Monday, 9 December 2019


How hard can it be?  I have this book.  It lists approx 4,500 pubs.  The aim is to tick 'em all'.  Only 1,638 of them are so far ticked as I arrive in Rugby, Warwickshire. 

Clean slate. SEVEN pubs to aim at.  "Astounding, astonishing" said fellow pub ticker Martin Taylor of the town back in May 2018, during one of many rural Cambridgeshire car trips, though perhaps he wasn't referring to Rugby at all, but my attempts to urinate out of a moving vehicle in the village of Abington Piggots?  It was hard to say. 

I digress.  Rugby.  What could go wrong?   After all, I was accompanied by the second and third highest ranked BRAPA tickers in history.  Father 'Silver Medal' BRAPA and Tom 'Loosely (not Lucy) Bronze' Irvin.

We were perhaps doomed from the start.  Despite the 'rough around the edges' rugged town of Rugby I found myself in, not ONE of the seven opened before 12 noon according to WhatPub.  Lame.

Furthermore, I was so busy Googling 'author of Tom Brown's Schooldays' (Thomas Hughes?  The Steve Lynex of authors.  Anti-climax), I almost missed one of my favourite buildings in town who I'd done a bit of work for ......

Prettier than any Micro
Pre / Post Emptives therefore had to be the order of the day.  The Bull (not to be confused with the GBG listed Clifton upon Dunsmore one, 1.9 miles away) opened early. 

Dad & Tom look uncertain, but we're going in
Proper pub, not in the GBG on account of the 'standard' beer range, was our opinion at the time, though in the context of the day's pubs, the Bull was perhaps a bit too rough & ready and lacking a bit of love n x-factor for those gosh darn CAMRA compilers.  The landlady was awesome, a throwback and if she didn't smoke 50 a day, she looks like she should've done.  Ever alert, she hid from the BRAPA lens with a theatrical hand over the face.   The pub was full of ageing men, a look of desperation in their eyes as they chugged down their 5th pint of Fosters before the absent sun struck the yard arm, or whatever the phrase is.  SPORT on big TV's was the order of the day, you could've been in St Helens.  Norwich City's kit was put under scrutiny, but not as much as the Women's Big Bash League, live from Oz.  The Proper Job went down like the nectar it can be, and an Ancient with today's most indecipherable accent (quite an achievement given the competition) said that he wanted a student discount because he was from Rugby School.  Dad laughed, mainly so we weren't killed.

Still not 12 noon, and with my breaking news that the 'Town & County Club' won't be open at 11:30am like the GBG reckoned, we had time to squeeze in a further post-emptive before official 12 noon kick off time, just a half this time which is allowed under the BRAPA rules!  

Tom reaches for the famous 'Allam Out' poster but Dad thwarts him to take the glory! 1-0 Dad. 
Best thing about London Calling! was the name, though the exclamation mark was already meaning those red warning flags were flashing in my brain.  Two years since this one made the GBG, and it was very much an upmarket breakfast cafe where the one ale on felt like a token gesture at best, the barmaid looking a bit sulky especially when we were only having half pints and no brekkie. Not that there was a free seat, and we perched near a signed 1966 England World Cup shirt, another rare highlight.  Dad did a very unique rendition of The Clash which cheered me up (and sounded more like the Thug Murder cover, though he isn't female OR Japanese as far as I know), and I'd be surprised to see this bar ever return to the GBG, but as history shows us in this pub ticking game, stranger things have happened.  

12 noon ticked around finally.  Could we finally get today on the road?  Problem is, I was already 1.5 pints in.  Tom had identified this next pub as one he had high hopes for, and it was just around the corner, so seemed a good place to start .......

