Wednesday 16 February 2022

BRAPA is ..... LATE IN BUZZARD (Cross Border Ticking in Herts & Beds)

I couldn't settle on a blog title for this one.  

'Hemmed in at Hemel' sort of worked, as I did feel hemmed in early doors, but it feels a more Tayloresquian than BRAPensian title.

'If you've got it, Flaund it', I liked.  But I worry how many people would actually be aware of Flaunden, or could see where I was going with that one.

'Bride(ns) of Chucky / Frankenstein / BRAPenstein'.  Obscure and maybe a bit too odd.

'A tale of Wo-burn'.  I mean, it is true, but for such dark reasons, even punning on it feels wrong.

So in the end, and considering I was much later in Leighton Buzzard than I wanted, and it trips off the tongue, I've gone with 'Late in Buzzard'.

Shall we start the blog?  Yes, let's.

Colin shocked at the lack of ballast in today's breakfast

For the second consecutive Saturday, I was Herts bound, and yet again, the rumoured engineering works between York and London failed to materialise, much to my relief/delight.

This all meant after a quick stride to Euston, I found myself in Hemel Hempstead at Early O'Clock, perfect as my required tick here was a Wetherspoons.  

'The churn' is always the second biggest grumble of most pub tickers (after laissez faire opening hours) especially when you are working specifically on a certain county.  In my case, West Hertfordshire was in this healthy position at the end of the 2020/21 season .....

Ignore the Arctic Coffee stain

And whilst I was glad to see difficult-ish outlier Wilstone de-guided, three awkward gaps had opened up .....

The easiest by far was Hemel, but no-one should have to endure TWO visits to this town in six months, even people who live there.  Do people live in HH?  I assume it is all offices and little retail parks.

At least it has a sense of self-deprecation judging by the first sign I witness .....


A short bus ride cut off the 25 minute walk into town, and the 'Spoons comes into view .....

And I was delighted to discover another one of those former art-deco 1930's cinema/bingo hall conversions, always amongst the most satisfying flavour of 'Spoons.  Full House, Hemel Hempstead (2045 / 3608) was branded a 'shithole' by two independent local sources I spoke to today, but that wasn't the impression I got, as I strode through a lively bunch of southern accented football lads (no idea who they supported or where they were headed).  The barmaid was of above average friendliness for the chain, my pint of £1.49 Orkney with a Mudgie voucher was in excellent condition, and I perched at a posing table so I could 'observe life'.  The stand out subject was a livewire of a bloke who, if he wasn't chatting to someone on a laptop, gesticulating wildly, he was confusing the barmaid, or summoning a passing member of staff to ask an unanswerable question.  Eventually, he turned his attentions on me and asked if I had any of what sounded like 'raisins'.  I soon realised he was saying 'Rizzlas'  I had neither, but he seemed so impressed by my response, he asked if we could do a fist bump.  I acquiesced, but tried to avoid eye contact after this.  There was a certain majesty about the place, but if you peered closely enough into some of the upper, darker recesses of the building, it felt a little bit 'half finished', like further restoration work might give it a nice 'complete' feel, the metal ceiling didn't help.  Having said that, I was overall impressed.

Queuing single file at the bar for no reason other than to set my teeth on edge

Our hero, right, introduces a mate to his laptop buddy

If this was a BRAPA holiday day with an overnight stop or 7, I'd have walked the hour + to Bridens Camp, north of town, in the absence of any bus service remotely close.

But it wasn't, so I booked an Uber, who irritatingly wouldn't pick me up here, so I had to walk 8 minutes to find him.  I was late, apologised thrice, tipped him, but the damage was done.  Bad review for poor old SimeySi.  

I arrived at the pub at 11:27am, all social media said 11:30am opening (very specific time, why would I doubt it?) and when I got out of the taxi, the guv'nor was pouring Doom Bar down a drain (probably) so I says 'hi, you opening 11:30?' to which he says 'no, 12'.  

Bugger!  At least a nice area of grass and woodland was facing the pub.  An owl hooted at me as I had a wee behind a tree, and then I sat on a mossy log and ate my scotch egg and a bag of Chinny Medders.  

