At the beginning of the BRAPA year, two of my main aims were to visit counties I'd never been to before, and also to 'complete' as many counties as possible. The place that best fitted the bill was the tiny county of Rutland, and after the previous two ticks of Ryhall (boring until Belmesthorpe made me appreciate it) and Belmesthorpe (dull, insular and lame), it was time to finish it off today.
|Daisy the cat - her expression says it all as I enjoy a dining pub|
With no football this weekend for global giants like Hull City, Dad was with me on a 'mystery tour' but he worked out the venue within seconds. Mum was glad to get him out of the house, he'd been a man-flu victim all week and he warned me "I can't walk fast today" (in a lame Belmesthorpe style voice) before we'd even left York.
By Peterborough, that all had to change as we had two minutes to leap over to platform 7 to make the connection. He went like a bat out of hell (as Meatloaf once said), I could barely keep up! Those max strength lemsips had done the trick.
Stupidly, my tickets to Oakham were dated 11th Jan cos I'm an idiot which the train guard understood rather than charging me with potential fare evasion (why was my face not this honest in South Shields in 2014?)
Anyway, we had to make the most of being in Oakham early, and nothing says 'first pub of the day' quite like this delightful little chain ......
1288 / 2034. Captain Noel Newton, Oakham
I've been in enough 'Spoons outlets during BRAPA history to know that they can be good, in terms of staff, beer and comfort. But it seems written in the stars (if the stars had particularly boring things written in them) that when I'm with Father BRAPA, Wetherspoons generally come up with a dud. And this modern airy and rather uncharismatic place did nothing to change that view. At least the Ryde, Isle of Wight equivalent is described in every GBG as 'fucking boring as fuck' (not a direct quote) but this was barely even acknowledged as a 'Spoons. Despite the lack of customers, service was dreadfully slow - and handing a pair of 50p Mudgie vouchers over to our bewildered server only exacerbated the problem. Some geezer asked if the 'coming soon' beer was on. A stupid question you may think (I did), but it took 3 female staff members with the same face to finally conclude it wasn't. Then a fresh faced 18 year old Harry Maguire wannabe came over and politely asked our barman if he and his tween mates could move tables together as long as they moved them back 'at the end'. After much blinking into the middle distance, the answer was 'yes'. All the while, Dad was trying to find a table, and despite many free, they were all sticky, full of crumbs, dirty plates and ring stains of Strongbow Dark Fruits (one of your 'five a day' if you live in 'Spoons) from the post-breakfast 'rush'. He eventually had to pose, at a posing table, like a chump. Poor Dad, poor me. He distracted me slightly by giving me a great fact .... there are 225 Wetherspoons in the GBG. "Is that all? I feel like I've been to 2,000" I said, suddenly feeling a pang of respect for that mad Scotch lady who visited every one in the country as a tribute to her dead hubbie. #PubWoman I rang for a taxi. Nothing doing. Then I rang another. 12:15. Fine, we nursed our ales, Dad found two old biscuits in the bottom of his bag to nibble on. A rare highlight. I thought Noel Newton was a journeyman midfield enforcer who played for Exeter, Brentford and Walsall in the mid 90's, but he was a first world war dude instead which summed it up. Time to go.
|Our beer from Vancouver (wherever THAT is) was good it must be said|
|Noel Newton rides on his horse to sign for Walsall in '93|
|Dad smiles, but he's probably dying inside, I was|
Okay, now I know my cheque is in the post, we can continue and although North Luffenham is only 5.5 miles as the crow flies, it takes a lot longer cos Rutland has this huge natural disaster water feature slap bang in the middle, unimaginatively called "Rutland Water". Birds like it.
'Luffers' (as no one calls it except me) was a pretty, sleepy village with no phone signal, so I'm glad I'd identified our taxi bloke as a sound guy and asked if he could take us to Langham next. He got all carried away, said yes, but got reprimanded gently by a lady on the other end of his walkie talkie for forgetting he had to pick up one of his regular old dears from Tesco. "I'll be a bit later", he said, but we agreed it was our best (and only) option.
1289 / 2035. Fox, North Luffenham
Listen, I shall say theeez only once. "A dining pub that I liked." Of course, you must judge everything on face value in this game (no prejudice!) and this place managed to confound me from the start. It didn't try to be a pubby pub either, that's not to say it wasn't cosy, but everything they did was done well. The beers for example, at the peak of quality, and I wasn't expecting that in posh rural Rutland. Atomic and Oakham JHB, immaculate. Our barman. Personable, helpful, friendly, yet quiet and respectful. The perfect balance. The dining families. Smiling, tanned, nice - like what people from Lymm should be if they weren't stuck up nob-ends. There was a random pile of logs in the corner 'doing nothing'. I hate this about pubs. Yet this random pile of logs seemed to give me a cheeky wink. The barman saw Dad roaming the pub and suggested the best places two northern drinker scum types could sit. Then, as we had time to kill, Dad suggested we have food. 'I WAS BECOMING ONE OF THEM - THE DINER!' Sweet potato fries, roast beef and horseradish sarnie, pointless salad, nachos serving as much purpose as the random pile of logs. Perfect. I'd sold out. I may as well have dyed my hair ginger, put a dummy in my arse, run round the pub crying, and called myself a Twild. As we started to think about the taxi, a shepherdess with no patience herded in a load of geriatrics. With no spatial awareness. A large group this pub couldn't really accommodate. They stood around like zombies getting in the way. I could now see how I could hate this place in different circumstances. There was once an RAF base around here. An old man called Jerry (Atric?) dressed as a WW2 pilot wandered in, please someone tell him the war is over. A female runner was lost, and raced through the pub to get back on track. It was all unravelling. Time to get out the back door and wait for our taxi before my love for this place subsided!
|Man concealing random pile of logs|
|Jerry and the middle distance runner|
Our taxi driver then told us he'd used to be a postman at Langham so he knew the pubs and two local celebs we might bump into. The first was rugby player Austin Healey, who uses this next pub as his regular but apparently is a bit up himself. And secondly, Mr Ruddle of 'Ruddles' fame lives here.
