TV Channel naming.

UKTV History has become Yesterday and Dave’s catch-up channel (+1) has be renamed, wait for it, Dave ja vu. What will the marketing experts come up with next in branding our TV viewing? Will BBC2 become Middle Class and Dull, C4 will be Filling in time until BB12 and will ITV1 at last come clean and simply become Ant n Dec TV?

Escape to Victory

Now let me explain why I’m watching a film that is some 28 years old. As I suspect is true of most parents, I’m living vicariously through my children. From visiting lower league football grounds to watching old films unwatched in decades, I’m using the fact that I have a 12-year old son as an excuse for some fairly juvenile behaviour. I am in that halcyon window between the kids being too young to appreciate anything I show them and that teenage period where I will be too embarrassing to be seen with. Continue reading “Escape to Victory”

Ludlow

Feathers Hotel, Ludlow

Perched on a hill above the picturesque River Teme in South Shropshire, this 900-year-old market town is a visitor’s delight. Medieval and Georgian buildings at every turn, winding streets, independent shops and lots and lots of sausages. There are more butcher’s shops than you could shake a chipolata at and, despite a population of just 10000, at one point had four Michelin-starred restaurants, more than anywhere else outside London.

Ludlow is the Epicurean capital of England and has taken the rather smart decision to market itself as a destination for those who care about what they eat. The Ludlow Food Festival takes place every September and there are few more prestigious titles in the country than Sausage of the Year. Ludlow also hosts the national HQ of Slow Food UK.

Not for nothing did Sir John Betjeman label Ludlow “the most perfect town in England”.

Where to Eat

Basically you can’t go far wrong.

The Feathers Café is the rather smart foodery part of the Tudor hotel of the same name. The food here is actually very good — we could recommend the Finnan Haddock and spinach risotto if it didn’t sound quite so camp to do so — but be warned, the service is slow. That is as in sloooooooooooooooow. However, treat this as an opportunity rather than a handicap. Pop in and order a meal, stroll over to The Compasses and sink a couple of pints of Old Hooky before strolling back an hour or so later to enquire why the food still hasn’t arrived. There ought to still be time to go back over the road to The Bull and have a jar of Hobson’s before anything is served. A splendid arrangement and we don’t understand why they don’t advertise themselves this way.

The Church Inn has surprisingly very good pub food, almost to the point where it flouts a Plumber’s maxim (pubs are for drinking in, restaurants are for eating in). Truly excellent pate and a fine lamb shanks number high among their offerings.

Mr Underhills wears its Michelin star with considerable pride and rightly so. Its daily tasting menu, running to seven or eight courses with wine, is locally sourced and everything made in house by Chris Bradley. By the time you have finished you are likely to be just one wafer thin mint from explosion but you will rarely have dined better. It’s a big plumber’s thumbs up to the whole shebang but a particular mention to the Highland Parfait which could only conceivably be improved by being spread liberally on the downy skin of a certain Chinese barmaid.

De Grays Tea Rooms serve scones. You might feel this is all you need to know to inform your decision whether to go or not. This place is a “historic Ludlow institution” serving up home-made cakes, bread and patisserie by an army of waitresses dressed straight out of Upstairs Downstairs. If you like that sort of thing (the scones that is, not the uniforms) then this is as good as you will get.

Otherwise check out La Becasse (the former Hibiscus), Koo, the best Japanese restaurant this side of Tokyo, and The Clive, another in the Michelin Guide.

Where to Drink

In the interests of providing a comprehensive review of Ludlow’s public houses, The Midnight Plumbers endeavoured to visit as many of them as possible. On the whole, we found them a welcoming bunch with a very good and varied selection of local ales. Ludlow has real pubs and there is a noticeable dearth of designer bars, theme pubs and trendy bars. This is a good thing.

The Charlton Arms is in a great spot overlooking the Teme and is a friendly pub serving a fine selection of local beers and home-cooked grub. It’s a haven for walkers in the summer months. If you are really lucky then the evening might be rounded off by mine host Dave doing his renowned Sooty Sings Sinatra routine. Not even the grand hotels of Paris or the showcase nightspots of Vegas can offer a man wearing a Sooty puppet and miming to the strains of My Way. If Harry Corbett were alive today he’d be turning in his grave.

The Church Inn at Buttercross is a top pub and has maybe the best kept beer in town. If that weren’t enough there are hops hanging above the bar and some attractive barmaids behind it. It also does food (see above/below) and accommodation and is well worth a visit.

The Bull is a supposedly haunted pub on the Bull Ring. A lively place dating back to 1199, it is the oldest pub in Ludlow but of an evening it caters for a very young crowd. Like many Ludlow pubs it looks much better outside than inside.

The Horse and Jockey in Old Street is perhaps not the most salubrious alehouse in town but it’s none the worse for that. If you ask nice they let you change the channel to watch whatever football match you like. Therefore totally undeserving of the comment passed by Andy Plumb.

Ye Olde Bull Ring Tavern looks like it is falling down and for all we know it might have by the time you read this. If it isn’t suffering from subsidence then there was definitely something wrong with our eyes. Actually, both were probably the case. A bit of a letdown given the frontage, more chewed on than Tudor.

The Globe. This is what passes for lively in Ludlow and may well be your personal cup of Rosie Lee but that’s only likely to be the case if you like it loud and proud and don’t mind running the risk of being duffed up by the heavies of the local ladies pool team.

The Feathers on the Bull Ring is as Tudor as Henry V111’s codpiece. It was described by no less than the New York Times as “the most handsome inn in the world”. If you are American you will love it. We aren’t American.

On the recommendation of locals, we made our way to the Nelson Inn at Rock Green, about halfway between the town and the racecourse. We were told it would be worth the trip as it is “unique”. They weren’t wrong. It is a long time since we were in a pub ran by a man with more wives than arms but this is such a place. Big Al is the landlord in question and he can perhaps best be described a cross between Lord Nelson, David Bellamy and a collection of hallucinogenic drugs. Whether he had one of his arms strapped under his jersey as a result of some accident or whether he was just playing up to the name of the pub wasn’t immediately clear. More doubt was cast when he pulled the good arm from its hiding place to pick up empty glasses. Wide-eyed Al seemingly had two small, wide, wives who wore matching bottle glasses — which is illegal in most western states but probably fine and dandy in Royston Vasey from whence they have surely relocated. If this hasn’t given you enough of an insight into how the Nelson qualifies as unique then try the fish tank and the hairdryer in the lounge, the boxes of Jacob’s cream crackers or the scary outside loo. Then there is the indefinable atmosphere which can only be defined as odd. Think The Slaughtered Lamb meets The Clangers. Excellent beer though and let’s face it, that’s all that matters. Apart from its “uniqueness”, The Nelson is apparently best known for its own cider but we didn’t try it for fear of a massive hangover and the possibility of ending up in a pie.

Where to Stay

In an effort to give you even greater insight into the town of Ludlow we actually stayed at two different lodgings. We do hope you are suitably grateful as it was a decision that was not without suffering on our part. But more of the Cliffe Hotel later.

The aforementioned and afore-drunk-in Charlton Arms was the first place in which the Plumbers laid their weary and somewhat fuzzy heads. The rooms could do with a bit of redecoration (unless you have a penchant for ripped wallpaper) but they are a decent size and come in at just £40 a night. What the Charlton lacks in intact furnishings it makes up for in character, good beer and a lock-in. Dave (he of Sooty Sings Sinatra fame) will happily serve you alcohol all night as long as the local cops don’t intervene and his wife is away in Spain.

