Sunday, 31 July 2016

BRAPA - West Bridgford

Elsie Mo goes all 21st Century on us.
The annual "Welly Summer Day Out" (organised for us Hull City fans who used to frequent Hull's brilliant but now defunct Wellington pub) was down to three attendeees, the usual BRAPA trio of me, Dad and Tom, as we set out for West Bridgford on a sunny Saturday morning.

Like some bloody woman, I was 'wearing in' new red shoes in readiness for the Blackpool Punk Festival, so with blisters aplenty, I ditched the 'wearing in' long walk in favour of  a short bus ride to West Bridgford, a bustling little republic, totally separate from evil Nottingham scum (am sure that's what the locals would say) and we found our 9:30am opener doing good early trade.....

984.  Poppy & Pint, West Bridgford

A former British legion club that actually let me in, that was a novelty, eff off Penistone!  Sadly, it felt more like a ski chalet than a rugged men's club, all bare boarded and modern, keen eager young staff unable to comprehend someone might want to order a 10:30am pint without a breakfast.  It was all very Castle Rock (even if I did have a Wadworth beer first, then a brilliant Harvest Pale - a beer that  tastes awful in York these days) but I noticed Dad scowling, he could hear screaming kids dominating the pub!  But rather than walk to the furthest point away from them, he chose to sat in a strange 'no smoking' half uncovered outdoors area overlooking a bowling green.  The Twilds in question (twin twats), were playing hide & seek with a trendy beardie Dad who insisted on emphasising things like "oooh, where have those naughty little rascals gone?" and generally making a prat of himself.  As hiding on the main road wasn't an option, they ended up in our seating area.  Pub kids has been a recent common theme, like Pub Curmudgeon's excellent blog  has unwittingly unleashed a vortex of child shit-baggery on the universe.  Their eventual departure coincided with Tom's arrival (as though Tom was Richard III and they were the Princes in the Tower) and we concluded that whilst this place suffered from not being particularly pubby, there are worse places to enjoy a (now kid-free) pint.

First pint of the day (a "bitter", not a "pale")

Inside shot gives a slight clue to the shortcomings

Nice pint overlooking the bowling green.

Poppy & Pint admits it has a child problem.

985.  Stratford Haven, West Bridgford

After a short walk, we were at another Castle Rock pub, where I ordered a pint of Andy Turner, which sounded wrong, but he's some Olympian blah blah zzzzz, which somehow led me to encourage Dad to unleash his fake Olympic past, a task he took to a bit too eagerly but the young barman looked impressed anyway.  Andy Turner sounds like the centre back Hull City never had, and led us to a nice little quiz (Dad wanted to sit outside due to man-flu) where the conclusion was that Jozy Altidore is perhaps the worst striker the world has ever seen.  This was a much more proper pub, despite the obvious signs of a sympathetic Castle Rock makeover, and all the men were old smokers called Harold.  An over excitable dog (due to being owned by an over excitable female) took exception to one old man in the smoking area, it absolutely hated him - and don't you love it when dogs react like this and you see the other customers looking at the subject of the dog's wrath with suspicion as if thinking "this guy is probably a paedo"?  In another politically incorrect twist, I asked Dad what pint he wanted.  His reply "I think I'll have a go at the darkie next", reverberating around the pub garden, sounded bad, but really he just wanted to try the superb Titanic Cherry Dark.  And that really summed up the whole pub, and yes, I'd recommend it fully.

Approaching the Stratford Haven

Asking "Can I have a pint of Andy Turner?" just felt wrong
It was football time, sadly the safety certificate issue had been sorted out, and we were allowed in, at the extortionate price of £15 having had to get a ticket and then go to the turnstiles in one of the least common sense football moves ever.  It was a good game (for 45 mins), nice Allam Out chants, and our beleaguered players did what we always do and won at the City Ground.

