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Trail talk: The Shepherd Neame City of London Walk

Back in September I visited the Faversham Hop Festival with Mrs Three Points of the Compass and a couple of friends. I had also arranged a tour of the Shepherd Neame brewery for the four of us. While at the centre of town brewery I picked up a couple of small folded maps. These were for a walk round the City of London taking in eight of the Shepherd Neame pubs, a pub crawl in other words. Later, I mentioned this to a couple of colleagues at work, interest was shown, and, as many city pubs are closed at the weekend, we booked days off work and on a cold but bright early winter morning, we met in London. Only some three and a half miles in length, this is probably the shortest walk I have ever written about but it was a walk nonetheless- The Shepherd Neame City of London Walk.

The Samuel Pepys. Housed in a nineteenth century former tea warehouse hard against the River Thames

The Samuel Pepys. Housed in a nineteenth century former tea warehouse hard against the River Thames. The Pepys family coat of arms is shown on the pub sign

Having made my annual pilgrimage to the Victorinox New Bond Street store in the morning, I made my way to the River Thames arriving about a half hour before the Samuel Pepys opened. Despite my having sent clear instructions earlier in the week, Barry still managed to forget these and had arrived even earlier.

Barry went off to find something to eat, Chris and I had already breakfasted en route. All of us were independently aware of the need to line the stomach with a days drinking ahead of us.

You would think this pub, hidden away down a narrow lane could never be a success. While Stew Lane used to provide access to nearby dubious pleasures (‘Stew’ being a medieval term for brothel) it is probably decades since such trade was regularly plied around here. The 1970s conversion from defunct warehouse to a now tied public house now attracts hundreds of nearby businesses as a place for meetings, drinks and meals. Many tables were already booked as we led the arrivals in when the pub opened bang on midday.

Out first choice of cask beers in the Samuel Pepys

Our first choice of cask beers in the Samuel Pepys

Balcony of the Samuel Pepys gave views of the Shard, Globe Theatre and Tate Modern, housed in the former Battersea Power Station

Balcony of the Samuel Pepys gave views of the Shard, Globe Theatre and Tate Modern, the latter housed in the former Battersea Power Station

The standard ale on the Shepherd Neame portfolio is Master Brew, an easy drinking session ale but I was determined to see what variety of drinks I could experience on our walk.

In March 2019, Shepherd Neame introduced their Cask Club beers- these are monthly cask ales that celebrate modern styles alongside international collaboration in brewing. The November 2019 offering was Howling Wolf. This 4.5% beer is brewed with Finnish brewer Mallaskoski. Brew Master Jyri Ojaluoma left Seinäjoki in northern Finland to visit Faversham over two days to work on the result. It has bags of taste and a deep smokey finish, just right for a winter ale. Scandinavian Viking Red malt helps deliver the dark colour alongside American, German and English Mittelfruh and Summit hops. I was pleased to catch this ale as it is a style I prefer over the cask club beer to be offered the following month- Rudolph’s Reward, a 4.5% a ‘Festive Light Ale’. It made for a great start to my day. We told our server Sophie of our endeavour and she excitedly wished us well.

The sun was shining brightly so the three of us went out on to the balcony, especially appreciated by Barry, the only vaper in our party, but all of us enjoyed wide views of the Thames.

Monument. This Portland stone Doric column was built between 1671 and 1677 and is the tallest single stone column in the World

Monument. This Portland stone Doric column was built between 1671 and 1677 and is the tallest single stone column in the World

Showing great restraint and limiting ourselves to just the one pint each, there were another seven pubs to go, we left and began the longest single haul of the day to our next destination. We followed the Thames Path at times, past wharves and Cannon Street railway station before moving slightly inland away from the Thames toward Monument. We considered climbing to the top of this 202 foot tall Doric column monument to the Great Fire of London but Chris and I were already more interested in what was nearby.

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It is as important to eat as drink on a pub crawl

At the foot of Monument there was a huddle of street trader stands, all serving hot food to tourists and lunching workers. Mindful that we were sinking a few drinks today, Chris and I stopped for ‘Bratties’. We walked on while eating, foolishly entrusting navigation to Barry. Crossing the north end of London Bridge and having walked in the wrong direction for quarter of a mile before I finished eating, I checked the map and realised we were way off track, we sacked Barry from all future navigational responsibility and resorted to Google Maps to find the shortest route to our next pub.

