Monday, 29 June 2015

BRAPA : the archives (241-251) - South Yorkshire Special

Welcome back all to the latest trip down memory lane.  In this entry, we'll be reviewing my experiences at the eleven pubs in South Yorkshire I visited before BRAPA became an official life-changing challenge so sit back with a bottle of Acorn, Abbeydale, a Blackcurrant Cordial or even a simple cup of tea, and enjoy!

241 - Old No. 7, Barnsley - To say Barnsley was crying out for a top real ale establishment on our early football visits in the mid noughties would be a massive understatement, the Gatehouse had sunk as quickly as it had risen.  But word of mouth (a family friend, various Welly gang people and hangers on) told us about this new place and we finally got our chance to go Tues 1st Nov 2011.  I was initally wowed by it, uncomplicated proper bare-boarded drinkers pub, with great helpful staff too, no wonder everyone had been raving about it.  However, our second visit 27 April 2013 was less impressive, not the pubs fault but it was absolutely rammed, even our our own group had too many people in it and it made for a disjointed session, though I remember enjoying beers from the fabulous Raw Brewery for the first time.  It was hard to even get our pre-match quizzes done!  Of course, this was a Hull City "Promotion Party" day which was always going to end in disaster, in fact it was one of the worst performances I have ever seen from us, and THAT is an achievement in itself.  I came back here after the match and sat in a weird downstairs annexed room for special occasions - like drowning your misery!  Luckily, we got to right those wrongs in July 2014 with a stunning visit, my favourite yet - there was a battle of two great breweries going head to head Acorn and Dark Star.  It was quiet too being a pre-season friendly so just me, Dad and Tom - it was pub heaven.  Sad they aren't in our division for this reason!

Chaotic second visit to Old No 7 in April 2013
242.  (Little) Plough, Doncaster - A pub I very much associate with the Irvin's, I felt like I was a late starter to this place when I decided to meet Chris and Tom here before a pre-season friendly v Donny, a first visit to their new Keep 'em Out stadium 28th July 2007.  I seem to remember talk of Jon Parkin 'training' in a nearby McDonalds but could be mistaken as we must've known he'd signed for Stoke by then!  May be I am getting confused with an earlier Belle Vue friendly where Delaney was booed off despite nearly dying on the pitch!  Anyway, I came here this day and was ridiculously earlier than the Irvin's, really making myself at home to such an extent, some old locals implied I was in "their" seat.  It was here I discovered Acorn Barnsley Bitter, a standard unfashionable gorgeous bitter, and I've never had it better kept than in here.  Staff friendly too, I seem to remember Chris marching us back here post match where a pub quiz was winding up.  It was all very jovial and as I had a later train, Chris and Tom left me propped up at the bar, barmaid promised to 'look after' me - haha!  Despite the emergence of the Cask Corner to excite those who favour quantity over quality, Dad and I managed to get in here as 'non football fans' on a high police intensity day, a bouncer on this pub felt wrong but the calmness in here compared with out in the street was an amazing contrast.  I was most recently here after the heaviest rainstorm I have ever witnessed last July.  Again, I was left with some, I have to say, weird locals, as others got the train first, but again, the Acorn was superb.

243. Salutation, Doncaster - In those early naive days of using the GBG to find an away pub, Dad and I decided on this one as it was most walkable to Belle Vue from.  It was an evening kick off, Monday 8th September 2003 and high excitement/aggro in the town as it was a 'top of the table' clash on Sky.  A boring 0-0 predictably ensued.  The 'Salutation' we were most likely to find in here was not 'hallo chaps!" but 'fuck off codheads' and so it came about, that I felt somewhat uncomfortable being clad in black n amber with a load of Burberry clad charvers staring at us.  The ale range was decent and quality was good.  We ordered fish n chips (unwisely) it turned out as we had just been called codheads when the waitress came out with two plates of food, and shouted "cod and chips for two!", you couldn't make it up!   Post food, which was acceptable standard pub quality, Dad moved us to the other side of the pub.  A decent move but it was even busier, but a bit less intimidating.  Never again we said, though in the GBG today, must be doing something right!

244. Devonshire Cat, Sheffield - I've heard this place slagged off so many times over the years, and apart from being a fairly modern style bar and in the trendier part of town, I've always thought it was pretty above average.  I have never been here on a football day, always used it for a pre-gig venue in the days I always seemed to be watching obscure punk bands in dingy soulless Sheffield dives (not Bramall Lane).  I'd go as far as to say this was amongst the first times I used the GBG to find me a pub on a non-football occasion so am going to stick my neck out and say November 2002 as it was dark, cold and most bands toured in Nov!    I walked up from the station armed with my Autoroute Map with pushpin of where the 'Cat' should be.  Well, this was an eye opener!  Not only was it bright, modern and full of young people, but a range of about 10 ales was unlike anything I had ever seen, I don't think I recognised more than two of them, the staff were very helpful, and despite the heaving scene at the bar, I think this was the first place I was offered a taster!  I declined as I always do now.  I like the gamble.  I had been waiting ages to be served stood in different places, in fairness.  I have only been in once or twice more since, the latest time before another gig on an evening when Newcastle were away at Sheff Utd.  It was so great, I couldn't move when I got there at 7pm for Geordies, but by 7:30pm, the place was near empty and I made a point of sitting in about 5 different seats (because I could) before meeting some friends at the venue.  I'd missed some of the support act, but I didn't care!

245.  Sheffield Tap, Sheffield - Being a station tap, I have absolutely no idea how many times or when I first came here!  Vague early memories include one Hallowe'en post football because they had a crazy huge pumpkin thing on display.  I would think my first visit would be not long after opening (8th Dec 2009) with the likes of Ben and Mark probably in the latter stages of the 09/10 season.  The strangest thing is despite several visits, Dad has only just realised it has a huge backroom (which I utilised to best effect on my favourite ever visit, a morning with Krzb and Jig/John with copper beer things banging away!)  And this had been the real reason Dad has always despised the place, he thought it was a tiny two room thing with a hallway.  I have to admit though, I've never thought the beer quality was that good, especially when we've been in after a game, particularly the Thornbridge Jaipur which should be gorgeous.  But a very nice building and worth the stop off.  Dad even insisted on it when we had time to spare before our train on our January Sheffield BRAPA day out.  How times change!

246.  Fat Cat, Sheffield - In my head, I created a kind of 'rivallry' between the Kelham Island Tavern (which I love) and this Fat Cat, which the rest of the 'Welly' gang raved about and try to get me to, but I contrarily dug my heels in for years - my loss I suppose!  In addition to the Welly gang factor, JW2 also came down on the Fat Cat side, being very much the opposite to me and not having visited KIT.  I therefore decided to make my first visit entirely on my terms, preferably on my own.  The opportunity came post match 25th July 2009 after one of the most boring pre-season friendlies ever (and that's saying something!) and the walk back from Hillsbrough was hot and gruelling and I needed a pit stop.  I had to admit it, a great traditional pub with young, vibrant staff with superb range of quality ales as I sat in the main bar in the corner and witnessed one of  the weirdest drink requests ever - a pint of Deuchars IPA with an ice cube in it!  The pub was gobsmacked for about 10 minutes afterwards before the bubbly atmos returned.  I hope the young student lady has since seen the error of her ways.  With the shackles off, I was actually happy when Christine requested we met there on Boxing Day 2010, this time before a Sheff Utd win where all the focus was on my new thermal vest!  I was the winner, as it was one of the coldest days you could imagine and I put my leather gloves on to drink some of my pint!

247.  Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield - Speak of the devil, this truly has to be one of my top pubs of all time and deserves all the awards and plaudits it gets.  My first visit from memory was 14th Feb 2009.  As if the range of superb Abbeydale and other local beers wasn't enough, a great pie and peas and chips made for a gorgeous simple pub snack, and it was here that I was introduced to Henderson's Relish too, a local classic.  I'm a bit of a nibbler when it comes to my food, and I was still picking at my chips half an hour later.  Usually, pub staff whisk my plate away but the landlord appreciated my 'nibbler' ways and let me carry on.  It's minor details like this which stick in the mind! and make it a classic in my eyes, silly as it sounds.  Our experience was soured slightly by our taxi (which we'd booked behind the bar) not showing up!  And we nearly missed the terrible defeat.  A few months later, I found myself in Sheffield for a pre-season friendly, and spent around an hour here drinking a Chocolate Orange stout and reading my PG Wodehouse - possibly the slowest I've ever drunk a pint in my life - it was strong and I seem to remember being fragile anyway!  A couple more visits followed (we always used it as a pre-Sheff Utd pub despite it being on the way north towards Hillsborough.    But this was rectified on my favourite ever visit, 6th Oct 2012.  I'd been working on the Sat morning but got away for 12 noon and Dad had resisted the usual Fat Cat calls and despite my taxi getting lost and my GBG App crashing on me,  I was soon there and found him alone with a pint of Abbeydale Dissolution on the table for waiting for me, chatting to some jolly Sheffield locals.  It was a perfect pub moment in a perfect pub.

