I'd travelled north from Guildford where there were several flouncy GBG pubs dotted around the Thames, just south of Greater London, so after a bit of jiggery-pokery at Weybridge, where a cat had just caught Coronavirus for added BRAPA peril, I was in Ashford.
It was a grey miserable place, sort of like a concrete hellish Northallerton, Bedale or Stokesley, with shopping strips set back off wide roads. The main difference was the lack of greenery, and the Ashfordians I shuffled past under leaden skies looked like they were not familiar with the concept of chlorophyll. Chloroform perhaps was more their speed.
My mood was crushed further when I approached the pub, the drabbest Marston's dining pub you could imagine had a blackboard outside saying 12 noon opening DESPITE ABSOLUTELY EVERY OTHER SOURCE SAYING 11AM. I needed a wee, I had a stone in my shoe, and it had just started raining, and Ashford wasn't the kind of place you could for a gentle mosey around and admire nature.
|"Updated by the business 3 weeks ago"|
When the doors did edge open at the King's Head, Ashford (1771 / 2988) at about 11:57am to their credit, the lady on the makeshift reception desk barked the 'one way system' route as I completed the track & trace details. I got the distinct feeling that patience was not one of her winning traits, and when a gaggle of old boys appeared behind me, she turns to her quieter, mousier colleague who I more warmed to, and says "I can tell we ain't gonna get a minutes peace today!" These jocular gents were locals so were exempt from all the faff I'd gone through, but I was still in first at the bar for a pint of Marston's Pedigree. Anyone who has been to the GBG pubs of mid-Derbyshire knows it can indeed but a very good pint, but as a tired looking pint of brown soup was plonked in front of me, Makeney seemed a long way away. A couple of sips offered hope but it was soon clear this was the only truly poor beer I had all week. Where was the famed plantpot when you need it? Not in here, nothing green in Ashford apart from my Stabilo. As the blokes glanced up at the plasma, forced to admit this weather had also ruined their plans to watch the cricket, a bloke known as 'Scouse' (on account of a slight accent) asked if he could share my bench. 'Sure!' I said, strange as he had the whole pub to aim at. Maybe he wants to chat? Except he didn't say a word the entire time, so it was an awkward experience now as well as a shit one. There was a bit of 'bantz' flying around to be fair, which I tried to appreciate by smiling along. The local porno king had finally been rumbled, for one. But overall, one of those where you just shake your head and wonder what the local CAMRA were thinking. I'm glad I didn't start Surrey alphabetically, or I'd probably have fled back home at this point!
|Rain stopped play|
|Sometimes you just have to tell yourself the 'tick' is all that matters|
I had to be back in Guildford for mid afternoon to meet 'my driver' so didn't want to risk getting stranded, so I was pleased with the speed I managed to leave Ashford. Chertsey was on the same train line. It'd be rude not to wouldn't it?
A ten minute splash through the puddles took me from railway station to pub .........
Whether the Olde Swan, Chertsey (1772 / 2989) whether was quite as good as I remember, or just hugely better than Ashford, is a point for debate, but I remember breathing a sigh of relief once inside, half tripping over a loose rug and shouting through the perspex to get a glorious pint of one of the 58,000 beers in the UK called Citra. Brewery? No idea, don't even care. The pub had an atmospheric, shabby chic interior, like an Antic that had sorted its life out, settled down, and got a 9-5 job. Mature, with a gentle but guilty background hum of Monday lunchtime drinkers who knew they probably shouldn't be here. Scottish people are exempt of course. All good Southern pubs have a random Scot who you can hear wherever you are in the building, and here he was making a group of poshos laugh with a story about his 'special shoes'. I was hiding around the corner by the fake billiards table, but the open layout meant that you felt part of the pub wherever you were situated. One of many Surrey pubs this week which walked the tightrope between 'proper pub' and 'dining venue' and just about got away with it due to the 'current circumstances'.
|The relief on our faces says it all|
Knowing I had to change at both Weybridge AND Woking, I didn't want to push my luck so left it at two pubs for now, and wound my way back towards my Guildford digs for a nice prawn salad and cup of tea, and watched Escape to the Country and had a nap before the aptly named Knaphill.
Ed Wray (AKA The Beer Father) had kindly sent me a picture of him and his car so I'd know who I was looking for, and having hot footed it from Horsham, we shook hands, immediately realised that was against the rules, and drove off to Knaphill where we had two ticks, not far from Woking.
|Ed and some Chamber Pots|
|Possible banana tree and the pub garden|
Garibaldi, Knaphill (1773 / 2990) was up first, and being only Ed's second pub experience since lockdown was lifted, he was keen to ensure we obeyed the correct protocols. Deciding to enter through the back of the pub probably wasn't doing this, and a stern young lad in a facemask wasn't exactly the cheeriest chattiest individual in the world, and not exactly the most helpful. We were given some rules to read which we frankly couldn't be bothered with, sat outside, but when we'd got our beers, I had my credit card taken off me and exchanged for a key fob , the sort you get for a locker if you are going swimming! Ed and I looked at each other helplessly, and I assured him this was weird pub behaviour even for lockdown rules and it isn't normally this complicated. Did I have to ring the pub phone to get my card back? Anyway, the Butcombe Bitter was a really nice drop, and whether the pub had heard our complaints, moody bloke was replaced by a cheerful, communicative young lady and I was able to get my card back, admit I didn't understand the key fob stuff. Panic over. Colin the Cauliflower commented how 'hot' she was, even in a mask, and I told him of course to stop objectifying women cos it is 2020 and be more woke like Martin the Owl would've been (Colin hates it when I compare him to Martin). All's well that end's well then, onto the next!
|Ed gets his debut tick done, a great moment.|
|What the bloody 'ell is all this about?|
|Colin in the naughty corner by the pear tree|
Final pub for part 5 then, and back in the Ed-mobile, we drove right over to the other end of Knaphill which is a lot more sprawling than you might expect, where our other pub lay.
Bit of drama even before we got inside as this bloke stands in front of me and photographs the pub frontage! Perhaps he was one of those secret 'tickers' who don't boast about their achievements on Twitter? I could never.
|Alrite pal, if it ain't on social media, it doesn't count|
|That's the shot the fans are wanting(!)|
Perhaps I'd been a bit too quick to judge the weirdness of the Garibaldi. After all, as we stepped inside the Royal Oak, Knaphill (1774 / 2991) , made a show of hand sanitising, and greeted the pub with a cheerful hello and craned our necks to see the ales/soft drinks, one of the many stodgy barmen simply greeted us by grizzling 'will ya sign tha book?' before we were given a list of 18 (EIGHTEEN) rules to read and probably memorise before the big quiz later on to see if we could become patrons (probably). Ed and I exchanged bewildered glances and once again, I felt obliged to reassure him it isn't normally this complex and there must be something in the Knaphill water. I dunno if this pub has had a recent refurb to knock the character out of it, but I surprised when Ed told me that Martin Taylor had enjoyed this one on his visit. "YEAH, WELL IT'S NOT DOING IT FOR ME!" I said, probably a bit too loudly, before slagging off the Ocean Colour Scheme (not a band) and wondering why any pub would go with blues over more warming, vibrant reds and dare I say it, greens! Still, my ale went down well and Ed had one more trick up his sleeve before he'd leave me in Woking. For tales of that, join me in part six tomorrow night, same time, approx 9pm. If I remember. Here's some Royal Oak pics to leave you with.