Sunday, 13 March 2016

BRAPA - Berkshire Part 2 (and a bit of Oxfordshire)

Beware of the guard dog (pub 839)

The journey down south on the 6:01 train to Goring & Streatley, via Paddington and Kings Cross, was very event free, but there was nothing event free about my first pub of the day.....

River Thames in early morning mist at Streatley
I'd actually slipped into Oxfordshire, in quite the same way you might slip into some silky evening gown (or not), and what Google Maps didn't tell me was that the 2.8m walk was going to be one of those high octane affairs, dodging cars on winding uphill country roads with no pavements.  The scariest bit was the hill just outside Streatley, the most sedate bit on top of the Berkshire Downs.

Up on the Downs!
836.  Bell, Aldworth

Finally!  And not long after opening, this pub was already busy and it actually looked more like a village hall from the outside (it confused two tourists even more) but inside, it was obvious straight away I was in a classic pub.  I must have been looking traumatised from the walk, as the barmaid was soon asking how I'd got here so I could explain my unwise road walk.  She told an older kind eccentric lady who volunteered to draw me a map to get me back safer- now that is customer service for you!  I got a very nice old fashioned pint of Old Tyler, and got talking to a pair of local walkers from Three Mile Cross, a friendly couple with Reading Beer Fest tops and a good knowledge of the GBG so we were soon talking BRAPA!  There were three local old boys in the front bar, they looked like they lived there, but I still managed to offend them.  I was talking about how my Newbury trip coincided with race-day, and my aim to avoid 'undesirable' characters.  A reasonable point you might think, but being born in Newbury, they took it as a personal insult against the town.  One told me it was only the Welsh I had to avoid, and the Welsh hated people with the same haircut as mine!  Oh dear.  Anyway, Mrs Three Mile Cross changed the subject, comparing this pub to Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole, which is funny, it was just the pub I'd be thinking of.  I wish I could have stayed for a hot Ox tongue roll (like SirQuinno did) and local cider but I knew I had a tough walk ahead of me, so after finding eccentric old woman and her map (she gave me detailed instructions from front and back of the pub!), I had a pee in the wonderful outdoor loos (the Planetarium), said cheerio, then left. 

Arriving at the sign of the Bell! 
Cider, old fashioned ale and honey.  It was like a village store with coke cans and stuff!
"Health visitor"  Paying a trip to the outdoor loos.
Map showing me how to get back from Aldworth to Goring

I must confess, having consulted Mr & Mrs Three Mile Cross's ordnance survey map, the conclusion was that my roadwalk was more direct, not too dangerous, and it made more sense to retrace my steps.  So I did.  I just didn't want to be ungrateful to the kind old lady.

With heart racing, legs aching, and sweating loads, hurrah I was back in Goring ready for pub two.

837.  Miller of Mansfield, Goring

I felt sorry for this pub from the start, having to follow the Bell was always going to be tricky.  A bit like when you go to a music festival and Meltallica totally blow away the crowd with their high energy, and then someone like Mumford & Sons comes on and has to try and be good.  Being so hot from the walk, I was surprised to see a young couple huddled in front of a fire having their lunch, it probably was a cold day.  This was a nice pub in it's own right, it didn't help that the Peroni font was about as big as the entire front bar at the Bell.  The two friendly bar men seemed to have slight Italian accents, or it could just be an Oxon twang.  You know that episode of Father Ted where Mrs Doyle gets the 'teasmaid' and breaks it because she "enjoys the misery of tea making"?  Well, something funny happened as the coffee machine right next to me broke, which I found a lot more amusing than the staff, because people should not be drinking coffee in the pub.  But with my GBG on the table, I'm worried they thought I'd stuck a screwdriver in it!  Anyway, it was nice to relax with a pint of 'Good Old Boy', with the tinkling of piano music and the smell of woody fires.  Last time I visited an Oxfordshire GBG pub, it closed down despite being great so I hope I'm not a bad omen.

