Sunday 28 September 2014

BRAPA - Yorkshire Dales Part I

It's fair to say that the "Saturday North Yorkshire challenge" has struggled to get off the ground so far.  Aldbrough St John became a glorified County Durham day, Appletreewick was hijacked by West Yorkshire interference, so after months of planning and false starts, it was great to finally get Askrigg and Aysgarth under my belt!

With my BRAPA bag returned to me this week (thanks Post Office Vaults and Hop Studio), all was well with the world and I was on the 7:45am train to L**ds where I needed to change for Garsdale.  The saddest three words to a public transport commuter such as me .... "replacement bus service!"  This took me to Shipley where I then boarded an eventually delayed train to Carlisle.  Luckily, my connection from Garsdale, "the little white bus" waited for me.

A "bus" but not as I know it (I was the sole passenger)
In truth, this "bus service" was a minibus driven by a friendly Geordie chap who even saw me as his one potential passenger and gave me direction across the railway line!  So, it felt like a £3 taxi ride and despite the threat of picking up some Devon bell-ringers from a former GBG pub in Hardraw, we carried on our way and reached sunny Hawes at 10:50am.

White Hart Country Inn, Hawes - After stocking up on real Wensleydale and local bottled ale, I was the first customer in the best of Hawes' many pubs.  They were still "turning the beers on" when I arrived and I settled down to a Wensleydale Semer Water, a pleasant start.  With the sun streaming in to the comfy furnished pub, the echoes of a local radio station and friendly staff who I chatted to/bored with BRAPA stories, this was up there as a really good pub experience.

My first pub of the day, bang on 11am in Hawes.

Kings Arms, Askrigg - The 156 bus was delayed (the American tourist seemed less stressed by it than me) and I was sold a £9 freedom ticket to get me all the way to Northallerton, but for now I was stopping off at this wonderful pub, used in All Creatures Great n Small, which I own on DVD.  The pub was a fantastic unspoilt rural style one, with a narrow passageway to get to the entrance, and a series of individual rooms, all stone flagging, wood, nice and basic as I like it.  The barmaid immediately asked in a mildly threatening way "ARE YOU A HERRIOT FAN?" but when I explained BRAPA was the main purpose of my visit, she quickly lost interest.  I sat in the room I most recognised from a scene in the series, drinking a dark malty Drovers Arms under a photo of the vet's first (more attractive) wife, smiling up from that convertible.  Some knackered walkers came in, they'd come all the way from Leyburn so I couldn't complain about my forthcoming walk to Aysgarth!

Amazing old style pub in Askrigg

George & Dragon - Aysgarth - After a punishing 4 mile power walk along an A road with no pavement, I reached Aysgarth with just enough time to sneak in a pint before my bus connection.  This was my second Yorkshire Dales beer of the day,a Millstone End which must be a new one as it didn't exist on my beer App, Untappd.  I must say thanks to Yorkshire Dales brewery for giving people in this part of the world an option other than Black Sheep and Theakstons.  This was my least favourite pub of the day because 80% was taken over to diners, though only about 3 people were eating!  A pet hate of mine.  The locals bar was small and full of errrm, local drinkers, the outside was the only other bet but the rain had just started.  On the plus side, the beer was good and the landlady seemed a friendly old skool type, didn't tell me off for using my mobile phone even though they are forbidden in the "restaurant"!  As I tried to work out whether Linda Robson from Birds of a Feather was one of the diners, time was up and the bus to Bedale was due.

George & Dragon, Aysgarth - nicer out than in!

Green Dragon, Bedale - A bumpy one hour bus journey careering through the Dales did little for my bladder but I just about held on, and after ordering a surprisingly pleasant pint of Pedigree New World (this was a Marstons pub), a pretty barmaid with strangely white teeth kept my pint behind the bar for me whilst I went to relieve myself ... it's the little details that help!  Bedale was a place very reminiscent of a smaller Northallerton, a bit like Barnard Castle and this big high street pub was open plan, full of people obsessed with betting on horses, but it maintained a comfy friendly feel throughout.  It had a very different feel from the other pubs I'd been in today.

