Wednesday 30 September 2020


It had been a mixed day in Northants so far.  Kettering had been mean and moody yet an excellent pub, Loddington had offered a glimmer despite some dining banality, and a peculiar taxi experience / train journey combo to Wellingborough had convinced me that today would need to be filed under the 'strange' category (although that could account for 95% of BRAPA trips in fairness).  

Having walked 15 minutes into Wellingborough centre, pub three was waiting for me ......

If the Coach & Horses, Wellingborough (1860 / 3077) looked a bit airy fairy from the outside with boring inn sign, craft beer, pizza and Brewdog blackboards, once inside, my initial thought was 'wow, I've finally hit the jackpot here!'  The lady who greets me, we'll call her Tracey, Track n' Tracey, is so delighted that I've downloaded the new NHS app for checking in purposes, she makes a point of thanking me.  Take that Piper!  The pub is a dark, wooden Aladdin's Cave, festooned with pump clips and 'breweriana' (if that's a word, it shouldn't be, awful) with signs, adverts and mirrors of pub times past. The beer range is insane, 12 handpumps, 4 craft ones, and 15 ciders!  It wasn't long before the alarm bells started ringing.  Can't go wrong with a Salopian, right?  Well, this Darwin's Origin started out 'tired' and was descending into vinegar by the end, I purposefully left some.  Too many ales on?  Definitely.   Being barked at (twice) not by dogs, but by people, as I tried to follow the one way system round to the gents didn't help, neither did an irritatingly vocal student trio, but the scales were rapidly falling from eyes.  The pub suddenly seemed all style, and very little substance.  A quirky looking lady eyed Colin from afar, but when I turned to smile, she looked away.  An old man on day release (care home?  prison?) was ushered in for a pint.  Trying to get him to follow the guidelines seemed a trial.  "We tried to stay in Kettering, but just ended up back here!" explained a lady, asking for a caramel gin.   A pub that promised so much on arrival, but had delivered so little by departure.

I felt quite poorly as I ran to Wellingborough's makeshift bus station to catch a bus out to two villages beginning with the letter 'E'.  Again, time seemed to be against me today.  

Once there, a strange young man with a giant bottle of Lucozade appears at my shoulder and starts twitching (not in a bird watching way) and making excitable noises, not dissimilar to those Chris Tarrant used to make on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  

At the same time, Northants #PubMan of the year 2019 Mark Shirley and Leicester #PubWoman of the Year 2021 Laura Hadland are teasing me about a Micropub in Corby which definitely isn't preemptive.  Candle or something.  Why does Corby never have anything in the GBG?  It is a Northants Basildon isn't it? 

All this going on whilst I'm trying to flag down this delayed bus, who seems reluctant to stop for me despite the bus station setting!  Yes, I was feeling the pressure.

I go to the furthest one out, despite being desperate for a wee again (cos I didn't wanna go again in Coach & Horses and get snapped at again).  The village is really pretty, despite more psychotic looking locals, this on the sign ....

Welcome to Ecton, proceed at your peril

Nice church sticking out.  Is the pub even open though?  

I admit, they had me panicking for a second here at the Three Horseshoes, Ecton (1861 / 3078) but it is one of those 'side entrance only' jobbies, hence the lack of life on first glance.  It is a rare 'pen & paper' check in, but I follow the bar round and plonk myself at a table, surrounded by totally wired old blokes, who smile and seem delighted to be here and drinking together.  The Oakham JHB is superb, perhaps even more so after my last ale experience, and the landlady comes over to chat to me and ask about Colin and what my game is.  True, inside, it felt more modern than the supposed 1757 date, but there was such an authenticity about the place and people within, it was easily my pub of the day.  A bloke in cricket whites is telling a cricketing anecdote.  Then I got a bit of a fright as they started talking about 16 year olds that were maturing nicely, so was quite relieved when I realised they were talking about whiskies.  Not that they were totally innocent, they were later forced to apologise to our fave Northants landlady for some comments about Amanda Holden which might've involved tits.  Maybe the lucozade twitcher was back?  Nevertheless, I covered Colin's ears, and #WokeSi2020 shook his head in disgust.   This was a fantastic pub experience.  It had been a trying day, this pub made it all worth it.

