Sunday, 22 February 2015

BRAPA : the archives (111-120)

On this latest, and long overdue edition of the GBG pub archives, we will mix things up a bit by starting in Greater Manchester before returning to London for the second half.

111.  Old Market Tavern, Altrincham

1st September 2012 and Alty was to be my letter A for the highly popular A-Z challenge I conducted from 2012-14 and although Bath had controversially been my starting point, me, Jig and Krzb came here by default (the only pub in the guide for Alty at that time) for a brilliant pre-match session before Altrincham v Histon, our 'culture' of the day.  A board of eleven ales saw a superb range, and when one went off, another immediately replaced it and we were soon treating it as a football team sheet with subs and trying to work our way through the squad (so to speak)!   With Jig on a quest to find a cashpoint (he always does this!) and Krzb wandering around and exploring (he always does that!), I had an early uncomfortable experience as a scary man in a Celtic top and headphones sat practically on my knee despite the pub being empty, you do sometimes get that "this is my regular seat" nonsense.  Little Plough at Donny, Hull's Burlington Tavern and Newcastle's Crown Posada have also seen the same fate.  Things settled into a great session, staff were helpful and characterful.  We eventually sat outside in the searing heat as Jig was sure we were missing out on sun.  In truth, it was quite busy out, the 'beer garden' was nothing to write home about (outdoor bin area if anything) and it was too hot, I'd just ordered a Chilli Chocolate Stout and it was not the perfect drink under the circs!

Great beer selection at the Old Market Tav, Alty

112.  Barristers Bar, Bolton

A gig by one of my bands of the moment, Mischief Brew, had been randomly moved from Manchester to Bolton but even in those pre-BRAPA days, my immediate thought was "ooh can find interesting new pubs".  I think this was the only one as I met sister's ex-Ric here, I think it was close to their break up, possibly June 2010.  I'd been here on my own though on this summer's Friday night, and the courtyard I found first felt more like a banging townie bar on first glance, with terrible dance music and all the ales seemed to be hidden behind huge lager fonts, with the barman seemingly surprised I wanted real ale though he helpfully then tried to offer a CAMRA discount (I wasn't a member then) but typical of the "you want real ale, you must be in CAMRA" attitude of some of these north west towns - Blackpool another offender here.  To my relief, I found a nice cosy pub area (this was part of the Swan Hotel so I'd got a bit confused finding it) and as long as the doors were closed and the townie's weren't in, I was happy.  Ric took an age getting there, and after educating him in the Barrister Ales that were on, we soon drank up paranoid we'd miss the start of our gig. 

113.  Trackside Bar, Bury

The now traditional Welly summer crawl was held on the East Lancs railway, and we met here having walked through the town chatting to the locals and deciding Bury was a friendly place. 27 July 2013 was the date, and I was immediately impressed by this buffet bar, almost as good and reminiscent of Stalybridge's one, but less famous.  There was some good simple food to be had as well, sausage & egg sarnies to get us sustained for the day, whilst there was a lot of bag swapping as I think Tom had brought me some crazy beermats.  We didn't stay here too long sadly, as we had Ramsbottom and beyond in front of us, but a fine start to the day.

Me with lit up phone pocket on steam train, shortly after departing the Trackside Bar
114.  Railway Inn, Greenfield

Speaking of Welly Gang summer crawls, I think it was probably July 2011 when we embarked on a second Transpenine crawl, this one with Dad who had missed the first.  I think that first one may have been 2009 and my reasoning is that soon after, I tried to replicate the experience with York friends (Jig was not allowed still, following his 2008 accident) when I again came to this wonderful rural pub , but it didn't really have the same magic as before, though the rickety old bench overlooking all that scenery is very joyous.  Both times, I drank Millstone Tiger Rut and had a pork pie, and both times, the English Mustard was right at the end of the jar and the last few particles had to be forced out with a knife.  Funny what you remember about places isn't it?  

115.  Crown, Horwich 

29th December 2009 and on a dreadfully wintery evening, we realised how stupid Premier League fixture lists could be as we risk life & limb over the M62 with this away day.  Having been disappointed with Bolton's pubbing and then getting to the ground the previous season, Dad and I decided to focus on Horwich and it has been something of a success ever since.  A compromise parking spot meant a long icy walk down the main road to this huge corner pub with a good few Holt's beers on.  To be honest, we were underwhelmed by our initial visit , Dad even wondering whether this was the GBG "Crown" pub!  It was cosy enough, locals were very characterful in a Lancastrian way, but we'd seen enough and moved on to better things.  However, we were much more impressed on our return from Madeira on 23/2/13 or was this because it was our first pub & ale after a week of Portuguese lager in insipid bars?  Again though, we didn't stay and found two more arguably better pubs in Horwich on Lee Lane round the corner. 

