All Ale, Long Itchington – Aug 15
When we bought Absinthe one of our plans was to look at the weather forecast during the week, then head somewhere with a decent forecast for the weekend. Unfortunately, as I’m a bit anal about planning, we’ve tended to book weekends in advance and taken pot luck with the weather.
This time, though, it truly was a last minute decision, with Alison on the BBC Weather site checking places that I suggested, to see which was best weather wise (and all done on Thursday afternoon). We tried Lincolnshire, but the site behind the Three Horseshoes was full. Next was Wing Hall in Rutland, which had space but was quite a long drive.
Finally, I remembered that we’d been to Long Itchington in September 2011, staying behind the Green Man pub. Alison rang, they had space, and the forecast was great (apart from the threat of an odd thunderstorm on Saturday evening) – they even remembered us from our previous trip! Perfect.
We set off to Warwickshire on Friday morning having first stocked up with supplies and filled up with petrol. The one thing we couldn’t do was take a full container of water, as we’re still having to boil it in this part of Lancashire – it’s been two weeks now and, frankly, it’s a pain.
The drive down the M6 was, if anything, worse than it normally is – it took us an hour to do the first 25 miles and the next hour wasn’t much better. The SatNav had us arriving at 13.37 when we first set off – we actually got to the site at about 4pm, by which time the pub had closed.
There were a couple of people already pitched up: a trailer tent and a caravan, but we found a lovely spot under what I think is a walnut tree but I’d appreciate help in identifying it, if anyone can.
We were travelling light with just the pop up tent to stow the table and chairs in and no hook up because there isn’t any electricity on the site. For two night that’s not normally an issue, although the fridge was struggling to cope by Sunday morning – mainly because it had been so hot and clammy.
We had a brew and a sandwich, we’d bought on the way down, before heading for the bar to settle the site fees and to try our first pint of real ale of the weekend. It’s £12 per night to camp, which is pretty reasonable and the landlord and landlady made us feel very welcome.
Long Itchington has a reputation as a mecca for real ale fans – there are 6 pubs in the village (we managed to find another one, along the Grand Union Canal on Saturday afternoon) all serving a decent pint. Someone told us that they have a joint beer festival in May which sounds like a future trip needs to be planned…
We headed next to the Buck and Bell to book a table to eat on Saturday night – they have an area where dogs are allowed in, so it meant we wouldn’t have to leave Boris in the van – just as well given how hot it was all weekend.
After a couple of beers we headed back to the Green Man to await the arrival of the Fish & Chip Van. It didn’t arrive until around 8.15pm and there was a long queue of locals and visitors to serve. It was worth the wait though – there were tables outside where you could eat but we were inside where the pub kindly provided cutlery and is quite happy for you to eat your chips at their tables.
In view of the number of people waiting for the van I think the pub does OK out of it, particularly given the amount of drink being bought (or was that just us?)
We slept very well on Friday night in our new “wearable” sleeping bags – if anything it was too hot and we jettisoned them part way through the night.
Saturday brought bright sunshine, high temperatures and bacon sandwiches – a great start to the day. I took Boris for his morning walk and really liked the feel of the village – maybe it was because the sun was shining but everyone was smiling and most villagers greeted me with a cheery Good Morning.
The site filled up during the day but there was still plenty of room for children to play cricket and football – it would make a great venue for a Brazilian Bay regional event (Midlands Chapter anyone?). The only issue would be the lack of electricity and showers but most people can put up with that for a couple of days.
We walked with Boris across a couple of fields to a disused railway line and, from there, to the Grand Union Canal. There were plenty of boats about (I’ve learned over the years that they’re not barges, they’re narrow boats…) including a couple selling things like sweets, pickles and even firelighters and fuel.
Further along the canal we found the Blue Lias, which also has a caravan site behind it, although it’s much more commercial than the Green Man. It looks great from outside but the food selection and range of beers and ciders was like stepping back into the 80s. That didn’t stop us from sampling a pint though in the beer garden beside the canal. The fish must be used to being fed as there were some very large ones swimming about close to the bank. I suspect they were Rudd but I’m not an expert on coarse fish.
