Last weekend, twenty four hours of isolation from children and from the Vaio.

First stop: testing a seaside hotel behind Camber Sands (www.thegallivanthotel.com). A brave idea indeed, in a somewhat unpreposessing location. But Harry Cragoe and Tudor Hopkins have done a fine job, with the 18 rooms full on a Friday night in June and the restaurant buzzing to the noise of 50+. A recipe that seems to work and a few thoughts for own future.

The next morning, some shock therapy coffee at The George in Rye (www.thegeorgeinrye.com). Another example of young British hoteliers revolutionising provincial British towns, putting the hotel at the heart of the community. This pair, Alex and Katie Clarke, were at University with me twenty odd years ago. What use our Arts degrees now, except in editing the menus?

I paused to reflect that the two and a half hours that it took us to get from London to Rye was the same as it takes me every week to get from London to The Griffin. Would that more from the south east understood how easy it is to make the leap across the Severn Bridge. I tried not to be too pleased also at how poorly the Kent sea compares to that which laps against our Cornish beaches. Another world.

On the way home, a brief stop at Chapeldown Vineyard near Tenterden. A fully booked restaurant. A restaurant named after the chef. I have never been a fan of that kind of self-regarding chakllege to the fates. Also a restaurant in a vineyard that doesn’t offer glass sizes of 125ml! But English (and Welsh) wines remain on the up. More thoughts on that anon.

Home to children and Vaio. Greeted in that order. I promise.

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Ah… Here’s one.

We always said that the Brecon Beacons was “Scotland without the midges”. Well, 2011 may well now be the year when that means something.

A number of Scotland based bodies are forecasting that the midge invasion this year will be 800 times worse than usual. And the “usual” is not exactly agreeable.

It isn’t our style to spend too much time thinking about the travails of our competitors, but I can’t help but wonder if this might be the year when visitors begin to foresake Scotland for the equal merits of Wales.

Back to scratching my head. Though not as much as they will up north in the summer.

Squeezed Out

December 1, 2010

A member of the famous band Squeeze
Asked us “Could he stay, please?”
He went out for pee
And forgot his key
So slept with the birds and the bees

True.

BBC Food & Farming Awards

November 24, 2010

In our part of the world, we are prone to fretting whether the metropolitan classes have our best interests at heart. Pesonally, I think this concern is sometimes overdone, although some of the media’s interest in rural affairs can verge on the patronising and misty-eyed.

However, it is good to report that the judging panel for the BBC Food & Farming awards have shortlisted two of our suppliers here in Border country for one of their much coveted awards.

Alex Gooch has been making sourdough bread for us for several years now. He is a true artisan, a food hero and dedicated utterly to the making of perfect bread. Wye Valley Brewery are one of the four breweries in the area that we are proud to buy from. The sheer variety of the products is a delight, using Herefordshire hops and setting themselves apart from the rest by using locally farmed barley as well. Congratulations to both of them just for being shortlisted. If either was to win…….

For more information on the awards, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/ffa/2010/.

Over the hills and far away

October 29, 2010

Julie hosts the Griffin. If you didn’t already know. Back in the Spring, before the concept of England winning a world cup had been exposed as a fraud, she decided she would cycle the Taff Trail, between Brecon and Cardiff some time in 2011. For the story of her heroic achievement, with her willing accomplice James Spencer, please read on.

“Oh, did I really say I’d do that…….

A number of months ago I signed up to a sponsored bicycle ride along the Taff Trail from Brecon to Cardiff. The day unexpectedly arrived last Monday, 25th October. I chose to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Go Pink campaign, even buying a very fetching bright pink cycling top… although the -4 degrees reading as we left Brecon precluded actually wearing it.

Winding our way from the Theatre at Brecon to Talybont Reservoir was breathtaking. The mist was rising over the reservoir and frankly looked ethereal and a bit spooky!

Leaving the reservoir and its faeries behind, we started the extremely long incline to the highest point of the ride at Torpantau. Whichever way you go this is where you begin to breathe again and go downhill. The trail then takes you through Taf Fechan Forest along Pentwyn Reservoir, Pontsticill Reservoir, through Pontsticall and on to Merthyr.

At this point you might think “Great, half way there!” Thanks to the charming locals defacing cycling signs in Merthyr this section can be a battle to stay on track though. Overcoming these challenges, we headed towards Pontypridd along some more lovely river views.

