Sunday 30 June 2019

BRAPA in .... Ignorance is Blisland (Cornwall Part 7)

Since the landlord at the Hole in the Wall in Bodmin had told me he'd heard a whisper that the famous, isolated old inn at Blisland was likely to get back in Good Beer Guide for 2020, I hadn't been able to shake the feeling that 'I should make the effort to go'.

Don't get me wrong, part of me was excited at the prospect of visiting a former National CAMRA Pub of the Year which had also been on the front cover of a recent GBG, but part of me had been 'relieved' it wasn't in the 2019 edition and I didn't have to make that effort.

After another bacon-less breakfast of champions ......

The pigs have all emigrated to Devon

.... I retraced by steps to Bodmin where I'd pub ticked a couple of days ago.  It seemed as good a base as ever to get myself to Blisland, and it was time for the first 'cheat' of the holiday, delving into my 'emergency taxi fund' envelope.

The theory here was I'd 'sell the taxi driver the BRAPA dream' but just my luck, I chose a fairly mardy, surly old bugger with no love of pubs or adventure, slight unkempt and sinister, he seemed more enthusiastic about getting back for the Bodmin school run than anything else (you may say, a bit too enthusiastic!)

I'd wanted to strike a deal so he could then take me on to the Red Lion at St Kew Highway, a pub which has recently changed its hours so it now opens on a Friday lunchtime, noon til 2:30pm.  But it was obvious the guy wanted to get back to Bodmin post-haste and I couldn't convince him to hang about for me.

Still, when we got into Blisland, we finally found some common ground as a funeral concierge was just coming out of the church, scowled at us, and a short haired blonde lady refused to step up onto the footpath to allow our taxi through!

If the taxi driver wasn't impressed, my attitude was anger and I hope I don't sound harsh when I say "look lady, I don't give a fuck if your Mum has carked it, BRAPA waits for no one". I didn't actually wind the window down and say that, but I have a feeling my taxi driver would've encouraged it.   Still, we were soon outisde the pub and he only charged me a tenner which was pretty good, I'd expected more.

It was somewhere between 11:30am and 12 noon when I entered the Blisland Inn, and the hype was entirely justified by a wonderful old feeling pub, not spoilt by tourism, which I could properly appreciate being the first customer of the day.  The landlady was friendly and she chatted about the ales to me in a matter of fact way which wasn't boring or patronising, full of good humour, though no recollection of what was said!  I was slightly concerned this was the calm before the storm and the whole funeral party were going to come in for lunch, but it never happened.  A couple of very matter of fact older ladies broke away from the crowd, they reminded me of the Golden Girls, and when one of them said she'd heard drinking coffee was bad for you, she loudly announced "everything's bad for you, you may as well just stop living now!" before realising this may not have been the most opportune time to make such a comment.  I glanced back towards the bar where a man who looked like vicar but had an Italian accent was doing what you'd expect from an Italian man and chatting up the barmaid.  "You are looking really good, really well" he purred, and I cringed internally (she actually looked knackered).  With my ale going down a treat and none of the new pub entrants coming anywhere near me, I glanced back over at the Golden Girls.  "The funeral the other day was a happy one at least, but the one this morning, too sad!" I hope they are rating them on TripAdvisor.  They must've listened to themselves, cos they then considered why there was such a spate of Blisland funerals, before they concluded everyone living her was old.  I'd seen and heard enough, great pub, but I didn't want to be grabbed by those ageing tentacles (or the Italian vicar), so left.

Invigorated by a really good pub experience, I decided to change tack and one of my longest walks of the holiday followed, just over 4 miles to the village of St Mabyn where I had a GBG tick.

With heavy rain showers one minute, bright sunshine the next, I was constantly kept guessing, but on the plus side, minimal traffic passed me which was good because the country lanes were as dark and narrow as you could expect from rural Cornwall.

