Sunday, 30 November 2014

BRAPA - More from Manchester

It was my birthday last time we went to Manchester.  On that day, I had a fairly productive pub ticking day (despite Ben's best efforts to sabotage things / get pre-emptive ticks - delete as appropriate) followed by a spineless defeat at the hands of Man Utd, so it was almost reassuring to see how little can change in the space of six months.

Like at Burnley, the main result of the day was two new BRAPA ticks.....

513 - Wharf, Manchester - My first venture to the Deansgate area of Manc was much needed, as this is where the majority of the remaining pubs are.  Along with travel companions Tom and Dad, we eventually negotiated our way across the canal without swimming(!) and dodged some angry Canada geese to find our way into this modern, clean, airy conversion of a huge warehouse type thing - you'll all be familiar with the kind of place I mean.  A huge range of beers was served by youthful trendy staff, though most of the customer's at this time were gnarly middle aged Manc men.  My Liverpool Styrian Organic didn't quite hit the spot, didn't seem totally fresh but I could have been suffering "first pint of the day" syndrome.  Upstairs were loos and a non real ale bar, outside a huge patio area by the main entrance.  Though I enjoyed my brief stay on the whole, I shuddered to think what it would be like on a balmy summer's Friday night.

Approaching the Wharf, a solid if not spectacular additon to the Manc GBG scene

514 - Knott Bar, Manchester - Some pub ticks are real 'monkey off the back' stuff for me, and this was a good example of that.  Our friends the Andrew's have been raving about this for as long as I've been stuck in Briton's Protection, and despite my initial reservations about the frontage (but it calls itself a bar so I can't complain), I could now see what all the fuss was about.  Location is a big thing, certainly for pre-match pubs, and it's handiness for Deansgate (and therefore Oxford Rd) make it a great bet before Man Utd.  And what's more, it had no footbally element other than ourselves.  Another wide but more exciting range of ales were served by friendly, polite staff.  My beer from innovative local brewer First Chop was coffee and passion fruit IPA heaven, my Brother Rabbit from Thornbridge top quality and slipped down easily, and my Ginger Marble warming and wholesome.  Despite the layout and 'bar' style, it was very warm and homely which isn't always the case, and although food was on offer and being ordered en masse by the middle aged clientele, it didn't dominate.  Yes, all in all, an excellent Manchester real ale establishment.  

Dad and Tom enjoy some ale and blackcurrant action in Knott Bar

Had I known how delayed my train home would be well in advance (or indeed, got out of Old Trafford at anything like a sensible hour), I'd have easily got a post match tick or two but it wasn't to be.  Three now remain in Manc - Molly's House between Piccadilly and Oxford Rd, the Soup Kitchen near Piccadilly and Cask Bar near Deansgate.  The two Salford pubs look quite handy too.

For now, I will focus on a hectic start to December with a bit of Pontefract style action tomorrow, hopefully a few new Liverpool ticks on Wednesday, before an exciting 6 pub day in Macclesfield on Saturday.  Bring it on!


Friday, 28 November 2014

BRAPA : the archives (41-50)

As people keep asking me what my first BRAPA pub tick was (an impossible question because I've been visiting pubs since 1997 and drinking ale since 2001), I am doing my best to find the answer by going through all the 2015 GBG pubs which I did in the long, distant, and sometimes, more recent past......

41. LOUNGE, Plymouth - Visited some time after 12 noon on 9th December 2006, this could be the earliest example of a pre-emptive tick.  I'd had a very jolly experience in the very local Artillery Arms and the locals recommended me this place, so I thought despite it not being in the new 2007 guide, I'd give it a try pre-match.  It was very lounge-like as a matter of fact, a little too geared up for food and diners, who never really arrived.  I drank the only interesting guest I could see, a well kept Late Red by Shepherd Neame before a new bunch of Plymouth fans took me under their wing, and on to a pub which didn't even sell cask beer, but at least had a screen showing a live match.  Very friendly bunch, one of many superb experiences in Plymouth.

42. MARKET TAVERN, Durham - How many times I've been in here I cannot be sure, but it featured on my initial 2002/3 crawl with John, when his Greek-crush Jacinta randomly popped up in the town with her friends, and a more recent experience where I have vague recollections of loud hen type women, and barrel shaped tables impossible to sit at full of torn up beer mats, sticky old beer stains, and people ordering food in a chaotic manner.  In fact, beer aside, I always found it a bit like the latter experience and cannot say it is my favourite pub in this fine town with a cathedral (city you might argue).

43. GOLDEN EAGLE, Southsea (Portsmouth) - 22/11/2008 and one of the craziest travelling days in history as a replacement bus was required to take us from York to somewhere further south but worse on a freezing 6am start.  Luckily, we met our friends in Victoria station and there was much beer on the train meaning i wasn't too strung up about being late for pre-match pubs.  As it was, we changed our plans to go to a pub nearer Fratton Park (this one) and I was quite worse for wear when we got there.  Dad later told me the pub had a very aggressive atmosphere so I'm glad I was unaware, as we sat in a far corner and enjoyed what we could of a shortened pre-match session.  This may also be the pub we went back to post-match when it was busy and the landlord told me "no hats allowed".  It had been raining so I protested I'd only just got in, his reply "well you are inside now so hat off!"  Unimpressed, I took my ale outside and phoned my Mum so I had someone to sound off to, before a similarly chaotic journey home involving top trumps and Billy the tiger mascot hiding a sleeping Chris Irvin's contraband beer.  All in a days work!

44. JUNCTION INN, Southampton - 29/11/2011 and you can generally rely on the southern supporters to pick a good pub for themselves (though they are rather smug so I'd never admit it publicly) but this wasn't a great example.  We'd been having a lovely cosy session in the South Western Arms and whilst I understood Chris Douglas wanting to join his buddies, why Mark and Ben felt the need to follow to this Greene King only pub left me bewildered.  Anyway, we did so for BRAPA purposes, it was a good move.  The barstaff were friendly although Mark's "I'm a Northerner conquering the south" attitude alienated him a bit even if he was trying to be tongue in cheek.  I stayed in the far bar away from the SS, it was a very nice pub in many ways but GK + SS stopped it being as good as the previous one.

45 - KINGS FEE, Hereford - My imagined utopia that was Hereford on my little jaunt probably in the spring of 2007 really saw come down to earth with a bang the second my train arrived.  It wasn't helped that amongst the grey leaden skies and concrete on a busy main road was this identikit 'Spoons house.  The plan was to visit this pub first as I'd need some tea.  I sat on a high stool in the centre of the pub as it was 'chucking out of work time' and it felt too busy on my own to order some food, so I supped my standard 'Spoons pint and made a mental note that I'd need to eat later.  End of story!

46 - THREE HATS, Milton Regis - 5th October 2013 saw the infamous letter "Q", a crazy sojourn down to Kent and the longest of all A-Z days.  Having negotiated Queenborough and Sheerness, I found myself alighting the train at Sittingbourne and a mile or so walk later, I was in the little suburb of Milton Regis where I stumbled upon this excellent little pub.  Not a CAMRA member at the time, the landlady encouraged me to "lie" about it so I received the discount, a lovely Portobello Pale from that northern outpost of London!  When Mr landlord started chatting to me about ale, I didn't know whether I had to keep up the CAMRA member pretense so I did but felt guilty.  The locals were squashed against the bar so I couldn't see all the ales on, they were watching some sporting event of little interest.  The rest of the pub seemed to have to negotiate boxes and general clutter but rather than feeling it was untidy, it just made it feel like a chaotic front room.  There may also have been a dog that kept trying to escape, though I could have made this bit up.

A perfect, discounted pint in the Three Hats, but shhh don't tell anyone!

47,  SPORTSMAN, Croxley Green - Ahhh, Watford away.  So often the scene of our gang struggling to find somewhere decent to drink in the vicinity.  This was one of our more outlandish attempts and really wasn't worth it in my opinion.  Stuck in the Met Bar at Baker Street, we lost Tom I think until we got here.  Despite a chilly day, the pub lacked comfort so we sat outside anyway but even then, my Tring "Side Pocket of a Toad" was poor quality and interestingly, I've never had it since despite seeing it on many occasions because of this experience (having "Toad" in the name doesn't help).  Only some top bus work from our gang (I think Ben mainly) got us into Watford for kick off,  20th Oct 2007 was the probable date for this one.  