So THIS was what Rugby Good Beer Guide entries were all about!  A wonderful pub to rival any today at the Squirrel (1639 / 2856) , the benchmark being set by the fabulous landlord who earmarked us as 'pub tourists' from the word go.  BRAPA talk only intensified his helpful attitude (it can have the reverse effect!) and he talked us through the beers, though I made to clear I was only interested in the pub.  He finished his beer spiel with "..... and I'll be putting a new beer on THIS pump but it'll be about five minutes".  "I'm not waiting five minutes" I replied, shocking myself with my straightforwardness, so he compared me to his impatient teenage daughter!  The pub itself was similarly lovely, a narrow tile floored warped farmhouse of a pub, sunken and wizened from centuries of crazed Rugby beer guzzlers, bric-a-brac a-plenty, tiled flooring.  At one point, he came over to indicate that we were being too quiet!  With Tom in tow?  Errrm, impossible.  On the way out, we thanked him for a great pub experience and to show Rugby pub unity, he handed us loyalty cards for nearby Rugby Tap and implored us to visit next.  I lied and said we would think about it.

"Oooh, and Tom pulls the Allam Out sign out, and there's nothing Dad can do this time, 1-1"

This pub is brilliant (accordion to me!)   THANKS
So in a hunched low stance, I made us cross the road and crept past the window in the opposite direction from the Rugby Tap, just in case Mr Squirrel was watching, didn't want to hurt his feelings.

Not that I have anything against Rugby Tap, but what with two post-emptives already, no way we were going to do a THIRD pub NOT listed in the 2020 GBG with so much to do in this town, I was falling in love with already.

A narrow path, a turn of a corner, and here we were, a pub I'd read much about and Martin Taylor had highly recommended it too.  Of course, there was bound to be a glitch.......

"Ohhhh, and Tom turns the game on its head - 2-1 Irvin!" 

A roaring fire in the front bar, opening up into a huge room full of the drunkest happiest set of folk you will see in a pub at 1pm anywhere in the UK this side of the Christmas.  Titanic Plum Porter, Oakham Scarlet Macaw or Abbeydale Deception, served with a smile, wow kill me now, am in pub heaven!  But hang on, as I grab the green highlighter and frantically thumb through the book to reach the magic page 487, astonishment hits as Alexandra Arms, Rugby isn't listed"Howwww?  Whyyyy?  Nooooo?" I squeal to an equally surprised but less squealy Dad and Tom.  The irony of ironies, considering the 'Rugby Tap manoeuvre' , surely there must be shome mishtake?  This is like the best pub NOT in the GBG I had EVER been to!  With the life sucked out of me like the smoke being sucked out of the fire and into the main arena every time someone opens the front door, Dad reminded me that I was still allowed to enjoy this pub.  'OH YEAH!' I remember, and trot off to the bogs with a renewed spring in my step and smile on my face.  Everyone in the pub garden looks more drunk than those inside, I reflect.  And on the way out, I collide with a sloshed young couple returning from a smoke.  I smile.  "I like jollification and you look WELL happy" slurs the young guy, and leans in to kiss me on the cheek.  1:15pm in Rugby, everyone.  Lost for words.  Almost.

My kinda beers (who says I don't care?  apart from me).

"And Irvin with a chance to go 3-1 up ..... oh, and he's missed it!"

Lack of beermats was my only concern at the Alexandra.  Tom improvises.  

So this was turning out to be the day I'd kind of hoped, and still only 1:25pm as we head to our next pub.  Would it be in the GBG?  Could Tom hold his 2-1 lead?  Would I remember the journey home?  Join me for the answers to these in part two on Wednesday.


Sunday, 8 December 2019


I've been pushing the boundaries on my Friday night Brapping, to see just how far afield I can make it without getting stranded and having to sleep rough.  Ripley/Alfreton was a decent effort when I was focussing on Derbyshire last summer.

Tonight (Fri 22nd Nov), with County Durham at the forefront of my mind, I made it to Newton Aycliffe which is plonked between Darlington and Bishop Auckland, a chilly rickety Northern train journey juddering to a halt for me to follow a nervous looking bag-lady off the train.

Places always look different by night fall, but Newton Aycliffe seemed to be exceptionally peculiar.  Founded in 1947 like Father BRAPA, it was a good 20+ minute walk to the pub, across a series of diagonal footpaths across green areas with endless housing estates dotted everywhere, and an inconvenient bridge over a river bisecting the town.  Thank goodness Google Maps knew what it was doing cos I didn't have a Scooby.

It was just oh so quiet (and still), Bjork in fact took inspiration for her hit on a Friday night stopover here when her steamboat to Reykjavik was cancelled due to an untimely guard strike.   BRAPA fact.