116,  Doric Arch, Euston 

Back in London and where better (or not) to start than this institution of our earliest train days of 2006/07.  Yes, it's fair to say I've been in here a good few times and had I actually enjoyed it, it could have been a lot more.  No pub has suffered more from the "Chris Irvin effect" as he created an image in the mind of not just me, but Dad, Christine and possibly others, of this bright, clean, silvery, polished haven serving 300 guest ales with football fans of all 92 league clubs (and Grimsby and Wimbledon at the time) all mingling, where you'd see a Leeds skinhead buying a pint for a Millwall man with a switchblade knife.  They would then laugh uproariously as a Luton fan told a great joke about how much he loved the Muslim community.  The truth was a fairly dingy upstairs bar, bored Eastern European staff dispensing beers from an uninspiring range, many of the eight pumps turned round.  The whole faff of getting the code to go to the downstairs loo is another turn off.  Don't get me wrong, there have been some good times and my last visit 11th Dec 2010 saw me persuade the landlord to put on Crystal Palace v Hull City on the TV because all of us apart from Chris Douglas were too lazy to go to this 5:30pm kick off after a day of drinking.  I then told him I was off to Euston Tap (see next archive edition) for a couple and to retrieve the gang and amazingly, he didn't mind so I owed to get everyone back here ASAP.  My friend John and his Dad, who'd been to Fulham v Sunderland (I'd been with them pre-match) joined us and though I was drunk, I could tell it was up there with the most boring 90 minutes of football ever played by anyone, ever!  For this experience, I owe DA a return visit. 

117.  Rake, Borough Market

7th April 2012 and arriving into London early, Dad decided to do some "culture", Tom was doing some train thing (micro-gricing or the like) and not wanting to be left out, I decided to do a foetal version of BRAPA and after a nice walk along London Bridge where I actually sang out loud to myself, I found this intriguing and unique bar hidden next to the famous Borough Market.  The pub is most famous for it's huge bottle, continental and craft range, but I was only interested in the handpumps and the young barman was very friendly and knowledgeable.  He advised me to get a polycarbonate glass so I could walk around the market with my gorgeous pint (I remember all 3 were breweries I love, Oakham, Titanic and one more) and explore.  This I did, though at 10am, I got some funny looks from other market goers.  I bought a Wild Boar sausage, a stupid trinket, and came back to the outside courtyard to relax, waving at barman and his hipster friends before hipsters were really a thing.  The bad news, the market toilets were just round the corner and absolutely stank!  They looked like they hadn't been cleaned since 1888.  As Tom pointed out in the last archive edition, he (and maybe Dad, not sure on that one) met me here and I can only think the reason we left was the toilets, or the hope the Market Porter would someday, somehow, be a relevant tick for something called BRAPA - which of course it was!  

118.  Wetherspoons, Victoria

 22nd November 2008 and after a traumatic "replacement bus service of a morning", Dad and myself were finally in a position to meet the others for a pint on the upper concourse of Victoria station before our train to Pompey.  Frazzled by the morning's events, Ben didn't have to convince me too much that a gorgeous 6% Russian Imperial Stout was the way forward, though why they insisted on staying outside the pub on one of the coldest days known to man is something I couldn't quite grasp, and kept nipping inside to warm up on the hand dryers!  I once read you could perhaps meet "the partner of your dreams, or have a brief encounter" here in a previous GBG edition.  On that day, nothing was further from my mind!  Pub wise, it felt like your typical commuter 'Spoons but I hear a recent refurb has made it brighter and more cafe like.  A good thing?  I'd have to go back.  What was impressive and notable was the beer range, even for a 'Spoons.

119.  White Horse, Parsons Green

Legendary pre-Chelsea and Fulham away pub dating back to our early Premier league days, 7th Feb '09 a probable first visit though I remember returning for a Fulham away game on a Monday night where I had £11 fish n chips (average!) and also went on 11/12/10 when Sunderland fans took over and somewhat innocently created a buffet style environment by cracking open their own Pringles, much to the staff's consternation.  Sadly, this pub has gone down in my estimation with each visit having loved it the first time, it's just too pretentious and the beers don't seem quite of the standard I'd expect from a GBG entry.  Or is that just the south?  The prices are predictably ridiculous, and on our last visit 18/8/13, it was at it's most annoying.  The Gooligans enjoyed an outdoor barbeque, it was still busy in, Christine was patronised by Chelsea fans, Ben spent £8 on half a strong continental bottle of fizz, but then we shared a pint of 10% stout which was only £4.40 a pint!  Hilarious.  They were also pushing their own brewed lager, I wasn't a fan.  And the food menu gets more stupid each time we go.   The staff were too plentiful, constantly buzzing around looking for the first sign of an empty glass.  Not very relaxing.  We gave up on it that day, I doubt I'll be back.  A shame cos on that first visit, I was raving about the 'Sloany Pony'.  A case of familiarity breeds contempt perhaps?

Me n Ben forcing smiles on our last Sloany Pony visit, 18/8/13

120.  Falcon, Battersea

Just round the corner of Clapham Junction station is this huge, historic Nicholson's house which is famous for having the longest continuous bar in the country, and believe me, I've walked around it enough.  What I love is they often have an ale hidden away from all the rest.  This place became a bit of a haven in those difficult QPR/ Crystal Palace pub day and whilst me, Mark and Ben were here 5th March 2013 for midweek defeat injustice at Palace,  Post-match, Mark was fuming about the way we were chucked out at last orders.  Talk about heavy handed.  Even the other staff agreed the young foreign girl in question had been a bit of a Nazi.  I'd been here with this Mark n Ben duo plus Dad for the same fixture on St Patrick's Day 17/3/12 where it was heaving due to Paddy's Day plus a big Egg-Chasing event going on nearby.  Not often football fans feel outnumbered.  We only got a seat in the quiet back area because Dad kept pretending we were going to "be dining with them" until we were forced to share a bacon sandwich by the snippy staff!  That day was also notable for my yellow jacket, worst jacket ever seen in a GBG pub?  However, my favourite time in here was probably our first, sat in the front window in the sun before a QPR away game, probably 25/4/11 on bank holiday Monday.  Even then, we had to get rid of a Leeds fan who insisted on talking to us because "we are all northerners together in the south".  Ugh, how annoying.

