Anatomy of a Pub Crawl
When Old PH, my predecessor on this column, suggested a quarter peal at Highgate followed by a pub crawl on the Gospel Oak to Barking railway line, I was, as you may surmise, not uninterested. A 9.30 start implied that there might be some serious drinking to follow and indeed it was so, although a reasonable amount of travelling and some extrabibular activities ensured it was not too punishing a schedule.
Quarter scored, a quick walk across the corner of Hampstead Heath brought us to the Old Oak, wherein sundry North London CAMRA stalwarts were already foregathered. The only ale on offer was London Pride, an over-hyped and under-hopped beer in my opinion, but it was undeniably well kept. On the train it struck me how knowledgeable ringers and beer drinkers tend to be on railway matters; I had only to mention the Croydon Tramway having taken over parts of the Bingham Road line (closed 1981) and everyone listening knew whereof I spoke.
Next stop was Crouch Hill and the White Lion of Mortimer (Wetherspoon) where breakfast was still being served. Now I am not normally in the habit of taking bacon and eggs with my beer (or vice versa), but it was May Day and, having heard on the radio that the gentlemen choristers of Magdalen College are treated to “a fry up with beer and brandy” after their dawn chorus from the top of the tower, some of us decided to follow that worthy example (albeit minus the brandy). Thus fortified with a “full Monty” and a pint of Wychwood St George (good robust bitter with a distinct fragrance), we were ready for the first diversion - a stroll around the Railway Fields Nature Reserve, a little haven for wildlife created from a disused goods yard, complete with a pond full of newts and an imposing Victorian stench pipe.
The Salisbury at Haringey, a very fine pub (on the Inventory of Unspoilt Interiors), had the full range of Fuller’s ales, so we naturally eschewed the ubiquitous Pride for the lighter, hoppier and eminently quaffable Chiswick. The Oakdale Arms provided an opportunity to sample a brace of milds: Lidstone’s Rowley (surprisingly meaty for 3.2% with overtones of coffee and vanilla) and Nethergate Priory (thinner with hints of marzipan). At this juncture, the transport arrangements went somewhat awry with predictable consequences. Driven to seek relief in a garden, I found myself being shouted at by an irate resident and, mouthing profuse apologies, fled in pursuit of the rest of the party.
Almost an hour behind schedule we arrived at the Markfield Beam Engine. Sadly, this magnificent beast, which in its heyday pumped four million gallons of sewage daily, has not been steamed up since 1994, despite being meticulously maintained in working order, and faces an uncertain future. We heard of a worker who was killed when he attempted to stop the thing by thrusting a rod into the 30 ton flywheel – a salutary lesson in respect for the laws of physics which was not lost on the ringers present.
Having now been without beer for nearly two hours, we set off at a brisk pace along the River Lea towpath and after a rather optimistically-judged ten minutes arrived at the Anchor and Hope, a “good honest boozer” in Clapton. Having already had the other two of Fuller’s regular bitters, it seemed opportune to sample the ESB which turned out to be in excellent condition. A little further downstream is the Princess of Wales (apparently the name underwent a gender change a few years ago), a Young’s house, rather more up-market and, in the view of most of the company, lacking in character. Hopes of enjoying the seasonal St George’s Ale (a truly magnificent beer – try it while you can) were not fulfilled but the “Ordinary” was everything it should be except the right temperature (a shade too cold).
A bus ride took us to the door of the Drum (Wetherspoon) in Leyton. Having never yet been disappointed by the products of York Brewery, I was tempted by Centurion’s Ghost, a pleasantly potent porter (5.4% with liquorice and vanilla flavours and a long, roasted malt finish). Just around the corner (although we went by a circuitous route to pay homage at Old PH’s birthplace) is the King William IV, a capacious and well-preserved pub which may once have housed a boxing ring, not uncommon in those parts. We sat beneath the stern gaze of a stuffed head of an extremely large bovine creature (a fat bull of Bashan perhaps?). Unfortunately the quality one has come to expect from some of Yorkshire’s newer breweries (York, Linfit, Black Sheep, Old Mill) is not generally shared by the older establishments in that county (Timothy Taylor being an honourable exception). Our pint of Barnsley Bitter was reminiscent of a glass of water in which several sticks of celery have festered for a week or so.
And on that sour note, the ringing contingent left the few remaining CAMRA diehards to continue to Barking and went in search of a well-earned curry.
There has been mention in the press recently of the Government wishing to promote “café bar culture” in this country. This just confirms my suspicion that the English pub is yet another of our national institutions which the man Blair would like to abolish, along with the House of Lords, hunting, the more colourful aspects of our legal system and probably, though he dare not admit as much yet, the Monarchy. I have never heard his views on bells and ringing but I would hazard a guess that they don’t feature very prominently in his vision of “cool Britannia” or whatever it’s called now.
Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.
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