Having successfully dodged a few kamikaze van drivers while crossing the road to take a photo, we made it to the East India Arms. This pub was so full that upon entering the door it was impossible to get to the bar, so back outside and round to the side door where there was a tad more room just inside. Here I enjoyed a pint of Whitstable Bay. This is a refreshing 3.9% Pale Ale made with Challenger and Styrian Goldings hops, just what I needed after our diversion. The pub was rammed with vertical drinking and we didn’t stop long.

East India Arms- packed with vertical lunchers by the time we reached it

East India Arms- packed with vertical lunchers by the time we reached it

Nearing our next destination and passing through one of the oldest inhabited areas in London, we skirted a venerable old brick built lady, I would have liked to visit the Fenchurch Street railway station. Famous for many reasons, it was also the site of the first murder, in 1864, on the British railways. I had already walked through King’s Cross station earlier when I arrived in London so this made Fenchurch my second UK Monopoly board station of the day. It wouldn’t have been difficult to visit the remaining two- Liverpool Street and Marylebone, but that wasn’t the focus of the day. There are some 14 railway termini in London, though that figure is up for dispute. I find it interesting that all four stations on the Monopoly board served the London and North Eastern Railway. How did the railway moguls manage that trick with John Waddington Ltd., the licensed manufacturer of the game in the United Kingdom? On another slightly boozier note, somehow I doubt that I will ever be attempting the Monopoly pub crawl, visiting 26 locations that appear on the UK board.

Fenchurch Street railway station

Fenchurch Street railway station

However it had been too long without a drink, this was supposed to be a pub crawl after all. So contenting myself with a view of the fine exterior to Fenchurch Street station we moved on to our third pub. The streets were busy with lunching workers, traffic and building contractors.

Well known to Harry Potter fans, we passed through Leadenhall Market. This ornate building dates from 1881 though a market has been trading here since the 14th century

Well known to Harry Potter fans, we passed through Leadenhall Market. This ornate building dates from 1881 though a market has been trading here since the 14th century

Pausing only briefly en route to admire the Sir Horace Jones designed Leadenhall Market, our next official halt was the handsome Jamaica Winehouse . Despite a bit of overspill of drinkers on to the path outside, there was still room in one of the divided rooms for the three of us to stand. This halt is a London institution, known as the ‘Jam Pot’. It is one of London’s most famous pubs and can be dated back to 1885, and even before when a coffee shop was opened on the site. The pub is Grade II listed and the inside, complete with glass ceilings, is noted on CAMRA‘s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. However the three of us agreed that it looked as though it had been overly restored and much character removed. I did pop down to the additional bar downstairs which looked fantastic but had no time for a drink there as I was enjoying my pint of Bear Island Pale Ale upstairs at ground level. Sacrilege that it was, I had left draught beers briefly to enjoy this 4.8% tap beer. Another international mix of hops, it is made with US Cascade and Amarillo hops, combined with UK Boadicea hops. Lots of bitterness and loads of aroma, needless to say it was too cold, as I find most tap beers.

The Jamaica Wine House dates from 1885 and is built for a wine merchant on the site of a coffee house

The Jamaica Wine House dates from 1885 and was built for a wine merchant on the site of a coffee house

The Cock and Woolpack. Close to the Bank of England and Royal Exchange, the current pub dates from the 1880s but previous drinking establishments were serving beer here a hundred years before

The Cock and Woolpack. Close to the Bank of England and Royal Exchange, the current pub dates from the 1880s but previous drinking establishments were serving beer here a hundred years before

From here it was just a short walk to our fourth pub. If you were not looking for it, it is unlikely that you would ever find the Cock & Woolpack as it is tucked away from the crowds in a quiet street. This would be a back street boozer almost anywhere else, here it was busy with well dressed and well heeled drinkers. We still managed to find a table and became aware that most people were watching the news on the large TV screen above us. The City is often aloud with the sound of emergency vehicle sirens but an increase in the number of helicopters overhead and various texts and phone messages had already alerted us to the manic actions of a crazed individual earlier. Only metres from where we had crossed London Bridge, innocents had been attacked and stabbed, two later died of their wounds, the culprit shot dead by police. Typically, other than extreme interest, most people away from the centre of action continued with their lives almost as normal. Terrorism only succeeds when people are terrorised.

