BBQ and Beers in Caerphilly

It had been a while since I’d ventured out of Truro, so I thought a little train trip to Caerphilly was in order.

When I was a carefree teenager, I’d often spend my summers visiting family friends in Wales. Every time I return it brings those childhood memories of underage pints and breathless nights of laughter back, a wave of nostalgia that I welcome as often as I can. Luckily for me, those friends are still living in the same area so I return most summers to tour round the excellent pubs, indulge in some good food and even better conversation.

The train journey from Truro to Caerphilly is often filled with holidaymakers like me, slightly older folks who are looking for a bit of gentle hiking and some lovely sights. As I tuck into my packed lunch and watch the scenery pass by I’m given the opportunity to consider how much has changed since those hazy days of summer. As teenagers we weren’t limited by the time of day, pocket money could be amassed through chores and the cost of living meant that we were able to afford everything that we needed (beer and pork pies) to while away the days.

Things are a little different now. My friend Joe always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so it didn’t surprise me when I found out he was a starting a cleaning business in his home town of Caerphilly. Although I was never a huge fan of the manual labour, I was happy enough to do the work for the beer money but clearly Joe felt like this was his ticket to success. He bought the cleaning franchise idea from a man in America and now he spends his days travelling around the Caerphilly area scrubbing BBQs and grills. It might not be the life that I would choose, but it’s certainly one that I admire.

Joe met me at the station, a big grin on his face and black grease staining his work trousers. We took a short walk back to his childhood home and caught up. I’ve never been much of a phone-person, so whenever Joe and I meet we tend to have a lot to catch up on. After dropping my stuff off, it was off to the first pub of the trip. The walk to The Black Cock Inn was one that we were both very familiar with. This was the pub that we used to frequent in our early days of drinking, after a day of labouring in a local orchard or painting fences we would nonchalantly walk up to the bar and order our ciders, growing bolder with each pint that we drained.

Today the pub is under different management and they no doubt operate a much stricter policy on underage drinkers, not that Joe and I remotely represent young people anymore…

The Black Cock is an example of a classic pub that (barring their Challenge 25 drinking policy) has remained unchanged my modernity. Even the regulars look like they’ve walked out of our memories, I was quite content drinking down their still excellent cider and whiling away the evening.

Home Town Pub Crawl

With all my gallivanting up and down the country (see previous posts) I recently felt the acute need to reacquaint myself with my hometown.

I’ve lived in Turo for the last decade or so, but before I came to the big city I’d been a true country boy, a simple bumpkin who had lived almost his entire life within a 5 miles radius.

That all changed when I stepped out by myself as a travelling oven cleaner. With the freedom to see the rest of the county, I soon found that village life was no longer enough for me. I’d seen a glimpse of the outside world and the prospect of returning to the home comforts of my village pub was no longer quite as alluring. After a month of cleaning ovens on the road I’d packed my worldly belongings into wooden crates and was ready to make my move to the big city.

Ten years later and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Although I’m well aware that it’s one of the smallest of cities in the country, it’s the perfect size for a man like myself who appreciates having a wealth of pubs on his doorstep. Drinkers like me always have our favourite haunts. We have the boozers that we visit when we’re feeling sociable, the darker rooms for when we’d rather be alone and the bright bistros for those rare days when we want to bask in the sun. What we rarely do is take a chance on new places.

Steeling myself for a change, I sought to address this by visiting three new (to me) boozers in the city:

William IV

I’d heard the William was a decent place for a pint but had never found a real reason to venture in. Perhaps it was the rather pristine pastel paint job that put me off, or the garish light that seemed to emanate from the building on a Friday – either way I’d decided to swerve the place up until this weekend. My worries about the place were confirmed upon my entry. The William IV is a very well looked after establishment, with attentive staff and non-offensive, easy on the eye decor…so not really my kind of place.

The Rising Sun

I usually try and only visit pubs that are within a short walk of my home which is why I’ve avoided The Rising Sun before this pub crawl. Although The Rising Sun looks like a traditional pub from the outside, it has ‘restaurant’ painted all over it as soon as you walk in. I’d like to say that I was disappointed, but the team here have done such a fantastic job that I got far too comfortable to be displeased by anything I saw.

