Sunday, 21 August 2016

BRAPA - Billinge! Orrell! Crooke! Wigan! Swinton!

There's something strangely life-affirming about being huddled under a bus shelter at Wigan Wallgate at 12 noon on a busy rainy Saturday, waiting for a delayed bus, with just Tom and a few old biddies for company.

Wigan is a strangely unique and quite brilliant town, hard to describe but it seems to be almost laughing to itself, but hard to know if it is laughing with you or at you?  At least I was able to identify a brilliant pub across the road I'd visited 9 years ago this week (the Swan and Railway).....

Superb ale in 2007, wonder how it is doing now. 
Eventually, bus arrived and after a bit of a drag, we were in Billinge and after a short walk, we were at our first pub of the day although a very peculiar sinister young man (possibly the village paedophile) tried to photobomb us, and then snarled at us when we said 'hello'.

I'm in the green rain mac, but beware of Mr Creepy .....
999.  Masons Arms, Billinge

I'm well versed at the "American Werewolf in London" style pub 'welcome' by now, and this was classic.  The whole pub stopped, fell silent and turned around, so I said "hi, hi, hi, hello, hello, hello" to each person/group until I'd confused them into thinking I was a local in disguise (more on that in Wigan later).  This was a absolutely fantastic pub from first minute to last.  A healthy crowd was in despite the weather and relatively quiet location, a docile dog slept on the floor, a yappier one jumped on it's owners lap and there was the reassuring woody smell of old, which you always get in the best pubs.  The decor was excellent, old gig tickets, beer mats & pump clips, a model ship, pots and jugs and plenty of St Helens Rugby League memorabilia.  A few people feigned interest in Manchester City v Stoke City on a average sized screen, a few references to "City" were inconclusive.  A gentle hum seemed to dominate the pub, one of those where everyone is really content in a proper local.  Interestingly, the fact a few stood at the bar when seats were available didn't bother me at all today!

My pint of excellent 12th Man and view of the bar.

Model ship and a bit of St Helens shizz
We found a bus (same driver) to take us half way back on ourselves, to Orrell - though the pub actually seemed to be in a place called Tontine.  Even more confusingly, the pub was listed under Lancashire but it could have been Merseyside or Greater Manchester in GBG terms, but let's not act like it matters cos at this moment in time, it doesn't.

My sign didn't really work!

The sign finally comes into it's own.
1000.  Delph Tavern, Orrell

What DOES matter is that this was my 1,000th GBG tick and yes, I know I'll fall back below when I cross tick the soon-to-be-published 2017 GBG but for now, "celebrate good times come on!"  And what better way to celebrate than with a makeshift sign made out of part of a Sainsbury's own brand Special K cereal box?   It seemed almost inevitable the pub would be a slight disappointment, and it was.  Despite the fact that nearly everyone present was a no nonsense drinker, the pub was determined to push a foody slant (restaurant room empty out the back) that no one cared about.  I say no-one, but a child in full Liverpool kit ("full kit Twild wanker" as they are known) was shovelling chips into his mouth with a greedy yet monotonous regularity.  Tom was meanwhile perving (slyly in his opinion) on an insipid looking blonde waitress who looked like eating a bowl of chips would do her the world of good.  Having the door open and a through draught on such a chilly and wet day did nothing for the atmosphere, and my pint of Nova Foresta was heavy going.  Tom noticed our "bar area" had plastic cutlery laid out (as though they don't trust us bar scum not to try and stab ourselves/each other), we suspected the 'restaurant' had the proper silver stuff.  Dad panicking I hadn't rang just furthered my frustration (when will parents EVER learn that to receive text messages, you need to KEEP YOUR PHONE ON??!!)  It made us miss our train, and summed up a difficult pub experience!

Proper pubbers just wanting a proper pub experience!
At least Tom's travel expertise got us back to Wigan where he bought me a butter pie (SUPERB!) and a short train ride to Gathurst followed.  We then did a 20 minute canal path walk (slightly treacherous due to the heavy rain) to our next pub .....

