Sunday, 1 August 2021

BRAPA .... MONTH END REVIEW : JULY 2021

Celebrate good times come on!   60 Good Beer Guide pubs visited in the month of July proved to be a BRAPA record, beating the 59 set in September 2018, and whilst my chubby tummy and groaning liver might disagree, it is time to pop the red wine corks and open the Wotsits on a job well done.  Throw into the mix 5 new pre-emptives  (albeit two of those were non-cask venues) to make it extra remarkable.  

Oh, and I will catch up with my blogs.  Eventually.  It's just gonna take me til Christmas.

July started in Saffron Walden, with a woman talking about stamping on a dying slippery pigeon's head, and it ended with a bloke from Hitchin called John showing me his photos from the 80's.  Pub life is the most colourful life, and I like to think BRAPA brings the party, not that #BRAPARTY would ever really work as a hashtag.  

Pub #1, Kings Arms, Saffron Walden

The record breaking pub #60, Old Cross Tavern, Hertford 

The Maths Bit

I finish the month on 1898 net 2021 Good Beer Guide pubs (3328 gross taking into account all GBGs), just 3 off my tally of 1901 last October when the new Guide was published and my 'cross-ticking' set me back to 1699.  

With the 2022 Good Beer Guide only a couple of month away, I'll probably be falling well back towards the 1700's again, but what with the unprecedented last 15 months, I gotta take it on he chin with a stiff upper lip and broad set of shoulders.  Or something.  Fun days, good experiences and weird wordy blogs is what keeps me 'ticking' over.  If I live to 120 years old, I still reckon finishing the whole book is achievable!


The Science Bit

Rather than get too bogged down with the bigger picture, I'm learning to 'pick on' a couple of counties at a time, to set myself more achievable short-term goals.   

Durham is proving a right royal pain in the bum, I've been close for so long.  Just three to go as we stand .....


Of those three, I've crossed through High Hesleden as the guv'nor is unwell so they haven't reopened yet.  Get well soon guv'nor!  Crossing out a pub IS a gamble, I did the same in Essex's Newport, only to find it had reopened after all, and the rumours of takeovers and long term closure were false!  It was simply all about social distancing rules.  

Kip Hill is on my agenda, a bus ride from Newcastle, twins better with Tyne & Wear/Northumberland ticks.  And Cotherstone, well it has reopened finally, but the hours are so cruel.  The only day it opens before 6pm is Sunday (3pm) and that is the day there are no buses.  Proof that god hates BRAPA.  I think ultimately, that'll mean Durham defeats me before the 2022 GBG lands.  


The highlight of the month (apart from 19th July happening of course, which has been fantastic!) was when Daddy BRAPA wielded the famous green Stabilo in the direction of East Yorkshire during a sweltering afternoon in Yorkshire Ales, Snaith which I'd only not achieved sooner because CAMRA put it in the wrong county previously!  Okay, so pouring ice cubes into the remnants of my ale to cool it down was a disastrous move in the same pub, but you can't win 'em all. 

It's like I realise what I'm about to do

I've completed the West Yorkshire section in every GBG edition since 2016, and in 2015 I only fell one short not managing to get the Muse, Wetherby done in time.  So as you can imagine, I'd love to get that one chalked off again.  

A great day around Halifax lit the blue touch paper (if that is the phrase)....

Very sound advice at Dukes, Halifax

And what with my Thursday night afterwork specials, I now find myself just 4 pubs away so that is an aim for August - Pontefract, Thornhill Edge, Horbury and Horbury Bridge, you can't hide forever!


All this means South Yorkshire has been a bit neglected, save for a great tick in Hatfield.  Barnsley & Sheffield are very much on my radar for after work trips once West Yorkshire is bottomed out, the awkward one is Hoylandswaine Sports & Social Club, which last I saw, still wasn't admitting non-members. 


