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?|
|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.|
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.