This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.

Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which documents all our trips and includes product reviews and pubs! It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Arundel Brewery – Queens Park Hop

WP_20131231_009Another beer that made the short journey from Sussex  up to South London. Brewed with hops from Queens Park in Brighton, this must have been a special as it is not on the brewery’s web site. I seemed to recall enjoying it but it was New Years Eve and getting a little late…..

Loddon - Hoppit

WP_20131231_005What the brewery say: The predominant hops in Hoppit are East Kent Goldings which traditionally have a Seville Orange marmalade flavour. As well as Pale Ale malt, Hoppit also contains dark Invert Sugar which gives the beer its smooth taste.

My first beer from this Oxfordshire brewery and it didn’t disappoint. The lighter 3.5% A.B.V was welcome as we were well into our New Years Eve research expedition. Enjoyable and a great session beer.

By The Horns–The Mayor of Garratt

WP_20131231_004What the brewery says: A truly London Bitter brewed in the most traditional way. This best bitter is brewed with British Malt, Yeast and Hops, with London water, passion and heritage.

Yes, loved this second offering from young London brewery By The Horns. Everything I like about an ale was here. 4.3% A.B.V.

Brains – S.A.

WP_20131231_003What the brewer says: The renowned ‘special ale’ is copper coloured with a full premium quality flavour. A nutty richness derived from a blend of fine pale and crystal malts is balanced with a satisfying dryness from the unique use of three hops: Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles. The aroma has a hint of spirit which adds to the legendary mystique of this premium cask beer.

Enjoyed this more than once on our British Isles Tour which started in Cardiff. An excellent Best Bitter found over 200 miles away in South London, and the 2nd on our New Years Eve research expedition.

Exmoor – Gold

WP_20131231_002What the brewery says: an appetising and enticing gold in colour. The nose is an interplay between a fresh bouquet of grassy and floral hop and a subtly soft, fluffy caramel-tinged maltiness. The palate sees more balance between gentle grainy maltiness and sprightly floral, citrusy fresh hop fruitiness. The finish is bittersweet with hints of citrus fruit weaving in and out.

Actually, they said a whole lot more too. Click HERE to check out the full, unedited text which pretty much sums it up. Perhaps more likely to lure lager drinkers than bitter lovers, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The first of rather too much ‘research’ on New Years Eve.

Brighton Bier – West Pier

WP_20131230_008What the brewer says: A classic, hop forward, flavour packed pale ale. Simcoe, Centennial and Cascade hops set against a satisfying malt base.

Liked this offering from a craft brewery in what is now our home town, but sampled whilst up in Crystal palace, South London. Not over hoppy and at 4% A.B.V, flavoured but not overpowering.

Sharp’s – Cornish Coaster

WP_20131230_007What the brewery says: At 3.6% abv and with a generous measure of refreshing flavour and light golden hue, Cornish Coaster is the perfect drink to quench the thirst on a hot summer day.

Couldn’t agree more, but sadly didn’t come across this whilst in Cornwall in the summer. On offer at Westow House in Crystal Palace over Christmas, who can always be relied upon for a varied selection of real ales. 

Slaters – Bitter

WP_20131229_005What the brewery says: Following a successful small trial in 2010, this exciting golden beer has become a firm favourite. Traditionally hopped with lots of Fuggles and Golding Hops.

Yes, regulars will guess that this was a little too hoppy for me but not unpleasant and at 3.8% A.B.V, easy drinking. 3rd in line after a strong Pale Ale and an equally strong Porter on a Sunday night before New Year in Crystal Palace so my taste buds were perhaps not as receptive as they could have been…..

Hogs Back - TEA

WP_20131229_003What the brewer says: Our top selling, award winning, best bitter in a bottle. A deep golden colour. TEA is refreshing, hoppy and well balanced. Surely the best drink of the day!

Have had this in the bottle but never on draught. Again The Grape & Grain in Crystal Palace came up trumps. If I recall correctly this has been on most of the times we have been in there in the last couple of years. The TEA is Traditional English Ale and it didn’t disappoint. The 4.2% A.B.V. adds body but does not overpower it. Very, very nice.

