Wednesday 29 April 2015

BRAPA - Heath & Latest News

This was a sixth consecutive week of midweek pub ticking in West Yorkshire, a new record and we are really cooking on gas, though Tuesday saw only one new pub visited due to it's (relatively) isolated location.

I took a train from L**ds to Sandal & Agbrigg, though it was more Agbrigg in truth, a place with a pretty unpleasant down & out feel to it, a bit edgy but I was soon heading down a country footpath towards Heath.

Unfortunately, I took a wrong turning and ending up in a gypsy commune where a young boy in full Chelsea kit (I don't have the heart to call him a 'full kit wanker', he might curse me) informed me of my mistake.  However, three small dogs were already yapping/biting at my feet and a cockerel had excitedly ran across the courtyard.  On my way out, a car full of young Irish gypsy girls (all spray tans and hooped earrings) also helped me find the right path.  

I was soon in Heath and what a picturesque little place it was, the pub overlooking the common.

Long distance view of pub from across the common

635 - King's Arms, Heath - I entered into a corridor with a maze of rooms, all dark oak panelling, coming off in various directions.  Yes, this was a heritage pub and has won plaudits for expanding without losing it's character (apart from a rather light, airy conservatory where most people were eating).  It also has the most working gaslights in ANY pub which made me want to sign a gaslight anthem (sorry, bad joke).  I got served in a tiny front room but with no tables, went to a side room where a couple were eating an amazing smelling steak & ale pie.  The pub is Clark's, but leased to Ossett (phew!) so I had the house beer, King's Arms, reddish and excellent quality.  I was aware it sounded like people were laughing and enjoying themselves more in other rooms, so went to explore but an old local was getting his wife a pint of "Fosters in a Peroni glass", it takes all sorts.  He then told a barman he thought he'd put weight on, what a charmer, so I returned to my side room.  We then had a bit of drama as the police turned up on the common, a very rare occurance.  Trying to impose my character, I said "as long as they don't come in here!" which unfortuntely made me look guilty.  The barmaid assured me they'd need a warrant.  I went to the larger main room for a second pint, a very unusually dark Banksies beer that tasted light with that modern hoppy twist.  I'd have stayed here if there'd been more room, but again retired to what was now, MY side room and read my book, the barmaid lit me a candle and all was peaceful though I still felt I was "missing something" in one of the other rooms!  A nice two pint session, as I nipped back to Leeds via Agbrigg.

It's heritage, it's gas lit, it doesn't let the filth in!  The Kings Arms, Heath.

The journey back was mercifully straightforward this week, I even got the boost of hearing Hull City had taken the lead against Liverpool!  After a Burger King and another episode of "The Thick of It", I was flabbergasted to hear they'd even managed to win.  

A very satisfactory end to an incredibly satisfactory BRAPA evening!!  

  • Again, I forgot to leave a card in the pub!  I must get into a routine, maybe have them in a more 'easy to reach' pocket like Christina at work suggested.
  • I am planning Saturday's first North Yorkshire BRAPA day since the Dales.  This one is in Carlton-in-Cleveland, up in that Yarm kinda area.  The main thing is, no crazy bikers will be invading my space but a fair bit of walking looks necessary.  
  • With Birthday and other social events coming up, midweek West Yorkshire trips are on hold until 19th May when we return to Hebden Bridge, which has new pubs since the 2015 GBG has been published, encompassing Cragg Vale too.
  • My Birthday week means a bit of time off - I have to take advantage BRAPA style.  Greater Manchester is on the agenda, I was also thinking Rotherham but if Hull City get relegated, I'd get to go next season anyway.  Dad may also be taking me to a new BRAPA 'Hull' tick pre-Arsenal home. 
  • Spurs away is our final football chance for BRAPA ticks this season.  Tom has some ideas but as usual, that part of the world is a real ale desert if you take out the Pembury Tavern so I'll be having a look over the next two weeks to see if we can get another Carshalton style success! 
  • May should actually be a very productive month.  April garnered 20 new pub ticks, I'm looking for the 30 mark in May though!  Let's think positive.  
See you soon, Si

A pint of Ossett and a good book in a great side room - perfect BRAPA moment/

Sunday 26 April 2015

BRAPA - Carshalton & Holborn

It was one of those rare Saturday's that combined and very productive BRAPA ticking session (five new pubs visited in all) with a Hull City away win.  You could almost call it a 'one-off'! Easily the best football day of the 2014/15 season.

My decision to book us on the 05:48 train to London meant 'early openers' were the order of the day, luckily I've got my own "pubs that open in London before 11am" list.  Not everyone can boast one of them!

630 - Shakespeare's Head, Holborn - God bless Wetherspoons (well, kind of), so often the saviour at times like this.  I noted that the GBG stated this pub "opens 8am, serves alcohol from 9am".  Dad and myself were technically in at 08:59am, and although the staff overlooked the 1 minute (note to Greyhound in Ipswich and the now defunct Junction in York), the beer pumps hadn't read the script and our first two choices refused to produce real ale!  Luckily, the barmaid was a friendly lass, and it was third time lucky with a decent pint of Twickenham's 'Naked Ladies'.  Barmaid became the first African American girl I've heard use the phrase "lovely jubbly", are you watching Mr Farage?  The pub was nicely done, very Spoonsy but a homely, old feel despite it's vastness.  The clientele was pretty much a 50/50 split of excitable Middlesbrough fans travelling to Fulham, and stern looking Businessman having full English breakfasts.  As quotes from Macbeth loomed above, we sat in a booth and found the beer good quality, if not to our tastes.  Re the beer serving problems, Dad quipped "well, they said they start serving from 9am, didn't mean you get to drink it til 10!" Haha, well, I guess you had to be there.

Me arriving at our first pub, bang on 8:59am!  

631 - Penderel's Oak, Holborn - There was time to fit in another early morning 'Spoons before our train to Carshalton via Victoria, as the rain cleared into a warming sunny mist in Central London.  Dad has worked opposite here for his Pensions stuff on and off for years now, yet he'd never noticed this pub which says something about the low key exterior for a 'Spoons.  Mr Penderel hid Charles II in an oak tree from Cromwell, hence the name.  I can't say I approve of that, and I wasn't a fan of the interior either.  Despite being situated in a historic building, it was too light for a 'Spoons with roof light above the bar area, which felt a bit more like a coffee shop servery than a bar, despite huge displays celebrating the American 'craft' phase we are going through.  Staff weren't as impressive either, and though my Rudgate IPA was a contender for pint of the day, you had to go down the steps to just outside the loos to appreciate any kind of historic atmosphere.  A bit of a shame.

Dad arrives at the Penderel, does your Cromwell know you're here?

632 - Windsor Castle, Carshalton - An hour or so later, we were walking through the pretty suburb of Carshalton with the sun properly shining now and our day could really take off.  As he so often does, Tom appeared from nowhere across the road and we were soon in this pub, and how nice it was (novel almost) to be in a proper old fashioned boozer after two consecutive Wetherspoons.  "Not that there's anything wrong with that", to quote Seinfeld.  The very young barman who served us looked like he had his own opinions of Tom's view that Carshalton was spoilt by a busy main road running through it, but he didn't say anything out loud, and a St George's themed ale was decent, a bit of a southern taste.  We sat in a comfy raised area and the pub and it seemed a thriving community place with signs for live music, beer festivals and lots of food options.  A solid start to life in Carshalton.

Tom appears from nowhere like Dame N'Dioye to ram home the opener.  

633 - Sun, Carshalton - A real contender for pub of the day, and if I understood what Chris Douglas said to me later in the ground, Hull City fans helped to save this pub for the community when it was under threat of demolition.  The beer range was really impressive, lots of different styles like porters, stouts, fruit beers and more standard lighter ales.  My Gravesend Shrimpers was a traditional darker bitter, some might say bog standard in this day and age but perfectly kept, loved it.  We really could've stayed a long time.  The friendly, hard working staff half expected everyone who came in to order food, but obviously not in my case, my pub visiting to food ordering ratio must be one of the lowest in the UK!  (maybe),  Although it was on quite a busy street corner, the pub had a very serene atmosphere almost like it was down a backstreet, or even nearer to the countryside.  

