There's an ancient adage in the world of pub-ticking which you may or may not be familiar with - "if you can survive eight injections in your face, you can survive a Buckinghamshire Dining Pub Experience".
So after a session at Harrogate's Skin Surgery left me looking like this on the Thursday:
.... I was at least a bit less numb to "enjoy" the three remaining pubs in North Buckinghamshire, bringing my tally down to only 4 required before I move on to Cambridgeshire, probably in March.
I stayed overnight in Milton Keynes, one of the best Travelodge sleeps I have ever had in what felt like the oldest building in MK I'd ever been to. I was full of praise at reception desk the following morning.
In the pouring rain, MK was awash with people. "It's all the Arsenal fans, they are playing Spurs today!" said an old hag loudly as though MK residents being Arsenal FC supporters was the most natural thing in the world.
After a Gregg's Steak & Cheese bake and Pain Au Chocolat, and a half an hour bus journey, I arrived in Stoke Hammond at 11:30am. Bus was due back 12:50 and I didn't want more than one pint so went on a canal-side wander in the rain and admired the "Three Locks" that give the pub it's name.
As "Little Owl" carefully negotiated the locks, I wondered if canal lovers get excited by these three locks in close succession or view them as a hindrance to their progress? Who knows?
Anyway, it was 12 noon so I thought time to go inside.
1153 / 1900. Three Locks, Stoke Hammond
The dull exterior wasn't helped by a shamefully modern dining interior, and my immediate progress to the bar was impeded by two old dears, who despite having been served and shown a table were dithering around like a couple of people who know that if they were honest, their time on earth is up and they are surplus to requirements. Of course, I didn't quite say this out loud, I just said it with my eyes. The older lady and two young blokes who'd earlier been smoking in the rain were serving now, and the beer range, for once, caused me consternation. Tim Taylor's Golden Best is a beer I really can't abide, and that left either Tring's Death or Glory (7.2%) or Jaipur (5.9%). I'd messed up a chance to have Death or Glory in the similarly named Stoke Goldington a few months back, so had to have it here, but a pint of 7.2% ale this early after a night in London? Ugh. So I got half this and half Jaipur - no NOT in the same glass Mr Latham, give me some credit! Then it was all about how long I could keep this 'most desirable' of tables to myself. Some classic man-spreading ensued, and despite the constant groups of people coming in, looking for somewhere to 'dine' and saying very loudly and unsubtly in my direction "OH, IF ONLY THERE WAS SOMEWHERE TO SIT, I GUESS WE'LL HAVE TO LEAVE & GO ELSEWHERE!", I stood firm. Not cos I'm an arsehole, I just wanted to test the pub staff .... do they see drinkers as second class citizens and ask me to move a la Arden Arms Stockport or Clarence Bury, or would they value the drinking customer, a la Plough Bolnhurst or Gerrard Arms, Aspull? A social experiment if you like. They passed with flying colours. Well done Three Locks, and as I left, two men were delighted to jump into my grave before I'd even finished fastening my coat!
|'Death or Glory' actually sums up my whole pub experience here|
|More 'Death' than 'Glory' at the table next to me.|
No clue what I was doing, so to see a bus to MK was wonderful. I hopped on, but soon realised it was going to take 52 minutes - it was stopping on every estate between here and there. Arrrggghh.
A bit of classic rethinking followed, as I realised MK hospital was only a 10 minute walk from the pub I was going to go to third, Woughton on the Green. Could mi bladder hold on? Only just, and I had to pee in the staff carpark but with my scabby face, the staff just looked kindly at me. One young lass smoking even said 'ow do' (well, the southern equivalent) but I'd finished peeing by then.
|Pretty much "On the Green"|
|A nice church in Woughton|
|Oooh this pub looks nice, will it be?|
1154 / 1901. Olde Swan, Woughton on the Green
Good grief! The only entrance was right around the car park around the back, no way through on the main road. The walk around the pub seemed to take longer than the walk from hospital to Woughton. Inside, I was greeted by what can only be described as a restaurant. Okay, so a restaurant in the building of an ancient pub with creaky low beams (padded of course so the precious little diners don't hurt their delicate little heads), I passed a Christmas Tree too and found a bar offering Abbot Ale, Speckled Hen, Greene King IPA or something called Black Bess. I took a chance on the Black Bess, and it tasted like a combination of the other three. Chewy. I found a table for two not far from the bar with a festive menu, knife and fork, candles and placemats so plonked my pint in the middle and sat down with a big sigh. Surely I'd be moved this time? Not a bit of it, although I got some strange looks from Cheryl and the young kitchen staff, Mr Energetic Waistcoat even offered to bring me a second pint - so give them a bonus point for good staffing. Even the worst pubs on the surface can have some first class behaviours. It was fairly dull otherwise. The table behind me all ordered scampi with MUSHY peas (wrong, wrong, wrong - garden peas with scampi, mushy peas with normal fish). A woman accusingly asked another woman why she'd never tried to make her own stuffing, which could have led to a fight, but the husbands defused the situation by chatting about a programme they watched with John Fashanu and Bobby George.
|Was this the drinkers area?|
|Beers of ill repute|
After redressing my scabs in Costa Coffee, I reappeared all shiny faced and got a bus up to Newport Pagnall, "Paggers" as everyone should call it, a place I once described as the 'happiest in the UK'. A big claim.
