Archives for : Places

A holiday on the edge – Welsh/English borders

DSCF4259

My main holiday this year – the longest one that I go on with my parents in late May/early June this year – is kind of difficult to summarise. We were looking to visit the Black Country/Cotswolds but due to the lack of success in finding any holiday houses that met our requirements in those areas then went for a cottage near New Radnor, just over the border in Wales. As our holiday last year was based not far away in Brecon then this was an unprecedented return to the same area but in actual fact it proved to be a great choice and we covered a lot of ground and most of the places we went were new ground for me. This filled in a lot of gaps in the epic map of my life’s travels in Great Britain – particularly Herefordshire, South-East Shropshire and West Worcestershire. Worcestershire was a particularly pleasing addition, as apart from a long-forgotten trip along part of the M5 many years ago, I had never seen the county at all and certainly hadn’t stopped anywhere within it. Herefordshire is pretty much complete, as we took many different roads across it to reach other places. While it was only a very quick visit to each place, this will prove very useful for me to identify places worthy of a further visit – particularly to appreciate some of the region’s pubs, as there was a bit of a Wetherspoon’s overdose for reasons out of my control.

New Radnor itself is a very small village but has an unexpectedly splendid monument, to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was an MP in the area and an important cabinet minister in the mid 1800s. It is to the south-east of the beautifully-bleak Radnor Forest mountains that force the A44 to take a significant detour to the south. This makes it easy to spot in a road atlas. This part of Wales is beautiful but not very well known compared to the more touristy areas of Wales such as the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. The Radnor Forest mountains are up to 600 m high and the most distinctive is ‘The Whimble’.

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

Saturday 30 May

We left bright and early so as to make the most of the day and stop en-route in some places along the way. As it only takes four hours or so then we only needed to stop once between Hampshire and Herefordshire. We had a brief stop at one of our usual spots – the viewpoint at Birdlip (just SE of Gloucester). This gives stunning views across Gloucestershire towards Wales, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

After negotiating the Gloucester bypass, we headed up the A417 to Leominster. We had dinner in Wetherspoons there and a brief look around the town, which is very pleasant. We then headed north up to Ludlow, which is a very pleasant little town in Shropshire where most of the buildings date back to the Tudor era and there are some interesting but rather expensive shops, as well as numerous ancient pubs, with The Feathers probably being the most famous. We had a look round a market, with one stall selling nothing but old cameras, hundreds of them! Nearby is a very attractive castle.

Leominster

Leominster

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

Ancient buildings in Ludlow.

Ancient buildings in Ludlow

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

After that it was time to head to our holiday cottage near New Radnor, which we travelled to via Knighton but the A49 immediately North of Ludlow was closed immediately before where we wanted to turn off so we had to find a diversion, which went through the middle of a golf course.

White House Cottage is one of three adjacent cottages rented out as self-catering holiday accommodation by the same owner but it was very luxurious, boasting an enormous garden, and a separate lounge (with the TV/sofas etc) and a pleasant sunny room to sit during the afternoon. However, the most remarkable thing was the Games Room, which contained a pool/snooker table (pub size) and dartboard as well. Me and my dad used this every day although sadly our skills left much to be desired!

Games room at White House Cottage.

Games room at White House Cottage.

My bedroom - with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

My bedroom – with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

White House Cottage

DSCF4330

DSCF4261

DSCF4248

DSCF4327

DSCF4294

Sunday 31 May

We took it easy on Sunday, just visiting our nearest big town (Hereford; actually a city!) for lunch and a visit to an unusual Tesco supermarket that had a car park hidden in a grim basement. We had a look at some of Hereford’s shops but didn’t stop long as we visited it last year. In the evening, I had a brief walk down the lane to ascertain where the footpaths to the mountains behind our cottage began but I accidentally trod on an inch-long thorn and it penetrated my foot but luckily it was not very deep.

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford's Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford’s Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Monday 1 June

The weather forecast was grim but we visited Bridgnorth (in Shropshire) anyway, which is not a place I would have thought of going but I had obviously not done my research on this as it is a very pleasant and attractive town, being separated in two by the steep hill that rises above the River Severn. There is a cliff railway/funicular here; unusual in being inland as these are usually only found at seaside resorts. Sadly we did not get time to ride this but the weather was pretty wet so it may well have been a waste of time anyway. We tried to visit the Severn Valley Railway station; one of the most impressive and authentic preserved railways in the UK; however it cost £3 to park and we only wanted to stop and look round the shop/museum (if there is one) so we didn’t bother.

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Tuesday 2 June

It was a very blustery day but fortunately it wasn’t as rainy as the forecast threatened so we stuck to main roads away from smaller places where trees might have blown down and blocked roads. We followed the A44 all the way from New Radnor to Worcester; this was exciting for me as my first proper visit to Worcestershire. The county town (actually another city!) seemed surprisingly larger than Hereford but boasted another nice cathedral and a lot of shops, as well as a very grand guildhall. However, some of these county towns are much of a muchness in terms of things to see, particularly when paying a very brief visit.

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Cathedral

Worcester Cathedral

Wednesday 3 June

The weather was much more agreeable today so we went on our only trip West of the week, this time along the A44 again in the opposite direction to Aberystwyth. While I’ve visited the seaside resort once before, that was when we were staying 20 miles to the North in Tywyn so approached it from the north then – and was nearly 20 years ago anyway – how time flies! I thought the route along the A44 would be quite nice but was astonished to see how beautiful it actually is; some of the vistas rival those in Scotland, with winding roads with a sheer drop to one side along forested valleys. This part of Wales appears to be largely uncelebrated, in not being in a National Park or even an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). If that scenery was in England then it probably would be an AONB but I guess Wales has so much splendid terrain that all of it can’t be.

Aberystwyth itself is a seaside resort with all the usual attractions – promenade, amusements, a pier (sadly truncated by storm damage) and even a cliff railway, which (like one of the ones in Hastings) doesn’t go anywhere apart from a hilltop viewpoint, although I guess that likewise offers great views. The resort was battered by severe storms in early 2014 but it appears that all the damage has been repaired now.

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

We had to park near the station but that proved a useful decision, as the Wetherspoons was actually inside the station, under the canopy (it probably replaced a station cafe of some sort). This location was also useful as we had a look at the Vale of Rheidol station, one of the most scenic preserved railways in the country.

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

I was surprised with how narrow the gauge is of this, but it was operated by BR until relatively recently. Unfortunately the original station site was redeveloped into a retail park, with the current station being rebuilt further East of this. We later managed to park for a brief look/photo shoot at the southern end of the Marine Parade, which offered nice views as well.

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (and pier)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

On the way back, we took the scenic A4120 back East, which goes via Devil’s Bridge. This is the other end of the preserved railway but is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the areas, with the steep valley being bridged by three bridges of different eras, each on top of the previous one. There are also some lovely waterfalls to see here.

Devil's Bridge

Devil’s Bridge

In the evening, I was able to start my mission of reaching the top of the mountains behind the cottage, as the weather was more suitable for the novice and unprepared hiker that I am (having hung up proper walking boots a long time ago after being disenfranchised by the local ramblers club in the late 2000s probably). The walk to the bottom was surprisingly hardly muddy at all and I was soon able to reach the heath/forested area near the top, with a very steep ravine to the right, one of several very deep ravines that penetrate the central ‘rock dome’ of the Radnor Forest. The term ‘forest’ is misleading here, as much of it is open heathland; ‘forest’ originally described an area that was open for hunting.

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Near the top was a large metal farm shed; one of the highest I’ve seen. Sadly, ‘The Whimble’ is inaccessible due to being private land. Luckily, the area surrounding it is open access land (according to my trusty OS Explorer Map) so I walked NE across the open moors. Much of the inner parts of the mountains is off limits due to being a ‘Danger Area’. The signs suggest it is a ‘Rifle Range’ but apparently it is used for testing somewhat more substantial ammo!

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest's most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest’s most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

Thursday 4 June

This was the nicest day of the week in terms of the sunny weather and so we had a trip to Great Malvern (in Worcestershire but close to the Herefordshire border). This spa town is part of the general area known just as ‘Malvern’ but Great Malvern is by far the most significant town. The area is known for its bottled drinking water as well. The main street is very steep but the top boasts superb views to the East. If I had more time I would have climbed the hill above the town but an early finish to the day’s outing allowed me to have another walk up the mountain behind the cottage.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Stunning views from great Malvern's elevated position

Stunning views from Great Malvern’s elevated position

I had to make the same hike up to the top but at least I knew where the paths were this time. On reaching the top, I headed West between the Whimble and another rocky outcrop as I wanted to see the valley there but was stunned on how bleak it actually was. Both sides of the valley had steep ravines with little vegetation and it was rather windswept but I followed the path by the Whimble to the south and ended up back in the copse halfway up the mountain before making my way back to the cottage.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

Part of a ravine near the summit of The Whimble. DFown below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the 'Danger Area'.

Part of a ravine near the top of the mountains. The summit of the hill ‘Black Mixen’ is out of sight beyond the hilltop. Down below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the ‘Danger Area’.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are very flat and barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are rather barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

Friday 5 June

Sadly, our last proper day of the holiday had arrived but we took another trip East to Worcestershire, this time to Kidderminster. The town itself is nothing special; it boasts a very Brutalist car park and shopping centre called the Swan Centre – the ugly sister to Eastleigh’s younger shopping centre! I was pleased to see that an old Victorian mill building with a prominent brick chimney had been converted to a Premier Inn and Debenhams department store rather than being bulldozed like many of these endangered industrial buildings. However, the main attraction is another Severn Valley Railway station – the other end of the line from Bridgnorth. This station looks very authentic as an early 20th century terminus, even with old shops such as WH Smith. It is regularly used for filming historical TV dramas/films. There is also a great museum, which is free! This contains a lot of ‘Railwayana’ such as locomotive nameplates but also some great working exhibits, such as an electromechanical telephone exchange, with several different vintage phone handsets (I have a fetish for these it seems!) and a set of signalbox levers that I had a go at using to see how they are mechanically interlocked (to prevent the potential for an accident if levers are moved that could cause danger).

