Thursday 31 October 2019

BRAPA - October Review / November Preview (the 2019 Edition)

As I ran the gauntlet through the crowds of drinkers lining the walls of the Stratford Alehouse ('the only place worth drinkin' in town'), got my elbows in at the bar, and told the tired fleecey landlord "I'll have a pint of the Whatever", I could congratulate myself on having reached my 53rd BRAPA pub of the month.

A 2019 record eclipsing the 'Dorset 52' (didn't they get wrongly sent down for the murder of a farmer back in the 70's?) back in February.  And I was all the more pleased because that doesn't include a record 9 preemptives, though some of them I admit I'll be surprised to see in the GBG any time soon (cough, cough, Royal Children Nottingham, cough cough). 

October had been a vintage month, and blog wise, I'm still only halfway through writing it up, stuck in Cumbria somewhere.  The July-September period contained too many controversies, so it was nice to get back some nice normal high volumed goodness, away from the weirdness, though it did have its moments.......

Story of the Month

What seemed at first glance, a pretty uneventful dull night completing Denby Dale's boring new GBG entrant turned crazy when I returned home to find my Good Beer Guide missing.  This was on Friday 4th, and with the pubs and station lost property offices having no clue, I was forced to admit an evil new upstart rival had nicked it to stymie my progress. 

I was balls deep in my Cumbrian adventure on 15th, when it finally turned up on Facebook!  Yes, a lovely man called Martin (aren't they all?) had done a Facebook appeal .......

Like when someone loses a dog
Modest Martin told me most of the credit should go to his partner's daughter Nicole, who despite thinking everyone who drinks beer is a dick (this is where I should do a stern piece on the Media demonising drink to youngsters in this modern age), she rescued it (it had spent the night on Denby Dale Station), Martin saw the importance of it (let's not mention the missing brewery section and laminated Isle of Man back page shall we?) and a week later, 22nd, it arrived back in York.  We could make a film.  

'Papa?  Nicole?' (as my friend said), but with less Renault Clio's and Reeves & Mortimer.  'Twas a happy ending, and when the BRAPA annals are written, it will get a full chapter.   They both received their reward in the post, though the signed photo of Tom Irvin is on hold for now, though he believes we should deliver on that promise.  Nicole especially will be thrilled.  In fact, she later sent me a link of a local preemptive I should visit.  Converted to love 'beer people'?    

Pubs Are Good (sometimes)

With 53 pubs done, there were bound to be some classics.  Oh, and some utter shite.  Most fell somewhere in between, edging on the good/very good side and the standard in the Lake District in particular surprised me despite a few annoying 'tourist' pubs.  

Impossible to pick 3 pubs of the month, but I have .......

Eagle & Child, Staveley
Railway, Portwood, Stockport
Three Tuns, Alcester

Eagle & Child in Staveley was perhaps the best pub I visited all month
I thought there was something extra magical in the air about all three.  

On the downside

Nelson Inn, Selby
Hoop & Grapes, Ludgate Circus
Dalesman, Sedbergh

Sandbags and me prepare to enter the Nelson in Selby

Dire pubs, all three, especially the first two, the third wins award for most miserable pub of 2019 so far.  

On the Micropub front, special commendations to Little Green Dragon in Winchmore Hill and Tom Pudding in Goole for both showing how it should be done, special dishonourable mention to Market Tap in Pocklington for failing to be open despite everything suggesting they should be. Friday 12 noon, busy market place, sunny day?  Disgrace.

Alongside retrieving my GBG and my Cumbrian holiday, a day in Stockport never let's you down and this year, it was better than ever as I got to meet so many Twitterers, pub legends, and all six pubs including the preemptive Angel were all strong.  Pub Curmudgeon even got off his deathbed to try and kill a plant in the Magnet.  Looking forward to writing up that day. 

Pub legends in the Magnet, note the plant behind Matthew L

Remember, Remember, Go To Pubs in November 

Not that I'm likely to forget, but you might. 

It all kicks off BRAPA-wise with a Saturday trip down to London.  It isn't a football day, it isn't even an NFFD (Non Football Football Day) but we will be in the area, catching up with Dad's friend Eddie.  You may remember his starring BRAPA role from the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington a few years back when he half-edited some nudie artwork ......

