Sunday 25 January 2015

BRAPA - Sheffield Central

It was Dad's birthday weekend, a blank one for Hull City due to no FA Cup involvement, so this long-awaited trip to Sheffield could finally take place, and was a real case of "good things come to those who wait".  We concentrated on the five remaining central ticks, as Dad's not a young man anymore and can't do the gallivanting around that I can, especially on a freezing January day, though the sun was out for a change!

566 - RUTLAND ARMS, Sheffield - Having arrived just after 12 noon, we stood by that 'wall of water' thing just by the station and I worked out this was our nearest pub 'tick'.  I've walked past this loads over the years, but never thought it looked that inviting.  How wrong I was.  It was as a traditional cosy style pub despite being one roomed, with etched windows and mirrors showing the pub name.  They had a lot of beers from the local Blue Bee brewery by my attention was immediately taken by Chocolate and Vanilla Stout by Titanic brewery, a beer to end all beers!  The staff were friendly, young and hairy but the clientele were your typical mixture of no nonsense South Yorks old men and a few ale visitors like ourselves.  As someone on my Untappd said, I'd said such high standards with this first pub and beer, it'd be hard to maintain though Sheffield was the kind of city where it was achievable.  A great start.

Dad made a meal of taking photo so two nice student girls had to walk in the road! 
567 - HENRY'S CAFE BAR, Sheffield - Dad was already encouraging the drinking of halves which as the day progressed, meant he ordered half, I ordered pint, he finished first, I had to pour a quarter into his glass!  We had misgivings about this next place due to it's name and modern 2010 re-opening but we needn't have worried.  Warm air swept through the vast one roomed building, and despite the bare-boarded nature, it was comfy once we got into a seat vacated by a family with pushchair.  11 ales was an impressive range (best of the day), the helpful staff encouraged 'tasters' but didn't really embrace our small talk at the bar!  My Sheffield "Seven Hills" (making the city like Rome!) was nice, but the brewery then did the new annoying Untappd trick of acknowledging my check-in.  The long bar counter was really ornate and looked very old, so not sure where that came from, but it pre-dated 2010 and you don't need a heritage guide to tell you that!  The clientele were mainly young, a good few students but a nice relax atmosphere engulfed this very pubby bar.

Birthday boy Bern arrives at Henry's
568 - BATH HOTEL, Sheffield - This was the pub I'd been most looking foward to before the day had started as it is a national CAMRA heritage pub, and it's 30's interior was a delight to see.   It is a small two roomed pub with a sweeping corridor, the main bar being full so having done my homework, I directed us to the empty side room with real fire and blue upholstery, and it remained empty for most of our time in there though the hubbub from the main bar was nicely prevalent.  A special mention should go to the barman, who was friendly, chatty and again gave beer tasters, having to change a barrel and came in to keep the fire stoked up.  They had a few Thornbridge ales on, but again I was distracted by Titanic, this time Cappuccino.  Dad said his Thornbridge stout paled into watery insignificance in comparison, but I know from a York Tap session with Jig what a great beer this was regardless.  We settled down to try and complete a cryptic crossword about to be used as fire fuel, but our brains were too relaxed to get into that mode.  Pub of the day probably.

Me ready to swoop on this wonderful 1930's architectural gem
569 - HOP, Sheffield - An Ossett pub as you may expect from the name, it was in a modern bar complex near the trendy West Street area very similar to the thing under the Dark Arches in Leeds, though the interior of the pub was more reminiscent of the Wakefield version.  Our timing was bad in that a man next to us did one of those ridiculous complex orders which seems to go on for eternity.  The ale range had plenty of guests as well as Ossett, but after two great Titanic stouts, I went for a Treacle Stout, it was that kind of weather.  Speaking of which, this was the first cold pub of the day - something Dad complains about a lot more than me.  On a trip to the loo, I noticed plenty more seats upstairs, and with hot air rising, we went into this fake library area and once Dad avoided a draughty air fan, we were comfy.  Our relaxed reverie was broken ten minutes later by a group of students, who were filming a 'comedy' and we watched on as two bearded men drank half a pint at the same speed and then put it down.  End of scene ...... hmmmm, "comedy gold!" as I exclaimed to the cast & crew.  They were a nice bunch of lads/lasses, and it added a quirk to what was probably the least brilliant pub of the day.

Me at my 4th Osssett Hop!
570 - RED DEER, Sheffield - In the same area of town as the last two, we'd suddenly come to our final pub 'tick' of the day with hours to spare - annoying because  Dad had kept wondering 'how on earth' we'd get through all five in the day.  Easy.  Like the Rutland, this pub had been on my list for many years and as a guide regular, I knew it'd be a great quality, old man style pub.  It felt a little bit like the kind you may find in Manchester or Liverpool.  Another great range was on offer, I had another dark one, this time with whisky infusion to warm the cockles.  Good staff again, offering try before you buy and asking the kind of questions which normally launches me into a BRAPA explanation, but this time, I just said we were trying to do the Sheffield GBG pubs.  In a show of non bar unity, he went on to slag off the Hop before praising Devonshire Cat and we contemplated a visit before hometime.  Problem here, despite the old man very lived in feel, the pub was too cold!  I blame Dad for noticing but he was right, and this must have been easier to heat than say Henry's, I'm sounding more like an old man every day.  However, Dad went to order food as my BRAPA pasties hadn't been enough, and the jalepeno peppers on my nachos warmed things up a bit.  Great food btw, but overall, we didn't quite see this pub as the same quality as the first three.

Dad indicates the Red Deer, ignore the No Entry sign!

We decided to forgo the Devonshire Cat for my final challenge of the day.  This was to prove to Dad that Sheffield Tap isn't the hellhole he thinks it is, and after a rocky start in the busy main room, I revealed my trump card - back room and back snug which he didn't know existed (err, how many times has he been in?)  Well, his opinion changed in a flash and we were soon too relaxed, having to drink up quick smart to make the train for our short journey back to York at the end of one of the easiest, most successful BRAPA days you could hope for.



Saturday 24 January 2015

BRAPA : the archives (101-110)

Good evening all,

In this edition of the archives, we will pay our final visits to Preston and Leicester, before climbing those apples n pears to London town once more, this time crossing the Thames a couple of times too, hope you enjoy .....

101 - OLDE DOG & PARTRIDGE, Preston - Part of the first GBG influenced trip to visit my dear sister at Uni in Preston, I'm now thinking it could have been as early as spring/autumn 2002 rather than 2003 but cannot be sure.  This, along with the likes of Black Bull (booo!), Market Tavern, New Brittania etc was earmarked for a visit but I kept putting it off as everyone told me it was a 'bikers' pub, as though that meant trouble.  As the current guide testifies, it is more of a rock pub for the long haired greasers, who might have worn leather jackets, had patches (not eye ones) etc, some may have been bikers, but they didn't threaten me with a switchblade knife or anything if that was the inference.  I was pleasantly surprised, quite small and tight, with the kind of think table layout that reminded me of a school canteen, only a very cool rocking one.  It had lots of interesting beermats on the walls from memory too, a quite impressive ale selection, and was quite smoky but probably not anymore!