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster's railway museum

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster’s railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster's railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster’s railway museum

On the way back, we went via Clee Hill, one of the most notabvle hills in SW Shropshire. The views were stunning!

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

In the afternoon I was intending to have a walk to the end of one of the nearby ravines but the supposedly public footpath has been stopped up with ‘No unauthorised persons beyond this point’ signs on the gates and a large industrial scale agricultural enterprise of some kind. Fortunately, the second part of my walk was more fruitful (literally), as I had heard about a cider farm just ten minutes’ walk from the cottage! Ralph’s Cider produces traditional cider and perry from apples grown on or near the farm and has ‘The only licensed cider house in Wales’ although I sadly didn’t have time to stop for a pint in there; however, they were happy to let me taste a sample of each of their products before I bought some fresh out of the barrel in plastic bottles to take home!

Ralph's Cider and perry; the real thing!

Ralph’s Cider and perry; the real thing!

Here’s a map (in two parts) showing all the routes we covered.

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - East section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – East section

 

 

Berlin 2015 – day four (26 March 2015)

It was raining this morning so I decided to check out the German Museum of Technology. I thought they may have the odd camera or projector but I was absolutely delighted with that section of the museum as they had a whole floor devoted to photo cameras and the floor above to moving picture projectors and cameras, both amateur and professional.

An old wooden process camera, used for graphic reproduction.

An old wooden process camera, used for graphic reproduction.

Photographic equipment, note the photo in the background of a large process camera.

Photographic equipment, note the photo in the background of a large process camera.

8mm cine film editors, used by many budding directors to cut and splice film.

8mm cine film editors, used by many budding directors to cut and splice film.

A seelction of cine cameras and projectors, mostly 8 mm. There is also a large tape deck; the only way to have sound in home movies before the advent of the Super 8 format was to use one of these machines. There were even various gadgets to synchronise film and sound.

A seelction of cine cameras and projectors, mostly 8 mm. There is also a large tape deck; the only way to have sound in home movies before the advent of the Super 8 format was to use one of these machines. There were even various gadgets to synchronise film and sound.

A Eumig P8 and Bolex Paillard 18-5 cine projectors (for 8 mm standard 8 film). I have both of these in my own collection and they are highly regarded.

A Eumig P8 and Bolex Paillard 18-5 cine projectors (for 8 mm standard 8 film). I have both of these in my own collection and they are highly regarded.

There was also, in the museum, a 1960s TV studio setup, with all the camera and editing technology on show, and several old electromechanical computers. Sadly, my time had ran out by then so I was only able to have a very fleeting glance at the rest of the museum. There is easily enough to see to take up an entire day!

1960s black and white TV studio equipment.

1960s black and white TV studio equipment.

German rocket technology!

German rocket technology!

After a brief drink in an Irish pub, I headed on to the Fernsehenturm. Although the visibility was poor, I would have regretted not tsaking the opportunity to go up it. Fortunately, my fear of heights was almost completely nullified by the fact that the viewing gallery was completely indoors.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

Viewing gallery in the Fernshenturm. There is a revolving restaurant on the floor above but it is by reservation only.

Viewing gallery in the Fernshenturm. There is a revolving restaurant on the floor above but it is by reservation only.

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing south

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing south

 

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing east

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing east

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing west

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing west

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing SE

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing SE

Finally, I returned to Gatwick via Berlin Schönefeld airport, whiling away my time in the terminal in an Irish pub with a Bratwurst.

Berlin 2015 – day three (25 March 2015)

Today’s plan was to cover the western extents of the city centre so I got the U-Bahn to the furthest west place of interest. This was Schloss Charlottenburg, a former royal palace.

Schloss Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg

After that, I decided to walk along Berlin’s main shopping street, Kurfurstendamm. It was a long and rather unrewarding walk south to this but the shopping street itself contained the international designer brand shops that are ubiquitous in most major cities. At the top (north-eastern end) of this street was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This got bombed during WWII and only the main tower remains. A replacement church was built in the 1960s and it is a concrete waffle-like frame containing small fragments of stained glass. The interior looks stunning. A bell tower constructed from the same frame (being smaller in plan but a lot higher) is on the other side of the original tower; however, it is currently clad in scaffolding.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

 

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Near the Kaiser Wilhelm church is a small shopping centre that looks unchanged since the 1970s. Inside this was a café where I had slices of gammon and chips of potato (kartoffel chips). I then went in KaDeWe, Berlin’s most famous department store and one of the largest in Europe. The lower floors contained the usual expensive handbags/perfumes etc but on the top floor was a true gastronomic paradise. The food hall contains dozens of counters, all of which seem to have a bar. Each food department has several of these counters. There is meat, fish, cheeses, chocolate, cakes, sweets but unlike a supermarket, these products are served for eating in the shop rather than just being for home consumption.

Food hall at the KaDeWe department store

Food hall at the KaDeWe department store

The next place on my list was the Tiergarten, a massive park (like Hyde Park in London). However, the walk there seemed to go on for miles. On arriving at the Siegessäule monument, the walk to Brandenburg Gate looked an enormous distance away. I was after some refreshment and was most annoyed to see that the café was closed, having negotiated several labyrinthine subways and pedestrian crossings to get there. The offer from a rickshaw rider of a lift to the Brandenburg Gate was one I gladly accepted, despite being fleeced of my change. Like the beggars at Checkpoint Charlie, some of these people give them all a bad name by making them all seem suspect.

Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten

Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten

My exploration out west was thus complete, although there were a few places outside the immediate city, such as Potsdam, (and its surrounding lakes)  and Spandau. I headed back into the Eastern Bloc via the U-Bahn/S-Bahn and got off at Wernaucher Straße . Here is one of Berlin’s alternative areas (Friedrichsain) and is also home to the Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin’s most iconic bridges and a key border crossing of the cold war years. Nearby is a stretch of the river with the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall next to it, although there is a strip of land between the wall and the river that is used as a beach in the warmer months. Despite Berlin being such a long way from the sea, the soil appears to be quite sandy anyway. I first had a drink in a vaguely pirate-themed restaurant that had sand and palm trees in its beer garden.

Garden at the Pirates bar/restaurant, near Warschauer Straße.

Garden at the Pirates bar/restaurant, near Warschauer Straße.

I then followed the longwest remainign section of the Berlin Wall, known as the East Side Gallery, where various graffiti artists have decorated it. Of course, if anyone tried to do that 40 years ago then they’d probably have been shot! I then headed to my next destination via Ostbahnhof and the U-Bahn.

Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin's most famous bridges

Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin’s most famous bridges

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery. This longest remaining section of the wall has been decorated as a work of art.

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery. This longest remaining section of the wall has been decorated as a work of art.

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery.

Park and ‘beach’ facing Oberbaumbrücke. The East Side Gallery (part of the Berlin Wall) is on the far left.

Park next to the Berlin Wall. The shoprt section of wall on the right shows a cross-section of it.

Park next to the Berlin Wall. The shoprt section of wall on the right shows a cross-section of it.

Tempelhof Airport was in use until 2xxx but has been closed ever since. The airfield has been given to the people of Berlin as an open space, which is very popular for all sorts of activities, from picnicking to kite-flying. However, the terminal building was of more interest to me. This is a vast brick edifice shaped like a crescent and unlike most airports buildings, it includes all the hangars in the main building. While parts of the building are used by organisations such as the police, and aviation-related industries, the main terminal has been left as it is.

Tempelhof airport's main terminal entrance.

Tempelhof airport’s main terminal entrance.

Tempelhof Airport's vast terminal building.

Tempelhof Airport’s vast terminal building.

Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Airport

On the runway at the former Tempelhof airfield. Everything has been left in place as a massive open space for Berliners to enjoy.

On the runway at the former Tempelhof airfield. Everything has been left in place as a massive open space for Berliners to enjoy.

In the evening, I decided to head to Friedrichsain. Simon Dach Straße is packed full of bars and restaurants, ranging from posh eateries to ordinary pubs. I decided to start with Paul’s Rock Eck, which was (as the name suggests) a rock pub. This was very English, particularly in terms of the drinks available on draught. Next up was The Himmelreich, which is a gay bar and 2-for1 drinks was great. Finally was Kptn A Muller, recommended by a beer guide. It was kind of quirky.

Berlin 2015 – day one and two (23-24 March 2015)

Day one – Monday 23 March 2015

I flew out from Gatwick at 12:20 pm after taking the train from Southampton to Gatwick, via Horsham. I didn’t realise it went that way – I thought it went to the Brighton junction and turned north. At Gatwick, the South terminal, which is very impressive inside, is like a vast shopping mall with food and drink outlets as well, not dissimilar to West Quay. Luckily there was a Wetherspoon’s although even that was expensive!

The flight itself was in largely good weather, although there was some cloud here and there obstructing the view. The approach to Berlin was really interesting, as I could see all the lakes and forests surrounding the city.

