Wednesday 26 February 2020


For this title to be even more impressive, I'd have to have bid Dad farewell in Crook, and caught the next train to Hook in Hampshire, walked to Hook Common and visited the Crooked Billet.  Not sure how it would compare with today's pubs, but if you've been, please comment below and I'll almost certainly forget to reply!

Just to recap, Father BRAPA and I were having a rather splendid day on the bus 101 route west of Durham City despite some rather inclement weather.  Stanhope, St John's Chapel and Frosterley and all delivered, and more. 

Back at the bus stop in Frosterley, we had one more stop en route to Crook, to a place called Wolsingham.  I kept pronouncing it Woll-singham, but the locals kept correcting me "Wul-singham" and I might be wrong, but I maintain they all need to read a bit more Hilary Mantel or C J Sansom.

As we waited for the bus, and thank the lord we had a shelter, the weather took yet another turn for the worse, which I tried and failed to capture on camera, both with and without filter .....

Bus mercifully arrived with me waving a desperate frozen thumb at it, and the village of Wolsingham wasn't far off.  A quick uphill manoeuvre off the main drag, and the pub was buried down a side street with a majestic pub sign, which had it fallen down in the wind, would have almost severed this hapless pub ticker in two ........

Another understated (apart from its commitment to Cider fame) gem from the west Durham stable of top pubs, the Black Lion, Wolsingham (1732 / 2949) only suffering slightly in that it wasn't the magical Black Bull at Frosterley.  But with pubs like Square & Compass in West Cornforth and Frog & Ferret in Spennymoor in mind, there is something unique about a pub atmosphere in a no frills boozer late on a Saturday afternoon.  I ordered a pub's own 'Old Herbert' ale cos it had a silhouette of a cat smoking a pipe on the pump!  And all became clear when we went to sit at what appeared to be one of the only free seats to find a pub cat curled up asleep.  This must be Herbert then?  Because I respect cats more than most, I softly sat on the bench at the far end, resisting the urge to go in for a stroke too soon!  But Herbert seemed unfazed by any amount of pub clamour, even when some young lads at the bar got excited by Sunderland suddenly starting to win comfortably.  We'd been instructed by Stanhope landlady Diane to say hello to her best friend, Sarah-Jane who works here, but without wishing to 'assume gender' I didn't see anyone who fit the bill ..... so I assume she was off on some Sarah-Jane Adventures (that one's for the kids and nerds of 10 years ago).  Not a lucky pub for Hull City either, we'd been winning 1-0 when we arrived, but lost 2-1 as soon as we got settled here.  Boo!  A fourth really nice pub, could Crook keep it going? 

Pump clip contains a near 'Tiger', words 'Black' and 'Amber' and STILL Hull City lose

Sleeping Herbert with cute jowly mouth

The pub being quite great

The bus into Crook was surprisingly, another one of those minibus things I thought were only reserved for those hairy journeys west of Stanhope.   We were soon back in the town, the rain had stopped, it was getting dark and all was well. 

Rewind back to a bright sunny day on 3rd November 1962, and a 15 year old Father BRAPA was one of 9.484 at Boothferry Park watching Hull City's 1st Round FA Cup tie at home to Crook Town.  Despite taking an early lead, we were 1-4 down by 49 minutes and the ground was stunned.  But a great comeback saw us win 5-4 and Dad has been intrigued by Crook ever since! 57 plus years later, and he's finally got to go.  I hope it lived up to expectations (It didn't).  Another noteworthy moment from that day is that it is the only association football match that Duncan Mackay hasn't attended since 1945, and that my friends, is a #BRAPAfact 

