Thursday, December 24, 2015

Country Pursuits

For the second day of our time in the West Country, we decided to take things at a more leisurely pace than we had done on the previous day, particularly as it happened to be a Sunday. With the decision already made to visit the neighbouring town of Keynsham later in the day, we needed something to do for an afternoon and, with Matt offering to drive us, we embarked on a trip to a renowned point of historical interest and somewhere that has been high on my list of places to visit for a while. Jumping into Matt's car, once again without a still under the weather Jess, we made the journey into the nearby county of Wiltshire to visit the village of Avebury.

Avebury  is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles, around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England. One of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain, it contains the largest stone circle in Europe. It is both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary Pagans.
Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or 'New Stone Age', the monument comprises a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.
By the Iron Age, the site had been effectively abandoned, with some evidence of human activity on the site during the Roman occupation. During the Early Middle Ages, a village first began to be built around the monument, which eventually extended into it. In the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones around the henge, both for religious and practical reasons. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury during the 17th century, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeological investigation followed in the 20th century, led primarily by Alexander Keiller, who oversaw a project of reconstructing much of the monument.
Avebury is owned and managed by the National Trust, a charitable organisation who keep it open to the public. It has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, as well as a World Heritage Site, in the latter capacity being seen as a part of the wider prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire known as Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites.
The history of the site before the construction of the henge is uncertain, because little datable evidence has emerged from modern archaeological excavations. Evidence of activity in the region before the 4th millennium BCE is limited, suggesting that there was little human occupation.
What is now termed the Mesolithic period in Britain lasted from circa 11,600 to 7800 BP, at a time when the island was heavily forested and when there was still a land mass, called Doggerland, which connected Britain to continental Europe. During this era, those humans living in Britain were hunter-gatherers, often moving around the landscape in small familial or tribal groups in search of food and other resources. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that there were some of these hunter-gatherers active in the vicinity of Avebury during the Late Mesolithic, with stray finds of flint tools, dated between 7,000 and 4,000 BCE, having been found in the area. The most notable of these discoveries is a densely scattered collection of worked flints found 300 m (980 ft) to the west of Avebury, which has led archaeologists to believe that that particular spot was a flint working site occupied over a period of several weeks by a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers who had set up camp there.
The archaeologists Mark Gillings and Joshua Pollard suggested the possibility that Avebury first gained some sort of ceremonial significance during the Late Mesolithic period. As evidence, they highlighted the existence of a posthole near to the monument's southern entrance that would have once supported a large wooden post. Although this posthole was never dated when it was excavated in the early 20th century, and so cannot definitely be ascribed to the Mesolithic, Gillings and Pollard noted that its positioning had no relation to the rest of the henge, and that it may therefore have been erected centuries or even millennia before the henge was actually built. They compared this with similar wooden posts that had been erected in southern Britain during the Mesolithic at Stonehenge and Hambledon Hill, both of which were sites that like Avebury saw the construction of large monuments in the Neolithic.

In the 4th millennium BCE, around the start of the Neolithic period in Britain, British society underwent radical changes. These coincided with the introduction to the island of domesticated species of animals and plants, as well as a changing material culture that included pottery. These developments allowed hunter-gatherers to settle down and produce their own food. As agriculture spread, people cleared land. At the same time, they also erected the first monuments to be seen in the local landscape, an activity interpreted as evidence of a change in the way people viewed their place in the world.
Based on anthropological studies of recent and contemporary societies, Gillings and Pollard suggest that forests, clearings, and stones were important in Neolithic culture, not only as resources but as symbols; the site of Avebury occupied a convergence of these three elements. Neolithic activity at Avebury is evidenced by flint, animal bones, and pottery such as Peterborough ware dating from the early 4th and 3rd millennia BCE. Five distinct areas of Neolithic activity have been identified within 500 m (1,600 ft) of Avebury; they include a scatter of flints along the line of the West Kennet Avenue – an avenue that connects Avebury with the Neolithic site of The Sanctuary. Pollard suggests that areas of activity in the Neolithic became important markers in the landscape.
During the Late Neolithic, British society underwent another series of major changes. Between 3500 and 3300 BCE, these prehistoric Britons ceased their continual expansion and cultivation of wilderness and instead focused on settling and farming the most agriculturally productive areas of the island: Orkney, eastern Scotland, Anglesey, the upper Thames, Wessex, Essex, Yorkshire and the river valleys of the Wash.
Late Neolithic Britons also appeared to have changed their religious beliefs, ceasing to construct the large chambered tombs that are widely thought by archaeologists to have been connected with ancestor veneration. Instead, they began the construction of large wooden or stone circles, with many hundreds being built across Britain and Ireland over a period of a thousand years.