Me, Mark n Ben (not at all drunk), about to be chucked out at the Falcon 5/3/13

So, another fine set of 10 pubs that would now be called BRAPA ticks,  Nice to be back on the archives, more to come from London and Greater Manchester in our next edition,  

See you then, Si

BRAPA - Birtley, Beamish & Beyond

I'd been fortunate (very fortunate) to avoid the many L**ds fans who were off to Middlesbrough for a lunchtime kick off, as I boarded the 09:08 to Chester-le-Street for my bi-annual BRAPA trip to the North East.  I sat at the end of First Class to be on the safe side, and enjoyed my breakfast cheese & onion pasty which tin foil stuck to it, more dangerous than a Joey Barton jab to the knackers.

A connecting bus took me to the Beamish Museum, where I made friends with a woman celebrating her 78th birthday, making her exactly 48 years older than Dame N'Dioye.  I decided no-one is too old to understand BRAPA and she helped me out with some local knowledge, though her Grange Villas home doesn't have a GBG pub sadly.

584 - STABLES BAR & RESTAURANT, Beamish - The bus happily dropped me off right outside the Beamish Museum entrance.  Problem was, Stables Bar is located behind Beamish Hall which was almost a mile walk away down a winding country lane with no pavement, but I was more likely to be run over by kids running across the road to see the "horsie" than any motorised transport.  Had I walked around the back of the hall (a Best Western Hotel in truth), I'd have found the bar straight away but the hotel receptionist had me walking up and down corridors, getting in lifts etc as I wished hotel guests "good morning" and smiled at various chambermaids.  Yes, it was a unique search for a BRAPA tick!  It was worth the wait as their own on-site brewery dispensed a fine range of ales, I went for the IPA (Silver Buckle) which was superb.  The staff were smiley and pleasant, the bar area was full of leather settees, bad music and rural farming decor in a confused mixture of sterile hotel bar and old style country pub.  The other 'drinkers' were all on coffee/juice and discussing country walks or trips out & about,  One quirk outdoors in the courtyard was what seemed to be the remnants of a beer festival, but all the beers were continental lagers like Tiger & Singha.  Was it just an elaborate set-up joke?  Very odd.

Impressive Beamish Hall, there's a fine bar & brewery behind here somewhere! 

585 - BEAMISH MARY INN, No Place - I was surprised how quickly I managed the 2.2 mile walk to No Place, a fitting description for a 'place' with two streets and I passed some kids playing in the street with washing hanging up etc, it really was like a scene from "When the Boat Comes In".  You have to love the north east.  This award winning pub was open, and a friendly no nonsense landlord served me an ale from Big Lamp brewery which was good, more traditional of a bitter than my IPA but still excellent.  I sat in the quiet lounge in front of a roaring log fire, and we've learnt this winter in BRAPA that when a real fire is in and being maintained, it usually means the pub cares about all aspects of it's function to the public.  Another thing I've learnt is how important music is in a pub for ambiance, whatever people might tell you.  So when loud early noughties/late nineties hits started up at a fair volume, it seemed to ruin the old skool atmosphere that had otherwise been created.  People wise, tt was a bit more raucous in the main bar, though what I initially thought was a full room of old men in flat caps was an eerie mural showing silhouettes of old fashiond drinkers.  Quite sad when you think about it!  A toothless old man and his younger but equally mad looking mate came to warm themselves in front of the fire and we exchanged pleasantries, from what I could tell from their strong accents.  Toothless told barman he'd not come to the pub if he had a fire like this at home, so I chipped in I bet he didn't have beer like this at home.  Ha!  1-0 Simon, and after a trip to the "Netty", I was ready for my next pub......

Bygone pub fun at the Beamish Mary Inn, No Place
..... well, I was ready for the next pub but it wasn't ready for me.  Despite checking the 12 noon Saturday opening time, the Newfield Inn in Newfield was very closed.  Not shut down, just closed.  A shame as I'd had the toughest walk of the day along the crazy A683.  Still, judging by some of the locals hanging around the car park over the road, it didn't look the most inviting place.  I "vented" on Twitter and was re-tweeted by a Shakespeare quotes page for using the phrase "dead as a doornail".  I thought it was Charles Dickens!  

The sun shines above Newfield, but the pub is very SHUT. 
Oh well, an occupational hazard of BRAPA I guess and one I haven't suffered for a while so I was due one.  All I could do was catch the bus back to Chester-le-Street from the "Aged Miners Homes" (only in Durham) in Pelton a few streets away.

