Under a cloud of uncertainty, I arrived in sunny Hitchin on the morning of Saturday 30th October.
The first few copies of the shiny new blue 2022 Good Beer Guide had been observed across southern regions, but with no copy making its way to BRAPA Towers in York as yet, I set off down south armed with the moth eaten old stager that is the 2021 copy.
Talking of moth eaten old stagers, #PubMan and BRAPA hero John Depeche-Modem who lives local was propping up 'Bancroft Stop D' (a recent back problem means he had to pass a late fitness test just to make today). A few nosy old buggers listened keenly as we greeted each other, and I told John of today's pub agenda.
Being our Hallowe'en Special, we had a debutant in the shape of Pumpy, a little scamp of a pumpkin knitted skilfully by Sarah Morgans and sent to me by Christine Andrew #NorthLincsPubWomen - Pumpy would keep Colin on his toes all day .......
|Pumpy tries to strangle Col with a phone charger lead early on. "It was only banter" he later claimed.|
For a dude hellbent on getting Hertfordshire greened up as quickly as possible, I have a bloody funny way of showing it, straying into Bedfordshire at any given opportunity.
A bumpy bus ride took us firstly to the leafy village of Haynes, looking deliciously autumnal, for pub number one ......
Greyhound, Haynes (2020 / 3450) was a rare modern day example of compulsory face covering, which seemed apt for a pub numbered 2020. It was a pretty desperate experience. The only customers, we wander in to an empty pub grasping at some long forgotten semblance of true village atmosphere. A dewy eyed barmaid blinks at us from behind the raft of cocktail menus and turned around pumpclips (only Greene King IPA on). It was excellent GK IPA, and I don't think I've ever said that before in my life! John, who plays the 'BRAPA ambassadorial role' better than anyone I know, tries his best to get some chat going, but pleasant as she was, she has no game. Quizzing her on whether this pub is likely to be included in the forthcoming GBG was always going to be a step too far, she admits she hasn't really heard of it, or CAMRA, I was already sat in a corner at this point, telling Pumpy that as debut pubs go, he'd been a bit unlucky. The pub needed something, anything, to save it. Suddenly, a strangulated squawk from beyond. Not a ghost, not John's breakfast repeating on him, but a beautiful Scarlet Macaw called Freddie, and finally, we got some chat!
|Friendly but may bite? Bit like Weymouth then.|
My already fragile confidence was wavering further as we waited for the bus back in the direction we'd come from. "That pub's never going to make the 2022 GBG is it? Is it?" I whine to John between mouthfuls of Mini Cheddars to keep me sustained.
Maybe Shefford could fare better? After all, their Brewery Tap had been decent in my formative Beds ticking years of 2014/15, and it is in a town, which in Beds ticking terms, usually outstrips the village efforts.
Bridge, Shefford (2021 / 3451) was a bit of a contradiction, in that it was stripped back to a sort of bare minimalist dining blandness, but combined with a wholesome belts n braces style attitude of the staff and clientele, totally at odds with the decor. Nothing doing getting served round the front, John realises before me the action is round the back bar. The lady who serves us is wholly unresponsive of John's banter and I didn't warm to her at all, but the other two ladies and a lurking bloke, including a loud scouser, are proper salt of the earth. John needs a ciggie, so we head outside to the garden / sheltered courtyard. Not exactly the prettiest backdrop, but the unseasonably warm weather, smell of John's fag fumes, and a pretty decent Charles Wells (soz, Charlie Wells, he's been hipsterfied) makes for a pleasant experience. It gets better on the way out as I return from the bogs, John is doing his BRAPA ambassadorial duties once more (I really should pay the man) and they are absolutely LOVIN' it! Good folk, more proof that pubs really do live or die by the people who run them.
|The only ale on, and again, well kept (no surprise, but here, it felt more 'deliberate')|
|My mental state|
|How Shefford residents view Shefford in their mind's eye|
|Charles Wells : rebooted|
|John looks like he's prepping a barbecue (he isn't)|
|Pumpy and Col getting a few rays|
|"Most improved East Beds pub 2020" now THAT'S AN AWARD!|
As we take the bus back into Hitchin, I'm still troubled. "That pub's never gonna make the new GBG either is it John? Is it???" I whine. Soon though, I'm distracted just as I was in Horsham by FA Trophy shenanigans. Yes, the fans are swarming in their half dozens towards the gates of Hitchin FC, cup fever is high, and a quick check of my phone shows they are taking on Leiston, wherever that is!
|"Oh Pumpy, you really are a very naughty little pumpkin" (in Matthew Corbett voice)|
|Pumpy wondering which of the ladz to drug first|
|No pumpy, these three men seem friendly, leave them alone|
|My "this pub deserves to make the 2022 GBG but not sure it will & I've had 3 pints" expression|
|Faceless blurry me and shopmobility scooter - sign of a good pub|
|So many of these sound like genuine Antic pubs, you gotta laugh|