Sunday 15 November 2015

BRAPA - Luton & Whipsnade

One of the most low-key BRAPA pubs ever (see no.741) 

There's no doubt about it, I'm going to have to work hard to finish ticking off the remainder of Bedfordshire's pub entries after a day (best described as "uncomfortable") yielded only 3 ticks.

My minimum aim setting off was 4, the 3 remaining Luton ones plus Whipsnade, with a leisurely crawl back into London taking in a couple of St Albans ticks, for example.  As it turned out, no chance!

Omens didn't bode well from the off as my Grand Central train was crawling with brownies off on some kind of London beezer.  Mrs Brown Owl was next to me, constantly moving around, making sure kids n adults were ok, handing out food etc.  But she was considerate of fellow passengers so I couldn't hate her, and I couldn't move as almost every seat was reserved.

Then, there was the weather with remnants of Hurricane Abigail or the other one, it was heavy rain and winds all day.  And I mean all day!

Still, I couldn't blame Luton for anything that went wrong.  The people were smiley, the immediate city centre was refurbished and clean (not sure about the outer reaches) and it shows you shouldn't go into a town with too many pre-conceptions.

739.  London Hatter, Luton

A slight train delay and St Pancras was followed by an interminable wait for service at the bar - the type of which only ever seems to happen in Wetherspoons.  Seriously, it's match day, Luton are at home to Barnet, this pub is an early opener on a wet day in the city centre, and they have ONE barmaid on??  Not good enough.  And then a jolly rugged Luton man told me I should've shouted up, but I knew the Barnet fan to the right was before me.  Bar Etiquette it's called.  In fact, the clash of various shades of amber and orange football shirts was enough to give anyone a headache.  I wished I'd worn my Hull City top for extra clashing and confusion!  The atmosphere though was sedate and friendly, as I took a pint of ale from Orkney to the very back corner.  Time had ticked along so quickly, I no longer had to think about how to fill in time before the Whipsnade bus.  The police wandered in, noticeable because the pub atmos immediately went down a notch, but they had no business here and the two Barnet fans looked visibly shaken by their presence!  My beer was typically Wetherspoons in flavour, but better quality than some with the initials TJS in Hull for example.  Despite my efforts to "try and get out of the way", a huge group of Luton fans (about 15 including one girl embarrassed by her Dad) blocked me in to the corner so escaping was a struggle!

Grey, concrete, wet - Luton Wetherspoons time! 
But escape I did and I was soon catching the X31 service to Whipsnade.  Seriously though, what a painful and convoluted bus route through the back streets of Luton.  Combined with heavy traffic (football related perhaps?  Though there were ambulances), I'd been on the bus three quarters of an hour by the time we anywhere near my destination and my bladder (having a worse day than usual) was struggling so I 'bailed' at the next village down Kensworth.  I knew my pub was on the right side of Whipsnade (in more ways than one), but I still had a typically dodgy no-pavement walk in pouring rain to the next pub, sodden feet didn't dry for the rest of the day!

740.  Old Hunters Lodge, Whipsnade

In other circumstances, this could have been a cracker - what with a beautiful thatched roof, ancient tudor building and cracking pub garden at the front.  Nevertheless, it was still very good and the jolly rounded host gave me a run down of the ales, I asked for a "restoration owl" but he'd actually said "restoration ale" from Leighton Buzzard's newish brewery.  Dark, warming, strong, just what I needed at this stage.  Helping out with food and stuff was a friendly brunette girl, and had the whole pub been like the right hand side, it'd definitely have had "green owl" (i.e. my perfect pub) elements.  I sat in a little snug with a low hanging beam, it was so ancient, I knew I was in the best place.  I wonder how many people have hit their head on that over the years.  Barmaid kept stealing chips from a plate, which I thought gave her a good dishonest edge, til I realised this was her own lunch.  Meanwhile, a blonde girl who I assumed was a barmaid on maternity leave came in, so there was lot of cooing over a baby, whilst the Dad kept singing it a song about "big butts" which amused nobody but himself.  Time had raced on like it does in good pubs, and I quickly had to get to the bus stop, saying bye to brunette and her mouthful of chips. 

Thatched Tudor joy in Whipsnade
The rain was worse than ever now, a fact that wasn't lost on a passing cyclist.  I was a bit confused exactly where this bus was going to stop (being delayed didn't help) but as it was, it stopped on both sides as it did a turning circle at the zoo - suddenly it made sense!

The bus was even more tortuous than the journey here, with every traffic light on red for ages, speed bumps everywhere, unhelpful car drivers, and by the time we passed Kenilworth Road, it was nearly gridlock (did everyone leave at half time?) and I felt very much like Aaron McLean - desperate to get off the bench!  

There was no way I was going to make my bus connection to Wigmore, whether I stayed on or jumped off, so I again went, and made the shorter walk to my other required pub.

741.  English Rose, Luton

I expect this pub had been a hive of activity pre-match, perhaps, as the only thing that excited the elderly landlord, Irishman and other local was the news Luton were 1-0 up at half time.  Other than that, the pub seemed to be suffering seriously lull - I've never known such a quiet atmosphere I can recalling in all my BRAPA experiences.  They had some fine ales on though, all from breweries I'd never or only vaguely heard of so I had a tasty mild with a hint of chocolate called 'Halfway to Heaven', with my Chas n Dave gig of Wednesday still fresh in my mind, as they do this in a medley.  The pub had a pool table (I could've had a game versus myself!) and a local was playing on a fruit machine and getting quite annoyed when landlord tried to engage him in conversation (particularly about French terrorist attacks), but other than that, there was stillness all round.  It was quite relaxing, but kind of felt sinister too though I can't really put my finger on why, maybe my pre-conceptions of Luton again.