Okay, there's no need for that!  Toilet decor.

The main gang - lovely guys

Our hero does important pub work, and another smiley gang

Ready for a quick getaway, scarred by Amanda Holden chat

The bus is ten minutes behind schedule, or is that a new revised time?  That is the question a young chap and me are debating.  We try and ask the driver when we reach Earls Barton, the next village along, but he somehow mistakes this for "please can you drop us off in the centre of the village instead of the outskirts?"  Not sure how.

This is the prelude to the final, and strangest pub of the day! 

Looks pretty normal so far, yes? 

Hmmm, so it is hard to know how much the Saxon Tavern, Earls Barton (1862 / 3079) was trying to be quirky and humorous, and how much of it was accidental.  Perhaps 50/50.  It is a micropub, a large one at that, but surprising to see in a semi-rural village.   Presumably, they lost all their old pubs and the locals needed something, so this opened.  Good on 'em!  I wander in, all eyes on me, people dotted about on colourful furniture.  Only one ale on, hurrah, that's the way to do it.  Guess what, it is in great nick.  'Woodcock's Relish' it is called.  Absolutely everyone is drinking it.  I've never heard the words 'Woodcock's Relish' said so many times in a half hour period.   The barmaid is friendly.  "Cash is good, we like cash!" she tells me, this is rare.  Sat down, chatting to her and giant pub dog Monty is a guy who might be the owner.  He warns Monty against the perils of getting a pork scratching stuck down your windpipe.  Monty isn't listening.  He tries to empower the barmaid by telling her she can have her dinner anywhere she wants in the world, but she reluctantly says she's already opted for Northampton.  The toilets are upstairs, clearly marked, but I can't get in.  I wait patiently in case someone is having a quiet poo.  But after a few mins, no stirrings from within, I return to the bar and enquire.  She unhooks this massive key from a perspex divider, and without a word, hands me it.  Wow, my 3079th pub and don't think I've been given a toilet key before, certainly not one that looks like it belongs in a Tolkein novel.   When I return, Monty (described as a walking dustbin) is sniffing out the BRAPA snacks from my bag.  Colin isn't proving an effective guard Cauliflower.  After a bit of cringe virus talk (I'm sure the locals were reading off a script to sound 'in the know with current affairs'), an old bloke arrives but no seats are available!  Time to turn him away like what happened to me in Upminster and Dorking?  Not a bit of it.  They pick up a spare perspex divide, plonk it on my table, thus cutting my space by 50% so he can sit down.  'It's okay' I say, 'I'm going anyway, you can have the whole lot!'  Astounding pub effort.

Bloke on right had a real 'pub ticker' vibe about him throughout

And today's banned word is ........?

Back in Wellingborough, it is decision time.  I'm back off the 8pm from King's Cross, so really need to be on a train just after 6pm out of Wellingborough.  Plus it is a 15-20 min walk back to Welly station.  Shame as I still have the 'Little Ale House' to do.  But they want you to phone ahead.  What's more, Mark Shirley has mentioned a 'Little R'Ale House'.  This isn't even the same thing!  And right next to the station.  Preemptive?  But I spend so long debating it, I end up running out of time to do either! 

Furthermore, the main station entrance is closed and it takes me and this bloke ages to work out of to get in! 

Shame really, I'd worked so hard to get from A to B as quickly as possible today, what with the taxi, and plenty of 'quick drinking up' efforts so I could get the next bus/train to wherever, and I've only managed five instead of six ticks.  Oh well, that's BRAPA life.

At least it means I have no qualms about going the full ESB when I arrive at Parcel Yard, feeling in much soberer state than this might suggest ......

It is a lot busier today than two weeks back, where I sat alone in the dark and felt very drunk after Gravesend.  A man reading an intelligent novel hears my phone charger drop on the floor, so we have a quick chat about dropping expensive equipment that lasts all of 5 seconds.  And then, who should turn up but Twitter fave and low-key pub ticker extraordinaire Eddie Fogden, in hi-vis, on his way back from a productive pub ticking day around the Rochford area, which is high on the BRAPA agenda! 

He's ticked more pubs than me, but doesn't make a song and dance about his ticking like I do.  Very nice chap, great to finally meet him.  Young too.  You don't get many young tickers.

