. Former staff had heard about the passage but had no proof of its existence, except for a cupboard which contained several steps leading downwards into a blank wall. In 2003, electricians carrying out renovation work, shone a light down under the floor, where they could a red brick floor which ran off into the distance, in the direction of the church. Early photos of the pub show two front doors, suggesting it may once have been two separate buildings. One of these doors is now covered up and is in what is currently the laundry room. Former landlords include William Briggs and Fred Wright, and the building was use as a horse refuge during World War II when there were sizeable stables at the back. Inevitably, with such an unusual and chequered history, there is talk of ghosts. A workman in a bowler hat, who it is said closely resembles Charlie Chaplin, has been known to fidget and tut giving the impression that he is waiting for somebody. He occasionally fades away whilst being watched or walks from room to room, apparently looking for someone. A young woman in a long white dress is frequently seen in the bar in the back room staring into the fireplace. There are discrepancies in descriptions of her appearance however as her hair has been said to be both long, flaxen and slightly glowing and long, black and hiding her face. Another apparition is one of the most bizarre to be found here or anywhere. A pair of man's legs, without a torso have been seen in the staff quarters and descending a staircase. The legs are dressed in trousers and boots but nothing else by way of distinguishing features. There is also a ghostly black cat which, when it appears, looks so real that the staff often confuse it for Salem, the resident pub cat. Amy and I had wanted to come here for a while, for the history alone and now seemed as good a time as any. We entered through the main door and made our way to the bar in the back room. The overall layout consists of three separate rooms: a lounge, a front bar area and a restaurant space, with an outside decked drinking area. The bar looks into the larger of the rooms and faces the fireplace where we found a black cat, presumably Salem and not his ghostly counterpart, curled up on a stool. The decor is primarily scrubbed wooden tables and chairs with some banquette seating and with old photos of the local area displayed throughout. 4 handpulls greeted us on the bar, providing a choice between Wychwood Hobgoblin Gold, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Rudgate Jorvik Blonde and Theakston Old Peculier. Jorvik Blonde was the choice for me here and Amy went the Hobgoblin before we made our way into the side 'restaurant' room to absorb the atmosphere of this place and take it all in. This is definitely one of the most atmospheric pubs we've visited in York and we were very glad that we took the time to find it. The beer wasn't half bad either, being pale, fruity and nicely bitter at just 3.8%. It was sorely tempting to stay here for another but there was a lot of exploring still to be done, so we returned our empty glasses to the bar and got on our merry way. 

Turning left out of the Black Swan, we followed the main road around to where it becomes the Stonebow. Following this on brought us back out onto Pavement at the bottom of the Shambles, more or less where we'd started out. We then took a left onto Fossgate, where our next two stops sit side by side. First up, the Blue Bell.

This Good Beer Guide 2022 listed pub was originally built in the late 17th century as a timber-framed house which was then refronted in the 18th century. The building became a pub in 1798 when it was given the name it now holds. It was purchased and refurbished in 1903 by a local pub chain and several of these fittings have been retained, including doors, windows, glaze screens with service hatches and varnished matchboarding. The pub survived largely intact after a fire in 1974. Plans to expand the premises were put forward in the 1980s but abandoned. The Blue Bell remains the smallest pub in York with an official capacity of 65. Now Grade II* listed, the pub was listed as Asset of Community Value in 2017. Given the size of the pub, the current landlord and landlady have implemented strict rules to preserve. This includes the banning of groups, particularly stag and hen groups, a ban on swearing and a request that phones are kept on silent and phone calls taken outside. A previous landlord tried to discourage groups by putting up signs reading 'private party' that regulars knew could be ignored. This led to CAMRA removing the pub from the Good Beer Guide. A new landlord took over in 2018 and abandoned the practice, leading to not only the pub being reinstated but it also winning local branch Pub of the Year for 2022. Internally, the front door opens into an entrance corridor, which leads to both of the pub's small rooms. The first room is a traditional lounge bar with a small number of tables. Behind this, the corridor slightly widens into more of a drinking lobby which includes a single tip-up seat at the bar. This style of drinking lobby is a forerunner of drinking lobbies that became popular in the north of England in the inter-war period. 7 handpulls occupy the modest bar space and feature an interesting selection. Our choices on the day included Wold Top Bitter, Brass Castle Blue Bell IPA (brewed specially for the pub), Bradfield Farmers Blonde, Rudgate Ruby Mild and Timothy Taylor Landlord. Both the Wold Top and Brass Castle offerings were doubled up. It would have been a considerable slight on my part had I not at least tried the house beer, so I selected the Brass Castle. Amy went for a soft drink this time and we managed to find a pew a shelf in the entrance corner, under what would once have been the old service hatch. I expected the Blue Bell to be good. A close friend of mine had recommended it previously and he was spot on. It's what traditional, ale pubs would have been like back in the day and which there are all too few of still remaining. The house beer was an excellent IPA from a very good brewery. It's a sessionable 4.5% and is only to be found at this pub. It's absolutely worth getting down there for!

Just next door is something altogether different. Following our departure from the Blue Bell, it was time to investigate the Fossgate Tap.

Dating back to 1796 and Grade II listed, the building now occupied by the Fossgate Tap was previously home to Sutlers, an Army & Navy surplus store which was named after an American term for a civilian merchant that sold provisions to the army. The modern business spans three floors and has retained some of the original features in the internal structure. Though there are doors at either end of the building, a one-way system remains in place in order to better control customer flow. We entered through the entrance further down Fossgate, which leads into a ground floor seating. To the right, a short set of steps leads up to a long, narrow section which features a long bar that faces windows overlooking Fossgate. As well as a selection of keg beers, the bar also includes 6 hand pumps, 3 of which were in use on the day. Once again, local beers were the order of the day. We had a choice between Brew York Calmer Chameleon, Turning Point Chaos Theory and Brass Castle Bad Kitty. After some brief deliberation, I decided to give the Turning Point ago. Not only was I drawn to the name, but the description sounded irresistible. Chaos Theory (5%) is a honey and marigold oatmeal pale. It's sweet but also manages to be very well balanced. Organised chaos might be a better moniker! We took our drinks to a long, high table in the window that overlooked the street, ostensibly for people watching. We were starting to get peckish now too, but fortifying portions of nachos and topped fries soon put paid to that. Fed and watered, we were on the move again.

After another brief sojourn to the Golden Fleece, we made our way further along Pavement to the junction with Piccadilly, where our next location sits perched on the corner. Next up: the Pavement Vaults.

Opening in 2015, on the site of the old White Swan hotel, the Pavement Vaults is part of the Pivovar group. The site was originally occupied by a coaching inn, with the 'vaults' themselves being part of a Medieval street dating back to 1378, before being bisected when the road now known as Piccadilly was constructed. The consensus here is very much on good food and good beer. Inside, the bar is directly opposite the door. High tables and chairs provide the furniture throughout. To the rear is a slightly raised area from which the kitchen, located behind a glass partition, can be seen. A staircase leads down to the toilets and the vaults, which have been carved out of the underlying rock and now include comfortable furniture for a very atmospheric drinking experience. 6 handpulls are on the bar here and they also champion an interesting mix of beers. Our options for the day were Wilde Child Nebulous Interface, Kirkstall Three Swords, Moor Stout, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Rooster's Roots, Rock, Reggae and Lilley's Cherries & Berries cider. Amy and I were both attracted by the Rooster's beer and soon we were sat at the back of the room, enjoying our drinks and trying not to make eye contact with the gigantic wild boar's head that appeared to be guarding the toilet staircase. We were thoroughly enjoying our day. And, truth be told, we just getting started. We were both glad we'd chosen the Rooster's beer. It's not something you find much in our part of the world so it made a nice change. Roots, Rock, Reggae is a big hitting pineapple and grapefruit IPA hopped with Admiral, Cascade, Summit, Nelson Sauvin and Centennial. Expect big fruit flavours! It's also 6.4% but you really wouldn't know it.