I smiled at a dog walker, who shuffled quickly into the shadows, but didn't see a soul otherwise until I arrived at the pub, tucked away, like all medium sized Durham towns, behind a McColl's, Methodist Church and a Twild play area.

As you can perhaps glean from the mysterious photos, the Turbinia, Newton Aycliffe (1638 / 2855) more resembled WMC (with perhaps a hint of Youth Club) and is named after a Tyneside (spit!) ship if you wondered, which you didn't.  A bald man hovering in the doorway said 'aye' , shame I wasn't called Cliff then he could've said 'Ay, Cliff'  (sorry).  'Twas instantaneously obvious that I was in a classic mental North East boozer, and I was told to be careful of the dog Elsie, who was said to be a bit crazy - or "foooking radged' if we are to use the exact phrase from the night. This was perhaps why I took my pint round to the pool table section, but Elsie followed me regardless, and quick as a flash, jumped up, nicked my beermat and ran off under the pool table!  "She'll chew it up, but not swallow it .... probably" explain the bloke from earlier.  He tries to coax her out.  "I've got chicken ..... come out from under there you daft dog!" he says, rattling his car keys, but Elsie wasn't fooled, and only reappeared when he went outside to smoke.  The lady who served me was great, straddling the role of quirky barmaid and pissed local perfectly as you often get in these proper down to earth boozers.  When she admitted she didn't like lager, the bloke told her she MUST learn to love it, even if it meant putting some blackcurrant in it.  Her next act was more impressive.  Seemed there had been a raffle, she won a vibrator (a rabbit no less) and wow, I thought I'd heard it all in BRAPA but this bellowed, candid chat was something else.  Especially when the bloke said "....too complicated for me those things, can't get used to the speed settings!"  I'd suspected behind all those housing estate windows were horny buggers, (a bit like Ware in Hertfordshire), and now I was convinced my hunch was right.  Next, a woman on the tills in the local Tesco was 'outed' as a vibrator fan. "Oooh, you wouldn't think it of her!" says the bloke when he finally works out her identity.  Perhaps it was something of a relief when, out of nothing, our heroine puts on dance music at deafening levels.  I'd normally talk about 'killing the atmosphere' at this stage, but not in these circs!  I took my empty glass back to the bar just as two lads arrived to play pool, and left wondering quite what I'd just experienced!   

The further I got from the pub back towards the station, the more I realised the Turbinia was quite a classic BRAPA tick.  I am enjoying County Durham so far more than expected, and there'd be more of that in a fortnight, but for now, it was back to York godspeed, as I had an early start for the top pubby town of Rugby tomorrow.  Join me for tales of that one tomorrow. 


Thursday, 5 December 2019

BRAPA .... and Bernard's Bloody Nose in Billingham

Saturday 16th November had been an eventful day so far.  We'd had a shut pub, one opening an hour later than expected, some torrential downpours, and in Hartlepool Headland, one of the most incredible places BRAPA has visited in 2019. 

We were due a bit of luck, and we got it, as our new friends in the Fisherman's Arms on the Headland told us that this next pub would actually be closed right now if Hartlepool Utd had a home game today. 

Don't worry, this was taken at 10am
The Rat Race Ale House, Hartlepool (1635 / 2852) must hold the record for the sheer volume of no lager, no John Smith's on all four walls.  And some of the quirkiest opening times with times like 12:02pm - 2:15pm and 4:02pm-8:15pm on weekdays.  We were told the owner is a lovely chap, but  has a very definite view on what he wants in his pub, and were told one story about a hen party who got turned away before they'd even got as far as asking for their drinks!  The perils of being a micropub on a mainline station eh?  There was no bar, so we craned our necks to a high up blackboard, whilst five old gents all sat separately blinked at us, half smiles, curious expectation.  I felt like I needed to be decisive in what I wanted!     The bloke was sound as advertised, and disappeared into one of those mystery obscured kitchen areas to get our drinks - 'twas Bournemouthian in this respect, no wonder the 'ahead of his time' Steve Fletcher divided his time between the two towns (he hates hitting the bar!  thanks).  We had to drink quick, as a Billingham train was imminent.  An excitable group from Peterborough managed to act even more like outsiders than us, managing to shoehorn stuff like Nene Valley, 'Whittlesey Straw Bear' and 'Drank this in the Bumble' into nearly every sentence as though I hadn't had enough of the damn place in my Beds/Cambs BRAPA days.   One mystery, does the place have its own toilet? (the above sign suggests so), but both of us failed to find it and ended up using station facilities.  