48. LOWER RED LION, St Albans - Sat 29th Apr 2006 and Chris Irvin encouraged Dad and myself to join him and Tom in a St Albans overnight trip before a Watford game on the Sunday lunchtime which, like all good Watford away games, finished in a hopeless 0-0 draw.  What Chris hadn't mentioned, there was a beer festival on in said pub that night!  Did he really know?  Was it also a coincidence when he encouraged our friends from Barton to stay over another year, there was also a beer festival on here?  Or just that we always play Watford at the end of the season when this pub hosts beer festivals?  It didn't matter.  A chaotic experience ensued.  Dad and I had already done two St Albans GBG 2007 pubs which I maddeningly can't remember before we were sat in the sloping garden here (I woke with grass stains, mud and beer all over my trousers!)  We then were coaxed into a loaded game of monopoly by a right weirdo.  Dad reckons it was fixed anyway.  But he was more drunk than me, hence his 'orange juice' session in the Estcourt Arms the following day! 

49.  WEST HERTS SPORTS CLUB, Watford - A rare example of Watford away going well!  I had my doubts in the build up, as I always do with these 'clubs' where you have to be signed in as a guest.  It all worked out well, Mark Bainton was at his ambassadorial best and we were soon mixing with locals and staff, gorgeous weather meant sitting out on the green area where people played cricket and ball games with dogs, we drank a green coloured real ale (something about spring lambs) and got very much sunburnt to boot, especially poor Ben who was multi-coloured by the train journey home.  A Watford experience never bettered,  I think we are talking 9/4/11.  Did we return the following season?  If so, I cannot quite recall it anywhere near as well. 

50. MAN OF KENT, Rochester - "In Rochester my dear, where the UKIP do sit" to slightly paraphrase a song by one of my favourite bands, the Singing Loins, who are local to the Medway region.  This was the reason for my visit on letter "Q" day and buoyed by a good experience in Milton Regis, I got chatting to two Gillingham fans off to a match who gave me the lowdown on Rochester's real ale.  This came highly recommended and was pub of the day, and to be honest, one of those real standout pubs.  If I visited better in my A-Z, I cannot recall.  It was a quiet afternoon but friendly barman helped me choose from the exciting range of ales, I loved it so much, I stayed for an extra half and read a bit of my PG Wodehouse book, exchanging a few pleasantries with the locals.  The pub was one of those no nonsense, non foody, wooden boarded serious drinkers places, but comfy too.  Basically, the perfect hubbub and atmosphere. 

Locale pint of Silver Top from the Old Dairy brewery in The Man of Kent

Well, thanks for staying tuned.  50 archive pubs down, plenty more where they came from.  We'll be delving into Lancs and Leics next time out.  But now to get some shut-eye pre-Man Utd defeat.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

BRAPA - Cas Vegas and North Feath'

West Yorkshire midweek pub ticking doesn't get much better than this, after a wonderful evening in the Castleford area.  Despite people at work telling me the town was rough, scary or just plain cheesy, I found the locals friendly in a down-to-earth, no nonsense way, and the pubs, excellent.

Another top poster from the BRAPA team - note the Cas Tigers colours.
After a short train ride from that mystical Leeds platform 17A, I was soon at Cas and hadn't bought a ticket on principle having seem a York 'artist' effortlessly ticket dodge the previous evening and I was still smarting at how the guard let him get away with it, and his boasting afterwards.  Luckily, my Leeds-Cas trip was free as I wasn't gripped at either end! And no, I didn't feel guilty.

A 'white-knuckle' bus ride followed, the kids at the back treated it like a rollercoaster, an old man with a 4 step ladder muttered to himself, I was just plain terrified.

510 - Bradley Arms, North Featherstone -  You might think, is Featherstone really big enough to have a 'north'?, well I can inform you that it does, and that it seems to be a place in it's own right far removed from actual Featherstone.  It also houses a cracking two roomed pub with great historical significance, the first ever talk on workers rights was held here.  After an awful day at work, it seemed fitting.  Only two guest ales were on but the friendly, characterful barmaid helped me decide on the Thunderbridge Stout with the warning "don't blame me if you hate it!"  It was superb, and from a new Yorkshire brewery called Small World(?)  I was sat in the area which can be best described as 'sports bar', the other two locals glued to boring Zenit St Petersburg v FC Porto - the weather was the only link to North Feth' that I could see.  I bonded briefly with the duo over the amount of yellow cards administered, but it was time to move on.

Power to the workers!  Bradley Arms, excellent pub
Strangely, the daytime bus service between Cas and Feth stops about 6pm but the evening 177 service doesn't kick in until after 7pm.  I was stuck in this hour, unwilling to wait, so it was taxi time again.  My driver was a knowledgeable chap as far as local pubs went, even if he did tell me I was too posh and "broken" was pronounced "brokken".  You'll see why next Monday.....

511 - Glass Blower, Castleford - You know you are having a good night when a Wetherspoons turns out to be a cracker, but this one did!  After some recent average 'Spoons experiences in Brighouse and Huddersfield, I was fearing the same identikit pub but a warm homely atmosphere in this former post office helped, plus another great Elland beer, called "Catch the Rainbow", served rather fittingly by a trendy, camp young barman.  In fact, all the staff seemed excellent.  I found a booth in the raised area and read how the people of Castleford used to like glass blowing, hence the pub name.  My comment to this effect was favourited by the 'National Glass Blowers Association' on Twitter.  It really was one of those nights.  The beer quality was as good as you could ever expect anywhere.

High quality 'Spoons in Cas?  You'd better believe it!
512 - Junction, Castleford - A 5 minute walk took me to Cas's most celebrated real ale outlet, the Junction which many people had raved about to me.  In the recent Beer magazine, landlord Neil had even been featured as he serves local ales directly from wooden casks, or "the wood" as the experts say.  Only 2 of the many handpumps were in use on my visit, but the 5.7% Coda from Ridgeside was warming and powerful.  I needed warming as the pub was freezing, save for two real fires.  I huddled around one with three elderly men, the oldest one Jim is apparently the best "proddler" in the business, which means he was good at keeping the fires going.  There was some murmurings that the landlord was lazy in this department.  A young man came in, and his elders asked him about the modern obsession with tattoo's as he had plenty.  His response (and quote of the night) "they are like marmalade, you either love them or hate them!"  And on that note, it was time to get the train back to York, via Leeds of course.

Warming fire at the Junction thanks to Jim the Proddler.
So, the letter "C" is now complete (Cullingworth done back in the summer)  and we move swiftly on to "D" and in particular "Darrington" as soon as next Monday.  This means a trip to Pontefract so I'm staying in the same area.  Can it match Cas night?  It'll do well if it gets close.

Page 551 of the 2015 GBG complete - all going to plan.

Before that, 2 or 3 pub ticks in Manchester pre the Hull City game on Saturday.  December is looking like a predictably busy month with xmas nights out, football, funeral etc etc so the BRAPA trips may have to be shuffled around a bit.  January is even harder to plan due to one thing, the FA Cup.  A third round tie at home to Ipswich and I'll be gallivanting off to some BRAPA venue or other, but Concord Rangers away and I am practically there!  Please let's get knocked out early this year.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

BRAPA - the Nidderdale day.

"Once more unto the BRAPA breach I go", as Shakespeare nearly said, as I arrived in Harrogate on a foggy but mild Saturday morning awaiting my bus up through Nidderdale.   Firstly, there was time to stock up on pork pies to get me through the day and watch the tail-end of a children's christmas choir, but as we sing at Hull City "you've only got one song!"

506 - Royal Oak Inn, Dacre Banks - After a trouble free journey on the number 24 bus, I was at my first venue and was surprised to see how busy it was with locals and walkers alike, having a drink, whilst some staff planned some kind of "pub strategy" business meeting on a laptop in the same quiet room that I had discovered.  This was a nice homely pub, cosy with a great fireplace that two walkers complained "should be in at this time of year, very stingy" though it was warm enough to me.  It had a separate food area called the 'green room' or something ominous, all these North Yorks country pubs seem to have these food areas.  My pint of Rudgate Viking was good though wish I'd spotted the two guest IPA's a bit sooner.  An elderly couple chatted to me about BRAPA and declining beer quality of standards such as Deuchers, Pippin, Guzzler and the like.

A busy, bustling start to the day in Dacre Banks

507 - Wellington Inn, Darley - A mile and a half walk followed including the obligatory "no pavement" section, included obviously just to annoy me.   As one of the only 'non-diners' in the pub, I wasn't allowed to enjoy the splendours of 'baronial hall' style room with huge fireplace (this time, the fire was in).  However, with the sun streaming through the windows of the front bar, a bit of Inspiral Carpets on the jukebox, my extortionate £3.45 Golden Pippin was almost enjoyable, plus the landlady started talking to me a bit which was nice as I always get a bit paranoid that people who come into pubs like this with the sole intention of drinking are treated like second class citizens!  The free wi-fi added a bonus point, but the lack of phone reception found me walking about a mile to the end of the huge carpark to finally ring for a taxi.  I really regretted not just walking into Darley for a bus, what was I thinking as this particular firm fleeced me for the fare.  

