The rains of Saturday cleared to give us bright sunshine, a hopeful sign that the BRAPA gods were shining on me for an important day of pub ticking with Pub Twitter royalty, Coxy AKA Stephen Pie.
I'd like to say the birds were twittering in the trees, but this being Hatfield, the grey desolate sprawl that it is, I'm confident the last bit of nature died out last century. I used to go to Hatfield Forest as a child, but I assume that is elsewhere.
Today had first been mooted by Coxy as long ago as 2017, volunteering to drive me around the more awkward outliers in that outer Stevenage area. At that time, Hertfordshire was not really on the BRAPA radar. But in the 2021/22 season, Herts is flashing like Bob Holness on a gold run. Sounds like me in Newark.
Perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance. The 6 p's BRAPA lives by. Even applicable when being chauffeured.
My quandry? Being on this freebie Grand Central, the last train of the day goes from Kings Cross at 18:22, meaning I really need to get the 17:03 out of Hatfield. This meant about 25-30 minutes per pub strictly, allowing about 15 mins driving between each as a general rule.
A lesser quandry, but still a quandry, food. Harder to smuggle snacks in pubs on a Sunday, eating in Coxy's car might be anti-social, eating when you are with a new BRAPEE also anti-social, so I ordered from a local cafe, squashing down this breakfast roll jam packed with black pudding, sausages and even hash browns. Ooof, it'll be worth it, I tell myself, sustenance for the day ahead.
|Last minute planning in the Hatfield nerve centre|
Coxy texts to say he's on the way, with an 11th hour curveball which would help make the day extra memorable. "Do you mind if I bring my small dog along?" he asks. Well of course not, instructive for me, so often on the receiving end of dogs in pubs, to be part of the 'entourage' walking in with one. How would it change my perspective?
He is here early, Travelodge car park. I pass my key back to the receptionist and lie about what a beautiful stay it has been. Nice to get off to a good start, all my 'pub timing' issues would be resolved if somewhere let's us in before noon.
I get acquainted with the dog of the hour, Lulu, a gorgeous little Cockapoo. "Don't stroke her, she doesn't like it, she's more like a cat" Coxy tells me. I can tell me and Lulu are going to get along just fine in that case, being more of a cat lover myself. She shares the front seat with me, up on my knee one minute, down the next! That bonus hash brown gurgling around as she steps on my stomach.
Coxy is trying his best to get me a pre-noon opener, knowing the gaffer of the pub most likely to let us.
|Note the horse walking past for added rural joy, this was a tough photo for Coxy to take on grass verge with Lulu on a lead!|
We intercept the gaffer in the car park at Strathmore Arms, St Pauls Walden (1994 / 3423) it is only 11:30am, and although Coxy explains the BRAPA concept, the guy obviously has no intention of opening before 12. Instead, we toddle off for a very nice rural walk along a track behind the pub garden. Good exercise for Lulu, and both of us need the fresh air, Coxy admitting he 'caned it' the day before. I of course, did my regular Saturday six. The scenery is tranquil, only the proximity to Luton bastard airport keeps you grounded, in an airborne kind of way.
Back on a bench waiting for the pub to open, as so often happens when you are early, two wily old locals still manage to beat us to the chase!
|Finally allowed in, through the back door, not just the ladies loos honest|
It is a glorious pub, first pub being pub of the day, which is a bit of a trend of late. The New River Upstream is as good a quality as anything I'll drink, and we sit round to the far side, in the sun, occasionally exchanging words with the two blokes and guv'nor. One staff member is late, making him late to go darn to London for the football. Spurs I think. This is a gorgeous building standing alone in the countryside, feels as much like an old farmhouse as it does a pub, a uniqueness that adds to the charm. Regular in the GBG since 1981? Hook it to my veins. Behind me, an impressive selection of GBG's. The current GBG says they date back to 1976, but I can only see back to 1981. Have they hidden the other five as they are rare (I found 1979 a right bugger to get) or has someone already purloined them? Coxy doesn't want to do the inaugural Green Stabiloing (I tell him I'll ask him in every pub until he cracks .... he never does) and he doesn't want a photo of himself either, but does set Lulu up for one as a compromise. Towards the end, a couple of tiny yappy dogs run over, threatening to disturb the peace. Lulu remains pretty well behaved considering. Cracking pub this one, a must visit if you haven't.
