Monday, 30 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (171-180)

Welcome back to the latest edition of these amazing (or not so amazing) pubs, currently in the GBG, which I visited pre-BRAPA (so either early 2014 or before).

171 - Loggerheads, Shrewsbury - My first visit to this historic and wonderful pub was Tuesday 29th October 2002, our first pre-match pub before a 1-1 draw.  It was teatime so Countdown was on, and the locals were taking it very seriously, consulting a dictionary to possibly help them, not sure it worked!  I even remember what I drank, Crop Circle by Hopback - the less common "Summer Lightning" which was the "ale of the moment" back then.  It is a superb old Heritage pub, and it even had a "men only" room until 1975 - the sign is still there and you get the feeling people wish it was still the case!  This is where I sat on my return visit with John on Wed 7th Sept 2005, we noticed huge chunks of plaster out of the wall, this is proper old skool!  We then moved into the main bar to watch Northern Ireland beat England 1-0, where a local annoyed me by laughing that England were losing to a team with a "Hull City player in it".  I'd like to go back and ask him where the fuck are Shrewsbury compared with Hull City in the football pyramid, but it might be aggravational and this pub is no place for that!  Again, I can remember the beer we drank, Slater's Top Totty.  Superb pub.

172 - Three Fishes, Shrewsbury - Not far from Loggerheads, Dad and I had tea here on 29th Oct 2002 and it was our second pub of the night.  Dad and I slightly preferred this, it is a bit cosier with a lounge style feel and an annoying group of women he called the CLF (Canadian Lesbian Front) spent ages ordering their food and slowing us down.  I also remember a great beer range and the fact it was no smoking well before 2007.  The pub is on a cobbled street and has tudor style oak beams so Dad's often telling me he's seen it on films and TV programmes set in t'past.  I therefore took JW2 here on our mini-holiday, probably on Tue 6th Sept 2005 and this time, I slightly prefered the Loggerheads experience but it wasn't by much.  Too many diners on this occassion spoilt the atmosphere a bit.

173 - Raven, Bath - Pub number three of my inaugural A-Z trip in July 2012, this was my least favourite pub of the day based solely on the people.  Beerwise was fine as I went in and found a good range of locales, I had one from the Blindman's brewery.  There was no room downstairs despite being mid-afternoon (where I normally find a lull in pub activity) but I was chuffed with myself that I worked out another room and bar upstairs, unusually and impressive as it had all the ales on too.  This one was full of tourists (which I always try in vain to distance myself from) and some annoying Northern men were talking to a few locals, but I couldn't establish myself and felt a bit like the dunce in the corner!  So I read the pub's own leaflet from cover to cover, twice.  I think I just caught the pub at the wrong time for me.

The Raven in Bath - top upstairs bar, shame about the customers
174 - Star Inn, Bath - My 4th and favourite pub of the day, I'd been reading up about "snuff" as I heard they sell it free in the pub.  Terrified I'd be offered some and not know how to take it, I'd spent the previous evening on Wikipedia learning the full history!  In fact, all I did get offered was some free pie, leftover something to do with the fact there was a beer festival on outside (I'd never have known, it was so quiet and peaceful in).  It is a really old style quirky pub, National Inventory and the main bar was full of strange curios.  I sat in a side room called "Death Row" because it had one long table in the shape of a coffin.  The man I shared it really looked depressed like he was awaiting death!   John had been texting me asking me to try a pint of "Abbey Bellringer", and I was pleased to finally find it here.  Staff were really friendly too, made conversation and offered me samples of other ales. Overall, a very heartening experience after the difficult Raven.

175 - White Star, Stoke - I've been to this cracking Titanic pub 4 times now, the last 3 times it has been our main pre-match pub but we first popped in after finally realising the Locomotive(?) was rubbish on 29th November 2008, where Mark "Beefy" Bainton had the kind of polycarbonate drinking vessel incident which led to that particular anecdote being told for the next 5 years!  It has a range of about 5 Titanic ales and 5 or 6 guest ones, no away colours allowed but it's pretty obvious we aren't from Stoke (as our eyes aren't too close together - JOKE!)  It's not the most traditional pub, with either chairs and tables designed for eating, or some overly low settees - needs a happy medium.  I think the best part is actually the staircase area up to the loos, but maybe that's just me!  The best experience here was 29/3/14 when we got talking to a friendly bunch of Stokies who helped us get the bus to the ground.  Nice chips too.

Chips and great ale in Titanic wonderpub, the White Star 29/3/14
176 - Dove Street Inn, Ipswich - 13th August 2011 and after a bit of a wait for opening, I persuaded Dad to stick with it and join me here (neither of us had been impressed with the St Jude's on our last visit).  We entered to a tiny front bar and were glad to get a seat in the corner as the main long bar was very busy despite being only just after 12 noon opening.  They have a huge range of ales on, lots of different styles and plenty of locales you wouldn't normally see as a York based drinker.  The beers have to be listed on small blackboards above the bar such is a sheer volume of them, and it didn't take us long to work out it was our new favourite Ipswich pub!  We unsurprisingly returned on 13th April 2013 and there were murmurings Ben had got fed up of St Jude's and wanted to join us, but it didn't transpire so we resumed out text wars about which pub was best.  It was a glorious summer's morning so we sat in the garden on the astroturf, and then in the tent when it clouded over.  We eventually moved inside through the conservatory foody room to the main bar, but not before we'd had a dreadful pint of some local 'lager' style ale which tasted like Carling to me!  We weren't too sure about any of our beers on this day, just lacking that pzazz.  Things like Woodforde Wherry for example, good enough but a bit average. We won again on this day so a lucky pub!

Me enjoying a pint in the astroturfed tent at Dove Street, Ipswich  13.4.13
177 - Fat Cat, Ipswich - Travelling on a train to an away game was a new concept to me, and one that had blown Dad's mind so much that he didn't even travel.  So it was then, on 19th August 2006 that the era of away train travel began and I loved it.  The hard part was the fact it was a hot day and I legged it through Ipswich centre and out the other end in a thick leather jacket, dripping with sweat, and a mile later, finally reached this pub on the edge of town.  My urgency was that Chris and Tom were expecting me, and I knew they would be ahead of me.  Such was my thirst and urgency that I pushed past an old bloke at the bar, quickly apologised but he let me go first anyway, with the words "we do things a bit slower in this part of the world" in a thick Suffolk accent!  I eventually found the Irvin duo outside, and with an actual fat cat for company in a lovely beer garden, I'd say this is still the highlight of my Ipswich pubbing to date.  Chris moved us on well before kick off in search of other pubs, and we found Ipswich is a town with a serious problem in dealing with "visitors", something I've noticed every time since.  We returned here as a bigger group post match 4/5/08, an even hotter evening.  I remember the beer range being even better, there may well have been a festival on!  We sat outside again and ordered curries from across the road which apparently is the done thing,  and some Ipswich fans had a go at me for getting curry round my mouth - a weird thing to criticise I thought at the time!  A bit out of town, but still a very good pub.

178 - Albion, East Molesey - If there was one A-Z day where 'pubs' and 'drinking' weren't concepts at the forefront of my mind, it was H is for Hampton Court where I got lost in the wonder of the place.  I had also underestimated the length of time it'd take to get from here back to Kings Cross.  And thirdly, I was on medication for an infected leg so not technically supposed to drink.  I still had this pub earmarked though, and after a walk down an impossibly posh road full of weird shops (think Harry & Paul's 'I saw you coming' sketch), I entered to find a comfy if not overly friendly pub, full of red furniture and walls I seem to remember with a TV, plenty of food, more drinkers thankfully, and a slightly split level - in a weird way, I could think of it as Henry VIII's local, maybe that was just being fanciful!  The date by the way was 24th November 2012.

179 - United Services Club, Egham - A ridiculous walk to Englefield Green from Virginia Water on my "V" day (11th Jan 2014 so probably just before BRAPA was forming in my mind) eventually took me on to Egham.  I'm always a bit anxious in going in "clubs" rather than pubs with all this talk of showing your CAMRA card, being signed in, firm but fair policies etc etc but I could not have been made more welcome here.  On entering, I was surprised to see a huge vast function room style layout, it looked like an aftershow party, or at least, the remnants of a celebration.  The staff were friendly and I was charged £2,50 for amazing Hastings Porter and a lighter locale, unheard of pricing around this part of the world.  I settled down to watch the football scores and got chatting to a couple of locals about the perils of being a Hull City fan (we'd just lost at home to Chelsea so being Surrey folk, they seemed rather happy).  Before I knew it, the main chap was giving me a guided tour of the premises, and leaflet's on forthcoming beer festivals telling me about all the places from the "North" that people come from just to visit this festival.  I could see the attraction but he nearly made me miss my train so I had to scoot along, making polite apologies as I legged it for the station.

