Tuesday 18 January 2022

BRAPA in ..... THE MAGIC AYTON BALL (Thirsty Thursdays Pt 2/52)

Ain't Middlesbrough great?  I was here yet again in my ancestral home last Thursday, again using it as a handy transport interchange in my quest to complete North Yorkshire ticking for the first time since 2017.  

The town had served me well to date, helping me to get to Yarm, Egglescliffe, Ingleby Barbaric and Guisborough.  But Great Ayton was a more badly behaved animal.  Despite owning a train station and a few buses, it requires an earlier start than those others to get there and back to York in the same evening.

Talking of badly behaved animals, Keane Lewis Otter continued his recent run of form, helping with the pre-match research and a packet of Welsh 'Dragon's Breath' Mini Cheddars. 

Such a friendly town is 'Boro, on this sunny windy afternoon I stood in the shadow of the giant Virgin Money and was surprised, like in Wigan, at the number of strangers smiling back at me.   You don't get this in Shyteleafe. With plenty of time until the bus (the transport timings meant I had 59 minutes) I considered a pre-emptive in this lovely looking boozer .....

But it wasn't very open, so I retired to the cafe above Copeland's for a hot choc with the old dears, and when I was offered a Flake in it, I thought, well it ain't a pint of banked Cameron's Blackpool Jane style, but better than nothing.  I also noticed how small Flakes were these days.  An old one would've easily stood in the drink (despite the melting potential), this tiddler needed propping up!

Getting the bus was a familiarly arduous task.  Is there a colder more depressing road in all of Christendom than the Albert Road?  The usual collection of likely lads and lasses with wheezy lungs and bad eyesight asked me to help identify where their bus was using my 'gizmo' (I assume they meant my iPhone and not KLO). 

School chucking out time meant we were stuck in traffic for much of the 40 minute journey, as I listened to the music of Titus Andronicus which didn't really take the edge off hotspots like Nunthorpe and Marton.  

I was surprised to have to ring the bell and be the only passenger to hop off in the centre of GA, but here we were, and under the clear skies and afternoon sun, the first pub was across the road waving back at me like a long lost friend .....

Royal Oak Hotel, Great Ayton (2007 / 3570) immediately strikes me as quite a serious, well-to-do sort of place, where you find yourself tip-toeing to the bar so as not to cause any geriatric heart attacks.  A couple of off season tourists blink at me from a window seat, as if to say 'I wonder what his game is?' whilst Stern Annette Crosbie pours a cup from an elaborate teapot for a husband who looks on his last legs.  Tim Taylor Landlord is one of two ales on, and with one of those 'Champions of keeping TTL in top condition' awards next to it, it's a no brainer.  Shame I have to ask her for a top up, second time this has happened of late with TTL, such an expensive beer (£4.10 here), I love a head on my ale but there are limits!  The atmosphere threatens to liven up when 'Local Ron' arrives.  "Waheyyy, Ron!" says every member of staff, and I'm convinced he's going to 'bring the banter' when he asks who has the longer hair out of both staff members - Mr Twizzle Beard's beard, or the barmaid who failed to top me up.  Ron's early promise as a potential #PubMan fails to garner any real traction, as he soon asks for a Latte and a Cappuccino 'to go' like we're in bloody Central Perk, not Great Ayton.  In the back room, by a handsome grandfather clock with an actual face, a lady with a clipboard is looking business-like and discussing CO2.  I feel like this pub/hotel had more in the locker, but was reluctant to reveal its hand.

Ron asks TB to compare hair lengths, whilst Elaborate Teapot watches on

The TTL that didn't settle

KLO gets a taste for the ale

Handsome clock chimed at five to the hour, weirdly

Edible fungus, NOT Eddie Fogden as I originally read it out of the corner of my eye!

One bar of signal in the town wasn't ideal when you are trying to use Google Maps to navigate between pubs.   But I just had enough to find the unlikely micropub that'd allow me to green off Great Ayton in full.  If it initially looked more like it specialised in gassing Jews than serving brews, it soon became a bit more hospitable looking as I rounded the corner. 