Post match celebration at a Nottingham favourite of mine, the VAT & Fiddle.  Arguably not quite as good a pub since the cat died, Dad accidentally ordered 3 bowls of Carry On Soup (Carrot and Coriander was what he meant to say) and pints of Brian Clough and Red Riding Hood finished me off nicely.

Love this pub!

Cloughie is a Bootboy!

The end of a happy day in Notts
I might be back on Tuesday for some South Yorkshire fun, it depends how organised I am for Blackpool, but I'll be back tomorrow night anyway for the month end review.  Stay tuned folks.


Friday, 29 July 2016

BRAPA - Sheffield (The City That Won't Be Beaten)

From Gotham City to Shalesmoor, top Batman relocation.

It looked like being the evening that I'd finally finish ticking off Sheffield pubs, and it felt like it too.  A microcosm of Sheffield life followed.....

I travelled by "Supertram" (i.e. tram) through the city centre under grey skies like sheets of the local steel, with that incessant drizzly South Yorkshire rain that soaks you to the skin, whilst the wind whispered in my ear like the ghost of Ted Lowe, querying whether I should really be taking on this tricky long red.

The street up to the first pub was typically hilly, so much so it had pedestrian handrails (I didn't use them, that would be an admission of defeat) and I nodded at a student geek who was also following progress on his iPhone.  A kindred spirit?  Half way up, he zapped a Pokemon that looked like Neil Warnock and happily trotted back down the hill.  My pub was of course, inevitably, at the summit.

Doesn't really do justice to the climb

At the top.
983.  Blake Hotel, Sheffield

Out of breath, I ordered a 5% White Rose Alchemy (better than any beer I had in Morecambe, Lancaster or York in the last week), announcing I needed a strong one after that hilly climb.  Immediately, I thought that's probably the boring standard visitors comment in here but luckily the landlord and 'Sheffield Federer' in brilliant blue suit, both approved, the latter commenting it was his usual excuse for drinking in this pub.  A true gent.  Landlord was a superb chap too, managing to make unique conversation with everyone who appeared at the bar, though recommending me a 7% banana keg beer next was pushing it a bit, and I nearly had to give him a BRAPA lecture!  The atmosphere was companionable, relaxed, not at all forced.  Quiet, friendly, just people unwinding after work.  Friends sat together but didn't feel the need to speak to each other.  The pub must be the reason for this, no music or screens or machines, properly traditional - a "classic" you might say if such a term is permitted!  Sheffield has a lot of good pubs, and this is up there (literally) with the cream of the crop.

With the sun now out, and a splendid rainbow over the city, it was all downhill from here and I had to trust the grips on my shoes against the slippy streets.  Sadly, it really was downhill as the Wellington was CLOSED!!  Noooo!  Well, this very dishevelled looking building had the old pub sign bearing the name "Cask & Cutler" so I lurked outside to make sure I had the right place.

Eventually, I saw a sign showing some complicated licensee notice I couldn't read properly, and then a little grey haired old man opened the door to tell me they were a month away from re-opening!  He looked like the kind of man you'd see when we finally reach "Pub Armageddon", the kind of man who'd take twisted satisfaction in begrudgingly closing the doors on the final proper pub in the UK.  I hated him more than anyone else in the world.

Turns out that they are finally spending some money on the dilapidated shithole (sorry, historic old pub) and Neepsend brewery (one of those Sheffield pale ale micros) are taking it over (thanks to Beer4John and Brad Wight for their info).

Very shut pub.  Nice rainbow though.
All was not yet lost though as I'd made a worrying discovery last week.  What I'd thought was the Three Tuns (and had reviewed in the archives) was actually the (inferior)Wig & Pen as Three Tuns wasn't open on the day and we'd gone elsewhere.  St John's Hotel, Hull?  Commercial, Slathwaite? Erroneous pub ticking is shameful.  You've gotta be so careful in this BRAPA game.

