Thursday, 20 September 2018

Take me to church

As a Brit, I obviously have a Brit level obsession with talking about the weather (what else would we discuss with our colleagues as we stare forlornly out the office window). I sometimes think that descent into middle age is directly proportional to the number of times you check the weather forecast. Despite the fact you can’t change things, and what’s going on outside often seems hopelessly at odds with the prediction anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I didn’t have to check the Met Office website to know what would be going on in the skies up above. The fact that it was August Bank holiday weekend, coupled with our last camping trip of the year, made it a nailed on certainty that it would rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Clearly, as a Brit, I have also grown impervious to a bit of drizzle and so there was no chance that our trip - to Stoke Golding in Leicestershire, the village where Henry VII was crowned, heralding the start of the Tudor Dynasty - was going to be called off.

Yes, the Battle of Bosworth may only have taken place because Henry’s initial attempt at the throne had been scuppered by bad weather, but I felt far better prepared – having made detailed notes of the opening hours of all the pubs near the campsite, and remembered to pack a book, a waterproof jacket and a healthy dose of optimism….

Being prepared also meant thinking about what we were going to drink if we were tent-bound, and fortunately I found that Church End Brewery was only a few miles away from the campsite. 

Walking inside there's the welcoming and slightly nostalgic feeling of an old social club; hardly surprising, as that's what it originally started life as. With the freshly whitewashed walls and the smell of antiseptic soap, the loos reminded both me and the Ewing of primary school. This time without the Izal loo roll and with the addition of some racy advertising posters on the wall.

The brewery, you can see the workings through the glass window in the tap room, is clearly proud, and rightly so, of Goats Milk being named Supreme Champion Beer of Britain  2017 by CAMRA - I particularly like the 'Gloats Milk' poster by the bar - so obviously I had to have a pint. Say what you like about CAMRA, but they clearly know about ale, and this was a very good pint; dry and biscuity with a hint of lemon. Controversially I think I preferred the Folk a Cola, a refreshing golden bitter brewed for the Warwickshire Folk Festival. 

They were out of home made sausage rolls (boo) but they did have a range of pies and pasties from the nearby Rowley's butchers (yay). As well as being the spiritual home of the pork pie, the Midlands also produces the king of cheeses: Stilton.  So what could be better than a pork pie topped with the blue cheese. We also had a, very good, hot steak pasty; and possibly another pork pie.... 

Although it was still early on Saturday lunchtime I was already on my two pint limit (the Ewing was driving, plus knew we had to put a tent up...) so we got a 4 pint takeaway of the Irish Coffee Stout to take to the campsite. A beer the Ewing had been rhapsodising over at the brewery. A coffee and Jameson whiskey infused beer, this was as delicious as it sounded, although drinking it did hinder my attempts at helping sustain an erection. I think my wife was happy I kept my distance.

With the weather set to be biblical floods and plagues of locusts on Sunday, the one thing in our favour appeared to be that the George and Dragon, the Church End owned pub in the village, was offering a roast. Hot meat and potatoes, lashings of gravy, pints of well-cellared ale and shelter from the elements. Suddenly the rain didn’t seem so bad. That was until the Ewing phoned up to book and found it had been cancelled.

Initially this was fairly devastating news – a day trapped under soggy canvas, surviving on rations of cereal bars and and Pringles (although the second bit didn’t actually sound too bad) – but it quickly improved when she discovered the reason for the cancellation was because it clashed with Stoke Fest, the annual village beer/music/dog festival the lady on the phone excitedly recommended instead. Which is where – after several faintly hysterical, but strangely enjoyable, hours waiting for the rain to stop - we found ourselves.

Like all good village get-togethers there were hot dogs and burgers, and an ice cream van and a tombola and several, damp, dogs, dressed in their Sunday best from the dog show earlier. There was also some pretty decent live music, including young local lads playing ‘classics’ like Nirvana and Oasis, which they probably qualify as, which made me feel even more decrepit than I had waking up that morning, after a night on the camp bed.

Of course there was cask beer from Church End available in the beer tent, and of course that’s what we chose to drink, blasting through a couple of pints each of the excellent Gravedigger’s dark ale and the punningly named but less successful, What The Fox's Hat golden ale.

As well as a trio of pubs, Stoke Golding also has an Indian restaurant, so that's where we headed for some warming food (and it certainly helped warm the tent later that evening). They didn't serve Church End ale, but I did have a nice cold pint of Cobra lager, which was the perfect match with our chicken tikka-stuffed naan bread. My new favourite naan bread.

Monday dawned bright and sunny, which meant a happy morning drying out socks, a chance to read our books and drink copious amounts of campfire tea in the late summer sunshine. And, even better, the George and Dragon, normally shut at the start of the week, was open for the bank holiday for lunch and drinks.

After the Ewing spied and nabbed a homemade sausage roll and a gargantuan scotch egg to take home for later, I dove straight into a pint of the Old Englishman's Summer ale. Quickly chased with a pint of Gravedigger's ale, the wonderful roasty mild I had first sampled the day before, and my favourite of all their beers I tried over the weekend.

I was also overjoyed to see that they had faggots on the menu; one of my absolute faves and a must order whenever I see them, especially when served with the most glorious fresh cut chips, lurid mushy peas and  beefy gravy. Served piping hot, anointed with lashings of salt and gravy, there was no better plate of food to warm my, slightly damp and soggy, cockles. The Ewing also readily inhaled her fish and chips, hence the lack of photographic evidence.

Puds were of the resolutely old school variety which, again, filled me with little frisson of joy. Who could fail to be excited by a great wodge, of raisin-flecked, bread and butter pudding sitting in a lake of vanilla custard, or a paving slab of molten sticky toffee pudding in a lake of cold double cream. Both little moments of rib-sticking pleasure. 

On our way out the village we found this blue plaque which, in a wonderfully banal way had been attached to someone's modern brick gatepost. I don't remember much from my history A Level, but I do remember reading that the Winter King passed a law that stated 'that no Gascony or Guienne wines should be imported into any part of his dominions.' He must have sampled a pint of the Goats Milk.

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