Bustopher Jones

The implausibly named Bustopher Jones completed my crawl in a somewhat fitting way. Once more I was allured into a place that had all the hallmarks of a pub and (once more) I was surprised to find myself in a place that was a far cry from what I actually wanted: a wine bar and restaurant. Fortunately for those working at Bustopher’s, I had become sufficiently lubricated enough to no longer care about the death of the British pub, so I slyly slipped a couple of glasses of chardonnay down before polishing off an extortionate Steak.

Cornish Brewery Tours Worth Doing

Thinking of visiting Cornwall soon?

I’ve got the lowdown on the very best brewery tours in the county – so who’s thirsty?

Despite having lived in Cornwall for the majority of my life, I’ve made more than a handful of friends from outside the county, some even as far as London! Although many would argue that I use the term ‘friend’ too loosely, I am nevertheless always eager to point visitors in the right direction when it comes to tourist attractions. Thousands of tourists come to visit Cornwall every year, they mostly come for the warmer climate and the beaches, but what many miss out on is visiting an authentic Cornish brewery.

Although Cornish beer has only started to pick up steam in the last decade, many tourists seem to ignore this strong arm of our culture. Besides recommending pubs to passing visitors I always make sure to nudge them in the direction of a brewery, as these attractions neatly balance education with entertainment, whilst also giving strangers to the area a chance to meet Cornish people and see how they work.

These breweries exemplify what is fantastic about Cornwall, they also brew excellent ale which you should definitely consider taking away with you:

Skinner’s Brewery

Set up just a little over 20 years ago, Skinner’s made their name with their aptly titled ‘Cornish Knocker’, a golden ale that I couldn’t get enough of when it first came out. Although their popularity is yet to extend beyond Cornwall, I feel that it’s only a matter of time before they hit the big time. In the meantime you can make the most of their relative anonymity by dropping in on their brewery for a couple.

Sharp’s Brewery

Sharp’s legendary amber ale Doom Bar has long been a favourite up and down the country with major stockists and chain pubs alike ordering it en mass. You can’t accuse the men and women behind the beer of slacking though, as they’ve been busy developing a a huge range of complimentary beers that have proven to be just as popular. I’m a particular fan of their light ale, Coaster, which is perfect for sunny afternoon sipping.

St. Austell Brewery

I’ve not yet met a Cornish man who doesn’t like the taste of Tribute, it’s a pale ale that has been round for donkey’s years and it has single-handedly buoyed the St. Austell Brewery to national fame. They’ve since brewed up a huge range of beers to support their original here, with Proper Job and Korev Lager leading the charge in supermarkets and pubs alike. They’ve poured a tonne of money into their brewery experience making it well worth a visit.

Padstow Brewing Co.

I’ve already written about a wonderful pub worth visiting near Padstow, but the town itself is also definitely worth checking out and whilst you’re there you may as well drop by the Padstow Brewing Co.! This brewery is so new that you can practically smell the paint drying. Founded in 2013, this brewery is home to the only female Head Brewer in Cornwall and pumps out around 9000 pints of delicious ale a week. Their Brewday Experience might cost £109, but it’s incredibly in depth and includes beer tastings, lunch and a free T-shirt – so what’s not to like?!

An Adventure Up North

A surprise invitation…

It’s rare that I’m called out of my hiding place in Cornwall, but a special occasion this month proved just the thing to get me out of the county.

Weddings are odd events. They are both homogeneous and completely unique at the same time. Throughout your life (depending on how popular you are) you’ll be end up going to dozens of weddings, each one of them lodging irrevocably in your mind whilst simultaneously melding together . Whilst the couples will always appear radiant on the day, your enjoyment of the event will always depend on your closeness with those getting married (and the strength of the drinks on hand).

I remember that there was a period of time in my twenties when it felt like I was going to a wedding every other weekend, but soon enough the flow of invitations, which once felt like an endless cascade of ivory embossed cards slowed to a trickle, until the only envelopes adorning my door mat were politely asking me to pay my bills. I’m now in my fifties and my door mat is clear most days which means that all my friends have either married or died…and that I’ve finally managed to get a grip of my finances.

So, it should go without saying that I was more than a little surprised to find a plump ivory letter waiting for me when I came downstairs one morning last year. An old friend of mine from my farming days (who had somehow managed to keep hold of my address for nigh on 20 years) was getting married in Birmingham. It had been so long since I’d been to a wedding that I blindly accepted, hastily RSVP-ing that same day.