He necks his pint impressively quickly as he's on the 7:30, I then get a lovely message from Minneapolis about my Parcel Yard check ins making one feel good about the world.  Nice to hear.  And ESB always makes one feel warm and fuzzy after a hard day's ticking.

Enjoyable day despite the challenges, and I'd love to do more of Northants. Not too many pubs, but quite a few rural no bus / no train buggers to test my planning skills!   But alas, I've gotta focus on North Hants now which is almost an anagram of Northants.

See ya Fri for my month end review.


Monday 28 September 2020


Believe it or not, there was a point in my dark past than I was totally unaware of the Good Beer Guide's existence.   

I knew I loved pubs.  That was a given since I was in the womb (which is like a warm micropub with more sociable opening hours, if you think about it), I knew I loved Hull City away days, so in the awkward period circa 1997-2001, Dad and I chose pubs based on 'how they looked from the outside'.   

18th November 2000 was one such example of that, my only previous outing to Kettering for a grim 1st round FA Cup 0-0 in the rain on an open terrace. So forgive me for not remembering the pub name, it simply didn't seem important back then.  Cherry Tree?  Alexandra?  It certainly wasn't the one I visited today just after 11am .......

Because, quite ironically as it turns out, the Piper, Kettering (1858 / 3075) is exactly the kind of pub that wouldn't appeal to Si2000 from the outside, a flat roofed estatey effort in an off centre location.  If you didn't know, you'd probably expect it to be keg only.  Si2020 now knows that you can't judge a book by its cover.  Bonus point for the 11am opening, as the pub opens out into a cosy, warm traditional boozer with bench seating and carpet.  There's a smell of cooking and the sound of singing coming from the kitchen.  What a first pub to have to wear a facemask in!  The curmudgeonly guv'nor isn't here for my jovial mask and track n trace banter, and I later read he's a CAMRA member who has been here 29 years, maybe 30 now, so that might explain it.  I'm excited the new NHS Track & Trace App has worked first time, and when I go to show him, he tells me not to bother, he believes me.   "But ...but, that's not why I was showing you....." I say, but my voice trails off.  "You can take your mask off now!" he barks, jeez I'd only been sat down five seconds.  He brings me a good quality pint of Harvest Pale in a nicely worn away Castle Rock glass.  I ask if I can pay now so he has to go back for the reader, he glares one final time, and then disappears to join Mrs Piper in the kitchen.  I don't see him again.  Kettering folk had already seemed a grizzly bunch on my walk down, and Wellingborough wouldn't be much better!  Tough crowd in Northants today.  After that, I just settle into my pint and the gentle pubbub, the distant warblings of our hostess keep me entertained.  'Oh What a Night' / 'You Lost that Lovin' Feelin' / 'The Greatest Love of All'.  A fine medley.  Her Christmas album is on the way.  As I peer into the kitchen to say thanks and bye (neither see me), I spy that she is chopping broccoli.  Close shave for Colin.

Well I was impressed anyway!

A lengthier than expected walk takes me into Kettering town centre.  In today's 'Kettering Highlight', I see a man with a six pack of Wotsits and a cabbage leaving Tesco Express.  So now you know what they eat.  Well played that man.

I've heard the other GBG tick in town, Three Cocks is still closed , they've cited 'vagueness of government guidelines / council restrictions' as the reason.  Okay then.  Oh well, despite the rain now teeming down, I go to have a look just in case .....

And a sign on the door confirms shut until further notice.  Strike it out of the 2020 Guide! (but if it reappears in the future, of course I'll need to go back to give it another go).

My other reason for making my way to the town centre is I'm looking for a taxi to take me to the village of Loddington, 3 miles west down a pavementless A road.  I find a taxi rank where a hefty dude under an awning shelters from the rain and says "if we are going in the same direction, we can share....." 

I'm glad when he's never heard of Loddington, but he spends the next five minutes telling me how nice it was of him to offer me the opportunity, 'not many people wouldn't done!'  Alright mate, what do you want, a medal?  Bag of wotsits?  Cabbage?   (He doesn't once budge up to allow me to share the shelter).