What is that comin' over the hill, is it a GBG pub?

508 - Station Hotel, Birstwith - My mood lightened as soon as I walked into this lovely little place.  Despite being recently refurbished into what seems to be a fairly light, modern style, it retains it's separate drinking areas and I sat in a kind of library, games room type place with a really nice feel.  This was also my favourite ale of the day, a Rudgate Pumpkin Ale which also had lots of clovey, nutmeggy elements to it, The staff and locals seemed friendly through the little contact I had, I'm sure I recently read about a murder in this village, surely not!  I had ages to wait for my bus and wasn't prepared to taxi it again after the last total waste of money, so I nursed my pumpkin ale and walked slowly, very slowly to the bus stop.

Amazing pumpkin ale in a light, friendly pub.

509 - Harrogate Tap, Harrogate (obviously) - Well, this place certainly wasn't here last time I came to Harrogate, but what a fine addition.  Very much like Sheffield Tap of all the taps out there, it has an entrance directly onto the platform to York but also as a two minute walk from the bus station.  I wish all BRAPA ticks were this easy.  It was busy and very female predominated, wish always scares me about every time I come to Harrogate, making me feel like Dougal in Father Ted - "women!" "where??"  The beer range was typically interesting and vast, my Outlaw passion fruit flavoured ale was wonderful, and a big group left in the side room just as I arrived, stopping me from getting piles off the very hot radiator.  There's plenty of very good pubs in Harrogate but you'll do well to get further than this.

Another top Tap, quite a revelation.  

I'd considered getting another bus up to Ripon where I need 5 pub ticks, but with a heavy Thursday just gone and Boroughbridge coming up (which I can combine with Ripon), I left it and was so sensible, I didn't even have a post-BRAPA York Tap pint.

It has been a good November in terms of pub ticking, it could have been even better, but with Castleford on Tuesday and a couple of new Manchester ticks on Saturday all being well, we are not finished yet! 


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

BRAPA - Huddersfield and Brighouse

New pub ticks have not quite been has prolific as I'd have liked over this past week but on the good side, I achieved two in Huddersfield before Friday's gig and two more tonight in Brighouse.  I took pity on Dad last Saturday (he's been doing a lot of Bridlington travelling recently) so Sheffield was cancelled was favour of an enjoyable (but barren) local York crawl.

502 -  CHERRY TREE, Huddersfield - My view here is that for a 'Spoons pub in the wonderful real ale town of 'Uddersfield to get in the GBG, it must be good.  This was hard to fully put to the test on a busy Friday evening, but I was impressed with the barmaid serving 4 people at once (might be a record) and remembering how much change i needed.  I'd forgotten my 50p off CAMRA vouchers, that might really have bamboozled her.  The beer quality was excellent and they had a real emphasis on the new American craft craze but at least many of these were handpulled.  My Mordue Americana was black in colour but still too powerfully hopped.  Overall, this was pretty standard Spoony fare but with my sister's train delayed, it was time to take advantage of my spare hour.

The Cherry Tree (honestly!)

503 - HDM BEER SHOP, Huddersfield - HDM stands for Hand Drawn Monkey, one of the more exciting new breweries I've discovered over the past two years, and luckily for me, their brewery tap in Huddersfield was a new addition to the 2015 GBG, and what a good one too.  The bar was one of the highest I've ever seen, not good for a short arse like me, and two of their beers plus two guests and a ridiculous amount of bottles made for a mouth watering feast.  The barmaid (who seemed to be wearing her Dad's sweater) was nice and quirky with her "Movember didn't work for me" gag.  There were some stools round here but it was the left hand side of the pub that had settees and comfier seats.  Food in cabinets like special hot dogs looked tempting, there was also a degree of hipster student about the place with art competitions and the like advertised on clipboards, but it stayed on the right side of pretentious.  I would go back.

HDM Beer Shop - quirky, fun and great hand drawn ales

It'd be nice to think the The Parish, where I saw the bands, could be a pre-emptive pub ticks with great ales on like Tim Taylor Landlord, Golden Pippin and Magic Rock guests plus usual a music themed one (i.e. a collaboration between a brewery and a famous band).   The ale was good, so come on Huddersfield CAMRA, give it a chance.

Me blending into the furniture at the Parish.

Tuesday night saw me back on the West Yorkshire BRAPA trail with Brighouse next on the A-Z list having completed Bradley last time out.  This was only a two pubber so even though I wavered with an additional trip to either Hipperholme or Kirkstall, I remained sensible and got back in time for the pointless England v Hull City's reserve left back friendly match.

Another top poster effort which didn't get the social media recognition it deserved.

504 - RED ROOSTER, Brighouse - Technically half a mile north of the town in the area of Brookfoot, I walked along a canal/busy main road to get here.  This was built in 1900 for the local wharf men who ferried coal around and such like.  Whatever the details, I was soon reaping the benefits over 100 years later with a stunning range of ales.  I chose a Welsh beer with a New Zealand flavour, not what you'd expect to find here.  It was a quiet locals pub on my visit, barman was functional but the locals lacked that friendly spark I'd seen in say, Denholme, but then with my green action man jacket on again, it was probably just as well.  I joined two less locally local men in watching a bit of Sky Sports News, but this was otherwise a very traditional pub.  Worth the short walk from the town.

It's a Cock-a Doodle-Doo from me at the Red Rooster

505 - RICHARD OASTLER, Brighouse - Back in the town centre, my foot having finally proved it's fitness after a more sustained recovery spell.  Although some young lads were being escorted into a police van just outside on my arrival, it didn't affect my entry to my second new Wetherspoons in 5 days.  The blonde bubbly barmaid served me an excellent local ale from Elland based on the 90's rave scene, but did I spot a hint of hatred in her eyes as I passed her my 50p off CAMRA voucher?  Probably not.  Downstairs, this 'Spoons was the kind of unremarkable lacking in any real character place, similar to the one in Ryde IOW slagged off by the 2014 GBG I visited in May.  However, this was a former Methodist chapel and there was a stunning circular top level area, which still has the original pews.  Sadly, the general public aren't allowed up there.  What a waste!

I was home nice n early for fish & chips and the boring football, but I was so close to hopping on a Headingley train to get my final Kirkstall trip.  It is an easily attainable one though so I'm sure I'll get lots of opportunities.  

Attention now turns to Saturday's North Yorkshire outing with Birstwith the main reason for my trip up to the Nidderdale area, including Harrogate, but I'm looking for 5 or 6 new pubs but only have 4 at present.  So a bit of 'book-work' is needed before then.  More archives coming soon....


Sunday, 16 November 2014

BRAPA : the archives (31-40)

In the fourth edition of my "back-book" of 2015 GBG pubs visited from years gone by, I'll be looking to see if any of these 10 were first visited before November 2001 which is the 'oldest' date so far.....

31. OSTRICH INN, Peterborough - 19th Jan 2013 and we skated along icy, snow covered roads to this 11am opener to the surprising news that the game was going to be ON (I've never seen my friend Tom so lost for words as at this moment).  I often think what makes a genuinely great pub is the licensee and this landlord (Irish?) was a friendly, enthusiastic, straight talking chap who really made an effort with us, presumably impressed we'd braved the weather as away fans and got here so early.  The range and quality of beers was jaw droppingly good, loads of local breweries I'd never heard of.  The pub was all wooden, boarded proper boozer type, yet warm and homely at the same time.  Another great reason to come to Peterborough, a fine real ale town indeed.

My snowy walk to the wonderful Ostrich Inn

32. SWAN INN, ULVERSTON - December 2013 and this was the final real ale pub of my letter "U" A-Z day before we retired somewhere more terrible to watch an appalling Hull City 0-0 Stoke on the TV.  This was our favourite pub of the day, great range of ales served by a largely functional local chap, they had a lot of beers on from Sheffield, Abbeydale and the linked Dr Morton although my choice didn't hit the spot, I think I was just unlucky.  We were drenched by this stage and with the TV's having a strange green hue, Garth Crooks on Final Score looked amusingly like Baron Greenback from Dangermouse.  If I'd recommend one pub in Ulverston, this would be it,

33. FORTESCUE HOTEL, PLYMOUTH - Ahh, mine and Dad's "original" in terms of Plymouth and real ale.  We arrived here for the first time on the morning of 12th Jan 2002 and were relieved to find it better than our rather dubious evening session pubs the night before.  It had a rather interesting mixture of beers on, from Orkney Skullsplitter which had travelled remarkably well and may be the least Locale ale I've ever had!  The locals were interested in a guest ale from Yorkshire called Black Sheep - oh dear.  Spurred on by this experience, we both returned for our pre match session 27th August 2005.  This was even better with the cricket on and England suddenly having a real purple patch against the Aussies.  Wickets fell for them left, right and centre, and old locals were racing from one end of the pub to the other high fiving each other.  That was my abiding memory of that day!  My next visit was on Friday 8th December 2006, all on my tod this time.  There was some kind of disco club night going on downstairs so I avoided it like the plague and sat with the "older crowd" upstairs and got lots of sympathetic looks from middle aged women!  It could be my imagination but the entrance to the ladies toilets also gets you to the beer garden and the basement.  Interesting pub.  My 4th and final visit to date saw it was our Welly gang designated pre-match venue 2nd Feb 2008 where Ben was so tired, he put his feet up on the bench seat and pretty much slept the entire 2 hours we were there.  I just kept drinking, so many guest beers on, so little time to try them but I'm always on form in Plymouth, must be the Devon air.  No wonder I needed Colin to rescue my bag and help me do a Sainsbury's shop later on!  A fine pub.

