Friday, 14 August 2020

BRAPA in ...... SEND ME YOUR NEWDIES : JOKES AT THE SOAKS (Surrey Part 9/17)

Dorking.  The bane of my pub ticking week.  But quite a handy transport interchange, it must be said.

What with three railway stations, and handy bus links to those 'difficult to reach round the rim' Surrey outliers, shame it couldn't produce on the pub front, or I'd be tempted to stay there on a future visit.

Anyway, that is where I found myself at approximately 12 noon on Wednesday, two weeks back, on the main busy drag just down from Deepdene and Main, waiting for a bus that wasn't showing any signs of turning up.  I could hear the voice of BRAPA legend and O.G. Squad Member Tom Irvin on the wind.  "Siiiiiii, care, remember what I said about revised tiiiiimetables" came his ginger bearded voice on the crest of a brisk south westerly.  

I check the times, then, a bit like Santa, I'm checking them twice.  I think I've cracked it.  Different times from those advertised!  But wait, I'm looking at a Saturday timetable.  Ooops.  Luckily, I look up just in time to see the bus careering around the bend.  20 mins late.  I stick out a desperate arm.  He stops, with a look that seems to suggest he thinks I definitely don't want this bus.

"Parkgate please" I ask. "Huh?"  "It is near Newdigate"  "Newdigate, yuhhhhrrr" "Errrm, have you heard of a pub called the Surrey Oaks?"  "Oh yeah mate, why didn't ya say?"  And finally, we're off.  I'm the only customer the whole way, as the lanes become more narrow and low tree branches scrape the roof, and leaves and twigs come flying in through the open windows getting stuck in my hair.  

I'm relieved to get off in one piece.  Weather is glorious.  Pub looks nice.

Pub IS nice.  Very nice.  A bit like our Clandon finisher last night, this must be top 5 for the entire week.  I got the sense of a 'real ale institution' as much as simply 'pub', here at the Surrey Oaks, Newdigate (1783 / 3000).  I often find that intimidating, but it wasn't here.  They call it the 'Soaks', makes sense I guess, VAST amounts of beer on offer like I've never seen before or since during my Surrey holiday.  I say 'seen', I mean briefly glanced.  For I'd barely adjusted to the light, when a kindly young barmaid/hostess/waitress/server (no idea what to call them in these Coviddy times) swoops down upon me and extracts me out of the bent,warped, historic interior, into what I must say was an equally impressive garden.  As vast as the number of ales on offer.  And proper too.  This is what I like about Surrey pub gardens, they actually ARE gardens.  Great examples yesterday you might recall at places like West Horsley and Leatherhead.  Gardens with grass, and proper benches.  And just as much life as you find within the pub.  Not just smoking areas with cheap decking and a slab of pissy concrete.  This one resembles Monkey World AND the Wicker Man, at the same time.  "I'll have to walk with you so I know where you are sitting" she tells me handing me a track n trace form en route.  "I'm on a Surrey pub tour and I keep being constantly surprised how good these pubs are, when people have been telling me Surrey doesn't have much to offer!" I tell her, an indication of my 'blown away' mind.  I don't think she was quite ready for such an outburst!  Now I could've been a real bastard here and walked the full length of the garden, she'd have had a very long walk, but I take pity and position myself not too far from the back door.  Thing is, the pub is BUSY.  12:30pm, Wednesday, Covid times, and pub inside and out, full of drinkers and diners.  I was the only customer this time in Horsley yesterday.  'Do you know what you want to drink?' she asks hopefully.  'What ales do you have on?' I ask even more hopefully.  She looks pained'  'I'd .... I'd, have to go back in!" her lower lip trembles, but luckily, I spotted Oakham Inferno out of the corner of my eye before I was whisked away, luckily it is very recognisable and was right on the end.  Good job I didn't want anything from one of the 1500 keggy taps isn't it?  Soon, a bloke who MUST be the landlord cos he had a real charisma and presence about him is roaming the grounds like a happy Sasquatch.  Asking people how they are.  It is he who finally brings my drink (I won't complain about the long delay, doesn't suit the narrative!)  We have a brief chat on weather and pub toilets and beer or something.  Top guy.  Made the effort despite the volume of customers tinkling empty glasses and raising their arms.  I sit in the sun enjoying my Inferno, getting a bit sunburnt.  Colin is being peered at by a group of geeky looking students.  I'm glad.  He doesn't deserve to get forgotten in this winning tale of my 3,000th gross GBG pub, and it wasn't even planned like this!  I go for a wee and 'half' return my glass (to a nearer table), a gnarly group of old locals with heads shaped like prize turnips are inhabiting the main bar, presiding over the handpumps, glaring at me in a 'fuck off back outside' type of way.  This is how pub life should be.  A classic.