Dad hitches his trousers up and crosses the road towards the Sun.

634 - Hope, Carshalton - This pub has won lots of awards recently, was nearer the station, so made sense for us to end our pre-match session here.  It had a darker interior (which I always prefer) and even though they did food, it felt more focused on the beer than any other pub today.  The beer range and quality were equally as impressive, and my Earl Grey flavoured IPA from Siren Craft (nice to see them doing cask) was heavenly.  Despite the fantastic atmosphere inside, the sun had really come out by now, we sat outside the back of the pub (there was even the remnants of a beer festival on, ala Swansea recently) and I conducted a Hull City themed quiz that went down well and with Ben having joined us in the last pub, we captured that Welly gang atmosphere of old before a quick dash for the train, we had become a bit too comfortable.  I can see why this pub is so highly regarded.

Ben and Dad arriving at the Hope, who is photobombing who?

So that was that, a great match experience with Allam Out protest followed.  I'd booked as on an early train back and just as well with these Donny-York engineering works slowing things down painfully.  We had popped into Parcel Yard for a quick one post-match due to getting from Selhurst to Kings Cross in excellent time.  After MOTD, I was in bed for midnight.  Job done.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

BRAPA - North of Halifax

West Yorkshire midweek BRAPA trips celebrated their first anniversary with a difficult two pub session in villages to the north of Halifax, though technically listed under Halifax in the GBG.  And whilst we are on the landmarks, this is my 100th blog entry.  Pull those Party Poppers.

Had I started WY midweeks with last night's excursion, I'd have probably been too mentally scarred to carry on with the after-work challenge.  A year today, in fact, the Grove & Midnight Bell in Holbeck seemed a whole lot easier.

After a straightforward train to Halifax, I jumped in the nearest taxi (the bus times were all out of sync) and soon I was in the rural little village of Bradshaw.

Arriving at the Golden Fleece on a fine spring evening.

628 - Golden Fleece, Bradshaw - I'd pictured in my mind's eye the best and worst case scenario here, and I was amazed to see how close to 'best case scenario' this pub really was.  A bustling local throng stood around the bar (in fact, not being able to get to it was as bad as it got!), a great range of ales, some from the Revolutions brewery whose ales are music themed, and one I had, Cleopatra (comin' atcha!) that was accidentally so - all peach and cigarette overtones.  £2 a pint!   I took advantage of the fine spring evening to sit in the excellent beer garden, with views overlooking local countryside, hills, I could even see some grazing horses in the distance.  It was idyllic, a utopian scene, but life doesn't allow things to be perfect for long. I was soon put on edge by a young guy who kept talking angrily to himself - he was a cross between serial murder man Ian Brady and the young priest in Father Ted who gets Dougal into smoking, ear piercings etc.  He lay on a bench, I tried not to make eye contact.  Everyone else was jolly and local, enjoying the sunshine and with my bus still a way off, what could I do but order another pint - this time Revolutions 'House of Fun', a milk stout and a good one at that!  Bus handily arrived just across the road, and I was on my way to Swalesmoor.

Idyllic outdoor drinking at the Golden Fleece.
Having done my research, I thought I was a real clever clogs getting off the bus in Ovenden leaving me a not too bad 0.7 mile walk to the next pub.  What the map didn't tell me, it was all uphill and quite back-breaking!  The bus I got was a Yorkshire Tiger, I just hoped the evil Dr Allam didn't own the company or I may have demanded a refund of my £1.70.

Seats made out of real Tiger skin on the 528 bus to Ovenden.

629 - Sportsman Inn, Swalesmoor - When they said 'Sportsman',  I was thinking perhaps Rugby League, Cricket or even Football for this area, so when it turned out to be skiing, it was quite a surprise.  A dry ski slope overlooking a pub garden isn't something you see every day.  In fact, it made the whole area feel like a European tourist resort.  But this was north Halifax and a kindly gent who was sweeping up leaves  showed me the way in, told me the barman was called Jake, and I should use his name to freak him out.  Well, I did and it worked on the characterful, quirky, bearded young barman - in fact, when I revealed I'd been told his name "by a guy sweeping up", the locals looked at each other as if to say "oh no, not the sweeping ghost of Swalesmoor again!" and now I was scared, until Jake went outside to satisfy his curiosity and revealed the sweeper was 'the boss of the whole complex'!  To keep my 'music' themed beers going, I had a "making your mind up" by Salamander which was almost as good as the previous two.  It was getting chilly now so I sat inside, they even had a fire burning and it seemed like a very nice rural style old fashioned pub.  This was spoiled somewhat as a L**ds fan and a N*wcastle fan (with his girlfriend) swarmed round my table and we settled down to watch Barca v PSG in the Chumps League.  It was a decent experience apart from the hero worship of Barca's skills and style of football so I was quite happy when the time came to leg it back down the hill for the bus back to 'Fax.

Dry ski slope outside pub in the middle of nowhere, unique! 
As it turned out, I was soon back at Halifax Station on foot having gone at such a pace, I almost stayed ahead of all the busses.  I got back just in time for a train to L**ds, but a farce ensued.  First I was stuck outside L**ds station for ages "waiting for a platform to become available", missed one connection, the next train was cancelled, the next advised people to get off and catch another, and this was delayed by 7 mins!  So by the time I got in with my Burger King, it was 11pm!  

A frustrating end to an otherwise excellent night of BRAPA.  


Monday 20 April 2015

BRAPA : the archives (191-200) A Sunderland v Newcastle special.

191.  Bodega, Newcastle - Often a front runner for our "Welly gang away pub of the season" award, we first came here 13th September 2008 on 'Cockney Mafia Out' day which just added to the wonderful/hilarious atmosphere.  They never really follow their protests through do Geordies.  3,000 fans missing out of 50,000?  Wow, that's gonna scare Mr Ashley(!)  Sorry, I digress.  What I love about this pub is that even when it is ultra-busy, the atmosphere is never threatening, friendly in fact, whilst the range of beers is absolutely spot on - by which I mean, there are always lights, darks, everything in between, the full spectrum of ale types.  Oakham's "20 Years" and Durham Magus are the two that have really stood out here.  All washed down with a Pease Pudding Stottie, and you've got an experience as canny as a load of sardines in a canning factory.  Visiting on a midweek afternoon pre-Dreadnoughts gig saw it good but less magical, but in both September 2013 and 2014's pre-match sessions, it returned to it's 2008 glory, regardless of the fact on both occasions I was feeling the effect of three days of York beer festivalling.  And with 7 points from 9, a lucky pub too.  We even tried to get in post-match in 2014, but it was about ten deep at the bar, so we headed to our next pub ....

Having worn a Newcastle shirt in Bodega the previous year, Ben proves he still has no shame in 2014!
192.  Bridge Hotel, Newcastle - Ah yes, another wonderful example of why my days out in Newcastle always end up in a happy haze.  Incidentally, this was my first pre-match real ale pub here on 13/9/08, we'd taken advantage of some "castle open day" and gone up the opposite tower, before a quick pint pre-Boedga (I think it was an 11am opener then) and Dad and I were so impressed, it was a real wrench to move ourselves.  It doesn't look like it's going to be such a huge pub, but it has such depth and an outside bit beyond that, yet it still always seems quite busy.  Other occasions here involved sitting with some 'hens' pre-Tossers gig on a dark evening, but if this was really March 3rd 2008 as the internet suggests, this pre-dated that football day!  On 'Dreadnoughts' day, JW2, Lu and me popped in here for lunch and a pint or two during our cultural/ghostie walk around.  With Lu limited with vegan requirements, I felt a sense of unity and it was "jacket & beans, jacket & beans" for both of us.  Most recently, we were here post match on 20/9/14 but having thrown away a 2-0 lead, i felt depressed - a pint of Tiny Rebel 'One Inch Punch' still cheered me up as we sat outside with a, shall we say, "mixed group" of stray tigers and approachable mags.  My "Pardew In!" comment wasn't well received.  But again, their glee at a late 2-2 home draw on a so-called "protest" day just didn't make sense!

