Wednesday 29 January 2020


BRAPA in concert?  There's a scary thought. I wonder what songs I'd play? 

I did actually find a 'BRAPA' playlist that a dude called Mark had made on Spotify.  It lacked the punchy punk rock spirit I go for musically, but with tracks like 'No Mercy', 'Brick by Brick', 'Took a Hit', 'Beggin', 'Why We Lose', 'Hooked on a Feeling' and 'Figure it Out', it is clear Mark was trying to encapsulate something of the life of the pub ticker.

Anyway, ahead of my Saturday morning debut visit of Consett, let's have a quick health check .....

Physicals 7/10, Mentals 6/10.
'Bandit country' is what my Durham friend John has called Consett ever since I've known him, so I kept my belongings close at all times, tried to stay aware.  I actually associate the town with a crisp advert that used to be on TV when I was an Essex youngster, Phileas Fogg the brand was, it was very weird and the tune went on about 'Consett Airport'.  Does it exist?  Didn't see any evidence today.

The glass roofed bus station contained locals, 90% of which had a look of life long despondency etched on their weather beaten features.  A dirty looking man who smelt of fusty library books tried to sit on top of me, and I was glad when a rare bus to Medomsley arrived to take me to my first pub of the day.  I'd be back in Consett for two pubs later on.

Medomsley was a surprisingly rural village, it smelt of farms and was quite tranquil as I spied in the pub, nicely lit up at 11:39am under a grey leaden sky ........

It had to be very much a whistle stop tour of the Royal Oak, Medomsley (1701 / 2918) as I'd worked out there was a bus to pub two at 12:13, the twist being the bus stop was a good 8-9 minute walk at some crossroads outside the village.  So it didn't help that (a) the barmaid/landlady didn't see me for ages and (b) the 'Workie' (have they really dropped the 'Ticket'?), but to be fair, she was a top lass and joked that the squeaking handpump of my replacement ale (Reiver, not Reviver as I said!) sounded like it was crying, and told me to avoid the entire right hand side of the pub which had all been booked out for a so far, invisible party!  This was perhaps the closest to a dining pub I found all weekend, but County Durham being County Durham, it had still had enough warmth and humanity to stop it slipping into South Bucks coma levels.  I chose the far left corner, and you know how it is when you are the only customer in sight, you have your coat on one bench, bag on the other side, and spread yourself out a bit.  So imagine my surprise when a quick walking old man descended on me and says "WHICH TABLE YOU ACTUALLY SAT AT?"  He had the WHOLE left side of the pub to aim at, but I apologised nonetheless, and within minutes, bang on 12 noon, he was presented with a cottage pie and garden peas which he demolished with the surety of a man who has been doing this same routine every Saturday for years.   An old couple sat in front of me to box me in, "I'll have a pot of tea ..... and a whiskey" says the lady.  She was less impressed with the 'Special' lunch menu item of a pulled pork burger.  'How big are yer buns?' she asks the barmaid.  I had to dash but thanked them for a cracking pint, feeling I'd packed a lot in to my approx 25 mins in the pub. 

Where's yer Ticket gone?

The mad dash to the bus stop at Medomsley Edge was in vain as it turned out.  Google Maps has saved me a million times, but despite claiming the V9 would stop at Rose Terrace, the warning signs were there when I discovered absolutely no bus stop!  There was a rusty post sticking out of the ground at a weird angle, maybe this was it? 

As the bus approached, I stuck out my longest arm but the driver kept his eyes firmly on the road, totally blanking me, and turning the corner.  Bugger!  

A 47 minute walk up and down hills back towards Consett followed, a bit of a killer with overnight rucksack as I overheated in my new sensible coat, passing dogs with joggers aplenty.  It was obviously 'local roadworks' day, they were setting them up everywhere and my walk was extended by the odd closed footpath, and in one place, the road altogether! 

A huge relief then (for my bladder as much as anything) to reach pub two ......

