Wednesday 27 February 2019

BRAPA - Back in Dorset Part 10/10 : These Taps are Six-a-Penny!

27 pubs into my record breaking 30 pub holiday and time for the final push, as me and Martin (Taylor, not Owl) found ourselves in the kind of obscure pub ticking country (North East Dorset) which would be perfect if you'd committed a murder, but still wanted to keep your quota up without being caught by the fuzz.

It was that time of day we refer to in the trade as 'squeaky dry midweek bum time', 3-4pm, so many pubs supposedly closed for the afternoon, but the brewery taps of Cranborne and Sixpenny Handley hadn't opened yet. 

It was left to Shaftesbury to save the day.  Our most northerly point, Martin seemed to be an expert having been here several times before for various ticks, but never this one.  He even knew where to park, and gave me a village tour, the feature of which was Gold Hill (not to be confused with the Child Okeford vehicle of the same name) where that Hovis advert was filmed where that idiot twild with the shitty bike and silly accent is always late for work cos he has to get up a hill with heavy bread, or something.  I'd forgive a big lump of cheese, but bread has never been this exciting.

Shattering my illusions that it was filmed in a Leeds studio

The pub was on a different hill because it didn't want to feel left out, a pretty interesting location like it was perched on edge like some grazing sheep which you can't really tell from this angle:

But try this one.....

Well maybe, I tried anyway!  Martin will've got better pictures than me, he always does.

1511 / 2481.  Ship Inn, Shaftesbury

Well, just when you thought Dorset had no more white rabbits to pull out of the ale stained magic hat, it comes up with this corker which let's be honest, was as good as any pub (minus perhaps the Vine at Pamphill) that I'd visited all week.  The tiling, the nautical decor, the locals who refused to smile, the landlady who looked like she'd been there since 1700, but in a nice way, the docile yet gently growling dog in no way twoggy, and just the gentle stillness of a midweek afternoon session where old boys with hard to decipher accents chewed the cud, snarled and drank dark brown bitter.  Me and Martin sat in the corner whispering excitedly like two naughty boys at the back of the class.  Not that I could say it felt like the epitome of rural Dorset, ship theme or not, it felt so hopelessly Cornish with that squashed ancientness, think of the Star at St Just or Crowlas, the Five Pilchards at Porthallow, it had that kind of atmosphere.  Martin must have wondered how the GBG had brought him Shaftesbury way so often, yet he'd never had the privilege of this gem before.  On the way out, we discovered small side rooms just as beautiful as the rest of the pub, my only regret, I couldn't understand the locals to pick up on what they were chatting about, probably idiot pub tourists or summat! 

A bit of a dog, just not sure which bit

Now time for one of the 'key moments' of the day as we meandered into even deeper Dorset-shire territory, to the wonderfully named village of Sixpenny Handley.  A major fire here many years ago led to donations from neighbouring villages, and so many clothes were donated, it was said that you could always spot a Sixpenny man after that, because he wore two waistcoats instead of one!

Due to open at 4:30pm on this sunny Wednesday afternoon, it was its first time opening since 6pm on Saturday, so we were understandably a bit twitchy about our hopes of getting this 'hard to reach' pub tick.  

Martin parked up, I went for a pee and thought I'd located the 'pub':

But that's an arrow, and this was just a green corrugated shed, so I went around the corner and found a Sports Pavilion with a GBG sticker on the window, it looked like it could potentially open soon, hard to say! 

It was only 4:15pm still, so Martin went for one of his legendary walks and locked me in the car so I could nibble my snacks and read a book he'd given me called 'The Rough Pub Guide'.   I was just reading about a pub called the Victoria in Coalville when he returned, and told me it was 4:29pm, let's try and get in!  I quickly gobbled up my final sweet chilli veggie roll and third cheesestring, and was ready. 

Sixpenny Handley originally housed the Sixpenny Brewery Tap, but it did rather well (proved by good ales I'd had by them on a few occasions already this holiday) and moved to bigger premises at Cranborne, where we were due to visit next.  This left the Sixpenny residents without a watering hole, so they opened this thing with a slightly tweaked name, selling their own ales called 'Brew Shack', even more restricted hours, but you know TWAMRA, they love any place doing their own brews, so they bunged it in the Guide.

