Tuesday 27 August 2019

BRAPA in ..... U Sane Bolt(on)? (Part 2 of 2 - Nothing Horrid in Horwich)

It took me so long to fathom out which bus would actually take me to my fourth pub, it seemed easier to just walk.  After all, it was only a couple of miles out of Bolton town centre.   And besides, after the rigours of the Elephant & Castle, a walk and some (fairly) fresh air would do me good!

Chorley Old Road is a road I find myself meandering up and down about once every seven years or so, one of those roads so long and straight and generally desolate, that after a while space and time cease to exist and you can just hear a death rattle on the wind.  It is a bit like Chorley New Road, but older.

On the way, this dude in a sports car winds the window down, puts his music on full blast, plenty of bass (not the beer) boom boom boom and does this crazy car seat dance AT ME.  I put my thumbs up encouragingly, and he does it again.  I walk off quickly.

But today for the first time ever, there was a purpose to Chorley Old Road.  A micropub in what felt like a rather unlikely location ......

So it was perhaps no surprise that Bunbury's (1741 / 2714) had a quite unique, other wordly quality.  I've never read Terry Pratchett or finished Lord of the Rings, yet I guess it is similar.  A bit like a cross between Game of Thrones and Last of the Summer Wine, with fewer boobs but more dragons (JOKING!).  Almost like a parlour, and a shame that lovely Twitter man Chris Spinks wasn't in on this early Saturday evening.  Problems beerwise though, of the two ales on, one was Jammie Dodger and one was Tutti Fruitti Milkshake.  'Gimme the blandest thing on the menu' I was tempted to say Goodness Gracious Me style.  I went Tutti Frutti Milkshake (try saying that in a manly northern way!) as it was the weaker percentage. "Good choice, less sweet that one!" said a kind old man next to me, and as I scanned the room, a BRAPA estimate would put average age of clientele at about 114.  To be fair to the staff, a sweating lady returned from the bowels of the pub, looking like she'd just been birthed.  "I've had enough now!" she said to the other woman.  Seemed she'd been putting a third beer on, and something had gone wrong. And I bet it was a standard one.  Still, amidst the most timeless atmosphere I've witnessed in a micro, I relaxed (sort of) into my Tutti Frutti, noticing just how many cans and bottles were behind me.  A ruddy faced gurning man who smelt strongly of weed (not wee) groped around my ankles to choose, what I'm sure, was a bottle of wine!  Could've been mistaken.  A couple of dogs on neighbouring tables started bonding, and I fell into what can only be described as a 'Bunbury's Reverie'. I came around about 15 minutes later.  'Shitttttteeee!' I thought, the bus was due.  I gathered up my stuff and ran, a bloke was outside vaping.  "HAS A BUS JUST GONE PAST?" I cried.  "Whaaaat?  Bus stop?  It is just there mate!"  Arrrghhhh.
I knew this pub had timeless qualities, an understated gem.

Tutti Frutti Milkshake with a smile

Probably about the time I fell into the reverie

I was thrilled to see, not two minutes later, the bus approaching in the distance.  Phew, had it been on time, I'd have been screwed.  For once, local bus tardiness had worked in my favour.

Onto Horwich then, where we seemed to somehow get ahead of time for we'd well overshot the 'Bank Top' bus stop when we got to the scheduled time and I was further on than expected so hastily pressed the bell.  

I've been to Horwich twice before, both on bitter biting winter days before Hull City matches at Bolton, and in that time I've done the Crown twice (much better the second time), the Original Bay Horse twice (which Dad loved) and Victoria & Albert, which was good in 2013 but today, looked like some bloody fun pub!

My next GBG tick was hidden away behind the Bay Horse, I missed it the first time, but it wasn't exactly small, just well off the road ........

