My final day as a 42 year old. Old in the most boring way possible. No one cares when you are making the transition from 42 to 43. No one has ever had 43 candles on their cake. No cards or badges exist with '43' on. No one's been given 43 birthday bumps by a bully boy.
But there was a glimmer of hope which prevented too many feelings of self pity.
A kind chap on Twitter who I'd been planning to meet for years now, Ian 'Beyond the Pale' Sutton. had offered to drive me around some of those 'hard to reach, around the rim' outliers in his CAMRA stomping ground which stretches from east of Burnley, down to Whitworth, across all the way to Blackburn, Darwen and the like.
I met him at Accrington station just after 1pm on Thursday 5th May. He recognises me instantly because I can't resist drunken Twitter selfies at 9pm in the Parcel Yard. He's wearing a beanie hat. "I thought it was BRAPA uniform" he says, in a rich Lancashire burr. He's got a kind face. I can tell we are going to get along great.
Pub one, as per my recent theme (One for the Road, Bolton and various Royal British Legions), is quite an astonishing experience and a candidate for pub of the day, despite being a club.
Looking like the kind of place you glance at in the street and go 'I bet that's bloody terrifying', Canine Club, Accrington (2193 / 3756) has these two ladies smoking outside, Ian knows at least one of them, so we have a bit of a chat before we go in, and I'm glad Ian's with me or I might be in danger of feeling intimidated like 'what the heck am I walking into here?' The gnarliest old boys you could imagine are evenly spaced amongst the disappointingly grey but nicely furnished front bar, one of whom is called Harold. I've not seen a Harold in a pub for years, apart from THAT toy hedgehog in Sudbury that tried to hump Colin. A nice chap pulls me a quality pint of Reedley Hallows from evil Burnley. Beyond the bar, a group of old men are playing cards. Another group play dominoes. And around the snooker table near the loos, a mixed group of younger men and women all taking it in turns to have a shot .....in more ways than one! The sight of a young 42 year old in a red leather jacket was obviously going to confuse the locals, and despite Ian's best efforts to explain BRAPA to a man shouting across the room to us, he seems to think we're rockstars. "Have you got an agent?" he asks! After getting the guv'nor to do the all important Stabiloing, and assuring the barmaid I'd remember to blog about how wonderful the staff were, it was time to go and leave them to the racing from Chester, but wow what a place.
As they say in East Lancs, 'the car that we'd parked near the market wasn't too far', and we soon shuffled north for another rare pre-4pm Thursday opner.
Without having ever been before, I've been made aware of Clayton-le-Moors as a destination for Daddy BRAPA when he goes to pensioners lunches. But not sure he's ever popped in here ......
First of all, I love them name Old England Forever, Clayton-le-Moors (2194 / 3757) there can't be too many of them in the country. Second of all, I've always been a fan of the Bank Top beers, find them thoroughly drinkable and the quality on my Bad to the Bone once more was strong in here. No Old Slapper on show, maybe they've 'rebadged' it. The barmaid is a bit timid, but at least seems amused when I ask if I can 'steal' a beermat! Ian loves a good beermat, his influence must be rubbing off. Okay, so KLO nibbled the edges so it was ruined by the time we got back to York, but you can't have it all. The pub is smart, hmmm perhaps a bit too smart. Comfy, anywhere was going to struggle to follow the Canine. Again I bemoan the 'safe' colour scheme and decor which is blighting my north western ticks of late. Ian quips 'they have to do it to match the East Lancs sky' and it takes me a second to work out whether he's joking. Still not fully sure! What I should've said at this point "Oh Ian, you really are beyond the pale". The handwashing rules gave me a headache, especially as the hand dryer was far more prevalent than paper towels, guaranteeing a BRAPA fail.
|Any instructions on how to drink a pint of ale or scratch my arse would be most helpful(!)|
|'Yeah, I know I'm 43 tomorrow mate, no need to rub it in'|
Time to head for our furthest east point of the day, and I could see the sweat forming on Ian's brow as we entered the district of ....... Burnley.
