Sunday 21 August 2022

BRAPA in ..... IT'S A HARDKNOTT LIFE (Cumbria Part 2 of 4)

Thanks to Cannock Chase CAMRA for the blog title, your BRAPA cheque book and pen will be ready to collect next time I tick off a Cannock pub in 2027.

Ravenglass to Boot.  The La'al Ratty steam railway.  My most anticipated Cumbrian trip remaining.  It provides a wealth a pub ticking opportunity, providing you aren't frightened of the odd long hilly walk.

I arrive at 11am and head straight for the ticket office.  The lady thinks I'm 'very brave' for wanting an open topped carriage, but it wasn't raining, and it wasn't particularly cold.  But I take the compliment.  And buy the ticket.

All aboard, choo choo!

And what a beautiful journey it is, through leafy green mountainous surroundings.  Of course, it starts raining and becomes very chilly, but I try not to shiver, gotta live up to my 'brave' reputation.

The family in front (the only other non roofed customers) all have umbrellas and fleeces.  As we pull into Boot, the wife kisses her husband on the forehead and remarks "you do take me on some beautiful railways darling .... admittedly this isn't as spectacular as those in Switzerland".

Jeez, way to kill my buzz, lady!  As we say in Detroit. 

In Boot about 11:50am, I buy my return ticket for later, and walk the 15-20 minutes towards Hardknott pass, where my first pub is, delicately elbowing a few dawdling tourists out of the way.  Even those with walking gear on don't have my urgency, which kinda proves BRAPA rules all.

A bit of paranoia on arrival at the GBG listed Woolpack Inn, Boot (2311 / 3874) .  It is such a long building that the right hand entrance is actually marked 'Hardknott Bar & Cafe'.  With plenty of handpumps in front of me, I check with the staff to ensure I'm the right place.  "Yes, we are all one long building" the bloke confirms, I'd hate to miss a tricky tick like this on a technicality!  It is a bare boarded, pool tabled, sports bar so I take my pint of Raven Red down a couple of steps into the more plush 'cider bar' - dimly lit, grandfather clock, giant teddy bear, bench seating - you know the score.  Drinking beer in a cider bar is possibly controversial, so tried to make it look like I was a man fond of raspberry scrumpy.  The staff keep peering over and smiling at me like I'm a lost puppy.  They know the truth.  A jolly scouser with a Batman shirt can't keep still, and keeps mumbling unintelligible scouse humour at me - what a 'joker'.  Thanks, I'm here all day. 

Back in the direction I've walked, in fact a (pint of) stones throw away from the steam railway, my other Boot tick lurches into view from behind a hedge like yer old Uncle Jimmy who's on that register .....

With a darker, foodier and more lugubrious atmosphere than the Woolpack, the Brook House Inn, Boot (2312 / 3875) isn't awful.  It is just that I have to reset my mentality, like you do when you enter a library, Carrow Road or mortuary.  No jokey smiles and cauliflower carry ons, set your expression to neutral, comb your hair, order your ale in the voice of Mariella Frostrup, sit down and shut up.  This pub will be remembered for its abominable table - 'rustic' I was told, which I think is a synonym for bollocks.  Have you been kicked in the rustics recently?  Carved from a local tree to make you feel at one with the nature, it is undulating and jagged, and it wasn't at all practical, I held on for my pint for dear life.  Table - you had one job! Not since Major Tom's in Harrogate or the Nightjar in Hebden Bridge have I seen such a disastrous effort.  At least this one didn't have holes.  The 5.2% milk stout by Fell made everything seem a lot fluffier than it was, I mean that in a good way, and a few lively folk did arrive in injury time.  But it was too little too late by all accounts to save it from a defeat to Woolpack F.C. in the local derby. 

Back at the railway, my train is in early so I hop aboard, exactly the same carriage as on the way here. A man with a clipboard walks over to me and flips a bit of paper.  "You are stopping at Irton Road aren't you?" he asks.  "That's the plan" I reply.  "I just have to inform the driver, as you are the only one" he says.  Such an inconvenience I am.

