Wednesday 31 August 2016

BRAPA - August Review / September Preview

I'm more "in limbo" than errrm, errrm Thom Yorke (it's a Radiohead song apparently) as I continue to wait for the 2017 Good Beer Guide to hit my doorstep with all the force of it's 1,000,000,000 pages or however thick it is this year.......

Hopelessly optimistic (and increasingly weather beaten) sign on my front door.
One thing is for sure, CAMRA's new distribution centre in Anchor, Shropshire was a mistake. September tomorrow so time is ticking on.   This was the first year my direct debit had been set up / taken correctly too.

And even more galling, the privileged south-easteners (south of Cambridgeshire) have their copies already and have spent the week on Twitter like teenage gossip whores, breaking CAMRA confidentiality etiquette about GBG inclusion left, right and centre.  

Or complaining they've received unexpected copies, which they no doubt rip the pages out of to mop up the caviar and swan gravy from their overfed mouths whilst Tristan parks on double yellows (stuff the fine, he can afford it) to bring the SUV round for Jemima before they scoot off to the Craft Kitchen Urban Tap and order Beavertown and Kernal's #777.76 collaboration brew (matched with "eats").  There's a 'meet the brewer' event with both later, maybe they'll get a selfie with their bearded heroes and Instagram it with the ironic hashtag #evilkegrules

Not that this lack of Good Beer Guide is getting to me or anything ......

All ready for some GBG cross ticking, just one vital thing missing.....
August Review

22 new pubs is disappointing when I've had two weeks of annual leave and it is supposedly summer time, but as I always say, August is the hardest month to pub tick as I've been mentally preparing myself for the new GBG, worried about what might drop out!

The highlight is almost certainly the Welsh trip and in particular, finally getting to the Anchor!  Felt really bad for Mum's sprained ankle which is kind of a metaphor for August pub ticking if you think about it.  The other great day was around the Wigan area where I brought up the 1,000.

Here are my three pubs of the month:

1.  Admial Rodney Inn, Criggion
2.  Masons Arms, Billinge
3. Clarendon, Marske-by-the-Sea

Surprised to see Anchor not in?  Well, it was amazing and magical in so many ways but putting all the romance aside of location, great landlord, great beer, the overall pub experience itself still wasn't quite as good as the three above.

Seriously good Salopian Oracle in Criggion.

September Preview

The month starts with the next leg of my Berkshire trip (part 7 I believe) but no idea where I am going yet.  I'll be using Reading as a base but can only pray the new GBG arrives tomorrow or Friday.

Tuesday's are off limits for now as I enter "One Month Reverse Owl Syndrome" (don't ask) whilst the GBG cross-ticking exercise takes place.  I'm on 1,006 at present, hoping not to drop below 900 but perhaps 850 is a more reasonable expectation.

Saturday's will continue in force, the 2nd Saturday is the annual Hull City away defeat at Burnley.  I should be running out of pubs by now in this part of the world but Padiham and Ighten look enticing.

A week later, another punishing day in North Yorkshire looks the most likely county.

And a week after that, we celebrate Tom Irvin's birthday (not that he'd lower himself to such festivities) with a trip to Crosby which is near Liverpool.  I see Bootle and Waterloo are nearby so it could be a rare pub ticking fest on Merseyside.

And hopefully, Tuesday's (South Yorkshire to a finish) will be back up and running after 15th Sept.  Going to aim for 25 but it might struggle.

Bertie shocked by lack of GBG arrival in August.
Pub Spreadsheet

I've spent the last month logging over 1,250 pubs into a spreadsheet with the (probable) date I first visited them.  What a life I lead!

I'm now filling in the gaps .....  all those 'early' Good Beer Guide pubs I did at Hull City away matches circa 2002-04.

In an interesting twist, I've just had to re-order the 2003 and 2004 Good Beer Guides to retrace my thought processes for the 02/03 and 03/04 seasons.  So I'm waiting for 3 GBG's now!  I must be a masochist.


Sunday 28 August 2016

BRAPA - A Tricky Day on Teesside

Saltburn Pier, one of the few nice things of today.
I was already in a restless mood heading into today's trip, having expected the new 2017 Good Beer Guide to be with me by 10am Saturday morning, but it didn't materialise.  Using the now "out of date" 2016 GBG meant I might be ticking off pubs I didn't need to.  Oh, the mental trauma!