It wasn’t until I’d sent off the RSVP that I started to wrack my brain for the last time I’d even talked to this ghost from the past. Much like weddings, football games and waiting at bus stops – the monotonous days of farming had blended into one indiscernible mush in my mind. Keith had been the youngest of all of us and the most idealistic, perhaps he had been too ambitious to stay there. I marked the date on my calendar and then chose to put the whole thing out of my mind. No good would come of overthinking such a thing.

Before I knew it I was pulling on a wrinkled grey suit, sleeping on a train and stepping into a glitzy wedding venue in the centre of Birmingham. ‘Fish out of water’ does not quite do justice to how I was feeling. A vodka luge carved in the shape of a swan gurgled quietly in the corner, flowers decked out what must have been 20 tables and a lounge band on a raised stage kicked into life. A man in a dinner suit approached me with a beaming smile. He was handsome, in his 30s and didn’t look like anyone that I knew.

“Maxwell, you made it! Darling, come and meet the man who’s responsible for getting me out of that God awful farm!”

Keith had changed, but at least we shared an opinion on the farm…

Hangover Pie and Pint in Birmingham

I awoke with a start the day after Keith’s wedding.

With a glance at my watch I could tell that I’d already missed my train – at this point in time, my immediate worries were more based around my physical predicament rather than my transport home.

My years of drinking usually put me in good stead for a solid session, but apparently I’d been in particularly energetic form the night before. I groaned as my brain pushed at the edge of its skull casing, desperately seeking for a way to seep through my face. Attempting to rally my senses, I stopped to consider what had happened the night before, how had I lost control of my faculties? Should I have not drained a 4-pack of Stella before getting to the wedding? Should I have stopped drinking after the first bottle of Prosecco or the second?

Thankfully, I’d found a bed in the centre of Birmingham and I was just a cab ride away from a solid pie and pint.

Now, I would never go as far to say that I’m an advocate of day-time drinking. I usually hold with the classic ‘6pm rule’ when it comes to drinking, often finding that if I start any earlier then it can be a real challenge to make it out of the gutter the next day. Despite breaking this particular rule the day before (and subsequently paying the price for it) I knew that the only way that I was going to make a quick recovery and return to Truro in one piece was by partaking in the ‘hair of the dog’. I settled up with the smirking receptionist on the ground floor and hailed a taxi, ordering the man to take me to the nearest pie and pint.

A short drive from the centre of town lies The Village, less of a pub and more of a family-friendly bistro, when I arrived there was already a number of patrons there complete with their offspring. Although I usually baulk at any boozer that positions itself in the family-friendly market, I was in no position to be picky and the cabbie informed me that there was no better pie in the city. I pushed my way in, expecting to be assaulted by a wall of screaming children but was surprised to be greeted by a quiet murmur of mothers conversing, the lower rumble of middle-class father timorously discussing the football and the occasional bubble of cherubic laughter.

A sigh of relief later I had sunk myself into a deep leather chair and ordered their Hand-Raised Pie of the Day along with a pint of their weakest ale. I started out cautiously, unsure of what effect these foreign bodies would have on my fragile system. Thankfully, with every sip and mouthful of pie I found myself reinvigorated. Within half an hour I was gamely wolfing down the remnants of the pie and happily quaffing the rest of my pint, half-considering ordering another one for the road…

I decided against staying, knowing full well how a second pint before midday could change the course of my day, opting instead to nurse a bottle of wine on the long train ride back home.

Lunch Break in Philleigh

Village pubs are a dime a dozen here in Cornwall, but they’re not all made equal…

I’ve been driving around the country lanes of Cornwall for most of my life; they’re twisty, treacherous and not to be tackled whilst under the influence.

Back in 2003 I made the decision to quit my day job and try something new. For years I’d day dreamed about working for myself; about striking out alone, setting my own agenda and finishing when I darn well pleased. The problem I had was that I was unsure of what business I could set up and run by myself.

I’m a Cornish boy, born and bred, who’s spent the majority of his life working and living in the same village. Like many lads from the local area I’d fallen in love with farming at a young age. I always knew that I belonged on a tractor, so I was more than a little bit shocked to find out that, roughly 15 years in, I was horribly, horribly bored.

