Friday, 22 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cornwall Part 4 : Feeling Well Chouged

After the traumas of Tuesday, where I walked the Lizard peninsula and beyond, dabbled in some Spingo Special, and paid a fortune in taxis, I needed a 'steadier' Wednesday, and was feeling surprisingly fresh as I took the bus to St Ives at 10am but maybe that's the Premier Inn mattresses for you.

The rumours were true, St Ives is a gorgeous little tourist hole.  Narrow streets and steep hills make it less than ideal for the pub ticker on a mission, it is far more suited to the aimless gawping wanderer, and despite being on the pavement, a car wing mirror hit me in the hand leaving a bruise!  When I looked up to shake an angry fist at the driver, I noticed the wing mirror was already damaged and taped up, and the registration number was German.  Make of that what you will. 

This wasn't a good start, and no time to appreciate views like this ......

 .... because a bussplainer was in my ear telling me I was stood in the wrong place for the Lands End bus and had missed it!  Noooooo.  I ran around the corner and luckily a queue of confused Germans was holding up the bus, so I just had chance to jump on.  German retribution.  Ich liebe dich meine kleine lieblings. 

We headed into the beautiful yet desolate moorlands for my most western GBG Cornwall tick unless you count the Isles of Scilly (which I'm not, yet) and having seen a picture of it in a book, I could see it on the horizon from miles away.  Meanwhile, after a stirring rendition of 99 Red Balloons (ok, that was just me trying to fit in), the Germans all hopped off at Zennor hoping to see a Mermaid with hairy armpits, probably.

My stop was next, and it wasn't 11am but I was ready for a pint.  Hmmm, taking it 'steady' did I say?

1389 / 2135.  Gurnard's Head Hotel, Treen

Quite spectacular isn't it?  Well, from the outside, certainly.  But when I saw the 'Eat Drink Sleep' logo, I realised it was part of the same chain as the less than convincing Coastguard in Mousehole.  And my fears were confirmed when I realised I'd walked into a restaurant, albeit one with excellent staff and above average beer quality, even if my early ale order and exact change did cause the odd look of bewilderment.  Now I wanted to sit inside, get a feel for the place, but apart from a tiny central room which wasn't much more than a glorified walkway, and no comfy seat, I sat at the picnic bench at the front of the pub you can see in the above photo, but not before being an idiot pub tourist and getting in the way of waitresses with my photo taking and bumbling apologies.  Oh well, with the sun baking down, the stray Germans who hadn't gone to Zennor were in the midst of putting walking boots on, looking at maps as birds of prey circled ahead.  People kept clocking me and my pint, and nodded respectfully at me in that "ooh he's got the right idea" (in German) way.  All was calm, serene and life giving until an old man with a wheezy chest parked himself next to me and started drinking fizzy water like the monster he was, two women scooped him up like a dried up dog poop, and took him to the back of the pub where he couldn't do any more damage to my sensibilities.  An excitable man who'd gone into the pub for a wee returned to his waiting wife in the car and exclaimed "there's books in there with secret pictures!"  No idea what he meant. 

There was a nice little epilogue to my time in Treen.  I'd been getting increasingly paranoid that the bus times I'd written down were a load of cobblers, and when I saw a man stood up on a grassy knoll behind me waving his phone in the air trying desperately to get a non existent reception, I asked if he was waiting for a bus.

"No, I'm looking for my photography students but they've gone missing, we're supposed to be photographing Choughs". Cornwall's poster bird!  "Typical students!" he moaned.  Oh, this was BRAPA gold, I thought.  I told him my bus quandry and about BRAPA and how Zennor was my next stop.  "I live in Zennor, and I love that pub!" he replied.

After a moments hesitation, he told me he'd give me a lift down there in the absence of any forthcoming bus.  What a gent.  He thought he might find his students there, or see them on the road.  He dropped me off, and I wished him luck in finding them.

It took me ages to find the entrance to this pub, honestly!  Through a beer garden, skirting around the kitchen, past a toilet, under an archway, turn left, in through this little door.  Phew.

