Sunday 30 August 2015

BRAPA - North of York

Is this real ale, or have I gone soft?  Read on to find out.
Traumatic, frustrating, needlessly expensive .... it might sound like I'm describing a Hull City transfer deadline day, but in fact I refer to one of those traditional BRAPA rural crawls, the type I have missed for much of the summer.

The 11th hour drama hit late on Friday evening, with almost simultaneous texts received from Christine and John Watson II (two of my top occasional BRAPsters).  They told me they that the 'Good Beer Guide Privilege Club' had come good on their 2016 promise.  When I checked my account, my account details were missing.  My theory is that I was affected by joining when the big CAMRA website hacking occurred last year.  I have queried it.

Anyway, Christine kindly agreed to let me have her GBG until mine turns up whilst JW2 interestingly revealed that CAMRA don't want 2016 GBG details to go public until the official release date of 10th September.  So I probably shouldn't have written any of the above!

What I WILL say is that my late decision NOT to go to Coxwold or Shipton by Beningborough but to instead consider Wass and Raskelf is purely a whim on my part.  Do you believe me?


Saturday morning dawned nice and sunny, I forgot the BRAPA snacks in the fridge (schoolboy error) and had to dash across Lendal bridge to get the number 40 bus from Exhibition Square because it didn't stop at Station Approach "LIKE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO!"  Sweating before I started!

740.  White Bear, Stillington

As it closes mid afternoon (one of my chief BRAPA annoyances), I decided I'd better start here and arrived in the pretty village of Stillington at about 12:30pm, one of my latest starts ever on a Saturday!  As I walked up to the pub, the outside front was teeming with wedding goers and I had just walked past the village church and seen a nervous looking bride.  It was a two roomed pub so I went into the main bar where a helpful barmaid gave me a full run down of the ales, and I had a local Hemsley Honey and unlike some beers of the style, you could really smell and taste the honey.  Wonderful, and I'm not even a massive honey fan.  Anyway, in addition to the wedding goers, Leeds Utd fans were getting excited about their team on TV in the same bar.  This was worse than hell.  Seeing I looked traumatised, barmaid and other staff members (who I think had been discussing my plight!) let me sit in the dining room where just one old gent was eating.  It was calm and I could start to appreciate I was in a very good pub.  The old gent was very proud of Stillington, though he somehow tried to link today's wedding party, which had dispersed for 1pm kick off.  He said that a Land Girl came to live here in 1942, and events spiralled resulting in today's wedding!  He also claimed I might get drenched later on from imaginary showers forecast, but god often protects Stillington from the elements.  Interesting theories.

A pub place mat in the dining room, better than the pub photo I took!
In a nice post script to my visit, I left one of my BRAPA cards under a serviette.  It was found that evening by JW2's girlfriend Lucie, who had booked in for an evening meal to celebrate her Dad's (Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo) birthday and JW2 posted it on Untappd with his pint of Hemsley Honey.

Anyway, a 3 mile walk later along traumatic country roads lacking in pavements, I was at Huby.

741.  Mended Drum, Huby

The pub was quite dark and lounge-like, so probably not quite having the olde worlde charm of the White Bear, but wow what an amazing range of unusual beers.  I thought of my Dad's gripes against golden ales as the helpful barman ran me through the styles and breweries in offer. He may win BRAPA beard of the year (though it was a lot hipster in truth).  I looked unfavourably on the two keg ones even if a man from liverpool did come over specially to give one of them to this pub!  Still, the cask selection was great and a Shiny New Moon from Derby was wonderful, citrus bitter hops, incredibly drinkable, "are you watching Bernard Ev?"  A smoking woman with a terrible cough who was presumably the landlady and two regular chaps were outside, so I stayed in, though she kept giving me disapproving looks, maybe I was supposed to join in with the chat.  But I was too busy working out where the bus stopped to get back to York, difficult with no signal!

After an hour of walking, this pub needed to be good - and it was.
The bus back to York was on time and all went very smoothly and I had an hour to kill before my next bus manoeuvre, so went to The Maltings because it was handily positioned between the two bus stops I might need.  A nice brunette barmaid was raving about this amazing beer called 'Teacups' so I let her sell me it but (see top picture), it looked like no ale I had ever had before and was so gingery I wish I'd had a taster first, but my fault for trying to impress her!  It was quite busy but I sat in the "Bournemouth" seat and it actually cleared out a bit, though I did gave my spare chair to some elderly folk who tried to claim they weren't too elderly to not stand in a pub, but took it anyway!

The next bus leg went well too.  I had to get the 31 to Shipton-by-Beningborough with actually stopped right outside the pub I'd decided not to go to.  Right behind this bus came a number 29, where me and one other chap had to change to get to Newton on Ouse.  Phew.  It acually all worked out and credit to the 31 bus driver for being a top bloke! 

742.  Dawnay Arms, Newton on Ouse

So, this turned out to be quite the landmark pub and the best BRAPA experience today as well.  It was my 100th North Yorkshire tick, it was stamp number 12 for my York Ale Trail (meaning I am now in "prize" territory) and most importantly, probably the last time I will tick off a pub in the 2015 GBG.  Plus it was special,  When I walked in, a barman who was like York's answer to Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory was arguing whether Aqua-Man can be considered a superhero in the same league as Superman and Batman.  I had nothing to add to this, but stood at the bar chatting with him and a young Geordie lad who is the first person I've met who hates Brass Castle ales.  We were on the YPA by Roosters and it was a cracking pint.  A woman from Seaham came in next with a very moody husband, I tried to get some North East rivalry going but neither of them liked football or really understood the concept of Geordie v Mackem which seemed very unusual.  Great pub, and it was nice to here a bit of hatred for Shipton's Dawnay Arms 2 miles away.  I have to say, I may have broken a 2016 GBG confidentiality clause at this point, but I tried to be cryptic about it.  

The Dawnay Arms - superior in Newton on Ouse.

Following this great experience and the news of Hull City winning, what could possibly go wrong?  Well, BRAPA has taught me ying and yang is alive and kicking so missing the last bus of the day (to Raskelf) was probably always going to happen!  All my fault though, my excuse being that I rushed this last minute planning and didn't write down the times properly.  Or stand at the correct stop! I didn't even see it, so it was eye-watering taxi back to York, I had no option, and with hindsight, I could have got the other Dawnay Arms in after all.  Never mind.

I ended my day at first the Three Legged Mare where the nice taxi man dropped me, and then York Tap where I had a great mini session with a Geordie who was travelling back (very slowly) to Shrewsbury.  Two nice Geordies in one day, wow!   Then KFC and bed.

Other News

26 for the month wasn't bad, should easily have been more but a combination of bad luck and less motivation in the second half caught up with me.

Today at the Everitt Family BBQ,  I should get my first look at the new 2016 GBG and my appetite will be rekindled.  I'm also planning a return trip to Naburn's Blacksmith's Arms for another Ale Trail tick but as you may know from my archives, it isn't my favourite pub in the whole wide world.

Wednesday should see a return to midweek BRAPA and then it is back to Beds on Saturday, but of course plans will all be dependent of the new Guide. Exciting times.


Friday 28 August 2015

BRAPA : the archives (301-310)

We are pushing on well with the archives now, as I was in the late 300's when I officially started counting pubs as "BRAPA" ticks in early 2014.  Whether I will get the archives finished before the 2016 Good Beer Guide comes out, remains to be seen, but here's ten more anyway, mainly in West Yorks but starting with one I missed ......

