Sunday, 22 March 2015

BRAPA - Bedfordshire Part II

As I sit here the following morning eating Frosties in my pants (try not to picture the scene), I'm satisfied with what was, a difficult day of BRAPA action, as I returned to the beginning of the GBG, where it all officially began on 5th April last year......

Not only was it freezing all day (so much for the start of Spring!), but slight train delays on the way down where I found myself stuck in a carriage full of Mackem Men, I was pleased to be in Sandy on time without the need to change at Biggleswade (I even had time for a swift half in excellent Peterborough Wetherspoons, the Draper Arms - reviewed in the archives).

My first pub, the Sir William Peel, wasn't open.  It said 11am in the GBG, it said 11am on the front door, I sat there til quarter past but gave it up as my bus was 11:26.  Shame because the people of Sandy seemed very friendly (oh, and I couldn't do my RSPB joke on Untappd).

601 - RISING SUN, Potton - So finally, bang on 12 noon, I entered this pub and was delighted to see not only a great selection, but two Oakham Ales on.  My favourite brewery in the UK, this pub is an "Oakademy of Excellence" which presumably means they are trusted to keep their beers well.  I had a limited edition Racketeer, strong and typical Oakham.  The pub was quiet but I wondered if it had accommodation as there were a few touristy types wandering around.  The staff were friendly in the loosest sense of the word, though I wasn't so impressed with the pub layout - despite being huge, the tables were obviously set out for dining and by the time I left, a group of oldies by the door were tucking into something with peas and roast potatoes.  To be honest though, I was just delighted to have finally got today up and running.

Proper swinging pub sign in the wind at Potton!
As a kindly wizened old woman at the bus stop gave me the history of Potton and vital bus info, I was on my way to my next village, Dunton.  But even more maddeningly than Sandy, the pub wasn't open!  It was after 1pm.  A local couple saw me struggling, they shared my surprise, but told me where the landlord and landlady lived, and that I should ring the doorbell!  And guess what, I did!  Landlady answered and told me they were opening 2pm and she'd see me then.  A BRAPA first.  But I wasn't hanging around in this weather and after a hellish three mile walk along raised grass verges with drainage ditches, I was rosy cheeked and in Biggleswade.  Phew.  I needed a pint.

602 - WHEATSHEAF, Biggleswade - It was a vital day in the world of egg-chasing I learnt as I walked into this rather basic Greene King pub.  A few old men were watching some boring match (Wales v Italy) so I feigned interest and sat in the front bar with a perfectly good Adnams Southwold served by a good landlady with Welsh roots who asked if my pint was good enough quality.  I got the impression throughout that they thought I was some CAMRA inspector.  The local "character" i.e. old man who couldn't shut up, told me it was nice to see "a young man drinking bitter".  I suspect very few youngsters (errrm, I am 35!) come here and a taxi driver later told me everyone calls this pub "the Wheat-wreath" and wonder who will keel over next!  Outdoor loos always deserve a bonus point in this day and age.  A young girl came in and sat at the bar, the old man kept stroking her back, I wondered if she was his granddaughter or the just local "play-thing".  I left feeling the pub was at least, real, friendly and basic yet it also lacked any real identity or character.

Wheatsheaf, Biggleswade - lacking a bit of star quality

603 - PEMBROKE ARMS, Biggleswade - Being the focus of my groundbreaking BRAPA adventure last April, I feel I'm almost becoming something of a Bedfordshire real ale pub expert, so I was fully aware that this pub was a direct substitute for the now de-listed Stratton House Hotel.  Whilst that "pub" was a bit sterile and antiseptic, so was this!  But with fewer beers on, less custom and less room, so I didn't really see the point.  The fact that the barmaid (who reminded me of a gobby student who once got murdered in an episode of Lewis) spent the whole time trying to put some daffodils in the most prime position on a mantelpiece (with help from the three regulars at the bar) made me wonder if this pub has it's priorities right.  True, I'd overlooked the guest ale and my Marstons EPA was actually very nice, but she could've spent the time ringing breweries asking for a fourth ale to be put on - well, in my utopian view of pub management!  It was once a proper old pub called the Brown Bear, but attempts to modernise places like this don't sit right with me.  If I never come back here, I won't cry.  As I text my Biggleswade pub aficionado John Watson II (his gf's sister lives here), the Golden Pheasant's crown of best real ale pub in the town is safe for now!

The Pembroke Arms, not really my cup of ale!

Ticking off the final pub on "page 2" of the GBG, a landmark moment!
604 - COCK, Broom - After a dash for the 200 bus (full of crazies it has to be said!), I arrived in this little village for my most highly anticipated pub of the day.  A CAMRA heritage, and one of few in the country with NO BAR.  So how does this work?  Well, a barmaid with an element of Daria, Stacey Slater's voice and "sideways Helen" (a girl I vaguely know) stands at a servery looking expectantly at customers.  I chose a Spring Goddess by Bateman's off a blackboard, she went outside and came back with a pint.  Novel.  Like the Wheatsheaf, I sat near a TV and tried not to block the egg-chasing (it was Ireland v Scotland now).  A big group of locals chatted uproariously with the staff - the lack of bar means there isn't that boundary either - and when one of them mentioned "the north not being as good", I saw that as my cue to join the conversation (as a northerner) but apart from one nice lady who I explained BRAPA to, no one wanted to know, not even sideways Helen or the landlord later described by my taxi driver as an "arsehole".  Can't say I was impressed so I just took in the otherwise great pubbub, loved my pint and was glad they put the football scores on whilst I waited for my taxi to arrive.  I guess they get pub tourists like me passing through quite a bit. 

Pub with no bar, very good, should've been excellent.

605 - ENGINEERS ARMS, Henlow - After a great taxi ride, I found myself at this multi-award winner and seeing the amazing range of ales on, I wasn't surprised.  Entering to the right was probably a mistake, as the egg-chasing had progressed to England v France and the atmosphere was properly rowdy!  Friendly, but I was always going to sit in the more civilised lounge area with fellow egg-haters.  I simply had to go for the Black Beerd stout by Newby Wyke (named after a Hull trawler, brewed in Grantham) and as an old man with a strange name started chatting Bedfordshire pubs to me and writing new pub names on his Daily Mail and tearing out strips of newspaper, all seemed well with the world in this cosy room where three barmaids worked hard to keep on top of the rugby rush.  However, it hadn't been an easy day and I started feeling strangely allergic.  Is the beer brewed with nuts?  More likely, barmaid had served someone some nuts and then touched the glass.  I didn't swell around the mouth ala Last Drop Inn in York, but I just felt like I couldn't swallow properly and very hot, head was pounding.  Shame really, the stout tasted amazing.  With the taxi unable to get to me for an hour, I left half my pint undrunk, and walked the mile to Arlesey station where I could get back to Biggleswade/Sandy for my train to Peterborough, then York.

Engineers - excellent apart from allergic feelings, maybe it was the rugby! 

The train journey home was horrendous due to engineering works around the midlands, I felt loads better after a hot chocolate and blueberry muffin in Peterborough, and totally sober by the time I reached York so two pints in York Tap and late night Sainsbury's shopping completed a tough but worthwhile day.

Plenty more BRAPA ticks to come between now and next week so stay tuned!

As for Bedfordshire, I will be back here in a month's time for a more central crawl around Bedford's villages - Ampthill and Bolnhurst being the two absolute "must do" pubs.  


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