Telford - the Promised Land?

You’ll recall that my personal holy trinity is proper football (not the sort played on TV by millionaires), proper beer (not pasteurised keg rubbish) & proper exploring (planned well in advance).

Well, as County aren’t allowed to play York or Shrewsbury any more, Telford is now the Promised Land.  

Not only is there the opportunity for a long lunch in Shrewsbury on the way, & to crash down in a pub near Telford’s ground that serves 7 real ales, there is also Oakengates a 5 minute train ride away, which boasts 3 Good Beer Guide pubs near the station, serving about 20 real ales between them.

So, as I’m sure you can appreciate, the trip to Telford is my most eagerly anticipated trip of the season & involves a 2 night stop-over.

I’m so excited Thursday night that I can’t sleep & end up in Stockport way too early for my train. But all is not lost - breakfast at the Plaza Cafe.
                                                         MIAH starts his day.........

What a hidden gem this is. The Plaza Cafe was restored to its former Victorian glory when the theatre was refurbished & all of the serving staff also wear Victorian garb. Throw in background music of things like Ave Maria & Smoke Gets In Your Eyes performed by classical voices backed by a full orchestra, & you start to get an idea of what it’s like in there - another world.

Sitting there waiting for your breakfast, overlooking Mersey Square, watching Stockport go about its business mid-Friday morning, is really quite a treat. I’m the youngest in there by at least a generation & bear in mind that I’m no spring chicken.

The Plaza Cafe dates back to a period when people took their time over everything, so it’s not the place to go if you’re in a hurry, but I’m not, so all is well. I daydream watching the bus ballet outside & trying to see if I recognise anyone waiting for the Chestergate to open. Is that Froggy? No.

That’s the best damn bacon butty I’ve ever had, which is quite something considering I’ve consumed 5,803 in my time. I find myself wondering how many pigs that is. 

Upon my return from Telford, I found out that the average pig provides about 320 rashers (bear in mind that only 15% of the carcass is used for bacon), so assuming 2 rashers per sandwich, we’re talking roughly 36 pigs. Not even half a herd (the average UK herd size is 75 pigs)! A bit disappointed really. Wish I hadn’t bothered finding out now.
Just to prick MIAH`s conscience- breakfast!

Anyway, back to the Plaza.

Everyone seems to know each other. Every time a waitress takes an order, she catches up with all the news from her customer, all of whom are regulars. In fact, I reckon that everyone visits in a very routine manner, i.e. the same day & time every week - religiously.

And there’s more.

They all sit at exactly the same table & order exactly the same food & drink every week. One lady is enjoying a nice glass of wine with her breakfast. Perhaps I should pop out & alert those waiting outside the Chestergate? Perhaps not.
Now steady on MIAH- there`s a train to catch!

I ponder how many weeks a regular visitor to the Plaza Cafe could miss before the they alert the authorities & reckon it is probably 2, as even old people go on holiday sometimes.

Is the barmaid (sorry, I mean waitress) coming on to me? No, just fishing for information. I think better of confessing that I’m on my way to Telford for 2 nights following the local semi-pro football team for fear that she may offer the services of her retired therapist friend sat at another table. I beat a hasty retreat.

The train trundles past EP. I suspect County will get found out tomorrow.

A lengthy lunch in Shrewsbury proves to be very enjoyable - as anticipated. Look, I can’t check into my B&B until 3pm, so what else could I do?

Nice little circuit taking in all the best ale Shrewsbury has to offer. The Salopian, Coach & Horses, Three Fishes & Vaults (inc. pork pie). The ale is all so good, that I wish I could stay longer, but that wouldn’t be wise.

For some reason, when I arrive at Wellington Station I need the toilet. Must be all that coffee I drank earlier? A swift pint at the Station pub, accompanied by a bag of jalapeno scratching (so wrong, yet so right) ensues.

Upon arrival at the B&B (Cock Hotel) I decide to delay checking in to try one of the 7 (count ‘em) real ales on offer. Then it’s off to Oakengates for the evening.
The Cock Hotel Wellington

For reasons as yet undetermined, my ability to navigate myself from A to B is rank bad, despite extensive training from the Scouts as a child & carrying maps.

Therefore, I can’t find the station. Yep, the same station that I arrived at a few hours ago. This leads to a further pint in the Wrekin Inn, but to be fair, this was on the list for tomorrow, so really I’m ahead of the plan.
Wrekin Inn.

There are 4 top-notch real ale boozers in Oakengates, all within a 5 minute walk of the station (make a mental note of this). The Crown Inn, Duke of York, Station Hotel & Old Fighting Cocks are duly picked off, the last one being regarded as the best, where I meet Oliver, the biggest dog I have ever seen - ever (he’s  horse-sized).

