I had a great day on Saturday (21st April) and I wanted to share it with you. As I was cycling along the <a hrefhttp://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ThamesPath/>Thames Path somewhere in Rotherhithe after having experienced the delights of Blackheath, Greenwich and Deptford I thought that this was one of the best days Iíd had.
However, let us start at the beginning.
For the past couple of years I had meant to go to Blackheath to visit the Zerodegrees brew pub. Phil_L had been several times and even brought me back a mini cask of their Pale Ale a couple of years ago and it was somewhere definitely on my radar. Then a couple of months ago, one of the CAMRA newspapers ran an article on a walk along the Thames Path taking in Greenwich. Finally, there is a guy who posts on the Yahoo group Scoopgen that lets people know what the guest beers are on at the Dog & Bell in Deptford. Having consulted a map of London, it seemed the natural thing to do to try to take in Blackheath, Greenwich, Deptford and then head up into town for a beer or two before catching the train back to Ashford, Kent.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/dog_bellpub.jpg> Dog & Bell in Deptford
So as the sun shone down on Ashford early Saturday morning, I breakfasted heartily on kippers and smoked mackeral and nipped out for a coffee to set me up for the day. I then visited a small independent bakery that does marvellous doorstep sandwiches (chicken, pork and herb stuffing and cranberry on freshly baked white bloomer) and a Polish Slice (rich and chocolatey), for my lunch.
South Eastern trains still allow you to carry your push bike for free, so after an hour on Ratebeer at Ashford library for some final checks on the beers I wanted during the day, I headed down to the station for the 10.28. Which left at 10.32. Not that Iím being picky. The whole of the Garden of England is currently in full spring bloom and the views across the countryside were only marred by the couple sat behind me talking about minor celebrities in the magazine that they bought. Fortunately BBC Radio 3 were playing some church organ recitals, so they were quickly drowned out by my headphones.
We arrived at Waterloo East at 11.37 and it was a quick nip over the bridge to Platform A for the 11.49 to Dartford calling at London Bridge, Lewisham and my destination of Blackheath. I munched the first half of my sandwich on the train, making sure I had lined my stomach properly for a days drinking. The train pulled into Blackheath at 12.07 and my exploration could begin. There is always a certain frisson that takes over me when I am about to embark on a pub crawl of new areas. You donít know what they are going to be like, what beers you are going to have, what people you are going to meet, what experiences you are going to have. I had printed a map from streetmap.co.uk of the Blackheath and Greenwich area and saw that it was only a short distance from Blackheath station to Zerodegrees on the edge of the park. As I pushed my bike up past the independent shops, small boutiques and cafes, I thought "what a lovely area of London, " even if every other person was called Jermima or Fenella.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/zerodegrees.jpg> Zero Degrees
<a hrefhttp://www.zdrestaurants.com/zerodegrees/blackheath.htm>Zerodegrees stands facing Blackheath and has some seating outside, for those who want to be seen. The grey frontage doesnít automatically jump out at you. As I entered, I walked into an industrial chic warehouse space. Brewing equipment runs down the right hand side and in front of you is a central circular bar. To the left is the open kitchen with their pizza oven. After working out that the waiters were not going to serve me, I dumped my stuff at a table and made my way to the bar. There are some printed sheets with the beers available on and a brief description of each. I ordered a half pint of pilsner and then settled down. The atmosphere reminded me of several brew pubs I had visited in the Vancouver/Portland, except the staff were more surly. Eventually they did soften and one guy seemed impressed that I was trying all the beers. The beers are a little bland and lack some character. However, I did enjoy the Black Lager, but my favourite was the Pale Ale which I think has improved since I had it 2 years ago.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/richardIpub.jpg> Richard I
Onto my bike for the short ride across the heath and onto the A2. I turned right onto Hyde Vale and dropped down to the <a hrefhttp://www.greenwichunion.co.uk>Greenwich Union which is the brewery tap for the Meantime Brewery. Again this was a very "nice" part of London, very civilised with people chilling out on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. The pub is a bit more of a bar for me, but does have a couple of handpumps (Adnams Bitter on cask and Aspall cider). The patio garden at the rear was extremely popular with every table full. I had a half of the Meantime Extra Dry Stout 4.5% ABV which was very heavy on the roasted malt and very dry. They also do a selection of world bottled beers. Next door is the Richard I pub run by Youngís. This is a more traditional pub than the Greenwich Union with a proper separate, smaller Public Bar and a more open busier Saloon Bar. The central bar serves both. Again the patio garden at the rear was very popular. I hadnít had Youngís Bitter in a Youngís pub since they have moved the brewing to Charles Wells at Bedford and was interested in the quality. The bitter had all of the ingredients you would expect, but none of them seemed integrated with the others. There was water, yeast, malt and a decent finishing hoppy bite, but none of them seemed to combine together to make a good bitter.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/greenwichunion.jpg> Meantimeís Greenwhich Union
Time for the centre of Greenwich. Here it became more obvious that the Flora London Marathon would be passing through the following day. Mainly the big signs saying Flora London Marathon. There are some terrible 1960s buildings in Greenwich, but a good market and then you are hit with the grandiose, impressive and imposing buildings of the Maritime Museum, University of Greenwich (in the old naval buildings) and the Royal Observatory perched on top of the hill. These are serious buildings that reflect the power and might of the British Navy during the height of the British Empire. They are always popular with tourists and rightly so. I hadnít been since I was a child and I was almost over-awed with the power and majesty.
