The trouble with this interweb thingy is that you don’t know who’s reading your words. Worse, you can’t tell how upset they are going to be when they do read them. So it was that after last years trip to the Long Itchington beer festival, the organiser got in touch with me and moaned that I hadn’t given his pub a mention, instead describing it as the mystery pub we couldn’t find.
Therefore, this year I had absolutely no choice but to go and try the festival again. It’s not ‘cos I wanted to you understand, it was my duty.
According to the weatherman, the village would probably be washed away by the monsoon conditions predicted. Luckily the afternoon was fine, dry and the bus into the wilds of the Warwickshire countryside, not too late. Riding in unusual backward facing seats didn’t provide the greatest start especially as after a couple of miles, one of the other passengers shut the only open window so that he could feel the full effects of the vehicles very effective heating system. It’s a measure of the true nature of the British people that we politely allowed him to decide on the temperature despite being unable to understand the correct way to wear a pair of trousers. After all, someone who wakes up in the morning and decided that the waistband should be low enough that he has to do a belt up tightly over his own wedding tackle is possibly slightly odd. And can sing falsetto.
I’d taken the precaution of printing a map off from the festival website but we didn’t need it to find the first stop – The Buck and Bell just behind the duck pond. The roads around the building had become a temporary beer garden with crowds standing around enjoying a drink and watching others pass by on the way to their next refreshment stop. Rather than confine us inside, the Buck had laid on a small bar under a gazebo at one end of the building and a very tempting hot food stand at the other.
Last year we had a little bit of a problem explain that the beer should be served in the commemorative glass. This year the problem was getting the glass itself ! The outdoor barman was under the impression that they weren’t on offer this year. A little training was obviously in order along the lines of reading the pubs advert in the festival guide which said, “Festival shirts and glassware available here” Oooops !
On the other hand the beer, Darling Buds from the Warwickshire Brewery, was delicious and more than made up for slight confusion. While enjoying the pint there were plenty of traditional British beer festival characters on hand to provide some entertainment too. For example, “The Trainspotters” were carefully working through the list of brews and highlighting those they had already sampled so as not to waste time repeating a tasting. When I say highlighting I mean with a real, bright yellow, highlighter pen one of the team had probably pinched from their office. Judging by the dayglo effect on the pages they’d been working hard for most of the day too – a glimpse of the book was both blinding and sufficient to provide the viewer with a healthy looking suntan...
Underneath a tree was rarer sight – a genuine drunk person. You might think that a festival devoted to beer would be full of people out of their heads, and ready to make an appearance on a Channel 5 documentary on “Broken Britain” but no, festival goers are decent, honest and upstanding people who are there to sample and appreciate the panoply of tastes on offer. Not for us the “shot” of alcohpop, no we want to savour our drinks – just like people say they do on the continent but without having to learn French or wear a beret. Our drunk may have had an unusual haircut but all he did was sit on the grass drift off to sleep while everyone around him carried on as normal.
Finally there were a few people in costume. At least one St George was present plus some cohorts dressed in related attire. One was carrying an enormous axe – that would have given the TV people a shock, no concealed weapon here – another appeared as a ginger wigged woman. Admittedly this last costume was not very convincing, you’d have needed big, thick beer goggles to have been fooled. And of course there were Morris Dancers. Luckily there performances had finished but the law says morrismen must drink their own bodyweight in real ale every day and that’s what they were trying to do.
After the first pint we moved on to the Harvester. Inside the small bar there was a healthy queue. Better still, commemorative glasses were on offer but I couldn’t decide what I wanted to drink. Eventually I delayed the glass buying and went for halves of “Lilly the pink” and something that mentioned lemons. While waiting one of the other customers, who looked like an aficionado, asked if there were any more pumps. Exhibiting my local knowledge I said this was the entire bar, upon which news he mumbled something about the beer being gassy. Then he ordered a Budweiser. The Englishman in me nearly saw him dragged out to the street and given a stern dressing down – dammit, it’s a beer festival there is no need to order an American “beer” when nice stuff is available.
Anyway, The Square became the beer garden for the crowds unable to fit in the pub. Local planning has not been kind to this street as despite its name, the half timbered houses look out onto a sea of tarmac. Along here drove one or two locals not looking too impressed at the revelries taking place. Mind you, they looked like the sort of people you can’t please any of the time as they sat in air-conditioned and very clean 4 wheel drives and Mercedes so we just made way politely and carried on supporting the local economy.
We also made way for the horse drawn dray that was doing the rounds. Well, once we’d all had a stroke of the cute horsies anyway. There’s a little something in everyone that is drawn to fuss hairy animals and these good natured beasts were obviously well used to it. Even when one of the cars squeezed past they stood their ground although the look their handler gave them would have scorched the paintwork...
