Author Archives: mattjeziorski

Accrington

“I’ll text my dad but am sure he won’t come”

We had tried to go to watch Accrington Stanley during Christmastide last year. We had almost reached the ground when J texted – from the hospitality box at Blackburn Rovers that I had refused a place in – that the game had just been called off. 15 minutes before kickoff.

My dad isn’t a big football fan at the best of times. The memory of trudging home from East Lancashire in on a freezing December Saturday would surely put him off going back. Even on a marginally warmer August day.

“Count me in” 

I had almost forgotten. Grants Bar. Of course he would want to go back.

Grants Bar is not a pub that I would ordinarily go in. All a bit modern and trendy looking when I am more of a sawdust on the floor kind of fella. But I am extraordinarily grateful to the Good Beer Guide for leading me there. It is stunning.

A pub and a microbrewery, the friendliest and most welcoming staff I have met anywhere in the country, and bar snacks that would have had my dad going back even if the beer was mediocre. Little wonder the three of us made our way, from Warrington, Luton, and Leeds, to drink there. The football match was a sideshow.

A couple of pre match pints, plenty of Bombay mix and salted cashews, bewilderment that three fellas would travel so far just for their beer (why bewilderment I do not know, it is amazing) and a invitation as we left that we simply couldn’t resist, “come back for another after the game”. So we did.

Stanley and Northampton drew 1-1 with Vale legend Marc Richards scoring a fine opener for Northampton.  A decent game. But it could have been 6-5, end-to-end excitement it wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was still the pub we were all talking about for the next few days.

“Do you think I will be able to persuade your mum [non-drinker] to come for a day out in Accrington with me?” Poor Dad, I think he is in love!

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Bolton

I used to live here, but I seldom drank here. I preferred instead to slip away from the monastery and make mischief in Manchester, Bury, or Wigan – anywhere I could easily get to and where there may be a friend who would stand me a pint (I had a vow of poverty in those days and, although I have never since been more financially comfortable, beer tokens were one thing that were in short supply).

That was all a long time ago. On Saturday I headed back to Bolton and, for the first time, back to the monastery (just visiting this time – experience has taught me it is the best way to experience both). And pre-match nerves meant pre-match drinks.

First stop (other than a pint in Manchester en route) was the Wetherspoons – The Spinning Mule – mainly because it was cheap, I knew how to find it, and I could be fairly certain they would be selling something by Bank Top. And they were – Sweeney’s – a couple of pints of which might steel me for the trip down memory lane.

Not quite. Last minute anxieties led me to the Lamb at Astley Bridge. No ale – but a pint of keg mild and good company. Mercifully the late-afternoon dancing atop the tables was happening well away from me.

I never visited the Lamb when I lived in Astley Bridge and with every iota of my being I wished I had never visited it now; as we took the scenic route (the Oldhams Estate is scenery of sorts) we passed the Bank Top Brewery Tap with not enough time to stop. I had no idea it was there.

I was almost able to taste the pint of Flat Cap I had missed out on as I mournfully slipped into the school chapel at Thornleigh. The festive mass to commemorate the bicentenary of St John Bosco’s birth had just got underway. There was a time when I knew him quite well.

Afterwards my hand was shaken [many times] and my beard caressed [just once – that was my favourite bit of the day]; I was affectionately head-butted by a small priest, and I was cuddled by a man in a kilt. And I left – uplifted, encouraged, and in need of a drink more than at any other point in my life.

A pint of Corby Amber (Cumberland) in the Sweet Green Tavern – the first decent pub of the day – hit the spot before we left Bolton by the next Rail Replacement Bus Service.

I went here. It is not a pub

I went here. It is not a pub

A pub which I have never been to. Sadly

A pub which I have never been to. Sadly

Berkhamsted, Leighton Buzzard, but not Tring

I took a swift and possibly irrational dislike to Berkhamsted. A town of few redeeming features made worse by my being given the wrong opening times for The Lamb. Not inclined to linger longer than necessary I had an early and thoroughly pleasant pint (Totem by local brewery Haresfoot) in a disappointing Wetherspoons that promised lots but delivered little.

And then it rained.

Tring is one of those maddening places where the station is some distance from the town. I had decided that rather than walk there I would instead walk along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal for half an hour to reach the Grand Junction Arms. A horribly muddy towpath and wholly inadequate clothing put paid to that plan and getting the next train north I left Tring for another day.

Simon and Nellie

Simon and Nellie

My first stop in Leighton Buzzard was All Saint’s church to see the graffito depicting Simon and Nellie arguing over how best to cook a pudding. It is from this pleasing image we get Simnel cake.

Leaving the church I warily popped into the Golden Ball. I am always suspicious of a pub promising a great atmosphere – at 12:20 on a Monday afternoon such promises are seldom lived up to. I was further put off by a ‘house ale’ which was nothing more than a mass brewed Carlsberg cask ale which is produced solely for lazy pubs to put their own name to. This pretence summed the place up. A shite pub pretending to be a good boozer – and failing. Bitter & Twisted by Harviestoun increasingly reflected my mood.

The beer selection was ordinary. That it is in the Good Beer Guide raises questions about the standard of pubs locally – or the taste of local CAMRA members who voted it in.*

This day was not going well.

