Friday 30 October 2020


So, the end of my five days in North Hants and the final hurrah would prove to be one of my favourite times of my stay.

After the traumas of Oakley earlier, I'd had a nap in my hoteland made my way back to Hook.  As on my first day, Citra Mick had volunteered to drive me to two of the more rural outposts that so far remained 'ungreened' in my Good Beer Guide.  Absolute gent.

Sadly, Little Tony couldn't make it, but Big Steve, who you might remember from Hartley Wintney as one of Colin's 'minders' joined us, and it was he who hopped out of the car to greet me / let me squeeze in the back.

On the way, we found ourselves driving straight past a third GBG pub at Mattingley, even harder than these other two to achieve by public transport.  Citra says "if we have time, we can do that one too" and I was positively jumping for joy in the back seat.  Steady on Si, it's only a Brunning & Price.

Our progress was slowed by an interminable wait for a train at the level-crossing, this was like being in outer Doncaster, but with more trees and less despair.

Playing the waiting game

There is a limited bus service to somewhere within walking distance of this pub, but the rural location was Long Sutton-esque in its ability to hide, undetected in the middle of nowhere.

Dusk was just setting in as we arrived, and Big Steve & Citra took their opportunity to pose BRAPA style .....

Well, I was gobsmacked.  A late contender for 'pub of the week' if I ever saw one, Plough Inn, Little London (1889 / 3106) was a joy from start to finish, the gentle ancient atmosphere you could almost touch.  No surprise that at one point, we were discussing the Bell at Aldworth, and then some gadgie on my Twitter compares the two just half an hour later.  Difference of course, the Bell is kind of famous in its own right, this pub?  Well, 'hidden gem' doesn't do it justice.  Farmhouse style, low old beams, had this beautiful old clock like I'd never seen before, and the three of us contemplated being snowed in here on a winter's day.  To prove I'd been paying attention to Citra, I ask the landlady "is it true you are cash only?" as we sit down.  She says yes.  I go to pay.  One of the chaps beats me to it.  "Awwww" I groan convincingly.  "You can buy the next ones!"  she says.  Errm, has she never read the rules of BRAPA?  "That guy you can see over there is the landlord" says Citra, lowering his voice leaning in.  "Ah, is that his brother then?  They look almost identical?" I ask.  "Hmmmm, not sure ..... village life, I expect" replies Citra, a quick smile flashing across his face.  Say no more, say no more.  Now I think about it, the two younger guys on the back wall look kind of similar too.  "You staying for another?" asks Mrs Plough.  Citra and Steve look at me as one, expectantly.  "NO!" I say, rather too forcefully (Mattingley in my mind).  As we get up to leave and say thanks & bye, I quickly tell her I'm definitely buying the round in the next pub.  She seems to believe me, which is good.

Colin making sure Steve doesn't go rogue

Feel the quality

Back in the car, I marvel at how dark it has got, then realise I sound like I don't understand how day and night work.  The gents humour me.

Back at the level crossing, guess what?

Goods train this time

Pub two then, and a couple of unconvincing signs before we'd even got inside ......

Four Horseshoes?  Looks more like a pharmacy.

Can't see front of pub for amount of tent, never a good sign

Masks up, let's do this! 

If Steve had expressed a great deal of surprise that Four Horseshoes, Sherfield-in-Loddon (1890 / 3107) was a GBG entry, then half an hour later, I could sort of understand why.  It was a bit of an overly bright, overly stark, bare boarded echoey place, partitions abound, but that didn't stop it having a 'howl at the moon' atmosphere, locals peering at us from all angles on arrival.  The four of us sat around a boring table, the barmaid a bit stand offish at first, but seemed to warmed to her task the longer we were here.  I was going to say the print on the wall showing all of Fulham F.C.'s kits through the ages was about as interesting as it got, but totally out of kilter with the rest of the experience, a totally sozzled bloke is dragged out of the pub by the arms, giggling, by two of his mates.  So quick, it was one of those 'did that just happen?' moments.  So dull otherwise.  The beer, which started okay, deteriorated to the point where it was pretty much off by the last couple of gulps.  Am sure that dreadful Lockdown bitter was on too.  "The four horseshoes of the apocalypse" says the occasionally very amusing 'Liquid Len El West Brom' on Twitter.  I'd say that's a pretty accurate summation!

Colin stares into the Carling tray like his soul has left his body

Citra, an expert ticker by now

Part of the problem

Not really the solution

Some signs try to be 'cute' but just make you want to punch the pub in the face

Anyway, the good news was that time was on our side and Mattingley was still possible before these meanie 9:20pm (or earlier) last orders ...... hooray.  

