The UK Beercation 2019 Day 1: Stonehenge, Castles, & Bath!
Here I will start an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the British Isles this summer. Much like last year’s trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, this was a self-organized tour with our friends Jim and Lori Stroner, as well as my wife Sarajo (Sj) and myself. I’ll be posting a day-by-day travelogue of the trip as I organize and go through my multitude of pictures. While the posts won’t be fully about beer–there will be a focus on good pubs, real ale, distilleries, and food! So here goes: enjoy!
Normally I don’t focus so much on the boring effort of getting to places. However, our trip this time started with a rough flight from Dulles to London’s Heathrow airport. Other than a trip back from Ireland a few years ago where I had to camp out near the lavatory to hurl every few minutes, this was the worst flight I’ve had in ages. The couple in front of Sj and I were simply terrible. They were what can only be described as “Eurotrash” with too much make-up, strange dress, and language that seemed to be a hodgepodge of French, Russian, and English. After a few attempts from the stewardess to get them to store their luggage in the overhead bins (they had a bulkhead seat and couldn’t store under any seats), they eventually complied. I could tell already this would be a problematic set of travelling companions.
After being warned by the polite English stewardess that they could only drink liquor served by the flight, they not so quietly broke into their duty free rum. The rest of the flight was punctuated by them hitting the Call button for more coke to mix drinks with. Eventually they started requesting tonic so I can only surmise that they finished the bottle of rum and moved to Gin. They did not stop arguing, talking loudly, laughing, and rocking seats back and forth for the entire 7+ hour trip. At one point, the male went on a 45 minute explosive monologue in which the female companion responded not once. For about 15 minutes of the whole trip they were quiet. We did not get any rest. Not a great way to start the trip.
Stonehenge: Where the Demons Dwell!
“In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history…” As told by Spinal Tap. We rented a car at the airport and booked it out of London–Jim driving like a madman and trying to figure out the “wrong” side of the road thing. We motored for the ancient standing stones of Stonehenge, hoping to get there before the larger crowds arrived. When we arrived it was spitting rain on us, wind whipping, and skies dark and brooding. Not many people had arrived at the small visitor center yet and we had prebooked tickets so we didn’t need to wait in long lines.
We caught a bus to the site itself, out in the middle of active farmlands. The stones are impressive. Thinking that men of 4500 years ago hauled, shaped, and hoisted these enormous stones into circles is kind of mind-boggling. The dark and wicked skies, the cry of large black rooks, and grey-headed jackdaws echoing in the muffled air, and the sheer immensity of the site was shiver-inducing. We took what pictures we could while trying to keep ourselves and our cameras relatively dry. Soon, larger crowds of tourists in brightly colored jackets made photos less great and we headed back to the visitor center. With a hot coffee and a sausage roll to warm us up, we headed out for our next rainy stop.
Our next stop along windy English country roads in the rain, was Nunney Castle in Sommerset. This is a medieval castle ruin from the 1370’s and still boasts a shallow moat around it, filled with happy ducks. With high towers, we had a little trouble taking pictures aimed upward, as the raindrops would quickly spatter the lens of the camera. We did our best.
The Red Lion
We were going to visit Glastonbury Tor (a tower atop a hill) but with worsening rain we opted against climbing said hill in the wet and slippery conditions. We stopped near there for our first pub stop in England at the Red Lion. This, like many pubs is also a restaurant and inn. We entered the low ceilinged 15th century building and were greeted with a warm fire, a small and cozy bar, and the wonderful smells of food. A pleasant gent at the bar invited us in and brought us our first cask beer–a local bitter. Sipping this magical elixer and digging into the gravy-doused chicken and leak pie, we felt like we had finally arrived in jolly old England. Sj had a somewhat terrible local cider with her meal–avoid this one. We were also to find that nearly every city or town we traveled through had a Red Lion, a Golden Lion, or a Ship Inn. But this was the best!
Our final destination was Bath. The farther we got from “civilization”, the roads we were travelling got smaller and smaller. Some of these were little more than dirt one-lane (but two way) roads bordered with rock walls, or thick hedgerows on each side. When we would find another car facing us, we had to decide who was the lucky car that had to back up to a wider spot in the road to let the other pass. Our small SUV had proximity detectors to beep when you were too close to obstructions and a few times this was going off from both sides of the car since the road was so narrow! Jim did a great job not killing us on our first day–especially since none of us had slept in 24 hours. Sj helped navigate in the passenger seat and Lori and I covered our eyes and tried not to scream in the back seats. Add the rain, large mud puddles, and poor visibility and this was a true trial by fire for our 2 weeks of driving in the UK!
Once we arrived in the city of Bath, we were more than happy to park the car and settle into hour B&B: the Apple Tree. At this point the rain was slowing and becoming more intermittent. We walked to the main square of the old city for the Mayor’s Tour of the city. This is a free service offered by the city–just show up at the right time and get a fantastic 2 hour walking tour of the city. Our guide Mike was basically finishing his internship so had a supervisor along to grade him and take notes, but as a retired history teacher he did a fantastic job!
Finishing the tour we were all ready for dinner and bed. While Jim and I wanted more pub food, the ladies wanted to try out the Giggling Squid. We know who won that battle don’t we? This was some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had–the salt and pepper squid was a thing of beauty. Since the beer list wasn’t very impressive I opted for a cocktail with dinner. Our server seemed hesitant when I ordered it, but went along. I didn’t love it but Lori liked it, so handed it off to her and ordered something different. Our server gave me a very odd look and asked at least twice if I was sure about this drink order. Even the rest of the table commented on how odd this was. When the fruity pink cocktail arrived I could practically see him shaking his head and man-shaming me. Strange. But boy was it tasty!
Off to a well deserved rest aftering being awake about 36 hours. And next up: to explore Bath and a day trip to Wales!
Neolithic Stone Circles: 1
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 2 (Today-Stonehenge and City of Bath)
Girly fruity cocktails: 2