Not sure what he'll want to do yet, but gonna try and point it in a BRAPerly direction.

A week later, I might end up back in London.  You see, my heart is screaming "crack on with Cumbria" but my head is telling me I have one remaining freebie ticket to use by 31st Dec and with my other free weekends being in 'silly season', it seems prudent to use it sooner rather than later.

November is a particularly good month for Father BRAPA, featuring on all of the next 3 Saturdays, most notably the 23rd, our official Hull City day of the month, or I should say NFFD.  Tom Irvin is pulling the strings in mysterious West Midlands hot spots.  Again, I need to look at the GBG to make sure we have some kind of structure around it, NOT that I don't trust him or anything!

And on 30th, we might get to meet another Twitter legend Brad Wight, as Dad and I travel to his homeland.  My aim, as with Cumbria, is to finish County Durham by Sept 2020.

I will try to get back to Friday's in West Yorkshire too, but I want to get a bit more caught up with the blogs first cos being over 2 weeks behind is stressing me out!  My target is to eclipse the modest 31 pub record I set last year, which should be achievable despite no holiday from work.  

Early release tonight, as I've got Hallowe'en fun to have.  Don't let anyone contaminate your extreme murk with an eyeball (or raspberry!) 

Happy pubbing, Si (& Martin the Owl)


Wednesday 30 October 2019

BRAPA in ...... How Loweswater Can I Go? (Cumbrian Adventures III, Pt 8)

A chaotic post-breakfast scene in Kendal on Tuesday morning, but why?

The penultimate day of my Lake District holiday, and I'm not gonna lie, I ain't a young buck anymore and I was 'feeling it' so decided to roll over and have an extra hour in bed!  After all, it is not like there was an urgent need to get up, was there? 

But hang about, what's all this?  My phone practically glowing red like I was Alfred Pennyworth, with notifications left, right and centre.  Tom Irvin texting excitedly, Pub Curmudgeon sharing links like a demon, mysterious people called Martin and Nicole trying to add me on Facebook, and South East Essex CAMRA threatening to call the police if I didn't wake up soon!   What WAS going on? 

Well, I can tell you.  My Good Beer Guide had been found in Denby Dale!  I will write about this in more detail in tomorrow's month end review, but I was all a nervous, excited, flustered bag of nerves, barely able to force down the smallest breakfast of a spoonful of baked beans, one fried egg and a full pork sausage.  Even toast and the daily yoghurt had to be postponed.  I did manage to nick a small blueberry muffin for my bag though.

What's more, the Premier Inn breakfast had reverted to my preferred 'buffet' rather than table service for the first time this week.  I walked to the bus station with a spring in my step, everyone in Kendal seemed smilier than usual.  Yes, today was gonna be a good day! 

I needed luck to be on my side, as I was Keswick bound today.  Ambitious bus journey, Keswick's makeshift bus station itself spookily like Windermere with a posh Booths Supermarket looming below the misty mountains .......

I popped in for a wee, a bottle of Australian water and an Orange Twirl, and decided to tackle the hardest pub first.  Loweswater.  Du-duh-dun!

No obvious way to get there on public transport, but meticulous BRAPA planning tells us to take the connecting 77 bus to Lanthwaite Green Farm, walk a bit up the B5289 and turn left onto a mysterious dotted path which links it to the road into Loweswater. 

With hills I'd climbed as a twild (Kewick was our family Lakes destination of choice) such as Catbells and Great Gable looming overhead shrouding us in near darkness, I was nervous when I pressed the bell and the bus driver and fellow passengers acted like no one had ever used this bus stop before! 

More nervous as to what the mysterious dotted path on Google Maps actually represented.  My worst fear, I had to climb a mountain, in these scabby trainers!  But luck was on my side today, and it turned out to be a delightful forest walk.

Slight moment of peril as forestry workers had felled a tree and blocked the path, but they kindly moved their tractor so I could get past.  Much shorter walk than expected too, did it in about 30-35 mins when I'd been expecting 5 miles or something.  A kind man helped me negotiate a sticky gate, and the pub was soon in sight.  Phew!