102 - SLUG & LETTUCE, Leicester - To most York ale drinkers, the idea of getting a superb real ale experience in a S&L pub apart from a cloudy Black Sheep would be laughable.  But on a cold 16th October 2011, "Uncle" Richard deemed this our first pub of the day with it's 10am opening time.  We had breakfast here too and I had a very nice egg n sausage sandwich with a pot of tea thrown in, which I enjoyed alongside one of the 4 or 5 microbrewery ales on display.  We weren't the only football fans in but most were just shoppers in for breakfast, whilst a few plasmas were showing sporty and music videos just to remind you you were in a Slug & Lettuce house, it was that easy to forget!  Proof the chain can do it, so come on York's two, up your game to this level!

103 - LEYTON ORIENT SUPPORTERS CLUB, Leyton, London - Although it has been serving real ale since 1995 apparently, this multi-award winning club wasn't really on the radar or in the guide on our many early visits to Brisbane Road  (the Appletreewick gang were interested I'd been here on my 500th pub trip last summer).  So after drawing with them in the cup at the KC, 15th Jan 2013 gave us a great chance to put this right, and after a lame experience in King William IV, we were well impressed by this place.  True, it was very busy and standing room only, but great hard working staff, a great range of ales, cheap filled rolls on the bar, and bumping into Chris D made for an excellent bonus pre-match experience.  I'll look forward to popping back in here in two or three years time for a league game.  I sampled a real cider and one of the ales I had was the regular Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde, very nice it was too.

104 - SNOOTY FOX, Canonbury, London - Dad and I came here pre-Arsenal away Wed 4th Dec 2013 but it was all a bit of an accident as the first two pubs we'd walked to didn't open til 5pm and we couldn't be bothered to hang around, so found this nearer the Emirates, on the corner of a busy main road, and it truly was one of the away pubs of the season.  Save for a couple of Hull City fans who saw our colours and lingered to chat a bit too long (the Alan Bennett one was particularly annoying), this was a superb experience with some great ales (a pale from Camden was the pick, a decent Otter too) and the decor including a retro jukebox made it feel very cosy and 'lived in' despite the location.  Untappd friend Clare recently was here, I commented, she told me the macaroni cheese was great too!  I wanted to go back this year but the call of BRAPA was too great.

Proof I didn't love all my beers in the Snooty Fox! 
105 - BREE LOUISE, Euston - In the early days of train travel, I'm thinking 2006-2009 kind of time, it was a rule that on arrival at Kings Cross, you'd get a tube or just trek up the road towards Euston and get in one of the real ale pubs in that area.  Having realised Doric Arch perhaps hadn't quite lived up to expectations (see next archive post), a little convoluted meander around the backstreets behind Euston took you to this place.  It's always busy, and as a result, generally standing room only, but no surprise as it has not only a good range of handpumps, but several barrels behind the bar serving gravity ale.  I think we did get seated eventually the first two times, but my most memorable moment is leaning on an old barrel talking to a crazy Everton supporting woman who was funny but I vaguely recall offended someone in our group (Christine?  Ben? ) but details are hazy so could be wrong.  Since about 2010, we've stopped going for one reason or another (better choice of pubs?) but my last two attempts have seen me blocked at the door due to being heaving, so turned back in favour of Parcel Yard or something better.  I've heard rumours from several sources that this pub will be demolished by 2016 which is sad if true, as it would be for any pub, but a guide one especially.

106 - MARKET PORTER, Borough Market - Gawd bless London taarn and it's busy market workers - there can't be many GBG pubs boasting a 6am opening time!  I'd love to come in here in fish stained overalls at 6:01am and see if I got served a pint.  It was closer to lunchtime when I met Tom in here pre defeat (isn't it always?) at Millwall on 7/4/12, as we waited for Dad who was doing something cultural.  The amount of tourists here was ridiculous, not many pints of real ale seemed to get served and despite hard working staff getting frustrated, it took me an age to get served.  The tourists were not just because this is a famous old pub but some of Harry Potter was filmed in the pub (the pumpclips adorning the ceiling impressed me more, but I still whored myself on Facebook about the HP reference at the time).  The ales were a bit overpriced and once i delved deeper, I didn't find the range that impressive, but still a nice pub, if only we could've got sat down.  We ended up in a German bierkeller for heaven's sake! 

Trying to blend in with tourist snappers at Market Porter, Apr 2012.
107 - PRINCE ALBERT (ROSE'S), Woolwich - 25th August 2012 and before one of the least eventful matches you'll ever see (0-0 at Charlton in a thunderstorm), I was at our pre-match pub first at dead on 11am like the diligent pub ticker I am.  Any chance of a relaxing drink before the Welly cavalry arrived were scuppered as a bull terrier, friendly but one of the most mental, least docile dogs I've ever witnessed in a pub was everywhere, I was terrified of the speed it moved at as I hung onto my pint for dear life.  This was a one room carpetted, long thin pub so dog aside, I felt at home until I went to the loo and just outside, two huge lizards in a tank were staring at me.  Quirky pub!  Beer range was a bit disappointing with only three on, I was a bit worried about Ben, but they were interesting enough (and one changed) to keep us there for the majority of our session.

Normal away match service resumes and Ben & Tom arrive at Rose's.
108 - CLARET FREE HOUSE, Addiscombe - We soon learnt on away days that when Chris Irvin waxes lyrical on a pub, you should probably proceed with caution.  It is also true that "on the day" circumstances don't always allow you to appreciate a pub as much as you could.  It was probably the 20th Jan 2007 1-1 draw and Dad and myself had used the "football away day real ale" booklet (remember them?) in our desperation as the Palace area was an ale desert at that time.  That had led us to Thornton Heath, one of the most depressing areas I've ever visited, ever and was akin to something out of a Derek Jarman novel for the cultured amongst you.  Therefore, with a bit more effort getting lost on the street but totally battle scarred, we arrived to meet Chris and Tom here.   It was quite a dark pub, I remember lots of dark blue walls and carpets, probably should have been claret (actually named this cos it used to be a wine bar).  A few locals blocked the bar as they watched a match on screens above, but there was a great range of beers.  However, Chris had a really bad cold and we spent most of the time with our breath held, hoping he wouldn't snot in our pints.  Dad came away feeling it hadn't been a good experience but I think on another day, it'd be a much better experience, it's been in the guide for something like 34 consecutive years so must be doing summat right!

109.  SPREADEAGLE, Croydon - 28th Jan 2014 and one of the last 'new' pubs I ever visited before I'd think of it as a BRAPA tick, though the seed was firmly planted in my mind at this stage.  It had been a traditional defeat at Selhurst Park which leaves you with the ranging vitriol and before calling it a night at our Croydon Travelodge, we walked down the road to this glorious looking building.  It was very good inside too, one of those where you can tell they keep great pride in keeping it clean, everything polished, and the fact it was a Fullers pub didn't bother us one bit, as friendly staff were surprised to see new customer's at this hour.  I read they have a special Fuller's award for keeping their beer, and the quality of my ESB made the pain of defeat go away!  As "Babies" by Pulp played on the jukebox, I could've settled here for another had it not been last orders.

