'Twas that semi-annual time of the BRAPA calendar where a group of work friends from the bank join me for some pub ticks in a hopefully not too demanding town, city or area of the UK.
After my Newark 'exploits' last summer, which believe it or not, I'm quite ashamed of despite constant references to it, I was determined NOT to drink to excess this time around, no matter what banking peer pressure was put on me. No, I'd go at my own pace and if others wanted an extra pint or so, that was up to them.
We've had some great days since the first ones of 2014, where you could go to places like Dewsbury, Mirfield, Horbury etc. and think you were being exotic and out there. We've had to widen the net in recent years. Halifax, Newcastle, Liverpool, Walthamstow all stand out as classics. They just have a bit of a habit of ending messily.
It was the same staring five who were on that faithful Newark day. Club captain Richard, ever present Jason (who had ruled himself out on Friday but strode purposefully up the platform on Saturday morning), Piper and relative newbie, Lewis , who'd made his debut at Newark. Lewis no longer works for the bank, but now has a job which allows him to enjoy Adnams in Southwold and spend the night at the Jamaica Inn near Bodmin. I think he's winning!
After some big breakfasts, I met the gang at L**ds and we trained it as far as Skipton before the conductor bellowed (the intercom had broken) that we had to get off this train and change for stations on to Lancaster. Typical, but no harm done.
The sky became increasingly dark, near black, as we crossed those dark hills past places like Giggleswick, Long Preston and Hellifield. One passenger kept shouting "AYE!" for no reason, coinciding with me 'rolling out' today's pub agenda, which was kinda of nice affirmation.
Landing in Lancaster, first impressions were 'trying to be a bit like York', 'quaint' and 'twee'. As the day went on, it became obvious it was trying to edge itself into South Lakes poshness, but an occasional bit of Preston would jump out unexpectedly (not necessarily a bad thing), a bit like your naked Uncle Willie in a 1970's Shopping Precinct (always a bad thing).
My previous experiences of Lancaster had been limited to two pubs. Merchants and Tap House. Little did I know until today what a perfect contrast of the two very different sides of Lancaster you'd expect to encounter.
And our first pub today, Sun, Lancaster (1682 / 2899) was also quite symptomatic of more highbrow side of things, all Lancaster Brewery which I have to admit I've never been a huge fan of in the past, but this Snowdrop guest was some good shizz. The Sun was quite popular with our gang, managing to achieve quite a nice balance between the 'twee' and 'atmospheric historic original'. Staff were attentive, place was warm and plenty of space to spread ourselves out, but one thing about Lancaster pubs I didn't rate today, the near total lack of beermats. And being quite a non-standard BRAPA day, I was ill equipped and had no emergency beermats in my possession! #BRAPAFail Okay, so our conversations centring around the east Asian community and potential business ventures involving sex dolls with drip trays perhaps didn't strike the tone the pub was hoping to achieve, but this is why I like the vagaries of these days out with my work buddies!
|Waiting at the bar (not my round already, I'd decided!)|
|Piper does the highlighting|
|A fake sun or something|
|The pub being quite posh, but also quite good|
The fact Lewis couldn't pronounce 'Mariners' (has he never heard of Grimsby Town? Marine Errrs) was an early stumbling block here, but as we explained the fishing thing, the fish smell of dining hit us on arrival and we were probably unlucky we'd come to Three Mariners (1683 / 2900) at peak lunch time. A motivated lady dressed like something from the Good Life (or any 70's sitcom) served me n Piper some top quality Oakham Citra and we'd decided to stay in a round of two so we could drink a bit less than the others if we wanted! Try as we might though, we just could not find a seat, and for all the atmospheric old wordly nautical atmosphere, it was rather foodie. After much debate, we (I) decided an early 2020 outdoor drinking experience was the best plan ..... easy for me to say in my giant new winter coat. I didn't mind it out amongst the leaves etc. but was great when the guys spied some duffers vacating a prime seat indoors so we got to experience what a quality pub this was for the second half of our visit. Shame I didn't see the Matthew Lawrenson parents marriage plaque, but you can't have it all!
|One of the more stylish condom machines you'll see in a pub|
|Enjoying a rare January outdoor drinking experience|
|Any pub selling Titanic, Hawkshead and Oakham is fine by me!|
As someone in the world of gravity once said, what goes up must come down, so after two enjoyable pubs, it was perhaps inevitable that we were going to hit one that wasn't exactly loved by all!
|Ready for pub three!|
|Jason's photography. Arty or drunk already? You decide.|
We hadn't even reached the bar at the Bobbin, Lancaster (1684 / 2901) when Jason jabbed me between the shoulder blades and said "oi Simon, I don't like this one!" as though I'm responsible for every GBG pub in the country. "Eeeeee, we offer a CAMRA discount, any of yous lot a member?" asked the rugged barmaid so I stepped forward, and got discounts on not just my round, but the others as well. I could've perched at the bar all day, saving people money! I encouraged Piper to go for the Westmoreland brewed beer, but it reminded her of a lady we used to work with so she wasn't keen, though it was a new Cumbrian brewery to tick off my list. It was quite a vast, rather dingy and slightly unfeeling Sports Bar, with Brentford v QPR failing to whet anyone's appetites. Two pool tables too, and although Richard wrote "Bobbin is bobbins" on Facebook, I thought the best quality beer of the day was found in here, so you have to say, a deserved GBG entry.