So I was pleased as punch as I walked into Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater (1589 / 2806) , my smile beaming around the room so bit of a shame most of the other customers were codgery old diners from cars, blissfully unappreciative of the efforts people like me go to get to pubs.  The landlady was 'stand out', called me 'sir' three times, even after realising I was just having a pint and no food.  I sat at a table for six, aware I might have to move for diners but it offered me a good view of all that was going on.  And besides, the lunch rush was dying down by now.  Despite the foodie feel, the low beams and crooked building made for a good atmosphere, then a man shocked everyone by ordering a 'kid's crumble' for pudding.  "It's for the wife" he exclaimed loudly, "she's a bit stuffed!" and I saw her glaring around a beam at him as everyone smirked.  Talking of stuffed, Martin the Owl was out today, so we toasted the return of the new GBG.  "I like yer owl!" said the landlady, just to prove what a quality staff member she was.  I told her he was called Martin and was enjoying this pub very much.  Her skepticism was there for all to see, and she went to clean a table.  Three Real Ale Twats arrived from nowhere, and decided to sample all the ales very slowly.  The theatrical way they threw their heads back so the beer hit the back of their throats was embarrassing to see, and I quickly put my replacement GBG back in my rucksack for fear of association and swallowed my CAMRA card.  "Oooh, the Cascade is really coming through on this one!" said the most appalling of the three.  Time to leave.

A decent drop

Martin finally gets the recognition he deserves
I made such good progress with the walk back to the unlikely bus stop, I was in danger of catching the earlier bus if it was delayed, and because the god's were smiling on my today, it was!  I was back on the B5289 when the bus approached.  I wasn't at the stop yet, but held out a hopeful arm anyway, and gawd bless him, he stopped! I wish I'd bought a lottery ticket today.

The bus went through this place just outside Keswick called Braithwaite where one of my other 'outer Keswick' ticks was.  Hurrah.  I like it when a plan comes together.  

Just a bit off centre on the hill up to Thornthwaite, I felt hopelessly scruffy as I arrived at Middle Ruddings Country Inn, Braithwaite (1590 / 2807) , a peculiar GBG entry which was like a hotel bar and posh country club rolled into one.  I never felt quite at home or relaxed here, bad news as I worried I had near on two hours to kill!  But I needn't have worried too much about being scruffy, the only customer a young tanned chap called Chris (just back from a week in Marbella where he'd admitted he'd forgotten it might be sunny) in tight blue shorts sat at the bar.  He helped me get served as the barman had his head in a fridge shuffling bottles, so didn't hear me arrive.  I sat by a nice fire, amongst some very nice decor yet still felt strangely out of place, uncomfortable and bored.  At least I could eavesdrop on Chris's saga.  Seems he'd fallen out with a dude who owed him money.  "I've just replied with the rudest text message I've ever sent!"  he declared, and I thought 'uh oh, I'll have to edit the horrid fucking swearwords when I write my blog'.  I braced myself for the onslaught of filth, and he says "I've put 'And I refuse to even pay the 25p postal charge'.  That'll teach him!"  Errrm, was that it?  Candidate for low key bizarre moment of my Cumbrian hols.  Sums up an odd pub tick, and because luck was with me today, I'd found another bus route to Keswick, with one due quite soon so I was able to drink up and leave, post-haste.  Phew! 

Back in Keswick, and time was ticking on much quicker than I'd have hoped (cursing myself for sleeping in that extra hour).  Still with three pubs to do before the relatively early last bus back to Kendal, it'd be a race against time.  I'll tell you about that Friday or Sunday, but tomorrow we'll have an interlude for the month end review.  

See you then, Si

Tuesday 29 October 2019

BRAPA ..... Goes Bravely into Staveley / Levens is Where the Heart is (Cumbrian Adv III, Pt 7)

That road opposite the Watermill in Ings had been such a nightmare to cross, I decided I could probably have walked have way to Staveley by the time I'd managed to negotiate it and hop aboard the next bus.

So power-walk it I did.  After all, for a Cumbrian holiday, my leg mileage was pretty poor, which says a lot for the good bus services around here.  I doubt North Cumbria is going to be quite so hospitable in this respect, but that is a worry for another day / week / month / year!

