Monday, 25 May 2015

BRAPA - Bedfordshire Part IV

Finishing page three of the GBG in the Globe, Dunstable (see pub 656).

Our monthly trip to Bedfordshire saw me finish "page three" of the 2015 Good Beer Guide, and was easier than most Beds days, due mainly to the key place, Dunstable, having four pubs to tick off.

The journey down went smoothly, the 06:01 to London Kings Cross (you can't say I'm not committed), a St Pancras train to Luton and connecting bus along a new modern Busway into Dunstable, which seemed a decent little town, friendlier than Luton anyway!

652 - Gary Cooper, Dunstable - Being in Dunstable as early as 9:30am meant I was praising Wetherspoons, because where else on earth would you be able to order a pint at this time of day without anyone batting an eyelid?  In fact, the friendly staff were fighting over me which is a bit of a novelty for 'Spoons pubs, so it must have been quiet!  There was a nice selection of local brews on, I went for a nice mild called Black Stallion (being both May and very early meant it made sense) and spent the next 1.5 hours nursing it.  Gary Cooper was a famous Hollywood star who went to school here, and I sat near an impressive statue of him, as a cowboy, near the stairs up to the loo.  Even by 'Spoons standards, this place had a very modern feel, a little bit sterile in truth but you could see the excellent purpose that it serves.  Things started to warm a bit as the breakfasts started coming out of the kitchen at a rate of knots, a strange man started talking to himself on the stairs, and a barman smashed an entire tray, cups of tea and broken crockery went flying everywhere.  He declared "I haven't dropped anything since the year 2000!.  Quite a feat if true, but it was time to move on.

Gary Cooper - yeehaaah, early morning Spoons fun in Dunstable
653 - Pheasant, Dunstable - It was still a grey morning though at least it had stopped drizzling by the time I reached the Pheasant just after it's 11am opening time.  A theme of today was above average bar staff and a friendly barmaid broke off some strategic meeting with the landlord to serve me a beer by the localish Tring Dockey, a brewery that the jury's still out on for me.  It was nice to be in a proper old fashioned pub after the modern sparkle of the Wetherspoons, I sat in the corner and relaxed properly for the first time today, with some decent 80's hits from Billy Joel, the Bangles and Kate Bush emanating from the jukebox.  The few clientele who came in all had tattoos, like the barmaid, and I felt almost left out!  One chap didn't have any cash, the card limit was £10 so he ordered 3 pints of Strongbow to get him above the limit (like you do), and ploughed through them at the bar.  Most people sat up at the bar, but there wasn't much chat or community feel going on, probably a bit too early for that type of behaviour.  Nice pub.

On the west side of Dunstable at the Pheas.
I'd got a bit too entranced by a newspaper article on Billy Whitehurst so time had ticked on, and though a bus was stopping opposite in ten minutes, I decided the 1.5 mile walk to Totternhoe would probably do me good.  And a pleasant walk it was too, past the Dunstable Cricket Club who had a game on, and it became quite rural quite quickly.

654 - Old Farm Inn, Totternhoe - I had to get at least one village tick in (it wouldn't be a Bedfordshire BRAPA day otherwise) and despite the obvious Fullers tie, this was a real pub of the day contender.  This pub had a very different feel from the previous town efforts of Dunstable, a more lazy relaxed country atmosphere.  The back half of the pub was very much geared up for a food area called the 'Ploughmans' but this was kept so separate, it was not a problem (for once!), in fact you had to pretend you were off to the ladies loos to get to this bit.  All this left the front bar very much for drinkers, and what's more, with a gorgeous new Fullers ale called 'Wild River', I almost felt like an 18th century farmer finishing my shift in the fields out the back.  A docile pub dog completed the scene, whilst the staff seemed to run a very professionally, tight knit operation,  A few 'foody families' spoilt the calm momentarily, asking about playgrounds and juice for kids etc whilst a less docile dog sparked off a barking match with the pub one.  It all added to the experience.

Old Farm Inn - very much worth the short walk from Dunstable
655 - Victoria, Dunstable - I was still back in town for 2pm on what was fast becoming the most productive BRAPA day of 2015, shades of my Chester day a year ago this weekend.  But what was all this cracking off at the Victoria?  A busy, bustling hubbub, a real community style pub I hadn't been expecting and was a culture shock after the recent calm of Totternhoe.  Initially intimidated, I soon realised this was the friendliest pub of the day as a pretty young barmaid presided over a gaggle of old local men, most of which said 'hi' or at least acknowledged me as I took my pint of the local house beer back to a raised table in the corner.  This ale was again brewed by Tring, again I found it drinkable but not spectacular, and I spent ages "creating" it on Untappd, which gives an indication of how young, modern or trendy this pub is (i.e. not at all!)  Yet as I sat there, I felt this is how all pubs should be in terms of atmosphere and local camaraderie.  Well done Victoria!