Excellent pub approach work.
1001.  Crooke Hall Inn, Crooke

I'd heard so many great things about this place, I was very excited, so perhaps a slight anti-climax was inevitable.  It all started superbly well (well, once we found the entrance on the street around the corner!) with a larger than life chap giving us a cheery welcome before disappearing, and a fantastic beer range (the likes of which I hadn't seen on a BRAPA trip in a while) allowed me to order a pint of Ella by the wonderful Mallinsons brewery.  Pint of the day.  When I said "Ella", all three barmaids looked up expectantly,  were they all called Ella?  What a co-incidence.  Anyway, it was nice to see genuinely friendly barmaids in a pub.  The pub was a hive of activity, a few dog walkers / canal boat folk had taken up the front bar but seemed to have problems keeping the dog under control so that cosy area was off limits as far as I was concerned.  No room in the back bar either, which seemed to be where the locals were, again looked a very homely room.  So we had to sit in the big area to the right which was reminiscent of an Ember Inn, and 'Christmas menu's' (£36 for the full thing) were on every table which made Tom recoil in horror as he won't even use that particular C word!  We tried sitting in the superb garden overlooking the canal but the rain just returned with extra ferocity, and the smoking balcony was uncomfy, whilst an underground bar area was bolted.  So we did try to create a great pub experience for ourselves, but it just didn't work out.  

Me at the front upstaged by the yellow car

Sod your Christmas menu!

Ember-ish in places.
After the canal-walk back the other way, we popped in to the Gathurst Station Inn.  No cask ale, pretty disgraceful, bored and unfriendly staff, at least a nice but overpriced bottle of Britvic 55 was washed down with the news that City had beaten City 2-0 much to our delight/surprise.

Train back to Wigan, we decided to still leave some Wigan pubs for football days in the future, but did the one nearest the station which might be too busy on a football day......

Arriving at the Wigan Central
1002.  Wigan Central, Wigan

Well that backfired, it was heaving!  Wigan weren't even at home.  I quite liked this place regardless, though Tom (with his love of trains and having heard good things about this bar) thought it was a bit tacky but as a novice, I liked the uniform train style signs, the departures board of trains and ales, and with a queue forming for the bar (spit!), I thought the staff did amazingly to serve so quickly and keep a smile on their faces despite the heat inside.  There was some live music through to a room in the right, where a grey haired hippie chap was wowing some female Prosecco drinkers with folky hits - had it been Donovan or Bob Dylan, I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  Sitting outside was certainly our best and only option.  A group of raucous men sat behind us, and with my green hood up, one peered in and asked me "enjoying yourself there Mr Tait?"  Errrrm what?  Was this a weird cultural reference we didn't get, or more likely, was his friend, an old man in a similarly bright green coat, the real Mr Tait?  Being Wigan, I didn't question it too much.  I expect strange friendly behaviour.  The rain really bucketed down and they all ran inside (despite having hats and hoods), not sure me shouting "bunch of pussies!" at them was wise but they probably didn't hear.   The rainwater helped take the hoppy tang off my excellent Neptune Triton.    Then the wind whipped up too and smashed a glass, probably wouldn't have happened with proper wooden benches + chunky pint pots.  But all in all, a good unique pub experience.

Hood up enjoying my Triton.  Note the real Mr Tait inside.

Next, we took the train back towards Manchester but whilst Tom had to stay on due to getting a connection, I had one more pub trick up my sleeve and said goodbye to him at Swinton where I hopped off the train.

After a good 10-15 minute walk through this typical outer Manchester town, I reached my pub and looking at it and the place, I think I'd have demanded my money back had it not been Joseph Holt's.

Final pub of the day.
1003.  Park Inn, Swinton

As I entered, I collided with a middle aged couple who were wedged right inside the doorway with their drinks and I did the typical "apologise even though not my fault" British thing.  The front bar was another heaving mass of jolly Saturday night drinkers - cheek to jowl I said at the time.  All I could do was find a serving hatch to the side where a threatening looking young scroat looked disapprovingly - possibly because I ordered a Chorlton Bootleg Ale instead of a Holt's bitter.  His two elders were friendly characters and moved conversation back to football to keep his mind off murdering me.  Just as I was debating where on earth I could sit/get out of the way to, I noticed a huge lounge area (typical of many Holt's pubs I've been to) without a single person in it.  Remarkable!  Maybe Leicester and Arsenal had bored everyone so much, they'd moved en masse to the room without a TV.  As I walked towards the corner table, 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' by Bonnie Tyler started up, and for a moment I felt like this was the most Mancunian/Swintonian pub experience anyone could ever have.  To add to that feeling, the toilets were full of "do not take drugs" signs and blue lighting on the hand dryers so scroats like the one at the bar struggle to find a vein when they are shooting up their smack.  But if they succeed, a pint of Holt's Mild takes the edge off (so they tell me).