 

Approaching Berlin

Approaching Berlin

Compared to Gatwick, Berlin Schonefield Airport was surprisingly modest. None of the usual vast retail space that you get with most of the airports that I have been to. I got the S-Bahn to Hermannplatz then the U-Bahn to Kottbusser Tor. Not the nearest metro stop to where I was staying but the next one along the line. I walked south and over the canal to near Schönleinstraβe station where I went in a local-looking pub – Bei Schlawinchen. This was a baptism of fire as it was full of bearded men drinking tankards of beer and smoking (yes, it’s not illegal in Germany). However, it wasn’t hostile and I would have gone back in there given the time, as it was the sort of place I was looking for rather than the gentrified touristy pubs in the city centre.

After checking into my room, which was within an art gallery and had some very retro furniture, I went for a walk to see if a nearby Biergarten was open but, not surprisingly given it was a Monday night in March, it wasn’t, so I went to Das Hotel, a lovely dimly-lit and quirky place where the staff were friendly and welcoming. I walked down to the lower end of Kottbusser Damm seeking more bars but all I found was a sports bar that was a cross between a betting shop and a pub. Finally, I bought some bottled beer in the off-licence that was literally next door to the entrance to my lodgings and had a pint in the pub/restaurant (“The Bird”) next door on the other side.

My room for the trip to Berlin

My room for the trip to Berlin

Day two – Tuesday 24 March 2015

I started this morning by getting the U-Bahn from Schönleinstraβe to Hallesches Tor and I walked due north along Friedrichstraβe to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most high profile border crossings between East and West Germany. Here, the East German border was to the north of the checkpoint and West Germany to the south. While it originally had a hut like the one pictured, it was actually upgraded over the nearly three decades it was in place so by the time the wall fell in 1989, it was a ten-lane checkpoint. I looked at an outdoor exhibition about the checkpoint, which was very interesting although spoiled by beggars collecting money “for the disabled”. If that is actually what they are collecting for then that is fine; however, I suspect this is an act designed to trick tourists. Before going to Checkpoint Charlie, I had a look at (from the outside) the Jewish Museum, which was fairly imposing.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin's most infamous border crossings.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin’s most infamous border crossings.

After posing at Checkpoint Charlie for a photo with a guy dressed up as a US soldier, with a US flag, I continued my journey North and found a Kamps Bäckerei cafe, which offered a reasonable lunch so after stopping for some coffee and getting some essential sustenance, came to the expensive part of town, where the posh shops are (global brands such as Gucci, H&M, Timberland etc). I was amused about the fact that this part of town was in East Germany; the former Soviet leaders with an anti-capitalist agenda would be turning in their grave!

One of Berlin's finer churches.

One of Berlin’s finer churches.

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

I then backtracked south to Unter den Linden, the grand avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate (known as Brandenburger Tor in German). This is probably Berlins’s most famous landmark and like Checkpoint Charlie, a key border crossing between the east and west parts of Berlin. I managed to get a map at last from the adjacent tourist information centre. I have plenty of maps in a book back at my apartment but I only have a rucksack or nothing to carry it in so a pocket-sized map was very useful. Particularly as my mobile ran out of juice about the same time.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

 

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing east.

To the south of the Brandenburg gate, and where part of the Berlin Wall was is a large plaza full of stone slabs; this is a memorial to the Jews murdered in Europe. It felt very strange thinking that these atrocities took place here only 70 years ago. I then went in a bar and had a stein of lager. This was a strange place as there were no toilets and it was about a 50 metre walk along the road to get to the public loos, although the bar did give me a ticket to pay for the entrance fee.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

After that, I went south to Potsdamer Platz, where part of the Berlin Wall used to be but now home to some high-rise office buildings. One of the most prestigious of which is the Sony Centre, which contains the Museum of Film and Television. I went in here and it was worth the admission fee.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

Berlin's main library. I'm not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

Berlin’s main library. I’m not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

In the evening, I went to Alexanderplatz and saw the Fernsehenturm (TV tower) for the first time. I then walked south via a restaurant where I had a beer but was the only customer and then Das Meisterstück, a gastro-pub that had an extensive selection of bottled beers.
.

Norfolk 2013

Saturday 1 June 2013

Our holiday started on Saturday 1 June 2013 and our first stop en-route was one of our regular watering holes at Oxford North services on the A34 – now known as ‘Peartree Services‘. Some superb Waitrose wine gums were bought here and provided a much-welcome companion to a fairly dull journey.

After that, we stopped at Milton Keynes, at a large Tesco supermarket – a far better choice than service stations with their overpriced shops and limited stock.

Our penultimate stop was in Cambridge –  a lovely city but with an expensive car park. We had dinner in Wetherspoon’s (The Regal), which was nice, and then looked around some of the sights, including the Mathematical Bridge and King’s College. Outside the latter there was a litter bin with a man busking inside. Random.

Cambridge - a classic view of the 'Mathematical Bridge'.

Cambridge – a classic view of the ‘Mathematical Bridge’.

Cambridge, with King's College on the left

Cambridge, with King’s College on the left

Our final quick stop was to kill time before we could access our holiday house and was in Wroxham. This is the only place in the country I have came across where the whole village’s shops are owned and ran by one company – ‘Roys of Wroxham‘. There is a department store, pharmacy, clothes shops,  toy shops, DIY shop, garden centre and the Food Hall – a supermarket that although independently-owned by Roys, is part of the Nisa group of grocers.

Roys of Wroxham, virtually the only retailer in the village! The 'Food Hall' is on the left with the the department store building on the right.

Roys of Wroxham, virtually the only retailer in the village! The ‘Food Hall’ is on the left with the the department store building on the right.

The holiday house, on the north-western extent of Hoveton (Wroxham), is  a lovely and recently-refurbished 1960s chalet-style house. It has two bedrooms on the ground floor and a larger bedroom upstairs that takes over the whole upper floor (or at least the parts that are high enough to stand in).

Villiers Villa - our holiday house

Villiers Villa – our holiday house

 

My room!

My room!

The ground floor has an unusual feature – a ‘Garden Room’. This sits between the lounge and garden, like a conservatory, but its only entrance is from the outside. So when sitting in the lounge, the light comes through the windows in the Garden Room rather than from outside. Apart from the unusual duvets with no buttons/poppers at the end, the house is very nice.

The Garden Room. That carpet looks strangely familiar...

The Garden Room. That carpet looks strangely familiar…

In the evening, I had a brief walk to check out the area around Wroxham’s waterfront, and this was pleasant enough, although there is only one pub but lots of takeaways.

Wroxham

Wroxham

Sunday 2 June

We started off this morning by heading north towards Cromer, a relatively-pleasant although slightly down-at-heel seaside town on the North Norfolk coast. Although the town is famed for its crabs, it was most notable to me for the Arctic north-easterly winds that made walking around it a struggle.

Cromer

Cromer

Cromer

Cromer

Its nearby neighbour Sheringham is slightly more genteel and has some pleasant shops on the way towards a beach. It is dominated by its two railway stations – the original National Rail station  (a branch line from Norwich) and the very authentically-restored North Norfolk Railway station, which is a preserved railway now.

Sheringham beach

Sheringham beach

Sheringham station

Sheringham station

DSCF1808

Sheringham’s old signalbox and postbox

We had dinner in The Whiffler, a Wetherspoons pub on the Norwich outer ring road and then did our shopping in the nearby ASDA. The car park is on a hill and very confusingly laid out. What is of more interest is the sports centre building next door, which has a very unusual series of barrel-vaulted concrete shell roofs and also a square dome. The latter in particular evoked fond memories of the former Ordnance Survey canteen, which had a much smaller version of that design.

In the evening, I had a short walk ‘around the block’ so to speak and had to contend with a footpath that had been partly obliterated by the construction of a lot of new houses – presumably on ‘green-field’ land.

Monday 3 June

This morning, we headed towards Great Yarmouth. However, we first stopped briefly in Horning, undoubtedly one of the most scenic villages in the Norfolk Broads.

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Great Yarmouth is a traditional seaside resort that is the closest contender to Blackpool I have found, in terms of being vulgar. It is arguably most famous for the one and a half piers that were owned by the racist, sexist and homophobic so-called comedian Jim Davidson but have since been sold – even if he owned the pier theatres then people still shunned his act – which is as anachronistic as Bernard Manning and the Black and white Minstrel Show.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth has an excellent selection of seaside staples, such as numerous amusement arcades, including one with Prize Bingo (these are becoming increasingly rare), shops that sell CDs of country music/traditional Irish songs (which are played loudly on repeat in the shops), fish and chip shops and tacky gift shops, the best of which is Tickle’s joke shop, the height of vulgarity, featuring an anamatronic of a man throwing up into an oil drum outside! Inside are such delights as fake turds.

Tickles joke shop

Tickles joke shop

Great Yarmouth and the Britannia Pier

I had a good dinner at the Britannia chippy and then played prize bingo briefly on the seafront.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

On the way back, we stopped briefly at Tesco in Sprowston (on the north-east edge of Norwich).

In the evening, I took a long walk west, heading for the next village along the River Bure. Coltishall was a very pleasant surprise, with its lawns gently sloping towards places on the river where boats can be moored; adjacent to this was the Rising Sun pub, and sitting outside there, with its garden right next to the river was very pleasant indeed; and it was rather a tranquil setting.

Coltishall and the Rising Sun pub

Coltishall and the Rising Sun pub

 

Coltishall

Coltishall

Coltishall, view from the Rising Sun pub garden

Coltishall, view from the Rising Sun pub garden

 

On the way back, I decided to go on the main road so as to try a different route than the one I had arrived by. Unfortunately, it had literally been resurfaced a few hours before (and had only just been re-opened to the public)so had some very sticky tar and loose chippings all the way back to Wroxham station.

