Charlton Inn, Shepton Mallet

With a small child in tow, you try to keep the tone of conversation pretty light.  It can be taxing stuff, especially considering the gruesome nature of most fairy tales, but a sing-song or a game of spot-the-sheep generally helps tick things over.  Is there an expectation that those with whom you come into contact should also be co-signatories to this accord?  If I had any memory banks worth pilfering I’d be able to answer this, but parenthood and the drink have done my brain in, so you’ll have to help me out.

Anyway, the point is, children normally offer you a certain force field, through which the grunted threats of pub thugs don’t tend to penetrate.  Having a kid renders you invisible, takes you out of the game.

But here, it was slightly different.  Car-cranky and bored, I saw the foursquare frontage, branded windows, and a kid’s play area out the back – the place bore all the hallmarks of the sort of wanky 21st Century pub/playhouse that parched dads all over the country seek out.

Although the kebab van sat right outside the front door should perhaps have lent a clue.

Charlton Inn, Shepton Mallet from pub website

Kebab perma-van just visible to the right…Photo is taken from https://b.geolocation.ws/

We strolled in on a Sunday afternoon, eager to find a bench where we could park the small stuff and fill her with foodstuffs while once of us, at least, got the chance to take the edge of a day’s heavy parenting with a glass of something nice.  When I say afternoon, I mean about 2pm, but even at that civilised hour, I had to jostle at the bar alongside a young man ordering up a few shots of Jagermeister.

That’s 2pm, on a Sunday.

I edged my way to the bar area, resolve fading fast.  It wasn’t an easy approach route, either – most of the bar area had been occupied by characters who put the ‘ur’ in surly.  I realised I had to adopt urinal rules, and quick – stare straight ahead, focus on the task in hand, no tangential head movements. Yet I could feel the eyes boring into me, waiting for the eye-flit.  No chance.

‘Dickhead’

I mean, it’s not to say they’re wrong – but still. There it was. Wife and infant spawn sat yards away; and here, pissed aggro.

And walking back to the table, purposefully:

‘Fucking wanker’

My dad always told me that when determining the feasibility of any decision, he would consider whether taking the ‘risky’ path would leave him open to a loss greater than he would be happy to deal with, even if the rewards were great; if it did, he wouldn’t take it on.  I always replied that that was the very definition of risk. The point being: it’s  clear that risk aversion obviously runs deep in my family.

We scarpered.  Sometimes, pubs are no place for kids.

Bridge to Bridge: Wandsworth to Hammersmith

One of London’s finest bridge-to-bridge pub strolls is one the most understated, offering a sense of the riverine gentility on offer a few miles further upstream. The best place to start is Battersea Park, the most European of all London’s parks, with its grand fountains, activity areas and sense of purpose, as opposed to the usual patch of grassland with the odd ice-cream van chucked in.

From here, you stroll past Fosterville-on-Thames, where if you dare, you can peer in and watch the hundreds of eager, exotically-named building designers putting the final touches to their latest steel-n’-glass box. You then reach Battersea Bridge, one of a triumvirate of two-laned bridges over this sweep of the river. The lamp-posts remain old-fashioned, their palling light evocative on a misty November evening. But the best time to hit this crossing is at dusk in early September. Get there before time to spot the first arrivals. There they are, swarming clouds of them: starlings and swifts, almost careering into each other – but not quite, never quite – swooping down, under, round, over, and down again, and back, and back again. The preternatural speed of movement takes the breath away, the weight of numbers inspiring. The rush-hour traffic, bane of a wanderer’s life, is outdone by these avian pyrotechnics.

Eventually, they find their roosting spots. If you stand on the walkway to either side of the bridge, these gregarious birds offer you a glimpse of your London life from a planet abroad: a mass, convulsive, competitive twittering to find the perfect perch. It is uplifting and depressing in equal measure.

The River Thames. Interesting shot.

