Sunday 31 March 2019

BRAPA - The Stockton Darlings Ale-Way Adventure (Part 1/2)

Tribute to the late Ruby the Cat, seen here not enjoying her Kelham Island

"I thought you were on the wrong train for a minute .... I misread your ticket as STOCKPORT!" says the jolly train guard on Saturday morning as me and Dad weave our way towards Stockton-on-Tees.
"Ahahaha, imagine?!"  we reply, though it wouldn't have been a terrible mistake to make.  After all, after Russian Bots in Pretty Frocks and Supermarket Serial Killers from Suffolk, Stockport is home to the third highest BRAPA readership. 

I'd had a chest infection / man-flu all week (which I don't like to talk about), but it led to an interesting conversation with Dad that my snot / chest contents could be displayed in those little jam jars that boring pubs like to use for beers, to chart my recovery. 

After a quick change at Darlo', we were soon at Thornaby, 38 minutes until the next connecting train to Stockton-on-Tees.  "You could look on your GBG App and see if there is a 10am opener nearby" suggested Dad, and I was shocked, no SHOCKED to notice our Stockton pubs were only a ten minute walk!  Well, well, well.  I'd left Tom Irvin in charge of today's proceedings (always a dangerous move) and he MUST have realised this!

So we crossed a bridge which seemed to divide North Yorkshire from County Durham and were soon approaching our first pub, a Wetherspoons no less, much sooner than we could've anticipated. 

1555 / 2524.  Thomas Sheraton, Stockton-on-Tees

Dad's view on 'Spoons has been improved in the past few months by a series of strong efforts, from Sutton's Moon on the Hill to Boldmere's Bishop Vesey, but this was a bang average experience by the time we left over half an hour later.  We walked in to a sea of pale blue and white balloons, and I thought we were in some Argentinian appreciation society until I realised it was one of those 'Spoons Beer Festivals.  Perhaps the high number of ales on explained why my Fyne Ale (normally a great brewery but far from fine today) had a horrible chemically twang.  Though credit for the barmaid (who could've been anywhere between 20 and 60 years old) for being smiley, perky and kind.  Finding a decent seat with no dirty breakfast plates seemed an effort, but we ended up in a quiet booth until we were invaded by crayon wielding twild-life and families with buggies from all angles.  Dad praised the booths for having high-backed glass partitions for added privacy, but soon decided he'd rather they were made of concrete and steel!  By the end, I was hoping the ghost of cabinet maker extraordinaire Mr Sheraton might appear to build us one to hide in, and with no sign of Tom or his parents arriving any time soon, we decided to look for an 11am opener. 

If I'd had my wits about me enough to realise our next pub was listed under Silver Court instead of Silver Street, perhaps we wouldn't have been walking around for 15 minutes in a circle looking for it!  I'll blame the man-flu.

Oh well, it was a sunny morning and Stockton seemed a good sort of place.  It had that typical 'North North Yorkshire' Market Town feel about it, yet with perhaps just too much of a smattering of modernity to make it a classic.  A prominent Yorkshire Bank AND a Virgin Money?  Woah, I could end up getting relocated here! (I won't be welcomed with open arms if they read these next two blogs).

'Twas a bit like a pious town planning couple from Newport Pagnell and Milton Keynes had been sent to Stokesley and Northallerton on a fact finding mission, got drunk on gin and prosecco, and designed a new town in their now addled image. 

Finally, we wandered into the twee, shiny Silver Court, full of hairdressers cooing at toddlers, and found our second 'tick' of the day .......

1556 / 2525.  Hope & Union, Stockton-on-Tees

Dad was straight off to the loo (for a rare BRAPA number 2, a real collectors item - not literally),  and I had a patient wait as the barmaid struggled with the modern technology of trying to use an iPad with rubber buttons stuck to it as a cash register.  I nearly made an Arkwright cash till reference, but thought she mightn't know what I was on about.  And when I offered the extra 10p for a £7.10 round, she declined, perhaps on the basis it might make the whole machine explode!  I then had an extra wait to see how long it'd take her to top up the ales, which were refusing to settle.  She did one, eventually.  Where to sit was the next problem is this slightly clinical and chilly Craft Kitchen, for the larger tables all had 'reserved' signs as a portly Ross Noble brought out clean looking breakfasts.  If Dad wasn't enjoying his Cameron's Strongarm, my 4.9% stout didn't seem right, but I may've blamed my man-flu (which I don't like to talk about) if Tom hadn't arrived with his parents, Chris and Bernie, who described same beer as tasting like "dregs of the grate of a fire".  Not sure it was even supposed to be smokey.  The artwork and decor was quirky and 'fun', as you'd expect in a Kitchen type place like this, but despite the barmaid cheerily wishing us a good day on the way out, I can't say I enjoyed much about this one. 

