Monday 25 April 2016

BRAPA - Berking Mad - Day Four (Beenham & Newbury)

Tuesday morning was drenched in sunshine as I 'enjoyed' my Premier Inn breakfast, by now getting used to the quirks of the toast machine, the fruity tomatoes and the fact that dispensing a glass of fresh orange juice is a bit like milking a stubborn cow.

One of the calmer parts of my walk from Aldermaston
I was back on a train out west, this time to Aldermaston, where I had what looked like a nice gentle 2 mile stroll to the village of Beenham.  What I hadn't allowed for was a near flooded dirt track, full of pot holes where I kept getting accosted by strange vehicles.  First, people dressed in black asked me where the crematorium was, then at the height of the flooded road, some Vietnamese Boat People (ironically in an SUV) asked me something I couldn't quite distinguish.

It was still my favourite walk since Inkpen, but I was glad to reach the pub nestling in a lovely village.  My sore foot (which I don't like to talk about) was playing up for the first time this holiday.

Arriving at the 'key' pub in my Berkshire 4 day adventure
877.  Six Bells, Beenham

The bright glass conservatory at the front of the pub was the first sign that maybe this wasn't going to quite be the Aldworth-esque gem I'd be imagining.  The landlady wasn't the sunniest people person that you almost come to expect in such a rural village, and she certainly didn't appreciate my "joke" about how fitting it was to drink Mr Chubb's Lunchtime Bitter on a lunchtime - must do better Simon.  Humouring me might have been worse.  Two posh old ladies came in for a conservatory lunch (think a posh female Coogan and Brydon), and it might have been my imagination, but did she make more effort with them?  I sat in a room as far away from the glass monstrosity as possible and was confronted by a range of Asian and African statues so frightening, it made the Queen's Head in Reading's collection look like a token gesture.  The landlady came over to light the fire next to me and we finally bonded, over chilly April weather, though in truth, lighting two pub fires was OTT.  She warned me about 'smoke' and she wasn't kidding, soon the room was a total fug and the lunchtime bitter was tasting like a smoked porter.  Must have been the jackdaws from Waltham St Lawrence relocating.  I had to move to the central bar, which I found more pub-like a genuine, and was soon reading a local magazine about avoiding wolves (the animals, not the football team's fans, though you wouldn't want either of them jumping out of you in rural Berkshire woodland).  A wide-eyed family of diners arrived, it was time to leave.

Smoked out at the Six Bells
Page 1 of Berkshire, page "8" (in BRAPA world) of the GBG completed!
It was a properly warm day by now, rendering the fires even more pointless, but it'd been an interesting pub experience.  I continued out west to Newbury, and reflected that with the amount of walking done this weekend, I felt like Eddie Izzard on his South African marathon, which I suppose makes Tim Thomas the Nelson Mandela of West Berkshire.

I was far too early into Newbury, but what a delightful town it was - glad I avoided the race scum.  Especially on a sunny day with the town centre pedestrian only, it was fantastic and I did some window shopping in a beer shop that Tim recommended to me......

...and I'd have bought some too if the Madjeski had more relaxed rules!
Still, you can't keep a good pub ticker down and I was soon back on the trail .....

The Newbury in errrm, Newbury.
878.  The Newbury, Newbury

Has a GBG description ever helped more?  I was aware I was entering gastro-central so was able to set myself mentally for what lay ahead.  Two young lads were propped on precarious looking stools enjoying a pint,  but there was no disguising that this was the least pubbiest pub I'd so far encountered in Berkshire.  Or so I thought.  Some interesting ales were on, I went for a King John because I like Maid Marian and her Merry Men, served by a gloomy version of Lily Allen, mid-stalk (sorry, too soon).  I asked about a 'hidden' roof terrace I'd heard about and she reluctantly revealed the pubs best kept secret.  Past the open fronted kitchen, dangerous close to the ladies loos, up a thin staircase, the kind where you might find skeletons of the princes in the tower.  And what a fantastic place it was, ok so I got a bit carried away and went out of bounds (i.e. on the roof!) but I soon settled down to my drink and a smuggled Tesco sandwich and some Doritos  (take that gastro!)  No one else up there, I wondered if it could be a bit open, and then a lovely young chap came along and said "excuse me sir, would you like the roof opening?" and before you know, a remote controlled thing was sliding back, and the sun was beating down on me, in a room decorated with old beer signs like Thwaites which you'd never have dreamt of from the downstairs.  I often talk about the ultimate point of contentment on a given BRAPA day, well this half an hour was it for my whole weekend.  Wonderful.

Enjoying the roof terrace in the Newbury
If you'd have said over breakfast I'd have enjoyed the Newbury more than the Six Bells, I'd have been highly skeptial.  And isn't that the true joy of pub ticking?