Tuesday 4 June

We started off in Norwich today. Once we had navigated the very confusing one-way system to find the car park, which was under the very impressive recent culture building called The Forum, we had a look around the shops and the market; a particular highlight was a TV memorabilia shop, where they had Merlin action figures and T-shirts – I didn’t realise such things even existed! There was a massive new shopping centre development since the last time I visited and I was impressed by the amount of space devoted to shopping.

Norwich market

Norwich market

We had lunch in the Bell Hotel, another Wetherspoon’s pub, in Norwich city centre, just a stone’s throw from Norwich Castle.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

In the afternoon, we parked in Wroxham itself and hired a boat from Fineway– we used them on our previous visit and so they were our first choice this time. We hired a motor boat for two hours and had a nice cruise – this part of the Norfolk broads has a speed limit of no more than 5 mph so we went along the River Bure and only got as far as Horning, but we did go off the river into two of the broads (these are like small lakes connected to the river by channels). The broads were Wroxham Broad and (the much smaller) Salhouse Broad.

In the driving seat

In the driving seat

Messing about on the river

Messing about on the river

My Dad at the helm

My Dad at the helm

DSCF1882

DSCF1878

DSCF1884

The boat

The boat

In the evening, I went to check out the only remaining pub in Wroxham (I think there were at least two others that have closed relatively recently). The King’s Head is a surprisingly large and very food-led pub, boasting a popular carvery. They had three ales, although none of them were of particularly interest. I didn’t spend long in the pub itself – as it backs onto the river next to Wroxham bridge so it would have been a shame not to sit outsode. Sadly, it was a bit windswept and the hope of seeing visiting ducks and geese was not satisfied by a large crowd of adolescent pigeons that were breaking up what looked like a rock-hard bread roll into pieces small enough to fit into their beaks. Then there were some sparrows, which were a bit more of a rarity.

FB2013KingsheadWroxham1

The King’s Head, Wroxham

Sparrow at the King's Head

Sparrow at the King’s Head

Wednesday 5 June

This morning, we headed towards the North Norfolk coast, on the picturesque A149 road through villages such as Blakeney and Wells-Next the Sea. However, time was tight and we reached our destination, King’s Lynn in time for lunch at the Globe Hotel, another Wetherspoons pub.

King's Lynn market square

King’s Lynn market square

On the way back, we stopped at Hunstanton, which I was pleasantly surprised by in terms of its features as a seaside resort. The journey back to Wroxham, inland this time, seemed to take a very long time.

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Bingo in Hunstanton

Bingo in Hunstanton, a very 60s example of seaside architecture

Thursday 6 June

One of the nicest places on the Norfolk Broads was our main destination today. Horsey Windpump is ideally situated between the pleasant sheltered lake of Horsey Mere and the Norfolk coast.While the windpump itself is very interesting, and is a great place to park because of its toilets, shop and cafe, our intention this time was to head east towards the coast.

Horsey wind pump

Horsey wind pump

The sea is approximately a mile from the car park and goes across some very low-lying agricultural land. This is protected by a massive sea defence feature, consisting of a continuous bank of sand dunes with occasional concrete gaps that can be quickly stopped up if bad weather is threatened.

Walk towards the beach at Horsey

Walk towards the beach at Horsey

The beach is famed for the seal population that is regularly spotted there and there were two seals in the sea and very close to the land – we could see their heads in the water. Sadly they didn’t come ashore but it was still great to see them at all, as they can be somewhat elusive and wary of humans.

The beach at Horsey

The beach at Horsey

Horsey beach

Horsey beach

We had lunch in The Whiffler again, and much to my annoyance, their Wi-Fi wasn’t working. However, my boredom was quelled by a short walk to the ASDA that is virtually next door. This was a very frustrating experience as a pedestrian, due to the poorly-designed car park and approach roads.

Later in the day, I went for a long walk to another nearby village – Neatishead. While not as picturesque as Coltishall, it had a nice traditional pub called the White Horse.

Friday 7 June

We headed east again today – to Sea Palling, which is a small and pleasant seaside village near Horsey.

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling

Sea Palling

We then continued onto Horsey itself and parked at the windpump once more. This time, we had a pleasant walk in the nature reserve round Horsey Mere.

Boats at Horsey Mere

Boats at Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere and wind pump

Horsey Mere and wind pump

Boats at Horsey

Boats at Horsey

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Next, we had a look around Ranworth; another pleasant village in the north-central area of the Norfolk Broads.

Ranworth

Ranworth

Ranworth

Ranworth

Afterwards we had lunch in The Whiffler again; however, fortunately, the Wi-Fi had been repaired.

Finally, I paid a visit to the Kings Head.

FB2013KingsheadWroxham2

The King’s Head, Wroxham

The King's Head, Wroxham

The King’s Head, Wroxham

 

And finally…

Our holiday house

Our holiday house

This is the lounge...

This is the lounge…

 

The garden, although it was a bit too cold and windy to have a Barbie.

The garden, although it was a bit too cold and windy to have a Barbie.

DSCF2065

Southampton pub survey – week seven

Friday 10 May 2013

Week 7 kicked off on a rainy night in Bevois Valley. Apart from the Dorchester, this was my first foray into this very fertile field of hostelry. As with last week’s excellent tour of South Freemantle, all three pubs visited were excellent and the only thing that spoiled it was the rain.

First up was the Shooting Star. This has won awards for being the best pub in Southampton and I wish I had visited it sooner. My previous (and only) visit in 2007 was when it was called ‘Kolebka’ and was a Polish jazz bar , although there wasn’t much Polish about it. It is very different now. It has an excellent selection of real ales and a very commendable real Weston’s cider and perry on draught. I’ve seen the cider before but this was the first time I have seen real perry and it was very nice.

There is a large garden at the rear with a big smoking shed as well. Inside is a pool table and jukebox. There is a DJ every Friday and they have different themes of music – punk, alternative, indie to name a few; these rotate each week. That’s a great idea and the first time I have came across that. I’ll definitely have to check out the punk night! There are also other events, including ale and cider festivals and family days where parents can inflict their badly-behaved offspring on the pub’s adult customers!

The Shooting Star

The Shooting Star

Next up was Inferno Bar. This was closed for the duration of my original pub survey so it is my first visit under this name. However, I had visited it when it was previously the New Inn; it was a Gales pub and had good food as well.
As of 2012, it became under new management and it was certainly good when I visited. It calls itself ‘Southampton’s sport and music bar’ and claims to be the only pub outside the city centre to have Sky Sports 3D. It screens all Saints games and apparently there is a great pre-match atmosphere. There is a pool table and ‘beer pong’ events – an unusual version of ping-pong featuring pints of beer.

It has a traditional food menu of simple meals (none of your pretentious gastro nonsense!)and breakfasts. There is a jukebox and karaoke night every Friday. This was in progress when I visited, although it appeared that nobody had volunteered to sing yet. While I was very tempted to inflict some Sex Pistols or Sham 69, it was an unknown audience and in any case, I had work to do.

Inferno Bar

Inferno Bar

By this time, it was raining quite heavily. Good job the next pub was only across the road. As with the previous two, this was under a different name last time I surveyed it. The Rockstone, formerly the Bevois Castle, has always been a very traditional pub and it has been sensitively refurbished in the last couple of years. It is famed for its excellent and plentiful food, and also its range of drinks – not just real ale but spirits as well. The food is fairly expensive but the portions are huge and it looked very appetising. I must try it some time, although there is a lot of demand and tables get booked quite quickly.

There are no TVs, pool tables or other such pub staples and it is a nice break from all that stuff. Inferno Bar is great for that side of things. The Rockstone has a Monday quiz night and occasional festivals with live music. Apparently, there is a garden, but I could not see how to access it. It was absolutely heaving when I visited so it’s another one for my list of good nights out.

The Rockstone in late 2011 – I need to take a newer photo!

The Rockstone in late 2011 – I need to take a newer photo!

Saturday 11 May 2013

I actually had a plan this time! My sister and her husband had offered to join me in checking out the Shirley area and trying some different venues so I made a map showing the 12 pubs that needed doing. Two of them (The Bellemoor and the Ice House were out on a limb so that whittled it down to ten. Obviously, doing all ten in one go would not be a good idea, so we decided to go for six, with a couple of shandies for me to prevent me getting too drunk!

First up was the Santo Lounge. Like its sister venue in Portswood, the Trago Lounge, this recently-opened pub was not there on my previous survey. A lot of pubs from my original survey have closed so it is rare to find some that have added to the total! Its laid-back cafe/lounge-style ambience is nice and there are no TVs or jukebox to distract people. It does get very noisy though when it is full. There was only one table free at the time of visit.

Santo Lounge

Santo Lounge

It serves food, although on the pricier side and has its house ale (Toga Man) on a handpump. It is family friendly (and has free colouring books) and has a quiz night, books and a selection of other games, such as chess.

Next up was the King’s Arms. This is a very traditional Victorian pub and has fine stained-glass windows, decorative tiling and an attractive mural promising ‘Genuine ales and stout’. Inside, the public bar occupies the original building, with a smaller lounge bar in a newer extension. There is pool, darts, Sky Sports and a jukebox. There is also a large beer garden at the rear. There was London Pride on draught and a second handpump that was not in use.