Three Tuns, Sheffield

Luckily, the unique shape of this pub means you certainly wouldn't forget a visit.  So much so, it puts Manchester's Peveril of the Peak to shame.  Once inside, you feel your physical being trying to suck itself into a triangular shape like a Mr Man.  Even my liver temporarily became triangular as it tried to handle the peculiar stout from Cardiff's terribly named Hopcraft brewery (the John Smith's glass did NOT help).  The pierced barmaid seemed a friendly lass (nice smile), saw her trying to fathom my "Mischief Brew" t-shirt - check 'em out luv, you look like a cute crusty squatter, great band!  (I didn't say that out loud).  It had a busy town centre feel, so I took myself off to the narrowest room to the right hand side, but this was a mistake as everyone else swiftly left (was it something I said?) and I'd isolated myself, and couldn't get any sense of the atmosphere, so all I could do was occasionally peer back into the main bar with sad eyes.

Motivational toilet board

Amazing room but where's everyone gone?

I'd rather have the Budvar Scottish Stores glass back than this monstrosity!

Just time for one more (pointless) tram ride and a very swift 9 minute half in Sheffield Tap.  I suspect I will be back here in Sheffield when the 2017 GBG is published, but whether or not that will include a FOURTH attempt at the Wellington/Cask & Cutler/Neepsend Brewery Tap (2004 when I first tried to come here!) remains to be seen.  Frankly, it doesn't deserve my custom.

Very swift half.
Off to West Bridgford tomorrow, don't wait up!  Si

Sunday, 24 July 2016

BRAPA - Morecambe and a bit of Lancaster

Most stereotypical Morecambe tourist photo. (I hate myself)
It was a nice trip down memory lane to be back in Morecambe with two friends, where we'd come for the Punk Festival pre 2006, after which it was moved to the brighter lights of Blackpool where it has been ever since.

Punk seems to fit better with Morecambe, and it was nice to see it's less flashy landmarks in tact, well apart from Blobbyland.  The Polo Tower, Rita's Cafe, the Midland Hotel, the warnings about cockle picking, and locals with those weary eyes, all still going strong.  

Still doing a roaring trade ....

An abandoned ghost train on the sight of the Dome (former punk gig venue)
 But I think you all know the real reason I was here .... PUB TICKING.  So let's stop waffling and get down to business .....

Jaunty angled shot of pub number one
978.  York, Morecambe

After a harrowing train ride from L**ds and a 10 minute walk into the bowels of the town, we were dying for a drink and I have to admit, first signs were not too encouraging as it was one of those grand old street corner Lancashire buildings that barely looked open, never mind inviting.  There were two miserable old men slouched over tables, one of those situations where you have no idea if either of them work here, or are going to be arsed to serve you.  The slightly more agile one wheezed painfully, and crawled round to the bar like a pregnant sloth, where he served us New Forest ale, the only one of three handpumps on.  TV screens showing a torrential downpour in Grand Prix qualifying seemed to fit the mood of the pub.  Luckily, a brighter front room with superb pristine deep red bench seating and a high ceiling offered a much more positive experience, and encouraged a nervous looking trio to also come in for a drink, one woman kept looking at me as if looking for reassurance, as in "yes, it is okay to sit in this pub and have a drink!".  If you didn't know, this could have been a Sam Smith's pub, though it had Lancaster glasses and York Brewery beermats.  Very much a "War of the Roses sitting of the fence" pub.  A solid if unspectacular start.

Pregnant sloth?  Nice teddy.

Sam Smith's-esque side room.
Back towards the seafront, passing an old cinema and some settees stacked on top of each other, and we were hungry after the long journey, so it was Spoons time.

