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London Calling From A Faraway Town....

A trip to that London, 'the smoke' as it used to be called in those black and white TV cop programmes back in the 1960's. The reason? Well football, with the prospect of a new ground and hopefully another 3 points in the quest for promotion. Of course, some beer was likely to be involved....


This wasn't my first trip to London this season. A few months ago, four of us set off on the Grand Central from West Yorkshire to Kings Cross with high hopes of at least a draw, and the prospect of a few pints as well. We arrived on time in the capital, and not long after we were on the tube to High Barnet on London's outer fringes to see Halifax Town play at Barnet. All was well, as a few spots and then little streams of rain garnished the outside of the carriage as our tube seamlessly emerged from underground to over ground. We arrived in High Barnet looking forward to the first pub that had been earmarked for a visit. A friend on his way back from France was due to join us, so a call was made to see where he was. Which is where it all started to go wrong....

My mate made the call. Our French connection had arrived in London. Great. He'd got parked up near the ground. Great, we'll see you shortly. That first pint was close. Then my mate's face fell. What's up, the rest of us wondered, puzzled, as he said we'd be there as soon as we could, and the call ended abruptly. It was then that we discovered that we were in the wrong part of London! Barnet FC had relocated several years ago to The Hive Sports Centre in Edgeware, which was about 6 miles away. We could get the tube back towards Central London, frustrating, as it would take a while, but with no obvious alternative that is what we did, as we tried to work out the best connection to use. We got talking to a guy who on hearing our predicament suggested we got an Uber, so discussing the best options we got off a couple of stops down the line at some forgettable North London suburb. None of us had a clue about Uber, but one of the lads downloaded the app and ordered one. Our spirits lifted as we stood in the station waiting room. Sure enough, a taxi appeared. There were four of us. He could only take three. Order an XL, he said, the time ticking by. We eventually got to Barnet's ground about 15 minutes before kick off after a ride through some of the affluent suburbs of North London, with the rain bordering on the torrential.

The game itself was forgettable, but we were quite comfortable in securing a 0-0 draw. We set off after the game to Canons Park tube station through a park and when we arrived 10 minutes later we were drenched. And when we got back to Kings Cross, the rain was still coming down hard, so we didn't want to venture too far. We managed a pint at the Euston Flyer, then a quick trip round to the normally dependable Skinners Arms. We arrived in dripping to discover the cask beer had gone off. Bugger. And back to Kings Cross and The Old Parcel Yard for a consolatory pint of London Pride before the train home.

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And so once again we were heading south on the Grand Central in hope, 6 of us this time, fuelled by a breakfast at the Station Cafe in Brighouse, arriving in London to bright sunshine and spring-like weather. We walked away from the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross and its environs, and a few minutes later we were at our first pub. Located on pleasant Northdown Street facing a cafe and a halal store was the King Charles I, a friendly one-roomer with wooden floorboards and plenty of quirky touches. Clearly popular, within about 10 minutes most tables were full with an eclectic mix of punters. The lady behind the bar stressed our table needed be vacated by 3 as according to the mini chalkboard on the table Tim was coming in for a 4 hour session, but we said we'd be gone way before then. And what was on the bar for Tim and the rest of us to look forward to?

The day's starting line up at the King Charles

Apart from our cider drinking chum we all opted for pints of Cache from Hammerton, a former London brewery famous for their Oatmeal Stout. They had ceased brewing in the 1950's, but were revived by a member of the family in 2014 in nearby Barnsbury and now brew a wide range of cask and craft beers. The Cache was described as a Micro IPA, and was a hazy 3.5% slightly grainy pale with tropical, peach, and citrus notes. A solid NBSS 3 rating from me. We planned our journey east to Dagenham, and after weighing up our options, decided to go for another pint at this friendly pub. If Tim was coming in at 3 specifically for the Cache, his hopes were likely to be dashed as it had gone off when we went back to the bar. Swerving the Abbot, we opted for pints of Runner from Truman, another revived old brewery name. The former Trumans was at one time the biggest brewery in the world and had ceased operations after over 300 years in 1989. The name was revived in 2013 and the brewery now operates from a site in Hackney Wick, using original Trumans yeast from the National Collection. The Runner is a 4% easy-drinking session bitter with a spicy hoppy aroma and a dry finish, which I rated as a NBSS 3.5.

A friendly pub with good beer - that'll be the King Charles I then

Back to Kings Cross, and off east on the Hammersmith and City line. We soon left the underground behind and the rest of the journey was over ground, stopping at familiar names like West Ham, Upton Park, and others familiar from Ian Dury songs like Plaistow, passing anonymous suburbs, flyovers, and industrial parks before arriving at  Barking, where we transferred to the District Line for a few stops to Dagenham East.

