I did some up in the Midlands that I did not capture. Now back in southern England I have done more visits to Hampshire, some distance away from where I am now living, but convenient for Bacchus to rendezvous with me (in both senses of the word! Bacchus being the nickname of my best friend). Our tour of Eastleigh was so desultory as to not be worth reporting. Our return visits to Winchester have deserved better coverage than I have given them. It is a good city, if you can stand the snobbier elements of the population, for visiting a range of pubs in close proximity with lots of food outlets across the spectrum in between.
This particular tour was prompted by my father who commented how many pubs there seemed to be in this stretch of Hampshire (Shawford lies 8 Km (5 miles) South of Winchester). Thus, I thought I would give it a go to see how many I could visit. One warning, pubs in Hampshire seem not to open until 12.00, which has caused some frustration when in Winchester. Thus, I planned my trip to start at 12.00 and was almost bang on. It ran until about 19.30 and encompassed me drinking at 12 pubs, whereas it should have actually been 14, but more about the reasons for that in a minute.
Below is a crude map of the route. The 'ßà' symbol represents the railway stations. Shawford is a very small station but you can get trains there from Winchester and Eastleigh or Southampton. You can also get the 69 bus which runs between Winchester and Fareham. It stops in the centre of Twyford rather than Shawford. The 69 and the 8 buses are your bale-out vehicles if you tire on the route. Once you reach Fair Oak you can take the 2 to Eastleigh if you cannot stand any more.
Map of the Route
Round numbers refer to the text about the pubs below
Shawford Railway Station exit
1. The Bridge, Shawford
This is right by the station dominated by a high bridge across the valley. This area is criss-crossed by rivers and navigations and you would think would be popular with walkers. However, it would seem to be favoured by well-off Hampshire residents. There is a high-class patisserie opposite the pub. I did not go into the heart of Shawcross itself which lies to the West of the railway, instead I was heading East. The pub is Chef & Brewer but seems a bit less mechanical than some of those places. I suppose because being so tucked away (the station platform is so short everyone has to move into the front carriage to get off) the clientele is well known. Large garden. Food clearly a focus as with the bulk of these rural pubs, ironically with a 1940s menu at present which I imagine is common across the Chef & Brewer pubs at present. It was also in full-flow in terms of customers when I got there at 12.00, a different experience from other pubs in Hampshire I have visited. It was one of the only pubs I have been in, where I felt under-dressed. It is clear locals 'dress for lunch' even in a pub. I drunk Kronenbourg 1664 which was available in most places I went to.
The walk to Twyford is very pleasant, crossing the river valley and looking to the next village in the distance. I believe the name 'Twyford' comes from 'two fords' and that is suggested by the village sign. To the South there is a large private estate called Shawford Park.
Scenes along the Road from Shawford to Twyford
Now, you may wonder why I have featured a post office and general stores. One thing is that it sells local produce. Though if you are on this tour, I suggest not buying free-range eggs! More important for this trip is the 'Bean Below' cafe which you can see the sign of to the right of the traditional phone box. This is a cafe actually beneath the post office. The entrance to it is up that side road, not through the post office. It has some nice basic food and if you need a coffee it is worth a stop. Apparently its cooked breakfasts are renowned, but it only opens at 09.00 on the weekend.
From this sign, I realised that I had left my visit too late and could have once encompassed another Twyford pub in this tour. I suppose given how many are closing down each month these days I was very lucky to be able to get to the ones I did.
2. The Phoenix, Twyford
This was a welcoming pub. Very much a down-to-Earth place run by a middle-aged couple. Basic food here, lots of jacket potatoes. However, like most of the pubs on this tour, some interesting beers. I am not a bitter or real ale man, but I was surprised by the choice along the route. This seemed like the pub for the locals who are not snobby. They seem to run a lot of events like bingo and things for charity; the landlord was getting ready for the fire-walking in the garden that evening. Much cleaner and alert than many pubs of this kind. The roadside face looks dusty but go in and you will see it is kept well-tended, no doubt one of the reasons it has survived. I had a guest lager, I think from a micro-brewery.
'The Bugle Inn' is across the road from 'The Phoenix' but is clearly pitched at a very different clientele. As I continued on this tour I was becoming conscious of how simply in pubs you can be exposed to the British class system. In none of them did I feel unwelcome, but maybe my oddities set me outside many assumptions, people simply cannot put me into any particular category. Saying that I was dressed in shorts and shoes from Asda and the shirt I had on had come from C&A which closed down in Britain over a decade ago. The hat was from Marks & Spencer, but I was hardly in designer wear.
'The Bugle Inn' is an upmarket gastro pub. Like almost every pub I went in, it has stripped floor and the usual accoutrements of leather sofas. They did expect me to be staying for lunch. It was quite with a very spacious and light bar area. I drunk Staropramen in here; in an iced glass. It was the just on the verge of pretentious. Unlike 'The Bridge' it attracted couples rather than well-off families. Looking around it did seem rather where you would come if having an affair. All the staff are young women dressed in black, apparently selected for being waif-like and with long hair.