The Avebury area certainly has a unique atmosphere, one that is apparent as we pull into the visitor car park of the village and make our way into the village centre. We decided that we would have a wander around the stone circles before making our way to the local pub, one of the main reasons for our visit, as this has a lot of history associated with it as well. We made our way around the majority of the stones, encountering sheep and some people drumming against one of the stones in one of the fields. This is certainly an intriguing place and the sheer scale of the site is impressive. This is in fact believed to be the largest stone circle in Europe, which is particularly noteworthy considering that a lot of the stones have been removed making it smaller than it was when it was initially constructed. As well as theories as to the origins and purpose of the stones, a number of legends have grown surrounding them. These include the alleged tale of a diamond-shaped stone by the roadside that is believed to cross the road at midnight and 'The Haunt', a name given by local residents to a mysterious entity that is responsible for poltergeist-like activity in houses that are built from local stone. It's unsurprising that stories like this have developed in an area with a long and mysterious past centred around an ancient monument. The stories of strange happenings continue at the place that was the main reason of our visit. Located at the centre of the village, and renowned as the only pub in the world that sits inside a stone circle, is the world famous Red Lion.

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Now operated as part of the Olde English Inns estate, the building that is the Red Lion dates from the early 1600s and was a farmhouse until 1802 when it acquired an alcohol licence and became a coaching inn. The aforementioned strange happenings are many and the pub is one of many in the UK to proclaim itself the most haunted pub in the country. A phantom horse and carriage have been seen and heard clattering across the cobbled courtyard. Successive landlords have preferred not to discuss this particular apparition as it believed to be a harbinger of doom and means that a close relative is about to die. The most famous ghost at the inn is that of Florrie. During the Civil War, her husband is believed to have returned unannounced and caught her in the arms of another man. He shot her lover dead and slit his wife's throat before dragging her body to the well (still on the site), throwing her down it and sealing the well with a large boulder. Florrie has remained behind ever since and shows a particular affection for bearded customers. Opinion is divided as to whether they are a reminder of her husband or her lover. On one occasion, a chandelier in the pub began to spin alarmingly only for the landlord to realise that the gentleman sat beneath it was heavily bearded and had obviously attracted Florrie's attention. Florrie has also been seen emerging from, and disappearing into, the well which is now glassed over and actually acts as a table and a curiosity for drinkers and diners. Other areas of the pub also boast their own spirits. The ghosts of 2 children, seen cowering in a corner, haunt The Avenue Bedroom. An equally ethereal woman who sits writing at the table, either oblivious to or unconcerned by their evident distress, often accompanies them.

Into this legend-haunted building we stepped. The pub was busy, as expected for a Sunday, but it was easy enough to get to the bar, which is positioned to one side of the room with service to two sides. The interior is very traditional with exposed beams and whitewashed walls and a large amount of original features. There is a split level layout with a small dining area and a larger restaurant area up a small flight of steps. On the bar are 6 handpulls, all of which are doubled up, featuring Wadworth 6X, Greene King IPA and the pub's own Avebury Well Water. Matt and I opted for the Well Water, which is a traditional bitter with a very well balanced and smooth finish. It was very tasty and we managed to find the only available table, which just so happened to be the aforementioned covered well. It was certainly a strange feeling that we were sat around the same well in which someone is believed to have lost their life, particularly when the extent of the drop is clearly visible. We could have stayed in this fantastic place all day but time was getting on and the drive back to Bristol is around an area so we made our leisurely way back to the car for the journey back to the flat.