301.  Castle Gardens, Poulton-le-Fylde

"P" was for Poulton-le-Fylde as me and occasional Brapster (my new term for someone who comes pub ticking with me) Jig Johnstone spent a sunny Saturday in West Lancs on 28th Sept 2013.  The decision to walk out of Poulton to Carleton was probably borne out of the realisation that one pub, the Grapevine, was closed, and I can now see it has limited opening hours.  Anyway, I remember nothing about the interior at all, we sat on some sturdy benches on the main road at the front drinking Adnams Lighthouse in the afternoon sunshine (not bad for the time of year), I rated the beer quite good but the range must have been quite unspectacular to choose this.  It wasn't one of the better A-Z days and we soon crossed the road to find an off license to buy some bottles for the train - the highlight being our lack of bottle opener meant a (probable) call-girl helped us open them on the tables!

Rare footage of me at Castle Gardens with my Adnams Lighthouse
302.  Big Six, Halifax

One of the earliest real ale pub ticks of all, it was drizzling in 'Fax as me and Dad took the opportunity to showcase Hull City's talents to the finest Mackem of all, John Watson II.  This may well also have been one of the first times we used a Good Beer Guide to locate a pub on a football day, the date of said game being 2nd Feb 2002 and I think there's a strong possibility I was still using my second hand 1999 GBG rather than the 2002 one I bought as in the 2002 edition, it is only an "Inn Brief" and this may have put us off.  Amazingly, all three of us remember vividly the experience.  It was hidden amongst normal houses (always the best pubs) next to a green area of land.  It was a proper old fashioned heritage pub, and Big Six was a local mineral water company of the 1930's rather than a reference to rude white reggae song by Judge Dread (much to mine and JW2's dismay!)  We had no food but Dad discovered that only "Ploughman's in a Bag" was on offer.  This was an incredibly novel idea to us, the pickled onion had shrivelled into a bit of skin, and being the perfect host (Dad had only met John once or twice before), he braved the rain to find a local Tesco to bring us sandwiches back which we felt comfortable eating in the pub.  Beer wise, I have no idea!  A wonderful pub which I have often thought of re-visiting on recent trips to the 'Fax.

303.  Three Pigeons, Halifax

I've narrowed it down to late 2004 when I first visited this wondrous pub, a rare example of Chris Irvin not causing Chris Irvin syndrome having raved about it for a few years previous.  I remember it clearly.  Hull City didn't have a game but Dad was bored so randomly decided (jointly with me) that we go to a non-league game, meeting me half way, Halifax Town v Burton Albion.   I'd been staying with my sister who was at Uni in Preston and I had the WORST hangover ever (drinking Aftershock til 3am).  The weather was appalling, gale force winds and driving rain.  As I took the train from Preston to Halifax, I felt like I could puke at any moment so opened the window and let the rain drizzle onto my face!  It felt good until a businesswoman snapped at me to close it.  It was blowing her documents around.  I told her about my hangover but it made no difference.  A student lad with long hair understood, he gave me the thumbs up,  I went and stood in the vestibule, went to loo about 3 times.  The train guard was relatively sympathetic when I convinced him I wasn't fare evading.  I found Dad on the platform and we legged it to the pub.  Dad bought me a Hambleton Nightmare and a warm pork pie from a heated snack shelf.  I felt very fragile but this delightful combo helped slightly rejuvenate me.  Some yellow shirted Brewers (Burton fans) were looking wide eyed and excited by this great pub on a bench opposite.  Just as I was settling down, a local Town fan came in and declared the game was postponed, high winds!  On the way back, a lorry overturned at Garforth and we got stuck in traffic.  We were listening to Radio Humberside and their newish chairman John Fenty climbed a ladder in the gale to fix the tannoy system.  He was branded a foolhardy hero.  A couple of years later, he complained to Ofcom because Blunderside called him a plonker.  Football is a fickle old game.   I've been in Three Pigeons twice since, on the "Poulton le Fylde" day mentioned above where me and Jig had a gloriously strong "Rat Against the Machine" and after a recent tough walk back from Southowram, I was pleased to see it still at it's best - an Ossett pub I believe which is never a bad thing.

Arriving at Three Pigeons on 21/7/15.
304.  Town Street Tavern, Horsforth

17th May 2013 and again, Jig was my designated BRAPster (though obviously that term didn't exist then) as we hopped aboard the York-Leeds Harrogate line to tick off some new Market Town Taverns on a random weekday.  What I most remember about my Horsforth debut was resenting the mile long walk from railway station to pub.  The pub itself was bare boarded, dark and spartan even by MTT standards.  The beer range that would normally have impressed us had been seen at all our previous MTT's, so seemed quite boring!  A large group of students were dominating almost all the indoor seating so we sat in the small outdoor garden.  Because we wanted to be in Knaresborough before rush hour, we rushed a bit and didn't have too much time to savour any 'qualities' this pub might have had.  Not the best pub experience ever!  

305.  Rat & Ratchet, Huddersfield

5th September 2004 and whilst I love a pub with a bustling atmosphere full of happy people, I did not enjoy the circumstances causing this as a throng of blue and white striped shirts were ecstatic, having beaten my embarrassing Hull City 4-0.  Dad and me needed post-match reprieve, and it's fair to say that this was a wonderful pub serving a great range of Ossett and local Rat beers (probably the first time I saw them) in their flagship pub.  We'd not really had chance for a pre-match drink being an early Sunday kick off, so this was the highlight of an otherwise terrible day!  I can't remember much apart from sheepishly having to force my way through the blue and white masses to get a round in, but they just looked at me in a sympathetic way and didn't even try and engage me in conversation!  I saw this pub on a recent trip to new Huddersfield classics, the Star and the Grove, but I was all pubbed out and working the next day so I walked straight passed it. 

306.  Bar T'at, Ilkley

15th December 2012 may not have been the most sensible time of year to go walking on Ilkley Moor (bar t'at), but looking back now, this was one of the best of my 25 A-Z Aleway adventures.  Jig and JW2 were with me, and after getting a bit lost around the whole Cow n Calf rocks, it was more than a blessed relief to be back in town in this warming pub, fittingly named.  We might have hit it at the wrong time as it was very foody, and it took the young, white shirted staff quite a lot of brain effort to comprehend that (a) we weren't eating and (b) we did want to sit at a proper table and not just prop up the bar.  We got there in the end and I was telling my friends a particularly expletive filled joke when I turned round to see one of the most feared work team leaders, Pam, sat at the table next to me.  Ooops.  This woman does live in Ilkley, and has been on Masterchef too, and it was clear she'd seen me.  The anxiety was killing me so when she went upstairs to the loo, I followed her so I could deliberately bump into her and break the ice.  It worked well!  The beer was great, plenty of Ilkley ones on like Mary Jane, this in fact was a Market Town Tavern so another bonus in my mini challenge to get all of them ticked off.