193.  Duke of Wellington, Newcastle - This old pub on 'High Bridge' (feels more like a sunken cobbled street) has been a guide regular and very popular with the locals for much longer than I've been into ale.  I've been here on three occasions, the most memorable being when Dad and I got into Newcastle very early 10am, it was freezing, but we saw from behind the glass, several glum Geordie faces staring out onto us like they'd been here all night, they probably had. I'm not sure (this could have been before a  Sunderland away game 12th Sept 2009 I'm guessing).  This feels like a proper old school boozer and I was also here before the Swingin' Utters gig 6th September 2011 and probably also the cup win up there on 14th Jan 2009.  What these experiences had in common was a random phone call, in 2011 from Dad and in 2009 from Ric - and I never receive phone calls, especially in my pre-iPhone days where I barely ever used a phone so it was notable in a boring way.

194.  Chillingham, Heaton - A classic Groovie Ghoulies gig always seemed to end up drunken debacles (see my Nottingham archive reviews) and the first, Friday 21st Feb 2003 was one of the best.  I remember getting a scary Metro into that whole Byker area with JW2, a first for me, and being smitten with a girl at work who I was on a course with at this time.  A bit like the Cluny, I saw this as a gig venue with the added bonus of ale, and remember having to take it from the bar, outside, in another door, up some stairs, to the venue which had quite a light, loungy feel for such an event.  People bringing trays of takeaway curry in only added to the surreal environment we found ourselves in.  Future Victorian-waxwork Chris Milner and sister Lu appeared at some point, the gig was great, I was up & down those stairs for ales like a washerwoman, and a drunken singalong in the car back to Shincliffe (poor Ken!) made for a fantastic night, and still the most drunk I've ever seen JW2 to this day!  Superb night.

195.  New Bridge, Manors - Typical of my hazy memories of Newcastle, this was part of a very BRAPA-esque crawl before I went to a gig having a whole afternoon free.  I think the March 2008 Tossers gig is the most likely, I have a feeling I visited after chatting with those hens at the (old) Bridge, and got a bit lost negotiating my way around railway sidings and tunnels to get here.  Ale-wise, this was excellent (loads on I'd never heard of) and I still have a loyalty card the friendly barman gave me (wonder if it's still valid?), the pub was full of students and he thought I was one.  I felt pleased until I started listening into their incredibly annoying conversations, I wondered if they'd escaped from University of Dork.  The pub was quite light (I prefer the relative darkness of the Bridge Hotel).  I moved on pretty swiftly, for I had much new pubbing to do before the gig!

196.  Crown Posada, Newcastle - My introduction to real ale in the City came when, I'm not sure exactly what the purpose was, maybe there wasn't one, but I met John some time after finishing uni (2000) and his 2003 move to York, I think maybe the summer of 2002.  I'd just met his lovely parents for the first time, enjoying a coffee in some shiny new eatery across the road which me n John weren't impressed by, and the contrasting atmosphere in the 'Coffin' (as it's sometimes known) was even starker.  I still remember it clearly, walking into this long thin pub, the glorious pint of Big Lamp, squeezing onto the end of some old locals seat, the old fashioned music coming through an old gramophone - there's a great chapter on this pub in my "In Search of the Perfect Pub" book which really captures it's spirit.  I am pretty sure I've been in here once or twice since, with JW2 again or Dad, but never on my own though I drunkenly looked for it twice in vain on the way back to the Travelodge after various gigs.  An absolute marvel of a pub.

197.  Fitzgeralds, Sunderland - I was first aware of this pub living at Chester Road when at Uni between 1998-2000, when somebody (probably Philip Lister) had a friend on his course who worked here, so Philip claimed he could get us all discounted drinks, though we once went (making it a very early BRAPA tick, we'll say 1999 for the sake of argument) and any discount predictably didn't transpire.  The real tragedy though was that i overlooked all these weird looking beers in favour in some lager or other, blissfully unaware what real ale even was!  Despite hearing "Fitzy's this", "Fitzy's that" on a regular basis, I avoided this pub for the remainder of my time at Uni and it was only one post-match (18th April 2009's 1-0 defeat perhaps) that we went for post-match drinks believing "Beefy" Mark Bainton was there, he wasn't but it was busy, we stood up, but considering all this, we enjoyed the experience and did get a seat for about the last two minutes!  To this day, it's still a mystery to me why I haven't been here more.

198.  Isis, Sunderland - A bit like the terrorist organisation of the same name, this pub's emergence on the pre-match Sunderland scene was put to me a bit like it was a threat to the national security of our King's Arms homeland.  Intrigued, and with JW2 not quite such an early starting drinker as us, we popped in 8th Feb 2014 and I was immediately impressed.  A great range of Jarrow beers served by really good staff, and a terrific two roomed building with secret toilets and a proper hallway giving it grand pub of old feel you normally find more in Greater Manchester, Merseyside or the West Midlands.   Though me, Ben and Tom (quite rightly) stuck to the plan and moved on, Dad lamely and annoyingly decided he was "too ill to move", Mark's knee suddenly had a twinge, and Chris Douglas insisted an a sit down meal as is so often the case, before Christine then declared it "away pub of the season".  Ben and I both texted our displeasure!  Still feeling the need to let it impress me, I made this our designated pre-match pub on 26/12/14.  Now most pubs open 12 noon on Boxing Day, but this place looked like it'd been serving pints of Rivet Catcher since at least 8am!  It was heaving, and in the back room, very very cold.  Things warmed up when John and Ken arrived, and had a few hundred Mackems been ejected for no apparant reason, it might have been pub of the season!

199.  Ivy House, Sunderland - It doesn't sit easily with me even 'highlighting' this as a visited BRAPA pub.  It was a dark, windy night in the late Autumn of 1998 and in our Chester Oval house of ill repute,  Jane Taylor's Autumn of Terror was building us her stalker, Graeme, wouldn't leave her alone.  Not one to front awkward situations head on, she decided the solution was that everyone currently in the house was to vacate it for the evening, and go to a pub where he'd never find us.  So we soon found ourselves walking down behind our house, through a few terraced streets, to this pub I'd heard about since my Panns Bank days.  At one point, a bush bristled in the wind and Jane leapt a mile in the air, thinking Graeme was lurking behind it.  The people present were me, Jane, Andy Denton, Philip and Jane's friend Kerry, the ginger teacher with the big knockers.  We played pool (I was off form, even Philip beat me, the shame!), drank lager and alcopops unaware of "real ale", watched music videos on a screen, it was a good night, awful hangover next day. Had felt like being in a pub, just a studenty one.  I still feel I have unfinished business here and will strive to return when I'm "mopping up" Sunderland.

200.  King's Arms, Sunderland - A fitting pub to bring up the 200 with, another "Welly away day pub of the season", very much our Bodega of Sunderland and it also does Ham & Pease Pudding "filled rolls".  When the good JW2 realised Saltgrass just wasn't cutting the mustard any more (loyaler than most), he joined many others marching up that hill to the King's, and was soon raving about it.  So on 18th April 2009, we joined JW2 and his Dad here with a huge Welly gang including the likes of Lizzy and Colin Scunthorpe for one of the best away match sessions ever.  A great ale range, a friendly barmaid (as long as you speak loudly, bit deaf) and a brilliant pub quiz even featuring a section on the "away team" made for a classic.  No wonder we were back the following year 12th Sept 2009 and on our long awaited return 8th Feb 2014 where we proved it doesn't have to be an unlucky pub for Hull City either.  It was busy without being uncomfy, and again I thought the beer quality was superb, the likes of Consett White Hot and Durham White Gold, and one about Admiral Collingwood.  I like the bare boarded circular layout, it feels like a basic non pretentious boozer.  However, JW2's reports on 'beers going off' or 'on the turn' may be a bit more often than is acceptable for a GBG pub.  It could be a match day thing, hard to cope with demand (see "The Pub" in Leicester), but even so, it may be a worry if a tough CAMRA inspector came in on one of these days.