586 - LAMBTON WORM, Chester-le-Street - Another back-breaking walk (more surprising this time) took me to the most Northern part of the town.  This was the home of Sonnet 43 brewery showcasing their beers, both light (which I'm less keen on) and dark (invariably gorgeous).   However, this pub suffered from the age old BRAPA problem of being foody, in fact this was a no holds barred, balls-to-the-wall Gastropub,  Totally unashamed.  Their efforts to create a bar area for drinkers was admirable, but hadn't worked, and why should drinkers have less comfort than diners?  So I took myself right into a comfy corner next to diners and ate my sausage roll on the sly as a triumphant two's up to "this sort of thing".  Service had been a problem too, and whilst the staff were obviously hard working, a group of 12 diners were settling their bill as I came in and after the closed pub experience and full bladder, could feel the rage rising!  I calmed down once I had a few sips of the always gorgeous Bourbon Milk Stout, though I don't like drinking out of a vase.  Mixed feelings then, but you've got to have these varied experiences.

Drinking out of a Sonnet vase in the gastro-esque Lambton Worm.

587 - BARLEY MOW, Birtley - Being so north in Durham, I crossed into that mystical, well mythical county of Tyne & Wear.  This meant, alphabetically speaking, I'd achieved both my next Durham tick (Beamish) and T&W tick (Birtley) on the same day.  A good result.  This was a culture shock after the last pub, incredibly down to earth old fashioned north east boozer with a tough tattooed landlord presiding over things with huge arms, as he proudly told me of the ale selection in the lounge (I'd gone in the main bar this time to mix things up a bit after the last two pubs).  I stupidly chose a beer from the always great Jarrow brewery, but called Caulker which was the name of a QPR defender up against Hull City as I drunk it!  Speaking of football, Sunderland v WBA was put on some dodgy Canadian channel so I could impress my friend JW2 that I was suffering the same 45 mins of dirge and Danny Graham with him.   There were some lads playing pool, and about six older chaps at the bar, but no-one seemed at all interested in the football, until they showed Joey Barton's comedy sending off on a half time round up section!  It was time to leave.

Crossing into Tyne & Wear for some Birtley fun.

588 - BUTCHERS ARMS, Chester-le-Street - My legs were shot by now so I opted for another cheap as chips bus back into town, or "Chester", as the locals confusing call it.   This GBG regular brought my best quality pint of the day, so clear it was untrue.  A shame then that it was a Marston's pub and I was drinking "Sweet Chariot", an egg-chasing themed guest.  Not sure if it was my state, but from staff to locals, there felt to be a lot of love surrounding this old pub.  It was easy to find a cosy corner to smuggle more food in too, less easy to move the huge amount of cushions that seemed to be breeding on the bench seats.  And beer range was such, the landlady is making the most out of being tied to Marston's in a way which a lot of East Yorkshire pubs could learn from.  It then became a lucky pub too as Dad text (ahead of my iPhone football scores App!) to tell me the birthday boy N'Dioye had headed in a late winner.  Yessss.  First time that's happened since the Board Inn (Whitby) last October.  Time had ticked on to such an extent I wasn't in a position to go to to the Cricket Club so I had a final half of Oxford Gold before my train.

An impressive Marstons effort back in Chester-le-Street


A thankfully uneventful journey home was spent sleeping, didn't feel in need of a York Tap or other pub pint, so it was Sainsbury's to buy tea before settling down to watch MOTD and the Football League Show.  All in all, a good day.  Shame Newfield was closed and I didn't get round to Chester-le-Street Cricket Club, but I might need to be back in said town one day to get to places like Bournmoor, Consett and Leamside so it'll nice to have a town stop-off tick. 


My next North Eastern trip will, depending on county selected, either have to be Billingham and surrounding places, the 'Allens' of Northumberland, or Blaydon, Coalburns and the like just west of Newcastle.  One of those three later this year.  No date in mind yet.  


February has been a predictably lame month with only 14 ticks.  I'm now hoping time allows next Saturday in Stoke to get tick 589 in.  The Wheatsheaf Wetherspoons looks scary on a matchday but a good bet.  The Glebe is also an option but a 12 noon opener and would hope to be settled in White Star for then.  A lot depends on times & flexibility of tickets Dad has got us.     


  • I have high hopes for a return to top BRAPA form in March.  My sister's ankle pot comes off this coming Tuesday but whether she'll seamlessly be back to normal or I'll have to stay on Bertie duty while she adjusts, I have no idea yet.  Of course, when I say all this, I'm thinking about West Yorkshire Tuesday night BRAPping! 
  • A gig in Derby on 10th gives me a great chance to visit some of the many pubs I've still not done in this wonderful ale town, it's great when BRAPA and my favourite band combine.  I've been wanting to do the haunted Falstaff pub for ages now. 
  • Leicester away, as Tom has noted, could be scuppered in the pub ticking chances by a combination of Ben's birthday and a beer festival, but I'm looking at putting some wheels in motion at Stoke to get my own way with 2 or 3 new ticks minimum. The Salmon is high on my agenda.  I'd give Ben an award for "person most likely to scupper BRAPA" over the past year, unknowingly of course, so it won't be easy! 
  • March also sees my return to Bedfordshire, where it all officially began in Ampthill on 5th April 2014, almost a year ago.  I will be focusing on the two remaining Biggleswade ticks and others in East Beds.  Why?  Because it is at the beginning of the GBG and I have alphabetical OCD, that's why.  The Cock in Broom sounds fascinating.
  • Dad and I are playing golf at the end of the month (hopefully it'll finally be spring by then).  He's promised to take me to lunch at a difficult BRAPA tick at Blacktoft.
  • I'll also have room to continue the North Yorkshire challenge.  This'll either be a return to the Dales in the shape of Carlton in Coverdale etc OR I'll re-try the Beck Hole tick after the Ray Mears broken toe/wading into the floods incident last October! 
  • All this and I also have to fit in Leeds Beer Festival at Pudsey.  Poor liver.  
See you soon, Si

Sunday, 15 February 2015

BRAPA - Burn baby Burn : the outer Selby crawl

BRAPA has rarely been more localised for me than this.  Not even a train was needed as me and travelling companions Jig and Krzb boarded, firstly the 415 bus to Selby from York City Centre, and then the number 4 from Selby to Cliffe.  A £3.50 day saver ticket was a big bonus, Krzb deserves a lot of credit here.

