Halfway through my South Essex debut (unless you count previous trips to Chelmsford, Billericay, Southminster & Burnham-on-Crouch .... I'm not really sure on the geog.) and it was all going well. I'd basked in the Leigh-on-Sea bonhomie, and been captivated by clubby comfort in South Benfleet as I wound my merry little way south towards London, time still on my side.
Three more pubs was the aim!
I jumped off the train at a place called Stanford-le-Hope, where a friend of mine had live for a while, calling it Stanford-no-Hope. I wonder if this was a reflection on the pub here, though I noticed the GBG describes it as 'much improved'.
Being the wrong side of a concrete wall wasn't a great start ......
Too high to hurdle, so I had to keep following the wall round, wait until it ended, and walk back on myself. Flippin' eck Stanford, I don't need this!
Take two, here we go ......
Rising Sun, Stanford-le-Hope (1856 / 3073) offered the classic 'left or right' room choice, and although 'BRAPA law' states you have to try and turn left, Covid rules told me the 'visitor check in' was to the right. This involved the most liquidy hand sanitiser in over 100 BRAPA pubs combined with the tiniest slivers of paper to write your name and number on. Result, a slippy sticky sliver of paper with blotched biro. Finally, a jolly lady rears her Essex shaped head from the adjoining doorway, and with the news that the local infestation in the left hand room was absolute, I had to sit in the quiet right room with a couple who I hoped would do/say something interesting for blog purposes, but weren't up to the challenge. For this was the problem here, the pub had 'something' in terms of character and old fashioned atmosphere (almost like a less heritagey Old Green Tree in Bath), small, slim, square, wooden and dark green, but ultimately, I felt a bit bored. The Billericay Blonde ale didn't really hit the spot, and a trip to the loo in the left side felt like a segment in the 'let's looks at what you could've won' category, with lots of old Essex coves in tight shorts going "woooorr", "wheeeyyy", "oooooh" and "whatcheor matey".
|You see, very pleasant but just needs a bit of life|
|Now if you could both juggle, or tell a rude story, that'd help greatly|
|Colin uses the local beermats to stay warm|
I'm always happier on any given trip if I've made the effort to get to at least one pub off the beaten track, so I decided to walk the half hour or so to the village of Horndon-on-the-Hill where we had a valuable tick to do.
It didn't take long for Stanford-le-Hope to open up into farmlands and little wooded areas with twittering birds and scurrying creatures, and it was all very pleasant in the sunshine. The pub finally came into view, Bette Midler style, from a distance ......
|Are we there yet?|
Well, it looked a bit coach house-esque, 'Charrington' sign, aren't they something to do with Bass? Yes, I was all gearing myself up for a nice little Essex rural gem at the Bell, Horndon-on-the-Hill (1857 / 3074)
but all in all, it was a bit of a gastro bore which suddenly painted the Rising Sun in a much more pleasing light than I'd realised at the time. Everything is relative, after all. And everyone is a relative in rural Essex, probably. Ghoulish waiters hung around dark staircases, vacant looking couples ordered what looked and smelled like scotch eggs, but could've been anything round! All the GBG talk of 100 year old hot cross buns, 15th century etchings and panelling, was lost in the breezy dining humdrum, my flimsy perspex separator flapping in the wind with an annoying repetitive click. Hard to 'pub explore' in the current circs. I ordered a 5% ale called Divine, I have no recollection of it. I settled into the experience after that, saying hi to a few people on the way to the loo helped, just no one seemed very pubby, it needed a few sharper edges. Hull City drawing 0-0 at home to Crewe didn't help, but it was time to get myself back to Stanford and 'hop' on a train.
No sooner had I set off walking down the road, when Daddy BRAPA 'live from Cornwall' sent me news of a late Hull City winner .....
Well, I hopped, skipped and jumped back to the train after that!
One more pub to make up the six, and Upminster, one of my TWO remaining pubs listed under 'East London' was a train stop.
What could possibly go wrong?
It wasn't a long walk, and the pub in question, Upminster Taproom, came into view. woopy doops!
I marched up, but was stopped in my tracks by a red rope. That's okay, I thought, be patient. "On a Rope" by Rocket from the Crypt was now stuck in my head. No one wants that. A man walks towards me. I try to catch his attention. "I'm just a man ..... a customer .....I ... I don't work here!" he bleats dolefully. I apologise and jiggle up and down a bit on my toes in case that helps summon someone.
|"At a rope, at a rope, got me waiting at a rope" |
Finally, a masked man with a real Lone Ranger vibe about him walks up. He tells me in muffled tones that there is no room at the inn (taproom) ..... nooooooooo! Despite the circs, we have a very affable chat.