"I'd have posed if you'd given me more warning!" says the jovial guv'nor on arrival at the Scotch Arms, Blackhill (1702 / 2919) in reference to the fact he'd seen me though the window taking the above photo, and the locals dotted around the bar smiled inquisitively.  I ordered a Titanic Plum Porter and asked how England were getting on in the cricket, it felt like very much the type of pub where you wanted to 'engage' with those in it.  I went to the loo to relieve poor tattered bladder and splash my burning face with cold water, to be presented with an intriguing selection of male toiletries with a warning sign "don't nick 'em ya bastards, we don't have many customer so we'll know who's done it!" (or words to that effect).  I even splashed on some aftershave!  This pub was super-traditional, it wouldn't be to everyone's tastes, but it suited my taste in pubs very nicely.  I was the only customer who wasn't a local perched at the bar, making persistently amusing comments ... the routine a young lad did about Iceland's ageing shoppers in Consett was worth the entrance fee alone.  The guv'nor was obviously a Mackem, and there was much sympathy re the previous nights 0-0 draw with Doncaster, before the black & white striped variety of football fans left for their own match, one of them uttering the now immortal words "Steve Bruce says we can't win the Premier League, but no reason why we can't win the FA Cup".  I laughed so much, a bit of wee came out, so I went for my second pee and a squirt of a 1970's deodorant, before taking my leave.  The barman, temporarily distracted so he didn't hear me say 'thanks', was told off my the locals for not saying bye to his customers.  Top pub.

"Oi Wainwright, don't you talk to me about the Exhilaration of the summits after THAT walk, ya dead bastard!"

Cricket and my coat hood (not a dead pub pet)

Forbidden toiletries

Squirt of Aussie Mega to hold my hair for the walk to Consett?

Despite my legs being shattered after the rigours of last night's walks plus this recent one, I couldn't be bothered to look up a bus and besides, the more 'outer' Consett pub was only 0.8 miles walk.  Piece of piss in the grand scheme of things, so one foot in front of t'other, off I trotted ........

The pub, when it appeared, looked wholly encouraging from the outside ......

And it's funny how things come back to you, I suddenly remembered back to a drunken episode in Bishop Auckland's Green Tree and a local raving to Dad and I about this pub.  Well, he wasn't wrong.  The Grey Horse, Consett (1703 / 2920) managing to rival the wonderful Tap & Spile in Framwellgate Moor for pub of the weekend, and I seriously didn't expect that!  What gave this the edge was the wonderful reception given to me by the locals at the bar, especially the Yeovil supporting Geordie) and the Shrewsbury supporting barman (who looked uncannily like my boss at work!) which started with a 'you've got lots of beers to choose from' and soon was me holding court in a kind of potted history of BRAPA, with much interest in what I'd done so far in County Durham.  I realised a couple in the far corner were listening to every word too, lovely stuff!  They brew the Consett ales here which I've definitely seen in other pubs, and if the main bar wasn't already small, cosy and warming, the maze of corridors through the back rooms to the bogs showed it had a bit of depth as well.  What's more, our Shrews legend told me it is usually a Hull City fan who covers this shift.  Then, he said goodbye, put a scarf on and went with another dude to watch Consett AFC v Ashington.  Glad to see they won 4-1.  Some pub this, a must visit.  

Our Shrews legend does the highlighting

Friendly locals being amazing

Welcoming main bar area

Bookcase near the gents not really having much to say for itself

Back room looks equally good, perhaps better!
So, 'that was nice'.  Three pubs still to come, and 'Spoons next.  Could it top that?  Don't be silly, but I'll tell you about the more hazy vague second half of the day later this week .


Monday 27 January 2020

BRAPA in ...... WHAM, BAM, THANK YOU FRAM (and Chester-le-Treats)

An overnighter to County Durham might seem a bit excessive when you live in York, but then again, if they are gonna bung a 7:30pm opening club in the GBG, what choice does a boy have?

I had a thirst that needed some serious slaking by the time I finally made it through the doors of the first pub on Friday evening, it was one of those "your Dad drove you around rural Cumbria last week so we are going to make you suffer this entire weekend" moments of BRAPA karma.

The delayed train finally hit Durham over 30 minutes behind schedule, a 20 minute jaunt out to the
Travelodge, quick application of waterproof plasters (don't ask), quick turnaround, and off to Durham bus station where I bonded with a bereft ruddy cheeked crone over the inability of the X21 bus to actually turn up at all!  I nearly tried a 'Pity Me' gag but thought best not!  The non X'd 21 bailed us out and soon I was in the warm bowels of Chester-le-Street.