And I was wavering from this claim as I bought snacks in the first of THREE co-ops I saw in the town. Then the pub looked grey and pretty unattractive, and the heaving interior made my heart sank......
1155 / 1902. Cannon, Newport Pagnall
And I spent about the first three minutes on the raised step at the entrance photographing these above, totally unfazed dominoes players, wondering how the hell to get to the bar. Crowd-surfing seemed a good bet, but a woman with backless dress on a charity drive finally moved, and I snuck in to order a pint of the first thing I saw. Don't ask me to remember, but it was best quality pint of the day. Where to sit? Well, nothing really but in the relative calm of the room to the right was one seat propped against a table of 4, so I sat at it and rested my pint on my leg! And then something magical started to happen, or at least I started to realise this was a much better pub than you'd think on first glance. A trip to the bog helped, several friendly chaps telling me this was 'easily the best pub in Newport, and cheap'. You mean Paggers mate, I wanted to tell him. Back at my seat, a lost looking daughter ate Roast Beef Monster Munch disconsolately, her Mum (a gypsy version of Kellie Bright) finally returning from an outdoor smoke to apologise , but then ditched her for a frail old man, so Miss Munch stormed out in a huff. Backless dress lady (Candice) walked into our room and asked the 4 visiting scousers if they wanted raffle tickets. I got my money ready. "What's the prize?" they asked her, "ME!" she replied. She repeated it three times. I was confused. The guy next to me looked excited. The scousers couldn't believe their luck. But hang on, she said "MEAT!" Panic over. But we'd all heard 'ME'. Candice never asked anyone else in our room, and minutes later, a gong sounded and she shrieked "LET US START THE RAFFLE DRAW". "NOOO, CANDICE, NOOOO" replied a man of local standing, "YOU FORGOT ME!" he'd been sat behind the scousers, but too late, the gong was final. The scousers had bought 5 tickets, there were 5 winning tickets, they won FOUR of them. They donated two prizes back, not because they were kind, they just didn't want to be weighted down on their pub crawl. But they still got a round of applause from the pub for their perceived generosity. How Scouse can a situation be? They kept the joint of gammon and some joint of meat with a bottle of alcohol in it. Then they told Candice it's a shame she hadn't said "ME" after all. Bit pervy you Scouse bastards. It was time to go.
|Monster Munch girl is abandoned|
|Scousers contemplating too much meat|
|A big bag of meat|
Less amusing, the bus took ages to turn up, Hull City conceded a last minute equaliser, and my phone died.
I was back at Euston before too much longer and had enough time to get a pub tick in, but with no Oyster or Travelcard, I'd have to go on foot so discovered a nice revelation. Bloomsbury is only about 10 mins walk from Kings Cross! Furthermore, I still had 2 of the 3 to do so headed to the most direct one:
|Trying to do this pub exterior justice was hard in the dark|
1156 / 1903. Calthorpe Arms, Bloomsbury
I'm conscious that my 'rushed Saturday evening London post-Bucks' pub ticks are rarely positive experiences, and I make allowances for the time and circumstances of my visits, but in the back of my mind, I know a really good pub will shine through. And despite the odd smell of 30 year old cheese on arrival, this pub fits the bill as one that you'd love to relax in. More Royal Oak, Borough than Pelt Trader, Cannon Street, if you know what I mean. A barmaid with reluctant midriff on display smiled in a peculiar way and gave me some straw coloured pint with rugby theme which tasted drinkable, as I noted the draped red curtains, tartan carpets and the like, making this almost like a 19th century Wetherspoons, and that is not supposed to be an insult, but a compliment. The cosy warmth was everything. It wasn't at all busy, but one of those where individuals lined the pub, so no tables were actually free apart from one under the TV where some very loud egg-chasing was occurring. I noted next to me, some Scandinavian Arsenal fans, jolly but well behaved. But you felt they had the ability to turn as long as they didn't have a trigger factor. So how idiotic of a Spurs fan on the opposite side of the pub to fall off his stool for no apparent reason, and then his friend tried and cover his embarrassment by singing a song about Harry Kane. Oh dear. The pub was suddenly raucous, and I'd gone from totally relaxed to cowering. Cheers mate!
|A carpet of much repute as reluctant midriff takes a break|
|If you squint behind young Petit, Spurs fan is still on the floor!|
The journey back to York was long and arduous, the Lincoln diversion we had last week at Stamford still in place, but after a nice chat with a posh man who'd come down to win a court case about some land he sort of owned, I dodged the pissed up Geordie scum trying to bully their way onto the train north and headed back home, for a well earned break after a couple of crazy days away!
Time to rest my face before Tuesday in delightful Donny.