So with Northwich's great Wetherspoons 'Penny Black' leading the way so far in terms of 'first visited', let's review our next 10 pubs and try and work out if any of these can take over.....
21. HAND & HEART, Peterborough - Best pub in Peterborough? It must be a close run thing and both myself and Dad enjoyed our two visits here immensely. 18/9/2004 meant this was our first experience of real ale in this town and despite the longish walk, it was well worth it. We were presented with the pubs history book to peruse and guest book to sign (I wrote I was hoping for a Hull City win, and was not disappointed!) and it was unique in pub terms in that a dog that recently had given birth came to sit on my knee and I was left with afterbirth stained jeans. Lovely. We therefore made it our first pub on our return trip, 7 years later. By now, it was an Oakham pub (even better) but the landlady told us off for everything we did from stacking glasses to not bringing them back from the beer garden. Still, she didn't spoil it much. And we won again so a lucky pub too!
22. MILL, Ulverston - Third pub of my letter "U" day in my almost famous A-Z challenge, with friends John and Jig in December 2013. It didn't totally convince in that it was a big barn type place, famous mainly for it's giant waterwheel in the middle of the pub, as if we needed more water around us after being drenched by all that rain. It was big on dining, low on pub atmosphere but they had a good range of local beers on and despite describing mine in less than glowing terms on Untappd, I actually loved it and found it deliciously drinkable.
23. STAR ALE HOUSE, Glossop - Pre-match pub of my letter "G" day with Ric in Glossop. Very near station, a real must visit and probably the most famous pub in the town with a great selection (pub is run by a CAMRA member and you can tell). Ric tried to get some small talk going with the barmaid about the various art and decor around the pub, but she didn't wanna know .... tough crowd. We popped in after the game too, I have a vague memory of someone leaving some item of clothing and chatting to a friendly couple who were also visiting but weren't Runcorn fans. Good pub.
24. DOLPHIN HOTEL, Plymouth - Oh yes, Plymouth's most famous pub used in loads of TV programmes and films, famous for it's Beryl Cook artwork where she drew locals in her own inimitable style. Despite all this, it is totally unpretentious and have been three times. First was possibly the first time I ever used a real ale guide to help us find our way around pubs, when Dad and I landed in Plymouth on a dark stormy Friday evening 11th Jan 2002. We were using a 1999 guide so many of the pubs left us non-plussed//were closed and we didn't get this pub's "Bass on gravity" only stance. However, it led to the "best leaving of a pub ever" when with some of our ales left, we decided to leave slyly so whispered to each other "1...2....3..." and then we both left out of different doors and surprised each other in the middle outside! Maybe you had to be there. Being a 10am opener, I next returned for my first Saturday pub on 9th Dec 2006 where I knew to embrace to Bass and had a jolly chap with a fire cleaner and the landlady being the first person in. It was a bit chilly and I complained of the same thing the following year 2nd Feb 2008 when it was again my opening pub, This time, I nursed my Bass and read my PG Wodehouse until Christine and Colin came along to join me in a pint before moving on to many more pints elsewhere. That's another story though.
25. PORTERHOUSE, Westbourne - March 19th 2005 and with time to kill on a sunny morning on the outskirts of Bournemouth, I wandered towards Poole before opening time and was first into this intimate low ceilinged wooden paneled haven (Bournemouth isn't big on real ale). There was a large leaning towards Ringwood days but that was when they were less common than today's Marston owned common days, so I found them quite a treat. I was on my third when Chris and Tom arrived, I was promptly ID'd as I went to get Tom a blackcurrant but he backed down as quickly as he'd questioned it. A nice pre-match session was the prelude to a fantastic 4-0 win, another lucky pub.
26. TANNERS HALL, Darlington - My memories are a bit sketchy about the date of my trip to this lighter airier Wetherspoons but it was definitely in the 2002-04 bracket. It involved me and Dad waiting for my friend John who got lost near a carpark, I went to find him and brought him back here, Dad had got me a tasty club sandwich upon my return and I've got vague memories of seeing Chris Irvin but I may be imagining that bit. In any case, I can only remember John coming to the 0-1 Darlo Great escape win (Brabin) on a Tuesday night many years earlier so the whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me! We went to Hogan's that day, urrrgghhh.
27. DUN COW, Durham - More John Watson capers and on our first "real ale" tour of Durham, I decided I'd meet him here as it looked a straightforward walk from the station, if not the nearest. I read my Total Football magazine in peace with some great local ales. John often tells me this was is haven, reading the paper with a pint of Castle Eden and something to eat probably, so it is nice to be able to say I'd had a similar experience. If I've been in since, it is only once which would surprise him I'm sure. Lovely relaxed pub with the full Dun Cow story relayed on the walls, would like to return one day. I think we both got the 2002 guide so I'm thinking spring 2002 may have been the time of this crawl.
28. ODD ONE OUT, Colchester - One of the few times I've been to Colchester and really been able to do exactly what i wanted, this was my first "ale" trip here on 11th Dec 2005 (the last time I saw a match here!) After walking past the Army Barracks, we found this unassuming street corner local but it proved to be a gem - it is as multi-award winning now as it was then. As I was in my relative infancy of away day drinking, we were interested to meet a strange man (not all there!) who said he'd tried all the ales so was mixing halves of one with halves of another! At the time I thought maybe that's what all southern CAMRA members did, now I just think he was weird. He sat with us and when I came back from the loo, was relieved to see him gone. Ryan France then scored the best team goal ever and the rest is history!
29. LAST POST, Southend-on-Sea - In the days even before the Cork n Cheese (god rest it's soul), Dad and I gave this large but still cosy Wetherspoons a shot on one of our many evening games here, I am thinking very early for this one 22/1/2002 defeat probably having tried a terrible one down on the pier with saloon doors that blew open in the wind. This was nice but time was of the essence so we couldn't enjoy it to the max. Returned here briefly for the recent FA Cup game, it still had a decent feel. We watched Ben eat a breakfast and read his paper until the Olde Trout opened (see next archive edition).
30. BRIDGE INN, Bristol - 16/10/04 and our first trip to Bristol City (having spent all our previous times north in the Rovers area) meant we could finally get in amongst the city centre. Pubs a plenty you'd think but it's never been that easy, one reason being the high number of 12 noon openers only, the other being Ashton Gate's location across the river. This pub nevertheless was our first forray into the city, full of lovely but simple Bath Ales like Gem and Spa, one roomed, very small, carpets and a the walls were full of old 50's horror B-movie posters which was definitely the main quirk of the experience. Enjoyable and went back on my briefly on my 32nd birthday but sat outside despite the heavy rain, as it was way too busy being a Friday night,
So that concludes the latest ten, I think my facts are generally right but nothing has quite beaten the Northwich Penny Black in terms of 'when visited' quite yet.
See you soon, Si