Bloomsbury to Clerkenwell

14/02/2016 at 12:20 | Posted in Crawls | Leave a comment
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On a chilly night in February 2016, Phil took us on a walk from Bloomsbury to Clerkenwell.

We started out at the Queen’s Larder, a nice little corner pub tucked away behind the main roads in Queen’s Square, a Greene King pub serving the standard ales as well as GK’s more recent Yardbird, which was very good. The pub’s curious name comes from Queen Charlotte, who rented its cellar to store food and drink for her husband, ‘Mad’ King George III, who was being treated for his ‘madness’ by doctors in this square.

perseverance.jpgA walk along Great Ormond Street – home of the famous children’s hospital, which still benefits from the royalties of Peter Pan, bequeathed to them by author JM Barrie, and which cared for a childhood friend of mine as best they could – brought us to the Perseverance. We’ve visited this previously, but since then they’ve installed a brewing kit and brew their own beers, of which we mainly went for the Hoppy Ale, alongside a good selection of other craft beers.

Moving on, we headed next for the Blue Lion, not visited before on a crawl (though I have been here before, when cousin Russel hired it with Phil for their “leaving London” do!)  This is a busy pub with a large central servery, with some interesting beers on draught; I went with the majority and had the Penpont Cornish Coast, though the Moorhouse Blind Witch was also good.

Just across the road lies the Calthorpe Arms, a Good Beer Guide regular and three times winner of the local CAMRA branch’s Pub of the Year. Very popular by its reputation no doubt, it was standing room only.  The beers are well kept, with a couple of guests including Truman’s Blindside as well as Young’s standard beers, although we couldn’t help thinking that adding beers from another micro or two would be welcome to keep up the pace with the newest generation of pubs offering a wider range of beers.

From there the walk took us past the archaeological site where a 350,000 year old hand axe was found next to elephant bones, the “second” furthest point from a tube in zone 1 and the site of former public house Merlin’s Cave, the high point from which the crowd was addressed in the Spa Fields Riots almost 200 years ago.  Spa Fields was covered by Phil in an adjacent crawl a few years back.  The area was rapidly developed soon after and the views have gone in an attempt to stop such congregations and, as we walked down Merlin Street adjacent to Wilmington Square, our next pub was on the left.

Our next stop, the Old China Hand, was one of of the newer generation of pubs. While they have only a small bar, they have some interesting ales on draught, including Vale’s Lock Prop & Barrel (the second rugby-themed ale of the night, presumably as the Six Nations – or the World Cup Fifth Place Play-off as some antipodeans are calling it – has just started) and local brewery Hammerton’s N1. In fact, they make a point of selling only British beers, wines and spirits. But their bottled range also deserves a special mention, with a very large variety of beers; I went for a Citra Pale Ale from the London Beer Lab in Brixton, where I’ve brewed some very similar stuff myself, and it was excellent.

The next stop was the Easton, at the other end of the beer range spectrum. Well not quite, as they did at least have one ale on, Truman’s Runner (and on rare occasion we have been to places with no ales!), but this is a fairly large gastropub with a young crowd, rather like a sixth form common room.  The lack of a wider range of ales is surprising and we wouldn’t particularly rush back until they’ve upped the effort on sourcing beers.

brewdogHeading down towards Clerkenwell now, we stopped at the Bowler, also a gastropub but with a bit more of a choice of drinks. This also felt a bit cosier, as rather than a large single room it has a slightly more interesting layout.

Sadly the next pub on the list had closed by the time we got there, as had the next one, but fortunately the relatively recent addition to the BrewDog empire was still open, and while we got in a round of 5am Saint, I’m pleased to report that we did get out of there long before then!

And we even remembered to debate and vote for the pub and beer of the crawl…

So, the Pub of the Crawl for February was the Old China Hand, which also served up the Beer of the Crawl, Hammerton’s N1  – congratulations!



12/07/2015 at 18:39 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In June 2015, it was my turn to take the crawl, and we headed for the northern edge of the City for a walk around Smithfield and Clerkenwell.

