The embargo shackles were off, as I headed back to Chester for the second time in under a month. It was raceday again. I do know how to pick 'em!
There was a certain symmetry here, not just due to 9am lager and prosecco drinking suits, ridiculous heels and tiny dresses, but also the fact that it was here where 'word of the new GBG' first started sweeping the nation on 26th Aug (if you can call Glamorgan, Poppleton and North Lincolnshire 'the nation').
Earlier in the journey, a young Wakefield lad called Dan spied my GBG and quizzed me on it. He was off to a physics convention. Our chat consisted of moon landings and micropubs, so expect to see our first intergalactic micro ("the Lunar Goat") in the 2019 edition. It won't open Mondays.
From Chester's new shiny bus station, I took the C56 to a little village over a bridge called Aldford. I wish i'd known about this pub back on 26th August but never mind. The bus driver looked at me like "no one ever asks to stop here", so we had the traditional BRAPA-esque sudden grind to a halt and dislodge all the old folk's pacemakers.
1077. Grosvenor Arms, Aldford
I had to shelve the realisation that my original "1077" tick had been achieved in Darlington back on April 8th, and crack on regardless. The pub's mock tudory exterior and general inside feel put me in mind of something familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Yet. A load of old blokes were lining the bar, and I to squint at the ales and yell over their heads to get served by the enthusiastic bar-babes - there was no moving these blokes, and the "wet floor" sign at their feet (probably) bore this out. Before I could come up with a leek-leak pun (Wales was on the agenda), I'd perched myself near a couple of old dears (well one was a dear, the other was like an evil version of everyone from Acorn Antiques mixed together). They read newspapers, occasionally breaking off to say something like "Are you going for your hair doing?" which led to raucous laughter for no reason. They'd ordered two plates of some posh looking scran ("oooh isn't it beautifully presented Joyce?") whilst I sipped my slightly sharp and metallic Flintshire Bitter which settled into a decent pint, surprisingly! The landlord, one of those switched on eagle eyed individuals who seem interested in his customers, especially visitors, spied my GBG and got excited. "Oooh are we in?" and I broke him the good news, he was genuinely overjoyed telling me they are lucky due to strong competition in the area (if you say so). He asked to read the GBG description ('steady on mate' I thought, 'not even I do that!') and then he went off on a rambling praise of Brunning & Price (OF COURSE! that's why I recognised the pub style) making other pubs in the area raise their game. Now as chains go, am quite happy with B&P even if you slightly get the feel that at times you are being beaten over the head and forced to love them in a "we spent a fortune on making this place look like what Henry VIII would've wanted if he was a pubman so don't be ungrateful!" kind of way. This was certainly a 'pubbier' version than most. Buses were only every 2 hours, I couldn't dilly-dally as I had too much to do, so blew my entire taxi fund on a trip to Wrexham which was amusing in that signal was so poor, I had to climb on picnic bench,crane my neck and shout just to get through to someone!
My taxi driver was a nice guy, if a bit edgy, a bit like a Welsh Rodney Marsh / Derek Acorah / Paul Hollywood hybrid who, the more he learnt about BRAPA, the more un P.C and less professional he became in his language, which I often find BRAPA brings out in people!
After much additional 'Wrexham pub landscape' chatter (you're not getting a tip mate so stop trying so hard), I was allowed to leave the vehicle where an imposing former bank screaming Wetherspoons awaited my arrival.....
1078. North & South Wales Bank, Wrexham
If I hadn't picked the 'Brunning & Price' chain correctly last pub, this place was so undeniably Wetherspoons even a blind person would've been able to tell. If I'd been a bit disappointed how 'nice and tame' Keighley's version had been on Tuesday evening, this more than made up for it. One of those where my pictures below do a lot more justice than words ever can. The barmaid was a nice wirey lass, calling me 'lovely' at every turn which might be a North Wales thing, £1.45 for a pint of Welsh Pride with my 50p off Mudgie Voucher and it was better quality than my last ale too. My new 'red and white BRAPA kit' was undoubtedly affording me a certain acceptance amongst the locals that may not have been the case otherwise (Wrexham were at home, I blended in). Anyone familiar with 'Spoons knows long walks to toilets are one of their many joyous features, but rarely have I ever climbed so many stairs to get to them. No wonder dithery frail old locals walked around with huge sets of keys unlocking downstairs doors marked 'private', obviously a series of hidden loos. And rarely have I taken my bag and coat with me, I did not trust leaving them at my table! A huge majestic stained glass rooflight was obviously the main feature (apart from the pub scroats) and I had to stare at it occasionally just to 'take myself out of the zone'. In the zone, a Carling Chav gang leaned across 10 seats and tried to look threatening but they were about 12. Two wonderful old Steptoe blokes played cards together. A slim ear-ringed guy with spiky hair kept staring at me, until his Spanish mate arrived who looked like a backing dancer from a Wham video. And everyone else had moustaches and bulbous noses - and that included the women folk. Fashions were very 1985, this place will live long in my memory.
