I hope it doesn't sound insensitive to say that as soon as I got on the train, I turned the GBG to Norfolk in case any impromptu BRAPA action may be called upon in the near future.... well, it's what he would've wanted, as they say in the trade.
The train journey west was uneventful until I hopped aboard the cosy one carriage train from Crewe to Wrenbury. There, I spied Tom with a customary wild-eyed look, still somehow managing to commandeer a table of 4 to himself. I joined him, and then to our surprise, two lovely young ladies (Lucy and Justyna) joined us - they were on their way back from Chester races, having "accidentally" stayed out all night! They loved the BRAPA concept and I approved of them further when they said racegoers were all scum (not in those words) and the raceday scene wasn't for them.
They soon they were educating me on things like Llangollen, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Betws-y-coed, and a even a pre-emptive tick in Oswestry! And if this wasn't dramatic enough, Tom had worked out Wrenbury was a request stop so went to "have a word" with our friendly guard, Richard, a true gent.
Once off the train, we wandered down the pavement-less roads into Aston, past a lot of mean-spirited drivers with a sense of entitlement, and despite being 11:50am, our 12 noon pub was already open - bonus!
|Ready for the first pub of July? Let's go inside!|
24 consecutive years in the GBG, it must be good and you could feel the quality on first walking over the threshold into the "Sister's Cat Anatomy Pub" (Bert's Paw, Bhurtpore! Sorry). The barman appeared looking a bit flustered "we don't normally open this early but the rugby is on!" he said, which made little sense but I was like "dude, stop carping and pull me a pint and a blackcurrant squash for Tom". Friendly man though, and with all these hidden handpumps god knows where, I ordered a Rat from 'Uddersfield. Pleasingly, there was a bit of Indian style decor, with a frightening statue behind the bar, an elephant, plus tasty looking curry on the menu. Some middle age wastrels we'd passed on the main road arrived, fannying about for an eternity and then loudly sitting at the table next to us playing cards with their pathetic 'tasters' of ales, probably waiting for whatever god awful rugby match was being shown to start. Me and Tom got down to "Hull City Fixture List" business, doing the first quarter of the season, and was shocked how similar our minds worked which has to be a worry for both him and myself. Conclusion = Norwich away is first definite game I'm attending. We didn't wanna risk missing our train (every 2 hours they run) so we left nice n early and in the surprisingly warm sun, headed back for station. Really good pub.
|Me in the mirror, and the figure I kept thinking was real!|
|Elephant trunk holds up Charge of The Light Brigade|
|It's cards, rugby and paddle tasters for these poor wretches.|
|Action shot of Tom in 'fixture list' discussion mode|
We saw the same kindly train guard Richard again, and after some 'foreign students pay by card but struggle due to bad wi-fi connection' drama, we were in Nantwich.
"It's like a posh version of Louth" said Tom, totally in sync with what I was thinking, as we dodged pedestrians, market stall choirs, kiddies rides, and old ditherers window shopping imaginary properties to reach our first of two pubs. Is "tweer" a word, as in this town is even twee-r than Louth? Kind of pretty and well heeled on the surface, but scratch beneath it (and it's only a thin veil) and you'll find a town lacking substance.
|Leaning on the second pub.|
1160. Black Lion, Nantwich
We wandered in to one of those centuries old buildings, very York in a way, nice n creaky floorboards and warped beams, yet at the same time, a little bit forced Brewers Tudor feel, Coldplay on the radio did little to help, and beermats existed but were hidden in coasters. A nice young lad with a bookish hipster face served us, pronouncing my Celtic Pride with a soft 'C' which is surely wrong, but he was a decent host. The beer on the other hand, poorest of the day, not "off" but very limp - like something you'd find in Central London. Pickled Eggs behind the bar, was a plus point (not that I had one), I assume they come in bun cases, a couple with twilds in the back room got 'paddles' of thirds. My chair was the wonkiest in BRAPA history, one leg seemed half the length of the other three! Probably a deliberate quirky faux 15th century feature. Near the loos, a boiling hot conservatory room called the "Hop Room" smelt of musky barbecued dogs, strangely enough. And a twild girl whispered 'steak knife' as I wandered back from the loo, which am sure was some IRA code a few years ago so I told Tom we best get the hell out of here. Interesting, if not fully satisfying pub.
