A.J. Walker



The Boss Bish Bash '23

There's a group of us that go every year to Bishop's Castle around the first weekend of July - usually for the Real Ale Trail. Last year I missed it as it coincided with the one week I contacted Covid19. It wasn't the best timing for that pesky virus as it also meant I missed the Felice Brothers gig at Liverpool Leaf. Happy times, hey.

Not a bad view from me tent.

First pint post tent erection (fear)

Anyway about twelve of us booked again for Foxholes campsite this year, which included three people who hadn't been before. Unfortunately although the pubs had intended to hold the festival once again this year (for the first time post Covid) they had to cancel it due to what was described as excessive costs and bureaucracy associated with the road closures and associated items. Ho hum. At the end of the day though there was a good size group of us camping and there were five pubs in the village anyway. One way or another we'd still have a festival of sorts.

First time drinking this one of brew from Neptune and First Clsss.

Not having a vehicle of my own I had to rely on lifts from Steve and Tony. And we got there in good time, with no major issues. I think the biggest hold up of the day was actually getting out of Costco, the roads there were absolutely packed. The four amigos went in two cars and we (Ste, Tony, Jeanette, and myself) were the first of the crew to get to Foxholes. The weather was dry with sunny intervals when we were putting up our tents, but it was hampered a little by quite strong gusty winds. But any day not putting up a tent in the rain is a good day. Again, like the drive down, we got the tents up without any major issues. As our tents were getting erected others of the group started to arrive. and we commandeered a corner (partly assisted by an enthusiastic dog making one of the campers already there move on). Well done that dog.

Three Tuns. At the top of the village always makes it the first and last pub.

As usual as soon as the tent is up, the beer was poured. And that was it for the next couple of days really. There were no big stories this year. No lost people or visits to A&E. We just had a good time with good people - and mostly fair weather apart from late afternoon on the Saturday, when like most of England we were hit by a couple of thundery wet storms. We saw a couple of bands play at the Castle, but we missed the ones at the Six Bells. The usually great Vaults had no live acts on the Friday or Saturday this year. As tradition dictates we started at the Three Tuns on the Friday night, and ended there on the Saturday evening. In between we took in all the other pubs, drank and chatted, laughed and reminisced. We didn't really miss the festival much to be fair. Though a few more beer, BBQ, and band options would always be welcome I suppose.

The rain came. So we went inside the Six Bells for a time.

Lovely sky between storms. Outside at the Castle.

The stage at the Castle just as the storm subside.

Special mentions must go to Jeanette for the chilli on the Friday night and the breakfasts too! Good work. And to Sue too, who wasn't really sure about camping and hadn't been before. She seemed to enjoy it muchly. So maybe we'll see Sue there again next year.

The Bishop's Castle Crew end of weekend photo (including Dexter)

All in all a top weekend. Roll on the next boss, Bish', bash, it's always a blast.

Bishop's Castle 2021

Bishop's Castle '21

What a busy week. Started of doing stuff down at me dad’s old house. Then there was the semifinal game on Wednesday, which I watched in the Head of Steam in Liverpool with Ste and Toe. This was followed on Thursday by an epic - and much looked forward to - day at
Top Rope Brewery watching the brilliant Frank Turner gig with my Twitter/Flash Dog buddy, Sal (will report that in a separate blog piece). And to almost top it off it was the annual pilgrimage to Bishop’s Castle on the weekend that would normally be the home of the annual Real Ale Trail. The camping in Foxholes campsite at BC on Friday and Saturday night was then to be followed by a return to Liverpool - and back out to the Head of Steam - to watch the Euro Final with many of the usual crew: yes, we did get six who managed to make it on the same day at the same time. Miracles do happen even after a tiring few days.

Didn’t leave Liverpool on Friday until almost one and the roads turned out to be a bit of a nightmare with roadworks aplenty - and several accidents as far as I could tell (four ambulances passed me at one point). But I got to BC before 3:30pm, so not too bad in the grand scheme of things I guess - about twenty five minutes longer than it should be.

