Monday 30 November 2015

BRAPA : the archives (367 - 374)

It's with sadness that I declare this the last 'archive' entry, unless of course some pubs get into the 2017 GBG which I went to before BRAPA began.  But it's been fun taking this trip down memory lane and I can now start putting them all into a chronological order to work out what my definitive 'first' GBG 'tick' was, though annoyingly it's not a question I'm getting as regularly as I did in 2014!

367.  Ferry, Cawood

I suppose there's a fair chance I came here as a baby and slyly had a quick sup of a Mackeson Stout, as we lived nearby in Biggin, but this pub most resonates with me as a kind of 'reserve' option when we were looking for a pub lunch after our golfing trips, which started around the year 2000, maybe a bit before.  Having said that, it took an awful lot of years and a probable closed Greyhound in Riccall / Drovers in Skipwith . Cross Keys in Stillingfleet, to finally make it around 2011.  It also took as a long time to realise it was a good real ale pub in it's own right, despite having spied adverts in York's Ouse Boozer magazine for many years.  I remember how pleasantly surprised I was as a busy husband hoovered, set up a wood burner, pulled us two cracking pints of some guest ale, made a great ham n cheese toastie and still had time to rock the baby back to sleep (well, that's how it seemed anyway).  The inside was intimate with old beams, just like I'd envisaged (unless I had been here before!).  I badgered Dad for a return though Greyhound at Riccall was still a firm favourite, though on 31st Jan 2014, this was one of the few places we could rely on for food, good ale (Rudgate Viking and a Scarborough one) and more wood burner heaven.  Krzb went quite recently with his Mum and had a bad experience so may be I have just been lucky, but it's deservedly in the GBG in my eyes.

Wood burner and Dad's elbow at the Ferry
368.  Fox, York

Well, well, well - it's fair to say that me and John Watson II are still champing at the bit for more Fox visits since it became an Ossett pub a year or so ago.   It was already a wonderful multi roomed building with one of the best beer gardens in the York area, with a little serving hatch to the outside too.  But it's fair to say it's been 'mixed' in terms of success rate since we first came here.  Despite living on the right side of town for it, it is still a helluva walk which doesn't help, plus it's had periods of not open at all / will it be knocked down etc etc.  In fact, on our last visit pre change over the old man steward 'looking after it' (just Tetleys was on) told me off for talking too much!  A pub first.  I'm putting my first visit at August 2005 as our dicegames took us to more adventurous York pubs.  We were obviously quite impressed for on our second visit (10th Jan 2006), I reported that it "lacked the atmosphere and ale of it's debut performance". (it lost 0-4 to Hansom Cab for heaven's sake!)  And on the 2007 A-Z, I wrote it was "it's usual fairly nice pub, decent pint of Landlord but not too thrilling, but still an underlying feeling of chav grime about the place!"  How times change,

369.  Hop, York

Or the Hop Pizzeria, as I insist on calling it at all times.  This is one of York's newest and most welcome additions over the last year or so.  As you may already know from my blog, Ossett are equally adept at breathing life into ailing but grand old pubs like the Fox above, as they are to converting a more modern building from scratch, but unlike it's Sheffield equivalent, this does have good atmosphere whenever I've been in.  27th October 2013 was my first visit, when I was doing a Sunday evening challenge to tick off a different York pub each week i.e. an excuse for a pint!  It hadn't been open long and was predictably busy with a younger crowd, and I had to sit high up in the back room - trying to read P G Wodehouse under neon lights with music playing did not go well.  I was drinking a fantastic pint of Flash Flood by Phoenix, fitting because storms were being predicted for later that evening by the Met Office.  My favourite time here was when when I was showing Dad round a few new York pubs and we got to sit in the front room, quite ornate and a really great atmosphere, but the only time I've ever seen a spare seat here to this day.  I haven't been too often really but I'd say it thoroughly deserves it's GBG debut.  

Me, Lisa and Lu - drunk in Hop Pizzeria Xmas 2013 (never mind the Appeltiser!)
370.  Three Tuns, Sheffield

14th Feb 2009 could well be the date of my first of two visits to this pub, which I remember most for being on a very steep street somewhere between the city centre and Kelham Island.  Also, the building is a very weird shape too, but once inside, it felt kind of generic bar type fair, a bit too clean cut really - a bit Slug n Lettuce if you will, but with a little bit more atmosphere.  I remember being with Dad and I think Tom as well, not sure who else but we met Ben in here / on the way.  Pub was open but in a Greyhound at Ipswich type of way, the barman made us wait until the clock sounded 11am before he'd serving us, so we sat around reading newspapers casually - Dad even started a crossword.  I think our pragmatic approach freaked out the barman, who looked edgy and actually caved in a minute or two early!  I hear the pub has changed a bit now, sounds better according to the GBG.  I feel this was our "early opener" en route to what was perhaps my first foray to the Kelham Island Tavern.  I may also have come here alone quickly on 25.7.09 before a pre-season friendly but have no great memories if I did!  Turned out this pub was actually the Wig & Pen, not Three Tuns!

371.  Halfway House, Edinburgh

I first learnt about this pub in the classic "Britain's strangest pubs" book which I must have got around the mid noughties, and this why I have this nagging feeling I'd visited before my first definite date of 3rd March 2012, on mine and JW2's Edinburgh pub day, en route to Clyde v Montrose.  However, am sure I didn't visit it on any of the other three Scottish lower league football days, leaving my trip to Glasgow to pick up a certificate for completing a course at work early Oct 2011.  But even though I most probably changed in Edinburgh, did I really have time to visit an extra pub?  Whatever the truth, I remember me and JW2 walking up the steps at Fleshmarket Close and seeing a big group of pissheads going in, so deciding to leave it a bit!  We sat at the bar (it's a tiny pub so about all you can do) and voted it our pub of the day.  I wrote "halfway house was the winning pub as it combined bow bar's snugness and blue blazer's calmness without being too much one or the other, prob why it is called halfway house".  I was back there almost exactly two years later for a late pint after my X & Y A-Z day in Yoker and Glasgow, where I drank a fine Festival Ale by Houston and declared it "Edinburgh's Best Pub".  A bold claim indeed!

372.  Black Lion, Plaistow

28th Jan 2009 and if Dad's birthday overnight West Ham trip had started to go downhill with a trip to the Magpie near Liverpool St, it took an even messier turn for the worst as I followed Ben in here - I wonder if this more of a bladder requirement for him as we meandered our way towards the Boleyn Ground, rather than any great need to visit a new pub.  I certainly hadn't classed it in my mind as a GBG pub even as I entered the busy pub and got a rather cloudy joint pint of Sharp's Doom Bar for me and Dad, who'd stayed outside with most of the others sheltered from the rain under an awning, which he reluctantly helped me sup as we passed it around.  It did feel like a proper old pub, being built in 1747, you could sense the atmosphere, not just of those 'appy 'Ammers!  Should probably go back to realise it's full potential, but the fact of the matter is, I don't need to so shut up.

373.  Clockwork Beer Company, Glasgow

So, 10th October 2009 and after a nice little pre-match tour of Glasgow, me and Krzb got the local train to Mount Florida just a stones throw away from Hampden Park, where we were due to watch Queens Park v Stranraer.  It was quite a large building, but it's main quirk was it's own onsite brewery selling Clockwork beers like 'Amber' and 'Red', served by friendly young staff.  I think I'd rate the beers good, but not spectacular, and I'm sure there was plenty of brewing equipment on display too.  We settled down to watch a football match on the TV above, and i was sure we were watching Swindon v Walsall until Krzb pointed out about 40 mins in that it was Wales U21's - and I seem to remember his favourite rapist Ched the Ripper playing too!   Maybe the beer was stronger than I realised.  I harboured vague desires to return for a post-match pint, but pretty sure we didn't.