That elusive Red Lion at St Kew Highway was just 1.7 miles on from St Mabyn, and I did half wonder if I should crack on and try and get there before 2:30pm closure, but I couldn't be sure I'd make it in time so settled for the pretty little village of St Mab, with bleating sheep and cider adverts everywhere, it was quite a hive of activity as they were gearing up for a local show the following day.

St Mabyn Inn (1654/2626) might've been my only official GBG tick of the day, but it was certainly a valuable one - you could see why this pub was a GBG regular from the moment you stepped inside.  In fact, controversially, I probably preferred it to Blisland but was here longer and could relax into the experience more. To try and get 'in' with the local smokers, I entered down a side passage like I was some regular though of course they knew I wasn't cos they'd seen me taking the above photo and directed me towards the bar, as it was a pub with corridors and partitions and a pool table.  This was one of the friendliest sets of locals I found during my time down here, everyone smiling and saying hi, even the dangerous looking lad in the Jurassic Park tee shirt!  I squashed in at the bar next to the old farts, and realised the landlord with his big grey sideburns and Cornish burr was the most distinctive Kernowy landlord I'd ever seen, I can picture him now and it makes me smile, what a chap!  If you thought Ed Sheeran's take on 'Galway Girl' was a bit of a stretch, you should hear this landlord doing his best Ed Sheeran Galway Girl vocals.  Simply astonishing.  Is it too late to book him for a Glastonbury duet with Chris Martin?  The Pride was drinking well (Tintagel Pride that is) but just when I thought I'd found the archetypal Cornish gem, the wailing of a twild could be heard!  Yes, a family of 4 were secreted into a booth and the kids were playing up, killing the atmosphere - though to be fair, why they had the radio blasting so loudly wasn't exactly in-keeping with this great pub anyway.  For a minute, I thought it was Steve Backshall again but alas no, and soon one of the kids was crying so loudly, the couple scooped up the kids all their stuff, looked embarrassed, and left very quickly, apologising as they went!  Good.  In peace now, I had loads of time to kill so returned to the bar and ordered myself a nice farmhouse cider (the adverts dotted around the village had obviously done their job).  It was great stuff but gave me the squits in record time, a record previously held by that dreadful old laxative beer from Old Laxey in the Isle of Man.  Lovely pub this, worth the effort, much recommended.

If one scene could sum up this pub, it'd be this one

Coming back down here with my wardrobe and Matthew Lawrenson to enter this!

Selfie stained glass attempt!

Had to wait for staring twild family to go before taking this

Nice roaring fire in June!

Some good shittttt!  

20 minutes up the road out of St Mabyn, bus 55 stopped at a stop just a couple of times a day, so I was praying it would turn up!  After the regulation 9 minute delay, it finally appeared and so delighted I was to see it, I nearly threw myself on the road just to ensure it stopped for me.

Would I get back to Bodmin?  Would I ever get to St Kew Highway?  And what of St Austell?
Find out in Part 8.


Friday 28 June 2019

BRAPA and ..... Man Bantz in Penzantz (Cornwall Part 6)

Day Three of my Cornwall holiday had so far been as painfully slow as my ability to write up the events since.

It was two weeks ago when I highlighted Pendeen and Ludgvan more with relief than joy, and wound my way back to Penzance, which had a pub tick (hurray!) which wasn't the Crown (ugh) for the first time in about 5000 years.

I've never really 'got' Penzance as a town before today, finding it a bit moody, but things were about to take a turn for the better, reward perhaps for the hours of hard graft I'd already put into this trying Thursday in far west Cornwall.

The pub in question featured in the debut 1974 and follow up 1975 editions of the Good Beer Guide, but never once since!  So you can imagine I was quite skeptical as to what was in store for me .....

