Sunday 31 January 2016

BRAPA : Bury (are you Chiswick in disguise?)

Half time at a snowy Gigg Lane

I was jumping for joy when I saw that Hull City had been drawn away from home against "lower league opposition" in this year's FA Cup 4th round.  After all, it's been a long time since I went to Gigg Lane and in my mind, Bury is your traditional Lancashire town built on black pudding, cotton and friendly old chaps in flat caps.  I was expecting the pubs to reflect this.

793.  Robert Peel, Bury

And it all started well enough in the clamour of a busy early morning Wetherspoons, where the whole town seemed to have to come to shelter from the sideways wind and snow.  I remembered to use my "50p" off vouchers and soon was enjoying a cracking pale ale by Brightside in Radcliffe, which was the tram stop just before this one.  We'd come in via Manchester Piccadilly on the Metro, I hadn't even realised Bury didn't have a regular train service.  Dad's been asking if 'cleanliness' should be considered an important pub factor in my recent pub poll, and the sticky tables and post breakfast crumbs & sauce mean that this pub wouldn't have done well here, especially when an old man behind me swept them off the table into the back of my coat (I would have complained but he looked a bit frail). I've always thought Lancashire was one of the friendliest counties in the UK (Greater Manchester here if you are going by the Good Beer Guide) and a table of Shakers saw my Hull City top and started asking about the game and the masses of fans we were supposedly bringing.  I broke with tradition and declared I was confident of a win so glad that didn't come back to haunt me.  The police then did what they do best on football days, walking into a pub for no reason, looking lost, causing a lull in the atmosphere, and sheepishly leaving as quickly as they arrived.  It was time to go too but only after we declared this "best pint in a Wetherspoon pub for years".

Arriving at the Robert Peel for Spoons based fun.
794.  Automatic Cafe & Malt Real Ale Bar, Bury

A very short walk away, we found this scarily named place like some big clanking metal canteen, with a long thin bar and an echoing cacophony of coffee drinking females just as popular as the 'Spoons we'd just come from.  Dad found a tiny side room which should really have been the snug / the drinkers refuge but this to was light and airy with all tables laid out with knives, forks and serviettes (the latter strangely removed when Tom sat down with our drinks).  Staff were friendly, ales were good with Bury's own Silver Street doing a very warming rum porter perfect on a day like this,  This place made more sense when we realised it was a theatre bar and things took a turn for the worst when a portal to hell opened a load of kids exited from the morning matinee "Adventures with Sam on the Farm" (which as you can see from the pictures below, Dad & Tom unwittingly recreated).  Soon I had a pushchair wheeled into the back of my seat and we were surrounded, and it's fair to say we didn't belong and our presence was not entirely appreciated here.  The local paedophiles may see this as a kind of heaven, but we certainly didn't.  Interestingly, the Good Beer Guide does state "priority may be given to diners at lunchtime".  At least we weren't moved (more on that later!)  We were glad to get out, Tom shouting a hearty "goodbye" at the kids & coffee clones but getting no reply.

Tom thumbs up (playing Sam) and Dad (as Heidi the Hen) at the Automatic

Forget the mystery of the golden egg, what about the mystery of where Bury's old man pubs have gone.
795.  Clarence, Bury

"Oh well", we thought, as we walked the few short paces to our next "pub", "at least things can't be as bad as that!".  WRONG!  The street corner positioning and pub layout suggested a place that was once a no nonsense black pudding eaters boozer.  This was borne out by some placemats celebrating the pubs 110 year heritage, all of which now sadly lost apart from some very snazzy tiled flooring in the gents.   Initial signs were positive, as a friendly bar chap served us some top quality Silver Street ales.  But we thought we'd misheard when he charged us £9.70 for 2 pints and a pint of blackcurrant cordial (tap water, no ice) for Tom.  That is £3.50 for a pint of ale (bad but not unheard of, I live in York!) but £2.70 is the most Tom has ever been charged and he's been drinking blackcurrant with us for over 10 years now (he did get two straws, mind).  In fact, pubs have not charged 1p for this drink on three occasions recently (including in London).   We argued it down to £2.50 but it was little consolation.  We sat down and soon realised we were in a restaurant (and not the McDonald's variety) rather than a pub.  Dad's theory was that they didn't want to know about us drinkers, and had we been dining, Tom's drink would have cost a lot less.  A scary thought but one that resonated.  I shuddered to think what the 1st floor lounge and cocktail bar were like.  Having reached the latter stages of our pints, a nervous looking young barman appeared from the shadows and asked if he could "make a poilte request" i.e. move us for diners.  The cherry on the icing on the shit flavoured Clarence cake!  We pre-empted his request and were off anyway, Dad telling the man who would be claiming our seats to enjoy his "fart arsed ponce burger!"  Tom meanwhile told him the food was rubbish.  It was a good way to exit a truly horrific 'pub' experience.

Pubcurmudgeon writes about the issue of pub diners taking priority over drinkers here, check it out:

Nice from the outside - arriving at the Clarence.
We cut our losses after this and made a return visit to the excellent steam orientated railway pub The Trackside Bar.  It was heaving, not only full of Hull City fans but also some dirty  L**ds fans on the way to Bolton trying to avoid the long arm of the law.  Unless they thought Bolton Street meant they were in Bolton and not Bury.  Who can tell with that mob?  An 'orderly' queue was formed at the bar, not very pubby etiquette so I squashed my way in front and soon we were drinking excellent Caveman beers from Kent out on the freezing platform.

Tom & Dad enjoying the cold at Bury's Trackside Bar
We eventually got a seat indoors when the W.S. departed, it was easily the highlight of a traumatic pub day.  The match was a lot of fun, great old ground, nice straightforward win for the Tigers, and post match I nearly went to Whitefield or some new namby pamby place in Manc Victoria station but it didn't quite appeal, with another 'orderly' queue to the bar (is this a new Greater Manchester thing?) and couldn't see any cask.  

Despite everything, I'd have to say that every pint I had today was top quality, and some interesting local breweries on display.  It's enough to make me think "should I be using a "Good Pub Guide" rather than a "Good Beer" one?  But then, I'd probably just moan about poor beer quality all the time!  


Thursday 28 January 2016

BRAPA - Cross Hills (it's near Keighley okay?!)

The kind of toilet door locking fun you'd only get in a micropub.

To say I work in Leeds where everybody has heard of Keighley, no one seemed to have heard of the little ale friendly town of Cross Hills.  My working day went something like this:

"Oooh, do you mean Cross Gates?" "No!" "Oh, bless him, I think he means, Crossflatts, my train stops there!" "Arrrghh, FFS, NO!!"

Although I recently declared West Yorkshire "complete" in pub ticking terms, this felt like a WY night as I boarded the suffocating 16:26 train which didn't help by moving platforms at the last minute.  A rainy windswept walk to Keighley bus station ensued, where I was just in time to board the 66 "across the county boundary stone" (as it was dramatically put to me by one local) into North Yorkshire.

Another wintery walk followed, the smell of silage and countryside hanging in the air as I found my pub tucked away over a bridge in an industrial estate (but easier to find than the Hipperholme equivalent).

This pub had been a bugger to try and visit over the last two years with it's "open only Friday 3-11" policy so I was glad to see extended opening hours in this year's GBG.