Bishop's Castle being Bishop's Castle and the last of Steve's pants

All me buddies were already there, either with their tents up or working on them. I ended up doing a pretty rare thing: I sat down with some of them and had a beer BEFORE putting my tent up. A most unusual occasion. It was perfect start with it being dry but the ground softish. I didn’t even require my mallet (which this time I remembered to bring with me). The tent went up pretty quickly and once Carl had turned up on his motorbike (his tent already kindly erected for him) then everyone was there.

We listened to some tunes and headed down to BC in piecemeal fashion. We weren’t sure what the situation would be in the village. There was obviously not going to be the festival due to the restrictions and the inherent doubts about things coming up to this month. Last year as we came out of one of the lockdowns only two pubs were open on the same weekend: The Three Tuns and The Castle, and both were trying to get to grips with what the H&S rules were at the time.

This year all the pubs were open. Of course it was still constrained by the current Covid-19 rules. There’s still the scanning in or writing out your contact details at each pub, the six per table rule and the table service. There was no festival. Some pubs had three or four beers to choose from - as opposed to the usual festival of choice. One pub just had the one beer on. And of course there was no music. On Friday we managed a pint or two in each of the
Three Tuns, The Vaults and The Six Bells.

There were twelve of us there on the Friday and eleven by the Saturday - due to one of the lads having a ticket for the Men’s Final at Wimbledon. Not sure whether that’s lucky or unlucky; depends how much of a tennis fan you are I suppose. With the six person rule we couldn’t all sit together which meant the get together in the pubs was not quite the same; and the possibility of flitting between groups was limited. But at least we had more options than last year AND it remained dry during the hours we were out. There was some rain over the two days but it thankfully relented to just appear while we were in our tents in the early hours.

A lot fewer photos were taken than in the usual years as the socialising was more constrained. And we got together more back at the campsite than in the village. We had tunes playing each evening and got some scran down - including an epic chilli provided by the hostess with the mostest (that’d be Jeanette). It had to be calm in terms of spice as Steve doesn’t do hot chilli. But it was tasty nonetheless - and needed. I managed to snaffle a second portion a day later. Yes, two of us had the cast iron stomachs to deal with three day old chilli without refrigeration.

Some of the guys were a little lost without the usual pilgrimage to the chip shop at the top of the village. The owners were apparently away for a week or so for a wedding apparently. So the usual fish or sausage & chips was swapped for a Chinese - not far away down the road. I never made it to the Chinese and can’t say how good it was, but there didn’t appear to be any complaints.

Cool day in Bishop's Castle

The morning butties were provided by the
Hungry Fox within the campsite. The bacon & egg butties are a lovely start to the day.

The drinking as far as I could tell - and certainly from my perspective - was a lot less extensive than usual. You are not drinking with the same kind of group or whilst watching bands, and you are waiting for everyone on the table to be ready before putting in an order. The result was a pretty sedate affair compared to some years (especially in The Vaults).

It wasn’t as dynamic by necessity in the village. Around the fire pit and stereo at the end of the day there was some more relaxed fun and a little wobbliness from certain people - and even the apparently now annual
Burning of The Shorts: last year it was Tony, this year it was Steve's turn. Despite some unsteadiness and an incident with Dexter the Dog's sharp incisors there was nothing that quite necessitated A&E, which is always a bonus. There were some surprising moves on to shorts in the form of whisky (Haig Club and Glenlivet) no names, no pack drill: don’t worry Jeanette I wont tell anyone about you two timing gin with a night on the whisky. And separately a bottle of rum also seemed to evaporate on Saturday night - despite no one admitting drinking it.