Having arrived home, we made the most of the opportunity to refuel. Our next plan was to make our way into the aforementioned town of Keynsham, this time journeying by bus as opposed to private transport. I didn't know much about Keynsham other than that it is the hometown of Bill Bailey and, according to Matt, has lots of good pubs. How good, and how many, we were about to discover.

Keynsham  is a town and civil parish between Bristol and Bath in Somerset, south-west England. It has a population of 16,000. It was listed in the Domesday Book as Cainesham, which is believed to mean the home of Saint Keyne.
The site of the town has been occupied since prehistoric times, and may have been the site of the Roman settlement of Trajectus. The remains of at least two Roman villas have been excavated, and an additional 15 Roman buildings have been detected beneath the Keynsham Hams. Keynsham developed into a medieval market town after Keynsham Abbey was founded around 1170. It is situated at the confluence of the River Chew and River Avon and was subject to serious flooding before the creation of Chew Valley Lake and river level controls at Keynsham Lock in 1727. The Great Flood of 1968 inundated large parts of the town. It was home to the Cadbury's chocolate factory, Somerdale, which opened in 1935 as a major employer in the town.
It is home to Memorial Park, which is used for the annual town festival and several nature reserves. The town is served by Keynsham railway station on the London-Bristol and Bristol-Southampton trunk routes and is close to the A4 road which bypassed the town in 1964. There are schools, religious, sporting, and cultural clubs and venues.
Evidence of occupation dates back to prehistoric times, and during the Roman period, Keynsham may have been the site of the Roman settlement of Trajectus, which is the Latin word for "bridgehead." It is believed that a settlement around a Roman ford over the River Avon existed somewhere in the vicinity, and the numerous Roman ruins discovered in Keynsham make it a likely candidate for this lost settlement.
In 1877 during construction of the Durley Hill Cemetery, the remains of a grand Roman villa with over 30 rooms was discovered. Unfortunately, construction of the cemetery went ahead, and the majority of the villa is now located beneath the Victorian cemetery and an adjacent road. The cemetery was expanded in 1922, and an archeological dig was carried out ahead of the interments, leading to the excavation of 17 rooms and the rescue of 10 elaborate mosaics.
At the same time as the grand Roman villa was being excavated at Durley Hill Cemetery, a second, much smaller Roman villas was discovered during the construction of Fry's Somerdale Chocolate Factory. Two fine stone coffins were also excavated, interred with the remains of a male and a female. The villa and coffins were removed from the site, and reconstructed near the gates of the factory grounds, and construction on the factory went ahead. Fry's constructed a museum on the grounds of the factory, which house the Durley Hill mosaics, the coffins, and numerous other artifacts for many years. The factory was shuttered in 2011, and the property sold to Taylor Wimpey for redevelopment into a housing community. In 2012, Taylor Wimpey carried out a detailed geophysical assessment of the area, and discovered an additional 15 Roman buildings centered around a Roman road beneath Keynsham Hams, with evidence of additional Roman buildings that have been disturbed by quarrying. Currently, there are no plans to excavate the Roman ruins at Keynsham Hams.
According to legend, Saint Keyne, daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (Brecon), lived here on the banks of the River Avon during the 5th century. Before settling here, she had been warned by the local King that the marshy area was swarming with snakes, which prevented habitation. St Keyne prayed to the heavens and turned the snakes to stone. The fossil ammonites found in the area were believed to be the result. However, there is no evidence that her cult was ever celebrated in Keynsham.
Some scattered archeological evidence suggests that an Anglo-Saxon settlement existed in Keynsham in the High Street area, and that in the 9th century a Minster church existed in Keynsham as well. The earliest documentary reference to Keynsham is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (c. 980) which refers to it as Cægineshamme, Old English for 'Cæga's Hamm.' The town is also listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as "Cainesham." It has therefore been suggested that the origin of Keynsham's name is not, in fact Saint Keyne, but from "Ceagin (Caega)."
Around 1170, Keynsham Abbey was founded by the Victorine congregation of canon regulars. Archeological evidence suggests that the abbey was built over the site of the previous Saxon Minster church. The settlement developed into a medieval market town, and the abbey of Keynsham was given ownership of the Keynsham Hundred. The Abbey survived until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, and a house was subsequently built on the site. The remains have been designated as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage.
Keynsham played a part in the Civil War as the Roundheads saved the town and also camped there for the night, using the pub now known as the Lock Keeper Inn as a guard post. During the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 the town was the site of a battle between royalist forces and the rebel Duke of Monmouth. Bridges Almshouses were built around 1685 and may have been for the widows of those killed in the rebellion.
Before the creation of Chew Valley Lake and river level controls at Keynsham Lock and weir, Keynsham was prone to flooding. The Great Flood of 1968 inundated large parts of the town, destroying the town's bridges including the county bridge over the Avon which had stood since medieval times, and private premises on Dapps Hill; the devastation was viewed by the Duke of Edinburgh. After the flood the Memorial Park, which had been laid out after World War II was extended.
Keynsham rose to fame during the late 1950s and early 1960s when it featured in a long-running series of advertisements on Radio Luxembourg for Horace Batchelor's Infra-draw betting system. To obtain the system, listeners had to write to Batchelor's Keynsham post office box, and Keynsham was always painstakingly spelled out on-air, with Batchelor famously intoning "Keynsham – spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M – Keynsham, Bristol". This was done because the proper pronunciation of Keynsham – "Cane-sham" – does not make the spelling of Keynsham immediately obvious to the radio listener.
Since the 1950s Keynsham has become a dormitory town for Bristol and Bath. The High Street shopping area has been remodelled, and a Town Hall, Library, and Clock Tower were built in the mid-1960s.
Design work for regeneration of the town hall area was awarded by Bath and North East Somerset Council to Aedas in 2010, with the works cost stated in 2011 to be £33 million (£34 million in 2012). Realisation of the plans is hoped to "attract new business and jobs", in the aftermath of the announcement of the Cadbury Somerdale Factory closure.
In January 2012, it was announced that the Willmott Dixon Group had been appointed as contractor on the scheme. The Council's planning committee in August 2012 deferred the approval decision, pending alterations to the external appearance of the building. These were approved in October 2012, with demolition commencing in the same month. The regenerated Civic Centre area came back into use in late 2014 and early 2015.