On Bedale's nice main drag lies this good Marstons pub

My final bus of the day took me to Northallerton, where I was able to connect for a train back to York to complete a nice circular route  I still had time for pints in both the Tithe Bar in Northallerton (a wonderful Market Town Tavern which does great fish platters) and the ever dependable York Tap which had a noisy Saturday evening atmosphere, but not as bad I was expecting - the Milk Stout from Ashover was wonderful.  Then, fish & chips and home.  What a top day!

Smug & drunk : me in York Tap basking in the glow of a BRAPA day well done.

Note the lack of numbers on today's pubs, this is because I am still cross-ticking (highlighting) the new 2015 GBG so no idea exactly what I am up to.

Despite everything, September has been a successful month with 24 new ticks.

In October, I will be lucky to get 10 ticks with too many distractions in the form of a surprise birthday party, a housewarming party, Grandma visiting, 2 more friend birthdays, 2 gigs and a week in Spain!  I'll never have the time to fit much BRAPA in unless I can hijack some of the above events for my own ends, hahaha.  Must get back on the midweek West Yorkshire trail, but probably not this coming week.  Wish me luck!


Monday 22 September 2014

BRAPA - South Shields and a bit of Newcastle

Ha'way lads, or should it be Ho'way?  In any case, I tried to "cleanse" myself from two solid days of York beer festivalling with a random trip up North to the made up county of Tyne and Wear, which I have identified as "easiest to finish" in the BRAPA ticking terms.

Something in my psyche tells me that any day off work is a wasted opportunity if I don't jump on a train and tick 5 or 6 pubs off.  So it was with something of an aching liver that I arrived in the grey barren wasteland of South Shields, and if I needed any more evidence that Phil Brown's tan was fake (I didn't), here it was.

I was immediately 'gripped', a result of a ticket buying blunder I only had myself to blame for but the criminal way in which I was treated said more about the usual users of zone 3 of Newcastle's Metro system than me.  So I was in a bad mood as I started my ticking session.

534 - Wouldhave, South Shields - So picture the scene, I'm still smarting from paying about £30 for a £4.90 ticket.  It's a Wetherpsoons.  It is cold,  The landlord is unfriendly.  I get an ale from Yeovil that has travelled relatively well but is classic brown Spoons fare.  The atmosphere resembles a morgue, but then again, Friday 11am is hardly going to be banging is it?  I try and blend in with the local grizzled old men with Steve Bruce noses and grim expressions.  I read about William Wouldhave, the probable inventor of the lifeboat who was from Shields, but even this is debatable according to Wikipedia.  Anyway, I drink up swiftly and move on.

The Wouldhave : nice bins, shame about the rest!

535 - Stag's Head - A short walk back towards the centre found me at this lovely unspoilt National Inventory pub.  It had a friendly, family style atmosphere with jolly locals but only one beer on, Draught Bass.  Three more handpumps turned round, and they were pulling one through as I left which was frustrating, but as far as Bass pints go, it was up there (unlike my last experience of this beer in Zouch),  Being a geek, I consulted my 1982 ale guide which tells me the one ale here was also Draught Bass,  How little can change in 32 years, kind of nice really!  I knew my place in this pub, went to sit in the corner, next to an interesting sign (see below) which summed it up nicely.  This pub also gets it's moment in BRAPA history as it was the first I highlighted in my 2015 GBG.

My designated seat in the Stag's Head

536  - Maltings - Just a few yards away from the wonderful Jarrow brewery, it was a case of 'third time lucky' as I struck gold in this wonderful building.  The landlady, who was smoking outside, directed me upstairs and gave me all the latest news.  Jarrow's new ale, Shipwright, was selling like hot cakes and I could see why - pint of the day.  The surroundings were comfortable, old wood panelling, carpetted, dark, plush old sofas.  A bit like a cross between the Victoria F&C in Leeds and an old gentleman's club.  One you can't do justice to simply through description.  The landlady also told me that the Alum Ale House was closed for refurbishment which was a shame but saved me a walk .... altogether now "WE SAY CLOSED ALUM".