Wow, well that made me nostalgic and I'm wondering if it's too late for Newcastle and Sunderland to join us in the Championship next season for more adventures like these?   Either that or Groovie Ghoulies reform and come on tour.  I'm not sure which is most likely.

Next time, we'll finish off in Sunderland before turning our attentions to the West Midlands.


Sunday 19 April 2015

BRAPA - The Villages of Bedford

Water-side drinking at the Plough in Bolnhurst (see pub 623).
My quest to complete all Bedfordshire pubs by the end of 2015 started slowly yesterday.  Firstly, engineering works meant a 3 hour plus journey to London via L**ds, and Bedford's new bus station was a confusing affair, typically the bus I needed to get to my first destination was one of the few still going from a replacement stop across town so I missed one of these.

And then, when bus 28 did arrive, the driver had no idea where Bolnhurst was so a local old lady from nearby Keysoe and former bus driver who looked about 200 years old were on hand to advise him.  Even then, he stopped in the wrong place.  And even at the right stop, it was a 0.8 mile walk along a un-paved road to the pub with motorbikes storming past.  The North Beds scenery was at least, picturesque but 1pm before my first pint?  I'm glad all BRAPA pub ticks aren't such a huge undertaking!!

623 - PLOUGH, Bolnhurst - Set back off the road was a large white building which I took to be the Plough.  It took some getting in, with a weird latch almost destroying my last ounce of patience after all the effort it had taken to get here!  I was expecting a gastropub from the descriptions, and the first words I heard on entering the pub were "yes, but do you get tomatoes with that?!" and you could see through the bar to a gaggle of white-clad cheffy people in the kitchen.  However, a couple of interesting ales and very friendly staff made up for this, and being a nice day, I took my pint of Church End Hooker outside to stop me resenting the almost restuaranty set up too much.  In fact, a helpful barman opened the conservatory door for me (I could've chosen a more straightforward route near the loos) and then brought me some complimentary crisps, the proper thick handmade type.  It is little touches of class like this that you remember.  As I sat on the smart patio in the sun alongside a pretty pond (which looked more like a stream), this was as content as I felt all day, maybe I'd peaked too soon as the taxi arrived to take me back into Bedford.

The Plough was one of the trickiest BRAPA pubs I've ever tried to get to! 
My taxi driver reflected that, Bedfordshire has become prime London commuter area with people wanting the buy up property and land, with little sentiment for old British traditions like the humble pub.  Thus, pubs like the Plough at Bolnhurst have to 'evolve' to stay open and successful,  Sad maybe, but true and it was a similar story at my next 'pub'. 

624 - KNIFE & CLEAVER, Houghton Conquest - After a delayed no. 42 bus where a friendly bus driver lady seemed to instinctively know I was visiting Houghton Conquest for this pub, she dropped me off right outside.  I had a few reservations having read about Michelin stars and French chefs so although you could never describe it has a traditional pub, it certainly felt pubbier than expected with the dining area hidden away to the back.  I saw York Terrier was the guest ale, so ordered this with a sense of irony which back fired when I was charged £4 a pint by a grungy barmaid who later described a new wine as tasting like "cat wee", though my general feeling was again of a hardworking, well run pub with lots of barmen running round asking if I wanted another drink, something to eat etc.  I shuffled into an alcove to enjoy my pint and a strange sad sense of being alone suddenly hit me, not sure why, maybe I was channeling a ghostly energy of a murdered French chef!

Arriving in the brilliantly named Houghton Conquest
625 - OLD SUN INN, Ampthill - The day was really warming up now, both in a weather sense and in a BRAPA sense and this was a "big tick" for me being the second pub in the GBG, meaning I had completed page one.  Geek I am.  I'd canvassed local opinion on this pub before, answers like "it's okay", "it's decent" and "it's fine" were amongst the opinions.  In the blazing mid afternoon sun sat on benches on the main road at the front, I grew to really enjoy this experience.  Again, the ale range wasn't spectacular but my Adnams Broadside (not traditionally a summertime quaffer) was top quality.  Had I sat inside, I doubt I'd have enjoyed it so much.  The place was running with dogs (and smelt of them) and kids belonging to the outdoor adults were playing with them.  Kids in pubs = it's a no from me!  There was quite a friendly community hub building up outside, and a shame that a much anticipated beer garden behind the pub still hasn't been finished, everyone agreed.  A couple of MILF's with young teenagers chatted with a friendly family who's kids had a craving for bags of Quavers, and I was just getting included in the conversations when my taxi arrived, so I said a cheery bye and went on my way.

Outdoor fun in the sun at the Sun (which wad fun)
626 - CHEQUERS, Wootton - I took a taxi because otherwise, I'd have had to get a 42 back to Bedford and start again, and time was starting to tick on and I was just getting into my stride.  £18 later, I was regretting the decision thinking a 7 mile journey should surely cost less, even if it was a very meandering route we took.  Was I fleeced?  Well, it didn't matter as I arrived at the lovely, creaky ancient looking Chequers and it was easily the friendliest pub of the day.  A young chap and the barmaid were soon learning about BRAPA, and I then went to sit with two older ale drinking chaps called Cliff and John and we chatted on beer festivals, and pubs in Beds and Yorks.  This was the proper village community pub I'd been craving all day, such a happy atmosphere and although I heard it had almost closed for similar reasons to so many Bedfordshire village pubs - it would have been a tragedy.  Cliff & John kindly offered to drive me to my next pub, as they live at Kempston anyway, but not before another pint, so I was clock-watching and trying not to look impatient, aware I had to be in London for my connection to York.  Probably pub of the day.

Old, friendly, a bit creaky - and I don't just mean Cliff and John.
Cliff, the older of the two, was our driver.  I just sat in the back and closed my eyes, not really wanting to know how many pints they'd had.  They then gave me old gossip relating to my next pub, intriguing tales of cancer, cheating wives & barred regulars!  

627 - HALF MOON, Kempston - There was no sign of any of the above drama these days, just another friendly community style village local.   The barman/landlord was very impressive, giving me a choice of football matches to view, he reminded me a bit of Karl Beattie from Most Haunted fame.  However, the real star of the pub was a bulldog who was introduced to a bar area of local dog lovers (I kept my distance though he waddled over for a stroke at one point!) but he went from hero to zero in a matter of seconds when he farted, almost clearing the place out.  This was as dramatic as things got, I was disappointed that local favourite Wells Eagle IPA (reassuringly tasting of copper coins) was the only ale on with two handpumps turned round, whilst the pub lacked a certain cosy feel though the people were warm (not literally, well I don't know, I didn't rub against any one!) Christina at work's sister lives in Kempston, and as I walked to the bus stop, it seemed a picturesque high class suburb of Bedford.  

Bulldog action in the Half Moon, before he farted! 
I needn't have panicked about train connections, I even had time for a very leisurely pint at the Parcel Yard in King's Cross.  More engineering works and a mixture of Leeds, Sheff Wed, Hartlepool and Scunthorpe fans made for one of the most agonizing journey's home ever.  And this was a dry train. You'd never have known! I even had to change at Leeds, but was back in York for 00:03 as expected.

All in all, another successful Bedfordshire outing, it now moves into 7th in the "pub" league table and I'll be back next month for some Dunstable based fun, my first real venture to the south of the county.


Wednesday 15 April 2015

BRAPA - Hipperholme

One of the many beers I tried in Cock o the North (pub 622)

Hipperholme is, this year at least, listed under Halifax in the Good Beer Guide but lying somewhere between Halifax and Brighouse, it seemed very much a place in it's own right as I hopped aboard the 548 bus on a sunny Tuesday evening.