The Dock Inn (1653 / 2623)  had the 'Penzance welcome' I'd come to expect from the town, not dissimilar to Newquay, where as a humble pub ticker, you are not treated with the same fantastical curiosity you would be in a small outlying village pub in say, Pendeen, but rather, you are 'just another foreign tourist' invading ze Kernow.  The staff looked at me with thin lips, watery eyes and slightly flaring nostrils, noting my over enthusiasm as I spied Spingo Middle, an ale I thought unique to the Blue Anchor in Helston.  And what a cracking pint it was.  Though I'll take this opportunity to tell you I'd have gone for the 'Special' given half the chance, as it totally knocked my socks off last year.   I stepped down from the raised bar into the heart of the pub where I could admire the nautical bare boarded beauty of the pub, though someone told me a fairly recent makeover had made it a bit more 'dining'.  And sure enough, a waitress appeared and asked if I was dining.  'NO' I replied, a bit more brusquely than I'd intended, and felt a bit ashamed.  It didn't deter her though, she came back two minutes later with a placemat, knife & fork, and a 'reserved' sign!  I looked up questioningly. "Don't worry, it isn't reserved" she told me, though her actions and the sign suggested quite the opposite!  With my head spinning, and it wasn't even the Spingo, two blokes spied my GBG which I'd lobbed out onto the table in an attempt to counterbalance the cutlery/reservation incident.  They asked what my game was.  "BRAPA" I told them and explained all, Clarissa style.  "I love Berkshire" said one of the blokes quite surprisingly, and before he could rip off his mask to reveal a Quinno/Tim Thomas soft centre, he asked me what pubs I liked in Reading and Windsor & Eton.  The other bloke was excited I'd done most of Ayrshire, and wanted my thoughts on Kilmarnock 'Spoons and the like.  They left, and with their hearts warmed having witnessed this exchange, the staff uncurdled their sour faces and smiled sweetly at me for the remainder of my time here.

My decision to rush Ludgvan earlier had proved a good one, for I still had enough time to kill to sample another pub somewhere between here and the station.

I considered the Dolphin next door, and the Turk's Head which I'd later hear good things about, but almost totally at random, I opted for Admiral Benbow, partly cos it had featured in GBG's 2012-2014, but also because it came up on Google Maps when I typed in my route from Dock Inn back towards station.  It looked nice from the outside .....

But my jaw almost hit the floor when I entered - what WAS this place?  It was busy, people were dressed in pantaloons and crazy old garb, bright red lipstick, some were trying to sing or dance, and a jolly barman served me from a healthy (interesting but not too many) range of local ales.  The place seemed to be shimmering with ornate decor and artefacts, but then from behind me, I heard a voice "are you following us around?" and I turned to see the Berkshire/Ayrshire men from the Dock Inn.  I told them this place was amazing, and they told me I'd not seen anything yet and motioned me to go and explore the depths of the pub, and deep it was.  "I'll never be able to do this place justice in my blog" I complained to them, as I sat in the one remaining seat next to them (lucky them).  The reaction on Twitter made me realise this was a famous pub, there was an even better upstairs I could've explored, a recent change of ownership 'might' be part of the reason it hasn't been in the GBG recently (my ale was stunning quality once again).  And right up until I was stood waiting for the shuttle bus at L**ds-Bradford airport on the way home, people were telling me about this place!  The previous owner has taken quite a lot of stuff with her, for it was even more festooned with amazing clutter before.  And it was the 'original' theme pub, and for that reason, it was actually sneered at a bit back in the day, but it has seemingly survived the test of time and grown in popularity.   What a fantastic one off!

So I'd like to thank Penzance for helping me salvage something from what would have otherwise been quite an average day.

Back at the station, I bought a Cornish Pasty cos it "just felt right"and a jolly bald man asked me if he thought it was a good idea to get in a giant deckchair, so I said it was, even though he inevitably struggled to get out and nearly missed the train.

And then for the long ride back to Quintrell Downs via Par, ready to do it ALL again tomorrow morning bright n early.  And I had a plan a mind which I'll tell you about in Part 7.

Thanks for reading.  Si

Wednesday 26 June 2019

BRAPA and ......... the Unseen Crystal Ball of Pendeen (Cornwall Part 5)

Day three of my third year in Cornwall and it was time to head west and fill in some of the remaining gaps that had appeared since the last time I was down here, and unless you count the Isles of Scilly (I wasn't, for now), it didn't get any 'wester' than the little hamlet of Pendeen.