Arriving at the Emporium of Delight
792.  Naylor's Beer Emporium, Cross Hills

It's amazing how cosy you can make a little industrial portacabin but I entered to a warm, friendly and welcoming thing where the two Mr Naylor's (one serving, one 'quality control testing') greeted me, asked what beer style I like (errrm, ALL of them) and I was soon enjoying a "Sizzler".  I'm not one for standing/sitting at the bar as I generally find it intimidating and unhelpful but there are times when it is justified, and this was one of them.  So I perched on a stool and managed to get the customary BRAPA explanation out there though they seemed a bit put out when I insisted they were part of North Yorkshire and not West.  I've never been totally won over by Naylor's beers when sampling them elsewhere - even in York's Golden Ball (one of my all time favourite pubs) they've tasted distinctly average, but the Sizzler and my swift half of 1919 were superb.  It started to fill up a bit, an elderly couple ordering pie and peas, even two local chav lads were friendly when they came in and struggled with the concept of peas in any form ("I'm allergic to anything green" one snarled in a half jokey, half "i'm going to murder you" way).  The food smelt amazing and I wish I'd stayed now, but when baby Naylor crawled in and was cooed at by all the locals, I knew it was time to get moving.

Sitting at the bar in Cross Hills

Gallagher's Ale House, Cross Hills

You've got to treat all micropubs as a pre-emptive pub tick in the current climate and this newbie, only open since 18th December, was pretty much opposite my bus stop too so no reason not to go.  It had all the usual hallmarks, a sparse but strangely welcoming and comfy feel,  micro brew pumps lined up helpfully from "light to dark", helpful staff, quirky middle aged locals and a strange upstairs single loo shared with a hypnotherapy place next door (ok, so the last one is a new one on me).  The main problem with Gallagher's was that it was so new, you could still smell the paint, which isn't great when you are trying to enjoy a 4.8% red ale from someone obscure in Bristol.  The barmaid was American, a nice lady who reminded me of slimline Judy Bryant from Prisoner CBH and no, I don't expect any of you to get that reference either.  I phoned Dad to send my birthday wishes, and before I knew it, time had raced on and it was bus time.  I came away feeling the future of ale is bright in Cross Hills. 

Gallagher's in the gloom

I'd been really lucky to get buses with less than 30 seconds wait in both cases, so as fate would have it, I was delayed over 40 minutes in Leeds for a train back to York as we had both "trespassing on the line" AND "a failed train".  My hand was forced so I went for a MaccyD's and could only dream what might have been, with some Naylor's pies & peas!

Sunday 24 January 2016

BRAPA - Posho South West London

Tom, Dad, BRAPA debutant Eddie and a naked lady enjoying a drink & chat (pub 791)
Having left York at 8am, arriving at Kew Gardens tube station approx 10:45am was about as good an outcome as me and Dad could have expected.  We saw Tom lurking on the railway bridge like an underachieving fairytale troll, and I was ready to begin ticking some new pubs in the name of BRAPA.........

Arriving at our first "pub" of the day.
787.  Tap on the Line, Kew 

It's probably not a good sign when I admit that the highlight here was being outside it!  True, it might not look like a pub in any traditional sense but I liked the garden pavilion Victorian style design that probably is supposed to remind you Kew is more famous for pretty flowers than proper pubs.   We entered a pretty soulless bar area where women, pushchairs and families enjoying smoked salmon on toast were the order of the day.  I was suddenly conscious of my Hull City shirt and how much I was dirtying the place.  Initially, I could only see 3 Fullers ales and the Oliver Island was served ridiculously warm.  I'm not a fan of cold beer at all (hence why I drink cask, not keg) but this was like drinking a liquefied human organ.  We later spied some taps at the back of the bar, Tom thought perhaps they were 'hidden' gravity beers which would explain why the GBG said they'd be some guest ales aswell as the Fullers.  We sent Dad to investigate but one taste of a Camden Pale later, I don't think they were gravity, but refreshingly 'cold' (and fizzy) and though I don't believe in conspiracies, I did wonder if this 'pub' serves the cask so warm so you can see the contrast!  

Putting a brave face on it, as I wait for a Gunnersbury train.
We missed a train by seconds so Dad took the above well considered photo, we'll make a David Bailey of him yet, and a few mins later, we were at the next stop up the line, Gunnersbury, a shortish walk to our next pub.  And this pub didn't need inverted commas! 

788.  Old Pack Horse, Chiswick

It was a timely reminder that Fullers own some cracking old buildings, and what impressed me here as it had done in Totternhoe (and others) last year, is that they are very good at keeping their dining areas separate from the drinking areas, so much so that if you stayed in the main bar, you might not even know food existed here.  I only knew because I had to walk into this area looking for the loo, where the bored food staff had nothing to do other than to act as 'toilet directionists' (if that is a job title).  The toilets had two different entrances/exists which I assume is very rare, a BRAPA first I thought but Tom told me the Fat Cat in Sheffield has the same, though I can't remember, the beer there is just too good.  We sat on some rather plush low sunk settees (not usually my choice), a bit of bench seating wouldn't have gone amiss, but it was nice to stare upwards and admire the ornateness over an pint of excellent pint of Adnams Ghost Ship.   

And this pub was an impressive inside and it was outside.
Dad had to go and meet his friend Eddie at a posho eatery in Parsons Green, though he'd done the classic Dad thing of saying "5 mins longer and I could've settled down there for the day!"  But BRAPA stops for no man and me and Tom walked to Chiswick Park tube where we took a short ride to Turnham Green.

789.  George IV, Chiswick

If George the ghost has really been haunting this place since 1777, he must feel he is stuck in a sort of purgatory.  I certainly did, this pub might be old but it made the Tap on the Line seem characterful.  I think the smell of food didn't help, neither did the sterile 'high-table' layout or the boring function room "Boston Room" towards the back which would have been a joyful snug in rural West Yorkshire.  As Tom pointed out, the food smell was set to 'roast dinners' which seemed all the more surprising when you looked at the pretentious menu.  Not even the beer good save it, I went for the Fullers winter seasonal ale, Jack Frost, having enjoyed it's berry flavors on my visit to the Brewery Tap a year ago last week, but on this occasion, the flavours didn't really come through.  Unless you are doing a BRAPA-esque challenge, I wouldn't lose any sleep about not coming here. 

Great pic from Tom, pubs looks ace, but it isn't. 
790.  Tabard, Chiswick

Even closer to Turnham Green station I found my next pub,  We just had time to squeeze another one in before kick off.  This was more like it, I'd actually assumed it was a Fullers pub such was my expectations in the home of the brewery, so I was obviously somewhat perplexed when I saw 4 handpumps, each with two pump clips on each.  Being a great mathematician, I can tell you that is 8 beers and no Fullers in sight!  I know I looked perplexed because an Aussie barmaid (who wasn't currently working like all good Aussies) decided to help, and was very much in favour of me trying to Wimbledon Common Pale, so much so I asked if she had shares in the brewery but such subtle 'humour' went over her head.  She also thought me and Tom had just come from playing football, obviously looking exhausted by our Saturday pub travels to date!  Sadly, time was at a premium by now but we found a delightful little area at the back of the pub with little snuggy areas (and we weren't even in rural West Yorkshire) and nice tiles.  I can see why it is Grade II listed and had I glanced upwards, I might have seen a first floor theatre.  Very good.

Back on form at the Tabard
After a very hard fought win for the Taaargers at the lovely Craven Cottage, we met up with Dad and Eddie and took the tube to South Kensington for a final celebratory 'tick' of the day.

Quite a nice tube station entrance, could be a pub!

