So, here is the ESKA 2018 “Deep South Real Ale Tour” synopsis with the usual anecdotal stories…. Sensei Gavin having yet another food issue, Sensei Tony still unable to drink a full pint of Ale, the welcome introduction of 2 new “Real Alers” and of course another excellent final meal to finish the night off.

Highlander – Hitchin

This year’s tour began at the Highlander in Hitchin. A good traditional pub serving quality Ales which were consumed in the beautiful, well maintained Real Ale gardens at the rear of the pub. It was nice to see a good humoured, friendly,  landlord who was clearly delighted to see so many “Real Ale Connoisseurs” in fact Sensei Ray and the land lord (Mr G. Rumpy) hit it off straight away as Ray highlighted the benefits of good customer service. Apparently, rolling around on the landlords prize flowers is not a good reason for poor customer care. In actual fact, Sensei Ray would continue this theme (Customer Service) right to the end of the day…..but more of this later. This years freshmen, Sensei Steve (MB) did his maiden voyage into the Ale unknown, but unfortunately misread the brief. Truly believing that this was to be a Real Ale Voyage, he turned up with a large “Man Bag (MB)” packed with supplements & provisions for what he thought was to be an long epic event.

The Bull – Gosmore

Next up was The Bull at Gosmore. Quaint pub serving a small selection of ales……(well …one Ale actually).  Upon arrival we were advised that we should have phoned in advance. How rude of us to want to go to a pub and spend money on their beers! needless to say that we did not stay long, drank our halves……sorry, …pints and escaped to a better venue where we were not such an inconvenience. Actually, Sensei Steve (MB) had only just dragged his suitcase through the door when we had to tell him we were leaving. Very awkward.

Rusty Gunn – Chapleford

And so on to the coveted … Rusty Gunn in Chapleford. Oh yes, now this was indeed a proper pub. Serving wonderful Ales including a namesake “The Rusty Gunn” and unbelievably, a pub that had Staff who smiled and were genuinely pleased to see us. Even the pigs looked happy. So surprised by the terrific ambience and overwhelming reception we decided to lunch here.  The food was really terrific, the worlds tallest burger came complete with a step ladder. Truly a magnificent feat of engineering, and if Sensei Gavins meal had arrived…….I am sure it would have been delightful !  oh yes Sensei Gavins culinary catastrophe’s would again continue into 2018. Never mind Sensei…better luck in 2019 ! After much feasting, it was time for the post lunch awards and Sensei Tony was presented the “Wee Wee Man” Real Ale Tankard 2018. Very Similar to a “Yard of Ale” but on a slightly smaller scale. Check out the photos at the bottom of this page!

This years afternoons entertainment was to be provided by the award winning Michael Jackson tribute act from 2017,  but due to unforeseen circumstances (John forgot to phone him) it was cancelled.  Sensei Luke arrived to provide afternoon musical merriment but unfortunately forgot his band, forgot the lead singer and forgot his guitar. …time to move on….


Strathmore Arms – Whitwell

To the Strathmore Arms in Whitwell. A pub full of delicate Ales and rare liquid compounds, half way between beer and Golden Syrup. This was a pub which delved into the world of……”Alchemy” !   Sensei Ray loved them all but particularly liked the Lakehouse Cherry Chocolate Porter…..a cheeky Ale in the disguise of runny tar but apparently very aromatic. The other interesting and somewhat surprising Ale was the 9% Abbeydale Deliverance. Now this was a favourite of just about everyone although, @ 9% by Volume much care had to be taken. During the consumption of these delightful products, Tony Bygrave gave passionate detailed Lectures on the Local Royal Family history and an insight into the local village culture… very emotional.  After several more Ales it was time for the Real Ale Entertainment. Yes, the 2018 game of …..”Who’s Who” .  A classic Real Ale Tour event involving those who were follically challenged and…. Sensei John Gillespie………. and yes, due to a combination of poor eyesight, too much Ale and a general lack of facial recognition, Sensei John was indeed unable to differentiate between any of them. Time to get back on the bus where John had a well earned nap. !


