Sunday, 19 July 2015

BRAPA - Bedfordshire - Part VI "Eastern Delights"

Sometimes in life, less is more.  Well, it isn't true of BRAPA where more is more and less is less, But after 4 gruelling hours of evening planning for this trip (a new record), I decided that staying in the east of the county might only yield three 'ticks', but I would lose less in terms of money and time.

The journey went well with a change at Peterborough, and I stayed on from Sandy to Arlesey even though the hapless ticket office girl in York tried to sell me a Sandal & Agbrigg ticket!

I had half an hour to wait for my bus, my plan was to pop into the 'Old Oak' next to the bus stop (a Greene King pub) but when I realised GBG entry Vicars Inn (which I visited last year) was round the corner, I went in.  On the plus side, they had a guest called Sand Cask-ale so I had a swift half in the front bar, where three locals faced up to the fact that immigrants weren't 'going home' any time soon and every time they turn on their TV, it is like watching Planet of the Apes.  Ah, casual racism, the staple of rural British pubs!  The landlady apologised but I claimed they had enhanced my experience.

The bus was on time, it stopped for me, first challenge out of the way.

708.  Brewery Tap, Shefford

Now call me picky but having read at B&T (Banks & Taylor) do 12 regular beers brewed in Shefford, you could expect to see more than three of them on!  Sure they were supplemented by the likes of Everards Tiger and two or three more, but to me, that is not a brewery tap in the truest sense.  It was a lovely relaxed place, bare boarded in the main bar, a cosier lounge, and a few sleepy locals at the bar.  One old chap asked his friend if he'd sent him a photo of a lady, which I think turned out to be Demi Moore, but no one knew what he was talking about and he was accused of sounding like a 'dirty old man', which he apparently wasn't.  The locals then realised one of their regulars was a former Luton and Chelsea footballer called Jimmy Husband so they looked him up on Wikipedia.  He has a "northern accent", they said with horror.  Food was how pub food should be, 'filled rolls' (sandwiches to you non pubbers) or nowt.  One visitor liked his first two filled rolls so much, he asked for a third but the barmaid declined because he was being "greedy" and other customer's might want one!  Classic anecdote.  I enjoyed my Shefford bitter, sitting at a reasonable distance away from the bar but feeling very much part of the pub, and that's as good a acid test as you can get.

Always nice to get your drink in the right glass!  Shefford Bitter in Brewery tap.
Bus back to Arlesey, train to Biggleswade and after a bit of lunch, I headed for the bus station but the 188 was delayed by over 10 minutes.  And when it did finally arrive, the sense of urgency between the old and new driver in the 'change-over' was ridiculously lacking.   A girl from Dunton commented we always have this problem on this service!  

709.  March Hare, Dunton

But hurrah, get out the party poppers, I finally made it to this multi-award winning Beds pub in a rather remote village!  You may remember I came here back in March and knocked on the house door of the owners, only to be told it doesn't open til 2pm - I didn't hang around on that day.  Anyway, when I saw the beer range and little multi roomed pub, I realised it was worth the wait.  Not many Beds pubs are freehouses with this many ales.  However, there was trouble in paradise as the couple who own it were arguing and stressed out, and I had to wait a while to get served.  Luckily, she didn't recognise me from March!  When I asked what was occurring, it seemed they had a wedding party due, her husband was also co-ordinating a folk band playing at the village church and most pressing, the ladies loos had been blocked up with toilet paper and caused a flood!  I shuffled out into the delightful little beer garden at the front, so as not to be in the way or get drenched by toilet water.  The sun was properly out now it was a lovely day, drinking my Salopian Hop Twister in the sun (with a scotch egg I'd smuggled in) - good things come to those who wait.  From my vantage point, I scoured the landscape for wedding groups or churchie folk bands.  The delayed bus and delays being served meant there was too much pressure on getting to Wrestlingworth in time for the connecting bus, so I stayed here for another and got the later 188 instead.  It made sense.  As I went back in to get a swift half from the local Buntingford brewery, an American father was giving his kids a lesson in reverse psychology, he then demanded landlady bring her husband to them, and then the kids crumbled under pressure and confessed all about the blocked toilets with a most humble apology!  What drama. 

