The Christmas Day pub trip

First comes the hard part; self-restraint. Bucks Fizz will be flowing freely all morning after all, and I will need to stop myself from overindulging on the bubbles in order to save myself for a pre-lunch pint.

We’ll open some presents and snack on bacon-wrapped sausages (crispy and a little burnt around the edges, just the way they should be), before bundling up in woolen jumpers and long coats to head outdoors. It’s around a half hour walk to the pub. It’s not the closest one to my childhood home, but it is the best. The sort of place with old tankards hanging from the walls, barrels repurposed as perching tables in corners, and a hardy wooden bar top streaked with scrapes from the decade, layered over scratches from the decade before that.

But first, the journey, which in itself is a ritual. We’ll say ‘merry Christmas’ to each person we pass, because for some reason talking to strangers in the street is appealing to even the most withdrawn of Brits at this time of year. Chalk it up to the fact that everyone has had a tipple with breakfast, and inhibitions have floated away with the morning mist.

My favourite part of winter walks when I was younger was to stomp across the frosted grass tips in the park, turning the tiny white crystals to water with a satisfying ‘crunch’ sound. To be honest, it still is. The only difference is that my mother doesn’t tell me not to get my shoes messy anymore.

Somehow, the reduced opening hours of pubs on Christmas Day mean that there is all the more to savour. I can already anticipate the warmth that will greet me as the door swings open, spilling the heat from the fire onto the chilly street as I step inside. My glasses will mist up, obscuring my view of the smiling faces and colourful festive jumpers.

It will be noisy and crowded, but undeniably cheerful. Locals will be sat on bar stools as their dogs sit at their feet, lapping at large bowls of water. The barman will be wearing a brightly coloured waistcoat and a matching tie, the same as always.

We’ll seek out a spot to sip at our perfectly pulled pints, standing shoulder to shoulder, undoubtedly bumping into some people that one of us knows.

The cold air won’t feel as harsh the second time around. A cool breeze against my now flushed face will enliven me just as the post-pint stupor looms, and I’ll turn my mind to preparing lunch. And although there will be many other pub trips to come during the holidays, there won’t be one that is quite the same for another 365 days.

Pub walks – and why Britain does them best

This time of year, it’s tempting to want to curl up in front of a fire and drink stout from under a blanket. To snap out of this stupor, I find it helpful to remind myself of the fact that pints of beer have always tasted so much better to me after a little bit of exercise and some fresh air.

A couple of weeks ago, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by hiking into the Grand Canyon. Not all the way in of course (the tricky snowy paths at the top saw to that), but certainly far enough to appreciate the sheer majesty of giant slabs of rock rising up through my periphery as I descended towards the ever-clearer Colorado river basin below. Afterwards, it was time for a well-deserved pint. But given that the eateries in the Grand Canyon National Park itself are most likely what could properly be called ‘tourist traps’, we had to hop back in the car before hitting an excellent brew pub.

canyon.jpg

Having spent much of this year in the mountain west of the USA, my walking boots have never been so well loved. With an extraordinary range of spectacular hiking opportunities and great craft beer alike close by, I definitely feel very lucky indeed. That said, there’s something quintessentially British that I particularly miss; the pub walk.

A true British pub walk should not be too strenuous or too long – about an hour, and between 2.5 – 4 miles, depending on one’s natural pace. This should be enough to warm the bones a little, without breaking a sweat or feeling worn out. The set off point could either be home, or a carefully curated car parking spot. But the key is that the walk’s destination – the finish line – must be a cosy country-style pub serving excellent ales, with a comfy pew to rest one’s feet before embarking on the return leg of the journey.

canal

Britain has a high volume of areas perfectly suited to this most satisfying of Sunday afternoon activities. As a child, the Thames was virtually on the doorstep, and my parents would drive us to some lovely parts of Surrey and Middlesex each weekend, where we could enjoy a spot of fishing before a leisurely stroll to the pub for some well-deserved lunch. More recently, I lived next to the Grand Union canal, and towpath walking became a favourite serene pastime. A stretch I particularly loved was the picturesque Apsley Lock to the Rising Sun pub in Berkhamstead. At 4.5 miles, often with a few muddy patches, this walk was definitely on the more ambitious end of pub walks, but the splendid views of canal life and pretty narrowboats made it worth it. The pub itself is a local institution; year-round outdoor bunting decorates the facade, perfectly kept local ales are served, local bands play in the tiny back room on the weekends, and there’s plenty of places to perch outside to watch or help the passing boaters to navigate the lock.

rising sun

So whilst Britain might be lacking in the mountain ranges, panoramic views and hefty summits that I’ve become used to, I can’t wait to return home to enjoy a little stroll along some stretch of water or other, followed by a delicious pint of cask ale to celebrate my small efforts, in a truly national style.