The only real downside to a stay at the Charlton are the evil housekeepers — cleaning ladies who will set rabid dogs on you if you are not out the room by the appointed hour. Dave would be better to get Sooty and Sweep doing the cleaning and send the evil housekeepers back to Macbeth, Act One, Scene One.

Actually, he might be better sending them to, or over, The Cliffe. At first glance it is a fine looking rural hotel set in its own gardens and more attractive accommodation you couldn’t wish to see. Until you step inside. It smells. It really does. Once you get past the sentry post/reception you cannot avoid it. The good people of Chanel might try to market this odour as Victoriana but we think the term “biscuity pish” is more accurately descriptive. Wild horses wielding Kalashnikovs couldn’t make us eat here.

The rooms were small although some did have large adjoining bathrooms which smelled positively fragrant in comparison to the hallways. Tiny bedroom, large bathroom, go figure.

For those not deterred by the smell — perhaps the insane, the nasally challenged or the elderly — the Cliffe does indeed serve bar meals. This seems to attract a cardigan-clad crowd from the nearby caravans (not gypsies) who are more than happy to put up with the pong in exchange for a gin and tonic and chicken in a basket.

The Cliffe gets a big Plumber’s thumbs-down.

What to Avoid

The Cliffe Hotel. It really does smell bad.

Culture

Sausages.

Castle.

Getting There

Getting to Ludlow, from Scotland at least, is fearsome. Part of the reason that the town retains much of its original charm is that it has not been sullied with immediate proximity to the key transport networks. Indeed almost all of Shropshire is rural idyll, which is nice, but don’t count on getting anywhere fast.

By car, it’s about 40-odd miles off the M5 via Kidderminster or 30 miles down the A49 from Shrewsbury.

By air, nearest airport is Birmingham, which has good connections around the rest of UK and beyond. Ludlow is about 90 minutes drive from here through one of the most congested parts of the UK road network. The train takes around two hours from New Street in the city centre. Bristol, to the south, is just over two hours drive and three hours away by train.

By train, the plumbers elected to let the train add to the strain and left ourselves at the mercy of the combined forces of Virgin and Arriva Trains Wales. The journey from Glasgow/Edinburgh involves a change at Crewe to catch Arriva’s Cardiff bound service which calls at Shrewsbury, Church Stretton and every sheep farm and hill station in between en route to Ludlow’s tiny station (actually, it’s only an hour from Ludlow up to Crewe, but when there is a danger of missing your connection, it feels much longer). Tickets can be had for as little at £11 (one-way) from Glasgow to Crewe, but you’ll need to be quick and booking Virgin trains is never easy, further complicated by the fact that the west coast main line is blighted by engineering works. However, things worth having are never easily come by and be assured the delights of the town will reward the persistent traveller.

One tip from those who know, train services between Cardiff and Crewe (and therefore to Ludlow) can be adversely affected by sporting events at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. I know, it’s unbelievable, but it’s true and a quick check could save you a world of hurt.

We recommend that, if travelling in a party, that you leave all the arrangements to one person. That way, when things go even slightly awry, you can while away the journey by giving the poor sap endless grief over how it should have been arranged. Hours of fun.

By bike, cycling is definitely an attractive option in this area. There are a number of routes and trails into the Wye valley and around the Welsh border country. Relatively quiet roads, not too many steep hills and plenty of country inns to keep you refreshed would suggest this is an area that cyclists would enjoy. Organised trips and cycle hire can be had at Wheely Wonderful Cycling at Elton, just outside the town.

Getting to the Course

It is about two miles north-west of the town so we jumped in a taxi. If you are driving, take the A49 from the north via Shrewsbury or via Hereford from the south. From the west take the A4113 and from the east the A44 from Worcester followed by the A49.

About the Course

Racing here dates back to 1729 and there’s now around 16 jump meetings a year. It labels itself as “Britain’s friendliest racecourse” but of course we know that title actually belongs to Kelso.

What to Wear

Please yourself really. It’s a bit of a mixed bag so anything from tweed or trackies depending on your personal preference.

The Plumber

The Midnight Plumbers recommend Mr Charles Pitt, 16 Normandie Close, Ludlow, SY8 1UJ

The Midnight Plumbers Guide to Betting

How to Calculate Your Winnings

There are two or three basic terms you need to understand before reading this section. You should also make sure you understand the makeup of the bet you have placed. See our Types of Bet section for more details.

Some betting terms explained

Stake

EurosHow much you are going to bet. This could be something simple like £5 to win where your total stake would be, simply, £5. Or something a bit more complicated like £5 each-way where your total stake would be £10. This would consist of two bets: £5 to win and £5 for a place. Or even more complicated like a £1 Yankee which consists of 11 bets (6 doubles, 4 trebles and 1 fourfold – see our Types of Bet section for more details). In this instance your total stake would be £1 x 11 = £11.

Odds

The chances of winning as determined by the bookmakers usually expressed as e.g. 2/1 (two to one), 100/30 (one hundred to thirty) and so on. The higher the odds the more you will win (but the higher the likelihood of you losing…). Interestingly, 100/30 is known as Burlington Bertie in certain circles.

Starting Price (SP)

The final odds as the race starts. Up until then, the odds on some horses will fluctuate as more or less money is wagered on them. On-course bookmakers will give you the odds as they are when you place your bet. Off-course you can elect to take the odds at the time you place your bet or get paid at the Starting Price. Eager racegoers like to try to guess how the market will change and time their bets accordingly.

Return

How much you get back. If your horse wins at 2/1 then you will receive £2 for every £1 you have staked. Similarly, if your winner comes in at 4/5, you will receive £4 for every £5 that you bet. Note that you will also receive your original stake money too. So, if you bet £4 on a winning horse priced at 4/5 you would receive £5 (winnings) plus £4 (stake) giving you a return of £9 in total.

Odds-On

A short price where the return (excluding your original stake money) is less than your stake. Prices such as 4/5 (four to five or more commonly five to four on) and 10/11 (eleven to ten on) are examples. Remember that your original stake money is returned in a winning bet so 4/5 would pay £4 for every £5 bet plus the original £5 stake = £9 in total.

Evens

A short price where the return is exactly the same as your stake. A £5 win bet on a winning horse returned at Evens would pay £5 plus £5 stake money = £10 in total.

Each-Way

A combination bet where you will receive a return if your horse wins or finishes within the first 2,3 or 4 places depending on how many horses are running in the race.

Tattersalls Rule 4

DishonestLegalised swindling. If one of the horses in the race goes to post but fails to start, bookmakers are allowed to deduct a percentage from all winning bets. There is a sliding scale applied by bookmakers depending on the starting price of the withdrawn horse. A good yardstick is to assume a deduction of around 10 percent.

 

Some examples

So let’s cut to the chase. How much will you win?

All returns work on a simple principle. If your horse wins then you will get back your stake x the odds. The odds will be either the SP (Starting Price) or those you took when you placed your bet. You will also get back your stake.

Single bet return

So for example, let’s assume you have bet £5 on Pongee to win in the 3:45 at Doncaster. Pongee duly wins at 5/4. This means that you will receive £5 for every £4 that you bet. So your total profit would be £6.25 (£5 x 5/4). Add on your original stake of £5 and your total return is £11.25 for a £5 stake. Simple.