Traditional pint of the house beer in a proper pub - I present ...the Victoria! 
656 - Globe, Dunstable - So the mini landmark of completing page three was achieved here, on the way back to the busses circling the giant Asda, and the Globe is probably the pub I'd expect most locals to see as the 'top real ale pub in the town'.  There was a very impressive beer range (I went for an admittedly strong Marmadale Cat from Norwich which I'm glad to say did taste of marmalade!).  There was also something about the bare boarded, deep but narrow pub layout, friendly staff and mixed assortment of regulars that reminded me of so many pubs I've been in before, I'm thinking in towns like Bath, Chester, Norwich, even my own York, where get a sense you've stumbled on a proper pub, yet a real serious drinkers institution.  If Hull City played Dunstable FC in the 1st qualifying round of the FA Cup in 2023, Ben Andrew would drag us here to find the SS (Southern Supporters) having already commandeered it.  As I was hungry, I sat far back in the pub (not being anti social) and ate some secret scotch eggs, before I realised eating your own food was acceptable in here anyway.  As so often is the case, a little yappy terrier dog ran up to me and when the owners told it up, I had to 'fess up that my scotch eggs were the root cause of this excitable pup's behaviour!

I hope it was the Globe I was in, I didn't actually see any evidence of it! 
I was remarkably sober and feeling fresh as I left Dunstable, and after a quick toilet stop / sight seeing tour in Luton where I briefly contemplated more pub ticks, I hopped on the next train back to St Pancras.  However, it was so early, I'd have been a fool not to make the most of my open ticket!

657 - Cross Keys, Harpenden - My first Hertfordshire "tick" since a distant Watford away game found me in the quaint but obvious commuter town of Harpdenden, where I took a stroll in the sun past many independent shops, some cobbled streets and a war memorial to this pub with quite a creaking ancient feel.  Flagstone floors and creaking beams were added to by an incredibly drunk duo at the bar, where the female (drunk Jo Brand) engaged me in chat, but I deemed her too pissed to explain the intricacies of BRAPA to!  Her male counterpart was more 'colourful character' than a drunkard.  It all added to my own surprising feeling of sobriety.  I retired to the more peaceful side room where a moody man was trying to read his newspaper without being disturbed.  I tried to be quiet as a mouse but still got an occasional scowl. I was disappointed by my ale, a Rebellion IPA which wasn't IPA in any way as far as I could ascertain.  Not pale, not strong, no fresh crisp hoppy taste.  A few visitors/tourists popped in to enquire on food and toilet usage, and that was that.

A rare Hertfordshire tick for me - the first since BRAPA became official.
Back on the train, I briefly flirted with a St Albans idea before deciding this founding CAMRA town deserves it's own uninterrupted BRAPA day some time soon.  Instead, I stayed a stop further on from St Pancas to Farringdon.

658 - Argyle, Hatton Garden - And close to Farringdon, I achieved my third and final tick in Hatton Garden, though this pub was not a patch on the Olde Mitre, never mind the wonderful Craft.  It hadn't started well as my GBG App had the pushpin in totally the wrong place, so I was wandering around in a suspicious manner with the recent Hatton Garden heist still fresh in the onlookers minds.  Oh dear.  I soon found my venue, quite a modern soulless feel and it felt like the day had come full circle as two eager young barstaff had to fight over who would serve me, such was their boredom at the lack of custom.  Poor things.  The ale range was boring, Hobgoblin Gold the most exciting of the three but I have to say, I love this ale and the quality was superb, a contender for pint of the day.  Some loud American tourists and a group of Japanese girls didn't help give this already modern building a good pubbub, and I resorted to looking for the darkest most hidden away nook n cranny in the place, in the end opting for a raised wooden style area.  I managed to remain undisturbed and found my eyes finally closing, so I brought myself round with a glass of lemonade and headed back to Kings Cross, for food supplies before the 19:11 back to York.

Argyle - almost as bland as this photo suggests.  Great beer though.
Having successfully avoided Phil Brown, I was surprised to find the 19:11 a dry service though I'd had enough, but not enough to stop me watching Eurovision on iPlayer, which I continued when I got back to York.  

Definitely one of the most successful and easy BRAPA days so far this year.  Though I didn't start singing "don't wanna go home, don't wanna go ho-o-ome, this is the best trip, I've ever been on".



  1. We will lose 4-0 at home against Hull United in the First preliminary round of the FA cup in 2023, thus not making the First qualifying round.

    It is a sad state of affairs that, St Albans aside, there is no pub between Harpenden and St. Pancras.

  2. I knew you'd be able to trump me on the Hull City underachievement front! That corridor of Herts is a pretty grim place alewise!