Click on the picture to go to the brewery’s web site.

By The Horns – Lambeth Walk

WP_20131229_002What the brewer says: Velvety, rich and chock full of flavour with notes of coffee bean, cocoa, toasted hazelnuts and hint of dark berries.

Not my usual tipple but when in Rome, well London, it seemed rude not to try a traditional London ale. On offer at the excellent The Grape & Grain in Crystal Palace over the Christmas break was this from a very young (2011) brewery just a few miles away in Wandsworth.

Not a beer to rush and at 5.1% A.B.V you wouldn't want to.

Kelham Island – Pale Rider

WP_20131229_001What the brewery says: A legendary premium pale ale forged from the finest Maris Otter malt and a special blend of American hops. The nose is of fresh citrus and berry fruits with a smooth juicy malt character and deceptively moreish finish that belies its strength.

Our stays at the Crystal Palace caravan park in South London provide excellent ‘research’ opportunities thanks to the large number of hostelries within walking distance that keep a wide and changing selection of real ales.

This one popped up at the Wetherspoons ‘ The Postal Order’ just before New Year and well done to them for continuing to source beers from smaller regional breweries as well as the big boys. 5.2% A.B.V so go easy!

Badger – First Gold

WP_20131228_008What the brewery says: A clean, fresh, distinctive ale with hints of orange and spice from the hop, perfect with traditional English roasts and pies.

Another very drinkable ale from the popular  Dorset brewery that can be served a little colder than your more traditional bitter. A good summer ale – if we ever get one. 4% A.B.V in both bottle and on draught

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Richards Wrecks – Number Seven

Our job delivering parcels turned out to to be more than a stop gap and with volumes (and earnings) increasing we decided to become a two vehicle family again. The old red astra was showing signs of wear, so we bought, privately, out of the paper, a 1998 Ford Courier 1.8 D van.


This cost us early on – with only a little over 50k on the clock the previous owner clearly liked riding the clutch – and we had to have a new one fitted. The cam was belt driven and with little service history available we elected to have that changed too. A number of smaller jobs I done myself – starter motor, heater valve, throttle cable and rear door handle if I recall. It was based on a Ford Fiesta and was one of the easiest motors I’ve found to work on. It was a good workhorse too and we ran it on vegetable oil from time to time as well in the days when it was a lot cheaper than diesel. The ford radio was replaced with my own Blaupunkt MP3 CD player thingy – a piece of kit that was now on it’s third car, having been pride of place in the Rover & Astra prior.

We kept this a couple of years or so, it earned us some money and we got a reasonable price on trade in too.

Richards Wrecks – Number Six

Following on from the Rover was this 1997 Vauxhall Astra 2.0 dti Estate in red – no picture this time I’m afraid but I’m sure most of you know what they look like.

Having packed in my work at the office supplies form and deciding to join Trev in doing parcels I needed something more suitable than the Rover. By suitable I mean spacious, economical and reliable and practical, and the Astra fitted the bill.

In fact it did more than just parcels. It spent several weeks up and down the M11, M25 & M23 when we decided to relocate to the south coast carrying our worldly goods. When we settled in and started work down south it resumed it’s duties as a parcel wagon and lasted well over another year’s extremely hard labour before we decided it was time for a change.

It wasn’t without it’s problems in the early days. It became increasingly harder to start and the local garage couldn’t fix it. With the bill increasing and the customer (me) getting more irate, in desperation they turned to the the local Vauxhall dealers who diagnosed and fixed the problem for seventy-five quid. It cost me nearly seven hundred quid altogether then but was fine from then on.

This truly was a great workhorse and with over 120,000 miles on the clock it still managed to return over 53mpg after a sedate run back from Sheffield once. Towards the end of our tenure as it’s owners, the electrics became a little erratic – a little wet weather and you’d lose the indicators and speedo. The start of a low rumble from upfront on acceleration convinced us that her days as a workhorse – in our hands anyway – were over.

