Sunday 31 December 2017

BRAPA - Return to Congleton (with bonus Poynton, Woodford and Bramhall)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the BRAPPEST of them all?
The day was finally here.  It was time to tick off new Good Beer Guide pubs for the last time in the year 2017, my most productive year of BRAPA to date.

The story begins at Congleton station at 11:20am.  It had been 4 and a half months since my last visit.
Yes, I did raise an eyebrow when I noticed the Bear Baiters pub allocation had doubled from two to four, but never mind, an easy place to get to.  It was raining.  15 mins walk into town (annoying but it's no Tring, Bodmin or Winsford), best look to see if either pub had opened before 12 noon.  As we say in the BRAPA trade, "no lookie, no gettie innie".  Both were in total darkness, 11:36am.

So I did what any normal person would do in my situation, went to B&M and bought a Fray Bentos pie and a box of Walnut Whips.

11:59am and some signs of life but neither pub quite ready, unlocking doors, putting blackboards outside, disappearing inside again.  But by 12:02, the pubbier of the pubs was ready for action .....

Our first pub, pre-opening.
1198 / 1944.  Prince of Wales, Congleton

So, it was a Joules pub.  I've not been to many but I like their style (the beers perhaps not quite so much though this old winter ale was full of hearty goodness) and it was full of the usual mirrors and deep woody features and decor.  An okay, fairly stodgy neutral barmaid served me, I was the only customer for my entire half an hour here, and despite giving her the 'extra 20p', we didn't form any kind of meaningful relationship which was a shame cos I'm a believer in "first customer of the day gets friendly chat and attention".  I sat in the superior backroom, which might've contained the mystery 'real fire' that the GBG alludes to, but it wasn't, and it was rather chilly.  Perhaps it was in the strangely named 'sausage bap emporium' to the right.  I didn't dare see what was happening through there.  Perhaps the barmaid was less bored than I thought!  The music was dreadful, if one county can be relied on for terrible piped pub music, it is Cheshire.  The song that stood out was called "Only You", not the good a capella one, but some acoustic thing by a girl called Sarah Close.   The fact I was the only customer made it feel she was rubbing it in.  So with no other customers to speculate upon, all I could do was wonder if people pronounce Joules as "jewels" like me, or some really say it like "jowls" or "joels" as the wall diagram claimed.  I took my glass back, the barmaid might have said 'bye', it was hard to tell, so I murmured "taaaaaa" and left.

The pub looking quite good

That's tea sorted.

How do you pronounce it? 
A few yards down the street, the pub door needed a good yank but I was inside and could hear voices from the hidden bar area .....

"Oh yes, I'm the young pretender .... oooh a ooh"
1199 / 1945.  Young Pretender, Congleton

On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this was another "Old Dancer" of Wilmslow fame, or worse still, anything with one syllable from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, but to scratch the surface, you can see we had something a bit more wholesome, community and friendly.  What wasn't wholesome was a man in full lycra and dark glasses stood at the bar twisting his body into shapes that no human being should be able to.  With my eyes firmly focused on the bar, I ordered an ale from Scarborough (despite the "everything comes from East Cheshire or Manc" claims in GBG) which was a degree too warm to be good.  The two young lads serving were exuberant, with little to back it up, pronouncing £3.30 in an Irish accent about as quirky as they got.  Lycra man spoke of a bar which, on New Year's Eve, would be opening as usual, closing at 6pm, reopening at 7pm but charging to get in!  I sat at a ridiculously low leather sofa around the corner, after 3 snooty middle age twunts came in to admire some 'wall art' (the man had a very tiny head).  Next, a woman in a wheelchair rocked up with her 3 mates.  They were all very friendly, "join us!" they asked me in a Church of Scientology way, as I chuckled at a "how many middle aged women does it take to adjust an earring" gag, alas 25 mins here was the maximum I could allow.  Apparently it's called Young Pretender cos Bonnie Prince Charlie once slept here ..... well, better than being awake here!  No, I'm being facetious, perfectly decent  place this one and friendly to boot.

It was a knackering uphill 15 minute hike back to the station, luckily train delayed a couple of mins, but I made it and soon was at Poynton.  A 0.7 mile walk took me to Poynton proper, I was having to work hard for this 1200th pub but I finally saw it along the main street .....

1200 / 1946.  Cask Tavern, Poynton

It was fitting that this should be the pub that brought up that fabled 1200 mark, for I'd been foiled twice previously this year.  Once due to a suicide at Bramhall, and once because buses finished running 2pm or something ridiculous.  A shame therefore that it was a pretty uneventful experience.  I'd been to Cheshire's other two Bolllington pubs, the one in Macc was very good, the one in Bollington itself was okay, but this was boring.  Apart from a ginger woman with Henry VIII's beetly little black eyes, I was the only customer and was served by a perfectly decent young blonde lass, who chatted with the ginger lady.  I didn't even enjoy my ale, was good quality but the blandest sessiony pale ale (Sweet Nancy) I'd had all year.  I've thought their beers were decent in past, but a man in the Vale Inn at Bollington told me it was the best brewery in the world!  He may have been biased, and admitted apart from the odd holiday to Crewe, he doesn't get out much.  Piped Coldplay completed the mood.  A group of oldies came in finally, so I took that as my cue to leave.

Modern art, the BRAPA way.

View to the bar

About 40 mins walk the other side of the station, after dodging a few potholes and puddles and much traffic whizzing past like a bat out of hell, I came to my favourite pub today, still on the main road but feeling very much like a rural idyll.

