Sunday 14 September 2014

BRAPA - Oxford : Blind Man's BRAPA

As I arrived in "that sweet city with her dreaming spires" (as someone more poetic than me once said), the sun was shining and decided to spend a couple of hours just wandering around the old colleges, university parks and lakes, hidden cobbled streets, and just general, well, trying to get a bit of culture in.  I'd allowed myself more than enough drinking time anyway, and felt I'd enjoy the pubs more if I've earned them!

I feel like I'm groping around the pubs with a blindfold on at the moment.  The 2015 Guide was published Thursday, I still haven't received one in the post, and neither Waterstones in Leeds or Oxford had any in stock yet.  Luckily I found a local newspaper article to give me the lowdown on which pubs had been included this time around.

A bit of pre-pub culture in Oxford
528 - Rose and Crown - A mile or so north of the centre was this little gem.  There was a market going on in the street outside so even walking down and finding the right door was a struggle,  It was an old Victorian inn, multi-roomed and I took advantage of the nice weather to sit in the walled courtyard which reminded me of the Golden Ball in York a bit,  I felt like a trailblazer because soon, everyone seemed to be outside with no one left in the pub!  There were some interesting local ales on, I had a lovely malty one from Shotover called Trinity, staff seemed functional.  An old woman ate fish n chips in my eyeline and made me hungry, so I left.

I then decided to embrace the local market and got fleeced £5 for a tub of spicy olives.  Well, I got a free taster of creamy feta so who's winning?  Well not me, obviously.

Top Uni parks action - taken from a bridge
529 - Lamb & Flag - Arguably one of the more famous Oxford real ale pubs, this is centuries old and had a lovely proper old pub feel. It nearly was turned into student housing but after a campaign to save it, all the profits now actually go to Uni scholarships so was glad to help with that!  My tipple of choice was a Palmers beer brewed for the pub, Lamb & Flag Gold which sounded a lot nicer in my "100 Pub Days Out" book (thanks John!) than it did in reality, where it had that southern and "brewed for pub" feel.  The staff seemed a friendly studenty bunch, a couple sat next to me were from York, and in the back room, a heated debate started on Dr Who and the regeneration process.  It echoed through the pub until everyone in the room I sat in was shaking their heads in disbelief! 

Best hubbub of the day in the Lamb n Flag

I then had the most eventful walk of the day, through the centre of Oxford's main shopping area on a busy Saturday afternoon,  I saw a girl selling "life changing wooden spoons" and a student excitedly whispered to his friend that he'd just bought a lego Hans Solo frozen in Carbonite - only in Oxford.

530 - St Aldate's Tavern - The centre piece pub of the article about Oxford's 2015 GBG inclusions, this had really friendly staff and a nice light airy feel despite being an obviously old building.  The beers were also interesting and the Animal brewery "hiss" I had to create myself on Untappd, which past some time.  Sadly, with all that was good came the inevitable "popular with the locals" and the front bar designated for drinkers was totally full, so I had to perch in the back bit more geared for food, not that this felt like a gastro pub in any way.  Overall, I'd probably make this my "pub of the day" and if I'd got a proper seat, it'd have won hands down and deserves it's guide place.  This is exactly why I need the 2015 GBG now ... grrrr.

Interesting beers, friendly staff - at St Aldate's Tav
531 - Royal Blenheim - Another Victorian pub, this one had a more modern loungey feel than a lot of the ones I'd visited both here and in Cambridge, and watching Sky Sports News with the sound of a local Rugby Union match certainly was a change from the hubbub I'd got used to.  Before this though, I had a new pub experience as I was witness to a job interview, well an English gent had met with an Eastern European woman who was obviously a cleaner / nanny / call-girl (probably not all three although you never know, plus I'd hate to stereotype).  I felt like I should have been keeping meeting minutes as I supped a beautiful Village Idiot (this pub is tied to White Horse brewery I think).  It was my pint of the day and brought back memories of the Wellington in Hull (sob), The staff seemed concerned the rugby commentary was disturbing me, though from what exactly I couldn't be sure.