879.  Hatchet Inn, Newbury

Even the market place Wetherspoons has a sense of decorum in Newbury, and I've barely ever been in a quieter one.  I was tempted to chant "just like a library" but one old chap was looking very irritated already by something, it was hard to say what at this stage.  The staff were bubbly and jolly souls, all young and three of them fought over serving me which again, just doesn't happen in 'Spoons.  Being a sucker for a gimmick, one beer had an actual feather on the pump clip, it was a Cromwellian ale so I kept my recent historical theme.  The only 'outburst' I heard was a woman in the background giggle like Babs Windsor and screech "stop it Tim you pervert!" but I am pretty sure this wasn't the Tim I was meeting later!  I sat in a proper old man leather armchair by the window looking out into the market place, near irritated chap - he was waiting for a friend who was very late who came in apologising profusely, but wasn't forgiven for the duration.  It was awkward to watch, as Mr Irritation made a point of drinking his pint and leaving, shunning any offers of a drink, a lift where he needed to go, or anything else, as the poor late-man squirmed.  I loved it obviously. 

You'll do well to find a better to do Wetherspoons than this.
It was time to meet Tim, West Berkshire CAMRA's main man, according to other Berkshire CAMRA oracles, and he was meeting me at the highly pre-emptive and formerly GBG listed Catherine Wheel.

Catherine Wheel, Newbury

Tim was there near the door, and I recognised him from various award presentation photos in the likes of Ullage and various Berks CAMRA websites.  He was armed with a healthy selection of Ullage CAMRA mags for my perusal.    Like Sir Quinno before him, he gave me a whistle stop guided tour of the pub, details of which I can't remember despite my best attempts to be totally focussed and sober, and we ordered the highly anticipated Wild Weather Mud Slinger, which was just way too sweet we both agreed.  The staff seemed a lovely bunch, well aware I'm sure that they were entertaining pub royalty(!) and it was CAMRA discounts but no free pints so at least they weren't trying to bribe their way back into the guide.  In fact, I asked about it's GBG potential and it turned out beer scores had been inconsistent, hence the current omission.  Still, you could see the potential and why Mrs Three Mile Cross spoke highly of it when I was in Aldworth and am sure it was a valuable pre-emptive to get.

Pre-emptive pubbing at the Catherine Wheel
880.  King Charles Tavern, Newbury

Or the "KC" as apparently the locals sometimes call it, poor pub, with that horrible noose round it's neck, it has done even better to become a recent award winner.  At least it doesn't make you enter a membership scheme before you can buy a pint!  Nice small multi-roomed pub, Tim told me it used to be a bit of a 'knocking shop' (my words, not his) back in the day when American airmen and the like used to come over and 'charm' the local ladies.  A bit like the Catherine Wheel before it, some attempts to modernise it and make it suitable for diners meant it had perhaps lost a little bit of it's spark of old, it was hard to tell.  I was recently talking to Martin Taylor about how it is much easier to review a pub when you are in our own company cos you observe more, and I think that is true with these two.  Not that I was complaining, Tim was a great host, and another CAMRA discount lead me to a nice old fashioned brown pint of Dundas Best Bitter by Kennet and Avon.

Tim makes his official BRAPA debut at the "KC" (not Stadium)
 Cow & Cask, Newbury

The whole point in me being in Newbury at 5pm on the Tuesday despite Hull City playing in Reading at 8pm was this new micro pub, Newbury's first and it seemed to be the place of the moment judging by the interest generated.  It doesn't open Sunday or Monday, or til 5pm on a Tuesday, and with me thinking Newbury was best avoided on Saturday due to the races (which, as it transpired, was waterlogged!) The locals were eager for a drink, not just me and Tim, but two chaps and a young lad (Oxford fans mainly adding to the week's interesting mix of Woking and Bristol Rovers) joined us, and there were other tables too, probably supporting Caersws, Alloa and Ards if the pattern continued.  The barman was a Reading fan, proof that not all Reading fans make bad landlords (see Hop and Vine in Hull).  The beers seemed to take a bit of effort to get them from barrel to glass - I sampled halves because it somehow seems more appropriate in a micropub than a pub (discuss!) and both Itchen Valley and Downton were on great form, and I'm not a huge fan of beer straight from the barrel hence my reservations over most beer festivals.  Well, it was a jolly little session and I told some Hull City v Oxford and BRAPA tales, said farewell to Tim and moved on to get my train back to Reading, hell I even would've had time to pop into Greyfriars for about three swift ones (I didn't!)  Like a lot of micros, somewhere between Sherlocks and Dr Phil's I'd say on the Micrometer.

More pre-emptive ticking at the Cow and Cask
After a nice Bovril (the nearest thing to real ale I could find in the "Mad Stad"), something weird happened and Hull City played well for at least 30 minutes and won with a brilliant goal.