374.  Fleece, Haworth

Welly summer days out were at their peak in 2012 and a big group minus Dad set off on the Keighley-Oxenhope railway thang on 7th July.  Haworth is a bit irritating with it's pretentious steep hill and feeling that all the shop keepers are secretly laughing at the tourists puffing and panting their way up it.  We'd tried a nice Steam brewery pub that never gets in the GBG, when on the way down, we went in this proper West Yorks no holds barred Timmy Taylor's gem.  Friendly staff pointed out a 'secret' (not so secret) beer garden up a lot of stairs and on the pub roof!  A perfect spot in the summer to view the surroundings with a pint of Ram Tam, Christine used a strange phone App to try and plot her altitude and height above sea level, which meant nothing to me, whilst Mark's wife traumatised me and Ben by declaring her love of Fifty Shades of Grey.  This was easily my favourite of all Welly summer outings to date, so I repeated the trick with Jig, John and Krzb the following year.  It was a great day, but a cool breeze meant my second Fleece roof trip wasn't quite as pleasurable, but nonetheless, I recommended this to Christina at work who recently came here as part of her honeymoon.  What could be more romantic?  Just don't mention Fifty Shades.

It's Welly Summer Day fun at the Fleece, Haworth (July 2012)
So, there you have it ladies and gentlemen.  374 pubs archived.  I will now get to work on ordering them and report back to you in a few weeks time on my conclusions!  Two special features coming up, firstly next Monday a look at the origins of BRAPA, and then a "two sided" report on the official BRAPA music album!  

See you soon, Si

Sunday 29 November 2015

BRAPA - East Yorkshire Confessional

Pre-BRAPA platter on the Friday evening
As I stood in the wind and rain at a very stationary taxi rank in York, a BRAPA related debate was taking place over a few pints of 8% Brass Castle ales in Hull's excellent Walters pub.  Present were Bernard "Daddy" Everitt, Mark "Beefy" Bainton and Christine "Chrissy" Andrew.  The question was a simple one "Had I visited St John's Hotel on Queens Road, Hull as part of BRAPA?"  It is GBG listed at present.  I answered emphatically "of course" but as I picked at my teatime platter whilst Hull City tamely surrendered to Derby County live on TV, doubts crept in.

When Dad returned, we had a chat about it as he was present when I supposedly went, 1st April 2006 after a lunchtime 1-0 home win v Leeds United with a Jon Parkin goal (I remember that bit!)

Likely Scenario

Dad had said on 1st April 2006 "ey up son, is there a GBG pub in Hull you would like to visit for after the match that's on the way out of the city centre as we won't have time for a pre-match drink?" and I, having looked at my 2005 GBG told him St John's Hotel, Queen's Road. (I didn't have the more recent 2006 copy as I used to only buy it once every two years would you believe, so I'd bother John Watson or Leeds Waterstones when I needed up to date info for away games).

Dad replied "ah, Queens Road, yup, no problem I know where that is" (meaning the road).  So the day progresses with the match, and Dad by now has Queens Road so fixed in his mind, he takes us to the Queens pub, and I unquestioningly in a haze of 'beating the White Shite' euphoria (and BRAPA being 8 years away), go along with it.  After all, both pubs are Marston's and yes, so the Queens is a one roomer but the partitions give the illusion that it isn't.  Dad thinks at the time, this is quite a rubbish pub, but in 2006, the standard of Hull pubs in the GBG was not so strong.  So we'd think little of it.  Mission, Courts Bar, Oberon, Green Bricks spring to mind.

Either the above, or Dad was playing an elaborate April Fools trick on me which lasted 9 and a half years which in truth, makes him the fool anyway! 

Whatever, I have to scrub a pub and I'm back down to 746 going into the weekend.....

Back to Saturday

This leaves me to ponder two sad conclusions.  Firstly, I won't be able to finish "ticking" off East Yorkshire today.  And secondly, I won't get the 750 landmark up today.  How frustrating!  But nice for a change to be in the car with Dad as chauffeur - warmer, less effort, less cost, but there is something liberating about train travel.   

747.  Station Hotel, Patrington

I have to admit, the pub did not look promising from the outside,  All alone, big, white and with a Worthington Smoothflow sign sticking out of it, it was obviously once by the railway station before 1960's pre-emptive "BRAPA crapper" Dr Beeching decided to close it down, like so many.  It looked a bit lonely and sorry for itself as the church bell tolled 12 noon and we parked round the side.  The pub was open dead on time (tick), we had a friendly welcome from the smiley barmaid (tick) and it was warm (TICK!) as the wind outside was blowing a very cold gale over flat East, East Yorkshire.  The beer range was hardly stupendous, but a dark, spiced Great Newsome guest was very locale and I really grew into the pint after a slow start.  The pub seemed quite geared up for food judging by the type of seating, quite modern in style despite an obviously old building so quite a nice contrast.  People did keep coming in too, which was encouraging considering weather and location and Dad and myself were both surprised how much we'd enjoyed it!  We should have learnt by now in 2015, East Yorkshire has a lot to offer.  

Me and my GBG outside the Station Hotel in Patrington

After a drive back through a few villages, we were in a bustling little place called Preston, just north of Hedon where we'd been earlier in the summer and I believe a micropub has just opened which may have been worth checking out, but we didn't want to overdo it!

748.  Nag's Head, Preston

I might have said East Yorkshire had a lot to offer, but there are some offerings you'd be happy to do without, and sadly this was a prime example.  A confusing entrance was encouraging, because at least it suggested multi-roomed propper pubbing.  However, the main lounge was freezing cold and the 'welcome' we received from the landlady/barmaid - well, I think "brusque" is the politest term.  The three beers were all standards, so I went for a perfectly serviceable Everards Tiger.  Poor Dad only wanted an orange J20 and he got barked at!  I tried smiling at her on three occasions but the scowl I received each time were like mental punches to the face.  Most customer's were quite elderly and were huddled round with hats, coats and scarves trying to eat fish & chips.  Not really acceptable.  One nice feature was our table, a Burnley Billiards Table quite unique.  BRAPA table of the year?  One woman near us, suddenly reported she'd enjoyed a "lumpy bumpy" which turned out to be a pudding, but good grief, a more unfriendly pub I've yet to encounter in this BRAPA calendar year!  

Nag's Head - unfriendly, cold, and just a little bit inbred. 

After a consolation ham sandwich and some SatNav jiggery pokery, we were heading north west to Beverley and managed to park up in a very packed Tesco car park.  The weather was awful by now as we dodged through the Saturday market for what should have (sob!) been a celebratory pub tick.

749.  Green Dragon, Beverley

A bit of a tardis like pub this, it looked like a cosy little one roomer but it stretched back into a sweeping comfortable lounge for what seemed like ever.  The three barstaff seemed joyous in comparison to the last place, and were relieved to have seen the "lunchtime rush" easing off, though it seemed busy enough to me.  Plenty of pump clips were offering cask ale, but it was again quite a standard range so I went for an egg-chasing themed one from the reliable Inveralmond brewery in Scotland, just a half but it was very drinkable whilst Dad was still on the J20 to his credit.  We kept walking through the pub til we found a free seat, and eventually got sat right next to Bryan from work.  It's a small world as I keep saying recently!  Bryan was with his elderly Mum who he'd taken to the Christmas market, he's a big real ale fan, the most quick-witted person I've ever met, and he does a regular Amsterdam equivalent of BRAPA.  In fact, he loves a good BRAPA debate and won't let me live down the fact that I went to his hometown of Ossett without visiting the Brewery Tap "because it wasn't in the Guide!"  Needless to say, he found the St John's Hotel story hilarious.   

Dad trying not to look too cold at the Green Dragon
We had time for a "swift half" at Chequers Micropub which I love and on my third visit, was determined to show Dad.  Such a friendly bunch of old crones, great beers from places like Half Moon, Brass Castle and Atom - though we had another Scottish one from Tempest who I've not seen before.  It even has two loos, unusual for a micropub.  And something about that old Hook Norton railway sign which I love.  One old man visitor though, told a friendly group that he hated Beverley and the people in it which was highly amusing!  

And that was it, a nice mid afternoon finish very sociable.  This meant I could do my "spring-clean" of my flat (I do mine normally in December to make way for the junk (errrm I mean lovely presents) which I might get).  And discovering old papers meant the BRAPA drama wasn't over and done with!

