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.
Work took me to Chesterfield and I had planned in advance to visit the Chesterfield Arms. The Good Beer Guide heaped lavish praise on this place and deservedly so. The short walk from the station in the heat of the day left me gasping for a drink and the array of ales was most welcome – there would be more still had it been the weekend. This is an excellent pub and heartily recommended. I had a couple of pints of Scoundrel by Leatherbritches.
East Midland Trains and Network Rail combined to make my journey home a terrible one but missing my connection at Leicester left me with three quarters of an hour to kill and a renewed thirst to satisfy. I popped into the Barley Mow which the Leicester Drinker (local CAMRA newsletter) told me had been recently refurbished. The beer was good, the discount for CAMRA members most welcome, and they seem to be well on their way to achieving their aim of ‘creating a recognised ale house’. I had a swift pint of Everards’s Tiger before heading off.
I have been told by a number of people that Leicester is an excellent place for a drinker. Sadly time didn’t allow further exploration but the Barley Mow was a very good introduction.
Note: I hadn’t noticed at the time but both of these pubs seem to be Everards inns. The brewery seems to run a good pub indeed.
I think that when a branch of Wetherspoons makes it into the Good Beer Guide it says more about the other pubs locally than it does about the quality of the pub concerned. But since the guide did recommend it, and I have some CAMRA vouchers that need using before the end of the month, I popped into the Watch House in Lewisham.
It was of course what one expects of a Wetherspoons pub, entirely unremarkable save for an excellent selection of real ales (5) and real ciders (3 – I think). And the pint of Old Engine Oil (Harviestoun) was a cracking drop of porter with which to toast the news that the beer duty escalator had been scrapped in the chancellor’s budget today. Congratulations are due to the Campaign for Real Ale for orchestrating an excellent campaign.