Adventure Time

Enjoying a mid-ride snack :)

Enjoying a mid-ride snack 🙂

As a self-confessed Strava addict, this weekend’s long bike ride was very much inspired by the current Adventure Challenge. Just in case you’re not familiar, Strava is a fabulous app you can download onto your smartphone or synchronize with a GPS device to track your every cycle ride or run. Set up clubs or connect with friends and you can see each other’s routes and compete on segments of road or trail. Apart from my endless quest to capture those QOMs (Queen of the Mountains which, the award for fastest girl on a segment), I’ve become slightly obsessed by badges which are earned by completing challenges. They’re not even real physical badges but that congratulatory email that comes through after a long ride is (sadly) the cherry on top of an awesome day in the saddle.

To earn the latest ‘Adventure Challenge’ badge, Strava says we should go exploring and ride a route we haven’t ridden, taking photos along the way. Being the adventurous type, it sounded like an awesome idea to me so I turned to my expert navigator boyfriend and together we agreed on a 150km route (the length’s important – there’s also the Gran Fondo badge to earn!). Despite a super-chilly start, the day soon became beautifully spring-like as we sailed past bright green fields and luscious forests out of Southampton and up to historic Salisbury where we devoured delicious cakes at Boston Tea Party before heading out for the home leg. Having negotiated our way back out through the Salisbury one-way system, we enjoyed tackling one of the few notable hills in the New Forest at Blissford,  and meandered home through the pretty hamlets and villages, dodging ponies and donkeys as we went.

A good day’s riding makes for thirsty work and, as we all know, beer never tastes better than at the end of a ride. Having made a brief stop at home for food and showers, we continued the adventurous theme for the day and headed out to the new and only brewpub in Southampton, The Dancing Man. As a reluctant Southampton resident, I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoften find it difficult to find many nice things to say about the city. It’s dirty and boring and smells of wee and marijuana and for a long time there was nowhere to go to drink good beer. Thankfully, however, I now have three good things to say about Southampton. 1) we have the ridiculously tiny but incredible Butcher’s Hook 2) we have one of the best bottle shops in the country, Bitter Virtue and 3) we have the Dancing Man! Bet you wish you were here now!

When I heard the people behind the Platform Tavern (great beer but not a big fan of the entertainment because I am a killjoy) were buying the city’s only surviving medieval Wool House, I was terribly excited, not only because their beers had so far been a massive success but also because I had always been curious about the building but never been in. The Wool House was built after the French raid of 1338 by Cistercian Monks from Beaulieu Abbey and has had a variety of uses including a prison for French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. A building with such a rich history deserved loving restoration and the Dancing Man Brewery have totally nailed it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. The two floors have been designed with a feeling of openness whilst retaining a cozy, rustic look, perfectly mixing the old and the modern. The move of brewing production to the larger space has obviously been a success. Being admittedly a little tired from our adventures, we only had one beer each so I went for a Last Waltz (5.3%), the house black IPA which was just incredibly fresh and delicious. Just think of the big bitter hops and hedgerow berries of Brewdog’s Libertine but then imagine it from a cask. Crazy stuff and without a doubt the best real ale I’ve had in a very long time. The boy went for local favorite Vibrant Forest‘s flagship porter, Black Forest, again expertly kept and served even if it wasn’t brewed on site.

So is there anything bad to say about such a gorgeous new addition to the city? Well, there was the small matter of most of the taps being off. For our needs there was enough to choose from but for a longer session we might have been stuck but perhaps on a Sunday evening this was just a sign that Southampton is thirsty for great beer and maybe the weekend hoards had almost drunk them dry. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking forward to my next visit and having had a good look at the delicious-looking menu I’ll definitely be back for food.

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Loving the lighting!

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Do I have to go back out there? The candles are so cozy!

 

Here's where the magic happens

Here’s where the magic happens

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The Revolution Is Now

As a leisure cyclist for 6 years and commuter for roughly three of those, I’m a relative newcomer to cycling as a

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

spectator sport. How exciting could it be? Of course, the success of Team GB at 2012 introduced cycling to a whole new audience and I was one of them. I was lucky enough to see the Olympic BMX finals, but it was the track that really got me hooked. During the BMX events spectators were allowed to use the bathrooms in the velodrome next door and this was the first time I’d actually seen a track in real life. It wasn’t the wall-of-death steep banking or the scale of the place that grabbed me. Walking in just days from so many Team GB golds it was the atmosphere and the memories of what I’d been following at every opportunity on the television (or sneaking glimpses at my desk). It was breathtaking and inspiring. The re-opening of the Lee Valley Velodrome in March 2013 means I am now only a short train-ride away from world-class events.

A regular event at the velodrome is the Revolution Series which features an elite championship for the men over the course of the series, sprint and endurance events for men and women and a ‘Hoy’s Future Stars’ competition for the junior hopefuls. There’s UCI Points up for grabs to add to the drama.

Lining up for the men's keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

Lining up for the men’s keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

The series takes place over 6 events hosted in Manchester, Glasgow and London. The Revolution attracts some pretty big names – Ed Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Jack Bobridge to name a few although the girls have put on the most engaging performance lately. At stage one back in October I witnessed some incredible racing between two personal cycling heroines, Marianne Vos and Laura Trott. The most recent event was extra-extraordinary thanks to the awe-inspiring attempt at the hour record by Dame Sarah Storey. OK she didn’t quite get the overall record but she still came away with the Masters (senior) and UK records and I think we could all feel it when she finally got the opportunity to sit in a comfy chair and instead slumped lifeless to the ground. I haven’t witnessed such an electrifyingly enthusiastic crowd since I was at the Olympic Taekwondo when Jade Jones took gold.

Of course, I don’t go to the velodrome for the booze. Being a sports venue it’s got to please everyone but at least has a local pale and IPA from Meantime at £5 for a pint. Not badly priced in a venue but not a particularly flavorsome offering. I always look back to the first Revolution hosted there with fond memories, back when the beer was provided by Look Mum No Hands. Thankfully we’d made a stop at Bottle Dog for a few sneaky walking beers, one of which was Snakecharmer from local brewers One Mile End who, unlike Meantime, don’t seem to be afraid of chucking a few hops in. At a modest 5.7% ABV this was a flavor-packed juicy sweety with ultra fruity hops.

Of course, if you didn’t plan ahead there’s always the Tap East, resident craft beer haven in the soulless temple of consumerism that is Westfield. On the 6 cask and 10 keg taps you’re likely to find a number of dull crowd-pleasers for the broken-down shopper to toss down their parched gullet in an attempt to forget the apocalypse is happening around them. However you’re also likely to find at least one or two little gems. On the day we were there the best thing on the bar was Drink Me – Pimiento & Rosemary from the Scouser Mad Hatter Brewing Company which was an incredibly well-executed wit enriched with aromatic rosemary. It made me want a Sunday roast to eat with it even though I don’t really even do roasts. Yummy!

We definitely saved the best till last and the beer of the weekend was on the way back to the train at The Craft. Having missed the Wild Beer tap takeover the previous night, we headed in and to our delight there was still plenty left including the beer I was most excited about. As the girl who can clear a chip-shop-sized jar of gherkins in less than 48 hours, I had high hopes when I found out that one of my favorite breweries were making a beery tribute to my favorite snack and they did not disappoint. Cool as a Gherkin, at 2.9% ABV, is a beer I could happily drink all day and beyond but I’d be just as happy with a bourbon chaser on the side. Tangy, sour, dill gherkin deliciousness –  what a way to end an amazing weekend.