It felt fitting on the weekend of 'Le Tour' that I should properly start concentrating on the North Yorkshire guide pubs, having started the West Yorkshire midweekers a couple of months ago now.
Having said that, I ended up doing 4 in County Durham and only 2 in North Yorkshire! Hey ho, it's all for the greater good.
I gave myself an unexpected boost before when I realised that the Salamander in Bath (456) had indeed been my first pub visit there, and therefore, of the A-Z. How could I forget such a momentous occasion with the old wood paneling, jolly touristy clientele and friendly smartly dressed staff serving top quality simplistic Bath Ales? Well, obviously, I couldn't.
It got me thinking, I can't remember which Elsecar pubs I did for the letter "E" with Tom. Am sure one was the Milton Arms, there were at least 2 more but I cannot say for sure so am still 2 or 3 guide pubs down on reality ... which is sad. It begs the question, where else have I forgotten?
Never mind for now, on with Darlo and co ......
457 - Voodoo Cafe, Darlington - Samba South American themed and felt I just had to take advantage of the fact it was a 10am opener. No real ales on probably due to a heavy night for them before (Brazil had played Columbia) but the brilliant landlord (his first day back) asked me why I was drinking so early(!) and when I explained BRAPA, he gave me my 'craft' beer for free! Like Baschurch all over again but in a more generous, less pubby way! He talked to me the whole time and I picked up loads of useful info about the Darlington drinking scene and their old building. Superb effort almost made up for no cask!
458 - Stanwick, Aldbrough St John - One bus ride and one picnic later (where a dog called Molly tried to steal my sausage roll), I walked along the huge village green to a nice little Daleside pub which also featured Mithril ales, brewed in the village. I had a Tour de France themed one (obviously!) and the event was on the TV too. The landlady could've been friendlier (probably I'm spoilt from recent experiences) but she enjoyed horsey chat with the locals before a visiting cricketer from Richmond livened things up but not convinced his performance later that afternoon will have been at 100%!
459 - Crown Inn, Manfield - A scary roadside walk (why not have pavements on these roads, I thought of my Virginia Water experience) took me to my next venue. A good couple of miles and a bit of sunburn but was wholly worth it for this little gem. 8 interesting ales and one of the most pleasant beer gardens you could hope for made me fully understand why this was the local CAMRA pub of the season, country side version!
460 - Quakerhouse, Darlington - I'd been waiting for this, the local town pub of the season, and after a delayed taxi back from Manfield and another BRAPA chat with the taxi driver, I was in this dark little cavern of a place which felt underground and I could imagine why it is also a popular live music venue. Again, a huge range of ales was served by a nice barmaid and the locals were again friendly as I smuggled my chunks of cheese out of my bag (that's not a euphemism in any way). Once again, I found myself explaining the challenge! I'll be famous at this rate.
461 - Foresters Arms, Coatham Mundeville - My second bus trip of the day took me North and after a slightly fractious number 7 bound for Ferryhill found me stuck with chav girls and the local nutter(!), I was soon at my destination though I got off a bit late and had to walk back on myself! It felt a bit too foody to be a proper pub and bad news early on as my Robinson's Dizzy Blonde was dodgy to start with and you could tell the vinegar overtones were only going to get worse. Sadly, the barmaid's disbelief only made things worse but her protestations about cleaning lines and fresh barrels made me accept it's a pub that usually takes pride in their beer, even though she gave me evils for the rest of my time there! My Golden Pippin was conversely one of the best of these I've had for some years now. Maybe the dodgy ale could be explained by the many "mysterious goings on" in this pub that the guide claims it has!
462 - County, Aycliffe Village - Decided on another long walk to keep me fit, my beer belly down, and sober me up a bit. Crossing the M1 wasn't the dangerous thing it appeared on google maps and about half an hour later, I was at my destination. Again, I felt it had a bit of a restauranty feel but the superb range of local beers (Yard of Ale featured heavily) and quality of them made me realise that this was another quality establishment. This was further enhanced by a front outdoor drinking area, a great sun trap facing out onto the beautiful village. Little wonder all the people sat out were friendly and jovial, thus completing one of the best experiences of the day before my journey back into Darlo for the train home to York.
Overall, I couldn't have hoped for a better BRAPA day and that last pub finally proved Co. Durham can do good pubs in the villages after recent dodgy experiences, if I think back to Witton Gilbert as well.
I've just booked my first Oxfordshire trip for mid September (buoyed by Shropshire last week) and with midweek West Yorkshire BRAPA's hard to come by, I'm trying to get Jig to join me pre-Bronx for some new Huddersfield ticks. That will take me to 8 or 9 and then I should reach my monthly July quota next Saturday in Nottingham. Whether I stay central or try and go West or North (south isn't an option due to Trent Bridge test match!) depends on who, if anyone, comes with me. Watch this space!