Like buses, two taxis turn up at once and he heaves his overwrought damp frame into the first, and I get in the one behind.  Quite an effort to get the driver to know where I want to go, but to be fair, he's 100% on the route once we get going.  Been ages since a good taxi 'cheat', but I feel I deserve it.  Research told me the Loddington bus service was cancelled in 2018.

I tell him I'll only be 27.5 minutes if he can hang around (not keeping the meter running of course!) and he tries to argue it down to 20, so he obviously doesn't know BRAPA rules, so I argue it up to 25 and he reluctantly agrees.  

Front of pub under overcast skies

Side door is main door

Hare at Loddington. Loddington (1859 / 3076) and I hope you agree that when you get out to a rural pub with 'at' in the name, it can only mean one thing, and that is 'pretty, twee, gastro by numbers dining hole offering very little for the pub purist'.   But give 'em their due, I'm greeted by a fabulous friendly guy who (obscure cultural reference coming up.....) reminds me Robot Redford, the gold assistant of Grotbags on Rod Hull & Emu.   He directs me to a table in what might be the more 'pubby' area in that it isn't separate from the main bar and has a 'bottled Bass' sign, but to me, is just a shiny floor with a random pile of logs not doing much.  Quite well to do, the kind of pub where Colin wipes his bum before he sits on the table.   RR hands me over to the friendly Alice, wearing her mustard trousers like a boss.  She brings me a pint of something called 5C and my word, pint of the day right here and now.  Totally drinkable, top quality.  Well done the Lodd.  My only sight of a fellow customer is when an ancient man appears from the dining room to ask for his pepper pot changing as his one is stuck!  He hadn't put his mask on to conduct this upright exchange, so probably should've been tasered on the spot.  Never mind.  The Track n Trace biro ran out (was amazed this place was less electronic than the Piper) as the clock ticked down to the 25 minute mark, as I was reflecting on other pubs introducing 'at' into the title.  Cambridge Blue at Cambridge?  CoopersMegaLolzTav@GoodOle'BurtieBurts?  Don't sound as good do they?  Best not keep Mr Taxi waiting.  I say bye to RR & Alice, and it's back to the car park.

Bit of a shock back in the car park. Taxi is there, but no one is home!  I glance around, and in the time honoured tradition of when Martin Taylor drove me around rural Cambs, he is at the bottom of the garden inspecting an outbuilding (presumably for future micropub potential) surrounded by empty beer kegs!  

Without another word, he runs the length of the carpark (I can hear the Chariots of Fire theme as he runs), grin on his face, and no word of explanation, gets in the car and drops me back off at the railway station.  What a guy.

I'm unlucky with my timing, and have a 50 minute wait for the next train.  What's more, the station is in disrepair so no waiting room.  It's a chilly wait.  My decision to wear shorts (every day since 24th April, didn't want to give in now) has already got me plenty of offended Kett glances, and with the wind and rain, I'm regretting it now!  

When the train arrives, three scroats (scrotes if you are my Mum ...... I mean how she spells it, not that she is one) come and sit near me.  They sort of half know each other, half don't.  One is drinking Skol Super!  She doesn't want to share it.

OF COURSE this had to be the first time since 4th July I've witnessed a ticket inspector come down the train.   The two ladies buy tickets, but the bloke cannot even afford a £4 single.  She tells him its embarrassing and unfair on other customers.  He swears and gets aggressive.  Awful!   

They get off at Wellingborough with me, walk straight into the road.  Cars beep, but they swear at the cars.  I lurk in the shadows, and finally they disappear!  Phew.  Decent trek into Wellingborough centre where my two GBG pubs are, but it has to be done.

I'll tell you about them (well one of them) and happier village times in part two on Wednesday.


Friday 25 September 2020


Halfway through my South Essex debut (unless you count previous trips to Chelmsford, Billericay, Southminster & Burnham-on-Crouch  .... I'm not really sure on the geog.) and it was all going well.  I'd basked in the Leigh-on-Sea bonhomie, and been captivated by clubby comfort in South Benfleet as I wound my merry little way south towards London, time still on my side.  

Three more pubs was the aim!

I jumped off the train at a place called Stanford-le-Hope, where a friend of mine had live for a while, calling it Stanford-no-Hope.  I wonder if this was a reflection on the pub here, though I noticed the GBG describes it as 'much improved'.