The 29 November attack on London Bridge unfolded on screens in the pubs we visited

The 29 November attack on London Bridge unfolded on screens in the pubs we visited

My fourth pint was well known to me. I have been drinking Spitfire since it was first brewed in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Sadly it is now a poor imitation of the excellent beer that it once was and, good though the 4.2% cask beer is, every time I drink it I mourn the loss of the superb original from the 90’s. Today’s offering is brewed with three UK hop varieties- Target, First Gold and East Kent Goldings. Despite being Shepherd Neame’s biggest selling cask ale and having won numerous awards in the past, this was my least favourite beer of the day being metallic, thin and simply average.

The Old Dr. Butler's Head dates from 1610. Victorian workers knew it as the Old English Divan, the Edwardians called it the German Restaurant

The Old Dr. Butler’s Head dates from 1610. Victorian workers knew it as the Old English Divan, the Edwardians called it the German Restaurant

So, time for our fifth pub and fifth pint. We were holding up well and enjoying the day. Now expecting the crushed and busy pubs to quieten down as people returned to work after their liquid lunches. Another walk through modern city streets, then a turn off into Mason’s Avenue and it was like stepping back in time. Opposite wooden ribbed buildings, we found another Grade II listed building- The Old Dr. Butler’s Head. This oddly named pub is named after the court physician to James I. He was responsible for an odd medicinal ale popular in the 17th century. Known as ‘Dr Butler’s purging ale’, I was hoping nothing on sale inside had the same effects.

Instead, I found another old favourite of mine though not one I drink very often. Bishop’s Finger was the first strong ale to be brewed in Faversham after rationing of malt was eased after World War II. An apt beer for a hiker, it takes its name from the finger (shaped) posts that pointed pilgrims toward Canterbury. Enjoying EU Protected Geographical Indication, its charter states it can only be brewed by the head brewer on a friday. This is a lovely complex 5% beer made with Admiral, East Kent Goldings and First Gold hops. This was the best beer of the day, a proved classic that has stood the test of time.

Nope, the pubs were not thinning out at all, still just as packed with people as earlier. So many punters that there was also the usual spill out on to the street for a number of drinkers.

Still going strong, we managed to find a table at The Old Dr. Butler's Head

Still going strong, we again managed to find a table at The Old Dr. Butler’s Head

We paused in Postman’s Park, named after the many postmen who would rest there between shifts, on the way to view the Watts Memorial. Looking at such historic testimony to brave selfless people, it was only later that I heard of similar bravery on London Bridge earlier in the day.

Some US readers may actually be familiar with this location as it featured in the 2004 film Closer, starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.

A brief halt in Postman's Park

A brief halt in Postman’s Park

Exiting the park from the far end we took a shortcut through Barts, well at least that is how I know it. Here since 1123 and more properly titled St Bartholomew’s Hospital, it is the oldest hospital in the country on its original site. Through the courtyard, through the arched rear entrance, passing an odd wall postbox with two posting apertures, each angled at 45 degrees (the apertures, not our drinking party). We came out opposite the Smithfield Rotunda Garden. A pleasant area, it wasn’t always so. Smithfield Meat Market is sited close by. Live slaughter of animals used to occur here, the roads apparently ran with blood, the author Charles Dickens was one of many who campaigned for its eventual cessation. It is now a wholesaler in cut meat.

Only two weeks later I was walking through the market to be blocked by a hoard of vegetarian campaigners. No problem with that, anyone can protest against anything they want. An agitated young lady insisted I walk around them. I queried if they had more rights than I to be on the public path and continued through the centre of their stationary protest line. Much to their annoyance.

The Bishops Finger, opposite the large Smithfield Meat Market

The Bishops Finger, opposite the large Smithfield Meat Market

The Bishops Finger was the first London pub acquired by Shepherd Neame, some fifty years ago and the brewer renamed it after their famed beer in 1981. I have drunk in this pub, better known to locals as the Nun’s Delight, dozens of times. It used to be a favourite lunchtime stop when I worked in the vicinity some twenty years ago. That was back in the day when liquid lunches were both more common and socially acceptable. Returning to work stinking of beer tends to be frowned upon these days. Unless you work in some large and wealthy financial institution, judging from what I saw this day.