180 - Beehive, Englefield Green - I was quite underwhelmed by this, my second of three pubs on the memorable "V" day of 11th Jan 2014.  The area had seemed very well heeled and upmarket and this felt a bit like a protest pub, where the last bastion of no nonsense drinkers come.  That could have explained the large rather intimidating group of men stood around the bar watching horse-racing and the like.  I quickly got a pint and sat round the far corner in a fairly basic bar to the right of the entrance - I didn't even get chance to notice the landlady was German (apparently she cooks meals from her homeland which must be quite unusual pub fayre).  It was also very much a Fullers pub, and with only three or four on, I went for a well-kept Bengal Lancer as it seemed the rarest but for a 5% IPA, you'd expect a bit more bite.  Not the pubs fault though.  I put on my coat, took a deep breath, banged my empty pint glass on the bar, and said goodbye to the entire pub, never to return!

My Bengal Lancer at the unspectacular Beehive.
So there we have it, ten more off the list and after a bit more time in the south, we'll be heading up to that fictional county of Tyne & Wear for our next archive session in a few days time.

See you soon, Si

Sunday, 29 March 2015

BRAPA - Ales in the Yorkshire Dales

View of the Dales, looking down onto West Witton
The main aim of my second BRAPA trip to the Dales was to tick off the next North Yorkshire pub in the guide, in Carlton in Coverdale.  Having originally planned it as a four pub day, by Friday night I'd settled on a much more sensible "two pub option" which put less pressure on the travel.

But after a train to Northallerton and traumatic delayed busses via Bedale, I noticed we were travelling right through Wensley and when an old woman pressed the bell, I thought "to hell with it, I'm ready for a pint, I'll get off here too". Thus making this a three pub day - that's a compromise!

610 - THREE HORSESHOES, Wensley - So with the wind gusting around my ears, I entered this typical Dales pub, looked like it had been there centuries and battered by the elements and seemed sunken into the ground.  There weren't too many walkers around, mainly a mixture of people having lunch and locals having a drink.  Inside, it had that Dales feel too, basic and bare-boarded but cosy, light and welcoming at the same time.  A friendly, docile dog greeted me and the semi friendly landlord served me a cracking pint of Yorkshire Dales "Three Horseshoes", presumably brewed for the pub.  I sat in an empty back room, I felt the couple on a bench outside were brave in these winds.  The sun was streaming in, making it a happy experience as I read a booklet about events in the Dales, and wondered if I was missing out by not attending a talk on Lichens in Leyburn.

This pub sign confused me for ages til I realised it was "three horseshoes"
The plan now was to walk two miles to West Witton but a sign for Coverdale and an accompanying pub advertisement made me take this road instead.  4 miles of mainly uphill walking ensued, a rainstorm and constant wind meant I've never felt more battered on entering a BRAPA pub, my cheeks are still glowing the following day!

611.  FORESTERS ARMS, Carlton in Coverdale - Considering my dishevelled state, the bar man had such an "air of what of it", my friend Krzb Britain may as well have been serving.  He didn't even look at me until he'd served me.  If I ever deserved a round of applause when entering a pub, it was here.  But when a local came in with two docile but staring dogs, he was all "OI OI JIM, HOWZ TRICKS?"  very annoying!  Immediately, a man came to the bar and asked for a dice and I was about to treat him as a kindred spirit when he revealed it was missing from Trivial Pursuit.  A group of them were playing in the back room, though such was the circular table, it looked like they were conducting a seance.  In the front room where I sat, there was a mixture of couples and families having lunch but it was quiet and relaxed, again no walkers, they were probably too sensible to come out on a day like this.  My Golden Salamander ale from Bradford tasted even better than usual. 

It was a heavenly sight when I finally arrived at today's main destination.
The walk to West Witton took me a different route, this was the most sparse and barren part of the Dales I'd ever seen (more like Exmoor) but mercifully it was downhill for the most part so about an hour later, I arrived at my third pub.

612.  FOX & HOUNDS, West Witton - A friendly landlord with a Gandalf-esque beard greeted me here, the locals also seemed more smiley in general and although another Salamander ale went off, the Rudgate Coffee & Date ale (which didn't look on) was superb.  A man was getting a bit too excited by horse-racing, his wife looked embarrassed, a boy came in and started watching stuff on his iPad and all was well with the world.  The pub had more of a loungelike back room with a more traiditional area near the bar with a great real fire, and the landlady did a good job keeping it topped up as it was properly chilly by now.  Three men started taking pictures of the pub and sampling the ales, was this a BRAPA spin-off?  The landlady compared them to trainspotters.  That must go for me too.

So with my three pubs achieved, all that remained was to keep my bladder empty and catch the bumpy bus back to Bedale.  And it should have been a simple finale if I hadn't done anything stupid.  Standing on the wrong side of the road for the bus was pretty stupid, especially as it was the last of the day to Bedale.  Luckily, I struck up a good deal with a taxi driver from Transylvania (I'm not kidding) to bypass Bedale and go straight to Northallerton.  So I saved a lot of time but wasted money!  

Yes you are in the GBG, I wouldn't be here otherwise!  

After a Grand Central train, I was in York Tap for about 7pm which was good considering.  I just missed Jig and his Dad, but on the plus side, a hen do from Billingham (yes, as scary as it sounds) joined me and they were my toughest BRAPA audience yet, though one did have the George & Dragon in Norton as her local so I tried to get them into it, got an invite to the wedding in Middlesbrough, and luckily they went to get a minicab home shortly.  A bearded man at the bar praised me for dealing with them, and I went to Brigantes to join GK Smooth and Mark T for a final half before KFC and Rogue, the Aussie Crocodile horror film, to end a tough but good day.


  • I've got some BRAPA "business" cards on the way to me, so I can give them to unsuspecting pubbers, friends and random people I meet on days out.  I can also leave them in the pubs I visit, to raise awareness of my blog and the challenge.  Professional!  
  • My claims of a "30 pub" month for March were perhaps a bit ambitious.  Still, if my first of three Halifax trips goes according to plan on Tuesday, we can make it 25 which is much better effort than Feb.  
  • April is on the horizon, Saturday's aren't going to be too productive with two football days and a "Dad day" so the onus is on the Tuesday West Yorkshire challenge to help get my targets in.  I'm looking to hit the 20 mark but I doubt it'll be as productive as March.

See you soon I'm sure for more archiving and Tuesday's first Halifax review.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

BRAPA - Elland, Huddersfield and Blacktoft

Hi all, a day off work and a return to the West Yorkshire Midweek challenge has made for a productive last couple of BRAPA days.

I did have to start though by removing one pub, the Pilot in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  I thought I'd been but doing the archives, I reckon it was a bar called Foxtons instead (not presently in the GBG), so I started one down at 604 ticks,

A train to Huddersfield from Leeds and connecting bus 503 (though I nearly slept through my stop!) got me into Elland at about 5:30pm.

605 - BARGE & BARREL, Elland - It was great to be back in WY after over three months off.  The main reason for the absence had been cat-sitting for my broken ankled sister, and ironically, this is a rare example of a BRAPA pub she'd already done - typical!  It was well worth the wait.  By a canal, it had a nice welcoming lounge area and circular bar, loads of beers on a blackboard, and a kindly landlord and locals made me feel at home.  I sat in a window overlooking the canal barges enjoying a pint of porter all the way from London's Five Points brewery - excellent stuff.  A lot of the pub chat was about the local pork pie range (they also did "dragon eggs", spicy scotch eggs) and all the chat made me hungry enough to get one to take away - topped with black pudding as the extremely limited edition peri-peri and ploughman's ones had gone.  The landlord even cling-filmed it at no extra cost(!), as I chatted to some of the local men about stout, porter and pub snacks.  Overall, a great pub experience.

Canal side porter at Elland's wonderful Barge & Barrel

606 - DROP INN, Elland - Unusual compared with a lot of Ossett pubs I'd been in recently, it felt more like a homely traditional pub than the more modern style Hop's of places like Leeds and Sheffield.  It had stone floors and a big fireplace so felt kind of like a country pub.  I noticed that aswell as the Ossett beers you'd expect, they also seem to have taken on the Rat beers now (I had a brown one) which I first noticed in Huddersfield's Rat & Ratchet many years ago.  My beer was quite lively and the barmaid offered to top it up even when I'd sat at my table and started sipping it,  It's nice touches like that you remember.  Whilst I didn't feel quite as welcomed here as at the B&B despite sitting in the front bar near some locals, it was still a well above average pub worthy of Guide inclusion.  