Then on, past the plaque commemorating the apt death of the head of the Thames Water Board, who drowned on this riverside embankment one severely wet Spring in the 1980s, to one of Obyto’s favourite London churches, St Mary’s. Poking out from the armpit of Richard Rogers’ metal cheesecake, the Montevetro, its simple portico opens out onto a small gravel driveway, with views across the yawning bend in the Thames that so inspired artists such as Turner and Whistler. A few houseboats bob in the foreground, shaded by a willow tree. You can sense the drift of silken hems, the crunch of Victorian boots, the chatter of a congregation on a spring day. It’s all very sprightly and modest. So you’d best plough on past the cascading towers of hubris that line this part of the river. Hold your nose, study the swirling depths, do all you can to avoid personal integration with these soulless developments, the heart-achingly inevitable arrivals on what was a scene of scrubby decay and quiet.

Soon enough, you reach the aimless gyroscope in the middle of the Wandsworth roundabout. Just over the road lies a possible pitstop – The Ship. Nestled in the lee of a concrete factory, this breezy, happy place serves up Young’s to the crowd of young professionals who most likely descend from those lifestyle eyries you have just passed to enjoy a slice of ramshackle bonhomie, sitting in the ample outside space to enjoy a shot of springtime smuggery.

From here, the journey turns up past home improvement caverns and the Wandle recycling megalith, and over the Wandle Delta creek. Now, there’s a name. A delta creek. In London. When I first saw the sign, oh! The flights of fancy that invaded the mind. A lazy, serpentine arc spewing out topsoil from surrounding hills into the swampy estuary, whilst catfish-hawkers chewed tobacco on the banks; a steamy, mangrove-strangled swamp where hucksters, shamans and mad lepidoptetrists scuttled about. Or a bedraggled, muddy sewage outlet where one or two bastardy barges lay impossibly far from the concrete sides, resigned to rot in ignorance. But it deserves a mention for the sheer optimism of the name. I’m sure you agree.

Thence through a happily uneventful industrial park, onwards past more vainglorious quik-bild flats, to one of the great pubs in London, the Cat’s Back. Own this discovery, dear walker – make it yours. And get like totally hammered for a bit. It’s explored elsewhere, and we’re running out of time. Not that we’re following any sort of chronological imperative here, but there we are.

Beautiful riverside strolling. NB: do not do as the man in the photo. It’ll give you arthritis.

I guess the main impetus of this site is a lifetime away from any ambition for self-improvement, but really, we’re left with only one option: that is, to run, run as fast as you can, through Putney. Oh alright, we’ll allow you a determined stride through Wandsworth Park, with its grand guard of beech trees, but from then on, it’s all we can suggest. Putney High St is one of god’s less impressive endeavours, relentless in its drive to resemble a Surrey market town high street.

Thankfully, from this moment on, it all becomes more amenable. Slouching past the boat clubs lining the river, taking care to look out for Skippy, an apparently resident seal who tends to hang out in this stretch of the Thames, you have in front of you a good mile of tree-lined strolling. If you happen upon this walk in Spring, your eyes will be bathed in luminous first-growth green; in autumn, the same leaves manifest a blissful yellow. In between – well, it’s the sights and smell of English hedge and bush, a homely, evocative fragrance that leads you along past the Harrod’s furniture depository and out onto Hammersmith Bridge, where it is the work of a moment to cross, dip down onto the northern embankment on the west side, and choose one of a number of pubs to cheer your endeavours – the Dove being the pick, I guess, although the Blue Anchor draws fewer crowds, and has a pleasing tartan motif. Congratulations for getting this far. In this article, I mean. It’s not as if you’re ever going to travel halfway across town just to walk down a bloody river, is it, you feckless urban mong.

Windsor Castle, Notting Hill

BAR SAUSAGES. They’re not difficult to make, you know. Grill some delicious herby bangers, put them on a plate, serve with pot of mustard. JOB DONE.

And yet, a review of this pub could start with nothing else, so rare have these porcine treats become in the capital. This, despite the fact that there is so much else right with the place: the original partition doors making a trip to the gent’s an exercise in British limbo dancing – head first, bumbling, drunk, awkward; the well-kept ales; the dinky nooks and crannies with comfy chairs and heavy wooden surfaces; the lack of standing space, which in this part of the world, guarantees a lack of loud, bottle-carrying prognosticators invading your headspace; the spacious, relaxed walled garden area.