"No Teeth Keith!"

Waiting for t' ale to settle

View of the room

Alternative seating

The colour of the monster hand on the gents really spoke to me

Just across the way was another GBG entry called the Wasp's Nest which looked in a similar vain to the Hope and Union, and we soon learned that trying to say "what's next?  The Wasp's Nest!" is a tongue twister of epic proportions.  

I was then forced to apologise to Dad for ranting at him for leading us the wrong way to this pub (actually pretty much opposite where we'd just come from) when he was right all along.  My GBG said 11am opener, Tom suggested 12 noon, in any case it was now well past 12 noon and the pub was showing zero signs of life.

Tom, cunning fellow he is, tried to use this as leverage to get us out to Billingham instead, but a tired irritable ill Si wasn't for turning, so we stuck to the script and decided to get out to Norton.

We narrowly missed two buses (buses in Stockton always arrive in two's just so you know) so I had a wee down an alleyway where I found 'Brad's Bar' .....

I'm sure a certain Mr Winfield would've broken in for a swift half a Carling

"Martin walked it" said Chris Irvin on the Stockton to Norton journey, looking at me in an arms folded pointed kinda way.  "Yeh, well Martin Taylor does a lot of things....." I replied, but didn't really know what.

True, we could've walked by the time the bus had crawled into Norton for the first of two pubs.  Me and Dad had got a different bus behind the other three just to be contrary, everyone was Dotty about Stockton.  We nearly overtook them, which would've been grand, simply cos I wanted to stick two's up to Tom!

*But if two turn up together, every 24-30 minutes
Google Maps stressed me out by displaying no blue dots for the bus stops, which I'd only seen previously on my holiday to Isle of Man, so I knew we were entering a quality rugged part of the world, albeit with some fine Georgian Houses. Our first pub was sort of on a roundabout ......

1557 / 2526.  Hyde's Bar, Norton

Of course, the big Sky Sports banner suggest 'trad. boozer' but despite being a slight upturn in fortunes, this was once again a modern effort, with knowing exposed brickwork, hanging skeleton and a slight chill in the air which may or may not have been felt more due to my man-flu recovery I don't like to talk about - I was flagging more in this place than any of the other pubs today.  A friendly landlady greeted us, as did a local with an element of Steve McLaren and an excitable, but I thought 'nice', dog.  But as Bernie and Chris shaped to bend down and stroke the canine .....  "DON'T BEND DOWN, HE'LL HAVE YOUR FACE OFF!"  Good grief, wasn't expecting that.  "Why on earth would you come from York to Norton to have a drink?" asks SM, shaking his head in bewildered manner, which ordinarily would've led me to BRAPsplain him to death, but I had no energy for it.   I came back from the loo to find our group having a Michael Parkinson appreciation conversation.  I said I couldn't stand the guy, but they told me back in his early days, he had no ego and was all about the guest and a good interviewer, so I had to believe them!  My ale was called 'Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby' a local brew, I got it as a tribute to Everitt family cat Ruby who died recently, very sad.  It was the third ale in a row I hadn't enjoyed, tasting like something a West Cornwall home-brewer would make in a surf shack.  Sadly it wasn't the tribute I wanted for her!  

Secret garden ladies loos was a highlight!
So I think it is fair to say it hadn't been the most enjoyable set of GBG entries so far, but three still to go.  Plenty of room for improvement, and improve it would!  Better beer, better pubs/bars.   

All will be revealed in Part Two tomorrow!


Tuesday 26 March 2019

BRAPA - Derbyshire III : Beers of a Clowne

As we pulled up at our fourth of six pubs on Saturday past, the group of dangerous looking blokes smoking in the car park under the pub sign provoked a rare BRAPA reaction in both myself and Dad, "there is no way we're posing for an outdoor photo with that lot stood there!"   Yes, that is how scary they seemed.

