Sunday 31 May 2015

BRAPA : More from East Yorkshire

Dad arrives at the Gait, we sat out on these benches (see pub 660)

The month of May finished (BRAPA-wise) with three more pub ticks, thanks in the main to Dad who used his new car to be "chauffeur" for the day, as we went pubbing around the underrated Yorkshire Wolds.

659 - Goodmanham Arms, Goodmanham - And a late contender for pub of the month had to be this wonderful old place, in a remote old hamlet not far from Market Weighton.  As someone said on my Twitter page, "looks like something out of Lord of the Rings", and for the next hour and a half, I certainly found like Frodo who'd found the ring.  We walked in to that reassuring smell of coal fires (yes, it might be the end of May, but it's still too cold).  It was one of those pubs where you find yourself gaping open mouthed like a surprised fish, looking around you trying to take it all in with pewters hanging from the ceiling, old horse racing pictures, a room full of vintage motorbikes and Hornby train sets.  It's almost a surprise this pub isn't in my heritage book.  The beers weren't bad either, a huge range served not only guest ales but there own brews from the Old Hallows brewery and I sampled both a golden and a porter, very good indeed.  When we arrived, an army of young female staff outnumbered the customers and all I could learn about them was that one loved the TV programme Jackass whilst one hated it.  Meanwhile, a huge dog had sat on my foot and blocked out all the light so we moved to 'motorbike' room.  I got talking to a very old man at the bar who pretty much told me they'd built the pub around him 100 years ago, it was just a single farmhouse room back then, and when I mentioned Wetherspoons, he looked ultra confused.  Moving to the side room was a good move, as the pub started to fill up with lunchtime diners so it was time to go the outdoor loos and move on.

Arriving at the stunning Goodmanham Arms

660 - Gait Inn, Millington - I used my own brand of complex Sat Nav to help Dad get us here, but at least the scenery around the Wolds was beautiful, up near Pocklington now.  I was highly anticipating this place but after the Goodmanham, it failed to quite live up to expectations.  Maybe the Black Sheep sign outside was a giveaway but out of three beers, only Anglers Reward by Wold Top was interesting.  Thankfully, it was one of the best pale ales I have drunk on a BRAPA trip this year.  Truly superb.  The landlord was a friendly chap and the pub was thankfully not taken up with diners (Dad had been thinking about another pub in Bishop Wilton) but it didn't have the stunning interior of the last place, though I apparently missed a unique old map of Yorkshire on the ceiling!  This was probably because we sat on benches outside the front of the pub.  I often think outdoor drinking gives a pint an extra 5% of flavour.  With an old horse n cart going backwards and forwards through the village, the smell of freshly cut grass, bikers, walkers and the sun finally out, this was the summer drinking experience that May has sadly lacked.  It probably made a quite good pub that much better.

Outdoor BRAPA pub ticking in Millington's relative sunshine
And that was that, I thought, until Dad had one of surprising "spur of the moment" decisions and realised that back on the Brid road, we weren't far from Thixendale .... where I had a North Yorkshire pub to tick off.

661 - Cross Keys, Thixendale - And Dad's sense of urgency made sense when he explained that he'd been walking here with his friend group "the Bunnies" several times only to be let down by this closed pub.  On one occasion, the landlord saw them but wouldn't let them in as he was about to walk his dog!  I therefore hadn't realised how lucky we were to get sat down with a decent if not spectacular pint from the Half Moon brewery a few miles away in Ellerton.  A couple of walkers came in, asked about food, but were turned away as he was closing soon(!) so we had been ultra-lucky.  To be fair to the landlord, he offered the walkers a soft drink and crisps.  They declined.  Dad still saw this evidence of the landlord's bad form and spent the rest of time scowling at him!  The pub itself felt quite basic but I was so delighted to get a bonus 'tick', I just had the same stupid smile on my face I had done in Goodmanham.  But you did get the feeling this was a locals pub which didn't really grasp the concept of offering a public service to the masses of walkers and tourists who pass through.  

And that really was that for May, with 26 pubs done, a very productive month considering I put my West Yorkshire midweek trips on hold for the entire month.  Pub of the month?  Goodmanham Arms, the White Swan at Stokesley and Totternhoe's Old Farm were the three that made me smile most/

June Preview

So, with the football season thankfully over, 100% efforts can be put into BRAPA, or can they as friend's are talking 'beer festivals' and 'summer days out'.  

Whatever, I am determined to get back on the West Yorkshire midweek trail starting on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge this coming Tuesday.  We have the 'work friends Heavy Woolen tour : part two' next Saturday, our monthly Bedfordshire trip the following Saturday and on the final Saturday of the month, I plan to get back on the North Yorkshire trail with Chapel-le-Dale, it's next in order.

See you soon, Si

Indoor scene at Goodmanham Arms, trying to capture the magic.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

BRAPA: the archives (222-229) - Welsh special

Good evening sheep!  Let me be your Shepherd for the night and guide you through the shamefully small number of Welsh GBG pubs I achieved before BRAPA became a "thing".  I say "shamefully", I've visited so many more Welsh pubs but few seem to be in the GBG at present, frustrating!

222.  Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff - It was school chucking out time on Tues 13th March 2012 and I needed some pub ticking before checking into my Travelodge, that was the plan anyway.  The first and most unique was in the Canton area, I nearly missed it as it was set back from a pretty dismal side street.  It was the perfect contrast, a light shiny new arts centre with automatic doors, and people tapping away on laptops.  A great range of ales greeted me and I sat well back from the bar, trying to take in this peculiar set up.  Not pubby in any way, and the least edgy Cardiff has ever been.  A few businessmen looked a bit puzzled by my presence, I sent a photo on my brand new iPhone of the bar scene to JW2, but that's where my problems began as my phone died and I got totally lost 2 pubs later whilst looking for the Mochyn Du (still a pub I need to this day).  I returned here when I was again alone on 10th November 2013 for my main pre-match pub with a crazy egg-chasing contest congesting the main city centre pubs in a chaotic way.  This was again calm, but busier with young Mum's drinking coffee, more laptops, kids playing, someone on a keyboard, staff serving food like it was a canteen, and me in the middle with bright stripey black and orange trousers supping 5 pints of ale!  Weird place.

Me nervously eyeing up a pint on 2nd Chapter Arts trip, before Ben Amos messed up.
223.  City Arms, Cardiff - BRAPA was already in my mind on 22nd Feb 2014 (in fact, I'd just completed my first trial run) but the pubs this day were still too early to be classed in BRAPA terms.  Despite the great reviews and high anticipation, Dad and I were a bit underwhelmed by the ales as we sat in the centre of the pub on a high barrel style table.  I'm sure Tom felt the same sense of being underwhelmed as we'd recently found him just before leaving the first pub.  It was one of those where it didn't seem too busy but all the good tables on sides and corners were occupied.  I drank a beer called Drayman's and it was as non-descript as Cardiff's performance that day.  Not that we were complaining.

224.  Urban Tap House, Cardiff - Seemed to be called Firehouse in my 2014 GBG though was Urban by the time we visited (so do I need to revisit, I certainly hope so!)  Anyway, this was our first pub of the day on arrival on 22nd Feb 2014 and it seemed to be a Brewery Tap for the Tiny Rebel beers, one of those hoppy modern day excellent new breweries I've seen plenty of times since outside of Wales.  It was quite a plain no nonsense drinkers bar, plenty of shiny metal and wood but the overall verdict was superb pub.  Some French rugby fans who'd been drinking for approx 24 hours were showing the first signs of coming down from there high, but still treated us to a hug and a little french dance, or was it a drunken stagger?  Tom had got a bit lost, I think he found us or one of me or Dad went to look for him and bring him here, can't quite remember!  My records tell me I drank a FUBAR and a hipster version of Tom called Tristan appeared first, confusing us more.

225.  Bank Statement, Swansea - 12th April 2011 was a sunny Tuesday afternoon as me, Ben and Mark arrived in Swansea.  This was a second pub, and came about really when walking between our first two designated pubs (Mark had a map), Ben suggested we nip in for a quick one (he maybe needed the toilet).  I remember getting a half as both were on a "mission" and I knew I'd never keep up with the pace - I peaked post match when both were slowing.  All I remember was a very sticky table with menus / paper table mats stuck to them in the style of a newspaper article. Pretty standard 'Spoons, we got a booth which was nice.  Quite busy for 4pm on a Tuesday.  Little did I know then that recent BRAPA tick No Sign Bar was right next door and I only verified this 'tick' this season.

