Sunday, 17 January 2016

BRAPA - My three last Bedfordshire pub ticks!

Although I was giving myself a 14 hour day to complete the remaining three pubs I needed for Bedfordshire's 2016 GBG entries, I was still a bit nervous that I might return home without the desired conclusion, as planning the day had been a strategical nightmare and I ended up with 4 scenarios to choose from!  (Option 2 worked best).

Starting my walk from Woburn Sands to Salford
I was in Bedford for 10am, and a local one carriage train (class 153 for you geeks) sped off to Woburn Sands where I 'alighted' (quirky archaic term) to make the two mile walk to Salford, which here is actually pronounced "Sal-ford" and not "Sol-ford".  It was frosty under foot but bright sunshine with no cloud in the sky, and I enjoyed the trek although the lack of pavement made it quite hairy at times and the constant jumping up and down onto a grass verge was a good test of the improving ankle, which I don't like to talk about(!)

Waiting for the Red Lion to open on a frosty morning in rural Beds.

781.  Red Lion Hotel, Salford

Having lurked in the village just long enough to have the local Neighbourhood Watch twitching their curtains, I went for broke at 10:57am and was delighted when the door swung open.  Salford was an extremely remote village which would be idyllic if it wasn't for the M1 motorway within earshot.  The landlord looked so surprised at my presence, I asked if he really was open but this was no Dolphin in Robin Hood's Bay and I was soon "enjoying" the only ale on, Wells Eagle, a beer I probably won't miss too much now Beds is finished (well, til' September!)  This was as good as I have had it, and the landlord explained that they normally have two or three, but lack of trade due to January plus their remote location means he'd be wasting beer if he put any more on.  I sympathised.  He was a really nice chap and we chatted whilst I warmed up on the real fire in the front bar.  This was very much a pub despite the obvious reliance on the "feeders" (as I might start calling people who come into pubs mainly to have a meal).  His wife scurried about too, getting logs for the fire, and mine host was soon quizzing me on 60's music but sadly my knowledge is limited because (a) I'm too young and (b) 60's music is 95% boring (a Simon fact!).  We chatted BRAPA and without even asking, he gave me a taxi number to save me a similarly dodgy walk back.  This was a classic example of a BRAPA 11am opener where I'm the only customer, and yes, the pub was worth the effort to get there.   As I left, I got my first BRAPA handshake since Skipsea a year ago.

Great fire, great carpet - Red Lion in Salford, Beds.
The taxi driver didn't exactly inspire confidence, late turning up, smelling of Baileys, sounded like he was snoring whilst driving, and I couldn't understand a word he said.  It was all a bit Father Jack and I was glad to arrive at the station in one piece!

The train back to Bedford was on time, but I had far too long to wait for the 27 bus, so again I taxied as it is only about 2.5 miles,  This one was slightly more convincing, and very friendly too 

782.  Polhill Arms, Renhold

Actually in 'Salph End' rather than Renhold, this place seemed just as remote as Salford despite it's relative closeness to Bedford, though my initial reaction was that it lacked the charm of the last pub.  I think this was all about the seating, not a huge factor you might think, but the scattered tables of 4 covering the entire floor rather some nice proper bench seating did it no favours at all.  Men of all ages 18-80 were glued intently to Spurs v Sunderland despite nothing happening.  At least there were 3 jolly old chaps who'd arrived and asked the West Ham supporting landlord if the warm sausage rolls on the bar were free to drinkers.  I tried to offer my support, but the answer was a resounding "no". I sat a bit away from the TV, the sun reflecting off the screen anyway, and mine host noticed my GBG on the table so I explained this was my penultimate Beds tick.  We were soon chatting about York, his favourite pubs being - in order - (1) Burns Hotel (Hansom Cab) (2) Golden Lion (3) Hole in the Wall, and his favourite beers were Sam Smith's OBB and Black Sheep.  Well, I nodded politely and was glad the Dark Star Partridge + Polhill Arms trumped all of the above!  In fact, I tried to get him to see that Black Sheep for me, was like Bombardier & Eagle is for him but he had a long line of impatient customers wanting him to return to the bar to serve them.  Sunderland then scored, no one reacted.  Within seconds, Spurs scored, I think someone twitched an eyebrow.  Time raced on, it was time to leave. 

York pub chit-chat at the Polhill Arms
After 5 minutes walking, I reached a villagey area where Google Maps seemed to suggest a bus would stop outside "number 30", despite the lack of bus stop.  It seemed to be getting colder but my taxi'ing meant I was well on schedule, and eventually, a bus turned up and did stop to my relief.  