More BRAPA Updates

Firstly, I discovered the old notepad I'd been looking from December 2006 when I recorded pub visits for a couple of weeks (it never caught on!)  I thought this would tell me more about my recently archived trip to Thistle Park Tavern in Plymouth, but when I looked, the pub I thought it was was actually the Providence (not GBG listed)!!  I can't believe this has happened twice in two days.  Back down to 748.

No wonder Bryan said I should revisit every pub I did pre-BRAPA just to make sure.  I feel so silly.

But happier news was just around the corner as I found another notepad detailing the "Scottish voting" that me and Ric did on the way home from Berwick upon Tweed in 2009.  This proves we DID go to the Pilot, probably post-match (I'd de-listed it because I wasn't sure) and though memories are very vague, we rated it highly on beer quality, comfort and hubbub.  It was runner up to Barrels Ale House which I did archive, but we also visited two other pubs called Foxtons and the Grove which I'd never have remembered.  Back up to 749.  What drama!

And talking of Scottish voting, I found the Scarborough 2012 bank holiday trip too which shows "which one was which" out of Valley and Cellars.  None of my friends could remember but Valley was the first and slightly superior one.  It won with North Riding Brew Pub runner up.

Oh, and I also found a terrible poem I wrote in May 2007 called "Trip to Hereford" about, you guessed it, my trip to Hereford, meaning Barrels was visited earlier than I thought, actually 9th May 2007 meaning Man Utd 0-0 Chelsea was the woeful game I saw on TV there, whilst I did Worcester the following day on the 10th which ties in perfectly as I went back to my hotel to see Tony Blair had announced his resignation.

November Review

Nov 2015 will not go down in the BRAPA annals as a vintage month.  Frustrating is the word.  Even discounting this weekend's revelations, it started with a trip to Brentford where time was always against me and 5 pubs wasn't a great result considering.  The following Saturday I was frustrated not to add Helwith Bridge to the list but it just wasn't quite practical.  Then, I had the Wigmore Arms farce in Luton, and in Bristol, my pre-match pub didn't open when it was supposed to.  Oh well, them's the breaks and here's to a very merry festive December time!  Pub of the month, Roundhill Inn in Rastrick.  

There's ya lot, see you tomorrow for some final archives! 


Wednesday 25 November 2015

BRAPA - Rastrick and Mirfield

Although I have easily achieved my monthly goal of 15 new pubs, November has been a frustrating month with too many 3 pub Saturday's and 1 pub Tuesday, and quite frankly, it's a good job I had the bonus of Brentford at the beginning of the month though even that felt stifled!

With that in mind, I decided to push myself "that extra mile" to combine two potential trips into one on Tuesday night, but it involved almost military precision in terms of getting my timings right.

After arriving at Brighouse station (which I'm pretty sure features in Series 4 of "The Thick of It" when Nicola Murray quits), it was a good 30 minute walk to the pub at the south end of Rastrick by the M62.  My sister works here and her warning "don't get stabbed!" put me on edge somewhat.  Hobbies of Rastrick's inhabitants seem to be driving around cul-de-sacs too quickly, sitting in cars looking suspicious, and smoking weed on their doorsteps.  Lovely otherwise of course, on a cold dark and windy evening.

746.  Roundhill Inn, Rastrick

But a fine reward for my efforts.  The landlady gave me a welcoming smile before I even entered the premises.  The GBG talks mainly about this being a hosting point for wakes, with a crematorium nearby and I was mindful of my very long very black coat making me look like I'd come from a late night funeral!  This might have explained the extremely friendly welcome from pretty much all, and seeing the wonderful Salopian Oracle on draught just topped it off.  A friendly blonde lady called Carol complimented my coat and made the mistake of asking what I was doing here.  A detailed BRAPA explanation went down well with her and the barmaid, though the older men folk (all Len Goodman or the late John Barden) looked a bit unimpressed.  We soon got onto talk of Yorkshire Bank and it turns out I used to sit next to one of Carol's family friends - frizzy haired elfin motor mouth Hannah.  It's a small world.  I eventually sat down near a blazing real fire in a fine upholstered lounge.  I have found West Yorkshire the consistently most rewarding pub county to date and this was above average.  As I returned my glass to the bar, the kind barmaid wished me well in my adventure.  A nice touch and a very fine pub indeed.

Ignore the Carling sign, this is a pub worth visiting!
It was pouring with rain as I made the 30 minute walk back to Brighouse station, but it didn't dampen my spirits as I was buzzing from such a positive pub experience.  What did put a downer on it was the 6 minute delay on the train to Mirfield.  It may not sound much, but with a schedule so precise, it made all the difference.

What's more, my predicted 13 minute walk was closer to 20 in truth so I pretty much decided there and then I'd have to hang around for a later train back to L**ds.  

As I took the customary "BRAPA photo", something funny happened.  I seemed to spy through the window an older landlady stood on a bar to the right in a busy reddish loungey pub serving a jolly bunch of flat capped old men.......

747.  Airedale Heifer, Mirfield

..... but when I got inside, the bar was on the left and a young man was serving a small row of young and old people in an open plan but more basic (yet still homely) pub set up.  I ordered a pint of another great pale, White Rat and the bar chap was above average in terms of the old "how impressive are the staff" rating.  A bit like "blinky" from Shambles Tavern in York, but less blinky!  I almost asked him if there were other real ales on in "the other bar", glad I didn't as I walked round to find it and just found a couple playing darts, no circular bar.  Puzzled, I sat on a raised leather seat and reflected further.  I went to the loo round the other corner, but again, this was the end of the pub - no extra bar!   So what was it?  I wasn't drunk, maybe tired, a ghostly pub scene of yesteryear perhaps?  One of those mysteries.  Anyway, in a moment of serendipity, I noticed on my National Rail App that the train to L**ds was delayed 4 mins too, just the encouragement I needed to get the earlier train anyway.  

Ghostly goings on at Airedale Heifer - my third BRAPA trip to Mirfield.

My legs were a bit stiff by now (walked about 4.5 miles in total), but I just made it and was soon home in York for Corned Beef Hash knowing I'm just 4 more West Yorkshire pubs from completion.  And with no plans to go to Man City next Tues, we can crack on with a return trip to Ponte Carlo.

Coming Soon

And November completes with what will hopefully be two landmarks though again a bit of frustratingly low key day.  The 750 pub was my target on New Year's Day so I'll hopefully do it with a month to spare.  And in the same breath, I'll have completed my East Yorkshire ticking again for the first time since August when I went to New Adelphi in Hull, only for the new GBG to be released (unofficially) less than 72 hours later - BRAPA can be cruel sometimes! 

December is a notoriously difficult month for BRAPA as people like to go out drinking in pubs I've been to before!  Don't they understand?  No, but seriously, I'll be happy to just make my 15 though I do have a little surprise outing in store to compensate for L**ds away being a write off.  I'm expecting big things of Rotherham though, and looking at the location of Deepdale, I'm looking at three on Preston day.  And don't forget Bedfordshire's penultimate trip plus my continuing West Yorkshire midweek quest.  Doesn't sound too bad if all that comes off does it?! 


Monday 23 November 2015

BRAPA : the archives (359 - 366)

Hello and welcome to the penultimate edition of the archives, eight more pubs I visited pre BRAPA which have found their way into the 2016 Good Beer Guide.  I hope you enjoy.

359.  John Harvey Tavern, Lewes

The only Lewes pub I could say I'd been in with any real certainty before my 2015 visit was this pub, Harvey's obviously, though I now notice the town isn't so dominated by their beers thank goodness. It was post match after our first trip to the Amex on the evening of 15th October 2011 and I think Christine had been the main instigator in us coming here.  Certainly, I'd been marching ahead on my own with a sense of purpose I often display in search of a new pub, but found Colin already there slumped over a table like a man who'd be missing the kind of quality football Scunthorpe United could have served up.  It was a fairly swift pint of some more unusual Harvey's ale, but I remember being pleasantly surprised by the nice friendly feel and woodeny atmosphere.  Dad was rightly clock-watching though, we weren't staying over as would have been sensible, and we had to make sure we made the next train back to London so probably didn't quite get my allocated 25 minutes here!  Revisit potential as I need to know whether I've done the Brewers Arms anyway.