1390 / 2136.  Tinners Arms, Zennor

I wasn't expecting much.  7 GBG appearances in total, and this its first since 2011.  Yet the moment I stepped inside, I knew I'd found an ancient establishment of extreme quality.  Low ceilinged, deliciously dark, bench seating, soothing atmosphere, and I was greeted by a barmaid duo, a cheery young lady and a stony faced Russian with the driest sense of humour in central Zennor.  The former was telling a story, "all my friends had a horse when they were younger but I was never allowed one.  There's a picture of me sitting on a cow with a dress on!"  I blinked in the darkness.  "Sorry for the mental image" she added to me as an aside, which made me ordered the wrong beer, it was fine, ok, average, but not the 5% one they recommended to future customers.  A few colourful characters arrived, more tourist than local but still worth the entrance fee.  "What is the soup of the day?" asked an old couple.  "It is such a surprise, even our chef doesn't know!" But it later transpired it was carrot & cumin, and carrot & coriander yesterday!  If this was the Queen's Head in Newton, it would of course have been "deep red" and "slightly deeper red" which of course, isn't reverse snobbery in any way(!)  A woman then got angry at her hubbie.  They came in for lunch, well she was starving but he just wanted to have a drink then go on a walk.  She ended up storming out.  "SCENES" as the kids say.  I hadn't finished scribbling this down from my judgey dark corner, when an Australian couple arrived at the bar.  This was getting better.  "Can I have a darkish beer with minimum hops?" said the bloke, or Ozmudgeon as he was probably called.  Amazingly, they had one.  "And I just want water cos I've gotta droive these scary roads of yours!" shrieked his wife to the Russian barmaid, who gave her a look of such contempt, it convinced me this was one of the best pubs this holiday.

Feel the quality

At the bus stop, I was glad to see the moody German bloke I'd sat next to on the bus was now waiting to get back to St Ives, and some surprisingly English ladies.  The bus was open topped, so I went upstairs, and it was a brilliant journey back, but when I nearly hopped off too early, I sat next to the English ladies and told them about BRAPA.  They winced when I told them Wetherspoons was next on the agenda, "waaah waaah waahhh why don't you go to the Sloop?" which everyone I've since spoken to about St Ives has said.  My reply "Not in t' GBG mate, not interested!"  But how interesting was a 'Spoons going to be that looked like this?

1391 / 2137.  Hain Line, St Ives

It seemed amazingly small for a Wetherspoons, which I suppose should make it 'cosy' but didn't really as it still had big staircases up to a second bar and toilets, just a bit squashed in really!  A GBG debutant, so presumably recently opened, does St Ives really need a 'Spoons?  York doesn't and has two, both quite useless, so there we go.  This isn't Maltby you know.  Staff were switched on, always good when someone with a 'trainee manager' badge gets behind the bar, puffs out their chest, and helps serve to clear the lunchtime rush, and then looks with disdain at their underlings as if to say "you'll never reach my awesome levels in your 'Spoons career".  Only chain I know where this happens.  High stool posing tables were the order of the day, and I spied a locals corner by a Cornish flag, which the local old blokes seemed to be trying to guard as their own little territory.  I wasn't having this, so I barged past them so I could get a seat out of the way.  It was perhaps the highest high stool I've ever climbed onto, practically nosebleed territory.  Uttterly ridiculous.  With local Peter Beardsley, living Keith Chegwin and a tracksuited slob with the voice of Neil Warnock holding court, I did wonder whether I'd have been safer upstairs with the tourists, but I'd made my bed and had to lie in it! 

It was ok though, for happier St Ives pub experiences were waiting, and I'll tell you about them plus a couple of pre-emptives next time out.

I'm actually not pub ticking tomorrow, a rare Saturday off.  Punishing myself for falling too far behind on my blogs!  Plus I'm all a bit pubbed out after the holiday, a little bit skint, and dare I say it, actually enjoying the World Cup. 


Tuesday, 19 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cornwall Part 3 - More Tales from the Lizard

It was about a three mile walk from Porthallow to Manaccan, between what must be two of the hardest pubs to get to in the entire Good Beer Guide.  Not enough travel bloggers have done this walk (I'm not saying I'm better than them, but I am), and I was in the bowels of the Lizard just glad I saw a grand total of zero vehicles on these narrow country lanes.

At least Mudgeon farm raised my spirits slightly, as I struggled in the heat.  I didn't linger, I can only imagine what the farmer who resides here would be like! 

