This means that for those of us going on the walk pints of Badger’s First Gold (amber-chestnut, a scent of fresh magnolia on the nose; restrained but appetising bitterness, mid-palate sweetness and a dry finish that invites another gulp) can be addressed with boot-strapping gusto; the same goes for the plates of good food that pulsate on the menu (we both opt for the gourmet burger, spicy style, which brings a brisk piquancy to the palate with its jalapeno peppers, spicy salami and chilli salsa. It sounds a little excessive, but we’re about to go on a walk, remember?).
The Sunday lunchtime crowd is buzzing on this sunny day, one of the first we’ve had, though a keen wind from the north invites those who want to sit outdoor on the pub’s decking to wrap up well. Just beyond, past a group of houses, that includes a shop selling postcards and buckets and spades (how optimistic) and waterproofs (more realistic), the road ambles down to the sea, the English channel, aquamarine blue, sombre, still, the swell of currents, barely discernible but still there, veins beneath the skin.
The South West Coast Path is over 600 miles long and goes all the way westwards from Minehead in North Somerset, around the magnificent brooding landfall of Cape Cornwall and then eastwards along the coasts of south Cornwall, Devon and Dorset to end just south of Poole. It’s an awesome perambulation, one of the greatest walks in the world but not something that should be done in a rush, even if that was possible. Time is necessary to keep your eyes out for wild life – in the air, along the ground and dipping in and out of the water. Time is necessary to breathe in the deep fresh air and feel the sun — yes, the real actual sun! — or the rain — please no, not the rain! — on your skin. And on this Sunday lunchtime we pair of beer writers along with our partners (Adrian’s wife Jane and Pete’s wife Liz) and dogs (Adrian and Jane’s soul puppy Dante and Liz and Pete’s grumpy furball Captain) have been invited by Badger to walk from Lulworth Cove to Osmington, a six-mile stroll that is sponsored by the brewery, in the company of National Trail Officer Mark and Naomi from Natural England (and their dogs as well).
Stroll. Yeah, right.
Adrian walks a lot, and has always enjoyed walking out in the hills. He finds walking almost meditative in the way you can lose yourself in the landscape and also in the steady pace of the walk. A walk like today’s supplies calmness to the mind and offloads a sense of the natural world: the wakeful scourge of the wind on the face, the subtle scent of ozone, the visual overload of sea and land bumping against each other, in some places tense and aggressive, like two boxers in a pre-fight conference, while at other places as smooth and placatory as handshakes and hugs after a wedding. This is the sort of walk where the senses are fully stretched.
Pete likes to think he agrees with all this too. He talks a good game: having grown up just on the edge of the Peak District, he used to spend most weekends tramping up hill and down dale and once even backpacked his way around the Tour de Mont Blanc. He still thinks of himself as a walker. It’s just that he hasn’t done any serious walking since that Alpine triumph. As we set off, a bit of mental arithmetic reveals that that was almost 25 years ago. Still, muscle memory and all that. Six miles along the coast. No problem. Time to get rid of some of that city dust and breathe in all that revitalising ozone.
There’s another reason for walking. AA Milne explains it best: ‘Two inches to the northwest is written a word full of meaning — the most purposeful word that can be written on a map. Inn.’
The walk starts at an inn (the Lulworth Cove has rooms and we cannot think of anything more delightful than waking up there within sight and sound of the sea) and ends up at an inn, the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills (and yes it also has rooms). We both agree that a good walk is incomplete with a beer at the end of it. It is the thought of that inn that keeps us going when the coastal path, like the sea itself, switches from gentle and inviting to casual brutality on a whim. Pete’s thoughts often turn to Middle Earth when walking — the appeal of Tolkein at his best is that he’s writing about walking in landscapes you wish you could visit, and the orcs and black riders almost get in the way. This particular walk is like an amble to the pub in Hobbiton one minute, and scaling the flanks of Mount Doom the next. But the joy of a good walk is just when your knees are screaming and you’re wondering if it’s going to leave you walking like Gollum for the rest of your life, the summit presents you with its reward, and you fall on the springy grass and gape at vistas that would feel like gifts from nature, were it not for the more satisfying certainty that you’ve earnedthem by pulling your body (plus additional pints, burger, fries and chilli) up to the top — not just once, but four times along the way.
When we finally hobble into the Smugglers there is a sense of unparalleled achievement and purposeful words that must be spoken clearly – the words that form the answer to the most vital question anyone has ever asked: “What are you having?”
Adrian tucks into another First Gold, a beer that was surely made with moments like this in mind and designed accordingly. Pete – who is celebrating pretty much his first day out of doors since finishing a major new book on cider – opts for Badger Applewood. His cider palate has improved dramatically since tasting and rating over 250 ciders from around the world in the last twelve months. This is a good thing, but the one drawback is that some commercial ciders that were fine before now reveal what they lack. Happily Applewood still more than passes muster. It just seems to have one problem – it seems to evaporate from the glass quicker than you can drink it, a pint emptying almost immediately.
Pubs are also about sights: in the Smugglers a small child, cautiously and tentatively, a smile on her face, crosses the space between the table where she and her family are sitting and where we are. Her intention is clear. Dante, tired after his walk, is slumped by Adrian’s side, but as soon as he sees the little girl approach with the intention of stroking him he is up, tail wagging. Captain – approaching his fifteenth birthday – looks on wearily from Liz’s arms.
The pub at the end of the walk is also a great time for reflection, and in the Smugglers we remember the grand views out to sea, the high cliffs that encouraged vertigo. Then there was Durdle Door, which looked as if a massive stone Oliphaunt (from Lord of the Rings of course) had been petrified while looping its trunk into the water. And a few days after our perambulation a large part of cliff close to the Door collapsed; maybe the storm giants were having a go at each other (that’s enough Lord of the Rings – Pete).
As we sat there Adrian declared with the impetuousness of someone well past the first flush of youth (or was it the thirst that the First Gold propelled to the front of his skull?) that he would have to start ticking off the various walks on the coastal path and of course visit all the pubs on the way. Jane mumbled something about it being healthier than beer mats, even as Adrian said that he didn’t have the Badger one on the table and put it in his pocket. Meanwhile Pete groaned about various aches and strains like a man twice his age, admonished by Liz, several years his senior, who sighed that this is not what she expected when she went for a younger man.
The evening progresses. The talk gets sillier. But throughout, it’s suffused with the warm pub glow that only really comes when you’ve earned your pint.
Pete Brown & Adrian Tierney-Jones