John and me on Ilkley Moor bar t'at, pre-pub.
307.  Boltmakers Arms, Keighley

My two visits here both coincided with returning from the Keighley-Oxenhope steam railway days out, the first being on a Welly gang day out in the summer of 2012, and then again, the following spring with Krzb, JW2 and Jig.  What was quite remarkable that the two experiences were almost identical in every way.  We walked into the pub, it was cramped with locals, quite starey locals, and getting a round of Tim Taylor Boltmakers was difficult with limited space available.  The conclusion was that the tiny outdoor drinking area with wall creepers and open toilet window was the only place to stand, to get out of the way as much as anything.  But having done that, the locals glowered at us even more!  On the first occasion, we were joined by some of these local smokers and from what I can remember, there was a bit of aggro in the atmosphere caused by them being argumentative.  It was slightly better second time round as no one followed us, though the looks we got were even harsher.  I'm not even going to go into the dodgy renaming of the Tim Taylor Best Bitter as Boltmaker, but despite chatting to many people who love this pub, I didn't see the attraction and would happily walk a bit further to Cricketers or Brown Cow.  

7 July 2012 - me and Mark at Oxenhope pre-first Boltmakers visit.

308.  Fox & Newt, Burley, Leeds

Today at work, Christina told me she walks past this pub on her way to work every day.  She sees a big sign outside saying "REAL ALE" and immediately thinks of me.  How sweet.  Anyway, I am at a total loss to remember my first time here.  Something tells me it is a lot longer ago than I think, though I do remember feeling ashamed just how long it did take me to realise it existed, considering how often I walked to gig's at Joseph's Well.  I only have two real recollections.  The first was with Jig (yes, that man again) as we needed refreshment half way to see a gig at the Brudenell Social Club, probably OFF! on 23rd June 2012 supported by some even more insane American kids.  The beers are superb being from the Burley Street Brewhouse, ales I first sampled at Leeds Beer festival several years ago but always taste better here, and have Formula One themed names.  The pub seems a strange shape, almost triangular up near the loos, but is bare boarded and joyfully basic.  There was a big screen showing some International football match, probably the Euros and Jig kept hitting his head and arm on it and having to apologise to those watching!  On Valentine's Day 2014, I treated myself to a romantic Friday lunchtime work escape pint, and made it here for a stunning pint of the old Laguna Seca.  I loved it but felt slightly uncomfy, as I sat alone at a table for six when a large group came in.  I tried to indicate I'd be happy to downsize, but they didn't quite get it!  Great pub.

309.  Arcadia, Headingley, Leeds

It was the summer of 2010, probably late June, and me and JW2 had taken the day off work to watch Yorkshire v Worcestershire at Headingley.  After a very enjoyable sunny morning and a fair bit of action, Yorkshire bored us to tears after lunch with some terribly slow batting my Brophy and Bairstow.  It was nearly tea and they'd scored 31 runs all session, it was ridiculous so we lost patience and found our nearest GBG pub, which was here!  Little did I know back then it was another Market Town Tavern off the list, but popping in again for a "swift half" after my second ever midweek BRAPA evening trip, it does have all the hallmarks.  Plenty of students were tapping away on laptops, a few student girls were showing off too much flesh (disgraceful!) and me and John went to an upstairs area overlooking the main street where students were sorting out rented accommodation from the building opposite, which basically seemed to involve running around like headless chickens!  I read this pub has a strict "no entry" policy on anyone wearing fancy dress.  Good.  

310.  Riverhead Brewery Tap, Marsden

As previously mentioned, my memories of my first ever Transpenine crawl (Welly Gang Summer day out, 2008) were a bit hazy after skipping breakfast at Dewsbury and having too much stout in Huddersfield.  So I think we came here as well as a not very good pub called the Tunnel End Inn.  Though I learnt lessons that day, I do not recall coming here with York friends in the summer '09 Transpenine crawl, but my first memorable visit was on the summer 2011 Welly gang day out where we sat outside along the glorious river, looking a ducks, eating takeaways/snacks from across the road, and trying desperately not to be associated with the Transpenine lager louts.  Marsden locals compained about such idiots throwing themselves in the river and generally being anti-social, thus giving a once excellent crawl a bad name, which incidentally James May and Oz Clarke must also take some of the blame for!  It was on this day when I really realised the whole thing was a busted flush, but could still appreciate the pub.  But my love of the place was only fully realised on 1st Feb 2014 when a group of us came to Marsden to "celebrate" the pagan Fire Festival I'd been recommended by someone at work.  Right up my sister's street, we started and ended here and as good as the fest was, this pub was mine and Jig's highlight despite being standing room only.  We declared the Riverhead brewery beers "the best brew pub ales ever!" which is quite a bold statement looking back, but they were gorgeous even if a pagan Michael Schumacher kept staring at us.  Post festival, we eventually got a seat though there was an element of "locals get served before visitors no matter who has been stood at bar longest" which always gets up my nose!

And that concludes a brilliant West Yorkshire ten (well 9 plus one Lancs), I really enjoyed that write up and will look forward to the ten as we venture to places like Otley, Pudsey  and even L**ds.  Although the 2016 GBG is almost upon us, I am going to finish archiving the 2015 entries before I start on the new book.  I can feel that one month reverse owl syndrome building up .....

It's gonna be a hoot, Si

Wednesday 26 August 2015

BRAPA - History made in Hull

At 10:20pm on Tuesday August 25th, BRAPA history was made following a painful league cup win at home to Rochdale.  Dad drove us up a deserted De Grey Street.  There were only two small lights on, one circular illuminated sign showing A.C. (Adelphi Club) and a vague light coming from behind a door.  Dad's first instinct was that it was closed.  "Nooooooo!" I exclaimed, but we decided to get out of the car and explore......

Getting out of the car at the New Adelphi Club
739.  New Adelphi Club, Hull

And after Dad's ridiculously lame 'knock on the door', I pushed it and it creaked open, leading us into a typical gig venue entrance with unmanned table (it was a non gig night so we didn't have to pay) and loads of gig and band posters adorning the walls.  We entered an also deserted room where we found a bar serving three real ales and plenty more, and a friendly young woman (up there for 'staff of the year' contender) served us two fantastic pints of pure grapefruit juice masquerading as a Dr Morton's ale from Abbeydale, Sheffield.  We explored the 'venue' and we were both blown away by the simple, yet brilliant 'dive' style atmosphere and decor.  The beer was £2 a pint too, so that helped and the barmaid was soon chatting to us about the music playing which Dad loved despite the risque lyrics, "Hamel" or somebody?  We could see why punk poet legend Atilla the Stockbroker declares this his favourite gig venue in the land, and we heard how the owner is a passionate real ale man which really came through, as we sampled a local Atom beer called Schrodinger's Cat.  They had a Great Newsome ale on too, both we tried were perfectly kept.  We promised to come back here for a gig.  The Club has seen many bands starting out who've got onto big things, and even has it's own biography called "One Man & his Bog"!   Quite an institution.  

What a superb way to "tick off" my final East Yorkshire pub (for a week or two at least - the new GBG is out in September!) and fitting it should be with Dad who has made some of the more tricky places easy with the driving and country walks etc.  At the start of 2015, I rated East Yorkshire my most neglected county so a good achievement to complete it.  

Me and my grapefruity pint in the wonderful New Adelphi Club

I needed a boost like this, having heard a worrying BRAPA tale that Christine and her West Brom friend Aiden know a man called Duncan (now living in Glasgow) who is doing his own BRAPA combined with British football grounds called "OCD" and only has 29(?) pubs left to do!  I am a bit skeptical of the exact details and need to know more but can only assume he doesn't cross tick the Guide's or just focuses on football towns - I hope anyway, I want to be unique.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, North of York that is for Coxwold and the next batch of BRAPA ticks on Saturday and I'm really looking forward to it.  I have to go back to 18th July when I last had an official BRAPA Saturday and who knows, it could be my last day with the 2015 GBG?  In an ideal world.  I will, as always, keep you posted.


