An early start on Tuesday 1st March found me jumping off a train at Hinton Admiral, from where I thought I could walk to the village of Bransgore, which I'd identified as my 'third hardest BRAPA tick of the holiday', so westerly it was practically Dorset.
If I was to get Hampshire fully greened off, I had to stop procrastinating and make a start on these tricky ones. And after a pretty crummy suit of pubs the previous day (saved only by late hope in Woolston and Bitterne), I was hoping for a return to the Pompey/Gosport/Widley form of the weekend.
The rain hadn't eased off all night, and after a change at Southampton and a long period of just sitting at nearby Brockenhurst, I arrived in Hinton Admiral around 11:30am.
It looked, on a map at least, as though a fairly long but achievable walk took you to Bransgore. The first sign that this wasn't perhaps a good idea was the huge amount of traffic indicating to turn onto this same Ringwood road.
It was soon evident that this wasn't fit for pedestrian walking. A raised uneven grass verge with drainage ditches cut out every few yards (I had to choose whether to hop across, or drop into the muddy dip and step back up again). Visibility was poor, it was increasingly sodden under foot, sometimes the verge gave up altogether and I had to wait for traffic to pass so I could briefly step into the road. Cars shot past at an alarming speed, I occasionally felt the draught of them on my arm.
I actually shudder when I recollect it now, knowing one slip into the road, and that could've been the end of BRAPA. This was easily one of the scariest (and stupidest) road walks I've undertaken. I wish I'd turned back and got a taxi from Hinton Admiral. I only got beeped at once, by a white van man, and was grateful my yellow hat and red gloves offered some visibility of me, even if my footwear was dreadfully inappropriate for the conditions. More on that later!
Although Wikipedia claims it is a lie (so probably true), Bransgore is named after 'brains' and 'gore' after a bloody King Alfred battle here. It was nearly my brains and gore on the road in 2022! I hope I've learned my lesson for future BRAPA trips but don't bet on it.
I couldn't get off the road soon enough, so was delighted when I spied a left turning to the nearby hamlet of Neacroft, meaning a longer 30 minute circular walk to reach Bransgore on gentler roads. The rain was coming down hard and it was very rural.
I remember thinking 'it'll take something special to raise my spirits after this!'. Luckily, #PubMan Sir Quinno provided it when I posted the following shots on Twitter to sum up my trauma ......
.... he originally mistook for 'another Ukrainian doom post' and looking back on the photos, I can see why! I couldn't stop laughing, and every time I remembered this throughout today, I chuckled, So thanks Quinno. Perhaps I was hysterical by now as pub finally came into view. It was now quite evident that Bransgore is a through road for Ringwood traffic disguised as a village.
I was hoping for one of those maternal old fashioned landlady figures, or a kindly one toothed old yokel at the bar, to relate my tale of woe to as I enter the pretty thatched Three Tuns. Bransgore (2084 / 3647) but all I get is a trio of hoity toity elderly posh diners who stick their noses in the air as soon as they see my dishevelled figure and KLO. The landlord seems a nice bloke but he is super professional, officious, and angular. He is part lower league football referee, part set square from your school pencil case. After ordering a pint of Crop Circle (KLO fuming I didn't go for the Otter Bitter) and sitting on the smallest table so as not to take up too much dining space (ever thoughtful you see, and this was more restaurant than pub), I was soon on my feet perching in the doorway trying to get enough reception for a taxi to take me on to pub two. No way I was walking back! After an automated voice service failed me, the second bloke says he only does airports or some shit, but he's helpful enough to give me a third number, so I quickly leap back to my table like a gazelle, further upsetting the toffee nosed trio next to me, and have a shouty conversation with a mumbling guy who tells me he's only 10 minutes away. Result! "Drink like the wind my pretty otter, we've cracked it!" I exclaim, deliberately trying to upset the snooty gang. Our Set Squared hero is pleasant to me on the way out, but this isn't a tick worth nearly getting yourself killed for!
I hop into the taxi, trying to recount my tale of woe, but he's having none of it! Silent and stoic throughout, I soon give up speaking. Oh well, at least I've cut out the middle man (i.e. more train and walking chaos) and asked him to take me to the pub I'd considered 'my 4th hardest remaining tick' a couple of miles north New Milton station.
