A surprisingly shiny bus station was tagged onto the side to take shop-tired Geordies to all manner of rural locations. "It's like an airport with no planes, fnar fnar" said a student, his girlfriend tittered as delicately as fine bone china, and then they went to Wilko's to buy binders and a hole punch to add meaning to their sad little lives.
Talking of sad little lives, I spent the next 20 minutes browsing my GBG, toying with my Stabilo green highlighter waiting patiently for the bus to arrive.
Tantobie ('Sleepy Valley', said the road sign) was the destination, where two of my remaining County Durham pubs were walkable from.
I tackled the more isolated with fewer buses first, and a mile walk saw quite a steep drop into Tanfield Village. The sun was shining, air was cold, tractors grumbled in the neighbouring fields as though they wanted the weekend off, and a church gleamed all superior, opposite the pub.
Delighted to see the pub door open, 12:01pm, something I hadn't taken for granted ......
|The fun has only just begun|
Okay, so I was inside but there wasn't a soul to be seen at Peacock, Tanfield (1743 / 2960). A pleasant old fashioned pub, very typical of rural Durham, with an element of the 'spruced up in the last 10 years' feel about it. With Hull City having a lunchtime kick off at home to L**ds in less than half an hour (nickname The Peacocks, though because their modern fans are 'well 'ard' I think they prefer The Whites these days), I felt being in a pub called the Peacock was probably a bad omen. Anyway, at approx 12:09 after much unfruitful jangling of my change, fake deep breathing and coughing, Mrs Peacock finally appeared. 'You've not been stood there long have you?' 'Just got in this minute!' I lied, and then, feeling like I should say something, I asked who brewed the 10 Bells beer I'd ordered. I honestly didn't care, just wanted to justify my existence. Well that threw her into turmoil. 'Let me ask mi husband' she says, and when he doesn't know, he has to go and rummage upstairs for 'The Brochure'. I felt so bad! 'I'm just going outta the back!' says Mrs P, now scared to leave me alone again. And I'm left with Rick Stein who is eating meat pie in Greece. "Adversane!" shouts Colonel Peacock a minute or two later. Is that a place? I had to Google it. Sussex. Well, he shows me the brochure and this brewery let the pub choose their own beer name and pump clip design. So then we get on to the topic of Tanfield having two new church bells, ten in total, so they can take the piss out of visiting bell ringers from places like Chester-le-Street, who only have eight. Properly in his stride by now, he tells me about another beer he once had based on the mining term 'Canny Kebble', and talks about how the pub had to get a card machine to keep up with the times! Nice chap, and finally another customer appeared with a little poodle, so that was my cue to make the walk to pub number two. Hull City only 0-1 down. Hurrah!
|An ale of many talking points|
|Waiting for staff!|
|Pool table and peacock|
|Hi-vis John wrestles with poodle as I prepare to take a huge last gulp of 10 Bells ale!|
Google Maps made out my next tick was down a small alleyway, but alas it was on the main street around the corner ........
As I took the photo you see above, a woman shouted from the smoking shelter "I won't be long!" but I tell her to take her time (after the Peacock, I've learned how to be patient). Tanfield Lea Working Man's Club (1744 / 2961) and despite fairly short, stubby legs, she moves with incredible litheness, the human epitome of dexterity reached the bar mere seconds after me. A lovely lady, she used to have the Bitter Suite in Preston "when it was REALLY good", she tells me. I tell her she must know Matthew Lawrenson, him of the paisley shirt, and a fleeting haunting look is visible behind her eyes. We inevitably get onto BRAPA, and I tell her that pub 1744, as this is, is a landmark for me as it now means I'm 'in credit' again from where I finished my 2019 on 30th August when the new GBG dropped on my doormat. 29th Feb today, so it has taken me a full six months to get up to that figure. Mugs game this ticking lark. But also the most brilliant past time in the world. The places you go, the people you meet, the things you see, the stuff you hear. Anyway, after a bit more chat about how hard it is to put into the words the difference in 'feel' between club and pub, she slithers away to serve two canny snooker players in the room next door. I sit in the corner with my excellent pint of Billingham Citra, and a bit like upstairs in the Tynemouth Social Club last night, breathe in the WMC atmosphere, even if I didn't see another person until I ran to catch the bus!
The best thing about this next bus is it took me to Swalwell, where I still had a pub to visit after a failed attempt back in September, when in the Sun Inn (the parent pub), I was told this one didn't open til 4pm on a weekday, which was frustrating and incorrect GBG info!
Today though was a Saturday (2pm opening), it was about 2:30pm, Hull City had just lost 0-4 at home to L**ds and I needed a 3rd pint to cheer me up.
