|Original pub ticker, Sam Stone, points me towards the GBG 1642 entries|
Never pack the BRAPA bag drunk! After a hazy Friday evening in the revitalised Leeds Wetherspoons Stick or Twist, I obviously wasn't concentrating, and pulled Alex Apple off the shelf instead of Colin the Cauliflower, only realising when I was sobering up on the train with my weak lemon drink.
The poor lad doesn't really have what it takes to be a stand in mascot, takes up more baggage space, looks permanently confused or sad, and only made an appearance in one of today's seven pubs. Don't feel sorry for him, he probably instigated the whole thing. I was just glad to see Colin alive when I got home.
After a bit of jiggery pokery in the Finsbury Park area, which sounds a bit like something Ray Parlour would do, I was soon en route to Hertford North, not to be confused with Hertford East, just because. Hertford South and West have no opinion on the matter.
I had no idea what to expect, but what a pretty town it was, and our early opener was right at the heart of it, 'twixt river, castle, bridge and a bloke called Norman Motte.
And as the sun came out for the first time today, tourists meandered, the pub came into view, and stood outside arms raised in salutation (not captured in below photo), it was today's guest BRAPA star, John Depeche Modem. First time I've seen him darn saarf, despite being a Hitchin man with links to West Sussex. Wittering. It is what he does.
Old Barge, Hertford (1894 / 3323) conjured up all sorts of negative images in my mind of twee, riverside, dining, dross, so imagine my delight that this pub was actually a bit of a cracker. More like a proper boozer. We stand at the bar, top condition Brakspear in hand, merrily and loudly chatting away with the occasional eye-roll from barmaid, or the lady behind joining in as we discuss the odd collection of plastic ducks dominating proceedings. We're sort of in the way, but no one minds. This is how pubs should be. Bar blockers, oh how I used to despise them in 2019! Now I am one. Anyway, they are due for their annual duck race any day now (the pub, not the bar blockers of 2019). The lady behind us explains how you can paint them and customise them to make them more aerodynamic or whatever, sounds a lot of effort to me! A wander around the pub reveals a lovely room by the loos, we could've even sat in here. It is absolutely quackers that I'd been expecting this place to be lame. I hoped this was a sign of Hertford to come ......
|I told John to get halves so we could stick to my 27.5 min per pub rule, as he's slower than me!|
|The scampi fries duck is my kindred spirit|
But if I left the pub with a beaming smile, it didn't last for long. John had been trying to tell me some snippet of news ever since I'd got here, but I never quite grasped what he was saying. Until now.
SHUT CLUB ALERT!
So much for a 'total eclipse', as I fall at the second hurdle. There'll be on full greening of Hertford today. Wedding on at GBG entry, the Hertford Club. John does his best on my behalf, trying to persuade a young bearded man to let me come in for a very quick pint, few photos and wander around. 'I could even stand behind the bride & groom with my GBG, casually in the background' I muse, but rather than make the lad chuckle, he just gets more agitated and stressed, starting to morph into a young Peter Sutcliffe, so we take the wise decision to admit defeat and shuffle along gracefully before any hammers are wielded.
Time instead for the one pub that isn't central, John has already done a bit of a recce out this way, showing me the superior Hertford East station. It is 11:57am, and as we loiter for the photo, the landlady just is opening up ......
"He's come all the way from Yoik to visit your pab!" John tells her, which amazingly works a treat here at Great Eastern Tavern, Hertford (1895 / 3324) "Oh in that case, come in a couple of minutes early" she replies, lovely lady, and I here her telling her husband, the same. Hubbie, a sort of lugubrious less disgraced Chris Langham, is less impressed. Very stoic. We enter the left hand room, because two dogs are 'guarding' the right hand bar, but they are only tiny, as we walk through, carefully not treading on their heads. This is the room where the locals soon assemble, a watchful bunch. This is a pretty classy establishment, gorgeous inside and the posters around the loos give many nods to music events of the past. Being a smoker, John leads us outside, where a fun South African themed area has been created, to celebrate the Olympics? Even though they are being held in Tokyo. I must be missing something. Confused, we stand on the other side and the heavens open, where had that sun gone? The guv'nor comes out, suddenly quite chatty and friendly. He and John chat about pubs belonging to this famous local brewery called 'Maccies' or something, I'm a bit lost so ask, and they mean McMullen, this is only my second pint of their stuff, after I saw it randomly in Huddersfield in 2014. Seems a lovely drop, will look out for it in t'future but can't recall seeing it in York.
|If long time BRAPA readers had been wondering how John's gammy leg was getting on, answer, still gammy|
Luckily, the rain stops just at the right time as we head back towards the centre looking for pub three.
Before we did though, John wanted a long standing Hertford question answering. Was this fabulously old school chemist from Sheffield formerly of Sheffield, moved down to Hertford, and reassembled brick by brick? He goes in to ask cos he's inquisitive and likes talking to strangers .....
No it turns out the family were called Sheffield. Oh well John, mystery solved, now can you take me to pub three thank you very much? He does.
Perhaps my favourite pub of the day would be the White Horse, Hertford (1896 / 3325). Being Fullers owned, it was expensive, but the centuries old atmosphere that hits you when you step inside really was quite special. Every room had this same timber beamed ancient creaking feel. I'd love to present a YouTube channel called 'The Pub Whisperer', a bit like a modern day Derek Acorah where I listen to the pub walls and tell you all what they are saying, whether I know or not! This pub would be perfect for that. But back to reality, I'd missed the guest ales as I'm not used to it in Fuller's pubs, but the Dark Star Hophead was immaculate, and the landlord was excellent and chatted to us, of course he loved York which seems a theme for these Hertford folk even though their town is just as nice in its own way.
|Blind Sooty, always the sign of a classic|
|Old school Cotleigh|
|There's no one in this photo is there?|
|Could see this blokes reflection, but not the man himself!|
Three quality boozers, a shut club and an old chemist. Surely Hertford couldn't keep up this form with pub four. A short walk, here is is ......
