Wednesday 20 February 2019

BRAPA - Back in Dorset Part 5/10 : Donald, Where's Ma'travers?

This way to the Worth

Och aye! 

Day three of my holiday and it was always going to be the Isle of Purbeck.  Feeling a bit stifled by Bournemouth & Poole, I wanted more of that fresh air and freedom I'd experienced back in October when the likes of Portland and Bridport wowed me with their genius and slower way of life.

Monday is, of course, the nightmare day for us humble pub tickers.  Especially in more rural areas.  So to find that none of the six GBG entries around here were closed on a Monday, and only two had a mid-afternoon closure planned was music to my ears, as I boarded a bus from Poole railway station and asked if I could purchase a day ticket.

Before I could blink, I was the proud owner of a 'Purbeck Breezer' (a bit like a Bacardi Breezer only less fruity and disappointing) and bus number 40 chugged around the coastline towards Swanage.
I amused myself by asking my Twitter followers to guess where I was going based on these three pictorial clues .......

Isla (Fisher)


(Mikkel) Beck
Okay, I didn't think it was THAT difficult.  

Half a point to anyone who thought I was bound for Shannon Pussyborough, which let's be honest, is probably a real village between Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury with no bus service and ten brewery taps in cricket pavilions open for 2 hrs a wk.

The bus to Worth Matravers had been cancelled last year, so I had to hop off at a place called Acton Lane and walk about a mile so not too bad.  Still, a couple of taxis ferrying old folk out of the village were in evidence, and when I had to overtake a determined elderly man with a hi-vis jacket and a walking stick, it kind of hit home the impact these cuts to services can have.  I should've probably given him a piggy back.  I wonder if he's reached the pub yet? 

Still, it was fresh bracing air, some stunning coastal scenery, just the tonic after the last two days.  And it all built the sense of anticipation to, let's face it, what is one of my most highly anticipated 'ticks' in the Good Beer Guide.   Soon, in the village, I climbed a little raised area and the pub was sat on top.  11:52am, due to open at 12 noon, perfect timing.  

1496 / 2466.  Square & Compass, Worth Matravers

For those of you who don't know, this is a most famous pub, and one of the 'Magnificent Five' to appear in every edition of the Good Beer Guide.  And the last of these five I had to visit.  It showed.  A couple were stood by the entrance looking at the slightly ajar entrance.  Two pashmina ladies from London were sat on a bench also waiting.  None of us had been inside this pub before.  Not a bad turnout for pre-opening on a chilly Monday morning in February.  I always get a bit anxious before visiting pubs like this.  High expectations, tendency to be a bit too 'knowing', a feeling the situation is all a bit 'stage managed'.  I got something of a sense of this here, but to take it at face value, it truly is a glorious, unusual, ancient multi-roomed jewel in the crown of British pubbing.  The couple had edged inside by 11:55am, and bearing in mind service was through a small hatch in a narrow corridor, I thought it best to get in behind them.  I didn't expect them to go the full Q&A session on what was, a very simple bunch of food options.  "When you say steak, do you mean like the stuff you get in Cornish pasties, or is it like actual steak?" asks the bloke.  "Does the fidget pie have cheese in cos I can't eat cheese?!" whines his wife.  "Ooh let's see!" said a barmaid, even though the blackboard clearly shows it doesn't!  I was grinding my teeth, getting anxious, 'oh god I just want a pint and to sit in the kind of seat a local would sit in!' I'm thinking.  Finally I got served, had a few inane exchanges about the ale brewed just for this pub, the staff were ultra friendly, to the point I felt it was all a bit too much.  But I was happy, how could you not in here as I walked into this low roofed dark room with glorious fire.  I tried to beam radiantly at both the pashmina ladies and the old couple, neither cracked a smile once, miserable bastards and glad the low sun shining into the dark room meant I couldn't see their faces after a while. Both groups had their food by 12:05, wow how is that for fantastic service?  A fleecy bearded local came in and sat beside me.  He looked like a museum prop the pub had wheeled in to give tourists a flavour of a Worth 'local'.  "Awww look, a Puggle!" said one of the Twashmina ladies, "Aye, that is exactly what he is, but he's also a scrounger and a thief!" he replied theatrically like he was reading off some BBC period drama script.  Oh, and of course miserable old couple loved the dog too.  Funny how often rude folk with no regard for their fellow man/woman get all soft and gooey as soon as a bloody twog appears at their feet!  Poor Martin the Owl was feeling left out.   All the time, I was leaning against this red curtain and could hear the shrill of staff squawking, was there even a wall here?  I thought about leaning back, but thought I might fall through into the kitchen and end up in a Fidget pie!   After that, all I could do was listen to the Twashminas talk about their posh London lives, apart from when one slipped and mention B&M was her fave store.  As I left, outdoor loos of course as is the way in such pubs, I noticed how many more people were drinking and eating outside, enjoying a great view.  Time to head back to Acton Lane.

Although my next move would, ideally, have been to work my way down towards the end of the line at Swanage and then come back on myself, I had to come back on myself immediately because it was at Corfe Castle where the other mid-afternoon closure was, so needed to get it done ASAP.  

I was actually a bit nervous to whether I'd find it open at all, a Club being open on a Monday lunchtime felt like I was on flimsy ground, but no reason to fear, and unlike Lower Parkstone last night, so awkward bells to press or buttons to push or intercoms to speak in to, just a door you could open and walk through.  Phew!