Great post match pint after another Palace defeat
110.  CASK PUB & KITCHEN, Pimlico - Dad had been here a few times during (well, after presumably) his pensions meetings in London and wanted me to sample the delights of a great range of beers in relaxing but basic bar surroundings.  However, these places can feel very different on a midweek daytime than on a Saturday evening, so as a stop off on the way back into London from an away game which involved Victoria station (no idea the game or time, am guessing about 2011/12 - Mark and Ben were in another pub in the same area) made for a busy, fraught chaotic experience.  This wasn't helped by the upheaval of a pub refurbishment which meant, for example, the toilets were temporarily unisex, food was at a minimum, and no-one seemed in control.  Dad assured me on his last visit, it was a bit calmer again, some consolation for me!  


BRAPA : Archives - Me and the GBG 2001/02 season

Right, listen up all ...... I've decided to re-buy my first two, 1999 and 2002 to try and help work out the basis of my decision making re pub ticks in those very early GBG days.

You have to go back to the start of my time working in Leeds for when I was first introduced (accidentally) to the GBG, so some time after 12th November 2001 but before Christmas of the same year.

In a very unfashionable shopping arcade in Leeds now swallowed up by the huge Trinity Shopping Centre (but in truth, demolished long before that), I used to go for a pensioners lunch special - pie and peas for something ridiculous like £1.25.  I stood out as being not very pensioneresque, but I didn't care.

The only other shop in that arcade that I used to visit was a second hand bookshop, and it was here where I saw an second hand copy of the 1999 Good Beer Guide (so three years out of date assuming the 2002 edition had been released Sept '01) and I planned to give it to Dad for his "Christmas House" cheapo additional present.  It seemed to answer our most recent football conundrum :  we'd just got into ale, but it was hit & miss whether pubs at away games would serve the stuff, and would it be any good?

Northwich's Penny Black tick (17/11/01) was more a case of good luck or a Wetherspoons website rather than a result of the GBG as I can see it wasn't in my first 1999 edition.  We didn't go to Luton the following Tuesday night (but drank a dreadful flaggon of "Save City" ale from York brewery at home as they were in crisis and needed the cash).

Our next away game wasn't until 15/12/01 when we visited Scunthorpe for a joyous 1-2 defeat, and yes, I knew I was supposed to be wrapping this up for an xmas present, but I knew it's importance so smuggled it under the car seat and vaguely described it's merits to Dad.  Scunny had two main pubs in the guide but for whatever reason we decided against a trip into the town. We were soon trawling the villages outside to try and find a pub.  One of these was a roadside pub (Horn Inn in Messingham?) and we pulled into it but it was closed so we eventually settled on a tudor fronted pub, busy with people eating but we settled into some comfy armchairs, were impressed with the ale quality - reading the description, it was the Red Lion Hotel, Epworth.  We didn't have a map and it was well before GBG App days so we couldn't find one at Belton we'd looked for before.

Our following away game was Kidderminster on 29/12/01 so with Dad having 'officially' received his prezzie, we must have used the guide for this brilliant 0-3 defeat where recalling Nicky Mohan didn't work out well.  Kiddie is a place I really associate with early guide usage, we found an amazing pub called Station Inn which did filled rolls, great beer and I guess was visited on this occasion which really brought home to us how valuable this Guide could be.  

I vividly remember using this same 1999 Guide in our first away game in the New Year, 11th Jan 2002 on the Friday night before a Plymouth away defeat.  I've mentioned this in the archives already but like Scunny, we struggled to locate some pubs  (Shipwrights?  Tap & Spile?) and decided one or two had probably closed down or gone downhill since the Guide was published.  The Dolphin was one we definitely found matching the description, but we didn't really "appreciate the experience". Despite this,  the Fortescue was great for our main pre-match pub the following day.

We were still using the 1999 guide at a terrible 0-2 reverse at Southend a week on the following Wednesday night, where we visited both the Last Post Wetherspoons and a rubbish windswept thing on the seafront, almost certainly the Liberty Belle.  This matches the 1999 guide and the 2002 guide only had the wonderful Cork n Cheese listed so that's how I can be sure.

York away was on the following Tuesday (guess what, an abject defeat!), well I didn't need the guide to help me out here!

We went to Halifax on 2nd Feb and actually won (4 wins out of 4 for me at the Shay, now I was sure this must have been the game JW2 came to, Rodney Rowe carted off by ambulance on the pitch) and if so, this was Big Six day and we can only have used the GBG and a Dad Autoroute Map to identify this gem of a backstreet pub (it is in the 1999 guide but not the 2002 edition) complete with Ploughman's in a bag!

A fortnight later and another early cracker I associate with the GBG was the Crown & Sceptre, Torquay.  This was my favourite pub full stop for a while, and I'm sure this was our first visit.  I even remember my first ale here, 16th Feb 2002, Wolf Brewery's "Granny Wouldn't Like It".   As Gary Alexander equalised, their crowd shouted for handball, offside and a foul.  None of which were given!  However, we may have been using the 2002 guide by then as I vaguely remember the line in this edition (and not the 1999 one) about lengthy service of locals and landord plus many years listed in the guide.

My first definite memory of the red fronted 2002 GBG was at a home game, parked up at that Shell garage near the Humber Bridge trying to work out whether we could visit some new pubs in the Old Town area I wasn't familiar with.  This edition of the guide had an "Inn Brief" section, JW2 loved it and wants it back, everyone else was confused.  Were these brief pubs not as good as the main entrants?  Of early experiments in this guide Kingston Tavern was one that stood out, and we had some amazing moments here with a hot beef sandwich and Mansfield Riding Bitter.  The Mission  was a less successful effort (in the "Inn Brief" section), as was Courts Bar but on our more traditional Spring Bank stomping ground, Editorial and Tap & Spile were two we were maybe a bit surprised to be listed.

By the time we went to Swansea on 1st March (a Friday night?), we must have been using the 2002 GBG  and I can only think it would have been a Guide decision to go down the coastal road towards Mumbles where we went into a big foody pub on the coast, inhabited by very slow moving elderly folk being transported in and out by younger relatives.  This could have been the West Cross Inn  (an "Inn Brief" choice again).  We lost 1-0 in any case.

Two weeks later, we were in Oxford for another defeat and typical failure to score at the Kassam.  Our first stop off was the Bear Inn (tiny, students drinking outside, tie collection, Morse connections) before moving onto the Hobgoblin which became a firm favourite with us over the following years and may or may not be the "St Aldates Tavern" I visited as a BRAPA tick last Sepember.

 A week later, we were at our old stomping ground Leyton Orient in the infamous Kyle Lightbulb & Adrian Caceres 0-0 thriller.  This must have been the year we first discovered William IV and beers from Dark Star brewery (though it had started brewing it's own beers which were also good), the pub is still going strong but it has never beaten this first experience.

April came around with a 0-1 defeat at Cheltenham, but a lovely little pub alongside a pristine green (practically a bowling green!) called Kemble Brewery Inn down a backstreet not far from the ground.  For once, the locals were friendly enough to talk to me in my Hull City shirt, the Archers beers were great, but it did get very smokey as it got towards kick off.  They were up for promotion so it was buzzing by 2pm.

Our final away game was at Bristol Rovers (where we'd begin the following season).  I think this was where we made our Post Office Tavern debut (an Inn Brief pub but excellent) and also tried the Prince of Wales, both in Westbury on Trym.  It also fits that we tried the Victoria this day but this may have been two seasons later, it's all a bit confusing.

We lost 4-1 and all I can say is, how did Hull City finish as high as 11th that season!