Classic BRAPA experiences at the (Mad) March Hare
Chequers, Wrestlingworth

A short bus ride two villages north of Dunton took me here, to Bedfordshire's "most improved pub of the year" though as Tom Irvin had pointed out, it might depend on what level of rubbishness it was improving from!  So I managed my expectations and glad I did, as they only had two ales on (one of interest) and the young barmaid told me it was her first day, and I had to make her realise that the beer that comes out of hand pumps is called 'real or cask ale'!  Poor lass, she'd been left alone as in a far corner of the garden, everyone else who worked here seemed to be doing some excavation, or that's how it sounded from the toilet window.  No doubt it was a fantastic old creaky pub, though the tinkly wind chime bell things got in the way of anyone taking a drink outside.  I can see this pub getting a future GBG, it was good enough in Beds terms to be classed 'pre-emptive'.  I sat out as I knew I'd need to ring for a taxi to Sandy, but with the low beams, no signal inside.  What I didn't realise, no signal outside either!  I even walked a few hundred yards down the road each way to see if I could pick something up, but nothing doing.  I went to ask at the bar and being her first day, young barmaid was very responsive to my problem, but the one taxi man she knew answered his phone but was 'away' somewhere.  He may have been Derek from Potton, who I was going to look up myself.  In the end, one of the locals at the bar came to the rescue and said if I bought him a pint in the Queen's Head, he'd drive me.  Stuart was his name, a local builder.  Despite being very grateful, I had my BRAPA head on and having explained my challenge, negotiated a change of venue to the William Peel, the 'tick' I needed!

I'm not sure how much Stuart had drank, I didn't ask, though he seemed quite fresh, but it was a life saver to get in a lift in his rickety red autombile.  What I didn't realise was that he purposefully never locks his car (some misguided "you can trust everyone around here"), so I had to bite my tongue when I found this out as I'd left my bag on the front seat.  In some ways in was a parallel of Wootton in April.  On that day, I'd found a beautiful pub, called the Chequers, in a village beginning with "W", and got a lift from locals to my next venue.  Almost spooky.   

Lovely improved pub, no phone reception - Chequers in Wrestlingworth
710.  Sir William Peel, Sandy

Again, you could see the quality shining through as soon as you entered this dark and bustling pub.  Any pub in the Oakham Oakademy (for keeping Oakham ales well) gets a bonus point from me, though I declined the JHB in favour of a Bateman's XB because this is what Stuart wanted, and it is a Bateman's pub.  Really enjoyed it actually.  Stuart is one of those 'characters' who knows everybody, and will speak to anyone he doesn't.  Despite never remembering my name, I was introduced to loads of people who he told about my BRAPA challenge,  I got the impression most people put up with him rather than really liked him, though despite being a loudmouth, he was a decent chap underneath all the bluster.  We sat in the beer garden (well, smokers drinking area) and I got chatting to a woman who turned out to be the landlady.  Her son is moving to York soon, and she thinks he will spend most of his time in the York Tap despite getting a top teacher's position!  She gave me a guided tour of the rooms they use for beer festivals, where her son is temporarily using as his bedroom - doesn't look very comfy I had to say.  Stuart then popped back up and said we had time to go to Queen's Head before my train, oh the joy!

Sir William Peel, taken on my aborted visit in March

Queen's Head, Sandy

Pre-Stuart, this had been a bonus/pre-emptive pub I'd had earmarked if needed - a Greene King one which was nice enough, but probably isn't going to trouble the GBG compilers any time soon thought the side entrance through a gate was a cool way in.  Stuart insisted he buy this round despite my best efforts, I even tried to give him petrol money which he refused, so I ended up with a very cheap day.  Just as well cos the Old Speckled Hen and guest ale (can't remember which it was) was typically Bedfordshire over £3.50 a pint.  Again, Stuart did his ambassadorial role, tried to chat up the landlady who cowered on an outdoor table and we chatted to a few pleasant locals who'd seemingly been at my previous three pubs already today - we could have hired a minibus between us.  Stuart insisted on dropping off at the station (it was a 5 minute walk for me!) so I said goodbye, 20:03 was on time, and I was soon at Peterborough and then York for KFC and bed by midnight.

Another eventful Bedfordshire trip.  See you Wednesday for a midweek update and latest news.





  1. After your understandable move in Arlesey, I would now find it quite amusing if the Old Oak were to ever get into the guide.

    What did the bus ticketing end up being?

    I do wonder whether the kids actually did block the toilets or whether they simply crumbled under interrogation for something they didn't do.

    The thought of a brand new barmaid and mass excavation in the corner of a pub garden makes me suspicious. Have I watched too many Taggart / Morse / Frost, or is this valid suspicion?

    I'm always an approver of a fill in move like the Queens Head, you never know when you might come to appreciate that pint in future. That could have saved you a Beds day just for 1 pub in 20 years time. Top move.

  2. I do regret doing Vicars instead of Old Oak looking back, would serve me right! Still, I have a sneaking suspicion I haven't seen the last of East Beds in the next year or so.....

    I saw your bus email about half way round. Amazingly, a 10 minute Arlesey to Shefford return cost £6.30 but a Biggleswade-Dunton (I luckily forgot Wrestlingworth at that stage) was less than £4 but longer journey!).

    The American father was saying to the kids "well I'm GLAD you did NOT do it" at one point, and from then, they seemed to confess, it was all very strange. That is a good point about Wrestlingworth grave digging, it makes sense, they were very distant from her.

    I have three plans for tomorrow in theory. Colton, Wetherby/Sicklinghall or Southowram, All have merits and minus points. Which will I choose. Colton isn't that much easier on a weekend (no Sunday bus) so it feels better fit for a midweek.