Then off on a voyage of discovery. Past the school. Past the Co-op with its handy cash machine. Past quite a few houses and eventually we found the Green Man. I’d been keen to come here since festival organiser Mark promised me a free pint last year for my previous blog entry. If you are thinking this is mercenary then you are right and yes appearance can be bought on this website for the price of a beer.
Yet again, the pub was packed. My first call was to relieve myself of earlier drinks in the Gents. Ladies may wish to turn away now as I have to describe the room. If a man needs a quick pee, there is a nice wide porcelain urinal available. It’s the white wall with gutter communal variety rather than a series of single receptacles. So far so normal. However in front of the gutter there is a solidly constructed, stainless steel device – a fence with a sloping (towards the gutter you’ll be pleased to note) top about shin or knee height depending how tall you are. Neither myself or the man who walked in after me had seen anything like this before.
“Bloody hell, what’s that ?” he exclaimed.
As a guess, I suggested, it’s to stop us falling in.
“Hmmmm” he replied and then got on with the job in hand.
All I can assume is that the male population of Long Itchington are prone to a bit of urinal snorkelling or that they have a tendency to fall in to the inch deep channel and need to be rescued, hence a fence to keep them out and stop soggy feet returning to the carpeted confines of the bar. To be fair, it worked and no one drowned while I was in there.
Back in the bar there was no immediate sign of Mark and I wasn’t going to push my luck trying for the free pint with anyone else, the man with the giant axe had been heading this way last time I saw him. Some amusingly named “Bear Ass” was available (The Warwickshire heraldic device is a bear and staff) and a nice new souvenir glass came my way too. In a side room a folk band played away but it was too crowded to stay inside and listen – anyway one strummer was sitting in front of the door so as to block any potential audience out. Assuming the sound would be audible outside we repaired to the wooden benches in the sun.
Outside again we discovered that the musicians had been put in a room with no open windows. Whether this was an oversight or comment on their standards of playing I didn’t get the chance to find out as Mark found me to say hello. It appears that despite me being rude about all the pubs last year, I wasn’t about to be chased out of the village by pitchfork wielding locals. In fact his disappointment was that I hadn’t been rude about his pub, which of course is his own fault for not putting any maps out for us last year. This year, much better and we could all get around as well as someone who has been living there for several generations.
Finally able to sit, I perused the enormous beer list and discovered that there was drink from the Castletown brewery based on the Isle of Man available at the Two Boats. Being a big fan of all things Manx, once the glass was empty, it was time for the trip to the canal.
On the way a stop was made for a Buck and Bell burger. At first glance a fiver might have looked steep but this was a proper burger. Un-round in the way only a decent hand-made burger can be, it was best part of an inch thick and complete with plenty of salad. It was this that was my undoing. I’ve always had a problem with tomatoes in sandwiches. They always seem to squirt juice over me as I eat and after just one bite, my shirt was splattered. Thus the rest of the evening was spent looking like the sort of sad act who walks around with food down his front.
It was worth it though. Delicious. Ronald Mac can only dream of producing such quality fayre.
The Two Boats is a canal side pub. To my disappointment the Castletown beer hadn’t lasted very long into the day so I drowned my sorrows with an alternative. The towpath drinking area was full but taking a stroll up the cut a bit seemed popular with most drinkers getting as far as the nearby lock before returning with a thirst. It certainly seemed a less wet option that the inflatable canoe being tested by a couple of hardy souls. I wondered if the large number of barges moored were related to the festival but then spotted glasses of wine sitting on the roof of one and a couple drinking canned poncy lager on another so perhaps it was just chance. The wall of boats probably did save the odd drinker from a dunking though later on as you couldn’t easily fall into the water.
Finally there was just time for a quick half at the Cuttle Inn the only other pub we hadn’t tried this year or last. It’s a posh place which is probably a haven for those who feel a bit pushed out by the incomers who only turn up once a year and can't be bothered to walk up the hill a bit. Behind the bar they discussed how Peroni glasses are more trouble than they are worth because they just keep breaking. Not knowing what one of these is, I took my Owl Screech and departed to the patio area. Here it was, overlooking the car park with Porches sporting signs warning the owners not to leave them here all the time as the spaces are wanted for other people, that we saw the only proper, TV style drunkenness.
A group of lads were out for the night and some were wearing fancy dress. In particular, one of their number who I seem to recall was named “Seth”, was dressed up like a polyester Richard Gere from “An Officer and a gentleman” in a suit slightly to big for him. For some reason he decided a beer throwing session was in order despite the protestations of his friends. Well, here is a handy hint for the future – If you are wearing a bright white suit, presumably with the intention of standing out in the eyes of the opposite sex, do not get beer and lager all over it. At the end of the film, Debra Winger was not swept off her feet by someone who looked like he’s been urinal snorkelling.
And so back to the bus. Just in time to escape before the predicted monsoon. With a bit of luck I’ll still be able to go back next year. Seth will have dried out and I might even claim my free pint.
Official Long Ithington Beer Festival website
I took a load of photos which are on Flickr for your amusement.