226.  Potters Wheel, Swansea - Talking of 'Spoons in Swansea on 12th April 2011, me, Ben and Mark must have been desperate as we came here both pre and post match and later declared it our "pub of the day".  Looking back, it again felt like a  pretty standard 'Spoons, less cosy than the last but with better staff and ales on than any other pub, and we'd been to plenty.  Pre-match, we got a bit lost and when Mark asked a local woman the way, we were about 2cm's from the door.  I enjoyed the post match experience much more as the pub was quiet and winding down for the night, happy to stay open for us and unlike pre match, I was enjoying my drinking now as the other two slowed down.  We watched drunk local night life through the big glass windows, and seeing a woman pirouette around a lamp post and then fall flat on her face was a particular highlight. I think this was the point where Ben declared Swansea "a shithole".  Cruel.  Perhaps. 

227.  Queen's Hotel, Swansea - A bright sunny Saturday morning had dawned as me and Dad arrived into Swansea on 12th April 2004, my 2nd (or perhaps 3rd) opportunity to use the Good Beer Guide to find Swansea pubs.  Before this, we'd always gone to a tiny pub in the backstreets near Vetch Field (you could see it from the pub door!) and drink Guinness with a friendly father and son combo we saw every season.  Times had changed and despite the fairly limited beer range, we loved this pub and drank local Buckley's Bitter.  The locals looked very enquiringly at us, and stared at my Hull shirt when I went to the loo in a weird way, but we sat on a bench seat in the sun near the door and enjoyed our pint or two here.  We were held up by a swing bridge outside where we admired a statue of "Captain Cat", a Dylan Thomas character I'd been banging on about all morning.  Even more of a co-incidence, I came here with Ben & Mark for our first pint of the day on 12th April 2011, 7 years to the day since my other visit!  I only remembered half way through my visit, Mark was doing his ambassadorial bit having us stood at the bar chatting to barmaid and locals who seemed to find the loud, bald, friendly Hull chap quite a novelty! 

228.  Westbourne, Swansea - The first time I encouraged Dad to have a GBG tour of Swansea was 3rd May 2003 (I'm sure we did about 5 including Brunswick in the GBG now but can't remember ANY details to confirm it).  This was the day of their "Great Escape" and although this pub was a large corner pub a bit of a walk from the centre with limited ale and atmosphere, a huge group of about 20 Swansea fans came and sat on a large circular table in the centre of the pub and I've honestly never seen a more nervous bunch of football fans - it was incredibly liberating to have nothing to play for and take pleasure in others misfortune for once!  As a Hull City fan, it doesn't happen very often.  I can't remember being overly impressed with the pub though. 

229.  Cottage Loaf, Llandudno - It was A-Z day, the letter L on 16th March 2013 and I'd enjoyed my sight seeing of this nice tourist town when I finally decided to call it quits and hit the pubs.  This was the only Llandudno listed one in the 2013 GBG so I later had a right tour of places like Flint, Rhyl and Frodsham.  I was in sociable mood and struck up conversation with two ageing local chaps at the bar who seemed impressed with how enthusiastic I was about the local brews, which I believe came from the nearby Conwy brewery - excellent by the way.  The pub was all wooden beams, low ceilings, very old feeling, but sadly, very foody and the staff (dressed up in all white like ghostly waitresses) were absolutely rushed off their feet with lunch demands and it took ages to get my second pint (occupational hazard of drinking at the bar I think).  A good friendly pub though, and I can see why it's one of the few I visited that day still in the GBG.  

View of Llandudno shortly before my Cottage Loaf trip.  One of my better photo attempts! 
So there we go, a few Welsh pubs - I must get out there more, though I did state I was concentrating on English counties for the next few years.  Next time in the Archives, another outpost - East Yorkshire!  See you there,


Monday 25 May 2015

BRAPA : Hull City relegation special (2015/16 season preview)

So with the "sad" (I mean exciting) news that we will be playing in the Championship next season, pre-match BRAPA options are already on my planning agenda, with the 23 venues now decided (thanks a flippin' bunch Norwich!).

Of course, by mid-September, the 2016 GBG will be published so you could argue the following exercise is more pointless than a dicegame in a darkened room with Richard Osman, but I'll give it a go anyway......

BIRMINGHAM CITY - Ahh Brum!  Ticked off a lot of newbies on 30th Aug 2014 during a phantom Aston Villa day, but it is such a big city, there are still plenty to do.  11am opener WOODMAN is attracting most of my attention, especially as it's grade 2 listed and even nearer the ground, the SPOTTTED DOG gets busy on football days but has to be done, maybe nip in for a quick one on 12 noon opening.  Still 4 city centre ones I need too.  Should also pop in to POST OFFICE VAULTS as I owe them big time!

BLACKBURN ROVERS .... Good lord, the fact me n Dad often stick to the non-guide listed ADELPHI says it all, especially as the police normally turn up at some stage for a non-football related reason.  Guide wise,  the BLACK BULL listed under Blackburn but in Livesey (so nearer ground) looks decent, could perhaps be combined with 11am opener STATION HOTEL by Cherry Tree station, before a train to Mill Hill to make the walk to Ewok Park easier.  Both Darwen and Wilpshire may be worth considering.

BOLTON WANDERERS .... In recent years, Dad and I have preferred the Horwich angle and with me not sure if the BOWLING GREEN has been done as well as the other two, it'd be nice to confirm.  However, with 5 still to do in Bolton, it would make sense to come here even if none of the ones I need open pre 12 noon.  Late train back to York for after match ticking purposes?

BRENTFORD .... I don't think the MAGPIE & CROWN has been visited before, it's 12 noon and near the station but as the only Brentford listing, will it be too obvious?  Maybe not if the 4 corners of ground all still have a pub (I've been in 3 of these 4).  I'm thinking Isleworth's two (one an 11am opener LONDON APPRENTICE) might be a good outside box option.  Note - 10 points deduction in my quiz on this day for anyone who says "oooh, today is a ground tick for me!"

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION ..... Overnight stop?  More on them later.  I've done a fair bit of Brighton (and some of Lewes I can't remember pub names for) but eight pubs still to do including a couple of 11am openers, it'd be rude not to have a stab at all of them and squeeze in a cheeky half at EVENING STAR cos it is such a good pub.

BRISTOL CITY ..... Dad's initial thought was the cider place (not currently guide listed) and it's location is so good, I'd be tempted, but I am thinking overnight stop is a real option here too.  Too many central pubs still to do, it even has some pre 12 noon openers now like CANTEEN (nr Montpellier station), BEER EMPORIUM and NO 1 HARBOURSIDE.  I'd start now if I could.
Bedminster area may be worth looking at too, 4 pubs and not far from Ashton Gate.

BURNLEY .... Well, on the plus side, we still have Wetherspoons BRUN LEA and the further away RIFLE VOLUNTEER to tick off which I'll be aiming for.  Further to this, I'm quite happy to visit Bridge Bier Huis and/or Minstry of Ale (why not in Guide?) once again.  Bootleggers was decent too,

CARDIFF CITY .... I'm doing my Cardiff archives soon and despite lots of visits, still a good few central pubs to do.  RUMMER TAVERN and ZERODEGREES are two I've physically stood outside but not quite been in!  These'd be easy ticks.  The other side of the bridge has pubs like MOCHYN DU and CRICKETERS which I'm not sure I've done, whilst going out to local stations like Cathays may generate 2 or 3 new ticks, the 11am ANDREW BUCHAN for example.  No excuses not to get some ticks in here, even if just 2 or 3.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC  ..... Woolwich worked well last time, but options aren't amazing around this area so am wondering if approaching it from the other side might be beneficial.  Something like Blackheath, Eltham or even Greenwich.  ROYAL STANDARD near Westcombe Park is 11am and looks a very good pub.

DERBY COUNTY .... Despite my January trip, I still have some (8) absolute crackers to do though most on the far side of town to Pride Park or whatever it is now called.  Early train, start at GREYHOUND 11am, a few more on way back in to town, then ALEXANDRA post match is a rough idea of what I might like to happen here.

FULHAM ..... Once again, choosing something on or near the District line might be a good idea and though options are more limited after recent trips here and Chelsea, Earl's Court and Chelsea itself still have ticks and some proper White Hart Lane-esque research might give me an idea of pubs near each venue of the District Line.  Chiswick and Hammersmith both look close to tube stops and have lots of pub options.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN .... If the police allow me into town this year, I'll be sad to declare I've visited all thanks to my midweek West Yorkshire BRAPA trips, though to see Ben's and Christine's eyes light up when he sees the blackboard in the GROVE would make any trip to the Meccano worthwhile.

HULL CITY .... Thought I better include this shambles of a football team.  I only need the NEW ADELPHI CLUB from the current GBG, it only opens 8pm, so the best scenario is an early season midweek game at home to Ipswich where we are 2-5 down after 15 minutes, the game gets abandoned due to a pitch invasion and feeling unsatisfied, me and Dad pop to said club for an Oakham Citra before the drive back to York and a much amusing Radio Humberside phone in where Dave Burns murders Dr Allam live on air.

