Of Beasts and Beer

Another week and another long trip beckoned, this time to Plymouth. The prospect of another super early start had led Sean and Graham to head down to Devon a couple of days early, while Ian and I travelled to Bristol on Friday to break the journey.

The stopover meant we were able to catch up with friends, including the inspiration for the matchday blogs, Stedders. We started off with Liz and Mark in Small Bar, with a Bad Seed Cascade, enjoying the quiet before the hoards descended on King Street later on, then we headed to The Lime Kiln to meet Stedders and Rose, which was hosting one third of the spring beer festival along St. George’s Road (along with The Three Tuns and the Bag of Nails). I started off with a nice but not exceptional SQUAWK IPA and we settled down to discuss the end of the League 2 football season – by this point we had been joined by Matt so we had an even 2-2-2 split of Wimbledon, Pompey and Bristol Rovers fans. We resolved that we all wanted to miss each other should we be in the play-offs and moved on to Fixed Wheel’s Blackheath Stout. Pub tips were exchanged as we strolled up to the Tuns and the next of the festival pubs. It was busy and after standing outside for a bit, only to be serenaded by a couple of folk musicians, we managed to find somewhere to sit inside, where Tears for Fears and the Stray Cats on the sound system were rather better entertainment. A comparison of Arbor’s The Ego has Landed on keg and cask was interesting – both very good but the cask edged it – and it seemed a good way to end the evening.

The 9.17 Bristol Temple Meads to Plymouth

9.17 still sounds early on a weekend for many people, but it was a good deal better than 7.27 when the same train had set off from London. There were plenty who had got up at a properly unearthly hour though and many of the travelling Dons were already making steady progress through several cans of beer and engaging other passengers in good natured conversation.

The journey tIMG_2956o Plymouth, particularly the stretch that runs alongside the sea through Dawlish and Teignmouth, is one of the most spectacular on the railway network and it’s worth the trip just to look on at the stunning landscape – although, a day later, when storms led to the waves breaching the sea wall, it would have been rather more frightening than stunning.We reached Plymouth at 11.20 and wandered to the front of the station to meet Sean and Graham. A large group of Dons fans ventured out to the main road, looked around, debated and headed back to the taxis outside: unlike many trains stations Plymouth’s has no handy ‘Spoons (nor indeed any pub at all) just outside. Luckily, at this point we noticed Graham (and his trusty maps, which negated us relying on a helpful cabbie) and Sean, who was struggling to keep up thanks to a painful bout of shin splints.

The Fortescue

Graham duly produced a map and we walked the slightly hilly route to The Fortescue on the Mutley Plain. It was one of the pubs recommended by Stedders the previous night and has won several Plymouth Pub of the Year awards. As we walked in Gazza’s version of “Fog on the Tyne” was playing and we all immediately thought of Joe’s earworm before the Hartlepool game a few weeks before: was this a bad omen? Let’s hope not.

We ordered Celt Bronze and RCH’s Pitchfork and settled down at a table. Graham and Sean had spent the day before in Falmouth and we swapped tales of pubs visited and notorious (alleged) gangsters in the Cornish town.

It was a very pleasant first stop in a friendly local but we decided to walk up the road to the next pub on the list.

The Hyde Park

Just up the road from the Fortescue, standing in the middle of a roundabout, is the 150-year old Hyde Park pub. That it remains a pub after all these years is down to the community, who rallied around when it was threatened with being turned into an estate agents in 2012. It reopened in 2014, complete with microbrewery, and judging from the Saturday lunchtime trade when we visited, it is thriving.

A happy pub story then (and I very much like a happy pub story) but what of our experience of the place? The first thing you notice about the Hyde Park when walking up to it are the retro signs: Double Diamond, Toby Bitter and Tetleys are all prominent from the outside. Inside it is a retro overload: everywhere there are vintage signs: beer, Player’s and Benson and Hedge’s cigarettes, British Airways and, somewhat bizarrely, one from Lloyds TSB. Now living in Hackney I’m used to retro – you can’t move for vintage shops around here – but this was like Hackney on serious acid. The theme goes further still: the pub has sourced actual Double Diamond (now brewed for the northern club circuit it seems, at a strength of 2.8%), although the Watney’s Red Barrel pump was actually dispensing Caffrey’s (by all accounts sometimes Red Barrel is available though).