360.  Five Swans, Newcastle

was for both Jesmond and Jarrow on a typically wintery north eastern day, the date 5th Jan 2013 so no surprise.  With two visitors in tow, in the shape of Krzb Britain and north eastern ambassador John Watson II, a civilised sit down lunch was required and whether it was a pre-decided GBG decision or whether we saw this was a Wetherspoons and thought "ooh, they'll do food", we were soon sat down in a pretty packed multi-roomer.  Not sure what I drank but remember being impressed with the beer, whilst I ordered a very strange low calorie Thai Noodle meal which I didn't enjoy but only had myself to blame.  John and Krzb had more sensible food and I think we decided, as we prepared for the Metro to Jarrow, that it had been a good solid 'Spoons display.

361.  Station Inn, Kidderminster

29th December 2001 and Dad had been officially given the second hand 1999 Good Beer Guide as his Christmas House present (you can't say I'm not generous) though we had used it for the Scunthorpe away game a couple of weeks ago.  One of our main considerations when selecting a pub was to avoid the busiest and most popular ones, especially with Hull City fans, so this backstreet local seemed a good bet.  And wow, what a difference using the GBG made.  Quality ales like we'd rarely tasted before, and fantastic filled rolls on the bar in a cosy lounge with a friendly older couple running it.  Dad was gushing in his praise, and it was our 2001/02 away pub of the year, and I'd go as far as to say this was a defining moment for BRAPA because it was here that for the first time that we really saw the value for the Good Beer Guide.  There was a word of caution though as we returned with obvious anticipation the following season 5th October 2002 (only 10 months on).  It all started well as we parked up and the landlady opened the window to tell us she was still getting ready and she'd open up soon (think she had a hairdryer and a toothbrush in her hand at the time!)  The pub had been 'de-guided' according to my more recent 2002 copy, and it was laid out now with placemats, knives and forks, the filled rolls had gone, and the beer range was much more limited with more national ales.  The landlady bemoaned the change, something to do with the pub company owning it, and it's fair to say the magic of our first visit had gone.  Still, it was a lesson to trust in the GBG!

362.  Lion & Key, Hull

My third favourite (if I'm being diplomatic) of the Scale Lane trio which have recently helped boost Hull's real ale image, we'd known it as a dodgy looking Irish place for many years til we were pleased to know the then Walters owners had added this pub to their portfolio too.  I'd guess my first visit was about August 2011 and I have to admit, the quality of ale in here has always been spot on.  The staff are generally friendly and young females, especially that half deaf one who claimed the pubs acoustics meant all original songs sounded like cover versions.  However, there is something about the way this pub is managed which is incredibly frustrating.  It is the designated foodie pub of the Scale Lane ones, but the fact there's always one member of staff on means they have to (a) get drinks (b) take food order (c) run upstairs with food order to kitchen (d) run back downstairs (e) calculate the total cost and get card machine working (f) wonder why there are several irate people stood at bar who can't order simple pint.  Another thing that frustrates me is a cracking upstairs room which they hardly ever open to the public.  What's the point?  Drinkers could do with an area away from the diners.  In fact, more recently, the food situation seems to have gone from standard pub fayre to slightly pretentious stuff - i.e. more expensive, with candlelit tables which don't work here quite like they do in a pubby pub like Hawkes a few doors down.  The beer quality is still good but they've finally started their own brewery, something about a Cat, I tried one, it was a bit "Wellington in it's death throes" so watch this space, sure I'll be back as long as they don't read this!

363.  Minerva Hotel, Hull

I think that as soon as I'd have started using the 1999 GBG in December 2001, it wouldn't have been very long at all before we started using it to explore the pubs of Hull before Hull City home games.  This was one however, did not appear until I'd got the more up to date 2002 GBG, which I'm putting around Feb/March 2002 time (if I know myself like I think I do, I'd have not been happy with an obviously out of date edition for long, so my feeling is I definitely had it by the end of the 2001/02 season so will put an estimate of April 2002 on my first visit.  I certainly remember it being sunny and bright which suggests more springtime conditions.  Dad and I came here a few times in the early days without it ever being a regular, and possibly my first time was best as a landlord called "Scottie" (he was Scottish) seemed quite a character and served the best pint of Deuchers IPA I have ever had to this day!  However, a lot of black and amber plus quite a bit of lunchtime food stopped us really embracing it, plus it's location and 12 noon opening made it impractical, though we did once get in the 3 seated snug (smallest pub room in the UK I once read) which was a highlight.  To be honest, by the time we were discovering the "joys" of Spring Bank's pubs, we heard on the grapevine how Scotty had gone and the pub was in decline.  A recent visit by Dad did nothing to persuade me that this year's entry makes it worthy of revisiting, though it'd be interesting.

In fact,the GBG logic I tried to apply to the above probably would mean my first visits to Olde White Harte and Olde Black Boy are earlier than I thought, it'd seem likely I visited both before Minerva.  Having said that, I can picture the inn brief section the first time we used a GBG to discover Hull pubs, meaning we were by then using the 2002 Guide.  I should also consider that Hull City didn't move to the KC until Dec 2002, so how willing would we have been to go out regularly to old town / Spring Bank before the official move? 

364.  Sailmakers Arms, Hull

Our decision to first come here was not GBG influenced, but it was well before the days you could conceivably think of it as a pre-emptive tick, in fact as far as I can remember, this is it's first time in the GBG.  Impossible to say when the first visit was, but I think perhaps an evening game when me and Dad (wanting  a change from the Welly routine) gave it a chance with it's welcoming looking courtyard entrance.  The place seemed tied to Old Mill beers (never a favourite) and we sat in a booth with tropical fish tanks creating the barrier between the snugs.  Novel!  In a return visit on a lunchtime as part of another old town experiment a year or so later, we unfortuntely had to contend with a plastic L**ds fan getting excited and watching his team on a screen above the bar, the tropical fish still in tact.  And we popped in about 2012 too on another evening to find the Old Mill tie broken and we had a splendid Great Newsome beer dedicated to a local poet called Marvellous Andrew Marvell, I think!  Fish were still going strong.  Fish in!  And Dad might be going before a forthcoming home game to see if it is better than Minerva.

Further research, and on 19th Oct 2011 when trying to decide what to do for a pre-match, Hull CAMRA impresario Mark Bainton said this "Around the corner 100yds or less down the High St is the Sailmakers they also have installed two hand pumps and i also class this as a keg pub." So presuming he had his finger on the pulse more than me and Dad (which you'd expect), I reckon our first visit would be after then, we'll say the next evening home game 7/12/11.

365.  Walters, Hull

It's always mystified me how this pub hasn't been more popular and been more loved by the people of Hull / our fellow "Welly gang" drinkers.  Sure in those early days, it took an hour for the heating to kick in, sure there was the time after a drab Watford 0-0 draw that I got ejected for wearing a Hull City top (to much jokey "oooh you look like SUCH a hooligan" from other people in there, the staff looked embarrassed and they changed their policy shortly after!) but I'm glad I gave it a second chance.  Now, I'd rate in my Hull City home pub of 2015 so far, just edging out the landlord's brother's excellent improvement of the already good Whalebone.  I think this pub did go through a bad spell about 2011/12 when it had just way too many beers and a big steel bar across the errrm bar(!) so you couldn't really see what was on.  The change of ownership and being out of the Wm Hawkes/Lion & Key chain means you can now see how much better it is, the beers are slightly fewer but more focussed with superb breweries like Great Heck, Abbeydale, Acorn and North Riding flying the flag this season.  Comfy too and always has the heating on, the barmaids are nice and always make some effort to be friendly even if it doesn't always come naturally, okay so it isn't an old pubby pub but it's certainly not plastic modern sterile rubbish either.  I've heard some great music in here, and after years without, even phone signal has appeared!  This and Whalebone, since Welly's closure, really do kick the S H I T out of everything else in Hull, and make no mistake ya buggers.

