Saturday 27 December 2014

BRAPA : the archives (61-70)

Welcome back, ten more pubs currently in the 2015 GBG which I visited when the idea of visiting every one of these pubs would have seemed ridiculous.  Well, more ridiculous .....

61 - VICTORIA INN, Durham - Finally, a Durham pub I can picture in my mind!  No surprise really, often regarded the jewel in the crown of the Durham real ale scene, it was John's most highly anticipated on my first ever 'tour' with him in the spring of what was probably 2002.  I've been a couple of times since too, which helps.  I think of a lovely, warm friendly two roomed pub with real fires, a great range of local ales from breweries like Durham, Jarrow and Big Lamp.  Locals who like a joke, pub snacks but nothing pretentious, students but not too many, great staff .... hell, I feel like I'm describing my own 'Moon Under Water', Orwell style.  The defining moment of the first visit was John's reluctance to push the door into the other room as we perched, almost pinned to the wall.  My last visit 3 years ago, a bit worse for wear, some crazy wallpaper in a nice snug seat made the room spin.  Pubwise, you can't do much better.

62. OLD CUSTOMS HOUSE, Portsmouth - 4th Feb 2012, I felt the man -flu coming on, it was a bitter cold, icy morning, Ben text me saying "I'm staying in bed" but no definite announcement that Hull City's game at Portsmouth had been postponed.  So in agony, Dad and I travelled down and met Tom at Waterloo.  As we trained it to Havant, the game was finally called off.  Oh dear!  Well, we were there now and determined to make a day of it (even in my state) so after the sun came out and a mosey around HMS Victory, we went for 'refreshments' at this vast Fullers eatery on Gunwharf Quays.  I felt we stood out like a sore thumb as staff kept wheeling around, wondering if we'd ordered the latest plate of over-priced slop.  Still, a Fullers Discovery sorted me out healthwise.  Dad didn't like the atmosphere predictably and we left to carry on what proved to be a great day out, well until the snow really kicked in on the way home!

Saturday lunchtime fun in Pompey, not snowing at this stage!

63.  PLATFORM TAVERN, Southampton - 15th Oct 2005 and my first ever trip to St Mary's, Dad and myself met our "newbie away friend" Ben in this pub on my only venture to the south west of the town, and what a clean, attractive part of Southampton it seems, even if there seemed to be plenty of old people's homes around.  Before Kevin Ellison's incredibly satisfying late equaliser, I'd found this to be a good pub choice.  Not the cosiest maybe, I think it had prints or decor in African style (I could be making this up completely), Dad left the pub to either find Ben, get food, or check on his car (it was a long time ago!) and in the one minute i left my seat to get us a round for when they returned, a couple came into the previously empty pub and scooted straight into my vacant seat.  It was one in a million chance of that happening, and so shocked and ashamed I was, I told Dad and Ben I'd simply decided on a change of scenery.

64.  OLD TOWN HALL TAVERN, Poulton-le-Fylde - Part of mine and Jig's letter "P" day out on 28th September 2013, a rare example of an A-Z outing which, for whatever reason, just didn't really do it for me.   The entrance was quite narrow and wooden but opened up into a huge area with loads of depth (it used to be the Town Hall, hence the name) and the back room was very much dedicated to sport with big TV's and plenty of murals on the walls showing football club badges etc, similar to the first Ulverston pub we went in.  We both went for a Saltaire Hopfen which was well over 5%, powerful but very tasty and at the time, my favourite ale from this brewery.  I think we felt it was probably pub of the day (until Halifax at least), but the standard wasn't too high.

Very strong pints in the sporty OTH.
65.  MARKET TAVERN, Preston - My main memory about this pub is trying to find it!  Of course, back in 2003, I didn't have the benefit of a smartphone, with GBG and Untappd Apps so all I had to go on was that it was in the market place.  I think I took this a bit too literally as a peered around the market stallls, even climbing some steps which took me into a boutique/gaming shop.  When my sister finally showed me the way a year or two later, it was just literally there on the street!  Lots of light came in through the windows, there were some quite ornate snugs and nice to see a range of beers that wasn't Robinson orientated.  I also took Dad here several years later, before our only win I've ever seen here on Fri 12 Nov 2010 where we found quite a busy pub but despite my stool constantly being nudged by jolly locals, Dad really enjoyed it wondered why I'd not taken him here before.

66.  ALE WAGON, Leicester - Another father/son pre-match effort as we went in search of an early opener before meeting up with the Welly gang.  The date most probably 22/3/07 and we probably then went on the Everard's pub The Globe.  I remember a nice early morning sunny glow, a very old looking green staircase, and some good ales, one of which by local brewery Hoskins who own the pub.  I mentioned it to the local real ale aficionado "Uncle Richard" (not as dodgy as he sounds!) on a later trip but he turned his nose up at it which surprised me, because I was quite impressed.

67.  GENEROUS BRITON, Loughborough - Ah, the final A-Z day having been to Zouch on 15th March 2014 and with my heart by now in BRAPA, I was very much seeing this as much as a pub ticking day (not that A-Z was much more than a glorified BRAPA anyway, but I'd already had two 'trial' runs).  Zouch's pub had been lame but me and travel companion Krzb found a high standard of pubbing in Loughborough,  We went to 4 and voted this the weakest.  It had a nice old wooden boarded feel but i did not appreciate a large group of plastic Man City fans cheering on their team against poor old Hull City.  Perhaps sensing my frustration, or most probably to be contrary, Krzb felt it was warm enough to sit out so we sat in a non-convincing "beer garden" at the back of the pub.  I had a pint of Nottingham Legend which has never been a classic ale, average I'd say, but as a bustling indoor wintery pub, I could imagine this could be very good.  It had only re-opened in 2011 as a free house, you'd not have guessed that.