Double

Let’s look at something a bit more complicated. This time, you have bet a £5 double on Pongee to win the 3:45 at Doncaster and Basinet to win the 5:20 at Musselburgh. As this is a double, both of your horses have to win. Pongee duly wins at 5/4 and Basinet unbelievably manages to win at 5/1. Time to calculate the winnings.

£5 on Pongee at 5/4 will return £11.25 as we have already seen. Because this is a win double whatever you win on the first horse becomes the stake on the second. So we are now looking at £11.25 on Basinet at 5/1. This will return £56.25 profit (£11.25 x 5). Now add on your stake of £11.25. This gives a total return of £67.50. Excellent!

Treble

Let’s assume that, rather than a double, you had wagered a treble. Pongee in the 3:45 at Doncaster, Basinet in the 5:20 at Musselburgh and Waterline Dancer in the 9:05 at Windsor. Pongee romps home at 5/4. Basinet inexplicably wins at 5/1. Waterline Dancer canters in at 2/1.

So how much would you win? Just go through the same type of calculation. Remember that your return on one leg of the treble becomes the stake for the next one. We already know from above that Pongee and Basinet will return £67.50 between them. This money is now the stake for third leg of our treble (they all have to win remember). So £67.50 at 2/1 will net you £135 (£67.50 x 2). Add on your stake of £67.50 and your total return is a whopping £202.50. All right!

Each way

Let’s try that again but this time we’ll look at how some each-way betting might affect the overall returns.

So this time we have wagered £5 each way on Pongee to win the 3:45 at Doncaster. Pongee duly delivers at 5/4. Remember that an each-way bet splits your stake in two with half going on a win and half going on a place. So, when Pongee wins you will receive £11.25 (£5 at 5/4 + your stake money of £5). As your bet was each way though you will also get some money back from the place part of your bet as Pongee finished in the first three. In this instance you will receive one quarter of what you would received in the win part i.e. £1.56. Now add on your stake of £5 giving you a return of £6.56. Add the win and place returns together giving you a total return of £17.81 for your original £10 stake.

If Pongee had finished second rather than first (unlikely I know) then you would have received a return on the place part of your bet only. So for the win part, you would receive nothing. For the place part you would receive one quarter of what you would have received in the win part i.e. £1.56. Add on your stake of £5 giving you a return of £6.56 for a £10 stake.

I’m sure you’ve got the hang of this now so won’t try to confuse you with any more examples. If you do get stuck, you could always try one of the bet calculators on the Internet. Despite a few bugs, the one on the Teletext site is not too bad.

St. Vincent

mcleanBathroom shining white
Fix that shower and the old bidet
Realign that water spray
With eyes that know the darkness in my bowl.
Smudges on the bills
On your knees amid the toilet spills
Catch the slops and use your skills
To get your payment on demand

Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you struggled to fit that vanity
How you tried to let them pee
They would not plumb, they did not know how
Perhaps they’re plumbing now

Bathroom shining white
Smelly powers of strange bouquets
Swirling clouds of violet Haze
Reflect in St Vincent’s eyes, that china loo
Colours of shampoo
Morning needs, that usual strain
Flushing faeces down the drain
Soothed beneath the plumber’s loving hand

Now I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you struggled to fit that vanity
How you tried to let them pee
They would not plumb, they did not know how
Perhaps they’re plumbing now

For they could not pay you
But still, your bill was true
And when no soap was left inside
In that bathroom shining white
You left a hole as plumbers often do
But I could’ve told you, St Vincent:
This bathroom was never meant
For one as beautiful as you.

Bathroom shining white
Towels hung in empty stalls
Radiators in countless halls
With guys that plumb the world with no sweat
Unlike the plumbers that get wet
The cowboy men in plumbing clothes
A pipe is torn, the water flows
Clothes lie soaking on the bathroom floor

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me
And how you struggled with that vanity
And how you tried to let them pee
They would not plumb, they’re not plumbing still
Perhaps they never will…

Plumbing Rhapsody

wintonIs this a real job?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught on the wet side,
No escape from a guarantee
Open your eyes, look up to the guys like me
I’m just a plumber, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy plumb, easy dough, Little dry, little flow,
Any way the bend goes doesn’t really matter to me, to me

Mama just billed a man,
Put a ton against his spread, made it bigger, now he’s bled
Mama, the job had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and flushed it all away
Mama, ooh, Didn’t mean to bleed him dry,
If I’m not plumbing again this time tomorrow,
Carry on in the john as if nothing really splatters

Too late, it’s time to plumb,
The shower’s not so fine, drain’s stinking full of lime
Good God it is shoddy but I’ve spent the dough
I need a new hub-spigot and that’s the truth
Mama, ooh, I don’t want to buy,
I sometimes wish I’d never been a plumber at all

I see a little plumbing ghetto from my van
Looks a skoosh, looks a skoosh, can of orange Tango
Tensile bolt needs tightening, very, very exciting me
Thomas Crapper, Thomas Crapper, Thomas Crapper Mario
Magnifico

But I’m just a plumber and nobody loves me
He’s just a plumber from a plumbing family,
Spare him the strife of bulk viscosity
Easy plumb, easy flow, will you give me dough
St Vincent! No, we will not give you dough
(Give him dough!) St Vincent! We will not give you dough
(Give him dough!) St Vincent! We will not give you dough
(Give me dough) Will not give you dough
(Give me dough) Will not give you dough (Give me dough) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mama mia, mama mia) Mama mia, give me dough
Inland revenue has a bill put aside for me
For me
For me
For me

So you think you can phone me and say it’s not dry
So you think you can moan at me and start asking me why
No maybe, you’ve paid it now, maybe
I’m going out, I’m gonna get right out for beer

Nothing really splatters, Anyone can pee,
Nothing really splatters,
Nothing really splatters on me
Any way the bend goes…

York

yorkminsterYork is one of Britain’s most historically significant cities and can trace its roots back to the arrival of the Roman legions in 71 AD when they erected a garrison at the confluence of the Ouse and the Foss. Such was its importance that it attracted all the big names of the time including the emperors Hadrian, Septimus Severus and Constantine. The Saxons took over for a while when the Romans went home but it later fell to the Vikings who knocked the lot down, threw everything out and decided to refurbish in the style of Ikea. The changes were obviously not to the taste of William the Conqueror because he burned the lot down a couple of hundred years later. There was a small period of architectural stability of 900 years before it was the turn of the Germans to try and flatten the place in World War 11. In between York had been regenerated by the railways in the early 19th century which allowed it to regain much of its former glory and by industry both heavy and light. The latter notably included confectionery, particularly the firms of Rowntree and Terry’s.

York has been the undisputed capital of the North for 2000 years and today enjoys the fruits of its historic labours as tourism is far and away the biggest earner. In July and August you will barely be able to inhale for the squadrons of demented tourists cooing at the grandeur of the Minster or wittering at the tangle of narrow streets that make up its medieval heart. If you are American, a lover of history or have a fondness for tat then York is the place for you.