791.  Anglesea Arms, South Kensington

The neighbourhood (if you can call it that) seemed as well-heeled as it comes, but lacking in pubs, and off the main road, we found an incredibly busy place with young rah rah types spilling out into the street / smoking area.  The staff (mainly east european barmaids) were on the ball to help us get served in ultra quick fashion in what was once apparently a Charles Dickens local, though a bit like Dick Turpin up here, he probably had about 500 local pubs.  We squashed into a corner at the back where the cutlery and sauces didn't seem to be getting much usage, good I thought, well until we got comfy resting on them and then everyone decided they wanted to order food.  But for the most part, this was a fantastic drinkers pub, tonnes of atomsphere with a friendly feel and proper pub decor.  Not what I was expecting, so always a nice bonus.

After an amusing journey back to Kings Cross on the Piccadilly line where I met the stereotypical 'crazy-don't-make-eye-contact-or-engage-in-conversation' chap, there was still time for a swift half at my pub of the moment Scottish Stores, and once more, I was amazed by it's quality.  It was full of themed 60's hippies, so not sure why the affable barman thought I was "part of their group" unless they all wore 2009 Hull City shirts on their days off!  Anyway, blackcurrant cordial is free and the stout I ordered was absolutely beautiful, one of my pints of 2016 so far and the lack of seat didn't seem to matter much.

Then it was time for an Upper Crust Italian and the 8pm train home surrounded by Newcastle fans.


Wednesday 20 January 2016

BRAPA - Bishopthorpe (It's near York!)

When I first got sight of the 2016 GBG at a family barbecue (late Aug/early Sept), one of the first real eye openers was that there was not just one, but TWO Bishopthorpe pubs suddenly in the Guide!  I've only ever seen Bishopthorpe as a place to walk or drive through when you are off to parents house or York college.  Even my sister laughed and said "even I've been to those pubs!"  Oh, the shame.

But it was still nice to get my regular 16:17 train 'home' from L**ds to York, cross the road, hop on the number 11, and before I could blink, I was there.  Easiest Midweek BRAPA trip ever?  Second only to when I realised the Grove in Holbeck existed.

Arriving at the Ebor, first pub I came to on Main Street
785.  Ebor, Bishopthorpe

I had that pleasing conundrum of "left or right" entrance as I walked into this grand looking old coaching style inn.  In 2014, I went "left", in 2015 I went "right", so it only seemed right to go back to the "left" for the new year.  I'm glad I did.  I was immediately hit with a big dose of Sam Smith's pub atmosphere, all calming dark wood, oak panelling, shiny brass and mirrors.  Getting served took an age (had I gone "right" I'd have been okay) but eventually a chirpy young chap in an overly tight shirt got me an OBB.  You could tell you'd left York because (a) it was dirt cheap even by Sam's standards and (b) the locals all smiled and said hello.  One group were loving it so much, they were in fits of hysterics (something to do with farming machinery?) and the laughter was Muttley-esque in the extreme.  I sat at the far end where I'd spied a welcoming fire, it wasn't a cold night but I like staring into flames whilst drinking OBB, it just seems right.  I was soon in a soothing trance, contemplating that although Sam Smith's might not have the best PR team in the world, but by gum they know what a good pub should look like!  And selling just their own products is kind of nice, who wants too much choice?  You only have to think more.  Besides, it'd be weird if they jumped into bed with Beavertown, Brewdog, BAD or Brass Castle.  I was surprised to see food served in here, I'm sure this isn't normal but the grub seemed reassuringly standard fare and not too expensive as an old couple settled down next to me for an 8 oz. rump with a "soft egg",   This pub is even officially haunted according to the GBG, so when the laughing front room group vanished without me noticing, I was a bit freaked out.   But what a wonderful pub, better than all the Sam Smith's in York I think, right up there with the Stockport, Glossop and Thornton Cleveleys efforts.

Perfect winter pub scene at the Ebor
786.  Marcia, Bishopthorpe

Another 'left' or 'right' entrance, oh Bishopthorpe you are really spoiling me(!) but this time, I spent most of the time wondering if the right side was home to a hidden Ebor-esque cosy snug (a trip to the loo told me it wasn't).  I may have been spoiled by the last pub, but it all seemed to light and airy, too many dining tables, and a pointless wall map of York made me wonder if this was a Greene King local hero pub in disguise.  In disguise because the 4 ales were local standards - Roosters Yankee, Tim Taylor Landlord, Treboom Yorkshire Sparkle and Leeds Pale.  All good "on their day" (well, apart from the Sparkle) so I went Yankee and quality was superb, I felt like it was 2004 Hole in the Wall on Hull's Spring Bank again!  The young bar chap seemed distracted by something he'd seen through the window, so it was no big surprise when he forgot to give me change out of a fiver.  The problem was rectified but the main 'boss man', a jolly rotund chap who screamed authority (not literally) seemed unimpressed with his staff and he kept criticising them, eventually singing "the wheels on the bus go round and round" loudly from the cellar, claiming he'd treat them like kids if they behaved like kids.   So I decided joining in with "the barmaids on the bus go chatter, chatter, chatter" might not help.  

Great Yankee, aggro sing songs - at the Marcia.
The bus arrived on time (when I finally realised I was stood at a bus stop, I think Bedfordshire had scarred me on Saturday) and without sounding like a total bus geek, I found the trip back fascinating with a choice of where to get off, I chose opposite my sister's street to remind me that a year ago, midweek BRAPA was on hold whilst I looked after her cat and was making this same walk home on a nightly basis.  Fitting.  

Coming Up Next

So two more North Yorks nights still to come, next week is Cross Hills near Keighley so it will probably feel like West Yorkshire,  It'll have to be Wednesday though because neither pub, Naylor's Brewing place or the new pre-emptive Micro open on a Tuesday!  I could also consider the pub that was in the GBG 2015 but there's obviously a reason it has been de-guided so probably won't bother.

But before that, it is London again and we'll be ploughing the furrows of the District line this time before a trip to the least threatening away ground in the football league.


Tuesday 19 January 2016

BRAPA - AGM 2016

7:30pm on Monday 18th January 2016 and the 'shareholders' (a selection of the aristocracy - mostly Lords -  and the host, that's me) gathered for the second annual BRAPA Annual General Meeting as views were aired in a bid to improve the overall experience of the British Real Ale Pub Adventure in 2016.

Food and drink was an offer - no beer or meat, we're not animals!  Instead a civilised 2009 Rioja was served up along with a selection of cheese, crackers, chutney, olives and tomatoes whilst 4 episodes of "The Thick of It" were watched back to back to get everybody in an argumentative mood.

Here are the minutes of the meeting.


Colonel Albert Fluffikins was the only notable absentee, no one can forget last year's AGM where he single handedly ensured proceedings finished only 10 minutes in after scratching all the furniture and demanded to be fed and played with.  He was actually banned this year from attending.

Colonel Albert Fluffikins - making a nuisance of himself at the AGM (Jan 2015)
Lego Green Owl

Simon's attempt at an Orwellian "Moon Under Water" worked out better than expected with the 'Green Owl' blog.  It is now to be taken a step further as a virtual Green Owl is going to be built .... out of Lego!  Simon warned that it would be a somewhat abstract interpretation but photos will be posted on Twitter once complete, and it was a "therapeutic" exercise.  Lord Dawkins humourously noted that Tom would be upset there will be no lego Rachel or Emily.

Congratulations in Order!

It's been a great month for BRAPA with East Yorkshire (for a second time), West Yorkshire and Bedfordshire now all completed.  Not much thought has gone into it but Walters in Hull, Three Pigeons in Halifax and the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard were all given special BRAPA lifetime achievement awards.

What's Next?

