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 often 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.
Walking 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.