When I say "I suppose I was foolish for coming on a sunny Saturday afternoon", he tells me "no, not foolish, it has taken us by surprise just how busy it has been" and suggests I've been a bit unlucky. We even contemplate whether the weather, or indeed, the threat of an impending second lockdown might account for this, one final hurrah?? Alas I cannot stand here all day, so I say farewell and promise to return (unless they drop out of the 2021 GBG of course).
When I'd had a failed BRAPA visit to the nearby Gidea Park micropub a year or two back, the lovely guv'nor Trevor told me he'd buy me a pint when I made it back. And he was true to his word. I just thought I'd put this out there, in case our Lone Ranger or a Mrs Taproom might be reading this (us 'influencers' gotta try these things eh? Do you honestly think Retired Martin pays for his halves of Doom Bar?)
Anyway, all was not lost, and as my planning notes show you, I had another pub in the vicinity I wanted to sample regardless ......
|See top right|
I trudged back to Upminster station, two stops to Hornchurch, but then I notice the pub in question is closer to Emerson Park, but lists itself as Hornchurch cos Hornchurch is a cool word, and Emerson Park sound like a 70's Prog Rock band. Mudgie has all their records.
I struggled with the walk, legs like lumps of lead by now .......
|Chippy sums up my mood|
Finally, to much relief, I arrive .......
I pop my head inside the door at pre-emptive future GBG certainty Hop Inn, Hornchurch and I notice another burgeoning bright lively scene of many (socially distanced or bubbled) bodies. I cannot handle an Upminster repeat, so ask the friendly man (Phil) with pleading eyes if I can stay for a pint, I'll even sit outside on the seats you can see above, and luckily, he says no prob. I tell him it is last pint of the day so I wanna go out in a blaze of glory, so get on this 6% delicious murk-fest. He has the kind of shirt on you don't want to stare at six pints in, and he might have an Irish burr, but then again, 50% of people I meet do, six pints in. He wonders if he recognises me, but for now, I play dumb. After all, I was told to bring Colin here so he could meet their pub mascot WIM (Wee Irish Man) but they are so busy, I don't wanna walk into the pub ringing a bell going "hear ye, hear ye, the BRAPA man cometh". I tell this to two friendly lads sat next to me, when they wonder why I'm photographing a fluffy cauliflower ......
One of the guys sounds Welsh, but then again, 50% of people do when I'm six pints in. I'm explaining the whole 'Colin / Hop invitation' thing when Lady Hop, or Alison as she's more commonly known, clocks Colin, and before I know it, I'm inside, a table has been cleared, three exciting complimentary bags of snacks because she knows I like my snacks on the move, my ale transferred into a proper glass without me noticing! Seriously, I felt quite emotional! WIM and Colin get acquainted, and I notice my leg is strangely wet. No I haven't weed myself in the excitement, but a skinny dog is licking my leg the whole time I'm trying to chat to Phil and Alison. They are just the loveliest people, but the lady on the table next to me wants to know why Colin is more popular than her dog, and why I'm getting so well treated! It is their first visit, I accidentally tell her I'm drinking a farmhouse cider to impress her, and then have to carry the lie through to conclusion. Her local is the Gidea Park micro, this is her first visit here , so we bond over being Hop newbies and Trevor. Well, what a fantastic way to end the day, I leave with a beaming smile, a lot less drunk than last week, just a really clean, happy, well run Micro that better get in the 2021 GBG or there's really no hope.
|Look, even the table cleaner is trying to join in the theme .... bless!|
|Best snacks ever!|
|Trad Irish crisps, trad Irish mascot|
Back at King's Cross, I learn the lessons from last week and ignore the Parcel Yard in favour of coffee on a bench. Problem is, I accidentally leave it on the bench when my platform number is announced so maybe I was a tiny bit sozzled. I eat some of my snacks through my mask, and no chance of waking up on a beach in Wick or Brora this week.
A wonderful day, looking forward to getting back to South Essex already, after all, the likes of Grays, Southend and Ballards bloody Gore won't tick themselves will they?
And so here we are, 8:15pm on Friday, up to date on my blogs for the first time since late July! It won't last, as I'm in another peculiar county I never usually visit, tomorrow, 11am.
See ya on Twitter for that, or this Blog on Monday night.
Thanks for reading! Si