Archive for August 2009
The Nutshell is 15 feet by 7 feet and as such is the smallest pub in Britain. I just went to the Railway Arms in Downham Market a few days earlier and thought nothing could be smaller but there is another room to move out to once you’ve placed your order there; not so the Nutshell.
But, that’s not such a bad thing. The bar is unusually cozy even crammed elbow-to-elbow into the small quarters. The staff is friendly and there’s plenty to look at if you can see past your neighbour’s forehead once you apologise for breathing on his ear. I only stopped in for the one before heading off for a kebab and the bus back home, but here are a few photos from the visit:
An hour and a half of fairly heavy rain ended 5 minutes before I finished my run and the streets were already becoming steamy by the time I entered the Grapes. I changed to my dry clothes (always have a dry bag with you out here) and went back to order a pint of Fosters; 1o minutes later, the incompetent little loser behind the bar was STILL trying to finish an order for a beer and a glass of wine for the woman ahead of me while more customers piled up behind. Having finished with her, he walked off and had a short chat with the other bartender who had been ignoring everyone completely; here’s a sort of half assed picture of the less half assed of these two:
The building is nice and situated near the major markets in this major market town. The menu is Greene King standard so I opted to just have my beer and read a few chapters in Infinite Jest and watch the fiasco unfold before me. Had I ordered the food, I would probably still be waiting on it lo these several days later.
The rain dogged me for 5 miles and I felt the need for a break as I passed through Barrow. The Three Horseshoes presented itself and I accepted its challenge. While I waited to order my IPA, I noticed the fresh seafood menu board was especially well stocked and the dining area half full; not bad as far off the beaten path as this is. Who knows what amount of custom they might muster if they ever bothered to wash the filth off the pub sign.
An old guy in front of me ordered an Abbot (higher alcohol, like 5.2%, I think) and a half pint of lager for his wife seated out in the dining area. He then dispatched the Abbot in two gulps and took the half to the missus…I imagine he is either officially on the wagon or will say, “here you go dear, one for you, oh and yes I’d love a pint as well, I’ll be right back.” Funny.
Snooker table, public bar, lounge, dining area and a garden that backs up onto a field of sweet corn.
Opted to start a run after the fortification against wind and rain that a pint of Guinness would provide. Fortunately, the bus stop in Kentford was directly across from the Cock, and even more fortunately they were open.
The house is huge and has a substantial garden. It appears to be focused on dining, but there was a pretty good sized public bar and the music piped in was loud and raucous. However, the girls behind the bar turned it down when I ordered and put a gardening show on the telly…how mortifying, but I should come to terms with the fact that this is what I project to the world, eh?
They were also pests, stopping by far too frequently to check if I was doing okay there. They cleared off when I stood and stripped off my trousers (hey, I had running shorts underneath) and I was able to finish my warm up and route plan in peace. And, then it started to rain.
My run ended at the rail station in Downham Market and I had twenty minutes to wait for my train. The Railway Arms looked closed but the door opened and I found myself in a VERY small pub (two at the bar and it’s crowded) with Elgood’s Mad Dog on tap. Excellent.
Rail pubs used to exist in every station. You could, say, miss your train when another was coming along in 15 and have a beer. If your ticket didn’t get stamped, you could hop off at the next station for another quick one. Then by the time you reached your destination you would be completely hammered.
I lucked up with the R.A. This was the second Sunday they had opened, on a trial basis, to see if Sunday was worth coming in. I had a nice conversation with a guy from Thetford about living in the flight path of an air force base (he, an RAF base; me, under Davis-Monthan AFB). Then it was time to go.
Leaving the King’s Lynn rail station for my Sunday run to Downham Market along the Great Ouse, I spotted the Fenman just across the street. It was early (10:15) but maybe it was open for a quick one before the journey…nope, it was closed and had been for some time (at least since 7 July, according to a web comment). A Carling in a can was the best I could manage for this little railway pub that needs a good caretaker. Sad.
We were on our way out of town, but I spotted the Penny Black and had to go in…it was converted from an old Post Office for one thing. For another, it was a Wetherspoons which always have interesting beers and are dead cheap to drink in. I had a White House and we settled into a window to watch the market traffic.
Typical Wetherspoons pub…cavernous, lots of seating but not crowded, and good use of furnishing placement to creat an illusion of intimate spaces. Oh, yeah, and it’s dead cheap.
[Update 23 June 2010: It appears that the Pioneer is going to remain closed for the foreseeable...see last photo in this post.]
After walking around Bicester for an hour we were hungry and thirsty and standing in front of an estate agent’s window when I saw Ye Olde Pioneer reflected in front of some lettings posts. We walked in expecting a rock club from the appearance (sticky floors, cavernous and sparsely furnished, tattooed biker dude bartending) but were assaulted by the worst music ever on the P.A. system…the only one I could pick out was the Back Street Boys, but you get the picture. All I can figure is they pissed someone off at lunch who then loaded the jukebox with the worst shit they could think of before fucking off to whereever that sort of person goes (I used to just go to another bar when I’d do it).
