|Happy New Year everyone!|
"The only calendar I follow starts on or about 31 August with a thud" commented the ever-wise Martin Taylor when I tried to wish him a 'Happy New Year' earlier.
He is right of course, for us Good Beer Guide Ticker Sorts (GubGuts as I've decided we should be 'affectionately' known in 2020), NYE is just another distraction to hamper our progress. Tickets to get into pubs. Five deep at the bar. Bah Humbug ..... And that's just the name of the 'off'' Christmas beer which is still 'on' (haha, that was a rare BRAPA beer joke, keep up!)
Well, at least it gives me a chance to reflect on the pub year from the comfort of the BRAPA Nerve Centre in York. What went well? What didn't? Which pubs deserve special recognition? Which were shocking? Did I meet any nice people? Can I remember any beer being outstanding or terrible? Can I remember anything? Were any of the 'disasters' suffered my own fault or merely bad luck? (Don't answer that!)
By the way, have you ever wondered what the so-called BRAPA nerve centre looks like in full party blogging mode? No? Well, here it is ........
|Errrm, party on dudes!|
So join me as we look back through 2019, picking out the highlights and lowlights. If you've met me in a pub this year, this might be a good time to call your lawyer. If not, there is no escape, I will meet you one day.
2019 began, as years often tend to do, in January with me on a total of 1446 Good Beer Guide pubs, the aim was to reach the landmark 1500 (third of the GBG) as soon as possible, and then 'stay above it'. Barking Dog Wetherspoons was the first pub of the year, West Ham fans lined the walls of the pub trying to look menacing but failing.
County-wise, I was nearing the end of Cambridgeshire and little did I know, this was my last Cambs outing with Martin Taylor who'd been chauffeuring me around superbly in 2018. The Angel, Ramsey was easily pub of the day (and perhaps the month), and one of the highlights of the month. Hard to describe but 'mad', 'a tiny bit inbred' and 'booze-soaked to the core' give a flavour.
As often happens in January, the pubs weren't at their best, a bit tired and lacking a bit of pzazz. The best was saved til last on 26th where Birthday boy Father BRAPA drove us around outer Blackburn before the match. It was great to get the famous Swan with Two Necks at Pendleton, though it was a bit foody, you could feel the quality, but a budding curmudgeon like me would prefer to be in say, the Dog Inn at Whalley.
Meanwhile, on Friday nights, I was trying to get South Yorkshire ticked off once more. A highlight came in Darton where I'd left my phone at home, and not wanting to admit I couldn't live without it, I printed off maps, bought a disposable camera from Boots, and partied like it was 1995, which it pretty much is in outer Barnsley. When I went to pick up the developed photos, the guy was stood outside the shop waving them above his head, telling me he'd be 'expecting me', such is the lack of demand in 2019!
|Disposable camera 'captures' bar area at Darton Tap (I got in trouble for the massive flash n click it produced!)|
If Jan had been a bit pedestrian, Feb started with a 'bang' and only improved. On the 1st, I knocked off my last West Yorkshire pub and a day later, I completed Cambridgeshire which was a huge achievement i couldn't have done half as quickly without Martin.
The 'clinching' pub was the wonderful Woolpack in Stanground, on the outskirts of Peterborough. Okay, so the pub had to close down for a few months just after my visit (funny how often that happens!) but it was also significant as giving a debut to Martin the Owl, who was terrified by the 'colourful characters' but he'd soon learn.
Other Feb highlights included an overnight trip to Paisley which was blurry, but a nice closing chapter in 'Project Calypso' which had dominated the previous year. The Bull Inn was a great pub. I ticked off another great famous one in the Dove, Hamersmith and I was lucky we got in early, as I suspected it could have been hell in other circs. As it was, a cracking experience.