I'm not one of these anti-Spoons pub goers like I know some people are, but despite having read that Horse Shoe Inn, Crook (1733 / 2950) was indeed a Wetherspoons, it didn't look or feel like the usual model from either the outside or in - and I kind of really appreciated that.  The biggest clue was the heaving clamour at the bar, and if the mean streets of Crook had been deserted since we'd stepped off the bus, well, it felt as though the entire town was here!  The Double Maxim was as warming and health giving as you could hope for, strong though, which may or may not be connected to my classic 'hazy fifth pub of the day memories'.  Fair to say we both viewed the experience positively, though my notes make little sense, particularly the part where I've written "women does it look like the face of someone who could be ....." What does that even mean??  On the way back from a typically Everestian climb to the upstairs gents,   hungry Father BRAPA was fumin'.  "There's a girl there with a totally untouched bowl of chips.  She's just crying to her Dad.  She's never going to eat them!  Tempted to pinch one".  Well, on the way back from my pee, the sobbing girl had been picked up by her Dad and they were on their way out, table all but deserted, I pinched one and should've probably brought Dad the bowl for efficient staff were cleaning the table within seconds.  It wasn't a good quality chip in fairness, and I made myself sound worse on Twitter than I really was.  "Free styling chips from the heart of a crying child!"  someone commented with probable raised eyebrows.  Quote of the day.  And an enjoyable 'Spoons experience from what I remember.

We couldn't linger though, as our other Crook pub was for some unknown reason, a mile uphill away from town.  So we had 20 minutes to march up the hill, and 30 minutes in the pub before the last bus arrived to take us back to Durham.

We made it in about 15 mins which was a good effort .......

Ready for last pub of the day, and feeling confident

But, you can see the problem ......
Yes, perhaps naively of me, I'd thought 'Crook', 'out of town', name like Copper Mine (1734 / 2951) , it is gonna be fabulous rugged, probably verging on a WMC, or at least a WC!  But never assume anything in this game, this was a restaurant, but in a pub's body with a pub's atmosphere which made it all the worse.  At least 'Running Waters Three Horseshoes basically said "oi pubber, don't expect much of me", at least Metal Bridge's Old Mill said "yeah mate, we're a posh gastropub, deal with it!" and at least Sedgefield's Dun Cow said "we are fantastically upmarket, charge a fortune, but at least you can see we do it with style!"  And none of those three, or to my memory ANY pub I've visited in the GBG has had a sign telling you that you can't just go and sit down.  Okay, a couple of them have moved us after the event, which is sort of worse, but here Dad and I felt all we could do is perch at the bar and feel like second class citizens.  Only toilet anti L**ds Utd graffiti by a West Ham fan who'd made the Hammers kind of phallic brought a smile to my face, and two drinkers next to us also wore gloomy expressions.  Reading the GBG entry now, it talks about 'distinct drinking and dining areas' so I apologise if it has a drinkers bit we simply just 'missed'!  Oh well, you can't win 'em all, the other 5 experiences had all been good (or better).

Mr Protz commemorates his visit here
But at the bus stop, further disaster as the bus listed on Google Maps and the timetables online wasn't showing on the sign!  Nooooo.   Only thing for it, back into the 'pub' for a swift half and a taxi (and the beer was 'fine', but surely there must be limits as to what the GBG lists, even if it is a BEER and not a PUB guide?)  The staff weren't exactly bending over backwards to help, until the first number failed us, they saw the desperation in my eyes, and got me a card with a more reliable number on!  Good job they'd not seen my thoughts on their restaurant.  

Just when we (well Dad) were panicking and trying to get into the wrong car, the right one turned up, we breathed an all mighty sigh of relief, and were back at Durham station with time to spare!  Phew.

So a chaotic end to a day which had for the most part been brilliant, so it didn't spoil it!  And if I could rehydrate myself, get a good square meal, and an earlyish night, I thought a cheeky rare Sunday trip might be on the agenda......

Join me for tales of that one tomorrow.  Oh look, Hull City have lost at home to the bottom team.  League One beckons.  Bring on exciting new towns and pub ticks!


Monday 24 February 2020


(Okay, so most of the ticks were on route 101, but that doesn't rhyme).

Back in glorious Durham again (they'll have to start giving me a loyalty card, or the keys to the city or something) and this time, Father BRAPA and I had no problem finding the bus station, despite it having the most low-key dingy entrance in bus station history.  Where are the bright flashing lights beckoning you in?  If Rotherham, Peterlee and Consett can manage it, surely Durham can?

The X46 took us to Crook.  Father BRAPA has a special affinity with Crook dating back over 50 years which I will explain in Part Two, but when I started Co Durham, this was the one town he was desperate to see first hand. 

