Tuesday, 26 June 2012
I first came upon The Water Witch when, one sunny Saturday, I decided to go for a little poddle on my bike up the Lancaster Canal and, to my surprise, ended up in Lancaster.
Intending only to have a quick scoot around Preston, I did not take so much as a dribble of water for my jaunt in the searing heat.
I had been hallucinating about drinking long before The Water Witch popped her head out in the distance and beckoned me towards her with a spindly, crooked finger.
Like any dedicated cyclist I knew it was vitally important to rehydrate so I went straight for a pint of real ale and some nuts before quickly returning outside to grab one of the last benches on the tow path.
My plan had been for a quick pint (maybe try to find a bottle of water too) before cycling home.
But I got chatting to a fellow who lived on a barge moored outside the pub who proudly told me of his perennial battle to to keep one step ahead of the tax man (with a home that floats you can just keep moving apparently), before he up and left in case a letter should arrive.
Then I found a newspaper and slumped back into the shade of an umbrella and quickly realised that I was feeling just a bit too content to be going traipsing back down the canal.
So I had a couple more pints and got the train.
In the couple of years since I did the ride, my memory had morphed and moulded the Water Witch into a place of mystical beauty like Xanadu in Coleridge's opium-fuelled poem Kubla Khan (though I wasn't on drugs).
So it was with the excitement of a 'big kid' whose Christmas list is made up entirely of beer, that I returned to The Water Witch.
By the time we arrived the sun was straining to cast its last waning shards on the tow path, so it was decided by those who did not have a decent woolly jumper to keep off the chill (ahem Miss Chardonnay Sidekick) that we would sit inside.
The building was originally a canal company stable block and only opened as a pub in 1978, taking its name from a passenger packet boat that once trawled the canal.
Inside, with bare stone walls and floors it retains much of the character of its former use, while there is a newer mezzanine floor used largely for dining.
On the evening we visited, it had been a sunny day and the pub felt strangely quiet, with just a handful of people left eating and a few scattered drinkers.
The bar staff were working at double speed to re-stock the bar after what must have been a day-long deluge of sun-worshipping locusts working relentlessly through their supplies.
I enjoyed a nice pint of Guzzler from the York Brewery while Miss Chardonnay Sidekick broke with tradition and ordered a Pimms (my round).
We had a perfectly pleasant evening sitting on stools next to a window looking out at the canal but I could not help feeling, to really get the best from the place you've really got to stagger upon it at collapsing point, half dead with thirst or hunger.
Or, go when the sun is out, that would work too.
Saturday, 16 June 2012
Society is riddled with baseless advice about things which seem appealing but should be avoided at all costs.
We should never, apparently, meet our heroes because they will be a horrible let-down.
Footballers must never re-sign for a club where they have previously played because it will send their careers into terminal decline.
And I was always told (though I forget by who) that you cannot contrive to recreate a happy experience and expect it to be as good as you remembered.
No, the majority of my happiest moments involve good pubs and real ale.
So I find I am regularly able to create my perfect sunrise without too much fear of disappointment.
But after a great night in Lancaster last week, I was a little reticent about going back, in case I could not stumble upon another beery coup.
But thankfully, as soon as I came upon the splendid Dalton Square and slapped eyes on The Borough, my concerns melted away.
Unlike most pubs, where the bar is the most dominant eye catching feature, in The Borough it is hidden away to the side, an almost forgotten afterthought.
Instead you step into a lavish parlour with chandeliers, sumptuous leather settees and, to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick's delight, a rocking chair which kept her entertained for the duration.
Her only regret was having forgotten to bring her knitting!
The restaurant area was also popular and seemed to be doing a roaring trade but I was less interested in this than the gem which was concealed behind the bustling diners.
I picked my way through the restaurant, pushed open the back doors and slipped into a dream.
Under large canopies among great big trees and twinkling lights, sat serene drinkers, as a barbecue sizzled in one corner and music bounded from another.
It was perfect. I stood motionless and confused.
'Am I asleep? Or is the restaurant door some strange portal into another beer dimension, the likes of which I could never have imagined?'
I stepped back into the restaurant to test it again but it was still there.
'Ben in Beer Wonderland. That's what I will call this', I proclaimed as I dashed back into the pub, to tell Miss Chardonnay Sidekick of my revelation.
'I'm not moving, I like this rocking chair', she growled..
'It's out of this world I replied, 'You'll love it. And where did you get that knitting from anyway?'
Engrossed in someone else's cross stitch, I left Miss Chardonnay Sidekick and floated back into Ben in Beer Wonderland, knowing I can recreate the most perfect epiphany, whenever I like.