Richards Wrecks – Number Five

The ‘Rocket’ was traded in for this beast – a 1993 Rover 220 Coupe.

Fun to drive, powerful in it’s day and sounded good too. The Rover T series 2.0 twin over head cam engine produced 134 BHP. Bucket seats and a plush interior, it looked good – in my opinion, but the build quality was dreadful. Rattles, failing electrics, poor paintwork and ill fitting body panels. The aircon fans seized and the exhaust manifold was starting to leak. Only some very delicate throttle work kept it quiet when I went to trade it in. As soon as I left the dealers with my new car I turned the phone off!

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Richards Wrecks – Number four

Next up – a 1993 Seat Marbella. Hmm

1999 - 4391999 - 438

Trev had to pack in work in  2003 due to heart failure and so sold his taxi at the time – a Rover 75. We decided to buy something cheap and cheerful for my daily run to work that would be less costly to run than the Bluebird and ended up with this – a poor man’s Fiat Panda.

It wasn’t that bad to be fair – ‘the rocket’ cost us 500 quid and next to nothing to run, returning over 48 mpg from it’s 900cc engine on my daily commute to work, and later, over to Papworth Hospital when Trev was admitted prior to his op. We kept the Bluebird and that became the ‘weekend’ car.

It certainly wasn’t the last word in comfort, although rumours that Ryanair designed the seats were completely unfounded. It served it’s purpose well and when we eventually traded it in a year later we we got what we paid for it.

Richard’s Wrecks – Number Three

Next cab off the rank – in more ways than one – a 1989 Nissan Bluebird Executive 2.0 i Auto.

1999 - 4341999 - 435

There was quite a gap between my last car – the Nova – and this. I’d left home, bought my own place – a park home about 11 miles way – and happily cycled the 10 miles too and from work everyday. I was lean, fit and the money saved from not running a car went in to holidays – mainly down under to New Zealand & Australia.

It was around 1999 when thoughts started turning to getting another motor and it was at this time that Trev – a cabbie at the time was thinking of changing his car. Step forward the Bluebird.

It had spent a significant portion of it’s life as a taxi, but seemed none the worse for it. Full leather and electric everything, air-con, the works. With a deal involving some duty free cigarettes and Australian dollars the car was mine, and I loved it. The auto box made driving a pleasure, although a little pricey, returning only 22-24 mpg around town. It started needing some work during my tenure as it’s owner, a new exhaust, radiator core, engine mount and it was staring to emit small puffs of smoke when pulling away – due – I was informed – to worn valve stem seals. Extra thick oil improved this a little.

It was easy to drive, and in it’s day quite fast too. Trev even used it for while doing parcels when he returned to work following his heart op.  All good things come to an end of course and it was eventually passed to Trev’s brother-in-law as payment for concreting our drive. Ray had the car a number of years and loved it too.

One of my favourites.

Richard’s Wrecks – Number two

Next up in my collection of old crates is a 1985 Vauxhall Nova 1.3SR (ooh!) in black.1999 - 582

I couldn’t stretch to a GTE and the SRi was yet to come out. Shared the same engine with my Mum & Dad’s 1989 Vauxhall Astra although with the addition of a fifth forward gear.

Done one or two of the usual boy racer mods. Big speakers in the rear parcel shelf and a chrome tailpipe that slipped over the existing exhaust pipe. Kwik-Fit took it upon themselves to throw it away when it needed a new exhaust. Thanks guys, good of you to ask…

This car actually done some mileage other than to the local pub too. A few football trips – I used to follow Cambridge United in them days - so away fixtures took us to places like Bournemouth, Leyton Orient, Oxford and Brentford.

Following our first trip to Australia back in 1995 – which you read about here – I decided to sell the car to help fund a return trip. I was still living at home then and my parents car – the aforementioned Astra – was often free If I really needed it.