In squally icy rain with a gale blowing (it is becoming a habit), we sheltered in the shelter looking for bus 101 to take us west, Crook acting as the last bastion of civilisation.  Yes, it was THAT desperate.  A series of ageing men who all looked identical waited alongside us, gurning furiously against the bitter wind.  One whistled.  For ten minutes.  I've heard of Whistler's Mother, now I've met his Father. 

The 101 bus route is perfect for the GBG pub ticker.  EIGHT pubs I counted across it, including the two in Crook.  The 'interchange' to use the term in the loosest sense is at a characterful little town called Stanhope.  Hourly buses run here from Crook, some terminate, some carry on west into even more rural climes.  It is wild out here!

Of course, being BRAPA, we were on the 'wrong' hour to carry on west so we terminated in Stanhope, meaning we had an hour to enjoy our first pub, the sun had even come out .......

And enjoy it we did.  The Grey Bull, Stanhope (1729 / 2946) was the thriving, bustling community local that you picture in your mind's eye when thinking of classic north eastern boozers.  Despite the weather and the relatively early hour, it was awash with high spirited locals of all ages, 50/50 male female split, all presided over by Mr Grey Bull and lovely wife Diane.  Here, we were made to feel entirely welcome from the get go, and the sight of my Good Beer Guide and green Stabilo only enhanced their sense of curiosity.  Dad just beat Diane to the highlighting ritual, but she came over to read the description, and righted a couple of GBG wrongs (the phone number, and no, they don't offer accommodation, but you might be able to sleep on a bench if things get desperate!)  With two of the three ales being Marstons (we went for the Allendale, and quality it was), I asked if they were owned by them but was glad to hear they were a free house.  Turns out it was in Mr GB's family two generations back, it then skipped a generation, before the option to buy it came available when the previous landlord ran off with a barmaid!  'Everything happens for a reason' we agreed.  She then told us about her temperamental hens and Stanhope's popular open air swimming pool, which (if open) you'd have to have been brave to jump in on a day like this!

Back at the bus stop, unfortunately situated in the middle of temporary roadwork traffic lights for added 'will they / won't they' peril, the rain was sideways again by now.  A bus appeared, but he just opened his door and shouted "I'M NOT YOUR BUS, BUT HE ISN'T FAR AWAY" or whatever the N.E. accent equivalent is.  Just sounded like a load of vowels to me.

And as if to accentuate the feeling that Stanhope was the absolute end of the line and anywhere further west was the back of beyond, it was a minibus which arrived to take us on to pub two, the furthest one out at St John's Chapel.

As we hit barren landscape, the rain turned to heavy snow and we were both paranoid as to whether this pub would actually be open.  I won't lie, 'twas a HUGE relief when I saw the door open .......

Dad looks animated

We were greeted by a very pleasant young barman at Blue Bell Inn, St John's Chapel (1730 / 2947) and gentle giant pub dog, Boris, who dropped his favourite toy at my feet, perhaps hinting it was in contention to be Martin the Owl's replacement as BRAPA mascot 2020.  Still no decision has been made, but I politely declined Boris's offer.  The barman was shocked when I announced I had a better phone signal here than in Stanhope, and then there was the inevitable but amiable 'weather' chat.  With a roaring fire in the front room, pool table at the back, and every single customer (okay, there was only about three of them) saying 'hi' wherever in the pub you went, this was a glittering village gem, and although it perhaps wasn't as memorable as the Grey Bull (we were here for a limited time before the minibus came back the other way), part of me enjoyed it just as much, as it was a pub that kind of allowed you to 'breathe' away from the relative jovial mayhem!  A local went to take an eager Boris for a walk, Dad meanwhile was suffering from the kind of nosebleeds he only usually gets in a Catholic club (remember Billingham?) with the constant change in temperature.  I had to neck my pint to some degree, and when I told the barman we were sad to rush and leave so quickly, I was entirely genuine, but he was so much in his element watching Sco v Italy Six Nations in front of the fire, we seriously doubted whether he minded that there were customers in or not!  Lovely pub. 

Errrm thanks Boris, but I think I'll pass!