With this surprising amount of history, I was intrigued to see what Keynsham had to offer the casual Sunday evening drinker so, after a short bus journey, we arrived in the town a mere stone's throw from our first destination, The Lock Keeper.
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As the name suggests, the pub is situated directly on the river and has an enormous outside beer garden, although it is definitely too dark and chilly for sitting outside. The pub is operated by Young's and has a charming interior with a small bar just inside the entrance with tables and chairs situated opposite and a large, restaurant area to the rear as well as an enclosed conservatory. We were very much in the mood for food by this time so, after a quick perusal of the menu, we decided what we wanted and ordered. Beer-wise, the bar offers 4 handpulls, proffering Young's Bitter, Special, Winter Warmer and Bath Ales Gem. I opted for a pint of the Young's Special (4.5%). This has a fruity, hoppy aroma and a full well balanced flavour. Our food arrived shortly after. Matt had seafood pasta, Amy had venison lasagne and I had gone for the house burger. The food was excellent and it was complimented perfectly by the beer and the comfortable surroundings, adorned with photos of bygone times. Our evening in Keynsham had started very well indeed.

Just down the road from The Lock Keeper, tucked off to the side of the main road, was our next destination, The Brassmill.
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Part of the Vintage Inns portfolio, The Brassmill takes it's name from the previous building to occupy the site. The mill played an integral part in the development of Britain's brass manufacturing industry. By adapting Dutch techniques, Abraham Darby set up the first brass mills in Keynsham in around 1706. The final brass battery pans ever made in Britain were produced here in June 1927. The pub has retained the name in order to reflect the heritage of the building. The exterior is certainly still reminiscent of its previous life with its low-slung roofs and low windows on the side that faces the main road. The large beer garden overlooks the nearby river and the interior still houses the ancient traditional beams, now incorporated into the modern décor. The bar is long and seems relatively low, taking up most of the back of the room, with a large number of tables and booths throughout. The 3 handpulls offer a choice between Butcombe Bitter, St. Austell Tribute and Sharp's Doom Bar. I decided on a pint of very well kept Tribute, Matt went for Butcombe Bitter whilst Amy, on this occasion, decided to imbibe a pint of draught cider. We took a table over in one corner where it happened to be very warm and admired the interior of the pub, with more than one glance at the Christmas menu. The Brassmill has a very comfortable feel to it, much like The Lock Keeper although less contained and cosy.

