Monday 7 December 2015

BRAPA Special - The Birth of BRAPA

*Disclaimer - I'd only read this if you are really hardcore, really bored or a geek like me!*

The Birth of BRAPA

I was travelling home from the ridiculously posh Virginia Water on Saturday 11th January 2014 after completing the letter "V" of my A-Z adventure, and it suddenly dawned on me that the A-Z was coming to an end in two months time and I needed a new challenge.  

After immediate panic ("what am I going to do with my life?") it didn't take me long to come up with an idea, so simplistic yet so difficult, it captured my imagination from the off.  "THE BIG 4500!" I exclaimed in my notepad on Monday 13th Jan, "One man ... one ale guide ... one dice .... a smart phone ..... a sense of adventure .... a reliable charger ..... a local bus timetable .... a beer App ..... a Twitter Account!"  Maybe not the catchiest mission statement but it was the first thing I came up with. 

From the get-go, my plan was that the only fitting pub to start at was the very first pub in the Good Beer Guide 2014, the Albion in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, and also to get this thing properly off the ground, I'd make a weekend of it and have an overnight stay, hence double pubbing!  I spent ages planning the logistics of this particular trip. 

Actually, I was so into the Big 4500 idea, that by 20th Jan, I was telling my friend Krzb Britain that my heart wasn't in the final few A-Z trips anymore and it was just a case of rushing through the final few as quickly as possible.

Wed 29th Jan was quite a watershed day (excuse the pun) as floods and heavy winds delayed the journey back home from a Crystal Palace away game but at least I was in first class comfort (remember those golden East Coast reward point days aaaah?!) and I was desperately trying to bottom out my Bedfordshire plan.  As soon as I got home, I typed an official "Mission Statement, Rules and Regulations" but it was quite a rambling monologue.

I wrote about the difficulties of finding a 'cultural' element to some of the A-Z trips and how most people thought they were glorified pub crawls anyway!  Which they were.  I revealed other ideas people had suggested to me were to either visit all 92 football league grounds, finish the Scottish lower league ones, or even visit every cathedral in the UK.  Ideas I was all open to until the advent of the "Big 4500".  

I answered a few early FAQ's which I assume were my own questions!  I said it wouldn't significantly increase my drinking amount, wondered if I'd be a hypocrite for not joining CAMRA,  and that I wouldn't be doing the pubs in order as some people had actually asked(!) (though I did do the first two in order at least!) 

I talked even at this early stage about cross ticking the Good Beer Guide every September when a new one is released and that if I'd already visited a GBG pub on a football day for example, it would NOT need revisiting i.e. I wasn't starting from a totally clean slate cos I needed the encouragement of a head start!

I wrote about the survival kit i.e. what I'd take on a day out (someone at work suggested 'a clean pair of undies' might be a good addition!), and I spoke about brilliant beer App, Untappd, and also how I'd "tweet 'em to death" on Twitter with the quote ".... and encouragement from the likes of Ben and John will help!"  

I also spoke about the 'official soundtrack', as I complied a selection of songs on iTunes which are relevant to the challenge which I could listen to on the way there and back on the train (I will do a separate special feature detailing these). 

I decided to use a "county planner" to randomly decide where I'd go.  I used a 20 sided dice to select from a "near" county, and then a "far" county, two trips a month on Saturday's normally.  I'd get people at work or friends to roll the dice to add an element of interactivity, then tag them in on social media.  I admitted the "far" counties would be done less frequently, and although train travel is my primary source of transport, 2 - 3 mile walks and bus services would be implemented.  

The southern county planner - March 2014
I even turned a corner of my sitting room into a "Big 4500 Nerve Centre" and pinned up a huge map of the UK, monthly agendas, historic GBG's, and all sorts.  Dad said "just don't let it consume your life" but it was too late for that.
On the same evening, I emailed Tom to say "Though I am rushing through the last few A-Z letters now ... the BIG4500 is my top focus now and can't wait to get started on my plan to visit EVERY pub!"  It sounded Jack the Ripper-esque!  I did Wakefield the following day (30th Jan) so had only X, Y (one combined Scottish trip) and Z (Zouch - Loughborough) left.  I was already asking Tom travel advice about a May trip to Isle of Wight, proof I was planning ahead for my next 'far' Big4500 trip after Bedford.

5th Feb and I renamed the Big 4500 as BRAPA - the British Real Ale Pub Adventure, originally "British" was "Big".

Also at this time, an FA Cup game at Brighton was annoyingly moved to a Monday night, so rather than waste my already booked train ticket, I arranged to go down on Saturday 15th Feb anyway and treat it was a BRAPA fine tuning session, the key being a bus and long walk to a pub at Wivelsfield Green.  I was still a bit skeptical as to how much I'd enjoy it and whether I'd felt it'd be something I would want to do regularly, so luckily I came away feeling the day had been a success.  

The Cock Inn at Wivelsfield Green, key BRAPA pre-season pub tick.

A week later, I ticked off two new pubs in Cardiff as part of an away game and for the first time had half an eye on the fact that these would count towards my BRAPA total.  The same was presumably true a few weeks later when I visited many pubs in the Glasgow area for the X&Y A-Z day on 1st March though I had no idea of my "number of GBG pubs visited" at this stage.  I hadn't started physically highlighting Good Beer Guide entries.

