Tuesday, 29 March 2016

BRAPA - the Wonderful Wombwell of Wass

Purdie refuses to play by the rules at the Wombwell Arms
The third and final part of my Easter extravaganza saw a return to the North Yorkshire countryside, with those trusty companions, Chauffeur Dad and SatNav woman - the latter was a bit burnt out from the demanding schedule and kept saying things like "turn left" when she meant straight on, or "bear right" when she meant "sharp turn right immediately".

Passing Byland Abbey to get to Wass
After what seemed to be an eternity of flooded country roads, we were finally in Wass after 12 noon.

Arriving at the pub on a soggy bank holiday lunchtime.

848.  Wombwell Arms, Wass

Some pub experiences are so bizarre and surreal that when you leave, you wonder if it all really happened.  This was one of those occasions.  All seemed very stereotypical North Yorkshire at first as a trustworthy looking landlord stood at the main bar, done in that old fashioned farmhouse style with nice but standard beers on by Wensleydale, Wold Top and Helmsley.  Foody areas both left and right just about stopped it from feeling like a cosy classic, though had he lit the fire it might have rocketed up to a pub of the year contender.  All was quiet until Purdie the cat (a 12 year old female with "jumping up" issues) wandered in, the most vocal pub cat I have ever met but once she did get onto the table, it was us getting in trouble for not be stricter with her (Dad even got bitten for his troubles - by the cat, not the landlord).  With Biltong snacks available, we realised there was a South African theme at work here, namely in the form of Mrs Wombwell.  The fun had only just begun as a group of posh old duffers came in and irritated us by not knowing basics like the name of the brewery based at South Frodingham.  Tsk.  The final member of their party was a pure joy.  An old man with yellow cords and the politest form of tourette's you could imagine "ooooh, thankyou!  yessss, ohhhh thankyou!"  With both him and Purdie bleating on in unison, five posh youngsters appeared like something from an Enid Blyton novel and started demanding crisps and juice and I think the landlord was as bewildered as us by what was happening to his pub.  Had Aslam the lion arrived with a unicorn, the ghost of David Bowie and a hobgoblin from Wychwood forest, it would not have been uninkeeping with this pub experience.  Once I wrestled Purdie off my "BRAPA survival kit", where she'd made a nest, it was with some relief that we were back outside in the 'normal' world! 

Chilling with the Purdz
"Where's mi bloody pint?"
"Haven't you got anything more hoppy?"
Lovely view of the stony bar.
Purdie builds a nest.
We were soon back on the Thirsk road heading south, where the plan was to turn off for the Old Black Bull in Raskelf.  SHUT PUB ALERT!  Now, I won't be as harsh as on recent blogs about this issue, BUT I have always thought Bank Holiday Monday's would adhere to Sunday opening hours - therefore 12-11, and should have been open.  Having said that, if we are taking it purely on Monday face value, the pub doesn't open til 7pm.  In a further twist, Whatpub (which confirmed the 7pm Monday opening) shows they start serving food on a Monday from 6:30pm!!  How does that work?  I like to wait for my food to cool down a bit, but that is ridiculous.

Nor was there chance for a 'post-emptive' tick of Dawnay Arms, Shipton-by-Beningbrough style.  Also closed.  Never mind, I've heard it's quite rubbish.   We therefore didn't trust slight detour return visits to Huby's Mended Drum or Newton-on-Ouse's Dawnay either.  

It was left to the Fox, on the outskirts of York, to once again prove it is not only currently the best pub in York, but must be a candidate for best pub in the country at present.  

March pub ticking isn't finished yet, but let's just say it hasn't been the luckiest BRAPA month ever.


Sunday, 27 March 2016

BRAPA - Filey & Scarborough (fun on the east coast)

The clocks may as well have gone forward two hours, as my train to Scarborough was delayed by 40 minutes approx, and it was freezing on York station as the waiting rooms were choc-a-bloc with whining London families returning home to bolt their mansions against Storm Katie.  The only consolation, my train ticket only cost £1.60 due to a longer delay in Manchester a few months ago!!

Anyway, welcome to day two of my three pronged Easter North Yorkshire challenge. My connection to Filey still 'made', and after an eventful journey where I waved to a heron, some quad bikers and a 13 year old girl without being arrested, I was at my favourite coastal town in North Yorks.  Last time I was here (Jan 2013), it was deep in snow and I can assure you, today was even colder.