The beer choice was simple as well and I had a lager. The most entertaining bit was the condom machine in the bathroom, though…here is a snap and some close ups of the offerings:
The music turned before we finished our peanuts and drinks and there was actually some Doors and Rolling Stones on tap. It does look like a fun place for live music, but it seems pretty bleak in the afternoon.
Update and photo, 23 June 2010:
I’ve passed this many times since moving to Bicester in February, but since it is now 6 months since the sign changed I think I can call it…time of death, late December 2009:
The White Horse is tiny, wedged as it is between two halves of a large bookstore across from the History of Science Museum. But it has several taps of real ale and a surly staff, so I felt right at home.
We seemed to be the first customers of the day (it was almost 11 am) but were soon followed by a teacher from Kansas who pointed out that this pub was featured in a bunch of Inspector Morse episodes (she is a fan). We actually came in becuase of its association with Bill Clinton during his student days.
The bar soon became crowded with some Basque family (circus freaks, I thought at first, but they just seemed to be tourists after observing them awhile). The one that seemed to speak the most english kept bothering the grumpy bartender for coffee, first ordering a round of espresso (“I ain’t got that, love, I just have coffee”), then after two or three coffees were served she returned and asked for capuchino…I thought he was going to skip a saucer off the top of her head, but he just turned and said, a little loudly, “I remember when this USED to be a pub.”
Hey, dude, we were doing OUR part, anyways.
We went to Oxfordshire to assess the housing market and to reconnoiter a few possible neighbourhoods and villages for our move when the time comes. We found a reasonably priced room in the Bat and Ball Inn in Cuddesdon, a small village a few miles ESE of Oxford. We were too early to check in but had some delicious pizza and salad along with a pint of LBW (leg before wicket, keeping with the cricket theme of the pub).
There was cricket memorabilia everywhere, and every rafter was lined with bats. The rooms were even named after famous cricketers (our room was named for Geoff Boycott and had some framed items from him including the letter wherein he politely blew off the proprietor’s request that he attend the grand opening and dedication of the Boycott Room).
Ironic name, considering...but, he's really very busy
Cuddesdon is small. Very small. The nearest newstand is in the next village a few miles away. The pub is the only game in town. I got in a nice run to the village of Great Milton, though, and explored nearby Garsington the next morning and found both to be pleasant and hillier but reminiscent of Stretham. Wheatley, two miles to the north of Cuddesdon, is fairly large by comparison.
Breakfast was included and delicious. The english know fuck-all about sausages, but the ones served with our eggs, baked tomato, grilled portobello mushroom, rasher of bacon, and toast was unusual in that it had a sausage-esque flavour and texture (and no discernable breading). The pub dog was ready to take care of anything we found inedible, though.
The Ely section of CAMRA voted the West End House “Pub of the Year 2009″ and it seems a nice enough place to have a pint. I’ve been trying to hit the place for months but they are only open at lunchtime then reopen at 6pm and it has just never meshed with my schedule in spite of being just a short run from the house.
There are a couple of small bars inside and a lot of ales, but the interesting ales weren’t ready to tap yet so I took my Spitfire outside. The garden decor has a very ‘Desert Southwestern US’ feel which is disturbing having moved here fromTucson. The walls had painted features like in some touristy mexican restaurants:
And, the walls were peppered with lizard and other scultures that evoke New Mexico more than Olde England:
The Plough is very cool. Barely distinguishable from a small house on the outside, on the inside it is two very cozy little rooms crammed with old horse brasses, photos of long ago cricket and rugby teams, and memorabilia from Thailand.
That’s right, Thailand…y’know, elephant carvings and a plastic kitty waving at you. I am assured that this is a top-notch Thai kitchen and the cook and landlord were there to vouch for exactly that.
On a Tuesday noon, late in the summer, though, no one else was in to bother me as I quenched my thirst (after a 6 mile loop thru fields and the village of Coveney) with a Nelson’s Revenge. Yum.
Jackie had an alergic reaction to a bee sting and wasn’t able to get around as well as normal for our trip to the North Sea resort town of Felixstowe. A wee visit to the town center, a stroll along a few miles of the beach, and dropping a few coins on a game of chance in one of the casinos and she was pretty much done in. But, we had worked up an appetite and a thirst and since all the seafood vendors on the strand were closed on Monday we dove into the Old Millars.
The place is pretty big with large dining and drinking areas on the left and right both upstairs and in the sub-street level. There are lots of old brass workshop gear (parafin torches, carpentry squares, etc) bolted to the woodwork here and there, and the tables are large enough for substantial parties but the big attraction is the view of the Sea and the shipping lane to the Port of Felixstowe about 3 miles down the beach (you can also watch the ferries to or from the Hague leaving or arriving at Harwich across the river). We arbitrarily chose this view, however, and only saw the folks hanging out around the arcade:
The fish was good, especially for a Monday although we (probably wisely) avoided the special which was poached salmon. There were especially large portions of cod and chips (the grilled fish J got came with roasted potatos) and the beer was Woodforde’s Wherry, always a favourite.