Problems with my flash (so I kept my clothes on)

Leather Bottle, Mattingley (1891 / 3108) to end the night then , and to end a productive five days ticking in North Hampshire (I think South of the county will probably have better transport links, but more annoying shitey taps and micros).  As Brunning & Price pubs go, this felt strangely pubby.  It used to be a pub even before B&P got their sticky little mitts on it, so makes sense.  The ale was that 'Animal/XT' variety you seem to see in Oxford and parts of bum clenching West Bucks like Brill and Long Crendon.  Very nice.  Well, Citra says it is a bit cold and he's the expert, but it doesn't stop the pub retaining its 2021 GBG place.  I get called back for forgetting to put my mask on when I go to the loo, but otherwise, not much to report apart from the four of us (Colin included) sat in a row chatting and having a drink.  Not been in too many 'last orders' scenarios since the hours were curtailed, but the traditional bonging bell and screams of "last orders ladies and gents!" seems to have been replaced by some mousey bar person scurrying from table to table whispering "would you like any last drinks as we are closing soon, squeak, squeak?"  Though that could just be B&P policy.  We had an extra half, cos we could, looked at a funny little lawnmower, and called it a night.  

I said bye to Citra and Steve, who dropped me off at Hook, it had been a really fun evening.

I made my way back to Basingstoke, and was already devising a plan to come back to North Hants next Feb to tackle Winchester and some of the gaps that have opened up in the North. 

The most frustrating gap from tonight was Silchester.  So close to where we'd been in Little London, the guys even mentioned it!  But overall, the GBG cross-ticking has been quite kind Hants wise and my decisions not to try and tackle Eversley Cross, Lower Wield and Vernham Dean all proved good, as those pubs have been binned off anyway.  Charter Alley is currently only opening 7 hours a week so it can fuck off.  Wonston twins better with Winchester.  And Wherwell is real Andover 'one bus a day' territory.

Progress from the 2020 GBG at the close of play

On the train back, I suddenly realised the perfect symmetry regarding the last two pubs versus the first two pubs of my holiday.  I started in a rural Brunning & Price with Citra (North Warnborough) and finished in one (Mattingley).  My second pub (Long Sutton) had the worst beer of the week, Lockdown Bitter and a 'howl at the moon' yokels atmosphere.  My second last pub (Sherfield in Loddon) was very similar!

If you thought BRAPA weirdness was reserved for pubs, the train journey back provided similar fun.  An old lady from Brixton starts chatting to me. She gives me her cheese sandwiches for lunch as she's made too many.  I ate them when I got home, 7.5/10, with a bit brown sauce added.  She likes the BRAPA concept and soon is singing me a song about hop picking which she used to do as a teenager.  I help her off with her bags at Newark, and she's off to meet her daughter at a BRAPA required tick called the Final Whistle at Southwell.   It felt like a fitting end to the holiday.

Join me Sunday for tales of North Yorkshire & Essex.  

Till then, adios, and keep it Tier 1 or 2 (if you can!)


Thursday 29 October 2020


If you ignore the free Qantas pyjamas, I'm actually quite scary

My final day in North Hampshire was here, a productive rollercoaster of pain, if you like.  A few days ago, a local reporter called James had spotted me on Twitter, and asked if he could interview me about BRAPA for the Andover & Basingstoke local papers.  I consulted my back room staff (well, that odd little cauli) and told him I'd be more than happy to do so.

Unable to make Fleet the previous day, I told him to meet me in Oakley, a village just a short bus trip from my Basingstoke lodgings, where one of my 'easier' remaining pubs could be found.

I got to the bus station in good time, with the intention of getting to Oakley for about 11:35am, so I could find him outside, and we could go in together when the pub opened.

It had been a five day session of typical BRAPA dumb luck, and this next bit probably even beat the floods at Chobham, mysterious Virginia Water train woes and locked in a Camberley shopping centre, for ridiculous bad luck.

Bus leaves Amazingstoke (thanks Quinno!) on time, but soon we hit traffic, goes down to one lane, huge tail backs.  20 mins later, barely any progress.  Bus drivers turns to us and says 'two more sets of roadworks after this too ho ho!'  Luckily, James messages to say he's going to be a bit late too.

Finally, and I'd be annoyed even if this was a regular 'tick', we were moving.  I press the bell for the Rectory Road stop, which I reckon is closest.  He doesn't stop!  I ask what's going on.  He says 'we don't stop at that stop'.  Electronic lady had said otherwise.  He drops me on the busy, pavementless B3400 Andover Road, almost in the next village of Deane.  Already late, I'm furious.