1512 / 2482. Penny Tap, Sixpenny Handley

Pleased to see a door ajar, we wandered in and in true Dorset tradition, a local had somehow appeared from nowhere to get in first!  "Ooh let's have a look what's on!" I says, half to myself and half to Martin.  But the harassed looking barmaid busily copying ale names from a notebook onto a blackboard in careful lettering which hardly anyone will ever read, snapped "you'll have nothing yet cos we aren't quite open!"  Checked my watch, definitely 4:30pm now.  After 5 more minutes of not much happening, Martin decided to 'get something from the car' so I just paced the perimeter of the room, which was cosier and better heated than you may expect from a Sports Pavilion, a decent place to sit and have a drink (well, if you could get one).  By now, the barmaid was rushing around running taps and pulling beer through into a series of jugs.    Closing time was 7pm.  Was this going to be the first place where 'last orders' sounded before I'd even got served?!  You'd think if your hours were so restricted, staff would get here a bit earlier to get set up, rather than this disorganised rabble we witnessed today?  Eventually, it was beer time.  Local first of course, "Thanks for your patience!" she says to him, a bit pointedly for my liking, or was I being paranoid?  He reminded me of King Rollo with a facial piercing, and he smirked in a sickly way like the kid who's farted, blamed everyone else, then bought the teacher a Granny Smith.  Finally came my ale, decanted from a jug.  "I've not poured that well!" she says, decanting it back from glass to jug, then pouring it a bit more carefully.  It did the trick for a few seconds but soon became a thinnish black mess again, not that I care, it tasted ok.  Martin, I think, had a glass of lightly chlorinated water.   We noted how there was a village meeting due a week on Thursday re the re-opening of the village pub, a proud sturdy stone building we saw on the way out of the village, and I hope it happens cos the villagers deserve something a bit more permanent than this place.  To the barmaid's immense credit, she apologises on the way out for the disorganisation on the way in, but I had been chuntering to Martin a bit!  But nevertheless, a bit of a shit show, and if Cranborne was 'Football Twitter', it'd be chanting things like 'Tinpot' and 'What's it like to see a Tap?' 

Barmaid scribes as Rollo watches on patiently

Pavillion view, quite a nice space to enjoy a drink

Let's get the Roebeck back open!  (and look how pristine that GBG is, not mine!)

I see what they've done there, and Emlyn played for Hull City, betcha didn't know that! 

Top secret ale notes, probably

Even the hand dryer put in a poor performance
So there we go, that was my 50th pub in Dorset and my 39th tick of Feb breaking my BRAPA February, so two reasons to be cheerful as we made our way towards Cranborne, Google Maps Sat Nav lady well and truly packed up by now. 

Even worse, after parking up in the village, I noticed our next Tap was in Holwell, Holwell Farm to be precise, and in this insane moment of genius, Martin span his car around a few times, and suddenly, we were there.  I seriously don't know, it was like his body was temporarily inhabited by the spirit of a local rag n bone man from the 18th century.  

Arriving at the outdoor Sixpenny bar

And here's the building.  Weird pose cos I need the loo.

1513 / 2483.  Sixpenny Tap, Cranborne

This was more like it,  a proper historic building, converted Victorian stables no less, you could almost feel the ghost horses nuzzling up to you, or perhaps it was just sixth pint of the day feeling! It was bustling with jovial locals of all ages and one of those welcomes, where we were siphoned in the direction of the bar in that encouraging "come on lads, get yersleves in!" kind of way.  Great atmosphere.   Where to sit was the next worry, as we skirted around a buffet table.  "Help yourselves lads!" said a man with a bright red face, more fresh air than burns victim I should add, 'take that (and party)' Firkin Shed in Bournemouth, this is how to treat visitors when you've laid food on in a public space.  We tucked into cheese, bread sticks, cherry tomatoes and the like, and you could see why this is a local CAMRA award winner.  It had a bar billiards table too, just in case any cool kids appeared, Sir Quinno for example.  And then a young couple came in and played a green barbecue lid (or was it one of those Smash mash potato aliens?)  in a manner which was far too serious for what the situation demanded, and looked faintly ridiculous, although I'm sure they were very talented.  Was that Eternal Flame by the Bangles or We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel?  I just couldn't quite place it.

