Thursday 23 May 2024

Dunstable and Luton Pub Explorations

Treat this as a note of caution...
First you browse the Good Beer Guide and count how many pubs in your home county you've been to. Perhaps add some ticks or colour the map.
Wonder how feasible it would be to visit all of them and maybe those in the neighbouring county too...
And before you know it, you're pub ticking in Dunstable on a Monday evening.
The Globe (43 Winfield Street, Dunstable, LU6 1LS)
I really liked the Globe - a fine trad street corner pub, the front door open on a warm evening and the sounds of conversation and laughter drifting out as I approached.

Step inside and the main space has wooden floors and lots of bench seating down one side.  Bottles on ledges, old brewery signs, and a bookshelf packed with beer books and GBG's from the past 25 years or so.  There's also another area to the right of the front door with some sofas for those who prefer to sink into their seating.

Cask options on the bar were locals Vale 'Black Beauty' and Tring 'Colley's Dog', and the less local Wadworth '6X' and Exmoor 'Gold', the latter with a homemade cardboard and marker pen pump clip.
I took a decent Black Beauty to a big table towards the back of the pub and marveled at how much noise the handful of locals were managing to make on a Monday evening.

Just under 10 minutes walk away, down the main drag, then right at the crossroads towards the police station is the second current beer guide listed pub... 
The Victoria (69 West Street, Dunstable, LU6 1ST)
This looked traditional - red and white frontage, wheelie bins, and Union Jack.

Stepping inside, The Victoria is a small basic old fashioned boozer of the type lesser seen in my neck of the woods.
In the L-shaped room there is a grand total of 4 regular tables and 2 round posing tables with stools at them.  Games machine next to the door, darts board tucked in a corner.
My wide-angle photo option to capture the whole pub hasn't done that chaps belly any favours - sorry!
The Victoria was quiet, the locals speculated to the chap at the bar that he'd be closing early.
Two beers on offer: Adnams 'Ghost Ship' and my, rather ropey, house beer, Tring 'Victoria Ale' 

The jukebox fired into action by itself - The Easybeats 'Friday on my Mind', rather rushing the week away on a Monday evening.
The locals berated Premier League football players and this weeks ludicrous friendly between Spurs and Newcastle in Australia.  (They're too tired to play FA cup replays remember).

Tring beer drunk, I bade the few folk in the pub farewell and wandered down the street to catch a bus to Luton.
Handily completing my Dunstable sightseeing en-route...
I missed the bus by seconds, but was happy to discover it was only 6-minutes to the next one on a frequent service.  Dunstable and Luton are connected by a busway - where buses turn onto a dedicated track and little wheels kick into action to guide them for an 8-mile stretch.
It was opened in 2013, utilising the disused Dunstable railway branch line, closed by Beeching in 1965.
I've been keen to travel on this ever since getting over-excited by the Cambridge to St Ives busway.  Single-deckers on this one, scuppering my picture. 
From Dunstable to the cosmopolitan environs of Luton.
So where to?  The Bricklayers Arms, I think.  A beer guide pub that I hadn't previously visited, located in the High Town on the northern side of the train station.
The Bricklayers Arms (16-18 High Town Road, Luton, LU2 0DD)
I do quite like the giant Spoons with it's ever-present security guards, but I reckon the Bricklayers is probably my favourite Luton pub.
It has a great feel to it - wooden floors, a few big barrels to perch on, two rooms, loads of Hatters memorabilia.

There was also a good choice of ales on offer from Ossett, Oakham, Vale, and my delicious Roman Way 'Ad Astra'.
It happened to be pub quiz evening, so the front room was busy, relegating me to a perch in the back where I contemplated the questions for the first couple of rounds and figured I wouldn't have been a great deal of help to any quiz team.

Just a short walk along the bustling and interesting High Town Road took me to the Painters Arms.  
The Painters Arms (79 High Town Road, Luton, LU2 0BW)
This is the local Heritage Pub gem, featuring tiling, old fireplaces, and big wooden partitions.
A doorway leads you into a wood panelled porch with doors to the Bar, Saloon, and Jug Bar. 
 I headed through to the saloon, where they've gone all out with the Luton Town flags.
There's no real ale on offer here and even the John Smith's smooth was off, so Strongbow or Guinness is your best bet to sip whilst admiring the heritage interior and watching horse racing on TV.
They did have the best soundtrack of the day - a bit of Hendrix, AC/DC, and Fleetwood Mac met with my approval.
I'm glad I've visited the Painters and I enjoyed my cheese & onion Tayto's.  Not sure I'd want to rush back and stay until the 3am closing time on a weekend, though.

