Saturday 11th November 2017
In November intrepid South Herts Branch members boarded a coach and visited some of the harder to find rural pubs in the north-east area of the branch area – the tour also being an opportunity to update each pub’s entry on CAMRA’s WhatPub website – an inventory of some 36,000 UK real ale pubs.
First stop was the Cowper Arms in Digswell near Welwyn North station, where McMullen’s beers were on offer, including Forty Arches, Mac’s Cask Ale renamed in salute of the colossal railway viaduct over the nearby River Mimram valley. The pub has a long association with the railway – one sad first-hand experience being in 1866 when, after a tragic accident in Welwyn North tunnel many victims were brought to the pub. Indeed the following inquest was also held at the pub. Today’s Cowper Arms is an extended and thriving pub for both visitors and locals, holding a fun “Useless Quiz” on Sundays and Open-mic on Tuesdays, Leaseholder Franco Mutinelli’s friendly team offer a popular food menu at the pub with speciality Steak Nights on Mondays and Fish & Chips on Fridays.
Up the road in Burnham Green the White Horse has its own strange tale to tell. The 16th century listed pub is named after the adjacent White Horse Lane, both a nod to the ghostly headless horse that has been seen galloping towards the village – a horse said to be decapitated by Roundheads in the English Civil War. The pub’s Headless Horse ale is brewed by McMullen’s but it was the Rivertown dark Proper Porter that won by a short head amongst our drinkers on the day. The pub must surely have one of the most attractive pub gardens in the area – complete with pond, ducks and willow. Inside the timbered pub has a strong food commitment with a current menu that follows a love of rustic British pub dishes. There is a quiz on the second Thursday of the month.
Back on the coach and off to Tewin. Just north of the village is the 400-year old Plume of Feathers, a characterful Greene King Old English Inn. Extended in 2015, the pub also has an open and pleasant garden. If you arrive too early for a beer, coffee, teas and cakes are available from 9am. Nigel Walker and his staff offer Greene King IPA and Abbot and a house beer – Plume of Feathers Ale – brewed by Marston’s. A guest beer from the SIBA range completes the line-up and the well-established menu of traditional pub fayre is marked by the inclusion of a range of steaks.
Into Tewin village centre and time for a group photograph. We had reached the Rose & Crown, another Greene King pub now under the stewardship of Sean O’Flynn and his family. Sean is keen to cement the pub’s community standing in the village and offers the pub and its facilities for local events – and there are plans to develop the adjacent barn for pub use. Darts and pool are available as the pub offers a warm atmosphere for both locals and pub visitors – and pub grub with locally-sourced produce is on offer. There are also special pie and curry nights. Open-Mic features on the third Sunday of the month and Thursday is Quiz Night. Greene King IPA, Abbot and a local beer are available. When handpumps were introduced to the pub in 1806 the new-fangled beer engines were odd enough to attract mention by local diarist, John Carrington.
In Letty Green the Cowper Arms is a favourite of young families and its location next to the Cole Green Way lures walkers and cyclists into the bar. The name “Cowper” is big in these parts – the family formerly the inhabitants of Panshanger, a large house now demolished but its park still a pleasant place in which to walk. A Mitchell & Butlers house, the pub offers Sharp’s Doombar and Charles Wells Bombardier. The restaurant to the rear offers a variety of fresh and seasonal dishes.
At Hertingfordbury we find the White Horse. Closed for many months the former Trust House has recently re-opened following the demolition of former hotel accommodation blocks to the rear but now with seven boutique bedrooms and a fully re-appointed and restyled bar and restaurant area. The listed Georgian frontage remains but inside the new warm and cosy bar and other usable spaces are flanked by an elegant restaurant providing Gastropub classics and more locally inspired dishes. Under the auspices of Alastair Bramley, the pub aims to fulfil the pub needs of villagers plus diners and visitors from further afield. Adnams Ghostship and St Austell Proper Job are the pub’s standard real ales and these are supplemented by a third, often from a local Herts brewer such as Tring. The championing of local food and drink is a key driver at the White Horse.
With the evening pressing home (and just to confuse) we visited our third White Horse of the day – in Hertford. Now under the leasehold of Anthony Kavanagh and ably fronted by Peter Gray, owners Fuller’s have recently attended to important maintenance work and have redecorated inside and out. Current beers are London Pride, ESB and Seafarers complemented by a company guest ale – Red Fox on our day – and pub favourite Castle Rock’s Harvest Pale plus another guest. Peter had kindly prepared trays of food for our party to sustain them on the journey back to Hatfield and St Albans.
Currently all of these pubs open all day. To find out more please visit www.whatpub.com.
Look out for further Branch pub outings in 2018!