Archive for the ‘Abingdon’ Tag
From the Nag’s Head, the walk to the Oxford bus takes you near enough to the Brewery Tap as to be churlish not to enter for a quick one. There was a line of pumps and a metal lined trough with even more taps to choose from, but as this isn’t actually the Tap for any eponymous Brewery, I settled on a Lilley’s Sunset Cider which had a vaguely (but not badly) medicinal aftertaste akin to that sort of mineral tartness PEZ candies have.
The Euro 2016 football was on and I watched as Hungary held Portugal to a 3-3 draw from a 3-1 halftime lead. Brilliant: my first soccer coach, Istvan Buczko, had been a Hungarian National Team member in the 60’s so they were my sentimental favourites; and, moreover, the looks on the arrogant Portuguese players’ faces afterwards was worth the time otherwise wasted in front of tele.
I looked around the spectacular 17th century pub and felt quite at home. Hey…isn’t the guy sitting on the left also on the pub sign?
When I first started visiting Abingdon, the Nag’s Head had been closed down for a while, which is a shame. In the centre of one of the oldest market towns in the country AND on an island in the midst of the River Thames is just the start of the boxes this venue ticks. Too bad the staff are arrogant and rude, as this house and the beer garden are simply gorgeous.
I arrived drenched with sweat after nearly ten miles’ slog from Oxford, much of it along the Thames Path in high humidity and in what passes for high temperatures, here. I carried the Black Prince mild — as rich and full-bodied as the pump clip boasts — to a quiet bit of the beer garden and exchanged as much of my wet clothing for dry as I could without complete nudity. Boats mosied past and the early evening couldn’t have been more grand.
With just a few sips left, I headed in to use the loo as a changing room and one of the staff followed along but she stopped and leaned against a handrail outside. She was still there when I emerged in my clean, dry trousers…I guess she thought I was up to something because she then followed me back as I returned my now empty glass to the bar (without so much as “thank you” or “kiss my ass” or any other acknowledgement from either of the bartenders standing there). What a bunch of assholes.
With the sun setting at 9:30 and twilight lasting until well after 10 pm, the weeks on either side of the Summer Solstice are grand for evening running. I left work after a day of lower back muscle spasms (treated with long overdue glute stretches — my ass is taut enough to stop a bullet after last weekend’s runs — throughout the day) and headed along the Thames Path to Abingdon.
It was gorgeous out albeit humid like the jungle from the week of heavy rains. Some parts of the path required leaps or diversions to clear puddles and the section from Sandford Lock to Lower Radley entailed more than 1 1/2 miles of slick, viscous, and frankly hazardous mud. This variation in the workout seemed to help the back pain immensely.
With the attention of imbibing some orally administered liniment in Abingdon, I managed to hit two of my three targeted pubs: the Broad Face appears to be out of business but the Nag’s Head and the Brewery Tap made up for this loss.
The bus back to Oxford was literally a treat: the ticket machine was broken so the driver didn’t charge fares. Then upstairs, a woman with a foreign accent was giving practical tips to some boys sitting in the back and girls up front (all of which appeared to be on some sort of language course); her heavily accented lecture (peppered with the word “guys”) was yelled out so all within several bus lengths could hear.
“So, guys, if de line is not moving in a section and space opens up you guys should ask dose guys dat don’t move if dey are still in de queue before you jump ahead of dose guys. Dese guys in England have strong opinions about how to act in line.” She had my attention.
“And, guys, anodder ting, guys…dis will be Oxford, not Abingdon no more, and it is more international and people speak many languages dere so you cannot assume dat saying someting in Italian or Portuguese or Russian is just between you guys. Dose guys will know if you say someting naughty and will not be happy wid you guys.” She saw me grinning and added, “see, dis guy knows it’s true.”
“Actually, I’m smiling because they’ll mostly be Brits and they really won’t give a shit. In fact, they’ll be happy to expand their vocabulary.”
“On second tought, guys, don’t listen to dis guy.” Teachers pet to class fuck-up in one go.