A pint and a bag of Hobgoblin crisps this season - 20.10.15 in Walters
Further research shows the first ever mention of Walters in email was on 2nd Dec 2007, actually mentioned by Tom who must have known we'd be going before the Cardiff home game a day earlier which I'll now call my first visit.  Tom said  "Hope Walter's was good. Shame about the game, I feel we have got what we deserved, and in pessimists corner, I saw that goal as inevitable from the moment when Marney didn't hoof the ball out."  I replied to say Walters was "worth checking out" and you can "walk through the shopping centre to get to the KC" which sounds like a first visit if ever I heard one!  

366.  Alehouse, Reading

Well, the above picture fits in very nicely as this pub was, on my two visits, called the Alehouse, but after Aberdeen's Moorings renamed itself Krakatoa, I decided to relax my rule on pub name changes.  My first visit here was 19th November 2005 when it was very much our dedicated pub of the day, a well impressed we were.  Enough so for a return on 22nd Jan 2011 and I'm hoping my forthcoming 2016 tour of Berkshire will afford me at least one opportunity to rekindle that Hobgoblinny flame.  What I remember from both visits is how easy it is to play hide and seek when you sit in one of the back snugs, covered in so much beermats and graffiti that you kind of get lost within it.  On our first occasion, we'd just started making Ben our newish away match drinking regular and he appeared like a phantom to squash his 6 foot 4 frame into this tiny room.  Did Tom and Chris appear too, can't remember!  What a shame someone had left a chilly back door open, or this would probably have been a 2005/6 away pub of the season shoe in.  And on our return visit, I remember for ages peering round the corner at Dad at this loud scary Hull skinhead who was engaging the whole bar in conversation, when we realised it was Mark Bainton!  We finally made ourselves known.  Again, I have a feeling other people joined us in our little snug (again people kept opening that flippin' door!) but details are lost in haze of superb guest ales.  Research does show Tom was amongst them, arriving into Reading General at 11:52am. 

See you next time, for our final 8!  


Sunday 22 November 2015

BRAPA - Bristol City away (Bedminster)

Irritating glass, nice beer at the Windmill (see pub 745).

I'm not quite sure why I'd never considered Bedminster as an away match option before for previous trips to Ashton Gate.  Let's face it, there have been plenty of visits to Bristol and I've been using the GBG for nearly 14 years now.  Plus it has it's own railway station and is much closer to the ground than other areas.  Maybe Bedminster has undergone a fairly recent "real ale revolution".

Still, any revolution wasn't evident at 11:30am as the pub where our taxi dropped us, the Spotted Cow, was closed despite it's 11am opening claims.  It seemed a deliberate protest against an early 12:30 football kick off i.e. "we don't want any riff-raff in our precious pub!"

Masonic, Bedminster, Bristol

Instead, the "riff raff" had congregated in this dodgy looking "home fans only pub" where I did the most unsly 'slow removal of Hull City scarf just outside a pub' ever witnessed.  Luckily, my red and white top meant I was accepted into the 'pride' and a friendly no nonsense bar man was soon serving us perfectly well kept Courage Directors and Butcombe Bitter, allbeit in polycarbonate glasses, whilst Dad and Tom found a nice step in the corner to survey the pub from.  It was by far and away the most 'down to earth' of Bedminster's pubs we visited, probably not really in-keeping with the upwardly mobile slightly pretentious young professional feel I got about the suburb.  In fact, they'd probably hate it being called a suburb.  Without getting into a battle of semantics, Tom would describe this (like all non GBG listed pubs) as "pre-emptive" whilst I'll err on the side of caution and leave that terms for things like "recent pubs of the year", "most improved pubs", "new openers championed by local CAMRA mags" and of course, "micro-pubs".  I'd call something like this a 'bonus' pub where my eyebrows would raise to the top of my forehead if it ever did make it into the GBG!

After a freezing and largely frustrating 90 minutes plus of Hull City related "fun", me and Dad got away from the ground very swiftly and were soon noting that Bedminster didn't seem to have many home fans going back towards it, which was surprising but pleasant for us.  We left Spotted Cow for now, possibly next season, but were pleased to see Hare was open already (since 2pm apparently) despite it's 3pm listed time showing if there's one thing unreliable about the GBG, it is the times!

743.  Hare, Bedminster, Bristol

As Dad said, from the moment you walked in, you could tell you were in a warm, welcoming and friendly place and an immediate glow overcame me (well it had been so cold out) though this may have been down the fact the Dark Star Espresso Stout was on!  However, a sense of pub well being is often down to the pub and the young owner lad was very impressive, reminiscent of our best BRAPA pub heroes of 2015 like the guy at King Billy in Nottingham for example.  I then totally freaked Dad out by "disappearing", i.e. finding an adjoining room which he didn't seem to realise existed, and watching his confused expression through the partition was priceless.  Despite not being a particularly old fashioned traditional pub, the Hare had a reassuringly basic feel (two beers on only was a bit of an overly basic drawback!) and the food was in the form of local pork pies, which Dad later went back for and I finally finished in bed at midnight!  Delicious.  Hare had filled a bit with a few discerning Robins , whilst Tom swooped down upon us like a wraith.

Departing the Hare, probably my pub of the day
744.  Steam Crane, Bedminster

Just across the road a few doors down was this interestingly painted brick pub, done in the style of graffiti.  It felt very "Bristol" and I wondered if Banksie had been involved.  This pub (gastropub if I was being cruel but probably accurate) divided our opinion a bit, it was kind of good and terrible at the same time!  It was nice to be in another warm and friendly place, and a good range of beers on offer for the first time today as I stayed dark with a local Chocolate porter from local Arbor, but it was disappointingly unchocolatey despite this brewery having a reputation for big flavours.  The blonde barmaid who served me was VERY nice, friendly and probably just a bit disappointed that she can't qualify for the 'brunette of the year' award.  Though I think I later heard her booking a hair appointment,  BRAPA doesn't look kindly on play areas in pubs as it attracts kids, and soon there was a face off between "young girl with hammer" and "young girl with wheely telephone" and we thought our first pub fight since Wolverhampton's Dog & Gun was about to occur.  A ridiculous food menu completed the feel of slight upper class pretension, with phrases like "the Steam Crane really is the cat's meow" and "one of the tastiest nosebaggeries this side of the river" making you want to punch a hole in it.  In fact, it's fair to say me, Dad and Tom were like square pegs in a round hole here.  Having said all this, I still liked the pub!  A man did once get mauled by a tiger in the pub garden here, a quirk if ever I heard one.  

Arriving at the Steam Crane, note the strangely painted building
745.  Windmill, Bedminster, Bristol

Our final BRAPA tick of the day, sadly, was by the Bedminster railway station bridge and again, it had the kind of warm, welcoming feel that you shouldn't take for granted, but was much needed on a now dark November afternoon.  I think it had a fire in too, which always adds to the atmos.  Again, the beers were good though with most having the 'golden' name, Dad was a bit apprehensive but as it turned out, the Electric Bear Persuasion didn't have an overly sweet taste and Dad needed no 'persuading' to have a swift half later on, whilst the Purity Gold was also more refreshing and bitter than sweet.  We sat in a corner to the left and after a conversation about the shape of Garth Crooks, I was craning my neck to see the amusing football results unfurling behind us.  Always nice when you've kicked off early and can just sit back and relax as everyone else flaps around!  There was a brief moment of BRAPA excitement as Tom reminded me I'd been to the King & Castle in Kidderminster, but sadly it isn't in the 2016 GBG like I thought so i stay on 745.  With Dad and Tom increasingly paranoid about where the station entrance was, I was made to speed up a bit and we soon back outside in the freezing air.  Boo!  

Dad arrives at the Windmill, good solid pubbing in Bedminster
Back at Temple Meads, we sadly didn't have time to venture to either Barley Mow or Cornubia despite 39 minutes to kill, so had a swift half in the Reckless Engineer,another pub I'd probably put in the "bonus" category rather than the pre-emptive.  It took me a while to realise it wasn't a Wetherpsoons though that was through my own lack of observation, and I'm not sure IKB should be referred to as reckless surely!  I thought Dad was in the loo but he'd actually gone to perch on a high table, so it took me and Tom and age to realise.  My ale "Hammer Stone" was actually excellent, but this pub was a total non event in almost every other respect and I can't wait to get a proper overnight Bristol BRAPA day with no distractions (i.e. Hull City) in the future.