King's Arms

King’s Arms

After a pit stop at the nearby Moby Dick chip shop (the best one in Southampton in my opinion (hmm, perhaps I should survey the chip shops of Southampton!), where everything was buy-one-get-one-free), the Shield and Dagger was the next pub on the list. This looks a bit dubious from the outside, as there are no windows on the main facade. It was opened in 1970 and so doesn’t offer much from an architectural perspective; however, as a pub it seems quite nice. Inside is a large bar area (which is slightly reminiscent of a working men’s club) and there is a large garden at the back. It does serve meals, although there wasn’t much evidence of that (menus for example).  There are two ales on draught though – London Pride and Bombardier.

There is a pool table, dartboards, newspapers and Sky Sports and also some poker tables – this being a popular event on Wednesday and Sunday nights. There is karaoke on Friday nights, occasional live music and a pinball machine. The only other thing of note was a sticky floor around the bar!

Shield and Dagger. The photo is somewhat spoiled by the large van in the way!

Shield and Dagger. The photo is somewhat spoiled by the large vans in the way!

Our next port of call was one of my favourite pubs in Shirley – the Park Inn. This, like many pubs in Shirley and Freemantle, is located on a back street, although very close to Shirley Precinct. It is a very traditional pub that is like being in somebody’s living room. It’s quite small and is comfortably-furnished in a traditional way. It is known for its fine selection of real ales, and as it is owned by Wadworth’s, this includes 6X and Henry’s IPA.

There is a dart board, weekly quiz night and traditional meat draw. While there’s no beer garden, there is an attractive patio at the front with outside seating.

Park Inn

Park Inn

The Salisbury Arms was the penultimate pub on the list. Back to Shirley’s main drag now, this traditional Greene King pub serves Greene King IPA on draught and has an unusual ‘island’ bar, where you can get served from all sides of it. There is a garden and smoking area at the rear.

The pub has a selection of books for sale (20p – bargain!), darts, Sky Sports, a jukebox and karaoke every Sunday afternoon/evening.

The Salisbury Arms in 2007. Again, I need to take a newer photo, although not much has changed.

The Salisbury Arms in 2007. Again, I need to take a newer photo, although not much has changed.

The final pub was the Bright Water Inn – a JD Wetherspoon Free House.  As can be expected with Wetherspoon pubs, the standard was very high, although I always think it’s a bit gloomy in there. There’s a superb variety of real ale, good value food and no music/TVs etc. There’s a small covered smoking patio out the front and a bus stop opposite, making it very easy to get to/from the city centre and railway station. There are some interesting historical photos and articles on the walls, making a great way of learning about local history.

In the evening, I was intending to go in Provenance but it doesn’t open until 10 and the weather was grim so I ended up in Revival again (at least you don’t have to pay to go in until 10) and despite the fact they had no cider (again), they played a much better choice of music from the 70s and 80s.

On Sunday, it had threatened to rain, and although there were already some rather ominous clouds looming, it was dry when I set out. The first pub was The Fox and Hounds, in Bitterne. This rather traditional pub is located in a back street and like many of the other pubs over that side of the river, has two bars. The public bar is very small and was quite empty. The lounge bar is also quite small but there is an extra seating area down a few steps, which is odd in that there are no windows.

There is Sky Sports and a jukebox, and karaoke is advertised. There is a Sunday roast, although it isn’t really advertised very much. At the rear is a smoking patio and large garden; the doors to which have another sign asking dog owners to dispose of their dog’s waste in a responsible way. There is Doom Bar on the real ale front.

The Fox and Hounds, Bitterne

The Fox and Hounds, Bitterne

By the time I left, it had started raining, albeit fairly lightly. The next pub was just around the corner (or so I thought) – The Humble Plumb. This pub, located in Commercial Street, Bitterne (another back street really) is what is left of the Bitterne of old. You’d never guess that there were no less than three pubs there (as of my last visit in 2008). Going back even further there were more than that. This part of Bitterne has been amputated by its modern centre by the 1970s/80s bypass cutting a swathe through Bitterne.

Percy Arms, Bitterne. This has been closed for a few years but was in my original pub survey.

Percy Arms, Bitterne. This has been closed for a few years but was in my original pub survey.

Enough history! It seemed a lot further to the pub than I remembered. Had I taken a wrong turn or was it just the rain making time go slow? Never mind; I found it. This pub was formerly the Commercial Inn but has had its current name for the last decade or two. It is owned by Wadworths and has no less than TEN different real ales! Undoubtedly the best selection that side of the Itchen, although the Hop inn is also a contender.

The Humble Plumb is fairly traditional and has an upmarket food menu. Unfortunately, the tranquility was spoiled by a massive table full of screaming brats running round in circles. Their kids were pretty bad too. There is a small garden/smoke area and a real fire; it must make a cosy place to escape the cold and bitter Bitterne winters. Karaoke and quiz nights were advertised.

Having visited those two pubs meant that the only two pubs left in the North-East are the Fleming Arms and White Swan – both of which were too far to walk in the rain so my sights turned South – all that are left are in Woolston (or Newtown, which is even further) so I first tried the Swift Tavern, which was about to close for the day (closing at 4 pm?) and then The Obelisk. This was packed solid with football supporters avidly watching the TVs. It was packed so tightly that there was no way of getting to the bar. Luckily, the lounge bar was much quieter and made a welcome refuge from the inclement weather.

The Obelisk had a surprisingly-good range of ales, with regulars Ringwood Best, Doom Bar and Bass (wow, not seen that for years!) There was also a guest beer, which was Ballard’s Midhurst Mild. It was apparent that this pub was a champion of real ale as there were even CAMRA beer festival fliers on the tables. As nice as it was, a resurvey will be necessary as the public bar needs checking out too.

My final stop was intended to be The Bridge but that was scuppered by another impenetrable wall of football supporters.

 

To see this map cookies and javascript must be enabled. If you are still having trouble after having checked both of these please contact us using the link at the top of the page

Southampton pub survey – week six

Friday 3 May 2013

Week six got off to a slow start. After some deliberation about which direction to head, I thought I’d go South and tackle the High Street group of venues. This includes the Standing Order, Elements, Oasis Bar and FYEO. Is the last one a pub? Surely I don’t have to evaluate such a den of iniquity? Oasis Bar was closed due to a private party but the doorman was helpful unlike some of them and he said that it will open as usual tomorrow. However, I’ll come back to that one. Elements, formerly Walkabout and more recently Wahoo, was very closed; its large ornate wooden doors evoking a sense of closure. FYEO wasn’t open either; that is probably a good thing! So, with the Standing Order being the only pub open in that group, and as I intend to go there on a less busy night, it was time to rethink things. The hotels nearby probably have bars that are open to non-residents but; again, I decided to stick to ‘proper’ pubs for the time being. Should I start on the Old Town group (Red Lion, Juniper Berry, The Titanic and the Duke of Wellington)? No; again, a quieter night would be better for them.

So, I headed East towards the Oxford Street group. It was absolutely heaving. With uncertainty about whether some of the venues were pubs or restaurants, I decided to postpone the complex job of making such decisions. First up were the two definite pubs there – The Grapes and the London Hotel. The Grapes is always a good pub, although rather expensive, but I was surprised to see no less than FOUR real ales! It was a great mix as well, unlike the frequently-encountered trio of Greene King ales. They had Greene King IPA, Ringwood Best, London Pride and Old Hooky. The latter is a guest beer, as they often have Doom Bar as well.

It was very busy around the bar but the service was quick. I went round the back and found a nice quiet corner with comfy chairs and a table! Bliss! While I would quite happily stay there all night and have a pint of each of the ales, I had work to do so I moved onto the next pub – The London Hotel. This was surprisingly quiet, although it was only about 9:30. Things don’t start there until 10.00 usually – like their karaoke. It’s great but when you have to go to work the next day, and having to walk the 15 minutes or so there, it just doesn’t work very well for me. I had a pint of Hobgoblin and, although there was a cosy nook with some free tables, which was very useful for me to do the paperwork, I stood near the stage.

The London Hotel, Oxford Street

The London Hotel, Oxford Street

The next venue, which was the last of the night, was Antico. This was originally on my list of exclusions (due to it being a Restaurant rather than a pub, although it used to be a Greene King pub called the Court Jester). However, I had to walk right past it anyway. I was partly right – there is a large formal restaurant area but at the front is a bar with no table service or wine glasses on the tables (a sure sign of being a restaurant instead of a pub) so I went in. It was fairly quiet and has a nice romantic ambience to it. It’s quite dark and candle-lit.

Antico is remarkable as it has its own iPhone/Android app! It also has hotel rooms and very well-designed promotional material – including a slick video on the TV in the bar. However, the romantic stuff had clearly intoxicated some of the other customers and I was very tempted to say “Get a room!”.  Apparently they have occasional live music/DJs – however, there was no evidence of that at all.

Antico Hotel

Antico Hotel

Saturday 4 May 2013

This afternoon’s session was my first foray into the West side pubs of Southampton. I was contemplating going there or St Denys, but decide to Go West. As I’m being helped with the pubs in Shirley itself, I thought I’d start right at the bottom – the South Freemantle area. This is centred around Waterloo Road – an area I know well. I used to frequent the Star and Garter, and indeed used to DJ in there every Saturday night, but sadly the fine Victorian building  was destroyed and replaced by modern flats that show no consideration to the surrounding area’s architecture.

The site of the former Star and Garter

The site of the former Star and Garter

First up was the Key and Anchor – a backstreet boozer virtually spitting distance from the Star and Garter – although I think that the road it’s on was originally the main road West from Southampton. I forgot how good it was. The Victorian building has a rustic style, with a bare wooden floor and real fire. It has Ringwood Best and 49er and my pint of the latter was superb. The barman certainly knew what he was doing; that was evident. It has newspapers, a jukebox and a garden as well.