(at this point of the archiving, I had to break off to take a phone call from Mark 'Beefy' Bainton about what the best Wetherspoons was in York!)

68.  BOAT, Melton Mowbray - Remembered most probably for "hand-dryer-gate", this was a fine pub experience which was overshadowed by events beyond it's control.  It was quite a small one roomed pub, with a long thin bar area and although the beer range was poor and mainly from nationals, quality and staff were good and it felt like a proper locals pub, on the old canal, and we sat in a kind of side area with a selection of old annuals, quiz books etc to rival the Fulford Arms before it became 'York's premier gig venue .. pfffftt'.  Had we performed "scottish voting", it would have won the 'comfort' category all ends up and I was loathe to go for my earlier train and leave my travel companions Krzb and JW2.  I was later amazed to learn they'd missed their train all because JW2 spent too long at the hand dryer - the station is less than a 5 minute walk.  Ridiculous.  This was on the otherwise highly successful A-Z day letter "M"  6th April 2013.  

69.  EAGLE, Boston - Saturday 12th April 2003 (10 years prior to Melton Mowbray) and Hull City's first and only Saturday kick off at this aggressive little Lincolnshire town. Having had a wander around and visited the 'stump', we visited a couple of decent pubs (the New England hotel bar was one) but this was the stand out pub of the day with a fine selection of guest ales, an interesting mix of shoppers and locals, and with quite a few eating, we sat on the back wall and had my last ever tuna mayo sandwich before I couldn't stomach these any more!  Nowt to do with the pub, the food was good.  These days, it is a Castle Rock pub so may be it is even better but the chances of seeing Boston v Hull City/Tigers in the next year is pretty slim.  Boston v FC Allam Out however is a possibility, and good.

70.  VICTORIA, Lincoln - Lincoln is a town I've never liked, despite everyone saying how pretty and lovely it is.  All I can see in my mind's eye are hooligans, riot police, small minded club chairmen, inbreds and having the flu but going to game anyway on a freezing January day where we played the least successful 4-3-3 in the history of football and I got constantly punched in a jokey way by a weird friend of my Dad's who was almost certainly Todd Unctious from Father Ted. (phew, long sentence).  Therefore, the advent of using the real ale guide and our decision to visit this 'jewel in the crown' is undoubtedly the happiest I have been in Lincoln.   This pub has two bars, was very friendly even when it filled up, great beer range, and had one of the nicest pub cooked breakfasts I have ever had. Dad still remembers it as the time "I just kept eating and eating" (rare for me!) We saw our 'new football friends' Chris and Tom in the opposite bar and think they joined us, or maybe stayed where they were.  28/2/04 where we lost 2-0 was probably the date though it could have been the season before.

More to follow, I might need a bottle of ale.  A dry Saturday is confusing my liver.


Sunday 21 December 2014

BRAPA Christmas Special - Ripon & Boroughbridge

Ho Ho Ho!  'Tis the season to be jolly and all that bollocks as I joined my latest travel companion Chris B (Krzbi) on the 142 rickety bus from York to Ripon on a windy cool December morn.

This was my first time in Ripon and was immediately impressed by this pretty market style town.  The Cathedral was impressive in it's sturdiness, but looked a bit too new and immaculate if anything.  There was also an old prison which is now a museum, and the river Skell ran through the town, to mix things up a bit.

534 - WATER RAT, Ripon - And it was along the Skell where we found our first pub, tucked away off the main drag.  This had some good distinctive areas, meaning that although the majority of the pub looked a bit foody, we found a nice grotto-like cosy area (we'd be annoyingly asked if we were "dining with them today", which always makes me want to say I'm here to get pissed!)  Barman was good in fairness, jolly and friendly.  The pub was quite quirky with games tables for chess and stuff, a big toy hamper and very red toilets which contained an entire encyclopedic volume of books - who has a toilet session that lasts that long?  The outside area looked like it would be an amazing location in the summer.  Sadly, my pint was poor, very sour - it was a red one and despite no sulphur, I find it hard to believe it was supposed to taste like that.  Krzb's was fine on the other hand.

Me at a jaunty angle outside the very good Water Rat
535 - ONE EYED RAT, Ripon - Another Ripon pub, another rat (not sure what their obsession is with this particular rodent).  The GBG described this as a "classic" and we were both unanimous in that it was "pub of the day".  Long and thin, it may not have been the most outwardly traditional old pub but it had such a cosy lived in feel, you could almost feel the love emanating off the walls.  Red walls helped the warmth, and a friendly barmaid who humoured me with my "will mistletoe ale taste of mistletoe" attempt at witty banter.  They wrapped their pictures/photos in wrapping paper which seemed like an idea they'd got straight from Laurence Llewllyn-Bowen.  The front area was bustling with a log fire in, we found a lot of room in the (warm anyway) back of the pub,  This was my second Rudgate ale of the day but much improvement in terms of quality.