1497 / 2497.  Corfe Castle Club, Corfe Castle

I loved this place within seconds, as I entered to find a gaggle of old blokes and ladies mainly gathered by the bar, braces, flat caps, 70's fashions, they all turned and greeted me in a friendly manner, no surprise, no 'what is he doing in our club?' feeling at all.  Just a parting of the ways, and soon I'm drinking a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord.  And I tell you now categorically, it was the best pint of 30 good pints I had all holiday.  Someone once told me if you can get a perfectly kept pint of TTL, you'll struggle to do better.  I've appreciated this ale more as I've got older, and I have to say I'm fully converted after this.  But rare for a pub/club to keep the beer this well.  That's the most I've ever talked about a beer, sorry.  The second youngest person in here, a bloke in his late 50's having a fruitless time on the fruit machines, left in disgust within five minutes of my arrival.   I sat a bit further back, where a nice lady called Margaret was resting her poorly leg, raised up on a bench.  I suddenly noticed a sign by the entrance "Please sign visitor book and produce cards!"  Well, I'd never done any of that and I don't know what cards they want me to produce anyway, but no one seemed to care, always the best way.  Perhaps they'd seen my Bass t-shirt and realised that gave me special privileges in such places.   As I enjoyed a Caffrey's Clock which had a countdown to the year 2000 on it (they ARE getting there in Corfe Castle, it's just taking a bit of time), it was time to sample the locals humour ... "You ain't got a drinking problem, you just swallow a lot!" followed by much laughter.  Hmmm, don't give up the day job lads.  This was good though, better than Poole's Ex-Serviceman's Club (just) and dare I say I might even have found it preferable to the Square & Compass?   Unpopular opinion, but that's just me!

Pint of the hols

Locals being local and amazing

Martin the Owl making new friends

Uh oh, failing to abide by the rules again!  #PunkSi

Bus was a little bit delayed, it was like the old boys from the Club new, as they sauntered along to join me five minutes later and we all said hello again!  It gave me time to admire the castle at least, probably the reason you are supposed to come to Corfe Castle, not to sit in the Club for half an hour!

The old boys got off at Langton Matravers, almost certainly for the King's Arms, but I'd be back there later.  For now, I was Swanage bound where they seemed to have one of those heritage railway lines which I doubt was open today in any case.

Green buffet cars are always best, like highlighter pens

Swanage then, and it had a very different kind of atmosphere to anything I'd experienced yet on my holiday.  It was very 'end of the line', a little bit Portland, a little bit Weymouth, a sprinkling of Southend, but I'm meaning the people of course.  Strangely smiley, nervy, twitchy, it was like they thought they might be the last inhabitants on earth, but couldn't really be bothered to check.

After some cash machine humorous chat with an old bloke, a lady dropped her coins and a bloke helped her pick them up.  I slowed down, but when she set off again, she dropped them again!  

"HOLE IN MY POCKET!" she screamed at me, as though she wanted me to stick a finger in there to prove she wasn't lying.  "Ah, I thought it was weird dropping them again" I strangely replied. "AHAHAHA YES I KNOW!" she replied, and crossed the street into incoming traffic without looking.

By this stage, I really wondered what this pub would have in store ......

1498 / 2498.  Red Lion, Swanage

And true, the pub did kind of fit with the Swanage image I'd seen so far.  Firstly, there was this weird sort of dual entrance that felt very 'final' (i.e. if you chose 'left', you were here to stay!) and 'left' is what I chose as it is the BRAPA way in 2019 ticking - it will be right in 2020, remind me please.  My initial thoughts were how great this place was, proper historic feeling locals local, outdoor bogs which were little more than a gutter, everyone in an outdoor smoking area.  Though it took me about 25 minutes of sitting alone to realise there were other customers here, rare to go this long in any pub without seeing a member of staff or a customer!  My barmaid had disappeared as quickly as she'd served me, perhaps sad at my inability to find a 10p coin.  My sweaty Betty Stoggs was not so great, gravity, and perhaps suffering from two things - me being harsher than usual due to that great pint of Landlord I'd had in Corfe Castle, and also, everyone else was on the cider (first beer pulled all day?) - there was even a cider blackboard, and by the look of them, they were on the pints and strong ones at that.  It was that kinda place.  And the longer I stayed here, the more I wondered how fine the line is between classic rugged old local and 'shithole', it was a tightrope the pub was balancing quite awkwardly in my opinion, probably just getting away with it though it lacked 'love'.  A roofer working on a roof (surprisingly) by the pub garden was the friendliest, though I went out to the loo that often, he was probably getting used to seeing me!  

Shoulda gone Landlord again, that'd have been the acid test (so to speak)

Was a big fan of the cider 'menu'

"Oh Martin, get down from there you naughty owl!"

Sign giving the impression that this 'proof of age' lark is new to Swanage (and that 'drinks' have a mind of their own)

So there we go, half way through the day.  It was time to leave the delightful Swanage, for three more pubs were required to keep me on track.  News on them in a (mercifully) shorter blog tomorrow or Friday, mainly cos my memory goes after a few drinks!



  1. That ‘perfectly kept pint of TTL’ someone has to be me. It has been my catchphrase since the autumn of 1978 i.e. before you were born

    1. Yes! It must've been because I seem to remember something about even though it was easily the most expensive beer in Whalebone, it was worth it because of how well kept it is. Royalties to be paid to you tomorrow (in Wetherspoons beer).

  2. Simon "has been born". Wow, that is a revelation.

    1. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not as young as I look. Despite bathing in a cold bath of Sixpenny, daily, at 5am each morning.

  3. This post must be in the running for top blog title of the month! I'm also in the "can't beat a perfect pint of Taylor's" camp, shame it's so infrequent.

    Did you visit the fossil museum at the S&Q? No, I don't mean the room the locals use...

    1. Haha, cheers Chris. No I didn't wander down to the museum because miserable husband bloke had just gone through as I was leaving and I didn't want to not be smiled at for a third time!