Luckily, I love travelling on the Grand Central and it calmed me down.  It felt so North Eastern, I kind of expected to get a Pease Pudding Stottie + Vaux Samson 20 pence meal deal, shared in the company of a coal miner lecturing me passionately on workers rights.   Train conductor Susan was a canny lass, telling me "lots of people are ganning to Saltburn today, must be the weather!"    She managed to change trains with me, checking it on the local stopper too.

First annoying moment of the day came when the 11:47 X4 bus shot off without me.  At 11:46! After a nice walk on the seafront, I got on the 12:17.  A scary sergeant major hiking chap sat next to me.  I heard a whimpering from his rucksack and the face of a black dog appeared, unable to move from the neck down for the 24 min journey.  Animal cruelty surely, he got off at the same stop in Loftus, I followed him briefly and he unlocked a rusty white door next to an industrial complex, and took the bag in.  Sinister.

Looks shut, because it is.
Station Hotel, Loftus

SHUT PUB ALERT!  The GBG said 12 noon Saturday opening.  So did Whatpub.  The Facebook page rather unhelpfully claimed "always open".  Yet the sign on the door confirmed my fears, 3pm opening.  On a Saturday?  As that kind West Brom man said on Twitter, business must be good if they can afford to open at 3pm on a Saturday.  CAMRA should implement a rule whereby if a GBG pub changes it's opening hours without notifying CAMRA, it gets de-guided from the next edition.   Fuming, I trudged back to the bus stop to find three equally fuming locals, all throbbing temples and bloodshot eyes, claiming the bus had "gone missing".  23 minutes later, it showed up, 3 mins ahead of when the next one was due anyway.

As the nice lizard chap from Preston said, "never trust a pub sign with Comic Sans font".  True!
It was still the cricket season, meaning I had a chance of getting into the GBG listed Saltburn Cricket, Bowls and Tennis Club on a rare Saturday afternoon, providing they had a home fixture.  Inevitably, they were away (to Sedgefield) - I had a feeling it was going to be one of those days......

After a pasty in the sun watching 5 foul-mouthed chavs wrestling with a crate of Fosters, I got a train to Marske and was finally in a pub, after 2pm though!

This better be good!
1004.  Clarendon, Marske-by-the-Sea

"Middle House" as the locals call it, this was easily the highlight of the day, and totally sober and therefore observant, I can tell you why.  Big island bar sweeping around pub, superb pint of Flying Herbert from North Yorkshire Brewery served by friendly landlady who seemed to be Susan from the trains again.  The pub was carpetted throughout, with a warming burgundy and tobacco colour scheme which extended into the toilets, surprisingly.  Bench seating all around the pub, not a sniff of food, no music or TV, and the local old men said "alright mate" as I sat fairly close to them, wanting to be at the heart of the pub.   The friendliest/oddest chap was reading a Marske Utd football programme, commenting on a dangerous player who once played for Corby Town!  Having wished the one female in the pub a cheery goodbye (she was heavily tattooed), he then launched into a diatribe about how tattoos make women look common as muck (two faced?) and "look at that Beckham" he said, "he's got 'em all over his face!".  He later tried to look cultured by saying him and the wife were having tagliatelle with a sparkling rose wine for supper, but then let himself down again by telling an incredibly toe curling story about when he nearly got punched for cuddling a man's Muslim wife who he'd watched grow up from a small girl.  It was definitely time to leave, but what a classic pub.

Back on Marske station, I heard a strange noise and peered through a gap in the hedge to see geese, hens and ducks drinking green water from an old paddling pool.  Unique.

Redcar East wasn't far off, but the pub was a good 15 minute trek despite GBG claims it was closer.

1005.  Turner's Mill, Redcar

The biggest criticism of the Ember Inn chain is how identikit they are.  But not only that, even the approach to them is depressingly familiar.  Down a busy main road, past modern housing estates, on the outskirts of town, this was Grovesnor, Caversham and the Horse & Jockey, Aylesbury all over again.  The one difference was a racecourse to my left.  "Oh well, an Ember Inn it might be, at least it isn't raceday" I thought.  WRONG!  I entered to find it three deep at the bar as fuckwits in tight grey suits ordered blue WKD and Carling, jostling with silly bints in stupid hats and ridiculous heels looking for Prosecco.  It was a farce as they had two members of staff on (a grey bearded man had apparently chosen the "wrong moment to go on his break") and the scene got increasingly fraught with racegoers complaining and the younger barmaid taking it personally and sulking.  Luckily, two old locals helped the older barmaid judge which customer's were next in line, which stopped a 7 foot tall goon from pushing in front of me,  15 minutes later, I was served.  My beer, when I got it, was cloudy and almost on the turn.  Strangely though, the pub atmosphere wasn't too bad.  Two theories for this.  (a) Ember Inns are so bland, they absorb any 'edge', noise or atmosphere created.  Or (b) York racegoers are such scum, it never occurred to me Redcar's folk may know how to behave.  Your thoughts?  I certainly offended the old chaps in Aldworth's Bell by insinuating any forthcoming Newbury racegoers would be shitbags.  So who knows what the truth is?  Next to me, an absent husband finally returned to his bleary eyed wife.  He'd just nipped out to buy her some Optrex.

