September 30, 2016

The Blue Flame

A secret spots guest post by George Magner

Taking a step away from injection moulding and circuit board testing for a moment, friend of Beeline and guest writer George Magner takes us back to what Beeline’s all about – the joy of the journey and the places you discover on the way. In this case a favourite hidden spot of his in the depths of the British West Country. Enjoy!

The Blue Flame is one of the wonders of the ancient world that is the West Country. Like its larger and slightly-more-ancient cousins, the Flame is imbued with it’s own kind of magnetism— a monument to an older, slower, calmer world. Like a cidery Mecca, the faithful flock to this hallowed place with the regularity of the seasons— and indeed, the Flame is best enjoyed in the warmer months, as a coda to the fabulous Mendip-and-moorland riding on offer just beyond the fringes of Bristol.

The Blue Flame

The pub seems to grow out of the drystone walls and hedgerows of the local farms— original, uneven bricks and clapboards, a battered wooden sign swinging in the southwesterly breeze that unceasingly drifts in from the coast. The only clue to its venerable status as a community hub is the lovingly preserved red telephone box outside, cheerfully crimson and fully lit at night—apparently, it still works.

The Flame is one of those places that shouldn’t really exist anymore— a ramshackle independent boozer with absolutely no interest in doing anything differently to how it’s always been done. Local superstition places strict taboos on such seemingly mundane phrases as “profit margin” and “growth”— local drinkers grimace at these incantations as if they were curse words. Rumour has it that the walls are held up by spit and prayer, and that the opaque amber ciders are supplied by local warlocks.

And yet, the Blue Flame thrives. It’s a monument from a bygone era, a temple worshipping an age when cider was better for you than water and bicycles were the radical alternative to the horse and cart for most. It does what it does and is loved for it. It makes absolutely no effort to promote itself, or appeal to the masses with soulless, artificially fizzed lagers. Its beer garden is comparable to the garden of Eden. If you’re lucky, you might find a small, homecooked menu on— although their Sunday Lunches are the stuff of local legend. Only the last Sunday of the month, obviously. It’s nearly always booked out.

What makes the Blue Flame special is that it is, literally, and figuratively, off the grid. Its strange location on the edge of Kenn Moor, near the commuter town of Nailsea, marks a byway long-surpassed by the M5 and the A370; faint silvery threads almost invisible on the opposite sides of the Moor. It’s a route that has passed into obsolescence for the average traveller, and so to pass by you have to go out of your way to reach it.

In other words, it’s a cyclist’s paradise. It’s a place to put in as a waypoint on your Beeline, or a location to memorise on a map before you set out. There’s not much point trying to navigate your way there— better to let your ride out of Bristol, or into the Mendips, drift into the open skies and moorlands that make up so much of old, agricultural Somerset. The roads are long, and poker straight— often for up to a mile at a time. They split in strange crossroads and t-junctions with seemingly little logic— so leave logic at the door. Follow the roads that draw you in. They are the hunting ground of local time-trialists, and you don’t have to be a lycra-bound road warrior to find yourself hunkering into a more aero position and emptying your mind of anything but the pulse of your feet through the pedals. If you care to look up, you’ll find yourselves in the kind of open countryside you probably forgot ever existed. The moors are criss-crossed by canals and rhynes, and are home to everything from badgers to kingfishers. The sort of place you could easily pass by, unless you knew what you were looking for.

And at the end of it all, as the roads reconvene back towards the familiar insulation of modernity, the Blue Flame sits. Once, it was the last watering hole before the farmer’s long miles down to the Mendip market towns. These days, it’s a ramshackle gatekeeper to a long-lost world— if you’re prepared to dispense with the route-planner’s recommendations, and seek it out.

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