As people keep asking me what my first BRAPA pub tick was (an impossible question because I've been visiting pubs since 1997 and drinking ale since 2001), I am doing my best to find the answer by going through all the 2015 GBG pubs which I did in the long, distant, and sometimes, more recent past......
41. LOUNGE, Plymouth - Visited some time after 12 noon on 9th December 2006, this could be the earliest example of a pre-emptive tick. I'd had a very jolly experience in the very local Artillery Arms and the locals recommended me this place, so I thought despite it not being in the new 2007 guide, I'd give it a try pre-match. It was very lounge-like as a matter of fact, a little too geared up for food and diners, who never really arrived. I drank the only interesting guest I could see, a well kept Late Red by Shepherd Neame before a new bunch of Plymouth fans took me under their wing, and on to a pub which didn't even sell cask beer, but at least had a screen showing a live match. Very friendly bunch, one of many superb experiences in Plymouth.
42. MARKET TAVERN, Durham - How many times I've been in here I cannot be sure, but it featured on my initial 2002/3 crawl with John, when his Greek-crush Jacinta randomly popped up in the town with her friends, and a more recent experience where I have vague recollections of loud hen type women, and barrel shaped tables impossible to sit at full of torn up beer mats, sticky old beer stains, and people ordering food in a chaotic manner. In fact, beer aside, I always found it a bit like the latter experience and cannot say it is my favourite pub in this fine town with a cathedral (city you might argue).
43. GOLDEN EAGLE, Southsea (Portsmouth) - 22/11/2008 and one of the craziest travelling days in history as a replacement bus was required to take us from York to somewhere further south but worse on a freezing 6am start. Luckily, we met our friends in Victoria station and there was much beer on the train meaning i wasn't too strung up about being late for pre-match pubs. As it was, we changed our plans to go to a pub nearer Fratton Park (this one) and I was quite worse for wear when we got there. Dad later told me the pub had a very aggressive atmosphere so I'm glad I was unaware, as we sat in a far corner and enjoyed what we could of a shortened pre-match session. This may also be the pub we went back to post-match when it was busy and the landlord told me "no hats allowed". It had been raining so I protested I'd only just got in, his reply "well you are inside now so hat off!" Unimpressed, I took my ale outside and phoned my Mum so I had someone to sound off to, before a similarly chaotic journey home involving top trumps and Billy the tiger mascot hiding a sleeping Chris Irvin's contraband beer. All in a days work!
44. JUNCTION INN, Southampton - 29/11/2011 and you can generally rely on the southern supporters to pick a good pub for themselves (though they are rather smug so I'd never admit it publicly) but this wasn't a great example. We'd been having a lovely cosy session in the South Western Arms and whilst I understood Chris Douglas wanting to join his buddies, why Mark and Ben felt the need to follow to this Greene King only pub left me bewildered. Anyway, we did so for BRAPA purposes, it was a good move. The barstaff were friendly although Mark's "I'm a Northerner conquering the south" attitude alienated him a bit even if he was trying to be tongue in cheek. I stayed in the far bar away from the SS, it was a very nice pub in many ways but GK + SS stopped it being as good as the previous one.
45 - KINGS FEE, Hereford - My imagined utopia that was Hereford on my little jaunt probably in the spring of 2007 really saw come down to earth with a bang the second my train arrived. It wasn't helped that amongst the grey leaden skies and concrete on a busy main road was this identikit 'Spoons house. The plan was to visit this pub first as I'd need some tea. I sat on a high stool in the centre of the pub as it was 'chucking out of work time' and it felt too busy on my own to order some food, so I supped my standard 'Spoons pint and made a mental note that I'd need to eat later. End of story!