Lord Wagstaff stood up and demanded to know what direction BRAPA was taking next with these counties done.  Simon confirmed both Berkshire will be the main focus starting in mid Feb but there would be trips to London,  Lancs, Great Manchester, West Midlands and the North East to come in the next few months.  He also declared that North Yorkshire was going better than expected even if progress seemed to be painfully slow.  Lord Marley sneered at this.

Operation Pizza Cutter

Lord Chilton hushed the assembled party by mentioning the top secret strategy initiative "Operation Pizza Cutter".  Simon was flustered momentarily, but regained his composure to state that no official announcement would be made until June when all the key parties had been consulted, but no one should be concerned or even mention it again as changes would be minimal!  Simon also took this point to remind all members to re-read the CODE OF CONDUCT regarding strategy. 


Lord Hernandez thought the Challenge should be renamed GreatBritish Real Ale Pub Adventure and all branding changed to GRAPA.  He was told to stop being stupid and sent out of the room to think about his actions.

Midweek BRAPA

Lord Albion-Albion-Albion asked in a timid manner that now West Yorkshire was finished, would Tuesday night BRAPA continue?  To much applause, Simon announced yes and from mid-late Feb, South Yorkshire would be the focus starting in Armthorpe, which is near Doncaster.  Until then, there are three viable North Yorkshire nights to complete - tomorrow, Wed 27th Jan and Tues 2nd Feb. 

 Nitwit Card

Lord Fauntleroy remembered that March might be a good month for Simon to start applying for his "Nitwit" National Rail card with April trips to Berkshire not yet booked but imminent, as it will help with local train travel discounts, Tom is likely to advise further.  The Feb and March trips are booked.

BRAPA Spring Beezer

Yes, the first big away trip of 2016 is due in April with at least three overnight stops combined with Hull City's trip to Reading.  Has anyone been on holiday to Reading before? asked Lord McShane.  This question caused much mirth from the assembled crowd.  Newbury and even Swindon might be better areas to be situated for some of the time, but this could be a great opportunity to get a lot of Berkshire done.

BRAPA Music Playlist

Another blog that Si thought was rubbish but created some interest was his BRAPA music selection, so much so that he is currently working on a plan to make it available to all in playlist form on something like iTunes or Amazon.  All we need is feedback.  Speaking of which, in a few Monday's time, the "difficult" second album track list will be reviewed on the blog.

BRAPA Clothing

In one of the less boring points on the agenda, Lord Bradford-Bury asked if there was any truth in the rumour that some BRAPA clothing would be released.  It is true!  2 t-shirts (one olive green, one TBA) one and a rather sexy red tank top, complete with great beery font.  Preview on Twitter tomorrow. 

Pub Logging

Just to bring the mood down, Lord Mark-Robins reminded all in a boring voice that since the "archives" have been completed, Simon was supposed to be logging every real ale pub he's visited past and present, with the date first visited.  He's got up to Essex so far, it is slow going though and he's been sidetracked by playing pool and watching Eastenders and reading Tudor novels.  Si commented "I have until September, Robins out!" 

Twitter and Whatpub

Lord McManamanaman thought Si should definitely check BRAPA pubs are open after recent 'scares' in Harpenden, Whitton and Greasborough.  Simon agreed he was foolish to overlook this.  Lord Fowler meanwhile thought Si should always check if a pub has a Twitter account so he can mention them when he Tweets like he did in Ikley's Flying Duck and the Bingley Arms to good effect.  Simon agreed he'd try and get into a routine but didn't see it as ultra pressing.

Facebook Return

Lord Tadcaster-Bridge said that whilst on the subject of social media, was it true Simon was considering a shock return to Facebook?  Si was a bit coy, saying if he did, it'd be as a "group" and he'd had quite a few people at work / family members etc who don't do Twitter and want to see what's going on, but are they perhaps just nosy?  It'll be considered. 

Some of the food on offer at 2016 AGM

It was knocking on 10pm, much wine had been drunk, and the Lords went to fetch their Ladies from the "female friendly" gastropub next door.  Until next January, keep BRAPping.  

Lord Simon Esq.  

Sunday 17 January 2016

BRAPA - My three last Bedfordshire pub ticks!

Although I was giving myself a 14 hour day to complete the remaining three pubs I needed for Bedfordshire's 2016 GBG entries, I was still a bit nervous that I might return home without the desired conclusion, as planning the day had been a strategical nightmare and I ended up with 4 scenarios to choose from!  (Option 2 worked best).

Starting my walk from Woburn Sands to Salford
I was in Bedford for 10am, and a local one carriage train (class 153 for you geeks) sped off to Woburn Sands where I 'alighted' (quirky archaic term) to make the two mile walk to Salford, which here is actually pronounced "Sal-ford" and not "Sol-ford".  It was frosty under foot but bright sunshine with no cloud in the sky, and I enjoyed the trek although the lack of pavement made it quite hairy at times and the constant jumping up and down onto a grass verge was a good test of the improving ankle, which I don't like to talk about(!)

Waiting for the Red Lion to open on a frosty morning in rural Beds.

781.  Red Lion Hotel, Salford

Having lurked in the village just long enough to have the local Neighbourhood Watch twitching their curtains, I went for broke at 10:57am and was delighted when the door swung open.  Salford was an extremely remote village which would be idyllic if it wasn't for the M1 motorway within earshot.  The landlord looked so surprised at my presence, I asked if he really was open but this was no Dolphin in Robin Hood's Bay and I was soon "enjoying" the only ale on, Wells Eagle, a beer I probably won't miss too much now Beds is finished (well, til' September!)  This was as good as I have had it, and the landlord explained that they normally have two or three, but lack of trade due to January plus their remote location means he'd be wasting beer if he put any more on.  I sympathised.  He was a really nice chap and we chatted whilst I warmed up on the real fire in the front bar.  This was very much a pub despite the obvious reliance on the "feeders" (as I might start calling people who come into pubs mainly to have a meal).  His wife scurried about too, getting logs for the fire, and mine host was soon quizzing me on 60's music but sadly my knowledge is limited because (a) I'm too young and (b) 60's music is 95% boring (a Simon fact!).  We chatted BRAPA and without even asking, he gave me a taxi number to save me a similarly dodgy walk back.  This was a classic example of a BRAPA 11am opener where I'm the only customer, and yes, the pub was worth the effort to get there.   As I left, I got my first BRAPA handshake since Skipsea a year ago.

Great fire, great carpet - Red Lion in Salford, Beds.
The taxi driver didn't exactly inspire confidence, late turning up, smelling of Baileys, sounded like he was snoring whilst driving, and I couldn't understand a word he said.  It was all a bit Father Jack and I was glad to arrive at the station in one piece!

The train back to Bedford was on time, but I had far too long to wait for the 27 bus, so again I taxied as it is only about 2.5 miles,  This one was slightly more convincing, and very friendly too 

782.  Polhill Arms, Renhold

Actually in 'Salph End' rather than Renhold, this place seemed just as remote as Salford despite it's relative closeness to Bedford, though my initial reaction was that it lacked the charm of the last pub.  I think this was all about the seating, not a huge factor you might think, but the scattered tables of 4 covering the entire floor rather some nice proper bench seating did it no favours at all.  Men of all ages 18-80 were glued intently to Spurs v Sunderland despite nothing happening.  At least there were 3 jolly old chaps who'd arrived and asked the West Ham supporting landlord if the warm sausage rolls on the bar were free to drinkers.  I tried to offer my support, but the answer was a resounding "no". I sat a bit away from the TV, the sun reflecting off the screen anyway, and mine host noticed my GBG on the table so I explained this was my penultimate Beds tick.  We were soon chatting about York, his favourite pubs being - in order - (1) Burns Hotel (Hansom Cab) (2) Golden Lion (3) Hole in the Wall, and his favourite beers were Sam Smith's OBB and Black Sheep.  Well, I nodded politely and was glad the Dark Star Partridge + Polhill Arms trumped all of the above!  In fact, I tried to get him to see that Black Sheep for me, was like Bombardier & Eagle is for him but he had a long line of impatient customers wanting him to return to the bar to serve them.  Sunderland then scored, no one reacted.  Within seconds, Spurs scored, I think someone twitched an eyebrow.  Time raced on, it was time to leave. 

