Leopard print. Fake tan. Fistfights. Welcome to Buckhurst Hill, suburb of Essex and proud exponent of local cliché!
“A bottle of Sierra Nevada, please.”
“Pint of Carling, coming right up.”
The friendly barmaid was clearly on autopilot. I don’t think anyone had ordered a Sierra Nevada in years, as it took considerable mental effort for her to locate and extract one of two bottles on display in the cooler. We were in The Railway Tavern, our first stop of the night in Buckhurst Hill. Episodes of TOWIE and Essex Wives were filmed nearby and, along with Loughton and Chigwell, it forms the so-called Golden Triangle of affluent Essex towns.
It was 8pm but felt like closing time. Loud funk music mingled with braying, filthy outbursts from the numerous groups of squat males ensconced around the bar. Everyone seemed drunk. Our friend Colette (who you may recall from Belsize Park) joined us just in time to see a fight break out between a woman and a man; actual, physical fisticuffs. It took all of the burly security guards’ strength to restrain and eject the flailing, bloodlust-maddened pair. “Someone got their hand chopped off last week just down the road”, Colette announced cheerily by way of greeting. We promptly downed our drinks and hotfooted it out into the Essex night; away, we hoped, from further bar brawls, lurking limb-loppers or whatever else passed for hospitality in this barbarous, lawless land of Lucifer.
We somehow made it in one piece to the Three Colts, which went some way towards assuaging the mental trauma suffered at the Railway Tavern. This was a thriving, stylish gastropub, bursting at the seams with well-dressed locals of all ages. And not a fight in sight. We still had all our digits intact and began, gradually, to relax. Maybe we’d been too quick to judge Buckhurst Hill (pronounced locally as Buckerstill, Colette sagely informed us). Maybe the Railway Tavern was a regrettable blot on an otherwise pristine pubscape?
Now fully at ease – the Railway Tavern a distant fading nightmare – we strolled out jovially into the refreshing evening air. A closed Toby Carvery did nothing to dampen our mood and we walked a considerable distance along the arrow-straight Epping New Road, our spirits high and conversation flowing like good wine. The quiet Warren Wood (more plasma screens than drinkers) provided satisfactory libations and a welcome respite from the relentless highway. Time marched on, as is its habit, and before long we followed suit. Turning left, our vista broadened into dense, unforgiving woodland, cleaved in two by an unlit, uninhabited road stretching out to the horizon, with the barest sliver of footpath running alongside. Down this ribbon of dirt we traipsed, remaining defiantly exuberant, dodging the occasional speeding car and enjoying the rustic novelty of this most un-London-like of roads. Andy and I thought that after 31 pub crawls we’d exhausted London’s supply of landscapes but we were mistaken; we had not yet traversed a forest’s edge by starlight to reach the next watering hole.
After half an hour our walk was rewarded with the expansive Royal Forest. This pleasant pub restaurant was almost empty but we didn’t mind, dropping heavily into cushioned seats and quaffing drinks (BrewDog, no less) with thirsty gratitude. Rarely had a beer felt more deserved. The hour was getting late; home was far away, but we decided to risk one more adventure.
Back into the night we bravely trod, descending into the mute darkness of Warren Pond Road. Speed bumps shrouded in shadow almost proved our literal downfall, but balance prevailed and we emerged onto Forest Side and the welcoming glow of civilisation. We’d heard rumour of a pub this way and were not disappointed. The Queen Elizabeth was open and we snuck in a decadent double-order on the cusp of closing time: hearty golden ales and a delicious, celebratory Glenmorangie.
Warmed by whisky and walking, our hazy brains now realised that Buckhurst Hill station was an hour’s amble away and the last tube was in 15 minutes. Colette to the rescue: “My Dad can pick us up. He only lives down the road in Chigwell.” True enough, moments later her gallant father arrived and dropped us smartly at the station with minutes to spare. Colin, we owe you one.
As often happens, the journey home provided a small footnote to the evening, which it would be a crime to conceal from you, loyal reader. On our final train to Surbiton we spied a suave couple at the end of the carriage; observation soon turned to recognition and we joined our pals Jarek and Ashley for much boisterous and witty chitchat on the crammed service. Before long a charming, fun-poking man from Chester (who, Rumpelstiltskin-like, never gave away his name) joined the discussion as did, briefly, a young woman with a vibrating handbag. These vibrations were nothing salacious; they were caused by a pet hamster she was smuggling from York to Woking on a visit to her boyfriend. Lucky man.
Leaving hamster-lady on the train, we took a quick selfie with Chester, Jarek and Ashley on the platform before going our separate ways. Buckhurst Hill may have been an inconsistent night out, but its countryside flair succeeded in providing a memorable and un-London-like pub crawl.
Next stop: BURNT OAK