Between Twyford and Colden Common
I was impressed by this barn, it looked like somewhere that might have been fought over at the Battle of Waterloo.
It is not unusual these days to find Thai and Indian restaurants in rural areas. This one is still marked on online maps as 'Rimjhim' but as you can see is known as Banaras. I imagine it is run by former Gurkhas or their descendants given the connection between Winchester and those troops. I know some people insist on a curry when on a pub tour and this is a good opportunity, they do a 2-course set lunch for £8.95. So if you did not fuel up at 'Bean Below' this might be worthwhile dropping into.
There is a farm shop along the road selling eggs and honey as well as live chickens and ducks. Looking at the eggs I would doubt they are free-range and if they are the chickens are not getting a very varied diet. I was not impressed by them at all.
On the maps this area is shown as Twyford Moors but there is no sign of that designation, rather you are shown as being in Colden Common. From a distance this pub looked open, but when I reached it, it was clearly closed down, but perhaps only recently. As you can see other properties are up for sale here, so given what I saw elsewhere on this route, it will all be levelled and made into expensive, cramped housing.
5. The Rising Sun, Colden Common
Having missed out on a drink in 'The Black Horse', scraping the edge of Colden Common which seems to be a very large 'village', I took a detour off the main road, following one of the brown signs which are common in this area, mainly indicating pubs, golf clubs or equestrian centres. Fortunately it was a short walk into the village. Though the day was advancing, I was surprised to find myself as the only customer. This looks like a 'housing estate' pub which has lifted itself pretty well up to the next rung on the ladder, without becoming a gastro-pub. It has a pool table but it also has leather sofas. Given there seems to be a lot of housing around it I thought it would be busier. Maybe it has fallen between two stools, not sufficiently posh for those who might go to 'The Bugle Inn' but too uppity for those who might frequent 'The Phoenix'. It was a spacious place with friendly staff, though that might be because I was spending money. I did see a three-generation family re-packing their car at length and it seemed they had been in for lunch; the man had even taken one of the menus with him!
Between Colden Common and Fishers Pond
Despite what it shows on the map as the area being 'Fisher's Pond', the apostrophe for Fisher's was missing from every sign I could see. I went past this pleasant church which looked like it belonged in an Alliance area on 'World of Warcraft'.
6. Fishers Pond, Fishers Pond
This is a large, rambling pub, named after the area it is in, with its own river and both a swan and a black cat which have adopted the pub. It was by far the busiest I had visited, exceeding even 'The Bridge'. It is above all a family pub for middle income families. Perhaps the styling of the pub was why they were here rather than a short distance away in 'The Rising Sun'. It is stone floors and that grey paint which seems universal if you have pretensions of grandeur viz 'The Bugle Inn' and the exterior of 'The Rising Sun'. Lots of small children running around. I was pleased to be able to get Staropramen here. I must say that the staff were friendly and seemed to be very competent in dealing with the complexities thrown up by large families ordering food, moving tables, etc. I imagine the place would collapse if they were not.
7. Queen's Head, Fishers Pond
This pub is right next door to the 'Fishers Pond'. It was slightly more down market, looking like a 'housing estate' pub in style and with the food it provided. Again, like many of the pubs I went in on this walk, it was spacious. The staff were friendly, but the customers few. Probably a good place to escape to if you cannot stand the noise of children next door. As in Twyford, it did strike me as odd that two pubs were so close together, but I suppose they deliberately target different sorts of customers.
After Fishers Pond you have a steep climb up a hill which has caravan sites - in fact there are quite a few right along the route both for mobile and static caravans. If in need of some non-alcoholic input there is a cafe in the garden centre at the top of the hill. Once you reach the flat you are heading into Fair Oak which is not really well supplied with pubs. None of the three I visited, I would recommend.
8. Fox and Hounds, Fair Oak
I must apologise for the picture on this one. Maybe the result of being six pints, a bowl of peanuts and a packet of salted cashews (provided in error) up to this point.
This place aims at being very much a 'family' pub. However, it is rather a down-market place which I imagine attracts customers from the numerous housing estates of Eastleigh. It is run by quite an intimidating one-legged ex-military man. The 1980s style red leather sofas and the fish tank are worth seeing. However, you are probably best off in here if you like pool or darts. The signs suggest there is an issue with underage drinkers.
9. The Cricketers Arms, Fair Oak
Fair Oak, though small, is well equipped. It has a fancy Indian restaurant, an Indian takeaway, two Chinese takeaways, a cafe, a tearooms, a large Tescos for a petrol station, a Morrisons and another convenience store. So if you need to refuel or get more cash or have something other than beer, it is fine. The two pubs sitting opposite each other in the centre of the village are very disappointing.