Monday 19 January 2015

BRAPA : the archives (91-100)

Ten more pubs currently in the GBG that I visited before BRAPA became a "thing":

91.  VOLUNTEER ARMS, York - Before it's takeover by the same people who own the Swan and Slip Inn about three years ago, I'd been here 2 or 3 times but probably not until about 2006 when dice games such as "Crawl of Neglect" and "ACDC" started to explore York's less popular (less good) pubs.  I remember JW2 and myself being impressed by this carpetted friendly local with lots of characters and jolly staff.  However, it had changed for the worse by our second visit, more bare boarded and plasma screens showing aggresive hip-hop music vidoes, the beer range so bland I even went for a pint of Strongbow!  There were then tales of it trying to reinvent itself as a great foody pub with the youngest landlord in the country or something, but this never really worked and nowadays, we have the superb pub we know today, 'Thriller in Vanilla Porter' is reason enough to go although I lost a very nice hat in here once and was not sure the staff were being entirely honest when I went back to ask the next day, a bit shifty (or just my imagination?)

92.  YORK TAP, York - We are so lucky in York.  Not only does it boast a brilliant range of central pubs, but this relative newbie on the station means commuters no longer have to go to Coopers (sorry, the Duke of York) or traipse to Maltings or Brigantes.  I've bumped into loads of people I know in here who've then gone on to miss their train, or just been having such a good time they've not bothered trying.  There are about 20 ales on, always interesting breweries, never had a badly kept one yet, and the building itself is a superb recreation of the former station tea rooms with mosaic floors, stained glass ceiling, very ornate.  It can get a bit messy at times like Saturday evenings, the toilets are never that clean(!) and ceiling height can create quite a tinny raucous noise meaning hubbub isn't always great.  These are only minor quibbles though, Jig and me had a post-Cambridge session in here on a Sunday afternoon in September which really epitomised it's brilliance, whilst I often pop in post-BRAPA Saturday's if I've not overdone it (and sometimes when I have).  My earliest memories are the old routine of meeting Ric here for a pint and the FA Cup draw so I reckon my first time here was about 6th Dec 2011 or whenever the third round draw was that season - I sat in one of the window booths next to a Christmas tree.

Krzb, Lisa and Lu unwind after the punk festival train journey home in York Tap, Aug 2012

93.  OLD VIC, Preston - As previously mentioned, Preston away has never yielded a proper, good pre-match drinking session but had it not been for Dad's delayed train (twice this has happened to him, travelling separately from me for some reason!), this could have been the best.  As it was, Ric asked me to meet him in this pub, unknown to me, near the train station.  1/11/05 was the date of this miserable 3-0 reversal, but the pub was a hive of activity with diners, pool players, people having after-work drinks and quite a nice dark traditional place it was, with a very good range of ales (7 according to the GBG now).  Dad did join us but I think there was a bit of trouble getting in touch with him, were we eating, should we get on the pool table etc so it wasn't very relaxed.  I think it was here that a group of dining students slagged off the motormouth girl of the group when she went to the loo, saying her accent sounded like the girl in that "daddy versus chips" advert of yesteryear.  

94.  PUB, Leicester - Hmmm, one of those pubs which should be excellent but somehow falls a little short.  We've never settled into a pre-match routine in the unfriendliest city in the world, but it has loads of pubs with great reputations, and "Uncle" Richard was proud to take us here on 16th Oct 2010.  What annoyed me was (a) it's lazy name (b) their boasts about a fantastic range of 14 ales, the best in Leciester, which as soon as it started to fill up with football supporters, they couldn't maintain and as the ales dropped like ninepins, none were replaced on the basis "they had plenty anyway" but as we popped in post-match, they farcically had changed one and had a grand total of three ales still on!  I'd said something to a barmaid about this jokily pre-match and it didn't go down well!  Oh, and (c) an annoying man saying he was related to ex-Hull City player Gerry Summers, tried to impress Dad, annoyed us all.  It wasn't comfy either, just a bare boarded nicely polished place, tricky on a cold day with cold air blasting through as someone left a door open!

95.  TAP & MALLET, Loughborough - The final pub of the A-Z on 15/3/14.  Yes, it made sense for me n Krzb to finish here as it was nearest the station and after Organ Grinder, our 2nd fave pub of the day though it got off to an inauspicious start as I had to go back to McDonald's where I'd left my bag (not for the first time, but hopefully the last).  Silly Simon.  The pub had a nice comfortable, easy relaxed low key atmosphere, almost like that of some estate pubs. Krzb had got me an Abbeydale Moonshine, and it was as perfect as this beer should be as we sat on comfy bench seating facing the front bar.  Interesting fact, on Untappd I am the pubs second loyalist drinker with my one check in! So obviously not a pub for the trendy young folk.  Good. 

"Oooh hang on, where's mi bag?" was my thought seconds after taking this photo

96. MALT SHOVEL, Scunthorpe - If you hear about a stabbing, shooting or rape in North Lincolnshire, the odds are that (a) it'll be in Scunny and (b) that it can be narrowed down to Ashby High Street and surely enough, something kicked off (shooting I think) just before we (Dad and myself) arrived here on 15th Feb 2003, took us a while to find and I remember feeling quite nervous as we walked up and down the street!  I remember the date because I had a very nice local ale with a Valentine's Day theme.  The pub was packed with pensioners having their lunch and we struggled to get seated, but the staff were helpful under the circumstances.  By 2pm and our final pint before the thrilling 3-1 defeat, the pub was empty and we couldn't get over the clearance.  It's as if Dignitas had threatened to leave Switzerland and move their HQ to Ashby High St.  A good pub though, to this day have still not done much better in Scunny than this day.

97.  DOG & DUCK, Soho, London - Friday 8th October 2010 and I'd travelled down to London with Jig to watch 'Sublime with Rome' (two thirds of the original band) play at Shepherd's Bush Empire.  Obviously, it'd be up to me to come up with some pre-gig pub agenda, and I chose Soho because there were about six Soho guide pubs at that time (only three now) and I'd not been able to persuade the Welly gang that'd it'd make a good pre-London match crawl, despite two years of trying.  We alighted at Tottenham Court Rd for this, our second pub of the day and the most iconic with it's small but orante interior, famous throughout the world with mosaics of dogs and ducks,  I wanted to appreciate it but it was so packed, we joined the hoards drinking on the busy streets outside, as businessmen and joggers were blocked off by us all.  Were we allowed to be out here?  Who cares, it was a bit of a chaotic free for all but felt very London.  I remember having a Scottish ale that was strong but light n hoppy, not sure how I remember, as I cannot remember the names of any of the pubs we visited after this one!  

98.  PEMBURY TAVERN, Hackney - 27th Sept 2008 is a big date in the minds of a lot of Hull City fans as we won away at Arsenal, but give me Yeovil or the Swansea 3-2 any day.  Being a 5:30 kick off, we could really relax and enjoy ourselves in our designated Welly meet-up pub, a big one roomed affair, light and airy but despite the bare-boarded feel, had some degree of comfort.  I have to admit though, I wasn't overly impressed compared with some members of our gang.  This is a Milton pub and at the time, I felt the ales were all a bit thin, samey and southern and it's only been brilliant 2014 experiences in Cambridge and Bradford that have turned me back onto Milton brewery.  The pub also had a bit of a shabby chic pretentious feel, delicate eastern european barmaids serving overpriced burgers, neither Dad or me were impressed with ours, I had a wild boar burger.  Similarly, they had all these obscure card and board games with ridiculous rules that no-one could fathom out.  It was a nice experience but I wasn't too upset when tube problems stopped us getting back here pre-Spurs a week later.