In fact, it soon became a game. 'How far can I get before the bus overtook me?' and the Staveley turning was actually just in sight when it finally sped past me.

With Barngates and Ings being disappointing, hopes were not high for the two pubs here, and the first I came to was just off the main drag in a sort of car park / retail park type complex ........

Beer Hall (1586 / 2803) was the name, and wonderful Hawkshead beers (always pleased when I see them on at York Tap) were the game.  It was a 'hall'.  It sold beer.  The Ronseal of pubs, did what it said on the tin.  The kind of chirpy young dude was straight on me once I got within a few hundred feet of the bar.  He asked the age old "what style o' beer do you go for?" question, so today, I told him dark beers, just so I could recount my Barley Wine experience - not that I like to talk about it. A combination of this and his carefully manicured beard, a back tattoo of a Jackson Pollock painting and encyclopedia of the history of Japanese rockabilly in his man bag meant it was no surprise when he edged me towards the keg taps where plenty of 8.5% beers were available for prices I shuddered to imagine.  I disappointed him wildly by opting for the cask porter.  I apologised for being boring!  And then hated myself.  Then I tried to smuggle a Quorn sausage I'd wrapped up from my hasty breakfast (or was it a full pork-on?  Wah'hey!) but the eyes of a large group of 'ladz' were often on me, not helped by a very sociable seating attempt seemingly inspired by Pret A Manger.  I concluded I could imagine coming here for a 'sesh with the boys' and it being great, but as part of a one pint pub ticking adventure, despite some nice warm fans blowing hot air, it wasn't the kind of place to wrap its arms around you and tell you everything will be okay!  Great porter though.

Being sensible after yesterday

Ghost of my dead Grandad swigs off his pint

Beer and lads, lads and beer.  Unbelievable banter.  Probably.

Things to make you go 'mmmmm'.

I walked down the road a few yards in search of the next pub and someone was taking a photo of it, the mad bitch.  Was this the first sign, followed by the interesting archway thing that this was going to be very good?  It should've been.  Let's go in shall we?

Yes, to walk in to the Eagle & Child, Staveley (1587 / 2804) with zero expectations, and be hit with a feast for the senses quite this wondrous, especially on a day where I'd not really been in a 'pub pub' if you know what I mean, was really quite special.  I'd go to 27 pub ticks and 6 preemptives this holiday, and this was perhaps the best of the lot.  I sat by a roaring fire just a few yards from the bar, and was amused to observe the young lady who'd come in just after me, the personification of my own reaction, I noticed.  She spent the first three minutes just open mouthed, wide eyed, staring around the room, the next two trying to articulate to her bored boyfriend (just tap tap tapping into his phone) just how much this place was moving her, and when that failed, the next couple of minutes randomly pointing her phone around the room trying to do the pub justice through photography, before giving up and just sitting back and savouring the moment (well, talking to neighbouring table's twog - see below) yes, she sure encapsulated my own mood.  The stillness of the atmosphere was broken occasionally by a rumble from above.  And a 'toilet exploration' told me a room was reserved for some event upstairs (Old Farts Society?) and occasionally a few coffin-ready geezers would bound downstairs belying their years, and sit in the snug behind me and make amusing comments to the barmaid which you'd not get away with in Islington.  Rare I say this ever in BRAPA, but it was actually a wrench to drag myself up and away to catch my bus - time disappears dangerously quickly in here! 

Yes, time was really racing on and a long bus journey to a place called Levens Bridge didn't help when I realised the pub was a further walk then I'd anticipated, actually down through the village of Levens, which involved a bit of muddy road walking in the dusk which didn't bode well for getting back!   

Down a hill, turned a corner, and a kind of 'work in progress' scaffold pub scene hit me.......