Buoyed by that winning experience, I decide to take the plunge into the first truly BRAPA-esque scary roadwalk of the holiday.  There's a GBG pub about 3 miles off.  But public transport is close to non-existent, next bus not for hours.  The weather is so good, and I'm in good spirits, why not?

I almost change my mind within the first minute.  A huge lorry was trying to pass two cyclists, with a white van trying to get past on my side.  All I could do was stand waist deep in nettles on the verge and gulp.

Luckily, it was never QUITE that bad after that, though pretty hair raising all the same.  The road wasn't quiet, the grass verge not always sufficient, and I spent a lot of time acknowledging thoughtful motorists and scowling at those less so, sweating, and drinking a lot of water to keep me hydrated in this increasing heat, popping into the odd hedge or farmers field for a pee.  

I realised these situations play a big part of BRAPA for me, a sort of adrenaline rush.  Mercifully, I finally turned down a quieter lane and 20 minutes or so later, I stumbled into the pub entrance, shattered but not broken ......


"As much as we could all use a hug..." PUKE ALERT

Brunning & Price eh?  What a chain of pubs!  I take the piss out of them.  From Cheshire to Surrey, and everything in between.  But truth be told, I kind of respect what they do.  High end.  Characterful enough not to be too identikit.  You can't go into a B&P and complain, you should know what to expect.  More honest than Ember, less weird than Antic, more like the high-end of 'Spoons really.  Unashamed in their attempts to provide a whiff of grandeur.  This one, Fox Revived, Norwood Hill (1784 / 3001) was a poor example of the chain in my opinion, lacking any discernible grandeur, and dare I say it, character.  The sweeping country house entrance wasn't there, the posh rugs were minimal, the quirky Victorian art not as prominent, it just didn't cut it.  Five minutes waiting at the reception desk, hidden out of view from the staff/pub, I finally got itchy feet and tentatively stepped inside.  I was immediately shooed back to where I'd come from for a convoluted check-in process.  'No room outside, fully booked so it'll have to be inside' she apologises, but I'm more than happy for some shade in a corner by a random basket of magazines on a flashy leather armchair I was always going to stick to, literally.  My beer was 'ok'.  The staff smiled a lot from being their perspex shields.  They set me up a tab to pay at the end .... "No.  PLEASE DON'T DO THAT....."  too late!  I deliberately meandered slowly to the toilet, hugging the area by the bar as much as possible, just so I could deliberately bump into a member of staff and get my bill early!  I hate hanging around in pubs needlessly.  Ticking is time consuming enough.  B'ah humbug, time to go, and my proposed nickname 'Zombie Renard' still hasn't caught on.




Did I have the motivation for an even more ridiculous walk?  Probably not but I'd have to try.

Join me for tales of that in part 10 on Sunday evening.  Gosh, I might finish Surrey blogging by September at this rate!

Si 


Thursday, 13 August 2020

BRAPA in ..... THE CLANDON CLAN & THE LEATHERHEAD CLANGER (Surrey Part 8/17)

Tuesday so far, to recap, had been what you would describe as "nice" rather than good/great.

Heading further up the line to the town of Leatherhead saw my mood improving slightly, and the general upturn in 'pubbiness' continued too.  Perhaps the 'lucky' fox I saw scurrying down a street signalled hope for the future?  It seemed to stop and wink at me, the sun was getting to me though.

The pub's genteel flowery exterior belied what I would find within those four walls .......

