After the miscalculation of the stop point the day before, I found myself with a short day today of only 9 miles. Just as well as the weather was lousy and looking worse the longer the day went on. I phoned from Bridge Farm to the Old Smithy to establish both that I was on my way and to get directions, and agreed with (Judge) Bowman over the phone that 3pm would be an acceptable arrival time, giving him time to walk the dog, and me time to visit a couple of pubs along the way. “Don’t drink too much!”, were his parting words.
After farewells at Bridge Farm to the lovely Wendy and Malcolm, and feeling bad that I hadn’t offered to pay for the phone call, I faced an uphill stretch in rainy conditions. I resolved to send them a cheque for the four pounds that I had pocketed in change rather than leaving with them as I should have.
Pleasant countryside for walking and with the potential for good views, but today visibility was sadly restricted due to the weather.
Only small hamlets along this stretch, with Horton and Little Sodbury leading me to the attractively and appropriately named Old Sodbury, some caching, a hill fort, and a fine pub called the Dog Inn (be careful mind, how you ask for directions!)
I made the acquaintance of Winnie the pub’s very friendly border collie, who had her own seat in the corner at one of the tables, Tom the somewhat taciturn but ultimately friendly landlord, and having parked my wet gear, started to dry out over a pint of Wickmar Dog Best, and a plate of sausage and mash off the lunch time menu – great value at £4.75. I was able to earwig the conversations from the various tables filling up around me, companionable but compete trivia on one side, stony silence with the occasional terse “well we could have gone walking if the weather had been better” on the other, and then the arrival of grumpy not getting on couple, “What, you want salad as well!!?!!” livened the whole place up.
Leaving the pub was a bit of a struggle, but having put the wet weather gear on, I knew I only had just 80 minutes or so to the end point for the day. So through Coomb’s End, again on attractive paths especially through Dodington Park, I found my way to the Major’s Retreat, just 150 yards short of the Old Smithy. I made Roy the eccentric landlord’s acquaintance over a pint of Pot Walloper, and again enjoyed the conversation of the locals, particularly two ladies on brandies, who had some life experience ” I love the smell of lambs in spring, all I can think of is mint sauce”, said one. “Oh I prefer pigs.”, said the other. “Mind you, you would, you married a few of them!” retorted the first. Oh what fun in small village pubs!
I went down to the Old Smithy, where the judge and I chatted about boating ( I guessed from the sailing trousers) he and I reset the tripped switch a few times, and I had a long soak and a read, in the charming annexe, with a separate living room, kitchen, and bathroom all to myself. The Little Smithy as it is known, was used by the Bowmans mother for six years before her death four years ago and is perfectly set up for a lovely stay in the country, very close to the convenient M4.
After saying hello to Joanna Bowman who ran over with an umbrella in torrential rain, I made some calls and then took advantage of a break in the clouds to visit the pub via the church.
The Major’s Retreat is a fascinating place. Roy, the nearly 70 year old Landlord, is well spoken, well read and an ex-surveyor from Kew. He has the potential there in the pub, to have a little gem, but for some reason (perhaps due to his forceful character and strong opinions) he had fallen out with the locals who no longer support him. Given that two other pubs locally have recently closed, this is a shame and hopefully Roy will get enough trade to see him survive. Certainly the food was good, great piles of home cooked soups and pies cooked by Chris, and I couldn’t help thinking that with some cosmetic changes and some repositioning of the brand he would do well – the beer was excellent, the food tasty, home cooked and great value, and although maybe slightly old fashioned for some people’s tastes, to me was a pub which stood the test of time.
After a couple of pints of Pigs Ear, I made sure that I left early otherwise the beer might overwhelm me, and had a great nights rest.