Furthermore, the first of three pubs I required was barely in C-le-St at all, actually residing in the rural outpost of Castle Dene, a good 30 minute stretch from the centre.

In pitch black conditions, the pavement ran out by the golf club with full headlit cars bombing down the Lumley New Road, I needed to know if the pavement carried on across the road - otherwise, I was going to turn back, beaten.

Problem was, I couldn't tell, so I sheltered in the bus shelter (I guess that is what they are for) and Google Maps Streetview confirmed there was indeed a pavement, so I jumped into the darkness and tentatively carried on the walk up through Castle Dene.

Up a country lane, the pub finally came into view.  Well, you can imagine my relief!

Shining like a joyful beacon in the gloom

Let's go in shall we? 
So all things considered, I feel that I deserved a better reception than the mardy faced 'welcome' offered to me by the barmaid, probably the only person in the entire Smiths Arms, Castle Dene, Chester-le-Street (1698 / 2915) who wasn't wearing a huge grin or laughing with a jovial County Durham warmth.  Not wanting to linger too long at a busy narrow bar with my rucksack, I chose one of the first ales I could see, Rudgate Ruby Mild.  She looked doubtful and then said "no, the closest one is Cameron's Strongarm" indicating the pump at by her right arm.  Now, surely she meant 'the Ruby Mild is off but the Strongarm is similar in style and colour' but it could've been translated as 'I can't be bothered to move too far so I'm gonna pull the beer that is closest to me!'  Almost certainly paranoid, I then span around to take a delightful photo of sleeping dogs on the bench seating only for a man to say to their owner "How precious are you about your dogs?"  Was he thinking I was planning a heist?  No offence, but they were hardly top breed hounds more mangy mutts, even this cat lover could see that.  One came for a cuddle later, even nuzzling my GBG.  If all dogs were this gorgeous, I could be converted.  Features wise, this pub was a cracker.  Haunted too! I sat towards the quieter back bar, but behind the screens was a dartboard and three gents really got into the 'spirit' of it, and I mean REALLY.  "NOOOO, HAHAHA, OOOOO, WE ARE GETTING CLOSER & CLOSER" was all I could hear from behind the screen.  A few canny folk nodded and smiled slightly, but this felt very much a local pub for local people and I left through the deserted right hand room after a quick tinkle, a good one ticked off.  

Gorgeous dogs with demonic eyes

My 'quiet' corner

The Strongarm is going down nicely

Latest audition for Martin the Owl replacement has mixed results
I wasn't looking forward to repeating that walk back into Chester-le-Street (imagine asking that barmaid to order a taxi for you, jeez?!) but it had to be done and at least I located the torch on my phone, and knowing what I was doing, shaved about five minutes off the journey.

But the difficult night continued with news that another required GBG tick, Wicket Gate, a Wetherspoons, is being refurbished and is closed until April! 

I learned the next day it is quite an old 'Spoons for the area and has been neglected for too long, and what with time being against me since the difficult start to the night, not being able to get into the 'Spoons probably wasn't the worst thing that could've happened.

I'll be back if it makes a future GBG edition, which I'm sure it will.  For now, I turned a corner where a bouncer was telling a pizza delivery man that "he gave it to her" in a Northern Irish accent which I didn't stop to question, because the main pub (club) of the night was looming out of the darkness like your Uncle Willie on Hallowe'en Night 1992 .......

Masons?  Pressing buzzers and declaring your CAMRA bent to get yerself inside?   I was nervous and hovered around outside, painfully aware a taxi driver was watching my amazing photography attempts above.  Luckily, the first of several portly squat men in suits and yellow ties who I'd encounter here was just leaving, and let me in, no questions ask,though I raised a trouser leg slightly in the hope it'd help.  Masonic Centre, Chester-le-Street (1699 / 2916) though surprised me by opening up into a bright and welcoming long club room, folk on all sides saying 'hello' as I ran the gauntlet to the bar, prints of bright blooming flowers on the walls creating a peaceful scene at odds with my half-baked Masonic stereotypes.  The barmaid was the polar opposite of our Smiths miseryguts, enthusiastically welcoming me into the fold with much chatter with a local about these two ales from Billingham, Sticky Toffee (I got a taster thrust upon me, you know what I generally think of asking for tasters in pubs!) and this Slug Porter apparently named after the brewers wife (he's brave!) which I went for cos a bit less sweet.  I got a BRAPA mention in, she seemed impressed, then she told me the Black Sheep Monty Python Holy Grail was selling best, I said I wondered if Terry Jones' death had brought it into the forefronts of people's minds again, and they looked at me with an air of reverence I never normally get!  She told me to sit down and enjoy mi' ale in peace, which I did, conscious of a darkened door to the left of the bar where the suited Masons kept disappearing to.  One did a weird sticking out tongue gesture at me (Mason code?), I just said "hi mate" and he looked put out, but I was worried we'd have snogged otherwise!  I needed a poo too, but wasn't brave enough, a woman slagged off men in leather trousers which seemed unnecessary, but on the whole, a fantastic deserved debut GBG entry.  