But the highlight of the month was a five day jaunt to lovely Dorset where I ticked off 28 pubs. A highlight of the year, I had one of my best pints (Tim Taylor Landlord in Poole Ex Servicemen's Club), visited the stunning Vine in Pamphill, and to get to one as famous as Square & Compass, Worth Matravers. I brought up the magical 1500 mark in the super friendly Horse & Groom in Wareham, Martin Taylor drove us round the bus-free North of the County (Cranborne showed Sixpenny Handley how to do micropubs) and Dorset Twitter was loving my adventures. So much so, lovely local DJ Steve Harris got me on Radio Solent breakfast show to talk BRAPA for 7 mins. I could eat nothing but 4 garlic mushrooms the day before I was so nervous! But a great experience.
|5 days into Dorset, I head for the wonderful Ship Inn, Shaftesbury|
Feb had given me a new impetus that'd been lacking in Jan, but March was when 2019 BRAPA really kicked off. With Cambridgeshire done, I could now focus on Derbyshire after chief travel guru Tom Irvin advised transport problems meant I should swerve Cumbria for now.
Derbyshire was to become my county of the year, and unsurprisingly, my conversion to becoming a Bass lover was soon complete! Staff of the Year award should be mentioned here, at a wonderful Bass pub Royal Oak in Ockbrook where we got chatting, they didn't want me walking down dark country lanes at night, so the landlord drove me all the way back to Derby rail station. You don't get that in yer local Brunning & Price.
Two great football days also occurred in March. For our annual victory at Nottingham Forest, we went to this amazing place called Beeston where every pub was great. The Crown Inn perhaps a low key candidate for pub of the year!
Midweek in Norwich was even more special. I'd been wondering if Norwich was perhaps a bit overrated, but not on this evidence. White Lion, Kings Head, Jubilee, Playhouse Bar etc were really strong entries. Tom and I even got in some East Anglian Daily News piece (slow news day for them?) , nice he got a bit of recognition for all he's done since BRAPA's 2014 formation.
|BRAPA confessional - Crown Inn, Beeston 9/3/19|
The start of April was dominated by one thing and one thing alone. BRAPA's 5th year anniversary. Yes, 5th April 2014 when it all began at the Albion in Ampthill (first pub in GBG, and am glad to say, has been every year since) so I made sure I was back in Bedfordshire for a three day excursion to mop up a few pubs that have appeared since.
I hope I'm not being too unfair when I say 'fuck me, Bedfordshire is (comparatively to all but Bucks) a shit pub county' and I am being slightly facetious (Crown in Flitwick really impressed me) but it set three 'worst of the year' records in TWO days. The X5 bus to Great Barford was the worst bus I've EVER been on in 5 years BRAPA, the beef and onion roll I had in Old Transporter Henlow was the worst pub food of the year (and people wonder why I take my own snacks!) and the Bear in Bedford was a dreadful pub, but to be fair to North Beds CAMRA, they IMMEDIATELY told me it was being binned which was very impressive.
When you run off to North Bloody London for your final day, in need of pub saviour, you know Beds hasn't exactly hit the spot! On the plus side, a trip to Chelmsford restored my faith in pubs somewhat (Orange Tree and Railway superb) but in Queen's Head, we found another contender for most dreadful pub of the year. Every element of it was 'off'. Again, the local rag nearly did a piece on me, but perhaps didn't like my views on this pub, which stultifyingly, kept its GBG place in 2020.
The high point of the month came on an overnight football trip to Swansea with Dad and a bit of Tom (I won't say which bit). Mumbles must go down as one the most impressive places of the year. The Bass in the Pilot was as good a pint I've had all year, and the neighbouring Victoria was arguably better, with the loveliest locals I found in a pub all year, legendary Bass tales and a shaky dentist! And the Railway in Upper Killay was an astounding place, candidate for pub of the year, Dad was traumatised, but in a good way I think.
|Nothing wrong with sending BRAPA a 5th Birthday card and opening it in a Flitwick pub, is there?!|
May is traditionally the month I struggle to do pubs more than any other, and I've never been able to quite explain why. End of football season SHOULD mean more freedom. But people come out of their hibernation shells in May and 'want to do stuff' and I'm like 'where were you when weather was shit?' Irritating.
I had to face the fact I was turning 40, so I blocked it out by getting drunk with Martin Taylor and a nice chap called Mark in some classic mid Derbys pubs. Holly Bush in Makeney was famous, and it stood out as a very strong pub indeed, Pedigree as good as I've had it. But all the pubs were good on this day.
My quest now was to complete Derbyshire before the new GBG 'dropped' at the end of August, and I kept the pressure up well with some outlandish Friday night journeys. The Shinnon in North Wingfield was utterly wonderful, my post-work pub of the year, so welcoming, ultra traditional, no wonder it is named after a former landlady's hairstyle!