I walked back to Bedford railway station and took the next train to Luton, where I nodded politely at a few "Town" fans who were looking nervous as they were due to host Cambridge Utd.  I took my third taxi of day, having made a total balls up of my Wigmore Lane bus last time, and another jolly chap seemed pleased with himself that he'd heard of the pub.  Here we go, LAST PUB! 

783.  Wigmore Arms, Luton

If there was a BRAPA award for "best pub which is part of an Asda retail park", then this would win it.  I had serious reservations then on entering, especially as a mean looking couple eye-balled me as I took the BRAPA photo.  I couldn't walk in and bask in the "having completed Bedfordshire" glory either as the pub was packed of middle agers drinking, laughing, covering the floorspace and watching the football scores coming through on Sky Sports News.  Actually, I'd heard this pub screens 'Luton Town TV', perhaps the subscription has lapsed or the thought of watching them at present is enough to empty an entire pub, because there was no sign of it.  The landlord was the third impressive one of the day, one of those larger than life tall fellows whose very presence seems to fill the pub.  His arms were like Mr Tickle's, meaning he could pull pints from separate ends of the bar.  It was busy so this was 'handy'.  The pub had looked like a horrific Hungry Horse/Sizzler thing from the outside, so the fact it felt like a WMC inside could only be a good thing.  The array of pump clips stuck up behind the bar was ultra impressive, so why then was Bombardier (minus raspberry jam taste of Clophill) the most exciting beer on?  I sat on a strange two seater that seemed to have been nicked from a local cinema and squinted up at the football scores.  This was directly above a seat where Luton's answer to Ronnie and Roxy from Eastenders were sat (sexy but deadly!) and I think 'Roxy' thought I was eyeing her up though I was actually just amazed to see Hull City were 4-0 up before half time, which makes the Wigmore the luckiest BRAPA pub to date aswell.  The ladies were joined by two men, an ageing Olly Murs and southern Mick McCarthy, it all looked a bit awkward, so I went to get a bus (delayed again!) back into town.

Not as bad as it looks - the Wigmore in Luton
So with Hull City 6-0 up and Bedfordshire completed in great time, life was pretty good.  BRAPA being BRAPA, the good fortune couldn't last as I took the train to Harpenden for an unresearched bonus tick minutes from the station.

It was trying to snow by now, there was ticket barrier chaos, and the Harpenden Arms was closed for refurbishment which was annoying under the circs, showing you can't rely on anything.

Subway mural of Harpenden Arms pub sign was as good as it got! 
Not to be outdone, I hopped on and off at St Albans City and deciding not to do the nearest ones (time was still on my side), I walked out to the part of town known as Sopwell.

Great side street location in Sopwell, St Albans
784.  Garibaldi, St Albans

"Oooh, St Albans, the home of CAMRA, ooh isn't it lurvely, you should be grateful to those bearded sandal wearing founding fathers, you wouldn't be doing BRAPA if it wasn't for them!"  Sorry to be flippant, but this was what I heard in my head as I walked into the pub, I always feel a pressure of coming to this town and the expectant look of the locals just made me feel that they somehow know more than me,  About what I'm not sure.  The best thing about this pub was it's location, a beautiful side street pub, you cannot beat it, I just wish there were more - I love the Wellington in York and that chilly Dog & Bone in Lincoln for the same reasons.  It was Saturday evening now, so getting served was a challenge, but being the theme of the day, the wiry energetic barmaid was buzzing around with eyes in the back of her head, she knew I was stood at the bar before I did!  Getting a seat was tricky, the right hand side with welcoming fire seemed to have the best atmosphere, but everyone else had realised this too so I had to go to a separate area to the left, possibly an extension, and way to the heated astro-turfed smoking area that people insisted on using despite the sub zero temperatures.  As I sat alone and nursed my heavy Gale's HSB, I couldn't help but think back to my first pub of the day and wonder how different this would have been at opening time?  Now I've been in plenty of Fullers pubs, but this one seemed to ram the message home more than most, with branding everywhere you turned.  But it was friendly as a few random people said 'bye' to me on the way out.

Nice glass!  A pint of ESB and my GBG in the Garibaldi.

So that was a nice strategic diversion in that I now have 6 pubs remaining to visit in St Albans, meaning I could make a day of it and learn to love the town (7 would have been a step too far!)

Fullers, Fullers everywhere - and plenty of drops to drink
A little bit paranoid, I headed back to London with plenty of time to spare having been caught out more than once in the past.  This afforded me chance to visit a newly refurbished 'craft' beer house, a couple of mins walk from Kings Cross, a pre-emptive for sure.