A multitude of stars at the Star
844.  Star Inn, Filey

A phrase you don't often here on entering a given pub is "ooh look, it's a headless skeleton .... oh no, it's yer Grandad!"  This classic quote was courtesy of Auntie Star to the blonde child Lucas.  It's a pub cliche to say "it was like walking into someone's front room", but I've rarely felt it as much as here.  Daddy Star (a polite man with basic social skills) served me an excellent Black Sheep Special, but I'd walked straight into the lion's den and was surrounded by various members of the extended Star family, with grandson Lucas being teased about whether or not the Easter bunny had left him anything.  Even the army of young brunette waitresses seemed part of this 'cosy' family scene, I tried to look relaxed next to the annoying fake bookcase wallpaper, but felt far from comfortable.  Whilst Lucas showed anyone who cared his damaged wrist, Nana and Grandad Star were presented with a huge Sunday roast which could have fed the whole pub.  If my Mum had thought Cropton felt a bit cliquey yesterday, she'd have been horrified by this.  But when it all calmed down, I was left missing the entertainment laid on by Filey's best pub family.

A rare peaceful view of the family-centric Star Inn
After a bit of impromptu sunbathing on Filey station, I hopped on a train back to Scarborough where I'd noticed two new pubs in the 2016 GBG, a Wetherspoons and a Micropub, and wondered how long til the Good Beer Guide will be 50/50 split with these two types of outlet?

Arriving at the Lord Rosebery
845.  The Lord Rosebery, Scarborough

Good job this was a vast multi-levelled JD Wetherspoons, because it was heaving with people taking advantage of the four day weekend, many looking like they were in it for the long haul as you often find with JDW clientele.  There is, of course, a "beer festival" on at the moment which as far as I can see, seems to consist of putting a few more beers on than usual, and errrm, nothing else!  To be fair, a member of staff who belonged in panto appeared from nowhere to sell us raffle tickets to win a huge egg, and then performed a magic trick on a little girl, which seemed to traumatise her.  I'd wandered into a slightly raised quiet side room (if Spoons do side rooms) and the only seat I could find was a huge table seating 8 in the sun so I felt a right bastard and couldn't relax for fear I was alone in the prime seat in the pub!  It was therefore something of a relief when a family of 4 were joined by two hangers on and decided to upgrade to my table, so I volunteered to 'downgrade' to their old table of 4.  My sense of being a good Samaritan was short lived.  An old couple next to me on a similar table of 4 were brought scones and tea, and immediately decided to downgrade to a table of 2, for NO REASON.  Then the only other couple in a table of 4 decided to leave!  This was musical chairs at it's best, how long before I was in a cupboard under the stairs?  The pressure was taken off when a Jamie Vardy/Harry Kane hybrid called Luke (no lumberjack shirt though) tried to impress his girlfriend by buying a raffle ticket off our magic man, who made a Star Wars/Luke joke that didn't go down well.  It was that kind of pub, but a classic Wetherspoons experience you can all relate to.

Trying to relax at my original table of 8.
The raffle prize is on my table (of 4), but I didn't win it!
The busy nature of the 'Spoons meant I had misgivings about embarking on a micro pub adventure, but it had to be done .....

I was going to apologise to this girl for photographing her, but I accidentally elbowed her in the ribs later on anyway.
846.  Stumble Inn, Scarborough

Controversially, this place hasn't been officially declared a micro pub despite adverts everywhere saying it is one.  Not sure who makes the final decision.  Maybe Mr Hillier had a bad childhood experience on holiday in Scarbs where he was buried up to his neck in sand?  Anyway, this was classic Micro (think more Dr Phil's than Twisted Lip, but still good).  It was busy as expected but free cheese and crackers (and very strong pickled onions) were on at the bar and softened my mood.  My decision to photograph them led people to question whether I was a food hygiene inspector, so I proceeded to eat as much as I could and look slightly disturbed.  There were no seats so I had to stand at the bar and take the full force of the "banter" between jokey landlord and the main "character" local, it was somewhere between Ken Dodd and Lee Mack, 'chuckle-able at best!" (not Chuckle Brothers).   At least I was made to feel included.  A happy friendly atmosphere.  I felt sorry for the nice man on my left, just trying to enjoy a quiet pint who was sent off to the local shop to buy some Jacob's Crackers when they were running short, mainly cos of me! I think he was refunded.    I tried a decent Father Jack beer from the North East, and then a swift half of a Milton from Cambridge, excellent ales and I'd have to say, a bit like the 'Spoons, above average in it's pubby field!  

