Sunday, 16 June 2013

Earl's Court, London

As I've mentioned, the glamorous world of events contracting can drag a fellow all around the country, and on this occasion the digs were in tourist-centric Earl's Court. Leaving the van safely on site and travelling on the London Underground, the stage was set for another classic Beer Branches adventure. So sharpen up your elbows, stare at your feet and above all remember...

It's no exaggeration to say that the London Underground is the circulatory system that keeps London going.  Chances are you've seen one of the many news articles or documentaries regarding January 2013 being the 150th anniversary of the first trains running between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway. Maybe you've even seen some of the special services that ran to commemorate the occasion. If you did, consider me jealous.

Earl's Court is a busy station serving both the District and Piccadilly lines and carries it's fair share of passengers on a normal weekday, before you even consider events at Earl's Court exhibition centre. In 2011, the station saw annual entry and exit of just shy of 21 million people. Think on that.
The history of the station and the line is documented in plenty of better sources than this blog, including at the London Transport Museum, so I'll concentrate more on my experience.

My first impression as I hopped off the train was the light and airy feel of the station. Mention of the Underground usually conjures up images of a maze of tunnels leading to a hot, stuffy platform full of Metro wielding commuters trying to push you on to the tracks so they can get to their favourite door, but Earl's Court is different. This is in no small part due to the train shed style overall glass roof that lets the sun stream in. The roof underwent restoration from November 2007 to December 2008 and in 2009, the Railway Heritage Awards recognised the quality of the work with a certificate of merit. The station is also Grade II listed.

The spacious nature continues into the ticket hall. Granted this was at a quieter time of day, but even in busier times there's plenty of room to weave.
The staff were also friendly, and more than willing to help people whose wheely suitcases get stuck in the ticket barriers as they pass through.

As you leave the station, one of the first things you'll see will be a pub. 

The Taylor Walker owned Courtfield is a proper Victorian style pub, complete with high ceilings, chandeliers and mouldings. A former hotel, the pub offers the usual food deals you'd expect in a tourist orientated part of London. You can't walk down Earl's Court Road without noticing that every pub is offering fish and chips.
Anyway, the Courtfield, whilst certainly appealing to tourists after the authentic British pub experience, also has plenty to offer the local. On a sunny evening, the pub spills out onto the street with a mix of tourists, locals and commuters giving the place a nice atmosphere.

Six hand pumps provide plenty of choice and the Woodforde's Wherry, St Austell Tribute and Marston's EPA slipped down a treat. The Adnams Broadside is usually a must for me, but on a warm evening something lighter seemed in order. 
The staff knew their onions in the Courtfield, and were on hand to offer friendly advice to anyone unsure of what to go for.

Turning left out of the Courtfield and heading a few steps down the Earl's Court Road is our next stop, the Blackbird. The Blackbird is one of Fuller's Ale and Pie houses, something I've only ever encountered in the big smoke. 

The building was actually a branch of Midland Bank and was converted into a pub as recently as 1994.  The interior, whilst not original has certainly been tastefully done and there isn't really anything to suggest there has ever been anything but a pub there.

Whilst not having the full range of Fuller's beer on, those on offer were in great condition. Not to mention available in handles! The 3.6% Gales Seafarers Ale is always worth trying if you see it on the bar and the Summer Ale, 3.9% is light and refreshing on a warm London evening.
I felt sorry for the tourists as the sun was detracting from the authentic British June experience.
As with all the pubs in the area, food is available. You won't be surprised to see fish and chips advertised.

Following Earl's Court Road further south you'll come to the junction with the Old Brompton Road. A right turn here and a few hundred yards on the left, you'll find the Pembroke.

A pub since 1866 and originally named the Coleherne, the building has had a turbulent past. A gay pub since it opened, the Colherne has witnessed social unrest, serial killers, and a number of famous customers. That's almost politics though, and that's not why we're here.
In 2008, the refurbished Colherne opened as the gastro pub you see in the picture, the Pembroke. 

As the appallingly digitally edited photo shows, the Pembroke had three ales on. On the left we have Kohinoor, a 4.5% IPA brewed for the Queen's jubilee. As well as being a good quality IPA with the hoppyness and bitterness you'd expect, there's also some interesting flavour from a number of different ingredients including cardamom and coriander. This is only available in May and June, so keep a sharp lookout.
Next up we have the 4.2% Hound Dog golden ale from the Growler Brewery. From what I can make out, Growler was originally Nethergate. Following a change of ownership rebranding is happening and beer styles seem to be expanding, as well as retaining the old favourites. If you know more, please get in touch. 
At the far right is Twisted Wheel from Greene King. Brewed to celebrate the the 50th anniversary of the eponymous mod club in Manchester, the beer has a curious ginger flavour too it. Worth trying to tick it off the list, but I'm not sure I could go more than one.

What is should of mentioned earlier is that the Pembroke offers beers in that finest of mediums, the thirds paddle! Make sure you make a good mental note of the order they go on in, as it's pretty easy to get mixed up. I imagine.