I must confess, on entering Brewery Tap, Horwich (1742 / 2715) I wasn't expecting much.  A sterile downstairs sort of reception area, where the bogs were, led up to a main bar, and I've been in so many Brewery Tap's that are quite bare boarded, metallic, cool and clinical, that I was fully expecting more of the same.  So imagine my surprise when I ascended the stairs to find a cosy, homely, effortless bar area.  I actually said 'ohhhhh, niiiiice' under my breath in a New Zealand accent I didn't know I had.  And do you know what made it?  Rugs.  Three of the things.  It might sound silly to say, but in the absence of these rugs, I don't know how much I'd have enjoyed it by comparison!  Everyone knows (or should) that carpetted pubs are best.  You can't have too much carpet in pubs.  I like those where they've obviously ordered too much so it starts to crawl up the walls.  Carpet the walls, that's what I say.  Rugs are like carpets, with gaps.  You didn't need me to tell you that, even if you are Canadian.  Staff seemed highly motivated and enthusiastic to be here, eye contact and smiles throughout.  It was excellent service, and the Blackedge beer (not a brewery I'm familiar with) was wonderful.  No wonder this is local 2019 pub of the year.  Classy is how I'd describe this place.  And it would've been highly uneventful, but for the cavorting galloping arrival of one man in giant headphones.  Jeez, talk about making an exhibition of yourself?  Puffing and panting, "gimme a pint of water before ANYTHING else!" he squealed in theatrical tones, before downing it in the centre of the room.  He was willing someone to ask him why he was out of breath.  No one cared.  He was like if Russell Brand remade Cliff Richard's Wired for Sound video.  Now that is scary.  Another must visit this place. 

And fully deserved

Love the rugs

My view of nothing in particular
One pub to go, and I must confess I was feeling a lot more clear minded than I often do at this stage of the day.  But after recent back pains, I've been keeping more hydrated, and add that to a Wigan pie, I guess I'd everything I needed to stay sober!

So a bit of a shame this last pub was a bit of a blur, the photo a bit blurred as I took whilst crossing the road with a lorry steaming towards me .....

I'd visited a Bank Top Brewery Ale House (1743 / 2716) before, a short bus ride from Bolton but am sure it wasn't in Horwich.  But like that, is was very much a classic locals pub rather than anything brewery bar-like.  I ordered a 'Bad to the Bone' cos the Grim Reaper on the clip kind of summed up my current end of day mood, very nice it was, and I took it around a corner to a cosy alcove where fellow typical friendly Bolton area drinkers looked at me in that sympathetic way which I now associate with final BRAPA pub of the day.  And final BRAPA pub of the ticking year?  Well well well, all depends on whether the coming week can produce my 'privilege' copy of the GBG.  I'd say not before Friday but who knows, I'll be sitting beneath my letterbox waiting for the plop, so to speak.

Me dressed as Michael Bolton in a hoodie

Locals have a secret meeting

Final GBG ticking hurrah?  He seems to think so.
Back at Manchester Victoria, I was frustrated to see an hour long wait until the next train to York so asked Whatpub what my nearest GBG pub was.

It told me Angel, a pub I'd been meaning to get back to since my official BRAPA visit on 6th May 2014, my 35th birthday, before Giggsy's record breaking game v Hull City, and a full one month and one day into BRAPA.

On that daytime, it had been superb with free asparagus quiche, a man playing Billy Joel on the piano, and a 'street worker' telling a local bloke she was a bit tired of his attentions.   Wasn't quite this lively tonight, but the gentle old fashioned music, good Roosters ale and a nice chat with the barman about the perils of needing to have cash & card on you in this day n age in case a pub is 'one or t'other' made for another heart warming session.  Some Twitter pub experts have suggested it might be a bit tatty, but I think it is 'controlled & knowing in this respect' ..... I don't wanna use the term 'shabby chic' but something approaching that.  I'm a fan anyway!  

All in all, a highly successful day.  No more bank holiday wanderings for me due to the heat mainly, so here I am with sister and her disturbed looking boyfriend for an impromptu pint in York's excellent Slip Inn .......

A good end to the Bank Hol.  I won't get a Tue/Fri trip in so a rural Saturday with good ole' Daddy BRAPA will mark the end of August ticking, new GBG or not.


Monday 26 August 2019

BRAPA in ..... U Sane, Bolt(on)? (Part 1 of 2 - Pie for Si)

Sober at 2:48pm on a Saturday is a strange concept for me, and not something I've really experienced since I was a mere twildling.