After a bit of stomach lining in the Piccolo Bar cafe, we started at the Lord Raglan. From the outside this looks like a typical small City pub with as many people drinking on the pavement outside as inside the pub. But in fact it’s far larger than it looks, extending a long way back and with a large upstairs bar, which even has room for pool tables. The beers were fine if standard fare, most of us settling for the Taylor Walker house beer 1730.

We left fairly sharpish, as the first point of interest, Postman’s Park, closes at 7pm. But it’s well worth the visit, as it contains a fabulous monument to ordinary people who lost their lives trying to save others, the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. The park is named after the many postal workers who used the park, given its location adjacent to the former General Post Office, on the southern side of the park, from where Marconi sent the world’s first public radio signal.

We passed now through St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London’s oldest, dating from 1123, and the place where Sherlock Holmes first meets Doctor Watson in the novels, exiting onto West Smithfield. Long the home of London’s meat markets, Smithfield has a long history which is well worth reading more about, including jousting tournaments, many executions (including Sir William Wallace of Braveheart fame), the annual Bartholomew’s Fair, and the murder of Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, in 1381. According to English Heritage’s excellent Played in London book, it was also the site of the first recorded football match, on Shrove Tuesday 1174.

Passing through the medieval St Bartholomew the Great church, scene of the Hugh Grant wedding in Four Weddings, and where Benjamin Frankin once worked as a printer, we headed to the Hand and Shears. This pub was traditionally the venue for the opening ceremony of the Bartholomew’s Fair, a cloth fair, and for which a sample of cloth was cut to open the fair, a tradition lasting to this day in the form of cutting a ribbon. The pub is not resting on its historical laurels, offering some very good beers, and on our visit we drank a combination of Old Hooky, Landlord and Cocky Blonde.

Just across the street (and just behind where the Dick Whittington once stood) we found the Old Red Cow, a slightly smaller sister pub to one of my favourites the Dean Swift. This has a good selection of beers, and we had a mixture of Siren Oatmeal X, Liverpool IPA and Firebrand Pacific.

Fox and AnchorNext we took a walk around Charterhouse Square, past the site of the famous school founded in 1611 and Hercule Poirot’s fictional home, to the Fox & Anchor. As per the local tradition, this is a market pub, opening early in the morning to service the market’s night-time workforce, but it has been sensitively refurbished recently and has a lovely interior, narrow but deep. However given the warm weather, we stood outside in the street with our Young’s and Truman’s beers, looking at some fascinating old photos and maps of the area and pub.

Leaving the Fox we turned into St John Street, formerly a key entry to the City of London from the north, and accordingly for many years it comprised a great many pubs and inns, serving effectively as a medieval coach station for the Midlands and counties to the north of England. The inns are now long gone, although the architecture gives away the location of many, including the Cross Keys. The traffic island in the middle marks the previous site of Hicks’s Hall, once the Middlesex Sessions House. Much more information here and on associated pages.

Having previously visited the White Bear, we continued north through St John’s Arch and St John’s Square to the Sekforde Arms. This nice wedge-shaped early 19th century pub is larger than it looks, although given the weather we found a table outside to enjoy our Youngs beers. Disturbingly, as we left we saw a sign that the pub would shortly be closing – we sincerely hope that this is only temporary.

Slaughtered LambNearby we passed along Brewery Square, through what was once the Cannon Brewery, signs of which remain including the old Brewery Yard Office with its hop-topped columns, to the Slaughtered Lamb, a large corner modern pub. There were some interesting beers on, including Yorkshire Pale Ale, Great Heck Navigator and Windsor & Eton Conqueror, which again we consumed out in the street.

The final stop was just across the road, the Sutton Arms. This is a smallish traditional corner pub, offering some decent well known ales including Landlord and London Pride. The landlord was a bit over keen to usher us out, and here ended the crawl.

We did, though, first vote for the Pub of the Crawl, which was the Fox & Anchor. Congratulations!


18/02/2014 at 20:58 | Posted in Crawls | 1 Comment
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In the midst of 2014’s very wet winter, we braved the wind and rain on Valentine’s night for a walk around the Finsbury area of Islington, led by Phil.