Luckily, the cars are a nice bunch, and swerve into the centre of the road for me, and respond to my waves of thanks.

Eventually, I reach the Oakley turning.  Pub is still quite a long way into the village.  No pavements here either, but a gentle enough place.  Or so I thought!  I'm striding down the right hand edge, but EVERY passing car seems to expect me to stop, and get tight into the side.  NO NEED DICKHEADS!  This lorry driver gives me an evil look and perhaps the wanker sign, either that or a fly had got in.   In fact, every car I see, I half expect to be James having given up on me, driving off! 

Gone 12:30 when the pub comes into view, and even then, blue anorak lady blocks my path.  The arrows confuse me and I circumnavigate the outside of the pub for no reason! 

Just let me get in!

Once inside the Barley Mow, Oakley (1887 / 3104) , I quickly scan the beers.  The landlady blinks.  Two old locals stare at me.  Because I loiter, looking for the most probable James, one of the old blokes barks "SIT DOWN!".  Seriously, Oakley has all the grace and charm of a reversing Basingstoke dump truck, but with an inbred werewolf village mentality.  But that's probably not going in the article.  I see a guy in the corner, with notebook and pen, and realise it must be James.  I apologise profusely for the long delay, removing my mask to reveal a face full of sweat, despair and anguish!  James seems fairly unperturbed, supping a pint of Cider.  I realise he has a better job than me.  He's a young chap, softly spoken, kind eyes, and looks a bit of a less brash version of one of my cousin's (who surname incidentally, is Hampshire).  The combination of these factors, a well kept pint, and a ten minute chat before we get onto the interview all help relax me after that earlier fiasco!  Interview all goes well, he wants to meet Colin too, I make him do the highlighting (top honour), and only Kate Bush warbling Wuthering Heights on a giant plasma behind me means I occasionally have to repeat some bits.  Occasionally, the local grump scowls over, probably think we're on some Grindr date or something, I don't know what weird villagers think in 2020.  

James kindly agrees me to drive me on to my next pub, which is a toss up between two, but I go for the one which is less off the beaten track for fear of getting stranded (I'm meeting Citra later on!)  

Back in his car, breaking news comes through of Greene King pub closures and his boss wants him to jump straight on that!  Life of the pub reporter eh?  

He drops me off at pub two, and we say farewell .......

Yes, leering at me with dining pub contempt written all over it from just off the main road was the Watership Down Inn, Freefolk (1888 / 3105), and if I was hoping pub 1888 would be some fun, gory, nasty Whitechapel nightmare of a boozer, nothing could be further from the truth, though I suppose Watership Down is a bit of a tough watch now I think about it!  The wallpaper, wicker rabbit, and local rabbit prints on sale for £80 drawn by overrated local artists will make any self respecting pub fan want to puke their eyes out of their sockets, so I sit at an outdoor table where only a posh old fart boasting about how many different types of fish he's eaten (like a massive self satisfied seal), can annoy me.  Someone on my Twitter tells me this pub was once a proper trad old school boozer.  I don't doubt it, but hard to picture today.  Flowery barstaff, the only things not bunny themed (this isn't the Playboy mansion you pervs #WokeSi2020) are breezy and efficient, quite a few local ales are on, and whatever I'm drinking is a quality drop.  'Bright Eyes' was MY song when I was born, says my Dad, but I was feeling far from bright eyed, only two pubs in!   I think the Oakley trauma had well and truly taken it out of me! 






And relax

Satisfying moment as I complete a 'Green Run', blockbusters style, west to east

Now, HAD this been the 2021 GBG, I could've now got ticks in Overton & Whitchurch, but as I was using the 2020 Guide at the time, I was out of options, so all that remained was to head back for two hours kip in my hotel before the final hurrah of an evening session, which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

The bus journey back was notable for a golf ball rolling around at the front, and the way this week was panning out, I was imagining it somehow getting lodged under the brake pedal, creating a Final Destination / Speed / Father Ted Milk Float style episode.  

Hopefully, the bad luck was over.  

Fangs for reading, Si 


Good morning friends,  

29th October 2020, and as church bells peal, songbirds tweet and toast is buttered with added gusto across this fair isle, the GBG embargo shackles are shaken off like aching morning muscles given a good workout by Mad Lizzie (remember her?)   The cross-ticking is complete, the damage has been assessed, so here is the BRAPA verdict.

The Maths Bit

I declared on 1901 pubs visited from the 2020 Good Beer Guide, you'll remember this cos I kept pushing around that Queen Victoria death date joke.