This pub was heaving, but you'd never know from this photo!
Back to Manchester Victoria, should have changed at Salford Crescent had I seen Tom's message as I then had to walk to Piccadilly in time for the direct train to York which I made with 5 minutes to spare.

A great day, some very good and interesting pub experiences.  Probably won't get a midweek BRAPA trip in this week, so if the 2017 GBG is to fall on my doormat on Friday, I'll be "locked down" on 1,003 pubs whilst I start the cross ticking,

Have a good week, Si

BRAPA - Friday Night in Wentworth / Pub Pet Poll Results

Friday night is probably my least favourite time of the week for pubbing, but a combination of circumstances (too boring to list here) meant that it "felt right" to be on the 16:33 Leeds-Elsecar where my seat had previously been occupied by one of those dangerous 'craft' can drinkers......

Stuck to the seat in front.
Despite the rain, I walked the 1.5 miles to Wentworth along one of those frightening roads with no pavements, a reservoir, and lots of fast cars.  It's a wonder I'm still alive to do this pub ticking mullarkey.

Wentworth, even in the gloomy grey wet, is what they'd describe as a "chocolate box, picture postcard" village if it was down south.  So instead, we'll call it a "chip cone, cigarette football card" village.

997.  Rockingham Arms, Wentworth

The ivy clad pub certainly seemed to fit within the village image, and it was one where I entered to find four members of staff, all looking at me expectantly.  "Hello welcoming committee!" I almost said, but the friendly ginger bearded male stepped forward to serve me an Ale Fresco from a disappointingly Greene King based range of ales.  Diners on posing tables seemed to be the order of the day, but a 'secret' seating area to the rear would have been delightfully pubby, had it not been next to a rather severe reception desk - leather bound notepad and all.  Yes, this was a hotel too, though I did wonder at first whether it was all for show.  A wedding party was getting steadily drunk outside, and had lost all control of the Wedding Twilds (i.e. bridesmaid twilds and page boy twild), who were running amok indoors, playing hide n seek much to the local's disdain.  "Shit up a stick!" exclaimed one older chap in disgust, a phrase I really must remember.  I was joined by the slightly crazy redhead kitchen manager chatterbox, who was finishing her shift with a pint of Carling.  She'd forgotten the Prosecco was on special offer and was most upset, and was soon joined by all the staff - our ginger bearded friend, Blonde Goth and Miss "I'll keep telling everyone I used to work at Asda" barmaid.  I felt almost part of the staff, especially when a fifth woman (the only one doing any work) arrived on the scene to reveal the ending of Disney's Pochahontas disappointed her!  Whilst the staff chatted about working in a pub at Christmas, we had some real drama as an old man complained his ham, egg & chips should have had HOT ham rather than cold.  I totally disagree.  Order gammon if you want hot ham, idiot.  I left, saying bye to my new staffy friends.  

Trying to give you an idea of reception area and back of bar (didn't really work)

A few yards down the street and opposite the bus stop set back from the road, was Wentworth's other pub.  The evening sun was out now but outdoor seating was too wet to sit out .....