979.  Eric Bartholomew, Morecambe

Downstairs was quite dull and drab as I used three Mudgie vouchers to save a whopping £1.50 on an already cheap round.  Luckily, the Top Dog Stout was nice stuff and the upstairs area was (a bit like the side room in the York), brighter, warmer and much more pleasant as we sat in a baking window seat, as the pub congratulated itself on being 10 years old with a board where you could add your comments about the pub - someone had written "Marching on Together" and drawn a penis next to it which was probably not pro-Leeds United but might have been.  My friend reported one of my pub pet hates next when he went down to order our food, people had formed an orderly single file queue!  In any pub, this is hard to fathom, but in a Morecambe Wetherspoons, well it can only have been tourists surely!  Glad I didn't witness it first hand.  I ordered ham, egg and chips, which was decent apart from the eggs seemed to be both overdone and underdone - something only 'Spoons seem to be able to manage.  I think Tandleman commented on his 95 year old Mum doing better eggs than 'Spoons, and this was the perfect example.  Still, it revived my increasingly limp stout!  Our peace was shattered as a horrific family of Scots descended on us, so many ginger Twilds, we were boxed in.  They weren't the worst behaved, but kids in Spoons is becoming a theme of July!

Onwards and onto the seafront, where I identified the Kings Arms as the pub I used to frequent most commonly - now it has some separate food kitchen built on (why?) called the King's Feast but next door was somewhere much better.....

980.  Royal, Morecambe

From the moment I stepped over the mosaic threshold and was smiled at by a cute squashy faced brunette, I knew this was going to be pub of the day.  A proper exciting range of ales meant we actually had decisions to make, and the friendly and jovial landlord looked like he'd been waiting all year for some visitors who were interested in more than just Carling Extra Cold, and he had a right long chat with me about various breweries, getting beers in, Cotswold Spring being ace, etc etc.  Quite an ornate interior too, though it did have that "seafront" pub feel, and live music was a feature you couldn't avoid.  I spied the nervous trio from The York pub, are they doing BRAPA too?  My ale, "Zesty" by "Dandy" started very zesty, but like most beers today, seemed to deteriorate but I'll give Morecambe the benefit of the doubt and say those eggs were sitting heavy on me.  I was cornered in the gents by two drunken scroats who saw my "British Real Ale Pub Adventure" t-shirt and asked me how I defined real ale.  As they seemed confused by the words "cask" and "handpulled", I snuck through a gap between handdryer and needle-addled arm to make a hasty retreat, before my corpse could be found in a toilet cubicle.  Still, if you are going to murdered in a Morecambe pub, I would certainly recommend this place for your resting location.

Crossing the threshhold

The Royal was definitely pub of the day.
After a bit of "sight-seeing", it was time to leave Morecambe but mid afternoon meant we had couple to pick up a couple of Lancaster pubs.  This was good news for me because with eight listed in the GBG, I cannot do them all in one day and now means I can return for a proper Lancaster six pub day.

It was my first time in the town, and it seemed quite lovely, but are the pubs up to much was the bigger question?

Artistic shot or is my photographer drunk?
981.  Merchant's, Lancaster

My two travelling companions had enjoyed this pub back in 2005, having played pool in here, though 11 years on it felt like the kind of place you're more likely to find middle aged women drinking Prosecco than two blokes playing pool over a pint of Bomber.  Anyway, that isn't to say it wasn't enjoyable.  A bit like York's Lendal Cellars, it played on it's 17th century ancient wine cellars as much as was possible, but unlike that pub, this hasn't had it's character ripped out by Greene King and Jamie Oliver.  Another welcome range of ales meant I went with a Dunscar Blissful, served by a barmaid I'd describe as more efficient than friendly.  Again, I found it a hard going drink and really wasn't enjoying my ale today!  An old pervert then collared two blonde girls at the bar and declared that he had half a cucumber in his gin, before winking at them.  Certainly, the oddest moment of the day and they left very shortly after, looking confused and traumatised.  I found us a seat in a room generally reserved for diners but this table wasn't, and it was quiet, so you could really feel the atmosphere of the cellars.  Still, would have been better with pool tables in!  I then nearly got into trouble when discussing the Eric Morecambe photo poses, I said "mmm, behind" and looked up to see a shocked looking barmaid who thought I was talking about hers.  Time to go,