Back across the other side of the railway line, on the pedestrianised street leading into town, you'll find another pub that gets a mention on the Heritage pubs site.
The Great Northern (63 Bute Street, Luton, LU1 2EY)
I've visited this old pub a couple of times and there's something I quite like about it.  Step round the corner onto Guildford Street and there are young folk on benches playing rap music and smoking pungent reefers.  Venture into the Great Northern and you're in a whole different world of old blokes singing along to Smooth Radio and talking about WWII fighter planes.

They only have the one ale on: St Austell 'Tribute' this time, but it was Tribute on pretty good form.
That was to be my last pub in Luton on this occasion.
Maybe they'll be a surge in real ale pubs when CAMRA move their HQ to the town later this year.

I hopped back aboard a busy bus and whizzed along the busway again, returning to Dunstable.  The remainder of the evening was to be spent in a very modern Wetherspoon's pub...
The Gary Cooper (Grove Park, Court Drive, Dunstable, LU5 4GP)
The outdoor patio had been packed earlier in the afternoon, in a pleasant location next to Grove Park.  Only the hardcore remained outside in the evening chill and most seemed to have gone home with the high-ceilinged expanse inside pretty empty at 9.30pm.

The Gary Cooper has retained a place in the Beer Guide for a fair few years now, with Evan Evans 'WPA' and 3 Brewers 'IPA' the guests on offer alongside spoons regulars.

And they're definitely in contention for a place in my Best Statues in Spoons list...

That was the end of my Dunstable pub explorations...for the time being at least.
My appreciation for anyone who's stuck with the post and read the waffle or just looked at the pictures of pubs in these lesser loved towns.
Cheers 🍻

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Didcot Pub Crawl

The Prop Up the Bar Guide to Discerning Didcot Drinking.

"What’s great in Didcot?" 
asked Retired Martin at the end of his half dozen pubs in Oxfordshire post.
Y'now what? I don't know.  So let's pick a nice sunny day and go and find out.

I decided to start at the outlier for my first pub of the day: north of the railway lines, on the 90's Ladygrove estate. 
The Ladygrove (23 Cow Lane, Didcot, OX11 7SZ)
It's nice that this big housing estate (home to around 7,000 of Didcot's 34,500 folk) was at least built with a pub.  It's the last thing on the mind of those in charge of planning satellite Oxford estates.

Marston's 'Pedigree' or 'Hobgoblin Gold' was the choice of cask ale on offer.
Pint of Pedigree for myself - NBSS 2 - very average.

Most of the lunchtime custom were sat outside on the patio enjoying a spell of good weather.  So it was very empty within, providing me with an ample choice of seats by TV screens on which to watch BLO beating HAR (?) 6-2 in the ladies futsol.  That'd be live sport on TV for the sake of it.

The Ladygrove is a big place with two different sides to it.  To the right is the bar with its plentiful screens and pool table, to the left is a choice of two lounges with softer seating and space aimed at the family diners.

There was no sign of anyone eating, so I'm not sure if the pub was doing any lunchtime food when I visited.  But it is handily close to the chip shop.

There's a little hill in the centre of the estate, up which I clamboured to eat my chips (half the calories offset by doing that, surely).  With the power station towers now demolished, the view consists of rooftops, parkland, and the football ground (the Railwaymen didn't fare very well this season).

Chips finished, I made my way back under the railway tracks and into the heart of the town.  Past the pedestrian shopping streets, cinema, and Cornerstone arts complex, and on to Pub#2.
Broadways (132 Broadway, Didcot, OX11 8RG)
This is probably your best bet as a 'lively' Didcot pub, should you be bolder than me and explore the town's hostelries of a Saturday evening.  There's lots of floor space, a DJ booth, and some big speakers.  And a photo booth, strangely enough.

The cask on offer was St Austell 'Tribute' or Charles Wells 'Bombardier', but I veered off the real ale and went with fizzy cider here.

More TV sport for the sake of it, with a rerun of a football fixture from the previous evening which absolutely nobody was paying any attention to.  Pop radio at a sensible volume in the background with a bit of Lady GaGa and Ariane Grande to entertain us.

I trust when a CAMRA tour is next arranged to rate the beer in Didcot pubs, the VIP corner will be reserved for us...

I moved on, with fingers crossed that I may be approaching a more interesting beer choice in Pub#3, a short walk along the Broadway.
The Mulberry (237 Broadway, Didcot, OX11 8QJ)
This was formerly called the Wallingford Arms and was reputedly quite rough 'n' ready, before closing in 2013.  Five years down the line, it was smartened-up and given the new name by the same folks who were, at the time, running the Blueberry in a nearby village.  After another spell of closure - a Covid casualty - it's been back in action since 2022.

This was the first pub in which I encountered a queue.  And a local beer.  And a South Oxford CAMRA magazine to pick up at the bar.
A points deduction for the Mulberry for having Fat Les on the TV/stereo when I arrived.  A woeful footy anthem which I knew would be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Dammit, I'm humming it again now!