After the cross ticking, which took approximately 4 days, a new BRAPA record, not to mention a trip to South Essex, and a couple of late stragglers which nearly evaded my attention, I've dropped 195 pubs to 1706.  This is a drop of just over 10%, which is actually one of the most encouraging, least 'churnable' drops I've had in years.

I normally lose in the region of 12-13% so I'm seeing this as a victory.  You'd think the more pubs I visit year on year, the greater the percentage loss would be, so this is even more surprising.

Could this be due to lower churn?  I'm not convinced, on hearing the thoughts of the pub tickers who are further on with their challenge.  No, I actually think that now I'm building up a more solid base of pubs that have been in ANY Good Beer Guide.  3133 of these.   So some which missed the 2020 edition, but I visited in past years, have returned to this latest GBG.   

Make no mistake though, I have suffered from the mid March to early July period of zero pubs visited.  In one respect, I've gone backwards.  Slightly.  I'll be visiting my 1707th - 1743rd pubs for a THIRD time.  To give you an example, pub 1707 has previously been the Broken Drum in Blackfen on 31st July 2019 AND the Bar Stewards, Sheffield 31st Jan 2020.  It will probably be something else 31st October 2020.  Depressing when you look at it like that.

On the whole though, few complaints in the context of this most unusual year we're unlikely to forget!

2020/21 STRATEGY

It is hard this year to make any grand proclamations on the areas I will be focusing on, at what dates etc. as the local/national restrictions could change at any given moment.

The saddest thing about the lockdown BRAPA-wise was that my quest to complete Cumbria was quickly curtailed.  And now it's just got that little bit harder!  I got Tyne & Wear done, I got very close with Durham too.  Ideally, I feel I've got "unfinished business" and would like to get Cumbria and Durham totally 'greened' off with the superior Stablio, before next summer comes around.

However, Essex is my new baby.  And what a chirpy little chap he is.  Starting south, working north, this is my immediate quest.  Pint of ESB in the Parcel Yard at the end of every trip?  Not an official  rule, but it could be.  If I can get to the "Si, Colin, good evening, pint of the usual is it?" stage, I'd be well chuffed in a place like that.

Hants, Surrey & London would also give me enormous satisfaction to complete, having been making a good push on these in recent months.

Meanwhile, the advent of the new GBG means plenty of new 'low hanging fruit' closer to home, stuff you can pop to quite easily on an evening train or bus, or say "Daaaaaad, please can you drive me to that little village outside York, it won't take long, you'll be mentioned in the dispatches?" 


So whilst cross ticking, some counties are kinder to you than others.

On the plus side, County Durham.  Feels like almost every village pub Dad has driven me too in recent months remains in the Guide, so the chauffeuring wasn't in vain.  Well done Durham, I salute you.  My few remaining gaps are generally in 'easy to get to' places with rail links, or at least a decent bus service.

On the negative side, Surrey.  Remember how hard I worked at it late July/early August?  51 pubs in 9 days, 90 miles walked.  Went back. Increased total to 61.  Only Caterham I didn't get chance attempt.  A handful either shut or had no room to accommodate me.   And for what?  17 of them have been 'de-guided'. Cruel.  Down to 44.  Loads of new rural things, and Caterham remains, as do all those I couldn't get in to.  Boo Surrey, boo.  

And what about Central London?  A 'county' I often complete in full quite easily, there seems to be loads of new entries this year!  Many of them proper old pubs, so that's something.  But being in the City, many don't open Saturday or Sunday so now I have to take time off work just for flippin' London.  Boo London, boo.  


On a happier, Brappier note to finish with, I always smile during my cross-ticking when I notice a pub I've visited, either as a pre-emptive, or even more rarely, a pub I did long ago that hasn't been in since BRAPA became a thing in 2014.  

Let us honour those pubs now ......


Globe, Luton (Did it in 2005 before a Hull City away game with Dad, was heaving with Luton fans, another GBG pub was closed same day so everyone piled in here, felt very community based).

Orchard Inn, Spike Island, Bristol (Was all about the cider and scotch eggs here but they did ale, came here two or three times circa 2010 before football as close to Ashton Gate, including a long session on my birthday and on Hallowe'en.  Took huge chunks out of my leg falling on the plastic away seating two seasons running, I blame this pub).

Swan & Railway, Wigan (Came here alone before a shock league cup win, Aug 2007, remember it well.  Lovely ornate place,  but then the 'Goole-igans' spotted me, and invited me to drink with them in the other bar.  Gave me a lift in their van to the ground, rest is blurry history!) 