My reclining armchair view in the Maltings

537 - Steamboat - In my mind, I'd probably decided Maltings was pub of the day but with my mindset now a  lot more positive (and slightly addled), I entered this pub and was immediately convinced I'd found a very different kind of 'classic'.  The barmaid sold me a "Last Tap" by Consett, another great local brewery.  The beer range in here was superb.  She then told me about their forthcoming Hallowe'en beer fest (25 ales, 1 cider), superhero based, she's going as Robin from Batman but said I could make up a superhero if I wanted.  BRAPA-man?  Has a nice ring to it.  After making my fool of myself walking around the pub to find the gents, the locals pleasingly thought I was a student busily working (what, in September?) as they saw me highlighting pages of a thick text book.  Little did they know ha ha ha! The pub was, in my opinion, more like some of those classic North Eastern ones like Cumberland, Free Trade or Saltgrass in it's heyday.  Wonderful.

Steamboat - a North East classic
My bladder just about survived a painful journey back to the Toon where a Newcastle fan with tunnel vision, so he said, rambled on about Pardraw, Padrew, Pradew (well, let's just say he couldn't pronounce it).  I used the Centurion as a public toilet (all it's good for in my opinion) before continuing my crawl.

538 - Lady Grey's, Newcastle - Easily my third favourite pub of my trip, this had been highly recommended by several people I know and although a busy post-work atmosphere meant I had to perch on a high stool, it was still comfy and somehow, maintained a calm and relaxed hubbub.  Another superb range of ales included the amazing Rudgate No 1 Vanilla Mild, possibly the best beer of 2014.  This was after a slightly disappointing Durham Citra something, I barely believe I got the right pint as it had no citrus whatsoever!  The pub also had quite a studenty feel, I guess it is that time of year, and the staff were plesant enough, but the whole experience lacked the personable charm of the Steamboat or the sheer class of Maltings.

Rudgate No 1 Vanilla Mild - oh yes!
Ben was texting me, and we met at Head of Steam which is neither a 'tick' or even a GBG 2015 pub - get with the programme Master Andrew!  So I had to wait until the following morning for my final tick.

539 - Pleased to Meet You, Newcastle - A new GBG entry, an 11 o'clock opener, it was a no brainer before our traditional pre-match Bodega and post-match Bridge session.  Lots of plusses to start with.  It was open before 11am, how often does that happen?  Especially when it is raining.  I was greeted by three happy smiling young female bar-staff (always the best type) and I ordered a Green Hop by Tyne Bank (yet another superb brewery from this part of the world).  Sadly, despite it's obvious quality, it had a lagery sweet taste so wasn't for me.  The guide describes this place as a "Gin and Real Ale Eatery" and this, it's name, the shabby chic decor, 9 craft beers, kind of tells you that this is never going to be my favourite pub in Newcastle but as they say diplomatically in CAMRA circles, "a welcome addition to the scene".  When Tom arrived, he was offered table service before he'd had chance to breathe having said "we're going to lose today", did they think he was a hipster? 

Me after one too many at Sid James Park.
So overall, a successful BRAPA session.  I'm taking the opportunity this week to rest my liver, do some "book work" and will have some GBG 2015 stats for you soon but Tyne & Wear is a county I will really be looking to push in the coming year.  What a shame Sunderland is on boxing day, the most restricting pub and travel day of the year.  Some more impromptu trips like this are required.


Sunday 14 September 2014

BRAPA - Oxford : Blind Man's BRAPA

As I arrived in "that sweet city with her dreaming spires" (as someone more poetic than me once said), the sun was shining and decided to spend a couple of hours just wandering around the old colleges, university parks and lakes, hidden cobbled streets, and just general, well, trying to get a bit of culture in.  I'd allowed myself more than enough drinking time anyway, and felt I'd enjoy the pubs more if I've earned them!