 

Windsor Castle - from their website

A rather atmospheric shot, don’t you think? Thanks, Camra north london!

But I return to the sausages, for it’s a vital matter. This pub is a ‘heritage’ classic, found in all olde-worlde pub guides. Could this suggest that the bar sausage is associated with yesteryear, a quaint relic of pubs past? If so, it’s a dreadful state of affairs. These are our hot meaty snacks, and we can’t let them be pushed aside by awful, mass-produced crisps in their lurid, horrid packets. So. Bar sausages. Food of kings. Sermon ends.

Windsor Castle

114 Campden Hill Road
Notting Hill W8 7AR

Royal Oak, Tabard St

In a classic cheek-by-jowl corner of south London, where the shiny nests of polished Bermondseers nudge up against humbler estates, is this place, a confusing, historic collision of capital pub life.

royal-oak_1708313c

Here is the exterior. Sweaty chefs not in picture. Thanks to telegraph.co.uk for the image.

The exterior suggests a propah cockney sweat lodge, with genteel privacy curtains to hide the shifty boat races of those inside. Matt brown tiling trumpets the name of Harveys, which suggests something else altogether more stolid and calm. So, onwards and inwards, through the door, which looks as it might be the original fitting… Impressive.

The interior is a hurly-burly of cultural touchpoints. There is a decent proportion of dark, scuffed lacquer to suggest solid history. But then, countering a sense of heritage set in aspic, are various crappily written signs on luminous paper stuck here and there, advertising food and drink. It’s a curious mix of yeasty wartime nostalgia and Costcutter 2-for-1 madness.

What is also mad, given everything – its location, its appearance, its be-trackie-bummed Polish barstaff – is the flipping prices. Jesus. This place, of all places in the world, was where I first met a £4 pint of lager. And not any of your Staropramen mush – no, this was a Becks or something. Four quid! In a fusty rabbit hole in Southwark!

Anyway.

The confusion reigned further on taking Sunday lunch upstairs. It was in all aspects a perfect ‘upstairs room’ – a clatter of chairs and tables, random awful paintings of animals on the walls, heat oh god the heat, like no-one had opened the windows in 35 years, and an acoustic that kills a laugh in 0.3 seconds flat, but amplifies silence to unbearable levels. The kind of discomfiting space to render a group of decades-old friends awkward and, almost, polite.

The chef sticks his head round the door – oh dear lord. Soggy, is the only word to describe the combination of thinning, matted grey hair, dishcloth shoulder and tracksuit bottoms hanging horrifically low for a man of his age. His three remaining top teeth give it the upside-down Star Trek sign as he leers at us all. ‘I hope you’re not too hungry, I’ve got orders back to here and I’m baking,’ he crows, a delicious Crispness to his tone. What the huh? This is all kinds of extraordinary.

The ‘menu’ –the names of some animals, written on a piece of scrap paper is thrust onto the table. We study it, at a distance… Hang about, rabbit? Squab pigeon? Duck? This is a bit adventurous. I mean – look at him! Look at it all!

But we stick with the programme – and we are rewarded with delights. A half hour wait presents us with the sight of our poor, overworked chef de camp struggling into the room laden down with huge plates of excellently cooked birds and beasts, with gravies, yorkshires and vegetables of such proportion as to render a handful of England’s greediest fatheads stupefield.

Finished, we stagger downstairs, full of cheer and chicken, past the bar, where the skinheaded Polish staff stare at us as balefully, just as they had done on our arrival. But I swear I can see something in those glares: a hint of warmth; a recognition that we’d done the right thing. We’d allowed the confusion and suspicion to wash over us and we had been rewarded.

4 Tabard Street
London SE1 4JU

The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho

A stroll down Carnaby St is one way to ruin a decent mood. Its memetic pre-eminence amongst British thoroughfares is due to the fact that it is a street with shops on it. Apparently they’re really good shops. So good that streets of truly historical import-  the Watlings, Broadwicks and Cables of this world – are relegated to the footnotes, whilst Carnaby gets those self-congratulatory signs at either end and one of those licences to print money we hear so much about.