York pub chit-chat at the Polhill Arms
After 5 minutes walking, I reached a villagey area where Google Maps seemed to suggest a bus would stop outside "number 30", despite the lack of bus stop.  It seemed to be getting colder but my taxi'ing meant I was well on schedule, and eventually, a bus turned up and did stop to my relief.  

I walked back to Bedford railway station and took the next train to Luton, where I nodded politely at a few "Town" fans who were looking nervous as they were due to host Cambridge Utd.  I took my third taxi of day, having made a total balls up of my Wigmore Lane bus last time, and another jolly chap seemed pleased with himself that he'd heard of the pub.  Here we go, LAST PUB! 

783.  Wigmore Arms, Luton

If there was a BRAPA award for "best pub which is part of an Asda retail park", then this would win it.  I had serious reservations then on entering, especially as a mean looking couple eye-balled me as I took the BRAPA photo.  I couldn't walk in and bask in the "having completed Bedfordshire" glory either as the pub was packed of middle agers drinking, laughing, covering the floorspace and watching the football scores coming through on Sky Sports News.  Actually, I'd heard this pub screens 'Luton Town TV', perhaps the subscription has lapsed or the thought of watching them at present is enough to empty an entire pub, because there was no sign of it.  The landlord was the third impressive one of the day, one of those larger than life tall fellows whose very presence seems to fill the pub.  His arms were like Mr Tickle's, meaning he could pull pints from separate ends of the bar.  It was busy so this was 'handy'.  The pub had looked like a horrific Hungry Horse/Sizzler thing from the outside, so the fact it felt like a WMC inside could only be a good thing.  The array of pump clips stuck up behind the bar was ultra impressive, so why then was Bombardier (minus raspberry jam taste of Clophill) the most exciting beer on?  I sat on a strange two seater that seemed to have been nicked from a local cinema and squinted up at the football scores.  This was directly above a seat where Luton's answer to Ronnie and Roxy from Eastenders were sat (sexy but deadly!) and I think 'Roxy' thought I was eyeing her up though I was actually just amazed to see Hull City were 4-0 up before half time, which makes the Wigmore the luckiest BRAPA pub to date aswell.  The ladies were joined by two men, an ageing Olly Murs and southern Mick McCarthy, it all looked a bit awkward, so I went to get a bus (delayed again!) back into town.

Not as bad as it looks - the Wigmore in Luton
So with Hull City 6-0 up and Bedfordshire completed in great time, life was pretty good.  BRAPA being BRAPA, the good fortune couldn't last as I took the train to Harpenden for an unresearched bonus tick minutes from the station.

It was trying to snow by now, there was ticket barrier chaos, and the Harpenden Arms was closed for refurbishment which was annoying under the circs, showing you can't rely on anything.

Subway mural of Harpenden Arms pub sign was as good as it got! 
Not to be outdone, I hopped on and off at St Albans City and deciding not to do the nearest ones (time was still on my side), I walked out to the part of town known as Sopwell.

Great side street location in Sopwell, St Albans
784.  Garibaldi, St Albans

"Oooh, St Albans, the home of CAMRA, ooh isn't it lurvely, you should be grateful to those bearded sandal wearing founding fathers, you wouldn't be doing BRAPA if it wasn't for them!"  Sorry to be flippant, but this was what I heard in my head as I walked into the pub, I always feel a pressure of coming to this town and the expectant look of the locals just made me feel that they somehow know more than me,  About what I'm not sure.  The best thing about this pub was it's location, a beautiful side street pub, you cannot beat it, I just wish there were more - I love the Wellington in York and that chilly Dog & Bone in Lincoln for the same reasons.  It was Saturday evening now, so getting served was a challenge, but being the theme of the day, the wiry energetic barmaid was buzzing around with eyes in the back of her head, she knew I was stood at the bar before I did!  Getting a seat was tricky, the right hand side with welcoming fire seemed to have the best atmosphere, but everyone else had realised this too so I had to go to a separate area to the left, possibly an extension, and way to the heated astro-turfed smoking area that people insisted on using despite the sub zero temperatures.  As I sat alone and nursed my heavy Gale's HSB, I couldn't help but think back to my first pub of the day and wonder how different this would have been at opening time?  Now I've been in plenty of Fullers pubs, but this one seemed to ram the message home more than most, with branding everywhere you turned.  But it was friendly as a few random people said 'bye' to me on the way out.

Nice glass!  A pint of ESB and my GBG in the Garibaldi.

So that was a nice strategic diversion in that I now have 6 pubs remaining to visit in St Albans, meaning I could make a day of it and learn to love the town (7 would have been a step too far!)

Fullers, Fullers everywhere - and plenty of drops to drink
A little bit paranoid, I headed back to London with plenty of time to spare having been caught out more than once in the past.  This afforded me chance to visit a newly refurbished 'craft' beer house, a couple of mins walk from Kings Cross, a pre-emptive for sure.

Scottish Stores, Kings Cross, London

And the hype was justified.  This has some great old features, and has been redone in the old 1901 style (whatever that is) as it's been more recently a strip club catering mainly for Scunthorpe Utd fans.  It was predictably busy, with a heady mixture of wide eyed French tourists, bearded hipsters and a few scattered worse for wear (wear/Wear - geddit?) Sunderland fans waiting for probably the same train home as me.  The barmaid was a friendly thing and keen to advise people on the wealth of beers on offer, though when a Sunderland man motioned that I was next with his thumb, she darted off to other side of the bar but at least he tried.  Bar etiquette told me it was too busy for tasters and daft questions, so when she returned, I launched straight into a Hopback Winter Lightning cos I love the Summer one so much,  Luckily, there was a stool for one in the corner which gave to chance to admire the place, no wonder the heritage dudes are impressed, I was too and this was all about drinking and chatting.  When a bored French couple went to the loo, 4 students took their seats but there was no argument, well apart from when one of the lads pointed out the William Morris wallpaper to his girlfriend, which upset her greatly and he seemed unimpressed by her lack of cultural prowess.  It was that kind of place. 

Inside Scottish Stores
Well, next time in London I'll definitely be passing through here.  Parcel Yard was actually 4 deep at the bar so I just used it as a toilet (the pub, not the bar), got my Upper Crust and was soon careering back North in the snow, turning my headphones up to drown out the Sunderland fans who were getting around the "dry" train rule by drinking quite openly and singing 80's hits - a novel approach. 





Wednesday 13 January 2016

BRAPA - Stanley (Finishing West Yorkshire)

780.  Graziers Inn, Stanley

Finally, I ticked off my final West Yorkshire pub in the 2016 GBG.   There were no party poppers, balloons or guard of honour.  But it wasn't that kind of pub.  And I'm glad.

I was joined by Karen L from work, who used to live in Stanley and 'volunteered' her long suffering hubbie Kevin to drive me there (saving me much bussing and training), and she gave me a commentary of all the local landmarks from Rothwell's slip road to Oulton Hall Golf Club and their scandalous 'points' system driving (driving!) the members away.  It was all very instructive.