The next part of our exploration of Keynsham saw us heading further into the town, away from the outskirts we had visited thus far. Our next 2 locations were slightly closer together after a moderate walk under the railway bridge into the more residential areas. First up, was The New Inn.

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Looking, for all intents and purposes like a private house, The New Inn is a small, two bar premises on a central road out of town. Each of the 2 bars serves a separate part of the building through one of 2 entrances with no internal access between the 2. The side through which we enter is distinctly reminiscent of a lounge with the bar to one side running into the smaller second room. There is a bench under the front window and a couple of small tables near a rather full trophy cabinet and a door that leads to the toilets. 3 of the 4 handpulls are in use and the choice is between Bass, Doom Bar and Bath Gem. Matt and I went for a pint of the Gem, which was excellent and Amy was once again on the cider. We picked a small, round table a short distance from the bar on which to spend our time here. This seems to be very much a community pub with a friendly atmosphere. Clearly, the rowdy group of people in the second room were having a lot of fun, as evidenced by the annoyed look on the face of one of the bar maids. Fair play to them I say! Pubs like this are few and far between and it was nice to see this one doing a decent trade. The New Inn is also Cask Marque accredited and dog friendly so there is definitely something for everyone here.

Almost directly opposite The New Inn, was our next stop. Running parallel to the main road and opposite a takeaway is The Talbot.
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This pub is part of Greene King's Fayre & Square arm and sits in a long, L-shaped building with the bar directly opposite the entrance and running around to right. The pub is very much food-driven with a large amount of seating, on high and low tables throughout. The beer choice here was limited. The 3 handpulls that are present only had Greene King IPA on offer alongside Old Rosie cider another hanging empty. The IPA was well kept which eased the pressure somewhat and the pub was relatively quiet so it was easy for us to have a nice chat whilst our pints went down. We were beginning to flag a little by this stage but we endeavoured to push on to at least one more pub before we called it a night. This meant more walking, this time down into the town centre proper. Whether it was due to it being a Sunday in November or whether it was the chilly weather, the town centre was very quiet with not many people around at all. After a few more minutes walking, we settled on our next location.

Along the high street, on the left hand side from our point of view, is The Old Bank.
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This is an interesting premises with a large drinking room downstairs and an upstairs function/pool room. It's previous life as a bank is still just about detectable in its internal layout with a small bar tucked into one corner and a large open space, save for a few tables against the wall. The bar is equipped with 6 handpulls, offering 4 ales and 2 ciders at the time of our visit. Beer-wise we are offered Hambrook Maiden Voyage, Cottage Midnight Porter, Otter Ale and Cottage Metropolitan with Nell Gwynne Cider and Thatcher's Berry Cider for the more apple-minded. The Cottage Metropolitan (4.7%) is a very nice caramel-coloured bitter with subtle biscuit flavours and a nice malty undertone. It is obviously a quiet night in Keynsham as we are almost alone in here, with the exception of a couple of gents playing pool. We enjoyed our beers in this pub and were here until almost closing. Feeling rather exhausted by this stage, we didn't quite have it in us to make our way to the next pub up the road but that may be one for next time as there are some other pubs in Keynsham that we also never got to put to the test. Drinks finished, a taxi was called and made our way back to the flat when a good night's sleep was waiting.