Picture of the pub in the summer (something I'll never see!)
We couldn't afford to miss the minibus as we'd have a two hour wait, and strictly speaking, we'd set off from York a lot later than we should've done so were already working off a tightish schedule.  So it was a good job the bus services was reliable today.  

He turned up on time, true to form.  Now the next GBG village along was Westgate which didn't open til 6:30pm so that was out of the equation.  I'm hoping summer hours are more generous.  After that came Eastgate, we'd seen from the window that it was open, but it pairs well with Westgate and being on the '2 hourly route', I decided we should get back to Stanhope and get back to the '1 hourly route' as we could still make up six pubs for the day.  Phew!  You keeping up with these tactics?  

Bit of a surprise when the minibus actually stopped to let a bloke on.  Even more of a surprise that rather than saying "Single to Stanhope, driver" he just launches in with "I'll tell you who's died .... Keith Reid!"  I couldn't stop laughing.  Tricky in a confined space.  Dad gave me a sausage roll to shut me up.  RIP Keith Reid. 

Back in Stanhope, of course we had to hop off the minibus and hop on a bigger one, which took us down to our next village where after the help of the lovely Diane in the Grey Bull, we knew was the one just down the bank nestled in the valley that Dad spied earlier.......

On a day of scintillating pubs (especially the first four), the Black Bull, Frosterley (1731 / 2948) managed to be the ultimate stand out favourite of the day for us both.  It had one of those unquantifiable timeless qualities from the moment you stepped inside and saw the sepia / tobacco tinged walls, the impressive collection of jugs hanging from the ceiling, the creaking mutli roomed layout, it even smelt of your mother's finest Christmas dinner!  It didn't so much feel like a pub from another era, but from a different dimension.  The Scottish landlady was super welcoming, and the Sonnet 43 Milk Stout was the dark beer we'd been crying out for, and lacking up to this point.   'There's no weird ale in Weardale'.  I'm trademarking that.   'No we don't want to look at a menu, we're smuggling our sausage rolls from Dad's bag' is something I didn't actually say out loud.  One gripe, the ticking clock.  Tick tick tick, non stop, for an hour.  A very small gripe!  A lady overheard me bemoaning the lack of phone signal down here in the valley not allowing me to check the exact time of our next bus.  Her attempts to assist were fairly hopeless, but with the help of the landlady, we soon got it figured out.  Humphrey Smith would've barred me.  But don't think there was no drama here.  "We had a frog causing chaos on the doorstep earlier, customers couldn't get past it!"  I wondered how big this frog had actually been?!  You know, there was the odd dining family and even an element of twildery in here, and yet, it didn't damage my enjoyment of the pub in any way.  Sign of a true classic.  

Ey up lads, steady on!

You know you're in a rural pub when the horses have their own bogs

Could honestly stay here all afternoon

We were clawing back the time nicely.  Could we get our remaining three ticks in?  Could the day stay this great?  Of course not!  Join me Wednesday (probably) for part two.

Thanks for reading, it is always appreciated.


Friday 21 February 2020


"Howay Spuggie, lass".  "Naw Fraser, I'm tellin' Geoff on yous!"  Bang bang. "He cannit see man!" 

Oh, Byker Grove.  What a fantastic programme that was for those of you who grew up in my generation of the nineties.  The perfect 17:10 prelude to Neighbours with Grange Hill starting to lose its way a bit.  When I went to University in Sunderland and learned that Byker was actually a REAL place, I could scarcely believe.

Byker has treated me well pubwise over the years.  First came the Cluny, a wonderful live music venue.  Cumberland Arms came next, my absolute favourite looking down on all that surrounds it.  And you can't fail to enjoy the Free Trade, a carefully cultivated old pub on the banks of the Tyne almost like a museum piece. 

So to be here in the year of our lord 2020 with two new GBG ticks just shows how much demand their is for quality ale in the area.  Brewery Tap's perhaps wouldn't be my first choice of venue type, but with a battered yellow Beer Guide, (fairly) open mind and slight sense of trepidation, I stepped off the Metro into the wicked Tyneside air.