99.  DRUM, Leyton - A huge pub called the Coach & Horses (non-guide) had been our pub of choice for our pre GBG trips to one of our most frequently visited away grounds, Brisbane Road.  Pre-ale, this place had everything you would want in a pub (apart from maybe quality real ale) but as soon as we got into the guide, we decided to expand our horizons.  So when Dad dodged his anniversary celebrations on Tuesday 16th Sept 2003, we sat outside on a sunny evening at this small 'Spoons house, we have had ordered food but my main memory is two dreadlocked locals smoking cannabis unashamedly near the bins just a few yards away from us!  This was around the time we discovered 'King William IV' as a great pub that then went a bit downhill, then uphill, the downhill(!) so we may have moved on to here afterwards. 

100.   PARCEL YARD, King's Cross - It seems fitting that the hundredth archive pub should be one I'm very familiar with.  I'd call it a marmite pub, you either love it or hate it - I've switched between both extremes over the last few years but you can't deny it serves a very good purpose, real ale in a nice building in a station you are often stuck in during your travels.  The prices are ridiculous, but the staff are always good, the ale quality very variable, just when you think you are stuck with the Fullers range, a nice guest ale from the North might pop up, and away from the main bar, there are some truly magnificent side room I've whiled away many an hour in.  It's also easy to use the loos without being made to feel guilty for not buying a drink, such is their location.  It opened mid March 2012 I think so am wondering if below photo, taken after a 2-0 defeat at Millwall, was my first visit here?  Unless we went really early on after the 17/3/12 bore draw at Palace on 'yellow coat' day but I doubt it.  

Me in Parcel Yard, 7/4/12

BRAPA - Lincoln & latest updates

Sunday isn't my favourite day for BRAPA but it does give you a slightly different pub experience.  Busy around lunchtime, easing into a relaxed atmosphere by late afternoon, and then eerily quiet by evening.

As I boarded the 12:32 from York to Newark Northgate in a flurry of snow, I had my reservations about Lincoln.  My previous experience haven't been happy with football hooligans, riot police and small minded football chairmen plus many defeats making football days unhappy experiences in years gone by.  On another occasion, I went with the 'flu on a January day as cold as this, easily the most ill I've ever felt at a match!  Today, I was determined that Lincoln would impress me.  It did.

I definitely arrived into Lincoln the right way, out of the station and up the pretty High Street which became "The Strait" and eventually "Steep Hill", and it really was - and typically & annoyingly, my first pub was right at the top!

Walking up through Lincoln towards the Cathedral Quarter

559 - WIG & MITRE, Lincoln - It was 2:15pm when I arrived so was hoping I'd seen of the tail-end of the Sunday lunchers.  Wrong!  I really should have started at a non-food pub.  Every table was taken for dining and the only places for drinkers was a little ledge near the bar so I perched here on an awkward stool.  There was 4 ales on, 3 regulars including the wonderful Oakham JHB which I resisted to go for the guest, Aviator from the newbie local brewer 'Greg's' not related to the bakery but excellent nonetheless. I tried to get a bit of unity going with the other 'non eating' couple but this wasn't easy.  The pub looked like, if you stripped it back to basics, you'd have a lovely old building, it was surprisingly big inside and had that tardis feel.  The staff were young and smart, but being near the kitchen, I got the feeling that they struggled with the rush of diners, noticed a few tensions.  One 'chef' had to be taken a pint of Becks Vier presumably to keep him calm.

At the top of Steep Hill was this food orientated tavern
560 - STRUGGLERS INN, Lincoln - Pub of the day without a doubt, it would front up well against any opposition and must be a very early candidate for pub of the year too!   I'd had a mosey around the impressive Cathedral but it was biting cold, so I was ready for pint number two.  I went into the left side of the bar, and 'struggled' to get to the bar with the ten or so locals standing there but they obliging created a gap to let me through, to choose from a fantastic range of ales from micros, I went for a Brewsters "Hoptical Illusion" which was nice, both darky and less hoppy than imagined, maybe that was the illusion!  A welcoming real fire completed the scene which I got myself in front of, but it was the locals who truly made it a great experience.  Who needs to read a book or watch TV when you can observe life?  Firstly, a man changed a lightbulb on a precarious stool, then crossword clues were read out, I only wish I could've been more clever!  The locals then discussed what made a good pub, I felt like I was reading a chapter of my "In Search of the Perfect Pub" book but they shouldn't have worried, this was a real cracking hub of the community, which I'd never have excpeted so close to the touristy Cathedral Quarter.  In a 50/50 choice of "which direction are the toilets in", I even guessed right (and that never happens!)

The Strugglers : Surely the best pub in Lincoln

561 - MORNING STAR, Lincoln - A real example of how a pub experience can change dramatically during your visit.  I was very underwhelmed after a 10 minute walk brought me to this very old pub, dating back to about 1700.  Firstly, not a great range and for me, Lancaster Blonde is always a disappointing beer.  The £3.60 price really rubbed salt into the wound, I should've gone with a cheaper regular beer like Bombardier.  The young Spanish barman seemed a nice chap but the language barrier meant he couldn't really understand my (obviously) witty banter.  However, things started to pick up when I got sat in front of another real fire, and thought maybe I should start rating 'real fires'.  This was the pick.  I then started talking to a couple about my BRAPA challenge (as always happens once a day on a great day out such as this).  They were interested, the woman was a Lincolnshire equivalent of Mary Portas and gave me advice such as "I should turn the blog into a book sooner rather than later" and I should contact pub companies like Wetherspoons to try and get sponsorship/backing".  She really thought I could make a full time vocation, and I have to say, I went away with much food for thought!  A docile dog meandered around, no doubt looking for food, and my impression of this pub as I left had gone up ten-fold.  Excellent experience.  

Stick with this pub, it might just surprise you!

562 - ADAM & EVE TAVERN, Lincoln - After a quick phone-call home to hear about Hull City's latest limp performance, I was facing this pub at the bottom/top of a hill depending which way you'd come from.  Luckily for me, it was downhill, and sadly, so was this pub in comparison to the last couple.  It looked wonderful from the outside, and again, I read it takes from the very early 1700's.  However, I get the distinct impression the interior has been somewhat altered over the years, not sure my Heritage Guide writer would be impressed!  The main room was almost like half chavvy sports bar with Man City v Arsenal on a huge screen, but also half tudor-styled with a third consecutive real fire and some other rooms off with lower seats than the high stool I had to sit on.  I don't care what anyone says, no way stools are as good as chairs so why do pubs keep doing it?  I think the beer I had was a Lincoln Best by Poachers, it certainly had Lincoln in the name anyway!