But with a late finish on the Friday, a 2pm opener in Wigan and a cancelled train, not to mention Ebor day at York races meaning absolute mayhem in my home city, I really felt like I had to fight my way kicking & mainly screaming to one of the North West's scariest yet strangely brilliant towns.

I even rang my bank and signed up for Apple Pay.  Don't know why, don't know how it works, but I did it anyway.  I officially feel 0.245 years younger, so there is that.

I'd got off lightly though, a jolly Geordie told me how glad he was that a group of crazy party hens had got off at York, when he saw me lining up the following photo of my 'train beers' ......

I didn't really drink these, I might have licked a bit of stray Prosecco that dripped down my arm but I am still saying I was sober at 14:48.

Anyway, by the time I'd reached my first (and one remaining Wigan tick), I was raring to go like this .....

Though in Horwich about seven hours later, I'd be more like this:

Anyway, stop wittering on Si I hear you say, this is already more words than an entire Martin Taylor pub blog, we've got pubs to review ......

I've seen Wigan try this before, to try and go as far away from the Wigan stereotype as possible by 'offering something different', but don't people love Wigan for its Anvils, Berekeleys, Ravens and Swan & Thingies?  I know I certainly do.  And I bet they all had more customers at 2:48pm then here, where I walked into Blundell's Cafe Bar (1738 / 2711) and after a brief smile and dawning realisation that they had a customer, Mr Blundell stepped up to serve me, a friendly chap though him and wife seemingly busy in corner doing 'pub business'.  All the more surprising then to find my Mallinsons (always a top brewery) in great condition as I suspect I was first customer of day, unless someone had come in at 2pm and departed before 2:48pm which I guess is possible (pub tickers n all that!)  A mural of Venice covered one wall, boxing prints on the other, they have it candlelit on evenings I hear, this isn't the Wigan I recognise but fair enough offering something different I guess.  With zero customers entering during my half hour stay, Mr B went off to do important pub business in a different location but Mrs B called me 'luv' twice which was nice, once when I went for a wee, once when I returned my glass.  I wonder if they've had another customer since I left, I certainly hope so!

Just like Venice

Judgey monkey as close to another customer as I could find

The pub at large
I needed some snacks for later as I was totally unprepared today, so I thought "no self respecting Wigonian would go to M&S" and went in there.

I was actually thinking 'Tom Irvin would be so ashamed of me' as I walked back into the street, when a woman jumped out of Specsavers entrance and offered me a free eye test!  I didn't take her up on the generous offer, but the message was clear, she wasn't happy with my M&Sing.

It rattled me enough into entering Galloways for a Meat & Potato pie which I ate on the train to my next pub, not easy wearing bright white shorts but I made a decent fist of avoiding gravy spillage.

Precarious pie perching
Another 'lengthier than expected' drag from the station took me to pub two.  A micropub based on a school, 'hmmm, this should be interesting', I mused as I crossed the road ......

Whoever said the schooldays were the best days of your life was clearly mad.  I hated them, and anyone who wants to become a teacher must surely want to exert their over inflated ego and power over others  There are exceptions to the rules of course, "some of my best friends work in schools" is true in my case, and if you are reading this and work or have worked in a school , you ARE that exception so fear not.

Beer School, Westhoughton (1739 / 2712) was a concept I was willing to get on board with if they went full 'balls to the wall' with it.  Problem is, they didn't.  All pubs have blackboards (admittedly, roller boards like this are rare but have seen once or twice in pubs) , noticeboards are commonplace, seating you'd get in a science lab or art room are pretty standard (and uncomfy) and bookcase wallpaper as you know by now is a BRAPA pet hate though less frustrating in this context.  I'd like to see the poncy dry flowers removed from the tables and replaced with tables with inkwells and quills!  Real books rather than wallpaper shouldn't be too hard.  Let's go the full Bash Street Kids old skool school.  Get the staff wearing mortar boards and gowns even on hot days.  Instead of the 'craft can fridge' let's do up a vintage can machine so your cans can career down, vending style!  Pump in a musty smell of old school books, bit like York Viking Centre would do!  And maybe give the customers a 'Beer School' branded tie or badge on arrival, some semblance of a uniform and a nice little 'souvenir' of your visit.  I say this all tongue in cheek of course, but it's kind of a good idea.  My Cloudwater beer was cloudy, was it supposed to be, again I don't know, didn't taste bad but not as good as my Blundell's pint.  Old people moaned how unusually quiet it was, even when a huge group of about ten cute codgers arrived.  Didn't dislike the place, staff were friendly and smiley, but I just felt it could've been so much more schoolie! 