Dr Duncan's Liverpool (Came here on one of first ever Hull City trips to Liverpool, was really good.  They sold Cain's beer, I've still got a beermat I picked up at time!  Went following year, lost its magic and toilets disgusting.  Tried third time, and it had closed down.  So nice to see it back).

Bridge Hotel, Durham (First pub of the day when I came up to Durham to meet my mate John on 3rd Sept 2011, then we did some classics I'd done before like Elm Tree, Victoria, and ended at Head of Steam which was also a pub which would make future GBG's.  Wasn't even on my spreadsheet til I saw it in the 2021 edition).


Factory Tap, Kendal (Was staying in Kendal, two random strangers recommended it the previous night, gave it a try, and it came off!)

Masons Yard 24, Kendal (Same holiday, this was a post-emptive.  I staggered past it late at night when pubs were open at 11pm, recognised name from a previous GBG, thought why not, I'm only a bit very drunk, and it's come to fruition).

What's Your Poison?  Alfreton (Whilst completing Derbyshire on Friday evenings after work a couple  of summer's back, Alfreton was often the GBG-less base for more rural ticks.  With time to kill between a bus and train, I looked up local micros, came here, had something pale in a Bass glass, very wrong, but it made the cut,  Hurrah!) 

Beer Seller, Tonbridge (Big thanks to friend of the blog Jon C who lives locally, saw I was in the area, and told me he'd meet me here if I liked.  We did, and it was one of the more impressive pubs of the day). 

Angel, Stockport (Big thanks to the Stockport crew last October for recommending this as I needed a bonus non GBG pub to make up my 'six for the day'.  We did it early, was great to hear how an old historic pub closed for ages had been refurbished to a high standard, you could tell the staff were really passionate about it doing well, so great to see it got in, beer bit cold from memory).

Barrel Drop, Nottingham (Did this with Dad & Tom in 2015, I think I was trying to be clever so googled Nottingham micropubs as we had a long walk and I wanted something en route to break the journey (loo most probably).  I didn't particularly find it thrilling, it has taken its sweet time to get in the GBG, but was worth the tick in the end!) 

Golden Lion, Newmarket (I met Martin Taylor here on our most Suffolky Cambridgeshire day a couple of years back, and although it hadn't got in recent GBG's, Martin was sure this 'Spoons would get back in eventually, and as ever, he's been proved mystic Martin).

Taphouse, Hull (Big thanks to friend of the BRAP, Christine Andrew, for booking a group of us in here on our Hull post-lockdown day, 3 weeks after the pubs reopened.  The App was really awkward, the rules quite strict, don't think any of us loved it, but the beer was very good and it is the kind of place you see getting in the GBG all over the country, so proved a great shout).

Market Cat, York (Me and my friends go out for drinks most Tuesdays in York, or did, and were quite intrigued when we heard Thornbridge had a new place.  We left it a while for any great clamour and novelty to die down, and went along just before Christmas!  Was ok, I was a bit underwhelmed, the views onto the top of the market probably the most exciting thing about it.

Bryherstones Country Inn, Claughton (Just outside Scarborough, had a lovely BRAPA day 5 or 6 years back with Dad, Tom Irvin and his parents.  We'd been to the superior Hayburn Wyke Hotel which was in the GBG, this was back up on the main road (had been in previous edition, but not at time of visit), twice as expensive, too many flies, we offended the staff from memory, but glad we went in and got it done as it's finally reappeared.

Old Brewhouse, Cusworth, Doncaster (Last and least, recommended by a mate at work called Mark who lives in Donny.  He didn't particularly rate it, but thought it had GBG potential for my quest, so after a trip to a Scawsby pub, he helped direct me to it as Google Maps had it totally incorrectly plotted.  It was a dark cold January night, insane location, the homebrew was awful, the customers were a bit cliquey and doggie, but I am glad I got it done cos it has got in!)  

So there we have it, back to the regular blogs this evening!  Only about a month behind.  

Hope you enjoyed this little update, happy pubbing chums,


Wednesday 28 October 2020

BRAPA is ..... LIVING IN A HAMPSHIRE'S PARADISE (North Hants Part 8/10)

Halfway through my my penultimate day in North Hants, the first time I'd ever been to this wonderful county with the sole purpose of ticking off pubs in the Good Beer Guide, and the constant mix of traumatic moments and fun ones was keeping me on my toes.

I'd planned my whole day around this next pub, with its awkward 4pm opening time, I had to time my departure from the Eight Bells in Alton just right for the twenty minute walk north of the town. 

As I approached, much relief to see it open.  Coolio! 