Pumpclip city

Does this mean Accrington fans are nice?

Top astroturf

'Twas pitch black by the time we arrived in Billingham and without going into the usual amount of BRAPA oversharing data, when I realised our two pubs were over a mile from the station, i felt like my entire bottom half was going to drop out!

On a less unsavoury note, a return to Billingham was a notable moment for Dad, for if you ask him what his favourite pint in 72 years has been, he will tell you it was a pint of Newcastle Exhibition in a club in Billingham.   Our first port of call, a club.   Sadly, not the same one. 

The darkness meant the outdoor photography was an amusing game of pot-luck ......

"Oi Dad, bit to the left ..... that is a hedge!"

"That's better (I s'pose)" 
And then we missed the entrance, meaning the locals sat in the bay windows were laughing at us by the time we finally made it into Billingham Catholic Club (1636 / 2853) which of course was a good start.  At least we didn't have to ring a bell, input a code, get a door released, sign a guestbook, or put an old 50p in a bucket, as you sometimes find in GBG clubs so I guess I should count myself lucky, and our fantastic ale (no idea what it was) was served in a cheerful manner.  This really was a late contender for 'pub' of the day, 11th consecutive year in GBG and the front covers of each GBG were above the bar.   I went to photograph them, a jolly local looked at me curiously, so I told him I was a sucker for this GBG type bollocks and not trying to photograph him in any way, so I was only 50% lying.  Ever been to the Ukrainian Club in Bolton? And ever been to the Firs Club in Codsall?  Good, well imagine these two having a business meeting which was then gatecrashed by Ross Noble and the ghost of Gazza in a pantomime donkey.  That is probably the best way I can describe this joyful club.  Dad was equally impressed, but soon I heard him rummaging in his bag, and realised he had a nosebleed and needed a tissue.  Happens every time we go anywhere vaguely Catholic together, and that my friends is an 87% truthful BRAPA fact.  

Dad clutches nose like it is his rosary beads

I'm only photographing the framed GBG covers mate, honest.
We carried on walking along the same road until we came to what they call 'Old Billingham', and isn't it annoying when the pub address is Station Road and it is miles from the station?  

No hedge to thwart us here!
Crafty Cock, Billingham (1637 / 2854) then to end the night, and a debutant micropub by all accounts enjoying what by now was quite a jumping Saturday evening atmosphere.  Bad start as my 'Dark Side of the Moose' immediately went off but never mind, the Elland was a good replacement and the barmaid / lady business owner of much repute, was fantastic.  Can't remember why, just remember us commenting on how good she was!  We perched into a rare free seat by some krazy kraft kids (no, I don't mean they were on the cheese slices).  Dad is always cautious of 'man-hugging' when he sees groups like this, and although we weren't in Surbiton or Streatham, the threat became very real about half an hour later.  A Welsh dresser by the bogs encouraged people to be 'quirky' with a bunch of over elaborate props, and soon the lads had commandeered the sombreros.  Pure banter.  With the train times just a bit 'off' (or so we thought), we HAD to stay for another, oh dear what a shame, and it could be my imagination but I think Plum Porter had gone on, my mind was going but this was a lively, happy positive way to end what by all accounts, had been a cracker of a day out. 

I've actually got a few December pubs to visit now so I'll be back on Sunday to tell you about a very peculiar place in County Durham, and then I'll desperately try and remember any details from my day in Rugby, Warwickshire.  

Have a good weekend.


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

BRAPA - Big Head on the Headland : Dad Day in Hartlepool

Barmaid actually apologised for not making the head big enough!

Highlighting every County Durham pub with a (superior brand) Stabilo green pen before the 2021 Good Beer Guide drops onto my doormat in late August is now very achievable.  That is BRAPA breaking news tonight for you all to digest.   