I’m sorry, but if being a contrarian, mithering old sod whingeing about the takeover of material culture in Western society is a crime, then STICK ME IN THE DOCK AND GET A DUDE IN A WIG TO PATRONISE ME.

Luckily, ‘Carnaby London’, as the local shopkeepers association so vogueishly calls it, can only last so long, and if you hold your breath at Great Marlborough St and plug away, you’ll be spat out into the (slightly) more comforting back-streets of Soho in no time at all.

One of these side-steps takes you to Ganton St, and the jolly old boozer The Shaston Arms.

The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho from their website

Interior of The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho – taken from their website

It’s still a pub in Soho, so it’s never going to be your favourite place in the whole world, and Badger beer isn’t my favourite, but it’s nooky and boothy and woody, cramped and relaxed, a knockabout type of place. It’s probably been done extremely artfully, to pick up the detritus who fancy themselves beyond the commercial hurly-burly, so all I’m doing here is being second-guessed. I’m a patsy. But I’m a pissed patsy, with no outsized shopping bags to lug home with me. Much better.

4-6 Ganton Street,
Soho, London,
W1F 7QL
Tel: 0872 148 0917

The Thomas Cubitt, Elizabeth St SW1

The journey of the pub and its position in the eyes of society, 1980-2010: a thesis.

If only I could be arsed/clever enough to do such a thing: there’s broadsheet supplements to do that for me. But this place is all that we know of gastro, of the smoking ban, from Jamie Oliver through to that jowly eggy chump ‑ it’s the story of food in public. As a historical diorama, you can pop round the corner to the godawful Duke of York to look at an object example of how far we’ve come. It’s all very educational, really.

The Thomas Cubitt, Elizabeth St SW1 from their website

The exterior of Thos. Cubitt’s establishment. This photo came from The Thomas Cubitt

Back at the TC, you can barely get to the bar for the chairs and tables, but no matter – this pub has table service. Actually, it’s Service with a capital S: not a teenager with a fistful of Post-Its, but a smartly choreographed front of house operation that goes a long way to quell those rising notes of bile when you realise that despite the sign, the ‘The’ in the name, the corner location, this is an eating house in Belgravia, and that in the eyes of the majority of the clientele, those popping in for a pint are, basically,  delinquent rejects.

The Thomas Cubitt Pub

This is a pub. Yes, a pub. Supposedly. (This photo came from The Elizabeth Street London)

The food is fantastic; the staff are great; the light-filled front area and fandaculous interior decoration makes you feel a million dollars. It’s expensive, OF COURSE IT IS, so obvious it’s barely worth mentioning, but I did because I’m a penny-pinching shit.  You could do a lot worse, a whole lot worse, a universe worth of worse in this part of the world; suck up the snazz of the plummiest pub you’ll find within spitting distance of a coach station.

44 Elizabeth Street
London, UK SW1W 9PA
Tel: 020 7730 6060

The Old Bell Tavern

London is a city known for its heritage in historical buildings and places as well as beer and wine. The city is full of life and vigor even in the middle of the night. One of the many special features of the beautiful city of London is its nightlife; the pubs. These pubs are known for their warm and cozy atmosphere, delicious food and intoxicating wines.

One of its best pubs is the Old Bell Tavern every part of which reflects class and elegance. The place is situated at 95 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH, United Kingdom. Fleet Street is a very important and busy street of London or you could say it’s a sort of a commercial area. There are quite a number of office buildings everywhere on the Fleet Street. The area stays crowded at all times. It is also one of the busiest trading sectors in the city

Furthermore, its historical significance and the presence of monuments and statues makes it an excellent tourist attraction. There are quite a few pubs in the Fleet Street and most of them are excellent in merit and reputation, The Old Bell Tavern is one of them. It is one of the oldest pubs in London and one of the best as well.

The Old Bell Taven, from Nichosonspubs website

The Old Bell Taven, from Nichosonspubs website

The Old Bell Tavern is one of the oldest licensed taverns in London, having been run as a licensed pub for over three hundred years. It was built by Sir Christoper Wren back in the seventeenth century.

