So, after meeting in York station, we took the spacious, cheap Grand Central train direct to Hartlepool, doing a bit of I-Spy (bring back Cluedo!) and listening to Rancid's latest album. And it doesn't get much more punk rock than Hartlepool - you could easily have the Rebellion Festival here - and in terms of the ale scene, you only need to know three words - Camerons, Wetherspoons, Micropubs.
|One of the many red Camerons Lions we saw|
|John, Krzb and Jig, ready for pub one.|
This was a lovely step back in time, with a tiled corridor and multi-rooms. As I walked into the main bar, unsurprisingly busy at this early hour, I set my face to "smiling BRAPA welcome" but it all fell a bit silent as we approached the bar. I was particularly conscious of being stared at by three old duffers to the right, one of whom may or may not have styled his remaining bit of wispy forehead hair into the Camerons lion logo. Luckily, I ordered a pint of Strongarm (one of only two ales on) and the pub breathed again and resumed their chatting, and a LOT of coughing, possibly one of the unhealiest looking and sounding pub crowds in 2017 BRAPA. Krzb, to be contrary, ordered a pint of Shipyard (not the 'craft' US style thing that people seem to love) but a Marstons guest, but the barmaid, with elements of Eastfield's female singer and everyone from Coronation Street, gave him a Birra Moretti by mistake in a hideous glass. Hobgoblin was hidden around a corner looking unloved. The 'head' on the Strongarm was amazingly frothy and fluffy, wonder how many southerners have cried at this and asked for the sparkler to be removed. It reminded me of when I ordered a pint of Guinness in Crediton back in 2001, and half of it was creamy white head, so I was instructed to "sup it off, and I'll top it up!" Confused, I hesitated, and a flat capped local to my right shouted at me "DO WHAT SHE SAYS THEN!" It was quite bizarre, less so here. Still smiling at the three old gents, I led us to the room to the right, complete with pool table and a raised area making it feel like a gig venue. Really liked this old pub, a bit tatty, but nowt wrong with that. Boyzone's "Father & Son" played, and Ronan said we're gonna have to go, and he was right, as pub two beckoned.
|Lovely bubbly bitter beer|
|Me "on stage", looking down into t' pool room.|
|Jig, me and Krzb (note it was a rare outing for the BRAPA 'third' kit on today - green)|
So we wandered in and there received a friendlier welcome, barmaid and one man who was relieved when he heard us ordering ale, as he'd been on coffee and said he no longer had to feel guilty at the prospect of being the only person drinking beer! Mate, you're in Hartlepool, it is your right to drink gin in the street at 6am. He obviously wasn't a local. We got chatting with the barmaid but what was disappointing was that Strongarm was the only handpulled ale on. I thought they'd be showcasing a good selection being the Brewery Tap, especially considering the merchandise adorning the back wall relating to Motorhead themed ale, Road Crew. Oh well, "you can have a taster" she says. Did she have a secret barrel? Alas no, this was the keg version, but very flavourful and Jig went for a pint of it in the most OTT tankard seen north of the Watford Gap. Even Adnams would be blushing. As for the Strongarm, we commented we'd had it in the Causeway and through her big lipstick, she told us "it's gonna be a better pint in here!" She was probably right, seemed quite different to me anyway. This right hand side of the pub was the nicest, pubbiest brewery tap I've ever been in, beating the White Bear at Masham just. Lovely memorabilia, proper panelled walls, red, bench seating. Now if there's one thing we've learnt from dice nights, don't sit near a bookcase if Krzb's around. I soon had to pass him a book about asthma, which was rather hilarious. Glad I'd not seen this as a twild, I'd have never recovered from it during my 'dark' asthmatic days!!
