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ten counties crawl

by Techno

last year south west trains sent annual gold card holders and BITE inner circlers darren and mike techno some free weekend travel vouchers. so one sunny saturday in august 2002 four inner circlers spelt "SOUTH WEST PUBS" in place names on a 151 mile jolly across the network.

this year they sent some more...

well, you know...

seemed rude not to...

after the dynamism with which last year's crawl was completed the concept was stretched even further, but rather than spell something out this time round the idea was simply to drink in pubs in as many counties as possible. mike techno worked out a rough timetable but with inner circle holiday commitments summer came and went and it was 4th october (later rescheduled to the 18th for footballing reasons) before the usual suspects could all find the same weekend free. that meant using the less frequent winter timetable and the organisational torch was passed to mike silky who managed to shoehorn a massive ten counties in.

the final route was decided - standard early start at waterloo for a first orders drink in honiton (devon), then onwards to crewkerne (somerset), gillingham (dorset), salisbury (wiltshire), basingstoke (hampshire), reading (berkshire), goring & streatley (oxfordshire), egham (surrey), twickenham (middlesex) finishing in clapham junction (london). 216 miles by road from first pub to last were you so inclined and you wouldn't be at the mercy of timetable that way. with times from station to pub and back again ranging from 124 minutes in crewkerne to just 22 minutes in salisbury and goring any delays would mean disaster.

the calm before the dawn

interest generated in the crawl idea, the number of weekend tickets available and darren's warnings about the dangers of tardiness meant a large and timely turnout. 08:00 saturday morning and already the crawlers (most of whom got up when it was still dark) were assembling on the concourse at london waterloo. inner circle stalwarts anne and darren, graham, loz, mike techno, phil, mike silky and clare were joined by emma, adam, sam and keen. gryn, edi and monica pitched up nursing hangovers having partied till the last at the hole in the wall the previous night and, given it's proximity to the station, would have been well advised to bribe the landlord into letting them stay there. tales of trouble free trains, obscenely early tubes and replacement bus services were exchanged as a scout party went out to find the platform for the first leg of the journey and the varied delights of waterloo's eateries were sampled. coffee, coke, bottled water, pastry goodness, sandwiches and two ultimate breakfasts (mike silky consumed both of them so technically one was a penultimate breakfast).

with the platform announcement made the fifteen intrepid bevetological field researchers piled onto the 08:33 to exeter st davids and got on with whatever pursuit they felt was most important. reading, eating, but mostly sleeping. the train left on schedule - a good sign...

The Star Inn, Honiton, Devon

baby you're all that i want
when you've lying here in my arms
finding it hard to believe we're in devon
- bryan adams

staff must have clearly been briefed more comprehensively in the fourteen months since we last tried to use free weekend travel as the ticket inspector was fully aware of what our strange yellow vouchers entailed. also different from last year was the sun brainbox puzzle - this time a simple piece of algebra and not the day long nightmare that was the bank woman's mixed up money order.

the outbound journey to honiton took us through several of the places we'd be visiting on the way back - mostly single platform single track stations surrounded by picturesque countryside.

"look, the sheep are following each other!"
"just like sheep!"

with the initial worries of not making the first train out of the way, sleep caught up on and keen observations* like that one the crawlers were in good humour as stop one approached.

the train got mysteriously busy in yeovil, presumably people going to exeter as they were still there when we piled off the train at 11:18. minor confusion regarding compass points aside the journey to the pub was easy. the barman was thrown slightly by the arrival of such a large crowd so early in the day but regained his composure and poured the pints. community spirit was prevalent in the form of a "call to arms" for broadband on the wall. loz was rather less spirited in his critique of teen nu-metal warblers busted who were appearing on cd:uk at the time.

phil finished first and headed down the high street to look for another pub but returned without success. other pints downed we headed back to the station, much to the disappointment of the barman who thought we might stick around for the rugby. but we had to push on and arrived back at the station a few minutes before the 11:58 (the same train we'd got off 40 minutes previously).

* not keen as in the person - it was emma and darren. that said he is no stranger to the quip. "nothing corners like a sausage dog".

just for star-ters

loz is all thumbs today

no pikeys

The Railway Tavern / The Swan Inn, Crewkerne, Somerset

somerset makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind
- seals & crofts

as honiton is merely a stop on the journey and not an end point seats were less prevalent and the crawlers had to spread out for the 23 minute journey.

the 12:21 arrival was on time but confusion arose immediately as the indications on the map were to head over the bridge despite clear visibility of a different and much closer pub. a brief jaunt to said visible pub was disappointing - closed until the evening. the crawlers were divided and a party of intrepid hopefuls set out down the road to crewkerne village in search of a hostelry (thereby passing a "cow pat competition" sign). after an uncounted number of minutes (possibly as many as five) The Railway Tavern answered the parched mouth prayers in timely fashion and, having established the first choice pub had no telly, the other crawl personnel arrived for more drinking.

