One of the advantages of coming back to live in England is the pubs. Although they are closing down at an alarming rate all over Britain, the ones along the canals thrive. No wonder. Thirsty boaters must have our watering holes. And many of them have evolved to become fine eating establishments too. Suds, by the way, are what North Americans call Beer. Sometimes. There’s even a brewing company over there that makes the brand ‘Suds Beer’.
Quite a number of pubs have survived because they have been bought up by conglomerates like JD Wetherspoon, Enterprise Inns, Crown Carveries, Harvesters and so on. Cheaper meals make up for ridiculously high beer and wine prices. Children are welcome and the occasional pet can be found cowering under a table.
Along our stretch of the Grand Union Canal, there are nearly 200 pubs and Inns still serving boaters and gongoozlers alike. Locals and holidayers frequent them as well. Most are maintained rather well I must say. And I love the names. You get your typical Red Lions, The Rose and Something or others and Boat Inns. Then you get The Old Bookbinder, The Folly Inn, The Merrie Monk, The Ye Olde Reindeer, The Bear on the Barge, The Bald Buzzard Ale House, Kizzie’s Waterside Bistro, the wildly non PC The Black Boy and….well, that’ll do. Oh, and The Malt Shovel. Why not.
The stretch of the Grand Union canal I did with my neighbour Eddie, features 15 pubs either right by the canal or within a short walk from it. Six of those are right by the water from Berkhamsted to where my marina is situated and one just down by Nash Mills, a short walk from my boat and down one of the greenest parts of the local towpath.
It’s a wonder we boaters stay so fit, trim and sober. And if you believe that, I have to believe you don’t know boaters. Our boater friends Deb and Tony, currently moored up in Cropredy….where the Fairport Convention holds its annual music festival….put us onto SADS (Safe Arrival DrinkS) at the end of a boating venture or just any old time. Temptations galore. Who could resist? Not me. I see a pub and I just have to go in. Suds of any description is my weekness (among others). I have even learned to like Bitter, warm beer to North Americans. Ales, for the most part, must never be served cold. Loses the flavour of the ale. Not the done thing.
Anyway, enough about my proclivities. The subject here is the watering holes along the cut. We walked to The Fishery to have lunch. This establishment has been here since 1905. Added too as well. A back patio and added room for more restaurant seating shows how popular things have become. The Fishery is now owned by the Harvester group but is one of its upscale dining/drinking pubs.
Down the cut from us, in Nash Mils, a 10 minute walk, is Ye Olde Red Lion. Another oldie, as the name says. You have to move off the towpath beside the Nash Mills lock, through an opening in the hedges, through a gate that has no real purpose but looks quaint and across a well kept lawn to the pub. If you believe in magic, the scene beyond the hedges lining the towpath is like walking into a Rupert book. If you don’t know who Rupert is, I pity you. All my kids know and my eldest daughter has all the Rupert Annuals going back to her birth in 1984. We’ve never eaten at Ye Olde Red Lion, but their ales are a winner.
Closer to home, across what one writer termed the swirly whirly white metal bridge, is The Paper Mill. This pub was built more recently on the site of….wait for it….an old paper mill, which originally was a flour mill. John Dickinson was a 19th century stationer who invented the first continuous paper making process. The first envelope with a gummed closing was made here….just beyond our marina. In the 20th century, the red and black books and notebooks came from here as well as the Lion Brand of paper products. If any of you remember Lady Bird books….yup, the paper came from here. The whole thing was sold in 1999 and in 2005 a French company took over the reigns.
Many of the old buldings were demolished. A few remain. The pub reminds us of what used to be. The food and drink are expensive, but the atmosphere is wonderful. They also feature craft beers. I guess you could say this is our local.
The oldest pub within walking distance, if you like a long trek, is The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell. That’s the furthest spot we walked to with Eddie on the photo shoot. Eddie reads these Blogs, so I won’t mention the Kingfisher that still eludes him. He’s sensitive about that. Eddie walked on after the swing bridge at Winkwell. The rest of us crossed the bridge and had a drink at The Three Horseshoes. It has been there since 1535, before the canal even. A beautiful spot inside and out.
The Rising Sun is in Berkhamsted, just down the canal from The Boat, which is the photo at the head of this Blog. I am going to try to walk there one day….one day. But the sign outside the pub excited my neighbour Eddie when we headed that way a few weeks ago on our way to Cowroast (where another pub is situated). The reason for the excitement was a sign posted outside the pub. It read, “Free Beer Inside”. Two thirsty boaters, we were overcome with the promise of free beer. We’d worked nearly 20 locks and needed a drink.
As the boat approached the next lock, we thought we’d moor up and sample the freebies. I jumped off the boat when Eddie pulled over to the side and held the boat with the centre rope while Eddie made sure the boat was secure. It wasn’t until we got close to the pub that we noticed the fine print on the sign….”Free House, Great Beer, Welcome Inside”. A come on. Didn’t work. We moved on.