Little bit confused as we push the front door at Black Horse, Hertford (1897 / 3326) but nothing doing. Can't be closed can it? We then spy a narrow outdoor set of steps behind the pub, which leads to a tent and 'reception desk' which also contains bottled beers for sale. You'll often hear me describing pubs favourably using phrases like "it was like stepping back in time ....." or "this must've been what pubs were like in <insert era of history here>". No pub blogger of the future will ever say, in positive terms " .... It was like stepping back to 2020!" Well, this pub was. I know they are free to keep restrictions in place, and I'll respect whatever rules they see fit, but this felt like massive overkill. To be fair, we were asked if we wanted to sit OUTSIDE (nodding head) or INSIDE (dubious look), John wants a fag anyway, so we're squashed under a dripping tent, the rain is monsoon like. It doesn't dampen John's spirits of course, as he chats to me about ordnance survey maps and a lady on another table who resembles an 'Attractive Theresa May' (ATM), though from my position I could only see her son, Mute Martin Kemp (MMK). Our hostess had said we could 'go inside' when John asked if 'exploring' was okay, but when I head downstairs into the pub on my own, I'm greeted by two equally mute masked staff and I end up giving them this monologue on how I'm doing GBG pubs, write a blog, take photos, I even joke about their piano being a possible moment of interest! Then I say thanks and head back upstairs again, I don't think they said a word. Way to ruin a 1642 GBG classic guys, cheers, Samuel Stone is crying.
Time for John's pre-emptive recommendation, which was even more on the cards now that Hertford Club's closure had pushed me back down to five pubs.
It was called the Crafty Duck. This was it.
|John looking nonchalant despite the conditions|
|Interesting variation on the sample jam jars|
I show you all this pics first for a change. Well, this place certainly was a change from the traditional venues we'd visited up to now, and no cask means as things stand, not really pre-emptive. All the ales were from Bootle in Merseyside which seemed random, you got Untappd check ins on a plasma, and the interior was very much 'beer lovers over pub lovers'. The Pain Au Chocolat ale John got simply amazing, my Frank Turner was decent. The abiding memory/highlight, relief (for I'd been hanging on all day) and was my first micropub poo since Wibblers, Southminster all the way back in December 2017. On that day, the added worry was that Martin & Christine (who I hadn't then met) Taylor were due to arrive any minute, and how do you say "just give it 5 minutes" to a lady you are meeting for the very first time? Luckily, our paths didn't collide that day as they were scared of Tom, and today, I just had to tell John to use the left hand cubicle and ignore the one on the right.
So here we were, the sun was back out and it was time for the final pub tick of the day and record breaking 60th of the month!
I had to crop John's photo because he had his thumb over the lens, but we won't blame him too much, it was an exciting moment as we entered the Old Cross Tavern, Hertford (1898 / 3327). If I was ranking my Hertford pubs today, I'd probably put it 4th. More enjoyable than the last two, but seemed to lack a tiny bit of the character of the first three, despite it being the town's 2020 pub of the year. I perhaps am slightly to blame for this, as I faced the back wall (first rule of BRAPA, always face INTO the pub). He kept me entertained by pulling a load of historical photos from his bag, showing his days working in the Kings Cross area, where the Parcel Yard is (which reminds me, might I get there later?) There were some interesting characters I noticed when John went to get some air/tobacco (delete as appropriate), a brace of metal dudes being all 'rarrrrr' and 'Satan roooolz' (or something) but this tiny little dog next to them doing a tiny little bark, really bringing their whole hellraising ethos into disrepute. The ale, New River London Tap (which didn't sound too yummy on paper) was bubbly and probably my best kept Hertford pint of the day, and second overall!
Back in London ridiculously early, a better pub ticker than me would've got at least five more ticks in, slurping dregs off outdoor tourist tables, but I only had one thing on my mind, and that was ESB.
31st October 2020, when I last climbed these hallowed steps, about two hours after Boris had announced we'd enter a November lockdown, which then became tiered mayhem, then full lockdown, and even though I got myself back down here ASAP, May 2021, it took the Parcel Yard a long while to reopen, and when they did, I've always run out of time. Not this evening, and being pre-football season, barely a soul in sight. So nice to just walk all the way through to the bar, no pristine white shirted Eastern European lady on hand to yank me back by the scruff of the neck and say 'not so fast BRAPA'.
The place was my lobster, if that's a phrase, and I retired to once of the large peaceful side rooms, having been shoehorned into that echoey middle section on every single 2020 visit apart from that day I drank 9 pints by 3pm in Kent, where they sat me by the door cos I looked like I needed air. I can't tell you what a satisfying relaxing pint this was, I savoured every mouthful. Sometimes rushing from pub to pub is overrated, and this is a ticker talking! Cheers!
Of course, as we've learnt by now, for every BRAPA up, a down is just around the corner. The train journey home was torrid. Due to take the long way round all those weird Lincolnshire places anyway, overheard cable problems near Stevenage meant I was delayed to insane levels!
Three chapters of my book read, TWO episodes of Prisoner Cell Block H watched, and I even watched the Marmaloid Rap on YouTube for those of you who remember Pugwall. I don't recommend, the worst thing I've ever seen in my life.
Well, it was Sunday when I got home. 1st August. Happy bloody Yorkshire Day!
I've got a crazy weekend on, BRAPA tonight just gone & Saturday, serving drinks at a bbq for SIXTEEN on Sunday, so I will return on Monday evening to tell you about an amusing day out in Preston with a bit of bonus Lostock Hall.
Until then, keep on pubbing. Si