I remembered the strangely colourful houses.  'You could be on Burano near Venice, but with less glassblowing and lace making' I mused for a second, before colliding with a man in a dirty vest taking his rubbish out.  We both apologised and laughed.  He patted my back.  You don't get this in Italy. 

An unassuming small door, half ajar, greeted me across a bleak grassy area near a depressing looking industrial unit.  Here was my first pub ........

I was quite awe-struck on arrival at Tyne Bank Tap Room (1727 / 2944) as it opened into this huge tardis of a brewery and bar area.  No wonder their slogan is "It is what is on the inside that counts", I felt like I'd walked through the wardrobe into Narnia.  And plenty of bearded men to rival Mr Tumnus , or in some cases Aslam.  The staff wore expressions like the White Witch, though you won't find any Moorhouses in here (look, Si tried to do a beer joke).  Yes, it was quite a stern, serious place to match the metallic industrial surroundings, and asking for my pint of 'Monument' felt akin to going to an NHS walk-in centre and asking for brisk advice on a rectal matter.  The only other two customers anywhere near me discussed the beers with some ferocity, and my view into the brewery showed a bloke mopping a floor and not much else.  Whenever I look into a brewery, all I ever see is floor-mopping, so this was reassuring.  Most Tyne Bank ales I've tried are too strongly flavoured for me, so I was surprised that this Monument felt very mellow, though I still expected to find a sinister goblin lurking in the shadows saying "What's the matter BRAPA boy, afraid you might taste something?"  And how Narnia would that have been? 

Dale and Louise - let's party like it's 1996!

I continued on a kind of circular route through Byker, the light now fading as I started to turn back towards the Metro station, and found my second pub lurking not too far away ......

Very similar entrance to Tyne Bank

Well that is reassuring!

So although on the surface, the similarities between Tyne Bank and this, Brinkburn Street Bar & Kitchen (1728 / 2945) seemed obvious, you couldn't get two more different styles.  Walking down the stairs into the bar area felt more like being in Manchester, at the Brink or Gas Lamp for example.  With softer, pubbier furnishings and a cosier intimate feel, I seemed destined to enjoy this one more.  And yet, I didn't.  For all the '....Friendly' notices on the way in, it didn't strike me as a particularly friendly place as group stern faced women served me a Byker Brown Ale without moving one facial muscle giving off a real 'Robert Palmer backing band' vibe.  I joined a few other customers at the far end of a low slung leather sofa, but not even a smidgen of eye contact was made as every single person was buried up to their eyeballs in phones, tablets and laptops.  No one said a word.  I felt restless, bored and alone.  Suddenly, Tyne Bank felt like an old colleague I'd never truly appreciated.  Having said that, the Brown Ale was a marked improvement on the Monument.  Time to get back to the Toon, as it was later than I think.

I seemed to make a meal out of getting back into Newcastle proper, and was almost rushing back to the Station.  I needn't have worried as my train was cancelled, and a train man told me I had to wait a full hour for the next Transpennine! 

Fuming, for I had work tomorrow and now they were FORCING me to go for another pint.  Oh well, only one thing for it, my fave all time Newcastle pub, Bodega.  

It was every bit as good as I remember it, my debut here in 2008 was one of my favourite Hull City pre-match drinks of all time.  I had to sit in the middle of the room on a high table though, and this drew attention to my GBG which I had out on the table for absolutely no reason.  A nice man with a good knowledge of the Northumberland CAMRA pubs came along to chat.  Even in my state, I couldn't help notice his accent wasn't local.  "No I'm from Swansea but got bored of the pubs there so moved to the North East!"  Sounds sensible to me, but I still made him chat Upper Killay and Mumbles whether he wanted to or not.  Soon though, time was up and this time, the train wasn't cancelled!

The classic 'I've aged 10 years after 6 pints' end of night photo.

Little did I know, it'd be my last BRAPA pub for NINE days and last beer for a full week for I caught a sickness and diarrhoea bug (probably picked up at some point today, can we blame the guy taking his rubbish out?) and had to cancel my Blyth trip on the Saturday.  

I started drinking again yesterday, at Saltaire Beer Festival where I tried to drink a beer beginning with every letter of the alphabet in order.  In the end, I only made it to 'O' ...... here was the situation by L:

Tomorrow, I'm back in County Durham with Father BRAPA, as there are only so many times you can go to Preston and live to tell the tale.