248.  Harlequin, Sheffield - 19th April 2008, the sun was shining and despite a dodgy Autoroute map distorting the dimensions of Sheffield City Centre, we found this pub by a canalside location up near the Kelham Island area.  What we hadn't banked on was a beer festival, and the pub was bursting with red & white and black & amber serious ale drinkers, including a group we recognised from the Welly in Hull, and Mr Sticky-Out ears annoyed Dad by telling him he shouldn't be drink-driving (it was in our pre-train days for journey's like this) but it did make us think why just use trains for long distance trips?  The staff were very helpful, given us beer menus and stuff but it was more like one of those "pub with lots more beers on" than an actual festival - for example, no sign of tokens or glasses.  It annoys me when pubs to that.  It was hectic at first, I had to convince Dad to stick with it and we settled into a nice pre-match session once people started dispersing to pubs nearer the ground.  We remembered it fondly enough to return post-match on 6th Oct 2012 as we hadn't had very long pre-match and one of those hot & gruelling walks back into town from Hillsbrough meant we needed refreshment pre-train.  We'd won so were in good spirits, as we went into a more traditional lounge bar (we'd not even seen that on "festival" day) and joined a family of Hull City fans for a nice relaxing post-match 'brew' (or two) from the 'Brew Co,, their Tap I assume.

249.  Gardeners Rest, Sheffield -  Mine and Dad's 'official' pre-match pub of choice for Sheff Wed, we visited this on three occasions before flood damage closed it and had it lying in disrepair for a long while - plus it's opening hours are not the most generous for my tastes!  Our first visit on a midweek night 8th December 2004 saw us parked up in the car nervously waiting for it's 5pm opening before we saw a light flicker in the gloom.  We entered to the right hand room with books and a big world map - it felt a bit like a geography lesson, am sure the landlord had a ginger beard, green jumper with patches on the sleeves, though I could be making that up.  5 or 6 beers were pleasing and we trekked a couple of miles to the ground for THAT 4-2 win (we got in on time, did you?) and declared it an away pub of the season contender.  Next season, 9th Aug 2005 was another midweek night (our fault Wednesday had gone up) and I remember feeling this visit was a bit less magical (probably built it up in my mind too much), fewer beers on but still pleasant.  More of our fans milling around, Championship glory seekers meant we ended getting a lift up to Hillsborough with some random Hull guys.  Our final visit New Year's Day 2007, a Monday meant 7 points in three visits here - a lucky pub.  It was back to it's superb best with one of the most unique pre-match experiences ever. Pub workers and locals put on a panto of sorts, with current affairs jokes and references, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair featured heavily - it was absolutely brilliant and so pleased us two visitors could enjoy it.  So it was sad to walk past a decrepit shell on two ocassions during it's 'closed due to the floods years'.  We moved on to other pubs like KIT and Fat Cat as a consequence but great to see it back to GBG standard and would love to go again.

250.  New Barrack Tavern, Sheffield - In our early Sheffield visits, this pub was mentioned plentifully by Irvin's and Andrew's but it's relative proximity to Hillsborough, and let's face it, Wednesday fans are not generally the nicest people, meant we were a bit too skeptical to go.  I even saw Chris and Ben disappearing in there post-match once just ahead of us.  So a bit like Fat Cat, I waited until the 25th July 2009 pre-season friendly bore draw to take my chance.  It certainly had a huge range of ales, it was all wooden boards, old adverts and a friendly old school landlord - yes it felt like a proper drinkers pub.  A few nervous looking Hull fans showing colours were glad to see I wasn't a Wednesday skinhead and carried on drinking, some annoying women came in with tonnes of shopping and couldn't decide where to sit or what to do.  I took a beautiful pint of something local (it could've even been Nottingham's Castle Rock brewery ales!) to the furthest back corner of the furthest back room but I'd been to a few before so only stayed half an hour or so.  I'd have criticised the lack of atmosphere, but then again 'too much potential atmos' was why I'd always avoided it.  You can't win with me.

251.  Rising Sun, (West) Sheffield - I'd been out with work on the Friday and felt a bit rough when me n Krzb hopped aboard a bus on a grey murky morning to come to a beer festival - I'd guess July 2011 as it was pre-untappd and I can't remember much iPhoning either.  The sun came out, the Scunny real ale mob including Colin, Christine, the friendly guy with the funny eyes and of course, the crazy Scunny Sarah were soon on the scene to witness the superb Abbeydale ales, strange pricing system, belly dancers, sword people and all sorts of entertainment.  It was truly the BEST pub beer fest I have ever been to and if it wasn't for BRAPA, I'd be back.  Now the pedants among you (mentioning no names) may say "can you count it if you didn't go in the pub" but having bid the Scunts farewell, me and Krzb decided to witness the pub itself.  Abbeydale's spin-off side project, Dr Mortens, had generally been regarded as the best ales of the festival - inside the pub and out of a pint glass in the calm and darkness, they were even better and the locals (non-fussed by the fest) were friendly and chatty.  Bus and train back, Rustlers burger and watched Wimbledon tennis til I fell asleep about 9pm.

That's got my juices going for another Sheffield trip at least, certainly South Yorks is something I can maybe focus on a bit more in the coming months when & if I finish West and East Yorks.

See you soon for some North Yorks archiving.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

BRAPA - The Woollen Triangle Tour (from Dewsbury to Wakefield)

A fantastic six pub summer's outing with Jason & Richard from work means that I am now closing in on the completion of West Yorkshire's GBG pubs.

A broken down train on the York-Leeds line meant it was an achievement to be in Dewsbury's magnificent West Riding Refreshment Rooms before the 12 noon starting point, a pint of lavender flavoured beer was not the best opening choice, far too flowery.  A short taxi ride followed and we were soon at our first 'tick' of the day.

676 - Savile Arms, Thornhill -  And what a little cracker it was.  It had that fantastic old pub smell that you can't replicate in any other surroundings, a lovely low beamed ceiling and traditional decor.  It may have been Marston's tied as Boondoggle and Hobgoblin were about the only ales on, but we could really picture drinking in here in front of the fire on a dark, windswept November night.  As it was, a potentially summer's day (we've been starved of them this year) meant we sat outside despite an ominous dark cloud on benches at the front of the pub.  A local woman was asking the landlord if he could keep the beer a bit less well to stop her husband drinking so much, he told her in no uncertain terms that beer quality was everything.  It was a bit like being in a CAMRA advert!  The landlord further increased his stock by bringing us all out a piece of warm pork pie. Delicious.  A man with a ladder was then seen running down the street in the direction of the pub - but he claimed he was the window cleaner and not a burglar.  Our taxi had arrived, it was time to move on.

Rich & Jason arriving at the lovely Savile Arms

677 - Boons Horbury - Horbury seemed a nice little place, a market town feel but probably not big enough to be classed a town.  The name 'Boons' made me realise this was a 'Clark's of Wakefield' pub, but I was pleased to see quite a strong range of other ales - not that I hate Clark's, just not my favourite.  Being the 'real ale aficionado', Richard made me choose for all of us - I joked about the burden this put on me, and whilst the young ginger barmaid threatened to be friendly, she never quite was engaging enough.  The bar was circular and the toilets and garden were very well hidden - we sat by the big front windows whilst Jason's first smoking session of the day (he's NOT an angry man, just exasperated by Richard!) wafted in through the window.  Although this felt like a more modern pub, it did at least feel like a 'pub' and there was a good mix of people, young n old, men and women.