A couple of months ago, I'd never have believed this when I told Father BRAPA (not a priest, but he did have a holy/holey jumper on today) I wanted him to be present for all Durham Saturdays.  

My reasoning behind this, he's been a regular when it comes to comfortable car / train days, but I thought it was only fair to expose him to the true horror and pain of BRAPA.  Delayed rural buses, perilous walks on roads with no pavements, long walks to shut pubs, growling locals, phantom taxis and extreme late finishes collapsed in a KFC bucket via York Tap at midnight.  Yes, it is only fair.

And then, and this is the great part of the plan, he becomes so heavily invested in the quest to green up the county, he offers to drive me around any awkward outliers where there is no obvious bus result (I don't like the sound of Edmundbyers).  

Saturday 16th November found us landing in Hartlepool, a town familiar to us from Hull City's epic league two days, but not one I'd say I've ever had a soft spot for like Darlington.  Today might be different.  

Our first move was to actually get a bus to somewhere even more desolate.  Peterlee was the name, a quite depressing small 'new' town (well, one year 'newer' than Dad) which he'd once visited on 'bank inspection' which sounded fun.  He reported nothing had changed, and under the grey sodden skies Peterlee looked at its most appropriate. 

Ten minutes further on, we hopped off on the outskirts and walked around the corner to a village called Old Shotton (not to be confused with brother Malcolm).  I prayed this 11am opener was errrm, open, and the smoke billowing out of the chimney suggested either it was, or the pope was dead.

I'm going in ......

.... when I've finished posing. 

Dad showed his BRAPA inexperience by turning right (YOU SHOULD ALWAYS GO LEFT) and we were greeted by a couple of bewildered restaurant staff, stood in the darkness with an industrial sized kitchen roll sitting on the bar contributing absolutely nothing.  It would be easy to slag off the Royal George, Old Shotton (1632 / 2849) but for it was, a surprisingly upmarket attempt amongst all these old colliery towns, it achieved it well.  In the lighter, warmer, wood burner left, we found the handpumps and had a pretty top quality Tim Taylor Landlord , served by what I felt was an unnecessarily sullen barman considering (a) we were the only punters and (b) this part of the world is usually quite friendly, though I admit there are areas of Co Durham I've been warned about, but we'll get to them!   I worked out the bus back towards 'Pool was sooner than expected, so good job the beer was highly neckable.  Music ranged from 'Keep Your Head Up' by Ben Howard to 'Chapel of Love' by Bette Midler.  Make of that what you will!  

With the rain still drizzling down, we didn't take the bus all the way back to 'Pool but my BRAPA research told us to jump off at Blackhall Rocks for a 20 minute walk to High Hesleden where in neighbouring Blackhall Colliery, a mystery person keeps leaving packets of £2,000 dotted around the area.  SIX times police have recovered it, so Christ only knows how many times this eccentric / wealthy / motives unknown person has actually done this!  We only found out about this AFTER our visit to the area.  Shame.  

The rural 20 minute walk to the village was fairly straightforward, a pavement was present, but disaster struck as the pub was closed as they'd gone on their jollies .......


Couldn't they have left a key for me in a hedge and a barrel of Strongarm on?  

A tough learning curve for Father BRAPA then, but I did want him to experience undiluted BRAPA didn't I?  He now insists I ring rural pubs in advance of the visit.  "Careful Dad, that sounds dangerously like common sense" I told him.

To be fair, on reading the GBG entry the following day, it advises you to do JUST that as the owners do close up when they go on holiday.  And how often does reading a GBG entry actually ever tell you anything valuable?  11.355% of the time actually, and that is a BRAPA fact.  It's usually "Fried Tofu and Curried Bean Stew Nights on the last Wednesday of the month" and I'm like, piss off, is this a Good Beer Guide or what?  No wonder you are a billion pages long!  

The rain, which had mercifully ceased, started again right on cue, but the walk back to the bus stop didn't seem too far, and after a bit of Hartlepool jiggery-pokery where Dad spied the correct bus on the opposite side of the road, we were soon in Hartlepool Headland.  

Google Maps couldn't quite accept motorised transport existed here, so I had us jumping off the bus anywhere and got lucky, the first of two pubs was just down the next side street ......