Selection of cheeses in the Stumble Inn, I enjoyed the Guinness one.
I'd been fortunate to avoid the rain, and after getting a coffee at the station to keep my switched on to write up this blog, I was back in York no problems at all.  Right, time to rest up before Day Three of my North Yorkshire challenge tomorrow.  Nice to finally be making some inroads! 

I once read that the true meaning of Easter was a free pint of Banks's Bitter.  If that is true, I hope you all got yours.  Until tomorrow evening, farewell.


Saturday, 26 March 2016

BRAPA - Cropton (at last) .... and Lastingham

Dodgy toilet decor in the Blacksmiths Arms, Lastingham
The Easter Weekend four day break is just too good an opportunity not to get some BRAPA done, so we devised a family 'walking' trip to assist my purpose.  In truth, my dodgy foot (which we don't like to talk about) and some rather inclement weather meant it turned into a glorified pub day.  How guilty did I feel on a scale of 1-10 about this?  I rated it at 1.2,  Mum and Dad didn't care anyway.

Our now legendary SatNav woman loves her rural outings, and having negotiated the busy Scarborough road and the centre of Pickering, we were soon at a pub which was a real 'monkey off the back' for me.....

Me and Mummy Everitt at the New Inn, Cropton
843.  New Inn, Cropton

Ah yes, the fabled New Inn at Cropton as revered by local CAMRA and walkers all over the county, this was a real "oh my god Si how have you never been here before?" pub, I was expecting big things.  It was only just gone 11am so the pub was perhaps not at the peak of it's powers, with a huddle of locals chatting at the bar like extras from Postman Pat.  Cropton brewery is a great one, though their decision to change it's name to 'Great Yorkshire Brewery', thus losing their local identity, is one which I'll never understand.  Luckily, the beers were the same quality as before, 'Yorkshire Pale' on top form and probably good I hadn't spied the 6% Monkman's Slaugter or Chocolate Orange as I was still fragile from yesterday's Horsforth Beer Festival.  They had a huge range of non handpulled fonts as well, but you won't get many hipsters to the dozen in here.  A bit like Danby last week, you felt this pub had lots of hidden rooms, nooks and crannies with a pool table in one room, a collection of Teddy Bears suffocating behind a glass case, t-shirts and carry-outs for sale, a restaurant luckily hidden away, and rooms to stay overnight in.  No prostitutes to be seen.  The brunette barmaid was a nice lass, and after much jiggery pokery with my loose change, I was able to somehow get a £5 note back in change from seemingly nowhere.  Some pubs work better in the daytime, most probably work better on an evening, and you felt this was in the latter category with a lot of pot polishing and glass clinking as the staff worked hard to get organised for the inevitable influx of Easter scum (I mean visitors).  One man staying overnight insisted on parading his baby around the pub, cute the first time, irritating after that.  When the whole family arrived, it was time to move on, but I still had time to return a lost hat to the rightful owner, to a vague degree of gratitude,  It was that kind of place.

Teddies and indoor view of the New Inn
Mummy Everitt does the 'book work' on her first BRAPA appearance of 2016.
After a 'token' gesture of a walk in the pretty village in Lastingham, where we'd previously come for my Grandma's 90th birthday celebrations and involves one of the best churches ever, it was time to stop messing about and get inside pub two......

At the sign of the Blacksmith
844.  Blacksmiths Arms, Lastingham

I'd been so caught up in the anticipation of Cropton, I hadn't considered that this pub might actually be brilliant, so imagine my surprise when it actually was!  As soon as we walked in, the smell of real fires, and busy hub of friendly locals in the main bar, a low ceiling made even lower by tankards hanging from the ceiling.  We ordered ales from a new brewery, Dick's of Brough, and three bowls of tomato and basil soup with crusty bread.  Acceptable pub food, cos I just said so!  We sat towards the back and after a bit of calamafludging  (if that's a word) about whether we were at the one reserved table, we settled down in a room with flat caps hanging from the ceiling -  classic Yorkshire touch.  There were jars of jam, honey, chutney, marmalade (basically anything you could 'jar') for sale, this was a classic rural pub.  The decor in the loos left a bit to be desired (see top photo) but the mood was friendly as a strange old woman sat behind us and started coughing in a musical way.  Dad commented the soup was a bit herby (errm, that might be the basil) whilst I ordered a treacle tart which I'm still digesting now and found it too 'treacly', good job we're not food critics isn't it?  But what a cracker.  So the next time you hear people waxing lyrical about the New Inn, tell them to make the short journey here aswell/instead.