Worse to follow as my train was cancelled.  No way I was staying here for an extra hour but luckily a bus right outside took me to Bolton.  Now the day could really begin ......

I always feel that when I visit Wigan and then Bolton in the same day. Bolton doesn't want to be outdone in terms of weirdness.  Their ailing football team (full of kids and a Hull City reject) had just lost 0-5 at home to Ipswich, awful when I think how terrible the Prancing Ponies were last season but they are in dire straits, and as with Bury FC, I hope someone saves this proud historic club (that was the serious bit, hope you're keeping up).

The pubs looked welcoming as we approached Bolton Interchange .......

Not in the GBG sadly

This was a warning to BRAPA not to expect to have an easy ride in our next pub, not the above but the almost equally terrifying Elephant & Castle (1740 / 2713). 

Pubs like this making the GBG are such a rarity, that when they do appear, the novelty factor is so great that I actually enjoy it!  I'm talking about heaving deafening sports bars, awash with screens, blokes in Liverpool shirts, patient wives looking after five rowdy kids each, groups of ladies on Prosecco and twenty somethings full of tattoos and piercings doing 'bantz' and talking about accumulators, sides of chips and the fallout from Love Island.  So Bolton CAMRA deserve immense credit for seeing through all the bullshit to reach one conclusion, that the beer quality is bloody brilliant.  Not many CAMRA branches would've had the balls to put this in  I've had Bank Top before, all have been 'decent', but this, in here, wow, even in a week of strong competition, I'd declare it beer of the month so far.  Took me ages to get it mind, as me and guy weren't sure who'd got to the bar first, I insisted he should go, and immediately regretted it as he was ordering food for a table of six and had to go back and check his table number, the type of chips he wanted, his daughter's shoe size, and probably a few other things!  By this time, a bawdy lady had pushed in by the side of my, giggling as she forget her order.  A bit like a Bolton Babs Windsor.  Had I wanted to watch Liverpool v Arsenal, I couldn't have been in a more prime seating position, so pretended to look interested.  A group of six twenty somethings asked if they could share my table.  A group of older ladies under the TV obviously thought 'shit, what have we walked into here?!' and drank up as soon as they could, freeing up the table for the gang of six, who strangely said 'thank you for your services!' which made me sound like a male prostitute hiring out my dirty table for naughty goings on.   Phew, as nice as this Bank Top was, I was kinda glad to leave, Liverpool scoring on the way out whilst I peed to a deafening roar from within (cos of the goal, not me peeing superbly).  And no Bolton or Ipswich fan in sight.

Multiple Klopp and Bolton ladies wear same expression

View of my pint of the month

Later on, three twilds were throwing themselves all over this sacred seating

I had to fathom out how to get to my fourth pub, about half an hour off Bolton centre.  Walk or bus?

I'll tell you all about that, plus a cheeky Horwich duo in part two.  

Thanks, Si

BRAPA in .... Travels With My Tand : Stuck in the Middle-ton With You

Another Friday night pub ticking in Greater Manchester, and it was time for a highly anticipated trip that I'd been planning in my head for at least three years, Middleton with a twist of Castleton.

Beer Twitter legend Tandleman ("calling me Peter will be fine!") had kindly agreed to drive me around his local haunts, just like Quosh did two weeks ago.  Peter appeared at Castleton station car park on a fine summer's evening, and greeted me with a warm smile and firm handshake, and we hopped into his sporty car and were soon avoiding pot holes galore down one of the craziest pub lanes in the GBG.