A fitting tribute 

Another reason I couldn't linger was the mid afternoon 3pm closing time.  It was getting on for 2pm, and I'd absolutely die there and then if I arrived to find a closed pub.

I arrived at what I believed was Manaccan, but couldn't be sure.  Crossed a river that seemed to be running backwards, and saw an ancient tree growing from an ancient church.  Time stood still, sheep danced in formation, a toothless old woman dragged her brittle frame down the street.  Ever seen the film Labyrinth?  It was a bit like that but without David Bowie being an evil nobhead.  

Eventually I found a lovely thatched building that looked like it could be a pub, so I hovered, and a man with an element of the 'Stunted Jonathan Greening' (not as amazing as 'Sexual Jonathan Greening' from Blackpool, but that is a story for another day) saw me photographing the pub and dragged me inside ......

Finally found front of pub, but only on the way out
1386 / 2132.  New Inn, Manaccan

Yes, SJG2 was a brilliant bloke, I think he'd have dragged me inside even if I'd had no intention of visiting the pub, but why else would a stranger come to Manaccan?  He gave a properly rehearsed almost theatrical spiel of food, pub history, lagers, 'craft' ales and eventually the handpulls, and the barmaid was looking as bewildered as me!  He disappeared as soon as I ordered a cask ale (always the way) so I says to her "he's good innie?" but she just looked 100% focused on the job of pulling my pint, which made sense because she was new and still learning her trade.  To the right, a gaggle of relaxed tanned locals (one with disturbingly tight pink shorts) were having a lazy afternoon pre-closure pint or seven.  SJG2 returned with a query for the masses as I hid in the corner and tried to be invisible ..... but in here, well you'd have more chance of achieving invisibility in a Teesside micropub!  "I've got a mate who wants a boat storing .... undercover ..... it has an engine!" he explained in what suddenly became a very West Yorkshire accent.  SJG2, who was a bit of a live wire, disappeared for the final 20 mins, leaving the barmaid in charge on her own for the first time ever.  She seemed panicky at the prospect, but jeez even I could have a go at running this pub for 20 mins on a Tuesday from 2:40pm-3pm.  The locals ordering 'last orders' drinks helpfully told her what to key into the till, presumably so they could get their pints for free.  "I don't like my nails" she complained, struggling to hit the correct buttons.  "Well, I don't like foreigners but we've all got 'em!" replied a local in one of the quotes of my Cornish holiday (he probably meant anyone not from Manaccan to be fair!)  Meanwhile, I had my own query.  "How far to Gweek?"  Well the barmaid guessed three miles, tight pink shorts said 11, but our foreigner lover got it right with his estimation of 7.  "SEVEN?  UGH" I whined .... "Well, when I'm finally sat in there with my pint of Bass, I'll raise a toast to you all!" I concluded, to which they all actually laughed, even though it made little sense, like so much of Manaccan.

Manaccan locals being brilliant in an other worldly way

SJG2 asks where he can hide a boat in Manaccan

Probably some interesting old local photos, but I don't care cos PEOPLE are where it is at!

And that seven mile walk was the most knackering painful part of the holiday.  At least we could find solace in the 'interesting stat' that with 24 appearances in the GBG, the New Inn was a valuable tick, even though you have to go back to 2006 for it's only other post-Millennium appearance, and 1997 before that ..... sorry am I boring you yet?  

After a couple of wrong turnings, I asked two men chatting over a tractor if I was getting close.  "Arrrrrrr, only 20 minutes from 'ere ..... I might see you in there for a pint ARRRHAHA" said the helpful non-deaf one.  

45 minutes later, I finally found it and braced myself for entry.  But not before a lame jokey photo ....

One for the geeks of Gweek 

It's no New Inn or Five Pilchards or Blue Anchor, let's face it!