Our next destination took us back through the Shambles but this time we turned left onto the Market Place where, overlooking the famous market, is the resplendent glass edifice of the Market Cat.

The Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Market Cat operates as a joint venture between Pivovar and Thornbridge brewery. Glass fronted, it occupies three floors of a former pawnbrokers, all done out to a very high standard. The pub was quite busy when we arrived and we ended up standing at the bar for a bit which was just as well given the extensive beer choice. There was a significant amount of keg beer available and, impressively, 8 cask ale lines, all occupied. Unsurprisingly, Thornbridge beers have a significant presence, and the lines are divided evenly between their own beers and a number of guests. Available on the day were Thornbridge Jaipur, Thornbridge Lord Marples, Thornbridge Brock, Thornbridge Crackendale, Windswept APA, Rooster's Roots, Rock, Reggae, RedWillow Session Porter and Two by Two Strata, Sabro, Amarillo. I'm a massive fan of Thornbridge beers so there was no way I wasn't going to have one of their beers. In the end, Crackendale sealed the deal. Amy opted for a keg sour and we then managed to get a table in the window where we could fully appreciate the amazing decor. As I mentioned, this place covers three floors. The ground floor resembles a traditional boozer, with chandeliers, leather sofas, a cosy snug and mahogany panels. The first floor holds a kitchen diner with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the market, whilst the second floor has booths that line the windows and also allow for a view into the cellar. It's yet another very well executed modern upgrade of a much older building. You don't need me to tell you that the beer was great. I'm going to anyway. That's why I'm here after all. Crackendale is a pale ale, single hopped with Citra, meaning an amazing tropical fruit aroma that gives way to guava and citrus on the palate before a bittersweet finish. It's ace. And surprisingly quaffable at 5.4%.

We were approaching the business end of the day by this stage but there was still a fair bit to do. Leaving the Market Cat, we made our way to the nearby street of Patrick Pool where our next duo of destinations sit resolutely opposite each other. The first of these was Pivni. 

Housed in a three-storey, timber-framed building that dates to 1190, the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Pivni is the founding bar of the Pivovar group. Both child and dog friendly, it's a veritable beer haven, stocking a frankly astonishing amount of Belgian and European beers. The ground floor is fairly narrow with the bar taking up most of one side and full-length windows opposite, allowing for a view of the street. Seating is arranged by the windows, consisting of low tables, cosy sofas and chairs. The first and second floors feature bigger spaces but the decor and character remains the same throughout. As well as the cracking bottled beer selection, there is a good choice of keg beer as well as 5 handpulls, with 2 of these normally given over to ciders. Beer-wise, on our visit, the choices were Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout, Marble Bitter and Marble Pint, with Lilley's Bee Sting and Lilley's Rhubarb covering the cider end of the spectrum. I decided it was about time that I went for something dark so immediately dived into the Milk Stout (4.6%). This was an excellent decision as it turns out. No prizes for guessing what style of beer it is but it's delicious. Smooth, chocolatey and sweet with just a touch of coffee bitterness and a subtle hint of dark fruit. I really enjoyed Pivni. It markets itself as a World Beer Freehouse and I'm not about to argue with that.

I was very very excited about our next destination ever since I found out it existed. So, the question is, what do you get if you cross vikings, beer and metal? The answer: Valhalla.


Opening in September 2017, Valhalla sits directly opposite Pivni and is a Viking-inspired refurbishment of a former hairdressers. Like Pivni, it too occupies three floors and is full to the horns with Viking theming. From viking horns, to things that honour the old Norse gods, this place is actually amazing. The whole experience is like being in a Viking hall. There are two bars in the building, on the first and second floors, with carved wooden seating made from reclaimed materials throughout. Upstairs is the All Father Hall, a function themed after Odin, king of the gods in Norse mythology. The soundtrack is also incredible. Nothing but heavy metal and classic rock. All day, every day. It felt like being on tour with Amon Amarth. And there's good beer! The first floor bar has 4 handpulls and 3 of these happened to be in use, providing a choice between Brew York Haze of Thunder and the two house beers, Pale and Odin's Judgement, brewed by Half Mook Brewery but suitably rebadged for the pub. This, without a doubt, was the pub I'd been looking forward to the most all day. It was totally worth the wait. For my beer, I selected Odin's Judgement (obviously), a strong dark ale with big malt flavours that punched in the region of 6%. We'd also decided to get some food here too. The food offerings are tapas style small plates and the halloumi fries are the best that I've ever had. Ever. They were the best thing we'd had to eat at this point, and it would have gone some to find something to beat them. Watch this space! Valhalla had been the highlight of the day so far. The beer was wonderful, the pub was wonderful and the music was incredible. Raise your horns! Skol!  

We'd started to flag a little by now but still wanted to tick a couple of pubs off of the list. We made our way back in the general direction of the B&B, via Stonegate (and the Shop of Dreams) and then turned left onto High Petergate. We decided to pay a visit to another favourite from the previous trip and went back to the Guy Fawkes Inn.

Named for York's infamous Gunpowder plotter, and history's favourite terrorist, this pub stands on the site of the cottage in which Guy Fawkes was born. The original cottage has been incorporated into the accommodation at the rear of the building, separated from the pub by an internal courtyard. Inside, the pub is made up of several small rooms, with timber floors and oak furniture, lit by candles and gas lamps to create a hugely atmospheric experience. The bar is small and just inside the entrance where there is a tiny lounge space directly in front. A larger, more spacious restaurant area is to one side and, to the rear, there is an enclosed garden courtyard, lit by fairy lights and heated by gas burners. The accommodation is above and behind the pub, accessible up a flight of stairs. This is a very cosy, comfortable and intimate setting but is also certainly not short of history and atmosphere. Despite being small, the bar holds 6 handpulls. There's a decent choice of local beers available and our options were York Guzzler, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Black Sheep Best Bitter, the house beer Guy Fawkes ale and Ossett Yorkshire Blonde. On our first visit here last year, we both went for the York Guzzler and it was more of the same this time. It's a very good, sessionable pale ale with dominant hop flavours and pale malt character. It might only be 3.6% but it's a good beer all the same, easy drinking, crisp and refreshing. Night had settled in by the time we found a table in the garden, which takes on a character all of its own when the sun goes down. In the shadow of the imposing Minster, warmed by the heat from the gas burner and full of the joys of an excellent day, I couldn't help but remember the stories told about the pub in recent years. If the tales are true, Guy Fawkes may have returned home. A shadowy figure has been sighted in the area where his former cottage is located. On one occasion a member of staff followed another (the same?) shadowy figure around the pub thinking it was an intruder. The figure eventually disappeared into an empty wardrobe in an upstairs room. Later that same night, a fire broke out in the building next door, now a solicitor's office, which had been locked up for hours. The source of the fire was traced to a wall between the two buildings, next to where the wardrobe stood. Make of that what you will. Add to that the apparitions of two children who are believed to have passed away during a cholera epidemic and this can be seen to be a sinister and melancholy place indeed.

