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.

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