Still not amused

After jumping in the above puddle in delight, I was pleased to find the Queen's Head, Holybourne (1885 / 3102) was one of those classic 'owned rather than managed' traditional GK efforts.  I was greeted by the ultra friendly Mrs QH who gave me the good ole' Covid Chapter & Verse, a bit of Colin love, and some general Cilla style 'what do you do and where d'ya come from chuck?' chat, before presenting me with an ale from the Isle of Wight which really hit home to me what a filthy southerner I was becoming.  It was absolutely top quality, Goddard's, and Mr QH, fresh from bollocking what may've been his teenage son for a maskless pub entrance, tells me he takes great pride in keeping his ales well.  As the boy sits in the far room with an old dude who may or may not have been his grandad, Mr QH who was a smashing guy to chat to admits he'd prefer cask marque accreditation than GBG entry.  Personally, I've seen so many Cask Marque pubs not keeping good beer, I couldn't agree, but he explains it is more scientific, alluding to a bad experience when a drunken group of Guildford CAMRA's came in, one ordering a bottle of Newcy Brown Ale, and then marking the pub down!  Mr QH had to appeal the decision.  Oh dear.  But I was less convinced by his argument when he tells me this Cask Marque guy of clean palette' does it all on public transport, so unlikely he'd get to your Long Sutton and Lower Wields of this world.  Hmmmm,  slightly invalidates it doesn't it if this is true?  Well, it gave me food (beer) for thought, and what with the traditional pub surroundings, an enjoyable pub visit! 

Now, I headed all the way back into Alton for another 4pm opener, this time a pre-emptive I'd had highly recommended, plus they seemed a nice bunch on Twitter.  As I did so, I glossed over the striking Railway Arms (surely a decision that wouldn't come back to haunt me, or would it?) 

As is tradition with micropubs, it was set back off the main drag, and I got lost trying to find it in a myriad of shops, but mainly because I walked in the wrong direction.  Pub 5, beer kicking in?  It always does at this time of day .....


Ten Tun Tap House, Alton has pre-emptive certainty, based on the sort of debutants I'm used to seeing.  As soon as I walk in, I hear a voice call 'Simon'.  Oh dear, this 5th pub of the day always has my mind playing tricks, but when I look up, who do I see but our North Hants hero of day one, Citra Mick!  Yes, he'd dropped me a message on Twitter to say he was coming here after work, but I'd not seen it, and notifications don't pop up on my phone.  I decided to employ BRAPA Pre-emptive clause 14.1.a and just order a half, something deliciously murky I think from Siren, the same people who did that moreish beer we both drank in Clapham Junction's ridiculous Four Thieves thing.  The young guy serving seems pleasant, and the big thing about this place is that it opened on 18th March, just TWO days before lockdown shut the pubs.  Talk about unlucky, they'd worked for months to get to that point.  Surely the last pub to open before lockdown?  Something to tell the grandkids I guess.  And probably means it can't be considered for the 2021 GBG, but watch this space for 2022.  Citra, being the legend he is, devises a plan for my final evening tomrrow involving driving me to a couple of rural outposts and trying to get some of the Hartley Wintney crew along.  Superb.  I say goodbye, he stays on for another, but I'm determined to get another tick in.

Yes, I kept having to remind myself that part of the reason for basing myself in Basingstoke(!) was the proximity to Surrey to finish some of those pubs I never got to in late July-early August.

The last notable one on my list was a 'Spoons at Camberley.  Camberley has a railway station, so how come getting there became so laughably difficult?

A change at Ash Vale.  Fair enough.  But I wasn't in the front carriages, couldn't get forward in time to get off, had to get off at Brookwood, change for Ash Vale again, then we had a delay, and it was really late by the time I finally made it to Camberley.  Freezing and pitch black too.

I decided I needed to get my evening snacks now, in case all the shops were shut when I made it back to Basingstoke.  Hard to locate one in the devilish Camberley night sky, I skirted around this ginormous bus depot, and upon realising Sainsbury's is in the shopping centre, I go in.

When I locate it, it has already closed.  And then, I can't get out of the shopping centre cos they've locked me in!  A stern Aussie guard wielding a giant set of keys lets me out of a side entrance after a quick Q&A to make sure I'm not a ghost.

I've totally lost my bearings now, felt like fate has constantly been against me getting this pub tick every since I first arrived in Guildford in July.  I walk all the way back round, where an Aldi is still open.  Students galore!  One checkout open.  Huge queue.  Hardly anything left on the shelves.   I've already missed my planned train to Basingstoke, and in danger of missing the next one.