I advertised the car, someone came around, we haggled and they bought it. The day before they were due to pick it up – it was nicked – from right outside the house. Trev had called around on the way to the pub and asked where the car was and we narrowed it down to an hour  when it could have been taken. No one saw anything and it was never found. The insurance company came up with a derisory offer which the broker recommended I accept. I dug my heels in, turned it down and squeezed another 200 quid out of ‘em. Better, but still shy of what I sold it for.

Car wise, that was that for a while.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Windy Wiltshire – part 3 – Wet & Wild

Hello again, well at last we’ve managed to do a bit of sightseeing, in-between the showers and gales. Wednesday night Patsy 2 was buffeted by some of the worst winds we’ve known in our short time caravanning. Patsy 2’s substantial build – plus the extra 26 or so stone of her occupants – made sure she stayed put.

Anyway, with the promise of a reasonably dry day on Monday we decided to venture forth and see what this county had to offer. We’d already decided to save the south-eastern area for another time – we have that deposit to use against a future booking in Stonehenge, so the likes of Salisbury, Amesbury and so on, will wait until then.

First up was the Caen Hill locks, just outside Devizes. A ladder of 29 locks covering 2.5 miles that lift the Avon & Kennett canal 237ft or 72m up from the Avon valley to Devizes. It was dug by hand and took 16 years to build, the excavated clay being used for making bricks. We could have had a walk along the towpath but neither of us were feeling particularly energetic. The skies above were starting to look threatening and whilst I had come sensibly attired in winklepickers Trev was rather foolishly wearing proper walking shoes.

We settled for taking a few pictures and it was then I discovered that the camera’s memory card was still sitting in the laptop. What a muppet. So all pictures today are from a phone.


Next up was Silbury Hill, a 130ft or 40m high mound of earth situated beside the A4. Oh the excitement. Seriously though what makes it interesting is that construction started over 4,700 years ago or thereabouts. It appears to have been built in three stages over a 400 year timespan and is at least as big as some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids. Experts are still unsure as to why it was built and it was not originally surrounded by water, that’s a fairly recent addition – the last few weeks in fact!


We continued west to Marlborough a pretty and quite affluent looking town with a large wide high street spoilt somewhat by that necessity of the modern age – the car. Having decided not to add to the collection, we parked around the back of one of the rows of shops. The fact that it was free helped….

Smart independent shops jostled for shop frontage with some of the more usual high street chain store suspects.  We killed a few minutes looking around one waiting for the recently arrived rain cloud to pass.

The town hall seemed worthy of a snap or two once the rain passed and the sun emerged again as we traversed the opposite side of the street. Coffee was procured at Greggs to accompany the sarnies Trev had made up that morning.


To the western end of the town lies Marlborough College, an independent school that can count young comedian Jack Whitehall among it’s former pupils.  I wouldn’t  say he’s more or less funnier than any of  the current crop of comedians but I do like the fact that he doesn't try and hide his privileged upbringing and (expensive) education but draws on it in his routine.

Swindon was next, a place I knew little about other than that Honda have a big car plant nearby. We should (particularly after reading the guide book) have headed to the old town but happened instead on a multi-storey and emerged a short while later in to the concrete jungle that is Swindons shopping area. There really was very little of note that I could see – but given the prevailing damp and windy conditions we weren't very enthused about exploring off the beaten track.

Having procured  a couple bits and bobs for Patsy 2 we took a circuitous route back to the car park and came across an area of beautiful stone built cottages that formed the basis of the the original ‘new town’. Swindon was, for a while, the heart of the Great Western Railway and the cottages were built to house the railway workers and their families in a time when philanthropy was much more prevalent  than it is today. The cottages still look smart although here, that other apparent necessity of modern life; the wheelie bin, joins the car in spoiling the view. The once impressive social club, also built for the workers, now stands boarded up.