580 - NEW INN, Cliffe - Having tried our hand at being Cliffe's first tourists (a local shop, football match on a field, and train crossing were all we had to go on), we were relieved when the pub opened, albeit a few mins after the 12 noon specified time (a pet hate of mine not opening bang on time!)  We were greeted by a two roomed pub, and entered the lounge on the left to be greeted by a friendly landlord (Ian) and a fine range of ales.  My one from Mallinson's was top quality, grapefruit flavours, and as it turned out, pint of the day.  We had to push the settee backs back into place, and the "fire" was more visual than offering any real warmth, but he put some top rock tunes on to add atmosphere and equally friendly wife (Adele) appeared.  This was a very promising start to the day, little did we know that when we conducted our "Scottish voting" on the journey home, this would be crowned pub of the day.  A very good effort from a pub previously described as a "no hoper" by CAMRA when tied to Enterprise scummers.

Me arriving at the New Inn (not really on such a slope!)
581 - WADKIN ARMS, Osgodby - The hard part of the day had been the 1.6 mile walk along the busy A63 to Osgodby (pronounced Uzgubby, according (or not) to Krzb), who provided good local knowledge all day as that South of York area is his natural familial stomping ground.  We arrived in one piece but ready for pint two, and received an arguably even warmer reception from the jovial, wiry, whippersnapper of a landlord who seemed to be everywhere.  He had to change a barrel for Jig's ale, and volunteered to bring all our beers to the table, a nice touch.  We settled down in front of a classic roaring fire, almost too hot if anything, and a mixture of jolly locals at the bar and unthreatening diners (see Arden Arms, it can be done!) made for a really good hubbub.  Sadly, my Valentine's Day themed ale was a bit thin and bland, but had it been better, this may have pipped Cliffe to the pub of the day award. I even missed out on a CAMRA discount and didn't care.  All those times Dad and I have driven down the A63, criminal we haven't been either here or the New Inn.

Jig & Krzb about to encounter a warm welcome in Osgodby

582 - WHEATSHEAF, Burn - A connecting bus back in Selby took us to this Pub of the Year, situated directly on the A19.  This was the key pub of the day, both alphabetically and because it's reputation meant it was the most highly anticipated, but as so often happens on BRAPA days, these pubs limp towards something of an anti-climax.  Krzb had suggested our "voting" would be impossible if the standard of staffing was maintained.  Careful what you wish for, as "not very two dimensional sideways Helen" gave miserable service, the locals (including 'quick racing man off bus') were more starey and less friendly, and the beer range was rather underwhelming, with not enough micros for my liking, though the Brown Cow Dark Mild was rather gorgeous, second best pint of the day, it was the only ale of interest.  It was such a shame because the pub was a beautiful olde worlde country village style inn, with nooks and crannies, bric-a-brac, 2nd world war memorabilia, and was very comfy.  Sadly, the huge real fire had been prepared but not lit, I think this would have made it hard to move but our "surprise visitors" had arrived to taxi us onwards, in the form of Linda C and Mrs B (Krzb's sister and Mum out on a country walking afternoon).

Wheatsheaf in Burn, didn't quite convince out there on the A19

583 - BAY HORSE, Great Heck - It cannot be underestimated what a great turn Linda did us by driving us to this remote village.  Hensall was the nearest train station but even the walk from here looked long & hairy(!), whilst a lack of signal or bus service meant other means of transport looked improbable too.  Probably a good job we hadn't been forced to make too much effort as this was a disappointing experience.  Firstly, I thought staff were again uncommunicative, til I realised the landlady's son was behind the bar on entry, and probably was about 11 years old, so we'll let that one slide.  What we can't let slide is the beer range.  One went off as we entered, so only Old Mill Bitter was available - had this been a CAMRA visit, I could see a guide deletion looming.  Not good enough.  Less to blame but totally illogical is why this village (famous not just for a train crash, but also a cracking brewery of the same name) has an Old Mill pub instead.  Bizzare.  The pub itself lacked any real atmosphere, but had some comfort with low ceilings, upholstered, and felt very old.  Linda and Mrs B finished their walk to join us for a drink, their BRAPA debuts, they deserved better.

Four BRAPA visitors, is this a new record? 

PRE-EMPTIVE - GIANT BELLFLOWER, Selby - We were dropped back in Selby to visit this JDW house, which keeps getting mentions in local real ale circles and I know for a fact it is under consideration for the 2016 GBG so definitely worthy of a visit.  We knew it'd have the best beer range in Selby, but the quality was key and it was sadly lacking as mine became more vinegar and sour the further down the pint we went, so I was soon on a can of American Craft catastrophe "Sweet Action" from the trendy Sixpoint brewery who embrace the modern hipster trend, something that isn't likely to reach Selby for another few hundred years.  The pub itself was a typical mixture of overly light and dimly lit areas, a few good snugs with Valentine's couples going for the cheap option.  Jig n Krzb ordered food, and my beer was such that I had no qualms about brazenly eating my foiled pasties.  Maybe this was why the staff seemed rather miserable too.  Personally, I'd still not put it in the GBG but watch this space, as local CAMRA are eager to promote a supposedly burgeoning "scene" in this part of the world.

