Sunday, 19 October 2014

BRAPA - North London (Arsenal away day)

Five new pubs ticked off yesterday - a new record for a non-official BRAPA day as Hull City were slightly unlucky not to hold on for a win at the Hemorrhoids Stadium.

We were in early and with Dad booking himself a ticket for a Turner exhibition at the Tate, I was at a loose end so took advantage using my new pub list, "London pre 11am openers".

480 - Argyll Arms, Soho - I left Dad on the Victoria line and alighted at Oxford Circus, Exit 8 Argyll Street which took me straight to this splendid old ornate Nicholson's House.  Ah Nicholson's, the higher class version of a Wetherspoons.  I have quite a love-hate relationship with them but love the fact they all seem to try and recreate a pub style and ambiance of centuries past.  There can't be many better examples than this, I sat in the saloon area but the pub was full of partitions and etched mirrors, chandeliers etc.  I had a high quality ale from Truemans, the historic Brick Lane brewery which closed, reopened and moved.  Staff weren't the warmest, friendliest bunch but it was early and I think my early arrival distracted them from stock-taking or whatever hard working pub people get up to at 10am on a Saturday.

Argyll Arms - A splendid Nicholson's and you can't always say that!

481 - Royal George, Euston - I was soon back at Euston despite a pointless change at Warren St and a traumatic top up of my Oyster card and had been intrigued to see a new Euston pub in the guide, just to the right of the station.  My main London pub aficionado Chris Douglas had displayed surprise at this pub's inclusion in the 2015 GBG but with a good range of quality ales, my London fields ale was lovely indeed and more proof that southern beer seems to be less flat and errm Southern, than it used to.  The pub was typical commuter fare, one room full of noisy people passing through as I found when I got chatting to some Wolves fans on their way to Millwall at the MOTD quiz machine.  The colourful haired barmaid was friendly, as I commented on the scary Hallowe'en decor, and Tom arrived to 'save' me from the Wolves lot.  We sat outside which only added to the 'commuter pub' air.  Still, better than the Doric Arch and Euston Flyer in my opinion.

One of the regulars in the Royal George

482 - Tapping the Admiral, Camden Town - With Dad's Turner exhibition ongoing and the movements of our other pub gang unknown, Tom came up with the genius idea to fit this much needed pub tick in, and what a pub it is!  After a short march from the station, we arrived at this unassuming proper old style boozer near some railway arches to find Ben propping up the bar.  The barman (a Villa fan) initially annoyed me with his anti-Hull City comments but I saw it was just Villa style banter (I hate that word) and he grew on me like a nice fungus, there was a friendly, self effacing Arsenal fan in too which is a rarity.  The pub was simple, bare boarding, one roomed (I'd been expecting something bohemian and hipsterish, couldn't have been further from the truth).  My Franklin's Stout, very peppery left quite an impression on me too.  Pub of the day?  I think it was.

Tapping the Admiral - unassuming in it's brilliance.

483 - Southampton Arms, Kentish Town -  ,This was our official pre-match pub which hilariously won our 2013/14 away pub of the season award despite only Chris D having set foot in it!  I could see why he was impressed, what an incredible range of ales, I counted 16 and didn't really take it all in.  Our gang were there tucked into a snug corner by the door.  This was more along the hipster lines in terms of staff and clientele, with some interesting food options on as Tom got a delicious looking Scotch Egg.  I like simple in my pub food.  However, circumstances stopped this from being as good as it should have been.  Ben's heart was still at the Admiral, Christine and Chris D were already thinking 'Pineapple', and with Dad worried about a repeat of QPR (walking the wrong way out of the pub didn't help), it felt disjointed and rushed.  Still, another pub I'd go back to if in the vicinity with nothing else to do!  Good stuff.

Southampton Arms : It does exactly what it says on the tin!

484 - Three Compasses, Hornsey - Our post match pub and credit must go to Tom for seeing this plan through in the midst of the post match crush, alternative suggestions and busy trains.  This pub was what I'd describe as a traditional London street corner one, big windows, lots of room despite being single roomed, had a sense of community but probably gets it's fair share of visitors like ourselves, being a shortish walk from the station.  Had another new wave London real ale, the now established Redemption Pale Ale is a really nice one when you've had a heavy day already.