Trying to support the brethren 

I staggered around the corner to the bus stop, opposite the fabulously rockin' Lambton Arms where a band were doing a quite punk cover of 'Rockin' All Over the World' to finish their set.   Three old dears stumbled across the street, panicking about the bus they then didn't get on. 

As pleased as I was that the Wicket Gate closure  had me on the 22:23 bus out of Chester-le-Street rather than something after that scary Friday night witching hour of 23:00, I was conscious that only two ticks tonight wasn't a great outcome when I'm still trying to make up lost ground from the dreadful first week or two of January.

Luckily, my bus went through this place called Framwellgate Moor (or 'Fram' to the locals) where one of my two remaining Durham pubs was situated.  I had to risk last orders having been rung and chance my arm on this one, 'twas almost 22:40 when I arrived .......

P & Spile, and I could sure do with a pee

Which door to choose?  Quick blurry decision time.
I went 'left' as is current BRAPA policy, it had served me quite well at the Smiths Arms as that is where the action was and it was definitely the right decision at Tap & Spile, Framwellgate Moor, Durham (1700 / 2917) and you know when you step inside a pub, and know within seconds it is an instant classic?  Well, this was one of those.  A booze soaked smell was the first thing to hit me, and a warm atmosphere kind of rough around the edges, reminding me a bit of Maltings in York but with history and a bit more depth which I discovered as I wound my way though the back rooms towards the bogs.  I was on a Kirkstall Stout having a taste for the darks by now, the staff were attentive even at this late hour, and the last orders bell sounded about five minutes after I arrived so I'd done well.  I made no notes here, just generally basking in the hubbub and telling anyone who'd listen to me that this might be one of the best pubs I'd ever visited.  A drunk man in the bogs was most responsive, told me off for not coming here before, but has he done the Bedford Arms in Souldrop or the Hare & Hounds in Waytown?  No,well zip it!  That'd be my comeback anyway if he hadn't been mildly terrifying.  A couple were laughing at my sense of wonder when 'time at the bar' was called at about 22:50.  This pub wasn't messing about with its 23:00 closure just cos it's Friday!  A moody man had just run to the bar and perched with two pints of lager, which he now had no intention of rushing.  Ideally, I'd stay here til just before the 23:33 bus but with tables and chairs being chucked about the place and surfaces being cleaned, I realised this wouldn't be possible.  Our drunken toilet friend left but gave me a brief hug, pointed at a lady at the bar, and growled "Lesley, owner .... she ..... she ..... good .... no ..... SHE KNOWS .... ugggghhh .... yesss mate" before he was dragged off by his friends.  What did he mean?  Lesley later said "they are not drinking their Chinese in here!"  Nothing made sense anymore, but I knew that with the exception of 'two pints of lager and a chip on his shoulder' bloke, they wanted me and everyone out, 'twas 23:06, and in a way it was a great ..... a magical pub that left me wanting more! 

But buggered if I was standing in the cold 26 minutes for a bus with the other drunks, so I started marching back towards Durham to continue my ridiculous amount of walking for the weekend.  Wasn't too bad really, and back at my Travelodge for a well earned cuppa and bag of snax to get me through til breakfast time.  I needed six pubs on the Saturday, and I had Consett in mind.


Thursday 23 January 2020

BRAPA : The Archives Pt 1 of 2 (The 2020 Edition : From Derby to Brighton)

Greetings Pub Fiends,

It is that time of year again when the dust has settled after the big 'cross-ticking' exercise (I actually started writing this on 1st October!) and I'm able to identify pubs that appear in the 2020 Edition which I've been to, but haven't made previous 'BRAPA GBG's (2015-19), so I've never reviewed them retrospectively.