I'd have to say the jury's still out on Selby's much celebrated JDW pub

A bus back to York involving our "Scottish voting" ensued after a slight delay due to trouble at Escrick, and Jig and me settled down for a post-BRAPA pint in the always great GBG York pub, the Golden Ball where we people watched for the final hour.

See you all in a week's time for our bi-annual trip to the North East, all in the name of BRAPA.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

BRAPA - Stockport Part 1

Greater Manchester maintained it's position as my third most popular pub county as I visited 5 of the 13 mainly Robinson's pubs in the always superb market town of Stockport.

Dad was my designated travelling companion for the day (Ben stayed in Manc), the lines between BRAPA and football have never been more blurred as Hull City were away to Man City but I had been thinking like a Hull City striker i.e. "outside the box" haha, hence a trip out to Stockport.

Despite his schoolboy error of not realising most York trains were now Victoria bound rather than Piccadilly, we were soon in Stockport for 11am.

575 - ROBINSONS BREWERY VISITORS CENTRE, Stockport - There was only one logical place to start, and having negotiated an upstairs central reception around a museumy style area, we were directed downstairs, where a friendly young bar chap served us from a full range of Robinsons ales, very much an unfashionable brewery in the current climate of high packed trendy hoppy beers and crazy flavoured darks.  This only drew me closer, plenty of memories of my early real ale days in towns like Stockport and Preston drinking ales from this fine brewery.  I went for what I think was the seasonal guest, a 3.9% Voodoo Dawn, red and as high quality as you could wish for.  Dad said the same about his Unicorn (depsite a weird floaty black thing in it), but baulked at the idea of a handled dimple glass claiming it is not the 1970's!  Okay, so the bar itself was a bit sterile despite the back upholstered bit, but we could learn about the brewery.  The stand out fact for me was that their well is as deep as the Blackpool Tower is high.  I found the toilets, as directed behind a large copper, which wasn't a tall policeman but in fact, a big thing used for brewing beer in.  Ho ho.

Approaching the fantastic Robinson's Brewery in Stockport
576 - ARDEN ARMS, Stockport - Isn't it a shame when a gem of a pub lets itself down, thus damaging your memory of it?  This is what happened here at my most highly anticipated pub of the day, having read about it in my heritage guide and it had that superb old skool north west layout with tiled hallway around the bar, with little ornate rooms off to each side.  Unusual pub quirks included a snug you could only get to by asking permission to firstly walk behind the bar, and the handpumps were actually behind the bar too, meaning Dad was nearly heading for the exit thinking no ales were available.  A little old woman/landlady with no people skills asked if we were dining, and when we said not, she indicated we could sit on stools at the bar and drink.  But we found a non-reserved table for two in the back room and settled down to a pint of Robinson's Double Hop which packed a punch.  However, things changed when this same poisoned dwarf lady moved us for a family wishing to dine.  They hadn't booked, she didn't ask, we were simply usurped and were NOT amused.  Dad went to complain, I tried to diffuse the situation as the landlord joked we could sit on the stairs, which didn't go down well with Dad who wasn't laughing.  I declared we'd sit at another table until the diners turned up, and all was fine, except the damage was done.  Were there really no spaces for drinkers in a pub championed as a heritage real ale pub?  I understand these days, after a chat in Osmotherley last week, how pubs struggle to survive without the food aspect, but it was more the manner in which it was done that was annoying.  In Southfields, Tom and myself were moved for diners but they were nice about it, and made sure they found us a place to sit.  So with Dad still chuntering, it was time to move on.  I didn't return my glass to the bar.

Dad gets ready to do battle with the dining v drinking brigade
577 - BOAR'S HEAD, Stockport - Hidden behind the ghost town of a market place, almost totally hidden by all the empty stalls, was our next pub.  Just when I'd been worried the day would be one-dimensionally Robinson's based, this one turned out to be a Sam Smith's pub - huzzah (I think), OBB all round at cheap prices.  Sam Smith's have spent a lot of money (probably a real strain for them!) on restoring this pub to how it might have looked in the bygone era, and I have to say, they may well have installed the clientele as it was typically Sam's with loads of old characterful lads and ladies, all jovial and having a great time - that was the real difference between this and Hull's morgue like Blue Bell and Rugby Tavern, for example.  It was the perfect tonic after the Arden Arms, no food worries here, just a proper no frills boozer.  It was almost standing room only too, this must be where all the market traders were.  We found some stools in a corner, and improvised in front of a roaring real fire using the mantelpiece and other stools as our "table".  We were the two youngest people there.  We then discovered lots of other rooms on the other side of the pub, a tardis like building.  It wasn't even a stunning pint by OBB standards, but this was a classic pub atmosphere, how I hope they can recreate this in places when I'm Dad's age and it hasn't died off.  