The county I've put most effort into in 2021 is Essex and I'm constantly wowed by the quality on offer.  I continue to make great progress, thanks in no short part to firstly Martin Taylor, and then Simon Dewhurst for their help getting me to some of those harder to reach round the rim Toilet Ducks of pubs.  #Pubmen of the month.

Pint of the month - Oakham Citra at Red Lion, Belchamp Otten (coz Martin was there)

Simon D hopes Bull, Langley Lower Green, doesn't collapse whilst we are inside

I started the 2021 Good Beer Guide on 22 Essex ticks, I'm now on 93.  Still some work to do but the end is in sight ......

Three more Essex days and I might be done!

Last month end, I talked about starting Glos & Bristol next.  However, that's a tough county and although it'll need doing eventually, Hertfordshire is a more natural successor to Essex.   After all, Simon D is local to East Herts, and a nice chap called Coxy says he might help with some of my middle county tricky ones (Darley Hall?  Wild Hill?  St Paul's Walden?  Surely these place names are made up!)  And then you've got John Depeche Modem, rattling around the Hitchin area in that rattly way he does. 

Couldn't even green up Hertford yesterday after Hertford Club failed me

Bollox to 'events' closing clubs & pubs

The lowlight of my month was beer quality during that really hot week.  As a wise #pubman (it rhymes with Cold Budgie) said, keeping cask beer cool is the true test of cellarmanship. I've never had a pint of cask as warm as in Redcar, GBG debutants in Brough and Cottingham similarly struggled.  All three were very beer focused places too.

It happened on the hottest day of 2020 in Boundstone and Wrecclesham (Churt and Upper Hale kept theirs exceptionally well on the same day, so no excuse) and both pubs kept their places in the GBG.
 
By Bishop Auckland, I was even taking a local's advice to go with John Smith's Smooth rather than the one cask which had been on 4 days in extreme heat.  I think it was a good decision too! 

Top lacings

So there we have it.  August won't be as productive, but that's perhaps not a bad thing.  Hopefully the month end bank holiday will put a bit of gloss on it.  

Take care all, and thanks very much for reading.

Si 


 


Thursday, 29 July 2021

BRAPA in ..... BANGORS N CRASH

 


"Croeso I Fangor" bellowed Bangor Railway station on the morning of my second day of  North West Wales BRAPA pub ticking.  Creosote my fangs?  What?  I'll never get the hang of this lingo.  

My debut in this famous town, I was half debating getting a bus out to Anglesey, this little floating bit of The Wirral which came loose in the 1970's and settled just outside Bangor, but sadly, there weren't enough pubs on it opening at noon.   

What's more, England had their Euro Semi Final at 8pm, so I wanted to be back in Chester for then, and didn't want to overdo the outlandishness and risk getting stranded.  

There weren't many folk about town on this Wednesday morning, a few paint stained overalls walking around with ladders, a few old ladies with dogs and balls of yarn, and younger ones blinking out from behind facemasks in nail bars and spray tanning establishments.

I got off to a great start.  A pre-noon Wednesday opener which isn't a Wetherspoons, a GBG rarity.


Blink and you'll miss it down the narrow side alley, but Blue Sky Bar & Cafe, Bangor (1857 / 3286) was very Thunderbirds are go, or  Caffi Agor as us Welsh language experts say.  a funky little 'breakfast forward' place where you are as likely to pop in for a bag of Ginseng as a pint of Real Ale.  The atmosphere was helped immeasurably by the laid back, approachable Mr Blue Sky.  Can't say the one cask, a New Zealand style beer from Mold, was quite to my taste (or, on top form), but the experience was positive nonetheless.  Quiet when I arrived, he was struggling to keep up with the constant stream of customers arriving at the door.  From groups of young ladies wanting poached eggs n wheatgrass, right through to Grandparents with whiny kids wanting chocolate, to dogs that can't blink because they've had a stroke and are in need of eyedrops, this place catered for all.  He almost yawned when I told him I was a pub ticker, FOUR in last week, plus a Duncan Mackay waiting in the 'to be sent' folder, it is always in the GBG debutants where you are reminded that you aren't as uniquely special as you'd like to think!