Interview action at the Royal Blenheim

532 - Chequers - I often find pubs suffer from being a bit too central and I couldn't help but compare this to Olde Starre Inne in York.  Lovely old beamed 16th century, formerly a money-lenders, attentive staff but with that tourist trap feel and obviously very busy on a Saturday afternoon, especially when the weather was as nice as it had been,  My Hook Norton Lion was nice enough, without being a real winner, and I reckon I found the nicest seat in the snuggest room so made the most of it.  I reckon it'd be a cracker on a cold winter's evening.

Chequers in the bustling city centre

533 - Far From the Madding Crowd - My final pub of day had been wandering around in circles for half an hour, as it was hidden (well, "hidden" to an increasingly drunken me!) down a side street called Friars Entry.  I'd heard of this pub before back from the days Hull City used to play at the Kassam, and it was near enough the station to makes sense to go to last.  Again, I was expecting something dark, oaky, woody but was quite carpetted and furnished in parts.  As soon as I saw a new Acorn beer (Helga), I had to have to as I have a weakness for this brewery.  The locals seemed a lively and friendly bunch, I was tired out by this stage and wondered how anyone had any energy.  When Hull City are back in league two in a few years, I'll gladly bring the Welly gang here.

Far From the Madding Crowd, Friars Entry.

So, another 6 pubs successfully ticked off and didn't even have to change trains.  I'd originally planned to visit Abingdon but there was so much to go at in Oxford, I was happy to keep it simple.  I'd say I preferred the beer in Cambridge, pub wise not a lot to choose between them,  The city deserves a visit, and was glad to get some culture in as the Cambridge logistics meant that was never really possible.  

Next week is York beer fest so no midweek BRAPA yet again, I am thinking of doing something north eastern on the Fri but haven't decided whether it will be North Shields, South Shields, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Morpeth or somewhere else (and of course, am in Newcastle the following day to watch Steve Bruce's Toon Army take on managerless Hull City).   But I need that bloody 2015 GBG ASAP now, am getting frustrated.  Book work is required.

See you all soon for another BRAPA update.



  1. Oxford market is utter tosh of the highest order. I went there once, no cheese and I'm not surprised they chinged as much as that. That said, if the locals are willing to pay, I really don't blame them.

    I fancy Oxford Utd to eventually do quite well. I predict we will play them in the third division rather than the fourth. First game of the season, it will be their biggest game since that 4-2 at the Circle or whenever they last played Swindon, whichever is most recent.

    For north eastern Friday ideas that aren't Hartlepuddle, I recommend splitting at Darlo or Northallerton depending on destination. If you go to South Shields, I advise an all zone Day saver or whatever the Geordie Mackem Metro calls their rovers these days, for £4.50. I would take the right change (and a bit of spare in case it doesn't like your coins) for the ticket machine, I don't trust those things.

    1. Thanks Tom, am buying the GBG 2015 today so that'll tell me more but a Metro crawl sounds good to me - South Shields is a good option. Someone suggested Washington so that's a maybe too. I'll take your advice with tickets, v.good. Cheers!

  2. Washington will be a bus job, I would imagine from somewhere like Pelaw or the interchange at Heworth. Assuming it is in the pretend county of Tyne & Wear, rather than County Durham as it should be, then if you are both using the Metty and going to Washington, I would suggest a £6.90 day rover ticket, available either from a bus driver or by pressing the Rover button on a Metro ticket machine.

    To get you to Newcastle, I suggest:
    York-Northallerton cheap day return £11.60
    Northallerton-Darlo cheap day return £5.50
    Darlo-Newcastle, route Durham cheap day return £12.90
    Total £30.00
    Note that you will need to leave after 09:15 and use a train which stops at Northallerton - most of the TPE do and some East Coast also. Coming back, there is no time restriction but you still need to use a train which stops at Northallerton.

    1. Sorry, forgot to mention, are you bringing your guide to Newcastle? It may be useful to find a tick or two for Arsenal and other forthcoming awaydays.