Me about to sample the delights of Boons
678 - Cricketers Arms, Horbury - A short walk to the Cluntergate part of Horbury found this big square pub dominating the horizon.  I could immediately tell we were in a great place, bare boarded bar area, friendly staff and the sun streaming in, smiling customers, you just sometimes get a fantastic first impression.  However, the sun was beckoning us and we sat in the 'outdoor area' (I can't bring myself to call it a beer garden) reminiscent of the Boltmakers in Keighley.  There was a fantastic range of ales, probably best best of the day and because they don't always do cask, it was great to see a Summer Wine ale called Wingman which slipped down far too well as my neck started to go it's usually angry red colour.  Jason contemplated drinking part of our drink indoors so I could review the pub more accurately for my blog, which was nice of him, but I was happy as we were.  We then discussed next year's outing, possibly an Oldham based Lancs day.

Richard looks excitable as we approach the Cricketers.  
679 - Old Vic, Ossett - Another short taxi ride took us into Ossett, home of course to the famous real ale brewery so it seemed only right that this first pub was tied to it and we all went for the 'Yorkshire Blonde', one of their more standard pales but top quality.  Again, a good friendly atmosphere and quite bustling and busy, it has only recently been 'done up' and bit like Great Kelk last week, you felt they were working really hard to make this a great experience for the customers.  We again sat out on benches and again, you couldn't call it a garden but we were lucky how many of today's pubs did at least have beer gardens.  That's the good thing of getting out of the city.  The barmaid then helped us work out that our next pub, despite being a mile out of town, was walkable.

Video of Jason's socks outside the Old Vic - as Richard was on the wrong setting
680 - Brewers Pride, Ossett - Despite Rich's constant moaning "are we nearly there yet?", it was worth the effort as this pub, hidden away behind an industrial estate in what was probably once a busy area but now has almost been flattened.  I'd probably call this pub of the day, we entered to find a great range of guests in a traditional corner bar and though I chose us all an Elland beer, Richard decided he was getting braver and he'd make his own choice!  Jason showed his age by telling the staff he remembered coming when it was just a tiny one roomed pub, it had since been extended in about 1785.   We found a great 'outdoor area' full of happy drinkers and walkers, just the one table left for us and a big blue corrugated shed was dominating the skyline, we were advised that Bob's White Lion (an gorgeous ale I've seen in plenty of Wakefield area pubs) was brewed in it - Jason, not wanting to be rude, went in and got us all a pint of it!  We got chatting to the tables near us, I was soon explaining BRAPA and handing out cards for my blog - and I got some good travel and pub info for Wintersett,  my trickiest remaining West Yorks 'tick'.  We had made such good time, we decided we could squeeze in another one - we debated Mirfield, even Wintersett, but settled on Overton which my GBG App said was 1.9 miles away though everyone in the pub said about 6 miles, and that it wasn't very good!  This made me more determined.....

Me and Rich celebrating some great pub action in Ossett
Our taxi drivers had been fantastic all day, it helped that Richard went to school with one so am sure we got a discount there!  Problem is, being mainly Asian Muslim, they are often non-drinkers and not too familiar with pubs as landmarks like say, I would be.  This was also a problem when I was tooling around Bradford last autumn, and here, the lad got very lost in the way to this pub,  At one point, we turned around in a driveway, were scowled at from an upstairs window by a woman (I waved) and her angry ginger son came out to tell off our poor taxi driver.  

681 - Reindeer, Overton - This was our most rural pub of the day as you can probably imagine, but only a slight hint of 'American Werewolf in London' as us three entered and deliberated over plenty of ales from the Cap House brewery, a new one on me but good quality West Yorks fayre nontheless.  It was like the day had come full circle, as grey clouds were circling as we took our pints outside through a conservatory, and hey presto, a proper beer garden with grass, overlooking beautiful scenery and errm, the coal mining museum.  I was a bit worse for wear by this stage so my memories are a bit hazy but if I hadn't had company, I'd probably have been falling asleep in this peaceful setting.  Can't see why this pub had been so criticised in the last place, though I may not have been at my most discerning, I'd still recommend it to anyone reading.  

Can you tell we were quite a few pints in by this stage?

After a final (unwise) drink back at the WRRR, I (finally) got my train - delays and standing on the wrong platform didn't help, got a MaccyD's in Leeds and was back in York for a bit of food shopping and a nap before the England Women's World Cup win (congrats ladies!), 3am when I finally got to bed having caught up on my Twitter, Instgram and Untappd check-ins being a social media whore.  

Coming Soon .....

There's nothing like striking while the iron is hot, so Tuesday sees our final trip of June, a train ride to Hebden Bridge for my final 'tick' there with Mirfield/Sowerby Bridge potential but I'll probably not do both.  However, 20 pubs for the month so far was less than I was hoping for June so I'll have to see if this influences me.  

And then we move in to July .... a great month in prospect with more social BRAPA outings - more on this when I review Tuesday's West Yorks night.

Happy pubbing,  Si

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

BRAPA - Great Kelk and Kirkstall

Just the two pubs ticked off in the last week, with the emphasis on the letter "K" and 'guest' BRAPA people accompanying me......

674 - Chestnut Horse, Great Kelk 
After a leisurely four mile walk around the thankfully flat East Yorkshire countryside (I was suffering a bit with Poppleton Beer Fest hangover!), me, Mum and Dad took our 'Father's Day' adventure into BRAPA territory in the remote Great Kelk.  Incidentally, the parents had nearly bought a holiday cottage near here before I was even a seedling.
Smiley diners and friendly staff made for a very nice welcome as we arrived, there was nothing "League of Gentlemen" here and throughout, you felt that the newish owners (if my January Skipsea pub informants were correct) were keen, almost anxious to impress with their service.  The couple both seemed very nice, sadly the same couldn't be said for our Slater's Top Totty, a great beer I know from Shropshire but this was bottom of the barrel stuff and 'on the turn' as we got to the bottom half.  Having said that, the replacement Anglers Reward was amazing.
The building itself felt sturdy, old and lived in but maintained a clean, almost dining feel where we sat in the far room.  The "Speical's" board (their spelling, not mine!) and a good menu meant this was a rare foody BRAPA event.  Everything was freshly made, great care was taken, especially for Mum's Mushroom Stroganoff brandy!  Strangely, all our food had a strange woody smoky taste from my sausages to Mum's mushrooms, not sure about Dad's pie topping though, he typically wanted shortcrust rather than puff pastry and never really forgave the pub for that slip up!  I enjoyed mine very much though, great mash n gravy.
A strange tall young man kept wandering about, presumably to see if he could hit his head on every roof beam in the place.  Mum spent most of the time fretting over Canadian bears.
So overall, quite impressed but I think give the owners a few years to 'bed in' and you could be looking at a well established gem.  I hope that doesn't sound too patronising!

Mum makes a rare forray into BRAPA territory at the Chestnut Horse.
675 - Kirkstall Bridge Inn, Kirkstall - Fast forward to Tuesday, and after a 5pm work finish, work friend and honorary student Christina Anderson (soon to be Sidery) took me to a pub fairly local to her, very much in the heart of studentsville.  That might explain our first conundrum, as the pub sign appeared to have gone missing!  I've heard of traffic cones being pinched, but this takes it to a new level.  We entered a harsh looking pub shaped building with caution but a vast range of Kirkstall beers told me we were in the right place.  The pub has won awards recently and I could see why, a lovely homely place, very much a traditional drinkers pub but quite large with other downstairs bar.  The staff seemed nice and helpful as I tried to push Christina in a real ale-wards direction - she liked the Three Swords but Dissolution IPA and Black Band Porter (both amazing to me, always loved this brewery's output) was a step too far and it was time for their lovely Framboise instead, a stunning example of a fruit beer.  There was a very nice relaxed atmosphere, although it was mainly young people, it felt more 'local' than 'student' as we sat in the one pocket of sun in the front bar.  After a trip to the loo, I heard some jangling and before I knew it, a group of thirsty Morris Dancers had appeared.  It was time to drink up and (struggle to) get the train back from Headingley (I'm always unlucky waiting here), change at L**ds, back in York 9pm, a good evening. 

Christina enjoys a Three Swords in the wonderful Kirkstall Bridge Inn
Coming Soon/Latest News

Well, we finally look set to do the 'Heavy Woolen Day' on Saturday.  Ossett, Thornhill and Horbury.  And if all goes according to plan, the 'West Yorkshire outlook' will look rosier than my cheeks at the end of a day drinking with Garrett, Milnes and Ellis.  

Also on the West Yorkshire front, I was going to do Linthwaite next Tuesday but I may now do Hebden Bridge and Mirfield instead.  There is Sowerby Bridge potential too, but with Southowram also needed, I may combine these two later in the summer (4 in an evening is pushing it). 