"Pub of the day?  What of it?" says Krzb at the One Eyed Rat

536 - KING WILLIAM IV, Ripon - Described as a "social drinkers pub for sociable people" by the GBG, but it was hard to see how a non-local could infiltrate the very local inner ring of barman and the 5 or 6 regulars greedily surrounding the bar, watching Man City v C Palace with one eye, and Derby v Norwich with the other, in a slightly raised section which was cordoned off for a Christmas function later on.  There was no disputing the architectural beauty of the pub, the original West Riding victorian windows outside, plus that general very old skool pub feel I notice a lot on my pub trips to Liverpool.  The beer quality was also good, but the Whitby Abbey ale we chose was uninspiring.  And I'm pretty sure they had a problem with us using our mobile phones to check-in.  Yes, I believe conversation is king in a proper pub environment, but 5 quick mins of Untappd and Twitter has to be tolerated in the 21st Century, no matter how old skool you think you are! 

Me trying not to look cold outside the "Billy".

537 - ROYAL OAK, Ripon - This time of year means pubs are always susceptible to that "raucous party season" feel, and today, it was the Royal Oak that suffered mostly.  Rather than my Christmas jumper, I wish I'd had one of those "a pub is for life, not just for Christmas" t-shirts on as a gaggle of overly merry middle agers milled around.  The fact that the pub was quite geared up for dining didn't help either, and we had to sit right in the middle of the main bar despite many empty tables in the back area, a pet hate of mine as I've said many times since BRAPA started.  On the plus side, the beer was good with the full Tim Taylor's range plus guests available, and my Ram Tam was as good a pint as I had today.  This pub could be excellent, perhaps on a wet Tuesday lunchtime in Feb! 

Krzb about to encounter a raucous hubbub at the Royal Oak
538 - UNICORN HOTEL, Ripon - Our final pub in Ripon was this Wetherspoons in the market square.  It benefits greatly from being a former coaching house rather than the usual bank, post office or shop so had a nice old atmosphere about it.  There was nothing old about our ale choices, just a half this time but a strong American craft (cask!) ale for me, and a Japanese style one for Krzb both slipped down very nicely, in a warming winter way.  The pub was also a bit darker and lower ceilinged than most 'Spoons, but it was still a maze trying to get to the toilets!  I'd read about the walls being adorned with tributes to the likes of Lewis Carroll and Fountains Abbey, but we got stuck next to a quite horrific looking unicorn with tinsel on it's horn.  I think this place also classes as a "Wetherlodge" as it had a proper reception and rooms to stay in. 

Horrendous Unicorn statue at this good 'Spoons
539 - BLACK BULL HOTEL, Boroughbridge - With the dark night looming upon us, a 20 minute bus journey took us back to Boroughbridge, for the final and most important (for BRAPA alphabetical purposes) pub of the day.  Luckily, I still didn't feel too drunk or desperate for the loo as we arrived in the smaller town square to this ancient 13th century pub.  On entering said establishment, a wizened old man in a small low down bar area served me an excellent Battle Axe, my third Rudgate ale of the day and this was of supreme quality.  We explored to the many side rooms, nooks and crannies to get seated.  Krzb said it was a bit like entering someone's front room in the 70's, but he could actually have meant the 1670's it had such a nice feel.  I'd also heard the Taylor's Landlord was top class in here.  This was a very comfy experience, despite the ghost monk that was almost definitely roaming the premises.

Me looking well oiled outside the Black Bull in Boroughbridge
There was still time for the traditional BRAPA Saturday epilogue of York Tap plus KFC, both were a bit too busy to be pleasant experiences but seemed worthwhile at the time.  

So, the BRAPA shop is closed for Christmas week and although I doubt any new ticks in Sunderland on Boxing Day (Isis and/or Kings Arms/Museum Vaults is likely), I'll be in East Yorkshire on 28th getting my first 'ticks' in this county since W M Hawkes in Hull, showing I've neglected my spiritual home for the whole of 2014. 

Happy Christmas, see you soon!


Wednesday 17 December 2014

BRAPA - Ponte Carlo & Darrington

Planned 'post-work' Christmas drinks were cancelled late on Monday, freeing me up for some Tuesday BRAPA pub ticking, just when our West Yorkshire midweek challenge looked a write off for December.  What a bonus!

So with a bit of last minute planning, I was on the bus to Pontefract but serious delays (Christmas plus roadworks) meant it was a gruelling 90 minute journey listening to college students jabbering on.  Why didn't I get a train?  Well, I would have struggled to make the last bus connection to Darrington.  As it was, the delays meant it was impossible anyway, a bad start.

531 - BROKEN BRIDGE, Pontefract - Close to the bus station and by this time, desperate for a drink, this had to be my first choice.  'Pontefract' means broken bridge in Roman, hence the name of this Wetherspoons, unique perhaps for having a dartboard and proper 'oche' in the centre of the pub.  The depth of the building was also staggering, I didn't realise until I went in again for a second time in the night (which we'll get to later) and had a mile long walk to the loo.  I didn't order the right beer first time round, a weird Belgian affair full of lime and coriander but no disputing the quality.  Staff seemed jolly and the locals, although they had that rumbustious Cas air, lacked the same warmth and humility, though later on, I got talking to a very nice chap who loved pub trips to York with his wife!  I generally sat behind a christmas tree.  It was obviously an above average 'Spoons.

