Monday, 25 October 2021

That there London place

Friday marked my first proper trip to London since December 2019. I'd passed through a couple of times, whilst travelling on to destinations further afield. Those occasions were connected with the “Proper Days Out” trips I made to Burton and Stockport, but the visit undertaken by Matthew, and I was our first trip to the capital, in 22 months.

For the record, Mrs PBT’s wasn’t over-keen on us going, given the steady increase in Covid-19 cases, and were it not for the fact I had promised Matthew, I’d accompany him, I might have bailed out too. That decision wouldn’t have been Covid related but followed on from the news that the Halfway House at Brenchley, were running a Green Hop Festival, and Friday would be the first day.

As many of you are probably aware, I’ve gone off beer festivals, but I knew that several friends from the WhatsApp Beer Socials Group were planning to attend, and it would have been good to take the bus over to Brenchley, enjoy a few Green Hop beers whilst catching up with friends and acquaintances who I hadn’t seen for quite some time.

A promise is a promise though, and despite a few slight misgiving’s to begin with, Matthew and I enjoyed an excellent day out. We boarded the 10.31 train to London, alighting at London Bridge. I still find myself gazing up in wonder at the way this once dingy and mishmash of a station has been transformed into the bright, spacious, and bustling space it is today, even though the construction work finished five or six years ago.

Both of us had purchased an All-Zones Travelcard, allowing us the travel around the capital by train, tube, or bus, but given the fine weather, we decided to walk to our first destination. This was a rather plain-looking pub in Bermondsey, that featured in the 1980’s series about a group of firefighters,  “London’s Burning.” Matthew wanted to see it, being a fan of series, so thinking that it probably wouldn’t open until midday anyway, the walk would also kill some time.

After crossing Tooley Street, which runs parallel to the station, I decided, on a whim, to take cut through the impressive Hay’s Galleria, to the Thames. This tastefully restored former dockside and wharf development is well worth seeing, and whilst I had made a very brief visit, a decade or so before, both of us were well impressed by the way in which former tea and produce warehouses have been restored. 

Upon reaching the riverbank, we took a right turn and headed eastwards along the Thames, in the direction of Tower Bridge. We stopped along the way to take photos of HMS Belfast, various city skyscrapers, the Tower of London plus the iconic bridge itself. 

There were quite a few tourists and sightseers out and about, all taking advantage of the late autumn sunshine, as we continued our walk, passing under Tower Bridge and then passed the long-closed, former Courage Brewery. The latter has been converted into upmarket apartments – no surprises there, given the views across the Thames from the river facing units. 

Turning away from the brewery, and along Horselydown Lane, we came upon the Anchor Tap. Formerly the tap for Courage’s brewery, I had a feeling the pub is now a Samuel Smith’s house, but with no outward clues, it wasn’t until I checked later, on What Pub, that the Tadcaster company was confirmed as the owner.

The Tap is a pub I’ve wanted to visit for some time, but we were too early for a drink. Matthew was also keen to find the pub from London’s Burning so we pressed on, coming across the Ship Aground, appropriately next door to Dockhead Fire Station. The latter has been rebuilt since the iconic 1980’s series was filmed and is a modern and rather functional looking building.

The pub looked OK from the outside, although Matthew wasn’t that keen in the end to step inside. Possibly the two, rather disreputable looking characters sat outside, with their dogs snarling and facing off against each other, put him off, and whilst I said it would probably be fine inside, he decided that it was too early for a drink! I wasn’t overly bothered, as I wanted to save myself for some better pubs, and potentially better beer, later on, so we took a few photos and then headed off towards Bermondsey underground station.

We took the Jubilee Line to Green Park, a destination that would afford the chance of a coffee under the trees and would also be within easy walking distance of the first of several National Heritage pubs on my agenda. Matthew was blissfully unaware that I’d picked out a few of these unspoiled gems for us to visit, instead of just heading out on a random pub-crawl. He really should know me better by now!

We visited three such pubs that day, and I intend to write about them all, but not in this article. Suffice to say we made our way to the first of these heritage pubs, by skirting Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial, before heading back up through Green Park, and across to St James’s Square. En route, we passed the intriguing brick-built, Palace of St James, observing two heavily armed police officers guarding the side entrance.