I’m all for a bit of nostalgia but neither Caffrey’s nor Double Diamond was tempting me and along with Graham and Ian I ordered a Made in Mutley ale from the pub’s microbrewery. Sean ordered a Harbour Light Ale, but more of that later. The Made in Mutley smacked your tastebuds with a massive hit of vanilla. It was odd. Vanilla in pale beers isn’t completely unknown but this was way stronger than most I’ve had – Omnipollo / Buxton’s Ice Cream Pale and Howling Hops Vanilla Ice Cream IPA are both examples of balanced beers which give that ice cream hint of vanilla without it taking over. Still, we persevered and it seemed to improve – or perhaps we just got used to it.

But back to Sean’s choice of Harbour Light, which is usually a nice session beer. Sean’s face suggested that it wasn’t nice today and he pushed it to Graham for a second opinion. Graham’s face backed up Sean’s face and “the pint of mud” went back to the bar. The staff were happy to change it and Sean returned to the table with a new pint. This one, however, was rather watery. All credit to the staff though, the woman who had served Sean came up to us and said they had realised it wasn’t right and offered another replacement. This time Sean joined us on Made in Mutley and when it was brought to him he was told that he could have a further pint on the house – excellent customer service.

We’d considered getting some food – toast in Bristol seemed a long time ago for Ian and I – but the numbers eating and potential wait (together, it must be said, with the chips in pint glasses) meant that we decided to call a cab and head to a final pre-match pub instead. I’d definitely go back to the Hyde Park, although I’m not certain the on the house pint will still be waiting for Sean.

As we finished up the taxi called to check our location, a relief after the Wycombe minicab experience, which had scarred Graham so much he had delegated calling duties to Sean.

Bread and Roses

Interior of Bread and Roses

The decision to try a final pub proved to be a good one. Rose had recommended Bread and Roses (not just on its name) to us and Sean and Graham had also tried it out. It is a social enterprise and community pub / arts centre that was once called The Trafalgar (according to an old sign outside.) The décor meets both briefs: plants, paintings, artefacts, magazines and mismatched furniture. It had a good feel about the place: welcoming without being contrived. The beer range was encouraging too.

We ordered Rebel’s Surfbum (from Penryn) and Cornish Crown’s Red IPA (from Penzance). The Surfbum was a very drinkable session beer, though not really what I’d term an IPA. Graham found a New Age magazine advertising tantric awakening in Totnes although the idea of that being explored on the journey home later was swiftly dismissed. A final round was enjoyed of Harbour Session IPA (this time a Harbour beer without any drama attached), Firebrand Graffiti IPA (from Launceston) and Exeter’s Avocet. The Graffiti IPA was much more what you’d expect from an IPA and a tasty beer to finish on.

Another cab was called, again without any drama, and we made our way to Home Park in it.

Plymouth Argyle v AFC Wimbledon

Ian and I headed to pick up the tickets we’d ordered and as we stepped through the turnstiles heard what appeared to be God Save the Queen. This seemed an odd thing for a run of the mill football match and when we walked into the ground afterwards and found the others we asked whether we’d heard correctly. We had and there had also been some sort of prayers before it, perhaps something to do with the military, given Plymouth’s naval heritage. There were certainly some large groups of military personnel in the stand to our right, and like Portsmouth, Argyle presumably give away tickets to the forces. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I always wonder whether other public servants are afforded the same opportunities – teachers, nurses, doctors, emergency services etc. – and if not, why not?