The Key and Anchor regularly has karaoke on Saturday nights with the long-running karaoke show by Steve and Penny, established over 10 years ago. There is also other live music.

Key and Anchor, Millbrook Road

Key and Anchor, Millbrook Road

Next up was the Waterloo Arms. I am not going to pay too much attention to writing a good description of this as it has already been done countless times by various CAMRA folk. I will have a go but only because it is a great application of my newly-acquired copywriting skills.

The Waterloo Arms is a mock-tudor 1920s building that is owned by the local Hopback Brewery; it’s the only pub in Southampton they own. As would be expected, the Hopback portfolio of ales are the flagship of the pub’s offering; however, there are other guest beers and even real cider on draught. I would quite happily have drunk that stuff all afternoon but getting drunk would be unprofessional.

It has a dart board, back garden and the bar area is ‘L’ shaped.

Waterloo Arms, Waterloo Road

Waterloo Arms, Waterloo Road

The Wellington Arms is well-hidden on a back street and looks intimidating from outside because the windows have bars in front! However, that is just a Victorian design feature, and is complemented by a lot of wrought iron detail inside the pub, as well as the famous bar embedded with coins. There is always a good selection of ales on offer.

The pub has made the news for trying to get around the smoking ban by becoming an official embassy for the tiny Island of Redonda – however, that ruse didn’t work!

Wellington Arms

Wellington Arms

The penultimate pub of the afternoon, The Pig ‘n’ Whistle, was of a good standard, but was still  the least good compared with the very high standard of the first three. It is a local-style pub, with Doom Bar on offer and the requisite pool table, Sky Sports and jukebox, the latter of which is free on Friday/Saturday/Sunday afternoons. It also has a garden at the rear and regular karaoke nights.

Pig 'n' Whistle, Shirley Road

Pig ‘n’ Whistle, Shirley Road

Nearby is the Park Hotel, a pub I used to frequent twice a week for karaoke on Sundays and I used to DJ in there on Saturday nights. It is in a pretty sorry state and has been boarded up for several years.

Park Hotel

Park Hotel

'Dean's Park Hotel' – it has never been called that by anyone except the former landlord – Matt Dean, who was a councillor as well.

‘Dean’s Park Hotel’ – it has never been called that by anyone except the former landlord – Matt Dean, who was a councillor as well.

 

On the way home, I paid a brief visit to Encore, by the Mayflower Theatre. While I found out there is a good food menu, pool table, Sky Sports and Wi-Fi, and regular karaoke nights, I did not record any details of the range of beers, so a partial resurvey is needed there.

The Encore

The Encore

In the evening, having recovered from an exhausting afternoon schedule, I decided to tackle another nightclub but I am being somewhat selective about which ones I try. Pop World, formerly the Reflex 80s-themed venue,  seemed attractive, as it promised to play pop music. Now as much as I like ‘proper music’, I do have a soft spot for cheese at parties. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the choice of music, although it wasn’t as bad as Revival.

Pop World's colourful intrerior

Pop World’s colourful intrerior

Like Revival, Pop World has an old-school dance floor with coloured light-up tiles. It’s a huge double-height metal shed type of building with a mezzanine floor containing another bar and some very prominent ventilation ducts. It is also the only bar I have ever seen a photo booth in before. As would be expected, it was full of hen parties.

After that, I was intending to go next door to 90 Degrees at Carlton but the snobbish bouncers refused me entry for the heinous crime of wearing trainers. I’ll give it another try at a time less likely to be subject to antiquated dress codes but if there is still no luck then the venue will be marked as ‘Access failed”. I am not changing what I wear just so I can get admitted to some pretentious yah yah bar!

Sunday 5 May 2013

The regular trip East on Sunday afternoon this week aimed to deal with some of the Eastern outlying pubs.  Fortunately, all four were proper pubs and not pretentious wine bars. First up was the Hare and Hounds, Harefield. This pub, built in the 1950s or 60s at the same time as the surrounding estate, is a vital community asset (particularly now the next nearest pub, the Exford Arms has been destroyed in its entirety by the council). When I visited on a rare sunny Bank Holiday Sunday, preparations were underway for a barbecue.

The pub has an outside patio at the front and two bars inside – a public bar and lounge bar. The latter was empty but the public bar was busier and features pool, darts, Sky Sports , a jukebox and hosts regular live music. It also benefits from free parking outside and there is a bus stop adjacent to the pub offering buses every 15 minutes during the week and every 30 minutes on Sundays.

The Hare and Hounds, Cheriton Avenue

The Hare and Hounds, Cheriton Avenue

Next up was The Bittern, named after the wading bird and not the nearby suburb of Bitterne. This huge Art Deco pub is sadly threatened, with rumours about both McDonalds and Tesco eying it up. The locals have started a campaign to save it, with its own Facebook page and T-shirts made.

Inside The Bittern

Inside The Bittern

The largest part of the pub is the L-shaped public bar, with there being a smaller but comfortably-furnished lounge bar adjacent to it. The 1930s Crittall windows are something of an endangered species nowadays and there are also some fine cast iron radiators. From the outside, the pub bears a low profile; it is only single-storey apart from an area in the middle, which is probably the landlord’s accommodation. At the back is a large beer garden and covered smoking area.

The Bittern

The Bittern

The pub has a monthly karaoke, bingo and bikers’ nights, and miscellaneous events; many photos of which are displayed on one of the walls.

Another short walk brought me to The Hinkler. The immediate surroundings are very different to my last visit, as the tired 1960s shopping precinct that was previously there has been demolished and replaced with some new flats and shops, although being a Sunday, these were all closed. The Hinkler itself was saved though; and it has won an award from its owner, Marston’s, for the ‘Best Community Pub of the Year’. As such, it has Marston’s Pedigree served from a handpump.

The Hinkler

The Hinkler

The interior is quite large and furnished in a contemporary style, featuring lots of Saints pictures and Elvis memorabilia, and there is a lounge bar that is even more contemporary, and very attractive. This can be closed off as a separate function room or opened out into a part of the main bar area. There is a small garden/smoking patio at the rear, which has barbecues sometimes. Hungry visitors can also order an all-day breakfast.

Inside The Hinkler

Inside The Hinkler

The Hinkler regularly hosts  live music and also has quiz nights, Sky Sports, a jukebox and pool table.

The Miller’s Pond was the last pub on the list for that day and this is always an odd one. From outside, it appears that all the windows have been boarded up and there is no door; however, a closer look reveals a staircase that goes down into the garden (the pub is located on quite a steep slope). The actual bar area is in the basement, and although it has a fairly low ceiling, it’s actually quite large. Owned by Wadworth, this pub unsurprisingly sells a selection of Wadworth ales, including Henry’s and 6X.

There is occasional live music, a pool table, Sky Sports and quiz nights. The garden is very large and sloping and there is an adjacent car park. The number 3 bus also goes right past and it is a stone’s throw from Sholing railways station. This pub always seems like it’s out in the middle of nowhere whereas it’s actually in a city!

To see this map cookies and javascript must be enabled. If you are still having trouble after having checked both of these please contact us using the link at the top of the page

Southampton pub survey – week five

I can’t believe we’re into the fifth week already! I have visited over 30 pubs in the last month and that is good progress. To those who ask how soon I intend to complete the job; well I don’t have a specific target in place. Just as and when really. Over the course of the summer, this will help me get out and about rather than staying at home and being miserable.

Week five started on Friday night (26 April) in Revolution. As it’s a specialist vodka bar then there was not much hope of any ale, and that assumption turned out to be true. They had the usual selection of mass-produced lagers and Strongbow but beer drinkers were definitely in the minority. It has a promising menu but it is somewhat expensive. The furniture is straight out of an Ikea catalogue and I like that, along with the exposed ventilation ducts that are ubiquitous! The only other thing of interest was the floor, which reminded me of supermarkets. Sorry, I have a thing about flooring.

 

Revolution Vodka Bar

Revolution Vodka Bar

My next stop was Avondale House. This looks more like an office building than a pub, and the name certainly evokes images of offices. Last time I visited here there was no beer on draught (due to technical issues of some kind). There were also several bars on different levels but I could only see two levels this time. There was nothing to dislike but nothing to like either. I think a return visit is necessary to try and understand this complex venue a bit better.

Avondale House

Avondale House

My final stop was Kelly’s. This is stretching the definition of a ‘pub’ a bit. It’s really a nightclub that doesn’t open until 9.00 pm. However, as it has free entry before 10.00 pm, and was included in my previous pub survey then I had no grounds for excluding it.

It got off on a bit of a bad note, as I was asked to remove my hat! Luckily I could fold it up and put it in my pocket. The venue is in the basement and has a large dance floor with a few small areas with tables and chairs at the side. There were virtually no men in there though. The barmaids were all female and scantily-clad (I’ve never seen a male barmaid!) and most of the customers were too. What a shame I’m not straight. But as I’m not completely gay either then my blood pressure started rising like that sketch in one of the Carry On films.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The weather threatened to be a bit unpredictable and so I decided not to stray too far from a bus route. The north section of Southampton (well, anywhere north of the city centre falls into that category) needed doing nearly as much as the West section so Portswood was my first destination. Apologies for the lack of photos of these pubs, I forgot to take the camera! There was a weirdo on the bus but at least it stopped straight outside the Trago Lounge, which was my first target of the day. There was a Saints match about to begin when I visited so I made a conscious decision to avoid anywhere with Sky sports. The hustle and bustle outside where I live on match days can make me quite weary so the Trago Lounge, which has no TVs was a very welcome haven. It has a kind of café atmosphere and that’s a nice change. It was fairly quiet and chilled out when I visited and has a nice but expensive menu. I was very pleased to be served the Loungers’ house ale, Toga Man, in a proper dimpled pint mug! Very rare in pubs now.