With twenty minutes until the next bus there was just time for a pint of Elgood’s Golden Newt (strong cocoa flavour to this one) at the Old English Gentleman. The pub was friendly though packed, the landlady was attentive and cheerful, the architecture was like being in an old ships hold or in a pub in a black and white movie version of some Falstaffian saga…in short, a perfect place to stop in.
Decided on a kebab after wolfing down a beer before the bus and thought I had time; but, coming out of the kebab shop I spotted the bus passing and tried to race it for about a mile but never got to another bus stop before it cleared town traffic and left me to walk back to the High Street. Lo and behold, the Eight Bells was there to welcome me in.
The 8 Bells is a little too nice for the likes of me and seems to specialise in good food, so I ordered a Staropramen and snuck my doner out to the porch by the car park.
I was right about too nice for me as a caravan of limosines and fine coupes deposited a large number of well dressed folks right in front of me, each giving a more or less disdainful look at my feast. Oh, well, at least I was in the open air and they couldn’t really smell it (or me, for that matter). The poor relations to this large party (either a wedding or a funeral) that showed up in a fleet of late model Fords seemed a little more down-to-earth, though.
There was time before the bus to Cambridge to grab a quick one and I found it irresistable to pass up a bar called the Temperance. Unfortunately, that was just one of those misreadings and the place was actually the Temeraire, but by that time I had already ordered a White Adder and found my way to a table.
It was a Wetherspoons, so everything was cheap, but I didn’t really have time for food. Since everything was cheap, the early afternoon crowd was all pensioners and layabouts, both of which make for a nice atmosphere. Another nice atmospheric aspect was the collection of odd landscapes and portraiture on the walls, but I’m a lousy decorator my own self so I’ll leave the pictures to speak for themselves.
The King’s Arms is on Market Hill in Saffron Walden, a side street just below the big church. Seek it out, it is a nice old brick building with a pleasant porch in the parking lot and friendly folks populating the place.
I had a Bateman’s XXXB and had a look around at the slate roof, the old beams, the worn wooden floor, and the narrow rooms. Then, realising how drenched I was from the run I went outside and switched into my dry shirt and pulled some sweats over my shorts. A middle aged Glaswegian fellow came out and we had a good chat about allergies and just what the fuck two good ol’ boys such as ourselves were doing in southern England (the north, here usually referred to with some derogatory inflection as The North, has the same reputation as the South does back in the US for inbred, ignorant and generally backwards folk–although Norfolk seems to give The North a run for its money).
I didn’t know where to catch my bus, though, and it only runs once an hour so I had to leave after one pint. Pity.
Cambridgeshire is dead flat whilst Essex has some pretty decent hills. The run continuing from the Ickleton Lion to Saffron Walden was pleasantly challenging as a result and I felt like I earned another beer by the time I rolled into the charming village of Littlebury.
Rounding a curve toward the road that runs past Audley End I spotted the Queen’s Head, a large coaching inn with an 18th century atmosphere and a gigantic garden. I had another Moreland’s Best (it’s a Green King pub, but one of the good ones) and stayed inside as I was drenched with sweat and the cool breeze would have had me shivering in no time. I watched some plates come out for the builders that were huddled around the bar and the food looks much better than the typical GK pub fare, as well.
I passed through Ickleton a few miles into a run between Duxford and Saffron Walden and spotted the Ickleton Lion. The bar was packed and there was a line but the service was slow on its own merit. Still, there were more than a hundred hungry (and some thirsty) patrons in the place and seated in the garden, so the two ladies up front were probably knackered.
I took my Moreland’s Best Bitter outside and found a table where I could be hounded by bees and get my bearings for a couple of minutes before continuing the journey. One of the tables received some very delicious looking and substantial nachos with cheese, peppers, chili, sour cream, etc and tucked right in. It may be the only game in town (which is probably why they don’t feel the need to wash their sign), but it looks like the folks crowd into the Lion for the food more than anything else.
Now, this was more like it…the Gloucester Arms is sort of a dive but has quite a bit of old-pub atmosphere as well. They also have pints for 2 quid (most pumps, check the list) from 3-7 pm and rock bands most evenings and a not-too-loud-to-chat-over jukebox. The bartenders look like roadies for Metallica and the crowd seems interested in a laugh and a beer, or two of each if they’re going.
We found a wobbly table under a stairwell and I started with a Vale’s Black Beauty Porter which was especially floral and had a palpable texture to it–thick and viscous and yet with a fairly clean finish. The chat ranged from physics and chemistry to hashing (Matt isn’t a hasher but his first beer WAS at a hash, out of new shoes no less, at quite a bit younger than the circle should have allowed him to be drinking…thoroughly impressive, that). By the time we were throwing down the 2nd round, I was bouncing the stupidest science idea I ever had off my poor, trapped colleague who was probably grateful that my last bus (he was on the train) was due.