With 12 noon approaching, it is time for take two ......

The door pings open, not a moment too soon and I'm in!  Crown & Sceptre, Bridens Camp (2046 / 3609) is a surprisingly traditional pub for the area, yes so food is obviously a 'thing', but it doesn't detract.  I'm greeted by a nervous kitten of a barmaid, Shannon, her first day on the job, so today's 'BRAPA #PubMan of the Day' Guv'nor Martin gives her first demonstration of how to pull a pint. Always happy to be the guinea pig.  I tell her the wind's very chilly out there so I'm eyeing up the welcoming fire to the left, but Martin has other ideas, and points me to a specific table for two in the room to the right. Well, I'm not sure how happy I am with this, harumph!  Feels like 2020 all over again!  But the situation soon changes when Martin spies my GBG, and spends the majority of the next 25 minutes sat chatting to me about all sorts.  This is despite his wife's best attempts to get him away from me to do some work!  I ask him about the so-called 11:30am opening, but he uses the 'Sheffield South : Ale House defence' which is 'not having control over what 'they' put on social media'.  The Tring is drinking well, and the overall Martin highlight for me, when he volunteers to ring me a taxi using his fave local firm Rainbow to get me back to civilisation.  What a gent, he even tells them I'm a pub ticker!  It arrives sooner than I expected, and I have to drink up, but only after Martin has done the 'highlighting'.  Not many boozers like this left in the Herts countryside I suspect, get yourself down there today and save the pubs!

Perhaps feeling guilty for charging me a fortune, Rainbow taxis give me a free guided tour of this thing called the 'Magic Roundabout' which is like one big roundabout, with seven little ones around it.  My taxi driver loves it, talking me through each one and where it leads!  I tell him I saw one like this in Swindon once, but DO try to appear interested.

My final West Herts tick DOES have a public transport solution of sorts.  A two hourly bus service from Hemel takes you to the end of Flaunden Lane, where you walk down a long narrow lane into the village.  Now, if you're not on an overnighter, you might not have the time, but the option is there .....

A group of friendly bikers growl 'allo', like a bunch of gruff Mr Cadbury's parrots, and I enter the peculiar Green Dragon, Flaunden (2047 / 3610).  The little heritage star in the GBG offers much promise, but it is a pub trying to be as modern and youthful, as it is, old and heritage, and the end result, it doesn't really end up succeeding at either.  A delicious tap room to the right in the obvious highlight for the pub lover, but it is empty today and separated from the main pub room, and I want to 'be where the action is', so even I shun it.  The staff are all young and giggly as I get served and 'Higher Love' by Steve Winwood plays, what a tune!  As you peer towards the back left, an open kitchen has a glowing giant pizza oven.  Woodfired?  Stonebaked?  I dunno, something like that.  A further group of biker types are enjoying them anyway,   washed down by non alcoholic Ghost Ship.  One is complaining about a recent adventure to the Peak District, where he stayed in Buxton and found the food so crap,  he boarded a plane to Bologna, WTF?  Colin is getting much 'distant' attention from the staff, peering around the corner, smiling at him!  I twice go by the bar and smile (once loo, once returning glass), to give them an opportunity to say something, but they remain frustratingly silent on the issue despite giving me knowing smiles.  'Come on, call me weird, say something, anything' I'm thinking, it's so frustrating!  Then a teenage lad walks past and smirks at Col too, but he appears to have a Jim'll Fix It  badge round his neck so he can hardly smirk.  And with that, ends a pub experience which promised a lot but didn't deliver a great deal.  Problem had been, I'd allowed that little black star in the GBG to raise my expectations to unreasonably high levels. 

Back in Hemel, part of me thought I should get a bus to St Albans or similar, and continue my Herts progress in Sandridge and beyond.

But..... I was on the same train line as Leighton Buzzard where I needed two, plus one in Woburn which was only a few miles away.  Fancy having your head turned by Beds!  