998.  George & Dragon, Wentworth

I shouldn't have been surprised (but was) to see the pub absolutely heaving with a more traditional Friday night atmosphere than in the Rockingham.  Being a Friday, this wasn't the relaxed pub experience I crave - in fact, in the 40 minutes I was there, it managed to achieve THREE of my five biggest pub pet hates.  Firstly, "standing at the bar" when there is enough room to move throughout the pub.  No one budged to let me see the ales.  Secondly, (and part of the cause of the first) the entire left hand side and a back room to the left were reserved for diners, yet the left room was empty, but being guarded by a zealous waitress.  It was like the pub had had a stroke, and speaking of which, the barmaid's botoxed faces (think blonde versions of Robert Palmer's backing girls) couldn't smile even when they did finally serve you.  Even my pint from the normally terrific Chantry tasted a bit lame, possibly my mood.  And then, my third pet hate, the pub allowing flower sellers/charity box people into the pub to disturb not just drinkers but the few diners too.  I hate this - captive audience, possibly not 100% in their clearest mental state due to alcohol, possibly not wanting to look bad in front of other people, it is so unethical.  Just wrong.  Luckily, the good South Yorkshire folk gave her the shortest shrift I've ever seen in this situation!  And then things improved, I'd been squashed against a wall where a terrifying man kept doing elaborate physical comedy routines, Pinnochio his favourite.  Imagine a skinhead Lee Evans with the voice of Neil Warnock.  See what I mean?  But now (and I shouldn't have been so naive), there was loads of seats in the main bar all along and I got half an Abbeydale Deception which was incredible.  And I could imagine how much I'd have enjoyed this pub on a winter's Tuesday night, showing that it's all about circumstances "on the day".

Really liked this entrance door.


A rare lame Chantry and view through to empty dining area. (note the Grim Reaper is only one eating).
Walk back was quite a dash as I'd forgotten Elsecar railway station was up a hill beyond all 4 of it's wonderful pubs.  I think I'll stick to Tuesday night pubbing in the future but was an interesting experience and did enjoy Wentworth even if it might sounds like I didn't!


Ages ago, I asked what your favourite pub pet was.  Well, the results are in and it must be true when they say "mans best friend" because dog's won out quite convincingly.

Not just any dog though, a lollopy old big dog, preferably asleep in the corner, and I'm sure if you were picturing the archetypal pub scene, you might also picture a dog sleeping at his master's feet.

People would however, prefer to see a PUB CAT than a yappy little Terrier type creature.  I am a cat lover, and whilst they may be seen as too "leftfield" to be part of a traditional pub environment, they are generally low maintenance (i.e. more like a lollopy dog) i.e. they add to a relaxed pub atmosphere.  Exceptions to this obviously include that crazy creature at the Wombell in Wass, North Yorkshire (cat is worth the visit alone) but on a trip to London's Pride of Spitalfields the first time, it took me 2 hours to realise the cat asleep on the mantelpiece was real and not stuffed.

Other animals people seemed to enjoy seeing in a pub were things like tropical fish and lizard / reptile creatures in vivariums.  I guess that they add character to a pub in a different way from how a cat or dog does, perhaps more like 'decor' and quirky ornamentation - I have to say, I do think a tropical fish tank adds something quite nice to a pub.

Birds were less popular.  Most pubs with birds I've been in have felt dirty (Royal Oak, Pickering, Dog & Gun, Aughton and Ship Inn, Sewerby spring to mind) and in the former, going up to the carvery when there's a parrot chatting to you close at hand just felt wrong!  A pub owl tethered up in the garden would be my preference, but those who voted didn't go for it.

Another survey coming up soon, perhaps on your favourite drinking days, having already asked you about what times you like drinking a few months ago.


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

BRAPA - Mid Wales : Bad Ankle, Good Anchor. (Part 3 of 3)

I once vowed (after a bad experience in Birdwell, South Yorkshire) NEVER to try pub ticking on a Monday ever again.  Since then, I've had a day in rural Ayrshire with no problems, and here in the heart of Wales, I managed to find two Monday 11am openers which weren't Wetherspoons or Nicholsons.  Conclusion, the English are bloody softies.

Montgomery was the most lovely place we'd encountered all holiday - it had the peaceful quality of Criggion, as we walked down the High Street, we were whispering to each other, as we passed museums, model car shops,  twee tea shops and old people with hanging baskets and sticks.  Have you ever had the misfortune to go to Tregaron?  It was like that without the menace and witchcraft and circus elephant buried in pub garden.

