Ray Davies of The Kinks envisaged his ideal lazy sunday afternoon back in the sixties: sitting back and sipping at his ice-cool beer. It takes a lot of beating. How about a walk by the canal, messing about in boats, and sitting by the lock gates sipping a glass of real ale or cool cider?
If the weather is fine a drive through the charming countryside of South Bucks and West Herts is a treat. Through charming old world villages; tiny chalk streams laced with water cress meandering across fields; stately hangers of beech crowning a hill; cream teas in the churchyard at Hambledon; a walk along the Grand Union Canal; and lunch with that leisurely cool beer at a canal-side pub to round everything off.
The ideal place to head for is Berkhamstead. Not only is it an historic town, but a very pleasant one. It was here in the castle, that William of Normandy finally accepted the English defeat and claimed the throne of England.
Nowadays the French are back with their market stalls one sunday a month in the High Street where you can buy cheeses, different breads, and crepes. There is also a stall selling freshly cooked paella and another selling Greek pastries.
It was here in 1852 that a local guy invented sheep dip; a mixture of arsenic and sulphur, which the sheep had to plunge into to get rid of all the livestock that took up residence in their fleeces.
Another local industry was plaiting of straw. At its height, this industry employed over 400 people. The corn industry itself goes way back. The lower mill on the Bulbourne River, which was still working in 1900, was listed in the Doomsday book of 1086.
But hiding away behind the houses is the Grand Union Canal, with several locks one after the other. At each lock is a suitable resting place where you can while away the time drinking some excellent ales. In fact there are three pubs within a half mile walk. Two are conveniently just a hundred yards apart.
The Boat is situated right by a bridge which proudly announces The Port of Berkhamstead. It has an excellent menu, and you can sit outside under an awning and watch the barges chug up and down the canal while you have lunch. I had a selection of tapas, which were not exactly authentic, but still very well cooked and enjoyable. Humous, sun dried tomatoes, olives, garlic, roasted peppers, and pitta bread. My friend had the sunday roast. The vegetables were tasty and imaginatively cooked, with whole roasted carrots, mashed sweet potato, and parsnips, and the meat actually tasted of lamb, instead of the usual tasteless doormat of unidentifiable stuff. Of course there was a good selection of real ales to accompany the meal.
Further downstream is The Rising Sun, which specialises in real ales and ciders. This is a pub which is consistently listed in the top pubs of the area. There were six real ales available when I visited, and no less than 25 different ciders, including a cloudy Somerset scrumpy. Surely a place not to be missed by devotees of real cider.
There is a row of snuff boxes on the bar, so if snuff is your thing, take a pinch and a sniff. They also have a massive selection of board games, and sets of balls for petanque. However, most people just sit beside the lock nursing a splendid drink and watch the boats go by. A perfect lazy sunday afternoon really.