I feel like I'm groping around the pubs with a blindfold on at the moment.  The 2015 Guide was published Thursday, I still haven't received one in the post, and neither Waterstones in Leeds or Oxford had any in stock yet.  Luckily I found a local newspaper article to give me the lowdown on which pubs had been included this time around.

A bit of pre-pub culture in Oxford
528 - Rose and Crown - A mile or so north of the centre was this little gem.  There was a market going on in the street outside so even walking down and finding the right door was a struggle,  It was an old Victorian inn, multi-roomed and I took advantage of the nice weather to sit in the walled courtyard which reminded me of the Golden Ball in York a bit,  I felt like a trailblazer because soon, everyone seemed to be outside with no one left in the pub!  There were some interesting local ales on, I had a lovely malty one from Shotover called Trinity, staff seemed functional.  An old woman ate fish n chips in my eyeline and made me hungry, so I left.

I then decided to embrace the local market and got fleeced £5 for a tub of spicy olives.  Well, I got a free taster of creamy feta so who's winning?  Well not me, obviously.

Top Uni parks action - taken from a bridge
529 - Lamb & Flag - Arguably one of the more famous Oxford real ale pubs, this is centuries old and had a lovely proper old pub feel. It nearly was turned into student housing but after a campaign to save it, all the profits now actually go to Uni scholarships so was glad to help with that!  My tipple of choice was a Palmers beer brewed for the pub, Lamb & Flag Gold which sounded a lot nicer in my "100 Pub Days Out" book (thanks John!) than it did in reality, where it had that southern and "brewed for pub" feel.  The staff seemed a friendly studenty bunch, a couple sat next to me were from York, and in the back room, a heated debate started on Dr Who and the regeneration process.  It echoed through the pub until everyone in the room I sat in was shaking their heads in disbelief! 

Best hubbub of the day in the Lamb n Flag

I then had the most eventful walk of the day, through the centre of Oxford's main shopping area on a busy Saturday afternoon,  I saw a girl selling "life changing wooden spoons" and a student excitedly whispered to his friend that he'd just bought a lego Hans Solo frozen in Carbonite - only in Oxford.

530 - St Aldate's Tavern - The centre piece pub of the article about Oxford's 2015 GBG inclusions, this had really friendly staff and a nice light airy feel despite being an obviously old building.  The beers were also interesting and the Animal brewery "hiss" I had to create myself on Untappd, which past some time.  Sadly, with all that was good came the inevitable "popular with the locals" and the front bar designated for drinkers was totally full, so I had to perch in the back bit more geared for food, not that this felt like a gastro pub in any way.  Overall, I'd probably make this my "pub of the day" and if I'd got a proper seat, it'd have won hands down and deserves it's guide place.  This is exactly why I need the 2015 GBG now ... grrrr.

Interesting beers, friendly staff - at St Aldate's Tav
531 - Royal Blenheim - Another Victorian pub, this one had a more modern loungey feel than a lot of the ones I'd visited both here and in Cambridge, and watching Sky Sports News with the sound of a local Rugby Union match certainly was a change from the hubbub I'd got used to.  Before this though, I had a new pub experience as I was witness to a job interview, well an English gent had met with an Eastern European woman who was obviously a cleaner / nanny / call-girl (probably not all three although you never know, plus I'd hate to stereotype).  I felt like I should have been keeping meeting minutes as I supped a beautiful Village Idiot (this pub is tied to White Horse brewery I think).  It was my pint of the day and brought back memories of the Wellington in Hull (sob), The staff seemed concerned the rugby commentary was disturbing me, though from what exactly I couldn't be sure.

Interview action at the Royal Blenheim

532 - Chequers - I often find pubs suffer from being a bit too central and I couldn't help but compare this to Olde Starre Inne in York.  Lovely old beamed 16th century, formerly a money-lenders, attentive staff but with that tourist trap feel and obviously very busy on a Saturday afternoon, especially when the weather was as nice as it had been,  My Hook Norton Lion was nice enough, without being a real winner, and I reckon I found the nicest seat in the snuggest room so made the most of it.  I reckon it'd be a cracker on a cold winter's evening.