Whilst sat in the Royal Oak, I'd decided that there was a certainly a gap in the local market for a beer focussed place such as the Tannery, Great Ayton (2008 / 3571) and I definitely saw the evidence to support that this afternoon.  Opening at 4pm, it was 3:58pm when I arrived but two blokes were already having their pints pulled through.  Closed Mon-Wed, you could sense the locals were chomping at the bit for their Thirsty Thursday.  The barman less so, first day back after a long break, one local mentioned, he looked like he was fighting his inner tiredness to get 'back in the zone'!   Before I'd finished being served, a smiley lady (a rarer thing in Great Ayton than other Teesside towns I'd been to, perhaps a bit higher class and close to pretty Stokesley?) had already commandeered the cosy seat in the corner I was eyeing up.  As it was, I sat at a table designed for eight.  And was feeling slightly guilty when, by 16:10, a tenth person wandered in.  Oh yes, they love their unusual well kept ales in GA.  And when an 11th (John Bishop's face beneath Ryan Sidebottom's hair) arrived shortly after, I contemplated moving to free up room for bigger groups.  But I couldn't, because this nosy but well meaning dog had penned me in on all sides.  Considering the pub 'theme' seemed to be a William Morris jungle-scape commissioned by Elton John and Ru Paul, I could've felt a bit suffocated, but no, it sort of worked, even if I did have to shuffle a pile of 'fabulous' cushions on my bench.  Deservedly popular boozer though, and a cracking pint.

Although I'd bused it in, I walked 15 minutes to the railway station.  The timings were better, a shorter journey, and more pissing opportunities if I so desired, which of course, I would.

With the moon facing me, a glorious sunset behind, and some very rural stretches on congealed compacted wet slippy leaves, it was quite an atmospheric walk back! 

With 45 minutes until my train to York, an idea was forming in my mind based on a recently refurbished pub I'd read about in my pub heritage book.  A quick check on WhatPub showed it did serve ale, and it didn't require you to dine, so I thought I'd give it a stab and treat it as my first preemptive since Goodworth Clatford back at the beginning of November ......

The guv'nor sees me taking the outdoor photo, so I give him a big wave as if to say 'don't worry, I'm not just a photographer, I'm a pub ticker, I'll be with you in a second' and jog into the pub and enter the bar area, a door to the left.  Welcome to Christie's Brasserie - The Zetland to give it its new full name.  One local in the bar, chatting with the main man, who I'm assuming was Mr Christie himself.  I peer across, one ale on, but it is one of my all time favourite's, Rivet Catcher.  I was very very sad when Jarrow went under, but delighted it is as good as ever and kept superbly here.  I'd like to think this pub could get in the GBG on one perfectly kept ale, but it'd take a CAMRA branch with some serious stones to put a one ale pub forward in 2022.  I find they normally rather 15 middling quality ales, than one great one, but that's a different story!  The other customer leaves, the main man goes off do other vital pub work, so I'm left in the bar with only Prince Andrew for company (dominating the news on the little TV screen).  I don't need the loo (for once) but I use the walkway to the toilet as an excuse to explore as I'm sure this pub has hidden delights.  And it does!  I enter the restauranty back room.  Fabulous old smell, and a quartet enjoying what looks like some very highly quality scran.  I try to be invisible, skirting around them as I take photos whilst they eat, but they engage me in conversation, so we have a quick chat about how lovely it is.  I retire back to the bar, ask our main man if the football fans have found this place yet.  He says yes.  Conversation is a bit stilted, not sure he entirely feels comfortable chatting to me (maybe KLO bit him under the table, maybe I gave off 'pub spy' vibes?) but so glad I popped in, and would definitely recommend it to those of you visiting the town, tickers or not!

A quick 3 minute jog across the road to the station, and back in York for a reasonable hour.  Two more North Yorkshire ticks chalked off, and I'll continue on this Yorkshire Thirsty Thursday quest until the spring when we might start moving into Durham/Lancs/ GMR.

See you all tomorrow, when I'll try and tell you about the first half of my epic day in Rugeley, Cannock and surrounds. 


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