Monday 24 August 2015

BRAPA : the Archives (291-300)

Welcome back for Scotland part two, all of this archiving just makes me want to get back up there and improve on my poor pub return, though I suppose Aberdeen helped recently.   We'll also be venturing into West Yorkshire.

291.  Pot Still, Glasgow

10th October 2009 was the first I've two times I've been into this small but lovely dark, architectural gem which I'm surprised isn't heritage or listed or anything.  This was with Krzb when we first arrived off the train into Glasgow (it is an early opener), and it had a strange fake frontage as building work was going on outside, a kind of "don't worry, we are still open" style sign, but with a full huge photo of the pubs normal frontage.  The pub was lacking something on this occasion, maybe a very sterile showing of Japan v Scotland from halfway round the world didn't help, it certainly didn't have the masses coming up to support their "heroes".  A year or two later, I brought a group of about 5 work lads after we'd finished picking up an award and having a Scottish meal for some CYB course we were on - a very pointless but easy work day!  We had time to kill so I noticed this was the nearest real ale pub and it was on this occasion, I really noticed how nice it was and how much room their actually was - I guess the refurb had been a success.  We sat in a raised seat and looked out onto the pub, and I was on a later train (going to York, they were all Leeds) so had one on my own when they left and messaged JW2 about the Levellers - because I was drinking on Hope St as in the song.

292.  State Bar, Glasgow

1st March 2014 and on my walk back into Glasgow Centre after the A-Z challenge in Yoker and eXhibition Centre, I popped into this absolute cracker which I declared pub of the day.  It had all the hallmarks of a great Scottish pub - great unusual Scottish microbrewery ales, a grand interior with circular bar, and jocular Jocks and staff swarming around.  And unlike Bon Accord, they put Rangers v East Fife on rather than the White Shite so I settled down with a Duke IPA by Highland Brewery which was strong in a hoppy way, blew my socks off.  I enjoyed watching Rangers struggle, and was on my feet as they eventually got a 93rd minute penalty which they converted, I think to draw 1-1.  I felt defalted, but a ginger Celtic fan (possibly Neil Lennon) told me he was "devastated" though I think he'd only been here to see the last 20 minutes.  Wonderful pub, much recommended.

Arriving at the State Bar - my pick of Glasgow pubs to date.

293.  Lord of the Isles, Renfrew

Yoker seemed a bit of a non-place to try and find something cultural to do for the "Y" section of my A-Z - a point borne out by the fact that everyone Scottish I've ever told since has laughed hysterically at the idea.  So to find a "ferry crossing" to Renfrew, I decided this would do.  A metal tin bath with 4 rugged Scotch men was how the 'ferry' actually turned out, but on the otherwise, I walked up the main road to this Wetherspoons, part of the Xscape centre (an "X" in itself ironically) with dry ski slope, cinema and all that rubbish.  It's fair to say this was a modern, bright version of the 'Spoons chain, but it wasn't too large as to lack atmosphere altogether.  I ordered my first pint of the day, an Edinburgh Gold by Stewarts, which I reported had more "oomph" than an English Gold.  People were eating late breakfasts around me, so I tried to smuggle some of my scotch eggs on the sly but the staff were too efficient clearing plates etc.  A solid start to my A-Z day which was by now, glorified BRAPA (it probably always was.....)

294.  Benleva Hotel, Drumnadrochit 

Rewind the clock back to September 2013 and I went on a random two night stop to Inverness - it wasn't classed as the A-Z, and BRAPA hadn't been invented, but it had elements of each in that it involved pubs, culture and crazy walking!  On day two (25/9/13), I took a bus down to the western edge of Loch Ness and after a few fruitless hours failing to see Nessie and getting lost in Urquhart Wood, I emerged to this real ale gem, possibly the flagship for Loch Ness brewery.  It had all their ales on anyway including some experimental brews.  I was a bit unhappy with the reception I received from chubby miserable bar girl and the walkers.  I wasn't "one of them" from my attire, and I obviously wasn't a local.  But I was determined to push through all the negativity and before long, I was at a central table munching away on whisky soaked haggis with salad, a weird combo, washed down with ales like Caith Ness and Bonnie Monster (still one of my faves ever on Untappd).  Great things can happy when you exude positivity and before you know it, I was joking with an elderly couple of diners because their dog wanted some of my haggis, but all I could offer by that stage was a whisky covered leaf of lettuce!  Oh well.  It was also here that I made that monumental of all decisions - quitting Facebook.

My delightful lunch at the wonderful Benleva Hotel
295.  Blackfriars, Inverness

My team leader at work is a frequent visitor to Inverness and knowing I was off, she gave me a local CAMRA magazine.  On the front were landlord and landlady of this pub which had recently won some local CAMRA award - both had big cheesy grins on their face.  So imagine my surprise when landlord was looking glum as sin, he didn't even make eye contact at one point as he pulled my pint of Corncrake by Highland Brewery.  Him and three local men's eyes were all fixed to some German football league game - I think Schalke were one of the teams.  Not one of them said a word the entire time I was there!  Considering Inverness were at home that night, they should've gone there.  I was at a low ebb having had a big fall out with my sister, but a phone call home to Mum put me in a better frame of mind (this was my first Inverness pub and second ever Untappd check in - I wanted to enjoy my trip and not have a cloud hanging over me!) Cheered up, I saw barmaid crash through the door with a few bags of shopping looking a bit dishevelled.  She attempted a smile that didn't really work - it was a start I suppose!  Pub was airy, bare and spacious - beer being the only highlight.  Onwards & upwards to other Inverness pubs! 

296.  Castle Tavern, Inverness

After a bus back into town from the banks of Loch Ness on 25th Sept 2013, day two of my stay (my return ticket wasn't valid on the bus I stopped but he let me on anyway!), I walked down the busy Castle Street eventually crossing a scary road to this cosy little pub.  It was late afternoon and a few jolly locals were sat at the bar, but as I went to sit in the raised area, most tables were full of students wishing emotional farewell's to parents.  I didn't know there was an Inverness Uni but of course it was around fresher time, so it made sense.  It was a heartfelt yet positive atmosphere, quite unique in my pub ticking.  One American "Mom" in particular kept sympathetically smiling at me, thinking my parents had already ditched me, leaving me clutching a Cromarty Red Rocker.  Not a bad beer to be stuck with - it has since become a favourite and was like a cask Punk IPA here.

View of the bar in the Castle Tavern, Inverness
297.  King's Highway, Inverness

In these early days of solo pub exploration in a new town, it was somewhat reassuring to find a Wetherspoons at the heart of everything.  This was my first night in Inverness and only my second pub tick.  What was a shame was the lack of unique Scottish brews so I opted for a Great Newsome Pricky Back Otcham, all the way from errrm Hull (South Frodingham to be precise).  I asked for this a few miles away from the brewery in Hedon recently and the lass didn't have a clue what I was on about, so full marks to the efficient friendly barboy for knowing what I was after here.  There was a generally warmer and friendlier atmosphere than you get in a lot of 'Spoons.  I sat on a high stool along a wall and experimenting with my new Untappd App, messaged John to confirm both Hull City and Sunderland were currently winning in the League Cup, a rarity indeed.  The beer was working.  Next, a roly poly ruddy faced friendly drunken couple were waiting for their friend, another roly poly ruddy faced lassie, to emerge from the loo.  We got talking and they started arguing about what clubs I should go to to meet some young ladies!  This was nice of course, but it transpired most places had shut down or didn't open on a Tuesday so I declared I was satisfied just to visit the real ale pubs.  They thought I was mad.