Good traditional Ossett pub fayre in Elland

Luckily my 503 bus back into 'Udders was a bit delayed to allow me plenty of time to get it, and as I munched on the black pudding pork pie I'd bought earlier, it was dark by the time I got to mynext pub, a short walk from the bus station......

607 - GROVE, Huddersfield - Highly anticipated for me, due mainly to it's legendary beer range, I wasn't disappointed as I entered to find a list of about eight regular beers and ten guests, all displayed on a blackboard supplemented by continental bottles and some of the modern keg variety.  Of course, I only had eyes for the handpumps and the friendly young barman offered me a taster of "devil's bilge water", a chilli stout so I only had a half (very powerful) and had a half a gorgeous pale a bit later on.  I got chatting to a nice chap from South London who told me he often just travels up to Huddersfield to come to great pubs like this.  Someone else told me York Tap was it's only equal in Yorkshire but for me, it's too simplistic to say a pub is great just based on beer range!  Still, as I didn't get out of the bar area here, it really was all about the beer here.  I was soon explaining BRAPA to the chap, who seemed genuinely interested (what's not to love?) and I gave him the address of this blog, which makes me even more determined to get some "business cards" made so I can give them to poor unwitting strangers, and raise my blog's profile further.  Come on! 

Possible atmospheric night vision shot of the magnificent beer palace, the Grove!

608 - STAR, Huddersfield - A further walk from the centre took me past the afore mentioned Rat & Ratchet to another gem of a pub, I really was spoilt for choice tonight.  Being off work the next day, I felt a late finish was more acceptable than would normally be the case.  I really loved this pub, proper no nonsense West Yorkshire with a big group of characterful friendly old chaps blocking the bar area.  As in the Grove, I had half a strong ale from the wonderful Five Towns brewery of Wakefield, and then a lighter one just before I left.  Although I didn't get chatting to anyone specific, the pub had an inclusive feel more like the Barge & Barrel and Grove, and it makes a point of being all about conversation and not "electronic devices", though I was checking my ales in on Untappd without being fined/told off!  

Late night pub joy at the Star Inn, Huddersfield

The train journey back was notable for being sat with a woman who had a 'condition' where she couldn't control her body temperature, then the heating on the train broke, and the poor Transpenine guards didn't really know how to handle the situation!  I had a quick York Tap pint, figuring I should make the most of my "holiday" before fish & chips and bed by midnight.

Fast forward 13 hours and after a round of golf with Dad, he kindly drove us to one of those "really difficult to get to" places for lunch.  This was the next alphabetical tick I needed for East Yorkshire.

609 - HOPE & ANCHOR, Blacktoft - This had come highly recommended by our football friend Christine, and we were thoroughly impressed, rating it even higher than the Greyhound in Riccall and believe me, that is an extreme compliment.  They had three interesting guests on (I tried them all), two from a new Skipton brewery called Greyhawk, and one from Half Moon of Ellerton which I keep seeing everywhere at present - I'm not complaining.  This was a very comfy pub, plenty of oldies eating in the conservatory so we just ate in more pubby bar area - the fish & chips (again!) were wonderful, pub clean, and although the barman had an element of "East European psychopath", I felt it was all a positive experience - just a shame it is so remote, Dad is already planning on taking Mum as they had six veggie options too.  A lovely garden looked amazing in summer, with views out across the river (which was very much the Ouse becoming the North Sea!) 

Me after a good feed and drink in the beer garden at Blacktoft


Well, I wish all midweek's could be so productive for the challenge.  After a quiet Feb and early March, I feel BRAPA is gaining real momentum again now.  Next up (Saturday) is my return to the Dales on Saturday via Northallerton and Bedale.  Only 4 pubs planned, but miles n miles of walking so I'll be dusting off the old walking boots.  

March will end next Tuesday with our next West Yorkshire trip - the first of three trips to Halifax.  This first one should be most straightforward, with three fairly central ticks.  

My April agenda will be finalised shortly.  We've got Swansea and Palace away, another Bedfordshire trip, another Dad day to a couple of remote East Yorkshire places and plenty more West Yorks midweek madness.  

It's also occurred to me I have my birthday week off work in early May but no BRAPA trips planned as yet, so I'll have to get my thinking cap on for a random day out, not too far away as train tickets will be expensive by now.  North East or other side of the Pennines are maybe my best bet.

For now, happy BRAPping everyone!


Monday, 23 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (161-170)

Evenin' all, for our latest delve into the pub archives, we are back in Notts, the start to Shrops, we'll be having a Bath and ending with a bit of Staffs fun.

161.  PRINCE RUPERT, Newark - Dad and I arrived for our father/son day trip to Newark on 15th June 2013 and being an early opener doing food, it seemed like the perfect place to come for breakfast before a bit of sightseeing and antique shopping.  The building was a fantastic 15th century old, creaking, oak beamed delight with different areas, though not quite sure you could call it multi-roomed.  However, the general atmosphere and feel of the place didn't match this, very modern attitude with smart staff in clean white shirts in a more modern bar area.  Needless to say we went to sit in the shabbiest part of the pub we could find, but all-comers were here from students to families with small kids and you can almost imagine Dad chuntering to himself.  Our full English breakfasts were pretentious affairs, every element of it a little bit "off-beat" and Dad was soon complaining about a lack of toast until we weren't charged, at least for part of the meal.  At least one of the main beers on was the magnificent Oakham JHB, but not sure it was much of a consolation at the time.

162.  FELLOWS, MORTON & CLAYTON, Nottingham - September 10th 2004 and the first of two random Nottingham trips to see amazing American horror pop punkers Groovie Ghoulies at a venue called Junktion 7.  I was meeting new "couple" Milner and Lisa (who were very delayed) so I ended up trying out a lot of new pubs in my 2002 GBG (i didn't buy 2003 and '04 wasn't quite out yet).  I got very drunk and ended up wearing a women's thong on my head and having a song called "Freaks on Parade" dedicated to me.  Before this, this was my first pub of the evening and it seemed to be an absolute hive of Friday evening students and office people, it felt like "the place to be" and I was a bit intimidated by the swathes of joy which seemed to be emanating from every corner of the place.  A great range of ales was on though they weren't so interesting like microbrewery ones.  I also remember a load of flyers for gigs, website links, Myspace & Facebook pages etc.  It was all a bit overwhelming, though I was inexperienced then.  I perched near a servery, admired the condiments and cutlery, and drank my pint quite quickly.  Never been back since as it's generally been not in the GBG, but from thre outside, it looks a beautiful pub.

163.  VAT & FIDDLE, Nottingham - Achingly good, this pub I'd call "our" pre-match pub for our trips to Nottingham Forest away.  On a snowy March 5th 2011, we were in early and hiding from Hull City hooligans who marched past the window.  The helpful staff introduced us to Castle Rock loyalty cards and Mark Bainton's drinking speed soon meant we were ready for a freebie before we could blink.  We always sit in the same corner, just to the left, underneath and interesting map of all the pubs of Nottingham.  A pub cat completed the scene (though we later learnt it died - not on a day we were there I might add!)  Problem was, a section of our "Welly gang" got over-excited about being in Nottingham and decided to tour other (inferior) pubs.  Dad, being a spineless chump, thought we should be "sociable" and join them, but he secretly regretted the decision, I wasn't happy either.  It was similarly infuriating a season later (29th Oct 2011) when the"Welly" contingent met us here though the barman was a miserable bugger on this occasion and I had to practically beg for a Castle Rock loyalty card!  Dad and I enjoyed our pints before the gang arrived, but again they maddeningly decided to move to the Canalhouse.  This time I put my foot down, and before long, they were back announcing VAT & Fiddle is a better pub.  Hallelujah!   So by our final visit to date 1st Dec 2012, we were able to put full focus on this amazing pub, even getting some nice simple pub food which tasted like it'd come off a greasy wagon by the City Ground.  Perfect with a pint of Castle Rock, Hemlock, Elsie Mo or Screech Owl etc etc.  We even came in post-match one year, possibly the second time, where a friendly local couple chatted to us about dead cats and things.

Me, Ben and Colin on visit three - I'm happy cos we are staying put (for once!) 