At least it was open, that was my first concern when I saw the above, but I was soon in Hare & Hounds Inn, Levens (1588 / 2805), and it'd be one of those pubs which conflicted me slightly.  On the one hand, it had an overly (and I'd say unnecessary) light, airy, modern, dining vibe, for such a location - and by now, we were south of Kendal, so I'd say a bit off the tourist trail.  But on the other hand, two friendly professional young dudes greeted me warmly, and the only real customers, two old boys, reading papers at the bar were both jolly chaps, even though their attempts to put the entire world to rights on every current affairs topic going somehow felt a bit strange in the context of a quiet Monday night in Levens, a bit like in the Countryman Inn in Piece where the locals tried to make sense of paedos and kid killers.  I only had a strict 27.5 mins to enjoy my Keswick Bitter which I did, and let's face it, any tick on page 98 of the Good Beer Guide is a job well done!

"A difficult place to go on a Monday night and get a result"

Chaps and barman, all being amazing

Time to get drinking

The ale I chose, but look left, I could've had another Ings doggie themed one!

To be fair to the Hare & Hounds, I'd been a bit on edge for the whole session here, mindful of catching a late bus just around a bend in failing light.

And although the walk went well, luminous clothing and a torch should've probably been in the BRAPA bag o' tricks as it was a bit hair raising, when the bus arrived (10 mins behind schedule), I did everything right, but he still had to stop suddenly, and I had to run through a puddle up a grass verge to hop on,  which would be a feature of my October pub ticking as it'd turn out.  

Back in Kendal, as I'd only done 5, time for a cheeky preemptive.  Many of the fashionable newbies were closed, being a Monday, but a strange place was happily lit up ........

Yeah, I confess I could go back again now and I'd still have zero clue what Masons Yard 24, Kendal is trying to be, but it has been in the GBG before I'm sure.  Any pub with a number in is gonna be a bit shit, and that is, my friends, a BRAPA fact.  Friendly to a tee, barmaid 'Kes' (not a Kestrel) was super friendly, smiling at me throughout, to almost unnerving levels, as a strange Russian guy is goaded by a really friendly bald person who kept looking round at me for approval as he took the piss, the Russian chanted "Jesus Christ, Cheese and Rice!" (all in caps) more than once, the ale was good, and £2.40 a pint, enough to almost make me cry tears of joy after some recent brutal expenditure.  The place had a weird smell, and although the back/right part of the pub was brigther, more cocktail bar style, the main area at least, felt like a posh 'Spoons for the insane which had given up on an initial plan of being a high end bistro.  But I could be wrong, it was late!

Time for my usual nightly routine of a nice bag of healthy food and juicy waters from Tesco Express where I admired a bit of late night Postman Pat.  

Errrm, face this way Reverend Timms ya dickhead

Awwww, look, lovely Jess!
As I turned my lights out and drifted off, my phone buzzed.  I noticed it was a text from the legendary Tom Irvin.  Too tired to see what it said, probably he's just passing Scunthorpe and saying everyone is a bastard, or Boaz Myhill has re-signed for the Tigers and is going to score a hat trick of own goals on his 'second debut'.  Can't be anything too important and BRAPA related?  Can it?  

Uh oh!  Join me for Part 8 tomorrow.


Monday 28 October 2019

BRAPA and ..... Cumbrian Pub Bingo : Drunken Ducks and Fanny Ings (Cumbrian Adventures III, Pt 6)

Progress on the morning of day 4 in Cumbria

Despite Sunday's 8.5% fuelled barley wine adventure (which I've decided I don't like to talk about so will probably only mention a hundred more times), I was sufficiently recovered on the Monday morning to 'go again', as Steve Bruce might say.

Yes, bouncebackability is a key trait of the successful pub ticker, and it is important that no matter how much you caned it the day before, you finished early, ate plenty, rehydrated and slept well.  Just so you can do it all over again!  What a life. 

Kendal Premier Inn had managed to get its shit together finally re breakfast, well to an extent, and after a 25 minute wait for someone to take my order, I worked out I could just about make the bus if I wolfed down that last Quorn sausage and ran like a demon. 

Destination uno was Barngates, alluding me the previous day on account of lack of discipline brought on my the 8.5% Barley Wine I don't like to mention, but a bus stop lady had told me Outgate Inn was the best place for me to 'alight' at, about the only detail I remember of the 'late afternoon period'.