Adam & Eve : Slightly failed to live up to expectations

563 - DOG & BONE, Lincoln - Dusk had fallen by the time I reached this pub, a bit of an effort as I didn't realise it was hiding down a little backstreet, but I love pubs in locations like this - just like another house on the street.  This was a Bateman's pub and the young barman who seemed a lively affable chap was bemoaning the fact that there were only four customer's in, me, an old man and two young lads who sat at the bar.  And was that yet another real fire I saw?  One in a day is unusual, but Lincoln seems to be the capital of them.  Despite the Bateman's beers which I'm no stranger to, I went for a Muirhead 'Summit Hoppy' which I was going to describe as a typically sweet, rich, hoppy Scottish ale, until I realise it was brewed in Ilkeston!  With a full bustling pub, you could imagine what a cracker this could be so a shame I didn't catch it in it's full glory.

Night time falls in the backstreets of Lincoln

564 - JOLLY BREWER, Lincoln - I was glad to be able to squeeze this pub in on the way back to the station, and it had a different feel to all the other Lincoln pubs I'd been in today.  Being a "Quirky Art Deco" pub as the GBG describes, it was not a massive surprise to see more of an alternative clientele, but on this occasion, the real fire was being neglected and you could really feel the detriment that this caused to the comfort as it was already a non-carpetted fairly spartan affair, but with good decor and excellent staff.  There was a good selection of local ales on too, from local breweries like Tom Wood, Newby Wyke and Welbeck Abbey but I went for a 'De Lovetot' from Dukeries, a new Bradford brewery I'd not heard of before.

The journey back home was traumatic in the extreme.  Changing firstly at Retford, I got a bit confused by platforms 1 & 2 being nowhere near 3 & 4 and with a tight change anyway, I wasn't unduly worried to miss the first connection and allow me an hour for pint number 7!  Amazingly, I didn't feel too drunk, I think a cooked breakfast and two pasties must've made the difference.  

565 - RUM RUNNER, Retford - Nearest to the station, a 0.4 mile walk too me over a little canal bridge to this homely pub which was well in the throes of an evening knees up with some pretty horrendous sounding karaoke filtering through from the large back room!  I settled in the front bar with an excellent pint of Titanic Steerage (always a winner) and just in time too as the snow started coming down at quite a rate.  This particularly excited the female contingent, who rushed to the window to squeal at the site of it, whilst their men-folk rolled their eyes.  I was simply concerned about train cancellations.  On arriving back at the station, the guard thought I should've got a Donny train but my train was via Leeds so was happy to hang on for the 21:30 which was on time.

Cosy, homely fun in Retford as the snow comes down.

However, on arrival at Leeds, the replacement bus service to York was still in operation despite the implication being it would have been finished by now when I'd bought my tickets.  So, 50 minutes back and having to feed my sister's cat Bertie meant it was all of midnight by the time I got in.  A great day, but am feeling it a bit the following day!


 Midweek W.Y. BRAPA nights were due to start again this week, but in light of my sister's broken ankle, I am current responsible for the feeding and entertaining of her cat for what may be up to six weeks so I am suspending these nights til her pot comes off! 

Hopefully, Dad's Saturday birthday BRAPA day will go ahead, the following week will be the long-awaited outer Northallerton day.  We'll have an outer Selby crawl with Krzb Britain on 14th Feb to continue with the North Yorks challenge which is admittedly slow going.

I'm currently organising spring trips to further reaching places.  Beds, Berks and Bucks are all on the agenda from April -June.  Beds will be 18th April to celebrate 1 year of BRAPA as I revisit Biggleswade (2 ticks) and will be trying to get to some other places nearby such as Broom, Dunton, Henlow and Abington Piggots (technically in Cambridgeshire). Berks will be focused on villages to the North and West of Reading.  Bucks will be Aylesbury and three or four places I can get busses to from there.

I'd also like to see a Hull United game by the end of this season, and may be able to combine it with a final trip to Cottingham, plus Kirk Ella and possibly some post-match ticks in Hedon, Hollym or Hull itself.

Happy Brapping, Si


Friday 16 January 2015

BRAPA - A Pictorial Review of 2014

I'm led to believe that simpletons like you prefer to see pictures than have too many words to read, so for a special treat, here are 25 pictures which help reflect the fantastic first year of pub ticking (in chronological order).  Oh hang on, and a lot of words too - sorry!

25.  FIRST BRAPA PUB!  (The Mitre Tavern, Brighton - 15th Feb 2014).

A combination of my excitement to "get started" and Hull City's messed up fixture schedule opened the door to two "pre-season BRAPA trips" before the official April start.  This first outing was a trip to stormy Brighton, full of gales and flooding, where I'd already bought match tickets not expecting the FA Cup game would be moved to a Monday night.  Therefore, this became the first (if unofficial) BRAPA outing, and this was the first pub.  I ordered a Harvey's "Kiss", the landlord went to change the barrel for me, and the locals slagged him off whilst he was down there.  Poor chap.  I sat in a corner facing the toilets like a dunce, people glared at me, I read a tourist info leaflet on getting to a place called Devil's Dyke and made a mental note for a future trip down here.  Welcome to BRAPA.

24. LEGS THE CAT (Charlotte Despard, Archway, London 8th March 2014).

As mentioned in the "awards" blog, this three legged wonder was BRAPA pub pet of the year in this friendly London pub, even if (with full bladder), Tom and myself had to wait a long time for it to open.  At least the staff were friendly, communicative and apologetic, and my tweet about Legs was the first time I was ever "re-tweeted".  The power of the 'net eh?  This was a second BRAPA pre-season friendly, a superb day, this time because our West Ham away game had been moved to a Monday night.  I wouldn't have changed it for the world.  And I still hadn't finished the A-Z at this point!

23. FIRST OFFICIAL BRAPA TICK (Albion, Ampthill, Beds, 5th April 2014).

This was the moment I had been working towards since the BRAPA seeds had started forming in early-mid January.  The first pub listed in the guide always had to be the place to start, and by gum, I had to work to get there with train to London, then Bedford, then a tricky double decker bus ride to Ampthill, bad Saturday morning traffic.  It was always going to be an anti climax but was friendly and the beer range was incredible, and you can see it was pub of the year.  The bus back to Bedford had an oil leak and broke down.  It really was "welcome to BRAPA" with a crash, bang, wallop!

22.  COMPLETING THE FIRST PAGE (Three Cups, Bedford, 6th April 2014).

After 13 pubs, many miles of walking, much money spent/wasted on busses, I found myself sat in this cosy, homely Greene King pub and what a satisfying moment it was to use my fluroscent marker to highlight it, the final pub on the double page.  It was Sunday afternoon, I felt numb, happy, warm and fuzzy - proof hair of the dog works.  I said "hi" to a few locals, exchanged pleasantries with the barmaid, kept missing the down step on the way into the gents, but all was well as I prepared to head back to York, first official BRAPA mission accomplished.  Going into Bedford, I'd still had reservations re would I enjoy BRAPA enough to sustain it.... but it was here I realised I had the bug, and I knew this really was going to be my lifelong challenge.

21. BIRTHDAY BRAPA (Angel, Manchester, 6th May 2014).

Before Hull City did their best to spoil my birthday with a gutless "let's join in the Ryan Giggs party" performance, and even before I met up with Ben to go on a pre-match (BRAPA) birthday crawl, I found this gem of a pub near my Travelodge near Victoria, it was incredible!  Loads of quirky beer visitors, a man with his deranged call girl, free cheese & fig tart, an old man serenading the pub by playing Billy Joel on the piano, this really felt like an extra birthday present when I came here!  This cushion however, was not really a highlight.