IPSWICH TOWN ..... Only yesterday was Ben banging on about a trip to ST JUDE'S (OBSCURE) TAVERN next season.  That got Dad on the DOVE STREET defensive.  I will rise above it all and say there are plenty more pubs needed.  4 or 5 but due to the inbredness of the town, they have 'home fans only' pubs still like it's the 80's.  Bless 'em all.  See you in BREWERY TAP 11am.

THE WH*TE SH*TE - Obviously, working in L**ds means I've done the lot so no BRAPA ticks likely as we speak, but hopefully my knowledge will find us a classic or two that won't be busy and now I know the Holbeck area, that's even more tempting.  GROVE anyone?

MIDDLESBROUGH - Ben reckons it's a fair trek but new micro pub DR PHIL's REAL ALE HOUSE is a must for me.  Am sure busses and taxis are an option.  Also, the Swatters Carr Wetherspoons was very impressive on FA Cup day last time out.  The Star had gone downhill.

MILTON KEYNES DONS - Tricky because MK doesn't have much in the way of old pubs or even commitment to ale.  THE BARN in the only central tick I need, it is part of a Premier Inn so am not expecting too much!  Still, a tick is a tick.  Maybe a train out to Fenny Stratford's RED LION would make sense, or a trip out to Willen's SHIP ASHORE, a pub of the year with 11:30 opener but without a car, looks a tricky one.  Still, Bucks is quite high on my overall agenda for BRAPA so there is some sense of urgency to get ticks in.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST - It'd be hard not to just retire to the VAT & FIDDLE but as BRAPA demands, a few ticks on the outskirts of the centre like MAJOR OAK and ORGAN GRINDER are needed, and if I was thinking outside the penalty area, then two in West Bridgford are needed but is this where all the home fans go on match days - Poppy & Pint and Stratford House?  Worth thinking about.

PRESTON NORTH END - It would be nice to finally get a classic non rushed pre-match session at Preston after so many foiled attempts.  Stupid trains, evening kick offs, family do's, sister ex boyfriends, overrunning work meetings, everything has conspired against us over the years!  Sadly, apart from the 'Spoons, the other new pub ticks all look a bit out of town, the ANDERTON ARMS is at least in the vicinity but two miles from the centre.  May just have to bite the bullet and have a nice day in some of my old centre favourites, just for my sanity!

QUEENS PARK RANGERS - Last season, we did Hanwell and were unlucky with train problems, but passing the SIR MICHAEL BALCON 'Spoons in Ealing as we bussed it in made me think there are 5 pubs in this area I need to tick off, so why not have an Ealing day?

READING - This is the one I'm looking at most keenly, and I'll tell you why.  If I complete Bedfordshire this year as per my monthly challenge (unlikely as I'm having a 'break' in August due to punk fest and unknown fixture list but the dream is still on!), Berkshire will become my focus.  First pub the BELL INN in Aldworth is middle of nowhere but sounds incredible and a must.  Reading nearest big place.  If I could combine this with an overnight stop on the Friday (perhaps getting a few ticks at places like Upper Basildon, Tilehurst and Caverhsam's duo) I could be ready for a Nag's Head session with everyone on the Saturday pre-match  Or be even more adventurous and do some of the other 4 pubs - which i'm glad to say includes the former Hobgoblin now just called the Alehouse.  Rules state I need to revisit if a pub changes it's name.

ROTHERHAM UTD - So glad now I decided to forgo my May trip to Rotherham where there are 4 pubs in the guide plus one out at Greasborough.  I'll be aiming to be in early for breakfast in the BLUECOAT, whilst I reckon the NEW YORK TAVERN will be the biggest challenge.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY - It's all getting a bit South Yorkshire isn't it?  The HILLSBROUGH has been on my list since the 2-4 victory night, the BLAKE HOTEL at Walkley is a good opportunity, and three out at Kelham Island I've not been to before mean surely I can make this a productive day.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS - As recently proved in the archives, the GREAT WESTERN is good but unlucky.  I'd love to solve the NEWHAMPTON/COMBERMERE conundrum, but you've also got to think about the many other good sounding pubs in town, about 10 in total.  I'd be stupid not to try and have a stab at three or more of these.  Some early openers too so early train a must.

So there you have it,  I'd like to thank Mr Bruce, Dr Allam & son and most of the players for helping me expand my BRAPA horizons between August 2015-May 2016 and If I'm sat here writing about Colchester, Gillingham, Sheff Utd and Swindon in a year, back-to-back relegation will have it's compensations!


BRAPA - Bedfordshire Part IV

Finishing page three of the GBG in the Globe, Dunstable (see pub 656).

Our monthly trip to Bedfordshire saw me finish "page three" of the 2015 Good Beer Guide, and was easier than most Beds days, due mainly to the key place, Dunstable, having four pubs to tick off.

The journey down went smoothly, the 06:01 to London Kings Cross (you can't say I'm not committed), a St Pancras train to Luton and connecting bus along a new modern Busway into Dunstable, which seemed a decent little town, friendlier than Luton anyway!

652 - Gary Cooper, Dunstable - Being in Dunstable as early as 9:30am meant I was praising Wetherspoons, because where else on earth would you be able to order a pint at this time of day without anyone batting an eyelid?  In fact, the friendly staff were fighting over me which is a bit of a novelty for 'Spoons pubs, so it must have been quiet!  There was a nice selection of local brews on, I went for a nice mild called Black Stallion (being both May and very early meant it made sense) and spent the next 1.5 hours nursing it.  Gary Cooper was a famous Hollywood star who went to school here, and I sat near an impressive statue of him, as a cowboy, near the stairs up to the loo.  Even by 'Spoons standards, this place had a very modern feel, a little bit sterile in truth but you could see the excellent purpose that it serves.  Things started to warm a bit as the breakfasts started coming out of the kitchen at a rate of knots, a strange man started talking to himself on the stairs, and a barman smashed an entire tray, cups of tea and broken crockery went flying everywhere.  He declared "I haven't dropped anything since the year 2000!.  Quite a feat if true, but it was time to move on.

Gary Cooper - yeehaaah, early morning Spoons fun in Dunstable
653 - Pheasant, Dunstable - It was still a grey morning though at least it had stopped drizzling by the time I reached the Pheasant just after it's 11am opening time.  A theme of today was above average bar staff and a friendly barmaid broke off some strategic meeting with the landlord to serve me a beer by the localish Tring Dockey, a brewery that the jury's still out on for me.  It was nice to be in a proper old fashioned pub after the modern sparkle of the Wetherspoons, I sat in the corner and relaxed properly for the first time today, with some decent 80's hits from Billy Joel, the Bangles and Kate Bush emanating from the jukebox.  The few clientele who came in all had tattoos, like the barmaid, and I felt almost left out!  One chap didn't have any cash, the card limit was £10 so he ordered 3 pints of Strongbow to get him above the limit (like you do), and ploughed through them at the bar.  Most people sat up at the bar, but there wasn't much chat or community feel going on, probably a bit too early for that type of behaviour.  Nice pub.

On the west side of Dunstable at the Pheas.
I'd got a bit too entranced by a newspaper article on Billy Whitehurst so time had ticked on, and though a bus was stopping opposite in ten minutes, I decided the 1.5 mile walk to Totternhoe would probably do me good.  And a pleasant walk it was too, past the Dunstable Cricket Club who had a game on, and it became quite rural quite quickly.

654 - Old Farm Inn, Totternhoe - I had to get at least one village tick in (it wouldn't be a Bedfordshire BRAPA day otherwise) and despite the obvious Fullers tie, this was a real pub of the day contender.  This pub had a very different feel from the previous town efforts of Dunstable, a more lazy relaxed country atmosphere.  The back half of the pub was very much geared up for a food area called the 'Ploughmans' but this was kept so separate, it was not a problem (for once!), in fact you had to pretend you were off to the ladies loos to get to this bit.  All this left the front bar very much for drinkers, and what's more, with a gorgeous new Fullers ale called 'Wild River', I almost felt like an 18th century farmer finishing my shift in the fields out the back.  A docile pub dog completed the scene, whilst the staff seemed to run a very professionally, tight knit operation,  A few 'foody families' spoilt the calm momentarily, asking about playgrounds and juice for kids etc whilst a less docile dog sparked off a barking match with the pub one.  It all added to the experience.

