Thursday 21 May 2020


The main problem with this pub ticking lark is that you really are in the lap of the gods.  You can plan meticulously - trains, buses, chauffeurs, long walks, and do everything in your power to get yourself to the place at a reasonable hour, but if a pub isn't open or showing any sign of it, and they aren't answering the phone or their social media, there isn't much you can do apart from trudging off, tail between your legs, waving an angry fist behind you, vowing that you'll be back one day and that they can't hide forever!

This happened to me on 9th Feb 2018.  I'd spent a fantastic 4 days in Isle of Man, and despite the biting winds and short, sharp snow flurries peppering the Douglas coast, the pubs had been bustling, sometimes rowdy, friendly and very open, even on a midweek lunchtime.

28 were listed in the GBG that year, I'd done 26 (6.5 a day, pint in each at least, 25 minute minimum) and it got to the final morning, and I had just two left before the flight back to Liverpool.  Of course it was going to go wrong at the 11th hour ........

"I said hi to a few shivering old duffers who should really have been indoors with a blanket, and made my way north of the 'town' (Port St Mary) to the pub, which as you'd expect from the name, was right on the railway line.  11:57am when I arrived, no signs of life.  So I waited.  And waited.  I'd have more chance of a train turning up, and the next one ain't due til March .....

12:05, still nothing happening so I tried to ring.  Straight to voicemail.  The website didn't help:

I decided to wait til 12:30, not that many pubs open then!  But I was desperate.  That meant I missed the hourly bus back to Castletown and the airport.  If it wasn't for a blackboard outside saying there was a gig on Saturday, I'd have thought it was properly shutdown. 

I perched on an old railway shed, out of the wind and in the sun with a good view of the pub.  A seagull nesting on the roof laughed at me.  A jackdaw with the face of Chris Sutton hopped over, and seemed to say "stop wasting your time dude".  Occasionally, a passing vehicle would make the pub door shimmer with a flash of sunlight, and I'd mistakenly think the pub was opening.  

13:15 I finally accepted defeat and headed back to the bus stop, even shorter on phone battery.  At least I got talking to a nice man with no teeth who cheered me up with the line "You've been stood there waiting for the pub to open for nearly an hour and a half?  I'm an alcoholic and even I've never done that!"

I think that 78 minutes is still a BRAPA record for waiting for a pub to open!  Could I have been sure that the pub was properly shutdown, deleted from the GBG or even closed for a refurbishment, I'd have put a nice big cross through it, and counted that this year at least, I'd completed the county.  But my overriding suspicion was it was likely to open 5pm like Mon-Thu in some wintry change to opening hours. Oh well, I went to Sidings in Castletown so at least I got 27 out of 28 done, so had to count the trip as an success, one of my favourites ever, pure Manx magic.

And 'joy' was just around the corner a month later in Buckinghamshire, which I'd been working on for the past year since completing Berkshire.   Former Si is here to tell you all .......

I'd been making a bit of a meal out of getting to the end of my Buckinghamshire pub ticking challenge, but on Saturday 10th March at 12:10, it was finally over!

Relief the overriding emotion, it hasn't been a thrilling county to complete, a bit like Bedfordshire with less Greene King.  Of course, I will remember the pubs I really enjoyed.  The Stratton Arms in Turweston for example, the Black Boy at Oving, the George & Dragon at Quainton, the Wheel at Naphill.  I could go on,  but there were still more Olde Swan's at Woughton on the Green, Eight Bells in Long Crendon and Pointers in Brill for my liking. 

And this final pub sadly fell into the latter category.  It was like everything I disliked about Bucks pubs had come together to 'see me off' for one final time.  I was behind schedule too, having booked today's tickets thinking I was going to Cambridge, so hopped in a taxi to make up some ground from Marlow just north of town to Burroughs Hill, past the Rebellion brewery.  I'd have been killed trying to walk it. 

My taxi driver told me he liked this pub, so when we arrived, I lied and said it looked 'lovely' (all the while thinking what Matthew Lawrenson would say about the pub font) in the hope he let me off the fare - he didn't:

