Autumn is a good season for me to reacquaint myself with all my favourite East Anglian towns, most of which seem to have a lone new entry in the Beer Guide this year. Surely micros will take over Essex as completely as they have done Bexley and Bromley; if they ever get to Harlow you’ll know they’ve arrived.
Chelmsford’s place in the pantheon of great UK towns and cities is hotly debated. I place it on a par with Grimsby, which is a treasured position. In my old job I saw rather too much of the place, and particularly its endless office complexes, so a relaxed saunter round the historic centre is always a treat. I mean that.
Actually, it’s when you try to leave the centre that things go to pot. I vote this the UK’s least pedestrian-friendly city, perhaps tied with Coventry. Physically getting to the pubs beyond the Parkway is a game of chicken run deserving of protected status.
Chelmsford has almost as many roundabouts as Harlow, and the same shops, but strike a blow against its younger upstart with a superior culinary offer;
Heading to Moulsham Street for the new Beer Guide tick does pass some pleasing modern architecture, and even street art. It also passes a longstanding bargain Thai lunch stop in the market, but I’m keeping that a secret.
Chelmsford’s draw is the cricket ground, bravely resisting any ruinous illusions of grandeur by staging tests, and a collection of proper pubs with greater demographic variety than, say, Norwich. Not exactly a hotbed of microbrews or craft, but my NBSS scores suggest a level of consistency to match anywhere.
Half a dozen pubs within a short hop of the railway station, including a craft bar under the viaduct and now the Hop Beer Shop.
This is a cheery micropub in keeping with Essex traditions, with a Pale from Round Tower maintaining Chelmsford beer quality averages (NBSS 3.5). Fuss free pub cats, a good take-away selection, and good opening hours are further strong points.
The Hop Beer Shop is one of many independent businesses along colourful Moulsham Street, where all your needs can be met (apart from Taco Bell).
At the end of Moulsham Street, in the subsumed suburb of Widford, the Sir Evelyn Gray is the traditional back-street Grays local you go to Chelmsford for. Porcelain bunnies, bargain Mighty Oak IPA, Sleeper’s “Sale of the Century” playing, and chunky cobs. This is the sort of place where locals have never heard of Betty Stogs, and wonder when the Old Stockport is coming back on.
I loved it.