But May's often a bit drab, and as the month progressed, the pubs didn't really do it for me. Oscar's Bar in Morley was a drab micro in the extreme, and a few more were found in Tyne & Wear, the only real saviour being the excellent Dolly Peel on the outskirts of South Shields.
|Ready to tick off a classic in my thirties|
When people recommend a good pub constantly, I'm nearly always disappointed by it, but no chance of that at the fabulous Three Stags Heads, Wardlow Mires as Dad dodged summer cyclists to help me get some of the more awkard rural Derbyshire ticks done.
It set the scene for a cracking month, I then overcame potential disaster at a Chapel-en-le-Frith micropub. "It's a private party tonight, sorrrwwweeee" said a lady. I'm not too proud to beg, and was on my knees in the rain sobbing (nearly) before she took pity on me and let me in for a swift pint squashed into a coat rack. The things us tickers have to put ourselves through!
The Church Inn at Prestwich had particularly weird people and beer which was a useful pre-cursor to my annual Cornwall holiday, a county if ever I saw one which takes a scatter gun approach to GBG inclusion. Some lameness was tempered by utter classics - Hole in the Wall, Bodmin, Blisland Inn, Admiral Benbow, Penzance, Ship, Porthleven, St Mabyn Inn, Union Inn at Saltash. Wow! The Mill House in Trebarwith Strand produced a pint of local Tintagel brew which was as good quality as anything I drank all year .
The sunburnt, erosion fuelled, bird of prey heavy walk along the South West Coastal path from Porthleven to Gunwalloe and back in time for the bus to Penzance was one of those abiding memories which will stay with me for the rest of BRAPA history.
Pubs got even better back 'oop North (sort of), Ilkeston proving to be one of those jaw dropping places , the Dewdrop and their amazing locals and strange Oakham concotion was one my pub experiences of 2019.
|Making friends at the Dewdrop, Ilkeston (21/6/19)|
With the heat ramping up, so did my efforts to get Derbyshire done before the new GBG hit, it was a race against time! Going to places like Alfreton and Ripley after work were a bit 'meta' even by BRAPA standards, but things were about to get a bit crazy ......
Gainsborough had been a rubbish place, before after a particularly drunken day in Newark, I got in trouble for weeing on the station in clear sightbut avoided being arrested thankfully. Shameful moment of the year! I didn't need to blog about it, but when have I ever left any detail out?
In South Normanton's staggering Devonshire Arms, someone had pissed on the remote control (not me) and they needed a snooker cue to turn the TV on. Neighbouring Newton contained perhaps the most soulless refurb of a pub I've witnessed in 2019 at the New Inn.
A Burton-upon-Trent overnighter was a luxury, but I was so determined to get tricky South Derbys ticks done like Newton Solney, Lullington and Coton-in-the-Elms. It turned out to be one of the best trips out of the year, but gosh was I suffering by the time I hit the highly regarded Devonshire Arms late on! I refused to even count it as a pub tick such was my lack of memory of the experience. Elms Inn at Stapenhill emotionally moved me in a way no other pub did this year. Too much Bass or just a very good pub?
Whatever, I needed to calm things down in August.......
|'Twas Bass o' Clock for me in the Elms Inn, Stapenhill on the 20th.|
But the harder I tried to be sensible, the crazier things became. I celebrated Yorkshire Day in South London, and in Sidcup micropub Hackney Carriage, a bloke I'd asked to do the green highlighting just started wilfully highlighting all his faves I'd not yet been to. "Noooooo!" Oh well, at least the new GBG was imminent.
As usual, South London had some beauties (Robin Hood & Little John, Bexleyheath for example) but some dire shite (Baring Hall, Grove Park was the poorest Antic I've ever been to by a long way). Reason to celebrate two days later as I finally finished Derbyshire, ironically with the worst Bass I've ever had in Long Eaton's miserable Hole in the Wall. How that gets in the 2020 guide ahead of the excellently run York Chambers is anyone's guess.