*You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee
Saturday, 9 June 2012
We wandered peacefully along the beach, forming satisfying imprints on the crisp, wet sand freshly smoothed by the retreating tide.
The glimmering sun tickled the ocean and a gentle breeze urged us enticingly onwards.
'Right sack this caper, we need to get ourselves back to Lancashire and quickly.
'It's all very well us living it up here in Prestatyn but this is precious beer garden weather', I announced to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick whose face began to curl.
'But we're on the beach, it's a beautiful day and we're having a nice time'.
'Exactly, it's perfect', I replied reassuringly.
'Just think how nice the beer gardens will be today in all their glory'.
On the promise of a cool glass of Chardonnay in a sun-drenched beer garden, I somehow managed to negotiate our hasty exit from sunny Wales for a quick dash back to Lancashire.
But as we neared home the clouds began to roll in, becoming more threatening as we came closer to Preston.
'Not good', I thought to myself, 'There's going to be trouble here'.
So thinking on my feet I resolved to drive until I found a sunny break in the clouds and pull up at the nearest pub. Genius.
Preston was not looking great so I carried on down the A59 until Samlesbury where I found those glorious rays beaming down.
Quickly I pulled into The Myerscough and headed for the door.
It was mid-afternoon on Sunday when we got in and the place was packed out, without a single seat to be had.
Each table was packed with families and groups of friends young and old who were either tucking into Sunday roasts or hungrily waiting for their meals to arrive.
I took my Robinson's Dizzy Blonde and followed Miss Chardonnay Sidekick out into the beer garden.
There we sat alone in the large, pleasant grassed garden, enjoying the 'sun' which was not offering us quite enough in the old temperature stakes to stop us from shivering ever so slightly.
'So this is pleasant isn't it?', I said. 'Nice little pub with a traditional feel to it, though I suspect it has been altered a fair bit inside'.
'Triffic', she replied.
I was about to make a joke about Rodney Trotter when a thick, dark cloud rolled over and seemed to settle itself just metres above our heads.
We looked up to see this great, angry mass appearing to strain like a dog on a poor diet.
'Is that hail I can feel?' said Miss Chardonnay Sidekick.
'Oh no I don't think so', I replied just as a deluge of ice bricks came crashing down on top of us, missing the rest of the garden, which remained bathed in sun.
We dived into the car just as the evil ice cloud clocked our movement and unleashed the rest of its freezing arsenal on the windscreen.
'Well that was a bit of fun, where do you fancy going next weekend?'
You could argue all day about the Royal Family, dissecting their value for money and relevance to modern Britain but after the fantastic Diamond Jubilee celebrations, I can honestly say I am right behind our Royals.
With a long weekend in prospect I turned off my TV, unplugged the radio and my cheap computer was wheezing anyway, so I was completely free to indulge my life's biggest passions; curry and beer.
With Miss Biryani Side Order in tow we munched through a celebration of spices at my local Indian, while plotting how to make best use of our long weekend.
On such an historic occasion, we thought there could be nothing more appropriate than zipping on the train up to Lancaster.
After a little carefree wandering around the city centre, achievable only in the knowledge you won't be back at work in the morning, our rabble came upon The Sun Hotel and Bar, and decided to give it a try.
It was immediately clear the bar area has been modernised extensively but in its brickwork, nooks and snugs, plenty of the building's long history remains.
It also sported a war chest of real ale, from which I chose a Thwaites Lancaster Bomber, followed by a tangy pint of Lancaster Red which is brewed by the pub's owner Lancaster Brewery.
We started out in the beer garden before retreating to a tiny cubby hole of a room with a covered well in the middle, where some of the group ordered great looking (and I'm told tasting) meals which made me regret binging on curry for endless hours and days.
Grumpily, I waddled off to the bar for another pint and I became further riled when a large group piled in ahead of me and went straight to the bar.
Spewing muttered Victor Meldrew quotes, I decided the night was on a downward spiral but to my surprise the well-staffed bar dealt swiftly with the group and I was soon at the front of the queue being asked whether 'I wanted my pint in a straight glass or one with a handle?'
Such lavish choices I had never before known and it initially caught me off-guard.
But, living on the edge as ever, I decided it was a holiday so I would go mad and have a handle.
But, living on the edge as ever, I decided it was a holiday so I would go mad and have a handle.
A revelation it was I tell you, especially when hoisting my glass up high to toast our good Queen for bearing the gift of a Bank Holiday Booze Cruise.