A relaxing pint in the relaxing Miller of Mansfield.
The day was supposed to get easier now.  A short train ride to Tilehurst where I had three pubs to visit.  I mean how hard could it be, it can't be a big place where the pubs are ridiculously spread out, or can it?  Yes it can.  I now understood Mrs Three Mile Cross's concerned expression when I was outlining my plan.  

Tilehurst was a strange place.  A bit like when you get off the plane at Tenerife expecting something glourious and realise it's a bit of a shithole, a bit like a reverse of Village of the Damned where all the young children smile, wave and offer hope for the future, but the adults shuffle nervously into the shadows and close their curtains on identical suburban estates.

Moody black & white shot to encapsulate Tilehurst.

838.  Fox & Hounds, Tilehurst

30 mins plus of walking and I finally found the furthest away pub, nearer an area called Little Heath.  The first question was 'where are the staff?' and a friendly couple sat behind invited me to ring the bell, whilst another local tried to cough in a really unsly way to get attention.  A barmaid appeared with the air of someone who's been disturbed from 40 winks.  The guest ale was a Black Sheep one, crikey, it felt like a long way to come for this!  It had that typical chalky taste which the folk of North Yorkshire for some reason love so much.  The pub had a real down to earth community feel, and as I sat down and pretended to be interested in the Six Nations (I don't understand Rugby Union but Italy look very bad, maybe they'd been ordering coffee in Miller of Mansfield), it reminded me very much of the Wheatsheaf in Biggleswade only a bit less characterful.  A larger than life chap appeared, all loud and jokey and stuff so I guess he was Garry the landlord.  Incidentally, I didn't see an actual member of staff again for the rest of my time here.

Ale, a nice clock and a bit of egg-chasing at the Fox & Hounds
839.  Royal Oak, Tilehurst

Ah, this was more like it, easily my favourite of the three Tilehurst pubs.  It was located uphill, set back from the road, and two crazy dogs started barking as I approached but they were locked in the back yard (phew, they knew I was a cat person!)  This was a really old place, you could tell by the low ceiling and sunken feel, and the bar is situated so low down, you have to go down some steps, peer into a hatch, and you are still looming over the barmaid (nice), incidentally, she was easily the friendliest non map drawing member of staff of the day, and I perched in a six seater with a nice pint of Slumbering Monk by Joule's (I fell asleep last time I drank this, in Chester!) A stern looking short blonde haired lady was watching me closely, ready to get me barred if I did fall into a slumber.  No chance of that,  The pub had a real hubbub as a huge group of excitable men came in ready to watch England v Wales in the Six Nations (I thought I'd left this rugby love behind in Bedfordshire!) and in the side room playing pool, one of them smashed a glass.  High drama, as everyone whooped and laughed, one local shouted "oo arrr, get back up to the Fox & Hounds you trouble causers!"  Tilehurst pub humour that even I could understand, fantastic!

Very good pub, finding the way in was a challenge though.
At this point, I was contemplating cutting my losses and making the long walk back to the 16:40 train as all this walking had left me with little time to spare.  But there was no guarantee I'd have made it, and I was passing the Butchers, I may as well go in.  

840.  Butchers Arms, Tilehurst

Life was going pretty well as I chose the 'left' hand bar to go, as per my 2016 multi-roomed policy!  Only two ales on, one of them was 'Good Old Boy' again and as I was ordering, Jeff Stelling was reporting how Hull City had taken the lead.  But in one fell swoop, landlady announces actually only Doom Bar is on, and Paul Merson corrects Stelling to say in fact it's MK Dons who have taken the lead.  Talk about a bad turnaround!  This pub seemed a bit of a soulless affair, like a sports bar in pub form with two factions - one being very passionate about Wales v England, and the other (me and one old man) watching the football results on Sky.  The faction was further heightened by the pub having toilets in both bars, which must be at least quite unusual.  I perched on one of those irritating high stools with no seats, and reacted excitedly to various football scores until the rugby guys lost interest in their game to see what they were missing.  Ha!  

The rugby gang have cracked .... as Sam Clucas equalises! 
I jogged back to Tilehurst station, onto Paddington, onto Kings Cross, nice and easy, even time to nip into Parcel Yard for a swift half, but sadly not enough time for Scottish Stores.