164.  COACH & HORSES, Shrewsbury - Me and John Watson II went for a random mini-break to one of my favourite towns in the UK having told him about my several great pre-match Hull City experiences here, most even pre-beer guide.  The date was probably Tuesday 6th September 2005.  This was our first evening of two nights, and midway through our pub crawl we found this gem, probably pub of the night and John's eyes still glaze over when I say the words "Coach and Horses, Shrewsbury".  We had to work to find it, down a maze of quiet backstreets just off centre.  But we found the most peaceful old style atmosphere imaginable, warm and comfortable with a Victorian feel and lots of wood paneling.  They sold great local beers like Shropshire and Slater's - I think John had an Elsie Mo.  We sat in a snug area, joined by a student girl and her parents, and John explained he thought girls were more attractive when on a trip out with their Mum and Dad!  Interesting.

165.  DOLPHIN, Shrewsbury - The original and best experience in this pub was with Dad before an evening game, I think on 29th October 2002, my sixth and final visit for football and the only one I got to use the GBG for.  I think this was our final pub pre-match as it was dark by now.  Talk about characterful!  You know I like pub cats, but this place was heaving with the felines, and a camp barman with weird hair kept squirting fresh cream into ashtrays on the bar for them.  I also seem to think they had their own brewery onsite, I seem to remember short-lived Dolphin beers (it is a Joule's pub these days),  The other room to the right where the toilets were was much better, traditional with pre-war music, gas lighting (very rare) and a load of old locals asleep, or possibly comatose by the gas!  It wasn't the best beer or cleanliness, and I'm trying to remember whether I took John here on our 2005 trip, I'll have to ask him, if so, it was less memorable! 

166.  ALL NATIONS, Madeley - John and I went to Coalbrookdale / Ironbridge for a bit of tourist activity on Wed 7th Sept 2005 - we both like history and the industrial revolution.  John drove but we stumbled upon this amazing pub, famous for being one of the "original" 70's brewhouses when only 4 or 5 kept going in the face of lager and keg domination.  It was still brewing and I remember my pint of All Nations whatever being absolutely top class.  The pub had quite a rural feel, outside and in with bare boarded floors, and we ordered cheese & ham toasties, John showed me a dodgy clip on his new hi-tech mobile phone and we generally basked in that mini-holiday lunchtime feel.  

167.  BELL, Bath - 21st July 2012 and it was the start of my "A-Z : Aleway Adventures" where I annoyed everyone who showed an interest by doing the letter "B" before "A".  It was all to do with getting a good deal of train tickets, don't blame me!  This was my final pub of the day in Bath and compared with some, it was quite a vast yet quiet affair, with hopbines hanging from the ceiling, friendly staff and locals, eight ales on, and towards the back of the pub where I sat, something that looked like a washing area and a real emphasis on music with lots of random tracks being played off a laptop, gig posters and apparently a side room called the "Love Lounge".  A young man started acting strangely so me and the couple next to me were laughing at him, but in a nice way I promise.  I remember thinking "god, do they not realise I'm probably just as drunk as him!"  

Internal scene of a pretty empty Bell in Bath, July 2012
168.  OLD GREEN TREE, Bath - Second pub of my "B" is for Bath day and as my heritage guide would tell you, this pub has a real Northern feel (unlike the rest of Baaaarth!) with a kind of hallway serving area where locals stand and get in the way!  I went beyond this and took my pint into the lovely oak paneled back room which was empty at first, until about a billion Chinese students descended on the place and it was the only time all day I wanted to pretend I was a local Bathman (or whatever the phrase is).  Tiny pub really, bit like the Grove in Leeds mixed with Blue Bell in York.  I drank a house beer, called Green Tree Bitter or something.  They say it's impossible not to strike up a conversation in here, but I managed it!

It took me ages standing here waiting for a tourist free shot of this lovely old pub! 
169.  BURTON BRIDGE INN, Burton-Upon-Trent - So, you have a brand spanking new ground which you want to showcase to the world.  You are so proud.  Which "big" name side do you invite to play you to for your second fixture having lost at home to Chester in the inaugural opener?  Hull City of course!  So that's why me and Dad found ourselves at the Burton Bridge brewery tap (famous brewing town anyway) on the evening of 20th July 2005, before being two of the 957 lucky punters in the Pirelli Stadium.  The pub had a nice sunken, dark, old feel though I remember little actual detail, though beer names like Golden Delicious and Stairway to Heaven resonate as amongst those I tried on the night.  2-2 it finished thanks to Craig Fagan and a bullet header by a young defender called Alred Lord Byron who we believed would soon break into the first team.  He never did.

170.  BULL'S HEAD, Burslem - Or Port Vale to those of you who don't the Potteries,  my first visit here was monumental in my real ale education as it is the Titanic brewery tap and to this day, that remains one of my favourite breweries ever.  14th August 2004 was the date of my only trip to Vale Park, and before Steve Brooker did what he always did against us, we settled down for a great pre-match session.  The most memorable ale on was a tribute to Vale hero goalscorer Roy Sproaston(?) with his picture on the clip. The pub was traditonal bare-boarded Brewery Tap style fayre, quite light and airy but comfortable enough once it warmed up (more of a problem on our second visit).  Our first visit was almost ruined when the police, in a seemingly controlled experiement, allowed an unconvincing group of Burberry clad Hull City youths (about 16 years old) to come in.  The landlady did a great job on them, telling them to sit down and shut up, and they could have one lager and then leave!  And guess what, they were totally subservient like they were in a school canteen - bless 'em.  Needless to say, we returned knowing Stoke itself wasn't good for real ale on 21st Jan 2006, a very cold but brilliant 0-3 win day.  And this pub came up trumps again as we met up with Tom and Chris Irvin for a good session.  Dad drove us to the game from there, which was above & beyond! 

So there we have it, ten more down and some very interesting memories to be had there.  More from Shrewsbury, Bath and Stoke before we delve into Suffolk.  

See you soon!  


Sunday, 22 March 2015

BRAPA - Bedfordshire Part II

As I sit here the following morning eating Frosties in my pants (try not to picture the scene), I'm satisfied with what was, a difficult day of BRAPA action, as I returned to the beginning of the GBG, where it all officially began on 5th April last year......

Not only was it freezing all day (so much for the start of Spring!), but slight train delays on the way down where I found myself stuck in a carriage full of Mackem Men, I was pleased to be in Sandy on time without the need to change at Biggleswade (I even had time for a swift half in excellent Peterborough Wetherspoons, the Draper Arms - reviewed in the archives).

My first pub, the Sir William Peel, wasn't open.  It said 11am in the GBG, it said 11am on the front door, I sat there til quarter past but gave it up as my bus was 11:26.  Shame because the people of Sandy seemed very friendly (oh, and I couldn't do my RSPB joke on Untappd).

601 - RISING SUN, Potton - So finally, bang on 12 noon, I entered this pub and was delighted to see not only a great selection, but two Oakham Ales on.  My favourite brewery in the UK, this pub is an "Oakademy of Excellence" which presumably means they are trusted to keep their beers well.  I had a limited edition Racketeer, strong and typical Oakham.  The pub was quiet but I wondered if it had accommodation as there were a few touristy types wandering around.  The staff were friendly in the loosest sense of the word, though I wasn't so impressed with the pub layout - despite being huge, the tables were obviously set out for dining and by the time I left, a group of oldies by the door were tucking into something with peas and roast potatoes.  To be honest though, I was just delighted to have finally got today up and running.

Proper swinging pub sign in the wind at Potton!
As a kindly wizened old woman at the bus stop gave me the history of Potton and vital bus info, I was on my way to my next village, Dunton.  But even more maddeningly than Sandy, the pub wasn't open!  It was after 1pm.  A local couple saw me struggling, they shared my surprise, but told me where the landlord and landlady lived, and that I should ring the doorbell!  And guess what, I did!  Landlady answered and told me they were opening 2pm and she'd see me then.  A BRAPA first.  But I wasn't hanging around in this weather and after a hellish three mile walk along raised grass verges with drainage ditches, I was rosy cheeked and in Biggleswade.  Phew.  I needed a pint.

602 - WHEATSHEAF, Biggleswade - It was a vital day in the world of egg-chasing I learnt as I walked into this rather basic Greene King pub.  A few old men were watching some boring match (Wales v Italy) so I feigned interest and sat in the front bar with a perfectly good Adnams Southwold served by a good landlady with Welsh roots who asked if my pint was good enough quality.  I got the impression throughout that they thought I was some CAMRA inspector.  The local "character" i.e. old man who couldn't shut up, told me it was nice to see "a young man drinking bitter".  I suspect very few youngsters (errrm, I am 35!) come here and a taxi driver later told me everyone calls this pub "the Wheat-wreath" and wonder who will keel over next!  Outdoor loos always deserve a bonus point in this day and age.  A young girl came in and sat at the bar, the old man kept stroking her back, I wondered if she was his granddaughter or the just local "play-thing".  I left feeling the pub was at least, real, friendly and basic yet it also lacked any real identity or character.