34.  HALF MOON, Durham - It is a Durham institution, I went on my first Durham crawl with my guide John sometime in 2002/03 but I'm ashamed to say, apart from the fact the bar is shaped like a crescent, or a half moon if you will, I cannot remember anything about the inside.  John and I popped in after our disappointing Co Durham BRAPA crawl of June just to prove some pubs in the region have a great range of ales, and we weren't disappointed.  We sat in the large outdoor area at the back where the river is just over the back wall, it was packed as people got tanked up pre England v Uruguay and my Scottish ale (almost LocAle I said, which upset John!) was great quality.

35. OLDE TROUT TAVERN, Southend - The little acorns of BRAPA were probably forming in my mind when we arrived to this superb "away pub of the season" contender in January this year.  It wasn't the warmest or cosiest of starts as Dad, myself and Mark were in earlier, followed by Ben and the entire "City Til I Die" crew, as I joked that Dr Allam need only drop a bomb on this pub if he wanted to win his silly Hull Tigers campaign.  I'm glad he didn't for many reasons, and mainly they've already demolished the Cork n Cheese (I think) so this is the natural replacement as top Southend pub.  Tim'rous Beastie by Mighty Oak was the pick of the many beers, but I even enjoyed a pint of cider.  Live football was soon on tele, Chris Douglas was ordering food, and the pub was in full swing.  A great pre match experience.

36. KINGS HEAD, Bristol - My birthday a few years ago and Dad and I were down on the Friday night to "make the most of it" and in a rare foray into town away from our beloved cider pub The Orchard, we came to this historic pub with it's exposed beams and timbers.  I'd read it had featured in many TV programmes like House of Elliot and probably Casualty somehow, and just like York's more famous, touristy pubs, we were greeted by an incredible lazy barman who basically agreed to serve us when he was ready, which seemed to be when he'd finished reading his paper.  Well, the beer range wasn't that groundbreaking anyway and Dad was silently fuming at the service for the miserable 30 mins we spent in here.  Oh well, you live and learn.  Bristol is still pretty much a closed book to me real ale wise.

37. VICTORIA, Westbury-on-Trym - Heading north into Bristol Rovers territory and after an earlier superb experience is Westbury at pubs called the Post Office Vaults and Prince of Wales (not listed in this guide), we came back and after parking on a precarious steep side street, we found this pub for our next visit on 29/11/03.  It was just past opening time and we were greeted with a slightly disorganised scene as we dodged a hoovering landlady and many pub pets sleeping in the middle of the floor.  The pint was good, but we never really settled and I think Dad was more than happy to try and rediscover our pubs of the previous two seasons.

38. BARLEY MOW, Portsmouth - 20th March 2010 and having stayed over on the Friday, it was maybe no surprise I was first in.  To be honest, the pub opened late and with a terrible rainstorm subsiding, I'd spent most of the morning in Poundshops looking for hats!  I met Ben in the basic back bar and was then surprised as he took me round to a large front room, all furnished and almost with the sense of a Gentleman's club with old men reading newspapers, the smell of coffee, but we were soon joined by the Irvin's and enjoyed a nice pre-match session before a taxi up to the ground.  I've done a lot more Pompey pubs than I can remember, but this was one good pre-match experience I won't forget.

39. GUIDE DOG, Southampton - One of many intolerably wet trips to the "jewel of the south coast" and this early example proved one of my most miserable away days ever, all alone as Stern John dismantled our team and sadly, the chants of "Brown out!" took another few years to come to fruition.  After fish n chips and some decent ale in a pub no longer in the guide, I came here for the final hour, quite near to St Mary's and it was heaving!  I could see why, it had elements of Brighton's Evening Star, a bit smaller but wood paneling and a range of quality ales from all over the country.  Problem was, the bar was so busy I could only see "selected" ales so chose 2 nearest to me.  I tried to skulk in the background (but skulking on your own, dripping wet, in a black and amber top in a home pub isn't easy.  I'd love to go on a non matchday!

40.  BARRELS, Hereford - Circa spring 2007 and I had a mini-break on my own in this town, mainly because I was their football manager at the time (in the simulation computer game of the same name).  As a town, it flattered to deceive in pretty much every way (I'd had visions of a very different place) and this was the third and final pub I visited on my first night.  I'd been assured this was the most famous real ale pub in the town, and though I enjoyed pub two more, the full range of Wye Valley beers and some local guests gave me plenty to go at.  I went to explore the pub next as it was quite busy with after work drinkers and found a nice new 'smokers area' (in the days when they had to cater them around the time of the smoking ban), all big and wooden with flowers around and undercover bits.  It started raining so I came back in.  I then took a picture of the magnificent bar area showing all the handpumps, fonts, bottles, spirits etc but an old local told me off - "the landlord might not approve" he warned as he prodded a finger in my chest.  I whimpered and sat in the corner (nowadays, he'd get a BRAPA lecture) before settling down to watch the most interminably dull England home 0-0 friendly ever witnessed, I'm not exaggerating.  This bonded me with some of the other football fans in the pub, I got quite drunk, forgot my bag, got a pizza, remembered my bag, it was in the same place, the wet pizza box dyed my beige jacket red, I collapsed in my B&B and spent the rest of my holiday across in Worcester,  Never again!

So, there we are.  40 now done and Northwich Penny Black still winning the "oldest real ale pub race".  Two more people asked me what my first guide pub was in Mirfield last week.  Arrrghh, I need to get some solid answers in place!  Ten more coming in the next few days.....

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

BRAPA - Bradley and Mirfield

The spitting rain wasn't forecast, but at least the Manchester Victoria train behaved itself as I arrived into Mirfield just before 5pm and took on the 1.5 mile trek slightly uphill to my first pub of the evening......

More top poster artwork from our BRAPA art technicians (i.e. me)

499 - OLD COLONIAL, Mirfield - Almost a shame to arrive in near total darkness as this pub has won "pub in bloom" awards before, and is a bit set back off Dunbottle Lane with an outdoory car park bit at the front.  On entering said establishment, I was surprised to find a large, rather grand pub empty except for one man reading a newspaper.  He turned out to be the landlord so I was the only customer, and after a quick BRAPA chat, he pulled me a fine pint of John Willie Lees 100, from that old Manchester brewery.  He wasn't finished there and soon won more staff points as he laid out two rugs, added wood to the wonderful wood burner, indicated a leather armchair and told me "sit down there and enjoy lad!" which I did.  As it turned out, this was pub experience of the night.  I still had time to embarrass myself by walking around the pub looking for the loo when they'd been directly in front of me.  There was one more customer in by now, but as I tried to down the dregs of my pint, I found a moth had beaten me to it!  Yes, a bloody moth, the bane of my life.  Once a crossword answer in a pub in Arksey, but usually flying around my flat scaring me to death.

Cosy wood burner style pub heaven at the Old Colonial

500 - WHITE CROSS, Bradley - You can't put a price on the local knowledge, the time saving element and convivial chat with a friendly taxi driver (well okay then, £4,50) but we were soon at this welcoming looking pub just north of Huddersfield and I could see why this is a GBG regular.  Friendly, jolly staff and locals having a laugh, some intriguing looking ales, and a light but still cosy large one roomed estate pub, but I mean that in the nicest possible way.  This was my pint of the night, the Movember themed Colonel's Whiskers by Batemans was as close to the perfect drinkable dark ale you could wish for, served in the pubs own branded glasses.  I relaxed again, listening in to the locals crazy capers and flirtations with the barmaids, and didn't time fly?  Time to go.  I should probably mention I achieved the 500 landmark here (again), but good as it was, this time there was no guard of honour, applause and free pint like the magical experience in Appletreewick.

White Cross - a very good established GBG pub.  Pint of the night.

