- Class 153 train at Kenilworth -
Saturday 8th December 2018 and Nick Turpin has sacrificed his Stagecoach in favour of letting the train take the strain. I am therefore instructed to meet our highwayman hero at Kenilworth, journeying down from Coventry on a single carriage Class 153 unit. The fact that Kenilworth has a railway station again is an immediate cause for celebration - the town had disappeared off the network map in 1965 thanks to the Beeching cuts but can now boast a brand new facility with an hourly shuttle service between Leamington and Coventry.
- St John's Church -
It's a bright crisp December morning as we set about plundering Kenilworth for photographic prey. Nick acts as our tour guide as we join the busy Warwick Road, pondering references to Walter Scott novels and spotting a disused branch of the National Provincial Bank. A notable landmark at the southern tip of the town centre is St John's Parish Church, positioned pretty much opposite the Green Man pub where we slake our initial thirst. This Ember Inns establishment is listed in the 2019 Good Beer Guide so we enjoy respective halves of X-Panda and Mad Goose sitting in the dedicated grumpy men's corner.
- Mouthy mat in the Bear & Ragged Staff -
Kenilworth is a place that seems to have pubs at regular intervals and we're somewhat spoiled for choice. The Earl Clarendon is a traditional little Marston's local while the Lion has big screen sport and cheeky patio gnomes. Sport is also to the fore in the Bear & Ragged Staff, a standard Greene King boozer where we can choose between watching rugby or football. Rocking Rudolph whets our whistle here, a decent malty Christmas ale which we quaff while testing out the Chris Kamara beermats - I'm not sure it suits me though!
- Abbey Fields -
Prior to becoming a dandy highwayman/ace cataloguer, Nick Turpin did a mid-1970s stint as a Saturday assistant at Kenilworth Library. Alas it shuts at 1pm today so we can't fully revisit his old stomping ground, then an ill-timed shower sends us scurrying for shelter in the Almanack (cue expensive halves of UBU in a gastropub setting). The skies clear soon enough and we're free to proceed over the Abbey Fields, excitedly exploring the earthwork remains of St Mary's Augustinian Abbey as the Finham Brook burbles by. More tangible building remnants include an intact former barn (now a museum, it may have historically been the Prior's Hall) and the remains of an ancient gatehouse.
- Old Original, Virgins & Castle -
St Nicholas's Church is also close at hand as a landmark of distinction; the young Nick Turpin rang the bells here on occasion but today we satisfy ourselves with a glimpse of the altar and a peek at some organ pedals. Our lunchtime location is the Virgins & Castle, a fascinatingly atmospheric inn on Kenilworth's old High Street. Everard's Old Original (5.2% and immaculate, our only full pint of the day) washes down a delicious bowl of Chicken Ginataang curry, a Filipino culinary treat. I however fail my highwayman's apprenticeship course by reminding the barmaid to take for our beer, a commendable moment of honesty when we would've had a free drink otherwise.
- Rail Reflections -
We haven't quite finished with the Kenilworth pub scene just yet - New Street reveals the Royal Oak (Butty Bach plus Jeff Stelling in full Sky Sports Saturday flow) whereas Stoneleigh Road supplies the Cottage Inn (a Charles Wells tied house where the Eagle IPA is a tad iffy). Darkness is descending by the time we make tracks back to the station, catching the 16:44 to Leamington as Nick reflects further on the welcome return of Kenilworth's railway connection - it may be in time that services continue through to wider destinations such as Nuneaton or Stratford-upon-Avon.
- Back to the Drawing Board? -
Our arrival in Royal Leamington Spa means Nick can attempt to flummox me with weird and wonderful discoveries from the town's burgeoning beer scene. First stop is the Drawing Board as an eclectic Newbold Street gastrobar - they're clearly keen on comics here as the bookshelves are crammed full of bygone annuals while the walls are adorned with framed covers of Spiderman, Captain America, Groo the Wanderer and such like. I've never been anywhere quite like it and the Elephant Wash ale is rather nice too, produced locally in conjunction with the Old Pie Factory Brewery in tribute to Leamington's longstanding liking for all things elephantine.
- An Apehangers Acquaintance -
Next on Nick's itinerary is a walk south/sarf of the river (prompting my best efforts at a dodgy Danny Dyer accent) and a backstreet trail that eventually leads us onto the twilit towpath of the Grand Union Canal. Navigating in the dark is never easy but we successfully stumble across Clemens Street where the Procaffeinate coffee shop conceals an amazing hidden surprise. Step through the Smeg fridge - I kid you not - beside the counter to enter a subterranean world of motorbike helmets and Charles Aznavour LPs. This dear reader is the Apehangers Bar, a basement drinking den with the stairwell guarded by a tinsel-strewn lady mannequin. Dortmunder Vier pale lager is our tipple as I try to comprehend what on earth is happening.
- The Beertorrent Samosa Stop -
No, we haven't entered a parallel universe and to prove it Nick now introduces me to the Beertorrent tasting room, tucked away in a railway arch and dispensing vegan-friendly concoctions - how much more 'craft' can one place get? The 8.1% Belgian Christmas brew is impossible to ignore so I pace my sipping while munching bargain samosas; Nick meanwhile avails himself of a Smoked Wheat stunner as we park ourselves on a long bench seat. All good things must sadly end and this particular forage concludes with two swift halves of Guinness, one in the Railway Inn (a nice enough two-roomed town pub) and one in Kelsey's (a studentcentric club venue that was eerily quiet, enlivened only by us trying our hand at table football). Half past eight or thereabouts heralds our trains home and a simply astounding pubcrawl for the ages passes into history - cheers!