The life of a farmer, as idyllic as it might sound, is not hugely varied. Depending on the crop that you are growing there are a variety of jobs that you’ll be doing throughout the year which are fine enough, but carry on for more than a few years and the monotony soon sets in. Now, I’m not going to say that all farming jobs are like this, but that was certainly what my experience was like.

Don’t get me wrong, it still took me 10 years to get bored (and then another 5 years to actually do something about it), in the mean time I was able to invest in my passion for pubs. My weekends would be spent gallivanting around the countryside looking for the perfect boozer, although it wasn’t until I started my oven cleaning business that I was able to fit my hobby around my work life.

The Roseland Inn in Philleigh holds a special place in my heart as it was here that I stopped on my first day as an oven cleaner. My first call out as a travelling oven cleaner had taken me to Trewithian. I’d bought my van, had my training and loaded up with all the gear that I needed to get the job done, all I needed to do now was get on with the job!

After spending 4 hours taking apart a filthy oven and giving it a good going over, I was happy to have completed my first job and eager to quench my thirst. I spent my first self-made pounds in The Roseland Inn, so I tend to return there every few years to soak up the nostalgia and the excellent ale.

Set on the edge of the Roseland Peninsula, pubs don’t get much more scenic than this one and the views are backed by well poured beers and a great menu. Because I’m a soppy traditionalist I tend to order the same thing every time. I start with Scallops which come served with creamed Cauliflower and Chorizo, then I fill up on the excellent Dark and Stormy Pork Belly all washed down with a lovely pint of Tribute.

Now that’s something I know that I’ll never get bored with.

An Expensive But Enjoyable Pie and Pint

Pies, pints and the smell of the sea air near Padstow

I take a trip to The Pickwick Inn to see what all the fuss is about.

I’m often asked what it’s like to live in Cornwall, my first response is usually less of a reply and more of a whimsical smile. I’ve been here for decades now and to say that ‘I’ve grown accustomed’ to my environment would be a bit of an understatement. I believe quite firmly that Cornwall is the perfect place for men of a certain age to retire to.

After all, it has pretty much everything that men aged 40+ need to sustain a base level of happiness:

  1. Mildly exerting country walks
  2. Plenty of benches to stop along the way
  3. An abundance of pubs serving ale and pie

Some may argue that men of a certain age would be better off with the following:

  1. A stable, well paid job
  2. A home with a good mortgage
  3. A loving family to care for

But those who have made this argument are liable to already have been saddled with kids and are therefore excluded from having an opinion.

With my schedule blissfully free of any responsibilities last weekend (as is the case with pretty much every weekend, as a matter of fact) I decided to take a little drive out of Truro to a corner of Cornwall that I’m very much fond of.

The Pickwick Inn is one of those fancy well-to-do pubs that men like me usually scoff at initially. We look at the faux-worn tables, the Laura Ashley textiles and exposed brickwork, and then sigh audibly. ‘Why don’t they make pubs like they used to?’, we usually say. But then we tuck into a hand-made gourmet pie and take a sip of a carefully kept local ale – suddenly all of our doubts disintegrate.

Although I can vouch for the useful anonymity that the gloom of a dark dingy pub offers a solitary drinker, there’s something very liberating about taking this habit out into the bright white light of a middle-class paradise as verdant as the Pickwick Inn. Whilst you’re unlikely to strike up a dour conversation with any drunken miscreants here (yes – that’s something that I actually look forward to doing) there is a very winning wholesomeness that envelopes you as soon as you arrive here.

It’s worth warning the casual drinker that the Pickwick is more of an uber-holiday complex than a simple boozer. As you approach it you’ll see that a bulky extension offers a bed for the night (for those that book ahead, not those who drink too much) and there are even tennis courts for happy campers too. The proximity to the seaside, ample outside seating and abundance of families breathes life into this otherwise utilitarian building making it an ideal spot to unwind in for a few hours.

Be prepared to dig deep into your pockets if you wish to sit down for a full three-courser here. Starters can cost up to £13, their 8oz Fillet Steak is an eye-watering £30 and puddings, although uniformly lovely, are a standard £8 per portion – Wetherspoons this ain’t. However, should you wish to simply pop in for a pie and a pint you’ll only have to part with £20; well worth it, when you consider the quality that’s on offer.