"Swift half" at Parcel Yard
The train journey back to York took an upturn when I went to get a coffee to sober up, but noticed some crazy Geordies/Mackems buying gorgeous bottles of Little Valley real ale.  Gotta love those Grand Central trains. 

The journey home went quicker after this.
There was time, at Doncaster, for a late platform cameo from lead BRAPster Tom Irvin, and I was soon back in York for fish & chips and an old episode of Midsomer Murders.  Great day.  

My next Berkshire trip is going to be HUGE, a 4 day event, woah, more about that in the weeks to come.  Have a good remainder of your weekends.



  1. Good to hear that you enjoyed the Bell at Aldworth - one of the country's true classic pubs.

    "three local old boys in the front bar, they looked like they lived there" - more pubs should have these.

    When I lived down that way, the Catherine Wheel and especially the John Barleycorn in Goring used to be excellent Brakspear's pubs, but things may have changed since then.

    The lack of GBG pubs in Henley now is quite striking.

  2. Absolutely! It made me think about how many pubs there used to be like this, whether they were commonplace.

    Everyone in the Bell was telling me to try the Catherine Wheel in Newbury, or the Castle Tap in Reading on my next trip.

    Henley only has one at the moment, the Bird in Hand. Sounds good, I wonder if Gallowstree Common is easy to combine with it on the same day?!

  3. Gallowstree Common looks a bit inaccessible from Henley without a driver - unlikely to be any PT links.

    I remember when Henley had at least ten really good Brakspear pubs, plus the Morland pub, the Argyll, complete with tartan wallpaper :-)

  4. That Curmudgeon knows his pubs !

    The Gallowstree pub did the best Brakspear I've ever had (NBSS 4.5)- worth a taxi.

    Well done for walking to the Bell, glad it wasn't all foody when you got there, and congrats on doing all of Tilehurst (unspeakably dull apart from the pubs).

    Very brave of you visiting Berkshire on a Rugby on TV day.

    By the way, Doncaster bus station was terrifying in daylight on Friday - you were both right.

  5. The machine that Mrs Doyle is given for Newtonmas is actually called a Teamaster, designed to take the misery out of making tea. I had to watch the episode to check. It is still very good.

    Is the barmaid in the Royal Oak a contender for any award?

    I suspect the Little Valley was in the buffet because it is relatively local to places on the windy Grand Central route to Drabford. I'd have though on a Blunderland train, something like Cameron's Strongarm would be more appropriate. I disapprove of the plastic (drinking vessel in this case but I don't approve of the bog cart either), you should have drunk out of the bottle.

    I am impressed at being made lead BRAPster on a day when I didn't make it into any English pubs - it is a huge honour.

    Martin, I'm disappointed with you suggesting a taxi for Gallowstree Common - it is quite near to Sonning which has an excellent bus service and I am currently investigating whether it has a bus of its own.

    1. Taxi for Tom

      I've never actually taken a taxi, apart from the water ones in Thailand. Morally wrong.

    2. I'm pleased and envious that you have never used a taxi. I wish I could say the same. When I'm dictator I might ban them.

    3. Taxis are great to get you out of a tricky hole and sometimes, the taxi drivers give great local knowledge on pubs and which landlords are idiots or any gossip like if there has been a pub murder recently.

      Gallowstree Common has a nice little bus symbol in the GBG so am thinking it must have a bus route or something that stops very close.

      Surely something like Double Maxim or Lambtons if it still exists would be more appropriate for a Sunderland service, I poured it into plastic to get rid of some of the fizz which I hate in beer. I needed one of those stirrers!

    4. Gallowstree Common would appear to have a couple of once a day shoppers type affairs. However, the X39/X40 Reading-Oxford service provides an uneven two buses an hour and runs along a main road about a mile away.

      I think Camersons is just as appropriate for a train that stops at Hartlepuddle. Certainly so if you are having Little Valley on the same company's Drabford via Halifax train.

  6. Cheers Tom, found it. Cane End and a 20 min walk, looks easy from the air! I almost thought it was the same as my Caversham bus for a minute but not quite. Still, I might walk that anyway.