Not for the first time we started near Angel, but this time at the Charles Lamb, a delightful and lively corner pub in Elia Street; the pub was named after the author in 2005, as he used to live around the corner in Colebrooke Row. It has a small but excellent range of beers, and we largely went for Windsor & Eton’s Knights of the Garter, with one or two Hopheads thrown in for good measure.

We then headed south and paused at Spa Green to get a glimpse of Saddlers Wells Theatre through the trees, founded by an artesian well in 1683 and a notorious place of “relaxation” soon afterwards.  A place to go if you didn’t have a valentine for the night, perhaps.  But not this particular night!  The curiously named Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker on St John St was next up. Approached from the north it appears to be a smallish corner pub, but in fact it extends along the side road and is very spacious towards the back. A house beer has been seen on the bar before apparently but wasn’t in evidence when we were in, but the Deuchars IPA, Flying Scotsman and Theakstons Black Bull were, and slipped down very nicely.

Continuing south we gazed upwards at the 1968 housing project – the brutalist styled Finsbury Estate – and the extremely high Michael Cliffe House, the site of many suicides in the 70s.  We came next to the Peasant, a large one-room gastropub (quite possibly the 2nd in the UK), with the foodie bit largely confined to an upstairs area, leaving the main bar feeling very much like a decent pub. I went for an American Pale Ale from the Hackney brewery (founded by a couple of guys who worked together at the Charles Lamb and the Eagle, which we come to later), others enjoyed the Bath Ales Barnsey and Two Cocks Roundhead bitter.

cheersThe walk was made a little longer by an explanation in the rain of the Spa Fields area, its role as a weekend “resort” for the less well-off and later where the influential  Spa Fields Riots took place in 1816.  There was also the “boneyard” – the Spa Fields burial ground – built to hold 1,316 but hosting around 80,000 burials curiously commemorated by the local council with a information board. We passed along Exmouth Market to the Wilmington. (We skipped the excellent Exmouth Arms as we’ve visited it on a previous crawl.) The Wilmington is a largish corner pub doing a good trade in Valentine’s meals when we popped in. Five interesting ales were on; I went for a lovely Twickenham Sundancer, while some others went for Trumans Blindside, all served in nice handled glasses.

We paused in Coldbath Square – another site of a well – before making our way to Greene King pub opposite the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office (on the site of Coldbath Prison), the Apple Tree, which was surprisingly quiet with just a few regulars in when we called in, though it’s likely to be much busier after shift changes. Sadly there was no mention of the 18th century strongman Thomas Topham, who was a legendary landlord entertaining his guests with outrageous acts including raising three hogsheads of water using his neck and shoulders.  The beers were decent enough but from the standard GK range, so nothing revolutionary on the taste front. They were very good about the glass I accidentally broke to my horror, when my jacket caught as I squeezed out of the table when we were leaving.

A short stumble through the increasingly menacing winds brought us downhill to the Coach & Horses, a small corner pub, which like the previous stop was fairly empty by the time we arrived, as we were getting close to last orders. I went for a Brentwood BBC2, which at 2.5% was a very good way to slow the pace after five pints, with Doom Bar being the main beer on offer.

Another pause, this time at the site of where Charles I supposedly tasted the latest food craze – a pickled egg – preceded the final stop of the night – the Eagle on Farringdon Road, credited with (or blamed for, depending on your view) starting the gastropub revolution when it was opened in this form in 1991. It was too late in the evening to see it operating in its full glory with the chefs cooking gourmet food behind the bar, but we at least had plenty of room to sit and sup our Hackney Brewery Golden Ales in comfort before heading out into the stormy night for home.

With that, onto the Pub of the Crawl. As I spotted a number 63 approaching as we stood outside we voted for this one by email afterwards rather than reaching a consensus on the night; the vote was split among four of the pubs showing the good range of hostelries visited tonight, but the winner was our meeting point, the Charles Lamb. Congratulations! 

Fleet Valley

06/11/2012 at 20:59 | Posted in Crawls | 1 Comment
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For November 2012, Rich took us back to the City, for a walk up the Fleet Valley through Hatton Garden and Clerkenwell to Islington.

