Capturing the moment is what travel sketching is all about, I have many travel memories from the time I was not sketching, I know a sketchbook would have made them even better.
The Dog & Doublet Inn was the scenario for one of my most cherished travel memories, stumbled on by chance and fortuitous travel challenges. It is a “Grade 2 Country Pub” in Sutton Coldfield, UK. Grade 2 is a distinction of its historic importance, Grade 1 is highest, Westminster Abbey is a Grade 1, so its distinction as a classic historic pub speaks to its construction not the quality of service, which was perfect. When your stereotype image of a British Pub kicks in, this place is it.
In my early years as a seminar speaker I went to the UK frequently; this trip was at least my third. On this particular trip I arrived in London on Saturday to allow for some time-zone adjustment before a Monday seminar for Fred Pryor Seminars. Their travel department contacted me on Monday to tell me she was having trouble finding a hotel for me in Birmingham, where I would be later that week. Birmingham is a big convention center for the UK and there was some huge event going on that week. One thing I learned a long time ago is not to panic over such things, they have a way of working out, this one worked out better than imagined.
Most often over the years when there are shortages of hotel rooms it just means you end up staying at a more dumpy place, or a place further away. My call the next day, remember this was before international cell phones were the norm, informed me that she had found me a place, with multiple apologies for its location, twelve miles out of town. Not a worry, that is why they have taxis.
When I arrived at the Marston Farm Hotel, on Bodymoor Heath, I was already thrilled. The place lived up to its name, it is actually in the middle of a huge farm. This was quite a few steps up in quality, not down, Marston Farm is listed in Johansens, only premier inns make the cut.
After checking in it was time for food. There is a white-tablecloth restaurant on premises but I am usually a pub sort of guy so I inquired as to what was nearby. He told me, “Just go across this path about a 100 yards and you will come to a canal, turn right and walk about a quarter of a mile and you will come to a pub – The Dog & Doublet. It was a delightful ramble on the pathway beside the canal passing narrow canalboats tied up to the side of the canal.
There were plenty of locals, a good sign, with quite a group of us international travelers mixed in. I ended up with some wonderful folks in a small anteroom next to the bar, we talked, drank, and ate all evening. The room was cozy so we took turns moving to the edge of the bar to eat. I remember Germans, French, Brits, and Americans laughing and talking – a night I will never forget, I must get back one day.
Why do we travel? Jimmy Buffet said, “We do it for the stories we can tell.” My experience is that most of the best stories are serendipitous, they defy planning. Over-planning a trip diminishes the spontaneity that is necessary for wonderful surprises to happen. So travel light, plan just enough to get you by, and always carry a sketchpad.