Up this knackering hill, which would prove to be good 'pre-season' training for what was to face me in Colwyn Bay tomorrow, to this sort of sub-section of Bangor where the people got a bit smilier and the paint stained overalls with ladders looked a bit more sweaty, my other GBG tick in town .....


Whether we are talking GBGs, Stabilos or frogs from the muppets, there is no denying one fact.  The best things in life are green.  As was the case at Patrick's, Bangor (1858 / 3287) where the main man of the piece, Patrick (his real name, unlike Mr Blue Sky, probably) is waiting to greet me, having said on Twitter last night I was due.  Martin Taylor had waxed lyrical on this place, and as usual, he proved to be a good judge.  Patrick had suffered a tricky morning, delayed beer delivery, waiting for me, looking for a gap in proceedings just to have a quick shower!  I don't think in all my BRAPA history has a landlord explained to be the intricacies of running a pub, the hours that go into it etc in such depth.  It left me glad I just drink in the things!  The fresh on Young's Special was drinking superbly well, as he gives me a visual tour of the place.  Even the little jokey quotes on the walls are positioned in specific areas of the pub where they are relevant.  It was the attention to detail I loved, shame I saw it at its quietest, can imagine how boisterous it must get on an evening.  Top bloke, great pub.  

Only the best get to highlight the GBG




Conwy does have trains, but annoyingly they don't seem to be very frequent, so I took the bus to a town where THREE GBG ticks needed a good greening.  

I was relieved to hear everyone pronouncing it it 'Con-way', and not trying to do some one syllabled effort like I'd read on Google - Cweee or something.  

Little did I think that I'd find a pub to rival Patrick's for pub of the day, or holiday, but iesgob dafydd this was bloody brilliant!



Albion Ale House, Conwy (1859 / 3288) had the sort of atmosphere that transcends time, and maybe even space if you drink one too many, but I'm kind of glad I did this whilst semi-sober.  Had the main bar been the only room, it would've been special, but from a narrow central corridor, it opened out all over the place into a myriad of unique drinking areas.  A group of locals sat to my left with a huge lazy dog that looked more content than I've ever seen a pub dog.  Like all the best pubs, conversation between strangers flows naturally - from the friendly couple to my right, later replaced by two ladies, of course it was the kind of place where a cauliflower, green Stabilo and Good Beer Guide was always going to evoke interest, and soon I was explaining all just as Clarissa did in the early nineties.  And for all the life, there was also a total stillness to the room, punctuated only by the occasional tourist enquiring about food, which the pub I'm glad to say, didn't do - the in joke being they could get a takeaway coffee from across the road, expertly told by mine host, who reminded me of Honey from Eastenders, think it was the eyes.  A truly fabulous place, and the reaction on my Twitter suggested it is a pub which has had a similar effect on so many!  





Conwy was such a pretty town, I went for a little explore.  I looked at a big castle in the distance, and then the smallest house in the UK.  Having been to the Signal Box in Cleethorpes and Platform 3 Claygate, it failed to wow me as much as it did the majority of people in the queue.


The bloke with his arse hanging out (and passers by unsure whether to tell him) by the ice cream van was of more interest, as were the historic town bogs.  En route to my next pub, a lady looked determined to recreate a famous BRAPA shot of our past but looked far too friendly .....


.... but it was time to escape the tourist hustle and bustle and get into our next pub. 


After two dyed in the wool classics, it was perhaps inevitable we'd have bit of a 'coming down' period.  I'm not saying that the Bank of Conwy, Conwy (1860 / 3289) was dislikeable in any way, it was perfectly fine, just a little bit underwhelming.  To be honest, so many visitors in town meant that the place was fairly busy, and like a good station tap, it was very much a 'passing through trade'. many of whom seemed determined to make the whole arrival, sit down, get drink and get food process, as difficult as possible, much to the chagrin of the staff who looked seriously fed up throughout.  Stand out customers being a ruddy hybrid of Malcolm McLaren and Harry Redknapp, whose wife must've shouted "I don't want cheese" at least five times.  