True enough, I'm the only person to hop off at Irton Road.  Considering the vast amount of bonhomie to date on this cute little steam service - people chatting to strangers, waving to other trains, thanking guards, station staff banter - I'm expecting at least some reaction or acknowledgement as I walk down the platform, but not a peep from the Ravenglass bound scum. 

The Irton Road station man, who can't exactly have the world's most stressful job, is throwing a tennis ball to his dog, but not even he offers me a smile!   His dog briefly barks in my direction, no doubt calling me a twat.

Never mind, it was time to turn by back on the La'al Ratty and head out into the Cumbrian wilds.  My next pub was a very short walk, though it looked so dark and lifeless when I arrived, my heart sinks, worrying I've been hit by the classic 'mid afternoon weekday closure'. 

Yes, there is a real 'Scooby Doo abandoned funfair' atmosphere at Bower House Inn, Eskdale Green (2313 / 3876) so it is with much relief like I find a door ajar at the far end of the building.  A corridor takes me to a large central bar room.  Lights are on, but no one is home!  Not even a bell to ring.  I've come this far, I'm considering leaning over and 'doing a Duncan' as it in known in the tickers trade, when a barmaid appears from nowhere.  Possibly a ghost. With a bit of spluttering and much yanking of the handpull, a frothing pint of the Great Corby house beer is soon mine.  The old piano plays a couple of notes, and I sit at a table reserved for 'Dawson' (but which one?) from 6:30pm.  A bloke and a dog appear.  We exchange nods.  "Quiet today" the dog whimpers.  "You ain't kidding chief" squeaks Colin from my bag.  A lady with the voice of Joanna Lumley crashes through the doors at the back, says that she finds the lack of people 'unnerving' (she has a point, but I still roll my eyes) and asks to see a food menu.  Barmaid tells her this pub hasn't done food on a Thursday afternoon since 1750 or something, adding the classic "but we do crisps and nuts".  "I have a car of eight people out there so I'll go and check, but I think it'll be a no" breathes Fake Lumley huskily.  She never returns.  Me and bloke exchange amused glances and we get chatting about music festivals, gigs, his dogs skinny legs and BRAPA.  "If you hang about while I finish this, I'll give you a lift to your next pub" he says.  What a gent, I'd need all the help I can get this afternoon.  I let him do the highlighting, it is only fair!

He even makes some attempt to neck his ale, which is rare, because usually when locals offer me a lift and I have to wait for them, they normally take their sweet effing time over their drinks. 

Dog with the skinny legs isn't called Tess as I first thought, but is a fantastic navigator.  It wouldn't have been a crazily bad walk to pub four, but slightly uphill, and knowing what was coming later, I had to conserve my energy where possible. 

I'd long since known that this next pub is home to the 'World's Biggest Liar' competition so I had this image in my mind of a bawdy village local, a barrage of bar blocking beer bellies bellowing bollocks, imbibing booze from foaming tankards, laughing heartily. 

But I should know by now that pre-conceived pubby notions are never end well.  Bridge Inn, Santon Bridge (2314 / 3877) is a disappointment partly of my own making, saved to some extent by the sight of Titanic Plum Porter on the bar.  The staff are too watchful to be friendly, the peculiar mixture of tourists and locals too transient to give the pub a stable or settled feeling, and the decor / pub theme is too muddled to give you any idea whether this pub wants to be a dining hot spot, local boozer or mini garden centre.  It is quite leafy.  It has some nice stained glass, and a fancy curved bar which could only be admired.  But the highlights were fleeting, snippets of a nearly pub which would be impossible to recall if it wasn't for blogging purposes.

Now the day became really difficult as I took a necessary detour towards the village of Nether Wasdale.  The climb was high, the road curved around a mountain side, and I was glad to see such little traffic on the road.  

Birds of prey soared and screeched as the views became more and more breathtaking. 2.3 miles, about 40 minutes, and I feared that this wasn't even the worst of it as the pub finally appeared.