Being the wrong side of a concrete wall wasn't a great start ......

Too high to hurdle,  so I had to keep following the wall round, wait until it ended, and walk back on myself.  Flippin' eck Stanford, I don't need this!  

Take two, here we go ......

Rising Sun, Stanford-le-Hope (1856 / 3073) offered the classic 'left or right' room choice, and although 'BRAPA law' states you have to try and turn left, Covid rules told me the 'visitor check in' was to the right.  This involved the most liquidy hand sanitiser in over 100 BRAPA pubs combined with the tiniest slivers of paper to write your name and number on.  Result, a slippy sticky sliver of paper with blotched biro.  Finally, a jolly lady rears her Essex shaped head from the adjoining doorway, and with the news that the local infestation in the left hand room was absolute, I had to sit in the quiet right room with a couple who I hoped would do/say something interesting for blog purposes, but weren't up to the challenge.  For this was the problem here, the pub had 'something' in terms of character and old fashioned atmosphere (almost like a less heritagey Old Green Tree in Bath), small, slim, square, wooden and dark green, but ultimately, I felt a bit bored.  The Billericay Blonde ale didn't really hit the spot, and a trip to the loo in the left side felt like a segment in the 'let's looks at what you could've won' category, with lots of old Essex coves in tight shorts going "woooorr", "wheeeyyy", "oooooh" and "whatcheor matey".  

You see, very pleasant but just needs a bit of life

Now if you could both juggle, or tell a rude story, that'd help greatly

Loo decor

Colin uses the local beermats to stay warm

I'm always happier on any given trip if I've made the effort to get to at least one pub off the beaten track, so I decided to walk the half hour or so to the village of Horndon-on-the-Hill where we had a valuable tick to do.

It didn't take long for Stanford-le-Hope to open up into farmlands and little wooded areas with twittering birds and scurrying creatures, and it was all very pleasant in the sunshine.  The pub finally came into view, Bette Midler style, from a distance ......

Are we there yet?

Well, it looked a bit coach house-esque, 'Charrington' sign, aren't they something to do with Bass?  Yes, I was all gearing myself up for a nice little Essex rural gem at the Bell, Horndon-on-the-Hill (1857 / 3074) but all in all, it was a bit of a gastro bore which suddenly painted the Rising Sun in a much more pleasing light than I'd realised at the time.  Everything is relative, after all.  And everyone is a relative in rural Essex, probably.  Ghoulish waiters hung around dark staircases, vacant looking couples ordered what looked and smelled like scotch eggs, but could've been anything round!  All the GBG talk of 100 year old hot cross buns, 15th century etchings and panelling, was lost in the breezy dining humdrum, my flimsy perspex separator flapping in the wind with an annoying repetitive click.  Hard to 'pub explore' in the current circs.  I ordered a 5% ale called Divine, I have no recollection of it.  I settled into the experience after that, saying hi to a few people on the way to the loo helped, just no one seemed very pubby, it needed a few sharper edges.  Hull City drawing 0-0 at home to Crewe didn't help, but it was time to get myself back to Stanford and 'hop' on a train.

No sooner had I set off walking down the road, when Daddy BRAPA 'live from Cornwall' sent me news of a late Hull City winner .....

Well, I hopped, skipped and jumped back to the train after that!

One more pub to make up the six, and Upminster, one of my TWO remaining pubs listed under 'East London' was a train stop.

What could possibly go wrong?

It wasn't a long walk, and the pub in question, Upminster Taproom, came into view. woopy doops!

I marched up, but was stopped in my tracks by a red rope.  That's okay, I thought, be patient.  "On a Rope" by Rocket from the Crypt was now stuck in my head.  No one wants that.  A man walks towards me.  I try to catch his attention.  "I'm just a man ..... a customer .....I ... I don't work here!"  he bleats dolefully.  I apologise and jiggle up and down a bit on my toes in case that helps summon someone.

"At a rope, at a rope, got me waiting at a rope" 

Finally, a masked man with a real Lone Ranger vibe about him walks up.  He tells me in muffled tones that there is no room at the inn (taproom) ..... nooooooooo!   Despite the circs, we have a very affable chat.