We met up at the Cockpit, a small corner pub in the back alleys of the City, between Blackfriars and St Paul’s. It is a traditional pub, popular with local office workers and we enjoyed the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Once assembled we head through the alleys to the west and down the the Blackfriar, opposite the newly re-opened Blackfriars station. This pub appears to occupy a small site from the outside, but cunningly stretches under the adjacent railway arches to add space for quite  few more tables. This could have been a dingy alcove, but the interior was decorated in a glorious arts and crafts style, particularly under the arches, and when it was (unbelievably) threatened with demolition, Sir John Betjeman helped to campaign to save it. Well worth a visit, and my pint from the Liverpool Organic Brewery wasn’t bad either.

Quite a walk from here, as we started north along New Bridge Street and Farringdon Street towards Holborn Viaduct, following the route of the River Fleet, which once flowed along the surface here and now runs in a tunnel below the road. Eventually we ended up at the wonderful Ye Old Mitre, tucked away in the alleys off Hatton Garden (and previously visited on Dimo’s crawl). The pub sits on land once occupied by the Bishop of Ely and as such used to be officially a part of Ely rather than London, although this is no longer the case today. The pub has a good range of ales, as well as good honest pub fare – such as toasties for just £1.99.

The next pub is another of my favourites but not yet visited on one of these crawls – the Craft Beer Company, just the other side of Hatton Garden on Leather Lane. This high-ceilinged corner pub is a sister of the lovely Cask in Pimlico (and a couple of newer pubs in their growing chain), and packs an astounding range of both ales and keg/bottled beers. I had a gorgeous pint from Magic Rock but was spoilt for choice; we each had something different and all were superb.

We could have happily lingered longer but that would be against the rules, there were other good pubs to find! Heading north again, we crossed over Clerkenwell Road to the Gunmakers on Eyre Street Hill. Although the observant will have noticed how partial I am to the lighter ales, I went for the Exmoor Dark here, which slipped down very nicely; others enjoyed their Landlord, Nightwatchman and Harveys. The pub looks small at the front but is quite deep, with a room which appears once to have been the back yard. One curiosity is that the home seems to be something of a home of Ben Sherman, sitting as it does opposite their HQ.

Onward again, and Rich teased us by passing the Coach and Horses and making a beeline for Shepherd Neame’s Betsey Trotwood. One of the great things about these crawls is going into pubs you’ve always meant to try; the Betsey is one of those for me, I’ve been past many times on work business but had never set foot in side before. I’m glad to have done so now, the Betsey was a lively place, and though I’m not always a fan of Shep’s staple ales, the Kent’s Best was rather good. The pub sits virtually on top of both the River Fleet as it flows underfoot down Farringdon Road.

Heading north again, and this time heading to a pub just on the eastern side of the old river, the Exmouth Arms, sitting on the corner of Exmouth Market. It’s a traditional looking pub with lovely old Courage tiling, but inside sports the decor of the new breed of beery-not-quite-gastro-pub. The beer list is pretty outstanding, with a huge bottled list and craft beers on tap (including the local Camden Town brewery), but we settled for the ales, and loved both the Aussie Blonde and Joshua Jane.

Finally, we headed north east from here along Rosebery Avenue to another great pub which Dimo first took us to before, the Harlequin. We couldn’t resist getting stuck into the old box of Trivial Pursuit as we did before; although with incredible timing given the news of the past week, two questions on the very first page related to Jimmy Savile! On that bombshell we suddenly found that it was about 10 minutes to the last Northern line train, so made a hasty exit for Angel tube and a date with a slightly fuzzy Saturday morning.

Farringdon – Clerkenwell

04/06/2011 at 17:39 | Posted in Crawls, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Dimo led us for this one, for which we met at the Castle, very close to Farringdon station. From here we went to the nearby Jerusalem Tavern, a beautiful pub, and the only St Peter’s Brewery pub in the capital, and the Belgian-themed Dove Tail. In Clerkenwell the overrated Crown was followed by its nicer neighbour the Three Kings, and the cracking Mitre, tucked off Hatton Garden, topped of this great mid-town crawl.

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