Where To Eat

Lancashire. Derbyshire. Lincolnshire. Indeed any surrounding county offers greater culinary alternatives. Mind you so does starvation. If you are, by any chance, a political activist seeking to prove your point by going on hunger strike then we can think of no better place to do such a thing than York. Not eating here would be so much more enjoyable than not eating somewhere else. That is of course unless you have a liking for the cold and the over-cooked, the fatty and the bland, the cholesterol-laden and the plain inedible. All of the above can readily be found within York’s ancient walls – and all served in a great big foxtrot-oscar Yorkshire pudding. If you learn nothing else from this website (and let’s face it, that is more than probable) then learn this:

Pub grub in York and all three Ridings of Yorkshire is crap

Lasagne, haddock with or without batter, Cumberland sausage, steak pie and chilli con carne, that’s your lot. If anyone finds a pub menu with anything else as a standard meal then we will award you a prize (not really). Here’s a simple rule of thumb which your stomach will be eternally grateful to you for following, it should be followed in general but particularly in York. Pubs are for drinking in, restaurants are for eating in. Of the latter, the Lime House did look as if it offered something a bit above the less than ordinary (i.e. it didn’t seem to serve things in Yorkshire pudding) but sadly we didn’t have the opportunity to indulge owing to a prior engagement (drinking beer). The seabass on seafood paella looked the business. The Tasting Room and Rish both looked the kind of place your stomach might enjoy. Finally the Plumbers can firmly recommend Victor J’s in Finkle Street off St Sampson’s Square. Run by the delightful and eye-pleasing Victoria and Jennifer from Hamilton, it is the best art bar in York bar none. Chic, laid back and trendy but none the worse for that. Try some of the excellent food, enjoy a cold beer or a Baileys latte, buy a painting or just look at Victoria and Jennifer.

Where To Drink

Well not in the bars because they aren’t pubs but are actually gateways to different parts of the city. Ask a local to recommend a good bar and you’ll undoubtedly get the Tennent’s lager taken out of you. York has a huge selection of pubs ranging from Ye Olde Pubbe to designer chic with stopping off points at bland chain pubs and good old spit and sawdust. First up we’d recommend The Maltings on Tanners Moat, just two minutes from the railway station. It’s a fine pub with an overwhelming selection of real ales but its award-winning rep means it is usually packed to the gunnels. A Plumbers’ thumbs up. If you want to go to a pub with Swan it its name then definitely go Black rather than White. The Black Swan in Peasholm Green is a fine 16th century hostelry replete with oak beams, stone floors and proper beers. The Old White Swan is a strange mish-mash of Australia meets York meets smoke. The Hole in the Wall on High Petergate is worth a visit. It smelled a bit of paint but we’re sure that’s gone by now. Good selection of beers and a rigged quiz on Thursday nights. On Stonegate you can choose between Ye Olde Starre Inn (get over the name) or The Punchbowl (get over the food). The former is said to be York’s oldest pub and has various nooks and crannies to enjoy some good beer. The latter is haunted by two ghosts and its bar meals menu.

We have to give a big Plumbers’ thumbs down to The Lowther mainly because it is huge, manky, serves rotten food, and suffers from peeling furniture, a surfeit of ash and students. There are said to 365 pubs in the city of York and hard as we tried to drink in all of them in order to give you a full and proper recommendation, we sadly failed. For a full list you could try the online York Pub Guide

Where To Stay

The Plumbers stayed in the Orchard Court Hotel in St Peter’s Grove in Bootham, not far from York City’s football ground. Perhaps the management misheard us when we booked and thought we said five single rooms for midgets instead of five rooms for fully-grown (in some cases overgrown) adults. That is the only thing to explain the teeny rooms in which it would be quite impossible to swing a cat unless you dangled it out the window. One advantage is that while lying in bed it is possible to touch all four walls and turn off the light without leaving the confines of your duvet. You can’t do that in the Dorchester unless you get a really big bed. Or have really long arms. At just £40 a night for a room it is decent value for money and the cooked breakfasts make up in part for the small rooms (we mean really small – call Norris McWhirter now unless he is the one that’s dead). Ideal for jockeys. No offence is meant to midgets or other people of restricted growth.

What To Avoid

Apart from the aforementioned pub grub, the top of any avoidance list would be the Mickelgate Run. This charming peace of York custom involves being on said Micklegate of a weekend and getting duffed up by the local youth who have tried to in drink every hostelry in the vicinity. It’s like a pub crawl along Edinburgh’s Rose Street but with added violence. If you can make it from one end of the street to the other without getting kicked or punched then you are most probably a policeman. In fact you are probably three policemen. Our second suggestion may be a controversial choice but you could also do worse than avoid Betty’s Tearooms. The reasons are too many to list but principal amongst them are old people, rip-off prices and scones. In fact scones would be reason enough.

Culture

York is full of it. This city has almost as many museums as it has terrible meals. Take your pick between the National Railway Museum, the Jorvik Viking Centre, the Castle Museum or the Yorkshire Museum. The open top bus tour – a must on any Plumbers’ outing and the perfect cure for a serious hangover – is worth going on if only for the entertainment provided by the barely live guides. York may have possibly the oldest tour guides in the world and you can amuse yourself by talking bets on whether yours will still be alive by the end of the journey. If that isn’t culture enough for you then there is York Minster (big church), the Shambles (narrow street) and the York Dungeon (a dungeon). Clifford’s Tower, perched on a mound built by William the Conqueror, is where half of the city’s Jewish population were burned to death in 1190. There’s lots of other stuff about it but get on a bus and if you get stuck at the traffic lights then the barely live guide will tell you more than you need to know.

Getting There

York is well served by motorway and rail links. It’s a four-hour drive from London or Edinburgh but 25 trains a day stop en route between the two capitals so why bother? The nearest airport is Leeds, an hour’s drive away.

Getting To The Course

York Racecourse is about two miles from the train station and you can get shuttle buses or taxis there if you don’t fancy the walk. And let’s face it, who would?

About The Course

Racing has taken place on this site since 1731, with the first grandstand overlooking the Knavesmire completed in 1754. York is one of the premier racecourses in Europe and always offers a high standard of racing. Today you can choose between the Grandstand or County Stand and 20 different food outlets. However when considering eating you must remember that you are in Yorkshire. It’s worth shelling out for the reservation-only Ebor or Voltigeur Restuarants or the Gymcrack Room and therefore ensure avoiding the horrors of the pub grub. Entrance prices range from £9 for the Grandstand or paddock up to £42 for the County Stand during the excellent Ebor festival The course itself is left-handed and U-shaped, and is well suited to powerful gallopers.

What To Wear

Gentlemen are expected to wear a jacket and tie in the County Stand but it is usually more informal elsewhere.

The Plumber

The Travel Guide recommends: Fred Dodds, 116 Hamilton Drive, York. Tel: 01904 792382.

Thirsk

thirskThirsk sits snuggled in North Yorkshire, in the heart of what the tourist board is anxious to call Herriot Country.  It’s an old-fashioned market town built around an imposing square and has a population of 4500 which doubles when the neighbouring villages of Sowerby and Carlton Miniott are included. And triples when the races are in town.
The Yorkshire Dales are to the west, the North York Moors are to the east and a whole lot of pubs and sheep are in between.  It is the birthplace of Thomas Lord (he of the cricket ground), was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and is home to a 90-year-old Ritz cinema and a 500-year-old church.  Most famously these days it was the inspiration for the town of Darrowby in the books of James Herriot.  Market Square, where the main business of the town has been carried out since early medieval times, is reminiscent of French town squares – or Kelso if you are fortunate enough to have had the pleasure.  On busy days – race days, market days or the entire summer – you take your life in your hands trying to cross the square such is the volume and pedestrian-hating nature of the traffic.  However the quest is worth it if you can find a table outside a pub and watch the world go by.