Totally fraught, I jog, clutching my snacks, straight for the 'Spoons which is right by the station.  I can hear people lurking in the shadows, laughing like hyenas.  Every night feels like a Saturday night in Camberley.  I'm going in.

In a moment of barmanly wonder, this young lad, possibly on seeing the desperation in my eyes (again he sounds Australian) tells me he's quite happy to get me a drink without me using the App, he even  takes me within seeing distance of the bar to glance what's on offer!  I know I said the App was ultra quick in Fleet, but human service is always always always preferable.  I was on such a tight timescale now, Every Second Counts as Paul Daniels once said.  Phew, welcome to Claude Du Vall, Camberley (1886 / 3103).  No chance to wait for my murky pint to settle, luckily it was good quality, Guardsman by Windsor & Eton.  Despite the late night feel, and collection of young dudes sprawled out all over the place, this 'Spoons had quite a warm contained feel to it, a lot better than the duo in Basingstoke in my opinion.  Fleet perhaps could get like this on an evening.  The Holybourne guy had said 'Wetherspoons is a swear word in our pub!'  Well, not here for me right now, my late saviour.  And if you want a boring BRAPA stat, this pub meant I'd already surpassed my entire September pub total (on 6th October, 8:30pm).   I had to drink quick, really need to catch this next train! 

Sometimes, you've just gotta close your eyes and drink

Surrey - as complete as it will be (Caterham the only one I didn't have a crack at)

Despite another painful double change at Ash Vale and Brookwood, everything is on time.  Look, someone has even left me a bit of extra dinner ......

Join me tomorrow in part 9 for my final day, I have an interview to attend!

Cheers, Si 

Tuesday 27 October 2020

BRAPA in ..... TRICK OR FLEET? (North Hants Part 7/10)

I was going to sell this one as a (slightly early) BRAPA Hallowe'en Horror Show, but then I figured that regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that approximately 82.7% of blogs I write could fit into the horror category.

I was back in the GBG's 'inset' North East Hants section on the morning of my penultimate day of my holiday, Tuesday 6th October, looking for the six daily ticks that keep the doctor away.  

Jumping off the train, and leaving the station, I thought a little joke might be a nice way to start the day .....

A FLEET of taxis hahahaha (sorry)

It was an annoying twenty minute walk from station to the 'hub' of Fleet, where the action (AKA the local Wetherspoons) was situated.

And what a friendly place, especially the women aged between 30-50, what a smiley bunch.  Never have I felt more popular, I think I'd be a married boring graphic designer or  something if I'd grown up here.  Heart-warming.  Could the 'Spoons follow suit?  

Well, at least the Prince Arthur, Fleet (1882 / 3099) was doing a bustling trade on this unlikely grey Tuesday morn.  One of the smaller pubs in the chain you are likely to see, this certainly helped it look busier.  The downside of the tighter spaces was that the perspex screens seemed more suffocating, than in say, Chancery Lane's Knights Templar where you could pretend they weren't there.  I  felt a bit like a goldfish in a bowl, as I perched on a high table opposite the bar.   Two young blokes were presented with two enormous full English breakfasts.   "Gorrr, I've had three hours sleep and am VERY hungover, no way I'm going to eat all that dahhhhling!" one of them moans, cockney style, to the waitress who I assume he knows, before dramatically face-planting the table in comedy fashion.  Not quite sure why he ordered it then.  Had I channelled my inner Marcus Rashford, I'd have gone over, mask on, scooped half of the brekkie into a doggy bag, and taken it round to the local primary school and given it to a starving kid.  Waste not, want not.  I of course, was on the Wetherspoons App, and after the Wadworth nonsense in Old Basing yesterday, what a delight it was to use an App as simple and intuitive as the 'Spoons one.  In fact, a contender for highlight of the week followed.  I glanced up at the bar, no less than 10 seconds after pressing the 'order' button and see a pint of what I've just ordered being pulled.  Can't be can it?  It was!  I tell the main lady, who was impressive throughout, how amazed I am by the speed of it and she seems chuffed.   Okay, so it tasted like adhesive, pritt-stick glue to be precise, but you can't have it all.

Record breaking App ordering pint

Arthur himself

Col, you might have to help me drink this one

I like pubs who are proud of their place in the Guide

With no bus forthcoming, I continued down the road at quite a pace as Fleet turned leafier , acorns and chestnuts littering the pavement, the smiles of locals continued, and then a quiet muddy track along the river was a good place to stop for an impromptu wee.