'Spoons with a dartboard?  In Ponte Carlo?  Whatever next? 
532 - SPREAD EAGLE, Darrington - So it was taxi time to make that almost impossible 2.3 mile journey to this small village and after baffling a tee-total taxi driver with my BRAPA life-plan, I was there.  The outside felt a bit like a courtyard leading to a horse stable which made sense as the ghost of a boy haunts the pub - he was shot here for horse-rustling in the 17th century and it might have been my imagination but I'm sure I could feel a presence!  Spooky.  The beer range wasn't so spectacular in this cosy carpetted traditional style pub, but the Ossett Yorkshire Gold was as high quality as you could get, probably better than most actually Ossett owned pubs which this wasn't.  The barmaid was very good and made absolutely sure my pint had settled before she'd let me walk off with it.  A young couple came in which made a change from the grizzly locals, but it was time for a taxi back to Ponte.

Woooo, spooky goings on in the dark at the Spread Eagle
And what a taxi ride it was.  Oh yes, he turned the Indian music up to max and sang along, telling me he was only moonlighting as a taxi driver but he was a proper singer - wasn't sure judging by his voice but I tipped him a quid for his efforts.

533 - ROBIN HOOD, Pontefract - In a strange location by the "notorious town end traffic lights", I wondered what traffic lights have to do to gain notoriety.  For whatever reason, I wasn't expecting much from this pub but was delighted to see a fine array of interesting guest ales, reminding me a bit of the Brown Cow in Keighley as I then went to sit in a raised upper area around the side of the bar.  My mock amazement & indecision at choosing an ale didn't go down well with a miserable barfly, but the barmaid at least humoured me.  I then learnt that Hollywood star Ben Stiller had come here for a drink, apparently because he met a girl from Harrogate, though that still doesn't explain why you'd then end up in a difficult to get to pub in Pontefract!  I wish I'd spent longer here but I downed an excellent pale called Jester by the always good Abbeydale from Sheffield.

Nice window at the Robin Hood, think traffic lights and Ben Stiller
My chance of catching the 20:20 train back to Leeds was scuppered almost immediately as I walked the wrong way, but no chance I'd have made it anyway.  With the next train 21:19, I returned to Broken Bridge for an Acorn Quercus (which was on the "coming soon" list earlier on, evidence of their quick commitment/selling out of new ales) and finally made it back, didn't get gripped by the train guard, and was in York with a Whopper Meal for 10:45pm, job done!

A nice bonus BRAPA trip in what is turning into a successful month.  But with Dad trying to hijack my 29th Dec plans by buying me a match ticket for the Leciester home game when I specifically THRICE told him not to, I'm going to have to make a decision on that soon.  


Sunday 14 December 2014

BRAPA - Exceeding Expectations in Chelsea

For the third time this season on a Hull City away day, I was able to shrug off the 90 minutes of depressing football to complete four new BRAPA ticks, having only expected 1 or 2 to be on the agenda.  This was thanks largely to Dad sadly phoning in sick, unable to attend, meaning it was just me and the adventurous traveller that is Tom Irvin.

527 - HAND IN HAND, Wimbledon - One of the 12 best pubs in London according to my latest GBG, this was also an 11am opener so was high on the agenda and our designated pub.  I wasn't disappointed.  After a fairly arduous 0.9 mile walk from the tube station, I realised the pub was on the edge of Wimbledon Common, and after a few lame jokes about wombles (which Twitter strangely lapped up), I was ready for a pint.  Although it was a one roomed pub, it made use of the space well with lots of alcoves and corners, nice and dark, it felt the olde worlde pub it was.  This was only marred slightly by quite a high focus on food, which is said to be excellent.  There was a little side room that looked recently built near the loos, and there seemed to be lots of travellers (not gypsies,  far too upper class darling!) so I don't know if there is some accommodation built on.  A "Man v Santa" mince pie eating challenge revealed a community side (all money went to Mencap charity).  Our barmaid was less than engaging, maybe because Tom complained about the ridiculous price for a price of pint and a blackcurrant cordial, but the other staff were friendly - well when we were leaving! The ale range was great, lots of London micros and the first Twickenham ale of the day, cherry and muscavado was interesting to say the least!

The proud history of the Hand in Hand alehouse

528 - PIG & WHISTLE, Southfields - We could have settled quite comfortably in the H&H but getting nearer to Stamford Bridge was a good idea and we were feeling adventurous.  One bus ride and "pre-emptive" tick later (the Gardeners in Southfields - a decent pub despite £7 crisps!) we finally made it to here with me panicking slightly about missing kick off -  like I really cared!  From the outside, we had our doubts as it looked like a busy, light modern bar, but inside it had a much nicer, almost dark pubby feel.  The price of a blackcurrant and gorgeous pint of Milk Stout (my third Twickenham beer in a row) was finally under a fiver - hallelujah!  Despite the bustling pre-Christmas feel, we found a seat in the more quiet side area but were promptly moved by the staff to a smaller table as 6 women were about to have a xmas knees-up.  We saw this pub has a special menu just for dogs and won the 2013 Kennel Club Pub Award - prestigious!  This was nice, one of those modern yet deceptively 'old school' feeling places (see Knott Bar, Stables etc).  