Past these buildings is a left turn onto Park Row and a short ride down to the river brings you to the Trafalgar Tavern. This large pub on the river has large bow windows which offer the visitor views across to the Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf, down the river to the Millenium Dome and up river past the docks up towards the city. Again plenty of seating outside and this place was extremely busy. I got here just after 14.00 and the lunchtime rush was ebbing. Part of the pub is a fairly posh looking restaurant and there were a number of naval types in blazers and ties with different crests on, emerging from their luncheon. The half pint of Fullerís London Pride was perfectly acceptable and I was even taken with the hoppy finish. The beer selection may not be wonderful (London Pride, Adnams Bitter, Fullerís Discovery), but the location and atmosphere are well worth it. Take time to have a look at the pictures on the walls and also visit the toilets. I liked them.
Then it was off to pastures new for me. I have never been to Deptford before and wasnít sure what to expect. The main road through Greenwich towards town takes you into Deptford five minutes later. I found Watergate Street easily enough and followed it towards the river and there on my left was Prince Street, and The Dog & Bell. There were only a couple of locals at the bar (including a woman of 86), but the landlord ended up sitting next to me and we chatted about different beers. The Eastern European barmaid was interesting. She didnít seem to know the difference between a half and a pint, didnít know any of the Belgian bottled beers or which glass to serve them in and couldnít find the button for Belgian Beers on the till. However, she did have a very cute smile when she decided to turn it on. I liked the Dog & Bell, it had a good community pub feel to it. Also, it had an excellent selection of Belgian bottled beers (he uses the same distributor as the Beer Circus in Croydon). After my pint of Crouch Vale Oregon Best (only ordered a half, but hey, this was thirsty work), I had a bottle of Mort Subite Oude Gueuze, which I have been after for some months. Good gueuze, plenty of sour lemon and apple fruit. I then finished with a half of Surrey Hills Ranmore which was a delightfull easy drinking session bitter with nice hops. I did manage to restrain myself from having a 75cl bottle of 3 Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek which I had enjoyed enormously at the Chris_O bottlefest a couple of weeks before (thanks Duff) mainly as it was on sale for £11. If I had been with someone else, I think I would have bought it to share as I liked it so much.
I then took some local knowledge on the best way to get from Deptford up to the City/London Bridge. My intention beforehand was to go back down to Greenwich and use the subway foot tunnel to cross to the Isle of Dogs and cycle from there. However, as the landord of the Dog & Bell pointed out, we were right on the Thames Path and this would make a more enjoyable ride along the river. Indeed I had locked my bike up to some handily placed bike racks and wondered why they were there. It was now obvious. As I set off once more I followed a mixture of signs for National Cycle Route 4 (small blue, white and red signs) and the larger black and gold signs of the Thames Path. This took me through a couple of estates in Deptford and then round Surrey Dock and into Rotherhithe. This is more or less when I had my epiphany I described at the beginning. The sun was out, I had drunk some great beer, been to some new pubs and here I was on my bike seeing bits of London I had never seen before.
One thing I will say about the route is that it would have been easier with a map. Relying on signage meant I took a fair number of wrong turns, but hey, the roads werenít busy and there were plenty of other cyclists to follow who looked like they knew where they were going.
The fact that I had drank a few cold drinks became obvious around the Surrey Quay area as my bladder was bursting. As the Hilton Surrey Quay didnít look as though it would welcome wobbly cyclists, I found the nearest pub, <a hrefhttp://fancyapint.com/pubs/pub585.html.>The Blacksmithís Arms (a Fullerís pub) on Rotherhithe Street I ordered a half pint of Fullerís London Pride and stood outside in the sunshine chatting with Phil_L on the phone.