|Ale of the day!|
|Not a Shopmobility Scooter but as close as you're gonna get!|
The longest walk of the day followed, Richard & Jason picking up the pace at the prospect of a potential Ku-Klax-Klan gathering due to the name of our next pub, just over a ccanal down a treacherous cobbled bank which had us all shimmying slowly down towards the entrance .......
|Looks like I'm looking for some sort of sign from above!|
I'm going to just say it, I had quite a soft spot for the White Cross, Lancaster (1685 / 2902) . It wasn't universally popular with our group, quite light and airy and a very shallow bar, plus a few foodie concessions and obviously, no beermats, we've gotta appear 'posh' haven't we? In fact, I think the White Cross offered the most accurate cross-section of Lancaster people. A few moody old farmers, curious day trippers, the odd American hippy and a few self satisfied couples with dogs. In fact, our fave pub 'guest character' of the day, 'Silent Disco Man' but in a brilliant cameo here to delight the masses (well, us). Patio doors showed it'd be a 'nice' place to sit out in summer, but the canal seemed to be surrounded by dark satanic mills and I couldn't shake the same feeling I'd had at that dreadful Nicholson's in Canary Wharf, 'it'd be a good canal to dump a dead body in'. Jason went to play with a dog, the lads joined in but me and Piper stood in the door sneering in a 'pro-cat' kind of way. Like I say though, I liked this pub.
|I don't like ordering beer names that are questions cos you don't know whether to use the intonation or not and sound like a shit Aussie!|
|Good place for a knocked off corpse|
|Never really trust a bar where you can see below waist down on the staff|
|Decent GBG selection and a map I could approve of|
|Piper and Jason try to keep straight face as Silent Disco Man returns|
|Jason goes in for the stroke|
|The lads loving the dogs, I'm hiding in a doorway|
The heaven's opened as we ran towards our fifth and final GBG tick of the day, I still tried to get a decent photo op in but being a 'Spoons, well, they nearly all look the same anyway don't they?
|Action shot as Jason and Piper make a run for it|
So here was me thinking Sir Richard Owen (1686 / 2903) was a former West Bromwich Albion midfielder of the 80's and as we waited to be served, I was Googling frantically to see if he'd played for Lancaster or scored a 50 yard volley in an FA Cup first round match, the best the town has ever seen? Alas no, and perhaps this is why I inadvertently deleted all the indoor photos I took in here #BRAPAFail Turns out Richard Owen was a 'villain' (Aston Villa player?) who hated Charles Darwin's views which is why you will NEVER find the Salopian ale Darwin's Origin on the bar here, as a mark of respect - #BRAPAFact . I'd been thinking of a footballer called Sir Gary Owen, and you have to go to his birthplace, St Helens, to find the 'Spoons dedicated to him (Sir Gary Owen Connoisseur Tasting Spoons - opening hours 15:00-16:45 Saturday's only). I'm talking shit cos I can't remember anything about this place apart from having to sort of walk both upstairs and downstairs to get to the bogs, and the ale (really good quality) was about £1.50 with a voucher I forgot to use!
|Drives a Ford Capri, likes a Full English Breakfast and a can of Vimto.|
The day was getting stereotypically hazy by now. After stocking up on snacks for the journey home (Jason bought a bottle of Jack Daniels for the train, hmmm not sure that's a good idea!) I took us in a very loose 'pre-emptive' cos it had ale and was very near by, the Ring O' Bells.
It wasn't a classic, not terrible, but just lacked something which all the other 5 pubs seemed to have - easy for me to say, knowing it's the non-GBG one, but if hadn't have known, and someone had said "you have to guess which of these six isn't in the GBG" I like to think I'd have got it right!
Then, our train was cancelled! We laughed bitterly, and Richard had to get us this little ticket so we could change at Preston without any fuss.
With time to kill, I took us down to a pub that always seems to be busy, but at least has been fairly GBG regular over the years, Olde Vic. 'Twas bustling and on good form, even if a topless man was drying himself off in the Gents. The most Preston thing you're likely to see. Oh, and I had to do TWO laps of the pub to remember where we were sat!
Time to get on the train then, I was giving myself a pat on the back for feeling the most sober I'd ever felt on a day with the work gang ever - no need to wee on any platforms I can happily declare.
But as fate would decree on such a day out, it ended in a bit of mayhem which I might write about in my memoirs in years to come, but not now.
It had been a cracking day out nevertheless, so gotta try and focus on the positives as they say, and get back on the Cumbrian trail this weekend with Father BRAPA.