20.  WEST YORKS MIDWEEK CHALLENGE (Regent, Chapel Allerton, 29th April 2014).

It wasn't long into BRAPA life when a rational voice in my head said "why travel the length and breadth of the country when you have loads of undiscovered pubs on your doorstep?".
And from then, on most Tuesday's after work, I would discover West Yorkshire's hidden gems.  Having had a successful 'walk' to Holbeck in week one, I took a bus to Chapel Allerton in week two and this was the pick of my pubs, and number 400 as it happened.  Everyone seemed to know & like this pub, from my Dad to Kamal at work, famous for years, friendly, old, comfy, tonnes of character and I'd obviously got the best seat because people kept asking when I was leaving.  Errr I think that was the reason anyway!

19.  SHANKLIN TO SANDOWN (a coastal walk in the Isle of Wight, 16th May 2014).

It's nice when a plan comes together (as someone once said) and my BRAPA Friday in IoW was as good as it gets.  I'd already been to pubs in Ryde and Shanklin (where I was staying) when I read about a coastal walk to in my B&B brochure thing to get to Sandown, where I had a pub tick to get in.  I used the superb train line to good effect too that day, got very sunburnt, even found two BRAPA pubs closed down which was sad but didn't detract.  Hell, B&B landlady even got up at 6am to pack me up with sandwiches as I needed to get back to London for the FA Cup final.  I'd rather have stayed in IoW!

18. CHESTER (City Centre, Sat 24th May 2014).

Despite the small matter of Barcelona less than 2 days away, BRAPA never sleeps and I'd been itching at a pub day in the well regarded ancient city of Chester for many years.  It all started very "A-Z" as I explored cathedral, gardens, city walls etc etc but still managed to overdo it on the pubs, 8 was a bit ridiculous and I learnt lessons that day as I fell asleep in the Cross Keys and was almost too wasted to enjoy to superb Brewery Tap.  But you live and learn and certainly the earlier pubs in the day walking along the canal etc was a superb day.

17.  IMPROMPTU, SPONTANEOUS BRAPPING (Fenton Flyer, Church Fenton, 1st June 2014).

It is fair to say that BRAPA and my life in general is all about careful planning in advance, so what a refreshing change (just back from Barca and ready to get back into my routine) to jump on a train, and after a pleasing trip to Barkston Ash, I found (with huge effort!) this well thought of pub.  Friendly to a tee, no Spanish language barrier, and with the weather absolutely glorious, I sat out in the beer garden (well, car park) and errm planned my summer BRAPA Saturday's over a pint of some Rudgate Tour De Yorkshire themed ale.  I even bumped into Debs from work on my walk back to the train station.

16.  GHOST STORY OF THE YEAR (Nag's Head, Shrewsbury, 28th June 2014).

I had actually been to this pub before many years ago pre-football but couldn't be sure so incorporated it into an excellent day's BRAPA work in one of my favourite places in the UK.  It was hard to pick a pub of the day but in doing my research beforehand, I read a great story about this pub having a "haunted painting", you look at the eyes of the person in the portrait and you die!  So much so, that when some thieves tried to nick it, they tried it blindfolded!  I was glad it was safely locked away in a wardrobe in a room upstairs where apparently, there is an icy chill all year round.  The pub itself was wonderful - great characters, a bit squashed and the woman sat next to me kept bursting into tears, then laughing, not sure why.  She hadn't spoken to me the whole time, drank a few gins, then wished me "good luck" when I left.  Did she have a spooky sixth sense for BRAPA?

15. ESCAPING "LE TOUR" (Aldbrough St John, North Yorks, 5th July 2014)

My first North Yorkshire Saturday BRAPA outing was also a great opportunity to escape from the madness of the Tour De France coming to Yorkshire (this trip took me so far North, it was nearer Darlington than anything else in truth).
It also was one of the best days out of the year.  This pub was by no means a classic (a bit cliquey and horsey) but it encapsulated the spirit of BRAPA.
Arriving a bit early off the bus (despite already having had a pint in Darlo), I explored the huge village green and even sat by a stream to have a sausage roll, at which point I was jumped on by a dog called Molly.
The pub was soon open and the day could recommence. Manfield, Aycliffe Village and the Quakerhouse in Darlington were all great experiences and I could almost forget a load of cyclists were racing around like mad men.

14. SIXTEEN AGAIN!  (Corner Pin, Doncaster, 19th July 2014)

One of the most bizarre BRAPA experiences of the year came half way through a day in Donny, technically the traditional summer "Welly Gang day out" which (with not much persuasion), I had hijacked for BRAPA purposes but most of the Lincolnshire based folk in the gang were happy with a Donny and surrounding area crawl.
Torrential rain and scary thunderstorms made for a memorable day in itself, but the main moment came back in Donny having successfully negotiated two pubs just outside the town.  I'd heard the locals in this hostelry were strange but to be ID'd at 35 was quite a thrill (not happy at the time!), especially when I asked an old local his views and he said "as soon as you came in, I said "16", tops!"  Well, Ben soon arrived  to join me and Tom (neither were ID'd) and a lovely pint of "female friendly stout" (hmmm) plus a nice chat with another chap who recommended the new Doncaster Brewery Tap meant I left a lot happier than when I sat down!

13.  AND THE 500 IS UP IN STYLE .... (New Inn, Appletreewick, 2nd August 2014).

The best BRAPA moment of the year was getting the 500th tick for the first time (I did drop back below it when the new guide came out in Sept and had to re-achieve the 500 in Bradley in November!).  But on what proved to be one of those classic days out, I bumped into Alex from work and some friends and after they bought into the BRAPA challenge at the Craven Arms down the road, they gave me a guard of honour, round of applause and bought me a pint in this wonderful pub anyway.  We even got to sit outside overlooking picturesque surroundings.

12.  PUNK ROCK BRAPA .... (Layton Rakes, Blackpool, 9th August 2014).

The punk festival has been a highlight of my year every year since 2001, but this was the first time I really had one eye (like Lisa with her eye patch, pictured) on the potential to tick off new pubs without being anti-social for the entire weekend.  The easiest pub to achieve was this new Wetherspoons with plenty of nods towards the town's circus and fairground tradition with a big neon clown for example, plus an excellent top level roof area with great views of the Tower etc.  By the Sunday night, as wind and rain battered Blackpool, it was nice to relax here and make it something of a 'base for the weekend' with Pump n Truncheon maybe not quite as good as it has been in previous years.  I also visited the Cricket Club and hope for more ticks and this year's festival.  Tram to Bispham anyone?

11. CRAZY CAMBRIDGE ..... (St Radegund, Cambridge, 6/9/14).

The more people become involved in my BRAPA adventures, the harder it is to "keep a lid" on the day, in terms of things like alcohol consumption and following the exact route mapped out.  I therefore knew Cambridge would be a challenge with overnight stop, Jig as travelling companion, and locals Clare, her Dad and her soon to be fiancee James at various stages of the day.  Two pubs in the middle were blanks in my mind, I still berate myself for that, the beer range and quality was superb throughout the day, a final 2am pint in the Maypole was NOT a good idea, but looking back, despite being more messy than Lionel, it was a top day of the year and this photo from St Radegund (rubbish staff attitude, great otherwise) encapsulated the day for me.