Boar's Head hidden behind the market stalls.
578 - SWAN WITH TWO NECKS, Stockport - Behind the Merseyway shopping precinct, we found this wonderful Heritage pub with a long thin corridor leading to the bar, and stools lining the corridor further down to create some interesting places to enjoy your drink.  I'd opted for a beer I had to have, Old Tom, an 8.6% classic barley wine.  I'd been given a round of applause the only other time I'd ordered this (in Crewe, Boxing Day 2005 which made Billy's Paynter's wonder goal feel like a dream).  No round of applause here, Dad got a half and whilst we told the staff we'd share the two, I ended up having the whole pint.  We found a beautiful side room with, natural light given by a rare "lantern window" as Dad was told by a frail old man having a pint with his daughter.  A transvestite was also present with an improbably deep voice, creating an interesting quirky atmosphere, with a few other old regulars and a couple having a meal, Dad noted no-one had to be moved seats in the process!  It was the right conditions to drink a pint slowly, just as well with the Old Tom, but time was ticking on so we left via the superb outdoor toilets (another dying art of pubbage) so much enthused, we trotted on, crossing the M6 which disects the town.

A bit of free advertising for my place of employment as Dad strides purposefully onwards
579 - CROWN INN, Stockport - A Stockport real ale institution, nay, a NATIONAL real ale institution was our final pub of the day under the shadow of the railway viaduct and with everyone from GK Smooth of Untappd fame to Christine (in India) commenting on it, how could this be my first visit?  A jaw dropping array of 16 handpumps, Dad left me to it and it was so busy, I had plenty of time to choose a couple of good ones.  The pub was multi-roomed, bare boarded, must've almost been verging on Heritage itself as I enjoyed a superb very local pint of Stockporter.  Still strong, yet incredibly drinkable after the Old Tom which didn't kick in til the train home.  I found Dad in a room towards the back of the pub, engaging a group of Man City fans in conversation, all season ticket holders claiming they "were sick of being let down" by their club so Dad had been telling them they didn't know what misery was until you've supported Hull City!  We had a good chat as I explained BRAPA and the other groups in the room were chipping in, as they tried to convince us to join them in Heaton Norris just to the North.  True, I did need two BRAPA ticks here, it was a three minute walk, but we had a train calling and I still have 8 Stockport pubs to do, so we politely declined the offer.  Can't wait for my next visit to this town - top quality BRAPping.  

Under the viaduct real ale by numbers, at the wonderful Crown.

Luckily, Dad woke me as we arrived at Leeds where we had to change having caught a Hull train home, the Old Tom had really kicked in.  No York Tap pint needed tonight, just a cup of strong tea and a nap before MOTD.  


Sunday, 1 February 2015

BRAPA - Outer Northallerton

The always difficult 'North Yorkshire' challenge continued yesterday with a trip to four villages around Northallerton, the first N.Yorks trip since Boroughbridge & Ripon day in December.

A straightforward train journey and connecting bus had me arriving into the quite picturesque village of Brompton just after 12 noon, though I soon realised the pub was outside the village on the main A684 and I had to walk uphill along Lead Lane, in icy sludge, no pavement with traffic racing past at high speeds.  Not quite the gentle introduction I'd been hoping for!

571 - GREEN TREE, Brompton - I was the first customer of the day as I entered this one roomed, traditional style pub and was soon engaged in conversation with the friendly young barmaid who commutes from Harrogate to work here.  Despite not expecting her to get the whole BRAPA concept, she was very interested and like Lincoln lady last week, thought I should look for sponsorship.  There was a roaring log fire which she was doing her best to maintain, and if this winter has taught me anything, it's how much a real fire brings to a pub.  Only three ales on, Gundog Bitter from the local Wall's brewery was the only micro, but it was very good quality.  A local Guinness drinker came in and we stood at the bar, chatting and he revealed the landlord used to be on the Darlington FC board in those George Reynolds days, and was currently watching a top of the table Evostick clash away at Salford, with the promise of free pints for all people in tonight if they won.  Some local lads came in, seemingly to just smoke outside and drink lager.  I was talked out of going to Danby Wiske next, because Osmotherley made more sense.  Local knowledge has to be respected, so I took the advice.

Main road pub action in Brompton, nr Northallerton

Had I known I was going to "Os" first, I'd have got a bus but with taxi already called (Danby Wiske has no public transport service), I was committed frustratingly as I spent a fortune on taxi's today.  The experience on Lead Lane meant walking in these conditions seemed fraught with danger, treacherously slippy.

572 - GOLDEN LION, Osmotherley - And it was only when we arrived into the impressive three pub village of Osmotherley that I realised they'd had a lot more snow up here than in my more southern part of North Yorkshire.  It was clear from the outset that this was a serious diners pub with a seriously good reputation for food (it smelt very good), lots of staff wearing white wondering where they'd seat this stranger.  Fear not, I was only drinking so joined a friendly local man at the bar, we really were the only two non-diners here but at least the staff were welcoming, and unusually, the ales were all microbreweries and in perfect condition.  My Truefitt Stout from a brewery in Middlesbrough was superb, and I'd call it "pint of the day".  I got on well with the chap at the bar, and the young barmen chipped in as I talked BRAPA again and hoped I was not boring them!  It was a warmer more loungey style pub, but it worked, and I was invited to the beer festival next November.