More pride in history, though Pig & Whistle was retail premises until 1974

529 - DEFECTOR'S WELD, Shepherds Bush - Fast forward through another frustrating 90 minutes plus, and Tom and myself headed here for our post-match experience, too close to QPR's ground to be considered for a visit on a matchday at Loftus Road, I must have walked past this huge main road many times without noticing it.  Ironically, it was just as busy on a Saturday evening non-QPR home game, again I'll blame the Christmas season.  After worrying the barmaid didn't understand the concept of pint of Blackcurrant cordial (she did, but didn't inspire confidence), it soon became evident it was standing room only.  This is a large one roomed pub, very typically London with a large horseshoe bar so I did an entire tour of the pub in a vain attempt to get us sat down.  Reminded me a bit of the Falcon at Clapham Junction.  On the plus side, this was my pint of the day - east London's famous Trueman's brewery 'Bold as Brass' in conjunction with the local colliery band, seems odd for the south but hey, what a lovely amber ale it was.

Standing room only at the Defector's Weld but pint of the day.

530 - UNION TAVERN, Westbourne Park - My final BRAPA tick of the day was further down the tbe line back towards King's Cross. this is a Fuller's pub with a twist on their normal traditions as it is (mainly) non branded and has ales on from smaller local breweries and lots of craft beers on keg too, plus strange international bottles and the like.  I broke my non-London record with a Mandarin by Windsor and Eton, so still LocAle, despite some orangey hints, it wasn't a massive taste explosion.  Maybe a good thing.  It wasn't far from the tube station and had a canal-side location, which I could've probably more appreciated on a warm summer's afternoon, it was harder to picture on an increasingly freezing December night.  All in all though, I'd recommend this and probably a contender for pub of the day.

You'll have to just imagine the pretty canalside location, okay?

So, it was time for a swift one back at the Parcel Yard in Kings Cross, a pasty and hide from a train full of Geordies all the way back to York which was very successfully done.  I had to forgo a late York Tap pitstop as I missed last orders when, somewhere between Donny and York, a Newcastle fan 'helpfully' pulled some emergency cord and we had to stop for 15 mins while the staff flapped.

All in all though, a fine day and takes to pressure off the now highly anticipated trip to Darrington and Pontefract.  It might happen this week, but I'm making no assurances after two midweeks off. 



Sunday 7 December 2014

BRAPA - Macclesfield

'Twas a grey, icy morning with a hint of drizzle in the air as I arrived at the much under-rated Cheshire town of Macclesfield, my first visit here in over 10 years when Marc Joseph's goal almost sparked a promotion party, until Hull City predictably cocked it up - still, I wouldn't change Yeovil day for the world.

Back then, the Railway View was my real ale jewel in the crown, now it doesn't even register amongst the six pubs I planned to tick off today.  Such is the ever changing world of pubs.

Having had to run for a train at Manc Picc which I should've had 15 minutes to make (there's really nothing express about Transpenine), I was ready for my first pint .......

Arriving into Macc - 3 pubs in view from the station, none of them mine!
521 - TREACLE TAP - I decided to start here as it'd been highly recommended, but in truth this was too modern to really capture my imagination as a proper old man's boozer might.  It was pleasant enough and three hipster beardies opened slightly early, I was instructed to ask "a difficult question" of them, but in my haste, I could only come up with "can I have a pint?"  This was a delicious Buxton Rednik Stout, perfect for a sore throat as I still had man-flu, as nice a drink as I had all day but there were only two others to choose from in a cramped bar area.  It all became a bit 'traditional Christmas song' next ... "3 Woking fans, 2 vegan diners, and a delayed blonde Scunny bunny!"  Yes, a rare BRAPA companion had arrived in the form of Lizzy, armed with her local knowledge of Macc's streets and real ale outlets.  My first act was to tell her that due to the tight BRAPA schedule, she was only entitled to a half pint, though I admitted I was on an open ticket!  This admission made the most annoying of the bearded trio laugh just a bit too much.  As the Woking fans settled down to some Ox Cheek pies, I reflected this place lacked something of the true Macc spirit.

About to be let in early by the 3 wise men of Macc
522 - WATERS GREEN TAVERN - With Lizzy now in charge of the pub strategy route, we made the short walk to this excellent well-established tavern, which I've heard about for so long, it even gets a mention in a Macc Lads song.  This felt like a proper drinkers pub, lots of good quality ales, helpful staff offering a try before you buy policy, and friendly locals genuinely interested in alien visitors such as myself.  We went for a local Storm 'Arighi Bianchi' beer as we'd just been discussing this famous furniture shop, the ale itself was solid if not spectacular.  The locals offered some (helpful) directions between what would be my 5th and 6th pub which went right over my head but top marks for effort and engagement!  A good solid pub this, but time to move on.

Lizzy gets ready for some serious Macc pubbing at Waters Green
523 - THE WHARF - A bit of a trek uphill out of town next but not too far in truth, it was still a bitter cold day and it is amazing what a roaring real fire can do to lift your spirits, as I was immediately warmed and impressed that this was pub of the day so far.  Another good range of ales awaited us, I unwisely went for a 5% Marble beer (can't go wrong with that fine brewery) whilst Lizzy went for a more traditional Saltaire blonde, both very well kept.  We definitely got the best seat/room in the house as the other side of the bar was a bit more spartan, with locals getting excited over some Premier League game and two little dogs charging about, threatening to escape, and with their bull terrier looks, just threatening to rip your face off in general! A couple of people wandered in to 'warm up' by the fire, but all in all, a proper pub hubbub and yes, I was impressed again.

