I didn't feel that I'd seen the true 'heart' of Washington yet, despite having visited three pubs which the GBG lists under the town. It's like Stroud or something, if that isn't too controversial to say. But a walk to the bus station took me through the Galleries Shopping Centre, where like all good Shopping Centres, I got totally lost trying to find the way out. If I ever get to appear on Room 101, it would have to be a 5 hour special, and I'd definitely choose Shopping Centres. I had a panic attack in the one in Melbourne, and in Doncaster I lost a part of my soul.
|The West Herrington pub ticking crowd wait patiently for the bus
The pub location was confusing, in a strange modern housing estate and hidden between a gap in the hedge. I heard pubby noises, like clinking glasses and fake laughter, so I decided I must be close, so I snuck in through the bushes and saw some signs to confirm it.
|Might be a pub?
|Does that say 'Stables'?
|Definitely the right place!
1446 / 2192. Stables, West Herrington
I thought this was a real cracker, in spite of myself, for it was in many ways a posh dining pub! But it was so dark, low roofed, strangely decorated (piano, violin, phantom of opera mask, deer, trilby, ice skates) and full of happy positive staff led by Gillian, who served a great pint of Tim Taylor Landlord (not quite Whalebone, Hull, that's the benchmark, but still above average). I actually felt quite under-dressed with my long shorts, t-shirt and knee support, this was a far cry from Wetherspoons, and one thing I disliked was the attitude of my fellow customers, who eyed me far too judgily for Wearside, I'd go as far as to say they had that 'Ember Inn Superiority Complex' about them, and I can't be much more insulting than that. Yet every time a staff member walked past, it was beaming smiles and indecipherable comments about working hard in a pub. One nice customer was found totally by accident when I walked the wrong way to the toilet. To the right of the bar at the front, there seemed to be a hidden second bar, and a man with a tube sticking out of his face with a terrible cough pointed me in the right direction. It was an ethereal moment, to match a pub that had an almost Narnia-esque air about it. But it was the dark that held me, like a reassuring hug, and thinking back to some of my earliest happy pub experiences, many were at the New White Bear near L**ds, that same dark comfort as I played with fuzzy felts and ate scampi & chips as an 80's twild, in slightly grottier surroundings. That pub was demolished recently, no tears were shed*, but it shaped my pub love. Back to reality, and it is worth noting that recently knighted World Cup hero Sir Jordan Henderson (a modern day Sir William de Wessyngton) is a Herrington lad, and you could imagine finding him moisturising his face in the mirror here, with Nivea of course, the superior brand of men's moisturising products. I had a bus to catch.
*A local counsellor called it a 'heap of junk with no historic value', so bang goes my pub twildhood!
|New White Bear in the 80's, when I was a twild roaming free with my fuzzy felts
|The Steps in Washington needed this more than here. But when it 'slips out'? Surely more than F words??
|The height of sophistication
|Never trust a bloke called Dann. Dann? DANN??
The most depressed old man in West Herrington helped me stand on the right side of the road for the bus up to Sunderland, home of my University days 1997-2000 and I still have a lot of love for the place, as we approached down Chester Road where I lived for the last 2 years of my stay.
All the hot spots were on my UCAS application (Luton, Middlesbrough, Ormskirk, Salford & Leicester) but when I ordered fish, minty peas and chips upstairs in Sunderland Littlewoods with my Mum and sister and got treated so nicely by the staff, I knew this was the town for me. (And I say 'town' because 'city' doesn't do Sunderland justice). Great people.
In '97, my first year, Freshers vouchers saw student after student visit William Jamesons Wetherspoons for a Spicy Chicken Burger and pint of Fosters special offer between 3-5pm every weekday apart from Fri, if I remember correctly. Me and my flatmates came here about 6 times before Jane (who later stole our washing machine!) learned the staff were getting sick of it, and tried to put a premature end to the deal. So when I started seeing this pub in the GBG after BRAPA started, I was conscious that whilst I could 'tick it off', I'd never had a pint of ale in here. Hell, I didn't even know it was a Wetherspoons I didn't actually know what a Wetherspoons was til I went to Northwich Penny Black in 2001. So I had a wrong to right today!