Old Farm Inn - very much worth the short walk from Dunstable
655 - Victoria, Dunstable - I was still back in town for 2pm on what was fast becoming the most productive BRAPA day of 2015, shades of my Chester day a year ago this weekend.  But what was all this cracking off at the Victoria?  A busy, bustling hubbub, a real community style pub I hadn't been expecting and was a culture shock after the recent calm of Totternhoe.  Initially intimidated, I soon realised this was the friendliest pub of the day as a pretty young barmaid presided over a gaggle of old local men, most of which said 'hi' or at least acknowledged me as I took my pint of the local house beer back to a raised table in the corner.  This ale was again brewed by Tring, again I found it drinkable but not spectacular, and I spent ages "creating" it on Untappd, which gives an indication of how young, modern or trendy this pub is (i.e. not at all!)  Yet as I sat there, I felt this is how all pubs should be in terms of atmosphere and local camaraderie.  Well done Victoria!

Traditional pint of the house beer in a proper pub - I present ...the Victoria! 
656 - Globe, Dunstable - So the mini landmark of completing page three was achieved here, on the way back to the busses circling the giant Asda, and the Globe is probably the pub I'd expect most locals to see as the 'top real ale pub in the town'.  There was a very impressive beer range (I went for an admittedly strong Marmadale Cat from Norwich which I'm glad to say did taste of marmalade!).  There was also something about the bare boarded, deep but narrow pub layout, friendly staff and mixed assortment of regulars that reminded me of so many pubs I've been in before, I'm thinking in towns like Bath, Chester, Norwich, even my own York, where get a sense you've stumbled on a proper pub, yet a real serious drinkers institution.  If Hull City played Dunstable FC in the 1st qualifying round of the FA Cup in 2023, Ben Andrew would drag us here to find the SS (Southern Supporters) having already commandeered it.  As I was hungry, I sat far back in the pub (not being anti social) and ate some secret scotch eggs, before I realised eating your own food was acceptable in here anyway.  As so often is the case, a little yappy terrier dog ran up to me and when the owners told it up, I had to 'fess up that my scotch eggs were the root cause of this excitable pup's behaviour!

I hope it was the Globe I was in, I didn't actually see any evidence of it! 
I was remarkably sober and feeling fresh as I left Dunstable, and after a quick toilet stop / sight seeing tour in Luton where I briefly contemplated more pub ticks, I hopped on the next train back to St Pancras.  However, it was so early, I'd have been a fool not to make the most of my open ticket!

657 - Cross Keys, Harpenden - My first Hertfordshire "tick" since a distant Watford away game found me in the quaint but obvious commuter town of Harpdenden, where I took a stroll in the sun past many independent shops, some cobbled streets and a war memorial to this pub with quite a creaking ancient feel.  Flagstone floors and creaking beams were added to by an incredibly drunk duo at the bar, where the female (drunk Jo Brand) engaged me in chat, but I deemed her too pissed to explain the intricacies of BRAPA to!  Her male counterpart was more 'colourful character' than a drunkard.  It all added to my own surprising feeling of sobriety.  I retired to the more peaceful side room where a moody man was trying to read his newspaper without being disturbed.  I tried to be quiet as a mouse but still got an occasional scowl. I was disappointed by my ale, a Rebellion IPA which wasn't IPA in any way as far as I could ascertain.  Not pale, not strong, no fresh crisp hoppy taste.  A few visitors/tourists popped in to enquire on food and toilet usage, and that was that.

A rare Hertfordshire tick for me - the first since BRAPA became official.
Back on the train, I briefly flirted with a St Albans idea before deciding this founding CAMRA town deserves it's own uninterrupted BRAPA day some time soon.  Instead, I stayed a stop further on from St Pancas to Farringdon.

658 - Argyle, Hatton Garden - And close to Farringdon, I achieved my third and final tick in Hatton Garden, though this pub was not a patch on the Olde Mitre, never mind the wonderful Craft.  It hadn't started well as my GBG App had the pushpin in totally the wrong place, so I was wandering around in a suspicious manner with the recent Hatton Garden heist still fresh in the onlookers minds.  Oh dear.  I soon found my venue, quite a modern soulless feel and it felt like the day had come full circle as two eager young barstaff had to fight over who would serve me, such was their boredom at the lack of custom.  Poor things.  The ale range was boring, Hobgoblin Gold the most exciting of the three but I have to say, I love this ale and the quality was superb, a contender for pint of the day.  Some loud American tourists and a group of Japanese girls didn't help give this already modern building a good pubbub, and I resorted to looking for the darkest most hidden away nook n cranny in the place, in the end opting for a raised wooden style area.  I managed to remain undisturbed and found my eyes finally closing, so I brought myself round with a glass of lemonade and headed back to Kings Cross, for food supplies before the 19:11 back to York.

Argyle - almost as bland as this photo suggests.  Great beer though.
Having successfully avoided Phil Brown, I was surprised to find the 19:11 a dry service though I'd had enough, but not enough to stop me watching Eurovision on iPlayer, which I continued when I got back to York.  

Definitely one of the most successful and easy BRAPA days so far this year.  Though I didn't start singing "don't wanna go home, don't wanna go ho-o-ome, this is the best trip, I've ever been on".


Sunday 17 May 2015

BRAPA - Tottenham away day

Pub of the day - London Fields Brewery Tap Room (man on the left loved being in the photo!)
With Hull City's relegation looking more and more likely by the match, much of our pre-match planning centred around how to make the most of this day, BRAPA-wise.  The Tottenham area is a total real ale desert, but the Liverpool Street-White Hart Lane line offered up many options.

Firstly though, we needed a pre-11am opener.  And it wasn't even a Wetherspoons!

647.  Wilmington, Finsbury - My preconceptions meant I'd been expecting one of those busy, sticky free-for-all style commuter boozers but nothing could have been further from the truth as me and Dad made our way from Farringdon tube the 0.5 miles to a very clean, well to do area of the city.  At 10:15am, we were pretty much the first customers and despite the obvious feel  of refurbishment, it kept a comfy, homely feel with exposed brickwork.  The beer range was also good, though my Sambrooks was predictably London tasting like it had just come up from a well underground.  It was a grower and Greene King did an ale for the pub, plus these were handled glasses even Dad could enjoy - not dimpled but straight and he'd have stolen one given the chance.  The blackboard made you remember this wasn't just a beer drinkers pub, with lots of wines and food choices listed, plus the boast "best Bloody Mary's in town!" Some Geordie chaps shuffled in and sat right next to us despite having a whole huge building to aim at.  I chatted to them, they were surprisingly civilised though Dad had already made up his mind, he was off to the loo and already putting his jacket on.

Arriving in leafy Finsbury for a surprisingly good pub experience.

648.  Woodin Shades, Liverpool Street - The "busy, sticky free-for-all style commuter boozer" I'd been anticipating a pub ago was more suited to this place, just across the road from Liverpool Street station.  With both Tom Irvin and Dan Midwood telling me they'd been before, it was one of those "Si, how can you have never visited?" places.  It was an 11am opener, we arrived ten past but it was already heaving, with only about two tables left.  Still, for a Nicholson's house, it was quite small and narrow but had that usual dark wood feel.  Staff were friendly and the beers were very "Yorkshire" with things like Ilkley and Daleside, I thought I'd found something local and unusual but it was a Black Sheep collaboration.  And £4,30 a pint was ridiculous!  Tom was soon on the scene, and we presented him with a pack of biscuits he'd been promised for a while.  We'd got a decent seat right at the back of the pub, but even so, I felt a but crowded and was glad when we moved on.

Where's Si?  I am on the right of the pub with my arms folded.
649. Dove Free House & Kitchen, London Fields - London Fields felt as 'bohemian' as you could get outside Camden, with a busy street market and pretty green area (London Fields?) making for an interesting but frustrating walk to our next "pub".  I use inverted commas because it felt very much like a cross between a Brown Cafe in Amsterdam mixed with one of the modern bars we visited in Barcelona last year.  Dad and Tom had already gone in a colourful little cafe next door by mistake.  Luckily, the Dove had a calmer atmosphere.  Barman with an element of Danny Rose struggled to get our pints of Saxon out, but he assured us it was absolutely fine.  He also said the Blackcurrant had run out, but before Tom was forced to suffer Lime, his mistake was realised.  We found a "very dark" downstairs area which wasn't ideal for my End of the Premier League Picture Quiz.  The loos were unisex, which I don't think I'll ever get used to!  Early sulphur tones on our ale cleared by half way down, but returned with ferocity late on for easily, the worst pint of the day.  Unimpressed.

