Fancy A Leek

When the email came through suggesting that Leek was going to be the place for The Gang’s Summer jaunt, the first thing I did was look it up on the map. The second thing I did was check the train timetables. I’d heard of Leek but never really knew much about the place, except a suspicion that it was in the Midlands…

My first shock came when I discovered the travel time…

Five and a quarter hours! 

That was the length of time it usually took me to get to Llandudno in North Wales!

Five and a quarter hours! 

I was a little taken-aback, I must admit. It’s a long way to go for an overnight. My mind began thinking in terms of a second night, perhaps the Friday night as I’d done for Shrewsbury. It worked well then, a really great weekend, plenty of time to explore. Besides, I didn’t want to go into the evening meal in Leek tired out and not be able to enjoy myself. 

Funny how a journey where you are sat down can tire you out, trust me, it just does!

I put the idea of an extra night to Topman. He told me he checked it out himself and said the rate for Friday would be extortionate.

“Why not come and stay with us overnight? You can travel up with us the next day and we can bring you back on the Sunday?”

It made sense to me and was an offer, in the words of Marlon Brando – with the appropriate amount of cotton wool stuffed in the chops – ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse..’

It would make for a better and longer weekend than originally planned. I liked it. A beer or two with Topman the night before, then off to meet the gang the next day in Leek.

A few days later I got the email through with the Menu choices on. I decided to give the old kippers a steam (wash my feet to the uninitiated) while debating what my food choices would be. 

I tend to give the feet a good soaking prior to cutting the nails. As I’ve got older I’ve found the toenails getting harder. Cutting them is something best done when there is no one around. It can be quite dangerous, especially when a particularly hard nail requires so much effort that it ends up  ricocheting off the wall. Well, you could have someone’s eye out!

Unfortunately, I was so relaxed I fell asleep with the old plates in the bowl. It wasn’t until the water cooled, I woke up with a shiver. I’d been halfway through a jam doughnut at the point I fell asleep, so my left cheek was sticky with jam. Another thing about getting older, I sometimes tend to drop off to sleep in the evenings, especially in the Summer after a four or five mile walk home from work…

I took the Friday off work to do the chores I would normally do on Sunday and was ready to travel at around 15.30, enough time to get the 16.14 to Newport.

Unfortunately, all the rushing around that morning and then sitting down in the comfy sofa in the front room, led to another badly timed snooze…

When I woke up, a sudden pig-like grunting snore initiating consciousness, I had a Corporal Jones moment. Not quite to the level of running up and down the room, but looking around anxiously, realising I was going to be late.

However, for once, the train being late worked in my favour. So, right train, wrong time. It made me a little less guilty about my unscheduled snooze.

The arrangement was to meet Topman at Newport station, and as he was expecting me at a certain time it was no surprise that I got a text asking if all was ok? Was I on my way? I explained that I was running a little behind, although technically because of the train being late, but it would’ve happened if it wasn’t as I would’ve missed it if it’d been on time…

At the station I met Topman and he decide we would take a taxi back to his place. He was to cook the evening meal but not before we had a beer in his rather impressive garden…I was always fond of a well-kept garden, and hate to see a garden that’s been left to go ruin, which is probably why I never look at mine!

It was bed just before mid-night and then up at about 7.30am. I took a shower, which I had difficulty with. It seems to be a little like trains, never seem to work to my advantage. I can’t seem to get the settings right. I either scold or freeze myself; sometimes both in turn. 

Breakfast was bacon and egg sandwiches, something quick so that we could get away sharpish. I’m fond of Bacon and egg sandwiches, so it worked for me. 

We were on our way at 8.40, only ten minutes later than planned.

The journey was rather pleasant, and a lot better than a crowded train for five and a quarter hours. At least the conversation was far more entertaining with people you know. I can never understand how some people can interpret someone travelling on their own reading a book is code for “come and talk to me”. If I wanted someone’s life story then I’d buy a biography… 

Funnily enough, if you’re sat just looking out of the window or staring into space no bugger wants to talk to you!

We arrived at 11.58. There was a short wait check in, but once that  was out of the way, I took my bag into a neat, comfortable room. There was also free WiFi, which was good, especially as I couldn’t get a mobile signal, which was bad.