I can’t find Oakengates Station. This means a further hour in Oakengates. Last train back to Wellington.
Here it is  MIAH !

Can’t find my B&B, the Cock Hotel. Surprised? Didn’t think so.

At last I find it, but the key to the front door doesn’t work. I recall Liz (the landlady) emphasising that all I needed to remember was that the key with the black top was the one for the black door. I try it again.

Rats! I have no choice but to telephone (no door bell!) & ask to be let in. Well, this is their fault isn’t it? If they’d given me the right key.........  

Pete (the landlord) answers & says he’ll pop down to let me in. Calls back - where am I?

I realise that I’m actually stood outside of another pub, the Kings Head. I’ve been trying to gain entry to the wrong property. No doubt the police are on their way?

Pete wisely decides that it would easier to come & fetch me rather than try & explain how to find the Cock Hotel. I’m finally in my room. And relax...........

At breakfast, I’m understandably a source of amusement. Not least as Pete advises me that the Kings Head has been boarded up for some time. I suspect that he’s just yanking my chain & decide to check it out later.

It’s a mere 5 minute walk to Telford’s ground from the Cock Hotel & it’s a straight line, so even I can’t go wrong. I therefore pop to the stadium to see how the pitch is looking & hopefully pick up a programme to read in the pub before the game.

Many of the entrances to the ground are open, so it’s easy to get a photo of the pitch for Hedgegrower. The pitch looks fine. I was secretly hoping to help get the pitch ready & be in the local papers etc. but no dice.

I collar someone official-looking & ask if the programmes have arrived. He looks at his watch. He looks at me, probably deciding whether to have me sectioned. “At least 2 hours mate”, he says. “It’s half-eleven” he emphasises, suggesting that there must be something wrong with my watch.

I pick up the local papers in order to soak in the big-match build-up & settle in at the Cock Hotel to await the Blue Army. I’ve also checked out the Kings Head, which is a mere 2 minutes walk away & boarded up, just as Pete said. How embarrassing.

Apparently, much of the Blue Army is being “supervised” by the local police at the station. Nevertheless, by 1.30pm the pub has filled up nicely, by which time I’m about half way through the ales on offer.

There is something strangely satisfying about being able to pop up to your room & use the facilities a mere 15 minutes before kick-off.

The chicken balti pie is magnificent! But what has happened to the pitch? It looked fine earlier this morning.

Kick-off is delayed by 10 minutes due to the late arrival of some of the Telford players. Surely we should be awarded the game?

You’ll have already read Hedgegrower’s account of the game, but was the referee old enough? She looked about 12. I gather that this is the lady that Gray & Keys were sacked for slagging off. In my opinion, it was one of the better refereeing performances of the season.

Telford are probably good value for the win, but hey, County are a work in progress & if we can just keep the nucleus of the team together, surely next season will be worth looking forward to?

A hailstorm marks the end of the game, which is thankfully over before the short trek back to the Cock Hotel for the post mortem. The Blue Army are generally in good spirits, but it is frustrating to note that having already lost more games than any team qualifying for the play-offs in recent years, the season is effectively over (assuming the 2 wins required to avoid relegation are secured of course).

The Blue Army slowly disperse. Some appear to be planning a few beers in Shrewsbury on the way home, & why not?

I’m off to try a highly recommended balti-house in Wellington tonight. Bump into the Ipswich Hatters as I’m leaving, who are also staying over in Wellington, albeit not at the Cock Hotel. We arrange to meet up after we’ve eaten, balti not being their thing.

As it takes a full day to get anywhere from Ipswich, the Ipswich Hatters regularly stop over when following County, so our paths have crossed many times over the years, often at breakfast.

In order to maintain the highly entertaining nature of the trip to date, the manager at the balti-house deposits my starter onto the table minus the plate & the mint sauce is all over the floor. His feet go completely from under him & he ends up prostrate on the floor, with his feet facing me. This could have been a lot worse, but all I suffer is a few splashes of mint sauce on my shoes.

They are continually apologising during my meal, but I’m more concerned that he is ok as that was quite a tumble. Bet he was sore Sunday morning.

Anyway, I get back to the Cock Hotel about 10pm, but there is no sign of the Ipswich Hatters. Never mind, I’ll probably see them again in Leamington. Staying at a pub with some much ale to try seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’m now struggling to stay the course.

However, I decide to battle on as I doubt I’ll be back next year due to the likelihood of Telford being promoted. I’m already looking forward to 2016 though!    

Let it be known that these views (& behaviour) are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the collective views of Help the Hatters.


  1. This is brilliant. All the right ingredients for following County. Proper beer, proper pubs, getting lost, belting curry and with the bonus of a comedy waiter !


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