Busy market street Euro cafe fun/despair at the Dove

650.  London Fields Brewery Tap Room, London Fields - Another modern style drinking place, but much more like it and a nice way to achieve the mini-landmark of 650 pubs.   Pretty much under a railway arch, the right hand side of the pub was full of tourists starting a guided tour of the brewery (and possibly surrounding area), but we found plenty of room on the other side.  The London Fields beers were done in both cask and keg form, but as Tom pointed out, many of the casks were turned round thus dampening Dad's over enthusiastic clams for a "pub of the season" contender.  The staff were a jolly bunch too, but charging 60p more for keg products than cask seemed bizarre to a man such as me.  The description on the menu of cask v keg even made cask sound much superior.  It was Tom's turn to do a quiz as I settled down with a lovely pint of the red ale "Love not War" and had an inspired/lucky spell in answering the q's correctly.  3p for three Tesco items of food?  Only Tom could do that.  More unisex loos followed, and our 'peace' was shattered by a group of men dressed as Robin Hood about to start a tour.  It was time to get on the tube to White Hart Lane.  Pub of the day.

A pint of "Love not War", hopbines, and a general scene at the LFBTR.

651.  Sebright Arms, Cambridge Heath - Glossing over the football match, we had time for a post-match pint back along the same train line (it could've been more if Dad hadn't booked us as early as 7pm but we won't blame him too much).  Cambridge Heath seemed to not be able to make up it's mind whether it was scuzzy down & out London or ironic shabby chic youth paradise.  The pub looked pretty plain, and Dad summarised it felt very much like so many post-match London pubs we've been in of late.  Elaborate, over priced food menus everywhere, one room fairly soulless, good beer range but slightly disappointing due to Southern taste.  Well, he had a point but wasn't completely right as it has two rooms and he's being harsh on the ale.  I loved my Hop Stuff Pale and enjoy most of these new London microbreweries.  The barmaid, foreign anyway, had a mouth full of a vegan pie which she then pointed out to us on the menu, I wondered if it was an OTT attempt at advertising their food menu?  Time had ticked on so we had to drink quickly and couldn't really savour the pub and get a feel for it,  The strangest thing though, they had a lunch menu though the pub doesn't open until 5pm - how bizarre! 

Time for a quick post-match pint in Cambridge Heath.
The journey back was okay, not too comfy due to a large Geordie presence, but overall, a great day out and I've now done 15 pubs for the month with plenty still to come.  Alas, I'll be cancelling WY BRAPA Tuesday again due having to do 9-5.  I expect that to resume on 26th.  Next Saturday sees our monthly trip to Bedfordshire, it is Dunstable this time in an attempt to finish "page 3" of the GBG. 


Wednesday 13 May 2015

BRAPA : the archives (211-221)

Welcome back for some more delicious ale and pub reminisces from pubs I visited back in those pre-BRAPA days, which I'm delighted (and in some cases surprised) to report are still in the Good Beer Guide circa 2015.

211 - Gatehouse Tavern, Coventry - I'll take the blame for this one.  In a shameful period of Welly gang history where me and Ben vied for position of "main away day organiser", I finally got my own way after a long tough season and brought us here on 12th March 2011 which proved a very damp squib.  The staff were chavvy and lame, the TV's were showing no end of nonsense, the pub itself was one room but pretty uncomfy and uninspiring (no wonder an Ikea has "town-planned" Coventry of late in a way that the Germans had done in the war) and I started to think the fact it was a rare 11am opener for Cov was about all it did have going for it.  As the gang arrived, I choked on a bacon sarnie and Dad was in a weird mood all day, only adding to the depressive atmosphere, and only a brilliant long ranger from Aaron "better than Sone Aluko" McLean gave us something to cheer.  I have a vague recollection of being in here again at some point, but surely not!

212 - Old Windmill, Coventry - The area known as Spon Street is the most historic part of Coventry and this lovely looking sunken Tudor beamed pub must be a highlight, well, from the outside anyway.  I'd been here briefly on 12th March 2011 where Dad and I were annoyed at kids running amok before 11am, but it was before we met Dad's friend on 10th December 2011 that I remember having a proper drink even though the temperature was ridiculously cold.  They put a fire in but the hearth was the size of a walnut and everyone was trying to gather around it.  The only other thing I remember is getting an anti-drink driving beermat with a woman on who looked like Nick Barmby.  The pub has a lovely old low ceilinged creaky feel, it is obviously ancient, but it hasn't quite hit the mark on our early Saturday visits.

213 - Town Wall Tavern, Coventry - I'd probably class this as my definitive Coventry pub, and would certainly be a contender if I went back.  Both Dad's friend Paul Brooksbank and my old Uni Cov friend Karl Cremin both have declared it their favourite pub in the town/city, they can't both be wrong can they?  Our first visit was probably 24/9/05 when a combination of John Welsh and Chris Brown hilariously put Cov to the sword, the first team to beat them at the Ricoh.  I'll never forget two men in front of us pre-match admiring the ground and saying "wow, there must be about 100,000 people in".  They weren't joking.  But I digress, this pub had some nice old Titanic memorabilia and when a strange clock chimed every quarter, you almost felt you were on the ship itself.  Dad then made a schoolboy error asking about the local M&B brewery which is like John Smith's is in Yorkshire.  I think we ate too that day, a very cosy lounge style experience.  Although we tried to branch out to other GBG pubs on subsequent visits, we always found we could do no better and it culminated in meeting Dad's friend Paul here 10th Dec 2011 for a cosy little pre-match session.  Again, I'd say the range of beers could be more spectacular but you can't have it all.  First, we found Mark Bainton perched against the wooden beams like a tipsy Jesus.  Then Paul arrived and it was all uphill from there.  Corry Evans (very much the John Welsh of his day) got the winner, so a lucky pub too.  A pub you shouldn't miss if you are in Cov.

214 - Whitefriars Olde Ale House, Coventry - It said early opening.  So when Dad and me hung around for half an hour outside on what was probably 3/3/07 at 11am, our first away day of the season, I was expecting big things of this pub apparently dating from 1385 or something ridiculously unlikely.  A food board was put outside.  The staff scurried in and locked the door again.  We lost patience and left for somewhere else, Beer Engine I think.  A few months later, in pouring post-match rain before a replacement bus service to New St Station, we finally got our chance.  18/8/07 and the thing that most struck us, the landlord was a complete weirdo.  I guess he tried to be nice n friendly in an over-bearing eccentric way, but his homo-erotic relationship with the chef was just plain creepy.  We ordered bacon & egg sarnies just before large groups of couples decided to push in, and he asked if we wanted our eggs cracked or something elsed.  It was a weird question we didn't know how to answer anyway.  Food was decent, ales were superb, pub felt more like a new building than 1385 despite the lovely outside.  I think I'd give it the benefit of the doubt, just.

215 - Vine, West Bromwich - 5th August 2006 and the season dawned bright and sunny, well cold and dark in a multi-story carpark in West Bromwich to face newly relegated West Brom.  After a meander past the "adult shop" and a cosmopolitan market place, we reached this delightfully typical old West Midlands pub, which is one of the most "tardis-esque" I've ever seen.  It looks tiny, yet it was long and thin and went back miles.  It took a while to warm up at 11am with a fairly dark & gloomy feel, a few jowly old men looked suspiciously at my tigers top, and the local ales from breweries like Holdens and Bathams were okay if not earth shattering.  Not sure when the change happened but by 2 o clock, we were happily chatting to families of Baggies and to this day, I declare them the friendliest of all Midlands fans.  We stuck with the winning formula a year later 23rd Feb 2008 and repeated the same routine almost to the letter, I preferred the beers on this occasion.  Except we had a stunning win that day so it's not even an unlucky pub.  I'm sure when me and Dad were enjoying our miserable Black Eagle Tim Taylor Landlord the following season, we were both dreaming of the Vine.

216 - Great Western, Wolverhampton - 13th August 2005 and the Welly gang with Chris Irvin at the helm really came up trumps by suggesting this pub as we started life in the scary Championship playing huge clubs like Wolves and Crystal Palace in our early season fixtures.  After a meander around the historic old railway station, we were in for 11am opening but it was already filling up.  It didn't matter, it was clear we were somewhere special.  Great selection of Locales at the bar served by friendly mainly young female staff (again, things like Holden and Bathams popped up a lot), we put in an early food order and to my shock, it arrived back at the table before I did - it was a hot pork sandwich, I was gobsmacked.  We got a bit squashed in, such was the popularity and Dad who gets a bit of agoraphobia in these situations "went for a walk", we got talking to a friendly Wolves fan (yes, they do exist) it had been a truly awesome pre-match.  No surprise then, we were back here Easter Monday 2007.  We arrived late due to transport problems, but this time it didn't quite live up to the magic of the first visit.  Chris Irvin and co had relocated our Wolves friend, who was now introducing us to other fans and told me "our clubs have an affinity due to similar colours!"  I didn't argue, though I'm not convinced, there were extra Bathams ales on a side bar.  Problem was, it was a hot day and we'd moved to the modern/more spacious but less good conservatory area and we were roasting.  Dad again, needed some air.  This experience put us off a bit and we didn't return until 29th August 2009 where we finally got a point, I controversially pocketed my hot pork roll for later to the consternation of the staff, this was again just a bit too busy and the later arriving Welly gang were not impressed with our seat choice.  It was a return to form and our recent visit 16th April 2013 was great because it was an evening game so there was a lazier more relaxed atmosphere, almost as many weird Hull City fans with headphones and papers trying to look casual but again I resisted the conservatory in favour of a more traditional corner.  This experience was back to the glory of our first visit here.  Problem is, with 1 point from 4 games, it is not a lucky pub!

