Monday 29 May 2017

BRAPA - Sandstone Dreams in Rural Cheshire.

Behind the bar in Bunbury (see pub 1129)

When I completed North Yorkshire a couple of months ago with the help of esteemed BRAPA Chauffeur B.G. Everitt, I thought perhaps chauffeur days were coming to an end.

After fake "crisis talks", I realised South Durham and North Derbyshire might not be beyond the realms of possibility which was great, but when he suggested he might be able to stretch to some of Cheshire's more remote outposts, I thought this was "above and beyond", but was never going to turn down an offer of that magnitude.

What most of the "no bus, no train" pubs in Cheshire had in common was their closeness to something called the Sandstone trail, a walking route from Whitchurch in Shropshire to Frodsham where I once visited in the rain and my phone died.

So after an early start and long drive on a sunny, warm and breezy Saturday morning (SatNav man had, during the week, had his 'verbosity' settings altered - am not even kidding) we eventually found ourselves at the remote village of Burwardsley, but we had to fight to get in as a combination of vintage wedding bus, horses and hidden car park make for a difficult entry.  Eventually, we got settled and admired the views, and I strangled a poor sandstone pheasant......

Nice views from up here.....

Someone's gotta stranglehold on me (says pheasant in UK Subs tribute act)

Vintage wedding bus pisses off to local church, good news for BRAPA.
1128.  Pheasant Inn, Higher Burdwardsley

It was a peculiar set up, in that it felt like walking into a complex rather than a pub with all these guest rooms, laundry room etc slightly annexed from the pub itself.  We wandered in just as the wedding gang had buggered off, and a large collective of pristine white shirted immaculate staff were busy presumably preparing for the post-wedding lunch, the clamour of knives and forks and busy-bee behaviour all in evidence.  What set them aside though and made this a positive experience was the friendly welcome we got.  In so many situations like this, I've had noses turned up at me, an 11am drinker when the pub is in a state of pre-lunch disorganisation.  Not a bit of it here.  Our barman was a lovely chap, complaining he thought he'd been given the Bank Holiday off only to be roped in at the last minute as he served us some fairly standard Cheshire ales.  A talkative chap without his own access to the cash till, I did wonder if he may be straight out of Borstal, but Dad told me "just because he's got a scouse twang, you can't assume such a thing".  I was just about to argue otherwise, but before I could get in trouble, our attention was drawn to some of the most horrendous piped pub music ever.  "Worse than Ed Sheeran" was one damning critique, piped pub music rarely throws up nice surprises like George Formby, Rancid, Gimp Fist or Chas n Dave, so curiosity got the better of me so I downloaded the "Shazam" App to find out what it was.  Result came back - "Boyce Avenue", never heard of them, but did lead us to do some 'Boycie Only Fools' impressions which perhaps scared the barmaid who'd tentatively put some forks on our table, with an apology "we are preparing for later".  Although she returned with knives for every other table, she didn't put them on ours, perhaps noting our suicidal expressions.  And yes, our table was marked 'reserved' like every other.  We left to more nice staff interactions, proof that pubs really are 'all about the people'.

"MARLENE" says Dad (probably)

Dining style pub, yet didn't annoy!

Some ales and the barman's shirt.
We drove on, noticing the wedding party at a church nearby, to our furthest point at Broxton, where there was a 12 noon opener imaginatively called the Sandstone.  A dickhead local postman tried to kill us (twice) but the pub looked VERY shut and I saw a hastily handwritten sign declaring the pub was closed until further notice.  It all looked a bit ominous.  But just glad I hadn't walked 10 miles along the Sandstone trail to get here!

Onwards to our next pub, just off the trail a tiny bit east in a place called Bunbury.  It was open, all I ask at this stage, though a bit confused by a 'Horse  & Groom' pub sign so it must've had a name change ......

Me and some various heads of nags.

1129.  Nags Head, Bunbury

Ah, this was the tonic to the first pub if we needed one - probably benefiting from not being on the Sandstone trail, it was a proper no nonsense drinkers type of pub, deliciously dimly lit, with football scarves and pool to the left, and some classic bench seating and comfort to the right.  Again, we got a warm welcome from the blonde barmaid of Bunbury (which sounds like the forgotten Chaucer tale if ever I heard one) and the slim landlord, with his green shirt, phantom pint of Carling (which kept appearing at various locations within the pub like a sentient being) and dry wit, correcting anything which wasn't quite right under his breath like when the barmaid said 'good morning' and he kinda breathed 'grrrr it's actually afternoon now gnnnggg'.  Dad appeared from the loo and thought the Carling was his, but I wouldn't be so cruel.  On taking a "pub tourist" style photo of the scarves, I felt the need to justify myself with a BRAPA explanation, and the pub LOVED it.  Even more than Ivinghoe last week.  Soon, another jolly barman appeared and we were behind the bar for photos, all over Facebook, and even got our money back from the drinks.  How lovely is that?  We were both a bit emosh, as the kids say.  Utter superstars.  1129 is my new lucky number.  And the barmaid's pushing of the Facebook envelope did make me wonder if she was Mark Zuckerberg in a mask but who knows, just an utterly fantastic pub experience.  And the ale was first class too.

Some of Europe's top clubs, and Everton.

The most characterful pint of Carling you'll meet

The staff being amazing.
Well, that was all about as heart-warming as BRAPA can get, but no time to relax as we carried on north to our next pub, described in less than glowing terms by both pub ticking legend Martin Taylor, and the Blonde Barmaid of Bunbury, though both obviously far too professional to give it the kind of slagging off that I probably would.  But let's be open-minded .....