Our subsequent journey was only shortly interrupted by rather strange child who seemed to want to use a metal detector against James’ head as we rode past. Had I not been a bit out of breath I would have (a) dismounted and given him a clip around the ear with the same metal detector and asked him how he liked it or (b) shouted loudly at him (his mum was a bit scary but she seemed to feel that this was an acceptable way for her child to behave.)

We struggled on towards Cardiff with frozen knees and what seemed like frostbitten toes and fingers. As we approached Cardiff we were asked if we wanted to do the high level route around Castle Coch or the low level route. Not a difficult decision. Pushing on to Cardiff Bay we were slightly stunned to find that the end of the Taff Trail is actually in a pedestrianised (!) area of the Bay. We dismounted and were determined enough to take our starving bodies past a well known sandwich chain.

We found the end of the trail and I promptly called my mum to tell her that I’d just cycled 54.27 miles. Would I do it again….in a heartbeat but not on such a freezing cold day!

I’d like to pass my Thanks on to James & Simon Spencer for their help as my support team on the day as without them this would not have gone ahead!

To date I’ve raised nearly £700 and the just giving site is still active if you’d like to contribute. http://www.justgiving.com/Julie-Bell2

We will also be raising money in a raffle to be held at the pub on Friday 5th November at our Guy Fawkes evening. Come along and join in the fun!”

A huge well done to both Julie and James. We are hoping that more of our team will participate in similar ventures over the next year or so. More anon.

Awards Season

October 7, 2010

Awards. Pesky things in this industry. It’s that time of year. Enough to cause some strange behaviour. And rashes. Or so I’m told.

You never seem to win them when you think you deserve them. You persuade the people you work with that they don’t matter. They sometimes go to the place you’ve just visited and thought quite the worst pub in the world. But when you are on the receiving end of them, the whole system suddenly seems the most just and appropriate in the world.

In sum, the awards season in this industry is a good time to observe the human condition. Envy, schadenfreude, ecstasy, anger, disappointment, frustration. Rarely humility, except the most forced kind.

The Griffin and Gurnard’s Head both won awards this morning. Dining Pubs of the Year in Wales and Cornwall respectively according to the Good Pub Guide 2011. These are awards worth having from a guide with integrity. We know from experience that it will throw out any establishments it thinks not worthy. So this is an achievement for our teams to be proud of. And for us to shout about a bit as the opportunity does not come along very often.

But should we be misguided enough to think that this makes us perfect? Definitely not. Going in the right direction: probably. An award is the perfect excuse to look again at what you do and think about how you improve it. Resting on those laurels is not an option. Communicating this message to a team is not easy. It can occasionally seem unfair. But it is so important.

Anyway, must start preparing that acceptance speech…..

In a Bristol back street

September 22, 2010

To the Bristol home of one of our favourite wine suppliers, Nick Brooks of Vinetrail. A frisson of excitement as his tastings never fail to throw up something we want to shout about.

Apart from the odd New Zealand orphan, his list is sourced in its entirety from within the hexagonal boundaries of France. Mostly small domaines focused on great winemaking, more often than not using organic or biodynamic principles. Wines with real purity, yet jumping with character and texture. Nick talks about the impact of geology on wines in a way no-one else we know does. A fascinating afternoon.

Five of us tasting, converging from Brecon and from the Gurnard’s. Rarely a concerted reaction to a bottle: concord would be a boring thing when it comes to wine. The lists at each of the Griffin and the Gurnard’s vary, as they should, reflecting the individuals, the food, the landscape.

Which wines talked to us this time? For me: a Cote de Brouilly that will sit happily on the Gurnard’s list, Gamay with a stony edge to it. A Roussette de Savoie of which only 70 cases or so are made each year. I hope we can take one of them. Rich but in no way oily. Truly beautiful when we tried it later in the evening. A St. Chinian from the Languedoc, given backbone by more than a slug of Mourvedre, like a dose of national service perhaps. Brilliant for early winter lunches in the Beacons. And a Sauvignon de Touraine that gives its posher Loire cousins a kick up the behind.

Afterwards, supper at Flinty Red, one year old progeny of our friends from the Gurnard’s Head, Matt Williamson and Claire Thomson, and the owners of Bristol wine shop, Corks of Cotham. Our first visit, and as brilliant as we hoped. If you are in Bristol and hungry, it should/must be your first choice.