217 - Combermere Arms / Newhampton, Wolverhampton - But this pub is, problem is I can't remember it's name!  One of the two but in true Elsecar style, I'll need a return trip to Wolves (next season?) to solve this mystery.  Whatever, me and Dad arrived here by car Tuesday 18th September 2007, positioned ourselves between ground and pub, and walked down a long back street to arrive at quite a wide pub with a long bar, but quite shallow.  We were greeted by a friendly landlady and a pleasing selection of ales and in true West Brom style, it soon busied up into a heaving prematch venue out of nowhere where we got talking to a family.  Dad couldn't understand the daughter's strong accent so I spent most of the time interpreting.  She cottoned on we were Hull fans, tried to tell her Mum on the sly, who was oblivious - so I leaned in and said "rubbish parents eh?" and she seemed panicked I'd blown her cover.  From that moment on, we were always going to be victorious and despite Craig Fagan sitting near us, one of the best displays of individual brilliance from Jay Jay Okocha I have ever witnessed saw us win 1-0.  A lucky pub, shame I can't remember it's name.  Newhampton is the one I'm edging towards.

218 - Glue Pot, Swindon - It was the summer of 2006 and my band of the moment were The Briggs, American Street Punk - I couldn't get enough of them.  They were touring, I almost wet myself when I found that out, and playing in Hull but rather amusingly, I found it logistically more sound to see them in Swindon!  So on 7th July 2006, I had checked in at a dodgy B&B, skipped across town, had a few pints elsewhere, found the obscure maritime themed gig venue "The Furnace", enjoyed the Briggs, and wanted a last orders BRAPA tick (although it was 8 years before I officially started) so went to the town's best thought of pub, the Glue Pot down a warren of streets in the old railway village.  It was a quaint location and a relatively busy one roomer with a nice light hubbub for 10:30pm on a week night.  I settled down with a Hopback Crop Circle / Summer Lightning and just wound down really from the gig, trying to drink in the atmosphere and observe what was going on around me.  Nothing of note happened, it was all very pleasant and civilised.  Boring you might say, I wouldn't, very nice pub would be nice to come here if they win the play off final.

219 - Wheatsheaf, Swindon - We arrived in Swindon on a very grey sleety 20th November 2004 for my, so far, only football experience here and having used my new 2004 GBG, we headed for this pub and found a nice bare boarded main bar area where a nice down-to-earth barman sold us beers mainly from the local Wadworth brewer.  It all got confusing cos they had names like 2B, 3X etc and we heard the local's before asking for a "2" or a "3" so before long, I was asking for 2 2's or 2 3's but it seemed to work.  This pub wins my all time award for most "human dog" in a pub experience.  After it's owner scattered pork scratchings across the bar floor, it grabbed a few, went to a table by the window, rested it's paw on it's head like a human elbow, and glumly chewed away watching the snow now falling outside, occasionally rousing itself to great one of the many locals who entered.  I was back here before my 2006 Briggs gig and the bar area seemed to have turned round, or at least been refurbished, it was very confusing.  Some locals chatted to me as I watched the only T20 cricket game i've ever found gripping, I think it was Lancashire beating my team Somerset.  Do they ever win?

220 - Cardinal's Hat, Worcester - When my Hereford mini-break circa 2007 had failed to live up to expectation, I spent day two in Worcester, a much more enjoyable city and this was my first pub after a spot of sightseeing.  It wasn't a GBG pub, a GBG suggestion, or even somewhere I thought I could get real ale so why would I visit you might ask?  Well, I'd read a great ghost story I can't now remember in a "Haunted Inns" book I'd been bought for my birthday, photocopied it and brought it here to see if I could "sense anything".  All I really sensed was a long thin corridor, creaking woodwork and an Austrian theme with lots of continental beers (lagers) home-brewed, in ridiculously shaped glasses served by buxom Bierkeller style barmaids, who seemed genuinely Austrian!  I sat in a back room and the chattier of two young men started talking to me (he actually asked if my purple Gogol Bordello top made me gay!), well I couldn't escape and the quieter one looked like he similarly was trapped so we had a drink, went to a GBG pub next door for more ale, then I made hasty excuses and left them, not before I'd told them the ghost story and why I'd been there!  To read it is now a real ale and real cider pub is both frustrating and intriguing in equal measures.

221 - Dragon Inn, Worcester - And this was where I escaped to on that fateful day, away from annoying weird man and his quiet, hen pecked friend he'd seemingly only recently met - a very weird set up.  So to find myself in a quiet, sloping floored, lounge style pub with an emphasis on beers from Yorkshire was so relaxing and relieving, I nearly fell asleep at my table.  Therefore, I have not much to say apart from everytime the door opened (so about twice during my time there), I was worried it was that weird chap!  I watched some antiques programme on TV, fitting as they had a bit of bric-a-brac around themselves, before getting the old train back to Hereford where it was pint, pizza and early night (I think Tony Blair might've resigned that night) before the train back to York - I was very pleased, not the best trip I've ever been on!

Next time, we'll have a Welsh special - betcha can't wait!  And I promise I will be back on the real BRAPA trail soon after this 'birthday' break, starting in London on Saturday.


Monday 11 May 2015

BRAPA : the archives (201-210)

 I was supposed to be going to Rotherham on a BRAPA pub-ticking expedition today.  It seems pointless now as we will probably be playing them next season, so here's some more treasures from my pub archives ......

201 - Museum Vaults, Sunderland - The good John Watson had whetted my appetite for this proper old skool Sunderland institution (though it's history is vague) by sending me a heart-warming Youtube clip following a day in the life of this pub, interviewing staff, regulars, visitors etc. on pub life & culture.  It left me with a happy glow, which was fitting as a recent fire had left the pub closed for most of the week in the run up to our visit, and it still had a sooty smell, the whole place looking a bit sorry for itself.   It was very cold on entering, despite the morning sun, and never felt like a place we could settle in for the duration (never mind, the Kings Arms was calling).  And in a way, seeing staff I recognised almost as 'friends' from the Youtube clip just being functional and distant was a little bit dispiriting!  There was no disputing the beer quality (the range a bit more limited than both Kings and Isis), my Maxim and Consett ales however superb.  The fire was lit (a bit too late for us), Tom had a rant about Tyne and Wear not existing (he was right), and it was time to move.  I'd love to come here on an evening.  John describes this as an 'unlucky' pub but considering Sunderland's home form over the last 2 or 3 years, it'd be like me saying every Hull pub was unlucky - heck, maybe they are!  Whalebone certainly is (now),  8th Feb 2014 was the date.

A white hot fire enjoyed with a pint of White Hot by Consett
202 - William Jameson, Sunderland - This is it!  The definitive answer to the oft asked question "so what was the first Good Beer Guide pub you visited?"  A Wetherspoons in Sunderland!
It was late September/early October 1997 and part of the 'Freshers Kit' were a book of vouchers.  Me and my Panns Bank flatmates soon worked out that by far and away the best offer was a 'spicy chicken or bean burger & pint" for something ridiculous like £2.50.  So as we settled in to Uni life before our courses proper started, I often found myself coming in here with some combination of Jane Taylor, Philip Lister, Matthew Hurcum, Ieuan Griffiths and Krister Holland.  What legendary names of the past!  The best thing was, the number of vouchers was huge and Jane being Jane, she kept blagging more from 'people she knew'.  Let's just say, the staff mood went from happy & welcoming on our first visit to thoroughly despising us by about visit 15, with a stern warning they regretted the entire voucher scheme and wanted to pull the plug.  We didn't push our luck after that so I probably haven't been in this pub for about 18 years now!  It had only been open 4 or 5 months on my visit, and it felt clean and what I now recognise to be distinctively Wetherspoons, but it wasn't til my Penny Black (Northwich) visit in late 2001 that I was properly aware of the chain.

