Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Walks for Chess Players - The Kenilworth Circular

During lockdown, everyone needs to get out for a bit of fresh air, exercise and sanity, so here's a walk around Kenilworth that does all that - and adds a spot of chess history and nostalgia by visiting all the venues at which KCC have ever met for match or social chess since the club's formation in 1975. So, walking boots on? Then lets begin!

Length: 3.9 miles
Terrain: Paved
Difficulty: Largely flat
Duration: About 1hr 15 mins

There's obviously only one place to begin, and that's KCC's first ever venue, St Francis of Assisi Church, on Warwick Road. (Car parking available, though whether you are supposed to use it is another matter entirely!) We met here for all our match and social chess events from 1975 until 1985. But before you go all misty eyed, the current impressive structure is not the one in which the KCC founding fathers played. The current church only dates from 1992/93, while the adjoining parish centre (where Mr Wood and I have been regular blood donors) was only opened in 2000.

Where it all began. Sort of!
Turning left onto Warwick Road, we take the second right onto Waverley Road and then immediately turn left onto Bertie Road (passing Bruce's previous long-time residence, 2a). We pass the Kenilworth Cathedral of Up-Market Consumerism (Waitrose) and go straight ahead at the junction to follow Southbank Road (the name of my primary school in Coventry) towards Abbey Hill. There we turn right, pausing momentarily to admire the views across Abbey Fields (one of the 7 Wonders of Kenilworth - just don't ask me to come up with another 6!), and in a few yards we are outside the Abbey Club, (or the Abbey End Club, as Google insists on calling it) which has hosted KCC home matches since 2012. (0.7 miles; 14 minutes)

The Abbey Club - very convenient for those arriving by bus!

Continue straight ahead, and where Abbey Hill bears left, go directly forwards to Upper Rosemary Hill, where the Kenilworth Sports and Social Club will appear almost immediately on the right. This was the club's match and club night venue from 1985 to 2005, making it our longest serving location by far. For most of our occupancy it was known as Kenilworth Working Men's Club. (130 yards; 2 minutes)

Possibly the ugliest building in Kenilworth. But it was from here that we dominated the LDCL for large parts of the 1980s.

Carry straight on, negotiating the S bend into Albion Street, and shortly the Copper House Club comes into view on the left, at the junction with Park Road. (0.3 miles; 6 minutes). When it was known as the Royal British Legion Club, KCC held both match and social nights here from 2005 until (I think) 2011. It was here that I first played against Kenilworth, in the days when I knew no better and misguidedly turned out for Leamington.

On December 3rd, 2008, the upstairs room was the scene of a very gruesome encounter, Page v Rogers, which ended in a 21 move White win.

We continue along Kenilworth's Chess Club Mile (as I am sure it will soon be officially christened), carefully avoiding both the Wyandotte and Cottage pubs (but only because they are closed) until at 8 Mill End we find The Engine. (0.1 miles; 2 minutes). We played Thursday night social chess here in the pool room - in fact on top of the pool table - for about 12 months or so around 2017/18. The beer was good; the pub was splendid; but the facilities for chess were terrible!

The Engine - where artistic Bernard specialised in spilling pints of Guinness on the pool table!

We now turn back on ourselves and almost immediately veer off to the right along the public footpath which brings us out at the junction of Park Road and School Lane (famous for its fish and chips take-away). We turn right, however, into Manor Road and follow it across the mighty Finham Brook to New Street (ironically in Old Town), where on our left we soon encounter The Royal Oak. (0.4 miles; 9 minutes) We played Thursday evening chess here for about 5 or 6 years from 2011, until it went belly up overnight. It was a truly splendid pub, with fantastic beer, and only 8 minutes walk from my house, so it is especially missed  by me.

The Royal Oak - scene of a dramatic club equipment rescue by capitalist Bernard in 2016. Or 2017.

Continuing along New Street, we pass The Cross restaurant (1 Michelin star) on the left, and at the traffic lights we go straight ahead onto High Street. The Virgins and Castle, the Abbey Field and the Old Bakery Hotel are all clustered together (yes, this part of town is beer heaven!), but more importantly excellent financial services are provided at the Bank Gallery by Bernard Rogers and Co, Kenilworth's premier Chartered Accountants. Cresting the rise above Abbey Fields, High Street becomes Castle Hill, and the magnificent ruins of Kenilworth Castle (another of the 7 Wonders, of course!) appear before us. On our right is Harrington's on the Hill restaurant, scene of a KCC social a couple of years back, but our destination is next door at 44 Castle Hill - The Clarendon Arms. (0.5 miles; 10 minutes) League matches were held here for, I think, 1 season only (2011-12), but it was not a success. The only match I played there was held not in the large, private upstairs room which was supposed to be the venue, but in the bar at the back of the pub, where the doors to the Ladies and Gents could be found.

On February 6th, 2012, the back bar was the scene of a particularly gruesome encounter, Page v Pickering, which ended in a 20 move White win!

Keeping Kenilworth Castle on our right, we now follow Castle Road until turning right onto Brookside Avenue (not the inspiration for the eponymous Channel 4 soap of days gone by!). Eventually we make another right onto Willoughby Avenue, which we follow to the end where we turn left onto Caesar Road. At the top of the hill, at number 3, we reach our final destination, The Gauntlet, which has been our Thursday night social chess venue for the last 2+ years. (1.1 miles; 21 minutes) Its a bit gloomy (more wattage for the light bulbs please, Simon!) but the beer is absolutely excellent, and we are left undisturbed to enjoy our weekly sessions. Or at least we were until Covid-19 interrupted us. Fingers firmly crossed that the new normal looks sufficiently like the old normal that those happy days will return sometime in the future.

Our latest - and hopefully future- Thursday evening home from home

All that remains now, is for us to make the 0.7 miles/14 minutes return via Oaks Road, St Nicholas Avenue, Queens Road and Warwick Road to our start point at St Francis' church, to collect our illegally parked cars. Though we should note The Indian Ark restaurant at 101-103 Warwick Road, where we held Joshua's farewell meal - not realising he would be back not long afterwards!

So there you have it - in just 75 minutes you can wander through 45 years of KCC history. Just the way to get your daily exercise in these troubled times.

Important Footnote:- Given the prevalence of barefaced lies, misinformation and fake news in much of the media these days, the KCC website has introduced a new Quality Assurance scheme to ensure that only properly verified and substantiated information is presented to our small, but discerning readership. I am pleased to say that this is the first such post to meet these new exacting standards, and to have been awarded this symbol of excellence.

Even the Government says you can trust Mark!

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