Sunday, 28 June 2009

Herts and Minds

Today was to see a long-overdue crawl around the pubs of St Albans with a couple of my London Miller chums, Paul and Chris, but beforehand I made a small detour to Harpenden.

(left) Cross Keys

I had originally intended to spend an hour or so at the inaugural Harpenden beer festival but in the end I just had a quick half - albeit an extremely nice half of Great Oakley Wagtail - before making a nostalgic journey to the Cross Keys pub in the middle of the town.

I used to regularly spend weekends in Harpenden in the mid- to late-80s and used to frequent the Cross Keys when it used to serve the likes of Flowers IPA, Wethereds, Tusker Ale and Fremlins.

On making my first visit in almost 20 years it was pleasing to see if hadn't changed a bit except for the choice of real ales on offer - Rebellion IPA, Landlord and London Pride - and the offer of tea and coffee.

(right) Inside the Cross Keys

It is a timeless place and very peaceful - stone flags, pewter bar and tankards hanging from the low ceiling, it's a place for quiet conversation and a game of dominoes - no muzak or TV here. And not many youngsters either.

After this wallow down memory lane, I meet up with Chris and Andy at St Albans station and we wandered off to find the first pub, the Lower Red Lion.

We were distracted on the way however by English Miscellany Morris dancers who were performing outside the cathedral - in fact the high street had been crawling with loads of different Morris troupes so that you could hardly hear yourself think but for the tinkle of ankle bells.

English Miscellany performed a few of their different dances before they were joined by Chez-nous en Nivernais, a folk dance group from the St. Albans twin town of Nevers.

(left) English Micellany outside St Albans cathedral

Paul was now in Morris heaven, especially after espying the hurdy gurdy and the jaunty moustache on one of the French dancers (male I hasten to add).

It really was quite nice, especially with the cathedral as a backdrop on such a beautiful day.

A shame that Morris may be endangered if you believe the papers - it's harmless and gives rise to a smile so long may it continue.

The need for beer soon told though and we finally entered the bar of the Lower Red Lion - which was virtually empty - but we were pleased to see it had a good selection - the ubiquitous Doombar, Fullers Chiswick, Oakham JHB, Springhead Goodrich Castle (which uses rosemary as a bittering agent) plus a couple of others.

From here we went to another one of my old haunts - the Goat in Sopwell Street which we used to frequent before Hawkwind gigs at the Civic Hall back in the 80s. In those days Lees Moonraker was the regular tipple there - today we made do with Crouch Vale Brewers Gold.

Again the pub was fairly quiet despite the Wimbledon tennis on the TV - a couple of young lads escaped the clutches of their parents and played bar billiards under our dubious tutelage.

(above) The Goat

Next stop was the White Lion further down the street - again spookily quiet - and here we had something quite new for us - the 4.2% GHA Pale from Batemans Brewey - which was very hoppy but still had that tell-tale Batemans taste. Very drinkable.

From here we moved to the next pub on the list - the White Hart Tap - which had three unassuming ales on offer, the least offensive of which was the St Edmunds from Greene King. This wasn't in great condition and we quickly moved onto our final pub.

This was the Farmers Boy which promised a lot but failed to deliver. The Clipper IPA went off before the second pint had been drawn - the first was not drinkable - and so we settled on the Farmers Joy which was not brilliant.

If it wasn't for the thunder, lightning and torrential downpour outside we'd have left this place sharpish too as it was more like a youth club than a pub. Or maybe we were just grumpy by that stage?

On arrival back at St Pancras we cleared out palates with a pint of Betjeman Ale - and noticed that the Betjeman Arms is having a cider festival in a week or so - see you down there.

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