Dad arrives at the pretty Crown Inn
995.  Crown, Montgomery

There was one of those "left or right" bar choices, Dad chose correctly with left as I'm pretty sure the other side was in darkness, perhaps a restaurant or function room.  But the pub itself, nothing wrong with it as such, quite a nice old building.  Just incredibly dull.  Apart from one old bloke who was trying to get inspired by the 58th repeat of Usain Bolt winning the 100 metres, yawn.  The Three Tuns beer from Bishops Castle in Shropshire tasted like an ancient style ale, was sweet and just a bit too clarty for 11:50am.  It was well kept.  The barmaid was a disappointment, no chat, no eye contact, functional.  She is what I would describe as a P.I.S.S. barmaid (Pretty If She Smiles).  Problem with PISS barmaids, they never smile.  And if they see you writing "PISS barmaid" into the notes section of your phone or on a notepad, they are even less likely to smile.  They might even frown.  But this would be too much a show of emotion for someone so vanilla.  And that was the whole pub.  Vanilla.  Okay, following Criggion and Anchor was always going to be a tough act, but you'll have to show us more than a darts league and Olympics highlights to make anyone love you.

Boring bar scene, not much going on here.

The man in blue was on his third pint by 12 noon.
The next pub was not on my original list, but let me tell you it made sense to visit as the bus service is probably tardy, and it was (sort of) on the way back to the place we were staying......

Llanfair Caereinion was surprisingly a good sized town, approached from high up as the road wound down along some tight roads.  Again, it was picturesque, you could imagine some cosy crime drama on ITV being filmed here, the type where Martin Clunes steps on a dog to much hilarity and an old woman gets her stockings caught in some barbed wiring and has to be freed by a blushing policeman.

At the sign of the goat
996.  Goat Hotel, Llanfair Caereinion

Anyone who has been to the  Goat Major pub in Cardiff will know that it is not sheep, but goats who get the Welsh heart swelling with pride.  The CD soundtrack of love songs reserved for their Regimental Goat is still one of my favourite pub experiences ever, and whilst this place didn't have such extremes, it was certainly weird - Twin Peaks had suddenly taken over from the cosy crime.  I was disorientated on entry, as a young man let us see the beers, everything felt a bit back to front and I almost wondered if I'd wandered behind the bar by mistake.  This was until the landlord appeared from a hole in the floor (well, probably the cellar) to eventually serve us!  Meanwhile, two well spoken old characters sat to the right, and an extremely old couple sat on plush settees behind, debating a game of Trivial Pursuit, as I looked for the loo and got totally lost even though the door was directly behind me.  The young man helped us find our way to a beer garden, it was a proper summers day by now and the Monty's Sunshine was a great pint, shame about the Guinness glass.  We were hoping to repeat our lunchtime success at Criggion but despite a kitchen and dining area, it didn't look promising, not even cherry pie was on offer!  (Twin Peaks joke courtesy of Mum, who was 'checking in' with us as was now customary).  Bit of a vague reference, but if you've ever been to the Village Inn in Fairlie, Ayrshire, and the Pineapple in Stockport, and thought, crikey, these pubs are seriously full of weirdos, I love them, then you will enjoy this place!

It was back to Bwlch-Y-Cibau for some scrambled eggs on toast, an afternoon nap, watch Neighbours, and all geared up for tonight's "evening special".

A bit cheeky of me this one, but buoyed by the Anchor success, a 31 mile trip towards Gwynedd seemed acceptable, though Mr Sat Nav didn't help with his stupid B-road idea to save us 2 miles.  (It's like one of those well meaning chaps who'll save you 30p on a train ticket even though it means going on a route that takes an hour longer).

Me and my excitable shadow at the Dovey Valley
997.  Dovey Valley Hotel, Cemmaes Road

As we pulled up in the car park (gravelly area), a youngish man who'd been snoozing/reading on a picnic bench suddenly burst into life and hot-footed it into the pub, almost like our arrival heralded it was 6pm, that the pub was open and needed attending.   Just the one ale was on, "Cwrw Coch" and I'm not sure my Welsh had improved over the last few days as I ordered 2 pints of Queer Cock.  He knew what I meant, a good n proper Welsh ale from some crazy brewery I have no idea about and frankly don't care.  If I was disappointed in the one ale, the pub was stunning.  A heritage survivor, Beeching and his evil mate might have taken out the railway opposite, but the multi roomed interior and old memorabilia recently found in an attic made this place feel like one of those wonderful old Lancastrian or West Midlands pubs, but with added railway charm.  We sat in "Room 4" with an old fireplace, old station benches and a once illuminated pub sign.  Mrs Dovey Valley popped up to tell us we'd found the "cool" room (I think she meant temperature-wise).  We decided to enjoy the second half of our session in the pub garden, but at the bar, a tourist stopped Dad and cryptically said to him "it's no good asking you which beer to choose" which made no sense to anyone.  Outside, a man and his mate exclaimed "it's not a bad life is it?", he was a bit like a male scouse Sinead O'Connor and seemed emotional throughout.  Their third friend, a white van man, turned up and blocked the pub driveway, joining them for a quick Carling which inevitably became a 5 pint session.  The outdoor loo was like a cross between Field Mill and Bootham Crescent, but clean, not even sure it was properly opened but I used it anyway.  Incredibly good pub.  Up there with Anchor and Criggion.