A very good pint in a very average pub.
After a painfully long train journey, Tom rightly decided we should change at Sheffield so there was time for a swift half in Dad's much loved Sheffield Tap (I'm being sarcastic) though I think it is fair to say that (a) Five Points Pale was beer of the day and (b) you can tell what a nice architectural gem this place could be on a "quiet" day, not that such a thing ever occurs in these 'Taps'!

After a brief worry over train delays, we weren't too late out of Sheffield and back in York before we knew it.  A very good day out, and 3 pubs for the Glos & Bristol region in the GBG pushes it up 12 places to 32nd!  

I'll be back tomorrow for the penultimate edition of my archives (waaa!) and I'm looking at a 'two pub' West Yorkshire midweek on Tuesday but I'll have to see how do-able that actually is.

See you then, Si

Tuesday 17 November 2015

BRAPA - Headingley

My train approaches Headingley station in the rain

Pub number 742 might not sound like much of a landmark, but this was the number I reached back in late August in Newton in Ouse before I started 'cross-ticking' the new 2016 GBG and my numbers came down drastically.  So I'm back at par, less than 3 months on, and it is a good feeling!

My travel companion was my friend, work colleague and honorary student, the recently married Christina Sidery (Anderson at the time of our Kirkstall trip earlier in the year) and her knowledge of Woodhouse Lane busses had me paying £2 for a single and we were soon sat on a bumpy double decker with about a billion irritating students, as Christina pointed out local 'landmarks'.

742.  Woodies Craft Ale House, Headingley

I had a few reservations as I entered the building.  Firstly, the recent overuse of the word 'craft' was in evidence, whilst famous pub crawl, the 'Otley Run' starts here but as Christina pointed out, anyone doing it today would be gone by about 12 noon as it takes about 12 hours to complete!  I was delighted to see a nicely furnished warm pub, with a quirky selection of mismatched furniture including BRAPA chair of the year, huge and spinny and comfy, whilst the curtains seemed to be made of thin silver metal strands until you got up close.  A curmudgeonly old gent was stood at the bar blocking all 12 pumps and had no intention of moving for suspected students like us!  The barmaid was quite friendly and we had a quick chat about the little 'honey pots' which are there to show you the colour of each beer.  Apparently, the students assume they are 'tasters' and get stuck into this cloudy stale stuff!  I navigated my way around the old man to order a delightful Cascadia from underrated local brewery Ridgeside.  Meanwhile, Christina admitted defeat in her vague aims to enjoy real ale so we compromised on a fruit beer, but strangely, it was multi-fruited rather than just say, strawberry.  It tasted like over powering cherry to me.  Christina spied a selection of board games (a sign of a good pub I notice), and being the 'fun' character she is, demanded we play Battleships.  Well, I didn't know the rules but fluked an eventual win on the final ship though the lack of pieces hindered us both.  Nevertheless, a good march through Hedders  and dodgy, rapey muddy parkland meant I still made the 18:50 to Leeds in the teeming rain, where I changed for York.  A really good pub though, wouldn't mind coming here again some time when I have time to spare  and if it wasn't for distance, I'd suggest it for a pre-L**ds day on 5th December.

Chrstina arrives at Woodies, don't be put off by the Greene King sign.

Latest News

As you may have seen last night, only 16 more pubs to archives, many from Yorkshire with the next eight next Monday.  Fear not though, I've got a couple of specials coming up but they are, I'll warn you, quite specialist.  The first covers the birth of BRAPA, the second focuses on the music of BRAPA.

The BRAPA survival kit got a bit lighter, as my new portable charger turned up, and rather than being the size of a large smartphone like my old one, this is like a mini-torch.  

A marketing man at work suggested I could really be pushing my challenge further to make it profitable and get my name out there.  He thinks I should rename it "Simon Says" which is an interesting proposal!  

Bristol on Saturday sees me go into "credit" in pub terms and I'll be mainly focussing on the Bedminster area.  Spotted Cow (139 North Street) is nearest ground, 11am opener, could be busy but think I'll risk it pre-match!  Post match, we then have the Hare (51 North Street), Steam Crane (4-6 North Street) and Windmill (right by Bedminster station).  On the off chance we do amazingly, Cornubia on Temple Street in centre is my city centre pick (this paragraph is for Tom as much as anyone!)

Next Tuesday, I'm looking to combine two West Yorkshire ticks as Mirfield gets it's 3rd BRAPA outing and Rastrick may be on the agenda too, near Brighouse.  

See you soon, Si

Monday 16 November 2015

BRAPA : the archives (351-358)

Evening all!  More pubs I visited in my "youth" (youth = 34 or younger).

Smaller portions of 8 pubs now to span out the last three archives (sob!)

351.  Pride of Spitalfields, Spitalfields, London

Every year we play West Ham, I hear that familiar whine of my football friends "waaaah, this away day is always the hardest place for pub choice!" but what they must bear in mind, you can keep it incredibly simple and come to this little gem, 10am opener, a short walk from Liverpool Street, and not far from the line heading up the Boleyn (which sadly, will soon be ditched in favour of a properly 'hard for pubs' plastic stadium).  And so it came pass that on a freezing cold 20th Feb 2010, I met Ben Andrew near Liverpool Street and we headed for the warmth and comfort of this place.  Not sure my Hull City top was universally approved, and Crouch Vale Brewers Gold was about the only 'exciting beer' on as I received some 'verbals' from the barman and locals, "that's a bit harsh" I complained, but they explained it was simply the way things were in the East End.  Fair enough.  The laziest pub cat (Lenny) was completely still above the fireplace, he may have been stuffed.  Pretty sure I've been here since, on a day when I could show Dad it's wares, probably 28th April 2012, I felt it lacked a bit of magic but Dad was impressed, think Christine joined us too, perhaps Ben again.  Again, the cat was still and the locals were a bit shifty.  Great pub!

352.  Old Original Bay Horse, Horwich

Ahhh, the missing link in my Horwich conundrum last time I was archiving their pubs, it was 29th December 2009 (or Stephen Hunt day as it's sometimes known) and me and Dad had come up with one of the best pre-BRAPA ideas in the spirit of my challenge by sacking off Bolton and more trains for Reebok-esque drinking with a friendly little bus ride to the ground.  After a slightly underwhelming pint in the Crown, we struck gold here with it's quirky locals, great range of Moorhouse beers and green and white(?) tiling on the right side of the pub.  We returned for more on 23rd Feb 2013, still with Madeira tans despite snowy freezing Lancy temperatures, and after a good but chilly session in Victoria and Albert, it was nice to be back in warmth and local hub of this pub - though in the back room this time squashed between people watching one of those Sky Sports televised games which make you wonder why?  I think it was Stoke v Fulham and Peter Crouch was prominent - the Moorhouses beers seemed a bit average this time but the locals were friendlier than last time and it's tempting to return to Horwich for my final tick pre-Bolton this season.

353.  Irwell Works Brewery Tap, Ramsbottom

Originally reviewed by my as the 'First Chop' but it was actually this place I was thinking of, plus the First Chop has since closed, so here is my original review again (edited) ....  Almost overlooked in my big GBG cross-ticking exercise, I was quite drunk when we sat upstairs in this magnificent pub on 27th July 2013 as part of the Welly summer day out East Lancs rail crawl.   I remember a nice friendly wooden boarded pub, lots of ales, taking advantage of a CAMRA discount and a special "buy 6 pints, get one free" offer or something like that.  I think we had a spare pint for "the table" which Ben probably ended up drinking!  And it was a strong dark stout.  I also seem to recall the music being an important feature, and that there was plentiful food on offer.

