Let's be honest, I'd had more cheerful taxi journeys in my almost six years of BRAPA, but I liked Stan. He was an effortlessly entertaining chap, whether that was his intention or not.
Thursday last week, and having recovered from my Blackburn escapades on the Tuesday, I was taking advantage of a bonus day off work with a trip up to County Durham / Tyne & Wear with the objective of visiting six new pubs. I was delighted to be back, seriously!
Frustratingly, I'd spent a great deal of time working out a 'public transport solution' for my first pub, and thought I'd cracked it with the '22 Sapphire' bus going straight past the pub, but the two nearest stops were a 15 minute walk each, the road had no pavement, but a hairy grass verge with crazy traffic, puddles and heavy rain. I didn't want to get squashed before my time, hence I was in Stan's cab.
Once we'd escaped the so-called notorious Sherburn area of Durham, it wasn't long before we were pulling up at the pub, and looking at the location 'on the ground', a taxi had been the right call. I asked Stan to give me 27.5 minutes and wait, which he agreed to.
|"BRAPA's on his way in, hide"|
|Not my finest beermat moment!|
|View of my table, before the diners arrived|
|Nice view out towards Sherburn Hill|
Stan hadn't kept the meter running, in fact he'd reset it to £0.00. Maybe he'd forget about the first journey?! He was in an even more lugubrious mood than the one I'd left him in, if that was possible, so I made a few Running Waters related jokes to try and cheer him up, and told him that I'd worked out that it made more sense to take me straight to Leamside than back to Durham Bus Station.
"Must be an expensive hobby for you this!" he says. 'Don't charge me then Stanley! I won't tell your bosses'.
Leamside had zero bus service, but West Rainton does and isn't far away, and neither is Houghton-le-Spring where I had a nice Spoonsy tick on the same route. The day was taking shape. I thanked Stan for all his efforts, he didn't forget to charge me (ouch, but it would've been worse on the Berks/Hants border) and left me with the typically Stan observation "This pub'll be similar to your last one I'm afraid!"
Well Stanley, that's simply not accurate because apart from the name Three Horseshoes (1725 / 2942), the Leamside take on the 3H concept was FAR more pleasing to the BRAPA senses. And certainly my pub of the day. What a pleasant surprise. A massive dog (not twog) stretched out in front of a fire blocked most of the space to right, and I felt so sorry for the owner, a lovely chap who just wanted to read his newspaper and have a pint in peace, but because the dog was so iconic, no one (not even cat loving me) could resist a stroke and little chat about what a magnificent creature it was. "He's well behaved occasionally" the owner told me, but such a docile thing, I thought he was very well behaved until much later on, he leapt up at me from nowhere, squaring up to me eye-to-eye, practically pinning me to the bar! Just my BRAPA luck. I swear about ten other customers came over for a stroke, and he barely moved a muscle. Talking of docile and sleepy, service was very slow in trying to get my Lucky Crown ale from Working Hand, a brewery with the most unnecessarily ginormous pumpclips since Donkeystone. You could take one to Newquay and go for a surf on it. Ok, so to the left, plenty of food going on, but everything was £3.95 and came with chips, and it was still very much 'people eating grub in a pub' and nothing else. Oh, and what an absolute bugger that latch on the toilet door is. TWICE I got locked out of the main room cos I couldn't fathom it out. Dog owner was sympathetic but by the second time, he must've been thinking I'm a simpleton. Still, I'd recommend this pub to just about anybody, really good.
|Big pump clips, absent bar staff|
|My fellow 'right side' comrades|
|Left side, boo. It's something n chips mate, so you can take your trendy cap off|
|A happy pub scene|
|Probably that dog's dream (I'm the one in the kennel)|
West Rainton was a much further walk than I imagined, and I'd already missed one bus when to my horror, another one sped up and I was somehow about to miss that too but the bus driver must've had amazing mind reading skills because he pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted him to stop! So I nodded and jogged onwards to the bus stop. Legend. Makes up for that bus that just catfished me in Medomsley a few weeks back!
I've always wanted to do Houghton-le-Spring, but have been put off by two factors. Firstly, I didn't think it 'paired' particularly well with any other required BRAPA pubs, but then again, I'd only been looking north towards Sunderland, where I've done all the GBG ones. I didn't occur to me until today's trip that it works well with County Durham too.
And secondly, I always struggle with the 'Houghton' pronunciation. I know it isn't like Ray Houghton (How-ton), I know it isn't like Steph Houghton (Hor-ton), so what does that leave, Hoe-ton? I think that is closest. I tried to get a Day Rover to avoid saying it, but then, being the helpful driver he was, he asks where I am going anyway! It defeated the object. I think I got away with it anyway, and no passengers were pissing themselves laughing and throwing rotten tomatoes at me as my trousers fell down around my ankles like in my dream/every time I go to Cardiff.
The town, when we arrived, looked like a pleasant place, a bit like Valencia but not really ......
Hidden around the corner in abject shame, like your Uncle Willy after THAT incident in 1983 at Kelso Races with the elephant impression with his trouser pockets, was this deliciously concrete Wetherspoons ......
Never judge a book by its cover of course, and that was true of Wild Boar, Houghton-le-Spring (1726 / 2943) a throbbing hive of wet weekday afternoon conviviality, and beer was being drunk at the kind of rate you normally only see in Wigan on a Saturday night in July, table after table of groups of older men inebriated in a kind of wholesome companionship which told you everything was right with the world. It was quite tight for a 'Spoons, the lower than usual roof and pillars in the main area at least gave it more of a 'pubby' feel than many of its contemporaries. I'd nearly not got in at all as a bloke was fixing the door on a ladder with his giant tool, and thought I was weird for hesitating, and I must admit my ale from the Hull area was not the best, strangely fizzy, which was a slight shame considering how much I wanted to like the place. Don't blame Hull by the way! In the bogs, a flamboyantly friendly young chap in an Aldi uniform introduced himself and we chatted Sunderland pubs and then he recommended me a gin bar! Later he offered me a pint which was kind of him, but I explained BRAPA doesn't allow for second pints and I had to get on a bus. Oh, and if you didn't think Houghton-le-Spring could get any better, Martin Taylor's fake aunt off of the Second World War lived here.
I jumped on the first bus I could see, Sunderland bound. Now could I get three more pubs in before my train back from Newcastle just after 7pm? I'll tell you about that in part two, but probably on Friday as I'm off to a 'beer festival' (not as good as a pub is it?) in Saltaire tomorrow night.
Take care, Si