Wednesday 19 February 2020


"I can name you FOUR pubs that have closed down on this stretch of road in the last twenty years .... and there's been plenty of murders around here I could tell you about too!"

Let's be honest, I'd had more cheerful taxi journeys in my almost six years of BRAPA, but I liked Stan.  He was an effortlessly entertaining chap, whether that was his intention or not.

Thursday last week, and having recovered from my Blackburn escapades on the Tuesday, I was taking advantage of a bonus day off work with a trip up to County Durham / Tyne & Wear with the objective of visiting six new pubs.  I was delighted to be back, seriously!

Frustratingly, I'd spent a great deal of time working out a 'public transport solution' for my first pub, and thought I'd cracked it with the '22 Sapphire' bus going straight past the pub, but the two nearest stops were a 15 minute walk each, the road had no pavement, but a hairy grass verge with crazy traffic, puddles and heavy rain.  I didn't want to get squashed before my time, hence I was in Stan's cab.

Once we'd escaped the so-called notorious Sherburn area of Durham, it wasn't long before we were pulling up at the pub, and looking at the location 'on the ground', a taxi had been the right call.  I asked Stan to give me 27.5 minutes and wait, which he agreed to.

"BRAPA's on his way in, hide"
Three Horseshoes, Running Waters (1724 / 2941) was the awkward venue in question, one of those residential establishments which excites the pub ticker with their '7am opening' claims, only for you to then find out you can't get an ale until noon.  I WILL get a 7am pint one day, but for now, Draper's Arms Peterborough's 7:40am still holds the BRAPA record.  It was 11:59am when I was presented with my Wells Bombardier (a satisfying victory), real ale didn't feel like a real focal point of them and where I might have expected a fresh ale with hints of raspberry jam (like the one I had in a pub in Flitton, Beds which the 2014 GBG mentioned in my pre-brewery ripping days), it was bang average!  In fact, the whole experience was quite underwhelming looking back, the pub tried hard but it was simply a posh pensioners luncheon meet-up.  My emergency Newcastle Brown Ale beermat was inevitably required, and I got some funny looks for it, but it was a poor BM choice on my part!  As a former Sunderland student, I should've known better.  The empty back room I'd retired to soon filled up with posh oldsters.  County Durham?  I could've been in Surrey!  'Mwah, mwah, hug, hug', went two couples meeting up for the first time in months.  "We're just back from Portugal, but we're off to Goa on Monday!"  "Not a bad life is it?" roared the others.  Sheesh, seems Thatcher's Britain didn't hit everyone as hard up here!  Well, I was aware Stan was waiting and this was one of the easier pubs to depart.  He better not have kept that meter running......

Not my finest beermat moment!

View of my table, before the diners arrived

Nice view out towards Sherburn Hill

Stan hadn't kept the meter running, in fact he'd reset it to £0.00.  Maybe he'd forget about the first journey?!  He was in an even more lugubrious mood than the one I'd left him in, if that was possible, so I made a few Running Waters related jokes to try and cheer him up, and told him that I'd worked out that it made more sense to take me straight to Leamside than back to Durham Bus Station.

"Must be an expensive hobby for you this!" he says.  'Don't charge me then Stanley!  I won't tell your bosses'.

Leamside had zero bus service, but West Rainton does and isn't far away, and neither is Houghton-le-Spring where I had a nice Spoonsy tick on the same route.  The day was taking shape.  I thanked Stan for all his efforts, he didn't forget to charge me (ouch, but it would've been worse on the Berks/Hants border) and left me with the typically Stan observation "This pub'll be similar to your last one I'm afraid!" 