<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/blacksmithsarmspub.jpg> Blacksmithís Arms in Rotherhithe
Now for the last stretch up to Tower Bridge. I took a few more wrong turns but eventually ended up on Jamaica Road following the National Cycle Route 4 and came out on Tower Bridge Approach and the Pommelers Rest a JD Wetherspoon pub. I stopped here for 2 reasons. One I needed some food and secondly Itchen Valley do a Tower Bridge beer which I wanted. I ordered the beer and a burger deal. Fortunately the Marstonís Pedigree was off so I thought I would get a guest beer as my "free drink," but the barman wouldnít budge and would only offer Greene King Abbot Ale. Not being a big fan of this and not wanting another whole pint, I opted for some reason for the Fetzer Coldwater Creek Rose to freshen up my palate. Man alive, this is a bad wine. Far too sweet and nauseating. And I wasnít even with a woman!! However, the burger was good and the little side pot of tomato relish was very piquant and lifted the flavours. I also got Loddon Flights of Fancy, Mordue Radgie Gadgie and Springhead Charlieís Angel here as well as the Itchen Valley brew.
My intention was also to pop into the Bridge House pub, the Adnams pub just up the road for their seasonal beer, but I needed another cycling break.
On a few occasions I had passed the Charles Dickens pub on Union Street as I had cycled from Waterloo to Borough and it looked as though it had up to 6 handpumps with real ale on. So I decided to head for this. After negotiating the junction around London Bridge station I found myself outside the Charles Dickens only to find it was closed (must have been about 17.00 by now I guess). Never mind, I would go onto Waterloo, cross the Thames at Waterloo Bridge and head into Covent Garden for the Porterhouse on Maiden Lane. After stopping again at the Anchor & Hope on The Cut to use the facilities, I came to Waterloo Station. Now if anyone knows this area, there is a largeish square-a-bout road junction that houses the IMAX cinema in front on the station. This is a busy junction and should only be attempted on a bicycle by the very experienced. On no account should someone who has had several pints attempt it. Of course, I didnít think about that at the time and went round it anyway. The knowledge that I had just been missed by a couple of double decker buses was mitigated by the view from Waterloo Bridge. Truly stunning, both up and down river.
After passing the Wellington pub which SilkTork and I went into during our Covent Garden pub crawl I headed up into Covent Garden, took a left and found myself in Maiden Lane, home of the Porterhouse pub. I do like the beers here and even though it is expensive and it was unlikely that I would pick up any new beers, I wanted to go again. I locked my bike up and as I looked up I saw a Cafť Nero. Thinking that it would be wise to maybe sober up a little I went in and had a double espresso. Feeling like I could now deal with the bouncers at the pub, I ventured forth.
Now, normally the doormen have to share the brain cell they have between them. This can mean a full body search and emptying the contents of your bag. This time, though, they were perfectly charming, unlike the clientele who stand out at the front of the pub and refuse to move even though they are blocking the entrance. I headed for the basement bar as it tends to be less busy. I ordered a half of the Wrasslers XXXX stout and settled down to watch Manchester United vs Middlesborough on one of the wide screen TVs. At half time I needed another drink and this really is where the evening gets a little shaky. I saw signs for bottles of their Celebration Stout which I had had at the Pigís Ear BF in December and knew I liked. The bottles were only for sale at the bar on the ground floor, so I made my way upstairs. Whilst waiting to be served I also saw they had their Chocolate Truffle stout on tap as well. I bought both and headed back to the small table I was stood at downstairs. Remarkably it was still free. The Chocolate Truffle stout really does taste of liquidised Belgian chocolate truffles. It is wonderful to start with, but a bit crude after the first few gulps. The Celebration Stout though is a different beast. A big intense Imperial Stout in the US tradition of this beer style. Intense chocolate and coffee and a whopping big hit of hop on the finish. Still it was highly enjoyable. The football (sorry, soccer) finished in a disappointing draw and the England vs West Indies cricket came on. After seeing Michael Vaughan hit a few boundaries at last, I decided that I really should go home. So on my way out I bought a bottle of the Celebration Stout to take away (£4.70 I thought was a tad steep). After picking up a cheeseburger from a well known fast food establishment and a bottle of Budvar Budweiser to wash it down, I eventually made the 20.00 from Charing Cross. The journey home is a little bit of a blur, but I did have the other half of my sandwich and my Polish Slice. As the train pulled into Ashford at 21.20, I didnít want to go home as I had had such a good day. So I sat on an empty platform at Ashford with the last of the Celebration Stout and reflected on the day and sat there with a big smile on my face.
Needless to say, I didnít do very much on Sunday.
It was a great pub crawl and I met some good people and drank some very good beer and I would recommend any of the above pubs that I visited to anyone who comes to the London area.
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The Eastern European barmaid was interesting. She didnít seem to know the difference between a half and a pint, didnít know any of the Belgian bottled beers or which glass to serve them in and couldnít find the button for Belgian Beers on the till.