1271 / 2017.  Three Horseshoes, Marlow

Once inside, I had to wait to be served as two women with a huge buggy asked after their reserved table in the name of 'Lizzie'.  "Oh, a table for six?"  "No, a table for two".  Confused looks followed.  Was the buggy so big, it was really the equivalent of four people?  Probably.  The beer range was healthy and very Rebellion as you might expect, and very good quality, thus (somehow) justifying it's inclusion in the Good Beer Guide(!)  The lad who served me seemed shocked when I said "no I'm not paying by card, I'm paying by cash".  He looked at me with contempt, and as I used a tenner, he delightedly gave me a fist full of change with no apology.  Those coins have probably been in that till untouched for the last decade.  Orkney's favourite adopted son Sir Quinno tells me there'll be a 'card only' pub in the GBG next year, what is the world coming to?  I turned to sit near the door so I could make a quick getaway.  In the room next to me, fake bookcase wallpaper.  In front of me, random piles of logs serving no purpose.  Ember Inn style patterned cushions blocked every seat.  There was a plaque beyond with the inscription "Reg's Corner", probably a tribute to some old local regular character who's now carked it.  Sure he'd be horrified to learn his corner is no longer a corner, just a seat in the dining area.  A twild called Rhys came in with his grandparents.  He spied the dog bowl next to me, and decided he wanted it to be his new paddling pool.  He was told to behave.  A couple sat opposite me and almost smiled, the lady with good skin told her bald Greg Wallace style companion about her Mum's nervous condition, causing her to freak out over some lambs lettuce earlier that morning.  I had a bus to catch.  Bucks complete.

My final Bucks pint til at least 2035

Random piles of logs 

How ghastly darling

Bucks is all greened out
And a fortnight later, I was really cooking on gas with the completion of another county, after just two visits needed for Rutland as hardly any pubs, so it was, what at work we describe as a 'quick-win'.

Daddy BRAPA was with me, our task made even easier by the fact that our penultimate remaining pub, the Three Crowns in Oakham, had just closed down, so this was the last .....

"Mum and Dad had been here before, brought me back bottles, given me rave reviews, Mum often reminding me she had a required BRAPA tick that I needed, expressing mock surprise I'd never been whenever it got mentioned.   So finally time to lay that ghost to rest.

1291 / 2037.  Grainstore Brewery Tap, Oakham

And on entry, I declared it 'pub of the day', tongue in cheek of course, within seconds.  It had a nice feel, wooden, large yet cosy, good atmosphere.  Except, the longer we stayed, the less I felt that initial love.  As staff said 'hey guys' and wiggled their hips in a 21st century 'i've got a pristine white shirt and a beard' kind of way, Dad did his now characteristic pub roaming, and found (unaided this time) a large table in the corner "reserved from 6pm" or something ridiculous.  He'd asked for a coffee, I went for something to do with Ospreys.  Our taxi driver had said he wasn't a fan of the beers, and as I tried both this and the 1050, I found some remarkably bland and samey, and for a brewery tap, lacking the life of the ales in the Fox at North Luffenham (I'd quite enjoyed their bottled ales incidentally).  A juddery old man and a friendly lady sat beside us, a huge group of crazy youths with bad eyebrows and tans on the other, we were essentially boxed in which had happened to me at Friends of Ham the previous night, and does nothing for my sense of pubby well being.  The place was just too rammed.  At least I had snacks in my bag, but Dad was convinced they'd give us both food poisoning, "nonsense" I said popping a mini 5 day old room temperature scotch egg into my gob, "hmmm, actually Dad, think you are right" I said, getting a very quick stomach cramp.   And that summed up our hour and a bit here!

A cough and a coffee from poor ailing Dad

Getting served by a friendly dude from the modern era

Ales in a hamper, cos why not

Local silently frustrated by lack of glass collecting (perhaps)

Cider and sausage fest 2014 glass (and no beermat)

Finishing the county (as best I can!)
So, that was all hilariously miserable and low key wasn't it?  Good job part 4 next week is that last, perhaps Cheshire, Central London, Cambs and Derbys could come up with some winning pubs for me to complete their counties in!  But don't count on it.

Until next time, Si


  1. Ah, memories.

    That Marlow pub isn't even the worst pub in Marlow, though it embodied everything wrong about Bucks.

    Did that Manx pub ever open. Really felt for you back then.

    1. Well you were very supportive I remember checking websites etc. so thanks again, kept me sane, needed a 'like-mind' to know how I was feeling! I think looking at Trip Advisor it has had a change or ownership since then but our old mate North Irish Sea said the opening hours are a bit dodgy!

      I liked the Marlow club, but can't think I needed to go to any other pubs in the GBG in that 16-17 era, unless I've forgotten cos they were so drab!

  2. Not much new in Central London in GBG19, and nothing at all this year with the Craft/Draft/Tap preempted. Dullest chapter in the Guide.

    What actually happened to Martin the Owl? I bet he'd have struggled with Lockdown.

    1. I wrote this in the wrong post, but you get the idea.