Sunday 22 February 2015

BRAPA - Birtley, Beamish & Beyond

I'd been fortunate (very fortunate) to avoid the many L**ds fans who were off to Middlesbrough for a lunchtime kick off, as I boarded the 09:08 to Chester-le-Street for my bi-annual BRAPA trip to the North East.  I sat at the end of First Class to be on the safe side, and enjoyed my breakfast cheese & onion pasty which tin foil stuck to it, more dangerous than a Joey Barton jab to the knackers.

A connecting bus took me to the Beamish Museum, where I made friends with a woman celebrating her 78th birthday, making her exactly 48 years older than Dame N'Dioye.  I decided no-one is too old to understand BRAPA and she helped me out with some local knowledge, though her Grange Villas home doesn't have a GBG pub sadly.

584 - STABLES BAR & RESTAURANT, Beamish - The bus happily dropped me off right outside the Beamish Museum entrance.  Problem was, Stables Bar is located behind Beamish Hall which was almost a mile walk away down a winding country lane with no pavement, but I was more likely to be run over by kids running across the road to see the "horsie" than any motorised transport.  Had I walked around the back of the hall (a Best Western Hotel in truth), I'd have found the bar straight away but the hotel receptionist had me walking up and down corridors, getting in lifts etc as I wished hotel guests "good morning" and smiled at various chambermaids.  Yes, it was a unique search for a BRAPA tick!  It was worth the wait as their own on-site brewery dispensed a fine range of ales, I went for the IPA (Silver Buckle) which was superb.  The staff were smiley and pleasant, the bar area was full of leather settees, bad music and rural farming decor in a confused mixture of sterile hotel bar and old style country pub.  The other 'drinkers' were all on coffee/juice and discussing country walks or trips out & about,  One quirk outdoors in the courtyard was what seemed to be the remnants of a beer festival, but all the beers were continental lagers like Tiger & Singha.  Was it just an elaborate set-up joke?  Very odd.

Impressive Beamish Hall, there's a fine bar & brewery behind here somewhere! 

585 - BEAMISH MARY INN, No Place - I was surprised how quickly I managed the 2.2 mile walk to No Place, a fitting description for a 'place' with two streets and I passed some kids playing in the street with washing hanging up etc, it really was like a scene from "When the Boat Comes In".  You have to love the north east.  This award winning pub was open, and a friendly no nonsense landlord served me an ale from Big Lamp brewery which was good, more traditional of a bitter than my IPA but still excellent.  I sat in the quiet lounge in front of a roaring log fire, and we've learnt this winter in BRAPA that when a real fire is in and being maintained, it usually means the pub cares about all aspects of it's function to the public.  Another thing I've learnt is how important music is in a pub for ambiance, whatever people might tell you.  So when loud early noughties/late nineties hits started up at a fair volume, it seemed to ruin the old skool atmosphere that had otherwise been created.  People wise, tt was a bit more raucous in the main bar, though what I initially thought was a full room of old men in flat caps was an eerie mural showing silhouettes of old fashiond drinkers.  Quite sad when you think about it!  A toothless old man and his younger but equally mad looking mate came to warm themselves in front of the fire and we exchanged pleasantries, from what I could tell from their strong accents.  Toothless told barman he'd not come to the pub if he had a fire like this at home, so I chipped in I bet he didn't have beer like this at home.  Ha!  1-0 Simon, and after a trip to the "Netty", I was ready for my next pub......

Bygone pub fun at the Beamish Mary Inn, No Place
..... well, I was ready for the next pub but it wasn't ready for me.  Despite checking the 12 noon Saturday opening time, the Newfield Inn in Newfield was very closed.  Not shut down, just closed.  A shame as I'd had the toughest walk of the day along the crazy A683.  Still, judging by some of the locals hanging around the car park over the road, it didn't look the most inviting place.  I "vented" on Twitter and was re-tweeted by a Shakespeare quotes page for using the phrase "dead as a doornail".  I thought it was Charles Dickens!  

The sun shines above Newfield, but the pub is very SHUT. 
Oh well, an occupational hazard of BRAPA I guess and one I haven't suffered for a while so I was due one.  All I could do was catch the bus back to Chester-le-Street from the "Aged Miners Homes" (only in Durham) in Pelton a few streets away.

586 - LAMBTON WORM, Chester-le-Street - Another back-breaking walk (more surprising this time) took me to the most Northern part of the town.  This was the home of Sonnet 43 brewery showcasing their beers, both light (which I'm less keen on) and dark (invariably gorgeous).   However, this pub suffered from the age old BRAPA problem of being foody, in fact this was a no holds barred, balls-to-the-wall Gastropub,  Totally unashamed.  Their efforts to create a bar area for drinkers was admirable, but hadn't worked, and why should drinkers have less comfort than diners?  So I took myself right into a comfy corner next to diners and ate my sausage roll on the sly as a triumphant two's up to "this sort of thing".  Service had been a problem too, and whilst the staff were obviously hard working, a group of 12 diners were settling their bill as I came in and after the closed pub experience and full bladder, could feel the rage rising!  I calmed down once I had a few sips of the always gorgeous Bourbon Milk Stout, though I don't like drinking out of a vase.  Mixed feelings then, but you've got to have these varied experiences.