I had a nice catch up/BRAPA meeting with Sal Hop at Costa Coffee today.  I'll really have to try and combine Wetherby with Sicklinghall despite their cross-county nature, though as for Colton, I may have to do this as a 'quick win' tick from York on a bus in a rare spontaneous moment!  We also debated a day trip to Sunderland being former students there (still pub ticks needed).  

The great Tom Irvin (BRAPA man of the year  2014 remember?!) has been very active since the fixture list came out in helping me make the most of forthcoming away days, and he's also booked in a trip for us on Sunday 18th October, the Isle of Axholme in some 'hard to achieve' villages in Lincs when special busses are running.  

And finally, it's my turn to do the quiz at work for our meeting and i've incorporated a BRAPA question.  It is "which county have I ticked most pubs off in?"  Is it West Yorks, East Yorks or North Yorks.  Everyone is struggling cos they can't Google the answer, but they could get clues off this blog!  Do you know?

See you soon, Si


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

BRAPA - Ledsham

Finished 'ticking off' an entire double West Yorks page - a satisfying moment!
There's more than one way to skin a cat, so they say.  None of which are very pleasurable, I assume.  And it is this analogy which I will apply with the conundrum of how to best get to and from the impossibly inaccessible outpost of Ledsham.  I thought being between York and Leeds, it'd be one of my easier BRAPA ticks.  Wrong, I may as well have been going to Eversholt again!

Finishing at 5pm, the last bus went from Cas Vegas, but that would have meant paying extra on a train to Cas unless I didn't get "gripped".  A free train to Micklefield or even South Milford offered hope, it was only a 2-3 mile walk from there but negotiating the A63 on foot looked dangerous to say the least.

Luckily, people at work heard my gripes, and before I knew it, I was in the car of Sherburn-in-Elmet's favourite mother/daughter partnership Shirley and Hannah North, going errrm east!  They dropped me off, wouldn't accept any petrol money, didn't wanna come in for a drink either.  

673 - Chequers Inn, Ledsham

It really did appear a picture postcard village and pub exterior as I arrived in the evening sun,  The first quirk was the entrance.  The main way in seemed to be through the back car park, with only a side garden gate at the front.  I walked through a friendly, smiling group of drinkers enjoying the mild weather and sunshine and finally found the bar.  It was one of those creaking old lowdown ancient pubs, I could really buy in to the 15th century origins.  I ordered a White Dragon Brown Cow(!), beautiful pale and just as well as apparently the brewer was lurking in the garden.  It was a superb beer garden and I joined the masses at a table round the corner, the smell of the flowers and pollen certainly added something to the pleasing ambiance.  Work drinking legend Stuart Jackson (who supposedly sups 2 pints of lager every lunchtime!) had warned me about the pubs pricing, and it was only when I went back in for a Tim Taylor's Landlord that I noticed £3.90 was a bit/lot steep!  To rub salt into the wound, the young bar chap (who didn't convince me) failed to give me change from a fiver until I asked.  Probably just forgetful as he was serving two other people, but it makes you wonder.  The Tim Taylor's tasted like vodka, maybe that explained the pricing!  I returned to bask in the evening sun, a woman made dog noises and a girl did cartwheels until she was dizzy.  Such is village life.  The Lady of the Manor haunts this pub I was told, she banned Sunday drinking here when some local farm workers verbally abused a passing lady in a carriage - I assume this was centuries ago but sunday drinking here has only recently been revived so she ain't happy!  Overall though, a very good pub worth the effort to get to, even better if you are driven.....

More like summer - superb evening outdoor drinking at Ledsham's Chequers.

My taxi insisted that taking me back to Garforth was better the Micklefield, but "better for who?" I thought as they are based next to Garforth station!  The train (delayed 18:27) was there within seconds and I was back in York for 7pm, a BRAPA evening record.

Other News
  • It's very pleasing that my Mum is really starting to grasp the importance of BRAPA.  She rang this evening, assuming I was on a trip when I'd long since got home.  She then proceeded to organise a walking date on Sunday for Dad's fathers day treat .... but with the promise of a new BRAPA pub to give me that extra motivation to come along!  Great Kelk, here we come.
  • I've joined the Good Beer Guide Privilege club.  This means I get the 2016 GBG at a discount price and before it goes on sale in the shops in September.  If anyone deserves/needs this, surely it's me.
  • Saturday is a beer festival so June hasn't been the BRAPA ticking fest I'd expected now the football season is over.  But I should still well exceed the quota of 15 pubs.  Oh, and speaking of the football season, two things - Accrington away in the league cup helps me get three 'ticks' in Lancs, my most neglected county of the year.  And the league fixtures come out tomorrow (Wed) so we can finally push on with some August / September BRAPA & away day plans.
  • Leighton Buzzard / Heath & Reach (with added Tring or Berkhamstead potential) has been booked in for Saturday 5th September.  I've got two pre-emptive ticks that look like "musts" for L.Buzzard, which seems to be Beds real ale capital.  Great advice Tom, thanks! 
  • The race for "first county to be completed" is hotting up.  Forget Beds.  It looks like East and West Yorkshire are both going to pip it to the post.
  • North Yorkshire meanwhile is such a huge undertaking.  I've got a lunch date / BRAPA meeting next week with Sally at work who might be able to help me do the Sicklinghall, Wetherby and Colton ticks.  In any case, Colton is now a pressing concern, as is Coxwold just north of York so I'm looking at a cheeky bus tour of outer York in mid July.  
  • And BRAPA's summer interactivity just keeps on giving.  Next up on the midweek West Yorkshire trip, the lovely Christina Anderson (living the student lifestyle, working in a bank) will take me to her local Kirkstall Bridge Inn - cannot wait for that one.  The following Saturday sees more work people involved with the long anticipated "Heavy Woollen Tour - Part 2".  The Saturday after that is the annual Welly Trip (Scarborough and surrounding area) and after that, York friends are joining me on a Goole & surrounding area tour.  Phew, you can tell it's summer, since when was BRAPA this sociable??  
See you soon, Si

Monday, 15 June 2015

BRAPA : the archives (230-240) - East Yorkshire (Hull) Special

"From the blogger who brought you such classics as 'the archives (41-50)' and 'the archives (111-120)' comes this latest edition ......

Yes, welcome back to the archives section where I mentally revisit all those pubs I did in the days before BRAPA was even a seedling in my mind.  Today, we cover East Yorkshire (mainly, Hull).

230 - DOG & DUCK, Beverley - One of the best pubs I have ever visited in my life is not this, sorry, but the Wellington in Hull circa 2005-2008.  By about Spring 2009, it was having it's first mini-decline and with me and Dad bored of unquestioningly being expected to join our "Welly gang" here, decided to think 'outside the box' which took us to Beverley where there were plenty of pubs in GBG.  This was quite a well known one, Dad knew of it, but the fact the 4 ales on were all very standard, staff and clientele were a bit curmudgeonly and the tables all had place mats and knives and forks made it far from comfy, pubby experience.  And because the traffic was chaotic and Dad was worried about getting into Hull, our experiment was aborted after one pint and one pub.  Shame but at least my recent Beverley trips have redressed the balance.

231 - MARINE BAR, Bridlington - Gosh, I remember the moment in those early days of GBG research where I used to spend my work lunchtimes in Waterstones in Leeds browsing the Guide.  It must have been about 2003/4 and my eyes popped out like stalks when I saw this was listed.  This is because my Grandma lived in the flats above, we'd always parked in their spaces on our visits through the 90's and early noughties and slagged it off as a place which smelt like old people and stewed veg (I think I'd been in as a very young boy so technically could be my earliest BRAPA tick).   Anyway, I persuaded the family to dispense with the usual buffet and we brought Grandma down here for lunch.  Beer wise, it was impressive with Wold Top ales and Tim Taylor Landlord in perfect condition.  However, the smell of stewed veg and wee meant despite 2 or 3 subsequent lunch visits, it never caught on.  Most notable feature though were their (allegedly) dodgy accounting practices.  Dad was forced to walk miles to draw cash out once as they wouldn't accept his card, the staff were shifty and wouldn't look him in the eye, there was another incident I've forgotten, and on my last visit (when me and Dad popped in for a sly half when we'd supposedly left the girls to go for a walk!) I gave him a £20 note and he short changed me, but in such a way that it was incredibly suspicious.  Same guy who made Dad get cash out.  Don't trust this place, despite CAMRA discounts and Premier League screened football!