I didn't tip him, miserable bastard, and leap inside Rising Sun, Wootton (2085 / 3648) and hard as it was for me to understand, it was in this pub where we managed to achieve peak 'aloof to the point of rude' rural South Hants bullshittery. Managing to somehow trump both Bransgore and all those dreadful Park Gate and Field's yesterday. I'm intercepted by the young barman, who does have a modicum of personality and warmth, I'm lead to a sort of plinth, and told I need to order a drink and pay now. I've not even seen the bar, let alone sat down. I have to go rogue and have a quick look at the bar. Diners and older staff look at me like 'what's this guys game?'. Five handpulls, but the choice is only Otter or Double Drop. I don't want to disappoint KLO for a second time, so we go Otter (even though I know which beer I'd prefer, silly loyal otter!) It is an attractive, large and quite ornate pub. Loungey, carpets, some gorgeous stained glass windows and bar edges. Not too destroyed by 'progress'. What a shame the atmosphere is so gloomy, a real god's waiting room. A posh lady behind me exclaims to her more elderly companion that she's finished her meal remarkably quick for an 85 year old, they then talk about their racehorses. 'Spirit' seems to be the favourite. A fussy dog wrestles free of a lugubrious family, comes straight for me, demanding an ear scratch. Bit like Shedfield yesterday, it was like the dogs realise I need a bit of love in these loveless places! The man retrieving said mutt mumbles an apology, but with no eye contact, and shuffles off despite me chuckling and saying it's all fine. I smile up at the watching landlady. She glares and turns away. It felt like a deliberately stage managed event in 'giving BRAPA a hard time'. Didn't enjoy my £5.10 Otter either, easily the most I paid all day.
Plan now is to get myself back to New Milton, a decent walk through a place called Bashley. The rain is heavier than ever, the paths are flatter, the traffic slightly less scary but bad enough, it is like 'one skill level down' on the Bransgore walk.
As I mentioned earlier, my Adidas Gazelles weren't designed for this kind of walking. I feel like I'm over the worst of it as we reach Bashley and beyond. But at one dodgy bend in the road, with three cars careering around the corner behind me, I really should stop, but I reach out with my foot for the next bit of curb and go arse over tit, slipping on the grass, landing on my left side, caked in mud!
The first car sees, and pulls over, bless 'em, but when they see me quickly hop back up, they drive off again. I'm at the entrance to a closed garden centre so wash off the majority of the mud in a deep cleanish looking puddle! My jeans are a mess though, new on today too. Oh dear.
Back at New Milton after a pee in some woods, I find their station facilities, lock myself in for ten mins, use most of the toilet tissue and hot water to further clean up, hoping no one thinks I'm doing drugs. A queue of schoolkids are waiting outside when I finally leave.
The New Milton pub doesn't open til 5pm on a Tuesday, so I train it to Lymington. Even here, the pub is a 15 minute walk through town, the last bit a sloping puddled lane with no pavement. Even in a town! I couldn't catch a break today. Pub three ......
And my recent dreadful run of form continues here at Monkey Brewhouse, Lymington (2086 / 3649). True, a very different kind of 'tick' than the last two, being beery rather than foody, but no more enjoyable for it. A fairly identikit, bare boarded type of place, the after work crowd are out in force (which shows how long it has taken me to get to pub three!) and just like in the Gate at Park Gate yesterday, rude bar blockers glance over their shoulder, see me, yet still have no intention of moving. I'm gonna have to say it aren't I? ...... THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN UP NORTH! Thankfully, a very nice barmaid is alive to the situation, leans through a small gap, and passes me one of those mini clipboards with a list of beers attached, the type only places like this do, this is the first time I've found one useful. The former landlord here used to keep monkeys, and this pub really could've done with some real life monkeys running about, biting bar blockers (Ebola will teach 'em). It would've had the added bonus of adding a bit of much needed colour to the place. I manage to find a table with a bit of space around it and more importantly, a semi-warm radiator. I'm happy just to switch off, drink my decent bitter, and take a few deep breaths. There's even toilet blockers to match the bar blockers, I have to say 'excuse me' twice as they are similarly oblivious, despite forming an 8-person circle right outside the gents. It's not like there aren't seats free to sit your arses down on! Things would have to improve soon or I might start telling you Beds and Bucks are better pub counties than Hants.
|Two Toby's reserving a table in a pub really sums up south west Hants for me|
I've noticed a bus just outside the pub goes all the way through to Southampton, quite a long and tortuous route, but on the plus side, it stops at a town with a required tick.
It was dark when I arrived, and the heavy rain had formed a sort of muddy moat around the pub, which I had to hurdle to get to the entrance of this fairly unprepossessing looking micro .....
But I'm encouraged by the definite upturn in quality at 6 Barrels, Totton (2087 / 3650) which may be partly indicative of the last day and a half. Had I been on a ticking quest of Brum, Wolverhampton, Stockport or the like, would I have been quite so enamoured with this place? At this moment, I was taking any glimmer of joy where I could get it. The friendly welcome from our hostess helped, she was a 'people person'. I'd almost forgotten they existed. She offers me a pub loyalty card which I readily accept, despite being the least loyal pub goer ever! And large overhead industrial heaters kept my damp frame from getting any colder n wetter (my biggest concern now!) so long as you position yourself strategically on one of the pubs long narrow benches. The ale was good, and three trios of young blokes were drinking Amstel and solving world issues. As part of my ongoing 'freshen myself up' quest, I find some Happy Shopper lavender spray in the toilets and spray my entire body with it, not its intended purpose of course. I now smelt like my Grandma, and she's been dead since 2014.
|Loyalty Otter - just nine pints to go|
But just when I thought today's woes were at an end, time for comedy fall number two.