Me at the Wharf .... another winner.
524 - REDWILLOW BAR - A very different kind of experience awaited next, and suddenly the Treacle Tap seemed like a working man's boozer as we were overpowered by the smell of bleach on entering this antiseptic (if you will) but young & jolly bar.  Friendly staff served a range of ales, many from the local RedWillow brewery so I had a "directionless" in tribute to Sone Aluko.  It was hoppy but clear and wonderfully drinkable once I'd got past the bleach.  It was quite busy with a lot of studenty types eating, drinking and generally being merry in what is now feeling like the long run up to Christmas, more like a hop, skip and jump really.  Lizzy's train was due to depart for Barton via Manchester, so I bid farewell, back in my familiar territory of 'lone pub explorer in crazy northern outpost',

Bleach awaits us at the modern RedWillow bar.
525 - THE MACC - With the light starting to fade and Macc v Woking in full swing, it was now safe to cross town and enter this large, proper old school place (well, it felt it after the last one) which is 'twinned' with Manchester's superb Knott Bar.  The staff were really good, and there was a deceptively large range of beers, with pump clips piled on top of other pump clips on the pumps (if I can use the word "pump" that many times in a sentence!)  I thought it was only right to go for the house beer, 'Macclesfield Bitter' again from the excellent RedWillow.  It was quite quiet in terms of clientele, you sensed this was the football fans' main pre-match venue, and one of the barmen kept flicking around the teletext football scores which felt very 1990's.  He even asked me which division "my" team were in but I soon pleaded with him that I didn't want to see a still screen saying "Hull 0-0 West Brom" for the rest of my life.  There was a bit of upset in the other side of the bar when the news filtered through that Woking equalise, if I'd still been there for Macc's late winner, there'd have been a riot you mark my words!  

Football fun frolics at the impressive Macc pub
526 - PARK TAVERN - After a zig-zagging short cut through some side streets (in tribute to the Waters Green regulars from earlier), i finally arrived at my sixth and last location, the Park Tavern.  This was the friendliest pub of the day, one quite loud woman who was friends with the pub decided I was "her new best friend" and encouraged me to chat to them all at the bar whilst drinking a special version of the local Bollington Oat Mill Stout, with a drop of port in it, just to finish me off.  Had I not already had five pints, I'd have probably found her annoying and gone to sit in a quiet corner but drink does these things to you, and once more my BRAPA tales had the staff and locals at the bar listening and offering advice on where else I should go, regardless of the fact this was my LAST pub of the day as I'm sure I kept repeating, mainly to stop myself going for an unwise final one back at York Tap! The locals actually dispersed before my very eyes, leaving me propping up the bar alone with this powerful Christmassy stout to force down!  The pub itself had a lovely atmosphere, and a huge range of mainly strong Bollington beers.  An impressive end to a high quality BRAPA day.

A hazy sixth pub to match my mood at the time!
So, I did make it back without the need for York Tap refreshments, I did fall asleep on both trains but a helpful Geordie (if you can imagine such a concept) woke me up at Huddersfield just in case I was going to miss my stop, so I did the same for him at York.  Top comradeship.  And I tell you what, Macc is a great ale day out if you feel the inclination.


Friday 5 December 2014

BRAPA - Liverpool

As a pub ticker, I always feel like a child in a sweet shop when I come to the excellent city of Liverpool, and Wednesday was no different.  I was expecting maybe 3 new pubs at most, 5 was a fantastic result matching my most productive football day ever at Arsenal.  And again, we played well and got a good draw, maybe I should do 5 pubs more often!

By 3:30pm, Dad and myself had checked in at our Lenny Henry Inn and had made the 1.2 mile walk across the city to our first pub .....

516 - PETER KAVANAGH'S - Being the furthest pub from the centre, this made a good place to start and wow, what an amazing pub!  So ornate, so much decoration and bric a brac adorning the ceilings, including a rather worried looking tiger in an American Football helmet which I hoped wasn't a bad omen.  Gargoyles were carved into the wood as we found a side room with amazing old murals painted on the walls.  The beer was pretty good too, I had a local cherry mild which helped my man-flu I was suffering with,  We weren's so sure the barmaid was a people person, plus she let a local old crone push in front of us to buy a lighter!  Christine and Chris Douglas soon joined us, confirming neither of them had visited either and all in all, we were very impressed.

Beautiful interior at Peter K's.
517 - BELVEDERE - With our travelling companions gone in search of food, Dad an I made the short 5 minute walk in one of Liverpool's prettier street areas (amazing large old houses) to a tiny side street pub which really screamed traditional scouse boozer to you.  Having said that, we were greeted with an early Christmas do of annoying people ordering complex cocktail drinks.  Though it took us ages to get served, the barmaid couldn't have worked any harder plus there wasn't any space for another staff member behind the bar anyway!  With local Scouse comedian wannabees filling up the main bar, and the Christmas do in the other room, we found the only hallway seat and settled down to a gorgeous pint of Thirst Quencher from Spitting Feathers.  I knew it from my Chester BRAPA day, and it slipped down easily.  We were almost tempted to stay, but we had places to go, people to see! 

