Brentford will never win prizes for her good looks, but like the plain girl at the prom, she knows she’s special. She has secrets and one day she’ll prove to all those showy local girls – Kew, Chiswick, Richmond and Ealing – that she’s made of worthy stock. She has no need for the frivolities of beauty, from her vantage point on the Thames she gets to look wistfully over the river to Kew Gardens, but she is no botanical, she is urban, and proud of her working heritage. At Brentford Dock, The Grand Union Canal leaves the Thames behind and begins it’s industrial trail up to the Midlands. Follow the canal footpath and you will pass into a surreal, hidden countryside that winds beneath the noise and speed of the oblivious M4 flyover. Keep walking and eventually you stumble across the flight of six locks at Hanwell, where you can stop off at The Fox (http://www.thefoxpub.co.uk/) for a well earned, generous Sunday roast (bisto-esque gravy, piles of lamb, cauliflower cheese, mash and roasties) or a fantastic pint of guest ale, before continuing for a short walk up to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel Aquaduct, where well worn grooves in the walls pay tribute to the friction of taught ropes that have tethered the canal boats to the horses that powered our industrial country and were the life blood of this great working canal for decades.
Brentford has long had a tradition for the gathering of folk, and its pubs are plentiful to accommodate this. Along the High Street there were once some 30 pubs, stretching from the notorious Three Swans – home of Brentford’s house of ill repute and accessible only by boat – to the Coach and Horses, situated next to the Earl of Northumberland’s city pad, Syon House. Now, sadly, there are only 10, still plenty enough to give your liver pause for thought on an infamous Brentford pub crawl. Meander off the main trail by Brentford’s award winning cocktail bar, The Firestation (http://www.the-firestation.co.uk/Cuban-Bar/about-us.html) and you enter the new world, the Brentford that Kew wishes it overlooked. Shiny, attractive apartments look out across the river and the fantastic, bright Poppadums (http://www.pappadums.co.uk/) serves its community spice and colour in the form of unusual Indian food in a large modern room overlooking the new development.
It is here you might stop, seduced by the clean and tidy Brentford, but the intrepid will march on along the river path and fall, bemused, upon cobbled streets, derelict warehouses, disused railway lines, vine-covered alleys, canal locks, and working boatyards. Crossing over a small iron bridge above a weir you are eventually spat out by the Brewery Tap (http://www.brewerytapbrentford.co.uk/) – do not walk by. This is a haven in a world of soulless pubs and bars. Inside it is not big or glamorous, but it is dedicated to live music. On Friday night sneak in early, find a seat in a corner and prepare to meet Brentford at its best. The night is hosted by John Coverdale and Johnny Bull who, with a knowing twinkle, play covers whilst the pub sings along. During the break, which lasts as long as there are volunteers, the local regulars take over and each sings their own piece of folk, rock or pop. The quality is varied but each is cheered generously with equal vigour. If you are bolstered by Dutch courage, then get up and join in. Johnny will accompany you on guitar if you feel unable to take it up yourself. After the efforts of a good sing-a-long you may feel peckish. There is food available in the pub, but wait for the fish man to arrive. As the door opens the smell of the briny wafts in and a small, stocky fellow follows with a basket brimming with fresh cockles, mussels and other concoctions that he prepares by hand. Let him open the plastic tub of cockles for you and sprinkle with vinegar and pepper. With a small plastic fork, throw back the tasty, sometimes gritty little morsels, sip your jug of beer and smile.
At its heart is the much-beloved football team at Griffin Park (http://www.brentfordfc.co.uk/page/Home), the only ground in the country with a pub on each corner. When Brentford are playing at home the Edwardian terraced streets teem with red and white clad supporters eating chips and gathering to sing rowdy songs outside each of the ground’s pubs. It’s an atmosphere you won’t want to miss – squeeze yourself through the exuberant crowds at the best of the ground’s pubs, The Griffin, and order yourself one (or two) carefully tended pints of London Pride, the flagship bitter from local brewers, Fullers. So you see, Brentford’s secret is its pubs and its people. The Griffin is a mirror to Brentford – here you can be assured of a friendly, if drunken, pat on the back and a vigorous handshake, just, err, don’t spill anyone’s pint.