We would be wandering home to bed but wanted to try one more pub first. Luckily, not only was it not far away, it was also on our way back to the B&B, located as it is, right beneath the city walls. Last stop of the night would be the Fat Badger.

Formerly the Lamb & Lion, the building now occupied by the Fat Badger sits directly beneath Bootham Bar, one of the ancient stone gateways that granted entry to the walled city of York. Whilst appearing small from the outside, the inside is a warren of small rooms, all well-furnished and comfortable. To the rear is an impressive and well-appointed rooftop garden that is directly overlooked by the city walls. The main bar is small and occupies at the far end of the first room. 5 handpulls sit pride of place, with a beer selection virtually identical to that at the Guy Fawkes. In this case, the options were Black Sheep Best Bitter, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, York Guzzler, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Ossett Yorkshire Blonde. Golden Pippin took my fancy this time and we made our way out to the beer garden which, whilst impressive and cosy at night with fairy lights and a few to the Minster, can only be more so in the daytime. The Golden Pippin was in good condition. It's not a beer I see a lot and so I've not had it for a while. It was a pleasant experience refreshing my memory of it. For those that don't know, Golden Pippin is a 4.2% golden ale with a citrus fruity aroma and flavour. Very nice it was too! The Fat Badger is a place that paid no mind to last time we were here, but it turns out there's a lot to it than meets the eye. A couple of years ago, CCTV was made public showing what appeared to be the apparition of a young girl sweeping the floor in the front bar area. The pub was closed at the time, but staff were in the area, none of whom noticed anything untoward until checking the cameras. Whether this phantom girl has any connection to the sounds of crying children heard in the guest accommodation remains to be seen. We left the Fat Badger tired but in good spirits, ready to see what the next day would bring.

Our final day in York dawned colder and windier than those that went before it. We had a couple of things planned for the morning, but the afternoon was largely ours to do whatever with so that meant, you guessed it, more pubs. Following a session of wizard themed indoor mini golf (overpriced but well themed) we arrived at York Minster to visit it properly, fortifying ourselves with a chorizo sausage roll each along way. Tuning out the accompanying busker who, for some reason thought that 'Hey There, Delilah' needed to be performed twice within three songs, we made our way inside this majestic Gothic masterpiece, which contains the remains of a saint and a former Prime Minister, as well as memorial to a son of Edward II and some highly impressive architecture. People might think it's strange to visit religious building when we're not religious but there's nothing wrong with appreciating history and architectural might. After a good hour or so exploring as much of the Minster as we could, we quickly returned to the B&B to drop off some purchases from earlier before we headed back out, in much need of a pint. We would be close to the Minster again for the first pub of the day as we took a step inside the Three Legged Mare.

Formerly owned by York Brewery but, since December 2018, now owned by Black Sheep, who also brew the York Brewery beers, the Good Beer Guide listed Three Legged Mare takes its name from a colloquial term for a gallows, 4 of which used to exist in York, including one at the infamous Tyburn. Despite the modest frontage, this is a roomy pub with lots of seating. The bar runs along one side of the room with seating a mix of high and low tables. There is a small outside area to the rear. Of the 10 available handpulls, 5 of them were in use, prioritising Black Sheep products but with some guests available too. Options were Black Sheep Best Bitter which was doubled up, Black Sheep Respire, Nightjar Kokopelli and Meanwood Abnoba. The very friendly landlord was an absolute delight and even apologised for not having more beer on! He needn't have. His selection was great and so was he. It's always nice when you're made to feel extra welcome in a place you've never been and he should be commended for it. For my first beer of the day, I went for Respire (4%), a juicy and citrusy session IPA, straw in colour and with a good balance of bitterness and sweetness. As an opening beer of the day, it was a good one. Amy had gone for a keg sour which didn't taste all that sour and was actually very nice. The day had gotten off to a great start!

Our next move saw us passing the Minster again, back in the direction of the Shambles, this accompanied by a lad doing a roaring rendition of Rule Britannia outside the cathedral, acapella I might add! Reaching King's Square, our next destination lay just ahead of us, a literal stone's throw from the top of the Shambles. Next stop: the Duke of York.

Yet another example of twin naming of pubs in York, this is not the same Duke of York as the one adjacent to the railway station. This pub is a conversion of a former estate agents, that was opened in October 2013 by Leeds Brewery but is now owned by Camerons. Split over two floors, the interior is smart and modern with bare wood floors, and windows overlooking King's Square. Photos of former Dukes of York decorate the walls. Prince Andrew is notably absent. The bar sits at an angle from the main entrance and runs along one wall. 12 hand pumps occupy the bar, with most these given over to Leeds Brewery beers, which are doubled up. 9 of these pumps were available during our visit, offering Leeds Pale, Leeds Best and Leeds Midnight Bell, alongside Camerons Thirst Blood, Northern Monk Eternal and Mobberley Brewhouse Bunji. It had been some time since I'd been anywhere near Leeds Brewery beer and it was certainly time to rectify that. The Leeds Best was my choice here whilst Amy went for a craft beer. We took our drinks into a smaller room opposite the bar and sat in the window to watch the world go by. The Leeds Best (4.3%) was in great condition. A classic bitter, full flavoured and well balanced, with First Gold and Goldings hops. Both of our first two pubs had been quiet but it was still midweek so this wasn't too much of a surprise. Confusingly, the Duke of York had food menus out despite a sign on the bar that said the kitchen was closed. It was probably for the best as, as nice as the food sounded, it did seem a bit on the pricey side. 

Pub number 3 was calling, and it wasn't far away. Leaving the Duke of York, we turned right, and our next stop was staring us in the face. The second Black Sheep pub of the day was The Last Drop Inn.

Situated on Colliergate, the Last Drop resembles some of the much older pubs in the city in terms of its outward appearance and interior consisting mostly of brick and wood. The sister pub to the Three Legged Mare (hence the name), it benefits from large windows that look across the square. Following the first lockdown in 2020, it reopened as a bottle shop but then reverted to a pub in October of 2021. Inside, is a split-level single room with the bar, small beer garden and raised seating area to the rear. To the front is a larger seating area with a corner staircase that leads to the toilets. The bar here is equally well stocked albeit with similar products. 10 hand pumps offered us a choice of Halletts Cider, Black Sheep Astronomer, Black Sheep Best Bitter (doubled up), Black Sheep Respire, Black Sheep Riggwelter, Turning Point Pink Matter Custard, Meanwood Abnoba, Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Left Handed Giant Dark Mild. After a moment of perusal, one of the bar staff steered us in the direction of Pink Matter Custard (6%), literally a raspberry and custard pale ale, and we fell for it hook, line and sinker. I won't lie, I really enjoyed it. It's very sweet and very chewy and it's also pink. I thought it was brilliant, but I doubt I could manage more than one. Amy couldn't finish hers but we both gave it a go. 

The next scheduled pub on the list didn't open until 4pm so we made one last visit to the Golden Fleece to kill some time. After that, we headed straight down Fossgate, which then becomes Walmgate. Reaching Walmgate Bar, another of the old gateways, we could see our next destination just beyond it. Our attention now turned to the Rook & Gaskill.