As brave as I got in terms of an outdoor photo

1552 / 2521.  Horse & Groom, Scarcliffe 

I nudged past them, saying a nervous 'yoo-hoo duck', and I think they all had scars on their cheeks (not bum cheeks) in the true 'Scar-cliffe' tradition, though it could be possible my mind is over dramatising our peril by this point!  Given a choice of two rooms, I'd normally take the left side door, but we were intrigued to see the right one called the 'General Room' and sure enough, it appeared to be the 'right' decision as we were greeted by a roaring fire and very much a cosy drinkers den.  Seemed the dangerous blokes were with us, as abandoned pork pies, crisps, pints and pork scratchings sat on the bar - the closest to the Mary Celeste you'll find in North Derbyshire.  We did briefly consider these pub snacks might complimentary 'on the bar' snacks, I nearly cut myself a slice of pork pie which would've caused the biggest international pub snack incident since I nearly stole Spanish ladies olives in the Victoria, Paddington.  What North Derbys really needed, as on that day, was a 'Judgey Jesus' to keep a close eye on me.  We sat at the back of the room near the fire, happily enjoying our pints, and I can tell you now this was rapidly becoming my favourite pub of the day, even when the blokes turned with the ultra-strong local accents.  Great pint of Venus & Mars, and Dad absolutely loved his Olde Trip which he'd amazingly never had before, we even had a good chat about the price of dark wood furniture over the ages - classic BRAPA!

Two pubs to go but no point rushing, as we had to wait for both to open.

Those of you who read part 1 will know Staveley's pub had suddenly become a 4pm opener on 'police advice' when they'd heard I was in the vicinity, but we wouldn't be denied, and loads of credit to Dad for being happy to take a diversion to get back there on this same day.  

After sitting in the car staking it out, we saw the door ping open like a bra in a Carry On film a few minutes before 4pm, keeping up today's great record of pubs opening a bit earlier than billed.   

The chemical smell of Staveley seemed stronger than ever.  Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukishima have nothing on this part of the world.  Do the locals need protecting from the fallout?  Do they 'eck?  They just put on an extra string vest.  

Message to shut pubs everywhere "I won't be denied!"

1553 / 2522.  Speedwell Inn, Staveley

So, yes, funny to read the GBG entry claiming a 'fresh vitality' being brought to this pub by new owners amidst a reality of amending hours so a pub doesn't open til 4pm on a Saturday, which can't exactly mean business is booming.  Made me think of that GIF of the cartoon dog sat at his computer in a burning office, flames all around him, saying "everything is fine".  Not too dissimilar from the pub in Newbold this one, but perhaps a bit cleaner feeling, this was nevertheless a glorious old fashioned style pub with a great bar back with lamps, distinct areas, corridor and live music.  A shy, mousey but pleasant young barmaid (she kept scuttling off and hiding around corners and probably under floorboards) served us beers from the on-site Townes brewery - the GBG cynic in me says  'CAMRA will put in anything that brews its own stuff, no matter how it tastes' but these were truly excellent ales.   A couple of locals started to filter in as we sat up in the raised area, and as much as I wanted to hold a grudge over the opening times, the pub was simply too good and mellow to leave you feeling anything other than happily relaxed.  

Reminded me how much I missed my late 90's Fri evening bottle of Rolling Rock!
Our final pub was actually a 'club', and a 5pm opener at that.  The 5 minute early opening boost at Staveley allowed us to be parking in the village of Clowne by 16:50.  

Over a mini grassy knoll, I located the 'Centre', which seemed to be twinned with a scheme to get locals married.

 And after the most 'sixth pint of the day' pose ever .......

..... it was time to go in!

1554 / 2523.  Centre, Clowne

I wasn't actually feeling too bad, compared with last week in Belper, I'd learned my lesson re beer strength, and had stuck mainly to late 3's and early 4 percentages!  In keeping with our 'theme of the day', we strode in confidently and at 16:53, my pint of Clown Poison was being pulled.  Our personable barman told us this wasn't a house beer, just a happy coincidence!  He was pulling off a very Marouane Fellaini hairstyle, but there was no way this lovely bloke would elbow you in the face whilst supping a Leffe.  I'd been expecting this place to be the kind where you'd have to ring a buzzer to get in, and be greeted by three old blokes in flat caps juggling John Smith's Smooth, At the Races and loose leaf tobacco, but this airier comfortable take on the club worked just as well for us.  A nice place to be.  After that, our attention was drawn to Gibraltar v Ireland in the Euro qualifiers, which it must be said, must be one of the most painful and low quality matches I've seen televised in quite some time, Mick McCarthy looked wretched,  the location of the ground being the most exciting thing!  