As well as Mr Lord and Mr Herriot, Thirsk was home to coiner and murderer Thomas Busby, whose ghost was thought to haunt the Busby Stoop Inn at the crossroads where he was gibbeted for his crimes.  For more than 20 years no-one would sit in the chair that now hangs in a local museum kitchen for fear of the dreadful fate said to await anyone who braves Busby’s curse.  There is something similar at Ye Olde Three Tuns where one seat bears the inscription “Barry’s Chair” and some dreadful fate probably befalls anyone else who sits in it.

Where To Eat

An oasis amidst the culinary desert of North Yorkshire is Charles Bistro, an elegant little establishment half-hidden down Bakers Alley, just off the main square. Surprisingly and gratifyingly, this is perhaps the only establishment in the whole county which doesn’t offer every dish served in a big foxtrot-oscar Yorkshire pudding. Praise the lord. Instead they serve up food as the rest of the world agrees to be appropriate – and very tasty it is too.  The Plumbers would recommend the Beef Wellington or the fillet steak with a pernod and escargot sauce.  Add to this an excellent cheeseboard and you can’t go too far wrong.  The Thirsk tartlets looked very appetising too but we didn’t indulge.

saddleroomfoodElsewhere in Thirsk you will find a host of pubs in and around Market Square offering ‘traditional pub grub’.  It really doesn’t matter which you opt for because it will all be the same.  Gird your loins, kiss your bottom goodbye and choose from steak pie, lasagne, Cumberland sausage or fish and chips – each and all served in the obligatory foxtrot-oscar pudding.  If the whole world is a circus then eating out in Yorkshire is the lion-tamer’s pants.

Yet even amidst the desert there is a dry spot and special mention must be made of the Saddle Room Buffet at Thirsk Racecourse.  If you like your food to be cold, insipid and preferably orange then this is the place for you.  Possibly the only place in the western world to serve orange steak pie.  We would recommend starvation as a viable alternative.

Where To Drink

There is no shortage of public houses in Thirsk, no less than seven of them dotted around the cobbled Market Square in the heart of the town.  There you will find The Golden Fleece, The Black Bull, The Three Tuns, The Black Lion, The Blacksmiths Arms, The Royal and The Darrowby Inn.  Drink your way round that lot and the square will be going round and round.  Of the above, we’d recommend the Darrowby and the Black Bull but each to his own.  If you don’t like one, try another.  In fact try another one anyway.

Ye Olde Three Tuns is on Finkle Street, just off the square and if you are happy to put up with a bit of smoke and run the risk of depression on account of the darkness then there is a decent selection of ales.  The Cross Keys in Kirkgate doesn’t serve food so that’s a definite plus given the standard elsewhere.  It looks a bit grotty but the beer is well-looked after.

Where To Stay

Well we stayed in York and travelled in for the day so we can’t make a proper judgement on any of Thirsk’s hotels.  However the fact that we stayed out of town is a reflection on the number, if not the standard, of places to stay here.  That being said, The Three Tuns and The Golden Fleece look fine and there are a number of B&Bs. Out of town there are country inns such as the Nag’s Head at Pickhill or The Forresters Arms at Kilburn.

What To Avoid

If it is at all possible, avoid the entire township of Thirsk on days when rampaging Geordies and Mackems come to town for the racing.  These, lest you have any doubt, are young gentlemen from the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland respectively, identifiable by designer clothing, aggressive demeanour, short foreheads and being absolutely bladdered.  They will almost certainly be shouting to each other at the top of their voices and challenging passing children to fights.  They will be using the language of vocabulary-challenged troopers and generally being as much of a pain in the neck to everyone else as they can manage before urinating where they stand and passing out.

The Geordies and Mackems are no doubt fine people, the salt of the Earth, when alone or with their womenfolk, but when in packs they are outstanding candidates for extradition to the colonies. Spend too much time in their company (around two minutes in the Black Bull should do it) and you find yourself turning into the kind of person who wants to read the Daily Mail, drive a Nissan Micra, bring back capital punishment and thinks a spell in the army would do Geordies the world of good.

Culture

Well, we don’t know if you could exactly call it cultural but the Bearded Lady of Thirsk is a must-see for every visitor.  This may prove difficult during particularly busy periods for the North of England pornography business or in the run-up to Christmas but the effort should prove worthwhile.  On Thursdays around 1.00 she can usually be found at the bus stop near Tesco on Station Road.  Nary a finer beard has been seen on the face of any lady since Uncle Albert Trotter had the HRT.  If they were alive today, Barnum and Bailey would be at her door waving vast wads of folding money and then sitting back to count the profits.

From the sublime to the veterinarian. Thirsk’s main tourist attraction is The World of James Herriot in Kirkgate, a recreation of the 1940s and 50s animal husbandry surgery that housed Alf Wight, author of the eponymous vet.  Thirsk was the Darrowby of the books, films and long-running TV series and the author lived and worked in this house.  They’ve clearly spent a lot of time, money and effort on getting this place right and it seems to have paid off.  If you once spent Sunday evenings watching Christopher Timothy et al shoving their hands up cows’ derrieres then this should prove an interesting hour or so.  Apart from the restored living quarters, there are exhibits about the life of Alf Wight, TV sets and a veterinary museum.  You even get the chance to shove your hands up a cow’s arse, just like Peter Davison.

Getting There

National Express have direct services between Thirsk and London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cambridge, Leeds, Nottingham, Hull and other destinations.  Full details and tickets from Thirsk Travel Centre or via the National Express website.  ARRIVA provide train services to Northallerton, Middlesbrough, Darlington, York and beyond with connections to GNER and Virgin Cross country services at York and Darlington.

Teesside Airport (MME) is about 30 minutes drive from Thirsk with scheduled services to Amsterdam and London amongst other destinations.  A direct train service connects with Manchester airport and Leeds – Bradford Airport is about 1 hours drive.

Getting To The Course

Getting the train to Thirsk Station may seem like a good idea but you should be warned that it is misleadingly named. The station actually sits in the middle of nowhere (or Carlton Miniott as it is known) about a mile from the racecourse and a mile and a half from the town of Thirsk. It is not too much of a hardship on a dry day but a taxi is a better option when it is raining or on the windy road back from the pub. Thirsk(ish) station sits on the main York-Newcastle line and that brings the mixed blessings of easy travel and drunken Geordies. Twenty minutes will get you here from York and a further 45 minutes from the Toon. There is plenty of parking in Thirsk so taking the car is definitely an option. There’s free parking in town (behind the Kirkgate) and the course is only a short walk away.

About The Course

Thirsk is a left-handed oval track about a mile and a quarter long joining the six furlong straight about half a mile from the finish. The track is undulating and the turns tight so it makes for interesting racing when Jamie Spencer is around. There are something like 14 meetings per season with a liberal sprinkling of evenings for those who have to work for a living.

What To Wear

There are two camps here really. The members’ enclosure operates a strict dress code where males are expected to wear a jacket and tie. Ties can be purchased in situ by the forgetful or affluent. Presumably, this effort is well rewarded by the accompaniment of some decent food. On the occasion of the Midnight Plumbers’ visit, not a tie was to be had between the four of them so off to the plebs area they had to go.

In the Tattersalls area, things are much more informal with the only noticeable dress code being the one operated by the Geordie and Mackem brigade. The uniform in question being the T-shirt. Climate would not seem to be a factor in this matter.

The Plumber

The Travel Guide recommends: Iain’s Domestic Services, Rosedene, Knayton, Thirsk, North Yorkshire YO7 4AZ Tel: 01845 537181.