by a remarkable coincidence of planning the long stopover in somerset covered most of the england -vs- south africa rugby. the game was not top priority for all though and after downing drinks a party set off further into crewkerne to search for a pub doing food. the crawl within a crawl happened upon The Swan, replete with cool pub dog and bird and a much larger screen (also showing rugby - there's no escape!). the promise of menu food was scuppered with the news that the chef was ill but the barman said he might be able to rustle up a few pizzas.

an unremarkable first half of the game ended, the pizzas weren't ready and time was getting on. taxis were debated but those who had not ordered food set off back to the station via a bakery to clean them out of pastry goodness and the first pub where mike silky was now on guard. those who waited behind were rewarded with the long awaited pizzas and an unexpected bus back to the station beating everyone who took the healthy option (well apart from the pastry stuff and the beer).

with a short wait for the 14:25 adam was loaded down with everyone's cameras and took pictures of the BITE inner circle (minus nige who was only with us in spirit).

"it so is that way!"

not exactly close to the station

swanning around the village

The Royal Hotel, Gillingham, Dorset

dorset disappoint you?
or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
- u2

having been pulled up for our pronunciation (gilling to rhyme with billing unlike it's kentish namesake) we hoped for no more social gaffs. another half hour journey with people squashed into luggage racks and emma relaying rugby score updates from the radio to everyone.

upon arrival at 14:56 more confusion over the direction to take was quickly resolved, a newsagent spotted to satisfy emma's complex lottery requirements and the unplanned Royal Hotel was espied. post-match analysis was on the telly and a small child was on the odd hexagonal spinning pool table. the u2 song proved apt as the BITErs sat down outside and loz tasted the worst pint of guinness he'd ever had. that combined with general impressions of the place made us think perhaps the "oak" part of the sign had fallen off.

another food stop on the way back to the station for chips and decidedly nasty looking curry sauce, plus rip off bacon sarnies at a cafe. having been assured the train waiting in the platform was our 15:53 we spread out and counted the minutes. slight concern at the signal stop half way to salisbury - fears allied soon after by the realisation it was a scheduled passing point.

guinness fit for a

The Victoria Hotel / Railway, Salisbury, Wiltshire

nothing to write home about
salisbury boozers forever
- the beatles

because of the constricted time at salisbury the ingenious idea of parallel drinking was conceived - split the group into smaller groups and go to different pubs to cut down on the total time. at 16:23 the train pulled into the station and the advance party got into their imaginary running blocks to pelt towards the pub. phil, graham, mike techno, adam, mike and clare headed for the railway. phil's love of beer overrode his sense of urgency and he got a pint but supped at a ferocious pace.

over in the victoria keen and loz both opted for guinness and the landlord, with scant disregard for our timetable, started pouring them last. they were nice pints though, and loz gave a short synopsis to the staff about why we had to get going in such a hurry. a quick perusal of the soccer updates on telly and back to the station for the 16:45.


more splitters

Queens Arms, Basingstoke, Hampshire

i used to think maybe you loved me
now baby hampshire
- katrina and the waves

minor delay during the journey meant arriving at 17:26 with 6 minutes less drinking time than scheduled but it was still longer than our stop in wiltshire. just as well - the nearest pub found during a recon was a fair way with no clear path to it. luckily a member of staff outside the station pointed us to a much nearer hostelry and the once again the front runners set off to get the round in. andrew (morph) joined us as this was his part of the world.

shorts for most people but keen had a pint of the black stuff. scores in and league tables updated everyone returned for the next leg of the journey at 17:57 (via a previously visited platform shop for ginsters food).

drinking on sunshine

Three Guineas, Reading, Berkshire

berkshire has no songs

now here's where it gets tricky. the basingstoke to reading route is run by two separate train operators (swt and thames). we caught an swt one so that was still free but goring & streatley was going to be an extra ticket. everyone piled off in reading at 18:14 and having talked their way past the man at the barrier headed to the pub. everyone that is except mike techno, who went to the ticket office with a very unusual request:

"i'd like sixteen day returns to goring and streatley please"
"i can do a group discount ticket for 40 pounds"
*print print*
"is this the strangest request of the day?"
"not really"

the mind boggles.

the three guineas was oppressively hot and there was something on the floor that looked like either worn carpet or sick, but it did have train departure monitors inside which saved heading back to the station right away. BITErs squashed round a table to marvel at the crazy ticket and drink their drinks in the comparatively ample 41 minutes. gradually people started filtering out of the pub and headed back through the barriers for the 18:56.

the magic number

all together now

The Queens Arms, Goring, Oxfordshire

i know, it's only oxon roll
but i like it
- rolling stones

oh this isn't good! our shortest stop on the crawl at just 22 minutes and the train was running 6 minutes late. impatience on the platform as a different train pulled in and went out of service. emma, acting on some kind of divine inspiration from the gods of drinking, phoned our planned pub and asked if there were any boozers closer to the station. assured there was one right opposite we finally boarded the train at 19:01 and 14 agonising minutes later arrived in darkest oxfordshire.

