Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Viper - Mill Green

On my return journey from Norfolk last weekend, I managed to call in at another pub on CAMRA’s National Heritage Register. This time it was the Viper at Mill Green, a few miles from Ingatestone and one of only two pubs in the country to be named after Britain’s sole poisonous snake.

It wasn’t quite a spur of the moment decision to stop there, but having enjoyed my visit to the Cock at Brent Eleigh on the outward journey, I really fancied stopping off somewhere on the trip home. I always think it best to put the bulk of the journey behind oneself when planning such a stop; as that way there is far less driving to undertake afterwards. In addition after a couple of hours in the saddle, one is in need of a break, if only to answer the call of nature; something which seems to get more frequent as one becomes older!

I had a copy of the 2013 Good Beer Guide in the car, and was looking for a pub down towards the bottom half of Essex, close to the M25. I saw the National Inventory listed Viper, at Mill Green on the map, and noticed that it was just off the A12 and close to London’s Orbital Motorway, but the only problem was my road atlas wasn’t exactly the most detailed of maps. I had been staying at dad’s bungalow, where there is no Wi-Fi, plus mobile reception is at best sporadic,  and was cursing the fact that I probably had a much larger scale OS Map of the area sitting on the bookshelf at home.

Fortunately, on the Saturday, I decided to call in for breakfast at the Romany Rye; the Wetherspoon’s outlet in nearby Dereham, and so was able to reconnect with civilisation, as well as doing a spot of research. After my rather satisfying breakfast, I was clicking between WhatPub and Google Maps on my phone in order to map out the best route to Mill Green. By zooming in, I was able to get road names and all the information I required. I wrote the directions down, by which time I was on my third cup of the chain’s strong filter coffee, but I had what I needed, and when on the following day the time came to put the instructions into practice, they worked a treat.

I have reached the conclusion though that a Sat-Nav would make life a lot easier, even though I have always shied away from the idea of electronic navigation aids. However, it’s not a good idea trying to read directions whilst driving along; let alone trying to navigate off a map! Such a device would also come into its own when I’ve got the family with me, as none of them seem capable of reading a map

I said goodbye to dad just after half eleven on Sunday morning and set off down the A11 and M11. I left the latter at the junction prior to the M25 and headed east towards Chelmsford. The A414 isn’t the best of roads, but it did take me through some pleasant villages on the edge of Epping Forest. The rest of my directions worked a treat and just after 2pm I was pulling up at the car park opposite the Viper.
I thought I had missed the Viper at at first, because I noticed another fine looking pub, called the Cricketers, on my right as I drove into Mill Green. On the return journey I saw that the Cricketers belonged to Gray & Sons of Chelmsford; a family firm who stopped brewing in 1974, just as CAMRA was starting to get going. Grays are still independent, but for the past 40 years have operated as a pub-owning company, buying in their beers from a variety of other family brewers.

I digress. The Viper is situated on the edge of a wood. It is a white-painted building, which appears to be a pair of 19th Century cottages knocked into one. Extensions added to the left-and-right mean the Viper is now a four-room pub, but given the fact my visit was on a busy Sunday lunchtime, I didn’t get the chance to investigate the room at the far right. The right hand half of the pub is obviously the posh part; as evidenced by the notice requesting walkers in muddy boots to use the left hand section of the building. It was here that I parked myself at a small table in the equally small "tap room" which occupies the centre left of the pub. Service here is via a door which doubles up as a hatch.
This suited me fine and I enjoyed the feel of the simply furnished room, which I shared with a family and their dog. What is described as the "public bar" on the far left, but on Sunday it was being used by a number of family groups. According to English Heritage, it became part of the pub later than the rest of the building.

There were five cask beers on offer, with Brentwood, Mighty Oak and Nethergate all providing a brew each. There were also two beers badged as “Viper Ales”; and these were VIPA (Viper IPA) at 3.5% ABV, plus the stronger Jake the Snake at 4.5%. I opted for a pint of the latter, and found it pale, well-hopped and just what was needed following a long drive. Apparently, Viper Ales are brewed by Nethergate and Mighty Oak, but I am not sure what brewery produces which ale.

I had only ordered a cheese sandwich, as I knew my wife had a stew on the go, in the slow cooker, waiting for me when I got home. It was a decent sandwich though, with chunky slices of bread, some nice strong mature Cheddar in the middle and some crisps and salad to go with it.

I only stayed for the one beer, but I have to say I was very taken with the Viper, its setting, its unspoilt plain interior and its friendly and efficient staff. It is hard to believe the pub is so close to both London and major transport links, as it seems a world away. It would be nice to return for a more leisurely visit; ideally after a walk in the woods.

I re-traced my route back through Ingatestone and then onto the A12. Forty-five minutes later I was back home, after a tiring, but enjoyable and most rewarding weekend.


Curmudgeon said...

Excellent pub name - the sort that Greene King would probably think was a bit offputting to customers.

And good to see the traditional "four triangles" sandwich rather than ciabattas or whatever.

Paul Bailey said...

It's a great name and a great pub. Shame there aren't more similarly named establishments in the country.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece Paul, enjoy the level of detail about the journey.

Looks like the Viper is unchanged since I visited a decade ago, though it's out of the current Beer Guide (there's a lot of competition and a small allocation in Chelmsford branch). Lovely walking round there, and some decent pubs in all the villages. Not a popular thing to say, but you get a decent Greene King IPA round there !