At the end - The BC21 Team

Sunday was dry again when we got up. There was a quiet, orderly start to the day: just a butty and tents down then an early dart to get back home to catch the football. Before that Jeanette suggested we had a team photo. It was a good call. We normally have one at the start of the weekend down in the
Castle or the Three Tuns but that was impractical this year. So this year’s team photo was a more raggedy affair as an early morning “After” as supposed to a lunchtime “Before”. But it is good to have the photos to look back on. For the years ahead when we can’t remember who was there and who wasn’t as much as anything else.

Everyone got back in one piece. And six of us got back into Liverpool and the
Head of Steam in plenty of time for the football. We had a good evening there. We shared a couple of pizzas just before the match. Maybe we should have picked something a little less Italian. Sorry.

In summary, it was a busy week topped off by the as usual excellent
Annual Bishop’s Castle Bash. It was a lovely and most welcome affair. Roll on next year. Hopefully by then we may even be able to go into a pub and buy a pint at the bar. How mad would that be!?

England and Strange Goings On

Was talking to several people about camping yesterday, which inevitably brought the conversation around to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. It is a camping destination for a few of us every year: usually associated with the Real Ale Festival that the village has but I also go outside of that weekend from time to time.

It reminded me of the time I went on my own for a weekend in June one year. It was a combination of walking, reading, taking it easy and some beers in the multiple lovely pubs in the village. And it was great.

The Walk From Foxholes Campsite to Bishop's Castle

But going down for a breakfast on the beautiful sunny Sunday I found I’d walked into the set of something akin to The Wicker Man. Knowing nothing about it in advance it is pretty much the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It wasn't a set by the way, it was real life.

Just Walking Into Town - As You Do

I’d walked down from the Foxholes campsite through the Shropshire fields into the village and almost the first thing I saw was a man leaving a house with a strange bright costume and a blacked up face.

He walked ahead of me down towards the centre of the village. As I walked down several more similarly dressed men came into view. A mix of young and middle aged. I kind of shrugged it off despite being perplexed by it. What could it be? It’s only a small place and I was soon sat in the sunshine with a cup of coffee and my Kindle awaiting a bacon sandwich.

And then it got weird. Not the sandwich: the day.

Breakfast And A Kindle - Normalcy Amongst The Strangeness

Some music started. And now I can’t remember anything about that because what I saw became the focus of my tortured brain. A parade began to walk up the street towards and then past me. It was led by a religious group led by a man in a long white robe carrying a cross high in the air. Behind him were his three subordinates in blue and further cohorts in white behind them. At this point it looked like it was straight out of church - but that didn't last.

Behind the men the religious section of the parade came the women. Thankfully they weren’t wearing the black make up sported by the men, but were dressed in nice simple yellow dresses with green jackets and mixed green and yellow tights. As they danced to the tune through the village they waved their white handkerchiefs in the air to the drum. So far so normal…

The Religious Part Of The Parade

The Relatively Normal Part of The Parade (ie the women)

Not far behind were the blacked up men. Some in their multicoloured, multilayered shirts, some sporting white shirts and sashes. They all circled and dancing to a beat. Several turned to face me, smiling or pulling faces. There was even a character dressed as a woman in the style of a Monty Python sketch. The entire event was getting beyond surreal.


I can’t tell you how long the whole thing took. However long it was I’d been transported into some parallel universe or backwards through time. I never found if there was Wicker Man equivalent or where it was, but was glad not to have been chosen to be their sacrifice as the stranger in the village. The strange mix of religiosity, blacked up faces, bizarre costumes and relatively “normal” dancing women had been made all the stranger by me not knowing anything about it in advance and the wide range of people involved in it: it wasn’t a simple Morris Dancing troupe. It was a lot of people.

Who You Looking At? - Note the full on Monty Python character in the yellow…

Apparently the parade moves on to another couple of villages after Bishop’s Castle and it is something to do with celebrating the longest day of the year. The mind boggles. I wonder how many other strange local customs happen around the county that we (or at least I) don’t know about? There’s definitely a story or two in this. But maybe they're best left untold.