Just a few yards away, hidden behind a bin and looking two dimensional like it had been hastily erected as a prop for BRAPA : The Movie, was our final Conwy GBG tick. 



International bright young staff greeted me and Col with wide eyes and beaming smiles as we enter Erskine Arms, Conwy (1861 / 3290) but when I explain I just want a pint, brows are furrowed and I'm whisked outside into a chilly courtyard, where I'm then left to 'think about my actions' in what seems to be a five minute vetting period, before I'm allowed to order.  And paying for it at the end (WHY CAN'T PUBS TAKE PAYMENT UPFRONT?) , well the struggle was real.  Regular readers will know fifth pubs of the day are always difficult for me to remember, but this was something else.  If it really is the sister pub of Llandudno's Cottage Loaf, then it serious lacks the character of the former, on my 2013 visit at least!  Eventually, a young 'Made in Chelsea' (Made in Conwy?) group appeared and injected a bit of life into things with their nails, gin and welsh dragon vajazzles, but it was all a bit too little too late.

No vajazzles from these two
 
I missed my connection at Llandudno Junction by seconds, am sure the guard could've let me on, but he was a pig.  Like most people who work on the transport network, but not you if you are reading.  So I had about an hour to wait, and stop Colin getting attacked by an overly familiar seagull called Ieuan. 


Back in Chester, the pre-match atmosphere was building but I was still determined to get a sixth pub in before retiring to my shitty Travelodge where I'd have to watch the game on my phone, cos the TV had zero ITV reception, my complaints falling on deaf ears, despite my suggestions they could go up on the roof and adjust the aerial.  'Didn't do Rod Hull any harm did it?' not the best argument here.

Luckily, my remaining Chester ticks don't do TV's, and although I was picturing this next one right out of town on the Welsh border by the Deva Stadium, it was very close to the station.  Deva means Chester apparently, which really hits home how lacking in imagination everyone is.  Chester Tap then .....


Deva Tap, Chester (1862 / 3291) was a more enjoyable tick than the last two, it had a bit of vibrancy, quirkiness but at the same time, a reassuring 'locals' atmosphere, helped by my visit coinciding with the 90th (well, she may've been 85 I guess) birthday celebrations of this elderly lady, and I hope when I'm that age, I'm 'kicking craft goals' as the kids probably don't say.  The Tiny Rebel Cwtch drank very well, another opportunity to practice my Welsh, not that it impressed our fiercely eye-make-upped hostess, but she was down to earth and managed to remain more Deva than Diva throughout.  Then two balding blokes who seemed to know our ancient party goer deflated some inflatables, which I hope was her one person birthday bouncy castle.  I reminisced on Stuart Rimmer, Graham Abel and David Flitcroft, ordered a pizza for the match, and reflected on a very successful day's ticking.



Bit of fun and games stood outside my Travelodge, hoping each delivery driver that turned up had my pizza.  Of course, my bloke got lost on the other side of the road and I had to run the gauntlet of 'Popcorn' and 'Off the Wall' to intercept him and bring it back.   

Says a lot about my hatred of pubs when England are on that I'd still rather watch it on a tiny phone screen than go to a pub/bar!  



Oh well, let the party commence.  The giant bottle of Orange Fanta was drinking well , but let's not get too carried away, as my most physically demanding Welsh ticking day yet was coming up tomorrow.

Join me for tales of that next time, maybe Sunday, as I'll be drunk tmw and Sat!

Si 


Wednesday, 28 July 2021

BRAPA in .... SO LITTLE DID I KNOW ABOUT LLANDUDNO

I turned left out of Llandudno Station and climbed the hill, in the direction of Snowdon (not 'Mount'), Llandudno (1851 / 3280).   A fairly bog standard dining pub of the same name.  'You'll always find 'summit' to eat here' is a slogan they can have for free.  If they are desperate.