In most cases, I visited them before BRAPA became a thing, and whether they've been down on their luck, temporarily closed or the local CAMRA just hate them, it is hard to know, but great to see them back to bolster my net total.

13 of them this year, amazing really, and at the end of the 2019 archives, I even wrote "hard to think the 2020 GBG will throw up any pubs which make me think 'hang on, I've not written about that bunch before!' but I thought exactly the same thing about this edition so who knows what surprises we'll have in store."

So let us kick off with the first six, all Hull City away day related, and we start like so many good pub crawls, in Derby in an age when their football players were model citizens probably (that 'joke' made more sense on 1st Oct)  ........

420.  Tap, Derby

22nd Feb 2011, and a Tuesday night Hull City away game was never going to stop me and Dad driving down for some Tigerish fun.  We'd parked in a dodgy car park, been called 'duck' by a dodgy attendant in a hat, and totally by chance, made an excellent Silk Mill debut.  This was over three years before 'preemptives' became a thing, but we saw Silk Mill had a huge 'CAMRA Pub of the Year' banner outside and went in on the off chance.  'The Brewery Tap  -  Derby's Royal Standard' as this one was dramatically known in those days,  was our other pub that evening, and whilst it didn't wow us like Silk Mill had, it proved a decent attempt at a 'higher class' bar type place to have a couple of swift quiet strange local beers pre-match.  A season later, on a Saturday this time, we popped in again with a larger group including Ben and Christine, and gone was the gentle evening feel for a chaotic, stuffy, drinking in a sewer style outdoorsy experience which was enough to make Dad leave on one of his legendary 'wanders' and who could blame him?  With Derby having a strong suit of pubs, I've never been surprised it hasn't appeared in GBG's circa 2015-19, so something (well, the beer) must've improved in the last year!

421. Old Fishmarket, Bristol

Strangely listed under 'Bristol : Old City' (thanks to RM for spotting that) which seems a new area of Bristol invented for the 2020 GBG, I'm glad to see this one back after many years as every pub I visit  in Bristol always seems to then get binned from the Guide, leading to much paranoia on my side.  It is a City I'm looking forward to doing properly in the next 5 years once Essex is finished and Glos becomes the apple of my eye.  I visited here 1st March 2008 with Dad and Tom before a Bristol City away game, and my reason for selecting this pub was quite simple, it opened 11am and we'd got in early, done a 'Spoons, and this was the only other pre noon pub!  I remember getting food and we (especially Tom) were horrified by the way it was presented - chips in a silver tankard or something with old newspaper lining, might sound tame now in the days of cooked breakfasts on shovels, but remember this was a gentler age!  There were quite a lot of screens, and I see it was or is a Fullers pub.  Oh and Dad left his bag and had to run back for it.  I thought it was ok, but had preferred the Bridge Inn which is the one Bristol pub I go to which actually stays in the GBG every year!

422.  Coach & Horses, Leyton

Every year during cross-ticking, I notice an entry that makes you go 'wowwwww' out loud, and this year, it was this large pub close to Brisbane Road.  I first came here with Dad on 13th March 1999, one of Hull City's most epic games in the 'Great Escape' season - you know when Gary Brabin scores an overhead kick in the opening minutes that you are staying up after all!  The visit was so early, I was 19 years old, a mere Twudent, and certainly a lager drinker.  There was something about the pub, the busy but not crowded, friendly, sun shining into the smoky atmosphere, and we reckoned the gaffer must be a former O with his huge afro and friendly manner.  I was gutted the following year, 3rd Jan 2000 when we got lost somewhere near Walthamstow, cutting our return visit short.  The pub made such an impression us, even when we got into real ale and the GBG, we were still trying to pop in for at least one each season up to 2004 time and I was just glad to see any hand pump on, I think!  Though on play off semi final defeat night, we missed it and later heard our fans had trashed it, which was sad, especially as I'd invited an old school friend to join us (not heard from him since but he became a copper, hissss!)  Once, a bloke saw my colours and sidled up to me and said "my brother plays for Hull City".  "Oh wow" replied Dad and me and unison "who?"  "Steve Swales" he replied.  "Oh" I said "well he seems like a errrrrm .... nice person".

