Sunday 19 April 2015

BRAPA - The Villages of Bedford

Water-side drinking at the Plough in Bolnhurst (see pub 623).
My quest to complete all Bedfordshire pubs by the end of 2015 started slowly yesterday.  Firstly, engineering works meant a 3 hour plus journey to London via L**ds, and Bedford's new bus station was a confusing affair, typically the bus I needed to get to my first destination was one of the few still going from a replacement stop across town so I missed one of these.

And then, when bus 28 did arrive, the driver had no idea where Bolnhurst was so a local old lady from nearby Keysoe and former bus driver who looked about 200 years old were on hand to advise him.  Even then, he stopped in the wrong place.  And even at the right stop, it was a 0.8 mile walk along a un-paved road to the pub with motorbikes storming past.  The North Beds scenery was at least, picturesque but 1pm before my first pint?  I'm glad all BRAPA pub ticks aren't such a huge undertaking!!

623 - PLOUGH, Bolnhurst - Set back off the road was a large white building which I took to be the Plough.  It took some getting in, with a weird latch almost destroying my last ounce of patience after all the effort it had taken to get here!  I was expecting a gastropub from the descriptions, and the first words I heard on entering the pub were "yes, but do you get tomatoes with that?!" and you could see through the bar to a gaggle of white-clad cheffy people in the kitchen.  However, a couple of interesting ales and very friendly staff made up for this, and being a nice day, I took my pint of Church End Hooker outside to stop me resenting the almost restuaranty set up too much.  In fact, a helpful barman opened the conservatory door for me (I could've chosen a more straightforward route near the loos) and then brought me some complimentary crisps, the proper thick handmade type.  It is little touches of class like this that you remember.  As I sat on the smart patio in the sun alongside a pretty pond (which looked more like a stream), this was as content as I felt all day, maybe I'd peaked too soon as the taxi arrived to take me back into Bedford.

The Plough was one of the trickiest BRAPA pubs I've ever tried to get to! 
My taxi driver reflected that, Bedfordshire has become prime London commuter area with people wanting the buy up property and land, with little sentiment for old British traditions like the humble pub.  Thus, pubs like the Plough at Bolnhurst have to 'evolve' to stay open and successful,  Sad maybe, but true and it was a similar story at my next 'pub'. 

624 - KNIFE & CLEAVER, Houghton Conquest - After a delayed no. 42 bus where a friendly bus driver lady seemed to instinctively know I was visiting Houghton Conquest for this pub, she dropped me off right outside.  I had a few reservations having read about Michelin stars and French chefs so although you could never describe it has a traditional pub, it certainly felt pubbier than expected with the dining area hidden away to the back.  I saw York Terrier was the guest ale, so ordered this with a sense of irony which back fired when I was charged £4 a pint by a grungy barmaid who later described a new wine as tasting like "cat wee", though my general feeling was again of a hardworking, well run pub with lots of barmen running round asking if I wanted another drink, something to eat etc.  I shuffled into an alcove to enjoy my pint and a strange sad sense of being alone suddenly hit me, not sure why, maybe I was channeling a ghostly energy of a murdered French chef!

Arriving in the brilliantly named Houghton Conquest
625 - OLD SUN INN, Ampthill - The day was really warming up now, both in a weather sense and in a BRAPA sense and this was a "big tick" for me being the second pub in the GBG, meaning I had completed page one.  Geek I am.  I'd canvassed local opinion on this pub before, answers like "it's okay", "it's decent" and "it's fine" were amongst the opinions.  In the blazing mid afternoon sun sat on benches on the main road at the front, I grew to really enjoy this experience.  Again, the ale range wasn't spectacular but my Adnams Broadside (not traditionally a summertime quaffer) was top quality.  Had I sat inside, I doubt I'd have enjoyed it so much.  The place was running with dogs (and smelt of them) and kids belonging to the outdoor adults were playing with them.  Kids in pubs = it's a no from me!  There was quite a friendly community hub building up outside, and a shame that a much anticipated beer garden behind the pub still hasn't been finished, everyone agreed.  A couple of MILF's with young teenagers chatted with a friendly family who's kids had a craving for bags of Quavers, and I was just getting included in the conversations when my taxi arrived, so I said a cheery bye and went on my way.

Outdoor fun in the sun at the Sun (which wad fun)
626 - CHEQUERS, Wootton - I took a taxi because otherwise, I'd have had to get a 42 back to Bedford and start again, and time was starting to tick on and I was just getting into my stride.  £18 later, I was regretting the decision thinking a 7 mile journey should surely cost less, even if it was a very meandering route we took.  Was I fleeced?  Well, it didn't matter as I arrived at the lovely, creaky ancient looking Chequers and it was easily the friendliest pub of the day.  A young chap and the barmaid were soon learning about BRAPA, and I then went to sit with two older ale drinking chaps called Cliff and John and we chatted on beer festivals, and pubs in Beds and Yorks.  This was the proper village community pub I'd been craving all day, such a happy atmosphere and although I heard it had almost closed for similar reasons to so many Bedfordshire village pubs - it would have been a tragedy.  Cliff & John kindly offered to drive me to my next pub, as they live at Kempston anyway, but not before another pint, so I was clock-watching and trying not to look impatient, aware I had to be in London for my connection to York.  Probably pub of the day.

Old, friendly, a bit creaky - and I don't just mean Cliff and John.
Cliff, the older of the two, was our driver.  I just sat in the back and closed my eyes, not really wanting to know how many pints they'd had.  They then gave me old gossip relating to my next pub, intriguing tales of cancer, cheating wives & barred regulars!  

627 - HALF MOON, Kempston - There was no sign of any of the above drama these days, just another friendly community style village local.   The barman/landlord was very impressive, giving me a choice of football matches to view, he reminded me a bit of Karl Beattie from Most Haunted fame.  However, the real star of the pub was a bulldog who was introduced to a bar area of local dog lovers (I kept my distance though he waddled over for a stroke at one point!) but he went from hero to zero in a matter of seconds when he farted, almost clearing the place out.  This was as dramatic as things got, I was disappointed that local favourite Wells Eagle IPA (reassuringly tasting of copper coins) was the only ale on with two handpumps turned round, whilst the pub lacked a certain cosy feel though the people were warm (not literally, well I don't know, I didn't rub against any one!) Christina at work's sister lives in Kempston, and as I walked to the bus stop, it seemed a picturesque high class suburb of Bedford.  

Bulldog action in the Half Moon, before he farted! 
I needn't have panicked about train connections, I even had time for a very leisurely pint at the Parcel Yard in King's Cross.  More engineering works and a mixture of Leeds, Sheff Wed, Hartlepool and Scunthorpe fans made for one of the most agonizing journey's home ever.  And this was a dry train. You'd never have known! I even had to change at Leeds, but was back in York for 00:03 as expected.

All in all, another successful Bedfordshire outing, it now moves into 7th in the "pub" league table and I'll be back next month for some Dunstable based fun, my first real venture to the south of the county.


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