For us lucky chappies we celebrate two extra National Holidays, St Georges Day and Trafalgar Day. Well, we sort of do, providing they fall on a weekday, its not on a Bank Holiday and we are all here! Last year got missed as John was in some tropical dreamworld and next year as it’s a Leap Year it will fall on a Sunday so this is it for a year or so!
The last outing involved a trip to Southampton then boat to Hythe Pier, a ride on the electric train and lunch in the Nelson (at the end of Hythe Pier) and, on the way back, a quick pilgrimage to the DeHavilland monument. Beating that would be tricky!
Fortunately plans were more or less in place for last year’s aborted trip so it didn’t take too long to put everything in place for this year. Now the downside is that we have to get up early for days out and this Trafalgar Day was no exception. Nine o’clock had us outside John’s door and with Jane driving (unusual!) directions were given to the mystery destination. Heading north up the A5 away from the sea led to a fair bit of confusion in the front seats but before long we were meandering through the one way system that is Nuneaton. The directions I had been given suggested we turned left by a church. Well actually it should have been straight on past the church on your left for a half a mile! Never mind after the road petered out into a grass track with a nice collection of fitted kitchen units and a mattress dumped on the verge we called up our host, turned around and headed back to the safety of the main road and soon found our destination….The Tunnel Brewery at Ansley.
Now the jolly fellows at the Tunnel Brewery (named after the local railway tunnel) do have a sense of humour and one of their brews is affectionately known as Nelson’s Column on account of the top quality iron ore for Nelson’s cannonballs coming from the area. Well if you are going to hurl iron balls at the Frenchies and Spaniards best have good’uns.
The brewery has been going for few years and apart from a very nice quaffing ale does specialise in the stronger brews and our host, John Yates, took a keen interest in Belgian beers so things were looking up. Unusually for a small brewery they also do their own lager to satisfy the less informed. On the go were two really strong brews at around 8% so we got into the rhythm of things pretty quickly. Brewhouse tour complete we were invited to a tasting upstairs in their new office and bar area. Being an uphill runner of some note John was off up the spiral staircase in a jiffy.
There was a fine selection of ales lined up on the bar. John assumed the position and tasting begun. Now really strong beer can often lean a bit too much towards barley wine but these were spot on and refreshing strong with loads of flavour. As Jane (only a small one for me, grabbing the bottle) had driven up I boldly offered to drive back. Jane and John decided they would most likely be out of it for the return journey so wouldn’t notice the odd deviation or choice of the wrong lane by me so took the initiative. I became a wine taster but resolved to take a few bottles home. I have to say that when the Belgium beers came out I was well impressed and was beginning to regret the offer to drive but was assured by the news that bottles were available. We had a grand old time discussing everything from the jovial artwork on some of the bottles, the rather more classical approach to labeling on the superb Czech dark lager and the development of the brewery in recent years to the extent they now owned a pub in Nuneaton. The ambiance in the brewery bar was just like being in the Swan, very convivial, however lunch was fast approaching so it was time to move on. Now here’s a thing, you can buy your chosen ale direct from the brewery and it is much cheaper than buying from the offices or supermarkets that now stock it. What a fine arrangement, so with bags filled with bottles we took it steadily back down the spiral staircase and bade our farewells and cast off for the next port of call. Left hand down a bit number one!
Nelson’s Column (the brew not the pillar!!) came about because the Tunnel Brewery was actually behind the Lord Nelson pub in Ansley. Unlike many locals the pub is still going strong and is a big fan of the gentleman himself but what we came across surprised us all. The main window behind the pub is a copy of the one in the sterncastle of HMS Victory, how cool is that, furthermore, as you enter through the back door Lord Nelson is there to greet you with both eyes!! Actually he lost the sight in his right eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 but it didn’t notice so most impressions of him show him with both eyes but later on he wore a shade above both eyes to protect his good eye from the sun. There you go now you know! The interior is full of memorabilia and some stonking pictures of sailing ships of all types. Now you may think this is a bit OTT but for us afficionados of Lord Nelson and Trafalgar Day it was just perfect. On the menu was a traditional seafarers Cornish Pasty but this one was stupendous being a replica of Nelson’s Admirals’ Hat. Most people only know of Nelson through school history lessons but he was a pretty good chap improving the sailors lot and proving himself a fine orator taking tours throughout the Kingdom. He was made a freeman of Hereford and even (it is rumoured) stayed with the descendants of Ian Ashpole on his estate in Ross-on-Wye. I digress. Fat and bloaty we left the delights of the Nelson’s Arms, took a sighting on the jolly old sextant, and headed westish to Lutterworth.
‘Why Lutterworth?’ I heard you ask, well….long story sideways, as last Trafalgar outing included a visit to the De-Havilland memorial so we had to take in an aircraft related thing so what better than a full size replica of the Gloster Whittle flying out of a roundabout? Nothing. Lutterworth is where that great pioneer Sir Frank Whittle built and developed his first jet engines (gas turbines for the purists) in his shed with no funding. This is one of the best memorials around, there is another one outside what is now Farnborough Airport but it doesn’t has the same kudos. It is so unlikely that many drive past it without seeing it, unbelievable. If you ever go up the MI leave at the Junction for Lutterworth and follow the dual-carriageway. You’ll probably end up driving into it! Take the first left and then left again and you’ll be back at the roundabout on a housing estate with a great view and a plinth with ‘NAZ’ sprayed on it explaining the significance.
Quick blast down the MI, off at Eddie’s warehouse (used to be the radio masts) and down the A5 to Weedon Bec and we go in search of the old Munitions Store at Weedon Bec. Now here is a real lost jewel and one wonders why it isn’t a huge museum or Heritage Site. During the Napoleonic Wars the Government decided they needed somewhere safe to store the country’s munitions. Weedon Bec, in the middle of the country and with a highspeed canal connection to London and the north was perfect so they dug a spur from the Grand Junction built a socking great walled citadel containing a large inland port and filled it full of most things explosive. Today much of it remains including the impressive portcullised gate and docks. It remained in use until the sixties, served by a branch line running from the LNER mainline, until they built a new depot just outside Bicester. We stood in awe until a security man very politely asked us what we were doing. It is home to the fire-engine collection I have since discovered. Turned out he was employed by Unipart Security Services! Bit of history lesson later and drizzle in the air we finally headed for home and The White Swan.
What a spliffingly good day. Once more we had saluted Nelson by hostelry, sea and air. What day is 21st October 2012? Bummer I remember now, that’ll be a Sunday. Hey ho.
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