This pint is not quite right

Microcosm of racegoers (surprisingly well behaved)
After that trauma, I took the train all the way back as far as Eaglescliffe, where the Good Beer Guide 2016 (not to be trusted) told me there were two pubs near both this, and Yarm, stations i.e. within half a mile.  Who writes this bollocks?  The nearest pub was 1.2 miles away "as the crow flies", the other 1.3 miles, and they are just as far if not further from Yarm station.  And from past experience, I bet Yarm's Black Bull is more than 0.5 miles too from the station too.

So I basically had a dash on just to get one pub and get back again, as it was going to be the last train of the night.  (Yarm was a slightly later train but an even further walk).

As I legged it down the main road, a smiley girl I'd seen earlier on a bike decided she wanted to stop and chat about my quick walking speed and what I was up to.  Honestly, the ONE TIME a pretty girl asks me about BRAPA and I'm thinking "stop jabbering on cos time is of the essence, luv" (she slagged off the pub I was heading to but used to be a barmaid at the Black Bull in Yarm).

Should I tell them Euro 2016 finished a while ago?
1006.  Cleveland Bay, Eaglescliffe

A homely and bustling main bar room awaited me, one of those where you feel the whole village /place / whatever Eaglescliffe is, has come together.  I squashed in at the bar and a friendly barmaid (Susan from the train and Marske pub for a 4th time today?!) served me a Cameron's Strongarm, which seemed like the kind of beer you should not be downing in 20 mins but never mind.  There was a bit of what we'll call "Swinton Saturday Syndrome" (SSS) going on with blokes blocking the doorway in and out (for the entire duration of my stay), even though  there was much seating available.  One nice feature was ivy (or some creepery plant) hanging from the bar and ceiling (nicer than the usual lazy hops plant decor) though it did seem perilously close to getting caught in one of those ceiling fans.  I could see Hull City on in the far corner, so squinted to see us murdering Man Utd for the first 25 mins (my eyesight is bad) and reflected on how sad it is, in this day and age, that people can't just enjoy watching football in pubs and get excited for the underdog.  Now it is all "YESSSS, I had a tenner on Pogba to take the first throw in", gambling and accumulators.  It is all wrong.  Nice pub though, I thought.

Strongarm and background Hull City

The fan and the ivy (or similar plant)

Cos I'd stayed to watch Snodgrass take a freekick on the edge of the area, I only had 18 mins to get back to the station.  The rain (not forecast this morning) was absolutely bouncing it down, I just had my BRAPA t-shirt, and was drenched.  I started running but a frail old lady crossed in front and I had to slow down for fear of killing her with shock or crushing.  Ran over the bridge, the train whistle had sounded, oh no ...... but she held the door!  Phew!  Today could ACTUALLY have been WORSE!

Back in York Tap and still feeling remarkably sober, I enjoyed a pint of Anarachy with a drunk guy from work and his mate - they are doing a Dutch version of BRAPA which means he understands me, but told me I'd never finish the whole guide, which was just want I needed to hear(!)

A busy Saturday evening in York Tap
Oh well, I thought, as long as Hull City hang on for a point and I arrive home to find the 2017 GBG on my doorstep, something good will have been salvaged from a trying day.....

Neither of those things happened.


Sunday 21 August 2016

BRAPA - Billinge! Orrell! Crooke! Wigan! Swinton!

There's something strangely life-affirming about being huddled under a bus shelter at Wigan Wallgate at 12 noon on a busy rainy Saturday, waiting for a delayed bus, with just Tom and a few old biddies for company.