As I try to ascertain this pub's particular approach to Covid restrictions, I'm nearly run over twice, as I hover in an inconvenient position 'twixt door and entrance, right in the flight path of busy kitchen and front entrance.  "I just want a pint!" I finally whine to a barman.  "Where ya sat?"  I dunno.  They must hate people like me.  I can tell this pub was once a proud trad boozer, some of the decor, the display of recent GBGs, and the fact that Bass is always available.  Meghan Trainor wrote her hit after a similarly underwhelming experience here, yes, it really is all about that Bass.  My first pint of it since the day I met Duncan Mackay (coincidence?) and it is a truly glorious drop.  I'm the youngest person in the UK who likes it.  That is a BRAPA fact.  It is special.  I don't like all traditional bitters.  Never got on with Black Sheep, John Smith's, Jennings Cumberland, and now Pedigree is starting to annoy me.  But there's something gold standard about Bass.  Saved an average pub experience. 






Next up, the previously largest pub in the UK.  A former theatre, now a 'Spoons.  Figures I guess.

Gadzooks, Palladium, Llandudno (1852 / 3281) really does take the breath away, well once you are deep within it and looking upwards.  You can tell it is massive, there is even a reception committee.  This makes a change from the regular 'Spoons entrance which is "sort yourself out, no need to speak to anyone, sit down, shut up, do the App, get beer, shup up, leave" which I kind of prefer.  The chirpy man doesn't show me to the table, but points vaguely into the distance and says "table 421 - down these stairs, up those next ones, see that lady near the fruit machine, well there's an empty table just to her right". 421??? I squint, keep my eye on the prize, and make a dash for it.  My Glamorgan Pale took yonks to arrive but was good when it did, and god knows how many miles away the bar is in here.  There should be an Uber/BusTimes style element to the App pinpointing your beers progress through the pub on GPS.  A group of old ladies who sound Bolton/Blackburn are debating whether microwaveable bread & butter pudding is acceptable, amongst other things, but my Mum rang, so pub observation had to terminated early! 

Making a dash for it before I forget what he said

Look at it - very Capitol Forest Hill / Coronet Holloway but even grander



Someone's finally woken up 

I nearly collide with a an incoming beer delivery on arrival at pub three, a problem I should've seen coming a mile off.


A miserable greeting and a bunch of customers who refuse to make eye contact will sadly be my abiding memory of Tapps. Llandudno (1853 / 3282).  It always hits harder in a micropub when the welcome is a bit off.  After all, the original template laid out in the depths of Kent by that Herne Bay mastermind was all about no televised horse racing or electronic devices at the expense of the jolly company of strangers, soon to be friends for life whether you like it or not.  It is a gorgeous little place, immaculately done out, and I'm delighted to get sat in this cosy back room, even if the assembled crowd are more interested in virtual Dungeons & Dragons than a real life fluffy cauliflower.  Electronic devices it is then, I try the wifi code 5 times.  No luck.  I ask.  Opportunity for a bit of redemption bantz?  He grunts it should be working.  A minute later, it miraculously is.  NOT that the he 'switched it off and on again' or anything.  The beer is superb quality too, but it chafes a bit in the circs.

I'll let you caption this one

Beer deliv complete, time to get served

Are you sure about this? 

Back in the bag pal, no one gives a bugger

 Time to do something a bit outlandish, (or is it outllandish?), get on a bus to a 5:30pm opener!  Never done owt like this in Wales before.  Nerves a-janglin', but it actually is a bit like getting a bus in England or Scotland or Cornwall or Portland.  Not sure what I was expecting. Mickey Thomas to pop up and bite me in the knackers?  Who knows. 