Three Compasses : Post match fun in Hornsey

Overall, a really successful day in almost every way, further drinks enjoyed at Kings Cross in Parcel Yard and Queen's Head, back in time for our MOTD appearance and the Football League Show, so no wonder I didn't get up til half twelve.  16 pubs done for the month is a result I'd have taken when we started.  Of course, with Spain very much on the horizon, I've only got one more pub ticking opportunity in October, a week on Wednesday in Baildon, Bingley and maybe also Keighley  See you there!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

BRAPA - Barton on Humber, Alverthorpe and Wakefield

As I tried to shun thoughts of a potential BRAPA day wasted last Saturday, and how much I could blame Ben for a selfish house-moving session when I could be ticking six pubs instead of two, I decided to get over myself, be grateful for the invite, and enjoy the two pub ticks available in the interestingly strange Lincolnshire town of Barton-on-Humber.

With good local knowledge from Lincs based friends, Tom, Chris and Bernie, I completed a grueling 4 hour journey (including stops) with a short walk from the train station to my first pub since I'd finished my 2015 GBG cross ticking.

474 - The Sloop, Barton-on-Humber - After a few questionable reviews from friends, expectations were low as the four of us entered this pub, with a light and airy yet nautical ship like feel with each room (and there were many to choose from, each with their own character) named after a part of the ship.  We went for the Port Cabin where I enjoyed one of the two local brews, the Tom Wood's Bomber County which was very nice, as I admired the Delft tiling on the fireplace.  The gang formed an idea in my mind for a Grimsby/Cleethorpes BRAPA day in the New Year.  Most of the criticism of this place seemed to come from the fact that Greene King IPA had been their "guest" ale for a long time now.  For a local, I'd understand the frustration.  For me, a minor inconvenience,

Chris & Bernie race to the entrance of the Sloop

475 - Stables, Barton-on-Humber - With Ben putting on a good spread and some nice polypins of two Wold Top beers, Colin doing a cracking barbeque, and me getting the BRAPA lowdown on Macclesfield from Lizzy and boyfriend Tim, I was feeling guilty for my earlier selfish thoughts but was still relieved when Christine impressed on me a sense of urgency to get to this cosy little gem of a bar.  She'd co-written the beer guide entry, I think she has shares in the place too because she seemed delighted I was impressed with it!  How could I not be?  Split level, warm, good ambiance, good staff, great quality ale in the form of Oldershaw Volupta, I would rate it highly indeed for a place that wasn't a traditional boozer.  

All that remained was another lengthy train journey back (my train at Donny was delayed so I hopped on the next one I wasn't booked on, and avoided the guard with headphones and fake sleep!)  2 pints in York Tap surrounded by racegoing idiots was still nice, all in all a good day.

Racegoers can't spoil a Post-Barton 'Tapped Stogie' from Sheff Tap, in York Tap!

I also realised I'd inadvertently got another BRAPA tick earlier this year, an accidental pre-emptive one in the form of Grantham Wetherspoons, the Tollemache Inn (476) after a depressing defeat at Norwich last season.  I enjoyed a very quick pint of Adnams Broadside in this, one of the first 'Spoons opened outside London.

Fast forward three days.......

With my Autumn/Winter schedule now firmly in place and the realisation I hadn't done a West Yorkshire BRAPA since my supposedly final Bradford trip in mid August, I was back on the trail after work on Tues 14th Oct to try and get some more ticks in this most difficult of months.

477 - Alverthorpe Working Men's Club - Funny how things change.  In the 2014 GBG, Alverthorpe was simply listed under Wakefield but now suddenly a place in it's own right beginning with the letter "A", the sense of urgency for this tick was great!  After a scary walk from Westgate station where a Rooney lookalike eyed up my iPhone (I think I walked through a rough estate), I had reservations about this WMC but to my relief, only two other chaps (both young) were in this typically carpetted no nonsense WY club.  Some interesting stained glass was as exciting as it got, 2 ales on (my Stancil Blonde was decent).  If there was a guide for TV sound quality, this place would NOT be in it, awful effects on the 'Vintage TV' channel which made already dodgy music sound worse.  Overall though, this place lacked the X-factor.