The 9th saw my most epic Friday night trip of the year, I got to meet Twitter legend Chris Dyson and another Chris alongside BRAPA fave Quosh as we went around Greenfield, Mossley and Stalybridge, Rising Sun in Mossley was a top pre-emptive I'm delighted to see in the 2020 GBG.
And a couple of weeks later I met another Twitter legend in Tandleman who was a perfect host on a great tour of Middleton and lots of J W Lees history, some lovely blokes, and to get to an outlier classic like Tandle Hill Tavern was the icing on the cake of a classic evening.
My smile didn't last for long, as my blogs were now upsetting people, first at Stalybridge's Legendz (disrespecting a local legend) and then a Burnage Micro Reasons to be Cheerful (sexist comment, not a fan of colour scheme) and I was like 'what the bloody hell is going on these last two months?!' The Newark piss gods were dishing out Bad Karma, and it was murky yellow and smelt funny.
Thankfully, the GBG dropped just in time to allow me to shut my blinds, lock my doors, and take a bit of time off, but not before I'd dressed in bright yellow and the Teesdale Hotel, Middleton-in-Teesdale had given the most incompetent service of the year!
|Pure unadulterated Tandle fun at the THT|
The cross-ticking of the new Good Beer Guide saw me drop 200 pubs which sounds bad, but percentage wise in terms of recent years, was not actually a bad outcome.
Pubs in September were not the best, but at least life was calming down a bit, and with Derbyshire done, I took a deep breath and embarked on CUMBRIA! The Cumberland Inn at Alston was an early indicator of the quality the county does possess, but I really noticed how good it could be on an overnighter to Barrow, one of those BRAPA trips that defy all logic with floods, cancelled trains, failed minibuses, tense stand offs, a crazy dude called Riggy and ultimately amazing pets at the Old Friends, Ulverston.
That was just one of many superb pubs I did here, Kings Arms at Hawcoat, Prince of Wales Foxfield, Manor Arms, Broughton in Furness and the Dog at Holmes Green could walk into any Premier League starting XI as far as I'm concerned.
My journey was curtailed by a day as my Uncle had died and I needed to go to his funeral, making him the first posthumous winner of the BRAPA Crapper of the Year Award. Hope he'll be up there loving that!
|Assorted Cumbrians wait to be served in Ulverston|
It seemed that the insanity that had marred July and August was well behind us now. All I had to do was go to pubs, have a pint, get home, write about them, end. I just had to avoid doing anything silly, so losing my Good Beer Guide on a Friday evening jaunt to Denby Dale was kind of silly.
Especially with a week long holiday of Lake District pubs in the offing. I bought a 'replacement' but hadn't had time to 'green it up' before my holiday came around. The pubs were a mixed bag, some touristy and expensive and very very doggie, but on the whole I was impressed. Stuff like the Eagle & Child in Staveley, Golden Rule, Ambleside and Sun in Coniston truly great.
And whilst I was there, my GBG returned courtesy of a lovely guy called Martin who did a Facebook appeal after his alcohol hating step daughter found it, Pub Curmudgeon joined the dots, Tom Irvin alerted me, and the rest is history! A top outcome.
Back in harsh pub reality, the Dalesman in Sedbergh did a good impression of a pub that really didn't want me there, the Nelson Inn in Selby made you wonder how on earth it had ever troubled the GBG compilers, but there was better news on my Hallowe'en Special around Stratford Upon Avon as Alcester had two crackers, particularly the Three Tuns.
And the icing on the month (a week before) was a long awaited trip to finish Stockport and it was heartwarming to see how many people turned up at the happy homely Petersgate Tap, a record BRAPA turnout! Particularly amazing to meet Cooking Lager off of Twitter finally, Railway was a top pub , Mudgie got off his deathbed, and they tell me the Old Tom in Blossoms is good too!
|Stockport lads in the Railway, innit?!|
November began with my GBG back in tow, and a nice little trip down to London with Dad and his friend Eddie. Masons Arms in Teddington was easily my favourite pub, and the nuts didn't kill me.
I'd recovered from Denby Dale heartache to trust myself taking my GBG out and about(!) so cracked on with West Yorkshire on evenings, Cumbria on Saturdays, and it was becoming clear that Durham (it begins with a D, I guess you know that!) could also be ticked off within the year.