A pint of Humber Hedgehog - served in a handled glass in 'Spoons
298.  Number 27, Inverness

My visit here was shrouded in drama as shortly before the end of my time in the King's Highway (see above), I received a dramatic call from my friend Emily from work because her new boyfriend would not "commit" to saying he loved her.  Oh dear!  Well this wasn't in the BRAPA spirit, even if BRAPA didn't exist.  So I had to be counsellor for the next 15 minutes, walking to this next pub slowly, and what's more, being a modern cafe bar, they were shutting early so I had to pretty much beg for a last pint as long as I was quick.  It wasn't the comfiest of environments anyway despite a welcome return of Scottish microbrews.  But it was made worse by staff hoovering, cleaning, putting chairs on tables, rolling beer casks around, with me sat in the middle of it all smiling guiltily at the next member of staff who turned the corner and was surprised to see a drinker still in their pub.  With hindsight, I should have left it til the following day and done it after Loch Ness with the Castle Tavern.  Seemed more of a daytime type of place.  On the plus side, my Ossian by Inveralmond (a Scottish favourite) went down very nicely. 

Even the blackboard has had enough!  Last orders at Number 27.
299.  Fighting Cock, Bradford

Sunday 10th April 2005 was the unofficial promotion day from League One for Hull City, and retribution for that awful last day of season in 95/96.  This time it was our turn to be giving their home end (side)!  Before that great win though, it was annoyingly a Sunday so we had to hang round an industrial estate before this cracker opened just after 12 noon.  Well, all I remember was a proper bare boarded pub and the kind of range of real ales that I simply wasn't used to seeing, 3 years into my use of the GBG to find pubs.  Frequently on my many recent Bradford BRAPA nights, people have raved about this pub to me, so all I can do is yawn and say I went 10 years ago!  It did fill up quite quickly, mainly with home fans to be honest but it was a friendly if boisterous atmosphere and I think Dad might well have done his "I'm claustrophobic so I'm disappearing outside for a bit" routine, or even suggested we take our drinks out and perch in the sun.  Proper drinkers pub, wish I could remember more details.

300.  West Riding Refreshment Rooms, Dewsbury

Again it is fitting that a landmark archive tick coincides with an absolute belter, but this is the best of all station pubs I've been to and really hard to leave (especially when you are drunk and stand on the wrong platform for your train as I did in June 2015).  The first time I ever came here was on the first Welly transpenine day out, which I'm putting around July 2008 where my naivety in  not getting one of their amazing breakfasts meant I was very drunk very quickly.  I didn't make the same mistake when I returned with York friends in June 2009, or the second Welly crawl (2011 I think).  Between these came my favourite time in June 2010 when me and John Watson came to a "World Sup" beer festival (all the beer were football themed) where I kept bumping into work people (Bryan, Damian, a filing lady!) and we saw Mad Jack and the Hatters, easily the best band ever witnessed at a beer festival - JW2 was awestruck.  In fact, we may have been to two festivals here and I am amalgamating them into one super festival in my mind!  The decor, the beer range, the breakfasts, the quirky staff, just the building, and outside area make this a place anyone should enjoy.  No wonder the website is  - simply stunning. It was the start point for both of my Heavy Woollen BRAPA crawls, and I always get confused when people tell me Dewsbury is a shithole of the highest order - I simply cannot get beyond this place.


So there you have it!  The 300 up, we'll delve further into West Yorks next, there'll be a L**ds special at some point, and then it will be a case if tweaking a few existing entries, putting them all on a new tab in my BRAPA spreadsheet with "date first visited" next to them, sorting them in chronological order, seeing if any more archives pubs appear in the 2016 GBG, and then start collating it all into book form as was always the plan.  I could do a volume for each county.  It is going well.

See you soon, Si

Sunday 23 August 2015

BRAPA - Charlton away (a Hull City day)

Putting a brave face in it - an unlucky transport day in South London
The plan was simple.  Travel down to London,  Get across London.  Get four pre-match BRAPA ticks in, watch Hull City not be rubbish and then get a sneaky one or two extra ticks in on the way back to Kings Cross.  

But of course, you cannot control train delays & cancellations.  Pre-match problems at Westcombe Park and post-match problems at Maze Hill meant BRAPA suffered.  We were ultra unlucky, on both occasions we had missed a perfectly good running train by seconds.  Never mind, it's not like we won't be back in this part of the world next season, in all probability.  

Arriving at the amazing Black Friar at 10:15am
736.  Black Friar, Blackfriars, Central London

And the day all started so well as the temperature started to soar, we reached our 'early opener' shortly after 10am to find Tom already there.  I'd been very excited about this pub having read about it in my Heritage guide, and it didn't disappoint.  Wood carved figures?  Romanesque marble gold leaf ceiling decor?  Just your run-of-the-mill pub really(!)  The Spanish barman was very friendly too as I ordered a 'tea' based beer which was an acquired taste, but I just about liked.  He told me it was a marmite beer, but he meant you'd love it or hate it, not that it was dark and vegetable extract.  What did surprise me was that this is a Nicholson's pub, and surely the jewel in their crown though I have admittedly been in some great old examples of their pubs,  None as good as this however. There was a large seating area at the side with lots of people eating breakfasts in the sun, it felt all very European and a far cry from the Dog & Gun at Wolverhampton.  I explored the area reserved for dining and it was even more ornate, and I didn't care at all that I looked a total pub tourist.

Me in triplicate at heritage pub classic, the Black Friar
We then walked to Cannon Street, where we took a train to London Bridge, changed, got on one to Westcombe Park, and a few minutes walk later, we were at our next pub.....

737.  Royal Standard, Blackheath

And as I took my obligatory blog pub photo and waited for Tom and Dad to catch me up, I was surprised to find the gaggle of bar babes only just opening the pub.  11am in the GBG, 12 noon in reality.  A faux pas by me as I should have checked Whatpub and the GBG amendments website, so we were lucky to arrive bang on 12 noon.  Our luck wouldn't last.  But for now, it did, as we entered a pub I'd describe as typically London.  Clean, modern, bare boarded, trying to be rustic or shabby chic, possibly even a bit hipster, but in the end lacking a bit of charm and atmosphere, though not much to complain about.  My Tim Taylor's Boltmaker (served in the type of pint glass I detest) was actually my favourite pint of the day.  The beer range though was so scarily in line with a Nicholson's pub, especially the Black Friar, it was impossible to think that this WASN'T a Nicholson's itself but the layout, food menu, opening times, and general feel suggested otherwise.  Still, quite a good pub whilst symptomatic of why London isn't my favourite place to BRAPA tick.

A random man walks away from the still shut Royal Standard, 1159am!
Things then got tricky as train cancellations at Westcombe Park meant we cut our losses and went to the Valley ridiculously early for a diet of Bulmers and Fosters shite.  The Valley's bar was not, shall we say, treated as a pre-emptive tick in any way!  Even the staff were rude.  Then Hull City were rubbish, and the post-match plan was to pick up the two pubs we didn't get to pre-match.....