Crosskeys – Wheathamstead

The Crosskeys at Wheathamstead was apparently a great little pub but unfortunately no one can remember anything about this place apart from the fact that the bus did stop here and Ale was drunk. …we think….




The Red Lion – Breachwood Green

The Red Lion at Breachwood Green was great. Fantastic pub which is included in the Camra’s good beer guide 2018. A pub with loads of fine Ales, great service and friendly bar staff.

As we all disembarked from the bus (Steve dragging his Man Bag) Sensei Nursey and Sensei Glenn decided to demonstrate Set 4 Jiyu Ippon Kumite (Mae Geri Technique) in the car park.  An excellent demonstration full of emotion and chanting, but unfortunately due to an unknown “spiritual” influence, both participants ended up rolling around in the car park gravel. Great sportsmanship but was nothing in comparison to the new Real Ale Game…..”Nearest the Bull” darts match. Many a real ale drinker tried in vain to hit the target, in fact the longer the game went on the worse the game became with several members of the team unable to even hit the dart board. With darts bouncing off several surfaces, the event became a game of chance,  when up stepped Sensei Jenny and with a single throw of the dart hit the bulls eye dead centre. The cheers rocked the pub and and we all celebrated with more Ale.

By now it was early evening and plenty of beer had been consumed. It was at this point that an emotional Sensei John Higgins announced that he was…… Autistic. Showing all the compassion that Ale drinkers have, we gathered round while he went on to search his phone. We soon realised that he had in fact said that he was… “Artistic”.  John went on to demonstrate many of this “Artistic” skills but unfortunately due to the Local Ale Haze, nobody could see them. Artistic John did spend quite some time trying to photograph a local dog but the landlord would advise later that it was in fact a black upholstered foot stool and perhaps John should switch to coffee.

Lastly, The Beagle Puppies were terrific. In fact these two little puppies drew more attention than last years Michael Jackson tribute band and were slightly more talented! Of course Jon gets all the credit for laying on this fluffy entertainment.


The Red Lion – Preston

And so to the last pub of the tour…our old favourite, The Red Lion at Preston. For those lucky enough to have experienced tour 2017…this pub was CAMRA Pub of the year and the venue of the infamous Mushroom Gate : Famous for Sensei Gavin’s … Fungus Burger.  No burgers this time, just great Ales and more rummaging inside Steve’s man bag. With the contents of the MB depleted, we were left with no option but to seek sustenance elsewhere…. Back on the bus and onto Stevenage for the Real Ale Curry.


The Spice Rouge – Stevenage

The Spice Rouge …AKA..Fine Dinning India Cuisine was our final destination on this years tour. An ESKA favourite venue for good curries and slurred speech. One of Sensei Gavin’s happier locations because he did actually get some food here…but not so for Sensei Ray. He discovered that his evening meal had in fact been given to someone else… a slightly more vocal, assertive Ray highlighted the benefits of good customer service (again) to the staff………In Sensei Nurseys words….”’re outrageous” ! although not as outrageous as Sensei’s curry. After taking much advice from Sensei John Gillespie ….”Yes, this is a lovely curry …you will like this sensei” the curry turned up smouldering like a Manchester Peat Bog. Spicy was an understatement. And as for the rest of the evening ? ……. well, what happens on a real Ale Tour….stays on a real Ale Tour !

And so that brings a close to this year terrific tour. Special thanks go to everyone who participated and of course extra special thanks to Artistic John for organising another epic Real Ale Adventure and Matt & Fiona for keeping us safe !

Commiseration’s go to Sensei Paul Raymond – Famous for “Pie Gate”,  who unfortunately could not make this years event.  Apparently he spent the whole day at the Orange Tree waiting for the Tour Bus.

Final Word

The contents of this Real Ale Summary are nearly accurate but it is quite possible that its all the right subjects but not necessarily in the right order !

Heres to 2019 ..Real Ale Tour …East is East !


Photos From the Day

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