After an additional can of Irn-bru and some weird fizzy sweets, I was soon on the train to Largs (changing at Kilwinning of course you absolute novices!) and with the rain mercifully freshening me up further, I was the only passenger on the top deck of the Slip to the Isle of Cumbrae. A bus met me at the harbour, and dropped me in "the capital" Millport.....
|Looking back towards Largs|
929. Frasers Bar, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
"Aye, the storms are a comin'" warned the barman with a gleam of presentiment in his eye. In fairness, he was a fresh faced friendly twenty something but in training for the day when he becomes a rugged pirate. I ordered a nice pale pint of Glasgow Jaw Drop and I think he wanted me to stand at the bar and chat but I was still not feeling my most sociable so retired to a corner. Also, I hadn't realised the two old locals, one was a blind Scotsman trying to do a crossword and the other was a deaf cockney, so bar conversation was stifled to say the least. The pub had a nice comfortable front bar with a long thin tardis-like back area which I think became a bit more foody (there was a random woman stood around with cutlery who mysteriously vanished after 10 minutes). The island 'joker' appeared and told a story about pissed tourists, but apologised for his language when he realised a woman had walked in, but she looked like a pissed tourist to me. The bus was waiting, as they tend to do here, and soon I was back on the Slip to Largs (gentle touristy town) for ice cream and pub two.
|10 second walk from the bus stop was my first pub of the day|
|Nice start to day two of pub ticking in Ayrshire|
930. JG Sharps Bar, Largs
It sounded shit from the name, the Carling sign jutting out of the side of the building did nothing to help (how many GBG pubs have this feature do you think?), and a huge Sky Sports banner just added to my sense of worry as I entered here, despite trying to keep an open mind! The pub was long, thin, dark and dingy with a huge screen blasting out Sky Sports News and I could only see one beer, Doom Bar. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise for an error I made in my Mossley/Greenfield blog, pubs with Sky Sports don't get 'free' Doom Bar, they may get the odd promotional barrel for free but it is a deal as part of the Molson Coors chain which presumably also explains why huge lager fonts dominated the bar. I did find a neglected looking Deuchars pump hiding behind a cantankerous old man who wasn't going to move, so I ordered this just to be awkward. I regretted it, it tasted like the seawater I'd just floated across on (and was served in a Black Sheep glass). The barmaid looked miserable. A Jeremy Kyle couple came in for lunch, in the huge soulless back room where a window cleaner had earlier gurned at me through french windows. They had a buggy with an evil looking "twild" in it (term we York folk use for a child who is also a twat, think my sister invented that). My "snug " area was quite nice and peaceful and ornate even, but this was a rubbish pub experience and noticing my train was cancelled just put the cherry on the top!
|A bad "sign" for my second pub.|
|View from across the road not much better|
|A lot nicer inside, but still not convinced.|
|Arriving at pub number three|
931. Village Inn, Fairlie
The sign said Fairlie is Scotland's first 'fair trade' village, but it didn't feel very fair to charge me £3.40 a pint when everything else had been £3 on the dot. I'd again made the mistake of entering the left hand bar to find three young smiling waiter/waitress types who guided me round to the bar (well, when I asked) where I said "aye" to 5 burly locals, whilst a sinister version of Tom Quill (gay baddie from Neighbours) played on a colourful mobile phone. A girl with incredible eyebrows served me, or the eyebrows did, I saw a sign showing a Tarot night was happening later, but the ghost spelt out "w a x y o u r e y e b r o w s". I took my Kelburn Jaguar (a beer not a large cat) outside as there was no way I was staying in that silent strangeness though to be fair, the locals were friendly in a reserved way and an old lady smiled at me through a conservatory window. To my relief, I found a 'hidden' upstairs beer patio area at roof level with about 50 signs explaining how pub ordering works (see below). It was baking now, about 30 degrees I would guess with no shade but it was a nice outlook and a back car park could take me back onto the "A" road without walking back through the pub, which was perfect. So mixed feelings but enjoyable if a bit scary on the whole.
|Upstairs pint of Jaguar|
|Nice of them to explain how a pub works, just ignore the word "restaurant".|
Irvine was my next location after another Kilwinning changeover, and the walk to my next pub reminded me of that between Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium and the station, and I mean that in a good way you might be surprised to hear. It was all very calming though, and a bit cooler right on the harbour/seafront.