I was glad to note that he really IS Scottish.  I'd always assumed it was an accent he put on to intimidate weaker willed Oldham, Rochdale & Bury CAMRA folk into letting his favourite pubs get in the GBG.  Furthermore, he presented me with a CAMRA carrier bag containing a JW Lees glass (the one with the hand grip), a can of Moonraker (which I'm having tomorrow in the sun!) and an oversize JW Lees shirt of beautiful green.  I have made it more 'punk', customising it so it now fits.  I'll wear it tomorrow.  What a gent!   Made me realise Quosh should've given me a goodie bag containing a tee shirt with the slogan "Make Shore to Flush", a severed finger end, and perhaps a bit of shit stained bog paper from Legendz.

Nestled in between farms, with the pungent smell of silage in the air, this was quite a surprising location for a pub.  Almost up there with the Anchor, Anchor for remoteness, but not quite!

Squinting into the sun at THT

Peter / Tand looking cool in his shades

So it did kind of amaze me how many people tell me they have been to Tandle Hill Tavern (1734 / 2707) , a sign of quality surely, and once inside, it was everything I was expecting/hoping it would be with a very soothing rural farmhouse pub feel.  "Bloody 'ell, Peter Alexander 'ere on a Friday night, what do we owe the privilege?" croaked the local blokes as one voice, for everyone knows Peter around here.  Of course, that meant BRAPA kept having to be explained but you know, I'll bore folk with it all day given half a chance!  A few bar blockers made getting served a bit tricky but we were soon on the Lees Stout which was less than £3 a pint, easy, and slipped down astonishingly well.  I commented how great the quality was, Peter said it's actually often better than this.  Wow how is that even possible?  I should've had it topped up actually, but I said no cos I thought it might be the kind of initiation ceremony for newbies where locals expect you to slurp through a couple of inches of froth!  The landlord seemed keen to show off his bell (so to speak), he'd hung it up by the front door so it jingled when anyone walked in.  '"Why?" I whispered to Peter who told me the guy gets bored and likes hanging stuff from the ceiling to amuse himself!  This level of 'quirk' I can appreciate, and if this first pub was anything to go by, it was going to be a very promising evening.  

Another random thing hanging from the ceiling

View to the bar

Bench seating and a few cushions doing nothing

If you look closely, you might be able to see something highly significant .....

Peter delighted with his debut BRAPA ticking

Back down the bumpily upsetting Thornham Lane (I had piles next morning), we were spewed out t'other end and were soon in 'Middleton Proper', a much bigger place than I was expecting.

Our second pub was nestled off the main drag, another pretty location by the church, hence the name.  As we got out of the car, a three person welcoming committee was greeting us from the top of the steps, so I made them get in the photo ..........

Ring o' Bells, Middleton (1735 / 2708) was, Peter confessed, the pub he probably frequented least / knew the fewest people tonight, but the guy on the right who looks thoroughly delighted to be in the photo and was possibly called Derek was a nice chap, and told me that being from York, I'd find it weird that I didn't have to pay £6 a pint!  Wow, I knew York prices were steep but not quite this bad, unless a fan of drinking murk on Little Stonegate, but he didn't look the sort.  The owner bloke who Peter knew wasn't around as he has a Winnebago he parks round the back and often spends his time chilling out in.  'Twas another John Willie Lees pub so we went for the Lemon Radler, from the Boilerhouse (more on that later), it was decent but very lemony after a bit! We sat over to the right, observing the old school 'living quarters' situated in stairs going up from the bar and all in all, it was another excellent traditional old boozer even if no crazy BRAPness happened.  In fact, rare praise must go to a pub baby, so quiet, we barely noticed it existed til we were leaving and I can't impress upon you how rare that is! The three folk on the steps outside were still there, so after another little chat, we said farewell and hopped back in the Tandwagon, ready for pub three.  

We were making good progress, so Peter took us the 'scenic' route to our next pub, well a diversion so we could look at JW Lees brewery.  I looked at it, felt impressed by the history and size of it and hoped it'll be here, untouched, for ever and ever and ever!

Not sure if it is really on such a slope, but might explain how they get so much beer out of the door.