So that was an evening spent in Earl's Court. We had some laughs, killed some time and tried some nice beers. 
The most important thing to remember though, is to...


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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Hungerford, Berkshire

An afternoon off should be embraced, especially a Friday afternoon. Even lashing rain and gales shouldn't detract from this most rare of gifts. It was with this in mind that a two man team made up of me (BB) and my brother (BoBB) marched hunched double and with gritted teeth to the station and the train to Hungerford.

Hungerford sits nicely just inside what was once the Network South East zone, making this a rather easy destination from the London/Reading direction. Not much comfort to those arriving from the west, but a change at Newbury or Reading is easy enough.

A simple, two platform affair, Hungerford station opened in 1847 and for 15 years served as the temporary terminus of the Berks & Hants Line from Reading.

Unstaffed from 1971, the station serves nearly 300,000 passengers a year. If you're particularly lucky, you might catch a rail tour passing through, or occasionally using the loop to the east of the station. When closed, the level crossing at the western end of the station makes a great and more importantly safe vantage point for seeing anything interesting.
Hungerford station was the scene of catastrophic derailment in 1971, when a Westbury - Theale stone train derailed on the embankment to the west of the station. At the time, Hungerford Signal Box stood next to the level crossing and was pretty well demolished by the crash. Incredibly, no one was injured, not even the signal man working the box at the time.

Looking east we see the site of the former goods shed and yard on the right hand side of the photo. The area is now the car park and an industrial estate as is so often the case these days. Before the days of the lorry and dual carriageway, the goods yard saw traffic for coal merchants, agricultural goods as well as watercress.
Hungerford has a rather good online museum which has plenty of interesting pictures and information about the station and the town in general. Have a click of the link at the bottom of this post for a look.

The first pub visited on this particular romp is the appropriately named Railway Tavern.

A Fuller's house, the Railway is nicely kept inside and out. The interior is well decorated inside with old photos of the area on the walls, as well as a set of caricatures of the regulars. Friday and Saturday nights are good for live music and the pub also has sports on as well as a quiz night and pool and darts. On our visit London Pride was the only ale on offer, but it was in good form and the barmaid looked like she knew what she was doing. 

Quiet on a Friday afternoon, the Railway Tavern is a good place to have a swift half whilst waiting for the train. BoBB certainly approved.

Leaving the Railway (pub), and heading left down the footpath that runs parallel with the railway (line) you'll find yourself on the High Street of Hungerford. On said High Street you'll find the Three Swans hotel, and if you turn right after you've gone in the door you'll be in the rather smart public bar.

The little bar was lively on a Friday afternoon and had a good friendly atmosphere. On the bar we found Fuller's London Pride and an offering from local brewery Ramsbury, Sunsplash. We gave the London Pride a miss and went straight for the Sunsplash. A tasty golden ale, Sunsplash was refreshing with the light fruity flavour you'd expect from this sort of beer and also fairly bitter. The name was fairly appropriate for the weather, as the lashing rain was causing plenty of splashing outside.

Supping up and heading for the door, we noticed an interesting poster. The poster proclaimed there was a weekend long beer festival, starting on the very day we were stood there reading about it! A quick word with the barman and we were in the spacious lounge of the hotel, where that most exciting of sights greeted our eyes: a scaffold.

Featuring 8 beers from around the country and a couple of ciders, we were made up. Knowing time was against us, we set ourselves up with halves of Plain Ales Innocence, and Ramsbury Bitter. The Innocence was another good quality, refreshing gold beer whilst the Bitter was a nice amber number, the clue is in the name.

As we left, we caught a glimpse of one of the swans, the other two presumably being on a break.

Heading down the street and crossing the Kennet & Avon Canal, our final stop was the recently refurbished John O' Gaunt. If you had been in here before its recent closing, you really won't recognise the place inside. The rejigged bar as well as a good lick of paint give the place a nice airy feel and another friendly welcome greeted us.

With 6 hand pumps and a number of local ciders, there's pretty much always a beer festival on. Mark, the guvnor offers the option of 3 thirds of different beer for the price of one pint. I'm a big fan of this system as it gives you a chance to try a good selection without going on a massive bender.
Beers from Navigation, Vale Brewery Co. and the Rebel Brewing Co. made up the 3 and were all in good condition. There was also a treat from a new brewery, Siren on offer. Myself and a gang of beer lads has attended the launch event for the brewery in London and I was very pleased to see Liquid Mistress on offer in West Berkshire. If this beer is anything to go by we can expect great things from Siren so keep an eye out. You can read more about the event in the West Berkshire CAMRA newsletter 'Ullage' by following the link below. 

Finishing off with half of Two Cocks Brewery excellent Roundhead Bitter we managed to catch a break in the cloud, and made a dart for the station and home.

There are other great pubs in Hungerford as well as antiques shops and walking on the Kennet & Avon canal. Something for everyone. Well, most.

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