You know though, just reading the bit about the two levels at First Chop, the CAMRA discount and the 'buy five get one free' bit, I am wondering if I was right first time!  Irwell Works meanwhile "opened a balcony in Spring 2015" which suggests to me it didn't have an upstairs before then.  Hmmm, think a "revisit" might be required.  East Lancs Railway summer 2016 crawl?  Si

354.  Globe, Liverpool

19th October 2013 and any away day in Liverpool has always been an excuse to tick off new real ale pubs, there are always so many in the guide, you don't need BRAPA to tell you that!  Despite my dodgy directions taking us a meandering route through the city, we were in this traditional one roomer with nice dark panelling, a lively landlady, and a typical Scouse wannabe comedian chap who noticed we were away fans and 'held court' in a very "listen to me, aren't I hilarious" kind of way but he was alright really, though hard to get away from when the second pub (Richmond Hotel) was calling.  I drank a Bier Head by Liverpool Organic (it was my first month on Untappd) but I wasn't overly enamoured with it despite having had quality stuff from this brewery before.  The first ever CAMRA Merseyside meeting was held here - fun fact!  I remember going in with Dad and Tom and I think the likes of Ben, Christine and maybe Mark met us in there, can't quite remember.

Bierhead and background Tom carrier n blackcurrant action at the Globe

355.  Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

26th September 2009 and slightly contradicting what I wrote in the above Globe review, this was very much our designated 'main pub' of the day, though probably not our only one.  The 10am opening time helped greatly, and crossing that carpark thing near the Mersey Tunnel mean you see this pub well before you reach it, quite a grand old building with the pub name visible for what seems like miles.  Anyway, as first customer's, we were greeted in typical friendly Scouse fashion by some young women who admitted to having fancied Phil Brown in his first season, but now in the 09/10 season, his magic had worn enough (I think it was the fake tan shared interest that drew them to him).  One of them then told a story which is still to this day the best story I've ever been told in a pub by staff member - it involved Jason McAteer, a locked car and a coathanger.  Brilliant!  I still tell it to people today.  The bar was long, the beers interesting and expansive, the floor wooden and old - a superb place, though the Wild Boar burger was a bit chewy but i blame the boar!  So no wonder on 3rd July 2010, we came here for lunch on Ric's birthday day out.  Problem was, it was hot, heaving, a nightmare to get served, never mind try and get food (an idea we soon ditched) and the brilliant empty place I'd been in less than a year ago was unrecognisable and I was just glad when we finally accepted defeat and left - not sure the strange animal burger range would have suited my sister's vegan taste anyway!   

356.  Thomas Rigby's, Liverpool

A freezing cold and typically rubbish match at Goodison Park was at least made a bit better pre-match as we explored some of the pubs in the Dale Street / Moorfields area.  This does actually make me wonder if Ship & Mitre day was actually this same 10th January 2009 date rather than Sept 09, can't be sure!  Anywho, we had the novelty of two pubs back-to-back sharing a garden (well, outdoor courtyard drinking area) and it a more acceptable Wellington / Old Joint Stock Birmingham way, I was zipping into one pub to get a drink, drinking it on courtyard, taking glass to other pub (Lady of Man), getting served there, doing it in repeat.  Both pubs are owned by Okell's of Isle of Man so I guess that's why, but cannot remember much other than tall buildings and hanging baskets, don't remember the pub interior at all, and if I did, I might be remembering Lady of Man.  Brilliant. 

357.  Coachmakers Arms, Norwich

Tuesday 27th September 2005 was one of the first examples of me going on a train jaunt alone for an away game, and it was a memorable night as I stayed in a pink lighthouse!  I selected this as my first pub of the afternoon as it was (a) in the GBG (b) supposedly haunted and (c) one of the nearer ones to my accommodation, although it still wasn't an easy walk under a subway near all these roadworks.  The pub felt old but suffered a bit from 'city centre syndrome' as people seemed to be passing through.  I couldn't pick up on any ghostly atmosphere, though the appearance of two shady looking Hull City fans (possibly S.S.) did give me a slight start as I wasn't expecting to see any away fans!  The ales were okay but nowt spectacular, and I may well have had something from the local Wolf brewery which we knew from our trips to Torquay's Crown & Sceptre.

358.  Cricketers, Ipswich

There is a slight chance that this Wetherspoons was actually first visited 4th May 2008, as we waited for overrated Adnams pub the Greyhound to count the exact seconds down to 12 noon on a hot 'warm' up for our 'playoff adventure'.  My only real memories of this experience were the big 'HOME FANS ONLY', us covering up (I even took my top off and hid it in Dad's carrier bag, I assume I had another layer on!) and then my horror as Christine was getting served next to me and a black and amber wristband fell down her sleeve as she handed the change over - as it was, no one cared!  But my definite first visit was 19th Feb 2011 on a rain soaked day and me and Dad were desperate for somewhere to get dry whilst we waited for the highly anticipated opening of St Jude's Tavern.  Despite being before 11am and not near the ground, the traditional "HOME FANS ONLY" sign was up as seems to be the case in 90% of Ipswich pubs.  In terms of place and people, I think it is only fair to comment that I think Ipswich is one of the biggest shitholes I've ever visited, and that is saying something!  This time, I just zipped my coat up to the top but the old local's staring at us over their breakfasts just wound me up, and as soon as we got served, my colours were on display as I paraded towards the loo with a northern swagger!  I must have got braver in the intervening 3 years.  A couple near me were talking golf and I'd earlier found a golf ball in my pocket, which I felt may have been confiscated at Portman Road.  So in an act of kindness, I gave the ball to them on the way out.  They looked bewildered but grateful, people don't do nice things in Ipswich!

Despite Cricketers nearness to Christchurch Park and therefore, the Greyhound, the other Wetherspoons I can locate in the town "The Robert Ransome" is even closer if we'd walked down Fonnereau Road in search of an early opener (I remember seeing P McGinty's  over the road cos we made a Brian McGinty joke).  This actually leads me to feel Cricketers may well have been the 4/5/08 pub due to being on our right (Ransome and McGinty's seem practically next door to each other), but as I can't be sure, I'll err on the side of caution for now.  Maybe will try n solve it in 2016!

So there we have it, 16 left to archive!  The next 8 of these coming up next Monday.


Sunday 15 November 2015

BRAPA - Luton & Whipsnade

One of the most low-key BRAPA pubs ever (see no.741) 

There's no doubt about it, I'm going to have to work hard to finish ticking off the remainder of Bedfordshire's pub entries after a day (best described as "uncomfortable") yielded only 3 ticks.

My minimum aim setting off was 4, the 3 remaining Luton ones plus Whipsnade, with a leisurely crawl back into London taking in a couple of St Albans ticks, for example.  As it turned out, no chance!

Omens didn't bode well from the off as my Grand Central train was crawling with brownies off on some kind of London beezer.  Mrs Brown Owl was next to me, constantly moving around, making sure kids n adults were ok, handing out food etc.  But she was considerate of fellow passengers so I couldn't hate her, and I couldn't move as almost every seat was reserved.

Then, there was the weather with remnants of Hurricane Abigail or the other one, it was heavy rain and winds all day.  And I mean all day!

Still, I couldn't blame Luton for anything that went wrong.  The people were smiley, the immediate city centre was refurbished and clean (not sure about the outer reaches) and it shows you shouldn't go into a town with too many pre-conceptions.

739.  London Hatter, Luton

A slight train delay and St Pancras was followed by an interminable wait for service at the bar - the type of which only ever seems to happen in Wetherspoons.  Seriously, it's match day, Luton are at home to Barnet, this pub is an early opener on a wet day in the city centre, and they have ONE barmaid on??  Not good enough.  And then a jolly rugged Luton man told me I should've shouted up, but I knew the Barnet fan to the right was before me.  Bar Etiquette it's called.  In fact, the clash of various shades of amber and orange football shirts was enough to give anyone a headache.  I wished I'd worn my Hull City top for extra clashing and confusion!  The atmosphere though was sedate and friendly, as I took a pint of ale from Orkney to the very back corner.  Time had ticked along so quickly, I no longer had to think about how to fill in time before the Whipsnade bus.  The police wandered in, noticeable because the pub atmos immediately went down a notch, but they had no business here and the two Barnet fans looked visibly shaken by their presence!  My beer was typically Wetherspoons in flavour, but better quality than some with the initials TJS in Hull for example.  Despite my efforts to "try and get out of the way", a huge group of Luton fans (about 15 including one girl embarrassed by her Dad) blocked me in to the corner so escaping was a struggle!

