Archive for August, 2012


Rail Ale Trail

Yesterday I was rummaging through my wardrobe trying to find a shirt and… I found one. Why do you want to know this? Because this shirt was a reward for completing the rail ale trail between Watford and St. Albans. This put me in mind of an old website which I made and never got round to putting online. It was basically the one of the previous designs of this site that never made it online, along with the posts that I put on it for testing. The following is my original post about how I got my t-shirt…

At the last beer festival I went to I came across some leaflets. They were for a new scheme which is being introduced to promote pubs in and around the towns of St Albans and Watford. The idea is very simple. There are 15 pubs which are near to the railway stations at both towns and at the stations in the towns which are between the two. After ordering a drink in each pub you can get a card stamped, get a stamp in each one and then you can send off for a t-shirt.

The other day me and some friends decided to try and do this all in one day. The day we had chosen was also the same day as a friends birthday party, which we had to be back for later that night, so we couldn’t be too late. We decided to start at the furthest point for us, Watford, and work back towards St. Albans. The map of the line and where the pubs are is below, the red line is the path of the railway itself and the blue line is the route  we planned to walk from the stations. The flags are the positions of the pubs and the trains are the position of the stations.

We got to the St. Albans Abbey Station a few minutes after the train had left, this gave us our first lesson for the day: be on time. There is a single train which runs back and forth on the single track which makes up this line. There are no passing loops and no ways of improving the running times so if you miss your train you will be waiting until it comes back again (roughly 45 minutes). This meant that when we got to Watford we were already close to an hour behind schedule.

We used the map which was inside the leaflet to guide us to the first few pubs. There are only three in Watford so it did not take us very long. After visiting these, which were nearly all filled with football fans (it was the day of Newcastle vs. Watford), we went back to the station. The platform for the Abbey branch line is not near to the other platforms and is therefore difficult if you need to use the station facilities. This is how we learned our second lesson of the day: Go to the toilet when you see one, the pubs may have them but the stations don’t (except Watford, which is difficult to get to). When we got on the train there were toilets, however, they were locked and the conductor would not open them.

It wasn’t long before we got to Garston. A quick bit of advise for all of those who are doing this. Be quick in Garston. To get to the pub which is written up as being in Garston on the leaflet you have to take the left exit out of the station when you have your back to the line. You then have to walk down the footpath to the end of the line. Take a right and follow the road, cross over when you see Falcon Way on the other side, follow Falcon Way to the end, go under the motorway, follow the footpath through a wood and then when the footpath opens up into more of a road the pub is on the left. This is quite a long walk (at least 10/15 minutes I would have said). Bearing in mind how long it takes to walk there and back, we had a swift half and ran back to the station. We willed the train by about 40 seconds, watching the train pull out of the station just as we were running back up the footpath.We had already missed one train today and now a second, getting back on time for the party wasn’t looking promising.

WARNING: If you find yourselves in the same situation as we did, infact even if you don’t I still suggest the following. Come out of The Old Fox and take a left, then walk to the next pub (The Gate). Do not go back to Garston. If you make the train you have to deal with unhelpful conductors and if you don’t then you have to wait for 45 minutes in Garston. Garston is one of the most unwelcoming places I think I have visited in my entire life. Seriously, suicide is preferable to spending any great length of time there. We were stuck for 45 minutes and we were already depressed by it!

Brickett Wood has only one pub to visit, two of you are going the other way to us, because you will want to walk from here to The Old Fox, thus spending as little time in Garston as possible. The pub here, The Gate, is a nice little pub which is reasonably prices and does a lot of cheap food. The home made pizzas for a fiver is what stuck out for me. Plan to spend more than 45 minutes, have a couple here and something to eat. It’s about half way and you will be getting hungry by now, I know I was, but we had time to make up with the trains we had missed so we didn’t eat.
To try and make up some time we decided to try to fit in both of the pubs at Park Street in the space between one train and the next, 45 minutes. It is possible, I know because we did it, however, we did have to run to catch the train. If someone out of your group is a fast drinker, send them ahead to hold the door at the station. Also, if you don’t like dogs then you may have a problem at The Falcon, not a problem for us though.

We now only had to get back to St. Albans to find the final pubs, have a swift drink and get back for the party, however we still had a couple of little niggles before we were home and dry. First one was the conductor on the train. He decided that for the last little bit of the journey we would have to pay again. Lesson #3: know what ticket you need and buy that. We had just bought a return from St Albans to Watford, he had seen us get on and off for all of the other journeys, but for this last little bit he said that “these tickets are not day rovers and we must buy another one”. Now I have checked on the service operators website (http://www.londonmidland.com) and they do not operate a fare evasion fine on this line, presumably because there are no ticket machines at the stations and you have to either buy your ticket from the conductor or at Watford / St Albans, so all the conductor could do was make us buy a ticket for the last part of the journey. This is, however, quite steep considering the cost of the other tickets. Had I thought about it I would have asked him about a day rover ticket for future reference, but at the time I was more pre-occupied with getting off the train so we could get on with drinking.

Once back at St. Albans the easiest thing to do is to cut across the park. It is not very clear on the map so; what you need to do is take the footpath through the park which is opposite the station, bear right at the fork in the footpath and then take a right and a left, so that you are walking down the side of the lake. Follow this path to the road and then take a left, The Six Bells is on your right, all of the other pubs are easy enough to find by following the roads which are shown on the map.