Can you see me in my Hitchcockian cameo role?
So, 7 pubs achieved was more than I had hoped for from a "family" holiday in a tricky part of the world.  Sad that Mum couldn't get to see more of them but hopefully her ankle recovers soon and massive thanks to her and Dad for their efforts helping me get some difficult pub ticks.

The holiday ended as it started, with a bat flying down the chimney to rudely interrupt my post-meal trawling of Twitter where a man was shredding Wetherspoons vouchers for some reason I never quite understood.

The (fake) 1,000 is starting to look increasingly like it will take place in Wigan!  I half thought about a trip out tomorrow just to get the monkey off my back but it can wait til Saturday I'm sure.


BRAPA - Mid Wales : Bad Ankle, Good Anchor. (Part 2 of 3)

Sunday dawned bright and sunny in Bwlch-y-Cibau and although Mum decided not to join us (not trusting pub steps, and she can't put any weight on her sprained ankle, though we did try to twist her arm so to speak!), it was a good opportunity to visit two pubs that open 12 noon on weekends but not til after 4pm in the week .....

Before we left, our host, Lady Auriel Linlithgow, brought us some eggs that her chickens had freshly laid but she didn't seem like the kind of girl who'd understand BRAPA so I kept schtum.

992.  Square & Compass, Cilcewydd

It wasn't far to the practically non-existent hamlet of "Cycle-wild" (as I pronounce it) but the pub was on the main road and the door sprang back at 11:59am to meet one of the jolliest barmen we encountered on our travels.  He certainly loved the BRAPA concept and his equally friendly Brummie wife stood in the background, apologising for still eating her breakfast.  It was one of those funny pubs (like Danby North Yorkshire) where people kept popping in for non pubby reasons culminating in a man with one of those booming Welsh tenor voices who made a show of giving the barmaid a bottle of cheap white wine as a "thanks for last night", sounds like some crazy party had been going on (she pretended to be grateful).  This explained why the Butty Bach was off, with Doom Bar the only ale on and even this had a temporary air lock problem.  At least they apologised, and it was the best Doom Bar I'd possibly ever had! (or was this cos I got zero beer yesterday?)  The pub was small and cosy and very Welsh, lot's of quirky decor including a sign "The lost and thirsty use the Square & Compass, but don't get drunk and cause a...." we couldn't see the last word, the sensible money would be on "rumpus", Dad suggested it might be "elephant".  Whilst a local munched on the longest crusty pork baguette ever seen (with added crackling) I also saw strict rules about not playing the piano and suspect that behind the relaxed jokey facade of this pub, there's one that would come down with an iron fist if you stepped out of line!  As we watched Jessica Ennis-whatsit on a big screen making excuses about not being able to win gold cos she's now a Mum, I realised everyone was drinking Carling.  Carling, Doom Bar but only BBC Sport?  Something was amiss.

Part of the sign that might end with "Elephant"

Possibly the best Doom Bar I've ever had.
Mum might have been down, but she wasn't out.  Demanding constant pub updates and offering her opinions, she suggested any pub that only sells "Doomsday" (as she calls it) doesn't deserve to be in the GBG.  Provocative stuff.

Our next pub was a bit further North, past Welshpool and not far from the border.....