Scottish Stores, Kings Cross, London

And the hype was justified.  This has some great old features, and has been redone in the old 1901 style (whatever that is) as it's been more recently a strip club catering mainly for Scunthorpe Utd fans.  It was predictably busy, with a heady mixture of wide eyed French tourists, bearded hipsters and a few scattered worse for wear (wear/Wear - geddit?) Sunderland fans waiting for probably the same train home as me.  The barmaid was a friendly thing and keen to advise people on the wealth of beers on offer, though when a Sunderland man motioned that I was next with his thumb, she darted off to other side of the bar but at least he tried.  Bar etiquette told me it was too busy for tasters and daft questions, so when she returned, I launched straight into a Hopback Winter Lightning cos I love the Summer one so much,  Luckily, there was a stool for one in the corner which gave to chance to admire the place, no wonder the heritage dudes are impressed, I was too and this was all about drinking and chatting.  When a bored French couple went to the loo, 4 students took their seats but there was no argument, well apart from when one of the lads pointed out the William Morris wallpaper to his girlfriend, which upset her greatly and he seemed unimpressed by her lack of cultural prowess.  It was that kind of place. 

Inside Scottish Stores
Well, next time in London I'll definitely be passing through here.  Parcel Yard was actually 4 deep at the bar so I just used it as a toilet (the pub, not the bar), got my Upper Crust and was soon careering back North in the snow, turning my headphones up to drown out the Sunderland fans who were getting around the "dry" train rule by drinking quite openly and singing 80's hits - a novel approach. 






  1. May I formally congratulate you yet again on clearing another county.

    There is only one episode of Father Ted that I can think of in which Jack drives, and it doesn't end well. I'd suggest being in the back of the car on that evidence if you get such a feeling.

    Being too young to know about 60s music is not a good enough excuse, it would be a red card offence on Poinless, even so you don't actually get sent off. That said I also know bugger all about the subject and can't proffer and excuse at all, apart possibly from ignorance.

    Harpenden Arms could presumably work next time we are at the Kennel, assuming nothing else gets in the guide in the meantime. I suppose the same could be said of St. Albans. Was the ticket barrier chaos merely a case of break of journey not being recognised on your presumably Woburn Sands - London piece, or something more sinister?

    Assuming we have time, I look forward to Scottish Stores next week, although I reckon there is potential to use your red pen on the way from the ground to Kings Cross. I'm thinking Kensington area, where we'll need to change anyway.

  2. Thanks Thomas kind sir, probably my best BRAPA achievement to date.

    I am pleased with my lack of 60's knowledge, but I do know 1977 and that was before my time too.

    I think I confused ticket barriers by hopping on and off but someone else had same problem. I will be doing St Albans as a day in it's own right.

    There is a South Kensington pub I need for way back if train times allow, only 0.3 walk. Perhaps we can sneak in Scottish Stores too!

  3. I believe 1977 was the year the suburban lines out of Kings Cross were electrified. I can't think of any other significant happenings.

    There are many ways to confuse ticket barriers, they aren't very intelligent. I confused a Newcastle one on Saturday by putting in a valid Metro ticket. The lovely barrier Ada upon seeing my ticket said "thank you very much sir" and let me on my way.

    St. Albans in its own right is a sensible idea, it would presumably require two trips to the Kennel / Vicarage Road all to itself otherwise. Probably long in the future I would imagine.

    South Kensington is a very sensible choice as it is one of the logical places to change on the way back from the ground anyway. The long termist in me would probably say 'but what if we ever play Chelsea?', but I think he would say that about anywhere on the way back from Craven Cottage, so he should be told to sod off.

    1. Ha, I hope that is a joke!

      Lovely barrier Ada? Hope she is like the one off Peaky Blinders.

      Glad you agree re South Kensington and especially St Albans. I might not pay much attention to your strategic advice but i see it as a bonus when you agree ha ha!

  4. Is it me or are your posts getting longer ?(not a complaint). I do like underpass street art, might post on it soon. Newcastle Under Lyme is tops.

    I am worried your BRAPA challenge will be invalidated if you take taxis though, half the point is walking along busy verges to get to the pub.

    St Albans is very cosy around the back streets of Sopwell, very middle class too(no offence). You've got some good pubs to do there' Red Lion and Mermaid stood out when I worked there 15 years ago.

    Sunderland fans are cheerful, aren't they ? Always pissed outside the Euston Tap when I'm in London.

  5. Yes I was aware it was a very wordy post, I must have kept sober enough to have plenty to say! Like a good bit of urban street art, please do.

    That's a very Tom-esque comment! My official line is BRAPA is hard enough and although occasional endangering of life is part of the adventure, it can be wearing.

    Mermaid looked exciting. I've done a lower red lion. I passed white hart tap which is also in GBG.

    Sunderland are my 2nd team, went to Uni there, always great fans and a great away day!