423.  King Charles I, Pentonville

I've got 9th April 2011 down as my first visit here, after a Watford away game, though I'm not sure if that is strictly accurate.  I've been on two or three occasions, and before Parcel Yard opened, this for a short time was our Hull City gang's 'easy Kings Cross post-match tick' though once, we walked around for ages searching for it, on another it was closed altogether.  An atmospheric, dimly lit place, it seemed to sell two Brodies ales, both ridiculously strong.  We associated it mainly with this fantastic landlord, who ran a very tight ship but on our visits, always seemed to have reason to shout at some idiot pub tourist for not observing proper pub etiquette, or threaten to bar someone who was acting out a bit, which someone always was.  Always felt the need to sit very still in a dark corner, whisper and drink!

Christine, Me and Tom hide in a dark corner of the King Charles, April 2012

 424.  Bear, Oxford

16th March 2002, and having driven down with Dad for our debut Kassam experience (do we ever perform at that ground?  No is the answer) this ended up being my first ever Oxford pub.  Ridiculously studenty, it was packed to the rafters as we ended up fighting to the bar to get served.  It was one of the first times I'd used my new 2002 GBG (which had replaced my original 1999 GBG I'd bought it a L**ds cheap book shop the previous December for an added Dad Christmas present ..... is any of this making sense?)   The reason I chose the Bear was because it had a quirky selection of ties, and apparently one helped Inspector Morse solve a murder, Dad was into Morse so I picked the pub out for this reason.  But I don't think I even told him this bit, we took our pints outside to some rubbish metallic chairs again surrounded by students (perhaps on the river?), and left, relieved and quite non-plussed, for a much better experience at the Hobgoblin where we stayed and drank lots of pints til the bus to the ground.

425.  Lord Nelson, Brighton

I travelled down on my own for the Hull City away day on 9th Feb 2013, having made my Withdean debut the season before.  I'd already ticked off a weird Nicholson's called Pump House (which also hasn't been in the GBG since) and a more successful GBG but overly busy pub called Basketmakers where I nearly got shoehorned into the ladies loos.  I came to the Lord Nelson mid-Evening Star which confused some folk I'd met up with as Evening Star is wonderful and why would you leave it?  All I can think of is the pub-ticking gene was within me, a full year before BRAPA was formed!  It was quite a traditional Harveys pub for Brighton, verging on spit n sawdust with a huge screen showing a live game and being quite shy in those days, I had to creep around the room hoping someone kind would let me sit at their table, I think a bald man finally huffed and budged up a bit.  Nevertheless, I was glad to return to Evening Star to meet Chrissies A, D and a bunch of friendly Brighton fans from Canada and Falmer and weird places like that.

Making friends with the enemy at the Evening Star, fresh back from my Lord Nelson interlude
So there you have it.  I'll do the other seven in the coming weeks, my memories will be even more vague as most are in Yorkshire (that is rational in my mind) so stay tuned.



Sunday morning in Cockermouth dawned dazzlingly sunny, but with a harsh frost overnight, Father BRAPA's Brapmobile needed a bit of extreme heating up before we could start out on our steady journey back to York, punctuated by a couple of pubs stop offs of course! 

We weren't far from Keswick, a place close to Dad's heart having done so much walking and camping around here as a young chap, so making good time, we turned off for a brief tour of the area, especially a place called 'Grange' whatever that meant ......

Well, we bit off rather more than we could chew and ended up accidentally circumnavigating this thing called Derwent Water, and going up a narrow road up a mountain side with a sheer drop into the water, the car briefly skidded on an ice patch, the low sun making visibility difficult.  "Ooooh, look at those views!" cooed Dad.  "JUST CONCENTRATE ON THE ROAD!" I cried in horror, thinking at least this'd be a beautiful place to die. 

Luckily, we eventually started to go downhill and found a main road.  In the absence of my own bravery in photographing the moment, this popped up at the time on Google Maps from someone called Beerda (appropriate name, I'm not making it up) for a flavour .....

Corpse of pub ticker nearly found here

Back on the main road, it wasn't long before we were in the first of two villages, King's Meaburn or 'Meebz' as us kids call it, on the outskirts of Appleby-in-Westmorland.  But no time to admire the picturesque village, because both our SatNav and Google Maps had it down this lane .....