The disused terrace under the Grandstand

The game began with me still pondering this but before I had a chance to think too much the home team hit the crossbar with 30 second or less gone. Gulp. There were a few concerned looks amongst us as we all hoped this wasn’t about to set the tone for the afternoon. Then a drum started – as I’ve said before drums should lead to an immediate ten-point deduction for the club concerned and a banning order for the culprit – and I wondered why a club like Plymouth, which gets crowds plenty big enough to create an atmosphere, even tolerated it. There was limited moral high ground to be had though, with some of the songs from our own fans. Let’s just say that I think Tom Daley is a brilliant athlete and if he came from the city I’m from then I’d be very proud indeed.

But back to the football, Dons had put the crossbar incident out of their heads and worked well to gain some ball. The wind had become fairly strong and conditions were not the easiest as a result and it looked like hard work on the pitch. There were chances at both ends and then, after half an hour the ball was played out to Jake Reeves after a Plymouth corner. He played a sublime pass through to Lyle Taylor who slotted it past McCormick in the Argyle goal. 1-0 Dons and mayhem in the stand.

Half time came and went, and notably the bar (which sold cans of Tribute and Thatcher’s Gold) lost a considerable amount of money by only having two staff on leaving many travelling fans thirsty. The mystery of why clubs don’t plan these things better endures. Either side of the break Dons’ defence did well to resist the home side. Darius Charles is deserving of particular mention: he’s been improving in every game as his match fitness increases and it’s easy to see why he had been a summer target for Ardley. Roos made a good save just after the break, followed by one by the home ‘keeper to deny Taylor a second. The pressure was increasing though and 15 minutes in the equaliser that had been threatening came when Graham Carey volleyed into the net. Tom Hark came over the tannoy, in the way that it does at grounds all over the country. I sighed. Again, Plymouth Argyle have good support, and that can generate noise – why this unimaginative and artificial nonsense that just leads to synchronised clapping (and sounds incredibly tired to boot)?

Ardley made a double swap, bringing Azeez and Akinfenwa on for Taylor and Elliott with twenty minutes to go. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, the windy conditions meant a change of tactics was needed, but it was one of those substitutions that causes a murmur of discontent, then ultimately brings utter joy. And that joy was to come right at the death when Francomb headed to Akinfenwa, who refused to give up on the ball and managed to loop a header of his own over McCormick. There was no Tom Hark this time and there was no need for it as 399 away fans went batshit crazy. Five minutes’ injury time were seen off and then the celebrations began again. Later on we would find out that Akinfenwa’s goal had also guaranteed his former club, Northampton Town, promotion, which was a nice bonus for him.

We walked back to the station and picked up provisions for the journey home, which would be in two legs.

The 17.54 Plymouth to Exeter St. David’s

This was a through train to London but prices meant that many Dons fans would change at Exeter for the South West Trains Service. For this leg though, we had luxury: first class at £3.30 each for the hour’s journey. There were more views of the beautiful seascape, this time bathed in the soft pink early evening light. Tim Hillyer had joined us and we discussed the dramatic end to the game and the final play-off spot that Wimbledon now occupied.

The Great Western Hotel

We had just about enough time to nip over the road to The Great Western between trains and downed RCH Pitchfork (in a reprise of the first pub of the day) and Exeter’s Ferryman before running back to the station.

The 19.25 Exeter St. David’s to London Waterloo

We eventually managed to find five seats together and unloaded the provisions from earlier, enough to last us for the three and a half hour trip. The journey passed without incident (although there were some entirely understandable celebrations continuing) and most Dons’ fans got off at Clapham Junction. We carried on to Waterloo.

The Waterloo Tap

One for the road

Sometimes, after a long day trip, “one for the road” seems like a good idea, and this was one of those times. It rarely is a good idea. On this occasion there was the added pull of visiting the fairly new Waterloo Tap, which was open until 11.30. We ordered Beavertown’s excellent Neck Oil and drank it as if it were the thickest, most syrupy beer in the world. Still, at least we’d visited the pub, which is likely to become a regular haunt when going in and out of Waterloo and has the customary excellent beer range of the Tap bars. It’s just one railway arch, so a tad bijou, but well worth a visit.

Pub of the Day: Bread and Roses

Beer of the Day: Surfbum