Perth

fair-maidPerth has been a site of human habitation for at least 8,000 years. It’s a former capital of Scotland, it has grown to a population of over 50,000 people, and it is with just cause known as “the Fair City”. Because its wealth is based more on agriculture than industry, it is to an extent inflation-proof and can cock a snook at the ravaged post-industrial wastelands of Scotland’s central belt. Situated on the banks of the river Tay, its wide streets, open views and many, many trees make it one of the more pleasant cities to spend time in. Trees are a big thing here; Perthshire contains Europe’s oldest and Britain’s tallest, as well as the world’s highest hedge.

There has always been light industry however, and much prosperity was brought to the city by entrepreneurs such as Arthur Bell and Matthew Gloag through their experiments in blended whiskies. Discovering that two or more unpalatable whiskies could be mixed together, given a fancy label and sold to the undiscerning masses was a masterstroke. As for the younger and slightly more feminine Gloag, was tarting up the clapped-out formerLondon buses used to transport itinerant berry-pickers to and from the fields of rural Perthshire to create Stagecoach, the largest transport company in the UK. On the outskirts of the city you can check out the Caithness Glass factory, where they have given the whole heritage centre treatment to the traditional craft of glass-blowing. It would once have merited no more than a three-minute slot on the Generation Game.

Perth is home to St Johnstone, the sleeping giant of Scottish football. Not perhaps that big, but certainly fast asleep. It also boasts the railway bridge over the river Tay that doesn’t collapse poetically into the river anytime the weather gets up a bit.

It is the place to be for fishing, golfing, and wearing woollen clothes.

Where To Eat

Eating in Perth can be a very pleasant experience. There are a good number of hotels offering basic Scottish fare at reasonable prices and using largely locally-sourced produce. That’s the benefit of being an agricultural capital. Try the New County in County Place, or the Queen’s opposite the railway station. If the Scottish fare of beef, venison, salmon etc doesn’t do the business for you, then you could try the Café Royal’s international menu. Try the ostrich, kangaroo, springbok, bison, or crocodile. Endless opportunities for referring to the difference between a buffalo and a bison or asking the waiter for crocodile and to “make it snappy”. They’re surely just taking the piss with Salamander as the vegetarian option though.

Excellent restaurants are Let’s Eat at the corner of Athol St. and Kinnoull St., and Kerrachers fish restaurant 168 South St. Try both. Usual plethora of Chinese, Italian, Indian are dotted around, and there’s the Krung Thai restaurant in Murray Street. Best of the ethnic dishes has to be the Lamb in Guinness at the Manzil Tandoori restaurant in York Place. Not so traditional, perhaps, but hey, traditions are there to be begun

Where To Drink

It’s been said elsewhere, but it bears repetition, that restaurants are for eating and pubs are for drinking. In Perth, restaurants are for eating and pubs are for drinking up and leaving quickly. There are exceptions. There must be. But one of these is not Ormond’s. This pub pays homage to the late Willie Ormond, member of the Hibs Famous Five, Scotland manager for the 1974 World Cup, and St. Johnstone legend who took the team into Europe as often as Neville Chamberlain. But not for as long. The pub is dank, damp, dark and dismal with a disproportionately hostile attitude to strangers. Drink up and leave early. The alternative is to put “duelling banjos” on the jukebox and settle in for a very, very long evening.

Other pubs about whom (excepting the Willie Ormond memorabilia) pretty much exactly the same could be said include The Robert Burns, The Royal Bar, the Silver Broom, Whitelaw’s, the Corina and so forth and so forth until the names become a blur. And don’t be visiting That Bar in Scott Street unless it’s to advise the clientele they should go home and study for their Standard Grades.

So where can you drink, if you must? The Foundry is OK; very impressive collection of cask-conditioned ales and international lagers in a spacious and atmospheric converted foundry. A feature is the gents toilet; a standard of plumbing evocative of the Golden Age of the profession. The Twa Tams in Scott Street is a family-run business with a bit of charm; the Irish bar. Mucky Mulligans in Canal Lane actually isn’t all that bad or Irish and has in the eye-easy Kim the most pleasant barmaid in Perth. Not a difficult competition to win right enough but that’s to take nothing away from Kim. It’s either there or Chasers Bar in the White Horse Hotel you should be heading to count your cash and re-live the highs of your day’s racing.

The only decent real ale pub we found in the city is Greyfriars, opposite the Salutation Hotel just before you cross the river. Maybe there are others. Searching for pearls on a stony beach.

Where To Stay

Aforementioned Queens Hotel (Best Western) Leonard doesn’t look bad, rooms from £45. Similarly priced is the New County Hotel, County Place. There’s lots of choice; get a list from the Tourist Office.

What To Avoid

Getting into conversation with farmers. Inadvertently saying “I like my tractor”.

Violence has been noted in the City at certain times with the notorious drive-by shooting now a familiar feature. Easily identified. Clip-Clop. Clip-Clop. Clip-Clop. Bang.

Culture

There’s a fair bit of culture in the fair city. There’s the museum and art gallery down by the river. And certainly pay a visit to Perth Theatre. But there’s no rush – if you wait till your early seventies you won’t appear quite so youthfully-challenged among the regular theatre-goers. The company know their customers, offering generous OAP concessions and full refund if you die before the interval. Continuing the drama them, seven miles north of Perth at Bankfoot, you’ll be enchanted by the Macbeth experience. Here the record of history is set straight for a much-maligned, but nonetheless worthy King of Scotland. The Plumbers have long been admirers of Shakespeare for his refusal to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Talking of Kings of Scotland, 42 of them were crowned in nearby Scone Palace, on the Stone of Destiny. The Stone since disappeared to England but if all tales are to be believed popped back and forth across the border almost as frequently as the Flying Scotsman in the days before Jarvis were responsible for track maintenance. It remains an important symbol for some Scottish nationalists, but this adherent to the cause of independence remains unconvinced. If the Scottish monarchy were restored, we’d have to go to all the trouble of abolishing it. Let the Stone sit in a Scottish museum, or let it prop up a flyover on the M6.

As a general rule, sport is for watching, not for participating in, but if you feel you must take exercise, check out Perth Swimming Pool. It’s an indoor pool but you can swim out into the open to see if it’s raining. Incidentally, Perth and Kinross Council are to be congratulated for their initiative in offering free swimming at all pools for school-age children. It’s a constructive move which will help reduce the weight problems faced by Scotland’s children. But in the meantime, swim during school hours. You don’t want to be sharing the water with crowds of lardy young schemies.

Next door to the Swimming Pool is the ice rink which plays host to some of the finest curling in the land. The “roaring game”, so termed because of the noise of the stones, has been played in Scotland for 400 years so we were about due for a medal.

Getting There

Perth is on the main Glasgow – Aberdeen and Edinburgh – Inverness railway lines with trains usually at least every hour. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Edinburgh, and Dundee airport, 22 miles east, offers (extortionate) flights to the UK. Edinburgh airport is only about 40 mins drive though for the cheapies.

Getting To The Course”>

The course is situated in the grounds of Scone Palace, about 3 miles outside Perth. There’s a free regular bus service from the city centre; private aircraft and helicopter facilities by arrangement. Or take a taxi.

About The Course

There’s been racing at Perth since 1613, and they can certainly claim to have got it right. A picturesque course with an excellent view of the action from a variety of stances. A plethora of bar choices to suit absolutely all tastes. Except those who don’t drink and they don’t count. Anyway they can picnic on the lawn with elderflower presse or Irn Bru.

What To Wear

It’s Perthshire. You will never be accused of over-doing the tweed. Weather can be a bit on the nippy side so remember your Barbour.