Wheatsheaf, Biggleswade - lacking a bit of star quality

603 - PEMBROKE ARMS, Biggleswade - Being the focus of my groundbreaking BRAPA adventure last April, I feel I'm almost becoming something of a Bedfordshire real ale pub expert, so I was fully aware that this pub was a direct substitute for the now de-listed Stratton House Hotel.  Whilst that "pub" was a bit sterile and antiseptic, so was this!  But with fewer beers on, less custom and less room, so I didn't really see the point.  The fact that the barmaid (who reminded me of a gobby student who once got murdered in an episode of Lewis) spent the whole time trying to put some daffodils in the most prime position on a mantelpiece (with help from the three regulars at the bar) made me wonder if this pub has it's priorities right.  True, I'd overlooked the guest ale and my Marstons EPA was actually very nice, but she could've spent the time ringing breweries asking for a fourth ale to be put on - well, in my utopian view of pub management!  It was once a proper old pub called the Brown Bear, but attempts to modernise places like this don't sit right with me.  If I never come back here, I won't cry.  As I text my Biggleswade pub aficionado John Watson II (his gf's sister lives here), the Golden Pheasant's crown of best real ale pub in the town is safe for now!

The Pembroke Arms, not really my cup of ale!

Ticking off the final pub on "page 2" of the GBG, a landmark moment!
604 - COCK, Broom - After a dash for the 200 bus (full of crazies it has to be said!), I arrived in this little village for my most highly anticipated pub of the day.  A CAMRA heritage, and one of few in the country with NO BAR.  So how does this work?  Well, a barmaid with an element of Daria, Stacey Slater's voice and "sideways Helen" (a girl I vaguely know) stands at a servery looking expectantly at customers.  I chose a Spring Goddess by Bateman's off a blackboard, she went outside and came back with a pint.  Novel.  Like the Wheatsheaf, I sat near a TV and tried not to block the egg-chasing (it was Ireland v Scotland now).  A big group of locals chatted uproariously with the staff - the lack of bar means there isn't that boundary either - and when one of them mentioned "the north not being as good", I saw that as my cue to join the conversation (as a northerner) but apart from one nice lady who I explained BRAPA to, no one wanted to know, not even sideways Helen or the landlord later described by my taxi driver as an "arsehole".  Can't say I was impressed so I just took in the otherwise great pubbub, loved my pint and was glad they put the football scores on whilst I waited for my taxi to arrive.  I guess they get pub tourists like me passing through quite a bit. 

Pub with no bar, very good, should've been excellent.

605 - ENGINEERS ARMS, Henlow - After a great taxi ride, I found myself at this multi-award winner and seeing the amazing range of ales on, I wasn't surprised.  Entering to the right was probably a mistake, as the egg-chasing had progressed to England v France and the atmosphere was properly rowdy!  Friendly, but I was always going to sit in the more civilised lounge area with fellow egg-haters.  I simply had to go for the Black Beerd stout by Newby Wyke (named after a Hull trawler, brewed in Grantham) and as an old man with a strange name started chatting Bedfordshire pubs to me and writing new pub names on his Daily Mail and tearing out strips of newspaper, all seemed well with the world in this cosy room where three barmaids worked hard to keep on top of the rugby rush.  However, it hadn't been an easy day and I started feeling strangely allergic.  Is the beer brewed with nuts?  More likely, barmaid had served someone some nuts and then touched the glass.  I didn't swell around the mouth ala Last Drop Inn in York, but I just felt like I couldn't swallow properly and very hot, head was pounding.  Shame really, the stout tasted amazing.  With the taxi unable to get to me for an hour, I left half my pint undrunk, and walked the mile to Arlesey station where I could get back to Biggleswade/Sandy for my train to Peterborough, then York.

Engineers - excellent apart from allergic feelings, maybe it was the rugby! 

The train journey home was horrendous due to engineering works around the midlands, I felt loads better after a hot chocolate and blueberry muffin in Peterborough, and totally sober by the time I reached York so two pints in York Tap and late night Sainsbury's shopping completed a tough but worthwhile day.

Plenty more BRAPA ticks to come between now and next week so stay tuned!

As for Bedfordshire, I will be back here in a month's time for a more central crawl around Bedford's villages - Ampthill and Bolnhurst being the two absolute "must do" pubs.  


Friday, 20 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (151-160)

Welcome back to my run-down of previously visited GBG pubs, finishing our tour of Liverpool and Norwich, and then we'll visit five towns we haven't yet heard from.  It's going to be good, trust me.

151.  Richmond Pub & Hotel, Liverpool - Ahh, Chris "Krzb" Britain.  Long time friend, and the most contrary man I know, he'll ask the difficult questions in life like "is the GBG overrated when you are scouring a new place for pubs?"   So on 14th September 2013 after an interesting "O" shaped day in Ormskirk, he was no doubt delighted as we found ourselves back in Liverpool with no map, no electronic device, no clue where we were.  He simply followed his instincts (and some very dodgy sounding 90's dance music he liked) to a tight, thin little bar on the edge of the main pedestrianised shopping area.  Desperate for a drink, we entered only to be stunned at the superb range of guest ales.  We soon squeezed into the left corner and watched a foreign channel showing a 3pm kick off Sunderland home game, against the Gooners I think.  I didn't remember this pub's name and just over a month later, I took Dad, Christine, Tom, maybe Mark & Ben and maybe some others on a pre-BRAPA crawl of the city.  One of my pubs was this, and I was shocked .... "I've been here before, this is the Krzb pub!" I exclaimed ...  GBG listed and everything.  Getting a seat was even nicer, Christine's home-brewed Coal Porter was shared around once I'd finished my Windy Bog.  A good experience.

152.  Roscoe Head, Liverpool - Famous for being one of six pubs featured in every edition of the guide, Dad and I weren't too sure what all the fuss was about when we first came here on 10th Jan 2009, but then again, it was crawling with SS.  As a consequence, I took myself into a small side room where I sat alone, totally undisturbed for about 3 minutes with just a few locals.  Ben spoilt my splendid isolation and I was forced to be sociable again!  I do remember what ever pint I chose was absolutely stunning quality.  The Roscoe Head really came into it's own when Dad and I were struggling for open pubs in torrential rain on New Year's Day 2014, this pub was our saviour.  The barmaid was really characterful, the locals were engrossed in reading materials but would occasionally look up and chip into our conversations, which was weird, as we sat in a strange shaped side room.  Good beer again, and we only moved on because a newcomer gave us a run down of all the open real ale pubs he'd walked past on his walk from the station, and this included Dispensary.

153.  Trafford Arms, Norwich - Tuesday 27 Sept 2005 was early in my "career" to be gallivanting around the country on my own but this is what happened on our first season in the Championship, and maybe why I felt a bit uncomfortable and out of place here.  I was staying in a Pink Lighthouse surrounded by bikers and rock n rollers so maybe my mental state was fragile.  I'd been to a couple of pubs already in the south west part of Norwich I've never really revisited since, when I found this popular with home fans pub.  After being served, I retreated to a quiet far corner behind a pool table, near the loo but with no table to rest my drink on, worried people knew I was a Hull City fan from afar.  JW2 once met a "date" from Norwich in Whitelocks, Leeds and she knew of and praised this pub.  If I went back now, ten years more experience, things'd be better I think.  

154.  Vine, Norwich - Why?  That one word would sum up my feelings about this place.  Post Alexandra Tavern but pre King's Head on our latest trip to Norwich, 18th Jan 2014 with the seeds of BRAPA formulating in my brain, I persuaded Dad to call in here for a quick one to get another pub "ticked off" my Norwich list - a long list, I know.  It is basically a glorified Thai restaurant, the seats set out something like a cafe/restuarant combined.  The staff were all Asian origin, I was scowled at as I creaked up the narrow staircase to the toilets, and it seems all the ales on were light to "compliment" the spicy food.  So wrong, it's untrue.  Still, I love an Oakham JHB (the regular) though I went for an "Indie ale" but I'd defy any drinker to get settled here, though plenty of local men were trying their best!   

