Tuesday : Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Back to the Plasterer’s Arms

My three night stay at the Travelodge in Welwyn Garden City was without anything of particular note, which is really a positive thing since nothing went wrong. It’s an odd hotel though, laid out in converted offices whilst other retail tenants have to use the same space which feels particularly strange when walking through the building’s reception. I’m not sure that the other tenants find it ideal that the building is shared with a hotel and their guests of varying degrees of sobriety, but I suppose needs must, the landlord must be paid.

An ineptly taken photo, which was to mention that I popped into Greggs for a chicken bake as a quick lunch, but I’ve primarily taken a photo of the exterior of Subway. My chicken bake was hot, decadent and, yes, I’ve returned to the Greggs fold after several months apart….

There was only one pub in the town which looked of note in terms of craft beer which was the Two Willows, and they’ve conveniently placed their beer list on Untappd. It’s not remarkable, but it’s entirely acceptable and I thought that the engagement from the staff was excellent. A very friendly team member who pro-actively explained what beers they had alongside an inviting interior. The pub’s design was modern, clean and comfortable, with the back bar being particularly well laid out. The whole arrangement exceeded my expectations and I’d say it’s likely the best pub in Welwyn Garden City.

I went for the $umo from Mad Squirrel Brewery, a refreshing enough American Pale Ale that wasn’t unreasonably priced.

There were plenty of power points dotted around, with numerous tables also having their own private television screen. If I wanted to be immersed in watching darts, that option was open to me. The pub is also advertising themselves as an ideal place for home workers to get things done, and I have great belief this strategy will continue to evolve across the sector.

The exterior of the building and there’s a small plaque noting that this pub is in the film Worlds End produced in November 2013 and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I haven’t seen the film, but I’ll put it on my list (not that I have a list, but I’ll try and remember) of things to see. Incidentally, this pub was until its rebranding known as the Cork, which seems an odd name for a pub. Stonegate wanted a new name for after their 2013 rebranding and were going with Sir Ebenezer Howard, who was behind the creation of the garden city, but then they were told that he didn’t approve of drinking. Hence, it’s the Two Willows.

And inside of the Howard centre, also named after Ebenezer, and I commented a couple of days ago that perhaps they could open a craft beer bar here. Perhaps not given his dislike of alcohol….. The area at the back on the first floor is also the entrance to the town’s railway station.

I liked the waiting room at Welwyn Garden City railway’s station, clean and comfortable with numerous old photos of the building.

A sign about the station’s heritage.

And onto Thameslink for the train to Stevenage, again with its ironing board seats that I like.

I’ve never been to Stevenage before and as there were 50 minutes between my trains, I asked the gate guard if I could go and visit the town centre. He merrily let me out (and back in again later when I got back) and I thought I’d head to the JD Wetherspoon outlet in the old town of Stevenage which is about an 18 minute walk each way, so not a great deal of room for error if I somehow got lost. There was until the beginning of 2020 a JD Wetherspoon pub that was a two minute walk from the railway station, but I’d have probably still walked to the old town area anyway.

Holy Trinity Church in Stevenage, which appeared to be open, but I was struggling with time as it was. This church dates from the 1860s and was designed by A W Blomfield, with a new nave added in the 1880s which was designed by Tate and Popplewell. What I find interesting is that this building was constructed here as the original village church, St Nicholas’s, which is located in the Saxon heart of Stevenage, found itself further away from where the town had expanded in the nineteenth century. Stevenage was the first New Town in the country to be unveiled in 1946 and the centre of the town shifted once again, and they even shut and demolished the charming Victorian railway station in the old town and shoved their ugly new 1970s station to the south nearer to the New Town (hence why it takes so long to walk here). There’s an argument that post-war architecture will be respected in the future, in the way that Victorian architecture went out of fashion and it is now respected. I doubt it though.

I safely reached the JD Wetherspoon outlet, the Standing Order.

Inside the pub, it’s got an open modern feel, it all seemed comfortable and inviting to me, but it is quite badly reviewed compared to other pubs in the chain. I tried to work out what might be happening here from the reviews, but the locals seem to complain about a broad range of different things, with some highlights including:

“Staff were helpful but we caught one very drunk guy trying to steal from my friends coat.”

“AWFUL customer service. Didn’t give me my 2p change. They just assumed that I did not want that 2p. Not knowing how much I was owed. This is besides the point, they should of given me that 2p. Disgusting.”

“They didn’t have any meals available on the menu today.”

“Had 1 large and 1 small Skampi meal the large had 6 Skampi the small 4. There were a few extra chips on the large one. The cost was £7.40 for the large and £4.15. £3.25 for 2 extra Skampi, what avril off.”

“I went to pay for our family order with a £50.00 note and was refused, saying “sorry, we don’t except £50.00 notes.” As far as I was aware from working in a retail background, as long as the English money has the queen of England on it, it would be excepted in any establishment excepting payment.”

And I assume this one is about the walk to the toilets….

“Closest toilets are in Hitchin”

Although this was my favourite 1/5 review of them all:

“Came to the pub around 2200hrs with a couple of mates, standing at the bar for 10 minutes before the manager said can you service those customer! Excuse me – The wording should be can you serve these gentlemen that are waiting please.”

I digress….

This totalled £1.50, half a pint and a pack of Mini Cheddars. In these expensive times, I thought that was very acceptable. The half pint was Morocco Ale from Daleside Brewery, a spiced ale that I was rather taken with, it was the best of the beers that I had as part of the JD Wetherspoon beer festival across their pubs.

I took a photo of this building as I liked the text of the plaque on the wall which reads:

“The coffin of Henry Trigg. High up in the roof of this building rests a coffin which at one time contained the body of Henry Trigg. His will (1724) specified that his body was to be decently laid there, upon a floor in the roof.”

The building was a pub, then a bank and now it’s a medical facility and there’s a Wikipedia page that’s well worth a little read.

There was an historic feel to the area, all entirely different to the dodgy architecture in the New Town area. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the town at some point to see a little more of it, rather than rushing down the main street and then rushing back.

Very fluffy.

The Thameslink train arrived on time into Stevenage, to take me to Cambridge. Note the height of the walkway for pedestrians over the track.

I have a lot of photos of Thameslink seats….

There was only a six minute connection at Cambridge and my train from Stevenage came in two minutes late, cutting down the time I had to cross the station to four minutes. Anyone needing to use the lifts would likely have missed this, but I managed to get the Greater Anglia train that went to Stowmarket.

And the Greater Anglia train, it started off busy, then I slid across to a table at Newmarket. The train then was at near capacity at Bury St. Edmunds with mostly school children, I was pleased I had a seat at that point. I’m growing to like these trains, I’ve had a run of Greater Anglia trains where the power points actually work, so I’m in a good mood with them.

The Norwich train, also Greater Anglia, sweeping into Stowmarket International railway station. Given how many connections that I made on this journey, I was moderately surprised that I arrived into Norwich only one minute late. I was marginally disappointed that there was no delay repay outcome to the whole plan because of the efficiency of the rail network, but there we go…..

Safely back in Norwich, I felt it’d be useful to pop to the Plasterer’s Arms, one of the best pubs in Norwich. This was the Ferrero Rocher Stout from New Bristol Brewery, a very decadent and rich beer that justified the visit.