Great pint, coincidental name

"Dad'll watch on his own" (Sky Sports News, pre Ireland match)

Legendary host probably meditating 
Well, we were done by 17:30, which had always been the aim, so we could get back for nice timely cottage pie with Mumma BRAPA - job done - more great Derbyshire progress.  

Shame I won't be back in the county on a Saturday til early May, but the aim to get it all done by early Sept is still alive!

Getting greener in NE Derbys, and who knows, Friday evening potential for some of the easier ones? 

I've got a bit of man-flu at the moment but hoping to be well enough for a Fri trip somewhere.


BRAPA - Derbyshire III : The First Cutthorpe is the Steepest (Pt 1/2)

I'm progressing nicely with Derbyshire at the moment, leading me to wonder whether I could actually finish 'ticking' the county and its mainly wonderful GBG pubs before the 2020 edition drops through my letterbox in late Aug / early Sept. 

Six more pubs today took me to 53, edging into 9th place ahead of Dorset (51) in the BRAPA league table.   It was an 'international break' for Hull City, so I persuaded Dad (well okay, he didn't need much persuasion, my company is obviously amazing) to join me on a 'car' day as I had a particularly tricky one on the agenda.

The kind of area we'd be in today

We started though in Cutthorpe, just west of Chesterfield which was rural enough (it'd have been a ten minute walk from the nearest bus stop at (Gary) Linacre Reservoir.  It might not be that high up in truth, but my blog title demands it.

Cue the first moment of confusion of the day, as Dad had thought the pub was opening at 11am, but was actually 11:30am.  Explains why when we pulled up into the car park at 10:57am, he was concerned there was no light on or signs of life.  And I'm thinking 'jeez Dad, they've got 33 mins, give them a chance!' 

Nice rural views
So we went for a little walk in the sunny but cold bracing air, where we said good morning to a lady hanging her washing up, who Dad described as a 'witch' but he meant it in a positive way.

We were back at the car park for 11:15am, but we thought it'd do no harm to see if the pub was open 15 mins early, and gadzooks, it only bloody was! (a door was open anyway.....)

1549 / 2518.  Gate Inn, Cutthorpe

"You go in first with your happy positive demeanour" says Dad, thinking tactics, "you are more likely to get us served!" making out he's some kind of sour faced old trog which of course isn't true.    "Hiiii, you ARE open ain't ya?" I say to the barmaid, which sounded almost like a threat, and he admitted she was open early and had seen us lurking around outside and wondered what our beef was.  She was very much a people person, and to be honest, I'd rather someone was curious about what had brought me to their pub that someone who barely registers the presence of other human beings as happens in pubs in, say, bits of London.  For a first pulled pint of the day, the Chatsworth Gold was glorious quality, as good as anything all day, but I told Dad that as we were the only customers, he might have to exhibit some weird behaviours to give me something to write about in my blog!  For that's the problem, all you could do was sit in the fairly cosy bar area around a corner, relax and enjoy your drink, like what normal pub folk do.  Ugh.  At least Martin the Owl came out for an airing.  On the way out, we returned our glasses and I made a point of saying it had been a quality pint.  "She's marked you down as a CAMRA type!" says Dad.  Okay father, no need to be offensive.

Black Sheep glass, London Pride beer mat, but quality local ale

Martin is back from his 'suspension'
 Our next pub wasn't far off, just north of Cheaterfield, home of the crooked spire and Luke Beckett's Jacobs Cream Cracker tin stuffed full of bank notes #NeverForgiveNeverForget and I think a new GBG entry. 

It seemed far from 'new' as we arrived just before 12 noon, buoyed by our early opener in Cutthorpe, we pushed a few doors to see if we could get in early.  An overgrown garden and chipped paintwork and stuff, this was either going to be a mini-classic or a bit of a shithole.  Both perhaps? 

I'm there somewhere!