Back along the canal and over the bridge to The Cuttle – a strange place which didn’t seem to be making the best use of its location. Whilst the Two Boats, opposite, was busy with bikers and walkers enjoying the sunshine, The Cuttle had a couple of tables of people on the veranda but no one on the dozen picnic benches near the canal. Still, the beer was OK, as we ticked off another pub that we’d missed when we stayed in 2011.
Down the hill into the village, to the Duck on the Pond, which was having a family fun day in aid of Macmillan nurses. It was an estate type pub, but, again the beer was great even if the number of wasps wasn’t!
Our last stop before heading back to the van was The Harvester. The landlord is one of those who makes a “joke” whenever he serves you. Still, he did have a jar of dog biscuits on the bar so Boris was happy.
We sat outside in the weird beer garden. It has gravel on the floor and quirky tables made from pallets, but the most memorable features are the large black buckets in which they grow banana trees. They’re for sale for £10, but quite how you’d get one home, I’m not sure.
Back to the van then, and a chill before heading out again later to the Buck and Bell for a meal. When we visited in 2011 we ate in the restaurant area, but I’d checked with the barman on Friday night that the menu was the same in the Snug with the advantage that Bozzer could be with us.
We arrived at 7.15pm and the place was almost empty. Almost, apart from the world’s loudest Kiwi (a chap from New Zealand, not the bird or the shoe polish) who was happy to pass his opinions to anyone who was passing. He trapped a couple of Australians who were waiting for a table in the restaurant and bored them for 20 minutes before snaring a couple of locals to tell them all about his relationship issues. The fact that he had relationship issues came as no surprise to me, nor, I suspect, to anyone else except him.
The menu, when it arrived, seemed much smaller than last time but we ordered and, whilst the food was OK, they’d forgotten Alison’s mint raita for her lamb and the bread for our sharing platter was toasted or fried and it looked like they’d had to defrost some for us.
A couple of G&Ts eased the pain as did a bottle of Prosecco. When we paid, I asked the waitress again if the menu was the same in the restaurant. “It is”, she said, “and of course there’s the “Specials” board as well in there”. ” Are the “Specials” available in the Snug?”, I asked. “Oh yes”, she replied. She did say that she’d mention to the Management that telling diners in other areas about the “Specials” before they order and finish their meal, might be a good idea. “Anyway”, she said, helpfully, “there weren’t many things on the Board tonight” That’s OK then…
It didn’t spoil the evening (we were too chilled for that) but it wasn’t the end to a lovely Saturday we’d planned.
When we got back to the site we discovered that there was a band playing cover versions of rock through the ages in the pub. As it was so hot, they’d opened the rear doors to let some air in, and to let some rock out, presumably.
Maybe if we’d been facing the band it would have sounded better, but, from 50 yards behind, the segue of Oasis, Robert Plant, Buddy Holly and Free didn’t quite jell. Still, they finished at midnight, which was a relief to us all.
We’d been expecting rain overnight on Saturday, but when we woke on Sunday morning it was dry and still sunny, so we were soon packed up and ready to leave by 10am. The nightmare drive down, had persuaded us to avoid the M6 proper going home, so we left the M6 Toll and headed up the A34 towards Stafford. Whilst the going wasn’t quick, at least we weren’t stuck in a jam, and we eventually got back on the M6, north of any issues, and were home by 1.30pm.
There’s a full set of photos here: FLICKR
THINGS WE’VE LEARNED:
We’ve got to move away from the North West – Warwickshire may be on the list
Boris is no match for a cat – cue Bloody Dog Nose
The M6 is a brilliant car park but a lousy motorway
Canals are great for peace and quiet and for pubs
You can’t have too much good ale (although I may not agree in the early hours of the morning)
Spur of the moment weekends can be the best