There were several Town fans on the tube as well, and along with us, not surprisingly, were several Dagenham fans, one friendly old guy bemoaning his side's recent fortunes and complementing Town on ours (he couldn't have noticed our last 2 results then!). We had time for a quick pint and my brother had a pub in mind as he set an impressive pace to get there, as we passed a mix of semi-detached houses - one with a large number of caricature ceramic dogs occupying the driveway, low-rise flats, takeaways, garages, industrial estates, and a sixties office block with a sign proclaiming Gold's Gym. After walking beyond the road to the ground a few minutes later we arrived at the Eastbrook Tavern.

Who'd thought it: a Neo-Gothic classic in Dagenham

Now I wasn't aware my brother was up on such things, but the Eastbrook Tavern is a Grade ll listed building, with Historic England praising its "smart Neo-Georgian exterior with good detailing and materials; design quality: contrasting aesthetic in the Oak and Walnut Bars, which epitomises the pluralistic approach to design in the inter-war years, and nostalgia for Merrie England".... "an archetypal inter-war improved road house with a range of rooms for different functions and clientele"...."virtually unaltered, high-quality interior complete with walnut or oak panelling, glazed partitions, bars, seating, stained glass, and fireplaces"....a "suburban landmark". And with little else of note in this sprawling area just up from the Thames, it did stand out. But what about the beer? We went into a bustling taproom, but the cask ale was served in the other bar which wasn't visible, so our pints were brought through and were anonymous, although I suspected they were Doom Bar or more likely Hobgoblin. But Doom Goblin or whatever, it only mustered a 2.5 rating in my humble opinion. That said, the pub was buzzing, a friendly crowd of mainly blokes, many watching Ross County v Rangers on one of several TV screens dotted around the attractive wood-panelled room, or studying the horses in newspapers laid out on their table, and I have been in far worse places.

We headed off to the football ground on Victoria Road. If this was a football blog, I would be eulogising about our performance and how, with a 3-1 win, we are back in the promotion mix. But it's not, and so I am not going to go on about it. Suffice to say we were very happy with our victory over one of the best footballing teams in our league which made our trip to the hinterlands and big skies of this corner of Essex more than worthwhile.

And it finished, Dagenham & Redbridge FC 1, FC Halifax Town 3

And so, basking in the glow of victory, we took the tube back to Central London and headed for a pub which was probably the best of the day. We left the queues and confusion of Kings Cross station behind and a few minutes later we were at The Queen's Head on Acton Street which like the King Charles we had visited earlier in the day was a calm and relaxing place to be. It had a welcoming glow as we approached, and we entered into a large room with the bar on the left where many of the tables were already occupied. The bar crew were young, quiet, but friendly, and the choice of beer was two on cask with a further 8 or so on the fonts from the likes of RARM favourites Bristol Beer Factory and The Kernel. But sensible head said get a pint of Redemption's excellent Trinity which was packed with West Coast hops but with a driver-friendly ABV of 3.0% - not that that was a consideration today - but it was a most enjoyable, well-balanced,  and flavoursome beer which I rated as best cask of the day. NBSS 4, no less. Redemption started brewing in 2010 and are based in Tottenham, with cask beer a major focus, although they have branched out into keg and cans. A few of us decided to try one of The Kernel's beers that were on offer on keg, a 5.2% hazy pale featuring Wakatu and Columbus hops, which was excellent as is the norm for that brewery. A couple of top beers in a very good pub.

The day's best: The Queen's Head, St Pancras

The clock was moving on, so we finished our beers and made our way we back to Kings Cross where we had just enough time to grab a quick pint at the Old Parcel Yard before boarding our train back up North. I must admit I always enjoy popping in to this huge, rambling Fullers pub with its seemingly endless number of rooms and nooks and crannies. Several of us had a pint of Hophead from Dark Star, the Sussex-based indie brewery that was taken over by Fullers a few years ago. It was in decent enough form, certainly worthy of a NBSS 3 rating.

Rambling: The Old Parcel Yard, Kings Cross, London

And then it was back north after a great day in London, which more than made up for the frustrations of last time. A couple of us managed to grab a quick and welcome pint back in Yorkshire at the Commercial/Railway in Brighouse before we headed home, happy to be back on our own turf.

Until of course the next time London comes calling....

The title of this blog was inspired by, and is misquoted from, the title track of the classic 1979 album 'London Calling' by The Clash.

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic



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