Sitting down to digest my treacle tart.

Enjoying the range of flat caps
If you can put it in a jar, they'll sell it here.
So, what will tomorrow bring?  Well, more from North Yorkshire in my seemingly never ending quest to complete my home county.  March has been a tough month for pub ticking, but a late flourish this weekend should ensure some level of respectability.

Remember to put those clocks forward!  


Monday, 21 March 2016

BRAPA - A Pub Blog with No Pubs!

"A light was on, but nobody was at home".  Well, that was true of both myself and the Cock Inn at Birdwell on Monday night.

I must declare myself Grade A Idiot - what a schoolboy BRAPA error to make, to assume a fairly rural pub might be open on a Monday, regardless of what the GBG and WhatPub might say.

After the debacle at Doncaster's Marketplace Deli two Wednesdays ago, I will be strictly sticking to Tuesday in the future and adding this 'no Monday rule' to my code of conduct.  I never had this problem with West Yorkshire did I?

My reasoning for attempting a Monday was thus - I am cat-sitting Tue-Thu and had a rare blank Saturday and Sunday so felt this was my one 'window' to shine!

Due to a recurrence of my ankle injury (which as you know, I don't like to talk about!), I'd already cut Hoyland Common out of the evening as I'd have been too tempted to then walk the 1.2 miles to Birdwell rather than get a bus, running the risk of further damage.

Barnsley Bus Station was at it's manic best, with that air of 'I'm friendly but I might stab you' hanging in the air.  My bus driver looked bewildered by my PlusBus ticket but let me on anyway.  A horrible screaming family were behind me (half term), and I got immersed in a complex conundrum of why BT were ripping me off on my latest two bills.  By the time I glanced up, we were already in Birdwell, I panicked and pressed the bell, but two stops too early giving myself a longer walk than needed.  Never mind, it wasn't far.

The pub was down a little slope and looked quaint and wonderful:

Quaint and wonderful, perhaps.
A small light was on by the entrance, but as I approached to take a picture of an etched cockerel in the window, I realised how dark and closed it looked!  I rang the phone number but it just rang out.

It was approaching 5:45pm so I sat on the picnic bench to the right of this photo and decided to wait til 6pm just in case.  I spent the 15 minutes productively, finishing solving my BT issue, changing my contract, declaring them cheating bastards.  I thought I heard a curtain vigorously swiped open, but it was just a lorry swishing through the trees on the main road below.

There were two empty glasses on my picnic bench, had they been there since Sunday?  Had it had a lunchtime opening window?  Forensic analysis could not find the conclusion.  It was cold by now, only a piece of banana cake (courtesy of former work colleague Christina Sidery) could cheer me up.

Banana Cake was superb, and the mystery glasses make a blog appearance!
It was 6:03pm, no signs of life at all.  Freezing cold, I admitted defeat and went for the bus, just missing one that must have been behind schedule.  Driver saw my outstretched hand, but he wasn't stopping for anyone!  5 mins later, I decided I'd cross and do Hoyland Common's Saville Square after all, salvage something from the day, but a Barnsley bus sped round the corner and stopped for me without me even trying for it!  He basically hijacked me, but he too, looked bewildered by my PlusBus ticket.

It was that kind of evening.  

BRAPA eh?  March is proving a tough month.  I'll go again next Tuesday.  Before that, some very sporadic Easter ticking in North Yorkshire on Sat, Mon and perhaps Sunday if I have the energy! 


Sunday, 20 March 2016

BRAPA - Middlesbrough / Danby

The only funnyish thing about pub 842.
The Sat-Nav lady was in mischievous mood on Friday, deciding that the best way to Danby was actually a meandering country route through Pickering, over the Moors, past all the heather and famous grouses (grice?) in a squally downpour, eventually reaching Danby via Castleton Moor.

Danby is, I've been told, where the gentle-folk of Middlesbrough bring their prostitutes, away from the bright red lights, the smog and the parmos.  As a very small place (and I can't imagine the village bakery is suitable), today's first pub would seem their most likely tryst destination.