"Food Fish"

Two blokes playing pool greeted with a nod and an 'alreet pal' (or whatever the southern equivalent is .... 'wotcheor guv'nor' or something?) and then jokingly told me off for not standing on the correct bit on the floor markings, to which the feisty Spanish(?) landlady gave them a verbal clout, ah this kind of interaction I'd been missing!  A bit of cheeky Shepherd Neame ale followed, well I suppose Kent isn't too far away.  This was more like being in County Durham than Surrey!  Perhaps that is why I called the pub 'Running Waters' (a try-hard dining pub just outside Durham city) rather than the correct Running Horse (1781 / 2998), and typical bad BRAPA luck that this was the ONE time out of FIFTY ONE pubs that the local CAMRA picked up on my 'check-in' on Twitter, where I look like I don't even perform the most basic research!  Ironically, Running Waters is more Surrey, and the Running Horse is more Durham, and it is a surprise I didn't misname Leatherhead as Leatherface too, though whether this pub would be rugged enough for Frankie Stubbs, I couldn't comment (and if I've lost you now, I can only apologise!)  The pub became considerably less 'rugged' outside, with a beautiful square pub garden inhabited by mainly European students, which surprised me considering the indoor scene.  My Spitfire was drinking well, always nice to get a cask beer I associate with supermarket bottles.  Colin the Caul mascot got the odd funny look. You don't get much love for Cauliflowers in Barcelona, Rome or Paris, evidently.  A quick trip to the loo and I nearly ended up being speared up the arse by a pool cue, but this was a positive and it just wouldn't happen in the majority of Surrey GBG venues.  Cheers Marras, time for Clandon.

I so nearly went Master Brew, didn't even consider the Surrey Hills this time

You can see how getting to the Gents could be difficult? 

Shepherd Neame brewery, the Surrey spin-off

If Col had been a jalapeno, the students would've loved him.  "It's just another form of racism!" he told me later that evening.

I can't remember the train journey from Leatherhead to Clandon, but it most definitely happened.  It was getting on now, dusk starting to fall.  In-keeping with every other bloody station to pub walk today, it felt unnecessarily long-winded, needing a wee n all.  Finally it appeared.  Well, let's just say that as I struggled to find the entrance door, you'd have no indication from the exterior of how traditionally atmospheric it was within.

Bullocks Surrey dining?  Don't judge a pub its cover.
 

Dark wooded, oak beamed, nooks and crannies, 'traditional features', layered with history, low roofed and just the gentle hum of local old blokes chatting and the occasional clatter of glasses and plates, the Bull's Head, West Clandon (1782 / 2999) would have been a 'top 5' pub of the week anyway, and that was without the warm welcome from the masked older barmaid (a bit like the Masked Singer only more Covid conscious) and the spectacular 'Wendy', and  I don't know know why I'm using inverted commas as that was her name.  Never at any other point of the holiday have staff asked how I was in a way that actually sounded like they meant it!  She tells an old guy, probably Frank, that he's looking a bit gaunt of late, and offers to cook him a meal.  That doesn't happen in your local Brewdog does it?  Colin may've been invisible, but my Good Beer Guide was soon getting much attention, and locals Actual Christian and Probably Frank invited me to sit with them.  Them and 'Wendy' all seemed to have hobbies that involved 'ticking things off' so BRAPA really spoke to them, even if 'National Parks' does sound a bit easier than 4,500 pubs I wasn't gonna say that out loud!  If I wait for them, they'd give me a lift back to Guildford!  Best sit down and relax then.  This kinda thing used to happen to me in Bedfordshire when I worried I was becoming a modern day Ffyona Campbell, though I never sucked anyone off (NOT that I believed those rumours).  Anyway, where was I?  There was much love for North Yorkshire, and tempted as I was to say 'it's a bit overrated' you couldn't argue with a snowy lock-in at the Buck Inn, Reeth as an epic pub experience.  Actual Christian is extra hyped as tomorrow, the pub is finally putting on his favourite ale Harvey's, and we all get given a taster.  On top form, but did he not realise Beer Twitter had 'cancelled' both this and one of his northern faves Tim Taylor Landlord for doing evil stuff I don't understand, I asked?!  No he didn't.  Anyway, I had to sit tight but I got my lift back to Tesco so I could pick up some food.  One of my week's highlights.  

