A long-lasting impulse of mine, which may be shared by you too, dear reader, is to spend a bank holiday enjoying a hearty walk – inhaling fresh air, soaking up much needed vitamin D and topping up my incredible tan (think Edward Cullen) – before rewarding myself with a slap-up pub lunch because all that fresh air and walking makes me hungry. Food is my favourite motivator.
This dream comes from years of Boxing Day walks and New Year’s Day activities with family friends. There is something satisfying about a productive day off, especially when bank holidays aren’t entitled to me working in hospitality. Therefore, I took this opportunity with outstretched arms on Monday; the hottest bank holiday in years.
At half ten in the morning the heat was already thick and heavy. Clad in jeans with many a misgiving I perspired gently as Calum and I trundled to the Peak District aboard a packed train full of enthusiastic hikers, all dressed in appropriate clothing. (Admittedly jeans are not ideal but my intention was a mere jaunt between neighbouring towns.) It seemed our train companions were prepared for something much more taxing. Little did I know what would be coming, for example, the shadowy mountain standing right in the middle of our route.
Climbing the steep incline of Mam Tor in mid-day heat, the only cooling respite being the sweat trickling down your neck, is a challenge and one I never planned to repeat after my Duke of Edinburgh award. One step after the other finally delivered me, clambering and panting to the summit where the breeze was fresh and clean. From here the walk was smooth as we traversed alongside crumbling stone walls, admiring the view either side of our mountain top and relishing that refreshing breeze. It was here, elated with our energetic performance and raring to go, I told Calum about a film I watched years ago with my family; Ice Cold in Alex, as our own trek seemed remarkably similar.
In the Second World War, a British commanding officer and his team drive an ambulance across the desert to Alexandria to escape the incoming German troops. The officer (who is an alcoholic) is motivated by the ice cold beer he is determined to guzzle once in the safety of Alexandria, however, they must first negotiate hidden land mines, spies and the advancing enemy.
Although somewhat diminishing the extent of danger the characters experience, our journey now felt like a similar quest for that cold pint of beer, glass dripping with condensation, waiting for us at the pub in the aptly named town of Hope. This image became our fantasy as we neared the town, the taste of sun cream a permanent flavour in my mouth.
After a couple of pauses to coo over lambs, or in Calum’s case attempt to feed them, we finally found the pub. The Cheshire Cheese stood along a quiet road, colourful with leaves and blossom. Inside was cool and dark, welcome after the oppressive heat. Patiently ordering beers was excruciating, finally the first sip, that quench, was the cold refreshing reward we needed – until we browsed the menu. ‘Shall we just go all out?’ said Calum. Yes, sir, we shall.
Buoyed by his choice of wintery bangers, mash and an enormous Yorkshire pudding, I selected roast pork belly with smoked cheddar mash and apple gravy. Some pub food is better than others and skepticism about this apple gravy and whether the cut would be chewy kept my eye on the traditional fish and chips where it’s difficult to go wrong. Luckily I stuck with the apple gravy with no regrets. The pork was soft and tender, the crackling crisp. Along with the salty, smoky mashed potato and sweet chunks of apple in the gravy I savoured every morsel.
To round off the pub experience we share a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. We had forgotten the day’s heat, the sun cream, the sunglasses perched on our heads. Pubs simply make the best winter food. We sat there in the still cool pub, the glimmers of sunshine through the window, and cradled our satisfied full bellies.
We mooched back to town, arms slung around each other for support. Before our train left there was time to browse the one shop. This tiny gift shop sold many treats for dog-walkers, plus homemade soaps and trinkets. ‘Look, Ally, jam!’ said Calum. He always has my best interests at heart. Favouring the simple raspberry, I took my prize and paid. A perfect bank holiday is always concluded with jam.