I had a slight personal interest in visiting the Rook & Gaskill as it's owned by Castle Rock. However, it's rented out as a tenanted property so pretty much has free rein on what to do with its beers and pretty much everything else. They must be doing something right as the pub is in the Good Beer Guide. The pub is in an area of high student traffic and benefits from a lot of local trade too. Internally, the entrance leads through to a split-level interior of scrubbed wood floors, low tables and booths. The kitchen can be viewed through a partition window, there is outside space to the rear and a corridor from the bar area leads to the toilets. The Rook & Gaskill has a good mix of both keg and cask beers with a substantial keg wall and 6 cask lines. Cask is the reason I'm here on this occasion. All 6 pumps were in use, with one of them holding Moonshine Cider. The remaining 5 provided a choice between Turning Point Yellow Matter Custard, Totally Brewed Papa Jangles, Brass Castle Session Mini-IPA, Little Critters Shire Horse and 4T's Mango Fever. I was in the mood for something fruity again so moved for the Mango Fever (4.6%), a mango infused IPA. I'm fairly sure I've had it before somewhere, but it was definitely better this time, both full of mango without being too mango-y. We were the first customers to arrive on the day but it didn't take long for other to join us, most of him were clearly students, although one of them clearly thought he was Gary Oldman in Dracula. 

Our glasses were empty so it was time to move on. We now made our way back up Walmgate to a place that I'd added to the list last minute. This would turn out to be a mistake as we now investigated the Watergate Inn. 

Formerly known as the Five Lions, what is now the Watergate Inn, reopened in May 2019 following a refurbishment and with a change of ownership. In earlier days, it was a venue for cockfighting but now the interior is pleasant enough with nautical theming and bright carpets. Effectively one long room, the larger area to the front has tables and chairs with board games provided on each. A fireplace is to one side, complete with some very creepy wooden busts of children's heads. The bar is in the top corner of the room, which is entered through a doorway underneath the overhanging building. Just the one hand pump is present and, when we walked it was advertising Landlord. However, it turned out that the beer wasn't ready so couldn't be served. As we'd already started to order, and I needed the toilet, I had to content myself with a Guinness. I was a bit disappointed. The pub looked nice enough, but we were the only ones in there. Business clearly didn't improve later in the evening. When we walked back past later, it was closed. So why did I add this pub to the list? It allegedly has a ghost. Nicknamed 'Green Jenny' due to her attire, she is most often seen at the back of building. Who she is or why she's there, nobody seems to know.

We had one last stop to make. The anticipation had been building all day I was hoping we wouldn't be disappointed. Just a short walk from the Watergate Inn was a place that I'd heard nothing but good things about, whose name is synonymous with fantastic beer. It was time for the Brew York Beer Hall & Tap Room.

Effectively two separate venues, Brew York's Beer Hall occupies the site of the former maltings for the adjacent brewery inside which the Tap Room is located. Entering through a shop (a dangerous game to play), leads to a staircase which takes you up to heaven, by which I mean the Beer Hall. A massive open space is filled with high tables and benches with a bar at one end swarming with craft taps and one hand pump. Next to this is a kitchen that provides Asian style street food. The Tap Room is accessed through a set of doors and another staircase which leads down to the brewery itself and another bank of 6 handpulls. The sheer scale of this place is phenomenal. As well as a myriad of beers from the Brew York stable, in every style you could imagine, there are also a few guest beers and collabs. There's cider, there's lager, there's sours, there's everything in between. Time and space do not permit me to list every single beer on offer. There are more than 40 so we'd be here forever. I can tell you that I selected Pining for the Fjords, a 4.5% pale ale hopped with Simcoe and Idaho 7. It's intensely fruity and citrusy but tastes phenomenal. Amy hit a bit of bad luck with her choices as consecutive sours ran out as she went to order them, but she managed to find one and that was awesome too. Speaking of awesome, we haven't even gotten to the food yet. Oh. My. God. We ordered a bao bun each (with beef and pork respectively) and a portion of duck topped fries to share. It was the best thing we'd eaten. Possibly ever. We thought that the halloumi fries at Valhalla were good, but this food was something else. Whatever you're doing right now, stop, go to Brew York and eat their food. Tell them I sent you. What do you mean they've never heard of me?

We could've stayed all night. We had another beer, this time from the Tap Room, where the Haze of Thunder tasted sensational. I was torn between staying forever and being sensible and, in the end, the realisation that I had drive the following day won out. So, off we went, into the North Yorkshire darkness, to head back to the B&B, via the Shambles for some suitably atmospheric night photos. All that was left to do was get a good night's sleep and prepare for the drive back, which just so happened to take place during the most apocalyptic rain I've ever seen. Noah would have struggled. York had been fantastic. Somehow it was even better this time. Leaving York to come back to Nottingham made us both genuinely sad. Something about that place just won't let go. It's not even just the pubs. Don't get me wrong, the pubs are great, and the beer is great and the people are wonderful. There's something about it you just can't grasp. Something ethereal and incorporeal. Something that won't stop us going back again and again. I hope this extensive entry has made it clear why. Thanks for sticking with it if you've made it this far. Until next time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A Fine Innings

It's officially spooky season! Somehow, the inexorable march of time means that we're now well into October. The nights are drawing in, the weather has turned into something slightly less predictable, and the air is filled with the unmistakable scent of pumpkin spice. There is, however, another reason to rejoice at the arrival of autumn: the one and only Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival!

A little under a fortnight ago, Amy & I made our annual pilgrimage to one of the most highly anticipated events in the calendars of beer lovers both locally and further afield. For the second straight year, this year's event took place at the iconic Trent Bridge Cricket Ground. With the inaugural use of this venue for the beer festival last year garnering mixed reviews from many (myself included), we were both interested to see how this year's edition would fair and, significantly, if and how the event organisers had responded to the feedback. This year also marked another first, as we attended the beer festival on the Wednesday evening for the first time. In previous years, we had attended the Thursday session but this year, in order to ensure we got the widest choice of beers available, we opted for the Wednesday evening public session instead. How would we fair? Had there been improvements since 2021? What inane and ridiculous method would I choose for selecting beers? All these questions and more will soon be answered!

Amy & I arrived at the cricket ground just before 4.30pm, half an hour after the gates had opened to the paying public following the end of the trade session. There were already a lot more people around than we'd expected but it was pleasing to see the festival buzzing on the first day of festivities. We showed our prepaid tickets, had them scanned, picked up our tokens and branded glassware and set about getting our bearings and selecting our first beers of the day which, in itself, is quite a challenge given the sheer array of options on offer. We had already noticed a couple of changes from the previous year. The entrance of the festival was further up the road than previously, opposite the local Co-Op. Last year, the gate immediately next to the Trent Bridge Inn had been in use. I can only assume that the change was made to prevent bottle necking at what is a busy road junction and, perhaps more likely, to limit the number of people queuing outside the pub during busier sessions. It was also refreshing to be able to take away a souvenir glass from this year's event. Last year, due largely to shortages and holdups caused by you-know-what, spare glasses from previous years were used which, I think you'll agree, isn't quite the same even if it does provoke some extra nostalgia. What beers would we choose to first fill our new glasses with? I had a strategy in mind. My plan this year was to drink beers only from breweries that I'd never tried beer from before. On paper, this sounds relatively easy when faced with 1000+ choices but, as we shall see, it was easy to stray from the path.