AC & PF settle up





Have you realised my 3,000th overall GBG tick will be the first one on the Wednesday?  I didn't at the time, but join me in part nine tomorrow and we'll see what that pub turns out to be.

Cheers, Si   

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

BRAPA in ...... THE BEST BAAR (D'ABER)NON (Surrey Part 7/17)

Tuesday dawned nice and sunny, and after the relatively townified Monday of Ashford, Woking and the like, I was in the mood for some fresh country air, Surrey's AONB and all that jazz as a sort of tonic.  Even Guildford looked pretty as I took a leisurely stroll by the river.


A helpful train line took me east of Guildford, and even more helpfully were GBG entries dotted along the route.  First up was Horsley, from where a pleasant 20 minute stroll along the railway line through  woodland led you to the snoozy village of West Horsley, where a 12 noon opener was imminent.  

I was early, and a couple of villagers looked at me in that curious middle England way, so I tried not to look too suspicious and went to chat to the local sheep for ten minutes who wanted letting out, but I told them I'd set Colin the Cauliflower mascot on them if they misbehaved.

Aware that I couldn't be trusted in their village before doing something potentially silly, the pub relented and opened the front doors at 12:01, much to my relief, as I'd almost got lost in a broom cupboard around the back a couple of minutes before. 

I saw a Turkish looking name above the door, and walked into a dark traditional farmhouse style bar area and saw two thickset men looking warily at me, who may or may have not been of Turkish origin.  A sleeping dog was quite chunky too, must be the Horsley air.   All I was bothered about was getting a pint of course, here at the Barley Mow, West Horsley (1778 / 2995) , relief too for the men who told me they definitely weren't doing food even though I'd never asked.  After a cheeky track n trace, they did that classic Surrey thing of asking you where you want to sit but using mind control to make you go outside.  It didn't matter to me, as traditional as this pub seemed, I assume it opened up into something more dining-based the more you investigate.  As the only customer for my entire time here, outside felt right.  There was also a very impressive long malting house behind the pub, and the garden was flippin' massive and I sat dead centre.  The odd car trundled through, but with the sun back out, all you could hear was a distant lawnmower and the odd buzzing of an insect.  This was the blissful life!  And the ale, Shere Drop from Surrey Hills, a beer I'd see a lot this week, was the best quality example of the best beer I had all week.  Or maybe this was just the novelty of being the first!



A stop or two up the line was my second of just five pubs today (I'd done seven yesterday so it didn't bother me) and the easiest railway station to pub walk was here at Cobham & Stoke D'Abernon.  

Even by Surrey's high standards, this seemed particularly posh as I crossed the threshold at pub two, suddenly wishing I'd worn a clean white pressed shirt, brushed my air and put on a bit of aftershave. 

The landlady greeted me impressively at the Old Plough, Stoke D'Abernon (1779 / 2996).  However out of place I felt with my Shere Drop, Cauliflower mascot and smuggled bag of Spicy Tomato Snaps (I used to have them in my packed lunch in Saffron Walden circa 1984-1990 - crisps that have stood the test of time), she and her army of statuesque waitresses smiled, checked I was ok, and generally made me feel more welcome than 99% of UK pubs of this ilk would.  Two gents behind me had the kind of pub chats you just don't get in Doncaster, my favourite of which was a discussion on the potential pitfalls of marrying your mistress.  "I guess she stops becoming a mistress at this point".  You couldn't fault the logic.  This pub was notable for being the only one all week which had hand sanitiser on EVERY table.  Top effort.  The entrance / exit system regarding the direction to and from the toilets took my brain some adapting to, but that was as challenging as it got on the pub front ......






..... my main headache concerned the increasingly difficult logistics of the day.  I'd planned to meet Ed at West Clandon about 16:30 which didn't look too difficult on paper, but with my next pub on a slightly different branch line, I was struggling already!  

Every train today just wasn't timed in my favour, and I thought perhaps I could speed things up by walking to my next pub in Great Bookham from Stoke D'Abernon.  It all started well, I even passed the Chelsea training ground where three teenage lads were screaming and waving at the sports cars driving off.  I scowled at a Chelsea player as the lads had made me step onto the busy road, but not sure who he was.  But when I reached a garden centre, the pavement ran out and it was such a crazy A-road lacking a path, I had to give up and just sit and wait at Cobham station.  That meant changing at the aptly named Effingham Junction where timings again meant a huge wait!  I was getting frustrated.