Chequers in the bustling city centre

533 - Far From the Madding Crowd - My final pub of day had been wandering around in circles for half an hour, as it was hidden (well, "hidden" to an increasingly drunken me!) down a side street called Friars Entry.  I'd heard of this pub before back from the days Hull City used to play at the Kassam, and it was near enough the station to makes sense to go to last.  Again, I was expecting something dark, oaky, woody but was quite carpetted and furnished in parts.  As soon as I saw a new Acorn beer (Helga), I had to have to as I have a weakness for this brewery.  The locals seemed a lively and friendly bunch, I was tired out by this stage and wondered how anyone had any energy.  When Hull City are back in league two in a few years, I'll gladly bring the Welly gang here.

Far From the Madding Crowd, Friars Entry.

So, another 6 pubs successfully ticked off and didn't even have to change trains.  I'd originally planned to visit Abingdon but there was so much to go at in Oxford, I was happy to keep it simple.  I'd say I preferred the beer in Cambridge, pub wise not a lot to choose between them,  The city deserves a visit, and was glad to get some culture in as the Cambridge logistics meant that was never really possible.  

Next week is York beer fest so no midweek BRAPA yet again, I am thinking of doing something north eastern on the Fri but haven't decided whether it will be North Shields, South Shields, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Morpeth or somewhere else (and of course, am in Newcastle the following day to watch Steve Bruce's Toon Army take on managerless Hull City).   But I need that bloody 2015 GBG ASAP now, am getting frustrated.  Book work is required.

See you all soon for another BRAPA update.


Sunday 7 September 2014

BRAPA - Cambridge - 8 New Pub Ticks

First rule of BRAPA club (apart from the fact that, of course, there is no BRAPA club) must surely be to eat.  And keep eating.  When will I learn that drinking on an empty stomach impairs my blogging ability?  It doesn't have to be a sit down meal.  Just a scotch egg here, a pork pie there, bag of crisps, swig of water,

When I'm BRAPing alone, as I often tend to, the survival instincts kick in and I'm sensible.  Yet when I have travelling companions, it's like I feel more untouchable and end up losing bags, losing my memory, losing the plot.  So I apologise in advance for my hazy recollections.....

Cambridge : a lovely city, picturesque, lots to see and do, classy, cultured, a real sense of calm I don't find in York.  The only downside was crazy cyclists going too fast, and too many of them.  I suddenly have a hatred for the Cambridge cyclist.

Let's stop waffling and get down to pub business.

520 - Devonshire Arms, Cambridge - As myself and my travelling companion Jig awaited our lift to Histon (the centrepiece of our day), we had time to squeeze in this little cracker just a short walk equi-distant from our B&B and the train station.  The beers had very much a Milton leaning - a brewery I've never been too convinced about having only really had them in the Pembury Tavern before THAT win at Arsenal.  I have now fully revised my opinion after a delightful pint of Minerva and a nice sample of the Pegasus.  Staff and locals at the bar were friendly helping us choose, beer was cheap for Cambridge, pub was woodeny, perhaps not the comfiest in winter, but I'd recommend this to anyone. What was with the huge tables?  Do they expect everyone who visits to be in a group of 20, or do they get a lot of giants coming in from the fens?  Very odd.

Devonshire Arms : Milton heaven near our B&B

521 - Red Lion, Histon - Our lift arrived and before we could blink, we were plonked outside this pub in a one-horse village 4 miles North of Cambridge, home of one of Leeds Utd's more amusing capitulations.  The first thing I must say about this pub is "what a ceiling!"  I've never seen so many pump clips and old toby jugs.  It was quite a feast for the eyes if you are an ale geek like me.  A ridiculous German beer festival (£30 a ticket!) was due to start that evening but didn't detract from a great range of English ales, including a 7.5% Christmas Black Sheep they'd forgotten had been in the cellar so only being used now!  Barman seemed to fancy himself a bit, it didn't strike me as a friendly pub really, as a group of middle aged posho's had hilarious conversations where they'd throw in a random line such as "he seems to be masturbating less vigorously these days".  Clare's Dad arrived to give me some beermats and the inside track on Cambridge's best pubs (we knew we'd never get round all 12 so needed some recommendations).  Nice pub, food looked good, cosy atmosphere and I bet it's a cracker in the winter when the fire is in.