I hurdle that giant puddle/moat thing once more as I leave the pub, my momentum takes me forward onto a grass bank sloping downwards. For the second time today, I slide, this time in comic fashion, all the way down the bank, my head nestling into the back of a perspex bus shelter with a gentle 'plonk'.
This time, on my right hand side. No more mud, just very wet. I get up, actually laughing. No one has seen, but had someone filmed it, it would've looked hilarious. Poor KLO must've been feeling travel sick by now.
I bus it back to So'ton, and change for Pompey. Two late pubs to salvage a six pub day out of this mess? I had to try.
I hop off at Fratton Station, a short walk from the two pubs I've got my sights on. I'm just crossing the road when I hear a big roar. Pompey are at home again! Second time in a few days. I check the score, 2-1 v Oxford, just kicked off for the second half. I try and calculate what this means for BRAPA but I'm not sure. First pub looms into view looking happier than I've seen a pub exterior all day ......
As Pompey's fine collective of backstreet and side street boozers go, Fawcett Inn, Portsmouth (2088 / 3651) probably didn't get my juices going as much as most, but after the day I'd had, been in a solid, unfussy boozer was just the ticket. Where was all the furniture? That was my first thought, as I did a tour of the large circular bar, a few blokes nodding at me, a few others a bit more watchful. Titanic Plum Porter was the comfort blanket beer I needed. To the right, a load of scruffpots in tracksuits and possibly even pyjamas played darts. The mass of empties suggested a chaotic pre-match scene the pub was still recovering from. In the absence of any chairs, I perched at a ledge by a stool, getting the impression this is the kind of pub locals walk around and lean whilst stood up, they're probably too 'ard to sit down. Before long, a man races across the pub. 'Goooooalll, 3-1 now' he tells the blokes. Smiling inwardly I'm sure, but too 'ard to show the emotion 'happy'. Howard Carter off of Tutankhamun got the goal, my phone tells me. A couple of minutes later, a bearded stranger shakes a glass full of coins and raffle tickets in my direction. "Wanna go on Blackout mate?" he asks. No idea what 'Blackout' is, sounds kind of familiar but sinister. I respectfully decline. Time to leave, a good boozer but one I'm just not 'ard or Pompey enough to fully appreciate.
I get a bit lost in search of my final pub of the night. Water in my phone charger port (hardly surprising after today) means it is refusing to charge up so I'm trying to preserve my 10% battery by not relying on Google Maps. Obviously, I go a long way around in error.
An audible cheer from the distant Fratton fraternity sounds almost like a collective sigh of relief, full time. Oxford got a goal back, 3-2, and I see Gavin Whyte came on for them so I give him a one man ripple of applause. Bit late now, but an unsung hero from last year's promotion.
A few nervous glances as I walk in with my yellow hat on, which was proving troublesome. 'No, I am not a Ukrainian refugee. No I'm not an Oxford fan. I just want a pint' flippin' eck. Northcote, Portsmouth (2089 / 3652) is more my kind of pub. Bit softer furnishings, friendly landlady, old skool but cosy, definitely one of the backstreet classics in my eyes. I order my second consecutive plum beer, 'Red Plum' from Irving, a 5% Christmas Ale. I imply that I'm happy to order it as long as it hasn't been on since Christmas, I don't think she really gets my meaning but reassures me some people have been enjoying it so that is good enough for me. She offers me a taster, I tell her no. I'm not a time waster. I sit 'twixt radiator and pool table, KLO wants to be an Otter Potter but I tell him to stop embarrassing me, and I'm delighted to see my phone has dried out to the extent that it is charging again. A short period of calm follows, before the clamour of happy post match Pompites and Pompettes fills the pub. A larger than life young lad, a sort of clean shaven Pompey Tom Irvin, bounces from table to table saying "gorrrr, what a strange game, no idea where we got 3 goals from but I'll take it .... the third one is a stunner". Trouble is, by the time he tells me this, I've overheard him saying it, almost word for word, to two other tables. An older bloke tells him to calm down. Good pub this, my favourite today, could've stayed for a bonus ESB if it was on, but it wasn't, and I knew I had an early start tomorrow.
The hot power shower back in my hotel room was one of the most welcome showers of my life as I scraped the mud off me! Then a bit of scran and straight to bed, as I want to be up at 6:30am for tomorrow's tricky first pub.
Join me hopefully tomorrow for that, and more, in part 6.
Take care, Si