In a green haven just outside the M25 sits Chorleywood. In a 2004 survey it was found to have the highest quality of life of any neighbourhood in England, beating 32,481 other districts to the top spot. A lot can change in 13 years…
I’d printed a map again. I occasionally do this when we’re visiting a distant land and may benefit from a little cartographic guidance. I therefore knew in advance that Chorleywood boasted seven pubs, five of which are arranged around a 200-acre Common, with the remaining two being relegated further off to the southwest. You may ask, bold reader, why I bothered printing a map when my iPhone could easily fulfil all possible navigational needs? The answer is surely obvious: to feel like an olde worlde explorer, staring diligently map-wards every now and then whilst stroking my chin and narrowing my eyes. And so it was, like Lewis and Clark, that Andy and I set off to explore the badlands of Chorleywood.
We skirted the Common, fighting our way through the thick grass that brushed against our ankles relentlessly, and after a trek of some minutes we arrived at The Rose & Crown. My map had won its first victory. Our next task was to penetrate the thicket of automobiles clustered around the entrance, but penetrate it we did and indeed forged our way into the pub itself. Inside, we found a gathering so dense, so pre-eminently overcrowded, that it brought to mind the atomic structure of graphene. Holding a brief strategic tête-à-tête, we decided on a plan beloved by horror movie screenwriters – to split up. Andy set a course for the far corner of the bar where he espied a tiny spit of land as yet unsullied by human occupation, whereas I locked eyes with the frenzied barman and set about procuring something to quench our thirst. I almost lost my map in the ensuing trip through the throng, but somehow I pioneered a route to Andy.
You can see, from our earliest explorations, that Chorleywood put up a formidable fight to begin with. But after The Rose & Crown a strange calm descended as we trekked northeast to firstly The Gate and then The White Horse, where no individual incident is worth relating, even in this anecdote-rich corner of the blogosphere. My map was earning its keep but we craved fresh adventure.
Moving south along the edge of the Common, The Black Horse proved a more fertile source of exploits. We were regaling the bar staff about our quest to explore all 270 London tube stations when a bystander sauntered over:
“I used to do a similar thing, but on the national rail network,” he boasted nonchalantly.
We made noises of the noncommittal variety, half impressed and half mistrustful.
“Yeah, me and the lads would stick a pin in the rail map on a Friday night and go out boozing all weekend. Glasgow was a great one – I had to buy myself some new clothes there mind you.”
Before we could ask him whether he arrived in Glasgow sartorially bereft, or just got a hankering for a new wardrobe mid-booze-up, he’d walked away, preventing us from questioning the veracity of his tall tales.
We were on the cusp of leaving when the karaoke started up. (As a side note, it seems to me that the more far-flung the location, the more often the locals profess a love for karaoke. This is also proportional to their singing ability, which decreases the further you get from Zone 1.) Tempted by the limelight, we were perusing the songbook when the landlady chirped up:
“Sing any song you like, apart from Gay Bar!”
This half-joke immediately highlighted two of her personal views, both of which were wrong – the first factually and the second morally. First, that she assumed we were gay (no proof of that as yet but with 19 years of the crawl still to go all bets are off) and second, that it might be unwise to sing a song such as ‘Gay Bar’ in her pub. The smiling face of small-town homophobia. We declined the offer of karaoke and departed.
Caught off guard by the landlady’s bigotry, we almost got lost crossing the Common, now in darkness, as we headed towards The Old Shepherd, where we were greeted by a young man with an impressive beard and an eye patch.
“Are you over 21 and can I see some ID?”
We passed his abrupt entry procedure and discovered a scene which was the polar opposite of that at The Rose & Crown. It was like a museum after closing time – quiet, dusty and absolutely devoid of life. Andy discovered with a grimace a well-worn copy of the Daily Mail and looked up his horoscope to lighten the mood. Those erudite astrologists do seem to have a certain obsession with Uranus. It was at this point we realised, with sudden pangs of hunger, that we hadn’t eaten, and so ordered an explorer’s feast: mini cheddars AND salted peanuts.
Having survived the dangers of the Common, we proceeded southwest through the gloomy, precipitous streets, towards the final two pubs. We hadn’t gone far before a hideous vision leered out of the darkness:
“41 Hubbards Road!”, it barked in a gravelly contralto.
We were momentarily stunned into silence.
“41 Hubbards Road!”
This short phrase seemed to be its only mode of communication. It dawned on me that this creature must be in search of that particular destination and – raising my map confidently – I identified that we were in fact already on Hubbards Road. A swift glance to my left told me that number 41 was but a few doors away. I communicated with the beast as best I could, by a mixture of hand signals and frantic eyebrow raising, and retrieved Andy who had withdrawn, terrified, into nearby shrubbery.
The fearsome she-devil now but a memory, we pushed on to a pleasant drink in The Stag and finally to the intriguingly named The Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty. This final pub was incredibly male, the only exception being Gill, the landlady. It was a haven for ale drinkers, the sign above the door claiming that they’d had 3,415 guest beers on tap. I don’t know when they started counting, but it’s an impressive figure whatever the start date. Alas we couldn’t stay to sample all their guest beers – the last tube back into London was calling. We had survived Chorleywood. My trusty map had done its job.
Something tells me we won’t need a map in Clapham next month. Shame.
NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM COMMON