It's buzzing outdoors at the Rodney!
993.  Admiral Rodney Inn, Criggion

Early signs weren't so promising here as a full car park meant we had to park directly in front of a coach, but the driver told us he wasn't moving til 5pm so we were okay (presuming we didn't go on a 4 hour session).  I entered the incredibly rustic and ancient looking building expecting to find it heaving with tourist scumbags, but it was mercifully peaceful and Salopian Oracle plus a beer called Citrus Blast (and Butty Bach) made for the best ale range we saw all holiday (which doesn't say much for the other pubs, but is understandable in such rural parts).  The young barman was a marvel, and candidate for 'staff of the year' award.  Full of nervous energy, he confessed that the carvery was fully booked up.  I told him we weren't interested in carvery, might just want some plaice and chips in a basket but we'd have a think, but he still kept going on about freeing the carvery up for us!  Arrrggh.  But forgive him, he might not be the man you'd want running the London Stock Exchange but a busy rural pub, his attention to detail was superb and he was constantly asking how we found the beer and coming outside to check we were okay, where Dad had found an outdoor table, overlooking great mountainous scenery in the most calm, still atmosphere on earth, despite a fair few tourists.  Oracle is one of my favourite pale beers ever, so that helped.  The plaice and chips was great too.  This, for both me and Dad, was pub of the weekend and as for our capable host (his exact female equivalent had appeared late on), as Dad said, "he might end up connecting Wales to the internet one day".

It was time to go back to Bwlch-y-Cibau to check in with Mum, have a rest and gear ourselves up for the most monumental pub tick of the weekend, and about 6:15pm, we set the SatNav to take us the 28 miles to Anchor!

Despite reading Martin Taylor's excellent recent blog review, various comments and stories about the place and it's location, nothing and I mean NOTHING can prepare you for the remoteness, or the unlikely building which houses this pub.  I was in shock, no, stunned, more stunned than Dalian Atkinson (too soon?) and the relief to see it open was immense, with it's "open 7pm every day" sign daubed onto the pub wall.

Hooray!  Most pleasing pub tick ever.
994.  Anchor, Anchor

The pub smelt fusty and like a library book that hasn't been touched in hundred's of years.  Good grief, if Mum found the idea of food unpalatable in Llansillin, then what would she have made of this? (had we had a party of 4)   In fact, I'd half thought of bringing a pot noodle and asking the landlord to pour some hot water in it, just so I could say I'd eaten here).  Anyway, I tried to hide my wide-eyed excitement as I ordered a Clun Pale (and half a Hobson's chaser!) and we chatted with the landlord, a lovely gentle old chap who didn't talk rubbish for the sake of it but was pleased to talk about the pub  (I loved the half-arsed carved owl with glasses above the mantelpiece but my picture was too dark and didn't work out).  Here were some of the many conversational highlights:
1.  The Sunday 12-2 opening slot doesn't exist anymore, further reducing the opening hours.
2.  It had been the Anchor show earlier in the day, probably the only time in the year anything happens in Anchor.
3.  Some Twilds (not his phrase) had been in the night before causing mayhem on the pool table.
4.  In the last 20 years, he can only think of 3 occasions when no-one has come into the pub!
5.  He took a BRAPA card behind the bar and mentioned another chap who'd been doing a similar challenge who was in here a few weeks ago.  "Oooh was he called Martin Taylor?" I asked.  His reply was typically poetic "It's within the realms of possibility that that was his name".
6.  A Polish guy wanted to be at Anchor Boulevard (near Dartford) and somehow ended up here, his friends were not amused when he rang to say where he was.
7.  This pub is "three golf shots" into Shropshire.
8.  It was a Tanners Wines person who campaigned to get this pub in the GBG.
9.  Best of all, a man (probably a Geordie) got Newcastle upon Tyne confused with Newcastle-on-Clun, came in here looking confused, and asked where Boots was!
An amazing old pub with so little done to it over the years, it is ridiculous but that is almost a compliment.  I went to the loo before we left and an 18th century spider was hanging out of a crusty web.  I think the loo had soap though which if you think about it, makes Anchor more progressive than Atherton in Greater Manchester.  £2.50 a pint wasn't bad either.  His wife trotted out a couple of times, she looked older than him and you do have to fear for the future of this place when these two go - but I've been and it was brilliant!

Clun Pale (I took a beermat for my bedroom wall collection!)

Looks quite a cosy normal pub from this angle.....

