Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.

Here Comes The Planet 54 – Tanzania 07

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we take a cultural tour around Mto wa Mbu Village in Tanzania. This consists of walking through the village’s farms and sampling an amazing array of delicious food, learning about the village’s history and entertaining its children.

We also watched some local artists at work, sampled banana beer and found the village nightclub!

Also – DISCO TOTO!!!

Devon and Dorset

We spent a morning exploring Lyme Regis in beautiful sunshine and ate delicious Devon pasties for lunch while sitting on a bench overlooking the beach. Delightful!

Lyme Regis has one of those quintessentially English beaches that are composed of enormous pebbles. The noise they make when you walk over them is extraordinary. The beach is lined with colourful bathing boxes in lovely pastel shades and there were many people out walking dogs and only one person in the water, which we’d been assured wasn’t ‘that cold’.

Looks like a comfy surface to sunbathe on. Not.

The town is full of stores selling designer clothes, art, food that’s practically art, and the words ‘organic’, ‘locally sourced’ and ‘ethically produced’ are more the norm than the exception. Life in the south west of England is appealing indeed.

Our first evening in town was stunning calm and clear – especially for October.

Lyme Regis by night.

The lamp posts in Lyme Regis celebrate its position on the ‘Jurassic Coast’, an amazing area where frequent landslides often uncover million year old fossils.

Mid afternoon we headed over to Axminster, home of one of the fabled River Cottage Canteens. We loitered in a pub with free wifi for a while then arrived a bit early for our booking.

First in the door!

Starters were cauliflower soup with an onion bhaji in the middle for me and Luke had a plate of fresh buffalo mozzarella with an arrabiata salsa on a naan. I’ve always thought mozzarella was too bland to eat raw but this dish was amazing. The bhaji in my soup was like a giant, crunchy, spicy crouton that was the perfect compliment.

Pork belly!

For mains I had pork belly, which was excellent, and Luke had a pumpkin and almond risotto with chilli and barley. I had bitter chocolate mousse for dessert and Luke had a cheese platter. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend eating there. It was amazing value for three courses (£20 pp), the flavours were complex and perfectly balanced and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

We had also learned that the second episode of the latest River Cottage series had been shot at the pub where we were staying so we’re super keen to see it next week.

Happy Halloween from Hugh!

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and headed to the seaside village of Beer. Because… Beer!

I’m a sucker for towns with funny names and Beer ticks that box. We bought some postcards (obviously) and some more delicious pasties and sat in the sunshine. Pasties and ginger beer seemed a very appropriate lunch to be having by the beach. Very Enid Blyton. No mysteries to solve, however, just lots of photographs of boats and chairs and then to the Beer beer garden overlooking the beach so Luke could have a beer.

The most fiery ginger beer we’ve ever had.

Like toy boats… but big!

Beer!

Our friend Jen, who lives in Bristol and who has featured several times in this blog previously, had carelessly issued an invitation to come stay any time. We decided a free bed and good company were not to be sniffed at, so our next stop: Bristol!

Nottingham (again) and a Beer Festival (again).

For someone who can’t stand beer I spend a lot of time at beer festivals. Although if you take away the beer there’s nothing about beer festivals I don’t like. The people are great – they’re down to earth, span all ages and wear silly hats. The atmosphere is laid back, there’s delicious food, new things to try and everything’s cheap. The only way they could be improved is a liberal application of sunshine.

Cheers!

Luke and I drove up yesterday and met Matt and Lucas at the festival. The Cambridge beer festival was the only one I’d known anything about and I’d been impressed by its scope. However the Nottingham beer festival was even more extensive. Approximately 1100 different beers. Lucas pointed out that about a mouthful of each would still equal 33 litres of beer to drink. I don’t think there’s that many individual beers produced in the southern hemisphere. On top of that there’s over 200 ciders and perries.  There was also a fantastic range of food options, from cheese platters to zebra burgers.

Just part of the cider selection.

We stayed for about four hours then headed to England’s oldest pub, ‘The Trip To Jerusalem’, which was almost under the beer festival, as it is partially built into the hill on which sits Nottingham Castle, where the festival was held. We had a drink there then moved on to the Canalhouse, which is a pub with a section of canal in the middle and bridges to walk across. After that we stopped at the Vat and Fiddle, which is attached to the Castle Rock Brewery. After that we wove our way back to Matt’s  (some weaving more than others).

Friday we took a break from the festival in order to drive out into the countryside and… drink more beer. We stopped at a pub called The Unicorn for lunch and then visited a farm shop. Farm shops in the UK are big sheds full of local, top-shelf produce. They almost always have venison, fancy sausages, pheasant and whatever is in season plus jams and chutneys and posh shortbread etc. They, foolishly, had an untended bowl of chocolate covered almonds out for people to try and I ate quite a few before Luke’s frowns shamed me away from them.

It was a rather miserable day so we ditched our plans to visit the extensive Clumber Park and went to see a cathedral that, fortuitously, was filled with the sounds of an army band (although they sounded more like an orchestra to me) rehearsing for a performance that evening. They were very good.

Cathedral interior, right before I was told ‘no photos without a permit’. AGAIN. Bah.

The boys decided to do their own beer tasting at home that night and bought a range of beers to share. We watched more Archer, ate a roast chicken and then went to bed early (well, earlier than we’ve been going to bed lately). ready to face another day of festival on Saturday.

Here Comes The Planet 35 – England 09

We meet up with our friend Justin in Saltburn-By-The-Sea, in my personal favourite episode of Here Comes The Planet thus far!

Justin was the first Couchsurfer Amanda hosted, and whilst in Melbourne he also came along to our Samsara 2012 party (although I have no footage of that, here’s some footage from Samsara 2011). He was keen to return the hospitality, and did so in spades! We had a fantastic time with him and his mates, as you’ll no doubt be able to tell from the video. Apart from a great tour of Saltburn, he took us out to an excellent club night being run by a mate of his, as well as a joint birthday party where there were tasty noms, numerous games (some of which no one knew how to win, especially not the person making the game up as they went) and a lot of padded wrestling. We’re already looking forward to the time we can all catch up again. 🙂

Also, if you’ve never considered taking up dinghying as a hobby, Burno makes a compelling case.