Our final port of call was Royal Wooton Bassett, famous more recently for the military repatriation processions that passed through numerous times when the wars in Afganistan and Iraq claimed yet another life. The bodies of our serviceman would arrive back at nearby RAF Lyneham and the local Royal British Legion members took to the streets to show respect as the processions passed. They were soon joined by locals all wanting to pay their respects to our fallen. RAF Lyenham closed in 2011 and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire returned to it’s role with the processions now taking place in Carterton. WP_20140210_032

There was one final stop of the day – an extremely brief one - to take a picture of some scaffolding. Yes that’s right, scaffolding. This was pretty impressive though:

Tuesday afternoon and a break in the weather saw us in Devizes. The focal point of the town not surprisingly – for me anyway – was the vast red brick structure of the Wadworth brewery. We didn’t bother with a tour but I was hoping to find some as yet un-sampled ales to research. I was out of luck…


Talking of grog, one thing Devizes is not short of is pubs, they are everywhere. I would have loved to been able to erm, research them all, but neither my wallet or liver was up to it.


Wednesday brought with it more wind and heavy rain, so with any sort of sightseeing out of the question we fired up Rosie and headed over the border in to Somerset to say hello to James & Tara at The Old Oaks Caravan site near Glastonbury. You may recall that we stayed here before Easter last year and it still remains our number one site. Preparations were continuing for their opening for the new season of Friday but they took some time out for a good chin wag and catch up over coffee. There was concern that the media are painting the whole of summerset as being under water when a relatively small part has been affected. Somerset IS open for business and you will not be disappointed if you book up for The Old Oaks.

The rain had ceased Wednesday evening and we popped back in to Devizes for a bite to eat – and yes, a couple of pints too – for research purposes obviously.

Thursday brought with it more showers but with a break in the weather around lunchtime we headed to Chippenham – a pleasant little town on the banks of the Avon that can boast one Robert Peel as a former MP. He was, as  many will recall, charged with setting up the country's first police service. Eddie Cochran’s association with the town is much briefer. It was nearby that the taxi he was in hit a lamppost in the early hours after a concert in Bristol. He was dead by the following morning.


We paused  - briefly at Melksham on the way back for some shopping but little else.

And that really is our stay in Wiltshire. It will certainly not go down in Nonsense! history as one of our better trips. In fact had it not been that we had two new toys to play with we may well have stayed at home. The weather has been exactly as forecast – awful - and has made any sightseeing more of a chore than a pleasure. Added to that that I appear to have picked up a bug of some sort, causing me to reach for the paracetamol at frequent intervals and feel even less than enthused about getting out and about in the cold and wet. Our ‘research’ expeditions have not been as frequent or wide ranging either.

I am looking forward returning at some point later in the year when (hopefully) the weather is better to see more of this currently rather soggy county.

On another positive note, aforementioned new toys have performed well. Patsy 2 is nice and warm – and stable in the face of some pretty ferocious winds. Rosie has proved competent and the tow home tomorrow – with more of a trailing wind – should yield much better fuel economy.

So, what’s next. Well the Easter holidays are coming up and for our school at least occur before that actual Easter weekend. The three weeks of will see us up in Durham and then Yorkshire before returning south for the second ever Twittercamp at Rutland. We’ll then head to Cambridgeshire to catch up with friends and family before finishing the trip off with a few days in Essex.

For on line readers I’ll probably knock out one more blog once we get home, looking more closely at our new toys and how they performed. But for everyone else, ‘till the next time…














Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Windy Wiltshire – part 2– Sited & Sated

It’s me again, time another for another dose of inarticulate prose from West Wiltshire, where, guess what – it’s been raining. Poor old Patsy 2 took another battering from the wind and rain last night. It has eased considerably now though and should be dry later. We shall see.

Right, so where are we exactly. Well just a few miles west of Devizes on a Camping & Caravan Club Site. In fact this is the first C & CC site we’ve been on for over a year. Not for any other reason than when we’ve planned trips they either don’t have a site nearby, or it’s been out of season and they haven’t been open.

In fact we hadn’t even planned to be here now either. We had booked a private site near Stonehenge but advice from fellow caravanners who’d stayed there just a week prior suggested that If the weather didn’t improve we should give it a miss as the rain was playing havoc. We decided to cancel but the site owner was very understanding and said we could use our deposit against a future booking. Very fair I though and much appreciated.