10.  MORSE, LEWIS, UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE : Oxford (Oxford City Centre, 13/9/14)

Pub and beer wise, Oxford didn't quite impress as Cambridge had done but if I had one regret about the previous week, it was not embracing the beauty of the city (another thing easier done on your own I find).  Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed my walk around Oxford, especially the little back streets, the university park grounds, colleges, well all of it really.  I was also really ready for the pub crawl when it started an hour and a half after my arrival.  This picture, despite me adding a couple of filters, really gave the best impression of the city looking back a day later when I was writing up my blog.

9.  MOST POPULAR BLOG : South Shields / Newcastle (Stag's Head, South Shields 19/9/14)

Easily the 'most views' I've had on my Blog was this fairly impromptu day out to the north east just as Scotland failed to get independence.  It was "one BRAPA trip too far" to be honest after two solid days of beer festival drinking, Newcastle away the day after, and recent heavy trips to Oxford & Cambridge still fresh in my liver!  It was an inauspicious start as I got treated like a criminal at South Shields for pressing the wrong button on a Metro machine I'm not familiar with, and then had a very depressing pint in a Wetherspoons called Wouldhave.  This was the second pub, a fitting place to sit in my mood at the time!  But despite a range of one ale (Draught Bass), the pub and local's character cheered this one sad bastard up and it was the also the first place I took my highlighter pen to my new 2015 GBG to tick off this and the last pub.  The day then went from strength to strength and all the misery was forgotten!

8.  BAD LUCK DAY : Whitby, Grosmont and beyond (Board Inn, Whiby 4/10/14)

On a day where just about everything went wrong (closed pub at Grosmont, flooded road to Beck Hole, damaged toe, lost in Castleton, GBG App plays up and bad beer in Whitby) at least I made the best of a bad job and got six pub ticks in!  My decision to climb the dracula steps up to Whitby Abbey in the freezing cold might have seemed a strange one, but at least it allowed this photo of my first Whitby pub, the Board Inn, which I enjoyed second best of the day, and also was briefly cheered by news that Hull City had actually won a home game.

7.  IT REALLY IS A RED SHED!  (Wakefield Labour Club, 14/10/14)

A combination of "social events" (for example, punk festival and york beer fest) meant I had got out of the habit of midweek West Yorkshire BRAPA, 2 months since my last visit was simply unacceptable!  I had also been delayed by cross-ticking my new guide which took a good couple of weeks, but seeing Alverthorpe was now a place in it's own right was the push I needed to get going again, and after some tough walking and trips to Alverthorpe WMC and a slow but superb pub visit to Fernandes Brewery Tap, I hung around til the 7pm opening time of this amazing little club, really was like entering a Red Shed, even I had to duck!  It felt like a lower division turnstile too, and I was surprised when the door opened to reveal this wonderful tiny bar with barman and one local getting overly excited by a birds of prey feature on the One Show.  The beer was superb too.  A great experience and I was back on the midweek WY trail.

6.  AN AUDIENCE WITH SI (Bridge, Wennington, 1/11/14)

I don't want to come across as a lame show pony but every now and again, I need a heart warming BRAPA experience to remind me that this challenge really is worth it and after a "little reward for lots of effort" experience in Wray, I stumbled across this picture postcard pub in the Bowland Forest area of Lancs, once painted by Turner (not Michael or Frank).  Landlady was friendly but pub was foody, beer wasn't stunning, and there was no seating room so she sent me outside to a smoking area, in November!  But there, I met a group of about ten walkers/locals and ended up regaling them with BRAPA tales and plans, and they absolutely lapped it up and when they went on their way, I just sat there smiling to myself for about 10 mins before my train to Bentham .....

5.  HALLOWE'EN HORROR SHOW (Horse & Farrier, Bentham, 1/11/14)

  And spooked I was by the most impressive attention to Hallowe'en decoration you could ever expect to see from a pub.  I even got free sweets from a plastic cauldron.  And for once, I did not resent the kids running around and exploring every nook and cranny of the pub and it's wonderful decor.  Tacky and cheesy it might have been, but you had to take your hat off to it, even if a skeleton on the bog was taking it all a step too far.  It was a proper low roofed cosy carpetted pub as well which really made the atmosphere even better.  This spooky selfie was a result of photo behind being like a hologram, thay changed between respectable gent and scary vampire.  As Emily at work said when I showed her this photo "oooh, looks a bit like Johnny Depp ... the picture, not you!"  Errrm yeah luv, I didn't need you to qualify that particular point.

4.  PUB OF THE YEAR (Jacobs Beer House, Bradford, 4/11/14).

It's fair to say Bradford had been the scourge of my summer.  Three city trips needed alone to do the nine guide pubs, not to mention the little villages outside like Cullingworth and Harecroft.  And each trip seemed to come with some annoying quirk, normally involving tardy public transport.  So in November, I was hardly looking forward to a return visit with new GBG yielding further potential ticks.  However, after an already eventful experience in Denholme, my final Bradford pub (til next Sept at least!) was an absolute cracker.  Bare boarded, real fires, friendly knowledgeable staff, cheap pub snacks and amazing ales, many from the Milton brewery which had done us so well in Cambridge.  If I was asked to describe my "Moon under Water" pub, this would be a very good blueprint.

3.  CAS VEGAS (Glass Blower, Castleford, 26/11/14)

How wrong you can be!  I'd been putting off a trip to Cas in my mind since as far back as July but with midweek WY BRAPA back up and running, this was always going to come up sooner rather than later.  And as it proved, it was one of those near perfect midweek ticking nights lending credence to my belief that West Yorks pubs are superior to those in the north.  Take this for example, a Wetherspoons in Cas.  Doesn't conjure up to much high anticipation does it, but great staff and some of the best beer quality you'll ever have in a 'Spoons plus the jolly, abrasive locals I'd already come to associate with the town made for a top experience.  The next pub, the Junction, was probably even better, but then, as an award winner, I'd expected that a bit more.

2.  MACC-TASTIC (Wharf, Macclesfield 6/12/14)

A rare 'outside Yorkshire' BRAPA day during the Autumn/Winter season yielded six pubs in this cracking town, accompanied by a new travel companion, in Lizzy Andrew, who in truth, lives here so only had to walk down the road.  This was a really good day out, and this pub with it's real fire, crazy dogs and great beer was possibly my pub of the day, though the last one, which I achieved by now back on my own and a bit worse for wear, was also great as I sat at the bar and chatted with the crazy locals about all sorts of stuff I can luckily barely remember.  Cheshire is a county I need to pay more attention to, it's really not that expensive a day out and there's some great breweries in the vicinity so watch this space for 2015.

1.  CHRISTMAS OUTING (One Eyed Rat, Ripon, 20/12/14)

December had suddenly become a month of many pub ticks and travel companions and Chris "Krzbi" Britain joined me on a rickety bus ride from York to Ripon, and eventually Boroughbridge to top things off.  It was the last BRAPA outing before xmas and a nice festive spirit permeated the town, and a very nice little town Ripon is with several great pubs.  This was probably the best and won our award as we did "Scottish voting" (don't ask) later on.  It just had a really warm feel, some good exciting ales, tonnes of comfort and is one of those established ale guide pubs you keep hearing about.  Another great day, this on the tricky North Yorks tick list, let's hope outer Northallerton can match this on 31/1/15.