Cumbria pubbing continues to try and 'do me in' 

We got out and shinned down the steep bank but it was no surprise to see the pub wasn't as plotted, though there was a house and lots of water at the bottom!  No, surely it had to be up in the village.

"Let's split up gang, you go thataway, and I'll go this way.  Jinkies!" suggested Dad (I might be paraphrasing him), unleashing the finest Velma from Scooby Doo that King's Meaburn has ever seen.  If he was Fred & Daphne, I was very much Shaggy & Scooby, and probably Scrappy too.  Just consider that for a moment.

Well, the GBG App I rarely use due to it being quite shite saved the day for once by having it properly plotted.   And yes, it was on the main road .....

"This week, I've been mostly visiting real ale pubs"
Well, I was feeling okay physically, but the above photo tells a different story as we arrived at White Horse Inn, King's Meaburn (1696 / 2913) though it'd been a tougher morning than expected!  The pub was surprisingly rustic, no frills, with a warm sense of companionship emanating off the locals and wonderful barman, a world away from the slightly detached stick-up-arse 'welcome' you get from some of Cumbria's more touristy hotspots.  Perhaps no surprise that of all the pubs I'd done this weekend, it most reminded me of Great Asby, another outer Appleby pub I'd done 24 hours previously.  The Bowness Bay ale was pale and refreshing and top quality, just what the doctor ordered, and boy, did I need a doctor!  Speaking of which, Dad revealed his guts weren't great, so he enquired into the possibility of coffee quietly out of the side of his mouth, as though he was ordering a nudie top shelf mag from the local newsagents (bearing in mind how traditional the pub was).  The guy happily went off to make one, I was expecting a mug of Nescafe (which he'd prefer to a mocha frappa latte in any case) but he got it all on a shiny platter with a complimentary biscuit.  Quality.  The gents were a mystery, turns out you have to go around the outside of the pub to the unmarked door on the right - just if you are visiting, cos you'd never know otherwise!   The locals had this 'thing' where if one came in, they'd all say 'HELLO' in a theatrical way.  'Twas the funniest thing to happen in a BRAPA pub all year, trust me.  They even laughed as we joined in.  What a wonderful pub, get it on your 'to visit' list NOW.  

So onwards and upwards, three miles north of Appleby this time to the final pub of the weekend.

Snow on t'hills

Dufton is the start of the Teesdale Way which Mum and Dad are thinking of doing later this year, and what a fantastic base this next pub would be to them.  It was hard to imagine our next pub could outdo King's Meaburn, let alone be a candidate for 'pub of the weekend' amongst other seven other great pubs (the standard hadn't been this high since November's trip to Rugby) .......

And although the Stag Inn, Dufton (1697 / 2914) is probably the pub you are more likely to find walkers after a bit of scran, and an ever so slightly more genteel 'soft' loungey atmosphere, it won us over fully within seconds of our arrival.  You kind of knew as soon as you passed those little lamps above, down the path and into the pub.  The young lady stood expectantly at the bar with clipboard menu glanced up and then retreated on seeing me, this was a common sense pub who could tell the bagged sausage roll focused drinker from the venison braised duck parfait lamb shanker.  Dad was offered a choice of two orange J20's, a first, but one turned out to be apple.  I went Hawkshead Pale, glorious though I immediately regretted not getting the Riggwelter cos you don't see it everywhere.  It mattered not, we settled in the window seat by the stunning black range, wood burner bubbling away, staff topping it up in the smoothest most no nonsense way ever, light years away from that (pre-BRAPA) Jack & Jill pub outside Brighton where they set fire to the carpet messing around with logs and smouldering embers!  I was in my element here, could've actually stayed all day.

There is an off chance, that Martin the Owl was still with me on the Sunday and it was in one of these two pubs that I left him though I think the overwhelming probability is that it was in Cockermouth last night.  Anyway, let's have a quick look back on his contribution to the BRAPA cause ......

Martin the Owl : 2nd Feb 2019 - 18th Jan 2020

A Eurasian eagle-owl, Martin was a 2018 Christmas present from the good Sister BRAPA as part of a sponsorship deal where I got to visit my sponsored owl 'Marmalade' in South Cave, a posh village between York and Hull.   Here is the first known photo of him ......