232 - GARDENERS ARMS, Hull - Ever get the feeling you've missed something?  We came here having read about it winning awards in something like the 2002 GBG so circa 2003, possibly before an evening game when we were still exploring Hull pubs hoping to find some remedies to Spring Bank in case Hole in the Wall ever went downhill (which it did).  The Guide description gave the impression there'd be about 10 ales on, but all we found was a long, metallic sterile bar with font after font of lager, mainly Carling.  Not sure if we found one cask to drink.  The music was banging, students everywhere, young clean cut staff, NOT what we were expecting.  To this day, I ask Dad if maybe there was a side "ale" bar or worse still, we were in the totally wrong pub but he keeps telling me to just accept it was rubbish.  I've heard less about it's ale prowess in recent years, but as you can see, still listed in 2015.  A revisit is on the cards next season.

233 - HOP & VINE, Hull - Late 2006 and no-one could argue (or even argue today) that Hull is saturated with real ale pubs so when this little underground bar opened, with it's (supposed) 11am opening time, it solved a lot of problems for our "Welly gang" and it's become a firm favourite since, but sadly, not with me or Dad.  I've been in plenty of times and have been disappointed on probably all but 2 or 3 occasions.  Ben just says I'm unlucky!  I don't think so.  Although I nod in friendly acknowledgement of Mr Campbell when I see him on York beer festival quiet days, most of the problem lies with him, he might be a passionate ale man and a top Hull CAMRA chap, but a people person he is not.  Let's look back on some of the lowlights over the years.  (1) Often being closed well after their advertised opening time, the attitude is very much "we'll open when we want, stuff the customers".  (2) Undercooked sausages and cold mash when we'd already had an hour delay.  (3) Deliberately selling "off" beer by Toad brewery of Doncaster and then telling our gang "we knew there'd be someone stupid enough to drink it!" (4) Whining like baby staff when a cider I wanted meant them having to go down to the cellar because that's where the cask was (5) Letting horrid Stoke fans take over the pub (though this wasn't really the pub's fault).  And yes, I assume it only gets in the GBG because landlord holds CAMRA sway but I know plenty of people who do like it.

234 - OLDE BLACK BOY, Hull - Our first Hull "real ale revelation" when we started visiting pubs in my new 2002 GBG circa Spring 2003.  Dad knew this as, on his 18th birthday, he hired the upstairs room and danced around all night in a grass skirt!  Good grief.  Don't picture that.  It had lost none of it's old world magic, and soon I was impressing friends like John Watson and my sister Lu with the pubs charms, when I ate a "Pepperami Black" in here on my birthday 2005 and felt like I was going to die!  It won pub of the night.  I love the history, ghost stories, out of tune piano, general feel, and our visiting regularity only dropped because first Hole in the Wall, and then Wellington meant there wasn't much need to visit the old town.  And it's opening hours are a bit unreliable we've found for our needs (well, it's not an 11am opener!)  It seemed to have a period of decline anyway but in last 2 or 3 years, we've heard good things about it so went in for an evening game last season.  Rude staff and weird locals put the old hubbuby feel and decent beer in the shade, sad because this could be one of those most amazing pubs, just doesn't make the most of what it's got.

235 - OLDE WHITE HARTE, Hull - Another Hull pub presumably visited first by me in the Spring of 2003, this is even more famous.  I love historic pubs and the story of Charles II escaping Cromwell and an upstairs Plotting Room captured my imagination, so imagine my surprise this year when my Heritage Guide revealed his is all bollocks because the pub wasn't even around then!  It still has plenty going for it, exciting beer isn't one of them.  Every time, you go in, see about 6 pumps, think oh yes, then release they are all standards or Caledonian things that taste quite bland.  Also, it is freezing cold if you use it as an 11am opener, presumably it is Grade II listed so they cannot insulate the windows properly or something (a landlord in Malton once told me this story about his pub so I'm not totally making it up!)  I remember my favourite time in here, I'd travelled over for an evening game on my own, we beat Derby I think 2-1 and this pub seemed to transcend every other experience before and since with great beers and friendly locals and Derby fans all chatting together.  I even invited everyone up to join me and my friends at the Welly and nearly got a lift up there!

236 - PAVE, Hull - It opened in 2002, probably took a couple of years to establish itself (let's face it, a real ale cafe bar doing live music is always likely to be a bit too cutting edge for Hull) but it was probably about 2004/5 when I first visited.  It was bright, airy, I remember a few Southern Supporters and plenty of Deuchers IPA but despite 2 or 3 visits, it was never a serious rival for the fantastic emerging Wellington (RIP).  I revisited it recently for the first time in years when midweek Hull traffic chaos caused us to take a Prinny Ave detour.  I was very impressed to see 3 or 4 superbly kept interesting beers (Scarborough, Hop Studio and Pennine were all sampled) and a nice outdoor area, Dad is quite negative about the place though having been more often than me.  It got a bit chilly so we moved back indoors and I could see what he meant, a bit of crazy atmosphere, not too pleasant, half aggressive and half hipster was a bad combination!

237 - ST JOHN'S HOTEL, Hull - 1st April 2006 and it was no 'fool' when Dad made the unusual declaration that he wanted a post match pint after a home game before the trip back to York.  It made sense.  Time had been at a premium before the match, AND more importantly, we'd just seen us beat the Wh!te Sh!te (aka Leeds United) for the first time in my living memory!  Cheers Jon Parkin, feed the beast and he will score/burst (delete as appropriate).  This was a Marston's pub then, and it still is.  It had a busy bustling working man's atmosphere and my HCAFC top did no harm with locals happy to ask about the game or just smile knowingly.  They might not have been Hull City fans like me, but they appreciated the significance of the win.  It was very community really, lots of people chatting across tables in groups, watching other sport on TV etc.  Maybe not the comfiest, and we only had something like Mansfield Bitter, Pedigree or Banks'.  Recently, I finally learned why East Yorkshire has so many Marston pubs.  Mark Bainton, Hull CAMRA genius, told us they bought a huge chunk of the old Hull Brewery estate.  So now we finally know.  Not a bad pub, but I've never had the urge to go back in, though I think Dad may have done in last couple of months!

238 - THREE JOHN SCOTTS, Hull - I was in this old town Wetherspoons pub, sometimes seen as the 'most acceptable face of Hull 'Spoons', as recently as the last day of the season.   7th Jan 2006 was my first memory of going, it was freezing and we were at home to those giants Aston Villa in the third round of the cup.  We even contemplated simply going next door to some dodgy bar and watching the match in there as it was televised (a rarity in those days) but in this dodgy bar "Mint", Matt Glennon once fell drunkenly down the steps so it felt a bit off putting.  We didn't get to the KC til 23 minutes in.  The good thing about 3JS is that it serves a range of ales and opens early.  The staff are quite good for a Spoons in terms of being "switched on".  The clientele are more lame than aggressive.  On at least two occasions, the ale has left me with stomach cramps!  Most recently, when we brought John Watson II before a Sunderland home game 2nd Nov 2013.  It serves a purpose this place.

Dad does a weird hand dance in 3JS on 1.12.13 before we beat Liverpool!
239 - WM HAWKES, Hull - Scale Lane already had two exciting new pubs (particularly by Hull standards as it needed a real ale shot in the arm) when this more traditional style place opened in a very old building, a former gun shop or some nonsense.  It is a very impressive, cosy place with loads of shiny 'old' bric-a-brac scatteed around walls and ceilings.  The back room has what we call "our seat", a little snug thing on the back wall but mind your head from that low hanging light.  Only Pivni and the Yorkshire Bank canteen has embarrassed me more often in this respect!  The beer range always has interesting choices (Leamside of Co. Durham features heavily - it ain't even that popular up there!) but the ales are served too cold for me and I've become increasingly bored of the dimpled glass faze we are going through - you always get 'em here.  The barmaids are often young, pretty students type - the "twins" were always great but was it actually the same girl moving very quickly with a split personality.  In any case, Dad reckoned 'one of them' fancied me which seemed incredibly unlikely.  This could all explain why so many weird local barflies hang around, but they aren't the friendliest bunch.  It opened Summer 2012 and my first visit was quite soon, a home game v Macc which felt like a friendly but was actually a League Cup tie we embarrassed ourselves in.  The homemade Scotch Eggs are nice but haven't seen one for a while, my fave time here was actually in the front bar with 'Aidy', Dave's mate one sunny day in 2013.