155.  Wig & Pen, Norwich - The original Norwich brilliant experience, me and Dad came here on that monumentous day 25th Nov 2006 where the penny dropped and he finally realised train travel to away games was definitely the way forward (I'd done Ipswich alone earlier that season).  It almost made me feel guilty to be sat in here shortly after 11:30am in the sun drinking a pint of something golden and gorgeous, the little effort we'd made to get here!  The whole pre-match experience was probably our away day of the 2006/07 season in a most beautiful cobbled area of the town (I can't see it as a city despite the glaring grand Cathedral looming over us, it's too nice for that!)  Friendly barman, cosy pub, though I can't remember any specifics.  Therefore, it was the main pub on our agenda next time for a Tuesday evening on 12th Feb 2008, so maybe it wasn't surprising to find an anti-climactic experience.  We sat on the other side of the pub this time, and a mixed atmosphere, full of students and a great splash of cabaret camp made for a hubbub that Dad especially found a bit uncomfortable,  The beer range wasn't as stunning either with mainly well known brews.  Either the landlord or an entertainer had a microphone (or was it just quiz night!), and it was all a bit odd.

156.  Malt Shovel Tavern, Northampton - Although we are going back all the way to 4th October 2003, this was a great pub experience and away day etched in my memory.  After a morning playing snooker at the local Riley's, we walked down to this pub just after opening and were served beers from the local Frog Island brewery (Natterjack I remember) by young, attentive staff.  We then sat back in the wooden part of the pub and watched the action unfold as some rough looking City fans (hopelessly trying to appear "local") get haaalves of laaaager as the staff kept ducking under the bar and speaking to police through walkie-talkies - we could tell but the Hull chaps were oblivious.  The pub soon filled up with SS and other football fans, and we went to sit with our new football friends Chris and Tom (more to the right of the pub) who we knew from "Hole in the Wall, Spring Bank".  We had a good pre-match with them, the highlight being when Dad couldn't quite 'get' Chris's anecdote about Andy Payton naked in a wardrobe.  The noise of the pub was such, Dad struggled to grasp the meaning, an exasperated Chris shouts "HE WAS SHAGGING HER!" just as there was a pub lull and everyone stopped and turned round.  Classic away pub action! 

157.  Barrels Ale House, Berwick-upon-Tweed - 28th March 2009 and Ric & me went up to Berwick for a very lowly Scottish football encounter (losing 2-1 at home to East Stirling in the last minute was about as bad as it could get!), our rationale for the trip, we were manging them on Football Manager 2009.  This was our main pub of the day, nestling in a great location under the old Tweed bridge, and was very unique, described as an Olde Curiosity Shop and with things like an Old Dentist's Chair and stuffed animal heads, it was very memorable.  Some greats beers from the North East of England and the Edinburgh area meant we wished we could have stayed longer but we weren't sure where the ground was.  Ric, trying to appear a cultured artist, brought his sketching stuff and sat in the cold and painted the pub from the bridge.  I waved/stuck two's up at him from the window.  I think I was the winner here despite his attempts to take the moral high ground!  

158.  Bold Forester, Mansfield - We never seemed to do very well at Mansfield, pub-wise or football wise despite plenty of attempts, but being able to use the GBG to finally choose a pub here was, I remember, something of a relief, an almost cathartic experience if you allow me to be poetic for a second.  6th March 2004 was the date of this, my 7th visit here and last to date, and after parking in a typically dodgy neighbourhood, we arrived to find something of a 'happy harvester' style family eatery pub, with one difference, loads of ale, and a landlord who was delighted to see some ale fans in.  It was probably a rarity for him.  My only gripe with it, out of the amazing range of 10 or so beers, even in these days, it seemed they were all common.  Greene King, Deuchers, Black Sheep, Landlord, etc etc you know what I mean.  I think an Adnams was the rarest.  And every time one of us went back to the bar, we had to have a long chat with the barman.  Well, we were about the only customers in a huge place.  We tactically decided to reveal our "colours" (brave in Mansfield) but rather than putting him off, it just gave him more to chat to us about!  

159.  Just Beer Micropub, Newark - A few months before our visit, our friends in the Welly gang sent us a link to website of a pub unlike any other I'd witnessed, their tone distancing themselves from the rest, and claims to be able to "get any beer on" put me off more than 'wowing' me, but I guess this was the dawn of the micro (or "pop up") pubs we are seeing a lot more of now (see Chequers, Beverley, Snug in Carnforth or that Driffield newbie).  We were unable to attend the Welly trip there if it ever happened in any form, so when planning some nice summer days out, Dad and I decided to give Newark a whirl, mainly because he thought he could get some antique rummer glasses from a fayre.  He couldn't!  It was 15th June 2013, and this was our second or third pub of the day and was hard to find in an old industrial estate.  We weren't impressed.  True, there were some great beers with helpful tasting notes served by a helpful bearded ginger lad (not Tom) but as this was the East Midlands, no-one was friendly clientele-wise.  The seating layout was a bit quirky, but lacked privacy and the whole building was too small and invasive.  There were too many people here "trying to be someone" with laptops, and a painful exchange between two dog owners across the room pretty much summed up a poor experience.  Our least favourite pub of the day.

Happier times in Newark - me and Dad in a Springhead pub not GBG listed at the moment! 
160.  Canalhouse, Nottingham - I was first made aware of this pub in my excellent "Strangest Pubs of Britain" book back in the early noughties, but as it was not GBG listed for a while, I never went/couldn't be bothered to find it despite having a canal running through the pub.  We finally got here for a couple of our regulation Forest 1-0 away wins, 5th March 2011 being the main one when I'd much rather have stayed elsewhere but Dad felt we should be "sociable".  Beerwise, I couldn't fault it with superb Castle Rock ales and friendly staff, and it was great to finally walk over the internal bridge and see canal barges go by.  However, it was a bit foody and too modern and warehousey to have much proper pubbub comfort factor.  It was either on this same day or 29 Oct 2011 the following season when Dad and I came here post-match and it felt like a dive - dirty, chaotic, old plates of food everywhere, and a weird Hull City man we couldn't get rid off.  And most recently, in April 2014, we came here late afternoon with friends on our Nottingham Easter trip where we sat in a huge outdoor patio area, the place teeming with young, attractive students, it all felt as uncomfy as the post-match evening.  In conclusion, it wouldn't be my first choice if we returned to this excellent city for real ale.  

So, ten more pubs down.  Join me next week for the next batch as I notice these are more popular than my actual BRAPA reports!  More from Newark, Nottingham and beyond.  


Thursday, 19 March 2015

BRAPA - 600 up!

600 - Salmon, Leicester - A landmark moment and a long overdue pub too.  It'd been recommended to me by various Hull City/Leicester supporters we know and on a freezing Sunday 23rd Sept 2012, we tried to go only to find it closed.

Despite the anticipation, it was all a bit of a damp squib really in truth, we arrived not too long after opening to find a heaving pub we could barely get to the bar in (the staff did a good job of getting everyone served in truth).  It turned out it was the start of some CAMRA group pub-crawl of Leicester.  Dad perched into a seat in the corner, Ben and Alan joined us, and the bar seemed to be a central point to various seating areas, similar to many pubs in Glasgow.  Three strong ales were grouped together, with three lighter ones to make choosing easier and they were well kept, Blackhorse Stout being my favourite.  Ben said the whole thing was a bit of a "sausage fest" and even though the CAMRA people soon left, the pub hardly reached any kind of cosy community feel levels (East Midlands influence perhaps?).  The toilets were disgusting, blocked with piss and someone had also been sick, the landlord was enjoying his 'unblocking' role as I went in!  It often wins pub of the year awards, but Dad and I preferred our earlier Ale Wagon experience, whilst Ben and Alan wish they'd stayed in the non-guide listed Globe, another former favourite.

Dad declared his best drink of the day a stout we had in Last Plantagenet, a non-guide Wetherspoons with the slowest staff ever!  We popped into "the Pub" after the game, which was okay despite the egg-chasing and post-match rush.

Early morning (empty) pub scene at our pub of the day, the Ale Wagon (reviewed in my archives) 

I am no longer on cat duty (yippee!), so my midweek West Yorkshire pub tour can begin again.  It should have been this week in truth but a bit of man-flu means I'm resting up for Saturday, the "biggest" BRAPA day in the calendar year so far.  I need to be well for that!  But from next Tuesday, I'll crack on with it, firstly in Elland and maybe a bit more Huddersfield.  

See you soon for more archives and a comprehensive report from "Bedfordshire II : the return".


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (141-150)

Ahhh, Manchester, Liverpool and Norwich.  So much in common.  Nice old buildings, plenty to see and do, funny people, irritating football teams (I won't say which ones), and of course .... great pubs!  Needless to say, I've been plenty of times to these cities, so let us revisit some of the GBG pubs I did in years gone by.