Alverthorpe WMC, decent but lacking star quality.

478 - Fernandes Brewery Tap & Bier Keller - 2.1 miles of walking through spitting Wakefield rain right across town to the Kirkgate area needed to yield a reward, and wow what a place!  Up some stairs past the Bier Keller which only opens weekends, I found a dimly lit room full of a very diverse clientele, all wooden boards with old pub and brewery signs hanging from rafters in what felt a bit like an upstairs barn.  Oh yes!  Home to a great brewery too, owned by Ossett (another great brewery), both of their beer ranges featured plus many additional guests which was charitable of them.  Some students behind me were loving it, as were a rock n roll couple near the loos, whilst I sat near the other saddo old men having a nice quiet drink.  There was one negative though, and quite a big one, my Fernandes Nightjar most definitely on the turn, though it took me half a pint to be sure.  Shame as this could have been quite perfect otherwise!

Quality upstairs bar area, but my pint failed to hit the spot.

479 - Wakefield Labour Club (Red Shed) - I wasn't sure if I'd get here tonight as it only opens 7pm on weekdays, but with all that walking, it was 6:50pm when I left Fernandes so I'd timed it perfectly.  With the rain now teeming down, I was thankful of the short walk not far from Kirkgate station and was shocked to see what really did appear to be a red shed!  It didn't looked open but I pushed the door and was greeted by a jolly young barman and one regular, both getting a bit too excited by 'the One Show' doing a feature on birds of prey.  With the low ceiling and incredibly intimate nature, I joined in the One Show love-in with a local pint of Five Towns "Lost Hope", an absolute winner of a pint.  I know a friend of the brewer, but I promise I'm not biased.  I had no choice but to loosely join in the conversation, as the channel changed to an Austrian version of a Bundesliga match, a bit bizarre.  I thanked them very much, and went on my way but I'd love to bring my Dad here.  Pub of the day!

It really was, pretty much, a Red Shed!

I walked back to Westgate as the train options were more frequent and more direct, and was soon in Leeds and eventually York, pleased to have ticked three more pubs off as I settled down with some Paella and cuppa.  


So, 11 pubs done in October so far and if all goes well, three more on our Arsenal day on Saturday and I'll have exceeded my target of 12.  Just as well with a week in Spain slowing things down, but on my return just before Hallowe'en, I'm looking to squeeze in another West Yorks BRAPA  with Baildon, Bingley and possibly Keighley depending on post holiday tiredness.  November however, looks like the perfect opportunity for plenty of days out and pub ticks.  Nothing outlandish, all Yorkshire as far as I can see as I conserve funds for Xmas!  

See you soon, Si

Thursday, 9 October 2014

BRAPA - the 2015 Bookwork is complete

Tonight, as I half watched England labour to victory over a San Marino side probably a lot worse than Grimsby Town, I finished cross ticking the 2015 GBG to my previous 2014 version, and it predictably created difficult results.

I had been up to 548 pubs, but they have dropped to 473, meaning my projected date of completion is now September 2044.  I will be 65 years old!  The saddest thing is dropping below the 500 mark, having had that fantastic guard of honour in Appletreewick.

I've seen significant drops in both Merseyside and Lancashire, but the biggest culprit county is West Yorkshire, where unlike North Yorks which stayed the same, WY dropped from 88 to 69 with changes aplenty.

It will give me the motivation I need to get back on the West Yorks midweek trail from next Monday or Tuesday.  Towns I thought I'd seen the last of I'll now have to go back to include Baildon, Bingley, Bradford (again!), Hebden Bridge, Kirkstall and Otley whilst Halifax has gone all weird and encompassed loads of villages/suburbs miles away.

It is time to start thinking about some long distance trips again which may yield many ticks in one go.  Aberdeen in January anyone?