I remembered my crazy taxi driver's instructions to get to my next pub, also a Wetherspoons which I might well have visited with Dad on 30th October 2004 as a sort of pre-emptive cos Wrexham didn't really have pubs in the GBG back then, but that felt a lighter pub and some charity box women who'd been following us around all day were banned from the premises which amused me greatly.
Onto today, and Guiseley are obviously a bigger draw in 2017 than Hull City were in 2004 because the place was heaving - I could barely get in!
1079. Elihu Yale, Wrexham
|You can hear the Welsh accents can't you?|
It was about three deep at the bar and I had to use my elbows to get myself into position, just behind an sweaty obese dude but just in front of a nervy shaky horse racing guy who proudly told me he'd won on a 14/1 shot and was confident about the next race. His luck got even better as he was served before both of us despite arriving last, the staff not even trying to see who's next. Hard for them I know. Well, this led to an outburst from our obese friend, "I must be fucking invisible" he wails in my ear ('errrrm, not much chance of that mate!' is what I didn't say that out loud). I reassured him I'd made sure he got served next, was he grateful, not at all. "Well, make it TWO pints of Carling, I've been stood 'ere this long!" he moaned to the hapless barmaid. It was 2:20pm and finding a seat was always going to be a challenge, but the BRAPA red & white was working again, I got some friendly nods from home fans. I really hoped they didn't engage me in conversation, am pretty sure Kevin Russell doesn't still play for them and I don't know anyone else who might! In the loo, a Guiseley father and son looked terrified of me. I tried to look at them with "Yorkshire Unity' eyes but they misread it and bolted for the door. I perched on the edge of some bearded 20 somethings table, it smelt of Brewdog and curry. They stood up. Why exactly, I'll never understand. But even more bizarre, before I found this table when I was 'touring' the pub, our obese friend emerged from behind a fruit machine and burped loudly. Yes, HE HAD FINISHED HIS FIRST PINT BEFORE I'D EVEN SAT DOWN! I thought he was football bound, but when the crowds finally dispersed about 2:59pm, he was one of the remaining few, joined by one of Derby's woodland folk from the Brunswick and a crazy shop-mobility lady - another amusing 'Spoons effort.
|'Craft' blokes standing up to make the pub football experience more real?|
|Two of our fave characters, in one shot|
|The crowds start to leave for the football, the Welsh dragon's feet visible only.|
Next, I walked north through Wrexham to find my next pub, which both Martin Taylor and my taxi driver had seemed very unenthusiastic about......
But what they didn't tell me, was that it was an Ember Inn! Obvious from miles away due to the huge sign and fact that it's on a nondescript main drag of road.
|The scene so typically Ember|
1080. Acton Park, Wrexham
|Looks alright, maybe this'll be the best Ember ever?|
nd the early signs were encouraging as a bubbly bouncing barmaid said 'hi' to me on arrival (though she was heading for the exit), and I saw Dark Star Hophead which is easily the most exciting beer I've seen in an Ember since Abbeydale Moonshine. I remembered I could get CAMRA discount too. But then it unravelled. A less good barmaid served me, £3.45 after discount, and she sloshed half my ale on floor carrying it far end of the bar to me. I came in a Brains glass, on a Carling beermat. I sat in some unmistakably Ember mismatched garish furniture which neither Wetherspoons or B&P would deem suitable for a pub. I spied the token pile of logs. Where was my Ember bingo card, this was approaching a "full house". I spied on this couple, a pregnant lass with what appeared to be a toy boy. "Do you remember our first date, actually in this same pub!" she declared. He remembered. You always remember an Ember. Sorry. "Yeh" she continued "...it was here where you accidentally took that photograph of your hand!" Oh what memories. Romantic isn't the word. They ordered food. A barperson mentioned Salsa. Our pregnant friend looked confused, probably thinking "why are they mentioning a dance off Strictly?" And then, in earshot but slightly obscured, a guy shouts across the room "Hi Mum! Did you have a phone call with Wynn Thomas earlier?" Ember Inns ladies and gentlemen.
Now I'm sure my fellow pub tickers will agree but it's always great to tick off a pub which doesn't have a bus or train symbol in the GBG, which didn't require a 20 mile walk or cheating with some other mode of transport.