Be still my little sixpenny beating heart!

Let's get on the buffet!

View towards the bar

Pre-gig snacks to calm the nerves

Live music time

Spot the special guest
Well, nice to end on a high and I said farewell to Martin as he dropped me back in Wimborne from where I took a bus back to Poole for a relatively early night, before the long journey back to York next day.

What a holiday it had been.  Competing with Isle of Man for best ever I think, even eclipsing my October trip to West Dorset and that's saying something.  My GBG looked so much greener than when I'd started ......

I'll be back in October, basing myself in Salisbury (so I can make a start on Wiltshire too) and try and polish off the north of the county, places like Bourton, Gillingham (with a hard G), Thornford, Laymore and the like.  Of course, the 2020 GBG will be with me by then so I could have a lot more than the 14 ticks I currently have remaining in Dorset, but that's just the way the Dorset Biscuit crumbles isn't it?  One things for sure, it is my favourite county in the south to go to for pubs so far, make no mistake!  

For now, I had two days recovery before a Lancs day with Dad, which I'll tell you about in a couple of days.  


Tuesday 26 February 2019

BRAPA Back in Dorset Part 9/10 : One Sausage Away from Gussage / Cheese Exchange in Stourpaine

Wednesday dawned all bright and shiny, the fog had lifted early and the sun was shimmering delicately against Poole Harbour like a very blingy local chav lady, of whom the bus station contained many such specimens.  My breakfast was back on form, and I was ready for the final pub-ticking day of this epic holiday in one of England's finest counties.

"The problem with the youth of today, they don't appreciate the simple things in life like this", remarked an old lady loudly to her fellow coffin dodgers, referring to a horse & cart that had just pulled out in front of our bus en route to Wimborne, slowing our progress painfully. 

A girl in uniform behind me sighed, probably late for her shift at Waitrose because of this.  "FFS" murmured two spotty teen boys, probably late for some exam, lecture, tutorial.  Okay, so I'm not claiming I'm representative of the 'youth of today' despite being an impish teen in disguise, but I can fully understand why old folk get so little respect in our society compared with say, Japan or somewhere far eastern (not Grimsby), with this kind of silly comment. 

I was stressed anyway, today's chauffeur and pub ticking legend Martin Taylor was waiting in Waitrose car park, I'd said I was close by, he'd be thinking I'd been murdered by now.  I know how he worries so. 

Finally, I arrived, from the opposite direction he was expecting so he couldn't get a photo of my triumphant arrival across the bridge, I got Google Maps Sat Nav up and it was off to our first pub of the day.

The winding country lanes, the beautiful Dorset scenery, the fragrant fresh air, and bus-less villages with names like 'Gussage All Saints' are what make BRAPA truly worth it.  Sadly, Mrs Google Maps hadn't read the script and had a meltdown, trying to direct us down this 'forbidden' path.

We persevered however, pub tickers of 'great spirit'(!) rarely give up on a location.  I'd noted the address as 'Bowerswain Hollow' which sounded like it could be down here.  And Martin was getting flashbacks of an less potholed version of the Tandle Hill Tavern in Lancs, which he likes to mention from time to time to remind me I still haven't been. 

Of course, the pub was slap bang in the middle of the village.  Ugh!  We'd lost 10 mins already.  Not good when nearly every pub in the GBG around here shuts 3pm for its mid-afternoon cleanse. 