Wigan is a strangely unique and quite brilliant town, hard to describe but it seems to be almost laughing to itself, but hard to know if it is laughing with you or at you?  At least I was able to identify a brilliant pub across the road I'd visited 9 years ago this week (the Swan and Railway).....

Superb ale in 2007, wonder how it is doing now. 
Eventually, bus arrived and after a bit of a drag, we were in Billinge and after a short walk, we were at our first pub of the day although a very peculiar sinister young man (possibly the village paedophile) tried to photobomb us, and then snarled at us when we said 'hello'.

I'm in the green rain mac, but beware of Mr Creepy .....
999.  Masons Arms, Billinge

I'm well versed at the "American Werewolf in London" style pub 'welcome' by now, and this was classic.  The whole pub stopped, fell silent and turned around, so I said "hi, hi, hi, hello, hello, hello" to each person/group until I'd confused them into thinking I was a local in disguise (more on that in Wigan later).  This was a absolutely fantastic pub from first minute to last.  A healthy crowd was in despite the weather and relatively quiet location, a docile dog slept on the floor, a yappier one jumped on it's owners lap and there was the reassuring woody smell of old, which you always get in the best pubs.  The decor was excellent, old gig tickets, beer mats & pump clips, a model ship, pots and jugs and plenty of St Helens Rugby League memorabilia.  A few people feigned interest in Manchester City v Stoke City on a average sized screen, a few references to "City" were inconclusive.  A gentle hum seemed to dominate the pub, one of those where everyone is really content in a proper local.  Interestingly, the fact a few stood at the bar when seats were available didn't bother me at all today!

My pint of excellent 12th Man and view of the bar.

Model ship and a bit of St Helens shizz
We found a bus (same driver) to take us half way back on ourselves, to Orrell - though the pub actually seemed to be in a place called Tontine.  Even more confusingly, the pub was listed under Lancashire but it could have been Merseyside or Greater Manchester in GBG terms, but let's not act like it matters cos at this moment in time, it doesn't.

My sign didn't really work!

The sign finally comes into it's own.
1000.  Delph Tavern, Orrell

What DOES matter is that this was my 1,000th GBG tick and yes, I know I'll fall back below when I cross tick the soon-to-be-published 2017 GBG but for now, "celebrate good times come on!"  And what better way to celebrate than with a makeshift sign made out of part of a Sainsbury's own brand Special K cereal box?   It seemed almost inevitable the pub would be a slight disappointment, and it was.  Despite the fact that nearly everyone present was a no nonsense drinker, the pub was determined to push a foody slant (restaurant room empty out the back) that no one cared about.  I say no-one, but a child in full Liverpool kit ("full kit Twild wanker" as they are known) was shovelling chips into his mouth with a greedy yet monotonous regularity.  Tom was meanwhile perving (slyly in his opinion) on an insipid looking blonde waitress who looked like eating a bowl of chips would do her the world of good.  Having the door open and a through draught on such a chilly and wet day did nothing for the atmosphere, and my pint of Nova Foresta was heavy going.  Tom noticed our "bar area" had plastic cutlery laid out (as though they don't trust us bar scum not to try and stab ourselves/each other), we suspected the 'restaurant' had the proper silver stuff.  Dad panicking I hadn't rang just furthered my frustration (when will parents EVER learn that to receive text messages, you need to KEEP YOUR PHONE ON??!!)  It made us miss our train, and summed up a difficult pub experience!

Proper pubbers just wanting a proper pub experience!
At least Tom's travel expertise got us back to Wigan where he bought me a butter pie (SUPERB!) and a short train ride to Gathurst followed.  We then did a 20 minute canal path walk (slightly treacherous due to the heavy rain) to our next pub .....

Excellent pub approach work.
1001.  Crooke Hall Inn, Crooke

I'd heard so many great things about this place, I was very excited, so perhaps a slight anti-climax was inevitable.  It all started superbly well (well, once we found the entrance on the street around the corner!) with a larger than life chap giving us a cheery welcome before disappearing, and a fantastic beer range (the likes of which I hadn't seen on a BRAPA trip in a while) allowed me to order a pint of Ella by the wonderful Mallinsons brewery.  Pint of the day.  When I said "Ella", all three barmaids looked up expectantly,  were they all called Ella?  What a co-incidence.  Anyway, it was nice to see genuinely friendly barmaids in a pub.  The pub was a hive of activity, a few dog walkers / canal boat folk had taken up the front bar but seemed to have problems keeping the dog under control so that cosy area was off limits as far as I was concerned.  No room in the back bar either, which seemed to be where the locals were, again looked a very homely room.  So we had to sit in the big area to the right which was reminiscent of an Ember Inn, and 'Christmas menu's' (£36 for the full thing) were on every table which made Tom recoil in horror as he won't even use that particular C word!  We tried sitting in the superb garden overlooking the canal but the rain just returned with extra ferocity, and the smoking balcony was uncomfy, whilst an underground bar area was bolted.  So we did try to create a great pub experience for ourselves, but it just didn't work out.  

