In Prestbury, England, we’re staying in a flat over a circa 1738 pub, the Ye Olde Admiral Rodney, owned and operated by my cousin Gill and her husband Geoff. My mother lived not far from here, in Manchester, where she was born and raised.
The pub offers yummy lunches — fish and chips, cottage pie and like British fare, but the pub really comes into its own in the evenings, when it brims with laughter, good-natured ribbing and stories shared by townies who come in for a cask ale, delivered to the pub from Robinsons, a nearby family brewery.
Musclemen make weekly deliveries, placing the metal and wooden barrels in a chute-like opening from the outdoors. The barrels of real ale are stored in a temperature-controlled cellar where they ferment, and are tended and tested by Kip, the pub manager, who coddles them until the beer has aged, normally a week to condition them, the sediment drifting to the bottom.
The resulting beer has a clear, golden hue, without lots of fizz, but an admirable head that leaves a smear of creamy foam on your lips. It’s supposed to be so clear you can read a newspaper through it, Geoff said. This form of beer — real ale — is the most popular beer in the UK and has its own elitist association, CAMRA - campaign for real ale.
Kip was kind enough to show us around the day we arrived and offered us samples from the barrels, so we could see how the beer changes in scent and clarity as it matures. The finished product is piped upstairs, where it’s drawn from spigots by whomever’s tending the bar — Kip, Gill, Geoff, or their daughters, Stef or Sarah, the former a recent college grad, the latter a sophomore at University of Glasgow.
On Friday when we got to Prestbury, we had a chance to see the pub at full speed. Spark spoke with a gentleman at the bar, who among other things asked what Americans think of Trump — from there the man moved into the flak caused by Brexit and how some citizens voted to exit the European Union on a total lark, then were shocked that it had passed.
Later, another regular named Rob struck up a conversation, after hearing we were from America. He has grandchildren in Pittsburg, and “loves the States.” A gravedigger by trade, crusty-Rob was a Navy man, and gushed that the Americans “saved us in World War I, World War II and in the Cold War,” adding that if we’re having a few problems at present, it’s OK. So it goes on the world stage, all issues addressed in this ages-old pub by a cast of characters straight out of a British novel.
The pub was the highlight of the first part of our trip, two days in Prestbury, then a flight to Sicily, where Gill and Geoff are vacationing. We would have five nights there, then return with Gill and Geoff to spend another night in the flat above the pub, before renting a car for visits to St. Andrews and Peebles, Scotland, followed by the Lake District.
To say that packing for this trip was difficult is an understatement — warm clothes would be required in the U.K., where it’s chilly and misty, and lightweight clothes would be necessary for Sicily, with temps there in the 80s. Trying to keep my suitcase under 50 pounds involved persistent purging that put me in a panic, as I cast aside clothes I knew I just had to bring. Spark continued to remind me, “They have stores there, Chris.”
Saturday night found us packing again, trying to keep the only suitcase we’d be taking to Sicily under 40 pounds for our easyJet flight to Catania on Sunday morning, a flight that meant getting up at 3:30 a.m. for pickup by our driver an hour later. We were lucky to get to the airport on time because she overslept — our phone call rousing her from a deep sleep, she said apologetically.
Traveling always involves glitches, especially those outside the United States — I’m sure there will be more hang-ups while we’re away. I’ll keep you posted on our progress in the coming weeks. Until then, “Cheer-io!”