621 - Travellers Inn, Hipperholme - Ten minutes and two miles later, I was walking down a steep hill where I found yet another Ossett pub (the theme of the moment), again this one was of the traditional ilk like recent Elland and Sowerby Bridge efforts.  The locals seemed friendly, I'd already been nodded to and grunted at by a few in the street by the time an elderly chap let me get served first.  I went for Ossett's new regular ale, Inception which I'd read about last week and it was very drinkable, maybe a touch watery.  The barmaid was good, service with a smile.  It was busy in, with a good mix of age groups and sexes, so I sat at the (temporarily) sun drenched benches outside.  Although these were on the road, it wasn't busy as not much traffic was coming down the hill by this time.  Annoyingly, the sun started moving behind the pub so I kept "following" it til I was almost 'off the bench'.  A few more locals nodded and said things like "aye" and "reet", places like this always make me feel like a posh York idiot.  I could hear the strains of laughter and chat coming through an open window as I took my empty glass back in, you've got to love Ossett brewery pubs when they are as good as the last three midweek West Yorks ones I've visited.

My first outdoor BRAPA pint of 2015 was here.
I was aware my next pub was lurking in some industrial park, but not to the extent my stupid GBG app had me believe.  The pushpin was all wrong, and after ten minutes of searching, I found the pub on the main road a lot less hidden than I'd feared.  Luckily, it proved a classic.

622 - Cock o' the North, Hipperholme - Some places are so unique, they have to be seen to be believed.  This was one of them.  I entered the "pub", more like a large barn or industrial unit, with a beer garden across the car park from the entrance.  I was greeted by a characterful landlord, resplendent in sunglasses despite the relative darkness indoors!  He sold the product well, their own "Halifax Steam" brewery which in a rare moment of negativity, the GBG describes as having beers that are bit too chilled!  Even more intriguing.  I briefly explained BRAPA for my reason for being here, but he then asked me what my drinking 'strategy' was (i.e. start from your left and work you way along!), I was a bit flummoxed and ended up opting to get the last bus at 19:50 so I could try a good number of halves - well, the place had impressed me and I may never return.  The quirkiest feature of the pub was the huge tropical fish swimming in tanks which make up the bar, crazy stuff!  A toddler was enjoying watching them, and again there was a great mixture of people with a group of students, a businessman on a laptop, a young family and a few grizzled locals.  Not to mention me perching in the centre, looking around in awe!  I tried a Jamaican Ginger ale, a guest one called Peaches, a Child Catcher (I waited til the toddler had gone to order this) and finally, a nice stout called Old John, just when I thought they only did pales.  Only the Child Catcher seemed too chilled, a bit harsh of the GBG I think.  The music also deserves a mention, a right mixture with the Dickies one minute, a North Eastern folk song the next.  An incredible place, I'd really recommend it.

Tropical fish and plenty more at the remarkable Cock o' the North
The bus and train back went more smoothly than imagined, I had my now standard Chicken Royale with extra bacon n cheese from BK, and I was back home before 10pm.  Job done!  


I must get into a habit of leaving my cards in pubs.  I forgot in both last night, must do better on Saturday.

So yes, 'outer Bedford villages day' on Saturday and I am now fine-tuning bus times, taxi numbers etc. and working out which pubs are highest on the priority list.  

Not only is Dad up for helping me with the next leg of East Yorkshire (Goodmanham - it's somewhere near Market Weighton if that helps), friends are asking about our "Goole day" (also including Snaith, Rawcliffe and maybe Thorne too) so we are looking well set on that front.

Next Tuesday, we can put Halifax to bed with our 'Halifax : North night' as we had to Swalesmoor and also Bradshaw, a place I'd almost done back in the late summer of 2014 before the new GBG decided to pool it all in Halifax.

I'll also try and get the next archives out on Monday night which I'm designating "archive night" now.  These blog entries garner a much higher readership than ones such as this, probably cos I talk marginally less bollocks.  Ho hum.  

I'll be back on Sunday, Si

Monday 13 April 2015

BRAPA : the archives (181-190)

Welcome back to the latest edition of GBG pubs I'd previously visited in those dark days pre-BRAPA.  Today, we finish off in Ipswich, take a trip to Brighton before getting our hands and knees dirty in the North East .....

181.  ST JUDE'S BREWERY TAVERN, Ipswich - We first arrived here a matter of days after it had actually been opened as Ben had read about it on a website just before an Ipswich away game on 19th Feb 2011.  It could have been an inspired move, but both me and Dad came away thinking it was a load of old bollocks.  The staff were overly ingratiating, constantly coming over to tell us "this is what we are trying to achieve", "we hope you like it", "here's a little comic strip we've had made for us, please read it", but it all felt a bit fake.  What did they want?  A pat on the head?   All of this was happening against a backdrop of disorgansation, we were sat there about 20 minutes before they managed to get a drinkable pint out of one of their barrels.  Note to self : let a pub bed down before visiting it!  The beers all come from barrels behind the bar, I don't think even one was to my taste, they had sawdust on the floor, and were obviously trying to recreate some very old pub experience that had been lost in Ipswich.  It was very cold.  I'd always suspected Ben would be happy to drink from a sewer as long as it had a range of 20 ales on, and this was as close as I've seen to proof of this.  We were roped into joining him and Mark for their post-match on 13th August 2011 where I did actually have a beautiful stout, but post-match pints are rarely classic experiences with your mind on the train journey home, plus I lost my wallet but it'd be churlish to blame St Jude's for this too!

182.  HAPPY MAN, Englefield Green - One of the highlights of my Virginia Water A-Z day in January 2014, I'd had a hell of a walk from the lake to this pub totally underestimating the walk AND going a long way round.   So I was sweaty and ready for a good pint!  It didn't let me down.  Despite looking very traditional on first glance, it had quite a light airy modern feel, something halfway between a country inn and a country hospital,  The clientele was generally young, and then the whole of the local women's netball team came in for a drink.  I wasn't complaining, although ordering my Twickenham 'Naked Ladies' suddenly seemed a bit trickier, as did cooling down from the long walk!  Well, it was the restorative pint and 30 min rest I needed, a nice small pub with a welcoming feel.

I was a 'happy man' when I finally arrived here after a back breaking walk.

183.  BASKETMAKERS ARMS, Brighton - 9th Feb 2013 and a second trip to Brighton's new AMEX stadium saw me on my own for the first three pubs of the day, this is the only one still currently in the GBG.  On the face of it, I was walking to this street corner pub in the gentle but famous Laine's area of town about 12 noon, so was expecting a fairly quiet, low key drinking experience.  Well, the pub was heaving!  Totally unexpected, not only were no seats available but it seemed the 'swell' of the crowd took me on a wave and before I knew it, I was standing in the only available place, right next to the toilets (not a bad outcome with my bladder).  This was after having to stand on tiptoes and screech at the barmaid for a pint of the nearest Fullers pump I could see.  I rang Mum to hide my feeling of "idiot away fan wanders into wrong pub" but I think looking back, it was shoppers dropping in for lunch as much as a pre-match atmosphere.  It's hard to tell in a place like Brighton, which I do incidentally, think is a wonderful place to visit.

184.  EVENING STAR, Brighton - A deservedly famous pub and easily the best I've visited in Brighton despite the often bustling pre-match atmosphere , we first came here October 15th 2011 before a teatime kick off at the newly built AMEX stadium, though our 'gang', especially Chris Irvin had been raving about it for years.  On this occasion, it was justified.  Despite the date, we'd been sat on the pebble beach earlier and arrived here to find the gang in full swing.  'Dark Star' is a great brewery and their beers featured heavily, I'm sure I was served by a punk lady I often see at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool.  The pub is a proper wooden, bare boarded minimal drinkers one, friendly locals, simple and uncomplicated, I'd love to come here when no-one else was in but can't imagine it!  Dad's pub claustrophobia meant we ended up outside on this day, it was still warm on the street, and we saw the hilarious sight of Mark Bainton straining on the leash to get to the pub, with his wife just wanting a slow stroll down the street arm-in-arm!  The locals are friendly too and on my second visit 9/2/13 we got sat with a great group of Brighton fans including some who'd travelled from New Zealand.  Wonderful pub.