After changing at Par and Penzance by train, I then took a bus which bumbled its way dolefully through the rugged coastal countryside passing 'old friends' like St Just, Botallack and Trewellard - stars of my 'debut' year in Cornwall back in 2017.  No wonder it wasn't until late lunchtime when I finally arrived at today's first pub.

The weather still hadn't broken as my optimistic Premier Inn breakfast goers were predicting, and we were again in the midst of a drab. grey overcast day with the odd downpour, good job I'm not too bothered about getting a gorgeballs tan out of this mostly indoor holiday!

Mystic breakfast 
Compare that to 2017, sat outside the Trewallard Arms blinking into the hot sun with two hours to kill until the next bus, trying hopelessly to nurse a single pint for fear of drinking too much and making the journey back to Penzance too hard on the ole' bladder!  IF ONLY I had known that just a short stroll up the road, I could've come to this pub too and properly ruined myself.  I could've even popped into the neighbouring Geevor mining museum.  This was the ultimate in 'BRAPA making you kick yourself'.

Still, we're here now, and "it is what it is" as we pub tickers say in a futile attempt to grasp for the few remaining strands of sanity we possess.

A 13th Good Beer Guide appearance for this one, would it be unlucky for some?  A first since 2012, it actually made its first appearance in 2001 so must've done all those years consecutively.  BRAPA stats eh?  You gotta love 'em!

Ivy-clad to the point of being almost invisible was this St Austell Ales friendly pub, North Inn (1651 / 2621).  Despite having its fair share of lunchers on my visit, and despite the tin mines being a now distant memory, this place had one of the most authentic old Cornish pub atmospheres I've encountered, with a cracking range of red faced bearded bar blockers with other wordly accents, it was like a Captain Birdseye convention with fewer fish fingers.  It DID have a fish tank though, another 'Cornish pub staple'.   The men rolled their imagined glass eyes at me as I ordered a pint of Cornish Best, which was of varying quality as it progressed down the glass.  You'd have to go to the Star in St Just or the Countryman in Piece to find quite such a peak-Kernow set of folk.  There was even a Cornish Tom Irvin (CTI) in a 'Monster' cap perched on the end of the bar, but he sure wasn't on the energy drink!  I sat facing the bar between a thin mouthed pious couple of zero humour and a group of posh 'ladies who lunch' - one of which had to take her daughter to a concert in Penzance but was worried as "one can get roughed up".  They behaved til the Prosecco kicked in, when they started making farm animal noises.  Sheep and goat were cringeworthy, though when the lady in the multi coloured home knitted sweater did her 'cow', it was strangely arousing.  No wonder the dog under the table looked terrified.  "I CAN SEE YOU!" the loud school teachery one said to it, but another lady thought she was talking to me so it was my turn to make a lame arsed joke about 'behaving myself, honest'.   I scared the pub by returning my empty glass to the bar and saying goodbye, and got plenty of bewildered smiles from those who'd stayed for a post-lunch snifter.

The beers

The bar

The ladies who moo
The bus out of Pendeen back towards Penzance was delayed.  By 9 minutes.  This was to be a recurring theme of the holiday.  I saw CTI, walking back towards the pub, he was now clutching a can a Tennents Super.  Now where did he pick that up in Pendeen?

I'd worked out that staying on the bus through the painstaking 'Penzance Interchange' meant I could get to another required pub, at another small village called Ludgvan.   The village is spilt into 'Lower Quarter' where I got off the bus and 'Churchtown' up the hill where the pub was.

A fat boy bounced on a trampoline in a Plymouth Argyle home shirt and counted his jumps, trying to impress his little brother.  I smiled, he tried to look menacing.  Apparently, Ludgvan was home to the last native wolf in the UK, but I was spooked enough by our fat friend and still not entirely recovered from Bodmin in truth.