As we entered the festival proper and began to soak up what was a noticeably jovial atmosphere, we first encountered the key keg bar. Amy was excited to try a few from this location. Last year a lot of the ones that we'd been after had already gone, even by Thursday, so this had influenced our decision to arrive a day earlier this time. Amy selected a very good sour from Vault City and I had, finally, made my first choice of the day. I began with a beer from Cat Asylum, a brewery based in Collingham, near Newark, where a best friend of mine lives. Blood Orange (4.6%) is a mixed fermentation pale ale infused with real blood orange from Sicily. It sounded excellent, smelled great and poured hazy but, unfortunately, was slightly on the sour side. I was hoping things would improve as I drank more of it during our wayfinding though. We wandered through the main marquee where we located the main stage, which had been moved to a different side of the tent, allowing for much more space in front. The previous stage location was occupied by the cricket ground's own in-house food van and beyond this was access to the seating within the terrace, overlooking the pitch. We briefly bumped into former work colleagues of mine and, after a brief chat during which my beer did not improve but I did at least finish it, we decided to have a further wander to fully take in the expanse of the area. The organisers, both within CAMRA and at the cricket ground itself, had clearly listened to feedback after last year's festival. Things were arranged in a way that made as much use of the space as possible, especially within the main marquee. The brewery bars were well positioned, and accessible and extra space had been utilised, both within the undercroft and beyond it, to incorporate more brewery bars, more food retailers and a second, smaller stage for acoustic performances. It was already a significant upgrade on the teething problems of the year before. As we continued to adapt to our surroundings, it was time for a second beer. Good beer names always attract me, so I was never going to pass up Dragon Slayer (4.1%), from Shadow Bridge in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. This smooth, sweet and hoppy golden ale was very tasty and refreshing, even if it did punch a bit lighter than its name would have suggested! Amy opted for a second sour from the key keg bar, and we decided to further explore. We were beginning to get our bearings now and the festival was in full swing, helped by the band playing rock covers on the main stage.

The reduced space in comparison to previous venues, such as both Nottingham Castle and the Motorpoint Arena, do indeed make this venue easier to navigate but it can get crowded in certain spaces at times, particularly and predictably, around the brewery bars. Still, we did manage to make our way through crowds without too much trouble. People swaying out of the way can often be an advantage! I'd already picked out my next drink, so we made our way back to one of the smaller bars, in a marquee adjacent to Hounds Road. Beer number 3 for the day came from Hush Brewing out of Northwich in Cheshire, with their superbly named My Girlfriend Loves Frogs (4.6%). As well being the most ridiculously named beer thus far, it's an extra pale ale with all English hops, specifically Admiral, Archer and Olicana. It was worth the pick for the name alone but was also a great beer overall. Amy indulged in Brew York's excellent Tonkoko which, had I not had on previous occasions, I probably would have joined her on. Working in hospitality, and having lived and worked in Nottingham for years, means I have a tendency to bump into people I know fairly regularly. It should come as no surprise that the same thing happened on the trade day of one of the UK's largest beer festivals. It was certainly very nice to see so many people out and about on a Wednesday and nice to be able to introduce Amy to people she'd previously only heard me talk about in passing. After an opening trio of pale beers, it was time to switch it up. Following a quick stop for more tokens, and back in the Hounds Road marquee, I'd identified another beer that I felt I had to try. Amy had also found something that she desperately wanted which was handily located on the same bar. Resting Devil are based in Chesterfield and their Chupacabra (4.6%) was calling out to me. Billed as a Mexican stout, this actually pours golden, but still retains a malty and bitter aroma. What makes it Mexican? The chillies of course! The beer starts off light and balanced but then the heat kicks in. It's gently warming though and not overwhelming.  It's an unusual juxtaposition of things but certainly proves the adage that chocolate and chilli are natural bedfellows. Amy's choice certainly bettered mine though. Newport's Tiny Rebel are known for, amongst other things, their Stay Puft marshmallow porter. They had provided a birthday celebration version, creatively monikered as Birthday Stay Puft, which can be described as a marshmallow & salted caramel birthday cake porter. It can also be described as heavenly, even at a hefty 10%. We drank our very different beers whilst chatting with staff and colleagues at the Castle Rock bar, some of whom were very confused by both the appearance and description of my beer. 

I decided to stay on the dark stuff for a little bit and it was back to the main marquee to check out a bit more of the entertainment. My next choice was, again, fairly local but a new brewery to me, in the shape of Derby's Little Brewing. I was immediately drawn to The Panther (4.2%), a smooth stout with hints of coffee, chocolate and whiskey. Whilst the coffee and chocolate were instantly recognisable, the whiskey was subtle but added a touch of warmth and woodiness. It turns out I'm a sucker for beers and breweries named after animals and mythical beasts. The area in front of the stage was rather busy so we moved back into the main marquee slightly to absorb more of the rock anthems being sung our way. This put us in a good location for our next couple of beers. My eye had earlier been drawn to a beer from 3P's from Woodville in Leicestershire. Despite the decidedly unappetising name, Black Damp (5%), sounded intriguing. This is an oatmeal, chocolate and plum stout. I was worried it would be too sweet, but the oatmeal rounds out the mouthfeel a touch, so it effectively becomes a slightly sweeter stout with chocolate notes. I enjoyed it, although Amy was less of a fan. It was so far, so good for my plan to drink from breweries with which I was unfamiliar. However, my plan was shortly to come slightly acropper, even if would be a minor deviation. In the run-up to the festival, I'd been made aware of a special beer that would be available. A one-off. A singular event. Navigation Brewery had brewed a 23% beer. 23%. That is not a typo. Amy & I had been determined not to cave to it for reasons that should be obvious. The beer: Grounds for Divorce, a powerful imperial stout, left to mature after being double mashed. We hadn't counted on the power of persuasion of one of our friends who just so happens to work in Navigation's brewery tap. Having been assured that it didn't taste its strength, it was worth it, and we'd regret it if we didn't, we relented and shared a third between us. On this occasion, peer pressure came up trumps. This was a gorgeous beer! Best described as treacle in a glass, it was smoky, smooth, sweet and somehow light tasting all at the same time. It was, literally, dangerously drinkable. Beer of the day? Possibly. Beer of the moment? Definitely!

It was back to business-as-usual following such a monster of a beer. I'd once again been drawn in by a name, this time of both beer and brewery, and we once again headed back along the concourse to the nano bar. Another Welsh brewery, this time Weird Dad from Newport, would be providing my next source of refreshment. White Wellie (5.6%) is an IPA hopped with Simcoe. This provided big American hop flavours at a proper IPA strength. It was indeed a nice day for a White Wellie (sincerest apologies to Billy Idol). We took a few minutes to once again explore the undercroft and the new areas that have been opened up this year. The evening had started to darken by now and the atmosphere, under the purple glow of fairy lights, was welcoming, comfortable and lots of fun. No risk of bad light stopping play! The temperature had also dropped a touch, so we resolved to return to the main marquee where a larger number of people ensured that it was slightly warmer than elsewhere. As we perused our options for the next few beers, we were drawn again to the stage where another act was now performing. A piano-led, rock 3-piece were wowing the crowd with songs that certainly didn't lack emotion or talent and had definitely drawn a substantial audience. Searing vocals added an almost haunting feel to the tent and the whole thing landed somewhere between Radiohead, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Hope of the States, with no disrespect meant to any of those bands or, indeed, the guys on stage, who were, it must be said, doing a cracking job. I went south for my next beer. Riverside in Upper Beeding, West Sussex weren't a name I knew and so warranted further investigation. I went for Steyning Stinker (5.1%), a hoppy pale with floral and pine character and a hint of grapefruit. The move back to pale for my recent duo had served me well. My palate felt refreshed and so did we.