Leek is in Staffordshire and on the River Churnet, ten miles from Stoke-on-Trent, it was given to old William the Conk at around the time of the Doomsday Survey. However, of more interest to me (and probably Blameworthy) is that it was famous in the 17th and 18th century for its ale. Although interesting, unfortunately, as I don’t have a time machine hidden somewhere in my house, I’m never going to know how good the ales were in those days. Like a lot of things, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to live with.

My brother-in-law would probably be interested in the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway, which runs along the eastern shores. If I’d been there for more than just an overnight, I might’ve gone to see it myself. The other, nearby attraction, is Alton Towers, not really my thing, which is the leisure facility of nearby Stoke-on-Trent.

Also, Leek has a Double Sunset on and around the Summer solstice, an attraction for certain tourists. The grounds of the parish church is the best place to see this. My timing was off, so I wouldn’t witness this phenomenon…

That was what I liked about the bi-yearly meet ups, the travelling to places I hadn’t been to, and in many cases, probably wouldn’t go to under normal circumstances. Having a walkies in a different place is something of a treat to me… 

Ten minutes after unpacking and a quick wash, Mr and Mrs Topman called for me and we’re off to find somewhere to go for a drink and a meal. It was decided that a pub lunch would fit the bill, but we passed on the nearby Wetherspoons. 

There was a nice little pub up a slight hill looked a good prospect. It was called The Fountain. Once inside I noticed it had a good selection of beers, but it didn’t do pub grub. However, the landlord helpfully recommended The Blue Monk, or at least that was what I thought he said the pub was called…

So we took his advice along with directions and walked further up the hill. It was just over a five minute walk, up the hill and just around the corner. It was then that I discovered that I’d got the name wrong. It was The Blue Mugge, not Monk. Still, got the Blue bit right though. Fifty percent correct…

The food was perfect for our group, not only a vegetarian option but also a gluten free one, which was good for Londontaff.

I went for a mix of healthy and unhealthy. A chicken burger with chips and salad. This along with a rather good pint went down the old cake hole rather well.

I was running short of cash. This was where I was Luck as  Mrs Topman lent me fifty quid, which was rather kind. To me, however, it was only a short term solution because as soon as the lunchtime session was over, I would have to find a cash point to get cash to pay Mrs Topman back and enough to cover the evening expenses for The Red Lion, at Thorncliffe.

Mr and Mrs Smiler were supposed to be with us for lunch but hadn’t yet arrived. They had to come down from Wigan, so delays were likely possible. I tried ringing from inside the pub, but the reception wasn’t up to much, rather like the hotel, but I managed to get a signal outside. They were in Leek so I directed them to the pub, telling them I’d stay outside so the place would be easy to spot.

So, Mr and Mrs Smiler, ten minutes later, arrived and went inside the pub. They’d checked in at the hotel before starting off for the pub. I was expecting Scrumcyclist to be with them but apparently she was double booked. She was doing the three peaks walk…not sure what that was but the fact that the sentence contained walk rather appealed to me. Maybe it was something I’d have a go at one day.

After lunch we took a slow stroll back toward the hotel via a different and longer route. On the way I took a few photos which, of course included pubs. Well, ok, let’s be honest, it was mostly pubs…

I spent ten minutes in my room, made some notes on my iPad and then decided to wander around the town. It wasn’t the brightest of days, considering it was July, but I was in England after all…but at least it wasn’t raining…

It wasn’t only my need to explore my new surroundings but the need to find a cash point so that I could pay for the evening meal and beer tonight. I also needed to pay Mrs Topman back, I hated to be in debt.

For a while I thought the placed didn’t do cashpoints, then after aimlessly meandering further and further away from the hotel (more pub photos) I returned back wonder if the place had ever heard of cash points. As luck would have it, there was one near to a supermarket on one corner of the street only a couple of hundred yards from from the hotel. Needn’t have walked so far out, but it was good exercise and I love exploring new places.

So, with my wallet filled with the appropriate amount of notes, I decided to try out The Fountain Inn, the pub that recommended the Blue Mugge; it seemed to have some interesting ales in there.

