Thursday 18 August 2022

BRAPA is ..... TICKING THE COL WAY ON SOLWAY : Cumbrian Adventures Part 1/4

The youngest BRAPA highlighter in history picks up the Stabilo in Hayton

The bank owed me two June Thirsty Thursdays which I'd agreed to work to cover some Calypso testing.  I won't go into detail, but I'm sure someone out there does a blog on banking systems.  

So I tag on a Wednesday and a Friday onto a July Thursday, which I can tag a Saturday to, and head up to Carlisle for a few nights away.

I was on a quest to get a fully green Cumbria before Covid hit, I even remember sitting on a sun lounger by the pool in Lanzarote, March 2020, checking out Appleby's Midland Hotel Facebook page when the police drove down the strip to tell us the island was in now lockdown over scary loudhailers.

Train strikes (also the reason I'm blogging rather than pubbing in East Lancs today) made my journey up a nightmare, and I HAD to have a pint in Newcastle's wonderful Bodega just to pass some time as England women geared up for a semi, why aye!  

It was approaching 10pm when I finally checked in to my Carlisle digs, but the ticker in me thought that my central Carlisle tick, the Thin White Duke, was doable, so I scooted 7 minutes through the dark deserted streets and found it ......

I saunter in, both nonchalantly & with a sense of urgency.  Plenty of folk about, I stand next to the two blokes at the bar, but a barmaid swoops across and tells me 'sorry matey, we've just called last orders'.  "Awww, come on, I mean look at this, full pints!" I protest, indicating the two blokes so far unsipped pints.  "Ya just weren't quick enough, bad luck!" says one of the blokes and I've never more wanted to punch a stranger in the face.  "Tuesday night innit?" says barmaid, as if their fixed 11pm closure hours shouldn't be taken seriously.  It isn't even 10:20pm.  On the way out, I spy a disabled loo by the entrance, not actually within the pub.  Right, I'm going to get my revenge by using this as my Carlisle public toilet throughout my stay.  And of course, I'd need to be back for the tick!

Time for bed.

I had better luck the following morning at Carlisle bus station, immersing myself in 'old lady with tea cosy on head' culture as we waited for the once or twice a day bus to take us west to the beautiful Solway coast.  Old ladies love a confused stranger, and I soon discovered my bus went all the way to my intended destination, Bowness on Solway.

I'd not realised.  The 93 bus I'm getting on becomes the 93A at Anthorn Bridge, and continues all the way back to Carlisle via Bowness.  Brucie bowness bonus!

One Ancient in particular was determined to give me a guided tour of the bus route, her grandfather drove the last ever train from Gretna over the Solway before they demolished the bridge.  Fun fact.  The whole bus is listening in as I explain my reasons for coming here and I get lots of waves and cheerios as I hop off in the village.

Over an hour until pub opening, I head down to the beach.  It is glorious.  Beware the quicksand!  This was in danger of becoming like that scene in Princess Bride, but I prevailed and could see Scotland glinting across the water.  A better ticker would swim to Annan.

Bowness is a former Roman settlement which explains the above sign, which I originally thought was just random humour.

Next to the pub, with chickens and hens sleeping under a bench, I enquire as to the availability of ice cream from this little shop I've spotted, but a lady tells me I'll have to go into a bar (keg only!) and ask them to open up for me.  

Far too much hard work, but the lady asks if I've seen the local museum.  She's the tour guide person.  Wow, look at the model Roman village, so this is how Bowness on S. used to look .....

She starts giving me the full lowdown, but when I discover she's from Burton on Trent, we end up talking Bass, BRAPA and Burton pubs instead.   

If this is starting to resemble a #BlackpoolJane blog, then yes I agree.  Just think, when Blackpool F.C. slide down to the West Lancs & Cumbrian Division 5 Evostick Boozy Saddler Combination League, Jane will do a cracking matchday blog here.  Josh Bowler might've signed for us by then, scored the champions league winner, and her mole mascot (Josh Moler) will have been donated to charity.

I sign the visitors book (they need proof of visitors to justify staying open) and she directs me towards the local church which is worth a gander.

And it is, once I've said goodbye to the chickens ......

It was finally noon, the sun was high in sky, and I'd almost forgotten the purpose of my visit.  Oh yes, pub ticking!