141 - PICCADILLY TAVERN, Manchester - I knew there was a Wetherspoons near here on my way back from Cardiff in a rather hazy state on the sunny morning of Wednesday 14th March 2012 (I'd been celebrating a 0-3 victory rather too much).  So with an hour to kill, I needed hair of the dog and entered this establishment at ground level, ordered a nice pint of a guest ale, and went up to a higher split level where I sat in a booth, ordered some chips and nursed my head.  Rarely for me, I didn't come here thinking it was in the GBG.  Fast forward to 1st September of the same year and after a similarly comprehensive 5-0 win (this time for Altrincham v Histon), I brought my friends in here for a post-Alty pint straight off the tram.  Then it hit me, this isn't the Wetherspoons, it's a totally different pub!  Not my most observant moment.  It feels part of a chain but with well kept ales and good simple food, who cares?

142 - PORT STREET BEER HOUSE, Manchester - Typical!  Post match at the Etihad Plastic Hole in the ground and I'd lost the entire gang.  I had to use a kindly, humble gang of Man City men (if you can imagine such a concept) to help me navigate my way back down the Ancoates road I know so well, and through the warren of backstreets towards Piccadilly where I finally reached this little modern bar, not long open, on the 31st August 2013.  It wasn't unlike a less historic Pivni in York with upstairs bar, and trendy staff looked a bit miserable to be welcoming a load of black n amber fans rather than bearded hipsters.  A group of nice student girls then walked in but looked scared and ran back out.  I was praised for my timely arrival, and our gang including the full "Andrew" contingent, some Southern Supporters, of which Julian Daniel's tiny laptop made the biggest impression.  I later recommended the Port St to my friend to take his Dad to for a shorter walk (he's a different type of Hip-ster) - he wasn't impressed, I later heard.  Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

143 - SANDBAR, Manchester - Even more "quirky and bohemian" (a good choice of words by the GBG) than the Port Street, I came down here just off Oxford Road for a great gig with JW2 on 25th July 2011 to watch Brian Setzer.  The staff were very helpful and friendly and happy to give us tasters of the local ales on offer, 6 or 7 on our visit.  We decided to sit outside and try and work out who else might have been going to our gig.  It was surprisingly calm and relaxing outside on a nice balmy Monday evening in summer, despite it's proximity to a main road & much student accomodation.  I came back here on my own for a quick pint before another gig (either Flogging Molly at the same venue or Far From Finished closer to Piccadilly), on this occasion I sat inside but it was so full with students, even I felt a bit uncomfortable having a pint on my own with annoying youth brushing past me every two seconds!    It's a strange shaped place (especially if you are drunk and looking for the loo) but I have to say, I like it.

144 - WATERHOUSE, Manchester - 28th November 2009, day of THAT penalty celebration by Bullard, and we met Ben for breakfast (I think) in a different Wetherspoons from our usual 'Paramount' option.  The experience is memorable for one reason only, "quickest breakfast in a BRAPA pub ever".  I'd done the order, and yes, it was quite busy with early football fans with the same idea, but the food was on the table by the time I got back, having come out of a back area near some metallic stairs just next to us.  It's nearest contender in this department is another Wetherspoons, the "Albert & Lion" on Blackpool seafront, but this is a pre-emptive BRAPA tick at best as things stand, and that is probably being kind.

145 - DISPENSARY, Liverpool - I have a real soft spot for this pub, not only is it my joint favourite pub in Liverpool, a great city for pubs, but also one of my favourite in the country.  What's more is the best, quickest barmaid ever works here - a totally force of nature, and always manages to be friendly and have a laugh with you, even serving about six people at once.  She deserves some kind of award for barmaidery.  10th January 2009 was my very first visit here, as me and Dad meandered down from the Crown towards the part of town where most of the good pubs on my extensive list was.  It perhaps wasn't at it's best that day though we liked it enough, a few murmurings from our Welly gang via Southern Supporters reckoned the beer wasn't so good here.  Undeterred, I returned to show friends on our July 2010 Ric birthday visit and we were suitably impressed.  We picked up a local CAMRA mag, stopped the light blinding us through the curtains, and admired the Victorian features I'd read about!  More recently, Dad and I popped in here pre match on a difficult New Year's Day, but here, I had a Titanic, Oakham and Salopian, possibly the three best breweries I know.  Heaven, and Dad's flagging down of a taxi to get us back here post match was genius.  This was when barmaid told us she was off to change into a onesie and watch Harry Potter, as we sipped Plum Porter.  Most recently, we were here with Christine and Chris D just before our trip to Everton on a cold December Wednesday evening for another Plum Porter.  Typically, we got sat with a group of locals though the young lady didn't like me suggesting people from Hull and Scousers had lots in common ....  "We are our own breed!" she gargled in typically Scouse tones.  Classic.

A pre-match New Years Day scene in the Dispensary, amazing pub!
146 - FLY IN THE LOAF, Liverpool - Dad's favourite pub of our early sojourns to Merseyside, we came here on our very first visit 13th December 2008 before a 2-2 draw at Anfield, and returned not quite sure when or even who with, perhaps on the July 2010 Ric birthday trip.   Despite being quite an old building (used to be a bakery), it has quite modern feel around the long bar area where we sat first time, but a cosier raised bit with TV's and wood paneling at the back of the pub.  The pub is Isle of Man brewery owned so quite a few Okell's on but a good range of guests too.  We tried to get in on New Year's Day but was one of the many pubs still annoyingly shut after 12 noon.  Interestingly, or not, I can't remember anything of note that happened on either visit which is quite unusual for me.

147 - LION TAVERN, Liverpool - My joint fave pub in Scouseland with the Dispensary, we came here on either first or second visit (probably the second time on 10th Jan 2009 as I remember it being a very cold day).  It's got a great old layout where you go in to a hallway area and seem to be behind all the pumps in a Bluebell, York kind of way with all the locals sat at the front bar, so I've never really got a good look at all the ales on and just panicked and ordered the first one I can fathom out!  Unsurprisingly, it's a top heritage National Inventory pub and I remember green tiles and a fantastic roof light in one of the side room snug areas.  Also, all the customers are unsurprisingly friendly and upbeat creating a great hubbub.  I returned here with Krzb after our Ormskirk day in September 2013 and it was just as good as I'd remembered it.  Sadly underused in recent Hull City trips as the SS have discovered it.  

Top roof light action at the wonderful Lion Tavern
148 - ALEXANDRA TAVERN, Norwich - 18th Jan 2014 and Dad and his crazy train bookings meant we were in Norwich at something like 7am, so after breakfast and a walk, we were delighted to find a 10:30am opener on the edge of town.  Not only that, it was magnificent and if we hadn't agreed to meet Tom later on, we'd have stayed there despite the long distance to the football ground.  After a woman with a Tesco bag strode past us to get into the pub first, we found ourselves in a nice bare boarded pub greeted by a friendly landlord (apparently called 'Tiny' Little!), a ginger cat, a wood burner and some great beers from local brewer Chalk Hill who I'd loved on a previous Norwich trip.  Dad and I have vowed to go back when we next visit Norwich, but we should beware as pubs here which we love first time always go drastically downhill from there!  Usually.  

My hilarious check-in at the Alex Tav 

149 - KING'S HEAD, Norwich - See my above comment about pubs being great in Norwich on the first visit, and then going downhill, this is what happened here.  25th September 2010 was the date of our first visit, our designated pub on that day as Dad and I sat in the tiny front bar of this wooden boarded pub which expands into quite a large back area.  There is a huge range of beers, and on this occasion there were further festival type barrels on the way to the loo.  These may have just sold real ciders but it was impressive nonetheless.  The beers were great quality, and the range included lots of breweries we liked and knew.  A man came in with baby in pushchair to give it it's first "taste of a real pub".  Not sure but it seemed an excuse for him to have a few!  Mark and Ben's decision to go to Kings Arms nearer the ground seemed ridiculous.  It did get busier before kick off, the Norwich fans reckoning they'd stroll to victory before we broke our 31 game failure to win away!!  It therefore made sense to make the King's Head our designated pub of the 2013/14 season return visit.  We met Tom here, I vaguely recollect someone going missing(!) - well, Dad or Tom, and this time we settled in the wider spaced back room as some other Hull City fans (on a major crawl of the city we discovered) came along for a quick chat and pint.  Sadly, the pub didn't seem to have the spark of a few years earlier.  The ales were more from local microbrewers but all much of a muchness, and the range didn't seem quite as full on, whilst the characters and general vibe wasn't in evidence either.  It was good enough but never going to trouble the "away pub of the season" compilers.