We then went around these housing estates where there were some 'interesting' looking pubs, one stood out for me with a low roof and lots of toothless people in vests outside looking mean.  It seemed pure BRAPA theatre, but at the time, I was kind of glad the car didn't conk out and we continued to our chosen location.

This next pub too, looked quite estatey, vast, a bit foody family and looked like it was built on a traffic island but I'm pretty sure it wasn't.  

Lots of people outside, so feeling a bit self conscious, we just went for the 'Tand entering pub' action shot

And I was welcomed into the Lancashire Fold (1736 / 2709) immediately as Peter spotted three guys he knew perched on stools, all wearing checked shirts just like his which is obviously the 'Middleton de rigueur' (I just wish someone had told me in advance).  We went to get the drinks, another Boilerhouse one 'Craft Pale' this time and excellent it was too.  One of the blokes mysteriously left (he'd perhaps read my blog before) but the other two were called Paul.  One of these was Paul Wood, a famous JW Lees brewer who has done more brewing than any man on earth or something (Roy Castle would give him an award if he could) and even though he officially retired, he still breaks into the brewery in the dead of night to work in his spin-off Boilerhouse brewery, and now we'd had two of his ales in the last two pubs!  He tried showing me photos on his phone, but it was just shiny metal containers.  I tried to look interested, but Peter says "Si isn't interested in brewing, he just likes drinking the stuff!"  I couldn't deny it.  But I did have a burning question for him.  What was it like when they were featured on Most Haunted back in the golden age of Derek Acorah?  He told me all, my fave bit being when he asked Karl how on earth he puts up with Yvette Fielding!  Classic. Well, aesthetically speaking, probably my least fave of the pubs, but the company and beer and general lively Friday night atmosphere made it some ways, the most enduring memory of my Middleton visit.

Mine and Peter's feet at the bar

Bottle of coke tries to bring Boilerhouse into disrepute

Me teaching Paul Wood how to pub tick - he even signed my GBG for added brilliance!

The two Paul's, wish one had been called Mary

So it was back to Castleton where the night had begun for my final tick of the evening.  Frustratingly, just a couple of years ago, I'd been here to tick off the *cough* GBG deserving *cough* Blue Pits Inn, and then this one popped up just a few doors down.   

Me subliminally doing my bit for the CAMRA cause

We walked into the Old Post Office, Castleton (1737 / 2710) and though I am often suspicious of the good ole' 'Micropub, this had a warmth and character to rival your most traditional inn.  First impression helped by the lovely smell of hot food (curries, corned beef hash) in giant silver serving dishes at the end of the pub.  Peter was greeted by who I think turned out to be the owner, a glorious friendly small rounded chap in a brilliant stripey green shirt I was jealous off, and a tuft of white beard.  He was almost Dickensian, and am not surprised I warmed to the place so much with an owner like this.  Bar blockers of course were a nuisance, so I asked a youngish lad what beer he'd recommend.  "None of 'em!" he said.  I think he may have been someone's son, or I might be making that up, but I guess he's someone's son. (I'm not calling him a bastard, okay?)  In the end, I went for a challenging 5% stout which tasted about 7% but it went down okay all things considered.  Still at the bar, a lady jabbed me in the ribs and said I protested too much, but i can't remember what I was protesting about!  'Twas the end of a great evening, Peter had been the perfect host and great company, and hope to see him again when I tick off my remaining Rochdale/Royton duo.  He even gave me a CAMRA mag to read for that long journey back to L**ds.  Oh, and if you are looking for a pre-emptive locally, get yourself down to the Cob & Coal in Oldham market.  (I've not been paid to say that, honest). 

For those weirdos amongst you who like Guide Dog boxes at the bar!

Look, it even has the Post Office sign for added authenticity

As the Spice Girls nearly sang, "One CAMRA mag became two" when I picked up a West Yorkshire one on just east of Halifax.  Someone had done a quiz, which left me with a few questions of my own .....

Are they really giving themselves a tick for no. 21? What do they reckon 22 is?  "Shit hurling?"  Think it might be sledging anyway.  And if you spot anything else, comment below please.

Take care, I'll tell you all about 'outer Bolton' tomorrow.....