|Funny statue with pub just behind it.|
I could hear some wailing come from within the building as I struggled to find the entrance, the song was "I'll Tell Me Ma" which I love when done properly (Irish-punk version) but this club style Phoenix Nights version was possibly distorted by the walls. At the bottom of some steps, I found the entrance, and a massive group of frail but cackling old dears, the most I have ever seen in a BRAPA pub. Turned out for listening to the staff that they have four coach trips a year to random locations, and this was one, hence the live entertainment in the back room. Further staff comment proved they shared my view of the singing quality. When he finally encored with "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis, most people had left or their ears were bleeding, Getting the last few women out of the loos/venue seemed to take an age due to various zimmer frames, sticks etc ("they're doing the last of the cocaine in there!") one jovial barman kept repeating ad nauseam until it became no longer funny. Pub was a fantastic old building, dark and low roofed and a steady stream of diners started to appear just as the coach had departed. Although these people had booked tables, I loved the no nonsense way they were basically told to "get in, sit down and shut up" without the staff obviously saying that. Recommended.
|But what's that horrifying noise coming from the right of the building?|
|Excellent old pub.|
|Doon in Old Troon Toon!|
933. Bruce's Well, Troon
But is he well? Whether we are talking about Forsyth (he'll die soon, sorry), Steve (don't get me started) or the landlord, if indeed he is called Bruce (a bit thin and pasty looking), the jury would have to be out. This was much more what you might envisage of a typical Scottish pub experience, you walk into a large room, very undecorated, very basic, 2 ales on and not much else, a few men stood at the bar chatting and laughing and drinking, and you have to say "hi" and look at them all expectantly until one of them cracks and wanders round to serve you, and you are never quite sure which one it's going to be! Happens a lot in proper pubs. Just like Kirkmichael, the ale I wanted had a name hard to pronounce for a wee sassanach bastard like myself, Lia Fail, so it was damage limitation as I tried not to look/sound like a total tool. If ever there was a pub to open a bag of your own mini cheddars and eat them very loudly and blatantly, this was it. It caused some reaction as Bruce came over to ask if I had the Cask Marque app. I told him not to be silly but explained BRAPA (of course) which he was interested in for all of 5 seconds. Then, one of the locals wives rang and asked what he wanted for tea. "As long as it's got fish fingers and beans with it" came the response. It was that kind of a pub.
|A pint of Lia Fail in a classic auld local.|
Just across the street, things got even better in here and I was feeling reinvigorated by Troon. I walked in to a great hive of activity, all wooden floors and bare boards with really friendly female barmaids (well, I guess you wouldn't get a male barmaid) and a cracking range of ales with names even I could (just about) pronounce. She even understood the "would you like the extra 10p" concept without getting confused as I ordered a "Thrappledouser" from the name people who'd brought me the Lia Fail. I asked about a beer garden as there wasn't a spare seat indoors and I found even that quite full with early evening/post work drinkers, I thought they'd be all golfers. Luckily, the garden went back for miles and once you got to the grassy bit, people seemed reluctant to use those tables, again perhaps maybe the folk of Troon see too much green and need a break from it. Whatever, in the more mellow evening sun, I reached my state of contentment for the day. I declared it "the perfect end to a great day" at first, but I had Prestwick plans forming ....
|Outdoor evening bliss in Troon|
935. Prestwick Pioneer, Prestwick
A heaving Wetherspoons awaited me and it was my first opportunity to test out Pub Curmudgeon's warning about Scottish 'Spoons being a bit funny when it comes to the 50p off vouchers. As I ordered a Coachhouse Gunpowder Mild (the first time I'd had to go English all day!) I passed my voucher over only for the barmaid to tell me I'd be better off using it on a Friday or Saturday and gave it back to me. At that moment, a drunk teenage girl knocked over a 'craft bottle' display next to her table and it created the most almighty crash, the whole pub stood up to have a look. I 'bonded' with the girl next to me at the bar over the incident (Ayr Utd shoulder tattoos always a turn on) and wished me a good rest of evening which was nice! I lost my concentration in all of this and 10 mins later, went back to the bar to re-quiz the barmaid on the voucher issue. She explained the pub puts it's prices up on Fri and Sat, but surely 50p off is 50p off?? But she got a bit defensive, "I'm only trying to save you money!" she wailed, well no cos I haven't saved anything but hey ho, it was £1.99, I'd had six pints plus, I left it, but kind of regret it now! A picture of Elvis stared at me from across the room, disapproving, He'd come to Prestwick and maybe came here for a burger. Bet he got to use his voucher. Ayr Utd girl reappeared behind a door to say bye, the drunk teenager was finally scooped off the floor (they cleared the bottles up first), and I returned my glass with a sarcastic 'thanks!'
|Elvis and not my San Miguel!|