I didn't exactly 'skip' into the pub

But this herculean effort at least yielded the strongest pub of the day, a brewpub too which you beer bores will be fascinated to learn.  Strands Inn, Nether Wasdale (2315 / 3878) and the brilliant barmaid appreciates my level of engagement, and vague interest in the 'Dickies Dunkel' a Bavarian style beer which I think is Austrian or something.  She calls me 'lovely'.  I think I'm special.  But then she calls an old lady 'lovely'.  Boo!  Homebrews are always a mixed bag, but this ale is a delight.  The atmosphere within this pub might be described as one of 'blessed relief', walkers at the end of a long day unwinding with a few jars of bitter and a plate a pie and mash.  And if it wasn't for my inappropriate footwear, cauliflower, and the fact I have two long walks still to do, I could be 'ONE OF THEM'.  Especially as sitting down, I remove my shoes, apply a couple of plasters, shake a stone or seven from my shoes, and give my toes a quick massage.  A lady sharing this side room smiles and comments on the joys of walking.  Yes, I'd been accepted in the cult of Cumbrian walkers.  My proudest achievement?  No time to dwell, I had to psyche myself up for the next leg.  Ooh, don't mention legs!

The walk took me to Gosforth (not THAT Gosforth) for my final of today's super six.  Funny that I'd done the Ravenglass to Boot line, and the Ravenglass pub tick wasn't even considered.

This next walk really was a killer, there were times that the pub didn't seem to be getting any closer.  3.7 miles this time, the walk taking just over an hour, arriving 18:31.  And even when the pub came into view, there was a long driveway/path to lengthen the walk even more.

A handsome structure it might've been from a distance, Gosforth Hall Inn, Gosforth (2316 / 3879) was the pub today that lacked most character within.  A plain small square modern bar room which felt like a waiting room for impending evening diners.  The army of staff eye Colin with more disdain than amusement, so I break the ice by asking how far Seascale railway station is from here.  A local tells me 10 minutes, a barmaid says 30 minutes, the actual answer is more like 50.  Google Maps 1-0 Locals.  As a chap called Ian on my Twitter comments "the locals don't know much about walking, they leave that for them tourists!" Facts.  They do seem amazed by the mileage I've covered today, and there's a bit more acceptance of me now!  Windermere Pale is the ale, one of my favourites, but it isn't in peak condition, and if you can't get your Hawkshead right, then your GBG slot should be under threat in my opinion.  A couple who've booked in for tea finally appear.  'How do you want your steak?' the man is asked.  'Average' he replies!  And if the beer is anything to go by, I'm sure it will be!

At least the pub didn't make me want to stay any longer than the required 25 minutes, which meant I could steal a march on my own march to Seascale station.  Luckily, there was a pedestrian footpath and although my legs were killing, I simply had to push through the pain barrier.

Despite feeling like I was 'powering on', I didn't have too much time once Seascale came into view, and when it did, panic sets in as I can see no way across the line for trains heading north!

"How do I get over?" I shout to a local.  "Take the road around, beneath the underpass, and back up around the other side .... but you'll need to be quick!"  He's right, four minutes til the train.  I run.  It hurts like hell, but NO WAY I can miss this.  I make it with a minute to spare, puffing and blowing, I thank the man and have a joke with a Chinese tourist couple about weirdo Cumbrian stations.  They had a similar incident yesterday somewhere else.

What an epic.  But a great six pubs to get done without car or taxi at any stage, apart from that one lift!

My step count was a 2022 record so far ....

That equates to 15.86 miles for a male of my height walking briskly.  Ooof!  

Join me tomorrow for day 3 as I looked to eke out as many pubs as possible before the final ever episode of Neighbours at 9pm.  'Twas gonna be emotional!  And that's just the trip to Sellafield.



  1. Well done! Tremendous walk.

    Eskdale is my favourite part of the Lake District, and my favourite pub is the one you dissed the most, the Brook House Inn. The beer is always in good nick there and they do a couple of really good vegan meals. I have usually found the service friendly and helpful. The distorted tables used to have place mats careful designed to cope with the uneven surfaces. What a laugh, eh.

    Whereas I never really liked the Strands - partly because their flagship beer was called Ermmm! Oh how we laughed (again).

    1. Cheers! A VERY Rewarding memorable pub trek. Think Brook House was ok really, the table and overly quietness but me in a grumpy mood!

      Yes, I saw that ale, hilarious eh (!)