738.  Pelton Arms, East Greenwich

Ben had actually made it here pre-match and his assessment was accurate, and fairly glowing.  It looked great from the outside (see below) and it had a very 'real' happy community feel within, this was certainly above average London by my standards.  It was so hot, sitting inside was a good idea and a pint of Brentwood Best was most welcome in the 30 degree heat.  There was a nice outdoor area, but full of smokers in this heat, Dad rightly discouraged the idea.  Again, the staff were really friendly and good.  The barman who served me was a Charlton fan so I had to relive the agony for his benefit, but managed to mention that they were a bunch of soft southerners who caused their own injury time.  One slight gripe was the range of beer.  It was vast but so many were bog standard, it seemed a shame they hadn't gone with a more adventurous style, i.e. at least one stout or porter.  Meanwhile, Tom was rightly unhappy to find bubbles (not Michael Jackson's monkey) in his blackcurrant.  If we were suffering with the heat, I felt sorry for a bulldog just across from us who was sucking on a water bottle having finished his bowl.  Uncannily as soon as we mentioned his potential for "BRAPA pub pet of the year", he wandered towards us to try and endear himself.  Sadly, the BRAPA code of conduct looks unfavourably on such showboating behaviour!  But a good effort all the same.

Pelton Arms - a very good pub at East Greenwich
Trying to get the final pub 'tick' in at Deptford may have been tough anyway, but further train delays at Maze Hill meant we again cut or losses and headed back for Kings Cross, where there was time to be accosted by un merry Millers, have a swift half in Parcel Yard, and get a pasty and juice for the journey back.

Despite the various unlucky traumas, this was still a classic example of a good football day out combined with a side portion of BRAPA.

Coming Soon

"One Month Reverse Owl syndrome" (see the glossary if this makes no sense to you) is just about kicking in now, with the 2016 GBG potentially just over a week away.  One slight concern is that CAMRA haven't debited my account with the £10 I was expecting as part of the Privilege Scheme to get it on the day of publication, and I don't want another two weeks of groping around in the dark (see my trip to Oxford last year).

Just when I thought I'd get West Yorkshire finished on Tuesday with a trip to Wetherby, Dad throws in a Rochdale shaped curve-ball and it looks like the New Adelphi Club in Hull is now the midweek tick.  And this means that East Yorks will be finished first!  Or will extra time and pens scupper it?

Next Saturday is my 'North of York' crawl, which will require a bit of careful planning but I am confident I can do the five that I want.  Of course, there is always additional Cross Hills potential on Friday but I may leave this until Sept 4th to celebrate getting my work project done!  But with it being that tricky BRAPA time of year with the GBG changeover, I'm not setting much in stone at the moment.  Exciting times.


Monday 17 August 2015

BRAPA : Archives (281-290)

It's off to bonny, bonny Scotland we go.  A place I'd love to go BRAPA ticking in a lot more often and my recent trip to Aberdeen set all sorts of ideas going in my mind.  But for now, I'll just have to reminisce.......

281.  Abbotsford Bar & Restaurant, Edinburgh

I recently told John Watson that any place with "restaurant" in the name cannot be trusted to keep good real ale, although here, it's dispensed by the traditional gravity method (i.e. from the barrel) that used to be common in Scotland.  I was on my way to Inverness for a random trip (like BRAPA pre-BRAPA, like A-Z mid A-Z but not my "I") and had an hour plus to change in Edinburgh for lunch and "refreshment".  This was also an "OMG Si!" pub in that I had been recommended it by quite a few people I knew.  I entered a beautiful old room with a big circular bar and just a few seats around it, more typically Scottish than Nessie drinking Irn Bru whilst telling a Billy Connolly joke.   Unfortunately, office workers having lunch meant all tables were taken and even finding a suitable stool at the bar meant I was resting on some staff paperwork which looked highly important.  I had an Oakham Bishop's Farewell, the gravity dispense meant it felt a bit "limp beer festival" to me but it was a big moment - my first Untappd check in!  My Facebook replacement.  So I was over generous,

Perching precariously on the bar at Abbotsford, 12:43pm 24/9/13
282.  Blue Blazer, Edinburgh

Pre-BRAPA, one of my main challenges from about 2009-12 at least was to try and tick off every Scottish league ground, a challenge that has since had to be put on hold.  At it's height (3rd March 2012), me and John Watson arrived in Edinburgh and a grey rainy morning for some pre-match drinks ahead of a train ride to Croy to see Clyde v Montrose, possibly the worst quality football match I have ever witnessed (and I support Hull City) but it was 9th v 8th in Scottish bottom division.  I digress.  This was our first pub of the day and an absolute corker.  Lovely old simple one roomer with a blue blazer mosaic on the floor and friendly bar chap was dressed in a suit (possibly a blur blazer too) and it was when we saw the selection of Scottish ales that we finally put to bed the myth "Scotland doesn't do real ale" which seems a ridiculous thing to say now anyway.  Okay, so the loos were a bit "Ten Bells" in Whitechapel but added character I'd say. 

283.  Bow Bar, Edinburgh

Still 3rd March 2012 and me & John Watson headed back to Waverley station via the Halfway House and firstly, this little famous pub, which had quite an old touristy reputation and it suffered from that on our visit.  Well, we suffered.  Luckily, an army of young staff were working as hard as they could, just as well as hoards of Japanese schoolgirls in Jimmy hats, tartan and sporrans kept piling in, whilst Americans tried to look like they knew what they were doing and a couple of grizzly Canadians scowled at everyone, whilst a table from New Zealand tried to show off because they were actually from the southern hemisphere.  It was enough to drive a man insane, but John is cool in such situations as I fought my way back with two pints, he'd done really well to squeeze in to a tiny thin table between some cackling hens and excitable Japanese.  Table was so small, we barely both had room to put our pints down, but I can remember yet another cracking Scottish microbrewery showcase, some interesting looking pub snacks, and lots of laughter.  It was all a bit too much for an old pub man like me! 

John tries (unconvincingly) to look relaxed in a heaving Bow Bar
284.  Cafe Royal, Edinburgh

Post match now on 3rd March 2012 and with bouncers(!) on the Guildford, we opted for the bouncer free Cafe Royal, quite a famous pub for being huge, historic, cultural and apparently having artwork by John Eyre on the walls.  Plus it has one, if not the, longest bar in Britain along with the Falcon at Clapham Junction which I know well.  Like so many pubs of this ilk, we couldn't really find a seat or settle down but unlike Bow Bar, we were fuzzy and relaxed from the horrendous match and scary walk from Broadwood Stadium back to Croy.  Yes, the pub was impressive, we had some good Scottish beers again (but probably not quite the range of the previous two pubs).  It must have had quite a lot of seafood going on cos it hung in the air, plus lots of smart staff with crisp white shirts kept darting past us with shiny plates of stuff.  So not a classic, but a nice woman did at least volunteer to take a nice picture of us both together, aaaaah.