1201 / 1947.  Davenport Arms (Thief's Neck), Woodford

Before I got inside, I was lining up to take another outdoor shot showing the 'Thief's Neck' sign just as a group were leaving.  "I WON'T BE IN YOUR PHOTO!" shouted a blue shrew-like woman, and raced across the car park screaming.  BRAPA eh?  Inside, a multi-roomed olde worlde feeling Robinsons pub awaited, and an upstanding smart gent served me some okay ale called Cumbria Way.   You could feel the 31 consecutive years in the GBG, 85 in the same family, from the moment you arrived, one of those soothing magical atmospheres, and exactly the kind of 'tick' which is most valuable to a 'ticker' like me.  The main 'character' was an old woman at the bar sat with her husband.  She bossed the place, and scowled at any outsiders, including me when I did a full circle of the bar before realising the toilets were outside (another hallmark of a great boozer!)  On the way back in, I held the door open for a woman and she thanked me in the voice of Sharon, Tracey and Dorien from Birds of a Feather, before squealing in a 'delightful' Essex accent "Corrrr, this is a proper pab innit?"  Old lady looked daggers, and her mood didn't improve when her husband embarrassed himself by loudly mistaking Carole King for Karen Carpenter (they weren't here!).  From what I could gather, was small wonder she was downing Belgian murk by the truckload, with the occasional half of Unicorn to 'take the edge off'.  A 'local friend' entered, an oldish bloke, far too excited about New Year's Eve for a man his age, and they soon got chatting on that topic.  When he departed after a swift half, they innocently commented "enjoy your evening".  His eyes became wide-eyed with panic.  "N-n-n-not this evening.....  you DO mean tomorrow, don't you?" he replied, as if it was impossible to wish someone a pleasant evening on 30th December.  Classic times.

Blue woman runs away in horror

The photo that blue woman wanted me to take

Old couple at bar = pub legends

A moody black n white shot for no apparent reason

Bald man asks man with hair to stroke his pate,  probably.
Another two mile brisk walk (all this was keeping my tummy slim and helping me to stay sober) took me to Bramhall, a place I didn't know existed until that suicide attempt in the summer stopped me getting to Poynton.  At the time, I wrote that a lack of GBG pubs might've been the cause of the suicide attempt, causing someone with inside knowledge to reply "that might be about to change!", and it has.

In other news, my phone signal returned to reveal Hull City were 2-0 up at half time!  Wow.

Note the man in the window

1202 / 1948.  Mounting Stone, Bramhall

As I lined up the above picture, I was aware the man in the window kept looking, so I soon as I got inside, I assured him that whilst he'd definitely appeared in the photo, I'd send him royalties once my blog got famous.  Such basic direct attempts at engagement and humour normally work in treat in a micropub, especially one in the north west, but the bloke just looked nervous and closed ranks with his younger compadre.   It was to become a theme of this place, like people didn't want to reveal too much!  Had they been tipped off BRAPA was in town?  Next, it was the turn of the friendly-ish young barlad.  "Good choice, I luv mi amber n red ales!" he declared when I, totally by chance, chose one simply because it was the first I saw not bearing the Bollington logo.  I tried to encourage him, and he says "yehhhh, most folk in here just go for the pale ales!"  "Oh really?" I said hoping to spark him off on some rant where he called everyone in here idiots, and trashed the place with a baseball bat, but he suddenly stopped mid-sentence like he'd said too much!  And then there was the Scottish local character.  All good pubs have a Scottish character, and this good pub was no different.  He kept threatening to leave, seeing someone he knew, then staying for "just one more".  I was opposite him, surely just a matter of time before we chatted, but just kept looking nervously over the top of his glasses, and at one point, he and the woman behind had a conversation - THROUGH ME!  Jeeez.  Way to make a guy feel invisible!  So yeh, I can see on some levels how this is the sister pub of the brilliant Chiverton Tap in Cheadle Hulme, it's warmth and depth mean it's a bit more than your average micro, but people make such a huge difference, it was hard to come away with anything like the same level of positivity.  Oh, and hearing Hull City had let two in and drawn 2-2 didn't help.

Back at the station, I really could have squeezed an extra pub in at Stockport,  7 to do in the GBG so shaving one off would've left me with one Stockport day to do, alas it didn't materialise.  Combination of factors, partly cos I knew I'd been drinking on NYE, and partly cos I knew I'd pushed myself earlier in the month to get the 1200, knew I was in 'credit', so why kill myself?

So back to York via Piccadilly it was, at the end of another great year's BRAPA.  See you later on for the "End of Year Awards".  Might you or your fave pub be a winner?



  1. Very interesting to read your impressions of the Davenport Arms, a pub to which I have been delivering the local CAMRA magazine "Opening Times" for pretty much all of those 31 years.

    I think I recognise the "upstanding smart gent" ;-)

    Still a lovely pub, but it has to be said that a bit of the edge was taken off it by the refurbishment a few years ago - before then it really was unspoilt.

  2. Child urinal drama yesterday, resentment of the Congleton suicide today. That's why you're a legend Si. Laughed so much I nearly fell into the Grand Canyon, which would make good blog.

  3. "The fact I was the only customer made it feel she was rubbing it in."

    Heh :)

    "How do you pronounce it? "

    Being the uncultured sort from across the pond my guess would have been "jewels".

    "the pub door needed a good yank"

    What, like a proper bouncer from the States?

    "after 3 snooty middle age twunts came in"

    See, this is what sets you apart. You wouldn't find language like that on Martin's blog! ;)

    "Apart from a ginger woman with Henry VIII's beetly little black eyes"

    What, did she nick 'em from his corpse in St George's Chapel?

    "The photo that blue woman wanted me to take"


    Cheers and a Happy New Year Si.