Archive for July, 2010

Pints, Paths and Puttenham

So what, I was off to Surrey again and the North Downs, this time a return trip to Puttenham Eco Camping Barn. I do like walking the downs and the village of Puttenham is situated right on the North Downs Way, but that wasn’t the only reason for spending this long Whitsun bank holiday at Puttenham Eco – the village local The Good Intent was also holding it’s annual beer festival and spit roast that same weekend!

I was in the last of three cars to arrive but was soon settled in and off down the road to the festival, to find the rest of our party. As I walked into the beer garden I was met by the sight of Liz supping from a half-pint glass of mushy-pea green liquor. I thought “strange coloured lime cordial they have round here”, even more surprising the thought of Liz with a ladies drink, with a lime and lemon? But, first impressions are so often wrong; Liz was actually drinking a glass of green beer – no joke! I did try some for myself, yes, it was beer, but the taste was rather bland for my liking. However, the number of glasses of green liquor, I saw around the beer garden over the weekend, it certainly went down well with the locals. The spit roast was excellent. Two slices each of beef, pork and gammon with a jacket potato plus as much of the various salads and relishes that you could get onto your plate, for just £6.50. It was the same the next night and the beer was in good condition for as long as it lasted but that night it had to be, to make up for the musical accompaniment – some dreadfully out of tune karaoke singing!

That first night I was reasonably comfortable, snuggled up in my four season sleeping bag but, as it turned out, it wasn’t so good a night for the rest of the group. In the morning, they were raiding the warden’s stash of extra sleeping bags and duvets, to keep themselves warm for the rest of the weekend. Puttenham Eco is aptly named; it supplements its electricity supply and makes its own heat from the sun, using solar panels and heat exchangers. Unfortunately, there is no other form of heating for the building, which means that if the sun goes in the barn’s unheated!

On similar environmental lines, the toilet flushes with harvested rain water; the system seemed unable to cope with ten of us using the one loo, until an emergency red button was discovered – one push, as required, and our toilet was reconnected and flushing again! That was our only problem with the ablutions, my thanks to all of the five males and five females who shared that same toilet and shower room for three days, without animosity. Most of us just waited our turn or reduced our usage, though one ‘gentleman’ did find a more novel way around the problem. As he admitted, each morning he sloped off to the local golf club, where he passed himself off as a member, and used their facilities instead – cheeky devil!

What about the real reason Leicester YHA runs its weekends, the walking? On the Saturday, Boh led a damp and drizzly eight mile circular from the camping barn, taking in part of the North Downs Way via the local woodlands and lakes to Shackleford and, yes, a pint in their “Cyder House”. That reminds me, I’ll have to have word with certain new member: if two elder members decide to have a quick snooze over their pint whilst sat on a nice comfy leather settee – they ain’t posing for the camera! We were back in the barn by 2:30 pm where some of us just caught up on lost sleep. Judith couldn’t rest and did a further walk out to Seal and back, whilst Liz’s car took a trip into Farnham for extra supplies.

That evening, cleaned and rested it was back to the Good Intent and more of their festival. The beer and the spit roast were still on form but there was a great improvement in the music on offer in the form of a band called Imitation . A young band from Oxfordshire, who we were told were out on their first gig. From the quality of their performance, especially that of their lead singer, Rosie, it won’t be their last! They certainly hit the right note with Liz: on one occasion when returning from the bar, I was nearly bowled over by her “pole dancing” around one of the outer poles of the marquee! No one bothered about the rain; it was a great sound on a great night.

What a difference a good night’s sleep makes, plus a drastic improvement in the weather by morning. Boh led us on a 14 mile walk on the Sunday, or so he said at the time, out towards Guildford and the remaining walkable section of the Hog’s Back, i.e. the bit that does not lie underneath the main A3 trunk road! To get to this ridge, we first walked out by the local golf course, where I did notice we were getting a few funny looks from the golfers, or was it Andy they were looking at – eighteen holes and then a ramble, he must be fit!

We made our usual elevenses stop at the top of that ridge, overlooking Guildford Cathedral with a clear view over the whole of the city. In fact, it was so clear that on looking further into the distance, we could see London and its various landmarks: the Post Office Tower, the arch of the new Wembley Stadium, the wheel of the London Eye and even the aeroplanes taking off and landing at Heathrow Airport were all discernible – a definite highpoint of the weekend. Our walk then took us through flower meadows, along canal towpaths and river banks and much more, to Shalford and lunch at The Parrot Inn.