Small things come in good packages - the Belvedere

518 - CLOVE HITCH  - I'd tried to come here on New Year's Day but like most places, it was closed as I stood drenched under a bus stop!  Happy to finally get the tick, Christine and Chris D had been shoe horned into a dining area where they were painstakingly waiting for two plates of Gnocchi.  Yes, this was a culture shock after the last two pubs.  A hipster bar in truth, all young bearded men with more craft beers than cask (3 pumps, one went off).  But good punk music, friendly trendy staff and a nice warm atmosphere, you couldn't really dislike the experience!  Most importantly, the ale was well kept and my Hop Beast from Liverpool Craft was predictably modern and full of flavour.  The report on the food was good, and explained to the others I liked the diversity of GBG venues - all old men pub may, just may get boring!  

A Clove Hitch is a knot, as I learnt on my visit here!
519 - THE FLUTE - And with that last sentence fresh in my mind, maybe I should have been careful what I wished for,  This was another very different kind of place.  The vast one roomed space, with "banging" tunes, drinks offers, Christmas lights and screens had me thinking "90's chain student dive when you didn't know any better".  However, the one big difference was quality ale, this time another local brewery Peerless, provided very strong Knee-Buckler IPA which was the perfect winter warmer before two hours stood in Goodison Park.  A strange guide inclusion, not really the kind of place I'd be dying to go back to, but as Dad said, this is the 'good beer guide', and you couldn't knock that.

Chris D strides for the entrance to The Flute

520 - VERNON ARMS - This made sense for our post match venue as it was on the street corner next to our Premier Inn and we all met up again, sitting with some friendly Everton supporting locals to tell them how lucky they were to get a point!  This felt more like a traditional pub you'd expect to see in Liverpool but it lacked the class, historic feel and ornate design of many similar pubs in this city.  Having said that, hard working friendly staff again served a fine range of ales, the always excellent Boggart Hole Clough Rum Porter a good way to end after another fine local beer in Blakemere Jewel.  Very impressed with range and quality in here.  Some locals told us a recent drama/soap called Liverpool One was filmed here and they paid them £80 to be extras, but our new found friends didn't get chosen!  As last orders sounded, they tried to freeze us out by holding the door open on a chain, but I guess it was good tactics.  It could spoil a superb afternoon, evening and night ticking pubs off in Liverpool.

Dad proves he's still thin enough to hide behind a lamppost at the Vernon Arms.

So, with a big day in Macclesfield tomorrow, I'm suddenly a bit less worried about the current "when will I finally get to Pontefract & Darrington?" conundrum, with next week also in jeapordy due with lots on and 5pm finishes at work.  I'll blame that "busy Christmas season" bah humbug!



Monday 1 December 2014

BRAPA : the archives (51-60)

I've decided that when I have reviewed all these historical BRAPA ticks, I'm going to put them into a spreadsheet and sort them into date order so I can allocate each one a definitive number.... not that I'm an OCD pub ticking geek or anything, oh well, okay then!

51 - WHO'D HA'THOUGHT IT, Rochester - My second and final Rochester pub of my 5/10/13 trip to Queenborough, this place was almost as good as Man of Kent in my eyes.  I'd misjudged the length of the walk, but glad I carried on as I found a very friendly pub, full of talkative staff and locals keen to know who I was and what I was doing there.  I sat in front of a huge Sky Sports News screen as watched Hull City tortuously hang on to a home 0-0 with some fairly decent team from what I can remember, as the barmaid and locals shared in my joy when the final whistle was announced, even offering to put the volume up so I could hear Matt Le Tissier "describe" the game, an offer I politely declined.  The ale was good, Hopdaemon Gold Braid or something, and another from what was a fairly interesting range.

52 - OLD ELM TREE, Durham - Here we go.  A famous Durham real ale establishment long before my 2002/03 visit with John, and still going strong.  I remember enjoying it at the time, getting it slightly mixed up with the Half Moon, am sure I must have been in a lot more recently, but cannot remember any details.  Built in 1600.  Two ghosts.  Surely I can do better, if you are reading John, give me a clue!  Next time I'm going through Durham for a village pub ticking trip, I'll pop in.

53 - HOLE IN THE WALL, Southsea - Friday 19th March 2010 and this was the local pub of the year at the time, but didn't open til 5pm even on a Saturday so I took advantage of staying overnight and decided to come for tea here.  Took a while to get a seat as it was a very small pub, great though with lots of bric-a-brac around, and once a group of large American women left, I squashed into a seat and ordered a suet pudding from the barmaid I'd be trying to flirt with, until her scary boyfriend arrived.  A combination of him grabbing her bum and the suet pudding finishing me off, found me slightly resenting the place, but having visited several other Pompey pubs, I can see why this would be considered amongst the elite.

54 - BRIDGE BIER HUIS, Burnley - New Year's Eve 2011 was my first visit to this place, notably mainly for the fact I felt disloyal to my old favourite Ministry of Ale by coming here, plus also I was wearing a deliberately horrific Timmy Mallet style shirt as I was going straight to an NY summer themed party later that night.  I could see why "the Bridge" was so highly thought of in the Burnley real ale circles, as it combines a good range of local well kept ales, with comfort and simple food and a multi-roomed proper pub feel.  It was no different on a much more recent November 2014 visit, excellent pie n peas and a great range of ales.  It was a bit too busy, but we soon got used to it - getting in early is probably the key here pre-match.  Great pub.

