Here I’ll continue an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the Brittish 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!
The UK Beercation 2019 Day 3: Villages, Pubs, & Rain!
The day broke way too early–why did we stay out pubbing and photographing until 11:30 PM? However, this morning I had one of the best English breakfasts of my whole trip–created for us by our hostess at the Apple Tree B&B. After a little scritching of the antediluvian house burmese cat, we were off to pack the car with all our luggage and off to the hinterlands of rural England.
Despite its cool name, this is a village, not an actual castle. It was on our list of places to stop due to it being a picturesque and classic English village. However, it was raining again and photography was “iffy”. There was a nice thatch covered old memorial in the center square that we were able to take shelter under with a few other sad looking tourists.
Next we stopped in another small town, Lacock. This is a tiny town and looks nearly medieval. It was used in the filming of Harry Potter, as was part of Lacock Abbey. We took a short tour of the abbey, including the very pretty grounds, taking in a history of photography exhibit as Henry Fox Talbot is credited with the first photography on paper. Being photographers–Jim and I just had to see this! However, I didn’t take any pics of the exposition since taking pictures of pictures was a little too meta for me…
Jim discovered this well fed graveyard cat–giving it a few pets before it decided to try to take off his hand. I’m sad I missed that shot, but got more pics of him wandering among the gravestones.
The town itself was adorable. A few small curio shops were open, but this is mostly a lived-in town and not a tourist trap. It was very interesting to me that several of the small homes had embraced the newfound fame of the town and had developed some light moneymaking enterprises. Some places had baked goods, others had produce or fresh herbs, one had a big bundle of rhubarb: but all had a little honor box to pay for what you take. One building actually had a screen-cap picture of Harry and Dumbledore walking in front of their blue door and had an honor box for small Harry Potter trinkets like wand keychains and baubles.
Avebury was an even cooler stop! Also it stopped raining as we arrived, but everything was still wet and shiny. Avebury is another quaint village but hosts one of the largest stone circles in the UK.–Avebury Henge. Along with Stonehenge this is part of an Unesco World Heritage Site. The henge was built between 2850-2200 BC. It was mostly torn up in the middle ages (bury those satanic and pagan rocks!) but much was rebuilt in the 1930’s. The stone circle is open to the public and one can wander around the massive lichen covered stones. Sheep are allowed to graze around the base of the menhirs and one must be careful not to get too lost in gazing at the splendor of the stones and step into a large steaming pile of sheep leavings.
A large man-made circular embankment overlooks the inner circle and up on top of this we were treated to some cold and heavy wind that we hadn’t noticed down below among the sheep and stones. Thatch-roofed old buildings clustered below, seeming perfectly in place and of another time. Did I feel in tune with the ancient druids? Maybe not, but still, thinking of primitive men over 4000 years ago moving and organizing this massive set of rocks and earthworks is a bit awe inpiring.
Before we left town, we stopped off in the second Red Lion (this one with a genuine thatched roof) of the trip for a pint of cask Avebury Well Water bitter out on their patio. Sipping a pint whilst gazing at the nearby standing stones (and thankfully blue skies) this was a perfect moment for me.
Our next stop was the small town of Bibury. This was mainly a stop to take a picture of classic old English row houses along a small river. By the time we arrived, the light was in the wrong direction and the place was inundated with tourists. This was one of thickest concentrations of other tourists we had seen so far–even worse than Stonehenge! People had their cars blasting bollywood techno dance music in the area, 20 people with umbrellas kept bashing past us, and much more. The small picturesque bridge at the end of the river was covered with asian tourists camping out and having picnics. Nope, we did not stay here long–just long enough to scrounge enough change to use the pay toilets (and watch a family of 5 shove inside one of them at once to save money).
Our final destination for the day was Stow-on-the-Wold, a small town in the Cotswalds where we would be staying at the King’s Arms Hotel. We had high hopes of getting back to the pub in the hotel but got back too late in the night to try it out! We were housed in cute little two-leveled rooms in back of the inn proper and had plenty of space for our things. It was pretty easy to hit your head on the timbers of the roof when getting up from bed–even for a height-challenged person like me! Once I shook off the first concussion it was just fine!
Once we had stashed our things we headed out once more for walk to The Fox in in the nearby town of Broadwell. This was a 1.6 mile hike, in the on-again-off-again rain. Not much to see on the way, so cameras were kind of extraneous. Oh well. By the time we arrived at the inn we were shot from a full day of hiking around.
The inn and pub was cozy, with pleasant staff and a rustic feel. We shared some deviled kidneys for an appetizer (way better than it sounds) and sipped hand-pulled pints of Donnington Beer from a brewery in a nearby village. The food and service here were amazing. We ended up taking a bit too long over dinner and realized that no cabs or Ubers were working this time of the night in the rural area we were visiting. We were rescued from another 1.6 mile walk in the dark by the helpful chef who had prepared our fantastic meal–he managed to cram all four of us into his small car and dropped us back off at our hotel on his way home from work. Now that is above and beyond service!
Once we got back to our inn, Lori disappeared to sleep, but Jim, Sj and I decided one more pub was in the cards. We walked down the street to The Porch House–another Inn and pub. The building (or part of it anyway) is dated back to 947 AD. The ceilings are quite low, even for me. They had a decent number of tap beers and 3 on cask, which we tried out prior to closing this place down as well. We tried the Brakspear Gravity and Jericho pale ales, both being fair examples of the style. We returned the next day and they were out of almost every beer and down to one hard cider!
Neolithic stone circles: 2
Ruined Abbey/Church: 3
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 2 (technically Avebury and Stonehenge are lumped together)
Adorable English Villages: 5
Possibly rabid graveyard cats: 1