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
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.
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.
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!
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.