The modern design isn't going to appeal to all - parquet flooring, hues of blue & grey paint, high stools, scatter cushions, arty bits and bobs on the walls.
But the beer choice was good, with two locals: Loose Cannon 'Abingdon Bridge' and Lovebeer 'Wibbly Wobbly Whippet'; alongside the Timothy Taylor 'Landlord'.

The Lovebeer for me - brewed a few miles away in the village of Milton - not my favourite beer of their's, but this was a step in the right direction.  NBSS 2.5 - just creeping above average and towards good.

From the crossroads that the Mulberry sits on, I headed southwards along Park Road, making a fairly long trek to Pub#4.
Royal Oak (118 Park Road, Didcot, OX11 8QR)
This is a big old place - an interwar estate pub, built in 1936 at a time when the town was rapidly expanding.  Step through the front door and the bar counter is in front of you, with spacious rooms to either side.  To the back, it's roomy enough to house not one but two pool tables.

There was a bit of beer disappointment with the most interesting pump clips sporting 'coming soon' tags.  As this was a Thursday, I guess they increase the range for the weekend.

Top marks to the staff member who was pulling the Deuchars for me, coming to a conclusion that it wasn't going to settle and was probably past best.  A large proportion of pubs would have handed that over to me.
Unfortunately, that left me with the unexciting Old Speckled Hen - NBSS 2 - dull beer on average form.

And another pub with an obsession that the TV must be on, even if there is nothing to show and no-one is the slightest bit interested.

A walk back to the Mulberry, then right along Wantage Road, led me Pub#5, one of the few in Didcot that I'd actually visited before.
The Wheatsheaf (Wantage Road, Didcot, OX11 0BS)
The current red brick building dates back to the early 20th century, built on the site of a much older Wheatsheaf which burnt down when the thatched roof caught fire .  Anyone time-warped from the original 17th century rural inn would be a bit taken aback by the flashing lights of games machines, loud poptastic music, and yet more giant TV screens.
WhatPub tells me the Wheatsheaf has a "Well deserved reputation for quality and variety of its beers", but I was to be disappointed (again!).

All cask off when I visited - "back on in a couple of hours", the chap at the bar promised, although I wasn't dedicated enough in my pub research to hang around and find out.
That left me with a half of Beavertown 'Neck Oil'. 

Getting closer to completing the pubs of town, my penultimate destination was in the 'old' bit of Didcot.
The Queens Arms (Manor Road, Didcot, OX11 7JY
This Greene King pub sits on a rise above the road, eluding the good photo thanks to the sun being right behind it.  There were two rooms either side of the bar, with pool table and exit to a patio to one side.
Three cask ales on offer: St Austell 'Tribute' from Cornwall, Morland 'Original', once from Abingdon, now from Bury St Edmunds, and Hogs Back 'TEA' from Surrey.
TEA please (NBSS 3 - good).
"How many are you planning on having?" asked the chap sat at the end of the bar, concerned about leaving enough for himself and nodding his satisfaction when I replied just the one.  
A lovely picture of the handpumps spoilt by the football badge!
There was a battle between the Chase on TV (or 'bop bop biddly biddly bop', as the local fella referred to it) and the jukebox.  Most of the folk at the bar stuck up for the youngster who'd fed her dad's coins into the jukebox and put on Olivia Rodrigo's 'Vampire' (clean version?).
I'm not really sure whether music or TV came out on tops.  The volume seemed to rise for a bit of Pink Floyd, but must have come down again as we were all answering quiz questions by the time I was nearing the end of my pint.
"Ere, tell him he can 'ave another one", said the Hogs Back man at bar.

Which just left me with Pub#7 on the Didcot crawl.
If I really had to...Completion and all that.
The Prince of Wales (113 Station Road, Didcot, OX11 7NN)
This has a prime location opposite the train station and has admittedly lured me in a couple of times as an alternative to waiting on the platform.  Subsequently, you can find the Prince of Wales very busy with commuters and locals, so I guess it does the job for some people.
Just not me.  

Ghastly colours in an impersonal open plan room divided by random display case full of bottles.  And a choice of Greene King 'IPA' or 'Abbot', served without a smile.
No-one at the bar checked that I wasn't going to swoop in and drink all their IPA.
So there you have it - all the pubs of Didcot.
Nothing to trouble Martin's half-a-dozen pubs in Oxfordshire, or the Good Beer Guide for the time being.
Seven pubs, and a choice of 12 different real ales encountered on my visits, although this would almost certainly increase if I'd have waited until the weekend.
And if you are in this neck of the woods, you're not far from the Plum Pudding in Milton, which I'll pay a revisit to in the coming weeks.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Plympton Pub Explorations

In which I visit the town of Plympton, where there will be Bass.  And a castle.  And Doom Bar.