More televised football mayhem found me and Tom in London a week later for another for a second pre-season BRAPA friendly.  I enjoyed this day even more than the Brighton one, got through lots of pubs early in the day and didn't feel too worse for wear as I learnt to take BRAPA snacks as part of the survival kit and stay hydrated. 

One of my favourite pubs on BRAPA's pre-season day in London 8/3/14, since de-guided

A week later on 15th March 2014, the A-Z mercifully came to an end inb Zouch.  Out of respect for the competition, I tried not to think of it in pub ticking terms but by the time me and Krzb were in a Loughborough pub with tonnes of historic ale guides, we were debating the concept of pre-emptive pub ticks for the first time, having also passed some promising looking pubs not currently listed.  I couldn't hide where my passion now lay.  

Even so, a trip to Stoke for football two weeks later didn't find me wondering what new GBG pubs I could go to, we were quite happy to go to White Star and stay there thank you very much!  That attitude wouldn't last for long.

So April came around and suddenly we were there, the official start of BRAPA and a fantastic 13 pub weekend in Bedfordshire to get me going in style .... it didn't all go smoothly (my bus back from my first Ampthill pub tick broke down due to an oil leak!) and I learnt a lot that weekend.  It made me realise that BRAPA was here to stay.

Where's the welcome party??  Arriving at my first official BRAPA pub in Ampthill.

It's only right that the Albion in Ampthill is the first pub given a "number" in the pubs visited list.  Although I didn't have figures until much later in April, it would have been number 381.  In fact, the first pub I officially allocated a number to was King's Head at Earls Court (398) before Fulham away, probably when I'd finished ticking the GBG.

Stone Jug in Clophill - pub 10 of my Beds trip
Good Friday the 18th April was my next chance to get some BRAPA ticks in as we had a gang day out to Nottingham.  The idea was to go to a beer festival at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem but when we learnt the fest wasn't starting until evening (one of the weirdest pub festival decisions ever!) I guided us towards some new pubs - though I didn't push BRAPA down the throats of my fellow travellers for fear of scaring them.  I even alluded to a pre-emptive visit for the first time when we visited the Crafty Crow, stating that it's not in the GBG now but am sure it will be in September!  I was wrong, but it did finally appear in the 2016 GBG.  

This was the same week I decided my "near" and "far" county randomiser was flawed. I needed to "think locally and fuck nationally", to quote me at the time (based on a Gogol Bordello song),   This led me to an idea of visiting West Yorkshire pubs on a midweek after work, starting Tuesday 22nd April with a short walk (yes, a  short walk!) from my workplace to two pubs in Holbeck - how could I have been so foolish as to not have thought of this sooner? 

BRAPA was well and truly up and running now and I brought up the 400 at the wonderful Regent in Chapel Allerton the following Tuesday, and the ultimate pub challenge to end all challenges has been gaining momentum ever since.


  1. First question. As I read the article, do I count as "really hardcore, really bored or a geek like me"? (obviously the last bit should be geek like you, but I copied and pasted it). I can rule out bored because I have other internet reading and emails to send, but I'm torn between the other two.

    I must thank you for an interesting insight, some of which I didn't know about. I also thank you for reminding me of some emails I'd completely forgotten about.

    Will the official "Mission Statement, Rules and Regulations" be published or has it been superseded by the code of conduct? Just so I can avoid committing offences, as I fear I might have by advocating non pre-emptive Grove on Saturday.

    For the question marks on the now defunct southern county planner, I would say yes to Shrops being a practically French county, no to West Mids being a county, southern or otherwise. I would also have Lincolnshire on the list, possibly Derbyshire and even South Yorkshire.

    It shows how far the strategy has come, I still wonder with hindsight whether West Ham day we should have done the other Barnet pubs (a future London Sky day maybe, to add to the list with Bromley). The fuck national is also a good strategic move, particularly if the definition of local were to change when Yorkshire is finished.

    1. Glad you found it useful Tom, sometimes I write a blog and wonder if any one'll find it interesting!

      It may have been you who sparked the local over national idea.

      You are hardcore AND a geek like me! Code of conduct did supersede it.


  2. Did you get to meet the famous Legz at the Charlotte Despard?

    1. Indeed, we did get to meet the fantastic Legz, see Simon's review here:

      He was so good that Si awarded him the inaugural BRAPA pub pet of the year award.

    2. Yes Legz is still the best BRAPA pet to date and with all this Bag o' Nails in Bristol talk, I'm wondering how long until the first 'real pubs with real cats'

  3. Thanks Simon - that answers most of my unasked questions.

    In the absence of publication of the official rules, can I ask - if a pub doesn't have any real ale on, do you have to go back ? What if it's in the Orkneys ?

    NB I started doing this, after completing the 92 League grounds at the Riverside in '99. I think it will be easier to visit every non-league ground in the Pyramid than to complete the GBG with current churn rate.

    1. Thanks Martin. That's a good question, it is true of pubs I did pre-BRAPA like Ivy House in Sunderland when a student, which I visited when only a lager pub, I probably wouldn't have drunk ale then anyway.

      Plan is to tick them off (it is a pub challenge more than a beer one) now but revisit them for ale right at the end of the challenge when I'm 63!

      Yes I think all football grounds in UK even would be easier than this!