Me at the front upstaged by the yellow car

Sod your Christmas menu!

Ember-ish in places.
After the canal-walk back the other way, we popped in to the Gathurst Station Inn.  No cask ale, pretty disgraceful, bored and unfriendly staff, at least a nice but overpriced bottle of Britvic 55 was washed down with the news that City had beaten City 2-0 much to our delight/surprise.

Train back to Wigan, we decided to still leave some Wigan pubs for football days in the future, but did the one nearest the station which might be too busy on a football day......

Arriving at the Wigan Central
1002.  Wigan Central, Wigan

Well that backfired, it was heaving!  Wigan weren't even at home.  I quite liked this place regardless, though Tom (with his love of trains and having heard good things about this bar) thought it was a bit tacky but as a novice, I liked the uniform train style signs, the departures board of trains and ales, and with a queue forming for the bar (spit!), I thought the staff did amazingly to serve so quickly and keep a smile on their faces despite the heat inside.  There was some live music through to a room in the right, where a grey haired hippie chap was wowing some female Prosecco drinkers with folky hits - had it been Donovan or Bob Dylan, I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  Sitting outside was certainly our best and only option.  A group of raucous men sat behind us, and with my green hood up, one peered in and asked me "enjoying yourself there Mr Tait?"  Errrrm what?  Was this a weird cultural reference we didn't get, or more likely, was his friend, an old man in a similarly bright green coat, the real Mr Tait?  Being Wigan, I didn't question it too much.  I expect strange friendly behaviour.  The rain really bucketed down and they all ran inside (despite having hats and hoods), not sure me shouting "bunch of pussies!" at them was wise but they probably didn't hear.   The rainwater helped take the hoppy tang off my excellent Neptune Triton.    Then the wind whipped up too and smashed a glass, probably wouldn't have happened with proper wooden benches + chunky pint pots.  But all in all, a good unique pub experience.

Hood up enjoying my Triton.  Note the real Mr Tait inside.

Next, we took the train back towards Manchester but whilst Tom had to stay on due to getting a connection, I had one more pub trick up my sleeve and said goodbye to him at Swinton where I hopped off the train.

After a good 10-15 minute walk through this typical outer Manchester town, I reached my pub and looking at it and the place, I think I'd have demanded my money back had it not been Joseph Holt's.

Final pub of the day.
1003.  Park Inn, Swinton

As I entered, I collided with a middle aged couple who were wedged right inside the doorway with their drinks and I did the typical "apologise even though not my fault" British thing.  The front bar was another heaving mass of jolly Saturday night drinkers - cheek to jowl I said at the time.  All I could do was find a serving hatch to the side where a threatening looking young scroat looked disapprovingly - possibly because I ordered a Chorlton Bootleg Ale instead of a Holt's bitter.  His two elders were friendly characters and moved conversation back to football to keep his mind off murdering me.  Just as I was debating where on earth I could sit/get out of the way to, I noticed a huge lounge area (typical of many Holt's pubs I've been to) without a single person in it.  Remarkable!  Maybe Leicester and Arsenal had bored everyone so much, they'd moved en masse to the room without a TV.  As I walked towards the corner table, 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' by Bonnie Tyler started up, and for a moment I felt like this was the most Mancunian/Swintonian pub experience anyone could ever have.  To add to that feeling, the toilets were full of "do not take drugs" signs and blue lighting on the hand dryers so scroats like the one at the bar struggle to find a vein when they are shooting up their smack.  But if they succeed, a pint of Holt's Mild takes the edge off (so they tell me).

This pub was heaving, but you'd never know from this photo!
Back to Manchester Victoria, should have changed at Salford Crescent had I seen Tom's message as I then had to walk to Piccadilly in time for the direct train to York which I made with 5 minutes to spare.