1387 / 2133.  Black Swan, Gweek

I half expected to find that farmer propping up the bar asking what took me so long, but just as good was a jolly bloke who noted my absolute state of mental and physical exhaustion.  The Bass was on so I could keep my promise to the New Inn locals, and the reason I was so aware of this was I'd read that nice Ian Thurman's Bass directory and it appealed to me.  Not been a huge fan of Bass until my recent trip to Burton-on-Trent, never found a well kept pint of it in York or L**ds or Hull and had it in a tiny canalside village called Zouch once and it was very limp there, but not a GBG pub.  Even in Dolphin in Plymouth back in the day, never found it that amazing.  But here we were, and it was the BEST YET.  Having said that, in the knackered state I was, even a Greene King IPA would've probably been rated as 'rather refreshing'.  Reason I'm rabbiting on like a beer bore is I had little to say about the pub up to this point, pleasant but a bit boring after the last three.  The barman tried to give my change to a jolly / obnoxious bloke at the bar.  "That's why I stand at the bar and chat to everyone" he confided "because he always gives ME everyone's change!"  Interesting tactic.  I sat behind him but he later turned around to ask how I was enjoying my Bass.  "Really good" I said, to which he replied "Good shout, I told ya!" which he definitely didn't as I'd decided what I was having about 3 days before!  As a bit of Chris De Burgh added to the slightly mediocre atmosphere, a nice relaxing sense of well being at having ticked off some really difficult pubs swept over me, and things improved.  A pinstripe trousered Bill Werbeniuk impressed a lady, two old women argued about who was going to pay for their drinks which felt very Father Ted, there was an angry chat about royal baby names being too German, and one of the pool players did a poo and didn't flush.   A perfect conclusion.

Sad I never got to see Jordan x3 and the 4 dogs

Our change grabbing legend

Enjoying my Bass as locals get angry about royal baby names

There were two schools of thought as to what I should do next ..... cut my losses and go back to my Premier Inn, via Penzance, with Porthleven potential.  Or carry on walking for another 2.5 miles up the road towards Nancenoy for another ridiculously remote pub.  

I went for the latter, after all Bass gives you life (well that's probably what a certain M.Taylor would tell you) and I was feeling refreshed and ready to go, even if time was ticking on by now.  

Down some more winding dark country lanes, a bit more traffic but I simply swatted them away like Cornish flies, and an hour or so later, signs started appearing.  

More road walking

Does this mean the pub is around here somewhere? 

Must be close now, just need to find a building to go inside

And with 27 GBG entries, the Trengilly Wartha Inn is the 7th most commonly appearing pub in West Cornwall GBG history, and in every year since 2009, and there's a stat you didn't need to know.

Of course, for all fans of Cornwall real ale pubs AND Neighbours, it is hard not to confuse the Trengilly Wartha with April Rose-Pengilly, but I'm sure you are all aware of this .....

Not a Neighbours actress

Not a GBG Cornwall pub

1388 / 2134.  Trengilly Wartha Inn, Nancenoy

It's a long way to come for a pint of Black Sheep, I can tell ya, but so amused was I to see it on, it had to be done.  What's the worst type of bar blocker?  Probably one who EATS at the bar.  Bowls of chips perhaps, but it was still presented to this pair like a gourmet classic, and they certainly weren't budging, perhaps they couldn't.  I found a seat easily enough despite the surprising busy hustle and bustle in here, but what I did note were the barstools that the blokes were sat on creaking in worrying fashion.  "Oh please give way!" I pleaded to the pub gods, "this would be karma for bar blockers the world over" but sadly the stools just about held on.  Amazingly, they weren't the most annoying people at the bar, this strange bloke who seemed to become some kind of winesplainer (Sommelier ?) enthusing over different wines, and offering unimpressed locals a sip, and even trying to get the barman to try it, even though he was the one being given the tasters!  Despite the problems, I liked this place.  It had a pubbier darker feel than it had any right to, when you looked at those inhabiting it.  Yet, I couldn't quite relax, and I couldn't blame the folk or my pint of B.S.  It was 'how the heck could I get back to Hayle from here?'  Taxi seemed the only way.  So I went to the bar, elbowed a few wine and chip fans out of the way, and was taken to some 'back stairs' (I think this place is residential too) and presented with a phone from 1974, and at the third time of asking, got through to some bloke in Constantine who said he'd pick me up.  Had I remembered Martin's sister lived nearby, I'd have just kipped on her floor instead.  I went back to the bar for a celebratory pint of Potion No 9, as there was an element of Star, Crowlas about this place.  A well-dressed bloke in braces arrived, I thought "heck, my taxi is here already!" and started necking my pint, but he ordered a drink and chatted to some locals so I forgot about him and went to gingerly play the table football game slightly drunkenly, when braces man reappeared and said "you ready then?" so it was him all along.  A funny end to a bizarre day.  

