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Boots, Beers, and Fighting Cocks....

A day in Hertfordshire followed by an evening in St Albans....

I went to my first Halifax Town away match of the season last weekend. The team were playing at either Borehamwood or Boreham Wood. It is a bland suburban town whichever way you spell it, situated where London's sprawl meets leafy Hertfordshire, and is best known for being the location of Elstree Studios. Meadow Park, where The Wood play, is situated just off the road opposite the entrance to the world-famous studios.

We had set off from Halifax just before 10, and after a reasonable journey south via the M1, we landed in Bushey, a suburb of Watford, just over 3 hours later, our destination the GBG-listed Swan. This is a small local's pub, just off the main drag, situated in the middle of a suburban street of mixed house styles. It looks nothing special from the outside, but inside it could have been a pub from 1950's, a period from when the majority of the customers present would most likely have been in their teens. They were a friendly bunch, though, and showed an interest in the footballing reason behind our visit. The traditional interior featured a small bar with 4 handpumps, dispensing a sadly uninspiring choice of Taylors Landlord, Black Sheep Bitter, Youngs Bitter(now brewed by Marstons), and Greene King Abbot, featuring an old pump clip from years gone by. We opted for a pint of Youngs, which was, to be fair, pretty good. In all, a pleasant traditional pub, with the unusual feature these days of a pin-up calendar in the gents!

We had given Borehamwood a wide berth as far as a drink was concerned as it is something of a beer desert, although we did meet up with the rest of our gang, who had travelled down via the A1, at the local Spoons, which must be one of the worst in the entire estate. From there it is a short walk to Meadow Park. After going behind to an early goal, Town equalised in the 2nd half and it finished 1-1, not a particularly good game, but I would have happily taken a point before the game.

Following the match, we drove the few miles to Hemel Hempstead where we had booked an overnight stay. We got checked in to the Travelodge, a quick wash and change, then it was a taxi-ride to nearby St Albans which was our destination for the evening. St Albans is surely one of the finest towns(or cities) in all England, crammed full of history. It was the site of a Celtic settlement, then as the Romans came to these shores it became the important city of Veralamium, with only Londonium more pre-eminent. During this period it was the home of Alban, who was executed for his Christian beliefs, and subsequently became first British saint, from whom the city took its name. It also has a rich Anglo Saxon and Medieval history, and today many historic and attractive buildings from that period are dotted around the town, including the huge and spectacular Cathedral. Nowadays the city is a popular tourist destination, and with St Pancras Station only 20 minutes away, a dormitory town for London, 19 miles to the south.

Our taxi dropped us off just around the corner from our first port-of-call, The Boot Inn. This is a bustling Grade 1-listed city-centre pub, situated just beside the old clock tower, dating back to 1422, and featuring low ceilings, real fires, and a selection of real ales. Many of the lads opted for the Oakham Citra, whilst I went for the Mad Squirrel Sumo, but we all agreed that the beer quality was high. It was an excellent introduction to this most attractive of cities.

It was a few minutes walk to our next pub, The White Lion, which unlike the Boot was one I had not visited before. This was situated in a quiet street just outside the town centre, and had a decent selection of ales. I opted for a Hopfest, another Mad Squirrel beer, which was very nice. It turns out this is a new name for the former Red Squirrel Brewery, who are based in nearby Potten End and were originally formed back in 2004. This was a very friendly pub, and despite the fact a lot of people were enjoying what looked to be some very nice food, we drinkers were made to feel very welcome. A good pub with some good beer.

From there, it was a short walk around the corner (or a sneaky short cut out the back of the White Lion if you knew about it) to the next on the list, the Garibaldi. Whether it is named after the biscuit or the Italian nationalist, I don't know, but I do like the idea of a pub being named after a biscuit. After all, there is Jacob's in Bradford.... Whatever the origins of the name, this is a fine, comfortable local pub dispensing a selection of Fullers beers. As last time I had visited, it was very busy with a great atmosphere. My pint of London Pride was very good.

Just around the corner was The White Hart Tap, which was the cover star of the 2014 Good Beer Guide(well, CAMRA are, after all, based in St Albans). Another friendly pleasant pub, based around one bar, with some excellent beer, the Oakham Citra being on fine form. The pub has now started brewing its own beer, although none of us spotted any on the bar. By now the beer was starting to kick in, and the post-match analysis of the day's football was starting to get more animated!

We walked back to the city centre, then veered away from it again and headed down the hill, passing the turn-off for the cathedral, and then to the Grade 11-listed Lower Red Lion on Fishpool Street. This is in a historic location, close by the site of the Roman settlement Veralamium. This excellent pub is a traditional wood-panelled local, with open fires, the two separate rooms being served by friendly staff from a central bar. I went for a pint of Side Pocket for a Toad, from the Tring Brewery, who have been brewing since 1992. This refreshing pale citrussy beer was on fine form.

One of my Facebook friends who lives in Hertfordshire had been messaging me during the day with suggestions of where to go, and one of them was the last place we visited, the Olde Fighting Cocks. This was several minutes walk away, through an archway and then down the quiet Abbey Mill Road past the stunning cathedral. After a few minutes we arrived at what is supposedly one of the oldest pubs in the country, said to originate from the 8th century, although the current building dates from around 1485. Whatever it actually is, the pub certainly has a history! The octagon-shaped pub was originally owned by the abbey, the former guise of the Cathedral until it was dissolved in the 16th century, has been used as a pigeon house, and for cock-fighting, and apparently Oliver Cromwell stayed a night there. Now there are plans to build an extension at the back and develop the outside area which overlooks a lake in Veralamium Park. Whilst it is obviously a tourist attraction, it was fairly quiet when we called in. It is a spacious place, with rooms fanning off from the central bar. I opted for a pint of the Best Bitter from Farr Brewery from Wheathampstead. They also had a collaboration on sale between the pub and Farr Brewery as they are looking to brew their own beers on site!

The Olde Fighting Cock was an excellent final port of call on what had been an evening crammed with great pubs and beer. The only disappointment was the curry with which we rounded off the evening, because, as is often the case with curries in the South, they hold back on the heat! But, it was the only blip of the evening, and as we rode back in the taxi to our hotel in Hemel Hempstead, I made a mental resolve to return to this area, and St Albans in particular, before too long....

The Boot Inn, St Albans


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