46 - THREE HATS, Milton Regis - 5th October 2013 saw the infamous letter "Q", a crazy sojourn down to Kent and the longest of all A-Z days. Having negotiated Queenborough and Sheerness, I found myself alighting the train at Sittingbourne and a mile or so walk later, I was in the little suburb of Milton Regis where I stumbled upon this excellent little pub. Not a CAMRA member at the time, the landlady encouraged me to "lie" about it so I received the discount, a lovely Portobello Pale from that northern outpost of London! When Mr landlord started chatting to me about ale, I didn't know whether I had to keep up the CAMRA member pretense so I did but felt guilty. The locals were squashed against the bar so I couldn't see all the ales on, they were watching some sporting event of little interest. The rest of the pub seemed to have to negotiate boxes and general clutter but rather than feeling it was untidy, it just made it feel like a chaotic front room. There may also have been a dog that kept trying to escape, though I could have made this bit up.
|A perfect, discounted pint in the Three Hats, but shhh don't tell anyone!|
47, SPORTSMAN, Croxley Green - Ahhh, Watford away. So often the scene of our gang struggling to find somewhere decent to drink in the vicinity. This was one of our more outlandish attempts and really wasn't worth it in my opinion. Stuck in the Met Bar at Baker Street, we lost Tom I think until we got here. Despite a chilly day, the pub lacked comfort so we sat outside anyway but even then, my Tring "Side Pocket of a Toad" was poor quality and interestingly, I've never had it since despite seeing it on many occasions because of this experience (having "Toad" in the name doesn't help). Only some top bus work from our gang (I think Ben mainly) got us into Watford for kick off, 20th Oct 2007 was the probable date for this one.
48. LOWER RED LION, St Albans - Sat 29th Apr 2006 and Chris Irvin encouraged Dad and myself to join him and Tom in a St Albans overnight trip before a Watford game on the Sunday lunchtime which, like all good Watford away games, finished in a hopeless 0-0 draw. What Chris hadn't mentioned, there was a beer festival on in said pub that night! Did he really know? Was it also a coincidence when he encouraged our friends from Barton to stay over another year, there was also a beer festival on here? Or just that we always play Watford at the end of the season when this pub hosts beer festivals? It didn't matter. A chaotic experience ensued. Dad and I had already done two St Albans GBG 2007 pubs which I maddeningly can't remember before we were sat in the sloping garden here (I woke with grass stains, mud and beer all over my trousers!) We then were coaxed into a loaded game of monopoly by a right weirdo. Dad reckons it was fixed anyway. But he was more drunk than me, hence his 'orange juice' session in the Estcourt Arms the following day!
49. WEST HERTS SPORTS CLUB, Watford - A rare example of Watford away going well! I had my doubts in the build up, as I always do with these 'clubs' where you have to be signed in as a guest. It all worked out well, Mark Bainton was at his ambassadorial best and we were soon mixing with locals and staff, gorgeous weather meant sitting out on the green area where people played cricket and ball games with dogs, we drank a green coloured real ale (something about spring lambs) and got very much sunburnt to boot, especially poor Ben who was multi-coloured by the train journey home. A Watford experience never bettered, I think we are talking 9/4/11. Did we return the following season? If so, I cannot quite recall it anywhere near as well.
50. MAN OF KENT, Rochester - "In Rochester my dear, where the UKIP do sit" to slightly paraphrase a song by one of my favourite bands, the Singing Loins, who are local to the Medway region. This was the reason for my visit on letter "Q" day and buoyed by a good experience in Milton Regis, I got chatting to two Gillingham fans off to a match who gave me the lowdown on Rochester's real ale. This came highly recommended and was pub of the day, and to be honest, one of those real standout pubs. If I visited better in my A-Z, I cannot recall. It was a quiet afternoon but friendly barman helped me choose from the exciting range of ales, I loved it so much, I stayed for an extra half and read a bit of my PG Wodehouse book, exchanging a few pleasantries with the locals. The pub was one of those no nonsense, non foody, wooden boarded serious drinkers places, but comfy too. Basically, the perfect hubbub and atmosphere.
|Locale pint of Silver Top from the Old Dairy brewery in The Man of Kent|
Well, thanks for staying tuned. 50 archive pubs down, plenty more where they came from. We'll be delving into Lancs and Leics next time out. But now to get some shut-eye pre-Man Utd defeat.