The Fountain, a multi-award winning pub (although I didn’t know that then) was only occupied by half a dozen or so people when I got in. I was served quickly and made my choice by the odd name of the beer. A pint of Wibbably Wallaby – sounded Australian and I only just stopped myself from doing the voice of a Neighbours character when ordering. The beer, I later found, was brewed by Wincle Beer Company Ltd, in Wincle, Cheshire. The beer had a gravity of 4.4%.

I was quite enjoying myself there, the beer was to my taste and in the surrounds of what I considered a comfortable, good proper pub. Unfortunately, half-way through the beer a group of Northern Rugby enthusiasts came in. (I’m not into Rugby, my only real experience of it was at school when an enthusiastic sports teacher arranged a match as part of our games period. As far as I was concerned the game is just legitimised thuggery.) I don’t know what match they’d been to, but their team must’ve won as they were cheerful and loud. It rather ruined the mood for me, so I decided not to go for a second pint.

In actual fact, they probably did me a favour as I’d probably would’ve overstayed my welcome. It just wouldn’t do to turn up at the Red Lion staggering around drunk.

I got back to the hotel, settled in room to have a shower, then made some notes on my iPad.

At 17.30 I was downstairs and meeting up with others from the gang. Sunny, Mr and Mrs Londontaff, Leaderladay and partner Headman and Mrs Headman and Thinker

Mrs Topman had booked two taxi’s to take us to The Red Lion at Thorncliffe. It was, as usual, smoothly organised.

The Red Lion at Thorncliffe was about 2.5 miles away. Since the gang visited it, there has been a change of name to The Reform. This happened in January 2018. The owners decided to go back to its original name from 1851. Understandable, there are rather a lot of Red Lions, but not many Reforms.

The beers on offer Abbot Ale (Greene King, 5%), Sharpe’s Doombar (4.3%), Pedigree (Marston 4.5%) and Life of Riley, (Wincle 4.2%). I was spoiled for choice.

I decided on the Abbot Ale and stuck with it for the evening, despite being tempted to try each of the others.

After catching up with the rest of the gang, and noting how the pub was filling up, we went outside. The weather had improved and my meal consisted of Soup of the day, tomato, Beef and ale pie with veg and chips and a pudding of Apple and Woodland Berry crumble, with custard. Fitrambler in paradise…

It doesn’t happen very often but the old Fitrambler cake hole struggled a little with that three course meal. The portions were awfully large; not that I’m in the habit of complaining about that sort of thing.

Topman organised a round of applause for the staff, an appreciation of their efforts for the evening. They had worked well and hard dealing with us lot…

The following morning, I was up at about 8am and had a fight with the shower. I’d had enough trouble with it the previous day where it insisted on coming out of the taps and the shower unit. Today it would only come out of the taps no matter how much I message about with the adjustments. Again I had to go through the scolding and freezing routine. What did showers have against me? In the end I gave in and took a bath; it took longer but was less traumatic!

I still was feeling a little full after the previous night’s meal. I wasn’t alone in that and agreed with Topman that a big breakfast wasn’t on the cards. Just enough to set us up for the journey ahead…

As I sat down he stared at my plate. He saw the double sausage, eggs, black pudding, hash browns and baked beans. He frowned and then looked up from his plate of bacon and toast.

“I thought you weren’t going to have your usual big breakfast…”

I frowned. “I didn’t bother with the mushrooms and toast…or a bowl of cereal…” I protested.

“Hmm, big difference…”

For some  strange reason he wasn’t convinced. 

With the breakfast nestling in the old tum-tum, and a short period of chatting to let it digest, goodbyes were said. There were the comments of the Christmas do, which was the next time we would all meet again…

We were underway and strangely enough, Topman got the urge for some coffee when we were only twenty-five percent into the journey home…

It was a near to Stone that we pulled off the motorway and into a Service Station. It was going into the car park that we spotted Scrumcyclist going towards her car. One presumed she’d done the three peaks and was making her way home. We all had a brief chat and then went to get the coffee Topman had been keen on.

Once we got back to Newport, Topman and Mrs Topman began preparations for a late Sunday lunch. It was after that I was off to the railway station and home. A rather good weekend…

As I look back on that trip, one of the regrets I have was not having a pint in the pub called The Earl Grey Inn. Having been a fan of the tea for over thirty years, it would have been good to have on my list of pubs I’ve visited…but you can’t have anything…