Flying in the face of tourist popularity, the Kings Arms, Bowness on Solway (2306 / 3869) is a reassuringly traditional community boozer, one of those that doubles as a village shop.  Sure they provide much lunches for the hungry visitors, but once I locate a member of staff (and it took a while), I was well impressed.  Old Roman maps on the tables, a carpet, heck even a pool table.  Card payments are only over a tenner I'm told, so they set me up a tab when I explain I'll 'need' to stay for a second pint due to bus timing issues!  But surely it isn't £5 a pint?  Well no, and I end up paying by cash anyway.  Confused?  I was.  Not quite sure why I sit outside in the bland but cracking suntrap courtyard, must've just been in the mood for sun.  The ales are from Corby, not Northants don't you worry, the Blonde and the Brown are both Great.  An old bloke wanders over and says "you found the pub then, good innit?  I'm not stopping" and wanders off.  Must've been on my bus.  Parents must hate the summer holidays.  One stressed Mum and her whining kids arrive on bikes.  Her relationship with the teenage son (a real Kevin from Harry Enfield) is particularly fractious.  "Do you want the chicken goujons then?" she asks.  He grunts.  "I'm taking that as a yes".  When the food arrives, he kicks his little sister under the table.  She eyeballs him and picks up a chip.  He then grabs a load of chips off her plate.  She's furious but doesn't react.  His Mum responds by nicking the cucumber and lettuce off his plate.  "Didn't want it anyway ha!" he snarls.  "You're eating your tomato though!" says Mum with a real finality to her voice.  Son angrily pushes a menu over, grumbles and puts his headphones on.  The drama.  

A couple are already waiting for the bus.  They too must've been on the bus here as they know about BRAPA.  "I used to do something similar to you" says the husband.  His eyes glaze over as though he's regressing to his youth. He continues "....ah yes, Persil vouchers for free train travel, an atlas, and a Good Beer Guide ... my happiest days!"  His wife looks a bit hurt, and as he returns to the present day, he realises he's said too much.

An arduous journey back to Carlisle ensues, not helped by a road closure meaning a diversion down a single track lane not really suitable for buses.

With an hour to kill until my next bus out (train strikes today meant I was bus reliant) , it is time to have another crack at the Thin White Duke, Carlisle (2307 / 3870).

"3pm, wonder if they've called last orders yet" I sneer sarcastically to myself.  On the surface, it looks like a pretty bland wine bar selling the odd ale, and GBG history tells me that anything trying to commemorate David Bowie is never a particularly worthy tick.  A bit like his music, totally passes me by.  I did like the film Labyrinth though and reckon he was a good guy.  This bar is saved by some fabulous staff today.  The lads are welcoming and engaging to a tee,   perhaps the best of my three day stay.  One in particular, who I see every day, even encountering him when I'm only here to use their loo, he still has time to wish me a cheerful hello!  There is a fairly atmospheric downstairs area, cellars with a wonderful fusty smell of old.  And the Cross Bay Halo was top quality.  Damn you Thin White Duke, I wanted to simply dismiss you as total rubbish, and they wouldn't even let me do that!

Time to take a bus out east for another 'impossible' Cumbrian outlier.  I hopped off at Little Corby, where there was a pub I needed, but sadly this has limited opening hours and was supposed to be shut now.  Still, it doesn't do any harm to check in case I got lucky ......

I didn't!

But then again, what would you expect from an Otter?  I'd be back.

The walk on to Irthington was arduous, pavementless and whilst not quite as terrifying as a Bransgore, there was one A road crossing that was a bit traumatic.  Let us just say I didn't fancy the walk back!

The pub when it arrived looked like this ......

Sally, Irthington (2308 / 3871) opens up into a surprisingly posh modern dining pub.  Plenty of grey.  Logs. Conservatory.  Vast grounds.  Of course, it is one of those Eat, Drink, Fall Asleep chain pubs, and with one exception just outside Kirkby Lonsdale, I've never enjoyed the things any more than I've enjoyed an Ember Inn.  A damning indictment.  But people can make all the difference, and this barmaid, with the same face as the girl I went to Australia with, is such a gem, I don't hesitate to enquire about taxi numbers.  She then writes four numbers on a piece of paper, ranked in order of most likely to least.  Above & beyond.  I pass up the offer of the intriguing looking 'craft wall' of beers including delights such as Guinness, Tetley and Carlsberg and opt for a hand pull from a new one on me - Tirrils, I thought they did posh crisps!  Lovely drop in any case, best enjoyed on a half covered patio outside the pub.  I can't believe the amount of cars arriving, snazzily dressed people coming in for tea.  An endless stream.  After a voicemail and a slight struggle with reception, it is the 2nd or 3rd taxi number that comes up trumps.  If I can go straight to Hayton, I can cut out more Little Corby jiggery pokery.  It has already been a long day, time to make it easier on myself.

The taxi drops me outside, and immediately a bloke with a wingspan bigger than an Andean Condor  waves as I take the outdoor photo.  How his arm didn't make the below photo is a total mystery,  

He looks familiar, not another 'on my bus earlier' person surely?! 