Top ceiling action at the Red Lion in Histon

522 - Maypole, Cambridge - This was a must visit pub simply because it had 16 ales on, 8 in one bar and 8 in the other and because it stayed open til 2am, we were back there for our last pint of the day.  It is owned by an Italian family which is reflected in the food menu, and was a light and airy pub with a nice large outdoor area.  We sat in the back bar both times and despite it feeling almost like an Italian cafe when you first sit down, it soon beds into a really good pub and was always busy which is a good sign.  All 16 beers were from interesting breweries and perfectly kept, the chocolate one was beautiful, my Oakham Inferno, even better.

Who knew Italians and Real Ale could be such a winning combo?
523 - St Radegund, Cambridge - On the famous King Street, this was a lovely old pub which really did feel like it had been around for centuries.  It was just a small one roomer but it had a cracking atmosphere.  I spied a series of beers from a Saffron Walden brewery (where I grew up - the town I mean, not the brewery though it'd explain a lot!) but the landlord talked me out of them and chose me a Milton instead!  He then proceeded to chat to all his friends despite an influx of people and his poor barmaid being run off her feet.  It's little things like that I notice.  It's impossible to fault this pub in any other way.

St Radegund, at the end of King Street.  Very good.

524 & 525 - Hopbine & Elm Tree - This is where I struggle to remember.  Both merge into one.  In fact, Jig and Clare had to convince me I'd definitely been in the Elm Tree.  In one, we sat at the bar.  One had lots of bric a brac.  In the Hopbine, I had a fairly average pint of Britannia from the local Buntingford brewery I kept seeing.  In the Elm Tree, I had a B&T Edwin somebody Stout which was lovely and blackcurranty once I got a second wind to drink the damn thing.  Both were proper olde worlde pubs, exactly my kind of places, I think that's part of the problem.  I might even have fallen asleep - who knows?  Rubbish Simon!

At the bar in the Hopbine

526 - Kingston Arms - Reading the pub descriptions in the build up to my trip, this was a must visit and thankfully, Clare's Dad agreed.  Even our landlady at the B&B said it was a cracking pub and I didn't get the impression she was an ale aficionado!  The fact it was so heaving was a combination of being well into Saturday evening and the fact that locals know a good pub when they see it.  Another huge range of perfectly kept ales meant our worries about 'flat southern beer' now seemed ridiculous.  They even had heads on most of them - and no, don't ask me about sparklers.  We had to sit outside, even getting a seat here was a problem and Jig finally put our food woes behind us by ordering three huge bowls of chips - and what good chips they were!  When Hull City are back in league two, this could be my pre-match venue.

My travelling companions enjoy a pint on a very thin table.

527 - Live and Let Live - The final pub tick of this trip (and possibly, the 2014 GBG) was another fantastic cosy pub which again leaves me running out of superlatives.  I was never expecting Cambridge to be THIS good for ale.   My Nethergate 'Lemon Head' slipped down a lot more easily than the last couple, a nice hint of lemon but no more than that.  The average age of the people in here seemed a bit older than the last place, which made me feel younger!  I made friends with a funny little dog that kept jumping up at me, Clare's boyf James turned up for a post-work drink and to pick her up, and I really couldn't have felt more content.

So, well done to Cambridge and a few days rest for my liver now as I hope the 2015 GBG arrives so I can get into my "book-work" (a phrase coined by Prof Charles Taylor, NOT Prof Tom Irvin).  And then we'll keep the educated city theme going with a trip to Oxford next weekend.  Surely the pubs can't compete with this, but I hope they do.

'Til next time, good bye!  Si