A great day, some very good and interesting pub experiences.  Probably won't get a midweek BRAPA trip in this week, so if the 2017 GBG is to fall on my doormat on Friday, I'll be "locked down" on 1,003 pubs whilst I start the cross ticking,

Have a good week, Si

BRAPA - Friday Night in Wentworth / Pub Pet Poll Results

Friday night is probably my least favourite time of the week for pubbing, but a combination of circumstances (too boring to list here) meant that it "felt right" to be on the 16:33 Leeds-Elsecar where my seat had previously been occupied by one of those dangerous 'craft' can drinkers......

Stuck to the seat in front.
Despite the rain, I walked the 1.5 miles to Wentworth along one of those frightening roads with no pavements, a reservoir, and lots of fast cars.  It's a wonder I'm still alive to do this pub ticking mullarkey.

Wentworth, even in the gloomy grey wet, is what they'd describe as a "chocolate box, picture postcard" village if it was down south.  So instead, we'll call it a "chip cone, cigarette football card" village.

997.  Rockingham Arms, Wentworth

The ivy clad pub certainly seemed to fit within the village image, and it was one where I entered to find four members of staff, all looking at me expectantly.  "Hello welcoming committee!" I almost said, but the friendly ginger bearded male stepped forward to serve me an Ale Fresco from a disappointingly Greene King based range of ales.  Diners on posing tables seemed to be the order of the day, but a 'secret' seating area to the rear would have been delightfully pubby, had it not been next to a rather severe reception desk - leather bound notepad and all.  Yes, this was a hotel too, though I did wonder at first whether it was all for show.  A wedding party was getting steadily drunk outside, and had lost all control of the Wedding Twilds (i.e. bridesmaid twilds and page boy twild), who were running amok indoors, playing hide n seek much to the local's disdain.  "Shit up a stick!" exclaimed one older chap in disgust, a phrase I really must remember.  I was joined by the slightly crazy redhead kitchen manager chatterbox, who was finishing her shift with a pint of Carling.  She'd forgotten the Prosecco was on special offer and was most upset, and was soon joined by all the staff - our ginger bearded friend, Blonde Goth and Miss "I'll keep telling everyone I used to work at Asda" barmaid.  I felt almost part of the staff, especially when a fifth woman (the only one doing any work) arrived on the scene to reveal the ending of Disney's Pochahontas disappointed her!  Whilst the staff chatted about working in a pub at Christmas, we had some real drama as an old man complained his ham, egg & chips should have had HOT ham rather than cold.  I totally disagree.  Order gammon if you want hot ham, idiot.  I left, saying bye to my new staffy friends.  

Trying to give you an idea of reception area and back of bar (didn't really work)

A few yards down the street and opposite the bus stop set back from the road, was Wentworth's other pub.  The evening sun was out now but outdoor seating was too wet to sit out .....

998.  George & Dragon, Wentworth

I shouldn't have been surprised (but was) to see the pub absolutely heaving with a more traditional Friday night atmosphere than in the Rockingham.  Being a Friday, this wasn't the relaxed pub experience I crave - in fact, in the 40 minutes I was there, it managed to achieve THREE of my five biggest pub pet hates.  Firstly, "standing at the bar" when there is enough room to move throughout the pub.  No one budged to let me see the ales.  Secondly, (and part of the cause of the first) the entire left hand side and a back room to the left were reserved for diners, yet the left room was empty, but being guarded by a zealous waitress.  It was like the pub had had a stroke, and speaking of which, the barmaid's botoxed faces (think blonde versions of Robert Palmer's backing girls) couldn't smile even when they did finally serve you.  Even my pint from the normally terrific Chantry tasted a bit lame, possibly my mood.  And then, my third pet hate, the pub allowing flower sellers/charity box people into the pub to disturb not just drinkers but the few diners too.  I hate this - captive audience, possibly not 100% in their clearest mental state due to alcohol, possibly not wanting to look bad in front of other people, it is so unethical.  Just wrong.  Luckily, the good South Yorkshire folk gave her the shortest shrift I've ever seen in this situation!  And then things improved, I'd been squashed against a wall where a terrifying man kept doing elaborate physical comedy routines, Pinnochio his favourite.  Imagine a skinhead Lee Evans with the voice of Neil Warnock.  See what I mean?  But now (and I shouldn't have been so naive), there was loads of seats in the main bar all along and I got half an Abbeydale Deception which was incredible.  And I could imagine how much I'd have enjoyed this pub on a winter's Tuesday night, showing that it's all about circumstances "on the day".

Really liked this entrance door.