The pub chosen for our first beer of the day, was the Red Lion, an absolute gem of a place, and a “must see” for anyone who loves ornate Victorian engraved glass, etched, and cut decorative mirrors and polished mahogany. The Red Lion didn’t disappoint, and the London Pride didn’t either, but more about both in the next article.

We just had the one at the Red Lion, as we wanted something to eat, so after drinking up, we hurried along Jermyn Street and made our way to Trafalgar Square, via Haymarket. I was making for the Salisbury, another unspoilt classic Victorian pub, in St Martin’s Lane. On the way we stopped for a quick look at the food menu for the Chandos, which was displayed outside this well-known, Sam Smith’s pub.

On balance, the food offering at the Salisbury, which we’d already viewed online, seemed more attractive, so we stuck with my original choice. I was pleased to discover the pub wasn’t bursting at the seams, unlike my only previous visit, sometime in the late 1970’s! We even managed to find a seat, plus table. The beer choice was impressive, and that’s without me spotting the second set of hand pumps, hidden around the corner.

I went for a pint of Zephyr, from the resurrected Truman’s Brewery. If I’m honest, it wasn’t at its best, but remained quit drinkable.  For some reason, Matthew chose Amstell – a beer that might have been brewed in Amsterdam, when I visited in 1975, but now just another multi-national bland, that could be, and probably is,  brewed anywhere.

I went and ordered our food – gammon, egg, chips, and peas for Matthew, plus chicken & mushroom pie, mash, greens, and gravy for me. There were no pies though – something about the delivery not turning up. Sounds familiar? I opted instead for the Hunter’s Chicken, with chips, and coleslaw. It was a perfectly reasonable substitute, although I didn’t half fancy a pie!

The Salisbury started to fill up, as the afternoon wore on, so it was time for us to head off elsewhere. There were several National Inventory pubs within walking distance, but Matthew wanted to make better use of our Travelcards. This was where I did a bit of thinking on my feet, and after an online search I decided we should head up to Kings Cross via the Piccadilly Line and see what the nearby Scottish Stores had to offer. 

 Covent Garden underground has a lift to transport passengers down to the platforms. Matthew thought this unusual, until I reminded him that

Hampstead Heath tube station has the same arrangement, but what it also has is some rather attractive original tile work dating from Edwardian times.  Kings Cross, on the other hand, is a modernised, major transport hub, along with the neighbouring St Pancras, and has connections that are both national and international. 

 The Scottish Stores is a pub with an unprepossessing exterior, but a totally original, early 20th Century three-bar interior, dating from 1901. I must admit the pub didn’t really grab my attention at first, but a closer inspection, plus a read-up on CAMRA’s National Heritage website, led me to reconsider. There was a scaled-down range of cask beers, along with some well-known international beers. Matthew went for a pint of Budvar, and whilst I was very tempted, I stuck with cask and opted for a pint of Hammerton No. 7, a very drinkable 5.2% IPA. 

Given its three bars, plus what looked like a more contemporary and larger bar to the left, the Scottish Stores certainly seemed capable of packing in the punters. As the clock ticked towards 5pm, a steady stream of mainly young males (students, possibly?), began to swell the numbers further, so after finishing our pints, we made plans to leave.

We walked the short distance, back to Kings Cross and took the Northern Line to London Bridge. The train back to Tonbridge was nowhere near as crowded as might be thought, but we still kept our masks on, as did the majority of the passengers. It is still debatable whether visitor numbers in the capital have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and I’m inclined to think not, but there seemed to be a healthy buzz about the place. 

What was good, was noticing a steady and healthy flow of trade in all the pubs we visited, and long may that trend continue. Also, as  I said in an earlier article, about the trip I made to Stockport, it was nice just to go somewhere and be able to pop on and out of pubs, without having to pre-book or sign in, and to, once more, be able to order one's food and drink at the bar.


retiredmartin said...

Sounds a good day with your son, and definitely my favourite part of London for aimless and not so aimless ambling !

Paul Bailey said...

Martin, that southern stretch of the river, between London and Tower Bridges, was new walking territory for me, and definitely for Matthew. I would describe it as ambling with a purpose, and when combined with a few pubs, made for the perfect day out in the Big Smoke.

It was encouraging as well to see life returning to the city, plus its restaurants and bars. Long may this recovery continue.

retiredmartin said...

We visited Borough Market, Market Porter, George and Rake, after the 2017 attack and the spirit of resistance to being shut down as life returned was palpable, similar to what we're seeing now.

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