Stone Inn, Hayton (2309 / 3872) is a homely, unspoilt village local with a real sense of family.  It will be remembered in BRAPA history however, as being the pub with the most personable twilds ever.  A record I can't see being broken.  Three of the things.  All boys, aged 10, 8 and 6  It has come about because their grandads have come in here for a 'quiet' pint, or rather a chinwag, with no desire to control three bored ratbags flinging themselves around on the carpet, playfighting and screaming.  The Mums, Aunties and Grannies are either working, or absent, and as for the Dad's who can say?  Funny thing is, whenever they end up by my table, they go that little bit quieter and say hi.  The oldest, a Hufflepuff according to his sweatshirt (the #Pubman's Harry Potter house of choice) is super intelligent, like a mini adult, full of facts and he loves talking to (at) me.  Autistic probably, lovely lad, reminded me of my cousin's son.  The youngest, who had an element of Keane Lewis Potter about him, wanted to highlight the pub - worst greening since Tom Irvin, but at least he tried.  A lady eventually appears and apologises for everything, and we get into a nice BRAPA chat.  On the way out, man with massive wingspan tells everyone that I'm on a reet pub ticking trek and I don't know him but he's right, whoever he is.   What a crazy whirlwind experience it had been!

Fake KLP and friends get greening

Too scared to emerge from the bag


Excellent pint

Hayton is quite an easy tick by Cumbrian standards, it is only about ten minutes walk to the main road, the bus shelter is close by, and frequent, reliable buses ferry you between Brampton and Carlisle. 

Back in Carlisle, I had a widdle in a place called the Coco Mill this time (more on that in part 4) as I was taking pity on the Thin White Duke by now.

My remaining Carlisle tick only opened at 6pm, and was a ridiculous 2.3 mile trek south to a suburb called Cummersdale which felt more like a village in its own right.  So again, I hopped in a taxi but would walk back.

And like the Stone Inn before it, Spinners Arms, Carlisle (2310 / 3873) felt wholly unpretentious, homely and lived in.  And this had the added bonus of being peaceful.  No kids.  Oh so quiet, and still,  as Bjork sang after ticking this pub in 1998.  The Duncan Mackay of Icelandic songstresses.  The place smells of tobacco.  You do get those pubs where the 2007 smoking ban still hasn't totally left the fabric.  No Febreze here.   Beer wise, I'm pretty sure both myself and the barmaid tempt fate.  We're chatting about this ale - Summer Peeve by Carlisle.  I ended up feeling peeved in the summer. "Best one we've brewed yet" she says.  "Looks great" I reply.  "Wanna taster?" she asks.  "No, I can tell it is going to be good" I reply. "Hang on, something may be up with it, just off to the cellar" she says.  "Sure it'll be fine" I say.  "It might be off, let me know" she says later, passing me my pint.  "Sure it'll be fine" I repeat, sitting down.  A couple of gulps later, she peers over.  "How is it?"  "Actually, it isn't right" I confess.  Replacement beer needed which is fine.  A young couple come in to play pool.  They are having fun until Nirvana 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' plays from the jukebox.  "This isn't one of ours!" they cry, looking visibly shaken.  They angrily tap away at the jukebox.  'Every Breath You Take' by the Police cuts across it.  "Phew, that's better!" says the young lady.  Her boyfriend does a little boogie, like a Cumbrian Sting, she chuckles, the game continues.  Some pub this.

It is a fair old hike back into the centre, I need a wee of course, so time for another Thin White Duke trip - I stay for a nightcap, determined to take notes on when 'last orders' will be called, though I soon forget that is the purpose and just enjoy my pint and watch something funny on YouTube on my headphones cos everyone is laughing more than me and I feel left out!  

Better not push my luck and stay out too late as I had a very ambitious plan for day two. 

Take care, Si 


  1. Those young lads will be astonished to realise their part in history in 20 years time. How exactly did you approach them to colour your GBG ?

    1. Haha, well they asked about my Stabilo and wanted to colour each other in! I could see the front cover being finally ripped off the GBG .... so I thought if I explain what they have to do, I'm still sort of in control of the situation! And it worked. Even though it was the most rubbish highlighting since Tom

  2. Hope that 1986 Maxell XLII was already ruined before they yanked the tape out for that table.

    1. Thought of you when I saw that! I hope so too. But a place that calls last orders at 22:18 cannot be trusted.

  3. An enjoyable tale. I went in the Kings Arms, Bowness on Solway about 6 years ago after walking the Hadrian's Wall trail. Even on a Monday evening it was really busy, good to see, due partly to being at the end of the Wall walk. It has been redecorated e.g. maps on the tables and brighter inside, but glad it's still a good pub.

    1. Cheers Mike! Sorry am very bad at reply to comments but glad you enjoyed it and found it a similarly good, if different, pub experience.