Despite having lived here, they'd never been in the Graziers before (scandalous as it turned out) and decreed that I should enter the pub first because, in Karen's words "if the local scroats kick off, we can scarper first!"

Me arriving at the Graziers, ready to take on the scroats
I was confident going in first, having heard positive reviews from fellow blogger retiredmartin.  No scroats here, though the first thing I saw was a pool table, which doesn't normal scream "classic real ale pub".  It was being commandeered by a young man with the type of hairstyle that hasn't been fashionable outside of Stanley since 1972.  He's been playing against himself for ten years now, and is yet to lose a frame!

A tardis like effect was evident here as the pub snaked round to a cosy main bar, with a real fire (there was another at the front), some snazzy wallpaper to match the hairstyle, quirky decor, old photos of Stanley, proper pub bench seating, oh and well kept Abbeydale Moonshine was on so it's fair to say I was in my element, especially as some kindly locals apologised for blocking my view of the ales which emphasised just how far we had come since the Crown and Shuttle in East London.

There were some nougat chocolates in a bowl on the bar with a "help yerself" policy, someone had brought too many back from a holiday in Eastern Europe - mine was called "Michalki Kokosowe", very nice!  I did ask if it was cheese at first, so was actually disappointed.

We sat by the fire admiring the above view, and Kevin was in the chair to buy round two, a darker but very drinkable Beauty Hills from somewhere in Shropshire.    This pub was a microcosm of all the classic aspects of WY pub ticking which I've been enjoying on Tuesday evenings since April 2014, and it was nice to have some BRAPA debutants to enjoy this monumental event.

I even got a lift back to Westgate station which was above & beyond the call of duty, but my luck obviously evened itself up as I missed trains at both the Leeds and York ends by a matter of seconds.  So it was time for a pretty dreadful Big Mac meal and to reflect on a good night, I just wish I hadn't had "Perfect Moment" by Martine McCutcheon in my head all the way home.


p.s. my midweek strategy for the next 3 or 4 weeks is a few achievable North Yorkshire ones before I start the big South Yorkshire pub in mid Feb.  I've got my dirty vest, hand me down toothbrush, crew cut and 6 pack of Stones ready to go,  and with that kind of stereotyping, how can I go wrong?

Monday 11 January 2016


It's that time of year when I invite you all to sit at a round table with napkins in the shape of swans, open a bottle of a hipster ale (or a blackcurrant cordial / Big Tom for the teetotalers) and sit back & enjoy as we discover which pubs, beers, people and places are the saints and sinners of my many 2015 pub adventures .......

16 categories this year, we'll build up gradually towards the most important "BRAPA Pub of the Year" award.

16.  Brunette of the Year Award - Winner - NEW INN ALEHOUSE & KITCHEN, Biggleswade

Let's get this nonsense over with quickly as I have no memory for this type of thing (faces), however nice the brunette, but the Brunette BRAPA committee (BBC - i.e. Tom) insist and seem to think Snowdrop (Lewes) and Royal Standard (Blackheath) deserve special mentions.  I remember neither so will opt for the brunette in New Inn because she was (a) nice (b) lovely and (c) talked to me about my missing candle!  Well, there you go.  Honorary mention for barmaid at Sair in Linthwaite who was interested and supportive of BRAPA and gave me a local CAMRA magazine. If there was a blonde of the year (which there isn't), it'd be the lovely young lady at No Sign Bar in Swansea.  Now I feel like Father Ted judging a lovely girls competition.  Thanks a lot!

There's a brunette in there if you look closely!

15.  Comedy Moment of the Year Award - Winner - EVERSHOLT TO TODDINGTON

I couldn't work out whether this was the best or worst experience of the BRAPA year so ended up giving it the comedy award!  13th June 2015 and I found myself on a tiny bus explaining BRAPA to a bunch of pensioners who'd just had there weekly trip to Tesco and were returning to Eversholt.  Rain wasn't forecast but the heaven's opened, the Green Man was okay, then Google Maps did something it's never done before or since and "made me" walk across about 10 fields, through a forest, past some sheep and horses to get to Toddington.  The rain was incessant, I was NOT dressed for the occasion and mud and water was right up to my knees so when I arrived at Oddfellows, Toddington I was the oddest fellow there and used up all their paper hand towels.  Across the village green in the Cuckoo, I found a better toilet and it became the first pub I took my trousers off in as I made full use of the hand dryers and micro pub range of soap dispensers.  Traumatic.

Horses indicating the way to Toddington, but I was wet n fed up by this point!

14.  BRAPA Pub Pet of the Year - Winner - Colonel Chambers, Steampacket, Knottingley

I might be biased in the favour of a good pub cat, but then they are the best pet (obviously), and so it is that I understand how they operate so when I spied Colonel Chambers (not it's real name) watching me from under a table, I sat in the far corner, yawn and half  looked at it all unimpressed, just like cats do to humans.  10 mins later, it ambled over for a chin scratch, cuddle and stroke and then disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.  Textbook BRAPA pet behaviour!  Honorable mentions must go to Charlie Green (Parrot) in Sewerby's Ship and also to the characterful dog Sinbad in the Beer in Hand, Hereford but both were a little bit too needy.

Pub Pet of the Year is Colonel Chambers in the Steampacket, Knottingley!

13.  BRAPA "Day From Hell" Award - Winner - Luton, 14th November 2015

Not so much a day from hell in the sense of last year's Whitby catastrophe (there was nothing that bad) but this day was just a massive disappointment from start to finish.  From 20 mins trying to get served in the London Hatter to the woeful X30 bus service to my bladder constantly failing on me, to a horrific wet roadside walk near Whipsnade (nice pub though) where I'd have been safer in the lion's enclosure, to the English Rose was was probably the most boring BRAPA pub of the year, and it all culminated in a bus to Wigmore Road which never actually stopped anywhere near the Wigmore Arms and had me going round in a circle like a muppet, and now makes my final Bedfordshire trip this Saturday that much more difficult.  It was just a rubbish day from start to finish!

The only good part of my "day from hell" in Luton was in Whipsnade!

12.  Football Day BRAPA Pub of the Year - Winner - Nag's Head, Loxley

Absolutely loved this place!  First pub of the day is always great because I'm fresh, sober and ready for a pint, and a pint of Bradfield Farmers Blonde in their own pub doesn't get much better.  Combine that with a real fire, a cooked breakfast, great company, a death list competition and just a really cosy all round pub (though not quite sure why everyone was SHOUTING so much!), a winning combination in anyone's money.  Honorable mentions, the Swan With Two Nicks in Stockport was amazing (the pint of Old Tom helped), the Moorbrook in Preston was superb and Nottingham was probably the most consistently good day out, every pub a gem in it's own way and the people were even friendly and that hardly ever happens in the East Midlands unless you go to Derby when it's a full moon!