So, on the recommendation of friends who stayed here for new year we booked this one. Finding it was easy – just off the A361 with a pub conveniently placed at the turning point. No trundling warily down a long narrow winding lane either. We pulled up, a little earlier than the sacred Midday arrival threshold and were welcomed warmly. Markedly different from when we pulled up at our local site on Thursday to load Patsy 2 up prior to travelling west on Saturday. I got the usual lecture about arrival times being there for a reason, congestion caused, it happened last week, etc, etc. All valid points and the road is quite narrow and long to the site but you can see if anything is coming and there are passing places for those reasonably competent behind the wheel. Which should be everyone with a licence, but sadly isn’t.

Anyway, whinging over. With formalities completed the warden, sorry, Holiday Site Manager – we’re not with the Caravan Club now – guided me expertly as I reversed Patsy 2 gingerly. His instructions were clear and precise and Patsy 2 soon came to rest perfectly on our chosen pitch. I was very grateful for his helped and learned a bit about reversing with a caravan in the process. The club’s tagline is ‘The Friendly Club’ and it’s very appropriate here.

Setting up was straight forward and the same as with old Patsy – legs down, mains on, water fetched and loo rinse  tank filled. We decided not to put up an awning – even though that side of the van was shielded from the worst of the wind, we still didn’t want to risk damaging it. And I guess neither of us really felt like doing it either.

It wasn’t long before the rain came so we did very little in the afternoon – but the clouds broke sufficiently to have  a wander around the site with a camera. There are ninety or so pitches, many hard standing but some were out of use thanks to the weather along with the grassed tent area behind the facilities block. Five feet high beech hedges separate area’s of the site in to smaller paddocks. The Kennet & Avon Canal runs along side the site and you can walk along the towpath.



The onsite shops stocks one or two of the basics – I procured the last pack of biscuits, and calor gas is available. The facilities block is tidy and kept clean. More than enough cubicles with wash basins and and plenty of toilets, though some were closed off. There were four shower cubicles but only two were available for use which lead to a bit of a queue Sunday morning. There were about 30 units on site at the weekend but barely a dozen remain now.

The shower’s themselves are lovely – the water is hot and plentiful – push button, which are never my favourite although I understand why sites fit them. Accessory shops will sell you a device that clamps over the button to keep the water flowing for a tenner or so. Anyone with an awning peg and elastic tensioning ladder will be able to achieve the same result for a lot less.

Club Wi-Fi is available – which is just as well because mobile signals aren’t great – at least not on the network's we patronise. A tenner for a week with a 3.5gb limit – though that’s only for one device. There’s ways around it though thanks a free piece of software called Virtual Router.

With very little in the way of provisions and meal time approaching, the only sensible option was to sample the delights of the local hostelry barely two minutes walk away. The Three Magpies is a Wadworths house – as are many around here it seems, which is hardly surprising given that we passed the brewery on the way through Devizes. They offer the usual range of pub food and what we had was extremely tasty – chicken & ham pie for me and bangers and mash for Trev. I would have liked a larger portion (wouldn’t we all dear?) but that’s just me being greedy. I filled the small remaining space in my belly with a delicious desert – cheesecake and ice cream. Oh yum.

IMAG1429_1I’ve had one or two of Wadworth’s beers on the odd occasion but the opportunity to sample, sorry, research  more of the range was too good to resist. Our site manager was in there too and we had a good chinwag whilst this research was carried out. The ‘one for the road’ turned in to two or three and we emerged, eventually, a little unsteadily and made our way back to the comforting warmth of Patsy 2.IMAG1436

Sunday, was, by necessity a relaxing day, apart from knocking out the first blog and paying a brief visit to Devizes to procure some provisions that is. We also got the chance to put on Patsy 2’s new stickers as well. Later on, I read and Trev snoozed, though we did emerge in the evening  for a much briefer return visit to the pub.