To be honest, Leighton B was, from my 2014-16 Bedfordshire ticking days, the one shining pub town light in a sea of mediocrity, GK IPA, Wells Eagle and general despair.  

Plenty of LB GBG entries, and good ones at that.  Falling asleep in the Black Horse and having to be revived by the landlord brandishing a glass of icy water was an all time BRAPA highlight.  Perhaps no surprise two gaps had opened up in the intervening years.

I tackled the furthest walk first, seeing as the opening hours seemed ridiculously limited, possibly closing 6pm today, but might be as early as 4. 

At the end of this little footpath, I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes ..... 

.... but the arrows pointed in all directions, and convinced it wasn't on the main road, I realised I had to enter this dingy industrial estate.  But where the dickens was the brewery tap?   Ended up at an Autoparts place, nearly bought myself a TPMS Sensor, whatever the bloody hell that is! 

Then, I realised I'd been an idiot and the industrial estate goes back into a second layer of dodgy lockup garage storage units.  I spy something in the corner ......

Looks dead as a dodo.  Nooooo!  Hang on, turn around Si ..... 

Door open, we are going in!  Delightfully flimsy and temporary in feel, Leighton Buzzard Brewing Company Brewery Tap, Leighton Buzzard (2048 / 3611) was quite a fun experience in some ways, I can't lie.  Felt like I did a lot of smiling whilst I was 'indoors', that's got to be a good sign, the place just perpetually 'amused' me.    Although it is an Irish lady in an Irish rugby top behind the bar, it is quite obvious who the guv'nor is, propped against the bar, pint in hand, so I tell anyone who'll listen but mainly him that it was a difficult place to find and as a result, I have very cold ears.  Next thing I know, I'm being sold a chilli porter and a ham & mustard roll.  Not a cob, not a batch, not a stottie, not a Nicky Barmcake, just a nice simple roll.  Thanks LB.  An odd man with the features of Keane Lewis Otter sees Colin, and seems to be tickled by the sight of a cauliflower, so I tell him to look after him whilst I go to the loo, but he doesn't thrive on such responsibility and his face contorts.  Most people are watching Scotland v Wales in the Six Nations, keeping up my 100% record of Six Nations on in any Beds BRAPA pub.  Another bloke addresses a Chris Sutton-ish dude buying a BBQ Panini .... "Always best to layer up when you come in here!" he advises, pulling scarf tighter around neck.  He's not kidding, in fact on the table displaying the rolls, there is a George Foreman grill, and people keep going over to warm their hands on it, the only source of heat!  Someone does find a fan heater later, but the lead doesn't stretch without acting as a tripwire.  The chilli n mustard combo IS warming, but I still end up putting my unlucky Blackpool Jane hat on to get me through the final ten minutes!  I'll remember this place, and you can't say fairer than that.

It is now or never if I'm going to crack Woburn, and if someone plonked you in the town, you'd find quite a vibrant little main street, so it is a total shock to me that there is (a) zero bus service (b) almost zero phone signal and (c) a nearest railway station over a 50 minute walk away.

Further drag from LB than expected too, and to add insult to injury ..... SHUT PUB ALERT!

Well, I don't even have time to start getting cross when this bloke crosses the road, and tells me the landlady's brother died tragically two weeks back when his car hit a tree near the deer park, and although she was due to re-open today, she hasn't (so far).  We had a look around the back, but nothing doing, so I tell him thanks for letting me know, just glad I haven't had a 'SHUT PUB ALERT' rant on Twitter only for South Beds CAMRA regular to 'call me out' and 'cancel' me for being a complete monster.

Of course, it's a BRAPA blow, but sometimes, you just have to take the perspective that there are even more important things than BRAPA!  

I stand in the one spot on the main street where there is enough signal to ring for a taxi, and after a confused muffled conversation, I pray he's coming for me in 15 mins so I pop next door for a highly unlikely pre-emptive 'half'. 