|View to the bar|
|Tom looks in the brewery section for "Sandiway", first time this section's been utilised in 2017!|
|Piss off Nantwich people, I've got a job to do here|
|Tom walks into pub, what will we find?|
1161. Crown, Nantwich
In-keeping with the town, the Crown felt very much like a large unapologetic version of the Black Lion, though it just felt that little bit happier and more honest to me. Walking down the cobbled alleyway, it put me in mind of pubs like Ye Olde Starre Inne in York and Chequers in Oxford, but better than both. It helped that the barmaid was a characterful friendly soul, as Tom squinted through the darkness to 'copper up' (almost) to buy the round (surprisingly cheap I think) and he even let me temporarily have custody of his ten pound note, the highest denomination of money I've ever seen him possess. As meandering piano music played, a twild-based family sat next to us, plonking their B&M bags on the table and entertaining the little buggers with a game called Trolls, before mesmerising them with some shiny silver card. It was time for the next leg of our Hull City fixture discussion, as Tom's ideas got slightly more outlandish (random Derbyshire villages pre-Sheff Utd) including quote of the day from the same person "as you know Si, I'm a reasonable person". When I'd finished choking on my nice but slightly clarty Great Newsome ale (not the pub's fault!), it was time to head off to Crewe.
|The Swiss Family Twild, under the GBG "we're in it!" sign. Twummy is in the loo.|
|The bar looking quite bling in the afternoon light.|
It was my third visit to Crewe but my memories of the last two times, which both involved pubs I can't be sure on (possibly the Crown was one) are very hazy, which might the beer or might be because I find it a bit of a non-place. But this was by far my favourite time here. The pubs were a bit away from the station, but we soon arrived at our first of two ......
|A shaft of rainbow light cuts across Tom and Mike (man on right talks to his motorcycle helmet)|
1162. Hops, Crewe
And just as we were about to walk in, a chap on a bench says "BRAPA!" and I'm like "yes, that's right, which twitterer are you?" (I'm getting good at this now) and it was the legendary presence of Michael 'Mike' Harris, who I'd always imagined to be an bald old geography teacher with elbow patches, but was more like if Russell Brand was left outside a pub overnight and told he had to 'become a pub man or die' whilst smoking lots and listening to Guns & Roses. And I can whole-heartedly say, "what a lovely chap". I know I always say that, but meeting Twitter people has always been a positive experience. Inside, the bar reminded me a bit of Lass O'Gowrie in Manchester (well, before they tried to destroy it's character) and despite the 'Belgian Cafe Bar' threat, it felt wooden and cosy, and there was plenty of serious hunched over ale drinkers at the bar - I even got a couple of tasters without even asking, I just said I needed something light as I was feeling the heat already! We sat outside with Mike, and got the benefit of his Crewe / Cheshire local knowledge though I can't remember all the topics. But it was good, his non bearded friend arrived (which made me feel a bit better as I'd been feeling rather hairless) so that was our cue to move on to the other Crewe pub.
|Tom & Mike|
After recovering my bearings (despite Mike directing us), we soon found ourselves peering at the next pub from over a wall .....