And so concluded another fantastic 48 hours in the southwest. Every time I visit, I enjoy it more and more and, with Amy converted to the Bristolian way of life, future trips will be a must. There is still so much to explore down here and, as previous trips have shown, an awful lot to look forward to in every visit. Bristol and the surrounding areas are fast becoming my favourite places to visit.
This more or less concludes this entry, probably my last for 2015. A good year has been had and many more places visited. I have an itinerary lined up for my next few excursions so I'm expecting 2016 to be an exciting year. All being well, I shall bring you news of these and further trips in the not too distant future! I bid you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Best of Bristol

Roughly a month ago, making the most of a much needed weekend off, Amy and I took the opportunity to venture to the West Country to visit Matt and Jess and further explore the fabulous city of Bristol. This was Amy's first ever trip to Somerset and so it made sense to introduce her to the best bits, particularly as we had the advantage of a Saturday and Sunday on which to explore. We arrived around lunch time and, following a fortifying pasty, Amy, Matt and I embarked on a rather chilly bus journey into the city centre (in the absence of a poorly Jess), with the intention of exploring some places new to me and introducing Amy to some old favourites. What followed was a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday in one of my favourite places.

Our journey began a short walk from Cabot Circus where we got off the bus. Tucked away on a quiet side street is a real hidden gem: The Volunteer Tavern.
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This is a 17th century wood-panelled pub with a growing reputation for excellent real ales and superb food, driven on by careful, shrewd ownership. There is a large beer garden to the rear, through which we enter, with seats and table legs constructed from old casks. Inside, the pub is very cosy with a nice, friendly atmosphere and a small bar tucked into the corner to the left of the front entrance. All of the 6 handpulls are in use, offering a choice of Plain Ales Innocence, Wickwar Falling Star, Oakham Gangster, Heavy Industry Collaborator, Fallen Grapevine and Boss Bewitched. After a moment to acclimatise to the wonderful feel of the place, I opted towards a pint of Falling Star (4.2%) from Wiltshire based Wickwar brewery. This proved to be a good choice, with distinctive and complex flavours and aromas delivered through a combination of Cascade, Willamette and Mittlefruh hops. It brings a well balanced and refreshing finish through its strong golden colour. This pub was certainly a good place to start the day with its relaxed feel and excellent beers. We took a seat at a table a short distance from the bar, admiring the surroundings as we supped our brews. I am always very excited about visiting Bristol, largely to experience the wide range of drinking establishments, especially those that are new to me. Amy was very excited about what else the day had to offer and I could tell she was already enjoying her time in the West Country.

Our next destination was further back into the centre of the city, near some places that we had visited on my last trip down. Situated at the bottom of a very steep climb to the higher reaches of the city, is the Christmas Steps.
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Perched on the corner of two intersecting streets, this traditional olde worlde pub is named after the street on which its entrance stands. There are conflicting theories as to the origin of the street's unusual name.
The street was originally called Queene Street in medieval times before becoming known as Knyfesmyth Street, after the tradesmen there. The Middle English pronunciation of Knyfesmyth, with the K sounded, may be the origin of the street's modern name. An alternative theory is based on the nativity scene found in a stained glass window of The Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, which stands at the top of the steps.
In the 17th century, the Christmas Steps is also believed to have been called Lonsford’s Stairs for a short period, in honour of a Cavalier officer who was killed at the top of the steps during the siege of Bristol in the English Civil War.
After the main set of steps the steps continue on the other side of Colston Street and then again across Perry Lane, leading to St Michael's Church these steps were originally unbroken by road and known as St. Michael's steps.
Whatever the reason behind the naming of the street, it has been eagerly adopted as the name of the pub. The interior is mostly traditional with exposed beams and lots of exposed brickwork breaking up individual areas. The pub also benefits from a split level layout with a small drinking area directly inside, the bar up a small flight of steps and a further, larger drinking area, with an extension to the bar, up another small staircase. This is another pub with a comfortable and homely feel to it, benefiting from its location and its décor, with lots of photos of local history as well as old brewery memorabilia. On the bar, 4 of the 5 available handpulls are in use, with an interesting mix of local beers available. During our visit, we have a choice of Arbor SX Bomb, Crack Hops, Arbor Chocolata and Yeovil Ruby. I was instantly drawn to the SX Bomb and decided that a pint of this was necessary. At 4.7%, this is a hoppy, golden ale brewed using a healthy quantity of Southern Cross hops. It was very tasty indeed and conversation turned to the plans for the rest of the weekend as we sat on a long table just inside the entrance. Matt had formulated an excellent itinerary for our first day and we were all eager to continue. After a quick toilet break (once we found them in the pub's labyrinthine interior) it was time to move on to our next stop.