Drinking out of a Sonnet vase in the gastro-esque Lambton Worm.

587 - BARLEY MOW, Birtley - Being so north in Durham, I crossed into that mystical, well mythical county of Tyne & Wear.  This meant, alphabetically speaking, I'd achieved both my next Durham tick (Beamish) and T&W tick (Birtley) on the same day.  A good result.  This was a culture shock after the last pub, incredibly down to earth old fashioned north east boozer with a tough tattooed landlord presiding over things with huge arms, as he proudly told me of the ale selection in the lounge (I'd gone in the main bar this time to mix things up a bit after the last two pubs).  I stupidly chose a beer from the always great Jarrow brewery, but called Caulker which was the name of a QPR defender up against Hull City as I drunk it!  Speaking of football, Sunderland v WBA was put on some dodgy Canadian channel so I could impress my friend JW2 that I was suffering the same 45 mins of dirge and Danny Graham with him.   There were some lads playing pool, and about six older chaps at the bar, but no-one seemed at all interested in the football, until they showed Joey Barton's comedy sending off on a half time round up section!  It was time to leave.

Crossing into Tyne & Wear for some Birtley fun.

588 - BUTCHERS ARMS, Chester-le-Street - My legs were shot by now so I opted for another cheap as chips bus back into town, or "Chester", as the locals confusing call it.   This GBG regular brought my best quality pint of the day, so clear it was untrue.  A shame then that it was a Marston's pub and I was drinking "Sweet Chariot", an egg-chasing themed guest.  Not sure if it was my state, but from staff to locals, there felt to be a lot of love surrounding this old pub.  It was easy to find a cosy corner to smuggle more food in too, less easy to move the huge amount of cushions that seemed to be breeding on the bench seats.  And beer range was such, the landlady is making the most out of being tied to Marston's in a way which a lot of East Yorkshire pubs could learn from.  It then became a lucky pub too as Dad text (ahead of my iPhone football scores App!) to tell me the birthday boy N'Dioye had headed in a late winner.  Yessss.  First time that's happened since the Board Inn (Whitby) last October.  Time had ticked on to such an extent I wasn't in a position to go to to the Cricket Club so I had a final half of Oxford Gold before my train.

An impressive Marstons effort back in Chester-le-Street


A thankfully uneventful journey home was spent sleeping, didn't feel in need of a York Tap or other pub pint, so it was Sainsbury's to buy tea before settling down to watch MOTD and the Football League Show.  All in all, a good day.  Shame Newfield was closed and I didn't get round to Chester-le-Street Cricket Club, but I might need to be back in said town one day to get to places like Bournmoor, Consett and Leamside so it'll nice to have a town stop-off tick. 


My next North Eastern trip will, depending on county selected, either have to be Billingham and surrounding places, the 'Allens' of Northumberland, or Blaydon, Coalburns and the like just west of Newcastle.  One of those three later this year.  No date in mind yet.  


February has been a predictably lame month with only 14 ticks.  I'm now hoping time allows next Saturday in Stoke to get tick 589 in.  The Wheatsheaf Wetherspoons looks scary on a matchday but a good bet.  The Glebe is also an option but a 12 noon opener and would hope to be settled in White Star for then.  A lot depends on times & flexibility of tickets Dad has got us.     


  • I have high hopes for a return to top BRAPA form in March.  My sister's ankle pot comes off this coming Tuesday but whether she'll seamlessly be back to normal or I'll have to stay on Bertie duty while she adjusts, I have no idea yet.  Of course, when I say all this, I'm thinking about West Yorkshire Tuesday night BRAPping! 
  • A gig in Derby on 10th gives me a great chance to visit some of the many pubs I've still not done in this wonderful ale town, it's great when BRAPA and my favourite band combine.  I've been wanting to do the haunted Falstaff pub for ages now. 
  • Leicester away, as Tom has noted, could be scuppered in the pub ticking chances by a combination of Ben's birthday and a beer festival, but I'm looking at putting some wheels in motion at Stoke to get my own way with 2 or 3 new ticks minimum. The Salmon is high on my agenda.  I'd give Ben an award for "person most likely to scupper BRAPA" over the past year, unknowingly of course, so it won't be easy! 
  • March also sees my return to Bedfordshire, where it all officially began in Ampthill on 5th April 2014, almost a year ago.  I will be focusing on the two remaining Biggleswade ticks and others in East Beds.  Why?  Because it is at the beginning of the GBG and I have alphabetical OCD, that's why.  The Cock in Broom sounds fascinating.
  • Dad and I are playing golf at the end of the month (hopefully it'll finally be spring by then).  He's promised to take me to lunch at a difficult BRAPA tick at Blacktoft.
  • I'll also have room to continue the North Yorkshire challenge.  This'll either be a return to the Dales in the shape of Carlton in Coverdale etc OR I'll re-try the Beck Hole tick after the Ray Mears broken toe/wading into the floods incident last October! 
  • All this and I also have to fit in Leeds Beer Festival at Pudsey.  Poor liver.  
See you soon, Si

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