A rare lame Chantry and view through to empty dining area. (note the Grim Reaper is only one eating).
Walk back was quite a dash as I'd forgotten Elsecar railway station was up a hill beyond all 4 of it's wonderful pubs.  I think I'll stick to Tuesday night pubbing in the future but was an interesting experience and did enjoy Wentworth even if it might sounds like I didn't!


Ages ago, I asked what your favourite pub pet was.  Well, the results are in and it must be true when they say "mans best friend" because dog's won out quite convincingly.

Not just any dog though, a lollopy old big dog, preferably asleep in the corner, and I'm sure if you were picturing the archetypal pub scene, you might also picture a dog sleeping at his master's feet.

People would however, prefer to see a PUB CAT than a yappy little Terrier type creature.  I am a cat lover, and whilst they may be seen as too "leftfield" to be part of a traditional pub environment, they are generally low maintenance (i.e. more like a lollopy dog) i.e. they add to a relaxed pub atmosphere.  Exceptions to this obviously include that crazy creature at the Wombell in Wass, North Yorkshire (cat is worth the visit alone) but on a trip to London's Pride of Spitalfields the first time, it took me 2 hours to realise the cat asleep on the mantelpiece was real and not stuffed.

Other animals people seemed to enjoy seeing in a pub were things like tropical fish and lizard / reptile creatures in vivariums.  I guess that they add character to a pub in a different way from how a cat or dog does, perhaps more like 'decor' and quirky ornamentation - I have to say, I do think a tropical fish tank adds something quite nice to a pub.

Birds were less popular.  Most pubs with birds I've been in have felt dirty (Royal Oak, Pickering, Dog & Gun, Aughton and Ship Inn, Sewerby spring to mind) and in the former, going up to the carvery when there's a parrot chatting to you close at hand just felt wrong!  A pub owl tethered up in the garden would be my preference, but those who voted didn't go for it.

Another survey coming up soon, perhaps on your favourite drinking days, having already asked you about what times you like drinking a few months ago.


Wednesday 17 August 2016

BRAPA - Mid Wales : Bad Ankle, Good Anchor. (Part 3 of 3)

I once vowed (after a bad experience in Birdwell, South Yorkshire) NEVER to try pub ticking on a Monday ever again.  Since then, I've had a day in rural Ayrshire with no problems, and here in the heart of Wales, I managed to find two Monday 11am openers which weren't Wetherspoons or Nicholsons.  Conclusion, the English are bloody softies.

Montgomery was the most lovely place we'd encountered all holiday - it had the peaceful quality of Criggion, as we walked down the High Street, we were whispering to each other, as we passed museums, model car shops,  twee tea shops and old people with hanging baskets and sticks.  Have you ever had the misfortune to go to Tregaron?  It was like that without the menace and witchcraft and circus elephant buried in pub garden.

Dad arrives at the pretty Crown Inn
995.  Crown, Montgomery

There was one of those "left or right" bar choices, Dad chose correctly with left as I'm pretty sure the other side was in darkness, perhaps a restaurant or function room.  But the pub itself, nothing wrong with it as such, quite a nice old building.  Just incredibly dull.  Apart from one old bloke who was trying to get inspired by the 58th repeat of Usain Bolt winning the 100 metres, yawn.  The Three Tuns beer from Bishops Castle in Shropshire tasted like an ancient style ale, was sweet and just a bit too clarty for 11:50am.  It was well kept.  The barmaid was a disappointment, no chat, no eye contact, functional.  She is what I would describe as a P.I.S.S. barmaid (Pretty If She Smiles).  Problem with PISS barmaids, they never smile.  And if they see you writing "PISS barmaid" into the notes section of your phone or on a notepad, they are even less likely to smile.  They might even frown.  But this would be too much a show of emotion for someone so vanilla.  And that was the whole pub.  Vanilla.  Okay, following Criggion and Anchor was always going to be a tough act, but you'll have to show us more than a darts league and Olympics highlights to make anyone love you.

Boring bar scene, not much going on here.

The man in blue was on his third pint by 12 noon.
The next pub was not on my original list, but let me tell you it made sense to visit as the bus service is probably tardy, and it was (sort of) on the way back to the place we were staying......

Llanfair Caereinion was surprisingly a good sized town, approached from high up as the road wound down along some tight roads.  Again, it was picturesque, you could imagine some cosy crime drama on ITV being filmed here, the type where Martin Clunes steps on a dog to much hilarity and an old woman gets her stockings caught in some barbed wiring and has to be freed by a blushing policeman.