I wanted to give Dad the FULL BRAPA EXPERIENCE on Durham Saturday's, and we certainly got that out at Hartlepool Headland, a place you could never forget visiting in a Portland / Isle of Man kind of way. Insanely great and evocatively historic. Globe and Fisherman's Arms both stunning pubs in their own right.
And the month ended with more Durham joy, this time it was Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor at impressed. Best of all though, the town of Rugby put its hat in the ring for a late contender for town of the year. If there is a better non-GBG pub out there than Alexandra Arms, I'd be amazed on a day notable for me accidentally going to pubs NOT in the Good Beer Guide!
|Dad and Tom at the Alexandra Arms|
December isn't a great month for pub ticking as the 'party season' draws ever closer, not ideal for pub purists who go all year round. For me, it became all about the numbers. If I could do 28, I'd break my yearly record of 447 pubs, but looking at my calendar, I'd have to slip in a couple of extra cheeky trips if I was to get there!
West Yorkshire held the key, and after a great Halifax evening with Quosh and Chris Dyson, I managed to 'knock 'em all off' one day at a time by 23rd, up on a hill above Hebden Bridge, phew!
I managed to finish North London too for the first time, I wanted to do it in a timely manner, and I ended up doing it in Ruislip Manor (HAHA, that was a joke if you are still concentrating .......... WELL DONE BTW, nearly midnight as I write this!)
Then I snuck in a bit of West Lancs (the Railway Inn at Parbold was a really good pub, Hop Vine in Burscough had an amazing atmosphere) , I snuck in a bit of Penrith to keep my Cumbrian numbers up, and finally broke the record on 28th, half way through my final day of ticking. Talk about squeaky bum time. Surtees Arms in Ferryhill Station was a late favourite , and my final pub photo of the year as Dad cleans his glasses, in Durham's Waiting Room, a low key candidate for the best .......
2019 Award Winners in brief ........
BRAPA BEST TRIP (HOLIDAY) ...... Dorset (Feb)
BRAPA BEST TRIP (SINGLE TRIP) ...... Burton-upon-Trent / South Derbyshire (20/7/19)
BRAPA FOOTBALL DAY ........ Mumbles, Swansea (April)
BRAPA COMEDY MOMENT ....... Sidcup man steals GBG and randomly highlights fave pubs
BRAPA EMBARRASSMENT ...... Newark Station Wee
BRAPA PRE-EMPTIVE PUB ...... Alexandra Arms, Rugby
BRAPA PUB PET ..... Old Friends, Ulverston (Elusive cat, hidden tortoise, punk hating Alexa)
BRAPA NIGHTMARE MOMENT ...... Sailor's Return, Chaldon Herring - closed pub after 80 min bus journey and long walk
BRAPA OUTDOOR MOMENT ...... South West Cornwall Coast walk from Ship Inn Porthleven to Hazlephron Inn, Gunwalloe.
BRAPA 'EXTRA SPECIAL' CLIENTELE AWARD ...... Three Tuns, Alcester and Victoria, Mumbles
BRAPA PERSON OF THE YEAR ...... Martin / Nicole (Returned GBG and Facebook campaign from Denby Dale)
BRAPA STAFF OF THE YEAR ..... Royal Oak, Ockbrook
BRAPA BAD STAFF AWARD ..... Teesdale Hotel, Middleton-in-Teesdale / Dalesman, Sedbergh.
BRAPA BEST PINT ...... Tim Taylor Landlord, Ex-Serviceman's Club, Poole / Bass, Pilot, Mumbles / Castle Gold by Tintagel, Mill House Inn, Trebarwith Strand.
BRAPA BAD BEER ...... Church Inn, Prestwich / Hole in the Wall, Long Eaton / Nelson Inn, Selby / Baring Hall Hotel, Grove Park
BRAPA WORST PUB ..... Nelson Inn, Selby / Queen's Head, Chelmsford / Bear, Bedford.
BRAPA PUB EXPERIENCE OF YEAR WINNERS! Vine Inn, Pamphill / Railway Inn, Upper Killay / Elms Inn, Stapenhill / Dewdrop, Ilkeston / Eagle & Child, Staveley.
HAPPY NEW YEAR (time for bed, need to be in a pub in 11 hours! Doesn't stop this pub ticking).