Red shirt man is desperate to be in a BRAPA photo.  Probably.
  982.  Tap House, Lancaster

And we finished in a pub with an eerily quiet atmosphere, despite being bang in the town centre and claiming to have a huge selection of beers for everyone.  It also had adverts for a "Brew Dog Takeover" coming soon which to me at least, was perhaps a sign of caution.  It felt like the pub was winding down for last orders, with only one ale on, Hawkshead Windermere Pale - luckily one of my favourites, pint of the day but poor selection.   A few wannabe hipsters appeared with headbands, yoga pants, skinny jeans, spiced chai lattes and Jackson Pollock back tattoos.  They tried to look cool and important until they realised no-one cared, and they seeped back into the walls they'd materialised from.  Our group of 3 were knackered, but show my friend a pub bookcase and he can't resist.  After a bit of Lancaster GBG cross referencing, we played his favourite game "try and make a paragraph in a boring book sound like erotic literature". I tried, and failed.  A bit of excitement followed as the silence was broken by a fast walking blind man, who tapped his white stick on the floor as he sped to the bar, and had to be told off by his friends for making the loudest noise in the pub.  That opened the floodgates from hell, and in an instant the pub had got busy from nowhere, but everybody was twitchy and drinking Peroni.  My friend, in a moment of genius, compared this pub to a less good version of Loughborough's Organ Grinder, which was totally spot on.  You felt there was a weird undercurrent though and it didn't surprise me to learn from Preston's finest pub blogger, "See The Lizards", that this pub has some of the quirkiest and strange clientele.  Might have to nip back in for a half on my proper Lancaster visit.

Friends arrive at our final pub of day.

"Caution team!"

Book not about Hull City, and not erotic fiction either!

Hops above bar, stupid barrel, stupid headband, high seating, great otherwise.
After an equally painful journey back (I fell asleep but apparently the badly behaved men were all from Keighley), it was York Races so we decided against a swift half in York Tap and went straight home.

A good day as I get ever nearer that 1,000 landmark.  Lancashire moves up three places to 8th in the BRAPA league ahead of Tyne & Wear, South London and the West Midlands.

Next, I'll be finishing Sheffield on Thursday and am then in Nottingham on Saturday, where the number of pubs I will do depends on the City Ground's inability to get a safety certificate officer!

See you soon, Si

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

BRAPA Special - Campaign for a Smaller Good Beer Guide

I'd like to go to the next CAMRA AGM and pass a motion.  And when I've done that, I'll wipe my bottom, pull my trousers up, take to the stand, and ask a question.

And that question would be "Can we reduce the size and weight of the Good Beer Guide?"  I can hear the dissenting voices from the letters page of "What's Brewing?" already - "we should be tackling beer tax, ACV's, lobbying the government, we don't have time for such irrelevance".  But what the humourless, self important campaign chumps need to realise, if CAMRA can't keep it's own book in order, how can it ever hope to influence external sources?

I write this blog fairly tongue-in-cheek but as a pub traveller, being weighed down by this increasingly hefty tome is not appreciated when touring the South West Buckinghamshire countryside on foot, and I'm sure that pub ticking legends like Martin Taylor and Duncan Mackay would sympathise.

Compare the current 2016 GBG to the 1982 one (being a geek, I re-bought it for fun!) and the difference is stark.  235 pages in the 1982 Guide, a whopping 1016 in the current edition.  You might argue "well real ale has come along way since then, there are bound to be lots more pubs listed" but this isn't true.  6,000 pubs in the 1982 edition, a more quality controlled 4,500 in the current one.

So why has it burgeoned in size then?   It's the almost 300 pages dedicated to breweries that seems most needless.  Pub Curmudgeon agrees with this, and so too does an unknown man named Peter.  In this day of "social media at the touch of a button", is it really necessary to include such information?  If you care enough, Google it.  Plus, it is all contained within the excellent Good Beer Guide Smartphone App.  Keep that as the place where this additional information is stored.

