Dorking. The bane of my pub ticking week. But quite a handy transport interchange, it must be said.
What with three railway stations, and handy bus links to those 'difficult to reach round the rim' Surrey outliers, shame it couldn't produce on the pub front, or I'd be tempted to stay there on a future visit.
Anyway, that is where I found myself at approximately 12 noon on Wednesday, two weeks back, on the main busy drag just down from Deepdene and Main, waiting for a bus that wasn't showing any signs of turning up. I could hear the voice of BRAPA legend and O.G. Squad Member Tom Irvin on the wind. "Siiiiiii, care, remember what I said about revised tiiiiimetables" came his ginger bearded voice on the crest of a brisk south westerly.
I check the times, then, a bit like Santa, I'm checking them twice. I think I've cracked it. Different times from those advertised! But wait, I'm looking at a Saturday timetable. Ooops. Luckily, I look up just in time to see the bus careering around the bend. 20 mins late. I stick out a desperate arm. He stops, with a look that seems to suggest he thinks I definitely don't want this bus.
"Parkgate please" I ask. "Huh?" "It is near Newdigate" "Newdigate, yuhhhhrrr" "Errrm, have you heard of a pub called the Surrey Oaks?" "Oh yeah mate, why didn't ya say?" And finally, we're off. I'm the only customer the whole way, as the lanes become more narrow and low tree branches scrape the roof, and leaves and twigs come flying in through the open windows getting stuck in my hair.
I'm relieved to get off in one piece. Weather is glorious. Pub looks nice.
Pub IS nice. Very nice. A bit like our Clandon finisher last night, this must be top 5 for the entire week. I got the sense of a 'real ale institution' as much as simply 'pub', here at the Surrey Oaks, Newdigate (1783 / 3000). I often find that intimidating, but it wasn't here. They call it the 'Soaks', makes sense I guess, VAST amounts of beer on offer like I've never seen before or since during my Surrey holiday. I say 'seen', I mean briefly glanced. For I'd barely adjusted to the light, when a kindly young barmaid/hostess/waitress/server (no idea what to call them in these Coviddy times) swoops down upon me and extracts me out of the bent,warped, historic interior, into what I must say was an equally impressive garden. As vast as the number of ales on offer. And proper too. This is what I like about Surrey pub gardens, they actually ARE gardens. Great examples yesterday you might recall at places like West Horsley and Leatherhead. Gardens with grass, and proper benches. And just as much life as you find within the pub. Not just smoking areas with cheap decking and a slab of pissy concrete. This one resembles Monkey World AND the Wicker Man, at the same time. "I'll have to walk with you so I know where you are sitting" she tells me handing me a track n trace form en route. "I'm on a Surrey pub tour and I keep being constantly surprised how good these pubs are, when people have been telling me Surrey doesn't have much to offer!" I tell her, an indication of my 'blown away' mind. I don't think she was quite ready for such an outburst! Now I could've been a real bastard here and walked the full length of the garden, she'd have had a very long walk, but I take pity and position myself not too far from the back door. Thing is, the pub is BUSY. 12:30pm, Wednesday, Covid times, and pub inside and out, full of drinkers and diners. I was the only customer this time in Horsley yesterday. 'Do you know what you want to drink?' she asks hopefully. 'What ales do you have on?' I ask even more hopefully. She looks pained' 'I'd .... I'd, have to go back in!" her lower lip trembles, but luckily, I spotted Oakham Inferno out of the corner of my eye before I was whisked away, luckily it is very recognisable and was right on the end. Good job I didn't want anything from one of the 1500 keggy taps isn't it? Soon, a bloke who MUST be the landlord cos he had a real charisma and presence about him is roaming the grounds like a happy Sasquatch. Asking people how they are. It is he who finally brings my drink (I won't complain about the long delay, doesn't suit the narrative!) We have a brief chat on weather and pub toilets and beer or something. Top guy. Made the effort despite the volume of customers tinkling empty glasses and raising their arms. I sit in the sun enjoying my Inferno, getting a bit sunburnt. Colin is being peered at by a group of geeky looking students. I'm glad. He doesn't deserve to get forgotten in this winning tale of my 3,000th gross GBG pub, and it wasn't even planned like this! I go for a wee and 'half' return my glass (to a nearer table), a gnarly group of old locals with heads shaped like prize turnips are inhabiting the main bar, presiding over the handpumps, glaring at me in a 'fuck off back outside' type of way. This is how pub life should be. A classic.
Buoyed by that winning experience, I decide to take the plunge into the first truly BRAPA-esque scary roadwalk of the holiday. There's a GBG pub about 3 miles off. But public transport is close to non-existent, next bus not for hours. The weather is so good, and I'm in good spirits, why not?
I almost change my mind within the first minute. A huge lorry was trying to pass two cyclists, with a white van trying to get past on my side. All I could do was stand waist deep in nettles on the verge and gulp.
Luckily, it was never QUITE that bad after that, though pretty hair raising all the same. The road wasn't quiet, the grass verge not always sufficient, and I spent a lot of time acknowledging thoughtful motorists and scowling at those less so, sweating, and drinking a lot of water to keep me hydrated in this increasing heat, popping into the odd hedge or farmers field for a pee.
I realised these situations play a big part of BRAPA for me, a sort of adrenaline rush. Mercifully, I finally turned down a quieter lane and 20 minutes or so later, I stumbled into the pub entrance, shattered but not broken ......
|"As much as we could all use a hug..." PUKE ALERT|
Brunning & Price eh? What a chain of pubs! I take the piss out of them. From Cheshire to Surrey, and everything in between. But truth be told, I kind of respect what they do. High end. Characterful enough not to be too identikit. You can't go into a B&P and complain, you should know what to expect. More honest than Ember, less weird than Antic, more like the high-end of 'Spoons really. Unashamed in their attempts to provide a whiff of grandeur. This one, Fox Revived, Norwood Hill (1784 / 3001) was a poor example of the chain in my opinion, lacking any discernible grandeur, and dare I say it, character. The sweeping country house entrance wasn't there, the posh rugs were minimal, the quirky Victorian art not as prominent, it just didn't cut it. Five minutes waiting at the reception desk, hidden out of view from the staff/pub, I finally got itchy feet and tentatively stepped inside. I was immediately shooed back to where I'd come from for a convoluted check-in process. 'No room outside, fully booked so it'll have to be inside' she apologises, but I'm more than happy for some shade in a corner by a random basket of magazines on a flashy leather armchair I was always going to stick to, literally. My beer was 'ok'. The staff smiled a lot from being their perspex shields. They set me up a tab to pay at the end .... "No. PLEASE DON'T DO THAT....." too late! I deliberately meandered slowly to the toilet, hugging the area by the bar as much as possible, just so I could deliberately bump into a member of staff and get my bill early! I hate hanging around in pubs needlessly. Ticking is time consuming enough. B'ah humbug, time to go, and my proposed nickname 'Zombie Renard' still hasn't caught on.
Did I have the motivation for an even more ridiculous walk? Probably not but I'd have to try.
Join me for tales of that in part 10 on Sunday evening. Gosh, I might finish Surrey blogging by September at this rate!