Before long, I was in Crookham Village where next pub Spice Merchant (1883 / 3100) was thankfully open, just past 12 noon (you can never take it for granted this early in the week in the more out of the way spots). 

I'd been told, probably by our old mate Citra, that this was once a very traditional old pub.  Sadly, these days, it is a glorified Thai restaurant serving real ale, and the decor and seating offered a bland example of the modern GBG entry.  However, the 'Holy Trinity of BRAPA Positives' (which I've never mentioned before), saved it to a large extent, from getting the slagging off the 2014 me might've given it.  Firstly, top beer quality.  One ale only, Timmy Taylor Boltmaker (AKA Best Biter).  Not a beer that normally excites me.  But kept immaculately.  Secondly, great staff.  Yes, the couple who bossed this place were friendly throughout.  Mrs Spice was a fan of Colin, and so was the chef, who kept looking at him, licking his lips.  "Do you have cauliflower on your menu because he is a bit worried?" I asked Mrs S.  And she laughs in a way that could only be a 'yes', though not sure she properly heard me.  And thirdly, premium pub temperature.  The acid test in this category is would Daddy BRAPA remove his coat/jacket, but not go for a wander outside cos he is 'too stuffy'?  The answer here I'm sure would've been a yes.  Not bad for a 'pub' with too much grey, magnolia, pale blue, and wide open spaces.  Even Elton John's Greatest Hits could only slightly spoil it.  

Mr & Mrs Spice in their natural habitat

Mrs Spice trying to work out what Colin is

The problem

I thought it'd be 'fu cunard' to find many positives here 

Working Hallowe'en blog title had been Pumpkin Spice Merchant Latte or something, but it didn't really work.

A long walk back to Fleet station followed, gotta get that step count up, ward off the beer belly, and I even popped back in the Prince Arthur to use the loo as the staircase was right beside the entrance.

Had there been a similar fleet of taxis in my next town, Alton, I  might've jumped in one and tried to get something like Lower Farringdon done.  Alas not, so after a spot of late lunch, I headed to pub three.

Unforeseen problem as I rounded the corner, just after 3pm, the kids were piling out of the local primary school (could've dropped that breakfast off), and there's me stood opposite, brandishing a camera trying to take a photo of the pub.

A hybrid lollipop lady/teacher/Mum looks alarmed, so I have to do everything in my power to demonstrate I'm photographing pub only.  I did try and wait, but that just looked like I was loitering so I just had to wait for a gap and get on with it.  The sacrifices I make for the benefit of this blog.

One of the more traumatic attempted pub photos of 2020

"I call this a boozer, not a pub!" bellows the only other customer, as I sit opposite him at the Eight Bells, Alton (1884 / 3101) and peer round to the bar to see what ales are on offer.  A cracking pint of Flack's Double Drop if you care.  I hadn't asked, but he seemed determined to control the narrative of a blog he didn't know existed.  "People don't come 'ere for food, they come to drink and chat!" he adds, which I think was code for 'I'm not going to give you a minutes peace during your 27.5 minute stay so don't even think about being an unsociable bastard'.  Seriously though, nice guy, the type who loves a visitor so he can impart his local knowledge, which he did in abundance.  One thing I couldn't quite get past, for all his sensibly attired top and trousers, he was barefooted, save for a flimsy pair of brown sandals.  I couldn't quite capture them on camera, but it was so incongruous with everything else about him, I assumed he must have some medical condition involving hot feet.  He tells me the tale of Sweet Fanny Adams, a local girl who was chopped up like corned beef and is buried in the local churchyard.  He talked like it happened last week, but it was ages ago.  Not sure much happens in Alton.  When he found out I worked in a bank, he told me both he and the landlady decide putting their money in premium bonds was better than having a bank account, I swirled my head confused skeptical-like, and he shouts to her "SEE, HE WORKS IN A BANK AND HE AGREES PREMIUM BONDS ARE THE WAY TO GO!"  He'd already growled "that's the baby!" when I got the Track n Trace App to work.  Born in Dewsbury too, he told me he's not sure where his accent went.  South, I guess.  People like him make pubs, I was astounded he got up and left before me.  The pub just wasn't the same after that.  Nice and cosy, as I sat in the old fireplace!  But lacking his unique local hospitality.

Pubman of the week contender, and I don't mean that daft cauliflower!

Feel the quality

I didn't get it, but our mate thought it was proper Vince Hilaire

Right, that seems like a good way to end part 7.  Three more pubs coming up, one pre-emptive.  Cameo from an old pub favourite,  And one of the hardest slogs to get to a 'Spoons on a train line I'd ever witnessed.  See you on Wednesday for that.