But I don't want to talk myself out of a paper based GBG altogether, it is my bible at the end of the day....

You could also decrease the number of GBG pubs from 4,500 to say, 4,000, disregarding those pubs which put diners before drinkers, and those clubs which are unwelcoming to CAMRA goers (it rhymes with Pumice Stone).  It'd be nice especially if CAMRA took a stand on the former, sadly I fear there's a lot that could be removed as a consequence.

Don't think I'm just trying to make my "pub ticking" life easier, I promise that would merely be a happy by-product of reducing the numbers.  Honest!

No, I actually think the main 'trimming' of the GBG could be done in the pub descriptions.  Back in 1982, you'd get juicy one line descriptions like "Awesome view of the viaduct from the outdoor gents" (Crown, Stockport) "A gem in an industrial area" (Whalebone, Hull) and "Churchill towers over the customers" (Crown & Kettle, Manchester).  Combine that with the symbols, sketchy opening hours, and a vague list of the beers available, what more do you need to know?

Nowadays, you get chapter and verse on every flippin' entry.  I recently went to a pub which told me (amongst many other things) that horses get their hay and water for free.  But how many people bring horses to the pub?  How many horses read the GBG?

So, I propose a 20 word limit on GBG pub descriptions.  And an overall page limit of 300.  Revert it to the kind of Guide you can slot under your arm and trot down a Shropshire country lane with, in search of a pub with the description "No-one's ever been here, but if you can be arsed, it might be good".

To finish with, a quiz.  See if you can match the pub to my revised GBG description (I've chosen pubs I found a bit more traumatic for comedy effect).  Good luck.


a.  Jeremy Kyle themed scroat-hole.  Look out for ghost of Jade Goody.  Nice breakfasts.
b. You can piss in a store cupboard at this Monday to Wednesday ale free outlet.
c.  Self publicising twats run the third best pub in a small town.  Ask for Best Bitter.
d. An apt name at £3.60 a pint in overrated tourist village.  Don't fall off the roof.
e. Pretentious toss house.  Expect hipsters to be given preference.  Pomegranate on menu.
f.  Quantity trumps quality at this sticky tabled student shite hole.  Won an award once.
g.  If you are CAMRA scum, don't even try and enter the lounge you worthless loser.
h. Here for a drink?  Stand up and make way for imaginary diners.  The pub stairs look comfy.
i. Young Mums, twilds and buggies dominate.  Beer reassuringly warm like a liquefied human organ.


1.  Arden Arms, Stockport
2.  Tap on the Line, Kew
3.  Royal British Legion Club, Penistone
4.  Rook & Gaskill, York
5.  Crown & Shuttle, Spitalfields
6.  Bear, Maidenhead
7.  Butcher's Arms, Sunderland
8.  Boltmakers, Keighley
9.  Fleece, Haworth

Hope you got them all right, let me know, you might win a prize.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

BRAPA - Richmondshire La La La

Sightseeing from a beer garden is my kind of sightseeing.

"Did you just talk to my dog?"  That was the first thing anybody said to me in Colburn, and he wasn't happy.  You know how it is, friendly dog trots ahead of owner, jumps up at you, you stroke it and say hello, owner catches up, knows you are a good egg, says hi, end of social situation.

Well not here in the fictional county of Richmondshire.  I'd already been mowed down by a shopmobility scooter in Darlington but it was going well otherwise.  I overtook a couple of  scroats down a narrow country lane, said an awkward hello, and reached my first pub soon after.