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Pints being pulled in the Bishop’s Finger

Despite visiting pubs all owned by one brewer, I had manged to have a different pint in each one without having to fall back on the stock Master Brew ale found in all of them. Again, I was able to find another different beer on tap. This was Spitfire Gold, a 4.1% beer made with aromatic Challenger, Centennial and Saaz hops. I enjoyed this fruity golden ale and yet again, despite being a pretty full pub, the three of us found a table to sit at to enjoy our respective choices. The day was drawing on, light was fading and we knew we couldn’t linger too long if we were to miss the expected hectic evening rush of thirsty workers later that day. We left as night fell.

The three of us had already decided to vary our route slightly from that suggested on the ‘official’ map so our next halt was the Hoop & Grapes. This was the only pub amongst the eight in which I found copies of the Shepherd Neame City of London Walk available for punters. Slightly peckish, I indulged in some of the excellent Pork Scratchings here, which are thoroughly recommended. However I could not find a draught beer not yet sampled so settled for a bottled beer instead. Though too cold, this was Shepherd Neame’s excellent India Pale Ale, as it warmed in the glass, the complex flavours, fantastic bitterness and aroma developed. A great beer and one to consider keeping at home as I am a fan of the IPA style. This brewer’s IPA is only found in draught form between March and May, perhaps I need to repeat this trail then…

Hoop and Grapes, standing between modern buildings, it dates from 1721

Hoop and Grapes, standing between modern buildings, it dates from 1721

Named after a character in Charles Dicken's David Coperfield, 'the Betsey' is the only one of the eight pubs that sits outside the City of London, actually nestling in Clerkenwell

Named after a character in Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield, ‘the Betsey’ is the only one of the eight pubs that sits outside the City of London, actually nestling in Clerkenwell

Walking back up Farringdon Road we called in to the Wetherspoons Sir John Oldcastle, simply because we were getting thirsty, however strangely for a ‘Spoons, there was a really poor choice of beers and we backed out without partaking. Finally, to our last pub of the tour. This was the Betsey Trotwood. I have walked past this pub hundreds of times but had never actually stopped in.

Having kept it in reserve all day, I decided to at last have a pint of Master Brew, only to be informed by the Landlord that it had just run out. Guy kept a good range of bottled beers though so I was able to keep to something different and enjoyed a bottle of Shepherd Neame Strong Pale Ale. At 5.5%, this golden hued ale had both body and flavour, again, only once it had warmed up a bit. It is also the only single hopped variety I enjoyed all day, utilising only East Kent Goldings hops. I am not sure I am going to get too caught up with the advertising blurb however:

“Strong Pale Ale is a brilliantly bright brew that legend has it was inspired by the vision of the bright early morning sun sending its golden shafts of light through the brewhouse window and onto the oak mash tun, inspiring the brewing team to brew a beer that echoed these hues”

Final pints of the walk were enjoyed in the Betsey Trotwood

Final pints of the walk were enjoyed in the Betsey Trotwood

I picked up a couple of bottles here to take home to enjoy over the weekend. These were the 5.2% Double Stout and 1698, a classic 6.5% bottle conditioned Kentish Strong Stout. While the Stout had managed to pick up a Bronze award in the Dark Beer category at the 2019 International Brewers Awards, the latter had just been awarded a Gold Award in the 6.0%-7.4% Ales category at the annual British Bottlers’ Institute Awards.

In addition to my bottle of Strong Pale Ale, I picked up two good beers to enjoy at home that weekend- a Double Stout and 1698

In addition to my bottle of Strong Pale Ale, I picked up two good beers to enjoy at home that weekend- a Shepherd Neame Double Stout and 1698

And that was the end of our City of London Walk. It had been thoroughly enjoyable- in good company, a lot of laughs and some fine ales. Each of the pubs was interesting and we also passed some fantastically historic sights on our wander through the city. We chatted at length and reluctant to finish immediately, yet just a little full of beer, Barry decided to get a final round in so we each enjoyed a large glass of Shiraz instead.

A glass of Shiraz to finish off with...

Barry raises a glass to the days enjoyment.

It was time to toddle off home. I finished drinking, said my goodbyes and walked the final twenty minutes to St. Pancras railway station to catch my train back to Kent.

What do I think of the walk? It is grand, I recommend it. Just don’t attempt it at a weekend as only the Hoop and Grapes is one of the few City pubs open at the weekend.

However the map itself is another matter. Open the PDF and have a look. Certainly pretty to look at, however it is rubbish to follow. Use it as a guide and to add a little flavour for the walk, nothing more. Open up Google maps or similar and rely on that instead.

Cheers…

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