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.
Whilst staying at a holiday camp a trifle outside Penrith I popped into the town on Sunday morning to go to church and stumbled across a beer festival in the centre of town. If there is a God then she clearly loves me.
I was already impressed with Penrith the previous day when I fell of the train after a hellish journey and into the Agricultural Hotel. Other than the racist at the bar turning the beer sour (‘I don’t care where you were born there is no such thing as a black Englishman’) this pub was excellent, I had three Jennings brews (Cumberland, Sneck Lifter, and Bitter) and a glorious sausage and egg barm. Suitably rejuvenated I went on my way.
Reluctantly leaving the beer festival I killed the last hour before my bus in The Royal drinking an Eden Gold and watching England destroying the Australians in the second Ashes Test. I very much liked Penrith.
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.
It was far too lovely a Tuesday to do the pub crawl I had initially wanted to do so instead I managed to combine walking, trains, and a trio of pubs to produce a lovely day out.
First stop was Ridgmont – 1 ¼ miles from the village of the same name where the Rose and Crown was my first destination. I had hoped to have lunch here but the walk from the station was both entirely without charm and longer than the mileposts had promised. So instead I had a pint in a perfectly tolerable pub and headed back to the station. The beer on offer was Eagle and what I thought was called Major by McEwan’s (which I had) but I can find no trace of the latter ale on McEwan’s website.
Bletchley-bound London Midland 150109 arrives at Ridgmont
The Green Man in Lidlington came recommended by the person behind the @marstonvalecrp twitter. Another twitter user, @rwjc22, said of it, ‘nice boozer but beer not great.’ He was spot on. I had a pint of Ruddles before heading away.
The Green Man, Lidlington
After a catching the train to Millbrook I walked through the Millennium Country Park to Stewartby from where I caught the next train along the line to Kempston Hardwick. I was heading to the Chimney Corner pub on a wing and a prayer – the internet told me that it had reopened after many years shut but nowhere could I discern whether it was still open and whether it would be open in the afternoons. The walk to the pub, on a road busy with trucks, was not at all pleasurable and I was overjoyed to find a pint at the end of it.
I was delighted with the Chimney Corner. I had a pint of Trewlawny and hoped this pub could flourish. It had only been reopened since December and clearly had some way to go but I liked it very much and will go back – although I might have to seek a safer route.
The Chimney Corner, Kempston Hardwick
I knew I would need to keep myself well watered in order to make my few days in Cornwall bearable. So after getting off the train at Par I headed immediately into the Royal Inn for a pint of Dirty Tackle (Wychwood) to steel myself for the days ahead. And then I had another.
The pub itself seemed to have only just realised that it could be better and was showing signs of getting there. I hope indeed that it was improving – it had some way to go – and wasn’t stuck thusly.
The following day J and I went back to Par station for to explore the pubs of the Atlantic Coast Line to Newquay. Asking at the ticket office for a rover we were told that no such ticket existed. And, the fella added, why on earth would you want one? There is nothing to see or do at any of the intermediate stations.
The Great Western in Newquay would have been a dead loss were it not for the views which made the dreadful food and the uninspiring beer worth tolerating.
A quick ice-cream break and it was back on the train to Bugle and the The Bugle Inn. Which wasn’t a terrible place but I would hardly be rushing back.
Back then towards Newquay and alighting at St Columb Road where The Queen and Railway was shut. I ought to have realised – the opening hours were printed clearly on the useful leaflet produced by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership – but I failed to notice. There was absolutely nothing to do in St Columb Road and the weather was turning chilly. The next pub needed to be a cracker to save the day.
It was. The King’s Arms in Luxulyan is splendid. Friendly staff and locals – even if a conversation about J’s trip to the toilet as I ordered the drinks wasn’t strictly necessary – and wonderful beer. The food was even better. I had rabbit casserole to die for. This easily slotted in to the list of my seven favourite pubs. You should go there. It is brilliant.
There were other pubs during the rest of the time in Cornwall – but, sadly, no stations. I drank and I survived.
The least one expects from a pub near a station is for it to be open. On Wednesday 27 March I found myself in Colchester as I finished work for the Easter festivities and made my way to the Bricklayers, close to the North station and it was shut. Not a great start. It closes 2 – 5.30pm during the week which is a bit of a disaster for a weary traveller with a thirst.I instead went back to London undermined my otherwise impeccable republican credentials with a couple of pints of Lady Catherine (Grafton).
Easter weekend in Warrington with my family followed which included a trip to the Chapel House, nearest station Sankey (for Penketh), on the evening of Good Friday. This pub surprised me for being significantly better than I remembered. That they sold ale (I was on Black Sheep Best Bitter) was an unexpected bonus and made the evening tolerable. A poster in the pub suggested they support a cycling club – another point in their favour. There isn’t a great deal of choice near Sankey Station and I am certain that the Chapel House – imperfect as it undoubtedly is – is the best of the bunch.
On Holy Saturday I went to Wigan to watch Wigan Athletic play Norwich City (stadium number 30 in my effort to join the 92 club) and had a few pints before the match in the Berkeley. This is a big town centre place but a cracking selection of ales, plenty of televisions, and a warm welcome to both sets of supporters made this a good choice to watch the early match before the trip to the DW Stadium.
After church on Easter Sunday morning I had a cracking pint of Tipsy Angel Mild in the Lower Angel – where it is brewed. This is my recommended pub for thirsty travellers at Warrington Central station but I intend to do a fuller entry for Warrington, the town where I grew up, at some point so will leave much of it for then.
After a quiet Monday I went to Cornwall to continue drinking…
I had been in the Porter and Sorter before. It was one of my 46 pubs during my ‘pub a day’ Lent a couple of years ago (which is probably worth a blog entry of its own at some point). Yet I couldn’t remember any detail of the pub. Not even the name had stayed with me.
Sitting in this Marston’s pub and I was stuck by how good it was. A decent selection of ales, good staff, reasonably priced decent food and – such a rare treat these days – table service for diners. Trying to work out why this pub hadn’t lingered long in my memory I suddenly realised, this pub isn’t actually particularly good.
Pubs near stations – particularly in urban settings – are of such low overall quality that it is remarkable to find one that offers the basics that a thirsty traveller might need.
I drank a Brakspear Bitter as I waited for my train