Lurking through the trees is this gem

973.  Hildyard Arms, Colburn Village

Having leant against a wall around the corner so as not to look impatient, I was delighted to hear that most perfect noise, an old pub door being unbolted, at 11:56am, 4 minutes early.  I nonchalantly ambled on in, to find the earlier scroats already at the bar (how??) ordering fruity Kopparberg bottles, with ice - exactly the kind of drink I'd expect from them.  As I got served a fantastic Richmond stout called Greyfriars from the no nonsense nice landlord, his dog started getting very excitable, desperate to go outside but not being allowed.  You might be familiar with the pub situation, where dog tries to manipulate the visitor with it's eyes into letting it out.  I made sure in no uncertain terms that whilst I wanted to find the beer garden, i wasn't letting him escape.  Sick of dogs already and not even midday!   Anyway, I succeeded and found a fantastic beer garden (the scroats had gone to the less superior front of the pub), the inside of the pub was half farmhousey, half modern.  I heard the landlord whistling and saying "come 'ere!", it was hard to know if he was talking to wife or dog.  Despite the fine weather,  it was very windy and some ancient trees were creaking like they were going to collapse on me so I couldn't totally relax.  Just as well.  Plenty to do!

Google Maps then had a rare moment of added usefulness by letting me know my bus was 12 minutes late so I kept walking until I was well on the Colburn road back towards the "county town" of Richmond.  Hopped on a bus, and 10 minutes later was ready for pub two.

Richmond was, as I expected, one of those beautiful North North Yorkshire towns with castle, historic buildings galore so when I photographed the Wetherspoons, a man looked up as if to say "of ALL the tourist snaps, you chose to take this one?!"  He even looked up at the sign to see if I'd spotted a giant Pokemon or something.

974.  Ralph Fitz Randall, Richmond

I entered to find that reassuring(?) 'Spoons smell of coffee and after the kind of tardy service you only really get in 'Spoons pubs, I was drinking a £1.55 pint of Wensleydale bitter with the help of a Curmudgeonly voucher.  A scary skinhead man was quizzing the staff on the lager, the barmaids showed their "knowledge" by recommending him a Devil's Backbone (which made me smile inwardly) but despite a pushy ' try before you buy' offer, he stuck to Heineken.  I decided to sit at the far end of the pub next to a "real" bookcase (how long before we get a real pub bookcase society?) on rare bench seating so I could observe the pub.  I'd only just "unpacked" my BRAPA 'kit' when a young couple returned from smoking outside to inform my they'd ordered food for this table.  I guess normal people would either have left something at the table, OR accept their error and ask the staff to change their table number.  But as I was learning, the people are not normal up here so with good grace, I moved seats, despite their kind offer to "join them for lunch" (well, the boyfriend said it, she hovered in the background looking scared and guilty).  This all meant I was sat too close to two tearaway 10 year old girls running amok.  Parental supervision?  Not a chance.  They did come up with quote of the day though, suddenly realising they hadn't seen Mum for ages.  "She's either having a fag outside, or she's gone to the toilet" reassured one, to which the other replied "Maybe she's having a fag IN the toilet!".  Absolute classic Wetherspoons experience.

The two hourly bus to Gilling West (hard G, so the bus driver knew I was a tourist) wasn't far off so I stood and waited in the market place as the 29 became an X34, a 155 became nothing and sped off, and a 70 something turned up and became the 29 we all needed.  Phew!   To quote one teenager at the stop, "I'm sick of these busses mugging me off!  Lolz".

White Swan - doing the whole "old" and "modern" thing.

975.  White Swan, Gilling West

It was nice to be in a peaceful and secluded village after the hustle and bustle of Richmond, even if a main road did run through it.  As I arrived, two hooray henry's were leaving on bikes so I seemed to have timed it well.  However, stood at the bar were a middle aged couple twatting around with coffees and dessert menus with no awareness that I might (a) just want a pint and (b) want to be able to actually see the beers.  I despised these two a lot more the the Kopparberg chavs, so unsmiling and unfriendly.  Had they been tourists, I may have let them off but the fact they had north east accents made their behaviour doubly unacceptable.  However, I did have the last laugh as they went to sit outside on the road (hopefully literally), I found a secluded suntrap ancient courtyard garden which was superb, and my Old Nel(?) by Richmondshire brewery was as good as anything I had all day.  Frustrating then that an obviously historic old pub with slate flooring, a real fire etc etc should have gone to lengths to overly modernise.  I guess I find it a lot ("gotta do food in pubs in this day and age to survive, it's what they call progress you dinosaur!"), but had this been a wintry trip and I'd had to sit inside, I reckon I'd have been very underwhelmed.   I tried a hideous half of a keg beer called Theakstons Peculiar IPA which was wrong on so many levels, then the hooray henry's returned (at least they said 'what ho') so it was time for my bus.