Black Horse, Woburn is a predictably flouncy restaurant style place, exactly the kind of reason an ale house needed to open next door.  Takes me an age to get served on account of a bloke buying his mates one pint of lager at a time, there's about eight of them.  I even go to the loo and come back again in the time his round takes.  Finally, a fed up tired boy serves me half a guest ale (very well kept I'm glad to say), in the thinnest glass I've ever seen.  I go to pay in cash, £2.20, he tells me I can only do that if I have the exact change.  I do!  "Well, howz about that?" I say merrily, fishing the decisive twenty pence piece out of my coat.  The muscles in the boy's face twitch.  Yes, he's trying to smile for the first time ever.  Awwww, and I noted that he smiled twice more before I left.  Top lad.  I sit in the middle of the 'pub' on a dining table, not bothering to remove hat, glove or scarf, and before I know it, the 15 mins is up.  

Where has the time gone?  Woburn has eaten it up something rotten.  I ask my impressively grey bearded taxi man to drop me right outside the pub, a strict 25 minutes here before I head back to Euston.

Everything about the White Horse, Leighton Buzzard (2049 / 3612) screams B&B, but to me, it felt just about the most quintessential late afternoon / early evening Beds/Herts pub going.  A boisterous bar scene , bar blockers galore.  Pride, Proper Job or Side Pocket.  Went middle one.  A nice little fire bubbling away in a grate to my left.  With no seating available, I perch on the hearth with the pokey, proddy instruments, not really caring if I'm blocking anyone's heat.  They can give me their seat if they like, and we'll swap!  Everyone seems to be a fan of the Arsenal, and everyone is whining about football in the nasally slightly depressed way that the Gooners do, but I'd better be nice.  BRAPA has more Arsenal fan followers than any other club.  Teams like Reading, Southampton, Bristol Rovers, Derby, West Ham and West Brom also make the top 10, but the Arse are well clear at the top so let's just say 'There's only one David Rocastle' and 'boo Tottenham boo' if they are all reading this.  A table finally comes free, but it doesn't change a lot apart from giving my legs a break.  Two blokes stand directly in front of me, discussing subjects like Anders Limpar's Swedish sausage.  Nice lively place to end a productive day's ticking despite the Woburn fail, which means I'll probably not try to complete Beds again between now and October (though only 4 other pubs to do + Woburn). 

As it transpires, I couldn't have got a later train back to Euston to make my 19:27 connection from Kings Cross, not even time for one sip of Parcel Yard ESB more's the pity.

The train is madness, as the announcement comes through "we apologise to non-football supporters as there are both Sunderland and Hartlepool on this train tonight".  Hartlepool AGAIN.  Always bloody Hartlepool!  Monkey nuts!

Just as I step on, my old next door neighbour Anteater rings me to tell me about a giant burger she ate the other night!  I tell her she couldn't have rung at a worse time but I ring her back later on the journey.

No way I can get to my seat, but I'm fortunate to find an unreserved two, next to some rather moody Pooligans considering they've won at Crawley.  The Sunderland fans are in higher spirits, celebrating a 1-1 draw at Wimbledon with gusto.  

I thank the inventor of noise cancelling headphones, down my weak lemon drink in one, and manage to immerse myself in Masked Singer final which I'm delighted to see Natalie Imbruglia (dressed as a panda) win.  She's still got it.  #SaveNeighbours


And on that note, I'm delighted to tell you that at 22:23pm on Wednesday 16th Feb 2022, I'm up to date on blog for the first time in months! 

Of course, only for 15 hours or so, providing Thirsty Thursday isn't scuppered by Dudley or Eunice.

See you over on Twitter for that.  If you read every word of that, I'm astonished but thanks.




  1. You had to walk 8 minutes to catch an Uber ? That's daft.

    Being up to date on the blog is terrifying, isn't it ?

  2. I grew up around the Buzzard and Hemel. I was so small when my family moved to Edlesborough that I thought Leighton was a big town. I'm so old that the 'Spoons was still a cinema when I lived in Hemel. I used to go to Briden's Camp on the back of a friend's motorbike; we would have a couple of pints of Abbot and then ride back again - this was before helmets had been invented of course.

    Thanks for the little trip down memory lane. But you really need to be more polite about Hemel's roundabout - it's far superior to Swindon's.