First visit to Hawkes - August 2012
240 - WHALEBONE, Hull - Since the Welly closed, it was going to be interesting to see which pub 'stepped up to the plate' to quote Phil Brown (as no sensible person would do).  We thought it'd be a Scale Laner (Ben cited Lion and Key, strangely) but it was actually this superb old pub in Wincolmlee.  True, it's a fair trek from the KC but Mark's dodgy leg/knee means 'taxi's for all' has worked.  But the main reason is the upturn in pub quality, and that's nothing to take anything away from Alex Craig (RIP) and wife cos this was a classic pub anyway when Dad and I first went in 2004ish before an evening game.  It may have been earlier but I remember the Hull City clock featuring luminaries such as Lawrie Dudfield and Theo Whitmore looking a bit out of date.  We tried "the food".  The first and only time I've only seen a pub unashamedly pop snacks in the microwave (facing the bar) in for 80 seconds.  It wasn't cooked throughout my micro hot dog.  Never again!  Dad meanwhile admired the old M & R sign (Moors and Robson, Muck n Rubbish!) You had to respect their brewing and price of the beer (£1.40 for a Neck Oil!), though a bit like the Welly efforts, they were far from spectacular.  We'd often come here as the 'early opener' though the current young landlord once swore blind this pub never has opened before 12 noon!  I've been in here 10:45am in the past.  Occasionally, and despite the Welly being probably THE BEST PUB EVER at the time, Dad and I would stay here, due to it's sheer class.  Beer wise, the Tim Taylor Landlord is one of the best ever versions of it, and when Alex put the wood burner on in winter, it was hard to leave.  However, we did go about 5 years with no visit at all when it became a 12 noon opener and it's only the last year or two since it was taken over that we've realised how good it is (better brewery choice and consistent ale quality, combined with a cleaner feeling pub).  I love it, deservedly Hull pub of the year (if it is!)

All action at the Whalebone as a beer gets changed (23/11/14)
In our next edition, we'll head to the outpost land of South Yorkshire but no disputing the quality of some of those pubs in Sheffield and beyond.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

BRAPA - Bedfordshire Part V (Eversholt, Toddington & Harlington)

Friendly horses telling me Toddington isn't far!
After a straightforward train journey down to Kings Cross, and back up to Flitwick (which I was surprised to learn is actually a place, and not just a railway station surrounded by fields), I was catching the only bus of the week to Eversholt.

I'd had a few nervy moments when a small, rickety minibus finally appeared out of the gloom (it was grey and the rain was teeming down, despite the forecast indicating Beds would be dry).  The driver only half opened the door and said "where do you 'THINK' I am going?" and when I said Eversholt, he seemed almost disappointed.  We soon stopped at Tesco where the purpose of this bus made sense.  A collection of pensioners squeezed on with their weekly food shop, all bound for Eversholt.  I like these "captive" audiences and I was soon explaining BRAPA, though one woman took this opportunity to dive out of the bus in the middle of a field!

Interestingly, when I'd said I was bound for the Green Man pre-explanation, the old bus people assumed I was starting a new job there.  Anyway, I soon got off at the right "end", Eversholt is made up of many 'ends' including one called Witts End!  I'd be there shortly, figuratively speaking.  I stepped over some bread rolls & waved bye my bus buddies, first obstacle over with.

669 - Green Man, Eversholt 

It was nice to have made it after what seemed like months of planning.  Remote is not the word!  The village was so pretty, it was a bit of  shame to see an almost modern, immaculate clean feel to this pub, I wanted something rustic and farmhousey.  Never mind, it had comfort despite the stone floor flagstones and I read it was a Victorian building so there was still some sense of olde worlde about it.  I went for a pint of Goff's Lancer and it was probably my pint of the day, lovely clear quality stuff from Glos.  As I'm finding with so many rural pubs on my challenge, they have to do food to survive and it's fair to say that apart from me and one craggy local at the bar, the pub would have been empty otherwise.  A couple of groups were deliberating from a fancy blackboard which had been brought out by a friendly younger barmaid who even asked how I was, something of a novelty down south at times.  One woman asked what Chorizo was so I guess continental cuisine is reassuringly new to these parts.  I'd whizzed through my pint and it felt like I was leaving before I'd really had time to blink, I knew problems lay ahead......

Off the Tesco bus at Eversholt and straight into the Green Man.
And with hindsight, I'd have gone out into the village in the rain halfway through my pint, found a spot where phone reception worked, ordered a taxi, and waited in the shelter of the pub.  As it was, I decided to walk.  Two reasons for this, firstly it saved money.  Secondly, Google Maps had come up with a creative cross-field walk which looked exciting compared to the usual 'main road' routes it chooses.

To cut a long story short, I wasn't properly attired, the weather was atrocious, I was either ankle deep in mud crossing farmers tracks, or knee deep in wet crops and woodland.  It was memorable at least and the thought of writing this blog kept me going!

Flock of sheep having to move for Google Maps!
The aptly named "Washers wood" washed my muddy trainers
My hopes of getting down to Wingfield's pub before it closed at 3pm were dashed, but I wasn't too concerned as I need another pub on the same route anyway (Whipsnade), and I know Toddington had lots to offer.

670 - Oddfellows Arms, Toddington 

On entering this obviously ancient pub (700 years old apparently), a few locals scowled at my incredibly muddy jeans and shoes.  I ordered a pint of 'Red Dwarf' from the kindly barmaid, she had a maternal look so I told her about my horrendous journey here, explaining BRAPA too, she seemed mildly sympathetic.  I sat down and was straight to the toilets to try and dry off and clean up.  However, being a proper old school establishment, things like hand dryer, mirror, towel and even cubicle were considered too luxurious.  Oh how I wished to be in a Gastropub at that moment, typical!  Seriously though, I used all the paper towels and did an okay job, and got down to relaxing with my Red Dwarf, a nice dark red effort which was much needed.  This was a proper locals pub with oak beams and a pleasing creaky old feel.  They had a good few interesting ales on too, but I spent most of the time drying off so wasn't at my most observant.  

Drying off as best I could at the Oddfellows, Toddington

Cuckoo, Toddington

I crossed the village green and realised in an hour's time, I could get a bus to Harlington which wouldn't have been possible if I'd done Wingfield too.  This saved me trying to negotiate the M1 crossing, I'd had enough trauma.  A combination of the local CAMRA website and the Tesco Elders had made me aware of this new Micropub.  Toddington has the most pubs per head of population in the UK, and after a few pub closures, this is a welcome addition and a great pre-emptive tick for me.  Two notable points first,  It had a very unpleasant smell throughout, I even started wondering if I'd walked through some pigswill, but I'd not smelt it in the Oddfellows so no.  Secondly, it was the biggest micro-pub I'd ever seen.  Most can hold about eight people (I'm thinking of that new one in Driffield) but this had a totally separate lounge room, which was good cos a local woman gave me the evils when I was getting served!  The landlord seemed a good hands-on type of chap, he couldn't offer me a stout or porter but as confirmed by a local, the Cuckoo Ale brewed specially from Leighton Buzzard was delicious.  A unisex toilet (more typical of a micropub) allowed me to make a better attempt of getting clean, dry etc.  And a cuckoo clock sounded every quarter hour I think, and it went absolutely mental on the actual hour!  I made a fool of myself when leaving as the door got stuck and I convinced myself I was in a lock-in, but all bodes well for the future for this new pub.  

New 'macro' pub on the edge of Toddington's Green
671 - Carpenters Arms, Harlington

Four minutes of bus ride later and I was sort of on the home stretch.  Drying off and happier, I found my first of two pubs just a minute or so walk from the railway station, where the bus dropped me off.  It was a strange kind of place, it had a bit of a 'commutery passing through feel', a bit impersonal and lacking in love despite a fairly low roofed cosy layout.  All the staff were male and cockney and there seemed to be an air of machismo around the place though the main guy at least made an effort to be friendly.  A young family came in and the youngest daughter was encouraged to play with a dog she obviously didn't want to!  Even when said dog rolled over to have it's tummy tickled, there was something a bit testosterone fuelled about the whole scene.  Reminded me a bit of the Harpenden pub from last month, the general hubbub and atmosphere.  I was comfy enough and my Purity Mad Goose was a cracking pint, it varies in quality but this pub deserves to the in the GBG for this alone.  

Great beer, interesting atmosphere at the Carpenters.