Great courtyard experience.

Just wrong.
It was hard to know where the bus would stop (there wasn't a stop) so when I saw the driver helping a frail old lady off it a few yards down, I had to leg it.  "Oooh good timing!" he said, but then stopped in a random place for another old lady a few yards past the pub,  They have their own rules in Gilling West.

976.  Bishop Blaize, Richmond

Shame about the scaffolding, but it did seem to suit this creaky old pub where you enter through a corridor, and everything seems very squashed and narrow and ancient.  A nice tonic after the last pub, and talking of nice tonics, Upham ale was on which I only thought they sold in rural West Berkshire, as I quickly glossed over that dream combination of Doom Bar and Sky Sports.  A harassed looking man arrived at the bar with a sense of urgency, then asked in a hushed embarrassed way if he could have a bucket of ice for the prosecco.  As I smirked and wondered what Martin Taylor would think, he added as an aside "because you know what demanding women are like!"  I passed through a rather drab games room, and found another courtyard, this time more shaded, with great views of the castle.  I sat facing the prosecco gang (he was right, the women were quite annoying) and one squealed when the ice bucket finally arrived.  I looked at the man expectantly, but giving her a slap was sadly not an option he'd considered.

A bus took me back into Darlington and I had 2 hours til the train to York, so luckily I had pub ticking potential for the first time in County Durham since Feb 2015's Chester-le-Street extravaganza.

Down an unlikely looking side street ....

..through the red door, and up the stairs.
977.  Old Vic, Darlington

Sometimes you know a pub is going to be magnificent before you even get to the bar, and after a couple of flights of stairs, I entered a lounge where yet another crazy dog greeted me (can't remember his/her name!) and I was the only customer.  I got talking to the landlady Bernie about all aspects of pubbing (well once I'd bored her with BRAPA) and it was really interesting to talk to someone running a pub just for the love of it, the challenges of weeding out undesirable locals (as if anyone in Darlo is anything other than human kindness personified!),getting real ale introduced, introducing locals to each other to form a community feel, evil Marstons (poor Minster Inn), unwanted pool tables, unique jukebox selections, the list went on and before I knew it, I'd ditched other further out Darlo pub options in favour of a second pint before my train!  And I never do that.  You either get this pub straight away or you don't, I know a lot of people who'd be unimpressed (but I think you'd love it, reader), but the shabby (but not shabby chic) 80's style decor and layout is deliberate and increasingly rare.  This must be a candidate for the best pub in the land, surely!  When Hull City play at Darlington in a Blue Square North clash in 2025, I know which pub I'll be in.

CAMRA mags from all over the land.
 Having fallen asleep on the train and nearly missed York (I was tired, okay!) I still had time to pop into York Tap for a 'swift half' but I was 10p short so they MADE me set up a tab I didn't really want.  Luckily, Tom Irvin's cameo appearance helped me realise I could just get a half, down it, settle up the tab, which sounds obvious now but at the time, I felt like a prisoner!

Still, a really good day and for the first time, I can exclusively reveal I am not that far from finishing North Yorkshire ticking.  Perhaps 2 more chauffeur days and 2 more train days.  Though the new GBG is bound to scupper all of that.

 Giving myself a break from South Yorkshire this midweek, feel I need a sustained break from the ale, but I have a "special" blog in the pipeline about a slimmer GBG, and I'm in Morecambe next weekend with friends for pub ticking.