Background Burnley fans about to celebrate a victory on my most recent BBH visit.
55.  SHOVELS, Blackpool - BRAPA ticks couldn't have been further from my mind as our punk rock festival gang killed a few hours pre Big Blue Hotel check in, August 2007, with a a crazy experience in this pub a 10 minute walk from Blackpool South station.  A pint of Cotleigh ale (so bird themed in some way) was enjoyed outside at the front patio as it was a ridiculously hot Thursday afternoon.  I'd already quizzed the barmaid on the mock-up newspaper headline behind the bar, something about the landlord of the pub which proved to be a fake.  Next came defining punk festival moment as the 'Buzz bus' pulled up outside, out stepped a few young people including a guy we termed "sexual Jonathan Greening"  and offered us all free sexual health checks on the bus.  When we explained that we weren't locals, they admitted their embarrassment and they shuffled along.  It's not happened in a GBG pub since.

56. SOUTH WESTERN ARMS, Southampton - Despite a long walk from my hotel where I was accosted by the Gooligans looking for a pub that had closed years ago, I ploughed on through the misty rain on the night of 29th Nov 2011 to find this excellent split level pub, where I met Ben, Mark and Chris D for a couple of pints before they decided they wanted to move onto somewhere less good.   This pub garden is right on St Denys station but we still walked instead of using this fact to our advantage.  We sat in the raised area of this wooden boarded corner pub, and there was an impressive range of 8 or 9 ales on from memory.

57. THATCHED HOUSE, Poulton-le-Fylde - 28th September 2013 and the letter "P" A-Z day never really lived up to expectations.  A painful, delayed train journey after sitting for ages at Preston on a hot day was too much to bear as I was less than fresh from recently returning from Inverness!  Poulton as a town didn't really inspire, and the pubs were okay if not spectacular.  This first pub had all the hallmarks of a good real ale venue, proper no nonsense pub and me and travel companion Jig were gagging for a pint of one of the many Keswick ales on the bar.  We went for Thirst Gold, which was perfectly serviceable in an average way.  I remember the only other man in the same room as us kept falling asleep, snoring, waking up, sipping his beer and falling asleep again.  The landlord chuckled and shook his head, we rolled our eyes, and that was that! 

58.  SNUG, Carnforth - 14th December 2013 and suddenly, we discovered that changing at Carnforth to get to Ulverston had it's compensations, with this new micro-pub having popped up since I was last here the previous September with Jig.  And what a treat it was too, okay so we only had time for a half but then a man came in with two flavours of gorgeous home made pasties and passed them round, the curry ones were especially good (shame I'd ordered an already spicy ginger ale!).  No seats available but we were happy to prop up against the bar.  This really was a modern day "brief encounter" (geddit?) but with Jig as Celia Johnson and JW2 as Trevor Howard.  Excellent.  Hang on, does that make me Stanley Holloway?  Ooh 'eck.

Plenty of spice but no space at Carnforth's excellent Snug
59.  HOP INN BIER SHOP, Ormskirk - 14th Sept 2013 and the new GBG had just been published and to my horror, most of the previous year's pubs had now been "exited" with the one remaining one, Farmers, looking rather bland with one hand pump on serving Hobgoblin.  We didn't stay.  With me wondering with my whole letter "O" A-Z day was going to be a pointless exercise, my good friend Krzb Britain told me the GBG was overrated and we could find good real ale pubs using his instincts!  This had backfired for him at Northallerton a few weeks before but he got it spot on today, after a nice central old skool one to start, we wandered into this European bar style place, with lots of illuminated old jugs and bottles in little crevices in the wall making it feel a bit like a museum.  However, it was modern with young pretty staff serving from a decent range of 4-5 ales to supplement the interesting bottles and Euro keg shite.  It felt nice enough and I'm not surprised to see it in the guide a year later - well done Krzb but don't get big-headed.

60. BLACK HORSE, Preston - Oh yes!  In my formative real ale drinking years, I regarded this as one of my favourite pubs in the country.  When my sister decided to inconveniently go to Uni on a Saturday afternoon (and thus missing a cracking 3-2 late home win v Southend so Sept 2003.  I left the family to go "shopping" which was code for, pluck a cheap video of Nick Hancock's Football Hell out of a bargain basement basket and explore the real ale pubs.  This was the original and the best, for a few years at least.  Down to earth, friendly locals helped me pick a Robinson's beer, I tried to put money in the free jukebox and settled down to untouched, tiled, old fashioned pub splendour.  The word ornate is made for places like this, yet back then with smoke wafting around as the sun gleamed through the windows, I could have been back in the 1920's.   I've been back in since, with family pre-Preston away, with Dad on an evening, on my own, with Lu and her crazy uni friends (there's a non real ale bar upstairs for "young" people so I used to be the only one coming downstairs for a pint, which seemed to impress the old locals back in the day when most young people drank lager).  I met my sister's ex Ric here for the first time, walking around in a weird hat before disappearing, then reappearing at regular intervals.  As time went on, my illusion shattered slightly,  Sometimes, the staff could be a bit shirty and my Mum got told off for moving a barstool from one room to another (a BRAPA first).  I also tired of the Robinson's range a bit as I regularly visited my sister, and cast the net further afield to other Preston ale outlets as we'll see in future editions.   

I've temporarily postponed my Pontefract trip due to having to stay late at work, therefore missing my bus (I didn't feel great anyway).  But I needed something to fill the BRAPA void, so hope you've enjoyed this latest installment.  More from Lancs, Hants, Leics and Lincs in our next edition......