Wednesday 8th November 2023, 11:15am
A second visit to Kettering in a BRAPA guise. Grey, raining, slightly desolate, with some of the saddest pedestrian eyes you'll have the misfortune to glance into. It makes Northampton look like the love-child of Shoreditch and East Didsbury. My last encounter here had taken me to an estate style boozer called the Piper. First day of track & trace in 2020. People were pigs, but really liked the pub.
First up, I'm waiting for a bus to a village called Geddington. One of those 'one opportunity a day to get there and back' jobbies, no surprise that when it does arrive. it is a care in the community rusty old chugger. I'm eyed suspiciously for being under 85 years old and having no zimmer.
But what a pretty village! The lowest flying red kites or is it buzzards I've ever seen swoop over the churchyard, screeching.
"Would you like a lift back to Kettering? I'm going that way!" says a kind old man who sees me fretting about whether the bus is going to go clockwise or anti-clockwise round the village on the way back. I explain I MUST go to the pub first, but thank him for being kind.
Geddington also has the finest example of an Eleanor Cross left in the country (one of only three), it is blocking my view of the pub, but gotta embrace a bit of 13th century lovin'.
Star Inn, Geddington (2513 / 4671)
Turning right is perhaps a mistake. Grey and bland like a spongy indoor Kettering. A modicum of plushness I'm pleased to report. But not quite enough warmth. The boss lady reminds me of Grace Dent, who scares me. She has little patience with my incessant questions. "What's the beer called?" "Do you have a WiFi code?" "Is the loo round the other side?" I annoy myself sometimes. I bet she's called Eleanor, seems cross. She likes father/son duo more, but they're lunching and sit in the large restaurant area and spread out limbs. It has a roaring fire this side. I feel conflicted, but stay in the bar. Eventually an old man arrives and says hello, but Eleanor Dent chats to him about walking holidays. The beer, I must report, is absolutely perfect, something I was impressed with all week in Northants.
I did a lot of 'talking to Col' in here
At the safest looking bus stop, I get chatting to two local bus geeks who answer my clockwise / anti-clockwise conundrum with "the buses do what they like around 'ere!" But it does arrive.
I hop off before we hit Kettering centre because I have a club to tick in the northerly backstreets .....
Midland Band Club, Kettering (2514 / 4672)
Sonic warning averted, I'm delighted a furry faced local clutching a walking stick in one hand and membership card in the other is arriving at the same time as me. His mates, a crunchy bunch, initially think he's brought a waif or stray in off the street, which he sort of has. Relieved cos I hate intercom systems! To break the awkward silence, I ask the club steward where the beer is brewed. "Somewhere near Manchester" he says. Further research shows it is Somerset. But that's the time/space continuum in Kettering. A cosy place to have a drink yet never got going for me personally, but it did have Northamptonshire Skittles, which before this week, I thought were purely a Bedfordshire thing!
I guess the clue was in the name!
30 mins of zig zagging right through the heart of Kettering (as if it has a heart!) takes me to another set of backstreets, where I arrive at pub #3 just a few minutes after pub opening .....
Alexandra Arms, Kettering (2515 / 4673)
And it is like the mists clear from my eyes and Kettering is suddenly joyous! There's people in already, lots of people. Some of them are under the age of 50. Some of them are SMILING and MAKING JOKES. There's handpumps galore. The landlord says something quirky, not for the sake of it but because he's a CHARACTER. He's like a coiled spring, having to check himself from going too leftfield. Locals respond to him well, creating a winning hubbub. And the pump clips on the wall, love 'em or loathe 'em, I love 'em, reminds me of being in the cute former Hobgoblin pub in Reading which I love but refuse to name. And I find my second consecutive Skittles table, taste the bloody rainbow!
I says to Colin "you know, Kettering might actually be my new joint third favourite place in Northants" as we stride out to pub #4, mid afternoon weekday 'Spoons, always a thing of joy .....
Earl of Dalkeith, Northampton (2516 / 4674)
Although some of the famous Kettering desolation returns, and the carpet is a predictably grey 5/10, AND my Titanic Plum Porter is so gosh damn cold, it may's well be renamed Titanic Plum Porter ICE, I'm giving this place a pass. Firstly for some classy bright upholstered seating, sort of halfway between a green and yellow Stabilo. The place is lovely and warm. And there is a Mezzanine level which would be brilliant for stage-diving if you are here 11pm Saturday night. Two afterschool giggling twins run around maniacally. In most towns, I'd be like "ugh, control yer kids, little buggers, shoo!" but in Kettering, a town crying out for life more than any other I've encountered since Wrexham, I'm like .....
"I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be"
Time I caught my bus.
With the light rapidly fading, we hit pub #5 nice and early.
Stirrup Cup, Barton Seagrave (2517 / 4675)
Now this is the sort of GBG entry which must be almost unique to Northants. Not unlike the afore mentioned Piper in Kettering, not unlike the Road to Morocco from yesterday, or the Olde Cobbler which I'd visit later in the week. I'm talking the larger than life estate pub free-for-all, slightly scatty, but incredibly joyful, busy, not just pub but community hub where just about anything goes. You got the hi vizzers and paint stained overallers chugging down Carling, a Dad patiently teaching his boy how to play pool in the centre, and a big group of students sucking sleazy sausage rolls and slowly sipping down black coffee. EXACTLY the kind of place where I just love being a pub ticker / observer of life.
The problem with Google Maps (unless you are clever enough to adjust the settings) is you cannot gauge the terrain or topography of any given walk.
So here's me, thinking I'm ultra clever to have worked out which looked like a simple 20 minute backstreet walk to Isham (pronounced Aye-sham), and aye, what a sham it was.
Pitch black now, drizzly rain, I soon find myself in a marshy swamp of a field, battling my way past sheep and tufty thickets to cross this railway bridge / viaduct. I just went with it, but it felt like a dream sequence, especially when visibility really lessened (more fog now, but not on the Tyne) and I bump into this small grey pony on the track, push its bum, and it obliges and steps to one side, didn't flinch!
I was like 'did that really happen?', I cannot tell you the sense of euphoria I feel when pub #6 comes into view .....
Lilacs, Isham (2518 / 4676)
Yep, named after a local breed of rabbit, I'm hopping to the bar with joy to get my Phipps, although a local growls at me, saying the Oakham Citra would've been a better option. It's quite a plain foodie sort of pub for the most part, but it was warm,, professional, well run, hospitable. In fact, I relax so much (watching a video of a hen and a cat making friends), I miss my bus! I return to the pub. Pint of Citra to make amends. But then the second bus doesn't turn up, or has gone at an unscheduled time. Back again. Just a half of Abbots this time. This is embarrassing now. I tell the staff my plight. MY SEAT is now reserved for posh diner women, so they point me towards these two young wine women who kindly allow me to squash onto their posing table. I tell them my plight too, explain BRAPA, keep apologising for intruding, and then leave, and thankfully, bus three turns up just 11 minutes late, huzzah! But what a farcical end to a day that otherwise had gone incredibly smoothly!
Euphoric pint 1 pose, before it all went wrong!
Whilst getting told off for avoiding the Citra