A cold foggy day in the deliciously dead period between Christmas and New Year when London, emptied-out for the holidays, takes a breath and relaxes. My very favourite time of the year. And what better thing to do on such a day than jump on a tube and head north to beautiful Hampstead for a walk on the Heath and a visit to The Spaniards Inn?
Unfortunately, the fog obscured the views across London that are among the very best of the capital. You used to be able to see as far as Box Hill in Surrey from here in the old days when London was a horizontal development but that has been lost in the vertical sky-scraping city of today. So, without further ado, to the pub, which sat well in the foggy atmosphere. Its an old inn, claiming its origins in 1585 when Elizabeth I was on the thrown, three years before the Spanish tried to invade us with their Armada, and has a bit of a reputation. This is the pub where Dick Turpin and other highwaymen waited in the early 18th century to hold up the coaches heading to and from London (which was still two hours ride away from Hampstead in those days). The pub is featured in Dracula; one of the vampire’s victims is discovered nearby. Its also where The Pickwick Club take tea in Dickens Pickwick Papers (the inn had a tea garden at the time) and the author was one of many famous writers who drank here, including Keats and Shelley, who lived locally, and Byron who visited Shelley.
Its a wood panelled, fairly low celinged pub and, when I walked in, was packed to the rafters with people enjoying large and boozy lunches after walks of their own. A fire burnt in a very lovely brass fireplace that was quaintly decorated for the Christmas season and I was able to grab a pint of London Pride and a packet of cheese and onion crisps and find a seat in front of it. The beer was very well kept and went down singing hymns. People came in from the cold day, letting in a draught that made the flames dance, and stamped feet and stood in front of the fire for a while to thaw out before attacking the bar. A group of Japanese tourists took scores of photos of each other in front of the fireplace. The staff were friendly and super busy, transporting impressive looking plates of hearty food to the noisy tables that surrounded the room. I must have hit the busiest part of the lunch service as there were twenty or thirty people waiting for tables by the time Id finished my pint and the waitress told me that the wait for food would be 45 minutes. This helped me resist ordering a huge plate of food for myself and spending the rest of the afternoon in the pub demolising it and making a dent in the landlord’s supply of beer. With some reluctance, I offered my table to the Japanese tourists and headed out into the fog.
The pub is in Alan Reeve-Jones’ book London Pubs, of course, and remains rightly prized as one of London’s very finest establishments.