Here are some of dose guys.
Directly across from the Narrows lies the Grapes, one of the friendliest pubs I’ve been to in a while (and I’ve been doing pretty well on that front, lately). I walked into the rammed bar and everyone was intent on the cricket match so I had to wait for a break in the bowling to catch the bartender’s attention. Without thinking about what I actually wanted I just pointed toward the cider taps and ordered the one in the middle. It was good but I really didn’t fancy the strawberry bevvy (kind of a warmer weather/outdoors kind of thing):
The guys near me started in on American football when they heard my accent. I steered them back to the match on tele and they seemed to be happy with it; I have never really cared for American football (I am the worst Deep South native in the world).
On the way to the bus, I spotted the telltale signs (literally, signs) that indicated a Wetherspoons sits behind them and there it was: The Narrows. Named for the part of the High Street on which it sits, I discovered that it used to be the Post Office and had to wonder why they didn’t go with a postal theme.
The lighting design at the bar is a bit strange with long conductors leading down to bare, dim bulbs in high density (about one foot spacing between them and the heights varying by a couple of feet at most, one-to-the-next). The effect is warm and even and very comfortable despite the modern furnishings in the huge space.
I went for another American ale and was once again pleased with the result. That’s all. I’m trying hard to avoid making a “large number of dim bulbs in here” joke.
The King’s Head and Bell is as old (maybe older than) the Old Anchor but the vibe is decidedly more yuppie. Granted, it is Abingdon yuppie and therefore very, very drunk but less comic. You know: less likely to poop their pants but only because that would be outside the terms of the lease agreement on the Jag.
Don’t get me wrong…the place is very pleasant and the pint of porter I had was brilliant: opaque black and deep in mocha and bitter coffee flavours. The garden is absolutely lovely and it was a good evening for hanging out (and, just ahead of the after work crowds). The menu looks great, too.
Lingering over the pint (I had an hour till the next bus), I started thinking about brewing a batch of porter this winter. It would be my first of this variety, but I’ve seen a wide variety of malts to work into it. Hmm, Abingdon is conducive to this sort of thing.
The first time I said it I thought I was exaggerating but it is reconfirmed with each new visit: EVERYONE in Abingdon is drunk. I’ve been here at 9 am, before, and found half the population incoherent. It’s a wonderland, and late in the day it is especially thus.
I ran to the Old Anchor at the end of a loop through Drayton and the Red Lion and entered fifteen minutes after the doors opened for the evening to find everyone at the bar singing along with the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” The energy and dedication they were putting into the performance led one guy to drop his pack of ciggy papers which settled strewn beneath his stool which he proceded to fall off and clumsily tried to steady with one hand while sweeping most of the leaves into a pile. He grabbed a disorderly handful and struggled back onto his chair, never once missing his part in the chorus (the “WAH-wahwah-wahwaaaahhh” performed by muted trumpets in the recording).
The guy in the photo has just ordered two pints of lager. He is alone and the bartender suggests maybe get one first then the second one will still be fresh and fizzy. At first he agrees, then backtracks; “well, since you’ve already started you might as well pour the second one.” By “started,” he was referring to the bartender holding the second glass in his hand a few feet away from the tap.
He headed out to the garden and I propped the door open for him. He had left his groceries at an adjacent table and my help seemed to confuse him no end as he sat one of the beers down to grab the door I was already holding, then noticing his now free hand, walked back and put down the other to pick up the groceries. Back at the door, he spotted the first beer and sat one handful of bags down to pick it up.
The glass triggered a memory and he returned to the second one, leaving the other groceries on the floor, there. Heading out, he stopped by and said, “thanks, so much.” He came back in a moment later and picked up the farthest groceries and, obviously bewildered, headed toward the garden. I whistled sharply to get his attention and he slowly turned, looking annoyed but neither in my nor anyone else’s direction. I waved to draw his gaze and, having done so used both hands to point to the other groceries. “Now, how did those get there?” I was surprised he didn’t pile them together and return to the bar to order two more lagers.