The pub has a cozy and homelike air on the outside as well as the inside. The lightly stained colored glass at the front of this pub makes it look warm and welcoming. The stone floors, the stained glass and the flowers on top of the door give it an ancient look of simplicity and warmth of a home.

The interior of the old tavern is just as warm as its exterior, if not more. It is the perfect place for a family get-together. The food cooked here is mouth-watering, and the wines are just so good, you can’t help asking for more and more. The homelike atmosphere and the gentle and welcoming attitude of the staff make you feel at ease.

The food is delicious to a mouthwatering extent. They offer quite a wide range of dishes from starters to sides and nibbles in the main menu. In addition to that, the occasional menus are also there; ready to surprise you with taste and delight.

The Old Cavern not only has a huge variety of food on its menus but also has a wide range of liquor.  From the scented gins, golden crafted beers and ciders to the wines of all kinds, they have it all. The liquor, over here, is just so great; every sip will make you want more. They offer wine suitable for every dish they serve.

One thing you must know about the Old Bell tavern apart from its awesome food and intoxicating drinks is the fact that the French fries they make are beyond amazing. While I was there at The Old Bell Tavern, the French fries I had ordered got my attention the moment they were served. I personally fell in love with them. Firstly, because they were served just a few minutes after I placed the order. No, they were not the old ones; they were freshly fried, burning hot. So, I asked one of the waiters about which appliance did the cook use for the fries. They mentioned a deep fryer they bought from Amazon and I decided to get it for my kitchen too.

95 Fleet Street
London EC4Y 1DH
Phone: +44 20 7583 0216

The Dickens Inn, St Katherine Docks

I stand shadowed by Tower Bridge, buffeted by multilingual coos and clicks. The most pomp-jazz bridge in the world glitters above me, throwing stardust into our delighted faces to conceal its main purpose as an arterial route into the bearpits of the City. What a lovely con trick.

There’s lots of that around these parts.  Buildings perform for the crowd, while inside deadening hands flicker at keyboards. I guess the point is – you can see it, can’t you – something about books and covers. Oh, hey! Here we are in St Katherine Docks.

There, in the corner of the marinaplex, lies the multi-storey clapboard-and-redbrick Dickens Inn, replete with balconies redolent of the coaching inns of yore. I suppose they were going for a Corporate Tudor aesthetic. It’s a strong vision, you’ve got to give them that.

The Dickens Inn, St Katherine Docks from their website

There it is, a Hanging Garden in modern Babylon. Nice.

It’s a bit sharp on the edges, and clean on the floor, to really get any kind of proper olde-worlde vibe going on. But nobody seems to mind, seeing as they’re all too busy necking cheap rosé or crowding round sports tellies to give an eff about the authenticity of the place. And fair enough, you might say. At least it’s not a wine bar, or a sports bar, or a bar, even. It’s a pub, deep in one of the more optimally monetised leisure zones within the Financial District. It’s almost heartening to see tables stacked high with half-empty glasses and snack-plastic detritus – at least you’re allowed in the door.

Marble Quay
St Katharines Way
London
E1W 1UH

Inn on the Quay / Spotted Cow, Poole

To Poole, then – just down the road from Sandbanks, the bewjewelled teardrop in the Bournemouth Bay. People spend millions in order to live there. The surrounding areas must be nice, too.

Poole preconceptions: gentility-on-sea, abutting onto mossy, comforting estuarial waters. Hanging baskets outside Georgian terraces, gulls whickering overhead. Blue rinses, quiet tedium, the odd deli-cafe, quite a bit of pottery.

Poole reality: not so. We follow the main road down to where the internet tells me there are boats. Boats surely equals civilisation, no? A little caff, a classy little pub dishing out some freshly-landed treats, with some local ales and cloudy cider…

This is the image the website ‘World Heritage Coast’ chose to show off Poole. They’re right, you know.