Boh supposedly cut the walk short for the route back along a different branch of the river and canal, then a sharp climb back onto the ridge after which we needed another quick half at the Harrow at Compton and finally the footpath straight over the golf course back to Puttenham Eco. On returning home after the weekend Boh measured his walk more accurately and told me we had actually covered nearly eighteen miles that day – after we had all waited our turn to shower, no wonder we felt like getting an early night! Thanks Boh, it was still an excellent walk, I’m glad I did it and I hope I speak for everyone else. Tired or not, we all went to the Good Intent again that evening, only to find they had already sold out of the festival beers, with essentially another day of the festival still to go!

After a well earned night’s sleep, we cleared the barn, packed up the cars and were off to another old haunt of mine: The Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead. The punchbowl gets its name from the way the mists collect over its top like a huge smoking or steaming bowl. Andy, who also knows this area well, led us on a six mile circular walk through the woodlands of the bowl, down to Hindhead youth hostel at the bottom. At the hostel we chatted to three families that had hired it for the long weekend and investigated the possibility of booking it for ourselves in the future. After a parting cuppa in the Punch Bowl Café it was off back to Leicester, vowing to return again perhaps to Hindhead youth hostel.

Special thanks to our wardens and the owners of Puttenham Eco, I hope it is not too long before we are back again. Thank you to Mark, Liz and Andy for driving on this weekend and to Boh and Andy for leading the walks. My thanks also to everyone else for their company, especially to our new members Mark and Tony, who I hope to see out again on future events with the group.

And there were more goings on in Surrey.

The editor also asked me to make a mention of the Tanners’ folk night on the 7th and 8th May 2010, I will, though strictly speaking this was not a Leicester Group event but our members were made welcome there. After our usual pub meal at the Stepping Stones in Westhumble Liz, Boh and I arrived at Tanner’s Hatch youth hostel about 9 pm to the usual friendly welcome from the regular folkies and members of Rent a Crowd.

That weekend, as it turned out, one of their members, Lorna was celebrating her 40th Anniversary of going to Tanners Hatch; going there for the first time in May 1970 and she kindly invited us to join her festivities the next day. That Friday evening we sang ’til 1 possibly 2 am before retiring and on the Saturday morning Boh, Liz and I took a walk into Westcott via a very new footbridge over the local brook. An old chap working in his front garden at one end of the bridge was only too eager to give us the full ins and outs, political and financial, of how they acquired that new bridge. After which we retired to a local pub, where over a drink and bowls of his excellent home made soup, we chatted with the landlord over the possible outcome of the general election the previous day – no one came up with the actual outcome.

Then it was a stiff walk back up the escarpment to Tanners and more food. This time plates of ‘home made’ chicken chow mien, since Lorna and friends Sue and Anne said a Vesta Chicken Chow Mien was their staple 70’s hostellers meal. For myself, hostel self catering was more likely to be a tin of Irish stew filled out with half a tin of baked beans, followed then, by a tin of rice pudding, heated through in the same stewy saucepan – those were the days!

Once everyone had arrived and was fed we were all taken on a nature walk by Bruce. Bruce is on of the locals I have got to know from going to Tanners Hatch over the years, he is now an accomplished botanist and professionally interested in the management of countryside. His guided walk was interesting and very informative but a bit longer than Lorna had envisaged. Hence, a worried call on her mobile back to the hostel, to take the pudding out of the oven for half an hour! Disaster averted, on our arrival back, we were all served up with bowls of hot apple crumble and custard, as the usual 70’s accompaniment to the Vesta meal – as members’ kitchen meals go, a bit up market than my stewy rice pud!

This was followed by two or three hours of reminiscing over times and friends, now past and gone, but never forgotten. Tales of ‘Tanners by gas light’ before the electric generator was installed, working or skiving parties at Tanners plus tales of horrible tricks played on fellow hostellers – don’t mention Ex Lax! As more people arrived, the guitars and other instruments were soon taken out and the folk night proper got underway, including two or three unaccompanied ballads from yours truly. The singing went on well into the night finishing at about 4 am, Sunday morning. And, this was accompanied by even more food, as a large buffet had been prepared whilst we were out on the nature ramble.

I did grab a few hours sleep but as usual I was one of the first to get up and, as thanks for the huge repast of the night before, I made myself busy tidying and doing the washing up before most people were awake. As soon as people were awake and we had said our good byes we just headed back to Leicester again – no need for more walking after a day like that! Many thanks Lorna for allowing us to join in and thanks again to Liz for driving on this one.

I’m sorry, but I know longer make Leicester Group bookings to these folk nights but if you are interested in joining me at one please contact me and I will explain the booking procedure.

Slideshow Instructions

Newly posted to the members’ area of the site, a detailed set of instructions on how to share your photos with the rest of the group via our Slideshows. Now you’ve got no excuse for hiding your photographic talents from the rest of us. I look forward to seeing a lot more pictures of group events!