It's Bradfield Farmers heaven in Loxley

11.  BRAPA Pub Person of the Year - Winner - B.G. Everitt (aka DAD!)

Oh dear, nepotism abounds but let me just say that without Dad's chauffeuring and great company this year, I'd never have managed to enjoy so many great pubs, particularly in rural East Yorkshire which has been a revelation to me.  The highlight has to be when he'd got this new car for just one day and I was demanding he dodges cyclists up a tight country lane in search of the Gait at Millington.  Legendary stuff.  Loads of people have been supportive this year, but here's some honorable mentions to the best of the rest ..... Tom Irvin for his unswerving support, constant input and "never let up, never say die" attitude to all aspects of BRAPA.  Christine Andrew for helping me in my hour of need when the GBG Privilege Club messed up my order, selflessly giving me her 2016 GBG until the official release date which allowed me to crack on in early September which was a key time.  Retired Martin for his support and making me realise how powerful Twitter can be to help get BRAPA "out there" and all the other Twitterers, Untappders and Instgramers who've recognised BRAPA in 2015.  Christina Sidery for being the most enthusiastic work colleague re BRAPA and accompanying me to Kirkstall and Headingley despite not liking real ale.  Oh, and Shirley and Hannah North for the lift to the impossible to get to Chequers in Ledsham even though their own car broke down!  And all those who've accompanied me in any BRAPA pub.  Even Mummy Ev started to "get it" despite naggings about my liver getting damaged, and was determined to get me to North Cave for that tricky 4pm opener, the White Hart.  I feel emotional.  Oh dear, I've turned into Gwynth Paltrow.

Dad waves to acknowledge his BRAPA Pub Person of the Year Award

10.  Clientele of the Year - Winner - Tony -Chequers, Wrestlingworth / Sir William Peel, Sandy

And whilst we're on the subject of people, those who you meet on your travels.  Nothing more heart warming (well, apart from maybe the pub itself, the ale, a real fire, the toilets, a bag of crisps....) okay but seriously, they shape all the best days out, especially when I'm travelling alone which is how I most like BRAPA to be honest.  And in Chequers in Wrestlingworth, I found myself in a spot of bother as I was in rural East Bedfordshire with no bus, no phone signal, and 6 miles from civilisation.  It was a new barmaid's first day so she struggled to help (the other staff were allegedly burying a body in the garden), but engaged the barfly locals in chat about it only to realise there are no taxi services in the area either!  Luckily, Tony, a chap who may well have had about 10 pints, drove me to Sandy and introduced me to all his "friends" at the William Peel  and then made me go to a pre-emptive Greene King tick too.  Awfully good of him, even if he didn't lock my bag in his car because "people from Sandy are honest", hmmm.  Honorable mentions to the two elderly chaps at Chequers in Wootton who drove me to Kempston as I'd lost track of time a bit(!)  Also to everyone at the Puzzle Hall in Sowerby Bridge who were so friendly and chatty, I got a pork pie out of it and handed a record number of BRAPA cards out to strangers.  And to Ossett Lizzie who was so friendly when I visited the Bingley Arms in Horbury Bridge.

9.  Outdoor Drinking Experience of the Year - Winner - Golden Fleece, Bradshaw

When I was picturing a beer festival in the garden of my own "Moon Under Water" (i.e. perfect pub), the Green Owl, I was drawing most inspiration from here.  It was still quite early in the year but unlike summer, the weather was glorious in rural Halifax land, and I was soon enjoying glorious dark ales from the Revolutions brewery which all have reference to bands/musicians.  Plus they had a local beer for about £1.50 a pint or something crazy.  Even a strange young man who lied on the bench next to me talking angrily to himself couldn't spoil it as the pub garden seemed at one with the fields behind where sheep grazed and farmers toiled in the heat.  I could've stayed a lot longer!  Honorable mentions must go to some other superb, almost worthy winners, in Falcon, Arncliffe the Red Lion in Fenny Stratford, Brewers Pride in Ossett and March Hare in Dunton. Any of those could've won on another year with less strong competition.

Idyllic outdoor drinking at the Golden Fleece.

8.  Midweek Night of the Year - Winner - West of Wakefield, Tues 6th October

The standard of West Yorkshire pubs never fails to stagger me, especially when compared to North Yorkshire and Bedfordshire (just getting a dig in there) and my Tuesday evenings after work have nearly always been a joy with some breathtaking pubs and beers.  What set 6th October apart was that it went above and beyond good.  First, I bumped into Bryan (work's biggest ale fan) who told me about his own Amsterdam BRAPA style challenge, he then had great local knowledge to help me negotiate Wakefield, a pleasing session at Little Bull, Middlestown and then despite a shortish walk to the magnificent Bingley Arms, Horbury Bridge, the heaven's opened to reveal the biggest and most dramatic thunderstorm of the year, plus the pub was on a little old bridge over the river.  Before you could say "Elland!  Tadcaster!" I had crossed a death trap of a road, a crazy but nice old man at the bar told me how he hated everyone in the pub, then I warmed myself up on the fantastic fire, a docile dog Brian fell asleep on my feet and a nice lady called Ossett Lizzie chatted to me (coincidentally) about Ossett brewery and made me feel very welcome with the thunder crashing around.  I just caught my bus with a second to spare and was back in Wakefield for a pint from Five Towns in Harry's Bar, and it was one of the pints of the year (but not eligible for a BRAPA award sadly, as if they care!)

Torrential rain as I cross the road to the magnificent Bingley Arms

7.  Pub Moment of the Year - Winner - Game Cock, Austwick

This is all about that 'most contented' moment of the day, which I tend to mainly notice on my solo missions and often happens in pubs where I haven't expected a great deal from.  Austwick was a prime example of this, sounding like some horrific Thwaites gastropub in the GBG but actually having a fantastic bar area.  I got sat in a raised but above where I could see what was going on, feel like part of the 'scene', but also smuggle a scotch egg or two despite a dangerous looking corridor looming to my left, where knives and forks clattered and pristine white shirted 12 year old waitresses scurried up and down their warrens like Watership Down outcasts.  So benevolent was my mood that I gave up my entire upper area for a couple who were wanting food but struggling to get comfy on those silly barrel tables in the bar (there was no room down the corridor).  Altruism is supposed to make you feel good, but reality hit when I realised no one really gave a shit.  Back in the main bar, people just carried on scowling and drinking their £4 Wainwright, it is rural North Yorkshire after all.  But for one moment, I couldn't have been more content!  Similar moments of joy were encountered at both Bedford Arms in Souldrop and Morning Star in Lincoln, mainly due to real fires and nice people.

A great pub moment awaits in Austwick, North Yorks.

6.  BRAPA Staff Award - Winner - White Swan, Danby Wiske

Rewind to a snowy January lunchtime in the villages around Northallerton (yes, I KNOW it is rural North Yorkshire before you say anything!), and it was probably the most sociable BRAPA day of the year, but one of the most expensive as a dearth of buses meant I used taxis mainly (walking wasn't an option on that ice and snow).  The landlord here was just so good, he welcomed me like a long lost son, gave me a history of the pub, showed me books and explained about the local CAMRA, talked about the lack of trade and how only when coast to coast walkers come in do they do very well.  He then topped it off by offering to nip over the road and get his wife to make me a sandwich,  Now that doesn't happen in Wetherspoons!  Okay, so he then left me with his mute sidekick and I had time to reflect on the scary prospect of pubs like this dying, but wow, what a great chap.  Loads of honorary mentions, here's the three best I can think of .... Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard, lovely camp chap, had a beer fest on, I said I was only here for drink and didn't want to join, but still took me through the ENTIRE menu, gave me tasters of about 10, and then when I fell asleep in a 10% stout, he gave me a glass of water to bring me round whilst locals looked on sympathetically in what was "most embarrassing BRAPA moment of the year.  King William IV, Nottingham, wow what a way to start a fantastic pub day out and the young ginger haired landlord was such a lovely chap, he improved an already superb pub by being great, explaining the ales, showing us the beer garden on the roof, and giving us his local knowledge about other great Nottingham pubs.  And also, Plough in Bolnhurst which looked horrifically gastro but despite me being the only non diner, they helped me get out through a conservatory door I shouldn't have done, kept bringing me bowls of crisps and smiling.  I wish every food pub treated their drinkers like this, very rare!