Landmark pint number-wise, if not taste wise, at the King's Head
150 - RIBS OF BEEF, Norwich - Right on the River Wensum, Dad and I popped in here on 25th September 2010 as our first pub of the day (it was an earlier opener back then) as it was near the cathedral and en route to King's Head where we'd decided to spend the majority of our time.  Initial signs were good as we were served from a range of 'free from tie' ales of good quality, the pub was comfy and multi-levelled if a little bit twee with lots of cushions and decoration, whilst on a huge TV above us, James Martin was cooking up a bit of sea-bass on Saturday Kitchen.  But then it hit us ... barmaid with voice of a foghorn, and did NOT stop talking to her colleague for the entire duration of our stay.  It's not an exaggeration to say she singly spoilt the experience for both of us!  When we walked past in Jan 2014, Dad gave a little shudder and scurried on past.  

So, that was an entertaining ten I thought.  We've got more to come from Liverpool and Norwich, and then we'll be venturing into uncharted territory like Northants and Notts.  I bet you can hardly contain your excitement.  See you soon, 


Friday, 13 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (132-140)

Apologies for the lack of pictures this time as we scour the pubs of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, but after the excitement of Rochdale's Cemetery Hotel last time out, we need a bit of calming down period I think.  It's a white water ride, this BRAPA archiving ......

132 - FLYING HORSE HOTEL, Rochdale - 28th July 2012 and Dad & I arrived here off the train in the market square for our pre-Baum 'father & son only, no one else allowed' pint which is sometimes a nice way to catch up.  We had chosen it primarily because it was an 11am opener and was new in the GBG.  Although it had 'hotel' in the title, this felt more like a no nonsense lounge style pub with lots of blue carpet, a fireplace etc.  I seem to remember and staff with tattooed forearms.  The range of ales wasn't perhaps as jaw dropping as hoped (especially compared to the Baum) but we enjoyed the local ones they had (JW Lees I think) and as the sun streamed in through the window, it was a nice serene start to the day.  I did have to stop Dad looking at the food menu, he does get a bit carried away by them at times!

133 - CROWN & KETTLE, Manchester - Back to 7th September 2011 and day two of my midweek double-header watching the Swingin' Utters (best band of all time in my opinion) found me across the road from my Ancoats Travelodge taking stock in this ale pub.  It was only at this time that I realised the previously untapped area of Manchester Victoria's real ale pubs were on my doorstep here!  It was a very interesting building, very tall with a high ceiling and a grand sign you couldn't miss however blind you are.  There was a healthy range of ales, and I opted for an unusual dark peppery stout which was a killer to get through but gorgeous and memorable all at once.  It was very much a locals pub, so I hid round a corner and phoned Dad with progress of my travels.

134 - MARBLE ARCH, Manchester - I visited this in a torrential rainstorm on a midweek evening, probably in the spring of 2012 so maybe April then, before watching the Mahones.  I ran to get here as the rain started as I only had a t-shirt and some very unsuitable footwear.  It'd been sunny all day.  Well, it's quite a famous pub for it's old heritage, ornateness, mosaics etc and the big thing that struck me, was the strange shape of it where you can stand at the bar and all the angles look wrong!  Marble is a superb brewery too so the ales on were plentiful and top class.  There was a back dining area which looked new and lacking that same wow factor as you go back towards the loos.  Space was at a premium so I perched at the bar, determined to be "where the action was".  I debated getting a taxi with some orange coated worker, smoking at the door, but I unwisely decided to walk and was drenched for the entire evening!

135 - PARAMOUNT, Manchester - I've been here 3 or 4 times as it is a Wetherspoons and as my initial pub preferences in Manchester took me to the likes of Briton's Protection and Peveril of the Peak in the Oxford Road area, this was a good starting point whilst waiting for these to open so 1/11/08 before the 4-3 defeat at Man Utd was probably my first visit.  I returned here when I came to watch "Far From Finished" probably in 2010 and had good standard ham, egg & chips served by a jolly young bar chap who seemed to be confused by the whole order and drink request despite me being the only customer in the pub.  I may have been in here since before a Manchester away day, very much busier this time.  Ok, it is standard Spoons but good ale, staff & food mean you can do a lot worse if you are waiting for other pubs to open at 11-12.

136 - STALYBRIDGE BUFFET BAR, Stalybridge - An absolute gem of old, a proper buffet station bar, one of only two proper ones along with Bridlington in the country according to my cracking heritage ale guide.  I first came here on the first Welly gang summer trip in probably July 2009 before the Transpenine crawl really became full of idiots who eventually ruined it.  The problem for me here (and you can't blame the pub) is that on each of my three visits, I've been slightly worse for wear as you've generally had to negotiate Dewsbury and Huddersfield by the time you get this far down the line i.e. to the end!  The inside is great but a bit of a long, thin squash serving not just beer but chocolate bars, sweets and even little toys I think.  But my overriding happy memories here are of resting your pint on a little cart just outside on the platform, eating a bowl of local very tasty black beans (trust me) and basking in the sun waving at passing trains.

137 - ANVIL, Wigan - Wigan became one of our favourite cult away days in those first two season's in the Premier League, and this pub was a massive reason why, having been lauded to the maximum in the "football and real ale away days" books that we got for the couple of years they existed!  I don't think I visited this pub when I came to the Gooligan-tastic league cup game in August 2007 so my first visit as part of the Welly gang must've been 22nd March 2009 and yes, we were very impressed.  It has a traditional feel and a few nooks and crannies, if not particularly separate drinking areas so you don't feel too exposed, though it could perhaps be a bit warmer and more comfortable.  Being an 11am opener drew is in aswell and most beers come from the local AllGates brewery, which I have always been a fan of.  We returned for the FA Cup game in Jan 2010 where Barry from Goole (something about him and this town) told us in his own inimitable style about his snowy journey across the M62.  By the time we came here for a final time in May 2010, it was a bit rushed due to time and despite more AllGates fun with friends, Dad and I came to the conclusion we weren't as impressed as we'd initially been and may think about doing something else if we ever come back (so probably next season then!)

138 - BALTIC FLEET, Liverpool - 'Twas early July 2010 and a group of friends went to Liverpool to celebrate Ric's birthday, he being from Runcorn and me having learnt what a great ale city it was while we'd been in the Premier League, it all made sense.  Tensions were evident between my sister and Ric in the Philharmonic, who's relationship was coming to a close, but we then met up with his parents' here a bit out of town near the Albert Dock.  This is still my only visit to this pub, selling their own Wapping Beers (about six were on when we went) which were very good.  The pub was bare boarded and had a nautical theme, reminded me of a few I'd been to in Plymouth, and the atmos was typically jolly Scouse from staff and locals alike.  I was told of tunnels found under the pub which might relate to smuggling and press ganging of the past, so I was relieved when we left the pub in one piece, sister and Ric not lost down any chutes!

139 - CRACKE, Liverpool - It was Christine who encouraged us to come here, not on our initial trip and the blinding sun makes me think it was probably 26/9/09 before an embarrassing 6-1 defeat at Liverpool which finally brought us down a side street to here.  This pub has a rich local history, with stories of John Lennon drinking here in his college days etc.  I remember a very small hatch servery, two characterful barmaids who seemed to run the place with an iron fist, some local muses sat around trying to be cool, an impressive colourful mural in the main back room, and great music throughout. There weren't too many beers on when we went, but one of those traditional Liverpool pubs where it's all about quality over quantity, and here had plenty.

140 - CROWN HOTEL, Liverpool - Our original and often first stop off point in Liverpool due to it's location next to Lime Street and generous early opening time, I've been here a good 4 or 5 times.  A good cheap breakfast is always a must before Liverpool drinking, and on our first time 13th December 2008, having been served by a young lad, Dad turned to me and whispered "wow, they really talk like that - it isn't just on TV!"  and I don't think he was even joking!   Some amazing rooms adjoining the bar are stunning, as is the main bar itself and no surprise it is in the heritage guide - takes a bit of heating up in winter with high ceilings but old pub features in abundance like those old push bells that never work anymore, shame!  In the early days, the beer range and quality was quite poor with a cloudy Jennings Cumberland sticking in my mind, but more recently I've had some cracking quality ones, most notably post-match  when we were rushing a bit.

So there we have it,  140 done, plenty more to go.  Stay tuned for more pubs from Manchester and Liverpool, we may also take a foray into Norfolk too.