- Knife Angel -
With instructions to be aboard the 10:14 London North Western service from New Street, I have a bonus hour in Birmingham at my disposal beforehand. This gives me ample time to make the acquaintance of the Knife Angel sculpture on display at Victoria Square - this thought-provoking creation is fashioned out of 100,000 blades that were collected during knife amnesties by police forces across the UK. Brum also sees me nibble along Newhall Street for a handful of pictures of Farmers Bridge Locks (specifically numbers seven to nine in the shadowy bowels below BT Tower).
- A basket case at Foot Meadow? -
The train is slightly delayed by having to wait behind a pesky late-running Virgin competitor but Nick Turpin can still board at Coventry as planned. Arriving at Northampton by 11:30, we pick out an opening riverside stroll through Foot Meadow - this admittedly isn't the most glamorous introduction to Northamptonshire's county town as we dodge broken bottles while counting dumped shopping trolleys and discarded baskets. Things as they say can only get better!
- A Carlsberg Chimney -
Northampton is traditionally known as a centre for the shoemaking trade (hence the local football team being nicknamed 'The Cobblers') but it also has a significant brewing pedigree. Carlsberg have their main UK operations based here and the plant dominates the skyline south of the main town. Nick Turpin is a discerning dandy who doesn't normally dabble with the lager side of the drinks spectrum, so although we grudgingly admire the brewery's chimneys and mass fermentation vats, we're not planning on sampling any of its output today.
- Northampton Lock -
We will of course be concentrating on cask ale as usual, but not until we've investigated more of the River Nene. Various tributaries and channels seem to converge here and the Waterfront area makes for a pleasant stroll, noting the presence of a marina and landmark lock just across from the University of Northampton campus. Wathen Wigg Bridge is a striking structure bearing the green, yellow and black colours of the town's rugby club and named in honour of their founder, the Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg.
- Pomfret Arms -
Nick Turpin has a hitlist of pubs he wishes to plunder and first of those is the Pomfret Arms, home of the Cotton End Brewery. Some Coffee Porter hits the spot nicely (and so it should at 5.2% ABV) as we seek out two armchairs and listen to some 1970s tunes. This sets us up nicely for a canal hunt, venturing along the Nene Way past the Carslberg complex to intercept the Grand Union Canal (Northampton Arm) at Towcester Road. The arm is a four-and-three-quarter mile long branch which links the River Nene with Gayton Junction for the Grand Union main line.
- Champion Cheese Hurler -
Two classic watering holes are next on our agenda as we take great delight in sampling both the Malt Shovel Tavern and the Albion Brewery Bar. The former has an enviable collection of beer trays (including one from the defunct Simpkiss Brewery of Brierley Hill) and is where pause for lunch, the artisan cheddar and leek bangers proving very tasty. The latter meanwhile is the location of the resurrected Phipps NBC brewery, bringing a renowned Northampton name back to prominence. Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout is exactly the lubrication we need when attempting to play table skittles; there's clearly a technique required for this and we aren't about to master it very quickly, even if Nick Turpin has some success flinging his cheeses around!
- Bass branding in the Lamplighter -
Our attentions now switch to the north-eastern portion of town, whereby the multicultural Kettering Road seems an almost ironic setting for a pub called Olde England. The basement takes us by surprise with an array of historical illustrations and framed vintage banknotes, a real escape from the hubbub above. We then engage in a backstreet rummage through the old Boot and Shoe Quarter, happening across the Lamplighter amidst the terraces of Overstone Road. We instantly like it here, seduced by Bass lettering and the prospect of an experimental stout served in dimpled half glasses.
- St Giles Church -
Northampton town centre is graced with some very fine provincial buildings, chief among which are the Guildhall (elaborately Gothic), All Saints Church and an attractive Market Square. St Giles's Church merits a mention too and has a namesake micropub that prompts Nick to man the (Titanic) Lifeboat - I opt for some kind of honey mild, a bit of an acquired taste perhaps. A check of the train app confirms we've scope for an extra half somewhere so the lively Wig & Pen gets the nod for Jack's Spaniels (a Gun Dog blonde brew) and Adnam's Ghost Ship.
- Long Buckby
Shed Station -
The 18:39 train awaits and we interrupt our journey home at Long Buckby, which surely boasts one of the most underwhelming station buildings anywhere on the Heart of England Rover map. Thankfully the rest of the village is kinder on the eyes, especially the thatched treat that is the Old King's Head on Harbidges Lane. Whatpub gives this place an effusive write up and it is certainly popular, although we have to be swift with our Everard's Gold - not even another set of table skittles can persuade us into a longer stay. No, we must head home and thus concludes Nick Turpin's Cobblers crawl - cheers!