Monday 3 March 2014

BRAPA Pre-Season Tour Part 1 : East & West Sussex

We have BT Sport to thank/blame (delete as appropriate) for getting BRAPA off to an early start in Feb as Hull City's trip to Brighton was moved to an impossible Monday night and my trains were already booked for the Saturday.  Well, I wasn't going to waste £60 so it was off to Brighton I headed on the Saturday 6:01am out of York station.  I must be mad.

I was determined in my meticulous planning in the build up the week before, even working out a complex bus journey to a pub in the middle of nowhere  - knowing full well I'd be relying on buses on the Bedfordshire weekend in April, I wanted to test the waters.

Speaking of waters, you'd have to have been living on Mars to be unaware of the recent flooding and gale force winds of the south, cue plenty of messages from home telling me not to walk along Brighton pier in hurricane force winds taking pictures of tidal waves .... that's the degree of intelligence i'm credited with by my nearest and dearest.

I'd packed a rucksack up - my survival kit if you like including a bit of food and soft drink to keep me rehydrated (so I could keep then going back to the ale), my iPhone so I could get on brilliant Beer App "Untappd" to check in my beers, and Twitter (spit!) to give live updates of the pub i was in/place i was at/journey i was on (driving my 10 faitfhul followers mad!).  I also took my EasyAcc charger (best thing ever!) which I learnt about from a group of walkers in Ribblehead so you can charge up without being plugged in.  I packed my heavy beer guide and a highlighter pen so i could get the satisfaction of ticking off the pubs while i was in them.  Am i taking this too seriously?

After a hearty breakfast at Kings Cross (gotta line that stomach!), I was on the tube to London Bridge and across to Brighton by about 10:30am.  Some slightly waterlogged lines caused mini delays, but the sun was out and it was positively tropical as I arrived in a town I've got a lot of time for.

Sadly, I had to forgo my fave pub The Evening Star in place of, of course, my first pub tick of the day.  This was THE MITRE TAVERN as it was an early opener.  Harvey's isn't my favourite brewery but this was a stronger premium one called "Kiss" and a bit tastier than usual.  The locals seemed a quirky bunch, there was no love lost with the barman who had to go and change the barrel for my ale so i couldn't criticize him.  Didn't really like the one room pub layout and ended up squashed near the bogs reading a leaflet about bus trips to Devil's Dyke, food for thought for a future trip I thought as I spotted a pub near to it.

I couldn't afford to hang around so it was back to the train station to Falmer (firstly, I saw a man shin up a lampost and start playing a flute!), where Brighton play of course so I wondered if I was rubbing it in for myself but the SWAN INN doesn't usually allow fans in so I convinced myself I was having the last laugh.  It was a tricky trek to the pub, hadn't been expecting that, but the pub itself was in an area of Falmer that felt very villagey which was nice, considering the football stadium and Sussex university are probably all most people see of Falmer.

The pub contained a group of Blue and White clad lunchers, did they know the game was on Monday night now?  Surely.  I sat in the back room, hiding in case they picked up some trace of Hull fan about me, and watched an engrossing curling game from the Winter Olympics.  The toilet was outside - I always hate finding toilets in new pubs, bain of my life (stupid weak bladder!)

There was still a bit of train chaos as I headed back into Brighton so I contemplated finding another new pub there but with my Dad's words ringing in my head about not getting stranded, I decided to get back up the line as soon as I could.  This meant Burgess Hill and a trip to a trendy sounding bar called QUENCH.  The wind was causing chaos for the staff when I arrived and they had to lock the main door, I like that lock-in feel!

I was chuffed that the beer was great quality, staff friendly, clientele friendly and the place was nowhere as pretentious as I had feared from their website and other descriptions!  I settled down with the sun shining through the large windows and watched a bit of Sunderland v Southampton.  It was as relaxed as I felt all day looking back.

My solitude didn't last long, as I had to pull myself out for it for the trickiest leg of the day - as i mentioned earlier, involving a bus!  I was one stop up the train line to Wivelsfield, but the train station was actually nowhere near Wivelsfield, never mind Wivelsfield Green where my next pub was, grrrr.

So I had to negotiate the number 40 bus to something called the Ote Hall Chapel - this was made worse by a torrential downpour where a friendly jogger stopped for shelter and tried to offer good local advice though he'd never been to the pub in question.  The bus eventually arrived and after the driver struggled to walk out what fare i should be paying(!), I was soon at the Chapel - still with another mile walk to the pub.  The puddles meant i was constantly dodging splashage (if that's a word) and when I finally reached THE COCK INN, I felt I deserved a round of applause.

I was actually greeted by a few indifferent locals and a room of people cooing over some babies which was incredibly annoying as I was soaked and fed up anyway - such is the life of someone taking on this self-imposed BRAPA challenge, I reminded myself.  I stayed for a pint and a half of overly southern ale but again, what did i expect?  I warmed to the place a bit, but glad i've got that journey done with.

Another long walk and bus ride later, I was delighted to see an earlier train had been delayed so I didn't have long to wait for my train to Three Bridges - i deserved a break after that last leg of the journey!

Sadly, my plans to change trains and give an intriguing sounding Crawley pub a try were scuppered by yet more train cancellations.  It was dark by now, time was getting on, so I headed back into London and although i've done a few pubs around London Bridge station, I gave SHIPWRIGHTS ARMS a try.  I didn't really catch it at it's best as it was full of grunting armchair Premier league supporters, but I sat under the screen and enjoyed a pint of Spitfire, you can never go too wrong with that ale.  The staff were excellent considering how busy the pub was and I made myself pretty at home considering the atmosphere.

I'd have liked to tried another pub somewhere near Monument/Bank area but I was conscious of my 21:00 train from Kings Cross so decided to be sensible (boring), play safe and get back there.  Typically, I was back in a flash with time to kill, so I found a pub I'd not seen in the guide before.....

This was QUEEN'S HEAD not far from St Pancras, old and with a great pub feel but full of student bohemian types and the kind of hoppy beers they are in to.  Still, it was nice to get an interesting range after the last two pubs and despite keeping my bobble hat on throughout, I felt pretty comfy here and the pub was a real find for my many future trips to Kings Cross .... oh hang on, I can't really afford to visit a pub more than once anymore can i?  Damn!

I slept most of the journey back, didn't need a pint in the YORK TAP but had one, well you live n learn.  Overall, a successful intro to BRAPA and lots to take from it for future journeys.


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