For now, I can only focus on Saturday's trip to Barton on Humber, where I'll get my first Lincolnshire tick since Sam Smith's excellent Berkeley Hotel in Scunthorpe, on a wet day before we won 5-1.

I'll review that and the WY duo/trio together.

We'll get there.  It might take years but I will do this if it kills me, which it probably will!


Sunday, 5 October 2014

BRAPA - Esk Valley & Whitby

The course of true pub ticking doesn't always run smoothly, and after a faultless adventure in the Dales last weekend, I should maybe have predicted that today (a less complex agenda in comparison) would prove difficult from start to finish.

It all started on a wet Saturday morning, waiting for a slightly delayed train from Middlesbrough which was only a problem in so far as it meant spending 9 minutes longer in this godforsaken town than necessary.

My first destination was Grosmont, which I was familiar with from a 'war weekend' a few years ago, but hadn't really thought about it in pub terms.  My plan was to walk from there 1.5 mile south to Beck Hole where I had a pub to tick off,  This was my first unfortunate moment of the day as the road was flooded.  In true hardcore Bear Grylls BRAPA spirit, I discarded shoes and socks and tried to wade through.  Slippy rocks left me almost falling in, and with a badly damaged toe and leaves stuck to my feet, I gave it up as a bad job.

Impassable, impossible - no chance of Beck Hole today.

At least I could go to pub two, the Crossing Club in Grosmont and regroup.  But sadly not, it was as shut as a very shut thing and only opens before 8pm on special occasions like, presumably, the war weekend which is next week funnily enough.  At least I had phone reception and after 20 mins sheltering from the rain and improvising, I hopped on the next train to Castleton Moor, figuring that this was the one place with two pub ticks.

Steams Trains but no Crossing Club at Grosmont

ESKDALE INN, CASTLETON MOOR - So, at nearly 1pm, soggy and with aching toe, I finally stumbled into my first pub of the day although there was no phone reception so was glad it was next to the station.  I probably wasn't in the best frame of minds, but this pub did little to help.  The barmaid was one of those tanned, over perfumed types, trying to cater for a huge group of young walkers who'd just taken over the pub,  Ever seen the Father Ted episode "Hell" where they get stranded in a caravan with a group led by Graham Norton?  Yes, it was just like this!  Plus my beer, the one interesting guest from Robin Hood's Bay was clarty, hard to drink and I wasn't even convinced it was well kept.

Eskdale Inn : Beware hellish walking groups and clarty ales

DOWNE ARMS - CASTLETON MOOR - After a short but painful walk into the village of Castleton (I got lost twice trying to find the right road), I staggered into this pub - much better, much more my kind of place, nice cosy low lit one roomed thin bar.  I thought the old skool landlady/barmaid was a mute  but she was just trying to eat her lunch whilst serving me a very nice pint of dark Magik, from Celtek brewery in Cornwall.  It travelled a lot better than the one from Robin Hood's Bay! A group of diners were loving th puddings on the menu, not that landlady seemed to share their enthusiasm.  A friendly postman came and and said hi just when I was thinking everyone in Castleton Moor was a bit ignorant.  In this nice atmos, my toe was improving ... well, until Leeds equalised against Sheffield Wednesday anyway.  I put my socks back on, and limped off!

Downe Arms : Enjoyable pub apart from Leeds equaliser and mute barmaid

My plan had been to walk into Danby and tick off the pub there, it was only 1.8 miles (easy for me normally), but with this toe plus a lack of phone reception, I was conscious of getting stranded and paanoid I'd miss one of the few trains, headed back to Castleton Moor station.  I had 30 mins wait so just sat and ate two pasties in the shelter, sadly this half hour was probably my highlight to date!

The original plan had been bus to Whitby from Egton but with everything changed, another fare was required as I hopped aboard the 2:51pm train to Whitby and was immediately gripped by the focused guard.

After a long delay waiting for a steam train at Grosmont, we arrived into Whitby a good 15 mins late, 6 pubs in the guide, I thought my day could really begin now.  I have never really 'done' Whitby before so wandered around some quaint old shops selling tourist tat before crossing the swing bridge and climbing the 199 steps to the Abbey, just because I wanted to test out the old toe!  It was chilly, windswept and very atmospheric up there so I took a few pics, took it all in, came back down the stairs, ready for ale.  Job done!