The Plumber

The Travel Guide recommends: Chas Stewart Plumbing, 16 Dunkeld Road, Perth PH1 5RW Tel 01738 627701

Stirling

stirlingcastleStirling, ancient capital of Scotland, where Highlands and Lowlands meet, historical heart of this great nation and home to (most of) the Midnight Plumbers. Again, much is written about this town, but this unique guide will tell you what the other guides won’t. You can be sure, dear reader, that the information herein is derived from the bitter experience of bona fide locals.

The town has much to commend it, nestling as it does in the winding coils of the Forth River (a port until the 1960s), a subtle fusion of urban chic and rural idyll. It is dominated by two of Scotland’s most famous landmarks, the ancient castle and the Monument to William Wallace, arguably one of Scotland’s greatest heroes. The Victorians built the monument and any resemblance the structure has to a certain male appendage is purely coincidental. You be the judge.

The town, or city as we must now call it since city status was conferred on Stirling in 2002, lies within easy reach of the stunning countryside of the Trossachs to the north and west and close to the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, short journeys to the south and east respectively – both are just short train rides away. It is the perfect base to explore Scotland’s treasures.

Where To Eat

Eating out in Stirling needs to be done with some care, as is true across most of Scotland, the quality varies, but there are still a few rewarding culinary experiences to be had. Current favourite is L’Angevine, 01786-446277, on Spital Stret. Also recommended are Herman’s restaurant, 01786-450632, on Broad Street and, a little out of town, the River House, 01786-465577, which is excellent for Sunday lunch and gets a particular commendation for child friendliness. One of Stirling’s latest dining hot-spots is the restaurant at the Tolbooth theatre, 01786-274010, it is highly recommended for pre-theatre dining, or just a start point for your night on the town.

For curry-lovers, The East India Company, 01786-471330, on Viewfield Terrace is pretty good, the rather understated entrance belies the cosy wood-panelled atmosphere to be found inside. If you prefer your curry in cheesy décor, head to King Street to the Taj Mahal, 01786-450966. The bar design is reminiscent of India’s great monument of love. The Goan fish is particularly recommended. The local Tex-Mex is Smiling Jacks, 01786-462809, a small place with big portions, starve yourself first.

Scholars restaurant in the Highland Hotel makes it into many of the good food guides and that may be your bag, but your day at the races will need to have been a good one to enjoy this one to the full. The drams are expensive, but their range superb 01786-475444.

Lovers of Chinese cuisine might like to try The Regent, 01786-472513. on Upper Craigs.

Recent additions to Stirling’s gastronomic repertoire include a new, and lauded, Thai restaurant. Wilawan on Baker Street, 01786-464837. Dinner with wine can run to about £30 a head.

A short trip to Bridge of Allan will allow you to sample the fare on offer at Clive Ramsay’s in Henderson Street. Clive has been selling good food for a lot longer than it has been fashionable with his shop in Bridge of Allan winning several awards over the years. He also recently became the food-buyer for Jenners in Edinburgh, a move which has certainly revitalised the epicurean reputation of one of Scotland’s finest independent stores. The recent addition of a Valvona and Crolla-like bistro to the shop in Bridge of Allan has simply cemented his reputation as bon-viveur and restaurateur extraordinaire. The Plumbers can particularly recommned the fresh asparagus ravioli with a sauce vierge.

Something a bit different is the Bouzy Rouge, 01786-823285 (aka the Sherriffmuir Inn) about 5 miles out of town in the Ochil Hills. On a nice night, the views are spectacular and the food is excellent, with contemporary Scottish cuisine a speciality. There are also four bedrooms, why not make a night of it. The nearby moorland was the scene of a battle during the 1715 Jacobite rising. Sea food is a speciality at Chambo in Bridge of Allan, and again comes highly recommended, 01786-833617.

For more traditional sea fare, we particularly recommend the Allan Water Café in Bridge of Allan for fish suppers ? 01786-833060 – cooked to order and completely delicious.

Those after poor quality American-style dining might be tempted by the Filling Station on Port Street, 01786-472820.

One thing Stirling is not short of is cafes and tea shops, the town is peppered with them, from comfy sofa, Sunday papers joints like Bean Scene on King Street to the fine Italian café that is Corrieri’s at Causewayhead. My favourite is 81 Port Street, a lovely wee deli up an alley on Port Street, next to a funeral director, but don’t let that put you off. They have a café at the back, only four tables, but the coffee is great, the bacon sandwiches and home made soups quite excellent and the cakes large and varied.

Where To Drink

Like most Scottish towns, Stirling has Irish bars. It also has a selection of trendy, glass and steel theme bars with knuckle-heads in black guarding the door. Best of these is probably Pivo, which has a selection of continental bottled lagers. Neighbouring Cambio has loud music and vastly overpriced wine. Don’t be put off, there are alternatives. The Hogshead at the top of Friar Street has a good selection of ales and a nice atmosphere for the more mature drinker, where merry banter can be exchanged, without having to shout over Eminem to get your joke heard. This is probably the best pub in town for real ales. Round the corner is the Stirling institution that is the Barnton Bistro, huge high ceilings and very busy at weekends. I’m told that the bar staff used to get people to drink up at closing time by starting and revving their motor-bike engine, filling the place with exhaust fumes. Happily this practice has been discontinued. The Bistro is also where you’ll want to be if you prefer the company of other men. Yes, we all prefer the company of other men, but you know what I mean. Elsewhere in the centre of town, we recommend the Port Customs Bar and (less enthusiastically) Nicky Tams on Baker Street.

Much better drinking is to be found just that bit out of town, the Birds and the Bees, on Easter Cornton Road serves passable food and has the added charm of stuffed sheep for seating, you can even play petanque out the back. A quite different establishment is the Borestone Bar in St. Ninians, which has an unrivalled selection of whiskies.

If pub quizzes are your thing, there are a few regular ones, the Wallace at the top of Causewayhead Road offers a good prize,  The Torbrex Inn (once a haunt of the Midnight Plumbers) has a pretty good quiz on a Wednesday and is a good enough local. Also worth a favourable mention is the Abbey in Cambuskenneth, a very quiet friendly pub, with a pool table.

However, we have reserved the plumbing ‘u-bend’ of delight for the Foresters in the village of Cambusbarron, just south of Stirling. The lounge has a splendid array of tables across three mezzanine levels and a high ornate wooden bar. A reasonable selection of beers, wines by the two-glass bottle and a good selection of whiskies are on offer. They also seem to have a rather agreeable, non-PC, staff recruitment policy. It is also famed as the home of the Thursday quiz, where named teams battle it out for very ordinary prizes. If you fancy the challenge, the Midnight Plumbers will be happy to rise to the occasion, come and have a go if you think you know enough.

Pass marks also go to Hydes, behind the Queens Hotel in Bridge of Allan, not least because of its proximity to the Bridge of Allan Brewery, the local micro-brewery. Also in B of A, the Westerton is pretty good. Students and staff from the nearby university favour the Meadowpark, though it’s lost its edge since it demolished its unique Gaudi-esque beer garden and is in need of a face-lift. It does have two enormous screens for watching the footie, though.