The pub (maybe).
1130.  Egerton Arms, Little Budworth

It must be said, despite following the GBG pushpin to the exact location, we do not have sure-fire 100% proof that we were actually in the Egerton Arms, for there was no pub sign we could see.  And when we drove into the gravelled car park and saw a bunch of people outdoors next to a marquee called "Kev Fest" which looked the remnants of some beer festival, we half wondered if we'd walked onto someone's private property.  But a pub-esque stained glass door which Dad loved, promised better things and we walked in to find a pub with exciting ales, some on taps at the back of the bar, and quite an old creaky quirky feel, as the BBB had indicated.  We were the only customers indoors, but when me and Dad tried to be jovial about the difficulties from selecting from so many great sounding ales, the barmaid remained stony faced, eventually snapping at poor Dad to make a decision, as though she had a long line of people to serve.  Dad commented that she had all the people skills of Adolf Hitler, but this seemed harsh on the big German.  It made us wonder if the Kev Fest marquee was a gas chamber, and almost as an act of defiance, Dad retrieved our sandwiches from the car to eat at an outside bench.  I tried to compare the setting to Criggion's Lord Rodney on the Welsh border, but just then the Oulton motorbikes started up in earnest, and with a stiff breeze blowing across the carpark, it kind of put you in a bad mood.  Nothing like!  The barmaid came out to clear some tables and do some top scowling, despite me smiling sweetly at her, but all was not yet lost as Dad discovered a beautifully hidden cricket pitch alongside the beer garden.  First delivery I witnessed, clean bowled him!  I think that sums up this pub.  Should've been lovely, but failed.  Oh, and if you want a laugh, read the first line in the 2017 GBG description about this place.

With Broxton being closed earlier, we needed a bonus Cheshire tick in the direction of home.  Lower Stretton doesn't open til a ridiculous time on a Saturday, Davenham looked potentially unreliable plus I was cricketed out, and I didn't want to go anywhere with a railway train station I could do easily on my own like Winsford or Hartford, so we rested on Moulton.  Or Moulton-le-Fylde, as Dad kept calling it - which to be fair, wasn't even funny the first time.

1131.  The Lion Hotel, Moulton

If it hadn't been for the hospitality at Bunbury, this would've been pub of the day for it had quality oozing from it's every pore from the word go.   We got a proper welcome from the green shirted, grey bearded host, who was so on-the-ball with his service, that later on when I crept back to the bar to remember what beer I was drinking (Engine Vein), he leapt out of a dark back area two minutes later like a hospitable Peter Sutcliffe to ask if I needed him for anything.  Before you could say "is that a hammer in the back of my skull?", Dad had sat us in the "grumpy old men's club", (not to be taken as literally as the Wheel Inn's Grumpy Old Man Corner in Naphill) and was quizzing me on whether I'd read the 'Beer' magazine he'd picked up.  Without wishing to offend any twitter followers who write for it and slightly rhyme with Croak and Snaily, I told him I wasn't a huge fan of said publication. "Oooh hello female beer somellier,  let's pair a blue cheese with a Belgian Tripel".  No thanks.   Even the toilets were great here with European maps on the walls, tried to get a piccie but there was always a map-reader lurking close by.  Just a shame we didn't get to witness the "Saturday Video Jukebox" which sounds a delight.  Really top pub this, would recommend it to anyone.

Barman being incredible despite guantanamo escapee wandering in.

Dad trying to look grumpy

After a 5 second conflab, we'd decided we'd done so well for time that we could squeeze in a Greater Manchester area pub on the way back over t'hills to sunny Yorkshire.  Same rules applied, nothing too easy to do by train/Metro etc. but we came up with a solution and were soon in the very Mancunian feeling town of Denton.  The pub was also classic GMR.

1132.  Lowes Arms, Denton 

In keeping with BRAPA 2017 rules (outside Dukinfield which has it's own laws, and was not too far away from here), the right hand room which sounds usually like the more no nonsense side of the pub with that delightful Manc term "the Vault", was a sea of pink decoration and old biddies celebrating someone's 70th though they all looked about 110 to me, perhaps Denton offers a hard existence.  The left hand bar was loungey old fashioned Mancunian bliss, with swathes of grey carpet - perfect for twilds to skid across the floor at regular intervals which they did, whenever their Prosecco Mum's took a swig and were temporarily distracted.  The service was friendly and efficient, and despite the challenges, enough room to swing a non literal cat and find some comfy bench seating at the near end of the room.  I can't tell you much more than that, I'd had 5 pints and listening and observing so I was not as focussed as earlier but never mind, it just had the hum of a solid old pub.



Hidden biddies.
So that was a very satisfying day, a great one to write up.  I had a bonus day in Tyne & Wear yesterday which I will write up when time allows, plus I'll have the month end review to do before we get cracking on June.



  1. If you want a weird music selection, you should go to The Black Horse on your next visit to Preston. It has a jukebox with every Top 50 hit between 1952 and 2010 and it's set to play them at random. When I was in once, it started up with "Gossip Calypso" by Bernard Cribbins.

    I was, of course, the only person in the place who knew the words.

  2. Don't know if you covered it with the Landlord, but the reason for the Horse & Groom sign outside the Nags is that it's the setting for the recent ITV Sunday Night Drama "Home Fires".
    Great to see the NHB (Nags Head Bunbury)twatting the competition. You must have caught the Pheasant on a bad day, as it's generally a lovely place to eat and drink. The Egerton Arms on the other hand - proper weird gaff. Not been there for years, but last time I went (very busy), the Landlord was going nuts at everyone for ordering draft beer because it was quicker to serve bottles!