William Jameson, Sunderland
My first impressions were 'I thought the decor was more blue' (and I mean literally blue, not rude), but today, it was the more traditional Spoons deep red colours. I guess they could've had a refurb, but more likely my Fosters addled brain can't remember 21 years back. I perched right on the edge of the bar by a pillar and ordered a Daleside to keep the Yorkshire theme going, in vain searching for my 'Spoons vouchers, alas not this time (I later found them buried in my GBG, in the Luton page actually!) so I paid full whack. Ouch(!) I was just trying to gather myself, bag, knee, pint, charger, phone, when I was aware of a pair of middle aged nob heads to my left where the pillar was. Despite the huge swathes of empty bar to my right, they waited impatiently til I moved so I took my time and glared at them as they ordered Strongbow over my head, like the twats they were. My Daleside was finely kept, but not a nice beer, had that weird 'over hoppy not in a good way' thing going on, and behind me, a trio of 18 year old chav Mums failed to control noisy twild. One had hooped earrings so impossibly large, a budgie could balance so happily on there, animal rights would commend her on offering said budgie such a high quality of life. I unslyly ate a cheese ploughmans sandwich from my bag, a couple noticed, and I felt like the biggest pikey in this 'Spoons, which made me sort of proud, sort of ashamed. I went for a piss and my phone buzzed, 'twas Father BRAPA, I took the call as he wondered what the trickling water sound was, it was half time at Oakwell, and Hull City were 1-1 in a pre-season friendly at Barnsley. I relayed all he said at the sink to try and impress my fellow Mackem pissers, but they didn't seem to care.
Time to take the Metro up to Newcastle, from where I needed a Neville St bus to one of either two locations, and I decided it would all depend on which bus turned up first. It was actually the 'least regular' of the two, and soon I was on a steamy double decker out to Newburn to the west on the banks of the Tyne.
Thank goodness for the little blue dot on Google Maps, for I wouldn't have had the foggiest where to press the bell otherwise. This bus driver stopped in the right place.
And to my surprise, the heavens had opened, even more than earlier in the day in Washington. As I turned right down a side street, the wind lashed the rain with force right into my face. Luckily, I'd found a grey hat in my bag, to (sort of) compensate for my total lack of jacket, coat, sleeves etc. It took my breath away, was like jumping into a cold swimming pool.
But BRAPA has made me a natural optimist, and for all this temporary pain, I thought the state I'd look when I strode into this pub would at least cause an amused reaction amongst staff & locals. But in my mind's eye, I was picturing a pub like the Wheat Sheaf in Felling, i.e. a proper pub.
And then I saw Big Lamp brewery, never had anything other than a cracking pint from Big Lamp, and as if fate read my mind, Wheat Sheaf in Felling is a Big Lamp pub too!
From the outside then, and perhaps a few warning signs were flashing by now, it looked a little bit 'nice' and had a few people milling around the entrance who were old blokes with missing teeth stinking of old fag ash.
1447 / 2193. Keelman, Newburn
And sure enough, my soaked to skin big hatted entrance hardly caused an eyelid to bat, even though the change I handed over for my typically gorgeous straw coloured crystal clear Big Lamp Something or Other was soaking wet. There was not a seat in the house, and no way I was off to explore the conservatory at the back which was little more than a family fun area. No, this was like a brighter flashier version of Rochdale's Healey. All I could do was stand at the bar, next to a fan which I wasn't sure whether it was drying me, or just making me colder. A few photos did the trick(!) and the two tables nearest me departed within 10 minutes of my arrival and I had a decent amount of leg room, as other standing people decided they'd rather block the entrance to the bar area rather than create space for other customers and sit down at empty tables. I did look a bit like a serial killer though with my hat complimenting my knee support, it's almost like I now go into new pubs like Humphrey Smith does in his pubs, just to see what my shabby appearance will bring! And then, just when I thought the customers couldn't get much more irritating, they QUEUED. The ultimate insult. What are they doing? Even the staff looked a bit confused, especially as a whole empty area of bar was available immediately to the right where I'd earlier stood by the fan. Good job the beer was ace and the barmaid occasionally smiled, for I'd have been apoplectic otherwise.
|Prince Bishop ale was the one I got, lovely stuff
|In the pubbiest part of the pub, the main bar area
|This blackboard made me want a coffee actually
|Don't queue you utter bunch of saucepans!
|Taken at same time as above shot. LOOK! Loads of room.
Back at the bus stop, I had a nice chat with a Jamaican lad who'd just finished a shift at Walbottle recycling plant. He loved BRAPA concept but thought I was mad, lovely bloke. Even if he did think York was about 5 hours from Newcastle.
Back in the 'Toon, it was now obvious I wasn't gonna squeeze in my sixth and final pub, the Sun Inn at Swalwell, but I don't mind cos it gives me an even better excuse to come back to this superb part of the UK when the 2019 GBG throws up a new selection of micros and craft kitchens listed under Wear & Tyne.
I thought 'perhaps the Centurion is better than I remember' so wandered in looking for ale, but it looked disgusting, so I walked back out and got a very happy coffee that looked like something on the Big Lamp blackboard, kind of.
And then I saw a Sainsburys across the way, so decided to drunkenly do my weekly food shop before the train which was a lot of fun. Balancing six eggs all the way home and dodging racegoers was like something off Krypton Factor, never mind Crystal Maze.
|Getting the eggs home!
So, Blackpool begins tomorrow. I'm not taking the GBG as my bag is too heavy, but in between punk rock, I have a list of TEN pubs I'd like to get to if time allows. I've packed a green highlighter and a hand written mini GBG!