The road takes us past endless, mindless residentia until it comes to a chrome-barriered halt, at which point we’re confronted by a sight that makes you throw your eyes heavenward and mutter ‘for heaven’s sake, England, sort it out’. There, on the water’s front, where St Tropez has its marina, Mombasa has its old fort, Sydney has its opera house, Brighton has its pier – Poole has a 1970s shopping centre, with a parade of grubby fast-food outlets as its centrepiece, and a concrete works.

This was supposed to be dingly, not dingy.

A cursory tour around the ‘old quarter’ didn’t bring to light any hidden gems. By this time, the wind had whipped itself up into a fury and those low-lying grey banks of cloud had begun to spit. It was approaching half past two, and we were in the provinces. Uh-oh. Having failed to discover anywhere approaching feasible for our lunch, the feet carried us on and around, up alley and down thoroughfare until… until we were back where we started.

Spectacular views of the harbour’. Now there’s promising. A quick glance left: large piles of concrete. What’s it called? Inn on the Quay? Or the Spotted Cow? I can’t work it out.

Undaunted, with the thought that maybe the one-storey rise will help us see beyond the heavy industry to the sun-dappled sea, we head upstairs, past the muffin-topped barmaid and the goateed teenager sat ogling her.

A classic Saturday-afternoon upstairs of a pub – glasses and chairs hither and thither, whether from lunch or the night before never quite clear, laminated menus tossed to the four corners. Generally giving off the impression that someone had started doling out free chips down the road, and everyone had made a bolt for the door and never returned.

A gel-headed lad in an overexcited t-shirt approached: full of beams! A bit of banter! Ahhh. Laughs about the views of the harbour. Bonhomie through the bones, a giggle, a shared glance with wife – all will be alright, won’t it. Yes. I’ll have a burger, I’m famished.

“Oh, I recommend that one. It’s massive. You’ll never finish it.”

I’d forgotten about that – the idea that oversized portions are desirable. That somehow, two pounds of minced meat and cheese in a bun all for a fiver shouldn’t strike you as worrying, or a bit over the top. That the unholy alliance of gluttony and a dislike of unnecessary waste will force you into going further than you might have wished to with this grilled lump of fatty meat, overlooking a concrete works, as the rain spits against the window.

Inn on the Quay  from Trip Advisor

It’s also called the Spotted Cow. Thanks to Trip Advisor for the photo, anyways.

But you know what? A smile, a pint of lager and some meat in a bun are cornerstones of a decent pub experience. So the beer’s unexciting. So I don’t want to know where the mince came from. But they fed and watered me, and were nice about it. Thanks, team Quay/Cow, whatever you’re called these days.

2 High Street
Poole BH15 1BW
Phone: 01202 673854

Woodborough Inn, Winscombe, Somerset

There’s no getting away from it – I’m going to sound patronising writing this. It’s not a fancy place, the Woodborough. Not got a lot to shout about, really. Its USP is, perhaps, that it’s a pub in a town. The carpets swirl; the barstaff perspire in ill-fitting shirts; the regulars humph and sup.  There are pictures of old Winscombe on the walls, and some of horses. The beer is unadventurous, but well kept.

Woodborough Inn, Winscombe, Somerset from their website

The Woodborough – solid stuff

All in all, the word that springs to mind is sturdy. It’s a you-know-where-you-are kind of place.  The barstaff greet you with unadorned friendliness, and its Sunday roasts are an uncomplicated pile of deliciousness for eight quid or so. They get the papers in, and not a lot happens (at least, not during our daytime visit).

Sometimes, I worry that pubs of this ilk are going to disappear forever.

But – and there’s no getting away from it – this is because I’m pretentious. I spend too long being seen coming. I lap up my aged beef and poorly-controlled vegetable portions (yours for just £15!) in the belief that this is how life is, everywhere.

And by ‘I’ I also mean ‘you’, you know. Because you internetters, bloggers, bewhiskered, flat-capped drinkers, I see you in there too, accepting your expensive drink in those ironically-wallpapered surrounds, shiny wooden floorboards beneath your feet, enjoying the warm sensation of being around those who resemble you in some way or other.

We’re neither right nor wrong. But it’s nice to get away from whoever you are, once in a while.

Sandford Rd
Winscombe, Avon BS25
Tel: 01934 844 167