1508 / 2478.  Drovers Inn, Gussage All Saints

It was open!  Huge relief.  Perhaps I was still scarred by Chaldon Herring.  I really must get over it.  Plus, I'm sure the villagers were on neighbourhood watch patrol, especially after getting lost, this certainly isn't a place that gets too many visitors.  Perhaps I was expecting too much, but the village name plus the fact it had been taken over by the local community had me hoping for something better than this.  Stone floored, rather basic, and a bit chilly, and let's be honest, felt more dining venue than pub (rare for Dorset GBG entries to almost Isle of Man extremes).  The main barmaid was a bit too watchful, and a bit stern, the younger one a lot more smiley and warm, even giving my candle a prod at one stage (not a euphemism).  Two ancient couples already had their faces fish 'n chip deep in the nosebag, choosing strangely to sit right by the bogs despite having the entire empty pub to aim at.  Prices were high, as I often find in community owned ventures, almost like they soon realise it is near impossible to make a pub pay if you are flogging ale for £3 a pint and sandwiches for £4.   But all in all, not much to report, bit of an anti climax to my Gussage debut.

Sixpenny beer of good quality.  Hold that thought for Pt 10.

A good drop, combined with RM's craft mango and a nice wood burner

An 'ancient' waits for food, wife went to loo

Gents called Drovers as exciting as it got

Birds on thatched roof and possible GBG stickers in window

Being an unselfish kind of bloke, Martin was happy not just to take me round 'ticks' that he needed, but also drop me off at the odd one he knew he'd been to before if we were in the vicinity.

So when we realised the little hamlet of 'Plush' was too much of a stretch (50 mins away for heaven's sake!) we found ourselves driving through Spetisbury where I had a required tick.  Martin had no memory of it, my Mum n Dad had been but not reported too favourably on it, and it looked as dead as a door nail today!  What?   As Martin turned the car around, I saw a damp piece of paper flapping in the wind off the side door so hopped out to investigate:

So, always sad to see a pub close down, especially when it is THE village pub.  Martin thought it important we address the pub ticking elephant in the room though, if we are being totally honest, part of us thinks 'oh well, it is one more we don't have to visit!"  It doesn't mean we are bastards who hate pubs, you just have to be practical innit?!

Onwards and upwards, this next pub was rare in that it remained open right through the afternoon, AND it was a required tick for Martin too.  Martin the Owl was getting a bit travel sick at this point, he's not used to cars yet the fragile little thing.  We parked up, it looked like a right proper development / settlement type thing :

Weird horse sculptures at the 'Orse

The Dog Bar (probably a micropub) serving your local canine twoggy creature 0% ale

1509 / 2479.  White Horse Inn, Stourpaine

And it really was one of those "hub of the local community" type efforts in the truest sense of the word.  It is a phrase used a lot, rarely as true as here.  All life was here, all sorts was going on.  How can so much 'human traffic' keep passing by such a rural part of Dorset? The barmaid (with exactly the same face as the Gussage lady, but with a touch more humour, yet still well hidden) asked if we were dining as well as drinking.  "No, we're just having a pint, safer that way!" I replied.  What was I thinking?  Martin edged away in embarrassment, I'd meant 'it is less complicated if we just have a pint and get out of your hair' but my use of the word 'safer' made it sound like I thought I was gonna be poisoned by her disgusting pub grub.  Oh dear.  Well, we sat at the bar, we had no choice, I may as well have been forced to wear a sack cloth.  The only other drinker, a middle aged bloke of few words, had pointed at a high-up blackboard when we'd been trying to pick our beers using pump clips.  Why do people always do that?  It didn't offer us any information we didn't already have!  He shuffled off and we counted our blessings we hadn't gone for the beer called 'Gritchie', brewed locally as it was by Guy Ritchie.  Maybe it is very nice, who knows.  In between trying to over compensate for my earlier comment by saying how nice the pub and ale was to the barmaid, I noticed above Martin's head it said "Look Up!"  A long thin chimney going up miles, with two huge spiders in it!  "Wow, are they real?" I asked, jokingly, but she claimed one of them, the closest one, was once a real tarantula.  I'm calling bullshit on that, it practically had a drawn on smiley face, but I didn't tell her at the time.  Martin went off the explore the local food shop and post office attached to the left of the pub.  A nice lady walked in with the biggest lump of cheese I'd ever seen.  "Wow, that is the biggest lump of cheese I've ever seen" I told her.  She told me she had much bigger lumps of cheese.  I told her I love cheese.  So did she, that's why she carries it around Dorset for a living.  I said I could live off it, with ale or red wine and crusty bread, maybe a few olives, crackers, chutney.  She agreed.  She told me I should take it out of the fridge before so it warms up a bit.  I said I didn't know that.  Martin returned, and wondered what he'd walked in to.  I said I'll remember to warm my cheese up a bit in future.  Martin looked scared.  She looked thrilled, and we said cheerio.   Do pub exchanges get any better?