Madjeski staff trying a bit too hard to please the away fans
I half thought about some crazy post match Three Mile Cross effort but I'll need to come back to Reading for plenty of surrounding ticks (Hurst, Swallowfield, Ruscombe to name just three so didn't risk being stranded.

It had been a wonderful 4 days, really felt the love from the county of Berkshire which is eclipsing Bedfordshire already.  I may not finish the county by the time we get to September's edition but it has rocketed up to 7th (32 pubs done) in the BRAPA league table and I'm looking forward to my May trip already!




  1. Absolutely brilliant. I could have picked a quote about racegoing scum, Lily Allen (never too soon), or smuggling Tesco sandwiches into gastros, but the Mandela reference was bizarre.

    I'm glad you had good beer in Newbury. I didn't, but I enjoyed the town a lot and Tim and his good lady were charming. I'll go back soon and try them again.

    That Reading pandering to away fans is pathetic. They should wear shirts that say "In your HU2 postcode slums etc." or "2-0 and you f....d it up". Brighton do something similar by providing away fans with their beers; so you get Old Mill rather than Harveys I suppose.

    NB If your train had worked on Saturday you'd have been at Cask in time for conversation about Prince which you would no doubt have woven into your Manc thread.

  2. Totally agreed on the Premier Inn toasters - ridiculously slow and unpredictable, and a fire hazard for those like me who prefer their toast well done.

    I certainly know the feeling of walking into a dining pub and being treated like a lower class of customer.

    And interesting to see that Reading FC are now employing hipsters!

  3. Yes, the Mandela reference I hope Tim approved of. It first came to me on the walk between Kintbury and Inkpen in truth because I remember running it by Quinno who was equally mystified.

    Loved Newbury but how different could it have been if the race-scum had been present, especially those "Welsh singers" in the upstairs room of the other, inferior 'Spoons.

    You'd never get Hull City pandering to Reading. Not Allam's style, not Hull's style. Our barstaff where RG1 t-shirts stating "you can shove your stadium busses up your arse, sideways!" I believe. That Reading hipster version of Tom did not seem to know what Bovril was, are we surprised?

    Yes, we got Everard's TIGER first time in Brighton's new ground, hmmm. This season, Merrie CITY which was dreadful!

    Still yet to hear a good Prince pub chat, there's still time.

    I like quite burnt toast (like my Mum does it!) and the rest of the breakfast's gone cold (well, colder) if you wait for those things - bloody ridiculous.

  4. I am angered at being compared to that twonk (I wish to use a stronger word, preferably one rhyming with Kenny Lunt's name - I'm not sure if that is allowable) in the yellow shirt. His beard is clearly kept with much effort, his fringe is daft. Sadly, I believe Allam does pander to away fans in such a manner, with staff in the away end wearing the shirts of the away team, and presumably friezes in the style of the David Rocastle one for Arsenal.

    Apart from when I followed you at Brentford, I've never been in a Lenny Henry Inn. Unless the breakfast is included, I'd find a greasy spoon.

    I suspect the chimney needs sweeping at the Six Bells. Such is atmosphere, I'd probably have stayed next to said fire.

    I had the vegetarian equivalent of Bovril earlier, thanks to your writings. It was very good. To save queries, it is essentially a mug of vegetable stock. In fact, scrap essentially. It is.

    Dagger for Duncan

    1. Sorry Tom, you are the most anti-hipster I know and that is a massive compliment. Even I'm a hipster compared with you, no offence intended. And if you continue your 2016 form tomorrow and don't try and be a BC, I think you could be on course for the man of the year award.

      I tried to sit near the fire as long as possible until the smoke made my lungs ache and my eyes sore.

      Funny you say that last paragraph, because I did try and joke with the barstaff that it was basically gravy in a cup!

    2. I would also like to add that I have not seen a sign in that style on Anlaby Road, or indeed in the great city of Kingston upon Hull. If they're going to do it, these shirt producers need to take the time to research what the sign actually looks like, rather than what it would look like if it were in facking Landon. The same goes for those people who make street sign style signs that resemble the names of football grounds or famous roads near grounds to put next to people's front doors.

      I have no intention of being a brapper crapper tomorrow. However, I would suggest we take the central Bolton pub moves and play them by ear, doing a pre-emptive if the move fits.

  5. I don't really get the (bizarre) Mandela reference but it sounds like a total compliment so thank you! Sorry you missed the opportunity to try the West Berkshire Brewery 106 at the 'Mad Stad' - it sold out quickly when it was on at the Cow & Cask. I moved to Newbury in 1997 and stories about the King Charles Tavern in earlier times are based on hearsay. It may be worth noting that the King Charles Tavern was awarded W Berkshire CAMRA 2016 Pub of the Year. Earlier in the year a poll organised by the @NewburyToday website showed that the Catherine Wheel was voters' favourite and Cow & Cask second