At the sign of the goat
996.  Goat Hotel, Llanfair Caereinion

Anyone who has been to the  Goat Major pub in Cardiff will know that it is not sheep, but goats who get the Welsh heart swelling with pride.  The CD soundtrack of love songs reserved for their Regimental Goat is still one of my favourite pub experiences ever, and whilst this place didn't have such extremes, it was certainly weird - Twin Peaks had suddenly taken over from the cosy crime.  I was disorientated on entry, as a young man let us see the beers, everything felt a bit back to front and I almost wondered if I'd wandered behind the bar by mistake.  This was until the landlord appeared from a hole in the floor (well, probably the cellar) to eventually serve us!  Meanwhile, two well spoken old characters sat to the right, and an extremely old couple sat on plush settees behind, debating a game of Trivial Pursuit, as I looked for the loo and got totally lost even though the door was directly behind me.  The young man helped us find our way to a beer garden, it was a proper summers day by now and the Monty's Sunshine was a great pint, shame about the Guinness glass.  We were hoping to repeat our lunchtime success at Criggion but despite a kitchen and dining area, it didn't look promising, not even cherry pie was on offer!  (Twin Peaks joke courtesy of Mum, who was 'checking in' with us as was now customary).  Bit of a vague reference, but if you've ever been to the Village Inn in Fairlie, Ayrshire, and the Pineapple in Stockport, and thought, crikey, these pubs are seriously full of weirdos, I love them, then you will enjoy this place!

It was back to Bwlch-Y-Cibau for some scrambled eggs on toast, an afternoon nap, watch Neighbours, and all geared up for tonight's "evening special".

A bit cheeky of me this one, but buoyed by the Anchor success, a 31 mile trip towards Gwynedd seemed acceptable, though Mr Sat Nav didn't help with his stupid B-road idea to save us 2 miles.  (It's like one of those well meaning chaps who'll save you 30p on a train ticket even though it means going on a route that takes an hour longer).

Me and my excitable shadow at the Dovey Valley
997.  Dovey Valley Hotel, Cemmaes Road

As we pulled up in the car park (gravelly area), a youngish man who'd been snoozing/reading on a picnic bench suddenly burst into life and hot-footed it into the pub, almost like our arrival heralded it was 6pm, that the pub was open and needed attending.   Just the one ale was on, "Cwrw Coch" and I'm not sure my Welsh had improved over the last few days as I ordered 2 pints of Queer Cock.  He knew what I meant, a good n proper Welsh ale from some crazy brewery I have no idea about and frankly don't care.  If I was disappointed in the one ale, the pub was stunning.  A heritage survivor, Beeching and his evil mate might have taken out the railway opposite, but the multi roomed interior and old memorabilia recently found in an attic made this place feel like one of those wonderful old Lancastrian or West Midlands pubs, but with added railway charm.  We sat in "Room 4" with an old fireplace, old station benches and a once illuminated pub sign.  Mrs Dovey Valley popped up to tell us we'd found the "cool" room (I think she meant temperature-wise).  We decided to enjoy the second half of our session in the pub garden, but at the bar, a tourist stopped Dad and cryptically said to him "it's no good asking you which beer to choose" which made no sense to anyone.  Outside, a man and his mate exclaimed "it's not a bad life is it?", he was a bit like a male scouse Sinead O'Connor and seemed emotional throughout.  Their third friend, a white van man, turned up and blocked the pub driveway, joining them for a quick Carling which inevitably became a 5 pint session.  The outdoor loo was like a cross between Field Mill and Bootham Crescent, but clean, not even sure it was properly opened but I used it anyway.  Incredibly good pub.  Up there with Anchor and Criggion.

Can you see me in my Hitchcockian cameo role?
So, 7 pubs achieved was more than I had hoped for from a "family" holiday in a tricky part of the world.  Sad that Mum couldn't get to see more of them but hopefully her ankle recovers soon and massive thanks to her and Dad for their efforts helping me get some difficult pub ticks.

The holiday ended as it started, with a bat flying down the chimney to rudely interrupt my post-meal trawling of Twitter where a man was shredding Wetherspoons vouchers for some reason I never quite understood.

The (fake) 1,000 is starting to look increasingly like it will take place in Wigan!  I half thought about a trip out tomorrow just to get the monkey off my back but it can wait til Saturday I'm sure.