It is still only 5:15 when I arrive at Penrhyn Arms, Penrhynside (1854 / 3283).  But I see the silhouetted figure of local old man Al in the window, the pub is open, and it seems we have him to thank.  If Al is ready for a pre 17:30 pint, Al gets a pre 17:30 pint.  For an old man who'd I'd expect to proper curmudgeonly, he doesn't half come out with some shit positivity enthused soundbites.  "Tomorrow will be a brighter day" and the like, the stuff you read on gastropub walls.  When he's gone, the guv'nor starts chatting to me.  Proper sound chap, my ale from a place called 'Leicestershire' is superb, no wonder this pub has been in more GBG's than most - said a recent CAMRA email I received about top tier pubs.  So atmospheric too, and to my surprise, he tells me to go outside and explore the landscaped raised tropical garden, with views out to the coast.  Careful of those slippy steps on a wet down, but what a gem.  Pub of the day.

Top guy, top Dow Bridge beer

Al and the pub

Terry Yorath, James Bolam and  ?? 




Of course, it wouldn't be a full BRAPA day without me doing something incomprehensibly fuckwitted.

I may've been spooked by the fact that the bus timetable had been half covered up by a Welsh notice that meant little to me .....


So I walk to the brow of the hill to see if I can see the bus approaching.  It is!  Sadly for me, I've totally underestimated my distance from stop versus speed of bus, and the damn thing flies past the stop!   Idiot!

Oh well, at least I got to witness an awkward stand off between two bitches:


Back in Llanny D, time for one last pub so I can 'green off' the town in full (I had been here before, back in 2013, visiting a pub called Cottage Loaf which I enjoyed, but is sadly no longer in Guide). 


At last, a Llandudno pub which had a mixture of heart, warmth and amusement.  Welcome to the Albert (1855 / 3284).  My initial observations are a bit lukewarm as I'm stopped at a rope, the sign in process is a bit convoluted, and after wondering if they've actually gone to Conwy to source my pint, I'm told it is off, so I swap for TT Landlord, which is great, but chilled to the kind of levels Daddy BRAPA would approve of.  There's plenty of old tourists eating too, but unlike the Snowdon, the pub has more than enough jowly, rugged, ale drinking heroes to make up for it - friendly too, as I find walking through them to get to the loo.  It just has an unpretentious aura, and Colin has been noticed by the staff, so soon main man Stuart who is a lovely chap comes out for a chat all things GBG.  A really positive way to end a bit of a mixed bag in Llandudno, but on the whole, a really fabulous town.  






Back on the train to Chester (where I'm staying for the three nights), and I'm conscious (always a good sign), no I mean, I'm conscious ..... that I still need one more pub to complete the magic six.

Where to hop off?  Colwyn Bay?  Abergele?  Rhyl?  Prestatyn?  Shotton?  Oh dear, well either this train doesn't stop at those destinations, OR they have more than one GBG entry, OR said GBG entry is closed on a Tuesday.

It is getting late anyway, so before I know it, my final tick is in Chester, handily placed equidistant between the train station and my (very basic even by Travelodge standards) Travelodge.



Oh, Chester, lovely town, like a poor man's York (I'm JOKING, don't be cross!)   Seven year since my epic pub crawl here where I forgot which way home was by the end of the night, and about 5 years since I 'greened off' the county of Cheshire in full at Willey Moor Lock.  Inevitably, plenty of gaps have now sprung up.  Cornerhouse, Chester (1856 / 3285) is one such gap, and is going for the 'atmosphere' with more mock tudor than a Henry VIII piss taking competition, candlelit enshrined cutesie bored silly staff - the pub is surprisingly empty considering the prime canal side location and time of day.  I guess everyone is watching Italy v Spain on a giant screen somewhere.  I get very comfy.  The ale selection offers two of my all time faves - Titanic Plum Porter or Salopian Oracle.  I plump for the plum, end of night and all that but am sorely tempted to stay for an Oracle too.  But I don't cos despite what the photos may suggest, I am sensible and fully in control of all my faculties.  See you all for another six pub blog tomorrow!  Hic!  





I'll try and ping my second Welsh blog tomorrow night when I'm back from my latest midweek pub ticking quest.  It is already written.

Take care, Si