Whitby Abbey : windswept, but glad I made the effort

BOARD INN, WHITBY - Right at the bottom of the steps, lay this very atmospheric old pub with a slide door and a few separate areas was a bit touristy but a must visit for any errrm visitors!  The beer range was a bit limited but I enjoyed my Caledonian Autumn Red, and a few flies kept buzzing around my rotting corpse, but I found a room to myself.  From that developed a theme, whereby older men kept bringing younger blonde ladies in, hanging around for 2 minutes, and then leaving.  This happened 3 times before a jolly group sat next to me and loved that I was laughing at their anecdotes.  I then heard Hull City had won (first ever time on a BRAPA day?).  My mood was improving all the time!  Alas, it was time to move on.

My view of the board in from about 70 steps up to the Abbey

Just when I thought my earlier bad luck was now well and truly in the past, my GBG App tried to install a new version, got stuck, wouldn't let me into either version, so I now had no idea where Whitby's remaining 4 pubs were in relation to the town - modern technology eh, who needs it?

BLACK HORSE, WHITBY -   I wasn't expecting what came next.   This pub was full of drunken Middlesbrough men pretending to be Irish/Scottish, but just generally being nobs.  Also, I didn't realise there was a back bar with several interesting guest ales on, so ordered the only one I could see in the front, a nice but oft supped Adnams Broadside.  Despite the current atmosphere, you could tell what a stunning old pubs this was, multi-roomed, characterful, full of snugs and beams and other nice old pub things!  A local couple tried to impress on me how I'd just caught the pub at the wrong time, a young couple from Northampton were in the same boat, as we all took refuge in the back room and the local woman directed me back across the swing bridge to my next pub.

Black Horse : looks unassuming, but beware Boro men!

GOLDEN LION, WHITBY - Easy to find thankfully and impressive looking from the outside, this pub was reminiscent of the Blue Bell in York at first glance with a narrow passage leading to either a front or back room, it was obviously a beautiful old building.  Once again, it was packed full of drunken stags and cackling hens from various parts of West Yorkshire and the few sane people (like me) once again had to seek refuge in the corner.  I perched next to a couple from near Hull, he turned out to be a Hull City fan undecided about the 'name change' so I silenced him with a good pro "City Til We Die" rant which his wife agreed with, he seemed to think CTWD were all teenage trouble causers!  The only beers on were Black Sheep or Doom Bar (I went for the former), couldn't have been a much worse selection.  All things considered, it is great testament to what a great building this is that my experience here wasn't a total write off!

Golden Lion : looks amazing, failed to deliver,

STATION INN, WHITBY - Right by the train station (obviously, you might say), I wasn't expecting much knowing how the rest of the day had gone, but I was pleasantly surprised to find probably my pub of the day here.  I had a Summer Lightning but in true Whitby tradition, the more interesting unknown guest ales were hidden away (or I'm just unobservant) but it was a theme of the day.  A reassuringly calm ambiance, good comfort and warmth, and a deep chat with a Scottish woman about death and family (don't ask) made for a pretty convivial experience, especially after the last two pub experiences.

Station Inn : pub of the day, on a very trying BRAPA day trip

In the end, I felt I'd salvaged a pretty good day in trying circumstances and proved I can adapt my plans when needed!  I slept most of the journey back, no need for a York Tap pint, back in time for MOTD, the Football League show washed down with a KFC, then bed.


So, the 2015 GBG pub ticking goes on, am up to Yorkshire now so may need a new highlighter pen soon.  Too much on this week to do a midweek BRAPA and Saturday is likely to be a write off or a limited pub ticking experience due to Ben's housewarming.  I have a cunning plan to return to Grosmont on Sunday for the war weekend, let's face it, when else would I get that tick?  But if so, will I have the energy and can I combine it with Egton and/or a couple of other ticks?  There's a new pub in Boro' btw that requires attention.  And can I afford all this travel?   Well, stay tuned to find out.