|How is your breathing? Throb throb.|
|View behind the bar at the Brewery tap|
|Jig's crazy pint|
|Loveliest Brewery Tap ever.|
Hops and Cheese, Hartlepool
The gang reckoned it looked very closed, but I've not done 1156 pubs to not 'approach with confidence' so I crossed the road, turned the door handle, and guess what, we were in! The pub was deserted but had a vague deli smell, not a surprise with a huge selection of cheeses and other snacks, with a couple a ales hidden away at the end. The young lad seemed an affable chap, and smiled as I persuaded John (Sunderland fan( that ordering a stout called "Dark Side of the Toon" could be twisted into an anti-Newcastle thing, and I convinced him for just long enough to order it, but feelings he was sleeping with the enemy returned before we'd even sat down! I went to the loo, just as the only other person in the pub, "Lady Cheese", was coming out, and I gave the poor girl a fright - she never recovered and looked at me nervously throughout after this. You'd have to go back to the Sun Inn at Colton where they thought I was the pub ghost to find such reaction. Funny really, it felt very much like a micro-pub, despite the size, but the couple were quiet and sat in a corner rather than the usual boisterous chat with clientele. The lights were cheese graters, the bar was decorated in maps of the world (and an elephant), and although it busied up and was good, the pub had a gloominess about it, not helped by Coldplay soundtrack being piped into our brains. Jig meanwhile, was rightly annoyed at the sexist toilet sign, specifying that MEN should "flush and close the lid!" I know from Yorkshire Bank that women are more disgusting in the toilet hygiene department. Still, am confident that if this stays open, it'll be in the GBG before too long.
We crossed back over to the other side of town (if you can really split Hartlepool into two, you probably can't) and found ourselves approaching pub three ..... across a green yet also felt a bit like the approach towards the Layton Rakes in Blackpool. That surely had to be a good sign, did it?
|A classic Krzb "jaunty angled" shot.|
1157. King John's Tavern, Hartlepool
I didn't know King John was from Hartlepool, but if so, it'd explain a lot - anger management issues, ruddy complexion and fear of the outside world. I know 'Spoons like to name themselves after a local celeb, and judging by the Jez Lowe song about the town, there's not too much choice. Surely the "Sir Jeff Stelling" has a better ring though? Anyway, this was a 'Spoons of better distinction than most, certainly than the two in York, everyone seemed to be on the ale, which is rare, and plenty of staff so no stupid long waits, and was delighted to get a pint of Double Maxim. Sadly, it seemed to be suffering from that "Pint of Wetherspoons" taste my Dad talks about, so much so that his best mate, Bob Silcock, thinks that Dad really believes there is a beer called Wetherspoons! Anyway, we sat in the raised area and ordered food, and a few Jalepenos and Curry Dog's later and the ale had a new lease of life. Me and Krzb had a fun debate about the time when York City became the last club in the football league to sign the "kick racism out" bill. It led me into being the most P.C, I'd ever been in a pub, and even if twilds were in the background nibbling at my feet, I'd have probably just given them a playful pat on the head. I hate myself. But joking aside, this was a good solid Wetherspoons effort.
|John under one of the most disturbing pub paintings ever|
|Beautiful Spoons carpet, and great view down to the bar.|
So, with time on our side - even with Krzb popping into the local B&M for some multi-flavoured cheap custard creams, it was the moment of the day me & John in particular had been most excited about .... The Rat Race. We could chill here, have a couple, and slope back onto the train back to York. But this is BRAPA. Best laid plans and all that?
We saw the "closed" sign from quite a distance, but it was only when we got up close that we realised they'd gone on holiday!
Well, everyone's entitled to a holiday, but couldn't they have left someone in charge? Someone on Twitter told me the owner said it was a struggle to find someone to run it is his absence. Consolation? Not really. Someone else said if I'd checked their Twitter, I'd have known it was shut. But it's a sad pubby world when you can't assume a pub will be open on a summer Saturday afternoon. Maybe it is a further limitation of the micropub concept. I can't imagine rocking up at a 'Spoons or Ember to see the sign "sorry guys, we've just fucked off to Marbs for a week".
At least Martin Taylor cheered me up with his comment ".... you should've e-mailed, phoned AND sent recorded delivery letter before visiting. Pubs aren't run for customers you know!" So true.
OH WELL, if Rate Race stays in GBG for 2018, I'll be back, and as I sat in the inferior yet perfectly fine 'Spoons called Ward Jackson supping on my desultory pint of Trooper (I'll never understand the universal love for this ale). I figured I've still got Hartlepool Headland to do, that Greenside might get in the GBG, and Hartlepool is an easy place to get to from York.
We had another half in the Hops & Cheese too, it had more ales on (a superb one from Hawkshead, and seemed a bit livelier and brighter by now, I tried not to jump out at any girls!) and after another relaxing Grand Central journey, me & Jig finished with a traditional York Tap pint.
Great day out, thanks to the York lads, now for one last push to get the '20' up for June on Tuesday. See you on t'other side of the hills.