672 - Old Sun Inn, Harlington 

I'd read a few mixed reviews about this pub in the build up, but it's fair to say I was as pleased as punch with it.  I arrived at this very old and 'lived in' feeling pub to find it in a state of semi-chaos, as they were putting up the decorations for a 50th Wedding Anniversary (John & Thelma if you must know).  The barmaid was very friendly, even setting it up for me to explain BRAPA, always the best type of getting served experience!  I climbed a small set of steep stairs to a glorious little room where the walls had a sauna style effect - best pub room for a long time and I had it all to myself.  A small girl came along with some decorations and explained some of the guests had wanted a sit down meal before the celebrations so now the pressure was on to get everything organised for 6:30pm.  I promised her I'd be gone by then!  Then the pub dog Pippin (quite golden) bounded along and was all over the chairs and tables, may have sniffed out my chicken bites and scotch egg I had in my bag.  As dogs go, a delightful creature! My Castle Rock Harvest Pale wasn't the best (I think the brewery isn't making it as nice as it used to so pub not to blame).  Overall, great experience.  

The sun was shining on me after a good session in the Old Sun, Harlington.
I'd originally planned to either get an extra pub 'tick' in at either Luton, St Albans or London itself but time had ticked on (as it often does!) and I was done with adventures for one day so retired to the Parcel Yard in Kings Cross station for what was a very relaxing "swift half" once I realised I hadn't actually lost my phone!

And back in time for most of England Women's second half win v Mexico.  A good day!

Only 4 new GBG pubs may feel a bit disappointing, but it's enough to push Bedfordshire up into 4th place in the league above East Yorkshire and three of the ticks were on "page 4" which is my most pressing BRAPA concern, having completed pages 1-3.  

Bedfordshire - Coming Soon

My next trip is July 18th, I have unfinished business in Dunton and Sandy after their stupid opening times messed up my March trip. An interesting quirk of this is that friend Clare has recently moved to nearby Gamlingay (I went through it on the bus in March) and wonder if meeting up with her could add an extra dimension to the day.  Ideally, I'd get Great Barford and Felmersham done too but I think the later may be a journey too far, being a fair bus ride north of Bedford.  Plenty to plan.

We have no Beds date in August (a combination of unknown football fixtures plus punk festival saw to that) but in a moment of genius, Tom Irvin has told me that being an international 'blank' weekend, I could plan a Beds trip for the first Saturday in September, which I plan to.  This will encompass Leighton Buzzard, Heath & Reach and at least some of Luton. 

It seems unlikely I'll finish Bedfordshire by the end of the year, especially as a new GBG is bound to make things harder in mid September, but I'll be looking to keep chipping away at it.  I'm thinking another 'outer Bedford trip' for October,  

See you soon for what I hope will be a report on a Tuesday trip to Ledsham.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

BRAPA - Holmfirth

After Saturday's slightly underwhelming four pubs, Tuesday's single BRAPA tick positively exceeded all expectations.

The journey was smooth enough.  The 16:20 Leeds-Huddersfield train was quick and surprisingly calm for an after-work jaunt to the west.  Talking of calm, Huddersfield bus station's soothing piped music is so incongruous with the usual bus station element of chav, you can only think it is supposed to be a subliminal calming exercise.  It seems to work.

The half hour bus journey took us into the rural 'Last of the Summer Wine' (I'll get that reference out of the way early) country, and it is testament to Holmfirth that the two minutes of it I saw were picturesque with a presumably inferior pub called 'The Bridge' behind a bridge and river.

Passage to the pub

688 - Nook (Rose & Crown), Holmfirth - Luckily, the GBG told me that the pub was hidden down an alleyway next to Barclays Bank, and Barclays was about the first building I saw.  As I took the pub photo, a grizzly bunch of locals (who reminded me of that cartoon 'Biker Mice from Mars') and an intimidating dog stared at me as if to say, "not another pub tourist".  It wasn't really warm enough to sit out anyway, and the now traditional 2015 conversation of people moaning "why doesn't it feel more like summer, it's June for godssake!" was taking place at the bar as I entered.  You could see the pub was classy straight away, lots of separate little rooms and seven ales from their own 'Nook Brewhouse'.  I was surprised to learn I'd already tried two of their beers, one at York Beer Festival and one at Wm Hawkes in Hull.  I sat in the darkened front bar with who I presumed were a couple, until the man left without uttering word.  The Aussie barman was very helpful, as I sat and enjoyed a Porter (new on!) I reflected he had the best Aussie work ethic since Richard Garcia, a paradox if I ever there was one.  The scariest 'biker mouse' then came in to scowl at me, as did a passing child who wanted menu's for the back room.  I rose above all this scowling with a half of some average red ale before the bus back to Huddersfield.  This pub has been in 30 GBG's, I could see why.

Beware the biker mice from Mars and intimidating dog at the Nook
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  • Just to clarify, I'm NOT a beer blogger.  I'm barely even a pub blogger.  I'm a blogger about my lifelong challenge to tick off every pub in the Good Beer Guide.  I may refer to aspects of pub interior, exterior, beer range and quality etc. in my reviews, but I'm generally reviewing my own personal experience and the efforts taken to get around (travel logistics if you will) on a given day.
  • Attentions turn to Saturday and our 5th trip to Bedfordshire.  I have a rough plan drawn out but a few things are variable on the day, particularly involving how much walking/taxi I do between tricky venues. 
  • Looks like I really am on work checking next week so Ledsham (and perhaps Garforth) can go ahead as expected.  

See you soon, Si

Nook brewhouse ale from Tuesday's Holmfirth trip - cheers! 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

BRAPA - Chapel-le-Dale & Skipton

Problems at Dent station
The North Yorkshire section of my BRAPA section continued, alphabetically of course, with our next pub tick, Chapel-le-Dale.  So after a fairly straightforward journey to Ribblehead via Leeds, I was walking two miles into a VERY strong wind over to the west.  I tried my best to power walk it, and in doing so, overtook a professional looking walker with a cheery "hello!"  He grimaced back by way of reply.

664 - Old Hill Inn, Chapel-le-Dale - About two miles walking later, I was there and for once, it was nice to see an ancient looking North Yorks walkers pub matched by a nice traditional wooden interior rather than some wannabe gastropub.  The welcome was more traditonally 'walkers pub' as the stern barmaid didnt exactly offer service with a smile and did everything at one mile an hour.  I took ages to get served as the Fowler family from Liverpool (no sign of Robbie before you ask) had ordered a coffee, tea and coke which seemed to test all of her resources.  As resident dog "Peggy" jumped up, she made a joke about her being the "new barmaid" and I forgave her.  I finally got sat down with my pleasant pint of Dent Aviator in the only proper seat I could find, behind the piano!  I just had to hope the other customers didn't expect me to play a tune but the only ones who smiled at me were two visiting black labradors.   The wind was vicious and I could feel it vaguely through a rickety old door near the piano.   The walkers and dogs just kept on coming until I almost couldn't find a route out of the pub and 'adventurously' went via a side dining room they were trying to keep dogs out of!  

Since 1615!  The Old Hill Inn at Chapel-le-Dale.

With the wind at my back, the walk back to Ribblehead was a lot easier and I nipped in to the Station Inn for a quick half (more on that pub when I review it in my archives as it wasn't a new one) and then I took the train to Dent.  This was a BRAPA faux-pas as I should have researched the fact that Dent itself was 4 miles away, not time to get to and from the pub!  Even Cowgill was a painful walk so I spent most of my time having a picnic in the station waiting room, the highest station in England and the wind was nearly breaking the doors in.  It was a painful 50 minutes.  

The train back towards Leeds was on time, and I chatted to a lad from Dumfries about BRAPA potential in that part of the world - Annan also featured.  I "alighted" at Skipton where I had three more pubs to do.  

665 - Woolly Sheep, Skipton - I'd walked past this pub two years ago with my sister, chuckled at it's quirky name put paid little attention.  Now I see it in the GBG, and it required proper attention and seeing it was a Timothy Taylor's pub, I had quite high hopes.  What I wasn't expecting was an absolutely heaving pub full of mainly over tanned 40 somethings obviously just here for a drink.  The pub seemed big enough to cater for all, but whether it was the cosy front room, the bar area or even the windswept courtyard, there were Skipton folk everywhere.  And then, I realised the problem.  The pub had a huge "diners only" section (which has even had a new extended bit built on).  I perched by the fruit machine, as near to it as I could get without being chucked out!  I have to say, a total pet hate of mine this and nearly sat down anyway just to see if I could argue with the staff, but they seemed female and smiley!  I was one of several drinkers struggling for space and it seems this pub has it's priorities wrong.  A shame as you could see how nice the pub could be on a quieter day, plus my Le Champion ale was very good.  

