Day 11 (29th August 2009)
From the very start of this gargantuan undertaking, we had been carefully studying all the various tube lines, planning, picturing, visually breaking the map down into manageable sections that could be conquered in Saturday sized chunks. We felt like we had been pretty successful so far with this, and yet, always there waiting, in fact lurking, in the background was the monster that was the Eastern section of the Central Line. There was no denying it was a daunting task – twenty two stations between Bethnal Green and Epping, with plenty of long walks involved. In fact the distance involved was one of the reasons we had delayed this section until the summer months.
We could wait no more. It was time to confront our Eastern demons. Besides, Keith had a genius plan. He has a mate in a band that we have seen on several occasions, and he had it on good authority that they were doing a gig on Saturday 29th August at The Valentine Pub – a venue which looked like it could quite possibly be the closest pub to Gant’s Hill tube station. What if, Lewis reasoned, we were to jaunt happily around the line in no time at all (obviously) and then use the loop near the top of the line to finish in Gant’s Hill and get some live music? Wouldn’t that be a fine end to the day? A truly Rock’n’Roll finish in fact.
We were on. Well as long as we could find someone to make sure we were outside the first pub on the dot of opening – and after a short bout of abject grovelling it was Sue that came to the rescue this time. And so, with my brother Gareth in tow for yet another guest appearance, we set off round the M25 once more to begin our latest quest in Epping.
Oh, and incidentally, in the spirit of accurate measurement, and in a vain attempt to display to everyone that this mission really was hard work, Mr Lewis was sporting a pedometer for the day!
The Euro Cafe (Epping) 1 x bt San Miguel, 1 x bt Bombardier, 1 x bt Stella, 1 x Latte £11.00
Rule number one for prospective landlords: If you’re gonna have a website advertising your opening hours, then at least make sure it shows the right bloody time!
Having thanked Sue profusely for dropping us off in Epping, we wandered off into the beautiful August morning sunshine; heading confidently in the direction of what we thought was the nearest pub, The Duke of Wellington. A fine English pub it looked too, with the cross of St George flying proudly on the outside to welcome us. The only problem being that despite the website saying 11am opening, the less than friendly door police (i.e. some sort of assistant manager) told us in no uncertain terms that we’d have to wait until 11.30. Disaster strikes at pub number one! We knew we would be under serious time pressure throughout the day today, but sticking an extra half hour delay on straight away would not only jeopardise our chances of some gig action in the last pub, but would also jeopardise the success of the whole day – to leave one or two stations incomplete this far out of town would be, to put it bluntly, a huge ball-ache at the end of the quest.
We stepped back, momentarily dumbfounded, before doing what any other sensible explorers would do – we had a bit of a look around.
And thank god we did. Every cloud has a silver lining – and this particular silver lining was that the crap barman had actually saved us from making a mistake, since the Euro-Cafe was clearly much closer to the station.
OK, so we were a little dubious at first, after all the name Euro Cafe hardly sounds like a pub does it? But look, it says “bar cafe” on the sign outside, it has bar stools, and it has beer sponsored umbrellas on the outside tables. Sorted! When we got inside, we could immediately see that there was a cafe area on one side and a clearly defined bar area on the other – although if we’re honest, the bar itself made the average drinks cabinet look like the interior of the Albert Hall. Nevertheless, we squeezed ourselves in, buoyed by our discovery, and overjoyed to see Mrs Lewis rejoin us briefly for a drink (even if it was a latte), before she went off shopping. We were so happy, we almost didn’t mind the prices. Almost.
Carriages (Theydon Bois) 2 x ½ Speckled Hen, ½ Strongbow £4.60
A short happy stroll in the sun, and we found ourselves at Epping station, where we didn’t even have to wait for a train – oh this was going to be a good day. Mere minutes later, we were stepping out into what seemed to be a sleepy little village, going by the name of Theydon Bois. We would love to have explored further, but it was just going to well, because Carriages was pretty much right at the end of the station road – in fact it even used to be called the Railway Arms.
As soon as we entered we could see that it had been refurbished and modernized – presumably by someone with lots of money but very little taste, and certainly no friends in the world of interior decor. Pin stripe wallpaper was the order of the day, and lots of it, alongside lots of new-ish leather seating that just about managed to look cheap. The desire to look like a quality establishment was hardly enhanced by the fact that they were selling branded Coffee Republic drinks either.
Still, the staff were most pleasant, and the sort of restaurant/barn area in the back looked very nice indeed. We took our drinks (Speckled Hen ok, if not spectacular) and headed out into the garden to sit in the warmth and idly discuss the best ways of killing wasps. Little bastards. Yellow and black balls of uncontrollable fury with very little purpose on this earth except to annoy drinkers in the summer.
Anyway, it would seem that you could quite happily spend whole weekends in Theydon Bois without venturing more than fifty yards from the station, since there was another, much more boozer-ish looking pub called The Bull just further on, and the Theydon Bois Balti House right opposite Carriages. We checked our watches. Bah, still not even midday. Far too early to think about a Chicken Jalfrezi. Onwards!