Last Updated : 06/06/09
surprise work visit to Oxford was on the cards and I wasn’t saying no to that: after all, the city has some great pubs which may or may not supply some scoops for the book, but that’s not really the point; Oxford is a delight to wander around, even for an unconverted hater of pompous rich bastards like me, as I can ignore the Hooray Henriettas and gaze at the beige architecture for as long as I can bear the whining plummy voices before hitting the pubs for some decent beer, winners or not.
Mid-afternoon post-work found me at the delightfully crap Peartree park-and-ride Travel Inn where, after dumping my work stuff in a room which seemed to be constructed of plywood plus anything else going cheap at B&Q when they threw the place up, off I went on the frequent bus into the centre of Oxford to begin my exploration. As the double-decker lumbered towards town I scanned the map that – with great forethought – I’d printed off the night before and saw that I could visit White Horse’s new pub, the Royal Blenheim, plus all the old favourites and even have a look into the new and very Two Ronnies-esque “Fork Handles” Wetherspoon pub into the bargain.
First up, however, was the pressing urgency of my growling guts which I sated with a delicious plateful of pie, mash and mushy peas at the Pieminister café-cum-shop in the market before wandering off – emitting contented belches along the way – towards my first call, the St Aldates tavern, where I hoped for at least something decent to drink and maybe even a scoop or two! I perched myself at the bar whilst I scrutinised the pumps and found a winner was available in the form of White Horse’s Halloween beer, the snappily-named “Ding dong the Witch is dead”. I reasoned that this might be available at the Blenheim but I wasn’t going to flag it here then have to walk back if it wasn’t on; unnecessary exercise isn’t one of my great loves as my waistline will attest.
Half of this brew was soon being supped; a deep brown malty beer, it had a hefty liquorice and black malt flavour with a balancing sweet graininess in the toffeeish finish: not bad at all if not my usual type of thing! As I supped I got into conversation with a couple who I’d noticed studying a map of Oxford; they explained that they were students new to the city and were sampling some of the real ale pubs around which seemed to be a perfectly valid thing to do. After a perfunctory scan of their map I passed positive judgement on the pubs they had listed (to be honest, they basically had the list of what I had planned for the evening with a bit of padding!) apart from one very important omission, the new White Horse pub around the corner, my next call.
Letching – the new perving?
Now I know I’m not generally the most sociable person and meeting students in a pub then showing them around a city isn’t habitually my choice for an evening out, but the female of the pair had a transfixingly gorgeous arse and so when they asked if I’d show them where the Royal Blenheim was I agreed meekly – but only because I’d be able to letch at her gorgeous buttocks a little longer! Honestly, I’m not getting any more sociable in my older years… not yet, anyhow!
We passed the next pub on their list, Greede Kerching’s Old Tom, which I dismissed with a comment along the lines that I’d rather tip my money down the drain or gift it to Al-Qaeda then hand it over to scum such as GK which, admittedly, took them aback with it’s causticity making an explanation in order which I’m still not sure they understood – the innocence of youth, eh? I knew where the Blenheim was by virtue of my studiousness with Google maps the night before and so led my new-found friends along an unlikely-looking road until we suddenly arrived at a much larger than expected (presumably) faux-Tudor corner pub.
As the place had only been open a few weeks I wasn’t sure what to expect but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the ten handpumps on the bar and a chalkboard beer menu… this looked like somewhere that took it’s beer seriously! Half of the beer on sale was from White Horse whilst the rest were guest beers although I wasn't too chuffed to see that three of these were from Derventio! We positioned ourselves at the bar whereupon the landlord appeared and, when he realised that I was a scooper, immediately offered more beers from the cellar; this was my kind of pub! With a scoop in the cellar and one on the bar I was happy to stand there – letching at the gorgeous arse of my new-found fellow drinker – until they met up with a friend and so, after thanking the landlord profusely for his unexpected generosity with the cellar, I was off to the next pub, chuckling at his quote when asked what kind of customer he was after; “scoopers, fit women, anyone who likes beer, really!”...
Another visit, another protest.
After a wander through Oxford's admittedly pleasant beige stone architecture I arrived at the Turf where no scoops were on the board although I did squeeze in a swift half of Fat Cat Top Cat which was solidly malty with some fruit and a juicily tangy aftertaste. Walking out of the pub I smiled to myself at the tiny alleyways that had to be negotiated when entering or leaving, wondering how people found the place before the likes of Google maps and the internet! Back on the main road I wandered along to my next call but found the road ahead stuffed with police in HV jackets and a melee of shouting, placard-waving students; why is Oxford always full of protesters when I'm in town?