You thirsty for those BRAPA stats?  An 11th appearance in the GBG (though one of them as an "also try this pub...." afterthought, glad they don't do that any more!) but its first time since 2009, having made its debut in 1990.  So now you know.

I'd calculated that if I rushed myself along in here, I could get done in my regulation 27.5 (25?) mins and dash back down the hill, just catching next bus to Penzance.  After all, it had been REALLY slow going to far, I had a long way back to Quintrell Downs, and needed to inject a bit of life into the day as we were already getting into the late afternoon.

So it was probably something of a blessing that the White Hart (1652 / 2622) wasn't the kind of pub I was particularly bothered about hanging around in.  It seemed to have been spoilt by modernisation, which just doesn't cut it for me in this part of the world (North Inn kept its spirit, so why not here?) with lots of blackboards, dried flowers, posh menus and the like.  A shame, as the shape of the ancient building, uneven stone floor, and clientele comprising six thirty something blokes who'd finished a hard day's graft at 'Penzance Gardeners' and were laughing over a few pints of lager suggested it could've been so much more.  It even had Draught Bass as a regular ale til not that long ago, and why would you sack that off for the Doom?  I can think of a few beery bloggers who'd be saddened by that thought.  But hopes to have a pretty rushed pint weren't helped by the barman (who looked more like a scientist than a Cornish barman) going AWOL for ages.  "He'll be back soon .... I think" the blokes reassured me as I 'tried' to look relaxed and casual, fuming inside.  They chatted on London "It's a bladdy ghetto!  But I loikes Camden"  Barman was changing a barrel, not sure what, but my Avocet beer was again pretty average quality when I got it.  And even then, I couldn't relax as my Dad phoned in what can only be described as an 'Ilkeston Panic'.  Not many people have rung Ludgvan in an Ilkeston panic so I felt privileged, and did my best to make 'Ilkeston reassurances' in between big gulps of avg ale as a Linkin Park Acoustic album played in the background.  Two German ladies appeared, blinked a bit, so I went to say hello and smile and took my glass back to the bar.

You see my problem with this pub?

Bar blokes

11th hour German invasion

So I ran back down that hill, as punk in disguise Kate Bush once sang (or was that up it?) and OF COURSE the bus was NINE minutes late so I'd not needed to rush.

But if the pubs and beer had been a bit of a mixed bag so far, things were about to take a turn for the better back in Penzance.  Join me in Part Six for that one.

Thanks, Si

Monday 24 June 2019

BRAPA and ..... The Bear Faced Cheek of Wadebridge (Cornwall Part 4)

After a quite sedate enjoyable time in Bodmin, the anger levels started to rise as I left the town.

Bus drivers can be thick can't they?

"Single to Edmonton please"
"Look I know you don't go right into Edmonton ... I think they call the stop Road End"
"White Cross?  Hal's Grave?"
"Just past Wadebridge?"
"Ohhh, we stop at Wadebridge.  I'll give you a single to there".

Imagine if someone asked me for a variable rate Tailored Business Loan for 5 years, interest only for first year with a 15 year amortisation profile and I just went 'huuuuuh?' and blinked like a pregnant goldfish on acid.  I'd probably be sacked, and rightly so.

Plus it was the shittiest, bumpiest, bladder churning journey anyway, I don't drive but no one needs to drive like him.  I managed to 'alight' without punching him in the jaw, and edged my way towards the hamlet of Edmonton.

But don't think that was the reason I also thought my next pub was shit, true I may not've been in the best frame of mind but I'd had 10 mins walk to unwind, noted it was a GBG regular, cute little location, and felt hopeful and happier walking in .......