Not far off, situated around a few winding bends (Coxy is used to cycling these routes so doing it by car feels very different for him) , we arrive in the village of Preston, posher than its Lancashire namesake though that might be the least surprising thing you hear today.
Amazing how that despite a very short mileage distance, a place can feel so utterly different in terms of atmosphere from the Strathmore. Red Lion, Preston (1995 / 3424) is famous for being the first community owned pub in the country. The skeptic in me tells me that probably gives it pretty much a free pass into the Good Beer Guide every year, it is certainly a regular, though I mustn't be unkind because the beer quality on this Wolf Golden Jackal is once again very good. The pub atmosphere is pleasant enough, though burgeoning slightly under the weight of Sunday lunchers and a slight element of 'stick up the arse' on behalf of one or two customers is evident. Retiring to the garden is a no brainer under the circs. The indoors is squashed, the weather is great, the garden is extensive, and most importantly, Lulu demands it having briefly trotted unknowingly into a dog infested side room, and in her better judgement, decides this is no place for her! Lovely to get a few 'rays' this late in the year, Coxy bemoans the fact the dove box is no longer around. Maybe they flew off? Decent little pub this, I'd rank it 4th out of 6 but closer to 3rd than 5th!
I notice we are ten minutes behind my 'split time agenda' so I need to ramp up my drinking speed a notch if I am to achieve my six pubs.
If only we can find a pub or two so irritating, I feel the need to drink up a quick and get the hell outta there? Oh look, we're in luck!
From one Red Lion to another, a plane from Luton airport nearly skims my head as we step out of the car for pub three. Greene King and Cask Marque? What's not to love I hear you say.
A cacophony of chaos greets us at Red Lion, Breachwood Green (1996 / 3425) , a few blousy poshos scowl at Lulu despite having their own twildlife running amok (the hypocrite monsters), and after a tight awkward squeeze in at the bar to get my Side Pocket, regularly becoming my most regular ale of Herts BRAPA, we retired to a back shattering low leather settee. Perched rather ominously on the other side is a spooky doll. A little girl runs around an old lady, who chants "Poppy goes round in a circle". I expect she's a witch. Yes, Hallowe'en is approaching. I sort of welcome it, a nice distraction from the dining mayhem. I glance to my right. Coxy is enjoying the experience even less than me it is etched on his face. He tells me the tinny acoustics do nothing for a man suffering a bad hangover. I try to increase my drinking speed. Take one for the team and all that. As I get towards the dregs (the Side Pocket is decent, but not kept quite as well as the previous two), I've never seen a man jump so quickly up and away from a pub. Onto the next!
Onto pub 4 and I'm delighted to note that I've clawed back some of the time I'd lost around Preston. The six pubs are still on! And this next pub is very close to the last, even more perilously close to Luton Airport, this one even has an 'LU' postcode, gulp!
|Hideous fox mural first sign something was afoot|
Our mid-afternoon malaise continued here at Fox, Darley Hall (1997 / 3426), a pub somehow weaker than the last, for at least in Breachwood Green, you could say that the vast amount of people meant it was doing a roaring trade. Here was the worst of both worlds. A bland, bare-boarded country dining pub, more awful acoustics, a random pile of logs not doing anything. The pub contains zero customers when we arrive, culminating in a small semi-circle of locals gathered around the bar by the time we've left. You could tell even Lulu was struggling with it, and as for Col, don't even ask! Another pint of Side Pocket, I cannot remember how the quality compared. Talking on the recent petrol crisis in a booming voice, the ring-leader bloke boasts loudly he filled up his Range Rover even though he didn't need to, drove home, hopped in his Mercedes, drove back and did the same thing. I'm glad Coxy has overheard the same thing. We turn to each other in unison and say "what a wanker!" In fact, if Coxy's first name was Sara and the BRAPA was renamed 'The Girlie Show', we definitely would have our candidate for 'Wanker of the Week'. His mates find it hilarious though. The redeeming factor for balance and fairness? Piped 'The Offspring'? But I'm really clutching at straws.
