Crawling #6: Northampton
Hello and welcome to sunny Northampton, home of the sixth instalment of Crawling, the Pub Hunter column. Northampton is a market town with considerable spread. I’ve never been there and today I’m day drinking ahead of some footballing action. Northampton is a town that’s benefitted from the M1 opening in 1959, turning a quaint but large market town into a sprawling commuter town for London. Rail links and motorway links allow people to live in Northampton and happily work daily in the capital. That’s allowed the craft beer boom to spread to a traditionally ‘less trendy’ town. I’m excited to see what Northampton has to offer with both craft beers and locally sourced ales. Having not been drinking anywhere near Northampton before, it promises to unlock some previously unseen beverages.
July 29, 2022
I head up into Birmingham and find myself able to sneak onto an earlier train that’s running direct to Northampton at 12.14pm. Yes, it’s an early start because I’m meeting Mike around 6pm and we’re going to Rushden & Diamonds. The Friday daytime travel is a sensational choice. The train is basically empty. There’s a charging point so my phone is fully powered. I’m able to sit around reading my book, Tim Parks’ A Season with Verona, as we cruise into Northampton.
I’ve been through Northampton before and it looked rubbish. All you can really see from the train is car parks and retail parks. It turns out Northampton is actually very pretty. They had some lovely architecture and I was loving a stroll through the centre of town. Here are some pictures to prove it!
I didn’t take a picture of the smackhead I saw passed out down an alleyway, nor the piles of rubbish at the side of the roads but it’s safe to say Northampton is a town of contrast. I was expecting the bad, but the good that came with it was incredibly satisfying. I’m already in a great mood when I swing into…
PUB #1: St Giles Ale House
It is very warm, around 27 degrees, and I’m already regretting the choice of a black t-shirt and black jeans. I could have worn shorts quite easily. The Ale House is a snug venue with a few tall seats outside. The bar area has a couple of high level stools and tables and four lower level tables. I sit on a tiny stool by the front door, still basking in the warmth. As I walk up to the bar I swear their Untappd menu is out of date as it features none of the beers I looked at on the train. Only to discover after sitting down with a pint of St Giles pale ale (***¼) that they had updated it about 30 minutes ago. The beer is a very reasonable £3.50. It’s the cheapest beer all day.
They have their menu on a TV that hangs on one wall, the other walls are covered with ale house regular stuff like local maps, beer mats and rugby nostalgia. They serve basic food, pies and whatnot, and there’s hops hanging from the ceiling. It is early but there are only two people in here. The landlord/barman steps outside for a smoke and I explore the rest of the pub. There’s a crazy toilet, which is one singular crapper with a floor made of bottle tops covered with a layer of Perspex, walls covered in beer mats.
I also stuck my head out the back and found a cracking little beer garden. A bit of a decking and some comfy chairs. It’s great for the summer. No idea what it would be like in the winter. Presumably some heating out there. I complement the barman on his establishment and move on. It was a great first pub and I feel bad about smashing the pint in about 10 minutes due to the heat.
PUB #2: The Wig & Pen
It’s only a short walk to the second pub. The Wig & Pen are having some work done and labourers traipse through the front door from time to time. I stroll into the welcoming and crowded bar. It’s packed considering it’s 2pm on a Friday. I can barely see the pump clips and have to lean around some old geezer to spy one of my target beers for the day; Phipps’ Midsummer Meadow (***). Phipps are a local brewery and I really wanted to give their beer a bash. It’s a decent brew with a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. It costs £4.25, which is good compared to London prices, which we’re not that far from.
The barmaid is super friendly, and we talk about my wife’s beer mat collection. She even goes to find another one for her. The bar is a long curved deal allowing access from different angles. It’s a bit stuffy in there so I head for the beer garden. They have a lot of tables but most of them are in direct sunlight. I opt instead to sit up to a barrel with WIG on the side of it. There’s one opposite that says PEN.
They seem to be doing a roaring trade with pub grub and I see a lot of traditional pub food heading out into the sun soaked punters. The barmaid asked me if I was a CAMRA member (I probably look like one in all fairness) and I think they get that kind of clientele. It was too busy for my liking though and after a swift pint I hurried along to…
PUB #3: Maule Collective
And here’s where the day goes wrong.
I spent a good solid three-four minutes debating what to have. The barmaid is distracted by some admin so it gives me plenty of time. There are a few people scattered about the massive venue but no one else is at the bar. They have one of those Brewdog-esque boards behind the bar listing beers, breweries and percentages. I want to try some of the Maule beer but I’m drawn in by a few of their weird beers. I end up with a half of Kernel Brett Pale Ale Citra Wakatu, a strange combination of a brett and an IPA, which tastes like apple and smells like piss but is a decent beer (***½) and a third of Beerbliotek’s “A Passion for Gingers” a passionfruit and ginger sour (****).
The Brett cross is £3.30 and the sour is £2.90, which is £6.20 a pint. That’s London prices. I expect to pay more for wacky beers though and they’re both really enjoyable. My logic of buying two different beers is I get to try more stuff but still only have a pint. Then I can move on.