*Plays spooky music with howling wolves and screeching black cats*
Padiham honestly did bring back scary memories for me. Daddy BRAPA and I were terrified for the duration of our visit to the Hare & Hounds, known as the 'Stabbers Arms' when a bloke was chased to the pub doorstep, stabbed to death, blood running through the street for weeks to come, or something dramatic but I am sure the local who told us wanted to scare us!
Surely this'd be friendlier .....
Club rather than pub, that was the first surprise at Molly Rigby's, Padiham (2195 / 3758), not quite as open and welcoming as the Canine had been, Ian has to press a button, the door buzzes, is released, and we are allowed to enter! Phew, no wonder the place is so empty. The barmaid seems friendly, and I order a beer solely on the basis that it has a scary green faced bloke on the pump clip. 'Thick Neck'. It comes in a Doom Bar glass as a tribute to Martin Taylor, who is massive in Padiham, the kids even go around in RetiredMartin leisurewear, and that is a BRAPA fact. Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' was playing on the plasma behind, seemed somehow fitting. The place is failing to fully convince, but it improves when Ian spies a local CAMRA legend John who I select as my victim for the current ticking. A lovely chap, he knows everything about the local ale scene and most impressively, he was at THAT Dylan concert where he got heckled for doing half acoustic, half electric. He remembers a man running down the aisle towards the front to 'boo', and lamented the fact he kept his gig ticket for so long but got rid of it a few years back, would've been worth a few bob now! After a bit of fascinating chatter about breweries with yeast problems, it is time to get on our way.
Time to head back towards the (relative) safety of Mid Lancs .... funny how everyone says 'East Lancs / West Lancs' like there isn't an in between bit, well BRAPA is here to change all that.
This next pub was on my 'how the bloody 'ell do you do this on public transport without staying here for 5 hours before the next bus to turns up?' list!
My favourite pub today as it happens, Robin Hood Inn, Helmshore (2196 / 3759) was a delightful surprise to me as I'd learned in the build up that it was a Hyde's pub. Past experience tells me Hyde's pubs are often a bit shiny and foodie for my tastes, but there was not the slightest whiff of that here. It was deliciously unspoilt. A sloping narrow bar, carpetted back room with a wood burner, a beautiful stream and waterfall trickling away out of the back of the pub, toy tractors because every Helmshore kid wants to grow up to be a farmer. A very excitable wiry dog trots between rooms, at one point it actually licks a traumatised Keane Lewis Otter! An 'Allwin' machine too, a rarity in pubs, shame I'd spent most of my pennies already. The Dark Ruby drank maltily in a life giving way, Ian's half came in terribly flute shaped glass, but it'd be the most minor of quibbles in what is a true rural gem.
It was pre-emptive time as we headed back in the general direction of Blackburn, north west from here. This pub may actually be classed more as post-emptive for it was in the GBG just before lockdown ....
|The coolest dude in outer Blackburn|
Yes, I was stymied in my attempts to tick the Dog Inn, Belthorn just before lockdown in Feb 2020. Daddy BRAPA kindly dropped me off here at about 10pm on a Wednesday night after a spineless Hull City defeat at Ewok Park. I was so pleased, it very much the BRAPA equivalent of a 'consolation' goal. But I was saddened though to see the place shut already and a light on in the bedroom window. Darn it! Of course, Twitter made it sound like I'd missed out on one of the best pubs in the country (funny how pubs are always better when people know you haven't been!) No such problems today. Ian tells me this is community owned. You can tell immediately. It sort of doubles as the village shop. Homemade doggy greeting cards, choccy bars and tins of beans amongst the wares available. The downside of this is that it loses a bit of old fashioned pubbiness. But on the plus side, there is a cracking tight knit community atmosphere amongst those enjoying post-work drinks. Today's schedule had been heavy so I was pleased of the opportunity to drink just a half. Cereal Killer by Prospect, pow! Best ale I had all day, somewhat ironically. A young lass (and I mean a child) is wiping tables with a certain ferocity. We ask her if she's getting paid for this. '50p' she grumbles. 'The hour or in total?' I wonder. 'Every chance' this pub will appear in a future GBG based on this performance, I just hope 'child labour' will be cited in the GBG description.