Varsity was my next destination and I was surprised at how much the venue has changed. It was called ‘The Terminal’ when I previously visited and was a dark hovel but now a rooflight and opened up back windows have made it far more attractive. I was surprised to find a barmaid who hadn’t heard of a bitter top. It was very cheap for both food and drink though and has a pool table and dartboard for those who are that way inclined.

The Richmond Inn is a proper old-fashioned pub. It smells like someone’s front room and I don’t mean that in a negative way; it seems very homely compared to the anonymous nature of a lot of pubs these days.
It has a jukebox, which was playing ‘The Bear Necessities’ when I visited. Random. There are speakers set up, a mixing desk and bingo machine and I imagine they have a great pub quiz here! There are no TVs so it is another haven from the hustle and bustle of football match days. Four handpumps, selling Greene King/Morland ales. I will definitely be adding this to my shortlist of decent pubs!
Tartan carpet and woodblock parquet floor are an interesting combo in the flooring department.

Literally just across the road is the Gordon Arms,  another pub I enjoyed visiting. It serves food, two real ales and has a smoking area/garden at the rear. Finding the toilets is a huge mystery, as they’re hidden behind a door that is disguised as part of a bookcase! It has a jukebox and quiz night, which I imagine is good. The pub has also won awards for being one of the best pubs in Southampton, as voted for by the public. It’s also right next to a  bus stop so it’s well worth a trip to visit both the Gordon and the Richmond.

That evening’s pub-spotting was less enjoyable. The first venue was Chambers, which wasn’t too bad really, although it is difficult to write too much about these city centre bars that all seem much of a muchness. It’s a modern building (well 60s actually) and has an outside (but on-street) smoking area and DJs on a Saturday night (and probably other nights too). It has what appears to be a fairly good value food menu, although not on weekend evenings. It also has sport on the TV on a regular basis.

Chambers in 1967...it hasn't changed much!

Chambers (top centre) in 1967…it hasn’t changed much!

 

Chambers. A fairly old photo but little has changed.

Chambers. A fairly old photo but little has changed.

After that was The Edge. Another nightclub. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not victimising The Edge or any other nightclub for that matter; it’s just the case that I prefer more traditional pubs. I’m not one for late nights and these places are never much fun on your own…plus the chart/dance music  doesn’t do anything for me.  So yes, while there were three bars, I was looking forward to ‘The Box’ which featured ‘Camp classics’ instead but by the time they opened that, I’d gone home with frustration!

There are three bars – the downstairs one, which is famous for its wall of rainbow c oloured flashing lights (and it is a pretty sight!) and has a dance floor and (unusually for a nightclub) has a pool table, the upstairs one, which is quieter and has a much bigger bar, and ‘The Box’ which is sort of on a level between the other two but it’s only been open once when I have visited in the past. At first, only the ground floor bar is open. Then it takes a long time before the first floor bar is open. Finally, about two hours later, The Box is opened. The only other point of interest really is that there’s a nice garden/smoking area.

The Edge

The Edge

 Sunday 28 April 2013

First up was the Two Brothers, one of the furthest outlying pubs on my survey of Southampton. Fortunately, a bus to there goes straight past where I live so that part was easy.

The Two Brothers is predominantly a food-led pub and part of the Sizzling Pubs chain. I actually tried the food and it was apart from the fact that the steak I ordered was smaller than I was expecting a bit too incinerated. It has a garden, parking and WiFi. It’s definitely family friendly for those who have that to consider #brats

There is also sport on the TVs, a twice-weekly quiz night and occasional live music.

Two Brothers

Two Brothers

Mis-timing the half-hourly bus back, I thought I’d walk along the route until the bus was due but I got to the Big Cheese roundabout before I saw a bus. My intention was to do the last two North Bitterne pubs (Fox and Hounds; Humble Plumb) but a bus heading southwards was exciting and instead I started on the main pubs of Woolston. I got off the bus in Radstock Road, near the Manor House pub. However, I had no intelligence as to whether it was still open. The building is certainly still there but it’s been converted into housing. While it’s always sad to lose another pub, my suspicion of its closure was correct and it wasn’t a particularly nice pub anyway.

Manor House, Woolston: now flats.

Manor House, Woolston: now flats.

I then walked South along Victoria Road, Woolston’s main drag and was amazed to see how down-at-heel it looks. The other odd thing is the place was like a ghost town. Completely dead. Even the large Co-Op furhter down had the shutters down, mid-afternoon on a Sunday. I then became very disorientated, as the road layout has completely changed (Victoria Road has been partly pedestrianised and the main through route  diverted onto a new road on the old Vosper Thorncycroft (VT) site. One thing that hasn’t changed was the very derelict cafe opposite the Victoria pub; an iconic symbol of Woolston!

I had a look at the Ship Inn down Victoria Road. I’ve never managed to have a drink in here as it always seems closed (since 2007!). However, apart from the pile of post inside the front door, it appears to be in good order. Yet another visit will be necessary. Perhaps all-day trading on Sundays hasn’t made it that far South.

The next pub was The Victoria, formerly on the main gate to the VT site but now on its own. It was a bit intimidating in there, I have to say, not least because of all the dogs. There were at least five of them, and thus a sign was needed saying something along the lines of ‘Dogs – if you do a poo in our garden, please ask your mummies and daddies to put it in the dust bin’. There was also a man  trying to get the football on TV to run off his laptop.

There were also numereous signs on the doors to the garden at the rear saying ‘Please DO NOT use this door’ then one underneath saying ‘Yes, THIS DOOR!’. The carpet was quite worn but there was a brand new pool table and some men playing cards (not something you see that much these days).

The decor was rather patriotic – as well as the front facade of the pub being painted with the flag of St George, there was bunting etc inside as well. There’s also a jukebox.

Victoria

Victoria

Next up was a pub something off the beaten track – The Yacht Tavern. Located in a  mainly-industrial area adjacent to Woolston beach (if you were thinking of taking your bucket and spade then don’t bother), this fairly large 1950s-built pub has two bars, and, generally seems nice.

I first went into the lounge bar, which seemed fairly sumptuous but was completely empty of drinkers. I went outside and into the public bar, which was fairly quiet but had a few drinkers in. This is a large bar with a pool table, dartboard and jukebox.  It also has sport on the TVs and regular live bands from the local pub circuit. Smokers can find solace in the covered shed outside the public bar.

The Yacht Tavern let itself down very badly though, as the pint of ale I ordered was disgusting. It was supposed to have Doom Bar but had ran out. Instead I opted for Bombardier but the pint was horrible and had a lot of sediment suspended in the liquid. I suspect this is down to poor procedure in caring for the beer, as Bombardier is normally fine.

Yacht Tavern

Yacht Tavern

Finally, to close an epic afternoon, was the Peartree Inn. Another 1950s-built pub, this has two bars – a lounge bar and a ‘games bar’. Once again, I first entered the lounge bar, which was very plush but; again, there was no-one in there. After hearing the dulcit tones of The Stranglers from the jukebox in the public bar (sorry, games bar!), I went in there and it was pleasant enough, with pool table, jukebox and the usual trimmings that go with them. I witnessed another meat draw, shame I didn’t enter it!

The Peartree Inn

The Peartree Inn

To see this map cookies and javascript must be enabled. If you are still having trouble after having checked both of these please contact us using the link at the top of the page

Southampton pub survey – week four

Week four started on Friday 19 April 2013 with another visit to the Bedford Place area. First up was Bedford’s, which was a lot better than I thought. It has always been one of my more favourable establishments in that area (as a lot of the others are very pretentious) but it seemed to have something for everyone. Great value food, including four different pies for just £5…wow! Must check that out on some idle Sunday. It was pretty busy but not quite heaving and a DJ was going through the throes of getting ready to party. In some ways, I regretted having to move on but I did so.

The Bedford Arms, Bedford Place

The Bedford Arms, Bedford Place

Next up was The Pensioners. This used to be a nice traditional pub but now it has reinvented itself in the same way as 50-year-olds who wear skimpy clothing. At first it was completely dead then a couple sat down at the table behind and were firing allegations at each other. As these were getting increasingly hostile then I moved elsewhere and saw a disco ball but it was evident that the last time they had a disco then the pensioners in question must have been but young whippersnappers.

The Pensioners Arms, Carlton Place.

The Pensioners Arms, Carlton Place.

My final stop on another brief evening out (must pace myself!) was Varsity (London Road), which features a somewhat industrial interior, with exposed functional brickwork, metal beams and supersize ventilation trunking. My first visit to here was in late 2001 (or not far off) and it has changed little. My last visit, funnily enough, was on a Friday night. Now that is going against one of my original principles, that I would visit each venue at a different day of the week/time; however, my intention this time was to achieve a mix of pretentious and non-pretentious venues each visit to try and make the ordeal more bearable.

Varsity, London Road

Varsity, London Road

Varsity was absolutely heaving but curiously, there were a few welcome empty tables. Drinks were ridiculously cheap (£1.89 for a pint of Courage Best?!) and the food was very good value too, although sadly not sampled. There was loud music but no sign of a DJ or anything. It has two floors; the mezzanine floor upstairs was not party to an inspection this time but I assume nothing has changed up there either.