Feeling the stonework on arrival in Danby
841.  Duke of Wellington, Danby

The Saltwick Nab, guest beer from Whitby, was camouflaged as we entered a cosy rural style side bar, the pump clip being all tobaccoey browny grey like the wood panelling and furnishings.  It would have been easy to miss and order a Daleside Bitter instead.  Through the doorway, a real fire was roaring away in a comfortable lounge and some drenched walkers (their moods ranging from 'fed up' to 'ecstatic') were enjoying the beer, and I must note, NO FOOD anywhere to be seen.  There was an evening menu,but this was nice to see at lunchtime in rural North Yorkshire.  The landlord was a big canny chap, and his pub seemed to act as 'all things to the village', very old school.  During our short stay, he was asked if he had (a) a car park (b) mini cheddars (c) a room, and perhaps most worryingly of all (d) a spike.  Going back to the car park, a southern man came in with his wife and loudly declared he was "parked raaaand the soide!" He then told the pub it was his wife's birthday, and we all grunted in a disinterested way.  The couple then went up the back stairs to their room for the night, good job he wasn't from 'Boro or it'd have got me thinking.  This was a cracker of a pub, we kind of already knew it'd be the best of the day.  If I was a prostitute, I'd happily be brought here.

View from the side room.
After a sandwich in the car and observing some village life which generally involved old people buying loaves of bread, we were on our way to the Linthorpe area of 'Boro.  

842.  Dr Phil's Real Ale House, Middlesbrough

I've been to a fair few micro pubs now in the name of BRAPA and pre-emptive ticking, and this, Middlesbrough's original and currently only GBG one, was unashamedly true to the blueprint.  We walked into a tiny one roomed square thing, no bar to be seen.  Dr Phil pointed to a blackboard and after ordering some local Truefitt ale (always good), he disappeared into a little cupboard and came back with two pints.  Take that Cock at Broom, take that heritage guide, you think you ancient village pubs have a monopoly on 'pubs with no bar'?  Think again!  Dr Phil returned to his newspaper, the only other customer, an old man with a cough that revealed too many years of ICI chimneys, did the same.  Me and Dad felt obliged to whisper, we didn't have to, but the atmos was hardly conducive to conversation, laughter, fun or anything really.  The beer was excellent, but all we could really do is stare at pump clips and make occasional whispered comments about breweries until a 3rd chap appeared.  As we left, I tried to say bye and thanks to Dr Phil, but he just grunted as if to say "don't make a scene, you've had your drink, now go". 

Just like a library!  Dr Phil's.
And knowing three more pre-emptive Micro pubs awaited us, you could forgive me for thinking I'd have three more identical experiences to this, but luckily I'd be proved very wrong.

Sherlocks, Middlesbrough

On Baker Street, hence the name, but number 7 Baker Street?  Seriously, they've gone to all this effort to create a lovely little atmospheric Holmes style drawing room with oak panelling and quirky wallpaper, and then they don't renumber it 221B?  And make all the other properties around it renumber themselves accordingly?  Just wrong.  Anyway, it was nice to be in a so-called Micro with atmosphere, despite being little over 1 year old, good on them.  It had just been Plastic Paddy's day so I ordered a delicious Irish Stout from Sonnet 43, served by a barmaid who could well have been The Corrs outcast sister.  We sat near a table of middle aged men, all jokey and peculiar, and as I went to the loo, Dad got heckled by the main joker (Moriarty) but couldn't understand what he was saying.  So when one of his friends told Dad to ignore him and Dad admitted he couldn't understand him, it caused even more merriment!  A young boy asked permission to come in and watch his Dad get drunk, which was approved.  The windows steamed up with Fri afternoon drinkers, and it made it look like we had a Victorian London style pea-souper outside.   The only criticism I would make, two TV screens both showing "The Hotel Inspector" seemed very unnecessary.  By the way, is this allowed in such establishments?  Moriarity and his friends left about half a pint of lager each, it was time we moved on too.  

It's steaming up at Sherlock's.

Dad at Sherlock's,  pub 3 is the black and white thing two doors down.

Twisted Lip, Middlesbrough

We had our reservations about even entering here, as we knew this was the SS (Southern Supporters) designated pub, and the place was likely to be cheek to jowl with pompous Hull City comment, mini laptops and highbrow scholarly argument.  Pleasingly, this was multi roomed and the SS had retired to the room on the left, leaving the bar free for Dad to be given a health warning by the kind barmaids as he (accidentally) ordered an 8.5% pint of Brass Castle Annexation, only to be given a half (most of which, I ended up drinking anyway).  We perched on the table of a kind man with red trosuers and soon got chatting, he told his he didn't really understand modern real ale and listed off a crazy list of standard brown bitters - Doom Bar, Youngs, Fullers, Directors until Dad accused him of being a southerner and he had  to desist, though he had time to squeeze Jennings into the equation.  I then discovered this pub had an upstairs with it's own bar and cosy atomsphere.  I was coming towards an earth shattering conclusion, but we still had one more pub to go, just round the corner on Borough Road.