So, that didn’t work. I realised I’d committed a faux-pas and not actually ordered anything by Maule themselves. Shit. In a panic I tried to see if they sold beer in cans from there but they didn’t. They sold growlers but I didn’t want one of those to leak into my bag. As I ploughed through my two smaller beers I realised I’d have to get another. In the meantime I absorbed the location. There was a lot of cheap seating, the kind you don’t expect to last long, and are so cheap people don’t nick them when they’re outside. The guy from the first pub has relocated to here on his laptop. I think he’s playing some sort of video game. I’d mistaken him for a writer earlier.
Under my notes I’ve written “starting to struggle” and lamented that it was “weird doing this solo”. Maule have their own merch and I considered buying a hat to protect me from Old Papa Sun. I end up chatting to the bar staff and a bloke at the end of the bar called Chris. He’s a Coventry fan and we end up standing there talking for so long I end up having two more beers. A Maule Stripy IPA (**½), which is very piney and not a good beer at all and a Dark Maule (****¼), which is a wonderful oatmeal stout with an incredible mouthfeel. I end up exchanging numbers with Chris and promising to do a game at some point. He suggests Leyton Orient. It would be a crazy way to make a new pal.
PUB #4: The Pomfret Arms
Yes, I ended up spending 90 minutes in the Maule Collective and sinking four beers. That was not the plan and it’s the main reason why I’m so drunk when Mike meets me later. For pub four we cross over the River Nene and into a distinctly less central part of town. I’ve selected this boozer because it sells local beers. Great Oakley is a microbrewery in nearby Tiffield. The barmaid doesn’t know much about it but there’s a bloke sat next to the entrance who I end up chatting to about beer. I think he might the gaffer? I enjoy a pint of Wot’s Occurring (***½) a sessionable bitter.
I’m joined here by my old Northampton based pal Alan who’s available for a little bit before picking up his daughter. I’ve not seen him since way before the pandemic and part of the joy of travelling the country is getting the chance to see old friends. Our chat is short but happy and after he’s left I go back to chatting to the bloke by the door, who wants to know where else I’m intending on visiting. He suggests the Malt Shovel and the Albion taproom, which are the very two places I have already planned to go. I think I nailed the route today.
The pub is very dark. So dark, I can’t actually see what I’m writing, and it comes out incomprehensible. It’s a nice old-fashioned place and there’s another geezer sat in one of the window seats who looks like he’s been part of the furniture for a decade. There’s also a very spacious beer garden that I have a quick look at before heading into…
PUB #5: The Malt Shovel
Oh, wait a minute….
Right, now that’s out of the way we’re into the Malt Shovel. This too is dingy, and I can barely see my notepad. It’s a traditional boozer with a good line up on the taps. I had a Shepheard Neame Summer Storm IPA (***¼) in here. The barmaid asked me where I’d been already, and I just vaguely described the pubs because I couldn’t remember any of the names. I literally had them written down too.
She seemed quite pleased I’d come to Northampton to have a gander at the local pubs. When you’ve got a good pub, there’s always a bit of pride in it being worth visiting. It’s not just some chain nonsense that sells generic beers. Like the enemy Carlsberg right across the way.
As I sit thinking about the day, I think about all the people I’ve interacted with and it continues here. A jolly African woman debates whether she can actually play darts. Her husband teaches her and I even get up there throw a few arrows. “She’s very heavy handed” says the geezer winking at me. Yikes! I stop off to message Dohmi about him coming to England and playing me at darts before heading off for the final pub…
PUB #6: Albion Brewery Bar
Somewhat the worst for wear now. My notes for this place are sketchy. I’ve dubbed it “much brighter”, which is true. It has big windows at the front and a load of tables. The space in here is truly shocking. Behind the bar are windows into the back of house so you can see the brewery. The brewery is Phipps. There are only four people in here and I have a truly wonderful time chatting to Phil and his wife at the bar.
My notes continue to the point where they are indecipherable. The last sentence starts “most” and ends with “bar” but the word in between is very long and unreadable. In here I had a Ratcliffe’s Celebrated Stout (***¾). I had another beer after that one but can’t remember what it was. Mike got there about 6.15pm and I bought him a little selection box as a present. It was off to Rushden & Diamonds but what a day I had here. I went to a town where I knew nobody and hung out there for an afternoon. I got to meet and chat with an assortment of characters. It was a pleasure. While it was a bit weird to do this on my own, to start with, it turned out to be one of the best days out I’ve had in a long, long time. A truly bizarre experience. I would recommend this sort of thing to people. Go and experience stuff. Travel. Absorb life. Live and love.
As you can see from my Google maps route it was all close together. I would recommend all of the bars I went to. They were all really good. The best was the Albion Brewery bar. It had a brilliant range, great building and I’m not just saying that because it was when I was at my drunkest. All of the pubs had something to recommend about them. The Maule Collective was the only new age craft place although St Giles Ale House was exactly like it sounds. The other places were more traditional pubs with a love of good beer. Go to Northampton and experience them for yourself!