And early signs were good as I walked into the bar of the Quarryman (1649 / 2619) and a friendly older barmaid said "decisions, decisions!" as she saw me eyeing up the pumps which was as close to humanity as I was going to get here.  I went for a beer from Padstow, never seen that brewery before, and now I know why.  The problem really was just how 'Central London' it all felt, from the stripped back, bare boarded, insipid greys, blackboards, to the inane but totes hilair gabbling of locals who may all have been from the same family.  It was only when you went to the loos that you got a sense of how the pub used to be perhaps, with bawdy old prints on the walls and dirty red carpets of many years past.  As a camp bloke called Angus tried to fabulous, someone asked his wife what blend of tea they went for.  'Is it Fortnum and Mason?'  "Are they linked to Twinings?"  I didn't come to Cornwall for this level of shitfestery, and worse was to follow when an old bloke took the michael out of one of the younger ladies for liking prosecco.  "Well it isn't champagne is it darling?"  (I do actually agree with him, but we'll shelve that one for now!)  In a more amusing exchange, an old bloke pipes up "I've got an email and I'm worried it might be a scam".  "Well don't open it then!" shouted a younger dude.  "I wouldn't know how!" replied bloke one.  And that about summed it all up.

I drank it all and I'm still alive so can't have been that bad

Kind of thing you'd see in a London pub
I decided to walk back into Wadebridge, it seemed easier that way.  Cars were very kind in letting me cross busy junctions wherever I wanted!  We haven't had a good BRAPA crapper for a while, but one person to slow my progress was a jolly lollipop lady.  The flippin' cheek of it!

Just across the bridge out of Wadebridge town centre, which feels like some kind of heaving transport metropolis interchange in comparison to a lot of places in this part of the county, I came to the next but hold on, what's this, a change of name?  Would it still do ale?  Was it worth even going in?  Well, I'm here now, and I'm counting it!

Good grief!

Yeah, so the old Ship Inn had become the new Bear Bar & Kitchen (1650 / 2620) though am pretty sure a GBG deletion will be imminent, for 'change of ownership' as much as anything else, though I can't say it convinced.  I'll give them one thing, the two female staff members were very good, friendly and inclusive, easier when you are the only customer I guess, but it doesn't always happen.  With 'Someone New' by Hozier blasting out at a ridiculous volume, barmaid Georgia comments 'oh I love this one'.  She's encouraged to go an X-Factor singing it, but reckons she'd just be one of those comedy acts if she did.  I'll admit I don't know this song, though apparently it is a modern classic in the Glumford & Sons mould, which tells you everything you need to know about how much I was enjoying his work.  I'm drinking Sea Fury (pretty average quality) next to a stained glass window, perhaps the last surviving nod to the old Ship Inn.  I wonder if it was a great pub?  Or just another Quarryman?  In fact, Quarryman was a lot more pubby than this and that says something!  Careful what you wish for.  In some ways, I wondered if this was a 'Bedford' theme pub.  Remember how the Bear got deleted for change of ownership/becoming shite?  Well, over the road opposite is a Brewhouse & Kitchen which I was told was equally dreadful by a fellow pub ticker who shall remain anonymous but rhymes a bit with Spartan Paler.  Was this an attempt to merge the two into one Bedford themed pub in Cornwall?  If so, a good effort. 

What might've been

Bar didn't look this nice from memory - nice greenness 

Not on Twitter thank fuck

Glad to be back in Quintrell Downs an hour or two later, I decided to check out one of my two non-GBG listed ticks, for I'd be kicking myself if they ever did make the Guide wouldn't I?

Looks like walking into a Heritage railway station, kind of.

But the Quintrell Inn wasn't all bad.  I mean it was a dining venue foremost, full of low flung leather sofas, and a worrying amount of twild life and overweight parents on the surf n turf, but Wadebridge and Edmonton had set the bar so shockingly low since the early Bodmin promise, any decrease in pub quality wasn't hugely evident.  It had a fish tank, and we all know that is a sign of a good pub.  The Tim Taylor Landlord was decent, if not great, and whilst at the time I declared it my 'local' for the week and said I'd riot if it didn't make the next GBG, I'd never end up going in once more on my holiday which perhaps was telling. 




But in truth, it'd been a disappointing day since Bodmin's Hole in the Wall, and I was glad to get back to my room with a bag of food from Spar and stick on a bit of the VAR World Cup (oops, I mean 'Women') before falling asleep, ready for a change of direction on day three.