Me trying to do a 'Devil' impression at pub 4 - I blame the 8.5%er.
Devil's Advocate, Middlesbrough

This had a much more relaxed and languid style of atmosphere than the bustle of the Baker St duo, and a very Middlesbrough style clientele.  And by that, I mean, they look like they might mutate into some Smog Monster and attack you, when in truth, they are thinking kind and helpful thoughts about how your day could be made more pleasant in their fine town.  The bar seemed to have been squeezed into a back corner, so it felt like we were balls on a fussball table that had got stuck in the corner, and needed a giant to lift up the building and tilt it slightly.  My main criticism in here was the beer quality.  Dad wasn't happy with the Truefitt Challenger I'd chose him (despite saying it was lovely in Dr Phil's) so we swapped, and it was just cold and fizzy, so you couldn't get the nice red tastes.  But aside from that, the ambiance, staff and locals were just what you needed pre-match, and they heard us debating Isaac Wilson Wetherspoons was in relation to here, and gave us detailed directions which was a nice touch. 

Locals squashed into the corner bar at Devil's Advocate
We did find the Isaac Wilson, my 4th visit to this underrated 'Spoons, always great staff and top beer (my half Dark Star was best thing I drank today), a bit busy but plenty of room despite the football crowds and closeness to the trains.  No pigeon fanciers or parmos as on my first visit here, but all good.

I think my conclusion after today's pubs would have to be this - the set parameters around the micro pub concept is bollocks.  They are obviously not all in same blueprint,  today we saw multi rooms, different shapes and sizes, TV's, gentle music, I think even more than one toilet in one of the pubs!  I wouldn't be surprised if Blackcurrant cordial had been present too.  If you just call them pubs and lose this silly stigma, I think punters will be a lot more willing to just enjoy them for what they are, places that serve a good range of beers from unusual breweries.  But whatever the truth, the future of real ale in Boro is finally rosy.



Saturday, 19 March 2016

BRAPA - Hull's Latest Offering

Weird silhouette and 'fruit gum' urinals at Furleys.
Having aggravated my foot injury of December (which as we know, I don't like to talk about!) on the crazy Aldworth walk last Saturday, I was grateful of a low key night in Hull where I'd decided to go along with Dad to see us (presumably) 'thump' Nottingham Forest at home .....

It was a chance to take in Hull's latest real ale pub, surely a good pre-emptive tick for a future GBG.

Furley & Co, Hull

Situated opposite Princes Quay and Princes Dock, this appeared to be one of those big former warehouses converted into a modern day pub, the type of which you see in places like Manchester and Leeds but never before in Hull, which is pretty much the city at the end of the earth.  We were joined by BRAPA royalty Mark "Hull CAMRA" Bainton and Christine "head-cold" Andrew, for what felt like the most authentic Hull City pre-match session of the season.  The barmaid was young with chiseled teeth, and took an age to get our drinks, not helped by me asking "which beer is coming next?" and a complicated iPad calculator/cash register machine.  We sat in a large, glass window (I taught my older friends what Nandos, opposite, was) and was reminded of Pub Curmudgeon's ace blog Drinking in a goldfish bowl.  Dad even used the term 'goldfish bowl', whilst Mark made a dodgy counter argument about women in Amsterdam windows, though these aren't pubs.  The ales were good quality, even the Magic Rock coming towards it's end, but there was a wider range of 'craft' ales, served in 2/3 Schooner measures at high prices and low temperatures.  The toilets were very quirky (see pic above) but comfort wasn't great (think Chemistry lab minus bunsen burners), there was a great snack counter with scotch eggs as big as my head and crazy flavoued sausage rolls which we returned for post-match to drown our sorrows (better barman this time).  Conclusion - it's not the best pub in Hull, but a welcome injection to the scene.  To me, it should be in GBG ahead of St John's Hotel, Sailmakers, Hop & Vine and Larkins. We'll see!