Where To Stay

Fairly obviously, as we live in Stirling, we have not the merest inkling of an iota of a clue where might be a good place to hang your hat for the night. If you’ve got loads of cash from a day at Perth or Hamilton races, you’ll be staying at the Stirling Highland Hotel, 01786-475444, and it serves you right. The Best Western Terraces, 01786-472268 gets a good name (if you are a Rotarian, and if you are, you’re excused) and the Golden Lion, 01786-475351, is in the centre of town and has the added attraction of being where Rabbie Burns wrote some of his poetry. Anything else he might have done while staying there is a matter for debate, but I’ll bet the sheets needed changing.

Something a bit different might be the accommodation on the University campus where, in student vacation periods (which is most of the year, let’s face it), you can rent a room in the halls, 01786-467141. The management centre, also on campus, has a much higher standard of accommodation with fine bars and restaurants, 01786-451666.

The Bouzy Rouge at the Sheriffmuir Inn is also an option, though it has a limited number of rooms, and is well out of town. There are many B&B establishments on Causewayhead Road that will provide reasonably priced comfort, but we recommend the Georgian House B&B on Allan Park, 01786-very close to the centre of town, yet quiet and a fine example of the city’s architectural heritage. The rooms are decorated with the landlady’s own art works.

What To Avoid

Sportsters and any town centre bar after 8pm on a Friday/Saturday night.

Culture

It would be almost derisory to try and summarise the cultural offerings of Stirling in a brief guide like this. The city is central (literally) to Scotland’s history, and is especially associated with the key battles of Stirling Bridge in 1297 (Scotland 1 – 0 England) and Bannockburn in 1314 (Scotland 2 – 0 England). The story of Wallace and the 1297 scrap is told at the National Monument to him, and the view from the top (a fair climb for the over 40s, so Nissan Micra drivers be warned) over to the castle and the carse beyond is splendid. The story of Robert the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn is told at the visitors centre (National Trust for Scotland), which is off the beaten track a bit, but served by Stirling’s excellent open top bus tour. The castle itself (Historic Scotland run it, as they do Edinburgh Castle) has enough to keep the kids entertained for an afternoon, and of course all the history of the kings and queens of Scotland, note the superbly reconstructed great hall (way bigger than Edinburgh’s, by the way), we suggest you walk up to it via the Back Walk which runs from Corn Exchange Road and is described as Europe’s finest urban walkway (no really, it is). During the summer months, the castle hosts a number of re-enactments of the events of the Jacobite risings, where rough, bearded, ginger-headed, tartan clad coves stand heroically and roll their Rrrrs a great deal. It’s a lot of fun.

Add the legend of Rob Roy MacGregor, whose grave is some 20 miles to the north of the city, and we can offer enough carnage and mayhem to keep the most bellicose American tourists happy for weeks.

Lesser known cultural highlights include Scotland’s oldest football at the Smith Museum. Have a walk through Riverside and over the footbridge to the village of Cambuskenneth, at first quaint but uninspiring, to discover Cambuskenneth Abbey, James III of Scotland and his queen are buried in the grounds.

It’s not all blood and thunder, Scotland’s roll-call of sporting greats would be considerably shorter without Stirling’s contribution. Billy Bremner, the ginger terrier for Leeds and Scotland in the 70s was from the city (maybe we spoke too soon about the blood and thunder?), as was horse-racing legend and Claire Balding’s plaything, Willie Carson. Kenny Logan, one of Scotland’s most capped rugby internationals is also a Son of the Rock.

Lovers of sport are well served, top division rugby union (in 2008/09) from Stirling County at Bridgehaugh, the delights of second  division football at Forthbank, home of Stirling Albion, even cricket at the new cricket ground near Forthbank stadium.

If industrial heritage is your thing, then Stirling has a particular boast. As you look over the town from the Wallace monment, what is now a housing estate was once a small engineering works off Causewayhead Road. It was from here that the Barnwell brothers made the first powered flight in Scotland. The fact is commemorated by a small (and rather bizarre)  statue at the roundabout at the top of Causewayhead Road

If you are into walking, you have the agony of choice: the Ochils to the East, the Campsies and Loch Lomond to the West and the Trossachs to the north. However, on a warm Sunday afternoon, take the drive to the Port of Mentieth (15 miles west, on the road to Aberfoyle) and take the boat out to Inchmaholme Priory on the Lake of Mentieth, Scotland’s only lake. An oasis of calm and tranquillity. Nowhere else quite like it in Scotland.

In a city of this size, it is unusual to find two major arts venues: the Tolbooth at the top of the town, towards the castle has recently undergone a major refurbishment and hosts music, theatre and comedy events. It also has an excellent café bar (though the scones kept out of sight, you have to ask) and it?s worth taking the walk to the top floor for the view from the roof terrace. The university campus has the newly reopened MacRobert arts centre which has a full programme of theatrical performances and a film house. And, yes, the ubiquitous café bar. Passable lunches of (salads, panini etc.).

Getting There

Stirling is right in the middle of the central belt of Scotland. The city is almost equidistant from Glasgow (35 miles) and Edinburgh (30 miles). Well connected to these cities via the M9/M80 motorways and to the north by the A9. By rail, Stirling station is 30 minutes from Glasgow, 50 minutes from Edinburgh, with trains running twice an hour to both cities well into the evening. We are 30 minutes from Perth, 2 hours from Aberdeen and, via Edinburgh, 5 hours from London. It is just over 30 minutes drive from Edinburgh airport, and just over an hours drive from Glasgow’s International Airport. We are very well connected.

Getting To The Course

Racing can be had just outside Stirling at Corbiewood stadium in Bannockburn, where greyhound racing is held, as well as trotting racing most Thursdays in the summer months. The stadium lies on the main ring road and is best reached by car, a taxi from the centre of Stirling would be between £5 and £10.

Harness racing is quite a sight for the uninitiated. Jockeys tend to be older (and larger) than your average and one has to respect the bravery of someone who is prepared to start a race behind a speeding car and career round a track at high speed less than six feet from a horse?s bottom. Sudden braking cannot be contemplated.

About The Course

Epsom it ain’t, but the stadium has a small covered area beside the finish line and a sizeable bar, right alongside the track. The track itself is a red ash surface, with the dog track within this outer ring. Entrance fee is £6 with a programme.

Events are modest in stature, with only a few bookies prepared to take your money. Odds tend to be short, with maximum fields of around 5-6 traps. Our visit netted a few quid, but gambling on odd-on favourites has limited appeal.

You won?t find to many Barbour-jackets here, more baseball caps than Fedoras, more Buckfast than Bollinger, and the best dressed lady competition would be a struggle for the most generous of judges.

One feature of the course is its unique backdrop. From the stand, a spectacular vista from the castle across the Ochil Hills provides quite a view on a balmy summer’s evening. And if you can trouser a few quid into the bargain, it’s all good.

A higher standard of racing can be found at Hamilton Racecourse, about 40 minutes south or at Perth, 40 minutes north. Your Racing Post will be more useful to you there.

What To Wear

In town on a Saturday, you’ll need your GAP hoodie to blend in. In the summer, you could wear a kilt to impress the tourists, but the locals would assume you are American, or from Edinburgh. If the weather dictates your wardrobe, then you’ll need rainwear from October to around April. You’ll also need it from May to September, but may get away with wearing it less frequently. At Corbiewood, dress down, and a tattoo or two will help. If you are a girl, then some form of undergarment designed to give maximum cleavage is a must, your man’ll need somewhere to store the tenners.

The Plumber

The Travel Guide recommends: Stirling Plumbers have, in general, proved to be an unreliable, unpredictable bunch of arrogant knuckleheads. Just hope nothing goes wrong with the old waterworks and get out the Yellow Pages.