1550 / 2519.  Nag's Head Inn, Newbold

At a side door, we saw a local hovering around like a North Derbyshire moth.  "I'm glad we aren't the only ones waiting" I say with a smile, and he tells me that last week, he found two blokes from Glasgow waiting here for opening and he thought 'couldn't they find a nearer pub!'  "Perhaps they were visiting every pub in the Good Beer Guide?" I suggest and he replies "yes, that is EXACTLY what they were doing!"  Did he not think that is why two strangers like us might be here?  At that second, the door springs open, bang on 12 noon, and we are in.  The barman is a proper stoic old skool lad, "There you go duck" he says to Dad as we get our pints.  Sadly, my ale was too warm (and I'm not particularly fussed about it being majorly chilled!) , exactly the kind of 'first pulled through of the day'  I was glad we hadn't suffered in Cutthorpe.  Wonderful pub though, lovely soothing old fashioned lounge style, that kind of 'smoking ban never happened' feel to it.  And it wasn't long before a healthy throng of locals had joined our friend from outside at the bar.  If BRAPA was a drama and you were a casting director casting the perfect dog for this pub, you couldn't have done better than the huge breathless bulldog that bound in shortly after, dribbling from every orifice, I couldn't get a good pic for the table and watchful owners but trust me, he/she was a legend.  In conclusion, nice to see pubs like this getting their place in the GBG amidst the micros and kitchens.  North Derbyshire, keeping the pub scene real! 

If everything seemed a bit too easy today (a nice linear route from pub to pub, early opening, time on our side), it was always likely BRAPA was going to do what it always does when you relax and let your guard down, and give you a good firm bite in the bottom.

For next on the agenda was Staveley, a place know to me and Dad from our early days of travelling by car to away Hull City matches down the M1.  We'd take one smell of the chemically air around this point, and Dad would say "Staveley!"  so that's what it means to me.  Reassuringly,  the smell was even stronger and more disgusting in the town itself as we parked up - it's a wonder the locals don't have six fingers on each hand.  Oh, hang on ...... 

But worse was to come.  "It doesn't look very open to me!" says Dad, as he mysteriously runs back round the corner towards the car in a manoeuvre I never questioned at the time.  I step towards the pub, but with shades of Gidea Park's micropub, the awful truth is revealed ......

Cruel new opening times

Agh!  I'd be back.  All we could do is crack on, and now time for today's 'key' pub.

How can you be so close to the M1 but so utterly rural?  Yes, this was the one Derbyshire pub I just couldn't work out how to get to without the aid of a car!  And there were just too many mind bending features at this pub which I just mentally could never come to terms with.......

1551 / 2520.  Pebley Inn, Barlborough

The pub font and talk of restaurant and accommodation marks this out as your typical rural dining venue, and I think that is how Dad saw it, but to me there seemed to be so much more going on.  I think I'm the first pub ticker to do this one, I can't think its been in the GBG before but I could be wrong, but that makes me feel an added pressure to do it justice, though having said that, I'd probably rate it the weakest of the six pubs we did today.  I ordered an ale called 'Fudge!' and the perky squashy faced barmaid tells me its an ale that has really divided opinion, but what I loved about her, she didn't say any of that "do you want a taster?" bullshit.  She'd heard me say 'pint',  I'd made my fudgey bed (so to speak) and now I had to lie in it (urrghh).  I saw what people meant, it smelt glorious but the fudge taste was a bit thin and lacking.  It was a bit like opening a new box of Quality Street at Christmas, only to find not one of your favourites within.  Just call me Somellier Si (Simellier?)  And before this, two pork chopped rural bar blockers (they looked like farmers from the Charles 'Turnip' Townshend era) had already growled in unintelligible tones that we'd be better looking at the blackboard than the pump clips.  Something I never agree with, I need to see the pumps to get a proper idea.   Despite impressive old clock and pool table, we had no alternative but to sit on low leather settees in a raised area with no beer mats, which lacked true pub integrity, a shame cos there were so many subtle nods to an older unspoiled rural pub hidden if you really squinted hard enough!

This was too nice to be a plant pot and it freaked me out, like everything else here

Dad's ticking game is strong

Man in the mirror (not MJ despite my red leather jacket)

And with a slightly sinister scene of an abandoned twild bike visible from the pub car park, it was time to get back on the road for pub 4 which I'll tell you about next time. 

Sweet dreams,