I was looking for a Sam Smith's logo in the other corner.
The blackboard of drinks
Post match sustenance to allieve depression of useless Hull City
Middlesbrough & area write up to follow.  It's Saturday afternoon and I'm not in a pub, my liver is rather confused.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

BRAPA - Berkshire Part 2 (and a bit of Oxfordshire)

Beware of the guard dog (pub 839)

The journey down south on the 6:01 train to Goring & Streatley, via Paddington and Kings Cross, was very event free, but there was nothing event free about my first pub of the day.....

River Thames in early morning mist at Streatley
I'd actually slipped into Oxfordshire, in quite the same way you might slip into some silky evening gown (or not), and what Google Maps didn't tell me was that the 2.8m walk was going to be one of those high octane affairs, dodging cars on winding uphill country roads with no pavements.  The scariest bit was the hill just outside Streatley, the most sedate bit on top of the Berkshire Downs.

Up on the Downs!
836.  Bell, Aldworth

Finally!  And not long after opening, this pub was already busy and it actually looked more like a village hall from the outside (it confused two tourists even more) but inside, it was obvious straight away I was in a classic pub.  I must have been looking traumatised from the walk, as the barmaid was soon asking how I'd got here so I could explain my unwise road walk.  She told an older kind eccentric lady who volunteered to draw me a map to get me back safer- now that is customer service for you!  I got a very nice old fashioned pint of Old Tyler, and got talking to a pair of local walkers from Three Mile Cross, a friendly couple with Reading Beer Fest tops and a good knowledge of the GBG so we were soon talking BRAPA!  There were three local old boys in the front bar, they looked like they lived there, but I still managed to offend them.  I was talking about how my Newbury trip coincided with race-day, and my aim to avoid 'undesirable' characters.  A reasonable point you might think, but being born in Newbury, they took it as a personal insult against the town.  One told me it was only the Welsh I had to avoid, and the Welsh hated people with the same haircut as mine!  Oh dear.  Anyway, Mrs Three Mile Cross changed the subject, comparing this pub to Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole, which is funny, it was just the pub I'd be thinking of.  I wish I could have stayed for a hot Ox tongue roll (like SirQuinno did) and local cider but I knew I had a tough walk ahead of me, so after finding eccentric old woman and her map (she gave me detailed instructions from front and back of the pub!), I had a pee in the wonderful outdoor loos (the Planetarium), said cheerio, then left. 

Arriving at the sign of the Bell! 
Cider, old fashioned ale and honey.  It was like a village store with coke cans and stuff!
"Health visitor"  Paying a trip to the outdoor loos.
Map showing me how to get back from Aldworth to Goring

I must confess, having consulted Mr & Mrs Three Mile Cross's ordnance survey map, the conclusion was that my roadwalk was more direct, not too dangerous, and it made more sense to retrace my steps.  So I did.  I just didn't want to be ungrateful to the kind old lady.

With heart racing, legs aching, and sweating loads, hurrah I was back in Goring ready for pub two.

837.  Miller of Mansfield, Goring

I felt sorry for this pub from the start, having to follow the Bell was always going to be tricky.  A bit like when you go to a music festival and Meltallica totally blow away the crowd with their high energy, and then someone like Mumford & Sons comes on and has to try and be good.  Being so hot from the walk, I was surprised to see a young couple huddled in front of a fire having their lunch, it probably was a cold day.  This was a nice pub in it's own right, it didn't help that the Peroni font was about as big as the entire front bar at the Bell.  The two friendly bar men seemed to have slight Italian accents, or it could just be an Oxon twang.  You know that episode of Father Ted where Mrs Doyle gets the 'teasmaid' and breaks it because she "enjoys the misery of tea making"?  Well, something funny happened as the coffee machine right next to me broke, which I found a lot more amusing than the staff, because people should not be drinking coffee in the pub.  But with my GBG on the table, I'm worried they thought I'd stuck a screwdriver in it!  Anyway, it was nice to relax with a pint of 'Good Old Boy', with the tinkling of piano music and the smell of woody fires.  Last time I visited an Oxfordshire GBG pub, it closed down despite being great so I hope I'm not a bad omen.

A relaxing pint in the relaxing Miller of Mansfield.
The day was supposed to get easier now.  A short train ride to Tilehurst where I had three pubs to visit.  I mean how hard could it be, it can't be a big place where the pubs are ridiculously spread out, or can it?  Yes it can.  I now understood Mrs Three Mile Cross's concerned expression when I was outlining my plan.  