And the old dear wasn't wrong!  A near 20 minute walk only, and that was with my sauntering step.  I was even too early for 11:30am opening.  Oh well, at least some fresh air and breathtaking views you can't do justice on a Smartphone restored me further.

You see the figure in the above photo?  That was one half of a couple who arrived at the pub after me, but whilst I exercised deferential respect re the 11:30am opening time, this pair barged their way in at 11:25am, and were already seated with a coffee each (or stout in a coffee cup, we can hope) by the time I finally entered the Drunken Duck, Barngates (1584 / 2801) and ordered what turned out to be an excellent dry stout (£4.60), brewed by Barngates themselves.  The pub itself, something of a disappointment for the pub purist, though good if you were working on a 'Cumbria Pub Bingo Card' and were in desperate need of inspiration, as I happened to be.  From the dried hopbines hanging from the bar to the the preponderance of visiting dogs, this place had it all.  There was even unlikely pub folklore aimed at the gullible tourist (something about ducks getting drunk, the landlady plucking their feathers so she could prepare the ducks for lunch, then realising they were alive and being so overcome with guilt, she made little coats for them for ever and ever).  Well, a nice tale anyway but DHOTYA, as we say on Twitter.  A bit like the Black Bull in Coniston, a peaceful first quarter of an hour gave away to an influx of lunchers just before noon, my cue to leave, think I was in fairly cynical mood today.  Staff friendly, but you could see the post-weekend weariness in their eyes fighting a strong urge to tell all visitors to go forth and multiply!

Back at the bus stop, there was already someone waiting ...........

If you've ever watched THAT episode of Round The Twist, he's scarier than he should be

But I chided myself for having nursed my stout, when I could have easily got in an Outgate Inn preemptive before the bus was due ...........

Bound to get in 2021 GBG  (not that I'll care as long as I finish Cumbria, for now, this year)

I got myself back as far as Ings, just the right side of Windermere (can't remember if I had to change buses or not).  Utter nightmare crossing the road down towards the next pub.  I saw a kindly looking old man waiting already, so said 'hi', made a joke about tricky crossing, and basically used him as a human shield.  He didn't seem to appreciate it.  But we made it across together and he went straight for his car boot ......

Before I could see which gun he was actually going for, I hot footed into the next pub ......

Such was the sullen, morose atmosphere in the Watermill, Ings (1585 / 2802), I suddenly had a new found appreciation for the Drunken Duck from where I'd just come!  One of the biggest disappointments of the holiday, I found this an incredible dull 'tourist by numbers' pub that felt tired and lacking a spark.  The lady who served me was especially glum, and later in the holiday I chatted to someone who said the landlord had died not long back, and he was the life and soul of the place, which may explain my experience here today.  A pub slump perhaps understandable.  All beers were dog themed, I went for the 'Windermere Blonde' cos it had a more Loch Nessie pump-clip as opposed to a 'pup-clip', a very average pale, a bit tired, and a few people said I should've gone for the Dog'th Vader which is very nice.  Nowhere to sit of much note, a group of gobby women who 'told it like it is' said things like "I'm not racist but ......" and a brother and sister got angry when they couldn't compromise on a food order.  I was behind a pillar and a bit 'away from the action' and all I could do was hone my Cumbrian Pub Bingo board.  Restless and bored, I was soon roaming the rooms looking for inspiration.  Despite the chilly air, outdoors provided something at least with a bridge, river and probably a waterwheel or actual mill or something.  A Dog'th Vader van arrived, nearly ran me over, the racist lady held a door for me as I'm pale skinned, and that kinda summed it up.  

Sexualising the Loch Ness monster?  Unacceptable filth! #WokeSi2019

The arguing bro and sis seem to be ghosts as they didn't appear in the photo!

Perfecting the bingo card

I liked this and think all Cumbrian pubs need this poster

View through to the brewery, the barrels are in L**ds Utd colours, ugh!

Hovering out here for two minutes was a nice change of scene

So these two pubs were prime examples of the 'Lakes' tourist pubs I'd be warned about, but luckily, weren't found in too high quantity on my holiday.

Things were about to improve with my next three pubs, so join me tomorrow where I'll try to be less of a misery guts (though blog history tells me, Si suffering = more page views!)