When I say "I suppose I was foolish for coming on a sunny Saturday afternoon", he tells me "no, not foolish, it has taken us by surprise just how busy it has been" and suggests I've been a bit unlucky.  We even contemplate whether the weather, or indeed, the threat of an impending second lockdown might account for this, one final hurrah??  Alas I cannot stand here all day, so I say farewell and promise to return (unless they drop out of the 2021 GBG of course).  

When I'd had a failed BRAPA visit to the nearby Gidea Park micropub a year or two back, the lovely guv'nor Trevor told me he'd buy me a pint when I made it back.  And he was true to his word.  I just thought I'd put this out there, in case our Lone Ranger or a Mrs Taproom might be reading this (us 'influencers' gotta try these things eh?  Do you honestly think Retired Martin pays for his halves of Doom Bar?)

Anyway, all was not lost, and as my planning notes show you, I had another pub in the vicinity I wanted to sample regardless ......

See top right

I trudged back to Upminster station, two stops to Hornchurch, but then I notice the pub in question is closer to Emerson Park, but lists itself as Hornchurch cos Hornchurch is a cool word, and Emerson Park sound like a 70's Prog Rock band.  Mudgie has all their records.

I struggled with the walk, legs like lumps of lead by now .......

Chippy sums up my mood

Finally, to much relief,  I arrive .......

I pop my head inside the door at pre-emptive future GBG certainty Hop Inn, Hornchurch and I notice another burgeoning bright lively scene of many (socially distanced or bubbled) bodies.  I cannot handle an Upminster repeat, so ask the friendly man (Phil) with pleading eyes if I can stay for a pint, I'll even sit outside on the seats you can see above, and luckily, he says no prob.  I tell him it is last pint of the day so I wanna go out in a blaze of glory, so get on this 6% delicious murk-fest.  He has the kind of shirt on you don't want to stare at six pints in, and he might have an Irish burr, but then again, 50% of people I meet do, six pints in.  He wonders if he recognises me, but for now, I play dumb.  After all, I was told to bring Colin here so he could meet their pub mascot WIM (Wee Irish Man) but they are so busy, I don't wanna walk into the pub ringing a bell going "hear ye, hear ye, the BRAPA man cometh".  I tell this to two friendly lads sat next to me, when they wonder why I'm photographing a fluffy cauliflower ......

One of the guys sounds Welsh, but then again, 50% of people do when I'm six pints in.  I'm explaining the whole 'Colin / Hop invitation' thing when Lady Hop, or Alison as she's more commonly known, clocks Colin, and before I know it, I'm inside, a table has been cleared, three exciting complimentary bags of snacks because she knows I like my snacks on the move, my ale transferred into a proper glass without me noticing! Seriously, I felt quite emotional!  WIM and Colin get acquainted, and I notice my leg is strangely wet.  No I haven't weed myself in the excitement, but a skinny dog is licking my leg the whole time I'm trying to chat to Phil and Alison.  They are just the loveliest people, but the lady on the table next to me wants to know why Colin is more popular than her dog, and why I'm getting so well treated!  It is their first visit, I accidentally tell her I'm drinking a farmhouse cider to impress her, and then have to carry the lie through to conclusion.  Her local is the Gidea Park micro, this is her first visit here , so we bond over being Hop newbies and Trevor.  Well, what a fantastic way to end the day, I leave with a beaming smile, a lot less drunk than last week, just a really clean, happy, well run Micro that better get in the 2021 GBG or there's really no hope.  

Look, even the table cleaner is trying to join in the theme .... bless!

Best snacks ever!

Trad Irish crisps, trad Irish mascot

Back at King's Cross, I learn the lessons from last week and ignore the Parcel Yard in favour of coffee on a bench.  Problem is, I accidentally leave it on the bench when my platform number is announced so maybe I was a tiny bit sozzled.  I eat some of my snacks through my mask,  and no chance of waking up on a beach in Wick or Brora this week.

A wonderful day, looking forward to getting back to South Essex already, after all, the likes of Grays, Southend and Ballards bloody Gore won't tick themselves will they?  

And so here we are, 8:15pm on Friday, up to date on my blogs for the first time since late July!  It won't last, as I'm in another peculiar county I never usually visit, tomorrow, 11am.

See ya on Twitter for that, or this Blog on Monday night.

Thanks for reading!  Si