actually there's a good deal of debate about this. most of the goring pubs list themselves as "berkshire" but we are assured by a map geek the thames marks the county border. not that it made much difference as we dashed up the road to the pub - if we took too long drinking and missed the train back it may as well have been in timbuktu.

crawlers filled the front bar with a whole range of drinks from guinness to shorts to nothing. then, as quickly as we arrived, we were gone - who knows what bar staff had been making of us today. all that rushing proved unnecessary with a full four minutes to get breath back at the station. mike silky was rueful for not buying a drink but loz came to the rescue with half a mini bell's whiskey he bought from the train trolley earlier. no problems with the return as the 19:31 was bang on schedule.

a absolute time saver

The New Railway Inn (Tap and Spile), Egham, Surrey

it's sad, so sad
why can't we talk it over
oh it seems to me
surrey seems to be the hardest word
- elton john

with the brief jolly to oxfordshire done with it was time for the most complex connections. engineering works between ascot and virginia water meant a changes and reading and a replacement bus service then another train. andrew headed back to basingstoke and once again there was just the fifteen of us. loz once again came to the rescue of parched mouths and spent the nine minute changeover at reading procuring cans of stella. mike silky started crazy talk of celebratory shooters in the windsor castle and then doing kent on the way home.

ascot confusingly has two platforms for one bit of track and several people raced out of the station the wrong way and had to be brought back. such enthusiasm! a bus was ready to go so the crawlers piled on and were whisked along dark surrey roads, past a posh golf course and into virginia water station. with no staff on hand to give out platform information we managed to figure out things out eventually. a quick pub crawl ladder gag, and several people began to whistle the great escape as the 21:00 arrived.

"tributary of the thames, six letters"

still having trouble with the crossword...

and so to upwardly mobile egham - complete with ferrari garage right next to the station. 21:03 and things are in full swing at the New Railway to the sounds of a dire cockney musician and warnings about not putting drinks on the piano. sorry, wrong order! that should read "a cockney musician and dire warnings"...well however you phrase it nothing had prevented him from putting drinks elsewhere and the crawlers hid around the corner as he demolished classic after classic.

what happened to the old one?

you hum and i'll do something

Rugby Tavern, Twickenham, Middlesex

well most songs have a middlesexion

is there no end to the hunger! a usefully placed chocolate machine on the platform provided sustenance for mike silky as graham and monica adopt a fingers in ears "la la la" ignorance of, erm, something or other. the 21:33 arrived and everyone got warm as debate turned to the burning issues of the evening such as is an age longer than a yonk?

with the victorious rugby score twickenham was liable to be heaving so we took refuge in the inexplicable Rugby Tavern. saturday night, home of rugby, empty pub - the economics of the situation don't add up.

perhaps the Rugby Tavern's popularity (of lack of it) comes down to the music? we for example were treated to "now that's what i call twelve years ago" - a compilation of early nineties cheesy dance. rounds got a bit mixed up and mike techno found himself with a pint and a half and only 30 minutes to down it - mike silky and darren were kind enough to share some of the burden. and as sam was having trouble with her lager silky knocked that back as well.

up and (going) under?

Windsor Castle, Clapham Junction, London

the greater london crawl
is happening to me
- whitney houston

although being this close to london meant more frequent trains it was thought best to stick to the schedule and take the prescribed 2220 train to clapham junction. saving the best till last several people nipped into west cornwall (the shop - not the county) for yet more food and the crawlers descended on the final pub of the day. pasty munchers stayed outside while everyone else went to order and rearrange all the furniture so we had somewhere to sit.

the group of people in 70s garb made us look positively normal but there was no stealing our thunder. BITE had pulled off the most heroic crawl yet! 14 hours after leaving waterloo we had arrived in clapham junction via ten different counties. little speeches, a bonus whiskey for loz who had found a second, third and fourth wind during the day, round of applause for keen who had a pint in every pub, and to everyone that chipped in to help put the whole thing together.

the final hurdle

ten counties! ah...ha...ha

following last orders in The Windsor Castle and a victorious group picture gryn left for home followed by a rather worse-for-wear looking loz. mike and clare went on their bonus county mission to kent, edonica and adam caught a bus to wandsworth. everyone else decided to crash a house party but it was winding up by then so piled back to emma's for cocktails and cranium instead.

the train was eleven minutes late.

a MASSIVE thanks to everyone who turned up and kept up - you helped make it the best crawl ever. also thanks to bar staff of pubs all across the region, to south west trains and thames trains for keeping the network ticking over on our very tight schedule and all the other people that helped us without even knowing. it's going to take something pretty special to top this...

isn't technology wonderful? these pictures are just a selection of those taken on the day by darren and anne, phil, graham, mike techno, adam, loz, mike and clare.