Well Stanley, that's simply not accurate because apart from the name Three Horseshoes (1725 / 2942), the Leamside take on the 3H concept was FAR more pleasing to the BRAPA senses.  And certainly my pub of the day.  What a pleasant surprise.  A massive dog (not twog) stretched out in front of a fire blocked most of the space to right, and I felt so sorry for the owner, a lovely chap who just wanted to read his newspaper and have a pint in peace, but because the dog was so iconic, no one (not even cat loving me) could resist a stroke and little chat about what a magnificent creature it was.  "He's well behaved occasionally" the owner told me, but such a docile thing, I thought he was very well behaved until much later on, he leapt up at me from nowhere, squaring up to me eye-to-eye, practically pinning me to the bar!  Just my BRAPA luck.  I swear about ten other customers came over for a stroke, and he barely moved a muscle.  Talking of docile and sleepy, service was very slow in trying to get my Lucky Crown ale from Working Hand, a brewery with the most unnecessarily ginormous pumpclips since Donkeystone.  You could take one to Newquay and go for a surf on it.  Ok, so to the left, plenty of food going on, but everything was £3.95 and came with chips, and it was still very much 'people eating grub in a pub' and nothing else.  Oh, and what an absolute bugger that latch on the toilet door is.  TWICE I got locked out of the main room cos I couldn't fathom it out.  Dog owner was sympathetic but by the second time, he must've been thinking I'm a simpleton.  Still, I'd recommend this pub to just about anybody, really good.

Big pump clips, absent bar staff

My fellow 'right side' comrades

Left side, boo. It's something n chips mate, so you can take your trendy cap off

A happy pub scene

Probably that dog's dream (I'm the one in the kennel) 
West Rainton was a much further walk than I imagined, and I'd already missed one bus when to my horror, another one sped up and I was somehow about to miss that too but the bus driver must've had amazing mind reading skills because he pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted him to stop!  So I nodded and jogged onwards to the bus stop.  Legend.  Makes up for that bus that just catfished me in Medomsley a few weeks back!

I've always wanted to do Houghton-le-Spring, but have been put off by two factors.  Firstly, I didn't think it 'paired' particularly well with any other required BRAPA pubs, but then again, I'd only been looking north towards Sunderland, where I've done all the GBG ones.  I didn't occur to me until today's trip that it works well with County Durham too.

And secondly, I always struggle with the 'Houghton' pronunciation.  I know it isn't like Ray Houghton (How-ton), I know it isn't like Steph Houghton (Hor-ton), so what does that leave, Hoe-ton?  I think that is closest.  I tried to get a Day Rover to avoid saying it, but then, being the helpful driver he was, he asks where I am going anyway!  It defeated the object.  I think I got away with it anyway, and no passengers were pissing themselves laughing and throwing rotten tomatoes at me as my trousers fell down around my ankles like in my dream/every time I go to Cardiff.

The town, when we arrived, looked like a pleasant place, a bit like Valencia but not really ......

Hidden around the corner in abject shame, like your Uncle Willy after THAT incident in 1983 at Kelso Races with the elephant impression with his trouser pockets, was this deliciously concrete Wetherspoons ......


Never judge a book by its cover of course, and that was true of Wild Boar, Houghton-le-Spring (1726 / 2943) a throbbing hive of wet weekday afternoon conviviality, and beer was being drunk at the kind of rate you normally only see in Wigan on a Saturday night in July, table after table of groups of older men inebriated in a kind of wholesome companionship which told you everything was right with the world.  It was quite tight for a 'Spoons, the lower than usual roof and pillars in the main area at least gave it more of a 'pubby' feel than many of its contemporaries. I'd nearly not got in at all as a bloke was fixing the door on a ladder with his giant tool, and thought I was weird for hesitating, and I must admit my ale from the Hull area was not the best, strangely fizzy, which was a slight shame considering how much I wanted to like the place.  Don't blame Hull by the way!  In the bogs, a flamboyantly friendly young chap in an Aldi uniform introduced himself and we chatted Sunderland pubs and then he recommended me a gin bar!  Later he offered me a pint which was kind of him, but I explained BRAPA doesn't allow for second pints and I had to get on a bus.  Oh, and if you didn't think Houghton-le-Spring could get any better, Martin Taylor's fake aunt off of the Second World War lived here. 

I jumped on the first bus I could see, Sunderland bound.  Now could I get three more pubs in before my train back from Newcastle just after 7pm?  I'll tell you about that in part two, but probably on Friday as I'm off to a 'beer festival' (not as good as a pub is it?) in Saltaire tomorrow night.

Take care, Si