We were well into the afternoon now, so all those pesky pubs that don't open until 4pm on a Thursday could now be visited. The first of which was this little micro ......
'A pub designed for giants' will be my abiding memory of my time at the Vault, Oswaldtwistle (2197 / 3760). A smart little place done to a high standard, the red leather bench seating is comfortable and quality, but it is raised. And not just to normal high stool levels, but raised to the extent that you have to climb up a step to get there! Now I know at 5 foot 7 I'm a bit of a short-arse, but even so, this felt potentially ankle breaking if you've had a few pints and lose your bearings! All I could do was dangle and drink mild. Not a bad sort of purgatory to be suspended in I guess. The place had a friendly feel, barman a good chap even if he did seem to have a giant squid (Kraken?) tattooed on his pouring arm. The loos have a very pleasant 'Rainbow Drops' peach spray if you ever need to do a 'Big Toilet' here ( didn't but gave it a spray and inhaled it), and that was that. Back to the Ian-mobile.
Our final two pubs were arguably even more remote than Helmshore, so it was music to my ticker ears when Ian revealed that these were both on today's agenda.
The first was a long drive down a narrow meandering lane that showed no signs of ending, here was the pub ......
But despite the remote situation of the Royal Arms, Tockholes (2198 / 3762) it was perhaps the busiest pub of the day with the jostling of the after work crowd in the tight bar area as Ian squeezes in to get served. My powers of observation were very much on the wane by this stage, but the Bowland Hen Harrier drank well, and although I can recall not being too enthralled by the place when we first sat down, it was a grower and the hubbub sort of seeps into you the longer you spend here. Twitter noticed that no expense was spared regarding the urinal blocks and such signs of extravagance are either an indication of a successful pub making money, or one which is in effect, 'rolling out the red carpet' with regards the visit of a pub ticker.
One pub to go! I'd had enough to drink I must be honest but NO WAY I wanted to miss this one. Ian thinks it should be listed under Tockholes rather than Blackburn, it is similarly 'out of the way' but hey we don't make the rules.
Black Bull, 'Blackburn' (2199 / 3763) was SUCH a monkey off my back, I cannot tell you how delighted I was to FINALLY make it. I once got lost in somebody's farm trying to get here and small wonder I didn't get shot for trespassing. I once gave up on it yards from the pub because the pavement ran out and it was pitch black and raining, and I even rang them up once to ask if they were opening pre-match on a Tuesday Blackburn home game, but a stern Lancastrian voice told me 'no'. It is a Three B's pub, quite apt for Black Bull Blackburn. It was very much 'dark beer' time of the day, so in the absence of ESB, I went for the Oatmeal Stout which was quite delicious. I was feeling more mentally alert here than I had in the previous pub. There was something anti-climactic about the decor and feel of the place. Problem is, all my failed attempts mean I'd elevated the Black Bull in my mind's eye to some kind of backwater Lancastrian glorious hovel, untouched in 250 years. This wasn't the case, it was comfy and smart and quite modern. Bit of a let down! I learn it is a bit of a pre-match destination pub for Blackburn home games, but personally I still think a designated driver or taxi would be required for the majority of folk, it isn't THAT near. Delighted to finally get it greened off.
|'What's that KLO, you'd have gone for the NZ Pale?'|
Ian drops me back at the station, and there we go, end of a fantastic day which for the first time ever has given me hope that I can complete Lancashire in full before the next GBG comes out.
He didn't seem to believe me when I told him his chauffeuring around such awkward areas would be as good as any birthday present I'd get, but I wasn't kidding!
And we've agreed to meet up later this summer for 'part 2'. Whether that be a more East Lancsy Colne/Barnoldswick/Clitheroe area day, or a Darwen/Wheelton, I'm not sure yet but am looking forward to it already. Thanks Ian, had a fab time.
See you all Mon/Tue when I'll tell you about three Cheadles.