Dad, pre-peril in the Globe
Absolute scenes (as the kids say) as Dad pulled instead of pushed, and ended up falling into the main bar at the Globe, Hartlepool Headland (1633 / 2850) with a guffaw and a snort, causing the old, tentacle clad seadogs playing dominoes to scowl wildly at us.  Jeez Dad, I don't normally need anyone else to embarrass me on BRAPA days, but 10 out of 10 for effort!  To make things worse, he was dying for a wee so had to then force his way through the blokes, the scowls turned to looks of utter contempt.  I got the £2 Strongarms in (the only beer on, offered it 'flat' or 'big 'ead'  to which I touristly replied "OOOH, GOTTA BE A BIG HEAD LIKE HIM (I point at a returning Dad), I HEAR IT IS THE HARTLEPOOL WAY AHAHAHA" which caused the locals contempt to turn to utter resentment.  The barmaid, an absolute star with a small hound (Jojo) following her like a shadow and a strong accent, could certainly read the mood in the room.  "I tell you what" she told us, "there's a nice fire through there, I'll take your drinks through, and you can sit in there" which I think was a nice way of saying 'you might get killed otherwise / stop upsetting our locals'.  Well, we did enjoy it in here, even if an old man did start jumping on the furniture and a walking stick fell over for no reason.  Quite a classic BRAPA pub from start to finish.

Settle down mate

Even the dogs drink Camerons in here

Forced to sit here for our own safety

We'd not been in any hurry to finish our pints because the other Headland pub was a 2pm opener, or so the GBG said .......

I'm all smiles now ..... but not for long.

Accurate depiction of all the dominoes players in the Globe
.... but the sign on the door said 3pm.  Noooooo.  "It'll be gone 3pm by the time we are in only our THIRD pub" wailed Dad.  Well father, welcome to unadulterated BRAPA pure 100% filth.  (That wasn't my actual reply).   But 'twas true to say, we were having some rotten luck today.  Fate was testing him.

On the plus side, with 40 minutes approx to kill, Hartlepool Headland was a fascinating place to walk around.  

Fish Quay's gates mysteriously closed slid shut as we approached, stopping me stealing any fresh fish for supper, I had a pee down the old Town Wall with a judgey cormorant looking on, and we ended up saying "aye" to a few dog walkers on the harbour as we ate our egg n tomato sandwiches.  

Judgier than Jesus

If this gets in the next GBG, I'm resigning from BRAPA
A few minutes before 3, and the pub was open we were relieved to see.  It seemed some had been waiting even longer than us.

But a friendlier pub than the Fisherman's Arms, Hartlepool Headland (1634 / 2851) you will struggle to find, as the couple - we'll call them 'Hazel' and 'Glen', for that is what their coffee mugs said, though I guess they could've nicked them off a real Hazel and Glen and thrown them in the sea - gave us the warmest welcome, quite a contrast from our Globe arrival.  The pub was super traditional, in a different way to the Globe, and you could be forgiven for thinking this has been a GBG regular for many years, but turns out they only recently made it great, using their pension to buy it off the brewco, top commitment levels! Some quirky decor, the cash register being the most fabulous I'd seen, and Liquid Len noticed on Twitter, so I must be right, if you can't trust an Arsenal fan in West Bromwich, who can you trust?  Glen, whose mug said he was a 'spreadsheet king'  responded well to our interest in the local history / pubs / BRAPA, and brought out this cracking local pubs guide to sift through, brilliantly named "The Lion Roars and the Monkey Bites" - such scenes haven't been witnessed since the similarly fabulous Eleanor Arms in Bow.  Dad was right, the Headland is the 'original' Hartlepool, and it felt it, and had that 'atmosphere' you get in non-touristy British coastal places.  Portland is my favourite example.    Hard to believe we'd enjoy a pub more than Globe today, but this was it!  Oh, and I asked about the opening times mishap and turns out 2pm is summer hours, 3pm is winter, so careful if you are visiting.   

Phew, finally half way through the day as we took the next bus back to Hartlepool, delayed cos the driver was having a long smoke break!  Could today get any better?  (No is the short answer), but join me tomorrow for part two anyway if you can be bothered.  I'll keep the word count down to 100,000.