Stillness prevails, excellent ales - English Rose, Luton

I knew that with time ticking on, getting a bus out to Wigmore Lane would leave me pushing it timewise for the train back to London (I was on the 19:11 Grand Central and MUST try and book later trains on days like this, I often regret it and only do it cos cheaper by a few quid).  So I walked up to where I'd seen a taxi rank earlier with half an eye on the Park Square bus stop.

And there it was!  A bus with Wigmore Lane written on it,  it was fate.  I jumped on, but the driver admitted he didn't know this route and a particularly annoying woman (who the whole bus hated) ended up complaining to him when the poor man was trying his best to get it right!  

What I didn't realise, was that Wigmore Lane is about a mile long and this service (obviously not a 17A unless the driver had got it really wrong) simply dabbled it's feet at the top of Wigmore lane, whizzed North to Stopsley, and then back to Luton in a loop!  What a farce,  Oh well, I tried and was back in Luton so no harm done.

So at least, back in London I had time for a swift half in the busiest Parcel Yard ever (just to add to the "uncomfortable" theme) and an Italian Upper Crust and juice for the (surprisingly quiet) journey back to York.  

Settle Porter in the hallway at Parcel Yard (sat on a bench like Aaron McLean)
So, I'm fortunate that my (final) January Bedfordshire trip sees me on the Bedford - St Pancras line with plenty of time to spare (he says) so instead of my Harpenden / St Albans plan, I can make sure I get that 17A to the Wigmore Arms instead.  I'll be making sure with the bus driver this time and also hoping he's a bit more experienced on this route, just in case!

I'll be back tomorrow with the third last archives edition, I'm off to Headingley on Tuesday, and we've got a bit of Bristol / Bedminster fun to squeeze in around the football on Saturday so plenty to look forward to.



  1. Did Mrs Brown Owl give you any food? Are you sure the Brownies weren't going to a London boozer? I'm going to have to look up beezer in the dictionary afterwards.

    That is almost a perfect summary of why I hate buses. Supposedly express buses with things like X prefixes to their number or the word Flyer in their name that take convoluted routes; buses that are unrealistically timed such that at busy times they almost invariably lose time (I am willing to bet that the X31 you were on has less than a 50% punctuality rate), indeed I shall broaden that to buses where the timetable doesn't take into account the time of day at all; unclear bus stops; buses with destinations or timing points when it isn't actually clear where they are; drivers who haven't been shown the route properly (I blame the company, not the drivers for the record). You've hit the lot. I just hope you managed to get a reasonable value ticket and weren't got by unclear pricing.

    St. Albans can always be moved to a Watford away day assuming we play them again sufficient times. There aren't that many options, even when the new spur at Croxley opens in an as yet undetermined number of years. Or you never know, we might get Luton Town away in the third round of the Cup.

    See you in Bristol next week for possible gas lit fun. You 'Ull.

  2. Evening Tom! I was the only person not offered snacks. I think "beezer" is a posh old fashioned term for a jolly good outing /event!

    Glad you can sympathise with Bus X31. The website looked so organised and shiny too. I don't remember feeling the prices were remarkably good or bad, which is probably good if you think about it!

    Yeh, St Albans am pretty relaxed on - plus there's loads to do so might even merit it's own day, especially being CAMRA and GBG HQ. But yes, Watford always a concern. Luton away in cup would be hilairious, wild horses wouldn't keep me from Wigmore that day, plus a Bricklayers return for old times sake.

    See you Bristol, may have time to do a Bedminster pub before (the nearest one) so keep your phone / email handy up to Fri eve cos will probably be a late decision. Shelving Bag o' Nails for another wintery evening though but will invite you even if it's 2042 as I can see you like the idea!


  3. I think out of spite you should report Mrs Brown Owl for breach of railway byelaw 7, section 2, clause 1:
    "Except with written permission from an Operator no person on the railway
    (i) display anything for the purpose of advertising or publicity, or
    distribute anything"
    Sunderland fans and I shared with diverted children a couple of years ago, there is no reason Brownies shouldn't reciprocate with other Hull City fans.

    You are probably getting immune to southern bus fares by now.

    Watford does, I think, have a couple of options to the north and a couple between it and St. Albans. I'd have St. Albans in the far in the future list, Hertfordshire won't be troubling the alphabet for a while yet. In theory it should have the most accurate GBG entries, it is a proper city, everything is set up for it. I'd imagine disappointment.

    I'm 16:33 train on Friday, straight after work, so please could you be so kind as to email me the various pub possibilities for both pre and first post match pub and I'll do a map for all of them, then if it is a late Friday decision I am prepared.

    I am pleased that you have the optimism to think that I'll be alive and kicking in 17 years time. I wonder with Bristol Rovers will still have that dodgy open terrace to the side and the seats under the tarpaulin behind the goal. Also, if you let me know which train south you are on it would be useful. Come on City!

  4. I like to feel I'm adding something to this classic historical document by commenting five months late.

    You may well be the only (other) person to make a special trip to the Wigmore Arms; I would really love to know. I'd be interested to know what Alan Winfield makes of Luton.

    Queueing etiquette. A real and growing problem in Wetherspoons. I find their staff friendly and helpful, but they really struggle when folk approach the bar from all directions. Asking "who's next" will get three calls of "Fosters" and two of "Table 27" while you and the other chap who got their first look miffed.