Me & Watters in Cafe Royal - might be better visiting before lunch.
285.  Jolly Judge, Edinburgh

Y had been for Yoker, X had been for eXhibition Centre as my A-Z adventure drew to a close on 1st March 2014, and I'd just woken up with dribble on my chin, having fallen asleep on the train between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  It had been a good afternoon in Glasgow.  I had time to try one new pub before the train, so I came to this little underground place very near Waverley, not far from Bow Bar and Halfway House (I still managed to get lost!)  Drama on entry as I was told by an excitable barmaid that a private party had hired the pub in half an hour so it'd be closed to the public.  I explained that I had exactly half an hour here before my train, so I was allowed to stay.  My Inveralmond Lia Fail was chosen by me because of Hull City's epic fail (see pub 290 for more info), but I enjoyed it immensely as person after person wandered in only to told to clear off due to the private party, making me the last customer.  Lovely subdued atmosphere.  No wonder I recommended it to Dad for a recent Pensions trip.  Incidentally, this was the fifth last time I visited a new pub which I didn't classify as a BRAPA tick.

Little did I know that messing around over this photo nearly cost me a pint!

286.  Babbity Bowster, Glasgow

10th Oct 2009 and another one of my Scottish lower league ground ticks was Hampden Park, where me and Krzb Britain went to watch Queens Park lose 2-1 at home to Stranraer in the last minute in front of 598 fans (spookily, Berwick had lost 1-2 at home in the last minute on my visit there and Clyde v Montrose also finished 1-2).  "Come on you Spiders!" as the scary man next to me shouted once every 15 minutes.  Before that, we went to sample some new pubs in Glasgow and found ourselves in the well-to-do Merchant City area where life expectancy is really high, at least 45 years old.  I'm joking.  It's only 43.  Anyway, I didn't really "get" this place, what was it supposed to be.  It had two interesting ales on, at extortionate prices, the interior looked like some single woman's front room though it went round a corner to create a pubby feel.  Beer was very nice but I really didn't feel like I was in a drinkers place, staff seemed bored and pre-occupied, no-one else really came in to have drink and sit down, it was all a bit of a weird one.  

287.  Blackfriars, Glasgow

Same day, same part of the city as the above and this was much more like what we were expecting / hoping for from our trip.  It seemed to be a multi-cultural young person's bar with gig posters everywhere and a very basic boarded feel and rock music playing.  It was in the days before hipsters, so we had to be content with the barmaid's black nail varnish and piercings, and the hairy barman's crazy earrings that hung down too far.  A good range of ales too, some English but mainly Scottish I seem to recall, with woodchip on the wall (perhaps), a bit of a cross between Moorings in Aberdeen and the John Duck in Durham.  I can't say any more than that.

288.  Bon Accord, Glasgow

1st March 2014 and having completed Yoker and Exhibtion Centre in my X & Y A-Z Challenge, I was walking eastwards back into Glasgow, picking up pubs along the way.  The first I reached was this pretty derelict looking old building with a mountain of motorbikes outside, but I'd walked in through the back so presumably the front was more picturesque.  Presumably, because this was a very good pub.  The dark haired barmaid was brilliant throughout, and when I said "no, I was having food" she looked so sorry for me, like I was an urchin dressed in rags spending his last change on beer.  My pint of Bonnie n Blonde by Loch Lomond was nice & zesty, slipping down easily as I watched an awkward couple having their first date, rather amusing.  This was better entertainment than watching L**ds United, who'd inexplicably been screened in place of Rangers v East Fife, but maybe if this was the same Bon Accord who lost 36-0 to Arbroath, they have a "no Scottish football policy".  Of all the pubs I've recommended to Dad and his friend when they go to Glasgow for pension meetings, this has produced the most positive response.

Pub toilet backing for the Bon Accord
289.  Drum & Monkey, Glasgow

My penultimate Glasgow tick of 1st March 2014's wonderful A-Z day saw me at this incredibly chaotic central Nicholson's not far from the main railway station.  Dad had initially recommended this to me on the strength of a quality Oakham Citra in quiet surroundings but had since found most beers off, similar chaos I was experiencing, and had revised his opinion!  This was the first pub of the day where I couldn't find a Scottish real ale, and my Longitude by Vale Brewery was brown and average.  It was standing room only, and even finding somewhere to rest my beer was a problem.  But not as much of a problem as finding the toilets!  I walked around the typically Scottish circular bar about three times, and on my third lap, found a tourist chap doing the same.  We went in search, he waved to indicate he'd found them down a narrow staircase at the entrance.  But then, a member of staff asked if I was alright and I replied "I'm just following that man to the toilets!" which to this day is still one of the most embarrassing things I've said in a pub, luckily I explained myself and was quite drunk so actually not too embarrassed at the time.  Oh well, I figured, I'll never be back.

English brown ale and toilet troubles at the Drum & Monkey
290.  Horse Shoe, Glasgow

And after that Drum & Monkey trauma, I ended my Glasgow time in this equally busy but much better pub, in my heritage guide and having supposedly the longest bar counter in the country, I didn't have much time to appreciate the fine interior though I remember admiring a mirror at one point.  My Glasgow work friend Katrena tells me she's barred from here for dancing on a table, quite an achievement looking at how old and fragile most of them looked!  I was back on the Scottish ales, staff and locals were all in full Saturday afternoon swing but as I turned to see the Sky Sports News screen, it popped up Hull City 1-4 Newcastle.  I must have said something, but I didn't have time to wallow in self-pity as an angry Glasgow man told me he had money on us to win and I was (personally!) ruining his accumulator.  I told him he shouldn't be silly enough to back Hull City ever, but this didn't make him feel better.  It was time to slink away from the bar, so I asked a friendlier looking couple from Paisley if I could share a table with them.  With BRAPA all but officially started by March '14, they were telling me how friendly and amazing Paisley's pubs were and how it would be a great trip for me, we also talked about supporting rubbish football teams but they didn't believe me when I said St Mirren could easily beat us!  A really good pub experience.

And there we have it!  Ten more pubs reviewed.  Join me next time as we approach the big 3-0-0 by finishing up in Scotland before edging into our final archives county, West Yorkshire.


Sunday 16 August 2015

BRAPA - Wolverhampton

After a much less painful cross-country train to Wolverhampton via Birmingham (me and Dad found Tom at Dudley Port), we arrived just after 10am for one of those classic "bought train tickets in advance but then evil Sky Murdoch empire moved the game but didn't want to waste train tickets so went anyway" scenarios.  Good news for BRAPA of course, as it allowed us to do the kind of 'out of town' pubs you simply wouldn't have time for on a match day.  We did start central however .....

731.  Hog's Head, Wolverhampton

I love that feeling of going into that first pub of the day, at an anti-social drinking hour with the sun shining, the birds singing, that stale pub morning smell, and the pub not really ready for customers.  Tom and Dad felt that this place had all the hallmarks of a Wetherspoons, and whilst it was obviously part of a chain, the range and quality of local ales told you it was a step above.  The plan had been for a breakfast here but my fruit bread n cheese had done the trick, so i cannot review the food.  We sat in a raised area (it was a huge pub anyway) and you only imagine how busy and grimy this place might get post-match due to Molineux proximity.  I won the inadvertant quiz "guess what Tom's scribblings on an envelope mean", and then I noticed Simon was hosting a quiz on Thursday anyway.  The toilets were in a state of disrepair with sinks and urinals hanging off the walls, and a ladder in a cubicle.  My Dandelion and Burdock themed porter lacked D&B flavour but was still very good.  Barmaid and other staff seemed relatively friendly (one even said "hi" unprompted) in a town that's not the most hospitable in the West Midlands.  A solid start to the day's proceedings.