203 - Post Office Vaults, Birmingham - Pubs that have done me more of a favour than I've ever done them are in short supply, so this strange little underground place close to New St station deserves a lot of praise.  My experiences here started post match on Valentine's Day 2012 on a midweek night after a bore draw at St Andrews.  Sure, it's a "modern day drinking space" (annoying phrase) rather than a pub but it had a great range of ales, friendly quirky staff and locals.  Dad tells me later he really didn't enjoy this pub, which surprises me.  The stand out moment was we (which I think also included Mark Bainton and Chris Douglas) got talking to a rather obnoxious man, it was hard work until he revealed he was "dying" and he became nice after that!  Very weird.  A year or so later, it was early morning in Birmingham before we made our way to WBA. Villa or somewhere and I needed a poo to the extent I had serious stomach cramps.  We happened upon this pub and although Dad refused to go in for a drink, the kindly staff and locals let me obliterate their toilet without any fuss, they were even nice.  I maybe should've said "give it 10 minutes!"  Most recently, end of August 2014, we were here at the very end of a long BRAPA/cultural day in Brum (Villa had been moved to the Sunday, tickets had already been purchased) and a cancelled train meant we popped in here.  It was a pint too many (a gorgeous pale Salopian Oracle) and I left my bag.  We rang them on the train, landlord was really good, and a few weeks later, just when I was losing hope, they returned it via Hop Studio brewery, close to us.  Phew!  Yes, pub deserves a lot of praise indeed.

I was going to do a Laurent Blanc/Frank LeBeouf with Mark, but changed my mind (POV 14/2/12)

204 - Shakespeare, Birmingham - 17th November 2012 and me and Dad found ourselves in that all too familiar situation of walking around a freezing City centre waiting for our designated pub to open before 11am having booked a ridiculously early train.  This was not a GBG pub when we visited, I was just happy to see an open door at this ungodly hour, and a sign saying "Nicholson's" suggested that whilst we may not be entering any life changing pub, we would find some real ale.  And that was as good as it got - the pub was very busy (possibly due to the sub zero temperatures) and after a gang of loud men had stood in everyone's way, a hen-do came in and Dad's face was a picture,  We always joke that I can judge a pub's success based on how long it takes Dad's coat to come off.  In here, it didn't.  After a miserable half of Nicholson's Pale, we scarpered before the hen's got the feather boas out (not a deliberate euphemism).

205 - Wellington, Birmingham - You know when you feel you've been overly harsh on a pub over the years and then don't want to admit it?  Well, if so, the pub in question might well be this drinkers paradise.  A lot of my early skeptism is due to the Welly (Hull) gang being a bit too over-admiring of it.  I'd been told ad nauseam about this incredible real ale cornucopia (you know from previous archive editions, what I call "Chris Irvin Syndrome" but I'll blame the likes of Ben & Mark in this case).  It took me ages to make my first visit, suspense had been building and I somehow couldn't find it stopping off in Brum on the way back from my ill-fated 2007 Hereford holiday.  I finally got the chance post-match WBA away when we'd won 3-0 and were momentarily joint top of the Premier league (ah, them were the days!) on 25th October 2008 and I wasn't impressed.  Firstly, they have so many beers on, you have to order by number causing a very sterile relationship with already miserable staff (it ain't a chinese restaurant for godssake!)  Secondly, we had to sit in a dusty corner near some old barrels/women.  Thirdly, the beer was warm and flat.  And finally, some WBA fans came over to "congratulate us" but told me we were lucky to win (3-0 away?  Are you 'avin a laff?)  HOWEVER, my visits since on 17th November 2012 and 30th August 2014 were very good.  On the former, we were technically drinking in Old Joint Stock which has a great inside but a boring beer range.  So we bought beers in the heaving Wellington, used an alleyway in the courtyard to go back to OJS (careful with spillage) and drank them in there.  Best of both worlds!  (N.B. see Tom's update below).

206 - Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham - In what I'd call the "Peaky Blinders" area of Birmingham, in the Irish quarter in the run up to St Andrews, I first fell in love with this amazing old multi-roomed heritage pub on 9th September 2006.  By gum, there are some great old pubs in the West Midlands in terms of architecture of old. and this is a prime example.  I don't remember the details that day.  We didn't play Brum for a bit but on the next occasion, 17th April 2010 we'd persuaded the Welly gang to join us.  Before they arrived, a strange moment where an old man who'd been annoying Dad by talking too much suddenly fell asleep, what a godsend!  As Ben crashed his way through the door, this was our excuse to tiptoe out of that room and we found a hidden side room which we took over.  I mean, we all had our Hull City tops on and we basically didn't let anyone else in.  It was one of the top pre-match experience, and it rightly won away pub of the season.  The same couldn't be said for it on our third and final visit, Valentine's Day 2012 where we met a few Welly gang stragglers having checked in to our Premier Inn for the night.  They had a "Valetine's beer fest" on so the blackboard was even more chock-a-block with ales than usual - problem was, they were all rubbish with stupid names like "Cupid's Love Muscle" and even ruder, not nice when you are being served by a 6 foot 5 serious Brummie-Irish skinhead!  Also, the atmos wasn't buzzing like the previous two times.  A real shame.

207 - Sacks of Potatoes, Gosta Green, Birmingham - On the recommendation of a former Birmingham Uni student (thanks Adam Knowles if you are out there!), this really was in the heart of studentsville on the walk back from St Andrews on 17th Nov 2012 where we had loads of time to kill before the train.  We decided on a spot of dinner in here, and I was pleased to see a great selection of local ales I'd not normally get to try.  The pub was split level and I think Grant Holt was terrorising Man Utd in one of those "plucky soon to get relegated Premier team deserves to beat a top team but loses heroically" kind of matches.  There was an awkward moment as Dad (deaf at the best of times) struggled to get the food order across to a Brum student who mumbled and made no eye contact.  However, staff were generally good, my burger was amazing, as was the ale, and what a shame we had to venture back out into the scary outer Birmingham darkness for our train home. 

208 - Black Eagle, Hockley, Birmingham - 'Twas the sunny hopeful morning of 25th October 2008 and the Welly gang's West Bromwich Albion correspondent, the friendly Aiden, walked us to one of his favourite pre-match outlets, the Black Eagle.  This pub I'd heard about for some time previous,  so it is conceivable that Chris Irvin had been a fan of it too, though this was the first time me and Dad had linked up with the Welly gang for a WBA trip.    It looked a bit of a shambles as we approached from the outside, but never judge a book by it's cover I learnt in Torquay in about 1999 in the pre-ale days.  However, on this occasion, we were right to heed the warning.  Tim Taylor Landlord was the only beer not turned round or gone off as we arrived, the pub was busy and staff didn't seem to be able to cope with the demand, we squashed into a little table near the bar and suddenly the Naviagtion in Blackburn we'd visited that August didn't seems so bad as Dad returned fuming, having had some bad experience / misunderstanding with Aiden / a barmaid in ordering his ale.  I'll have to ask him if he remembers the details but let's just say, I guess we caught it on an off day otherwise how the heck is it still in the Guide? N.B. See Tom's comments below.

209 - Lord Clifden, Hockley, Birmingham - In excruciating pain from a Root Canal, Dad and I made up our minds to come here pre-West Brom on 21/12/13, making it one of my later pub ticks before BRAPA became a seedling in my brain.  Our early drinking days pre-WBA had seen us go to the Vine (which will be pub 215) and this had the same long, thin, old world feel, but in this case with rooms off to the side.  The kindly staff seemed to be looking on me and Dad sympathetically as we drank our early pints of Church End, Elland and Wye Valley.  It soon became clear as it was THAT time of year and a group of students in Christmas jumpers arrived to spoil our solitude.  Dad, always one for "making things happen" moved us to the ornate smaller front bar where one old man was watching Gillette Soccer Saturday.  Guess what?  The Christmas jumper gang doubled in size and followed us in!  So we moved back again, the staff were chuckling along with us by now and they showed their hard working ethos by getting a new Rudgate Christmas ale on which was the pick of the bunch.  People were "dining" by now and tables were full of old food plates but it beat Christmas jumper wankers.  All in all, an excellent pub, I'd go again, just not pre-Christmas.  Oh, and it cured my toothache for a day at least.  