501 - NAVIGATION TAVERN, Mirfield - After a slightly longer wait in the cold outside the White Cross, and a taxi driver who was less good at the small talk, I was soon a stones throw from Mirfield station again to take on this pub, which is part of the Rail-Ale-Trail although not in the days when I twice went on it.  I was slightly underwhelmed by the whole experience.  As a large group of Rail Ale geeks left, I entered a low ceilinged cosy pub to find a large range of ales, 7 in fact, but maddeningly 5 of them were Theakstons and the other two were Black Sheep and John Smith's I think.  The staff were very much of the "here's another visitor passing through" attitude which probably is borne out of hoards of Rail Ale goers over the years.  I sat in the 'games room' where Emmerdale was switched over for some egg chasing match so I watched a high standard pool match between the locals which was much more enjoyable.  My Theakston's Black Bull ale was average and as the pool player's friends arrived, I was happy to sup up quick and leave.  In a late footnote, one of the pool friends called me Michael Jackson due to the red leather jacket, for the first time since I was in my original 500th pub, New Inn in Appletreewick.  Spooky?  Or just a Thriller?  Sorry.

The Nav Tav - where the Theakstons sign should be taken seriously

The Yin and Yang of train travel then struck, I was 11 mins late of Mirfield but managed to catch a 2 minute delayed York train at the other end so it all evened out nicely, as I got back for a BK Whopper meal and a relatively early finish pre 9pm.  A good BRAPA night.

NEXT UP - Well, I'm going to a gig in Huddersfield on Friday and with 4 pub ticks still required, I'm looking for 1 or 2 before it starts no matter what friends and other people are planning on doing.  Saturday should be a Dad "blank Saturday" in Sheffield but he's not committing, and I'm worried I'm going to be left tickless in York so I need to try and push him on a bit.  Failing all that, our next West Yorkshire place alphabetically is Brighouse, so it's all gone a bit Huddersfield area of late!  I'll be updating as I go, and continuing with the archives, so stay in touch.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

BRAPA : Burnley and a few amendments

Most people would see yesterday's trip to Burnley as a miserable 1-0 defeat, but to me, it was very much a successful 2-0 win with two other good bits of play as Burnley's credentials as a real ale town were put through their paces.......

495 - BOOTLEGGERS MUSIC BAR, Burnley - With the jolly roger pub sign warning you "this is a serious drinking and music venue, not for the faint hearted", I could probably not expect a smile or warm welcome from the barmaid as Tom and I ordered some top quality pints (they had about 3 to choose from) of Lancs own Bank Top ales, and a blackcurrant obviously.  It was a proper boozer, quite spartan in decor but with an (unused) pole dancing pole and a huge number of plasmas showing Soccer A.M. and you could imagine seeing a live band here straight away.  Sadly, the music being played was more of the Ben Andrew variety, Above & Beyond or something trancey,  Despite that, I enjoyed this place despite some lack of comfort, Dad was less impressed but for a quick pint in Burnley, you can't do much better.

Pirate-core at the Bootleggers in Burnley

496 - TALBOT, Burnley - The fish & chip van setting up outside, the bare boarded internal set up with big screen showing a championship game, the barmaid's Burnley top, the amount of nervous looking claret shuffling into the pub, this place really (even just after 12 noon) had the feel of home fans pre-match pub.  That's not to say it wasn't good, an impressive array of beers (Moorhouses Premier-ship wasn't one of them) was a bonus but the lack of furniture meant having a high stool which is okay for Ben but not good for my short legs.  Derby scored, Dad tried to lose his bag, it was time to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

The Talbot had a serious 'home fans' feel

We ended up visiting two previous 'ticks', the excellent Bridge Bier Huis and the even better Ministry of Ale which hasn't been in the guide for a while now which really begs the question "why?" as it is the same staff, same Moonstone beers, same atmosphere.  Have they fallen out with the local CAMRA perhaps.  It's not like Burnley can afford to be so picky as say, a place like York could.

ADDITIONAL AMENDMENTS - Doing these "archives" plus a bit of cross-ticking has led me to the following amendments.  Crewe's Borough Arms I cannot verify so I am scrapping this one for now (back down to 495).  The New Inn I visited on Sunday 15th June (see "Burning the Candle at both ends").  It was previously listed under Liversedge but now is under Robertstown.  So that was confusing.  Back up to 496.  Two oversights by me next.  Firstly, the Digby Tap in Sherbourne now reviewed in the archives after THAT day in Yeovil, call it 497.  And finally, the Malt Shovel in Northampton will be reviewed in the archives shortly.  Call it 498.  So all this means, I should be back at 500 in midweek all being well!


BRAPA : the archives (21-30)

So with Northwich's great Wetherspoons 'Penny Black' leading the way so far in terms of 'first visited', let's review our next 10 pubs and try and work out if any of these can take over.....

21. HAND & HEART, Peterborough - Best pub in Peterborough?  It must be a close run thing and both myself and Dad enjoyed our two visits here immensely.  18/9/2004 meant this was our first experience of real ale in this town and despite the longish walk, it was well worth it.  We were presented with the pubs history book to peruse and guest book to sign (I wrote I was hoping for a Hull City win, and was not disappointed!) and it was unique in pub terms in that a dog that recently had given birth came to sit on my knee and I was left with afterbirth stained jeans.  Lovely.  We therefore made it our first pub on our return trip, 7 years later.  By now, it was an Oakham pub (even better) but the landlady told us off for everything we did from stacking glasses to not bringing them back from the beer garden.  Still, she didn't spoil it much.  And we won again so a lucky pub too!

22. MILL, Ulverston - Third pub of my letter "U" day in my almost famous A-Z challenge, with friends John and Jig in December 2013.  It didn't totally convince in that it was a big barn type place, famous mainly for it's giant waterwheel in the middle of the pub, as if we needed more water around us after being drenched by all that rain.  It was big on dining, low on pub atmosphere but they had a good range of local beers on and despite describing mine in less than glowing terms on Untappd, I actually loved it and found it deliciously drinkable.

23. STAR ALE HOUSE, Glossop - Pre-match pub of my letter "G" day with Ric in Glossop.  Very near station, a real must visit and probably the most famous pub in the town with a great selection (pub is run by a CAMRA member and you can tell).  Ric tried to get some small talk going with the barmaid about the various art and decor around the pub, but she didn't wanna know .... tough crowd.  We popped in after the game too, I have a vague memory of someone leaving some item of clothing and chatting to a friendly couple who were also visiting but weren't Runcorn fans.  Good pub.

24. DOLPHIN HOTEL, Plymouth - Oh yes, Plymouth's most famous pub used in loads of TV programmes and films, famous for it's Beryl Cook artwork where she drew locals in her own inimitable style.  Despite all this, it is totally unpretentious and have been three times.  First was possibly the first time I ever used a real ale guide to help us find our way around pubs, when Dad and I landed in Plymouth on a dark stormy Friday evening 11th Jan 2002.  We were using a 1999 guide so many of the pubs left us non-plussed//were closed and we didn't get this pub's "Bass on gravity" only stance.  However, it led to the "best leaving of a pub ever" when with some of our ales left, we decided to leave slyly so whispered to each other "1...2....3..." and then we both left out of different doors and surprised each other in the middle outside!  Maybe you had to be there.  Being a 10am opener, I next returned for my first Saturday pub on 9th Dec 2006 where I knew to embrace to Bass and had a jolly chap with a fire cleaner and the landlady being the first person in.  It was a bit chilly and I complained of the same thing the following year 2nd Feb 2008 when it was again my opening pub,  This time, I nursed my Bass and read my PG Wodehouse until Christine and Colin came along to join me in a pint before moving on to many more pints elsewhere.  That's another story though.

25. PORTERHOUSE, Westbourne - March 19th 2005 and with time to kill on a sunny morning on the outskirts of Bournemouth, I wandered towards Poole before opening time and was first into this intimate low ceilinged wooden paneled haven (Bournemouth isn't big on real ale).  There was a large leaning towards Ringwood days but that was when they were less common than today's Marston owned common days, so I found them quite a treat.  I was on my third when Chris and Tom arrived, I was promptly ID'd as I went to get Tom a blackcurrant but he backed down as quickly as he'd questioned it.  A nice pre-match session was the prelude to a fantastic 4-0 win, another lucky pub.

26. TANNERS HALL, Darlington - My memories are a bit sketchy about the date of my trip to this lighter airier Wetherspoons but it was definitely in the 2002-04 bracket.  It involved me and Dad waiting for my friend John who got lost near a carpark, I went to find him and brought him back here, Dad had got me a tasty club sandwich upon my return and I've got vague memories of seeing Chris Irvin but I may be imagining that bit.  In any case, I can only remember John coming to the 0-1 Darlo Great escape win (Brabin) on a Tuesday night many years earlier so the whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me!  We went to Hogan's that day, urrrgghhh.