Moving to the top of Christmas Steps and onwards up the ensuing hill, we headed towards a place that Matt had told me a lot about and which I was very keen to explore in more detail. At the top of the hill and slightly further along, is the Brewhouse.
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I instantly realised that this is part of a growing chain, all under the Brewhouse name, with each venue acting as a microbrewery for its own location as well as offering excellent food and craft beers from further afield. The chain developed from a single premises in nearby Dorchester and there are now 11 across the country, including one in Portsmouth, hence my previous experience with the name. Formerly known as Crockers and Finnegan's Wake, and built on the site of the 18th century Whiteladies Tavern, the pub opened in its current incarnation on March 2nd this year after undergoing a major refurbishment. Inside, there is a large expanse of seating amidst an open plan layout with a strong, modern feel to the décor. Oddly, the pub has a patio area which is situated across the road that runs outside. There is also a piano in the corner of the room which has the lyrics to Peter Gabriel's classic 'Sledgehammer' written all across it. As with the other pubs in this chain, the beers are brewed and themed to local interests. To that end, the pub is offering 4 beers from the 6 available handpulls, namely Xmas Cheer, Hornigold, Yankee Cabot and Crockers with another handpull providing Harry's Medium Cider. Amy opted for a 6.9% saison which was certainly delicious but a bit too heavy for me at this time of day. Instead, Matt and I decided to get festive with a pint each of Xmas Cheer, a dark, slightly fruity, very tasty beer for the occasion. The pub offers beer in quantities of 1/2, 1/3 and 2/3 as well as a full pint, giving you the option of how much you consume. A pint will do for me I think! It's nice to see pubs like this, with their emphasis on locally brewed beer and local ingredients, still thriving. You can't get much more local than brewing on the premises!

Our next location was scheduled to be The Penny a couple of doors down. However, with this temporarily closed for refurbishment, we were forced to revise our idea. Turning back on ourselves, we headed back down the hill to a place we'd passed on our way to the Brewhouse. Situated just up the hill from the top of Christmas Steps, in the shadow of Zero Degrees (visited on a previous trip), is The Ship.

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Having recently undergone a tasteful refurbishment, the Ship now boasts a contemporary, industrial-style interior, with some raised seating areas around one side of the room and a large central bar. There are also a number of TVs regularly showing local sport (rugby during our visit). The bar includes 6 handpulls, 5 of which are in use when we visit, offering Adnams Ghost Ship, Lees Manchester Pale Ale, Caledonian XPA, Ship IPA and Theakston's Old Peculier. The 3 of us all decided that we would try the pub's own Ship IPA and this proved to be a wise move. This is a very well balanced beer with a fine mix of fresh hops and a dry, malty finish. It didn't take us long until we'd finished our pints and we were now fairly sure that we had immersed Amy in some of the character of Bristol. Up to this point, all of these locations had been new to both of us but now we moved on to some places that we'd visited before so that Amy could get a feel of what else was on offer.

Next up, just around the corner, was one of, if not the, favourite of Matt and I's previous Bristolian excursions. I speak, of course, of The Gryphon.
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Regular readers may remember this fantastic pub from my previous visit to this neck of the woods and I'm pleased to report that things are still going strong despite a fairly serious fire that has resulted in the nearby street being closed off, although thankfully leaving the pub unscathed. Amy was instantly impressed by the similarities between the Gryphon and pubs back home in Nottingham. On offer, amongst the 4 of the 6 handpulls that were being used, were Tyne Bank Northern Porter, Goddards Mocha Stout, Salopian Midnight Express and Elderflower Blonde. I decided on the Northern Porter (4.5%), which gives a rich and warming flavour with a subtle and delicate smoky character. I will never cease to be impressed by this pub. Not least because of its ever-changing choice of beers but also by it's awesome soundtrack and amazing atmosphere in such a small building. This will definitely be a pub that we will continue to come back to again and again and I'm sure that Amy will agree!

