Thursday 23 January 2020


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




  1. Since your Sis gave you Martin the Owl as a present you should wear here red wig for a year. Sorry if it'd not her wig.

    1. I was wondering if people would think that, but thankfully it is a wig! When I wore it at Christmas, everyone said I looked like Ozzy Osborne or Toyah!