27.  DUN COW, Durham - More John Watson capers and on our first "real ale" tour of Durham, I decided I'd meet him here as it looked a straightforward walk from the station, if not the nearest.  I read my Total Football magazine in peace with some great local ales.  John often tells me this was is haven, reading the paper with a pint of Castle Eden and something to eat probably, so it is nice to be able to say I'd had a similar experience.  If I've been in since, it is only once which would surprise him I'm sure.  Lovely relaxed pub with the full Dun Cow story relayed on the walls, would like to return one day.  I think we both got the 2002 guide so I'm thinking spring 2002 may have been the time of this crawl.

28.  ODD ONE OUT, Colchester - One of the few times I've been to Colchester and really been able to do exactly what i wanted, this was my first "ale" trip here on 11th Dec 2005 (the last time I saw a match here!)  After walking past the Army Barracks, we found this unassuming street corner local but it proved to be a gem - it is as multi-award winning now as it was then.  As I was in my relative infancy of away day drinking, we were interested to meet a strange man (not all there!) who said he'd tried all the ales so was mixing halves of one with halves of another!  At the time I thought maybe that's what all southern CAMRA members did, now I just think he was weird.  He sat with us and when I came back from the loo, was relieved to see him gone.  Ryan France then scored the best team goal ever and the rest is history!

29.  LAST POST, Southend-on-Sea - In the days even before the Cork n Cheese (god rest it's soul), Dad and I gave this large but still cosy Wetherspoons a shot on one of our many evening games here, I am thinking very early for this one 22/1/2002 defeat probably having tried a terrible one down on the pier with saloon doors that blew open in the wind.  This was nice but time was of the essence so we couldn't enjoy it to the max.  Returned here briefly for the recent FA Cup game, it still had a decent feel.  We watched Ben eat a breakfast and read his paper until the Olde Trout opened (see next archive edition).

30.  BRIDGE INN, Bristol - 16/10/04 and our first trip to Bristol City (having spent all our previous times north in the Rovers area) meant we could finally get in amongst the city centre.  Pubs a plenty you'd think but it's never been that easy, one reason being the high number of 12 noon openers only, the other being Ashton Gate's location across the river.  This pub nevertheless was our first forray into the city, full of lovely but simple Bath Ales like Gem and Spa, one roomed, very small, carpets and a the walls were full of old 50's horror B-movie posters which was definitely the main quirk of the experience.   Enjoyable and went back on my briefly on my 32nd birthday but sat outside despite the heavy rain, as it was way too busy being a Friday night,

So that concludes the latest ten, I think my facts are generally right but nothing has quite beaten the Northwich Penny Black in terms of 'when visited' quite yet.

See you soon, Si

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

BRAPA - West of Bradford, again!

If Bradford seemed a foreboding place on those hazy summer evenings of July and August, it is positively terrifying in the cold November darkness, as I spent "mischievous" night evening ticking off 3 more pubs in the West Yorkshire area, and not egging anyone.

My twitter poster : note the top artwork which made no impact on anyone!

After a surprisingly straightforward train journey from Leeds to Bradford Interchange, I was soon on a 698 bus and despite some bad traffic, I was getting off in north Denholme about 6:15pm.

492 - NEW INN, DENHOLME - Entering a new pub for the first time can always be daunting, and when 7 old locals stood at the bar turn round to greet you / call you 'action man' due to your leather green jacket (delete as appropriate), it is almost to skill to front up to them and give as good as you get!  The fact that this was a great pub from first impression helped, a beautiful pint of a Phoenix guest absolutely slipped down.  The locals loved my BRAPA tales (especially the bit about being 63 years old when I finish) and took pride in their local pub, giving me the lowdown on other pubs in the area.  It is tied with a pub in Halifax I'll be visiting at Christmas and the Albion in Greengates which I enjoyed back in May.  A few more characters and grizzled locals arrived, all friendly in a typically robust West Yorkshire way.  I ordered a taxi and was sent on my way with a souvenir beer mat.  A pleasing BRAPA experience, preferred to both other nearby pubs in Cullingworth and Harecroft.

New Inn, Denholme - top friendly local action (man!)

493 - MONKEY - Whether this pub is in West Bradford, Bank Top, Great Horton or somewhere else has been the cause of some local debate according to the chap with the real ale van who worked there, but after a very pleasant taxi journey (thanks Mabz!) I was entering, thankfully a pub where I could just sit there with a pint and recover my thoughts after the Denholme experience.  They have beers from the Junction brewery in Baildon but I went for a Cross Bay from Morecambe and it was easily the best I'd tried from this brewery.  The main room had a nice lounge feel, the main focal point being the monkey's adorning the walls etc and a debate about roofing and the like between two young labourers, one was an annoying gobshite and I felt for his 'mate'.  Had it been daytime and nice weather, I could have apparently admired stunning views across Bradford, but hey ho, you can't win 'em all.  Also, with a better foot and better weather, I may have attempted the 2.2 mile walk back to the centre but went for the same taxi company and after some confusion, a bald Citizen Khan (am I the only person who loves that show?) took me to my next pub, a really wonderful man as I realised this had been a life affirming evening after an awful day at work.  

All cheeky monkeys are welcome in this lounge like pub

494 - JACOBS BEER HOUSE, Bradford - the only building still standing on Kent Street, my final Bradford tick (again), a new addition to the guide, and all I can say is "wow I really hit the jackpot with this place".  Dark, wooden, low roofed, 3 beers from Cambridge's amazing Milton brewery plus 6 more, filled rolls for £1 on the bar, a real fire and wood smoke fumes in a great side bar, all served by a friendly mother and son partnership (I think).  It would have been heaven had it not been for an annoying loud southerner who started a "sparkler v no sparkler" debate and lost BECAUSE HE IS IN THE NORTH AND YOU SHOULD HAVE A HEAD ON YOUR BEER!  Landlady agreed with me, and she'd been on a brewing course and it locks the flavour in, so there.  Despite then claiming that ALL north eastern people are "monkey hangers" (errm no!), I actually warmed to him as time went on and the pub was just so conducive to good conversation.  I enjoyed a Milton Saturnia(?) and a cheese & pepper roll, and it was still only a 5 min walk to Interchange station.  Early contender for 2015 GBG pub of the year?  Oh yes.  

A great pint and a tasty roll in perhaps the best pub in Bradford.

So, a really good quality pub night and whilst I'll soon get skint using taxis, I think until my foot is fully recovered, it is a good idea in them thar rural parts!  I was back in York with a bacon double cheeseburger for about 9:45pm where I was greeted with freezing fog.  It is getting wintery at last.

Attentions turn next to Burnley but am not fussed about making this an Arsenal style pub ticking day.  Will be happy just with 2 ticks, 3 is a good option still.  Not as fussed as a) November is going to be a productive month anyway b) my foot needs minimal walking and c) Burnley is going to be a BRAPA "base" for future crawls around some of these Pendle style villages without train stations.

One thing's for sure, I'll be reporting on what happens soon enough.

Good night.  Si

Monday, 3 November 2014

BRAPA : the archives (11-20)

In the second part of the series, I'm looking back at the 2015 GBG pubs visited long before BRAPA was invented in the early part of this year.  Our reigning early pub champion is Cambridge Blue (visited 25/8/2003). Can any of these next ten beat it?

11.  DRAPER'S ARMS, Peterborough - A Wetherspoon's but one I've got a real soft spot for, mainly due to their excellent breakfasts, great service, and little booths you can hide from Barry and fellow Gooligans in.  I've been three times, once at 7am pre-Norwich, once on a wintery Peterborough away day and once pre my Cambridge BRAPA trip.  The only time I may have drunk alcohol was on the middle of these but even then, I can't say for sure which would make it quite unique in BRAPA ticks but then again, there's no rules saying I have to drink a real ale for it to qualify, I don't think!

12. PENNY BLACK, Northwich - And the 'Spoons pubs just keep coming!  Wow, we are going back in time here.  Nov 17th 2001 and I'd just finished my first week in the Yorkshire Bank as I prepared for an exciting FA Cup first round game.  The message boards were full of vitriolic comment from Northwich fans trying to scare us, so I was expecting some Lincoln City style day but it was like a ghost town, a ghost match, and only Theo Whitmore trying to tackle his own players threatened to give them any chance.  After a dodgy local pub where a DJ was trying to sort out some lights and equipment, we came here.  Hard to imagine now but Wetherspoons was an exciting new chain which me and Dad in particular were raving about.  I was horrified York didn't have one yet.  This former post office was huge, high ceilinged, ornate, great quality ale even if the service was lacking and an old local had a go at me for pushing in front of him, which I didn't actually do.  We were well impressed, and whilst the novelty factor of JDW soon wore off, I remember this as being a great pub experience.