Owa the Road, Swalwell (1745 / 2962) was the destination in question, and I was welcomed by warmth, a jolly customer on diet coke due to kidney problems, and the lovely young beanie capped owner Dan. "Is that a Bass tee shirt you are wearing?" he asks, not bad for a lad who can't be much more than 17 years old. Feeling the soothing hands of Wicking Man, Britain Beer Mat and co on my shoulders, I replied 'it sure is', to which he tells me they had it on as a guest last week and I missed it! A better Bass fan would've burst into tears, but I was enjoying my Pagan Queen from Blaydon anyway so I just did a downturned mouth and made a shit Blaydon Races themed comment. As cosy as the entry to this pub was, it only took Dan to nip outside and smoke/vape and the air suddenly felt much colder - even with the heating on. It was a 'bitter' day though. We then had a little chat about Sam Smith's no electronics policy, and then another customer arrived who made me realise the bus stop I needed for High Spen was actually about a 15 minute walk, so I had to get a wriggle on, which I did after about my 4th wee in here! Canny micro, though Dan said it wasn't REALLY a micro so who am I to argue? Swalwell GBG pubs complete for first time, after 4 years of trying.
|Good ale, but not Bass|
|Spot the Bass pumpclip from last week ......|
|Gotta love a bit of Dandy and Beano|
|Always nice to finish a page|
I'm not saying, in Good Beer Guide pub ticking terms that High Spen is the most isolated pub in the UK. It has buses (sometimes), but Tyne & Wear spoils you with the Metro and good bus services, and combined with tricky pub times, this really did feel like the North East equivalent of a trip to Manaccan, Great Asby or Sixpenny Handley. And if you've done all three of them, congrats. I found myself accidentally following a teenage girl down a narrow pathway through a housing estate, so I stopped and pretended to tie my laces so she didn't get freaked out!
Try as I might, I could not find the pub on Google Maps, so I had to actually aim for the address, Ramsay Street or something, but I doubted Chloe, Elly or Paige were waiting for me outside the pub.
And then I just looked up into the cold but bright afternoon sun and it was straight in front of me! I'd not expected it to pop up this quickly. I even said 'woooooo!' out loud.
|Tricky hours for added mild peril|
I knew that Wig's Place, High Spen (1746 / 2963) was going to deliver straight away, when I edged open the door and everyone smiled blinkingly into the bright welcoming one roomer. Having ordered my drink, and with space at a premium, I had to wedge myself between two couples who seemed to be making friends, and I was worried I was going to ruin the atmosphere, so tried to lean back out of the way! What I didn't realise until I was on the bus out of here was that this was everyone's first time in Wig's Place, and it says a lot for the owners that they created such a companionable, effortless atmosphere to make even the most socially awkward pariah feel safe to join in. Still, I kept schtum for now - possibly the longest I went without talking all week! Conversation was centred around East Asia, in particular Thailand and Vietnam where everyone seemed to have gone but me. I went "mmmmm" and nodded sagely occasionally, knowing my time would come(!) It was kind of frustrating, I'd come to a place as wildly isolated and exotic (in my mind at least) as High Spen and here they all were chatting on places like Bangkok and Hanoi with no Beer Guide potential at all! Inevitably, the Coronavirus soon became the hot topic and then, finally, in a break as some went to the bar, and some went for a wee, me nursing my drink (I'd long since decided this pub warranted special treatment away from the usual 27 and a half minutes!) I got chatting to everyone, BRAPA was unleashed, I realised Wig was the owner bloke after all (he didn't have a wig), and soon it was stories about sexy Travelodges, my wild adventures getting to High Spen, green highlighting and my view that this felt much less like a micropub and more like a pub than the Owa the Road just before. I left with one of those total feel good flutters in the stomach which make this adventure so worth while, and went to catch a bus with one of the couples I'd been sat next to.
|Great pint from Allendale as usual|
|Time for some 'guest' highlighting|
|Here we are (apologies for obscuring my Bass logo!)|
After all, the couple recommended me a cheeky 'pre emptive' in the 'Toon right by the station, Gunner Tavern, and when I learned it was the former Gotham Town, legendary in my uni days circa 1997-2000 for cheap trebles, sticky carpets, appalling toilets and just a general 'magic' it'd be hard to replicate in a gentrified 2020 setting, I just had to check it out!
I'd not realised Newcastle had been at home, and the place was heaving, not that it particularly felt 'footbally' as 'night out before it gets messy' but it was typically crafty, kegs and casks interspersed, shiny green tiling, bare boarded, clean, plenty of food, almost unrecognisable from Gotham Town which was both good and bad in equal measures! Could it get in a future GBG? Of course. Am I sad I won't need to go back in if it does? Not particularly.
Still time for one more, though with hindsight, I wish I'd just gone for a coffee in the station as it was just as packed, actually more so, in the Duke of Wellington. My fifth time in here, and even though I can kind of recognise it is a good ole' boozer, especially by the city centre standards, I've never once been able to get comfy here, and craning my neck as Watford upset all the gamblers and fantasy football players by thumping Liverpool (such muted celebrations when Watford scored, quite sad) by the gents, occasionally being able to share a ledge, it wasn't the best! I'd even tried to walk a bit further out to get to a quieter pub, but it backfired.
But overall, what a weekend it had been. 8 new GBG pubs, a pre-emptive and a re-visit. It all meant that if March isn't as fruitful, it doesn't really matter, oh and pub ticking on leap year Saturday, that won't happen again for many years!
Thanks for reading, early night for me, I'm in Staffs tomorrow morning.