I would not stay on the pale beers for long though and I soon spotted my next target, in the solitary beer provided for the festival by Island from, you guessed it, the Isle of Wight. Vectis Venom (4.8%), as it is known, is a ruby tinted dark brown ale with an underlying smoothness. I wasn't sure what I expected but it proved to a good idea to pick something that took me back to my southern roots. We both had a few vouchers left to get through at this stage but had made the decision that we would use what we had and then call it a night. This meant that I wanted to make sure I selected my last few beers carefully to make the most of the tokens that we still had. Next on my list was another beer that was in with a shout of being beer of the day. Coming from Liverpool's Black Lodge, Five Foot Assassin (5.8%), is a big, juicy, hazy IPA. The flavours are brimming with stone fruit and sweet berry. It was very very good indeed. I would comfortably have drunk it all day had I felt so inclined. Black Lodge are a brewery that I'll be seeking out more of in future. I was clearly in the mood for something fruity at this point as my next choice was not too far removed. Steering back to the east Midlands, I chose something from Harrison's, based in Retford. Proof of Concept (4.3%) does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a double dry hopped IPA with massive flavours of grapefruit, lemon, peach and orange. It's basically like drinking a fruit salad or a smoothie and feels like it should be quite a bit stronger than it is. 

Amy had exhausted her supply of vouchers now and, for my part, I had enough left to cover two more beers. It was a no-brainer then to try and end on some strong beers but without going overboard. The penultimate beer of the evening came from Essex, more accurately Brentwood, based in Pilgrim's Hatch. Lumber Jack (5.2%) is their take on an ESB. It's a strong beer, but perfect for the style, as it comes with a slight sweetness and a full body. Timberrrrr!! I love a good ESB and this ticks all the boxes. Two vouchers left meant one last beer. What would I choose? How could I round off what had been a fabulous day? The answer lay with Guisborough brewery from, er, Guisborough in North Yorkshire, and their beer called Boba (5%). This sounded like an intriguing beast and worthy of my final tokens. I wasn't wrong. Boba is an old brown ale in style but with US hops and a modern twist. Somehow this has combined into a belter of a beer. Big malty aromas, proper bitterness and a delicate note of citrus that brings the whole thing together. Boba and out?

And with that, we were done. Vouchers depleted, glasses tucked away safely, we headed out into the Nottingham night and summoned an Uber to convey us home. What an evening it had been! This year's festival felt like an improvement on last year's. It certainly conveyed more of the feel of a finished product. The use of more of the available concourse and undercroft space was an inspired idea and made the venue feel more open. It also meant that there was generally more to do, more to see and more of a showcase for local entertainment and food vendors. The real question, however, is always about the beers. I have no complaints. Barring a slightly dodgy opener, the middle order and the tail end had been brilliant! Every beer was different, exciting and showcased different things. Each and every brewery and cidery that contributed to the phenomenal range of products available should be commended. Preparing for an event of this size and scale on an annual basis is no easy task and everyone, from the organisers to the volunteers, and the brewers themselves, have consistently risen to the task with aplomb. On a personal level, I was very happy with how I'd stuck to my theme, one small trip off-piste notwithstanding. So, what's next for the future of the festival? Whilst no firm decision appears to have been made at the time of writing, the festival could do worse than remain where it is. The organisers learned from the feedback of last year and adjusted things accordingly. There's no reason why, assuming it's run and operated in the same manner, that Trent Bridge can't continue to be the festival's home for many years to come. There's something to be said for enjoying amazing beers and entertainment at one of Nottingham's most iconic venues. Whatever the next step is, and wherever the festival might end up, rest assured that I will follow. You never know, I might run out of cricket references in the meantime.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Joyce of late Summer/Lowd & Clear

I stayed well within county boundaries for this most recent of trips, and made the most of some excellent late summer weather to explore a couple of neighbouring destinations that lie a little bit closer to home, albeit amongst slightly more rural surroundings. Last week, I decided to take advantage of local transport once again to explore the Nottinghamshire villages of Burton Joyce and Lowdham. Located as they are on the main route to the town of Southwell, I had similar hopes for them as I had for Southwell itself when it featured in a previous entry, almost 3 years ago. Arriving in Nottingham city centre at late morning, I hopped onto the Pathfinder 26 bus which serves both of the villages in quick succession. What would I find? Would my expectations be met or exceeded or would I be disappointed? It wouldn't be long until I found out as, a mere half an hour or so later, I arrived in the first of the two villages: Burton Joyce.

Burton Joyce is a large village and civil parish in the Gedling district, 7 miles (11 km) east of Nottingham, between Stoke Bardolph to the south and Bulcote to the north-east. The A612 links it to Carlton and Netherfield to the south-west and Lowdham to the north-east. Initially the site of an Iron age fort, it was occupied by Norman nobility, who founded St Helen's Church. From being a farming community, Burton Joyce grew in the early Industrial Revolution, earning repute up to the 1920s for its textile products. Many of today's 3,443 inhabitants commute to work or school in Nottingham. It forms with Stoke Bardoph and Bulcote the Trent Valley ward of Gedling, with two councillors.

There is archaeological evidence such as a blade implement and arrowheads pointing to habitation in the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras. The Bronze Age finds have proved more numerous. They include a set of ring ditches, a rapier and several spearheads. The village is also notable for the site of a substantial Iron Age hillfort or bertune, later to be pronounced "Burton" in the Norman fashion (the name of the village until the early 14th-century). It was excavated in 1950–1951. The discovery of Gaulish-made samian ware and a distinctive coin, along with coarse-gritted and medieval pottery, have led archaeologists to believe that the fort was occupied by Roman soldiers sometime after their invasion of Britain in 43 AD under Vespasian. Such was not uncommon in other hill forts of the Iron Age, with Maiden Castle and Hod Hill, both in Dorset, later occupied by Romans as strategic military bases.

The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to "a church and a priest, sixteen acres of meadow...In the confessours time, and then at the taking the said survey, valued at one mark of silver," indicating occupancy of the then Bertune in Anglo-Saxon times. Little is known of the original church, except that reclaimed skerry stone was used to build the north aisle of the village's current St Helen's Church by Norman settlers. The aisle, unusually wide for its time, is thought to represent a much larger structure than customary in that period.

Restoration of the building in the 13th or early 14th century included a southward extension and rebuilding of the chancel, which may have been done by the aristocratic de Jorz family. Robert de Jorz as Lord of the Manor would become Sheriff of Nottingham in 1331. He was granted 20 oak trees on the King's behalf in 1307 and may have used the timber to benefit the church, which at the time was dedicated to St Oswald. Taking ownership of the Burton settlement, Robert added his surname to the village name, which became Burton Jorz and eventually Burton Joyce.

Following Roman Catholic tradition in the life of De Jorz, the church was closely associated with the nearby Shelford Priory. In 1348 Augustinian monks purchased the rights to handle many of the church's affairs for the considerable sum of £20; responsibilities included maintenance of the chancel and payment of the Vicar (the latter an obligation until the Reformation).

Burton Joyce's history in the early modern period is largely agricultural. Evidence includes the presence of hedgerows on the bank of the River Trent, erected in the 16th century to enforce the Tudor land enclosure policy. (Wider enclosure of the area ensued from 1769.) The construction of timber farm buildings at a similar period, including barns, have proved to be some of the village's longest standing structures. Prominent landowners at the time included the Padley family, whose mansion was built in 1500 and owned by the family for some 300 years. It was demolished in the 1960s, but a street close by is named Padleys Lane. The rest of the population were mostly agricultural labourers, who numbered about 150 in the 17th century, rising to 447 according to the 1801 census.