13.  WOODROW WILSON, Carlisle - A third consecutive 'Spoons, sorry I'm not doing this deliberately.  Before our King's Head experience (covered in part 1 of the archives) we came here due to JDW's early opening policy.  To say the locals were "real" and "colourful" would be an understatement but there was plenty of black and amber knocking about, hidden beneath other tops as Carlisle can be an intimidating away day.  This was our first experience of Carlisle State Bitter, which was being revived to an old First World War recipe when it had been banned, though my memory of the exact story Dad told me is by now hazy.  Visited 14/2/04, Stuart Green was booed by them more than us, he put in his most/only ever mature performance and got a great equaliser in off the post at their end, ha!

14.  STAN LAUREL INN, Ulverston - Yes, sounds like a Spoons doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't.  Our second pub on our dreary wet day for the tricky "U" in my A-Z challenge in Dec 2013.  I'd rate this highly, as we drank a pint of "Local Hero" from the local Ulverston brewery named after Stan himself.  We sat in the middle of this low roofed one roomed pub with a wonky carpetted floor, nervy staff and locals who kept looking at us like we were three aliens who'd landed from outer space.  Well, that's Cumbria for you.  Great quality ale.  Probably better than the Dev at a push.

Stan Laurel Inn, with the Sir John Barrow monument in the background
15. FLOWERPOT, Derby - 17 April 2006 was our first of three visits here, magical and one of the pubs of the season despite the lateness of the voting submission.  Recommended by our friends Chris & Tom, we arrived to find them elbow deep in a lovely looking plate of egg and chips and quickly demanded the same.  The sheer number of exciting beers won me over, with many coming straight from the barrel in the cellars, it was one of my first "beer festival" pub experiences.  That was one of the most drunk I've felt at a match!  No surprise we returned the following season, 10/2/07 for another draw and again we were impressed, ordering faggots washed down with more exciting ales which the barman was able to pull in one swoop (and claimed this should always be the case but 7 years on, it's something I rarely witness).  On that day, an old man chatted to Dad about old convertible Morris Minors which bored me to tears.  We tried to recreate the magic as part of a pre match evening crawl on 22/2/11, but it was poorer beerwise and the atmos was ruined by loud music which caused Dad to close a door in a controversial move!

16. BRITTANIA INN, Plymouth - Friday 8th December 2006 and I'd come down to Plymouth on my own in what must be one of my earlier examples of "trying to get round as many guide pubs as possible" on both the Fri and Sat.  This was a JD Wetherspoons, but it didn't stop me wanting to "tick it off" and as it's back in the guide 8 years on, I'm glad I did.  This wasn't one of my better pub experiences of the night, as with Christmas approaching, it was full of screeching middle aged people enjoying their xmas work nights out and space was at a premium,  During December 2006, I kept a little notebook of my pub adventures I rediscovered recently so I can tell you I drank a Moletrap Molecatcher, I found the staff friendly and hard working, but I wrote "a bit disappointing all round".

17. DIGBY TAP. Sherborne - Saturday 1st May 2004 is still to this day, my favourite day of supporting Hull City as we achieved promotion at Yeovil and stayed in this lovely little town overnight, as recommended by Chris Irvin.  This was our post match drinking place after some fish n chips from a place recommended by Frank Bruno, and with euphoria still running high, this was a superb place to celebrate, everyone was so congratulatory, especially the impressive landlord who I seem to remember was a Burnley fan and had plenty of their memorabilia adorning the walls.

18. OLD WELL INN, Barnard Castle - Invited to a wedding on my birthday in 2012 held at Greta Bridge, I booked me and my sister into this place totally unaware it was a real ale pub, never mind a guide listed one.  The accommodation was decent, the beers from a local brewery I cannot remember were absolutely superb, staff and locals couldn't stop talking to us and eventually we had to go to the chilly beer garden and then try other pubs, but looking back, we should have just gone with it! 

19. NUMBER TWENTY 2, Darlington - 21/4/2003 and an Easter Monday defeat in Darlo, where we escaped our usual pre match ritual of the rather scary Hogans at the train station to branch out into real ale, and as it is now, this is the home of the local Village brewer who do an excellent ale called White Boar,  I took a beermat which I still have on my bedroom wall, but we were less impressed with the over foody atmos, something of an early example of a gastro pub where drinkers are squashed into the long thin area near the entrance and the clatter of knives and forks echos from the back of the pub.  Wasn't a huge fan.

20.  COURT INN, Durham - My good friend John Watson grew up around Durham and as we discovered real ale at about the same time, we have had a handful of excellent Durham days since I met him at Uni in 1998/99.  He took me here on my first ever Durham real ale day out (not including New Inn and Angel pre GBG trips) so I'm thinking this day may have even taken place before he moved to York in 2003.  This place felt a bit foody loungey so whilst pleasant enough, didn't really do it for either of us, plus I think John had a bad experience in here whilst a sixth former!   Students and prison staff make an interesting clientele combo.

So, I think Penny Black in Northwich is now holding the crown as "longest ago" visited pub with the Court Inn a slight possibility but I think John and I were both in GBG mode so 2002/03 seems more likely for that and the other Durham pubs I will be reviewing shortly.

Look out for pubs 21-30 coming soon.....

Sunday, 2 November 2014

BRAPA : the archives (1-10)

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I've explained BRAPA to the uninitiated is "what was the first guide pub you visited, you must remember?" as though I bought the guide as a blank canvas when in truth, the first 350 or so were done well before BRAPA was a twinkle in my eye.  Most would have been visited during my football days, my A-Z adventures or just random day trips and nights out.

I will now try and retrospectively review these pubs from my hazy memories, 10 at a time, in no particular order, and may well discover what my first guide tick actually was!

1. BRICKLAYERS ARMS, Luton -  4th Feb 2006 and after a Kevin Ellison inspired 3-2 win in one of the most depressing towns I've visited, Chris Irvin marched us to a very enjoyable post match pint of Everards Tiger (the best I've ever tasted), we held up beer mats showing "Easy" and "Tiger" which I have on my fridge to this day, we watched the final scores come through on the TV screens,  and the same landlady who was there then and still here now, 28 years service apparently.

2. NAG'S HEAD, Reading - 22nd Jan 2011 and a post match pint in here wasn't a comfortable experience due to the extreme overcrowdedness.  It didn't put us off though as almost a year to the day (21st Jan 2012), this was our pre-match pub and Ben, Mark, Dad and myself were unanimous in awarding it away pub of the year.  The great music, friendly vibe and huge array of interesting real ales (my first was an iBeer!) made for a great experience and we were back post match after the helpful pub bus to the ground.  Winning helped too when Brian McDermott amusingly didn't seem to understand the offside rule regarding not interfering with play.

Me outside the Nag's Head at 12 noon on 21.1.2012
3. WETHERSPOON'S - Milton Keynes - Probably due to MK's total lack of history, this Wetherspoons doesn't have a name which I guess is quite unusual.  We pulled up outside on a freezing midweek afternoon, Feb 22nd 2005.  The snow started and despite Dad's initial reluctance to leave the car, we were soon on the otherside of this cavernous glass structure sat in the furthest corner watching the blizzards coming down.  The 2015 GBG refers to "tardy staff" which I seem to recall, especially when the biggest collection of Gooligans I'd ever seen in a pub at any one time turned up.  In fact, the entire crowd seemed to be in this pub.  The game was miraculously on, the orange ball was the highlight, and we earned a 93rd minute undeserved equaliser thanks to Delroy Facey after he and Danny Allsopp had put in possibly the worst strike partnership effort ever witnessed.  Neither played for the club ever again, so was Delroy's last touch in Hull City colours a goal?  Super DF!

4. CAMBRIDGE BLUE, Cambridge - Aug 25th 2003 in the summer sunshine and beer garden and Dad still hadn't recovered from the close season was was struggling with his drinking, as he had in Oxford a fortnight before.  We had a meal outside too and the feisty old landlady made sure we knew exactly what ales were on and what they were like.  The pub seemed quite quirky and sat outside, there was a menagerie of animals and loads of signs like "don't smoke over the rabbit hutches", "don't feed the guinea pigs with apples that drop from the trees" etc.  We remember it as a top experience and Clare and her Dad, on my recent trip to Histon, told me it was still one of Cambridge's finest.  

5.  CHARTERS, Peterborough - Long awaited visit for the first time 10/9/2011 and twice more since.  Despite it's excellent Oakham ales and the quirk of being a barge, I've never got on with this place.  The first two times it was too busy, the third time was better because it was quiet due to being a pre-season midweek afternoon and even then, we got off the barge and sat on the grass bank under a tree where I tried a guest Oakham called "Endless Summer" I haven't had before or since.  Think I'd go on a non-football day if I ever had an hour or two in Peterborough with no new pubs to visit.  