I vowed to have a cheaper, calmer, more straightforward day on the Wednesday.  Did I?  I can't remember now, but I'll do a blog on it in next few days and it might start coming back to me.


Friday, 15 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cornwall Part 2 - Helston is Bad for Your Lizard

In our family, I don't know why, 'liver' is always referred to as 'lizard'.  I think it might go back to Spanish family holidays, so if someone has too much to drink (usually me), the cry will go up "Simon, don't drink too much, it is bad for your lizard!".  And then we all laugh.  Everitt life.

There were no pubs 'on the Lizard' (little tricky bit like a boil that needs lancing on the south coast of Cornwall) in the 2017 GBG, but this year, presumably cos they knew I was trying to complete west Cornwall, they gave me two right buggers that'd hadn't been in for years, Manaccan and Porthallow.  Not even Martin Taylor has done these and he's been to Little Downham.  More on those pubs later.

But first, I was in Helston after a ridiculous double decker bus squeezed down country lanes from Penzance, the highlight of which seeing the Ship in Porthleven from across the harbour, sadly a GBG pub I didn't manage this time (it was 10:20am so not open at the time).  It's not a Guide regular anyway despite appearing in 1974, only FOUR in total.

Helston had a bustling little main street of mainly German tourists, the pavements had little streams of water you had to hop over on each side just to make tourist dodging that little bit more exciting.  The warm-up act before the 'main event' was a Wetherspoons making a GBG debut .....

1383 / 2129.  The Coinagehall, Helston

A one eyed man smoking propped up on a stick said 'arrrrrr' as I entered.  From what I'd read, he was the kind of chap I'd expect to see in the Blue Anchor (the second pub I was due to visit) but he obviously mixing things up a bit which was nice to see.  At the bar, a miserable looking lady served me some decent local honey beer, and then a posh English version of Crocodile Dundee came in and asked very politely if he could use the toilets.  She simply scowled at him, as if you say "can I even stop you?" and after an awkward stand-off, he went on through.  I don't approve of people using toilets in pubs without buying a drink, but we all get caught short on occasions (especially me), and his behaviour versus hers meant that I sided with him.  You could tell this was a modern 'Spoons as the colour scheme and decor were more post 2010 than the earlier efforts, i.e. no vibrant patterned carpets and cosy booths, but beige and pastel 'safe' colours, which created a chilly slightly drab air, especially at this early hour.  Sure there was a grand staircase, roof terrace, and it'd all been done to a high standard, but it lacked the charm of Camborne's equivalent last night.  You could tell it was new because the staff were actually signing the toilet wall chart to say the hourly cleaning check had been performed, and that NEVER happens.  One girl had even signed it with a smiley ;)  And when another staff member, 'chiselled Dean Gaffney' approached me to ask if I was ok and wanted anything else, my view of pub staff in here had totally turned 360 degrees.  My table had crumbs all over, and when I tried to pick up the pub magazine so Tim could tell me what I should be thinking, it stuck to the table, so maybe this was more traditional 'Spoons than I'd first thought.

Anyway, there was no time to dilly dally, we ALL knew why I was really excited about being in Helston, and this was to visit a pub I'd heard about when I first became fascinated with pubs, probably over ten years before BRAPA begun.  With 40 GBG entries, it is second only to the Seven Stars in Falmouth for totally appearances on my list.

Anticipation built as my phone did it's usually 'freezing' trick (in for repair next week hurrah!) so I had to hover opposite the pub before I could take these two photos......

