The Brigadoon Pub in Greenwich

Ashburnham Arms

I first visited the Ashburnham Arms in Greenwich’s Ashburnham triangle about 17 years ago, and it’s been lost to me ever since.

I was taken then by my flatmate, a Greenwich native, who had heard that the pub had won some award or other. I seem to recall it took us a while to find that time, too.

London streets rarely run in straight lines so two roads that seem to run at right angles can slowly curve to meet, while what feel like parallel lines can turn out to be subtly angled spokes off a hub. At the same time, the houses are made of the same London stock brick, to similar designs, denying the wanderer the necessary points of reference.

Even as you draw near, the Ashburnham can be hard to spot, its signage hidden behind shrubs, and its exterior otherwise resembling the grand 19th century houses that surround it.

Which, of course, makes it all the more charming — a kind of secret reserved for locals, not tourists.

So secret that when I’ve tried to return, I’ve failed, popping out in Greenwich Park, or on the high street, or in Deptford, thirsty and scratching my head.

Of course Google Maps spoils the fun. This time, I walked straight there with only a bare minimum of confusion and back-tracking.

It was much as I remembered it — multi-roomed, just; modernised, a bit; respectable, but not posh; friendly, without overdoing it.

It’s a Shepherd Neame pub and this time the only cask bitter on offer was Master Brew, their ‘ordinary’. It cost somewhere north of £4 a pint but tasted extraordinarily good — light, bright, and snapping with earthy, vivid, tea-like hop character.

I sat in a corner with my book and enjoyed the atmosphere. Outside, intense sunlight tempered by a breeze that carried the smell of the city and the jangle of ice cream vans through the open door; inside, the murmur of soft London accents, the sisterly chat of the bar staff, and the rustling of newspaper pages, all wrapped up in warm wood and scented with furniture polish.

As dinner service finished bowls of crisp, salty leftover roast potatoes were distributed around the pub — a physical manifestation of unpretentious hospitality.

I had to stop for a second pint, didn’t I? After all, I might never find the Ashburnham again.

London: pubs to ramble towards

Heading towards the Union through the Greenwich foot tunnel.

We do love exploring London on foot and it always helps to have a pub or two as our ultimate destination.

A couple of times a year, we feel the need to be in Greenwich. Usually, we’re heading for Meantime’s brewery tap, the Greenwich Union. Over the years, it’s delighted and infuriated us, swinging from brilliant to awful from one visit to the next. The last couple of times, it’s been back on form. As well as being the best place to try Meantime’s own range, their selection of bottled beers just keeps getting better. The Old Brewery is Meantime’s new(ish) venture and, the couple of times we’ve been, we’ve loved it. In summer, it’s the nearest London comes to capturing the atmosphere of somewhere like Würzburg or Mainz. (Although not everyone agrees with us.)

The Flask in Highgate is a great place to finish a ramble through north London. It’s got hearty, only mildly pretentious food; Fuller’s beer in scintillating condition; and a small but select list of Belgian classics in bottles. Sat beneath a dark oak beam in a cosy corner, it’s easy to feel like you’re in the country pub of fable. It helps that lots of the punters are wearing wellies and Barbour jackets.

We’ve mentioned the Dove already in this series of posts (in case anyone’s in any doubt, it’s something of a favourite) but, when we’re wandering in east London along the Regent’s Canal, past the Olympic site and, more importantly, the Big Breakfast house, the Dove is usually our final destination.

Also in the East, but at the riverside, there’s the Wapping and Limehouse crawl. None of these pubs is staggeringly brilliant in its own right but there are few other such neatly arranged runs in London. You can explore the industrial history of London, stopping off every quarter of a mile for a pint of something. The views from the dining room of the Captain Kidd are particularly good; and the precarious-feeling wooden terrace of the Grapes, with the Thames lapping at its underside, is fantastic place to sit and watch boats go by at close quarters.