Would you eat a pot noodle in the Anchor toilets?

On the way out

Waaah, I don't want to leave
So with a beautiful sunset over South-Mid Wales, it was time to get back for tea and rest up for three more ticks on day three (Monday).


BRAPA - Mid Wales : Bad Ankle, Good Anchor. (Part 1 of 3)

I'm pretty sure that when Mum and Dad invited me the chance to tag along with their Welsh holiday, they knew that the biggest factor (along with their obviously great company) was the chance for me to tick off some pubs which might not be easily achieved due to (a) lacking public transport and (b) weird opening hours.

NOT that I was taking it too seriously, but I did make sure this map was at the the forefront of their consciousness .....

Could I get all six done?  Well, this was no ordinary BRAPA trip out as it wasn't totally in my hands.  My frustrations were bubbling under early doors, as a stop in Oswestry for a cheese and ham toastie was all well and good, but with neither pub ticked off, this was torture for my BRAPA brain.

On a happier note, Dad had programmed our stoic male SatNav companion (Mum wanted the jabbering female but was overruled) to stop at pub number 4 on my map, and after a few winding roads across the border, we were there and hurrah, it was open!

Celebrating the first of (hopefully) many Powys ticks.
991.  Wynnstay Inn, Llansillin

As I sped round to the bar where four companionable locals were chatting nonsense with the archetypal Welsh barman, I had to laugh when I saw York Guzzler as one of the two beers!  At least that gave me a route into conversation "we're from York don't you know?" (surely enough to impress such yokels .... only kidding) and I then embarrassed Dad accidentally by making him pronounce Bwlych-Y-Cibau, where we were staying.  One local claimed Welsh was the easiest phonetic language ever "much easier than English" so Mum and Dad motioned me and our excellent pints of Big Shed Tyger Tyger to a bench table before I got embroiled in any arguments.  Mum had a lemonade and revealed she rated it quite highly and it might be included in her forthcoming 'Good Pub Lemonade Guide'.   The pub decor was all superheroes and salamanders, a weird combination, Star Wars quite prevalent, but incredibly basic and Mum commented she could not imagine feeling appetised enough to eat in here (I had a feeling I'd see at least one less appetising pub this holiday!)  A bit of excitement as I went back for half a Guzzler out of curiosity (poor and according to Dad, he'd heard them whispering it was about to go off) when the landlord, who was quite deaf, had the loudest mobile phone ring ever witnessed in a pub EVER, he couldn't remember it was hiding on a window sill, and then the cash till bit his hand Arkwright style.  A quirky start to Welsh pubbing.

Vintage tractors in the pub car park

York Guzzler, can you believe it?

Spiderman unimpressed with Batman's Prosecco crotch.

After checking in, it was decided that after the long drive, pubbing would be resumed tomorrow so I set Dad to work combining pubs 5 and 6 with a walk around Caersws.....

All seemed set for a straightforward holiday - long walk, 2 pubs, food, sleep, long walk, 2 pubs etc etc.  But it's when you start think like that when BRAPA bites you on the bottom.

The first bite happened that evening as we sat down to our evening Ploughman's, two bats got in and started circling us menacingly (no literal bites to the bottom though).

That might have been a bad omen, as the following day, me and Dad unfairly made Mum jump across a ditch she wasn't comfortable with and her ankle went SNAP and she went down.  Ouch.  After carrying her back through field after field, we were soon in Shrewsbury Infirmary (I'd done most of my pub ticks in Shrews so had been edging towards Aberystwyth's A&E) and luckily, it wasn't broken!

Mum in good spirits despite her ankle woes.
To Mum's absolute credit, she looked up at her lowest ebb and almost like a dying wish, told me to ensure that whatever happened, I got the Anchor-Anchor ticked off.  Proper Pub Mum!  Of course, my BRAPA mind interpreted this as "crack on with your entire pub plan and add a few cos that's all that is left for us now we can't do any walks".  

Meanwhile back in York, my sister's boyfriend reacted to the news by using an axe to smash a coconut.....

Random behaviour from Andy 

A bit of light reading and a cuppa (no beer today!)
Let us hope day 3 and 4 of the holiday could be more productive pub-wise, I had to make up for lost time and you want to read about pubs, not family drama!