Me and friendly BHA fans on 9th Feb 2013
185.  PRESTONVILLE ARMS, Brighton - When Brighton played at the Withdean, it was hard to find a walkable pub from the centre (we didn't do trains, taxis, or trust the Park & Ride in our early days of travel when we often drove to games).  However, hidden at the top of a steep street, we parked up at this pub on the evening of 16th December 2005.  I love pubs that look just like another house on a terrace, such as Wellington in York or Big Six in Halifax.  I seem to remember the beer range being a bit limited, the quality being of the southern 'no sparkler' variety, but the place had a nice local feel and we sat of the higher of two split levels.  We had our sandwiches pre-prepared in a Tesco bag, and as Brighton's kit famously looked like a Tesco bag at the time, we somehow thought that gave us the right just to eat our food in their pub, despite my Hull City away top.  Ben was supposed to join us, but I think he met as at the ground about 10 mins in and left 10 mins into the second half so he could get home!

186.  CENTRAL, Gateshead - Hull City's reserves away to Gatehead reserves was a flimsy excuse for John Watson II to introduce me to some 'new' North East pubs and after an interesting day time, this was our main pre-match pub after getting the Metro in.  Gateshead may be a shithole, and was a mess of roadworks & temporary traffic lights on this visit, but this pub stood alone is a building of wonder, and the range of ales, food and friendly hubbub totally uninkeeping with everything we'd just witnessed on the walk here.  John had been raving about this for a while, attending rockabilly gigs here on Sunday afternoon's in an upstairs room, the music was also good.  But my abiding memory was that this is my all time "best food smell in pub ever" almost like they'd piped in some foodie scent, it was unbearable as we didn't really have time to order any.  To cut a long story short, picking Dele Adebola and Seyi Olifinjana in central defence didn't work, Jay Simpson was wasteful, and we were well beaten 2-1.  12th March 2012 was the date.

Gateshead International Stadium - wish I'd stayed in the Central!
187.  ROBIN HOOD, Jarrow - A chilly 5th Jan 2013 saw my double "J" day A-Z trip to both Jesmond and Jarrow, the former would have been enough when we realised how far out of Jarra' the Venerable Bede actually lived!  After a long, fraught walk, we arrived at this little gem but it was surprisingly dead for a Saturday afternoon.  As you might expect, it had a good selection of wonderful Jarrow beers on and I'm sure I had at least one out of Rivet Catcher or Swinging Gibbet, or perhaps the Irish Stout.  We were sat near some jolly old locals who seemed to be the only other people in the pub, so perhaps it was "their" seats, designated!  I tried (successfully as it happened) to shuffle out to get to the loo without disturbing them but according to Krzb and John, apparently they saw this as a rude gesture for NOT asking them to move.  Glad I was unaware at the time.  Never mind, I doubt I'll be back.

188.  CLUNY, Byker - 'Once visited, never forgotten' might be a nice cliche for this pub, but three visits makes that sound a bit hollow!  It was never with real ale in mind when I first came here, for a "punk all dayer" with Leftover Crack as headliners, Hangmen pulling out (boo), and a few other bands we semi knew.  Not sure we even associated it with ale, in fact I remember drinking an array of unusual foreign bottles from countries like Greece and Russia!  28 June 2003 was the likely date so maybe it either didn't do cask back then or we weren't aware, it had several seating areas separate from the venue.  We then went for lunch on 12th March 2012, nearly 9 years later and it was nice to be back, this time ale was certainly on the agenda, though the nice tattooed barmaid was a bit unsure on the whole "nut allergy/pesto" conundrum which didn't inspire confidence.  We were back here 31st July (with Lu and Lisa this time) 2014 for another gig, Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys which was superb and some amazing ales on show, sure a few crazy drunk women on wine tried to spoil it but a great place to sit and have drink or a meal, very relaxed in that modern style, and stopped me wishing I was watching Hull City at some godforsaken Europa league place!

John, Lu and Lisa enjoy an ale in Cluny before Big Sandy
189.  CUMBERLAND ARMS, Byker - Back to the Gateshead reserves day on 12th March 2012, and after lunch at the Cluny, John and I crossed the river and went uphill to this pub overlooking the picturesque Ouseburn Valley, and just as well we had a good view because the pub didn't open til 3pm so we had plenty of time to sit on the outside benches and admire the view.  Luckily, the staff were tooling around moving barrels, cleaning and stuff so at least gave us hope they were opening soon.  It was well worth the wait, a fantastic old style basic boozer with a great range of ales (I'm sure I had at least one by Wylam) and some interesting decor, funny signs - you know the thing.  I even seem to remember other levels where they have music nights and stuff so quite a popular institution with students from what Lizzy was telling me 'live' on facebook, ah them were the days!  We stayed there for 2 or 3, the longest we spent in one place all day and it was easy to see why.

190.  BACCHUS, Newcastle - My memories are very hazy of my two visits here, as is the case with most of my trips to Newcastle, but I have a very good excuse.  On my first visit, which I think might well have been 14th Jan 2009 when we beat the Toon in the FA Cup thanks to a Daniel Cousin goal on a freezing night, I accidentally ordered a 10% stout.  Ooops, I drank half of it (I'd already been in about 5 pubs), strategically placed it behind an impressive pillar, and told an equally drunk Geordie to mind it while I went for the loo.  I scarpered!  I hope he enjoyed it.  And then, to my total disbelief, I was here I think with Lu and John Watson II before a Dreadnoughts gig 24th Feb 2011 and I repeated my faux pas!  I sat and drank it slowly this time, the pub had a very different atmos with post work goers and pre theatre goers all merging into one cackling, mutton dressed as lamb style mess.  John and I criticised their attempts at the CAMRA logo on the blackboard, that's the only other thing I remember though I think Lu tried to get some vegan food.  Hazy memories, understandable.

So, there's your lot for now.  I'm not looking forward to the next lot as a Newcastle is a confusing place to remember when drunk, and I'm sure the rest of Tyne & Wear won't be much better! 


Sunday 12 April 2015

BRAPA - Sutton upon Derwent & Ellerton

You often hear 'quality over quantity' and over the past couple of months, I've realised how much this can apply to BRAPA trips aswell.  By which, I mean of that you can easily hop on a train and have visited seven pubs in Oxford before you know it, but a two or three pub day around more rural parts with no discernible bus or train routes is just as valuable.  After all, they all have to be done at some point.

Having said all that, it's easier when you have a chauffeur (sadly, a rarity!) and Dad was happy to drive us east out of York for a couple of new East Yorkshire pub ticks......

619 - St Vincent Arms, Sutton upon Derwent - We arrived at this pub that has been on my radar for long before BRAPA was in my mind, shortly after 2pm knowing that it is due to close from 3-6pm, as is still the case in some rural pubs, particularly noticeable in the Yorkshire region  The atmosphere was at a real lull, somewhere between that post-lunchtime winding down and that pre-last orders winding up.  There was also a sense of 'waiting', but what for, I can't be sure.  Judging by the regulars average age, 'death' could have been the answer.  Unusually for anywhere in the north, this was a Fullers pub but the ales were supplemented by local standards including Tim Taylor Landlord and York Terrier, resplendent with old style pump clip before York went all harsh, dark and angular.  Dad was particularly impressed with the quality of the ale, and cheap too at £2.60 a pint.  The food menu looked ridiculously outlandish with things like Lobster Thermidore and Guinea Fowl for prices that make the eyes bleed.  Because of this, it didn't quite feel pubby enough to be a classic, though when my phone rang, the locals glared as though I had no right to own such a device.  Perhaps they were right.  There was a rush to be bar about 2:55pm, so sensing last orders, I got a refreshingly northern tasting Fullers Chiswick in before the barman called 'time'.  The locals sat for a further 20 mins reading newspapers, totally unphased, refusing to even make eye contact with their spouses, so I spanned out my pint for as long as possible,