The village church, re-dedicated to St Helen and denominated as an Anglican place of worship, fell into disrepair sometime before the 18th century. Robert Thoroton in The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire (1677) expressed distaste at various architectural features, deeming them obsolete and unattractive. Efforts by churchwardens to do repairs were reversed in 1725 when a flood inflicted damage to a cost of £1,021, with donations made by the Church of St Mary Magadalene of Newark-on-Trent later deemed to be squandered on a poor restoration attempt by the likes of Thomas Henry Wyatt and Sir Stephen Glynne. Burton Joyce's traditional Protestantism was also under threat at this time, with strong Non-conformist and Puritanical influences pervading the 17th century, as they did also in the 18th century, with the Vicar identifying a family of Anabaptists and two of Presbyterians in a report to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Herring.

I arrived in Burton Joyce shortly before 12.30 and immediately set about finding my bearings. I had disembarked the bus slightly earlier than planned due to prolonged roadworks on the normal route meaning that a diversion was in place. This diversion would have bypassed the majority of the pubs in the village so I improvised and set myself to walking for a few minutes to get to my first destination. This was planned to be the Cross Keys on Main Street. However, upon arrival, the pub did not appear to be open. There was no sign of movement inside or out and, although the windows were open, the doors were firmly closed. The 'K' from the word 'Keys' had also fallen off which distinctly didn't bode well for the pub's fortunes. The status of the pub remains unclear. I circled back round later to see if I'd got the opening hours wrong but nothing had changed. Answers on a postcard please! Luckily, I had much more luck at my next stop. A short walk from the Cross Keys, in the shadow of the church, sits The Wheatsheaf. 

Now part of the Chef & Brewer portfolio, the current pub was built on the site of an earlier Wheat Sheaf Inn. This new building was designed by renowned 1930s pub architect T. Cecil Howitt, who was also responsible for the Art Deco Vale Hotel in Daybrook. The present interior bears little resemblance to the original design and has been substantially redeveloped in the intervening years. The previous Wheat Sheaf was under the ownership of victualler Samuel Taylor in 1823. An imposing building, with entrances to the front and side, the pub has a large, open plan dining area either side of a central bar. A smaller zone, for comfortable drinking, lies just inside the door. Outside is a large front patio with picnic tables and parasols, with a large car park to both sides. The Wheatsheaf was registered as an Asset of Community Value on 11th May 2016 by Gedling Borough Council after a nomination by Nottingham CAMRA and underwent significant refurbishment in August of the same year. The current look includes exposed brickwork, stained timber and tiled floors. I'd worked up a considerable thirst by the time I arrived here and was determined to get stuck in. The aforementioned bar has 5 handpulls, all of which were occupied at the time of my visit. With Chef & Brewer falling under the Greene King umbrella, it's not a surprise that most of the offerings were from that stable. My options were Greene King IPA (which is doubled up), Yardbird and Abbot Ale, with St. Austell Tribute occupying the final pump. For my first beer of the day, I segued away from the Tribute for now and went for the Yardbird. I then decided it would be remiss not to take advantage of the warm and sunny weather and took my beer out to the front patio. The Yardbird turned out to be a decent enough beer to begin the day on. At 4%, it's full of tropical fruit and mango flavours, with an overall floral quality and a bite of lemon underneath. The body is good with a lingering, slightly bitter finish. Whether the combination of being outside and summer sunshine enhances the quality of the beer is anyone's guess but it's not a bad beer, all told.

I was eager to see what the next of Burton Joyce's pubs had to offer by way of comparison. Leaving the Wheatsheaf through the front car park, I turned right and crossed over Church Road. Turning right again, I followed the road until I reached a play park and turned left onto Chestnut Grove. Following this road, I soon came in sight of my next stop, nestled at the end of the lane. On, now, to The Nelson.


Formerly an EI Group (Enterprise Inns) pub, the Nelson is now operated by the Buddy Good Pub Co., a small, independent pub chain. The pub has been licensed since at least 1855, when R. Thorpe had the premises and in 1876 the publican was Alfred Shaw, himself a former England Test cricket captain. This is a cosy, amiable pub with modern features, quirky contemporary design and a substantial beer garden. The decor blends wooden floors with terracotta tiles and stylish wall coverings. Internally, a central bar serves a small area to the front and a separate restaurant to the rear, which merge together well when the pub is busy. The garden contains a number of tables, as well as a gazebo which hosts both private functions and live music. The Nelson was already busy when I arrived, with a queue close to spilling out the door as people line up to order food at the bar. The queue dissipated fairly quickly though and I was soon perusing the bank of 3 handpulls perched at one end. My choices here were between Thornbridge Jaipur, Blue Monkey BG Sips and Timothy Taylor Landlord. I decided, on this occasion, to drink local so went for the BG Sips. Once again, I thought outside seating would be a suitable vehicle to enjoy my beer so I managed to find a table in the bustling garden, albeit one without a protective parasol. The BG Sips (4%) was in excellent condition, very fruity and bitter with a refreshing finish. This is a little gem of a pub. The fact that it was so busy on a Tuesday afternoon is testament to this. The staff were fantastic, service was swift and everybody seemed happy. Plus, I got to see a guide dog puppy and that's always a bonus!

By and large, Burton Joyce had been a success so it was time to push on with the second leg of my afternoon. Making my way back along Church Road, I picked up the Pathfinder 26 again, just at the point where it leaves the village. No more than 5 minutes later, I was disembarking again, at the war memorial, in the neighbouring village of Lowdham. 

Lowdham is a village and civil parish in the Newark and Sherwood district. At the 2001 census it had a population of 2,832, increasing to 3,334 at the 2011 Census. Two main roads slicing through the village are the A6097 south-east to north-west and the A612 between Nottingham and Southwell. 

This seems to be an Old English masculine personal nickname, Hluda, + hām (Old English), village, a village community, a manor, an estate, a homestead., so"Hluda's homestead or village". However, the name Lowdham points also to a Danish origin (earlier Ludham and Ludholme).

Relics of the Middle Ages remaining are an alabaster slab and a figure of a knight in armour, in the chancel of the church, inscribed to the memory of Sir John de Loudham. The dog at the feet of the effigy suggests that Loudham was a warrior. According to one source, "Many of the Crusaders are represented with their feet on a dog, to show that they followed the standard of the Lord as faithfully as a dog follows the footsteps of his master."

The old church and the castle mound are to the west of the bypass. St Mary's Church dates back to before the 14th century. In 1826 a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (Top Chapel) was built in Ton Lane, and in 1844 an Independent Primitive Methodist Chapel (Bottom Chapel) appeared in the Main Street. The Ton Lane chapel closed in 1986. The Bottom Chapel continues in use as an Independent Methodist church.

To the north-east of the bypass is Lowdham Mill. There is now little sign of the frame knitting industry that was important in this area in the 19th century. In 1844 there were 94 stocking frames working in Lowdham.

The point at which I got off the bus sits at a crossroads, with one of my target pubs right on it. I would be returning to this pub in due course however, as I had another location to tick off first. Turning right at the crossroads (when facing towards the Southwell road), took me onto Station Road, so named for Lowdham train station, located here and still operational on the routes to Lincoln. Next to the station, and aptly named, is The Railway.