6. HELTER SKELTER, Frodsham - The letter L of my A-Z had proved a good day in Llandudno, and this was definitely the best of the pubs I visited on the way back to Manchester.  With rain teeming down, I was glad it was just around the corner from the station and was greeted to a warm, buzzing atmos of over 40 year olds and a fine selection of interesting ales.  My phone battery died and there weren't any free seats so I had to perch at the bar.  Everywhere else, I'd effortlessly chatted with strangers but it just didn't happen here.  Anywhere else, this would have been a problem but i was glad to bask in a great pubbub.  Not surprised to see it's won pub awards since.

7. KING'S HEAD, Carlisle - We went to Carlisle for six consecutive seasons and finding a good real ale pub was always a problem, but got a little bit easier once we started using the guide so it was probably the 14/2/2004 Stuart Green game where we finally stumbled on this little gem.  The downside was that it was packed with the SS brigade all acting smug, eating lunches and meaning we had to sit at a non-table and watch whichever televised game was on before.  Dad and I agreed that the Carlisle State Bitter was one of the most moreish beers we'd ever tasted, and when they ran out, there was nearly a riot but the SS obviously don't behave like that darling.

8. DEVONSHIRE ARMS, Ulverston - The letter U should have been a classic day out, but miserable weather meant we could not appreciate how good (or not) Ulverston was as a place when myself, Jig and JW2 (in the pre-Lucie co-habitation days) arrived here on a grey Saturday morning in December 2013.  It therefore became a glorified pub crawl, Laurel and Hardy would have to wait!  This was our first pub, a friendly landlord served us some rare local ales and in the back room, we helped support some Burnley fans (Dad and son) in their quest to beat Leciester as I launched a verbal onslaught every time twat-face Nigel Pearson appeared on screen.  God I hate that man.  I had to laugh at their love of Dean Marney though.  The walls were decorated with names and badges of various teams the staff and locals supported, mainly local ones but worryingly including QPR.  It was time to leave.

9.  BABINGTON ARMS, Derby - I've heard many people say that this is the best Wetherspoons in the country, it was certainly well above average with it's incredible range of ales and grand bookcases stretching up to the top of the ceiling.  Dad had taken advantage of free bank holiday parking so we used this as our pre 12 noon opener on 17/4/2006, no idea what I drank, but we both had half an eye on our 12 noon opener, which will be revealed in the next part of these archives.

10. CROWN INN, Glossop - 20/10/2012.  The least talked about A-Z day is undoubtedly "G" in the beautiful town of Glossop, nestling in the Peak District, probably cos I went with my sister's ex Ric in the days before I "stopped seeing him!" if that doesn't give you the wrong idea.  Having watched Glossop North End v his hometown team of Runcorn, we took on the mile long walk post match to this beautiful ornate pub.  Just one minor criticism, it was a Sam Smith's house!  Well, at least I know I had an OBB and whilst nearly all Sam houses are great proper old fashioned pubs, this one was highly impressive and had cosy real fires too which were needed after a long chilly uphill walk.  I was also celebrating a Nick Prostwitcz inspired last gasp Hull City home win.

So far then, Cambridge Blue is winning the "earliest pub" challenge.

BRAPA - The Lancashire Crossover

It is that time of year when the veil between life and death is at it's thinnest, and it therefore seemed fitting that I should do my own 'crossing over', but only into Lancashire for two pubs.  My foot was feeling better after my sister had cast a healing spell as part of her Samhain ritual on Friday, so I was raring to go.

After a rickety Leeds-Morecambe two carriage train to Wennington and a typically precarious mile walk (predictable lack of pavement), I arrived in the small village of Wray in the Bowland Forest area of Lancs.

Arriving in Wray on a mild November morning
488 - GEORGE & DRAGON, Wray - "Underwhelming" would probably be the word I'd use to sum up this pub experience, but it was not without it's positives.  Sue, the landlady, was one of those friendly but non-extrovert types (a bit like if my Mum ran a pub!) and had a good relationship with all the regulars (i.e. everyone else in the pub).  I later learned the food was top quality as an old couple tucked into a huge portion of fish & chips.  An old man who'd been given doctors orders to drink more interpreted this as Crabbies rather than ale (water may have been a better bet),  The pub had two areas, I sat in the larger room and it had that country pub feel.  Apparently it hosts a famous scarecrow festival in May.  The beer range was quite poor, I had a Lancaster Blonde which was it's usual unremarkable self.  There was no one around to say 'bye' to when I left, which for some reason, I always feel sad about!

George & Dragon - was okay, very okay.

489 - BRIDGE INN, Wennington -  About three quarters of the way back to the train station was this little gem in the heart of the Bowland Forest area.  It features in a Turner painting, which should impress my Dad as he recently went to a Turner exhibition, and I could see why any artist would want to paint this and the surrounding area, very picturesque.  First impressions weren't great as this very small pub was full of diners, and the most exciting beer was York Guzzler which isn't the beer it was 5 years ago.  The landlady was very friendly and after deciding there was no free seats for a drinker like me, pointed me to an outdoor area.  I joked about how I never thought I'd be asking for the beer garden in November but it was a really mild day, and all that walking had warmed me up!  What she didn't tell me was the covered outdoor area was also full, a group of 8 walkers, mainly cockney Arsenal fans but a couple from Wray who support Man Utd and Wigan (it takes all sorts!)
They invited me to sit with them and soon I was regaling them with tales of my BRAPA challenge, a subject which captures most people's imaginations (well, if they like pubs and ale and travelling!) It was a great half hour chat before they left for their next walking segment, and as I sat alone outside, I reflected it's times like that which really make BRAPA worthwhile.  Pub experience of the day.

Bridge in Wennington - a top pub experience
490 - HORSE AND FARRIER, Bentham - This pub was the crux of the day, in that Bentham came next alphabetically in my North Yorkshire section (if we temporarily ignore bloody Beck Hole, which we will until spring).  To say this pub had gone to town on Hallowe'en decorations would actually be an understatement, the place was festooned with them from the hologram behind my seat, to the blow up ghost, to the skeleton on the bog print on the urinal door!  I usually dislike the presence of kids in pubs, but as this pub looked like a haunted museum, I couldn't begrudge them running around in an excited fashion!  The landlady was friendly, and I was served a spooky beer in Thwaites' Handsome Devil, which a local tried to ward me off, as he wanted it all for himself.  It was the best Thwaites' beer I have had in years.  Decor aside, this was a lovely old 17th century pubs with beams and low ceilings, very cosy and even has an antique fireplace which wasn't needed today.  The landlady came round with a cauldron full of sweets so I took a jelly monster and went on my way.

Horse and Farrier - Hallowe'en-tastic decor

With no trains or busses to Giggleswick or Settle for 3 hours, it was taxi time being 10 miles away - my foot was sore again anyway after the traumatic Wray-Wennington walk earlier.  My taxi driver was a local chap who quickly explained his deafness which made for an entertaining journey.  He is not quite deaf enough to qualify for a cochlea implant, but he would if he lived in France or Germany.  Maybe this explained why he charged me £20 for the journey - extortionate, I hope he gets his operation soon! 

491 - HART'S HEAD HOTEL, Giggleswick - A much larger pub than the others today, it was mainly open-plan but had a pool table where an annoying boy was playing with his Dad, who just wanted to watch the rugby.  Some jolly locals chatted amiably with the barmaid, one old chap was getting rather frustrated that the Tetley's barrel hadn't been changed yet.  Not sure why as here I found the best beer range so far, had a nice Kirkby Lonsdale ale and before I knew it, time had raced by and I knew getting to the Talbot in Settle and then back for the train would be a push, especially on a bad foot, so I cut my losses, ordered a gorgeous Reaper by Black Sheep and watched the scores come through on Sky Sports News in the hope Hull City would equalise,  Predictably, they didn't.  Giggleswick station was further than I thought so a race against time, I just about won but then a woman told me "cows on the line" had delayed it by 10 mins anyway (she knew cos her hubbie had got on at Bentham).

Hart's Head, Giggleswick - don't mention the Tetley's!

I was soon back for a couple in York Tap where I saw Untappd friend Mark T. at the bar and joined him.  He complained he'd had all 20 beers on, but it was heaven for me after the majority of my beer range choices today.  Shame I didn't reach the Settle pub (twice I've missed out on that now) but with a good month in the offing, I'm relaxed about it and I've got plenty more pressing pub ticks before that one.  

Attentions turn to Tuesday evening's West Yorks trip - yet another return to Bradford (the city I an never finish!) where I have one new central pub, one a mile outside in Great Horton, so may try and get a village to the west of it too like Denholme or Thornton.  I'll keep you posted.