L**ds to Rochdale. Rochdale to Oldham Mumps on the Metrolink. Bus 350 from Oldham Mumps to Delph.
It seemed a relatively simple Friday night formula, and one which works better in the endless heavy rain, whilst the sky was murkier than a beer brewed under a Deptford railway arch by a level 24 cicerone called Jezzz.
I’ve never seen the sun shine in Oldham or Rochdale. No one has.
|Livin' La Vida Rochdale|
I was at the back of the bus surrounded by schoolkids slagging off Simon Armitage. They all stunk of a heady mixture of cannabis and Lynx Africa. Saddle yourself up for Saddleworth, you could tell this was going to be ‘one of those’ evenings. BRAPA evenings often are.
We hit ‘traffic’ just outside Delph, and when I wiped the weedy condensation off the grimy bus window, I was surprised to see not roadworks and temporary traffic lights, but the much more Lancastrian sight of a bunch of fat blokes with trumpets, trombones, those massive drums, and god knows what else, getting off a series of coaches. The bus had to be diverted around Delph so I jumped off quick-sticks with a sallow faced urchin who looked like he wanted to complain about this invasion of his home town, but had no-one to cry to.
|...or here's a thought, you could postpone this til better weather and LEAVE ME IN PEACE!|
The rain was teeming down by now under a leaden sky, 'twas horizontal and vertical. The streets were lined with expectant onlookers. Yes, I’d managed to combine my once in a lifetime trip to Delph with the Saddleworth Brass Band Festival. Just my BRAPA luck!
A band from Brighouse and/or Rastrick were tuning up, a burly bloke was lubing up a giant tuba with Brasso and making post-watershed comments in the direction of young mothers. My phone screen was too wet to press or zoom in on Google Maps, so it took a while to locate the aptly named Dark Lane.
|Ascending Dark Lane|
But I found it, and climbed. And climbed some more. My Adidas Gazelles weren’t up to these slippy roads. Halfway up, a scary harridan puts her bins out and nodded at me, possibly out of respect, or so I told myself at the time to boost my own morale. What WAS I doing? Was BRAPA worth this? “Oh well, it’ll be good for t’write up!” I said to a sheep who was eyeballing me.
|"Ewe'll do well to find a Baaa up here!" (sorry)|
I could hear the out of tune brass banders from down below, now in full swing, and the sycophantic applause of the crowd mingled in with the bleating of sheep and patter of the rain on my hood. 'Good pubs come to those who wait', I hoped.
Finally, the pub came into view. No wonder they called it Th’ Heights. Aching, out of breath, like a drowned rat. I shaped up to take the photo. A man with a gentle Durham accent appeared at my side with a duvet. “Yous the landlord? I’m coming in for a pint in a minute. Am sleeping in the church so just going to drop my stuff off, see you in there!” I’d barely had chance to say a word.
|Durham's favourite sanctuary seeker disappears, duvet in hand, around the corner, never to be seen again|
1366 / 2112. Royal Oak (Th’ Heights), Delph
I pushed the door and an enthusiastic little dog (Poppy) started jumping up at me. “Get away Poppy!” said a man, as I tried to joke Poppy wouldn’t want to go out in this weather. But it wasn’t so much a ‘get away so this gentleman can get inside and have a pint’ as a ‘get away, we don’t know him, he’s not one of us!” For however much I was to love this pub, there was an (understandable) insular standoffish nature about the locals. The landlady was welcoming though, and by gum a pint has rarely been so welcome as I sat on the greenish bench seating opposite a fire and some old brewery mirrors. This was a ‘hidden gem’ in the truest sense of the phrase. You never hear pub enthusiasts mentioning it that ‘finest pubs in the land’ breath, but it was immediately evident it was up there with the finest. An old bloke at the bar, who was about to leave to make an improbable posh Italian sounding dish for one, told the assembled crowd he had a wardrobe malfunction every day. This was when I was getting served. “It’s easy for men” replied the landlady, “All you have to do is throw on a shirt, a pair of trousers, some socks ….. and some clean knickers!” she concluded, passing me my pint at that moment. I wish 'knickers' was always the last word before I am passed a pint. The rain typically stopped about 5 minutes after I’d arrived at the pub, and two women talked in outraged voices about the Delphie things that annoy them. Things like eggs from the farm shop being cracked, community newsletters containing snarky comments about parking restrictions and village fete jam of poor quality (not exact examples, only the middle one is!) ….. it was easy to scoff, but I was secretly jealous of the ‘simple life’. Poppy wanted to sit with me but kept being told ‘don’t mither’. Now that’s a word you don’t hear down the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington. Any bits where they slagged off brass band folk, I chuckled along with in case they thought I was a Twass Twander who’d taken a major wrong turn! I added up that this pub opens 30.5 hours a week, and it had been in GBG 25 years consecutively, this felt like a valuable tick all round. Wonderful pub.
|Landlady being masterful|
|Wardrobe malfunction bloke seems suitably attired (for now)|
|Describe a more iconic pub scene. I'll wait.|
Now for the fun bit, getting back down the hill and getting a bus, presumably the hourly 350 service was totally out of kilter due to all these diversions. Outside the pub, a teenage boy was doing a weird robotic dance that his Dad was filming. Mum and younger brother were laughing. Simpletons.
The rain really had eased but getting back down into Delph was slippy, and I almost broke my neck 3 times. Had it all finished there, on the hills above Delph with a shit band from Mexborough playing 'The Last Post' out of tune, it’d been a fitting way for BRAPA to end.
The festival was still in full swing, the roads still cordoned off, and Brass Bands were marching down the main road blocking my path to the bus stop, the biggest culprits being from Silkstone, which is so typical of Barnsley folk, I wasn’t surprised.
|The vital work she does|
|Ok lads, can you do this jogging please? I've got Oldham pubs to tick off|
Although it seemed sensible to get back to the main bus stop at the crossroads, a sign said no buses from here, go to Oldham Road stop, but I couldn’t find it, so walked down to the next one. It was 6 minutes before the next one was due but was sure times would be all over the place, so imagine my amazement when a bus came around the corner. I hadn’t been stood there a minute, wonderful stuff.
I always say luck evens itself up in BRAPA, so maybe the bad luck of the pouring rain and brass band chaos had been counteracted! Has anyone ever been so delighted to be heading to Oldham? Probably not. But three pubs were on the horizon and they all needed a good ticking!
More on that in part two tomorrow.