Effing is the word

And all this without any travel disruption!  All I could do was apologise to Ed and say I'd meet him later in the week.  Finally at Great Bookham, and it was still a good stretch and I was feeling knackered and pissed off by now.  Life of a pub ticker eh? 

However, I had to smile when when I reached the pub and the blackboard said they'd only opened at 4pm!  How fortuitous this turn of events was?  I could have so easily chosen to come here much earlier in the day, and been stranded.  Funny how things turn out eh?  


A gaggle of jolly, rowdy old locals were laughing and smoking out the front of the Anchor, Great Bookham (1780 / 2997), one of whom turned out to be the landlady and she followed me in to the empty but refreshingly cool indoors and served me a pint of something strange tasting from a place called Tillingbourne. Despite the 4pm revelation, I realised my mood was very 'low' and I was close to unresponsive as she serves me and asks where I want to sit.  It is a bit out of character for me, but I couldn't snap out of it.  I felt like that priest in Father Ted who comes to stay with them but just sits there and doesn't say anything.  The landlady popped in twice later on to check if I was ok and enjoying my pint, and I'm ashamed to say all I could do was grunt and try and force a smile and nod.  I felt like I'd been temporarily bodysnatched!  £5.05 for the pint perhaps had a bearing, easily the most I paid all week!  How could they justify that here?  Pint was good quality, but not to my taste. Bookham was no posher than anywhere else, if anything, it was significantly more 'pubby' than many of the hostelries I visited this week.  A real aberration! Pub had character and atmosphere, even with no customers in.  Even with the state I was in, I could sense that.  For a place called 'Bookham', you wouldn't think the bookcase would be off limits but that's Covid for ya, rumours it had been shipped in from Preston that morning have not yet been confirmed.  Even the bogs went for some bookcase style decor!  




Things were about to turn the corner though for my final two pubs, I'm happy to say.  Join me in part 8 tomorrow, we can do this!

Si 



Monday, 10 August 2020

BRAPA in ..... WOKING 5 TO 9, WHAT A TOWN TO TICK A PUB IN (Surrey Part 6/17)

Thanks to Steve Halstead for the blog title idea!

Knaphill might've been a bit weird, but as Ed drove us to his GBG local, a more assured, confident air fell across his features.  He was confident that I was going to enjoy this one ......

Note the confident, assured air across Ed's features

When you hear the oft-used pub phrase "it is like walking into someone's front room", it isn't usually a comment on the pub itself, but rather the people, like you have disturbed them from doing their private family stuff.  An intruder in their midst.    It was a bit different here at the Crown, Horsell (1775 / 2992) which literally felt like being in someone's lounge.  It looked a bit like a pub, but there was something unashamedly unpubby in its decor/ design.  I couldn't quite nail it.  It shouldn't have worked but it did.  Easily better than the Knaphill duo.  The acoustics were insane.  Sound just got stuck in the thick carpet.  Ed knew the drill here, this pub had a 'system' where you order your drinks from the first bar, and then carry on around the perimeter of the bar, where you pick them up and pay.  The younger barmaid around this side remarked how much the hand sanitiser smelt like vodka, which might well have explained her lively slightly wired persona.  I tried to join in, but the overriding feeling was "alright mate, don't get excited, you've had your moment in the sun, sit down with your drink n shut up".    So that is what I did, in the shadow of Luke, a deer hanging from the wall with a facemask over his eyes.  Seems they put all sorts of different things on the poor creature.  Colin was terrified, having never met a deer before.  Never mind one without a body.  My new emergency beermats were required, my glass was a Doom Bar one, but being in magnanimous mood, I can forgive such details.

Luke

Col and an EBM

The lads

Ed dropped me in Woking where I had two required ticks before the late night train back to Guildford.  He left me with the warning words "Woking was once voted the most boring town in the UK".  Well, be that as it might, the 'Spoons was pretty highly charged for a Monday evening...... the roadworks outside creating the illusion that civilised society was being shielded from Tim's army. 