Again, I can console myself that we are making great time as we head to our furthest point west.
Coxy deserves full credit for this next one. I'd have never even thought to look over the border into Bedfordshire! Top lateral thinking.
But after two pretty lame pub experiences, we needed something to help us turn the corner. And what is the world coming to when you are looking to Bedfordshire to be your saviour from Hertfordshire misery? "It's a funny old game, pub ticking" as Greavesie nearly said (not now obviously cos he's dead).
And despite the slightly unconvincing entrance, Rising Sun, Slip End (1998 / 3427) was a vast improvement on our last two. It all comes down to atmosphere and attitude, a smiley welcome, a bubbly Sunday afternoon throng full of happy drinkers who I reported at the time as 'being cheeky and like to have a joke' (the details of which I can't remember, but Beds humour is up there with the best I've witnessed on my BRAPA travels, key is, they don't even know they are funny), and a lot of love for Lulu. They have lots of beers from a place called Farr which I'd not heard of til Coxy mentioned it back in St Pauls Walden, and the Pale is drinking superbly well. It is a lovely old wooden room with dark blue walls, those pointless little dry hop things hanging above the bar, and it all just makes for a more pleasant experience than we've had since pub number one. Coxy needs a wee, this throws Lulu into a spin and soon she is whimpering and walks towards the toilet door to wait. I try to call her back and reassure her he'll be back soon, ooof it is the longest two minutes of my life. Cracking little pub this.
|Struggling to bond!|
The longest drive of the day (29 minutes) takes us to our final pub and I'm amazed my bladder is holding up better than usual. The good news is, the pub is within spitting distance of Hatfield from where I have to get my train back to Kings Cross.
The even better news is, once you've got past the circa 12th April 2021 vintage sheltered outdoor area engulfing this lovely old building, it is another strong pub on which to end ......
Woodman, Wildhill (1999 / 3428) is the name, and having a 'wild' feel is it's game. I order a well kept pint of Squadron Scramble (a beer which will forever remind me of my first decent pint of cask in Watford in 10 years), Coxy is def sick of the various soft drink offerings by now and orders a well deserved half, and we scurry down the narrow passages into the adjoining rooms, which give this pub a sort of Hobbity atmosphere. Peculiar in a nice way. That could describe the locals too, a bit overly familiar with Lulu, but a friendly well meaning bunch who like to quiz outsiders, and have a tendency to be quite awful to each other Why do the father n son combo keep being so mean to each other? I cannot work it out. But then again I am drunk, and most of my other memories here are hazy. At least it redeemed Hertfordshire after that mid-afternoon wobble, I didn't really want to go away from today with ideas of turning my back on Herts and completing Beds. That'd just be wrong!
|Interesting set up|
Thanks to Coxy for a wonderful day, really appreciate his efforts, especially as he was probably struggling with the hangover more than he let on. And lovely to meet Lulu too. I think next time I see someone walk a dog into a pub I'm in, I'll be that less bit judgey. Well, give it a month!
Finishing on pub 1999, I did joke to Coxy "don't you be forcing me into a 7th just so you can be around for pub 2000!" but it was pretty evident he never had any such thoughts.
We've made such good time, I end up on a train back from Hatfield even earlier than the 17:03. How is that for progress? And all that means I can reward myself in the best way possible ......
|Looks like coke from this angle!|
See you on Friday when I'll tell you about pub 2000! Tomorrow, I'm going to give myself (and you dear reader) a well deserved break.
Thanks for reading this epic, or even skimming it and looking at the lovely pics. Si
I fully endorse the notion of wanker of the week, even if I might win it on occasion.ReplyDelete
Did the local cafe provide some form of room service to save you going there?
Gold: I'd like to say the birds were twittering in the trees, but this being Hatfield, the grey desolate sprawl that it is, I'm confident the last bit of nature died out last century. I used to go to Hatfield Forest as a child, but I assume that is elsewhere.ReplyDelete