Arriving at the St Vincent, named after a Nelson battle, in S.O.D.
Grey Horse, Elvington - A good idea of Dad's this, a pub that in Good Beer Guide terms, has been in & out of it which much regularity (currently out).  We'd been kicked out of the St Vincent at 3pm, our Ellerton pub didn't open til 4pm, so we needed to fill in some time.  This was really a pub of two halves, a kind of downtrodden locals sports bar to the left and a modern but darkish lounge to the right.  Dad had apparently been here after a ten mile walk with Grandma on her 80th birthday, they'd stayed in the sports side and not been impressed.  The pub has since gentrified, selling off land that was once a beer garden and now a rather uninspiring new housing estate and car park are behind the pub.  Sad, but maybe the only way the pub could survive financially.  We entered into the sports bar side, which showed the full range of ales, it was a no-brainer for me, Bradfield Farmers Blonde which was well kept but not quite Bluebell York standards.  We thought we were watching the Grand National (it was the race before, oops) so when Dad exclaimed 30 of the runners must have fallen, no wonder the locals looked a bit confused!  Having embarrassed ourselves, we went to sit in the lounge side where for me, the highlight was a fine array of old GBG's dating from 1985.  Pub geek?  Me?  Never!  It was comfy enough, but lacked a bit of light and warmth of personality.  A decent pre-emptive tick if it gets 'listed' again, though I wouldn't bank on it this year.

Unusual and slightly pervy barstool in Elvington's Grey Horse
620 - Boot & Shoe, Ellerton - With it's 4pm opening time really reflecting how isolated the village of Ellerton is, I was just relieved to see this one open when we arrived about quarter past.  What I wasn't expecting was a genuine early contender for "2015 BRAPA pub of the year".  Why have I not heard people raving about this pub before?  Possibly, because it really is, to coin a phrase "a hidden gem".   We entered to find an ancient building, all creaking warped wood and beams, low ceilings and door-frames where even a short-arse like me had to duck.  After walking past many tiny rooms laid out for evening dining, we found the main bar.  A hive of activity with rattling old dominoes players, locals happily chatting and joking, and a bit beyond with a TV showing the football scores coming through, but initially, the result of the Grand National (the real one this time!) where my horse had come 4th.  So I was buoyed by this further!  A landlord behind a sunken bar saw us eyeing up the ales, and described them all.  Two Dark Horse ales are brewed for this pub and we had one of each, excellent quality, and then a half of a 'Half Moon' ale, the brewery is next door to the pub in Ellerton.  This really did feel like George Orwell's Moon Under Water, one of those where you have a stupid smile on your face throughout.   Friendly too.  When I came back from the loo, two locals were asking Dad if him and Mum were a "holding hands" couple or not!  'Not' was the answer.  Even seeing Hull City had lost (again) on the TV didn't spoil my mood.  I later heard there's a tree wrapped round the back of the pub forming part of it.  Another quirk I missed!  Amazing pub, you must visit.  

If I was smiling on the way in, I was ecstatic on the way out!
Other BRAPA News .....

Yesterday's two East Yorkshire pub ticks (now at 27) move it above South Yorks (25) in the 'pubs leaderboard' into 4th place, behind West Yorks (103), North Yorks (82) and Greater Manchester (33).

Dad enjoyed it so much, he's offered to drive us to tricky East Yorks pubs in Millington and Goodmanham in the summer, I'm penciling in 6th June for that one.

It'll be normal service resumed on Tuesday as I get back on the 'outer Halifax' trail with the trip to Hipperholme, providing I can get out of work bang on 4pm! 

Bedfordshire is next Saturday so a bit of planning around bus times, taxi numbers etc is needed at some point during the next week.

The business cards are here!  They look quite good,  Logo could be bigger, as could most of the text.  Should maybe have my Instagram and Twitter addresses on but that'd put pressure on me to keep them up to date at all times.  I'll have think between now and the last batch.  I left one in Ellerton yesterday but forgot about Sutton upon Derwent, but not sure they use computers.

See you for more archives and the midweek write up soon.




Wednesday 8 April 2015

BRAPA - Swansea & Sowerby Bridge

April started with a trip to Swansea, a near on 22 hour day may probably have yielded more than one pub tick but at least it was a good one .....

616 - No Sign Bar, Swansea - So just after 12 noon we arrived in this obviously ancient (1690) bar which Dylan Thomas apparently frequented, very much the Dick Turpin of South Wales in that regard!  A nice selection of 4 ales would have done me, but the lovely blonde barmaid advised us there was a beer festival on in at the end of this Tardis like long & thin building.  Bonus!  Though it took as a while to properly find it, never mind to embrace the beer fest experience.  Tom had arrived looking like someone who'd spent the last 24 hours on the rail network, and we sat under a rather pretentious food menu til Dad cracked, ordering us all Tapas but both mine and his (Calamari and Bruschetta) were rubbish, though full marks to all the staff who were excellent throughout - seemed like they needed a few more to assist.  All the ales were superb quality, the Elland 1872 Porter a highlight as I'd managed to avoid it on recent trips to Elland and Halifax, yet found it in Swansea!  Typical.  I wish we'd been able to stay there a bit longer, or a bigger "Welly" gang could have sampled this "away pub of the season" contender.  Tom did make a valid point, how can you have a pub called "No Sign Bar" when it has a sign displaying that very fact?

Fresh off the 5:55am from York.  Me arriving at the No Sign Bar, Swansea 12 noon.

Fast forward to Tuesday and probably still not recovered from Swansea, it was time for the West Yorkshire Midweek edition of BRAPA!  Now I was supposed to be going to Hipperholme for leg two of Halifax, but work had put me on "checking", so I had to stay to 5pm, and with a bus needed for Hipperholme, it put too much pressure on the situation.  So something more straightforward was needed ....

So after taking the Manchester Victoria train 40 mins, I arrived at the attractive canal town of Sowerby Bridge.

A fine spring evening in Sowerby Bridge
617 - Shepherd's Rest, Sowerby Bridge - After a 10 minute walk skirting around canals, hills and eventually rush hour traffic, I arrived in the 'village' centre to find this Ossett owned pub and am pleased to report it was more along the traditional lines (think Drop in Elland or Fox at Holgate, York) than the modern efforts of Leeds and Sheffield.  I entered in a weird triangular shaped bar and after buying a very drinkable Saltaire Citra from a friendly young bar chap, I sat in the lounge area where the locals were, comfy bench seating, and supped my pint.  I often find myself judging pubs by the clientele, and the easy, jovial nature of the people here, helped give a great atmosphere, I was accepted as a visitor without any staring or forced conversation, so a good balance! A local referred to the place as "Soreby" Bridge, which I'd heard from a guy at work was the correct pronunciation, but when even the train guard didn't do it, I had been losing hope, so it was good to hear!  I read a leaflet on Ossett's forthcoming beers for 2015 and left, happy, contented, like so many, a tinge of regret I may never return! 

Decor and seating inside the Shepherd's Rest, a fine Ossett pub.
618 - Firehouse, Sowerby Bridge - Having read the GBG description, I had my reservations on this one with it's supposed emphasis on stone-baked pizzas, but whilst it was modern, I'm pleased to report in an excellent way which reminded me of Henry's in Sheffield.  Despite the street corner, big windowed feel, it didn't feel exposed and was warm and comfortable in, even if a big group of young ladies were ordering glasses of Prosecco as I arrived.  Friendly staff served me a fine Teleporter from Summer Wine brewery, who I thought had given up on cask altogether so this was heart-warming ale, both metaphorically and literally!  I found a large, curved green settee which had my name written all over it (not really) but I sat there and got hungry watching two middle-agers munching on goats cheese pizzas, the specialty I admit did look very yummy. I agonized over where the loo's were for ages looking for clues (it's almost a game at times for me!) and I was relieved (again, literally) to find them downstairs and not up a spiral staircase past the cackling Prosecco gang.  So, all in all, pleasantly impressed.  