I managed to slip past the protest, ascertaining along the way that it was against the Israeli prime minister who was making a speech in the pompous beige building I was passing, before reaching the relative sanctity of the White Horse. I wasn't expecting any scoops in here and thus wasn't disappointed when none were forthcoming, but as I was walking past the pub and it is a really traditional old tavern and well worth sitting at the bar taking in the atmosphere I thought I may as well have a swift half... consequently I was soon furnished with a glass of White Horse Village Idiot, listening to some fellow drinkers at the bar discussing the protest and wondering how an Israeli president could, given his country's policy towards Palestinians, be awarded a peace prize?
Not wishing to veer into politics I supped my beer and left for the new McSpoons in town, the very existence of which is a huge victory for Tim Martin as the company had been prohibited from opening a pub in the centre for a long time before they somehow managed to slip this one in. Thirty seconds were enough to tell me that I could have been in any McSpoons in the country and, maybe just as predictably, there were no scoops on the bar and so with nothing to detain me I turned about and carried on towards my real target, the improbably named Far from the Madding Crowd.
Buses and me don’t mix.
Located down an alleyway, albeit not as narrow, twisty or unassuming as those that hide the Turf, this converted shop has a decent range of guest beers on sale and is one of the top three pubs in Oxford scoop-wise. Well, normally it's worth a look, but the beer range that particular night was very pedestrian and I made do with a swift half of Vale VPA which was – in sympathy with the beer list, perhaps – very bland with a slight grassiness over a thin malt flavour and nothing of interest to detain me for another.
I was soon at the bus stop for my ride back to the park and ride but I soon realised that something was wrong; the information on the bus stop suggested that the P&R buses didn't leave from the stop which the website had indicated but another further back past the St Aldates Tavern. Feeling rather pissed off I stomped along to the stop indicated but once there found contradicting information about the bus which told me that it left from the stop I'd been at five minutes previously. As I'd completed my crawl well ahead of schedule owing to a lack of scoops I had plenty of time left to get back to my plywood shack and so, checking the map, I set off in the direction I'd just come deciding to have a swift half in the Lamb & Flag before getting myself to a stop that the bus must stop at: if it still ran, that was... in my pissed-off induced haste, however, I managed to crack my elbow on the corner of a particularly knobbly beige stone building although, luckily, it wasn't my drinking arm.
Rubbing my elbow furiously, I soon arrived at the Lamb where I had 40 minutes before the next bus allegedly left and so a leisurely half was in order – provided that there was something worth drinking as I wasn't expecting any scoops whatsoever! After a quick scan of the pumps I ordered a half of Palmer's Golden as it's not a brewery you see often and I couldn't remember what their beers tasted like... very much like you'd expect a regional beer to taste, sadly, with sticky sugary malt and no discernible hop character.
This didn't last long, slaking a thirst worked up by my frantic scurrying between bus stops, so a scan of he remaining pumps was in order and I was amazed to find a scoop; Three Castles Knight’s Porter! This was much better and possessed a rich molasses, chocolate and toffee taste with some dryness in the finish and was a good final beer to have on my Oxford crawl. As I supped I noticed a sign above the bar which stated the pub didn’t “Take £50 notes, cards or give change for parking”…customer service, or what?
So, did I get back, I hear you ask? Thanks for the concern and yes, the bus arrived on-time and whisked me back to the park and ride from where it was a simple trudge along the deceptively long access road, through a hole in the hedge, down a muddy slope, through a brackish puddle and across the steppe-like car park back to the “hotel” via the service station garage where an assortment of unhealthy snacks were purchased to serve as an evening meal. And yes, my elbow was bloody agony the next day.
Scooping on the road isn't all beer and roses, just in case you thought it was: it's a combination of irritating public transport shambles interspersed with mediocre beer and unhealthy food... bloody hell, how could anyone not enjoy that?
The pubs visited :
St Aldates Tavern, 108, St Aldates
Royal Blenheim, 13 St Ebbes
Four Candles, 53 George Street
Turf Tavern, 4 Bath Place
White Horse, 52 Broad Street
Far from the Madding Crowd, 10-12 Friar's Entry
Lamb & Flag, 12 St Giles
The Eagle & Child, 49 St Giles, is also worth a look as is the Pieminister cafe in the indoor market.
See my Google map of Oxford here.
© Gazza 06/06/09 v1.0