Inside the homely and now award winning(!) White Swan, Danby Wiske

5.  BRAPA Worst Staff of the Year Award - Arden Arms, Stockport

I'd been so looking forward to this heritage pub having read about it in my new book, after all, Bath Hotel in Sheffield had been wonderful so what could go wrong here, especially as the pub looked gorgeous and the pumps seemed to be inside the bar which must be rare.  Space was at a premium on a lunchtime, with a few old locals happy to lean on the bar and chat to the staff.  Two visitors like us didn't want to, sat in a quiet room to the back, but were moved for invisible diners - it was madness and when the landlord told us we could "sit on the stairs", it was not a joke that we found particularly funny and I thought Dad was going to clothes line him on the way out.  Luckily, the day massively improved after that.  Dishonorable mentions should go to the Dolphin  in Robin Hood's Bay which was a microcosm of all that is wrong with touristy pubs - too lazy to get open and cleaned up on time but had door open so shouted at me for going in, and when they finally did open, served everyone at about one mile an hour plus it was a very average pub anyway.  The Works in Sowerby Bridge for somehow making me feel the least welcome in any pub all year, the Dog & Gun in Wolverhampton, more on that place later and the Nag's Head in Preston, East Yorkshire who had the surliest barmaid of the year who is so mean, she seemed to be trying to freeze the local pensioners to death by not putting any heating on and barking at Dad for not knowing J20 flavours off by heart.  Rubbish!

Dad with a sense of foreboding as we enter the Arden Arms

4.  BRAPA Worst Pint of the Year Award - Haven Arms, Hedon

Other people who've been here have been quite complimentary of the beer here, so I guess we just got unlucky but I can only judge it on my own experience.  After all, some very enthusiastic locals at the bar were lapping them all up, even I think recommending stuff.  So we went for a "Golden Pair" which we thought was a take on the word "Pear" which would explain the weird fruity fermented taste so we struggled through three quarters of it thinking we were having a very specialist Perry until Untappd revealed the truth, so a bit unlucky in that we otherwise may have taken it back straight away, got it exchanged, and started again with this memory all but erased.  As you'd expect from the GBG, beer quality has generally been spot on, even when I might be choosing an ale I'm not that fond of.  Another stand out poor experience was the New Inn at Thornton, near Bradford where not only me, but a couple of locals were also having pints exchanged, and not even the same ale.  There seemed to be a lot of Acorn (Barnsley) beers on and these were all well kept so one conspiracy was that they were doing it deliberately to 'do down' the guest brews.  Well, I wasn't convinced by that, no evidence they were even tied to Acorn, and in any case, it was out of the GBG for 2016.  Another I might mention is Grants in Accrington, they brew their own 'Big Clock' beers, staff and locals were ace, it was cosy if modern, smelt of mash (NOT potato) but the beers were all disgusting!

Happy me - before I drank my worst BRAPA pint of the year.

3.  BRAPA Pint of the Year Award - Sam Smith's OBB, Victoria Hotel, Thornton Cleveleys

You might think I am being contrary but whilst at the Punk Festival in Blackpool, I took a trip on the tram up this way, found a stunning huge pub (they have some great pubs do the evil SS) and despite the barmaid disappearing for an age despite much bell ringing, she returned with the finest pints of OBB me and Krzb Britain had ever tasted, and living in York, we have tried a lot!  So strong, so flavoursome, and when I returned home to 'red pen' my GBG, I discovered that it comes straight from the cask which must explain it.  We went to another Sam's house in Bispham straight after and the contrast was stark, despite their being nothing wrong with the Sam's.  I could also have done this category scientifically, and seen what I gave the highest rating to on Untappd.  That would be a pint of Chocolate and Vanilla Stout I had in Rutland Arms, Sheffield with Dad in January,  Amazing pub too.  Another pint that had me purring was a Windswept from Lossiemouth in the Moorings (Krakatoa) in Aberdeen - it was purple and fruity but because I was under a neon light at the time, I couldn't tell the difference til it hit my lips - amazing taste sensation and I don't even like fruit beer much!

Me about to taste my BRAPA Pint of the Year

2.  BRAPA Worst Pub of the Year Award - Dog & Gun, Wolverhampton

It's a total no-brainer this year, a bit like everyone associated with this poor excuse for a pub in the Tettenhall district of the city (not worth the walk).  No wonder the good but frankly overrated Hail to the Ale is/was a contender for CAMRA pub of the year.  It was me and Tom and from the outset it looked like some identikit chain nonsense.  Whilst Tom went to the loo, I tried to get served.  Nearly all the beers were "settling in the cellar".  Not "coming soon" or "not available", it's not much good to me if it's settling in a cellar, you may as well tell me it's on holiday in Timbuktu.  Tom told me all Ember Inns were crap, I told him this was a sweeping generalisation based on poor Grimsby experiences but this pub did nothing to assuage his fears.  No staff were in sight, I was stood there about 10 mins and when she did turn up, she had an air of mild threat about her - the pub was pretty busy which made the lack of staff even more surprising.  Only sitting outdoors in the sun could save us now, whilst some horsey students asked the staff to move their wine because they were too much in the shade, as we sat on horrible wicker chairs with a rope seemingly stopping us from dropping into the car park and breaking our necks which would have been preferable than two minutes more here.  And then the ultimate as a perfectly innocent young couple got grabbed by the throat by a bouncer who'd appeared from nowhere (this was mid afternoon by the way), the chavvy barmaid egged on the bouncer as he "threatened to firebomb their house!" in full view of us all outside - it was simply horrific from start to finish.  It's not in the 2016 GBG.  Two other pubs which I also found incredibly shite on my trip were the Albion in Skipton and the Bay Horse in Great Heck, you know when you just wonder how a pub ever got in the GBG in the first place.

How little I knew about what was about to unfurl in the pub behind me!

1.  BRAPA Pub of the Year ......

And so it is with great pleasure that I once again say that it is IMPOSSIBLE to pick a winner in this category so I've been through my entire list and jotted down a few that really made me think "wow" whilst I was there - probably because they combined someof the following factors - great beer / great proper pub atmos / great staff / great clientele / top toilets / top snacks / top garden / cosy hubbub.  Well, here's a short shortlist ...... 

Strugglers, Lincoln.  Grill, Aberdeen.  Moorings, Aberdeen.  Boot and Shoe, Ellerton.  Puzzle Hall, Sowerby Bridge.  Sair, Linthwaite.  White Swan, Stokesley.  Goodmanham Arms, Goodmanham, Peacock, Derby, Beer in Hand, Hereford, Bingley Arms, Horbury Bridge,  Bath Hotel, Sheffield.  Nags Head, Loxley.  Pelton Arms, East Greenwich.  Birch Hall Inn, Beck Hole.  Whelans, Asselby.  King William IV, Nottingham.  Old Tom's, Gracechurch Street.

And the winner (just), is Boot & Shoe in Ellerton, I was just gobsmacked when we walked in here in the most remote village ever to find such a bustling happy scene, their own beers, a tree growing through the pub, funny locals, a really old fashioned style serving hatch, and the news Hull City were losing did not sadden me even 1%!  Wonderful, how it got de-guided I'll never know (well, I will if I ask my Hull CAMRA pub officer friend) but congrats.

Me posing at the 2015 BRAPA Pub of the Year

Thanks for sticking with it til the end, see you soon for more pub reviews!