The Railway dates back to at least the 19th century. In 1876, it was a fully licensed establishment under publican Samuel Martin. Now operated by the Secret Pub Company, the pub was extensively renovated in March 2017. The layout is open plan, with an interior consisting of a central bar and extended dining areas in the 'wings' of the building. The decor is simple but contemporary but also contains hints of the past with railway memorabilia and old photos reflecting the pub's proximity to the railway station. The side entrance foyer has also been decorated to resemble an old fashioned ticket office. There is also well appointed outside seating to the rear. Furniture in the bar area consists of scrubbed wooden tables and chairs. A bank of 5 handpumps sits on the bar. At the time of my visit, 4 of these are in use, featuring Wye Valley HPA, Sharp's Doom Bar, Dark Star Hophead and Lancaster Brewery Lancaster Blonde. It's the Lancaster Blonde that immediately catches my interest. Once again coming in at 4%, this is a well-balanced, pale bitter and hop flavours that last well into the finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially in the surroundings of such a nice, almost hidden pub. The atmosphere and decor provide a warm welcome for everyone. It was a real shame when I had to drag myself away. 

Tear myself away I did though. There was more exploring to be done after all. Retracing my steps, I returned to the crossroads where I had first entered the village and where I had first spotted the next stop on the day's itinerary. The crossroads is served by a pedestrian crossing that lines up perfectly with the pub door, which makes it very convenient indeed. Next stop: the Magna Charta.

This Greene King-operated premises has been licensed since at least 1876, when the publican was John Farley. Another former landlord was footballer Tommy Lawton. Born in Bolton in 1919, he went on to play for Burnley, Everton, Chelsea, Notts County, Brentford, Arsenal and Kettering Town, was capped 23 times for England and also managed Brentford, Kettering and Notts County, where he was also chief scout and a coach. He passed away in Nottingham in 1996, aged 77. Nowadays, the pub is plush and modern and decorated to a high standard. The bar is L-shaped and the interior is divided up into smaller sections, affording some privacy in what is a large pub. Some booths in the dining area include individual wall mounted TVs. Slogans and catchphrases are painted on some of the walls, which are bright and well decorated. The pub is part of the 'Eating Inn' portfolio of the wider Greene King group of pubs. The bar includes 4 handpulls, 3 of which were occupied when I was there. The options were Greene King Abbot Ale, Greene King IPA and St. Austell Tribute. I went for the Tribute this time and sat on a high chair at the bar, soaking up the surroundings. This is clearly an old building. Some of the windows are fairly low, particularly at the side of the pub. All in all, it's a welcoming, comfortable place that feels relaxed during the day but no doubt is much busier and energetic at busier times. The Tribute was well kept too. It's always a beer I've enjoyed so it makes a difference when a pub keeps it and presents it well. 

Something a bit more traditional was on the cards next. Leaving the Magna Charta, I turned right and then immediately right again onto Main Street. This is a picturesque road filled with nice houses and period buildings as well as the occasional shop. A couple of minutes of walking brings you to a cracking little pub on the right hand side, opposite the village hall. I had now arrived at The Old Ship Inn.

The Old Ship is believed to be the oldest public house in Lowdham, with the earliest landlord being traced back to 1788. In 1855, the publican was J. Paling and the pub was registered as an Asset of Community Value in June 2016. The current landlord and landlady took over in October 2018 and oversaw a refurbishment in November of the same year. The pub comprises a lounge with a separate restaurant area behind, a snug, a smaller, separate bar area and a beer garden. There is also outside seating on a raised area to the front of the pub, accessible up steps from the road. Low, wooden beams and wood panelling add to the homely feel and there are several references to famous ships throughout. A blue plaque on the exterior wall, by the entrance, is dedicated to Harold Cottam, the wireless operator of HMS Carpathia, who received the SOS message from the Titanic and saved 750 lives. He retired to the village in 1958. A small model of the Titanic sits on a shelf in the lounge. Seating throughout is a combination of scrubbed wood and banquettes. The bar features 6 handpulls, split into 2 banks of 3, one bank in each of the bar areas. 4 were available during my time there, with a choice between Blue Monkey Infinity IPA, Sharp's Doom Bar, Oakham Citra and Castle Rock Screech Owl. I've waxed lyrical about my fondness for Citra on multiple occasions (some would say too many) so it was an easy choice. I took a seat just across from the bar and took time to have a proper look at the pub, whilst trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation between local labourers sat at the bar, who were discussing other pubs in the local area. I do have an affinity for certain types of pub and the Old Ship definitely fits into that category. Something about historic pubs with wooden beams and a higgledy-piggledy layout immediately charms me. Even more so when the beer is good. I'm a sucker for the traditional things. 

As much as it pained me, I had to move on again after my beer. I had one more stop on my tour. Leaving the Old Ship, I turned right and then took the next left onto Ton Lane. Following this on, I came to a dual carriageway, part of the Epperstone Bypass road. Using the pedestrian crossing, I made my way to the other side, carried on for a few more yards and then took the next left onto Plough Lane. This is effectively a country track that runs between houses and about halfway down, appropriately, you will find Worlds End.

Situated just outside of the village proper, this Marston's pub dates back to the 1800s and was previously known as The Plough, which is believed to have given its name to the adjacent road. In 1855, the publican was J. Cragg and in 1876, Thomas Sears. The pub was listed as an Asset of Community Value in May 2016. A list of licensees dating back to the pub's opening is displayed behind the bar. Internally, a front entrance leads into a central area with a section to the left for dining. A smaller area, for drinkers is to the right, which is where you will find the bar. An outside space with covered seating is across the courtyard from the front entrance and there is a larger beer garden to the rear, accessed through the pub. This being a Marston's pub, it's unsurprising to know that the beer selection is from amongst the group's various breweries. Half of the 6 handpulls were in use, offering a choice between Marston's Pedigree, Wells Bombardier and Banks's Sunbeam, which I ultimately went for. This is a 4.2% pale ale brewed with Pilgrim, Citra and Nelson Sauvin hops. This provides a zesty hop aroma and flavours of gooseberry and grapefruit leading to a long, clean aftertaste. I opted to take this to the covered outside space and admire the impressive floral display that currently covers the front of the pub. The Sunbeam was drinkable enough. That sounds like a criticism and I suppose it sort of is. It wasn't terrible and it wasn't outstanding. As beers go, it hit the spot and that's all anyone can really ask for. In terms of the Worlds End as a whole, it's a relaxing place to spend a bit of time whiling away some minutes on a summer's day. I can imagine much comfort being offered to the weary traveller who would have come across it on a cold winter's night in years gone by.   

With that, my mission was complete. I returned my empty glass to the bar and made the short walk back the way I had come, past the Old Ship and the Magna Charta, to the opposing bus stop from whence I had come. A few minutes later, I was being conveyed back to Nottingham, giving me time to reflect on what I had seen and learned. I had gone into the day not quite knowing what to expect. I had known of Burton Joyce and Lowdham so had developed an image of what I had hoped the pubs would be like. I had expected a warm welcome, comfortable ambience and a sense of community. I had also expected decent beer. By and large, the pubs, and by extension the villages in which they reside, had delivered. Despite what a particular regular at work would have had me believe, the pubs are great and the beer is too! There's distinctly something about this area of the county that lends itself to relaxing afternoons spent with delicious beer in aesthetically pleasing surroundings. After all, with everything going on in this ever-worsening, ever more ridiculous hellhole of a world, we all need time to take pleasure in the simple things.