Woolly Sheep - standing room only

666 - Albion, Skipton - So I'd reached the number of the devil, and if Satan had been unleashed by BRAPA, he had taken the form of one of my other pub pet hates - 'people who block the bar area when there is an entire empty room for them to sit!'  They cannot have been comfy surely, especially as one craggy old local started singing operatic style.  Even when someone smashed a glass in the same area, they wouldn't even move for the barmaid's dustpan and brush.  This was very much a mirror of the Woolly Sheep experience.  Something about pubs called the Albion I've noticed they always seem to have a what can only be described as an "old man" pub atmosphere.   When I did get served, the barmaid was friendly, quirky and begged me to try paying with change, which I'd carefully done in the Woolly Sheep, wish I'd saved it for here.  Personally, having a whole seating area to yourself was the perfect contrast with the last pub and after "piano-gate" in Chapel-le-Dale, I'd almost forgotten how to sit down normally in a pub situation!  My ale, Golden XPA by Caledonian was the only 'interesting' guest I could see, but it's taste was averagely good. 

Albion in Skipton - devil pub!

667 - Le Bistro Des Amis, Skipton - I'd thought this was closed on my 'sister visit' two years ago but now I realised the entrance is actually down a side street and I entered to find a light, friendly cafe bar with dining areas upstairs and to the back.  This was very much a top class French eatery with real ale though I could tell the emphasis was on the food, as they were proud of recent awards they'd won.  I also learnt there is a Skipton car rally on soon, and an old man was chatting with a French accented bar man (all the way from Grassington, perhaps!) about cars, sadly a topic I find so boring I didn't try to engage and sat down near the bar.  I'd been asked if I was dining with them as he served me an Ilkey Mary Jane, he seemed surprised when I made it clear I was only here for the beer!  The ale was nice (surely they should have sold Marie Jaune by the same brewery, or Le Champion as per Woolly Sheep) but the lemony taste gave way to some sulphur, so I wondered if it was on the turn.  When a man and two dogs left, they left behind an old lady who started talking to me about this bar and Skipton in general and it was nice to have found a place with a friendly atmosphere to end my day, having been a bit un-enthused up to this point.

The GBG with a rare foray into French culture in Skipton

I had quite a march to to the station to make the train back to Leeds, and I was in York before 8:30pm.  It won't win my BRAPA day of the year award, but I was glad to get four new ticks in, especially the vital Chapel-le-Dale one, and we can now focus in on Claughton as part of the July 4th "Welly day out" excursion.  

See you in a few days for a West Yorks update, it looks like being Holmfirth now as I'm suddenly, work-wise, NOT on checking after all! 


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

BRAPA - Cragg Vale

Picturesque walking from Mytholmroyd to Cragg Vale
Despite this year's Good Beer Guide (GBG) listing Cragg Vale under 'Hebden Bridge', (last year, it was a place in it's own right!), the nearest railway station is Mytholmroyd so after a few signalling problems, I was finally on my way.  Interestingly (for the train geeks amongst you), they made up the time by not stopping at 3 stations between Rochdale and Manc Victoria, which angered a girl, who then declared she was getting off at Sowerby Bridge anyway!

For me, a 2 mile walk from Mytholmroyd followed through lush green woodland, along streams, but with a pavement all the way, this was a pleasant rural BRAPA walk for once!  My cycling friend Mark Bennett told me this was the longest continuous ascent in the UK, but thankfully, I hadn't realised before that the gradient was about 0.1% all the way so not too cream-crackered either!

And then the fun started.  I thought I'd seen my first pub -  and what a peculiar building it was, so I started snapping away for this blog and my social media check-ins.  A few huge raindrops followed but who cares when I was just outside the pub?  Except I wasn't.  It was a sign on the building directing me down the hill to the ACTUAL pub!  The heavens opened and I was drenched by the time I'd walked down the hill, past the church, to the pub - arrrghhh!

NOT the first pub - beware dark rain clouds.
662 - Hinchcliffe Arms, Cragg Vale - Oh well, at least my drenched state allowed me to make an impression on landlord and landlady when I arrived dripping at the bar and told my story, to relative amusement.  I ordered an MPA (Manchester Pale Ale) which I believed was Marble but was actually John Willie Lees, who own the pub.  I'd heard about rare guest ales from outside Yorks, but from what I could make out, all four ales on were JW Lees.  Never mind, the Macc Lads were wrong when they said "Willie's tastes like piss", it's far better than Boddies and after initial shandy overtones, it developed into a refreshing golden ale - as if I needed ANY MORE refreshing!  I sat in the upholstered area in front of the bar where one southern man was paying for food.  He looked glum and stoic until his two horrid kids returned (the eldest was called Hugo, enough said) and he was transformed into an annoying babbling man-baby.  Landlord and landlady saw me rolling my eyes and chuckled sympathetically.  It didn't seem to be a lucky pub for me!  Luckily, man-baby's wife returned to escort them all off the premises and calmness ensued, though plenty of kitchen staff kept buzzing about, this was quite a loungey foody tourist trap despite the JW Lees.  The rain was teeming down and my peace was now shattered by nine female hikers, who whined about their muddy boots before trying to sit near me, but landlady thankfully shoehorned them to the back room.  I was just about to order half a "Coronation St" when I saw a gap in the rain, and took my chance to leave.

The Hinchcliffe in torrential rain, not that you can tell from this.
663 - Robin Hood, Cragg Vale - My second pub was half a mile back towards Mytholmroyd and on my walk up, I'd said hello to two locals sat outside, when the weather seemed pleasant.  It was raining again when I arrived back here, a chap was still outside but under a pub awning (see below pic).  I said 'hi' and entered to find one of those truly happy bygone era pub scenes.  One small room with people sat at each table all chatting and having a laugh.  'Bantz' I think the kids call it.  I ordered a gorgeous £2.50 pint of Mallinson's Cascade and with the barmaid taking such care over "topping it up", it gave me chance to think.  I've been conscious on recent BRAPA trips of sitting in the most remote corner of the most remote room, and losing something of the true pub experience and hubbub.  So I perched on the end of some other people's tables, everyone was smiley so I was put at ease.  Though no-one engaged me in BRAPA or other chat (I got the GBG out as a prompt!), I was happy to smile along as they slagged off BT's service centre and worried about their electricity going off.  Eventually, a bald man's head moved to reveal the free Wi-fi code on a blackboard, this pub has easily the best Wi-fi I've ever used but as always happens in the best pubs, time had marched on with urgency, and I had to leave.  A lovely pub though, much recommended. 

So I power walked 1.5M back to Mytholmroyd station to get the hour long train back to L**ds before changing for York.  A really good evening, and it has got the midweek WY BRAPA juices flowing again.

No-one puts Simey in the corner at the Robin Hood! 
Latest News .....
  • The "Heavy Woollen" tour due this Saturday is postponed again as Mr Ellis has "other commitments.  It will now happen on Sat 27th June.  I hope.  
  • This opened up the question "so what shall I do this Sat?"  A North Yorkshire day of course, Chapel-le-Dale is next on the list and I've just finished organising and booking the day which also takes in a Cumbrian pub and my final Skipton ticks.    
  • My recent successes in eclipsing my "15 pubs a month target" means I've now calculated I will be 62 years old rather than 63 when I finished the BRAPA challenge.  I need to do this in the early stages though until pubs/places get trickier in later years (for example, when Yorkshire is all done and Cornwall still has 100 pubs to do!)
  • I'm on the dreaded "checking" at work next week again so 5pm finish but BRAPA continues as normal with a not too far bus ride from Leeds to Ledsham out east.  Heather at work thinks I should combine it with the Gaping Goose in Garforth as a pre-emptive tick (it's in my 1982 GBG at least!)
  • Also on the West Yorkshire front, I still have a Hebden Bridge tick to do I didn't feel able to combine with Cragg Vale, so I'm now going to combine it with my final Mirfield and Sowerby Bridge ticks, probably in early July. 
  • Our monthly Bedfordshire trip is a week earlier this month on 13th, Eversholt is the key place.  There is one bus a week!  It is 12 noon Saturday from Flitwick station so reckon I can take advantage but some planning is required re other pub ticks, Harlington for example.
And that's all folks for now,

Keep pubbing!  Si