Sat 20 Apr 2013

I had long promised that I would visit Eastleigh when we had a nice weekend so on a beautiful and rare sunny Saturday, I started off the proceedings in the Good Companions. I really like this pub. It’s not as perfect with regard to contemporary décor and such things but that gives it a personality. The landlord was talking to his customers about ale, so in terms of educating publicans about CAMRA, it was clearly preaching to the converted.

It has two bars on the ground floor, although I have only sampled the lounge bar. There’s also a function room upstairs, which has been used for CAMRA meetings. Directors and Hobgoblin are a permanent presence and the pub does food at sensible prices, as well as live music, pool and darts. There’s also a grey parrot in one corner and I regret not introducing myself to him/her.

En route to the next pub, down Leigh Road, I passed the Holiday Inn, formerly known as the Crest Hotel. When I was a kid there was a model of Jeremy Fisher on the corner of Leigh Road and Passfield Avenue. It’s one of the venues I am the rep for but that has to wait for another day. I did take a photo though.

The Holiday Inn, Eastleigh

The Holiday Inn, Eastleigh

On the opposite side of the Leigh Road/Woodside Avenue junction is a former pub that I only went in once – The Leigh. This imposing Mock-Tudor building is definitely a landmark and it is a shame that it closed as a pub. However, it has been refurbished to a high standard, retaining some of its original features but is now an Indian restaurant.

The Leigh Hotel, Eastleigh

The Leigh Hotel, Eastleigh

The Gateway was my next stop; this has to be the worst location for a pub ever – in the middle of a sliproad that spirals up to the M3 motorway from the main road into Eastleigh. It’s a large wooden shed, deliberately done in a rustic sty-le mostly used as a budget hotel (not one I’d like to sleep in) but with a cave-like pub/restaurant on the ground floor, with no little or windows in an attempt to disguise its location. I’ve heard of subdued lighting but this was like a cave. If I was going for a romantic meal then maybe it would have atmosphere but if I took a date to a romantic meal in the middle of a motorway junction then I don’t think I’d hear from my intended ever again.

The Gateway, Eastleigh

The Gateway, Eastleigh

My grumbles were also around the pub itself. It has a rostrum saying ‘please wait to be seated’ but due to the total lack of any staff, I inspected the bar and it didn’t appear to be for staff use only. So I waited at the bar to be served, still with no sign of any staff for about three minutes. I was about to leave and mark it as ‘Attempt for service failed’ but then I was served and sat down. The lack of free wi-fi added to my frustration and the complete lack of any life, any soul, any atmosphere was soul-destroying.

After a brief stop at Eastleigh Library, to see the local history collection, I went outside to the Chamberlayne Arms, a pub I’ve never been in despite spending over 20 years visiting my hometown on an almost-daily basis. It was surprisingly quiet inside and surprisingly large too. There are nice historic photos on the walls and the décor is traditional but with a contemporary edge. Its food has been recommended but sadly not tried, while Hobgoblin and Ringwood Best were available on handpumps. It also serves good value food (more pies!) and has a pool table and outside patio.

The final pub I visited that afternoon was The Wagon Works. Formerly the Home tavern, this is one of Eastleigh oldest pubs. A friend had her 18th birthday party in the function room upstairs but that isn’t used any more as far as I know.

The Home Tavern, Eastleigh

The Home Tavern, Eastleigh

Being a Wetherspoon’s pub, this was obviously of a pretty good standard, with a great choice of real ales on draught. I can’t really think of much  more to write than that, as it’s a typical Wetherspoon’s experience.

The Wagon Works, Eastleigh - formerly the Home Tavern.

The Wagon Works, Eastleigh – formerly the Home Tavern.

In the evening, I went somewhere a bit more local – The Firehouse. This is a heavy metal pub and the jukebox had some good punk tunes on. There are lots of men with long hair and beards and leather jackets. They had a live band on but they were too heavy for my linking. All roaring and head banging! I think this is somewhere I’ll be visiting more often!

This 1950s building has similar architecture to the adjacent post-war Above Bar shops It has had many different names and brands in recent years, including Park Tavern and Strikers.

The Firehouse

The Firehouse

Tuesday 23 April 2013

It was a fine evening so I took the opportunity to check out another city centre pub. As it was St George’s Day, I chose a very English pub – The Giddy Bridge. This Wetherspoons pub is always consistently good, as can be expected at the national managed pub chain’s venues.

It was busy but I could get a table for my brief visit. They had ran out of a few ales, including the St George’s day beer so I settled for a pint of Old Rosie cider – a potent brew and it was so nice to have some good cider instead of Strongbow (which I am bored of).

The Giddy Bridge

The Giddy Bridge

Thursday 25 April 2013

On another fine evening, I visited another pub – The Dorchester Arms. This was closer to home than I thought, being just under 10 minutes’ walk away. It was very quiet, considering the football that was on TV but seemed fairly good. It’s an entertainment-led pub, with no food available it appears (not that I am overly bothered about that). It has two bars; a larger one on the left, which has a stage in and at least three dartboards, and a smaller one to the right, which contains a pool table and leads to a smoking area at the rear.

The Dorchester Arms

The Dorchester Arms

It had three hand-pumps, with Courage Best available and it was a very nice pint; some places have ale that’s hard work to drink. There are live bands on a regular basis, including Double Barrel and the Life of Riley – two of the Southampton pub circuit’s most well-known bands.

To see this map cookies and javascript must be enabled. If you are still having trouble after having checked both of these please contact us using the link at the top of the page

Southampton pub survey – week three

Friday night’s  mission was a short one and took in what used to be the Red Lion in Bedford Place (no 11). It is no longer red and just ‘The Lion’; this name truncating malarkey has been fairly common in recent years. A fairly small pub, it was pleasant enough but nothing of particular note and was surprisingly quiet for a Friday night. It had Doom Bar on tap and another hand pump that was being used as a backup for the other one. Modern décor except for the large old-fashioned CRT TVs hanging up on the walls – these are becoming about as common as ashtrays in pubs! Pool table, a jukebox and table football were the only other signs of any entertainment. With heavy rain all day Saturday, my enthusiasm for going out was limited. As it was, a short evening jaunt was all that took place, starting off in Goblets (no 12) where I was pleasantly surprised to see a live band. It’s always been a pub I quite like but thought it had lost its way a bit of late. It even does food now (or maybe it always has done but I hadn’t noticed it). Sadly, my evaluation form has gone missing so I will reserve further comment until a return visit. After that I went in Revival (no 13), my first visit to the nightclub formerly known as Flares but not much has changed. If you had asked if I like 70s and 80s music I would have wholeheartedly agreed but just one visit here made me realise that there’s a lot of 70s and 80s stuff that is soul-destroying. Draught beer of any kind was unavailable due to some kind of mechanical failure but even when fully up and running then real ale is definitely out of the question. There’s not much to do except dancing to dirgy music. I despair! I thought it may be fun to give nightclubs another try but…no. Not my thing at all, mainly due to music differences. Does it count? Well, technically it does, as it’s open at least one time per week without having to pay an entry fee (like the first hour each night). It is stretching the definition of pub somewhat though. Each to their own! Sunday saw a confused start due to a lack of buses. I was intending to head to the East side again (as I had to go to that area later anyway). Instead I got a bus towards Swaythling and the Stoneham Arms. However, that pub was out on a bit of a limb (that is, not near any others) and Sunday buses were infrequent so I got off at Portswood and started proceedings in The Mitre (no 14). This large Greene King pub was nothing particularly special but certainly pleasant enough.  
The Mitre

The Mitre

Next, I headed north to the St Denys Hotel, sadly now converted to flats but still sporting some fine decoration on its facade.
The St Denys Hotel, now flats.

The St Denys Hotel, now flats.

The sight further down of the Bitterne Park Hotel, across Cobden Bridge; a huge mock-tudor pub dominating the views of Bitterne Triangle, drew me over the bridge but which bar to choose?
Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

This pub has two bars (or perhaps even more) and a very confusing layout. The smaller public bar has a pool table, jukebox and such like. The larger bar at the back has a very high ceiling, large stage and spartan decor. After that, I went down to The Station, a large food-orientated pub where I had a very reasonable roast dinner, which was very nice. I played the ‘catch the random bus’ game again and ended up on a circuitous journey to Butts Road, where I sadly acknowledged the Bullseye as another Tesco shop. DSCF1377 A fairly short but very hilly walk from there brought me to the Spike Islander. This has two bars; as I went in the lounge bar last time I thought I’d give the public one a try this time. That was alright. They had a meat draw and Play Your Cards Right game, football on the telly and a pool table.
Spike Islander

Spike Islander

My final stop was the Robin Hood. On my previous two visits (some years ago) this was known as the Earl of Locksley but has reverted to an earlier name. This large pub hasn’t changed much. It had real ale and absolutely dirgy music playing on the jukebox so I decided to hijack it and played Anarchy in the UK and One Step Beyond. The punters seemed to enjoy that as much as I did. Once an entertainer, always an entertainer! A mid-week (Wed 17 Apr) visit to the Prince of Wales (Northam), upon first entering the front (public) bar was a bit intimidating. It’s a very small area with pool etc and all the customers stopped and looked round as I entered. However, I managed to locate the lounge bar (which is accessed by a separate door from the street). That was much more pleasant. This pub does good value food and is dominated by a red and white striped theme, feeding off the aura of the nearby stadium (barely 5 minutes’ walk away). They have a quiz and bingo session on Wednesday nights.
To see this map cookies and javascript must be enabled. If you are still having trouble after having checked both of these please contact us using the link at the top of the page