By early February 2018, I was on the brink of completing Cambridgeshire and it was sad that Martin Taylor, who had kindly chauffeured me around so many of those rural web-footed village pubs was unavailable on the day of the final completion.

So as something of a tribute, I 'named' the owl Martin and brought him along as a replacement, yes almost as a replacement for the real Martin!  He made his debut in the late morning at a pub in Cambridge called the Castle, and played a starring role in the madcap conclusion at the Woolpack, just outside Peterborough, the kind of pub where the locals are so weird, someone putting a fluffy owl on display seemed perfectly reasonable to them.

Martin on his debut outing

Bit drunk on the train home!

The day had been such a success, I took him along to my week in Dorset later that month - one of the most successful BRAPA trips I've been on.

Awkward moment at the Owl's Nest in West Purley, where he had to remain hidden in the bag because there was so much owl memorabilia around, I was worried the staff would think he belonged to them and I was pinching him!  

He was more relaxed later in the Poole Ex-servicemen's club, he did love a good club....

An all time highlight for Martin came the following Tuesday at the Vine in Pamphill, where he got to pose with the fabulous landlady in one of favourite ever pubs (Sooty was jealous) .....

To show his versatility, he even rocked up in Colne's Admiral Lord Rodney a few days later .....

And by March, he was part of my first trip towards Derbyshire completion, though he remained in the bag pretty much all day after he was scOWLed at by a bunch of kids in Derbyshire's Standing Order Wetherspoons.

This probably knocked his confidence because appearances was rare right through the spring and summer after that.  He was proper fumin' when I didn't take him down to Cornwall, for overnighters were his speciality but I just didn't have enough luggage space.

But by late September, he was back in the fray for my Barrow/Ulverston trip as Cumbria started to get off the ground.

Martin pictured here at the wonderful Manor Arms, Broughton in Furness

Problem was, in our last pub, the Beerwolf in Ulverston, an old lady said "ugh, is that thing real?" when she saw him on the table.  Martin was proper mad, and reacted by just getting very drunk.  First he pretended he was a CAMRA mag ......

And then he got smashed on the craft and ended up puking up a couple of mouse pellets on the train back to Barrow .....

Still, he'd done enough to earn a place in my bag for the week long Lake District adventure in Kendal the following month.  His addiction for MaccyD's breakfasts was becoming painfully obvious .....

But it was a good week for Martin, and in the Kirkstile Inn in Loweswater, the wonderful landlady praised his cuteness to make up for the Beerwolf incident in September.  Here he is in the Kirkstile turning his back on the lunchtime trade .....

In fact, it was in Cumbria where Martin seemed happiest and he joined me for a trip to outer Carlisle in November.  Here we are planning the day on the train ......

Christmas came and went and on a tricky New Year's Day in Sheffield, he surprised us all in the Shakespeare by declaring himself an avid Sheffield Wednesday fan (I guess the clues were there):

No wonder you're hiding mate
Yes, he was rather sheepish by the time we were back in York's Brigantes and the news came through Hull City had won!  The silly owl ordered a KFC and got smashed on red wine, hooting anti-BRAPA songs well into the night ('Dunc Mackay's GBG Army', 'What's it like to see a Brewery Section?' and 'Your Net Pub Total is Embarrassing' were particularly cruel)  and I told him he was a loose cannon.

He vowed to change his ways, lost weight, got himself clean, so knowing his love of Cumbria and overnight trips, I took him up to Cockermouth with his.  Don't think he liked being downgraded to a Sainsbury's carrier bag though, and after this late shot of him in the Castle Bar, he flew the nest for the final time ......

The final photo

Seems like his first and last pub might've both been called the Castle, so a certain symmetry perhaps. 

Of course, out of respect he won't be replaced immediately.  But I'd like to thank Martin the Owl for his almost full year contribution to the BRAPA cause.  He's done more real ale pubs than some people probably do in a lifetime!

And whether our next mascot will resemble any of the following ......

The Wanking Fox of Gateshead

Grotty Ted of the East Lancs Railway

The safety bear at Blackpool North

Me dressed as a horse in the Swan, York

..... there will be a new BRAPA mascot in the spring so watch this space!  

Take care, Si