Closest you'll get to a Martin Taylor picture

Looking up was better than this in reality

The biggest lump of cheese I'd ever seen

I was a bit conscious of the whole 'pubs ringing last orders before half two for the end of their 12-3 session' so I needed to squeeze in another pub that hadn't really been in today's agenda.  

Again, Martin had been but this was in another amusingly named village called Child Okeford, which of course, regular readers will know I was always going to rename Twild Jokeford.  It wasn't actually in the village, but outside up a hill called Gold Hill (not to be confused with the more famous Shaftesbury vehicle we'll see in part 10).

Martin pointed his car at the pub in determined manner, keen to help me get this tick:


Here we go......

1510 / 2480.  Saxon Inn, Child Okeford

Martin didn't join me inside, deciding instead to go for one his legendary 27.5 minute walks evoking memories of rural Cambridgeshire classics like Ashley, Thriplow and Leighton Bromswold.  I turned the handle, and have never been so pleased to see a Twild, sat as he was, in the far corner on his mother's knee finishing a bottle of restorative milk.  I ordered my pint and sat by the front door, my first thoughts was 'uh oh dining pub' but I was wrong, it was in fact a pubby pub with a bit of a lunchtime rush on.  They all soon filed out when they saw me arrive, and as I do when I'm by the door, said goodbye as they left cos I know I like it when I leave a pub and locals wish me farewell, sad when no one notices and you just slope off.  Funny really, as the twild proper eyeballed me, a right little Damian Omen of a creature too, almost like he knew what I'd been thinking.  His Mum smiled nicely though.  And in the relative calmness, just a few straggling oldies getting their chops around the cheesecake dregs, I was able to notice what a truly pubby pub this was.  Especially, when I went through to the gents, almost had a WMC air about it.  Carpetted and very homely.  All seemed well, all seemed calm.  Never rest on your laurels Simon!  I returned from my happy piss to note my pint had been moved to another table.  "I've moved your drink cos some wet dogs have just come in and need a bit more space!" says the local lady propped against the bar.  Fair enough(!)  It wouldn't happen in a Brewhouse & Kitchen, they'd be too worried they'd impinged your human rights or some guff, as me n Martin later discussed.  "Not a fan of wet dogs, they smell, much prefer cats!" I told her, I seemed to be quite bold in my comments today.  The barmaid agreed & pulled a 'hate wet dog' face, but local lady was a dog lover and told me she'd had drama this morning as her daughter's dog had leapt onto her kitchen counter and eaten her heart pills!  Rushed to the vets, it was okay thankfully.  Soon, I was BRAPsplaining and she told me she used to be a landlady, running a pub up near Hull no less in a village out towards Withernsea called Elstronwick, nearest GBG tick is Lelley where me n Dad got that afternoon karaoke session!  Small world innit?  Martin arrived, I'd lost track of my 27.5 mins (understandably) but it got him a sip of ale and a much better picture of wet dogs than I could manage, and soon I was on my way but what a wonderful experience that was!

Getting on the Union Flack, cos I thought it was to do with former Exeter legend Steve.

Mum and obscured twild finishing off their din dins

Nice lady before she moved me and we got talking

Wet twog gang after I'd been moved

So, halfway there!  Three pubs still to do, my last three of the holiday.  We were now in that twilight zone between 3-4pm when hardly anything is open in this part of Dorset on a Wednesday.   How would we cope?  Find out in part three.