But the observant will spot that the first pub picture isn't from Plympton at all...
The Dolphin (14 The Barbican, Plymouth, PL1 2LS)
Yep, I arrived at Plymouth train station just after 11am and with a 4pm opener in Plympton to take into consideration, figured it was probably too early to catch the onward bus.
So I strolled down to the Barbican and somehow avoided the soaking that seemed to have caught out several early pub-goers on their way to the Dolphin.
For pre-noon, the place was buzzing, with a good crowd in and the cask ale seeming to be the drink of choice.  Wet people took it in turns to stand in front of the fire for a couple of minutes, a small dog did the rounds checking if anyone was of any interest, a family played cards whilst dad discovered Bass and enthusiastically returned to the bar for another pint.

Other South-West ales are available, but unnecessary... 
Top quality.  Good enough for me to pop back for a second pint, switching plans of a sit-down lunch somewhere to just grabbing a pasty instead.
Just after 1pm, the drizzle set in over the bottom corner of Devon, I scooted up to the Royal Parade and boarded a bus for the 6-mile, 30-minute trip to Plympton.

Plympton now just gets called a 'suburb of Plymouth' but was once an important town in its own rights - one of the stannary towns trading in locally mined tin, located on a main route from Dartmoor to the coast.
I'm not sure if I missed many sights of the town, but due to the weather I just pulled my hood up and made haste to the London Inn.
The London Inn (8 Church Road, Plympton, PL7 1NH)
This was an absolute gem.  Just like the Dolphin, it was pleasingly busy on a midweek afternoon, a decent number of punters spread throughout the two rooms.

There were seven cask ales available, including two from South Hams Brewery, a 'Surfin' USA' IPA by St Austell that I've not seen before, one each from Nuttycombe and Piddle Brewery, and the temptation of Sarah Hugh's 'Dark Ruby Mild'.  And Bass on special offer.
Not a bad choice, eh?

Shame I was predictably dull and stuck with more Bass.
Which I took to the bench labelled 'Bullshit Corner', the neighbouring seats with their 'Grumpy Area' signage already taken. 
The Bass was on great form, but I did branch out and returned to the bar to order a superb South Hams 'Eddystone'.  I'd been constantly impressed by all the South Hams beers I'd had and made a point of calling into their brewery tap a week or so later.

Anyway - the London Inn is great.  Do visit if you're in the area.
Quality beer and brilliant staff.

Ariel shots and charcoal drawings of the pub on display - shame about the flag from that mid-table football team poking out between them...
Horse racing on the TV - the 2:30 from Market Rasen - with the volume down, The Undertones and the Clash providing the soundtrack.
And their own beer mats...

Despite the weather, I did clambour up the mound to the remaining few walls of the castle.
This historical and wet diversion out the way, I walked back to the main commercial street of Plympton and a retreat to Wetherspoon's.
The Stannary Court (95-99 Ridgeway, Plympton, PL7 2AA)
The building was once three shop units, before combining into one and becoming first the job centre, then the library.  Some would argue both those may be more enriching to a town that a Wetherspoons pub.  
It's not a bad branch of the chain, whilst not being anything special.  The guest cask ales were a Hanlon's 5%er or, my pick, the Bay's 'Devon Dumpling' at £2.63 (Spoons 50p off vouchers left at home again).

A little further along the same street I fancied trying something other than 'spoons and the beer guide pubs whilst in town.  And picked the black and white signage of the Craft Union local...
The Post Office Inn (39 Ridgeway, Plympton, PL7 2AW)
There are some pretty bold statements on their website...
"Pull up a stool at Post Office Inn Plympton – Plymouth's premier watering hole
Hunting for the top pub in Plymouth? Look no further, you've hit the jackpot!"

I'm not sure about those claims.  It was comfortable enough, although very quiet, failing to entice the daytime custom away from the competition up the road.
Doom Bar was the sole cask option, keenly priced at £2.70 a pint.
Obscure football on the TV screens, All About Eve 'Kind Hearted Woman' the pick of the tracks on an eclectic soundtrack.
I just had one more place to visit, the time having well and truly ticked past its 4pm opening time.  It was a fair trek to another part of town to reach the Union Inn, the dim lights giving me a moment of concern that it didn't look open when I arrived.
The Union Inn (17 Underwood Road, Plympton, PL7 1SY)
But step inside and this was another pub with an impressive midweek crowd of drinkers.  This is a much loved local inn where real ale and cider rules, the walls and beams covered in pump clips from the ever-changing range.
There were three real ciders when I visited, alongside more Bay's 'Devon Dumpling' and Tintagle 'Cornwall's Pride', the latter being my choice.
The landlord popped over to ask how the beer was - on great form, thank you very much.

A lovely place to end the afternoon's explorations as I started to think about catching those buses and trains for my journey.  A town with a couple of pubs well worth the effort of getting out of Plymouth to visit.