1384 / 2130.  Blue Anchor, Helston

I decided the best way to approach this was to pretend as though I knew nothing about anything (DON'T!), and had just wandered in randomly off the street cos it looked like a pretty building with an anchor on a thatched roof.  The corridor was kind of 'open air' with various side rooms almost like chalets off to each side, beer barrels cluttered at the bottom by the bogs.  It felt incredibly olde worlde and very 'harbourside', you could feel the hands of invisible drunken scurvy sea dogs of old on your shoulders .... and this was before even a sip of their ale.  Oh yes, I'd heard so much about their home-brewed 'Spingo' beers, and knew the 'Special' was famed.  I opened the clattery old door to the right, and was immediately mobbed by a puppy called George.  As happens so often in local Cornish pubs, someone said "don't jump up George!" with the unsaid 'he's not one of us, you don't know him' lingering somewhere in the Cornish ether.  Soon I was asking about the ales, secretly driving her towards the 'Special' by asking 'so what do the locals drink?' but she kept pushing back towards this guest pale, and the 'middle', even giving me tasters of both , before I decided that playing games was a waste of time and said 'gimme a pint of Special please!'  I wasn't going to waste my once in a lifetime visit to here and NOT have it.  There were only two customers in, the bloke suggested I should've had a pint of 'mixed' which is half 'middle' and half 'special' to "take the edge off" alas it was too late.  I told him I'd only ever had a pint of mixed in Lancashire, but he looked at me like Lancs was a concept beyond his reach.  When he took George for a walk, I was left with a moody woman cos the barmaid went out the back, so that was my cue to explore the pub, and I sat in this delightful side room which I christened 'the BRAPA suite' as brewery blokes rolled barrels up and down the corridor.  Less than a third of the way down my 6.6% pint, the room started to gently spin!  Spingo Special. Now I know 6.6% is a strong beer to have at 11:30am after a 'Spoons pint, but I actually think was stronger.  Magical place, almost other worldly.  And for me to say that after a ten year build up in my mind means it must be a very good pub.

The way in

Gizza Special!


Bottle for the taxi journey?

Walking down towards the loo

The BRAPA suite and my pint of Spesh.
Coincidence that there was a taxi rank outside the pub?  Probably not, as I crawled from door to taxi and breathed Spingoey fumes on a poor Eastern European lad and asked him to take me to Porthallow.  I knew it'd be expensive but it was now or never, and I probably couldn't be better situated in terms of being near to civilisation but on the cusp of the Lizard. 

Like so many Eastern European drivers I've had, he didn't give much away in his facial expressions, almost like an Iron Curtain of pokerfacedness.  As the lanes became narrower to almost farcical level, and we started taking wrong turns, I wondered whether he was loving this adventure or wondering what he'd done to deserve picking up a weirdo like me.  I kept apologising anyway just to be safe.

When we arrived, I thanked him profusely and didn't tip him on the understanding that this made up for the wrong turnings!  Which was more than fair.  Honest.  Or do I protest too much?    Anyway, glorious location once more, I breathed in some sea air as that Spingo was still making me feel woozy.

1385 / 2131.  Five Pilchards Inn, Porthallow

Following the Blue Anchor must be the pub equivalent of going on stage after Chas n Dave on a Sunday afternoon in a pub within earshot of the Bow bells.  So I feared for the Five Pilchards and that 'come down' factor.  But I needn't have worried, this was one of the most delightful Cornish pubs I've visited to date.  A totally serene atmosphere greeted me, one of those where you almost tiptoe to the bar and whisper your pint order (Trunk Bitter whatever that is) and take it to a table as carefully as you can, trying not to creak on the ancient floorboards, nudge a table, or scrape your chair on the floor.  A local who looked like a well fed cat glanced up at me from his copy of The Times, as if to say 'don't you dare disturb the peace, meow'.  I was happy to go along with him, what with the great nautical decor, another atmosphere that engulfed you.  Sadly, the peace was spoilt by a nobhead in a Christmas jumper and a cockney accent, who'd got lost finding the loos which were hidden outside in the garden.  I tell you, outdoor pub = great pub.  I went after him and the artwork was utterly frightful and uninkeeping with the whole situation, like something Beryl Cook painted in her 'acid farmhouse' years.  A Dad and his odd kids commented enthusiastically on the food, too much for Cat bloke who peered over his glasses and gave out a small 'mew'.  'Whisky' the dog came in and got much attention, which upset the other dog 'Jenice'(?) and then growling began, Cat Bloke looked terrified, hid under his Times, and the serenity of the past half hour finally died.

Terrified, you should be.

Pub decor being beautifully nautical, not unlike Star in St Just

Whisky the dog laughs at owners unique ship's wheel headgear
14th appearance in this GBG for this pub, but only its first since 2005, which surprised me, but a top Cornish BRAPA stat I'm sure you'll agree. 

I now had a 3 mile walk in front of me to Manaccan, my other Lizard pub.  More of that in part 2 later on ......