I used to like Ruddles beer when I first got into real ale .... but I think it was because I got it in bottles and it had this really satisfying ring pull which made a great noise when you opened it! POP! When I finally got a pint of it in a L**ds 'Spoons many years later, I realised maybe the ring pull sound had been the only thing I'd enjoyed about it.
1290 / 2036. Wheatsheaf, Langham
Another rather lah-di-dah Rutland GBG effort, but as per our previous landlord, a real livewire of a lady was immediately greeting us with open arms (not literally but she was hands on in every other way) as I leaned against the busy bar of this slightly darker pubbier version of the Fox, and ordered us two pints of 'Canary', from some local brewery I'd never heard of and will probably never see again. Dad had gone a-roaming in search of a seat for the third time today, and for the second time today, our multi-tasking staff member pounced to direct him to a 'drinkers only' settee behind the fireplace. Great staff effort, and Dad was pleased I'd ordered 'Canary' as apparently that is what that celebrity Jizzard, Ross Poldark drinks. The exertions of the day so far had caught up with my ill father, who was now slumbering next to me, and I only gave him the odd prod to keep him awake so the attractive barmaids didn't think I was boring. The girl with a bun in her hair clearing tables (not a currant one) inadvertently squirted some cleaning fluid in my Canary, giving it a welcome hoppy kick! It smelt like wet dog before. With Dad half asleep, I had to make my own amusement and was rewarding en route to the toilet when a family with young twild were leaving in front of me, having lunchtime plates cleaned away by our bunned friend. "ARE WE GOING TO MCDONALDS ON THE WAY HOME?" wails the twild on the way out at the top of his voice. "SHHHHHH" replies Mum, actually dying of embarrassment. A classic moment in a classic day out. Pub itself, not quite the Fox but respected the effort they put in.
|Ghostly old man hand gropes at pint of Carling|
|Appalling bookcase wallpaper, even by bookcase wallpapers low standards|
Dad woke up, and the bus stop was just around the corner as a woman with "I Luv Rutland" basically tattooed on her forehead confirmed we were on the right track to Oakham.
Now I DID believe our taxi driver about the 'Three Crowns' being shut down, but to the pub ticker, it has to be seen and photographed with your own eyes, and no great hardship as it was close to the station anyway.
Initial signs looked positive for a surprise 'open pub' as a bright light was shining off the side wall of the building, or as a now awake Dad exclaimed " IT'S GOT A DIRTY GREAT LIGHT STICKING OUT OF IT'S ARSEHOLE!" Lemsip Max + Canary, a winning combo.
But close up, the pub was very shut. Sad times, Steamin' Billy is puffin' no more.
|Shut pub alert - Three Crowns, Oakham|
In a bizarre twist, as I crossed the road back towards Dad post-photo, a middle aged couple got out of a car behind him and shouted to us "IS IT SHUT THEN? OH DEAR, THAT'S NOT GOOD!" and sped off down the street. What was this, some weird shadow-BRAPA couple? Are they behind me every time ensuring I'm really going to the pubs I say I do? How strange.
No time to dwell, as my most anticipated pub of the day was looming. Mum and Dad had been here before, brought me back bottles, given me rave reviews, Mum often reminding me she had a required BRAPA tick that I needed, expressing mock surprise I'd never been whenever it got mentioned. So finally time to lay that ghost to rest.
1291 / 2037. Grainstore Brewery Tap, Oakham
And on entry, I declared it 'pub of the day', tongue in cheek of course, within seconds. It had a nice feel, wooden, large yet cosy, good atmosphere. Except, the longer we stayed, the less I felt that initial love. As staff said 'hey guys' and wiggled their hips in a 21st century 'i've got a pristine white shirt and a beard' kind of way, Dad did his now characteristic pub roaming, and found (unaided this time) a large table in the corner "reserved from 6pm" or something ridiculous. He'd asked for a coffee, I went for something to do with Ospreys. Our taxi driver had said he wasn't a fan of the beers, and as I tried both this and the 1050, I found some remarkably bland and samey, and for a brewery tap, lacking the life of the ales in the Fox at North Luffenham (I'd quite enjoyed their bottled ales incidentally). A juddery old man and a friendly lady sat beside us, a huge group of crazy youths with bad eyebrows and tans on the other, we were essentially boxed in which had happened to me at Friends of Ham the previous night, and does nothing for my sense of pubby well being. The place was just too rammed. At least I had snacks in my bag, but Dad was convinced they'd give us both food poisoning, "nonsense" I said popping a mini 5 day old room temperature scotch egg into my gob, "hmmm, actually Dad, think you are right" I said, getting a very quick stomach cramp. And that summed up our hour and a bit here!
|A cough and a coffee from poor ailing Dad|
|Getting served by a friendly dude from the modern era|
|Ales in a hamper, cos why not|
|Local silently frustrated by lack of glass collecting (perhaps)|
|Cider and sausage fest 2014 glass (and no beermat)|
|Finishing the county (as best I can!)|
So there we go! Train back went nicely. Peterborough's Brewery Tap actually does what Oakham can't and offered some nice Oakham ales and it finished off the day very nicely indeed. Writing this up made me appreciate how much I enjoyed the day, though in conclusion, I don't really think any of Rutland's six pubs massively pull up any trees, even if the Fox in North Luffers was a great example of when a dining pub can be good.