There is a third pub in Sowerby Bridge, but with time ticking on and 40 minutes from Leeds, never mind York, I headed home knowing I have plenty of time to do combine the final pub with my final Mirfield tick later this summer.

Firehouse, Sowerby Bridge (Prosecco gang in second window on right)

  • My "business" cards have finally been shipped after some payment difficulties.  Could they make a surprise debut on Saturday?  
  • Oh, the joys of village pub life and their irregular opening times.  Ellerton's pub appears not to open til 4pm, and with Sutton Upon Derwent's one closed between 3-6pm, Dad and I have had to work hard to come up with a plan around this!  All will be revealed in my next BRAPA report. 
  • HAPPY 1ST BIRTHDAY to BRAPA!!  5th April 2014 was our official start date in Beds, I was around the 385 pub mark then.  Now at 618, not forgetting the 70 or so pub drop in September when the 2015 GBG came out, I've ticked off a lot of pubs!   
  • I'm sure I won't be on "checking" at work two week's in a row, so Hipperholme will be back on for Tues 14th.
  • I'm booking an overnight trip to Aberdeen on Thursday 9th July, I have two days off work so let's get on the BRAPA trail!
  • Even more urgently, I'm looking at a birthday BRAPA outing in early May.  Greater Manchester is looking the most likely county at the moment.  
  • The latest Bedfordshire trip is a week on Saturday.  Some high level planning is needed. Ampthill and Bolnhurst are the "must" pubs.  Houghton Conquest, Felmersham and Kempston would all be nice too.  
  • Doing Sowerby Bridge made me realise the great progress I'm making in West Yorkshire.  I could well be finishing this county before Bedfordshire if I can stay in the Tuesday night groove through spring and summer.  Dirty Dick's in Halifax was my 100th West Yorks tick.
See you all in a pub (virtual or real) sometime soon,


Wednesday 1 April 2015

BRAPA - Halifax

View out on t'hills as I arrive into Halifax

March ended with a trip to Halifax, a town which in the 2015 Good Beer Guide has grown arms and legs with loads of surrounding villages etc all now in the "Halifax" bracket.  For this first of three trips, I kept it simple and visited the three most central.....

613 - CROSS KEYS, SIDDAL - Siddal appears to be a place in it's own right, and after a brisk healthy stroll in the evening sun from the railway station to a more leafy area, I was at the pub by 5:30pm.  I was greeted by Poppy the dog, who was quite fussy and I glad I didn't have food on my person!  The range of ales was excellent, and I was intrigued by the Abbeydale Black Mass, a 6.66% stout can you believe?  Well, the jovial landlord told me it was a "session ale", I definitely didn't believe that but went for a pint anyway based on it being a Tuesday.  According to the Guide, this pub was a shit hole til the current owners took it over in late 2012 (I'm paraphrasing them) and it had a superb ambiance, the locals very Yorkshire, the pub very down to earth, it was my pub of the night.  A man declared his love for Victoria Wood "hit me on the bottom with a women's weekly" and then told an enchanting tale about how on a stag do in Blackpool, he walked out on a Roy Chubby Brown routine cos he hated it that much.  Some kids helping their Mum celebrate a pre-40th birthday do didn't really spoil the hubbub, but then it darkened up outside and started snowing.  It's April tomorrow I thought, flippin 'eck!  It soon turned to sleet and subsided so I went on my way as a woman told me each regular has a designated seat in the pub - a minefield for visitors like me!

Before the snow came : a jewel of a pub in Siddal

614 - DIRTY DICK'S FOOD & ALE EMPORIUM, Halifax - As I'm now officially a pub heritage geek, I was highly anticipating my next pub (made with timbers from HMS Newcastle, 1931)  but it was hard to get a true picture of it's inner beauty and features with so many rugged 'Fax locals drinking and looking a bit intimidating.  Whilst this was again a no nonsense drinkers pub, it didn't quite have the same friendly charm of the Cross Keys - rural vs town centre perhaps the reason.  I felt like a real tourist when I asked for a pint of the locally brewed 'Dirty Dick's' at the bar.  They also did a lager of the same name so when I was given the choice and said "ale", a drunk local in a funny hat said "told ya" to his mates - still, a compliment I look more like an ale than lager drinker.  I'll have to wear my tracksuit and stick on tats next time! I sat in the quiet backroom to try and get a sense of the heritage element in a big wooden settle style seat.  I just felt more isolated.  My DD ale was, okay.  The young barman seemed to be a bit of a practical joker, and he "hanged" a teddy bear to the doorframe which belonged to a barmaid (India?  Surely not her real name!) but she didn't look too mortified.

Wasn't quite feeling the heritage lovin' at Dirty Dick's.
615 - BARUM TOP, Halifax - Pinned in totally the wrong place on my GBG App, I finally found this pub as the wind and rain whipped up a storm again.  It was a Wetherspoons but didn't look like it from the outside, more traditional than that but a vast indoor space was very Spoonsy (it used to be a garage).  I saw the award winning 1872 Elland Porter but after that Black Mass in the first pub, I went for a lighter Goose Eye beer which had just gone on, and it was very well kept and easily drinkable (just as well as I had a train back to Leeds not too far off).  I noticed an upstairs area and thought "I hardly ever get upstairs BRAPA drinking experiences" so shinned it up the stairs but every single seat was taken, mainly with what seemed like the whole of 'Fax having a nice cheap dinner.  So I came back down the other side, perched on a stool and pretended to be interested in the pre-election coverage.  A girl who looked Eastern European was also having a drink on her own and my vague thoughts of joining her with dashed when she vanished quicker than the eye could see - maybe a ghost mechanic who got killed in the old garage?  The 'Spoons reminded me of the one in Brighouse combined with one in the Isle of Wight,  I can't say fairer than that!

It was more 'Spoons in than out!

I made my train easily and was back in Leeds for a Burger King, and York for a fairly early finish considering.  I'll be back in the Halifax area (Hipperholme to be precise) for our next midweek BRAPA trip.  Thanks for listening.

My last tango in Halifax - terrible pictorial joke on train back to Leeds.


This is how drunk I was in Far From the Madding Crowd, Oxford (see below closed pub news)
  • No news on my "business" cards yet.  Come on, I'm getting impatient already!  Not that I'll have much use for them this Saturday in Swansea.
  • Sad to hear of another BRAPA pub closure.  Far From the Madding Crowd, Oxford wasn't making enough money so they closed it.  It had only opened in 2002 which made it very new by Oxford standards.  It was my 6th pub in Oxford last September, yes I was quite drunk but enjoyed my pint of Acorn Helga, the regulars and staff seemed a happy bunch and it's my opinion that it's weird location is the main reason it didn't attract enough custom.  Yes, I was drunk but walked around in circles looking for that Friars Entry!
  • The Heavy Woolen Tour is back!  Yes, after last June's success, me and some work friends are having a six pub Saturday in Ossett, Horbury, Thornhill and Overton near where they live - all in the name of BRAPA.  The date we have in mind is 30th May.  As a result, Horbury will be taken out of "midweek WY BRAPA consideration" as it is due up soon.  
  • And finally, my April agenda is finalised.  It doesn't look the most stunning month in BRAPA terms but hopefully some better weather and cracking on with Tuesday evenings will help, as BRAPA celebrates it's 1st anniversary on Sunday.

Sat 4th - Swansea away day
Tue 7th - Halifax II : Hipperholme
Sat 11th - "Dad day" inc Ellerton & Sutton upon Derwent
Tue 14th - Halifax III : Bradshaw & Swalesmoor
Sat 18th - Bedfordshire III - outer Bedford villages
Tue 21st - Heath
Sat 25th - Crystal Palace away day
Tue 28th - Hebden Bridge (w/ Cragg Vale)

(all dates subject to change as usual!)

  • We achieved 25 pubs in March - a good effort in the end ... 16 of them in the last 10 days!  April I predict will be more like 20, even that might be a stretch.
See you later on, Si