|Approaching the fifth pub|
|Nearly there now|
|Here we are!|
1163. Borough Arms, Crewe
And like Hops, I am 100% sure I'd not been in this Crewe pub before either - this one would prove to be our favourite pub of the day, it just seemed an extremely characterful local. Firstly was an explicit conversation about abattoirs, just as I was trying to smuggle my sandwich. All this ripping and cutting and blood letting chat was performed far too enthusiastically by the chief protagonist, almost certainly a serial killer who enjoyed the attention his lecture was generating to the point that he didn't shut up for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, two cheeky pub dogs (not twogs) sniffed around, wanting my food and hoping they didn't end up in Mr Abattoir's Dog Stew as he eyed them hungrily, only to be disappointed by the perceived lack of meat. The barman had been a little bit slow I'd thought, but my pint of Oakham Inferno was perfection and was it just me or did he effortlessly just keep switching languages mid sentence? It'd been a long day. Various characters came and went, including Cheshire Buddha who I unwisely pictured stood pissing at a cubicle (I've not included it here for fear of reprisals) and a muscular version of Wolf from Gladiators, a screechy fish wife, and the many friends of Mr Abattoir who kept coming and going. Really amusing pub, get yourself down there.
|The dude from Silence of the Lambs waits for service. Chianti?|
|Muscular Wolf has crotch licked by dog but still holds a conversation impressively.|
Both of us fell asleep on the Crewe - Chelford train, only just waking up as we pulled in to the station.
At first, I thought the pub had been converted into a private house, but "luckily" it was just a bit further on from where the GBG App red dot had said, and turning a corner on the main road, Tom saw a sign that said 'soup' which didn't appear to bode well, but was attached to a next door cafe which was okay, but ended up probably being something to do with the pub! Did you get all that? No, me neither and I wrote it.
|Mood picture of Tom at our final pub tick.|
1164. Egerton Arms, Chelford
When I first embarked on Cheshire, I'd been warned by Pub Curmudgeon that there'd be a lot of this sort of thing, the gastro dining 'pub'. I think I've been pretty lucky up to now, but luck has to run out occasionally. This pub actually saw my pint of the day so can't dispute it's place in the GBG (summat Salopian and guesty) and you'd have to admit, if you were using it for it's real purpose, a restaurant, am pretty sure you'd have a quality experience, food looked amazing. But this is BRAPA so sod all of that! It almost had me craving the other Cheshire Egerton Arms, in Little Budworth, despite their novel approach to customer service i.e. customers are scum. Here was friendly, but as warned by a bloke who has been here three times, the staff are overworked which makes for a bit of a fraught atmosphere on occasions. One young blonde lady did her best to look happy, and circled the pub on a constant loop like a sexy vulture. I was the carcass in the corner not being pecked at! Pointless piles of logs in the wall, no beermats, it felt like this pub was deliberately trying to piss me off. Food menus and blackboards were a wonder to behold, we're in July but plenty of Valentine's Day references. They do a Valentine's Night tasting on Feb 7th (why?), where Mothers get a free Prosecco on arrival (or is that Mother's Day?). There's a dessert called Egerton Mess. You can get a 10% discount at the deli, not sure how, presumably if you bring a twild, form an orderly queue at the bar, ask for a 'taster' of every ale, say you are a fan of cyclists and Leciester, you're a bus driver, a beer blogger, use the word 'craft' without irony, have shares in Ember Inns and leave pub doors open on cold days! Sorry, got a bit carried away there.
|Blowing my snotty nose on a pub napkin (sorry, serviette) was my highlight.|
|I wanna do Lord Ted's Quiz!|
I said farewell to Tom in Manc as I boarded the chaotic train back to York, and sat next to a girl who listened to a Grenfell Tower Charity Song on her ageing iPod at least ten times between Stalybridge and L**ds. Back in York, I popped into York Tap which was a seething mass of post-races, drunken debauchery.....
|Best pub chair sitting of the year!|
I was eventually joined by 5 balding Scousers who were on a stag do so I told them about BRAPA whilst they did the old "we are all comedians" routine, telling me I had 1950's hair which was a new one, before being urgently told to board the minibus in the next two minutes, which made me suspect this was some day release outing.
I really enjoyed today, sad Dad couldn't join us, and this afternoon Uncle Roger did indeed cark it, so I'll be back for Tues BRAPA to have a celebratory pint in his honour. Til then, have a good rest of your livers, not long til the big BRAPA Summer Festival and am very excited!