'The Cricketers Arms' exterior is the best part of the pub. Inside it is very shabby. The barmaid's young daughter had taken over one corner for her plastic slide and my-little-ponies. The barmaid was far harder to find and even the locals had difficulty in getting served. I know it was the middle of the afternoon, but even so they were losing money as a result. Much of what was on tap was 'off' and so I ended up having bottled Becks.
10. The Old George
While in 'The Cricketers Arms' it was all about horse-racing with customers and staff heading out to the betting office on the main road which apparently only recently opened, across the road in 'The Old George' it was about football. Again not unusual on a Saturday. The service was far better in this pub than its rival. The place had a bit of a stark feel to it and when you see the list of bands playing you understand while it feels a little like a venue out of hours. I could imagine it would be a lot better in the evening when a band was playing. I imagine the clientele changes too. It was not as bad as 'The Cricketers Arms' but I felt I had come at the wrong time to see it at its best.
Having been disappointed in Fair Oak, I decided not to follow one of the brown signs down to the 'New Clock Inn' on the western edge of the village. In part because that was the direction in which Eastleigh lay in and I knew from past experience that pubs in Eastleigh lack character. Everything is national chains and the town shuts down early. I pressed on instead into Horton Heath and was glad that I did.
I crossed the border from Fair Oak to Horton Heath, a little apprehensive about the quality of the next pub. It turned out to be very pleasant. The customers seem to be people who feel themselves better than those in Fair Oak and dress up to come out, certainly the women. This had a more mixed clientele in terms of genders since I had left the 'Fishers Pond'. It was a little like 'The Rising Sun', stripped floors but not to the extent of being a gastro-pub. It is awkward to get through the front door. I was back on Kronenbourg 1664 here. They seem to specialise in curries and have a good range of them. It is right next to a farm and apparently sheep appear in the field you can just see. However, this felt more like an adult pub rather than a 'family' pub. It be that I was now into late afternoon.
Just a gathering of birds I noticed as going through Horton Heath.
12. Brigadier Gerard, Horton Heath
This is a pretty if modern-styled pub at the other end of the ribbon village of Horton Heath. Its pizzas are apparently acclaimed. However, it had a mix of local drinkers (who would not move an inch to let you get to the bar) and families eating out, though with less frantic manner than at 'Fishers Pond'. They also do takeaway pizza, The staff were very friendly. The pub is named after the racehorse which itself was named after stories by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.
13. Farmers Home, Durley
Now, my next pub should have been 'The Southampton Arms' on the edge of Hedge End. However, reaching the roundabout which would have turned me South-West towards it, I was tempted by another brown sign. This pointed North-East to the 'Farmers Home' and 'The Robin Hood'. There was a lack of apostrophes to show how many farmers were involved; the sign suggests just one. Having had a good experience at 'The Rising Sun', I thought another detour would not do any harm. However, there was no indication of distance and it turned out to be quite a hike. From 'Brigadier Gerard' to 'The Farmers Home' proved to be farther than from 'Fox & Hounds' to 'Brigadier Gerard' without stopping points on the way. Furthermore, in contrast to my route so far, though at times I had had to cross the road to reach a pavement, down this road, at times there was none and lots of well-off locals powering their 4x4s towards me as I clung to the edge of the road.
I was quite relieved to penetrate right into Durley which turned out to be another of these villages that covers many hectares. There is a cafe-bar at the equestrian centre I passed but at this stage I was recognising my error and wanted to reach the pub. It turned out to be very pleasant. Again a mix of eating in the garden and people drinking seriously, with local children but not too noisy. Mobile phone reception is poor there, but it felt nice to be in a real village rather than sitting on the edge of another housing estate. Having reached my twelfth pint and had some far-too-large pork scratchings, I bottled out the rest and got a taxi to Hedge End station (hence knowing mobile phone reception was poor, though not non-existent). How much farther on 'The Robins Nest' is and whether it is still open I could not find out. The brown signs tend to last years longer than the locations they point to.
14. The Southampton Arms, Hedge End and 15. Shamblehurst Barn, Hedge End
These would have been the last two pubs on the trip if I had not taken the mistaken detour to Durley. The former is a 1930s-style pub looking like a large mixed use pub like the 'Farmers Home' and certainly above the Fair Oak level in quality. 'Shamblehurst Barn' is a Hungry Horse pub though built into an old barn, looks like a 1980s housing estate pub of the kind the Hungry Horse chain favours ('New Clock Inn' back in Fair Oak is one of theirs too).
Right, so in the space of 11Km (7 miles) you can get through fourteen pubs in this area which is a pretty good figure outside of a large town. The countryside especially in the early part, is attractive. The pubs vary considerably in the type of customers they favour so you might pitch your tour to what sort of person you are and where you might fit in. The weak stretch is clearly Fair Oak, so you might just want to grab some food there and power on into Horton Heath.