Me and Tom ready to get BRAPA ticking at the Hog's Head
We then walked past Molineux into a suburb of Wolverhampton called (Theo) Whitmore Reans which even in daylight, is one of the most intimidating places on earth.  It made Leytonstone, Wakefield, Thornton Heath and Salford seem like the Planet Cute.  I'm sure we witnessed a car being broken into on the main road in full view of everyone!

732.  Stile Inn, Wolverhampton

And what a crazy, rough diamond of a pub this was, in-keeping with the area but brilliant at the same time.  We entered one of those gold old fashioned West Midlands pubs (those with corridors and different rooms) where the excellent red haired landlady was presiding over three crazy gents - one signing punk hits of the 70's to himself - and our presence must have been incredibly alien.  But then, surely they get away fans on matchdays?  Landlady excelled herself by firstly asking if we were CAMRA members so we could get a discount, she also mentioned a Cask Marque scheme we could get stamps on, she ate a bowl of tomatoes (not sure why but this helped her greatness), mentioned how the beer cooler had broken and were our pints alright (they were) and sold Tom a filled roll having asked if he was our designated driver due to his blackcurrant leanings.  Beer was cheap, you could get 5 pints of Harvest Pale for £10 (a stunning offer).  I went to the loo and noticed an L shaped bowling green out the back - this pub was full of surprises!  We had to be shuffled along slightly to make way for the biggest most elaborate Karaoke equipment which was being set up in readiness for later - the man even said I could test it out for them - I politely declined!  The Karaoke incident unnerved Dad a bit but as Tom said, this is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to encounter in a real, proper pub like this.  Wonderful stuff.

Bowling green out the back of the Stile
733.  Newhampton, Wolverhampton

Still in Whitmore Reans but on a nicer side road, we found a pub which was virtually The Stile but with a few of the rough edges polished off.  I really could leave the description at that.  Honestly, you go to 730 BRAPA pubs without seeing a bowling green, and then you get two in two!  We entered a main bar but quite busy and with limited space, so we moved to a side room showing Southampton v Everton on a huge screen.  I came to the conclusion this was NOT the same "mystery Wolverhampton pub" I'd been to when Jay Jay Okocha starred in a Hull City evening win (more on that later).  This had way too loud commentary and was detracting from the pub's true essence, so we moved outside to a glorious beer garden alongside the bowling green with plants, flowers, an apple tree, a pear tree, a plum tree AND a set of stocks - presumably so you can throw rotten fruit off the trees at your friends / enemies.  The beer was great, from Three Tuns in Shropshire.  Dad was raving about it which slightly surprised me because I picked up the element of sweetness which has blighted his 2015 ale drinking.  But yes, it was a cut above anything else we'd had so far.  Although Dad indicated he was happy to stay here for the day, I had to read him the BRAPA riot act for there was much to do .....

A glorious pint of Three Tuns Pale Ale, just ask Dad!

Dad was already thinking about his train home so I felt a bit bad making him walk 1.7 miles into Tettenhall (I didn't realise he was on an open ticket at this stage) for our next leg of the Wolverhampton suburbs crawl.  I walked 1.8 miles, having missed the pub and had to be "hailed" back!

734.  Hail to the Ale, Wolverhampton

I'm getting the hang of these micro pubs now, and I generally like what I see though a few things concern me.  A lot aren't actually that small (this was almost as big as Hereford's 'Beer in Hand'), they seem to have a problem stocking blackcurrant cordial (poor Tom had to have water), they have limited and often unisex toilets, they have good staff who know their stuff, and a clientele which is 30 or 40 somethings discerning middle class drinkers.  Beer range and quality was as good as anything we had all day, and still feeling sorry for Dad, I volunteered to swap my excellent pale for the not quite as good but still enjoyable "Snapshot" by the ever reliable Burton Bridge.  There was also a bit too much "dog loving" going on which always irritates me a bit.  Give me a pub cat love in any day.  Dad must have been building up Dutch Courage as he unwisely revealed to Tom the true extent of his ticketing complications (if I'm being polite) and to see Tom so visibly shaken was certainly one of the highlights in a great day.  I liked this place a lot, and would recommend the long walk.  

I'm no Al Murray fan but "cheers to beers, hail to ale" anyway!
Still in Tettenhall but "over t'other side", me & Tom strode out here with Dad having gone for his earlier train back than the one we were on. How lucky he was!

735.  Dog & Gun, Wolverhampton

Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Oh dear.  Oh dear.  11 months plus since the last GBG publication, and the risks of encountering a bit of a dud are growing by the day, but this was NOT good.  It started worryingly as it took me about 7 minutes to locate a member of staff to serve me.  And this was in a busy sterile Ember Inn with quite a few diners and drinkers milling about.  And then the barmaid that did arrive had an underlying aggression about her which stopped me asking if the sign "the beer is settling in the cellar" really did mean "not yet available".  I prefer Wetherspoons more honest approach, but why even have the pumps showing AT ALL?  This made a range of 5 standard ales into a range of 2 standard ales.  No disputing the quality of my Brakspear (which had only just come back on itself) but just not my favourite tipple.  We went to sit outside in the large seating area to the side of the pub, not a beer garden but smartly done.  Two nacho girls pretty much "moved house" just so they could sit in the remaining slither of sun, but then the fun really started.  A man who was with his girlfriend was "grabbed by the throat" by a thuggish looking member of staff.  What sparked this I cannot say but watching the drama, you did tend to come down on the side of the couple, who clearly weren't as aggressive as the staff, now joined by my barmaid and another one.  Rather than trying to calm things down or stop a scene being created, they were simply there to defend the assailant and argue with the couple.  Tom may even have heard the assailant telling the couple "I'll firebomb your house!"  It was a very unsavoury incident and the pub should be ashamed.  Good entertainment though.

Drama about to unfurl at the Dog & Gun.

A long walk back towards town followed, I was dying for a wee so what good luck not only to stumble upon pub, but another GBG tick, and what's more, the Combermere Arms which I "must" have visited on that "winning at Wolves" evening many moons ago.  

736.  Combermere Arms, Wolverhampton

Alas, it was NOT the pub in question so as Tom had predicted, I'd been to a totally different one on Okocha night.  Oh well!  This was a fantastic pub of tiny little rooms with the friendliest vibe we'd encountered all day, a nice note to end on.  As Tom said, you could really see how this had once been someone's house, so nice for once to see the walls not knocked through.  We sat in a side room as a drank my half of "Gravity" (cannot trace the brewer or exact name but was on in Hog's Head too), and had some brief chatter with the other people in the room.  There was even a tree growing in the Gents for heaven's sake.  A great pub worthy of more attention.  Might get another half in next time I'm back here just to show my gratitude.

From the camera of a Tom - me outside friendly Combermere
So, I must declare I'm back on pub number 735 and delete the phantom pub I reviewed in the archives as either Newhampton or Combermere.  Chindit?  Well, still six Wolverhampton pubs to do but only one of them way out of town now so a useful and fun BRAPA day.  Let's hope we play them next season, as I see we have just drawn 1-1.  Wonder what Hog's Head is like about now?  

Midweek BRAPA will probably be more like end of week BRAPA as I'm thinking how to organise a chaotic first week back at work.  And then Charlton next Saturday!