Low key pub sign on my arrival into snowy Osmotherley
My driver was happy, his team Middlesbrough were winning and after that pint, I couldn't fail to wish the smoggies good luck in their promotion push.  If they go up, it looks unikely they'll be playing Hull City, we were 0-1 at home to Newcastle as we arrived into Danby Wiske, where (half rhyme of the day coming up) I needed a piss!

573 - WHITE SWAN, Danby Wiske - You don't get much more of a village local than this, it was shutting at 3pm so I had an hour to drink.  I was met by the landlord, coming in carrying wood for the excellent and much needed wood burner in his wellies and hat.  It was very Fast Show as he reminded me of Ralph from Ted and Ralph, whilst the near mute barman was like a big hairy 'Ted' with glassy eyes and a stoic manner.  I sat at the bar again and chatted the landlord, who gave me taxi numbers, explained his role in local CAMRA covering 50 miles of pubs but only allowed to put 14 or something in the guide, which seems harsh.  He also told me about the local sword dancers but bemoaned the pubs constant lack of customers, it's only in summer when coast-to-coast walkers come here for a pit-stop that it gets busy.  The pub istelf felt a bit like a traditional Dales pub, with shelves above the bar selling the kind of stuff more reminiscent of a village shop than a pub.  To prove just how local this pub was, 'Ralph' offered to bring me and Ted a sandwich as his wife was making his lunch, presumably in an adjoining house.  I tried both Wall's guest beers and was quite impressed again, with the golden one and the Northalleton Dark.  I felt quite passionate about this pub by the time I left, hoping it gets the custom it deserves.  In a rare chatty moment, 'Ted' said he felt "the pub (in general) had had it's day" in these modern times, I hope he is wrong.

Inside wood-burner view at the White Swan, Danby Wiske
With my final and alphabetically, key pub of the day not opening til 5:30pm, it was time to take stock of the day back in Northalleton - as a town, a bit less personable so I could actually sit away from the bar, catch up with my twitter and Untappd check-ins, hear about Hull City's 0-3 defeat and hear how poor Dad had a puncture on the way home and was waiting for Green Flag.  Thank god for BRAPA, I selfishly thought.  I did this 'catch-up exercise in two pubs I first visited on my A-Z Northallerton day, Tickle Toby and the always excellent Tithe Bar where I unwisely had a 6.7% hoppy stout called Black Jesus by Great Heck which nearly killed my insides.

It was 17:20 so I rang for a taxi yet again as like Danby Wiske, Borrowby has no bus service and a 5 mile drunken walk in sleet in the dark didn't seem wise.

574 - WHEATSHEAF INN, Borrowby - What first hit me when I arrived probably about 20 minutes after it's opening time was how busy it was, full of jolly locals starting their Saturday night early.  Seriously, I was soon drawn into thinking it was 8pm.  The pub had a lovely tudor-style feel with low beams, creaky floorboards, corridors, low ceiling - it is 17th century actually and perfect for a winter's evening as the atmosphere was superb, though sitting at the bar for a record fourth time today was getting bit wearing, especially as everyone was in couples or groups so I couldn't chat to locals as much as before.  I went for the perfect session beer to wash away that Black Jesus, Durham Magus and though it was last of the barrel, tasted great as always,  The locals were excited to see the replacement ale go on straight away, a Wensleydale Semer Water which caused much discussion which seemed a bit OTT to me (I drank this in Hawes back in September).  Mobile reception was predictably up and down, so I had an explore of the pub, inside and out as I rang for my final (slightly tardy) taxi of the day.

How long had it been open?  Busy early evening at Wheatsheaf.
A painfully cold wait on Northallerton station ensued, chatting to local chap off skiing via Manchester Airport to France or somewhere, and then a pub chat about Rotherham's establishments with a young chap off on a night out in Leeds made the journey back go quickly.

In the cold light of day, I'd been glad to tick off 4 quite tricky to get to places though with hindsight, I should have saved such a day trip for better weather, where I may have attempted a bit more walking (from Danby Wiske back into Northallerton for example) as I spent a fortune on taxi fares.  Never mind, all in the name of a good interesting sociable local BRAPA day out which just wouldn't have been the same had I had company of my own!  


February looks like being a struggle for new pub ticks.  My sister's pot doesn't come off til 24th, so (with Bertie in mind) midweek WY BRAPA trips are postponed until at least then.  In addition, only four Saturday's mean options are limited.  Stoke on 28th is a write off as I'm settling just for a one pub White Star experience.  Manchester on 7th offers more scope, but can it reach full BRAPA day levels?  14th is the Selby day though like this trip, even getting four pubs in is a struggle.  21st holds the key, I'm looking at a less-rural North East trip as I don't trust the weather enough the allow my next North Yorkshire Trip to be an unequivocal success (the Dales again, due to Carlton in Coverdale being next alphabetically).

Still, I'm willing to just go for my 12-15 average number of pub ticks as January was such a success.  28 new ones was a good achievement without the midweek WY ticks.  Best of the month?  It's between Old Tom's in London, Strugglers in Lincoln and Bath Hotel in Sheffield.

Meanwhile, from March onwards, I will be cracking on with the county of Bedfordshire, home of the first official BRAPA day with one trip per month.  I already am booked for an outer-Biggleswade day in March and an outer-Bedford day in April, and when tickets become available, May might see a trip to Dunstable.  Aim is that by December, I'll be somewhere near completing Beds in full.  I know I can't avoid Luton forever!