Things to watch out for with the final pubs are:

  1. The Bell is smack-bang in the middle of the town, it was heaving when we went, presumably it is the towns folk favourite haunt before going off to a club (it was a very young demographic). If you are going Friday/Saturday night be prepared to queue for some time.
  2. If you want a break from ales there are a nice selection of proper ciders in the Lower Red Lion.
  3. The Garibaldi gives away free prizes to anyone who buys a drink with Southern Comfort in it, I won some beads and I also got a mask because one of our number didn’t want his prize.
  4. While in the Garibaldi, keep an eye on the barmaid, when testing the pad of ink to stamp our cards, she decided to rub the pad down my hand. Great. Thanks for that.
  5. Going from the Farriers Arms to the Portland Arms is deceptively far. The map doesn’t make it look very far at all, but it is.

When you have your card completely stamped you can send off for your free t-shirt. We had written our envelopes out and got our stamps before hand, however, make sure that you are using envelopes which seal down properly. We ended up going home with them to get some selotape.

Just to let you know, we did make it back for the party, however, we were late, mostly because we missed yet another train trying to get back!

Further information can be found at:

The session. Once a month beer bloggers from around the world take five minutes to all discuss a particular topic. This month the topic is “One beer to rule them all”. It was suggested by this months host, DrinkDrank. The brief was to describe an ultimate fantasy drink, reality not an issue.

OK, so what would my beer be like? Well, to start with it would be a man’s drink. Nothing poncy or pretentious. Something which can be drunk at the pub, with friends. I want this beer to be a drink which sits on the table looking up at people with great conversation and wit. A beer that is drunk with mirth. This is a beer for the good times. I want this to be a beer which has presence. Sitting on the table it almost joins in with the evening, it is part of the conversation, it almost has a personality of its own.

A thick, dark, slightly chewy brew with definite chocolate hints, but not a beer that is about chocolate, just a hint (this isn’t a dessert). I don’t want it to remind the drinker of coffee, that’s a drink for the morning, this should be a drink for the evening. This would certainly not be a drink which is fizzy, indeed little to no carbonation at all. I want this beer to suit a winters evening, a beer that is refreshing and at the same time warming. It should be as comforting as the crackling log fire, next to which you would want to drink this beer.

Around 4%, allowing a drink which can be drunk in more than a thimbleful. Infact it should be served in an oversized glass tankard of at least a pint, preferably a quart. Glass, so that the world can see that you’re not drinking some terrible american larger, this is a beverage you should be proud to drink. To look at, the beer needs to be nearly black. Hard to see through, with a silvery head which gives the drink a mystical look about it. I want the head to settle to a perfectly flat almost as soon as the glass is put on the table, with no wobbling around. Saying this I don’t want a massive head, I want fluffy and thick, not smooth, and only about half an inch thick.

Part of me wants to take the anything goes part of the brief and then say “and on top of all that it’s completely healthy, makes you lose weight and you never get too drunk”, but I won’t say that because after all isn’t there a secret part of all of us that like the guilty pleasure part of drinking beer, knowing that it’s not good for you. After all, if they told the people to switch to beer when they joined weight-watchers then who would want to drink it?

It also said in the brief that I’d have to give my perfect pint a name. Can there be any other name for anything which is completely perfect? My beer would simply be called… “GOD.” This is a beer which is going to be well known and loved. It doesn’t need a flash ad campaign.The pump clip need only bear its name, no pictures, no comedy cartoons, not even colour and patterns, just white writing on a black background, with a full stop, this is the god of beers… end of.

The Saint George and Dragon

It was pointed out recently by DrinkDrank that everyone is talking about the beer on their travels, so I thought I’d mention my recent trip into Devonshire and the pub we stayed with.

A job in Stover, Devonshire, sent us south for a days work. We decided that we would stay at a pub we had been to before. Infact, it was the same school in Stover that we were working at before when we first found The Saint George and Dragon. Although the pub is quite a distance from Stover, we decided that it was so good that it was worth the travelling.

When we stayed here before it was a perfect summers day, the sun was shining, their was a light breeze which kept the suns heat at bay and clear views for miles around. There was three real ales available (St. Austell’s Tribute, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Brains’ Rev. James) and the food was cooked properly in house and not just microwaved, as so many pubs do these days. The rooms were clean and the beds were really comfortable. This time the weather couldn’t have been more different. It rained, and rained, and rained some more. This was unfortunate but didn’t stop The Saint George and Dragon from reminding us just why we liked it so much in the first place.

When we arrived I noticed that they had now added free wi-fi to their repertoire of amenities. We found the rooms were just as good as we remembered, with the same soft beds that provide a really good nights sleep. Later we had dinner in the pub, the beers available had changed (St Austell’s Tribute, Fuller’s Summer Ale and Butcombe Bitter as well as a board which said it had Purity’s Mad Goose which we asked about and was told “we gave it some pills and it’s better now”!) which were all fantastic (I had one of each). I remarked to myself at how poor the view was, since   last time I was sitting in the same seat at dinner I could see the view across the Exe estuary (which was amazing), today I could hardly make out the horizon, still, that’s not the pubs fault.

The only thing that I can find against this really nice country pub is the atmosphere. A lot of the other patrons were also hotel guests, it didn’t seem to have any locals and there was a bit more of a restaurant feel to it than a pub at times. Some would argue that this is the most important aspect of a pub and I would usually agree with you. However, after a long days work you don’t seem to care about that so much and finding a decent pint seems like finding the holy grail, and find it we did.

Really all I can say about this pub; good views (in good weather), good food, good beds and good beer. What more could you want? This is fast becoming our “go to” hotel when we are in the Exeter area. I hope if we come back in winter they have the fire going.