Then there was the Red Lion. A dog, an open fire, a fish tank, a small but impressive selection of ales plus a real cider, and a couple of people talking about railways. This is a pub to cherish. I had a Strongarm by Camerons and was contented.

 

*I think Leighton Buzzard is in the South Beds CAMRA region. So I am one such member. I have never taken part in the discussions for local entries into the Good Beer Guide. Perhaps I ought to start.

Melton Mowbray and Oakham

I headed over to Melton Mowbray with J for a couple of days in search of rest, pork pies, and Stilton. The weather upon arrival was so thoroughly grim that to spend the day exploring the local pubs was the happy choice of the wise visitor.

Nearest the station is the Boat – named for the canal basin that used to occupy the area – and a champion pub. After making a poor choice of seat – the quiet corner I picked was unoccupied because the warmth of the open fire didn’t reach it – we settled down to enjoy what is a cracking pub. A fine selection of ales (I had Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker) for sure, but the impressive collection of whiskies in Scotch Corner left us ruing being there in the late-afternoon rather than the late-evening. We would have been happy to work our way through several of them to end the night.

A little further up the same road is the Anne of Cleves where we had lunched earlier in the day. Remarkably this gem is not in the Good Beer Guide whilst space is found for a unremarkable Wetherspoons whose beer range (and pricing) can be the only advantage over this finer establishment. The ongoing CAMRA love-in with Wetherspoons is a cause of regret.

The next day, after a cup of tea at the lovely Don’t be Latte on Melton Mowbray station, we went to Oakham. The weather had perked up so we could potter contentedly around this town of considerable charm until thirst took us into the Lord Nelson for a couple. Even after several years living in the south bar prices still have the capacity to floor me and £7.70 for our round of two drinks meant this was one such occasion. But the pub itself was glorious and the food better.

But it was our next stop which was the highlight of th trip. The Grainstore Brewery is at Oakham station and their Brewery Tap is a pub I could have stayed in for the rest of my life. My pint of mild was stunning and I was as happy as a pig in shit. But imprudent planning meant we only had time for one here before going back to Melton and, after another pint in the Boat, home to Luton.

Preston

The rigours of work have led to an unexpected familiarity with Preston station developing over the last few weeks. With plenty of time and an ever reliable thirst I headed to the pubs.

The Wetherspoons, the Grey Friar, was extraordinary only in that everybody seemed to know each other, the Old Black Bull upset me by having something brewed by C*rlsberg masquerading as an ale brewed specifically for that pub, and I was so tired when in the Old Dog and Partridge that I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless that it gave equal prestige to real ale and rock music.

But it was the Black Horse that captured my heart. With a tremendous unspoilt interior, a wide range of ale (mainly Robinson’s), a couple of snugs, and open fires it was a real gem. I could have stayed forever.

But I moved on as I needed to eat. And it was a mistake. Wetherspoons had a wide range of festive ales and foolishly I ordered one. There may be ample reasons to dislike Christmas but it is festive ales alone that leave me wondering if the incarnation was really worth it.

The Northampton Loop

There are only two stations on the Northampton loop – Long Buckby and Northampton – and, given that my last blog post was about Northampton I wasn’t planning on going back.

I added the stations at either end of the loop to make it more of a crawl; starting in Rugby – at the brilliant Merchants Inn – and ending in Wolverton – at the dreadful North Western. But it was Long Buckby that stole my heart.

I didn’t even know if there was a pub in the village when I got of the train but trudging up the hill from the station I saw signs to put a spring in a thirsty man’s step. Beer Festival!

Beer Festival

The discrete sign points to beery heaven

And so I found myself in the rugby club sampling several of the ales on offer, enjoying a great welcome, and thinking visiting Long Buckby gives a glimpse of heaven.

I still don’t know if there is a pub in the village. Probably best to make sure it is beer festival weekend before you head there.

Northampton

I was warned that Northampton was a bit of a disappointment – and this by someone from Bolton so presumably without particularly high standards – and a grim railway station seemed to back her claim up. But then I stumbled upon the Church of St Peter, a real gem, and my opinion of the place was immediately revised. But no time for culture, this trip was for pubs and football.

The good people of Northamptonshire CAMRA speak highly of the Wig & Pen, a recent (2012) local pub of the year, in the Good Beer Guide. Whilst undoubtedly the ale selection was decent I was left deeply disappointed after my visit. A good pub ruined by inane background music and huge (silent) televisions I can cope with but a member of bar staff who seemed entirely unfamiliar with mild as a form of beer entirely ruined it for me.

‘Have you got a mild on?’
‘Erm… mild… erm… probably London Pride is the mildest’

I don’t even know why this means. And this during CAMRA’s Mild Month.

I drank a pint of Elgood’s Black Dog Mild, quietly seething in a corner, and left. The mild was served excessively cold.

Hardly the worst place to drink if you know your ale but a pub that doesn’t even bother to educate its bar staff is clearly not a pub that gives a shit about real ale. I hoped for better in the Malt Shovel Tavern.

What a difference! Another member of staff unsure as to what mild is but this time with the confidence to ask a colleague who then went to the cellar where they had a barrel tapped containing the same black dog mild and a glorious pint was brought to me – and 18% less expensive too.

For this and any number or reasons this is a champion pub. If you are ever in Northampton then do come here. It is outstanding.