And isn't nice when the beer you select resembles everybody inside the pub? 


Herbert Wells, Woking (1776 / 2993) is H G Wells, and had I not been so slightly terrified of the highly charged atmosphere (I'm still not used to seeing more than about six people in a pub!), I might not have ensconced myself in my two seater perspex dome and actually discovered the quirks such as the invisible man in the window, the time machine, and the button to make the ceiling clock go backwards.  Well so says Sir Quinno when they allow him to cross the Berks/Surrey border for his once a year special treat.  I was too busy prising my GBG off for the table - it had got stuck - and trying not to analyse the stains on the way back from the gents too closely. An infrared torch could've been instructive. Having said this, you just got the impression at the bar that this was a tightly-run-ship of a 'Spoons on the whole, they actually use this one as a template to base their training on.  The carpet was a contender, and the locals were good value even if my perspex bubble didn't allow for overheard conversation snippets sadly, and I lost what notes I did make, so I just sat there trying to drink a bit quicker and not to sweat too much- <insert Prince Andrew local Pizza Express joke here>.  I left though, at least, feeling strangely alive!  Just as well considering where I was due next ......

Carpet of the week?

A tightly run ship

Bricking it

And that invigorated feeling that you can take from a boots n braces 'Spoons was the perfect breeding ground for my final venue of the evening, the only Club in Surrey in the GBG.  Ey up!  You never quite know what to expect, getting in is usually the first obstacle.  

Under the railway bridge i went (getting lost just once!), down an unlikely looking side line, and there it was.  Now where was that button that someone on Twitter had told me about?  No need to worry, a local was exiting and held the door for me.  Phew!  Or so I thought ......

It takes Courage to enter a club (ha ha)


All eyes were on me as I squeezed between darts and pool table to the heavily perspexed bar at the Woking Railway Athletic Club (1777 / 2994).  The barman furrowed his brow.  "How can I help?" he asks.  Did he think I was lost and looking for directions?  Had an Amazon parcel or a Deliveroo to drop off?  "I just want a pint please" I squeaked.  "You's a member?" he asks, disbelievingly.  "I'm in errrrrrm CAMRA ..." I breathe out of the side of my mouth like a bloke buying nudie mags from his 80's newsagent top shelf.  "Can oi sees your card?" he asks in the voice of Tony Cottee.  Took me ages to locate it in my wallet, I've not seen in it myself in months but luckily it was there.  Relief all round, and the next ten minutes is me explaining BRAPA to him which he seemed to genuinely find interesting.  Lovely guy, and seemed the type who'd not humour someone for the sake of it.  Suddenly, he says "well, you can't stand here actually!"  meaning the Covid 'no one at the bar rules'.  I retire to a seat facing the bar, and perhaps he felt a bit sorry for me, because every time one of the locals of was slightly sober (it didn't happen very often) appeared, he introduced me and I had two nice chats with moustachioed chaps in 1970's cardigans about Surrey pubs.  Then I rang Mummy BRAPA and randomly put her on loudspeaker so she could join the chat!  I think I was getting a bit tipsy myself to do that.  She wants the 'tick' too now.  I should mention I paid for my drink using cash, for one of only two times out of 51.  I noted down some incredible overheard chats from the locals, but sadly deleted them all cos I'm stupid.  Everyone was very friendly here once I'd got settled in.  Getting out of a club is never easy.  "Press the button on the wall to release the door!" they all shouted.  I pressed a button.  And plunged the club into darkness.  The light switch.  Damn.  The landlord came over to help.  I laughed sheepishly and scurried off into the night, glad I was drunk!  Top place. 

Legends kicking back at the Railway Athletic

Timid 2014 BRAPA would've probably gone to sit over there!

Who turned out the lights?  That'd be me.

Sozzled

This was my latest finish of the holiday, too late to even call in for any food, so it was a case of being creative with my leftovers and make a mental note to not finish this late again in the future!

Tuesday would be a trying day, even if I only got 5 pubs done.  Join me for tales of that tomorrow night at the slightly later time of 11pm approx (cos am going to an aceYork pub with my friends group for first time since lockdown was lifted, woohoooo!)

Si