A pint of HPA on a table fitting for the Jewellery Quarter area

210 - Barton's Arms, Newtown, Birmingham - When people ask me what my favourite pub in the GBG is (another commonly asked BRAPA question), I often say this one though technically, I visited long before BRAPA on 4th May 2009 (if only we'd been aware of it on the so-called "Thriller at the Villa" all those years previous where the bouncers on the pub we did go to pretended Dad was the landlord to stop too many fans coming in!)  I digress.  It was a balmy Monday night and with not too many pub options in this part of the world, this place stood out like a beacon over the desolate wasteland.  Dad and me sat down to a great pre-match session, it's such a beautiful building, ornate tiling and such a heritage gem I almost have tears in my eyes wishing i was there (ok, maybe I'm getting carried away).  This was the one time we got to sit in the little booth under the stairs which I love.  It was also my first introduction to Oakham ales which has become my favourite brewery in the intervening six years.  Our second trip on 5th December 2009 (such a relief when it finally opened) was a chance to show Ben how good it was, shockingly he wasn't a fan!  I cannot believe it, maybe he has changed his mind since.  This time, we sat more in the front bar and staff kept popping out of little hatches to pass beer along so we didn't have to walk around the vast circular bar.  Nice touch.  Some talk in the media of this pub being smashed in during the "London riots" (when they spread to Brum) had me fuming like a smoke bomb and this pub was out of action for a while.     3rd May 2014 brought our next trip, a total no brainer anyway for our pre match pub but it also had a beer festival on.  Bumping into an old school friend's brother now with  Welsh accent was bizarre, but more bizarre is why this pub even needs to have a beer festival?  And finally, 30th August 2014 me and Dad caught a taxi here after we met up in the afternoon.  It was calming with no football on, an Arbor brewery "takeover" was going on, and we tried amazing beers from each brewery.  This experience is particular was as close to utopia as it gets,  What a pub!  If we get relegated, any tears will be for not coming here next season.  Bruce out, Allam out.   

The wonderful, amazing Barton's Arms near Villa Park
So there we go, plenty more pubs to follow with more from the West Midlands before moving into Wiltshire and Worcestershire.

See you soon, Si


Tuesday 5 May 2015

BRAPA : City of Hull 2-4 Greater Manchester

The title might read like a football result from the last day of the season (some of you may argue two goals for Hull City is optimistic), but it reflects my BRAPA ticks so far in this, my birthday week of almost unlimited, unadulterated pub joy.

It all began in Hull on a sunny bank holiday afternoon as Dad helpfully drove us out to Newlands Ave, where we began our drinking at a pub he'd already dampened my expectations on.....

641 - Larkin's Bar, Hull - It didn't really convince from the get-go, regardless of Dad's comments.  It was what it said on the tin, a "bar", and with families, groups, reserved tables (although helpfully with signs saying when they are reserved from, so you could still sit down in advance - take note George Hotel in Cullingworth) and even plastic glasses for outdoor drinkers, it didn't really scream GBG pub to me.  As Dad said, in Hull this is probably quite cutting edge and modern, if it was in, say, York or Altrincham (to pluck two random examples out of the air), it'd be bang average.  The staff were good and hard working, and I took advantage of hesitation by others to nip in for a quick round, Milestone and Wold Gold were about the only ales available but despite Milestone not being a great brewery, I enjoyed my pint.  The wine menu (what sophistication) detailed a frog (toad?) hanging off a cocktail stick in a pint of beer.  Interesting.  It felt a decently run set up, if a bit chaotic, but the drinkers of Hull were determined to make the most of their bank hol.  A tent outside seemed to be offering a local music festival, but I'd rather have an indoor pint in a proper glass any day.

Larkin's, under the Newland Ave bridge - note the "Allam Out" sign
I couldn't help feel that Hull is still in the dark ages in terms of real ale pubs, never mind the whole craft craze.  What with Welly shut down, the owner of Lion & Key and Wm Hawkes strangely deciding they want no CAMRA affiliation, and the Exchange lasting about 2 months, options are limited and shutting Walters all afternoon seemed a bit silly.  

After a bit of Hawkes time (good ale but unconvincing barmaid and atmosphere), we ended up in our next pub - it says a lot to me when a Wetherspoons wins pub of the year .....

642 - Admiral of the Humber, Hull - But you can see why.  Helpful staff, wide range of excellently kept ales, who cares that 'Spoons "cater for all" when they can please so many?  A wide range of locals, home and away fans and the after work crowd mingled happily - it was busy but this huge former paint & wallpaper shop meant it never felt crowded and we even got a nice booth towards the end of an excellent pint of Celt Dark Age, a mild with a sting, quite a rarity.  Although the pub is all on one level, my trip to the loo found at least three people complaining about the "long walk".  What did they want, a horizontal escalator thing like in Manchester Piccadilly station?  Some people!  Glad to finally get this "pub tick" as we joked it might be my last in the GBG (i use the word "joked" loosely).  I may be back here for breakfast some time soon.

It's all kickin' off at the Admiral - in a non threatening way of course.
So onto Tuesday we went, the weather having taken a turn for the worse but I found myself in Manchester on the slightly delayed 09:41 so grey, windswept wetness was to be expected.  A short Metro "yellow" line took me to Altrincham, where the A-Z had begun in 2012 but two new venues had since appeared in the GBG.

643 - Pi, Altrincham - A cool, funky kind of place - the type to make you come up with bollocks soundbites like "proof that Greater Manchester is at the heart of the modern real ale revolution" so I won't say that!  I never know what to make of Alty, is it a well-heeled, upmarket market town of Cheshire or a shitty suburb of Manchester?  With my brain in turmoil, I wasn't perhaps at my most sociable as the friendly barmaid served me a gorgeous pint of Hand Drawn Monkey, though the threat of complimentary peanuts would probably have killed me stone dead!  As Social Distortion's cover of "Ring of Fire" rang around the cosy bar, I was finally glad I'd made the effort to do a BRAPA day despite earlier misgivings, as I shared the space with two elderly gents enjoying a pie n pint combo.  If you're in Alty, you should definitely try this place.

The life of Pi : modern, fresh, clean, friendly, Alty! 

644 - Costello's Bar, Altrincham - Another modern bar with superb ales and a nice atmosphere, I was impressed how on a wet Tuesday lunchtime, so many people of different walks of life were enjoying this place from old couples to bearded hipsters with laptops.  This was in the supposedly attractive Goose Green area of town, but major roadworks just outside sadly made it all a bit of a squashy eyesore for my visit (it could've been worse, a sign tells me they are closed for a refurb from next week).  A friendly barman (a bit like a nervous George Boyd) helped me choose from the 6 Dunham Massey ales (this is the brewery tap) and then gave me a loyalty card.  I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd probably never return due to BRAPA commitments!  He might have glazed over if I had done.  Like Pi, I was very impressed and it further emphasised yesterday's feeling of how Hull needs an ale flavoured shot in the arm.  

A loyalty card and a Dunham Massey porter - that's me sorted! 
Next, I hopped back on the Metro one stop to Navigation Road, two pubs were a short walk away.

645 - Railway, Broadheath - Wow, how different was this from the Altrincham duo?  Not only was this actually an incredibly down to earth pub, but it was National Inventory with multi-rooms, outdoor loos and I'm sure my favourite pubs are where you enter into a hallway/corridor.  The only beers on were Holt's Mild or Bitter, I went Mild and wasn't complaining as a 3.2% felt right for this stage in proceedings.  The locals were crowded around the bar area happily chatting to the landlady, it was a very jovial atmosphere with tonnes of laughing but I hadn't drunk enough to join in and went to explore the main lounge, though I spent most of my time walking around with my pint having a good nosy, it felt such a novelty to be in a proper pub after recent BRAPA ticks.  Superb.  You know, as my challenge goes in, the beer range on offer takes less and less significance. 

Cheers!  Mirror selfie time at the wonderful old Railway in Broadheath.
646 - Old Packet House, Broadheath - Even closer to Navigation Road station was an even more historic pub, right next to the Great Bridgewater Canal, which I did at GCSE, and 200+ years ago, canal travellers and workers would've been sat where I was today.  Local office workers had just taken their faces out of the nosebag when I arrived, but the remnants of food was enough to make me delve into my own bag for secret scotch eggs!  Again the ale range wasn't great with only two on, but no disputing the quality of my Little Bollington ale, a very local brew.  The pub descended into a peaceful early afternoon wind down, with the few locals who remained in a comatose state, just like me, and the sun finally came out, shining a beam through a stain glassed window partition which made things feel almost heavenly.  It was a "wind down" I never really recovered from! 

Historic canalside pub not far from Navigation Road Metro stop.

I almost had too many options.  Back on the Metro, I debated whether to 'alight' at Sale and tick off the two pubs here, or head back into Manchester, get off near Deansgate and do Cask Bar, or go even further into the centre and do the long awaited Soup Kitchen/Molly's House pub ticks.  Like a less lethargic Tom Huddlestone, I dillied and dallied, ended up doing none of the above, and found myself in Piccadilly station with a coffee and sausage roll cursing a cancelled train to York (possibly the one which reaches L**ds at 16:17 which has been terrible recently).  

I think yesterday plus the early start had caught up with me, but I'm sure more BRAPA ticks await in the coming week so stay tuned.