Grey, concrete, wet - Luton Wetherspoons time! 
But escape I did and I was soon catching the X31 service to Whipsnade.  Seriously though, what a painful and convoluted bus route through the back streets of Luton.  Combined with heavy traffic (football related perhaps?  Though there were ambulances), I'd been on the bus three quarters of an hour by the time we anywhere near my destination and my bladder (having a worse day than usual) was struggling so I 'bailed' at the next village down Kensworth.  I knew my pub was on the right side of Whipsnade (in more ways than one), but I still had a typically dodgy no-pavement walk in pouring rain to the next pub, sodden feet didn't dry for the rest of the day!

740.  Old Hunters Lodge, Whipsnade

In other circumstances, this could have been a cracker - what with a beautiful thatched roof, ancient tudor building and cracking pub garden at the front.  Nevertheless, it was still very good and the jolly rounded host gave me a run down of the ales, I asked for a "restoration owl" but he'd actually said "restoration ale" from Leighton Buzzard's newish brewery.  Dark, warming, strong, just what I needed at this stage.  Helping out with food and stuff was a friendly brunette girl, and had the whole pub been like the right hand side, it'd definitely have had "green owl" (i.e. my perfect pub) elements.  I sat in a little snug with a low hanging beam, it was so ancient, I knew I was in the best place.  I wonder how many people have hit their head on that over the years.  Barmaid kept stealing chips from a plate, which I thought gave her a good dishonest edge, til I realised this was her own lunch.  Meanwhile, a blonde girl who I assumed was a barmaid on maternity leave came in, so there was lot of cooing over a baby, whilst the Dad kept singing it a song about "big butts" which amused nobody but himself.  Time had raced on like it does in good pubs, and I quickly had to get to the bus stop, saying bye to brunette and her mouthful of chips. 

Thatched Tudor joy in Whipsnade
The rain was worse than ever now, a fact that wasn't lost on a passing cyclist.  I was a bit confused exactly where this bus was going to stop (being delayed didn't help) but as it was, it stopped on both sides as it did a turning circle at the zoo - suddenly it made sense!

The bus was even more tortuous than the journey here, with every traffic light on red for ages, speed bumps everywhere, unhelpful car drivers, and by the time we passed Kenilworth Road, it was nearly gridlock (did everyone leave at half time?) and I felt very much like Aaron McLean - desperate to get off the bench!  

There was no way I was going to make my bus connection to Wigmore, whether I stayed on or jumped off, so I again went, and made the shorter walk to my other required pub.

741.  English Rose, Luton

I expect this pub had been a hive of activity pre-match, perhaps, as the only thing that excited the elderly landlord, Irishman and other local was the news Luton were 1-0 up at half time.  Other than that, the pub seemed to be suffering seriously lull - I've never known such a quiet atmosphere I can recalling in all my BRAPA experiences.  They had some fine ales on though, all from breweries I'd never or only vaguely heard of so I had a tasty mild with a hint of chocolate called 'Halfway to Heaven', with my Chas n Dave gig of Wednesday still fresh in my mind, as they do this in a medley.  The pub had a pool table (I could've had a game versus myself!) and a local was playing on a fruit machine and getting quite annoyed when landlord tried to engage him in conversation (particularly about French terrorist attacks), but other than that, there was stillness all round.  It was quite relaxing, but kind of felt sinister too though I can't really put my finger on why, maybe my pre-conceptions of Luton again.

Stillness prevails, excellent ales - English Rose, Luton

I knew that with time ticking on, getting a bus out to Wigmore Lane would leave me pushing it timewise for the train back to London (I was on the 19:11 Grand Central and MUST try and book later trains on days like this, I often regret it and only do it cos cheaper by a few quid).  So I walked up to where I'd seen a taxi rank earlier with half an eye on the Park Square bus stop.

And there it was!  A bus with Wigmore Lane written on it,  it was fate.  I jumped on, but the driver admitted he didn't know this route and a particularly annoying woman (who the whole bus hated) ended up complaining to him when the poor man was trying his best to get it right!  

What I didn't realise, was that Wigmore Lane is about a mile long and this service (obviously not a 17A unless the driver had got it really wrong) simply dabbled it's feet at the top of Wigmore lane, whizzed North to Stopsley, and then back to Luton in a loop!  What a farce,  Oh well, I tried and was back in Luton so no harm done.

So at least, back in London I had time for a swift half in the busiest Parcel Yard ever (just to add to the "uncomfortable" theme) and an Italian Upper Crust and juice for the (surprisingly quiet) journey back to York.  

Settle Porter in the hallway at Parcel Yard (sat on a bench like Aaron McLean)
So, I'm fortunate that my (final) January Bedfordshire trip sees me on the Bedford - St Pancras line with plenty of time to spare (he says) so instead of my Harpenden / St Albans plan, I can make sure I get that 17A to the Wigmore Arms instead.  I'll be making sure with the bus driver this time and also hoping he's a bit more experienced on this route, just in case!

I'll be back tomorrow with the third last archives edition, I'm off to Headingley on Tuesday, and we've got a bit of Bristol / Bedminster fun to squeeze in around the football on Saturday so plenty to look forward to.


Tuesday 10 November 2015

BRAPA - Longwood

If all BRAPA pubs involving a bus journey were this straightforward, I'd be laughing (uncontrollably and rocking backwards and forwards at the back of the same bus, most probably).

Tonight was simple, train to Huddersfield, walk to bus station, enjoy the calming classical music juxtaposed by angry swearing teenagers on phones, get bus to Longwood where 20 minutes later, it terminated 1 minute walk from my pub in a turning circle, where it then arrived 32 minutes later to take me back to Hudds.  Even for a travel idiot like me, this was almost too simple.

I was a bit concerned that luminous blue lighting shone through the front quarter of the bus, so presumably Longwood's heroin users don't like to venture too far down the bus, unless of course, the drivers are the ones 'chasing the dragon' (not literally, that'd be hard on a WY Metro service).

738.  Dusty Miller Inn, Longwood

I must confess I only spent 28 minutes in the pub, thus breaking my own code of conduct!  But it was 28 minutes of pure West Yorkshire midweek evening pub, goodness, almost like a highlights package of my 2015 Tuesday evening experiences.  A no nonsense but friendly landlord serves me a Black Jack from the local Milltown brewery, for which this pub is the de facto brewery tap.  "It's a Porter you know!" he said in a warning voice.  "Even better!" I say to calm his fears.  A woman (possibly his wife and landlady getting slowly drunk) smiles at me, a local eats pork scratchings loudly at the bar, and a nervous man in red loses some money on a fruit machine.  A local group (two men, two women) come in for after work drinks and laugh happily about weather and their kids and hating modern technology despite using it throughout.  Smiling lady must work here as she reassuringly alludes to this pub being ancient as, despite the ridiculously mild weather, it is freezing cold upstairs.  Haunted I assume.  Sadly, I can't see any signs of the homemade pies and chutney that the GBG offers but I wasn't planning on staying long.  The pub has that nice exposed brickwork, old pictures of Longwood and a nice loungy feel where I'm sat, but a stoney bar area, no menus or cutlery I'm glad to see.  If this pub was in Bedfordshire, it'd win every CAMRA award going.

All that is good in West Yorks pubs at the Dusty Miller
The porter slipped down too well otherwise I'd have missed the bus and had to stay for another, and despite the traditional recent slight delays at both Huddersfield and Leeds, I was still home and having tea and HIGNFY catch-up before 8pm.  Job done!

My Black Jack by Mill Town slipped down too easily! 

So the mini-challenge to finish West Yorkshire before the end of 2015 goes on, Headingley next Tuesday.  Just a shame it is generally hard to combine/link these pubs on evenings without massive cost that I simply can't afford so I'll plod on, one (occasionally two) at a time.  

But attentions turn back towards Beds on Saturday, see you Sunday for the report on that.