It was another revisit next, this time to the first Bristol pub Matt and Jess ever took me to. Situated on the harbour side, and renowned for its homemade pizza and ridiculous quantities of cider, I have fond memories of The Stable.
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Our initial plan was to have food here before we ventured to the next pub. This was slightly more difficult than planned as the pub doesn't take bookings for small groups and we arrived to find that there was a 45 minute wait. Undeterred, we were prepared to get a drink and wait. I've mentioned before that this pub sells an unbelievable quantity of cider and it would have taken a separate blog entry to least every variety! I opted for a pint of a delicious cider known as Devil's Leaf which sounds faintly ominous but was actually very fruity and tasty. At this point, as we located the only available seating in the building, Amy had a brainwave and suggested that instead of eating here, we forego food for now and get takeaway back at Matt and Jess's flat, thereby confirming another reason why I''ll be marrying that woman! We agreed that this was a superb plan, just as we were told our table was ready. Never mind. Maybe we'll partake of The Stable's food again another time.

It was once again time to move on and, on the way to our next destination, we bumped into a furry friend, an adorable canine crossbreed called Chubs. After a few minutes making fuss of this very cute dog, we took a slow wander to our next stop, another prior favourite, colloquially known as the cat pub but technically known as the Bag O' Nails.

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This pub is another that has featured in a prior blog and is renowned for 3 things: a large quantity of cats on the premises, the hilarious landlord's rules written on the pillar at the end of the bar and, most importantly for our purposes, excellent beer. The pub is heaving when we arrive and there are around 5 cats curled up in boxed on the front of the bar. Amongst the cuddly felines are 8 handpulls, 7 of which are in use, offering beers from near and far. We are provided with a choice of Brythonic Vanilla Stout, Bude Haven, Harbour EIP, Left Handed Duet, Persuasion Golden Ale, Arbor Grifter and Mumbles Wild Thing. Attracted largely by the name, I opted for a pint of Wild Thing (5.6%), a green hopped pale ale with a strong, hoppy aroma and a very fruity, smooth finish. We made an effort to make friends with the cats whilst we enjoyed our beers but we couldn't really get close enough as the pub was literally standing room only by this point. Instead, we spent time spelling out messages in magnetic letters on the aforementioned pillar, culminating in 'Amy and Aaron Forever You Bitches'! Hell yes! We were having an awesome time and we weren't even done yet. We still had a couple more places to show Amy.

The penultimate location took us back to the river and saw us boarding the fabled cider boat, The Apple.

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This being a Saturday night, the boat was rammed and we had to fight our way to the bar. The Apple offers, amongst a large number of real ciders, a selection of cocktails made with cider. I wasn't sure how that was going to end so played it relatively safe with Rich's Medium, a medium, very drinkable cider with a pleasingly warm finish. We managed to get a seat on a table near the entrance gangway as we reflected upon where our day had brought us so far. We were all starting to feel a bit tired and worse for wear by now but we were determined to complete our route.

Last, but by no means least, we decided to visit the Bristol branch of Brewdog as Amy is a big fan of the Nottingham one and we wanted to show her the difference between the two.
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I'm a big fan of Brewdog as much as I know it causes some debate amongst real ale drinkers. Despite the controversy associated with it, nothing ever stops me from going to Brewdog and ordering a pint of 5am Red Ale, so I wasn't about to break that tradition here. Amy went for Punk IPA and Matt went for a pint of cider (I think!) and we grabbed a table not far from the window. Today had been a good day and we had thoroughly exhausted ourselves throughout the course of visiting so many pubs. It was great being back in Bristol and this time was even better as I had been able to introduce my future wife to the delights of this particular part of the world. Amy had very much enjoyed her day and having her there had made the day even more amazing for me. With Matt as our guide, I reaffirmed my love for Bristol and Amy had discovered how exciting and amazing it is. All that was left to do was make our weary way home and prepare ourselves for what Sunday had to offer as we were planning on travelling further afield.

I have never been disappointed by Bristol. The range and quantity of pubs is matched only by the range and quality of beers available for those who seek it. The second day of our trip would confirm once again that the beer scene in the West Country is thriving, sometimes in some quite unexpected places. Watch this space!