Tilehurst was a strange place.  A bit like when you get off the plane at Tenerife expecting something glourious and realise it's a bit of a shithole, a bit like a reverse of Village of the Damned where all the young children smile, wave and offer hope for the future, but the adults shuffle nervously into the shadows and close their curtains on identical suburban estates.

Moody black & white shot to encapsulate Tilehurst.

838.  Fox & Hounds, Tilehurst

30 mins plus of walking and I finally found the furthest away pub, nearer an area called Little Heath.  The first question was 'where are the staff?' and a friendly couple sat behind invited me to ring the bell, whilst another local tried to cough in a really unsly way to get attention.  A barmaid appeared with the air of someone who's been disturbed from 40 winks.  The guest ale was a Black Sheep one, crikey, it felt like a long way to come for this!  It had that typical chalky taste which the folk of North Yorkshire for some reason love so much.  The pub had a real down to earth community feel, and as I sat down and pretended to be interested in the Six Nations (I don't understand Rugby Union but Italy look very bad, maybe they'd been ordering coffee in Miller of Mansfield), it reminded me very much of the Wheatsheaf in Biggleswade only a bit less characterful.  A larger than life chap appeared, all loud and jokey and stuff so I guess he was Garry the landlord.  Incidentally, I didn't see an actual member of staff again for the rest of my time here.

Ale, a nice clock and a bit of egg-chasing at the Fox & Hounds
839.  Royal Oak, Tilehurst

Ah, this was more like it, easily my favourite of the three Tilehurst pubs.  It was located uphill, set back from the road, and two crazy dogs started barking as I approached but they were locked in the back yard (phew, they knew I was a cat person!)  This was a really old place, you could tell by the low ceiling and sunken feel, and the bar is situated so low down, you have to go down some steps, peer into a hatch, and you are still looming over the barmaid (nice), incidentally, she was easily the friendliest non map drawing member of staff of the day, and I perched in a six seater with a nice pint of Slumbering Monk by Joule's (I fell asleep last time I drank this, in Chester!) A stern looking short blonde haired lady was watching me closely, ready to get me barred if I did fall into a slumber.  No chance of that,  The pub had a real hubbub as a huge group of excitable men came in ready to watch England v Wales in the Six Nations (I thought I'd left this rugby love behind in Bedfordshire!) and in the side room playing pool, one of them smashed a glass.  High drama, as everyone whooped and laughed, one local shouted "oo arrr, get back up to the Fox & Hounds you trouble causers!"  Tilehurst pub humour that even I could understand, fantastic!

Very good pub, finding the way in was a challenge though.
At this point, I was contemplating cutting my losses and making the long walk back to the 16:40 train as all this walking had left me with little time to spare.  But there was no guarantee I'd have made it, and I was passing the Butchers, I may as well go in.  

840.  Butchers Arms, Tilehurst

Life was going pretty well as I chose the 'left' hand bar to go, as per my 2016 multi-roomed policy!  Only two ales on, one of them was 'Good Old Boy' again and as I was ordering, Jeff Stelling was reporting how Hull City had taken the lead.  But in one fell swoop, landlady announces actually only Doom Bar is on, and Paul Merson corrects Stelling to say in fact it's MK Dons who have taken the lead.  Talk about a bad turnaround!  This pub seemed a bit of a soulless affair, like a sports bar in pub form with two factions - one being very passionate about Wales v England, and the other (me and one old man) watching the football results on Sky.  The faction was further heightened by the pub having toilets in both bars, which must be at least quite unusual.  I perched on one of those irritating high stools with no seats, and reacted excitedly to various football scores until the rugby guys lost interest in their game to see what they were missing.  Ha!  

The rugby gang have cracked .... as Sam Clucas equalises! 
I jogged back to Tilehurst station, onto Paddington, onto Kings Cross, nice and easy, even time to nip into Parcel Yard for a swift half, but sadly not enough time for Scottish Stores.

"Swift half" at Parcel Yard
The train journey back to York took an upturn when I went to get a coffee to sober up, but noticed some crazy Geordies/Mackems buying gorgeous bottles of Little Valley real ale.  Gotta love those Grand Central trains. 

The journey home went quicker after this.
There was time, at Doncaster, for a late platform cameo from lead BRAPster Tom Irvin, and I was soon back in York for fish & chips and an old episode of Midsomer Murders.  Great day.  

My next Berkshire trip is going to be HUGE, a 4 day event, woah, more about that in the weeks to come.  Have a good remainder of your weekends.