So I continued my journey North of Wrexham, through some housing estate, over a bridge crossing a dual carriageway, down a country lane, and winding around to the right, pub number five!
|There's a pub around here some place!|
1081. Pant-yr-Ochain, Gresford
|"Life revolves around the bar" (sign starts well anyway)|
So my opening gambit here was going to be that this was the first pub of the day which wasn't a chain pub, even though it had the word 'chain' in it's title. But then Malcolm Nicholls said on Twitter that it was a Brunning and Price, and I'm wondering how I didn't pick it! 4 pints in, less observant, but with hindsight, the clues were there. Plenty of dining, nice old features, multi rooms, real fire, Weetwood Eastgate is always a give away in amongst the many ales with little blackboard descriptions, patio and big garden, even a lake. Yes, I need a bingo card for these pubs too! I headed with gusto for the centre of the bar ("seeing as this is where life revolves around!" but a lady with a delicately poised Sainsburys bag who'd arrived after me was served first because (a) she wanted a table for tonight and (b) I was ONLY buying a pint. In fact, when I paid for my Purple Moose ale 'upfront' and declined to open a tab, the barman looked very put out. I slunk over to the far room, with nice smells of the fire giving the first glimpses of Autumn pubbing - my favourite time of year. An excessively OTT 'joint' family group were enjoying a post-meal wind down, a man who may or may not have been Michael French was telling tales of derring-do to some wide-eyed twilds, whose own Dad (a kind of even more sculptured Robbie Savage) was doing a weird kind of jig to try and win back some of the attention. Another twild carrying the tiniest twog you've ever seen outside of Paris Hilton's handbag took it to the exit, and launched it into the huge garden! I didn't see it again after that, but the wide-eyed twilds had ditched both French and Savage to go outside to get a glimpse of this peculiar little creature (the twog, not me). A man ran in to the bar "WREXHAM HAVE SCORED A 97TH MINUTE EQUALISER!" but I think he'd misjudged the situation, no one cared, one woman yawned and forced another piece of breaded calamari down her entitled gullet.
|This is actually 'Dad', not a waiter.|
Back out onto the country lane, I kept walking north to reach Gresford itself and just on the outskirts to the left of centre I saw my last pub of the day. I'd usually start at the furthest point, but this doesn't open til 4pm even on a Saturday hence why I ended up finishing here. And it didn't look too lively from the outside so was relieved to see a door ajar .....
1082. Griffin Inn, Gresford
But looks can be deceiving as I walked in to find a hive of local activity, busy friendly smiling people - one and all. Pub of the day, before I'd even been served. You can just tell sometimes, when the quality shines through. And really, the first pub not obviously part of a chain as well. No coincidence there. Great layout too, hardly changed since 1947, and I was served by a lovely old lady who used her 44 years of service to immediately work out I was on a crazy pub crawl and was knackered from a long walk (or it may have been obvious, the glazed expression, bits of twig in my hair etc!) I told her I'd just come from Pant-yr-Ochain, she seemed impressed, we both scrunched our faces up simultaneously and said "nice but a bit of a dining pub!" #PubLady. Her father had run it for 40 years before her too. I sat down and got talking to this lovely old couple (he went to grab me a local CAMRA mag to takeaway) and I was just explaining how my blog was more about the quirky side of pubs rather than a textbook description, when a loud alarm reverberated around the whole pub. Everyone looked in pain, covered there ears, as our PubLady went to investigate the root cause - turned out her hubbie was having a sly puff on his E-Cig out the back, and had set off the smoke alarm. "And that" I said to the couple next to me "is EXACTLY the kind of thing I write about!" They told me about a time the electricity went out, and the landlady got on the piano and everyone had a sing-song in the dark. Sounded amazing. There was still time to make a fool of myself in the loo, blocking the door, getting squashed, trying to laugh it off, going the wrong way, bloke I was chatting to looked at me like you'd look at a sparrow with an injured wing. Oh dear. Time to go.
|Our CAMRA mag grabbing friend|
I managed to flag down a bus to Wrexham, but then I found out it was a "rail replacement service" and I already had 40 mins to wait til it was due.
That was painful, but I made friends with a trainee 'engineer' who wasn't quite as endearing as our Wakefield physician, but he had these occasional flashes of humour, and taught me a bit of Welsh which I've forgotten already.
The Chester-Manchester train was blighted by dickheads out on t'piss, embarrassingly trying to chat up the pretty young ladies on the train - most of whom got out at Stockport presumably just to get away from the creeps (not that I'm saying they might not have been off to Boar's Head for a few jugs of OBB).
Even though my train got into Manc after the York connection had left, I managed to travel back in time, jumped on it, and was back in York more like 10:15 than 10:45 which was a bonus.
Phew! 6 pubs, really amusing day. Very enjoyable. And my first 5 ticks under North East Wales, and I told you I wanted to get some new counties in.
I'll be midweek BRAPping on the slightly earlier day of Monday due to York Beer Fest on Wednesday, so I can have a day's recovery. Only thing is, of my remaining 9 West Yorks ticks, only 5 of them open at all on a Monday. Guess why that might be.