Thursday 30 December 2021


All aboard the Polesworth Express for the annual BRAPA Christmas Special, and with Daddy BRAPA and Colin the Cauliflower in tow, we'd arrived in Birmingham/Tamworth so deliciously early, we really needed a pub that opened before noon.

It's a funny thing, the pre-noon GBG opener.  Such a common sight when 'researching' pubs for pre-match away days in that Hull City golden era circa 2003-2009.  But nowadays, and I noticed it a few years pre-Covid so we can't blame that, it is increasingly rare to find any non-Spoons pre-nooners.  

I had to look at 13 (THIRTEEN) pubs before I found a solution.  Hence this unexpected foray into Warwickshire, about 20 minutes outside today's key destination, Tamworth.

I got my 'festive' on, as the bus pulls up 10:56am.  I'm just praying it will open up as expected.

The landlord pokes his head into the fresh air, before taking a long drag on his cigarette.  He looks exactly like the kind of guy you'd picture running a proper boozer.  His face is gnarly but kind, and Dad asks "I don't suppose you are open already are you?" to which he replies 'yes'.  We're in!  Bull's Head, Polesworth (1979 / 3542). And to our astonishment, the pub is lined with similar characters, half way down their pints, nicely settled into a session.  This pub certainly hasn't just opened.  Fabulous.  The one ale on is Lit, no sign of the pump or brewery, it just sort of appears by magic through a hatch, a pale ale of startling quality, the lacings especially on Dad's glass tell their own story.  Overheard anecdotes include "... and then someone stuck a shotgun in his face and he shit him sen".  A loud lady asks for a packet of crisps from a seating position.  The landlord casually launches them at her from the bar and it hits her in the side of the head, to which she cries 'oiiii'.  That'd be a lawsuit in Chorlton or Hebden Bridge.  The guv'nor comes over for a chat as we leave, he's seen my GBG and asks if we are doing EVERY pub in it .... today!  Definitely a BRAPA FAQ.  The answer sadly, is no.  "Six does the trick" (my new catchphrase in this situation).  What a great way to start.  I thought about my chum, the wretched John Depeche Modem, and his views on the GBG not choosing the 'realest pubs' and I sort of wish he was here.  Sort of. 

What's my (p)age (in the GBG) again?

Rather irritatingly, Google Maps had "invented" a bus in addition to the hourly one listed on the actual bus stop and the oft reliable

Despite being 90% sure this was some kind of 'bollocks made up ghost service', Dad was right, imagine if we didn't look for it and it sped past the stop, then we'd feel silly.

Predictably though, it didn't show, and 7 minutes later, I suggest we start walking in the direction of our next closest pub, in a place called Dordon.

A 35 minute uphill walk, and if there was one pub today I was nervous about opening at 12, it was the Mini Miner, though my confidence had grown when I saw a Facebook post supporting all the other online hours (noon).

It was one of those temporary looking micros in a row of shops, and a sign emblazoned on the front revealed the awful truth ......

You'll not see 3pm Saturday anywhere online kids, so please note this on pg 425 of your copybook

Dad was cross with me for not ringing ahead, understandably, and herein lies the reason why solo pub ticking is best, it is only yourself that you disappoint!  

A bus was due on the main road 5 minutes from now, so we jogged down to it.  A busy road to cross, I could see the bus approaching the roundabout.  The cars wouldn't stop!  Dad got across before me, sort of hesitates a few yards from the stop, the bus shoots round the corner, I get across, we flail helpless arms towards it, and totally against the odds, he actually has the presence of mind to see us and stop.

I think we deserved that bit of luck after the Dordon cruelty!  Phew!

Back in Tamworth, our other little bus trip isn't timed right, so we decide to go for one of our Tamworth trio whilst we wait.  I got a good feeling about it as a pub town before we'd even left the bus station ..... 

I'm having a few problems with Tamworth though.  Namely, having a very loud conversation with Dad as to how I'm getting mixed up between the Tamworth Two (Kate & Gerry McCann's dining partners) and the Tapas 7 (escaped pigs), which could've potentially got me into trouble.

A cut through onto the main drag leads us to pub two ......

Tamworth Tap, Tamworth (1980 / 3543) is the name, and what a Christmas cracker this was.  The polar (excuse the pun) opposite from Bull's Head, but just as fantastic in its own right.  I'm suspecting a family run set up a bit like Brighouse's Crafty Fox on Thursday, the mother/daughter combo with their long black hair and matching checked shirts are a great duo.  My contactless payment is playing up, massive panic as I have to insert card the right way, remember my PIN number, gosh, I can feel the sweat beads forming on my brow.  "I hate it when people shout 'CHIP FACE DOWN'" I tell the Mum, adding "sorry, you wouldn't think I work in a bank would you?" as I struggle on.  She's finding me hilarious, and I'll take that as a win!  The pub has some cosy little leathered armchairs and quieter rooms upstairs, but we wanna be where the action is and face the main bar.  Far from it for me to be impressed by something as inconsequential as 'beer range', but I'm loving the 8 Christmas themed ales I've never heard of.  I go for an Oakham FROZEN Citra.  Luckily, it has no ice in it and drinks with a bite.  A frostbite?  Some Aston Villa fans appear at the bar.  Do they know their game has been called off at the last minute?  It is impossible to tell.  For if you've ever met an Aston Villa fan, you'll know they walk around with that kind of expression with eyes close together, furrowed brow, vacant stare, like they aren't quite sure where they are in the UK or what is occurring.   A cracking boozer this, get yourself there!

Dad proper 'inked' the GBG entry, nearly went through the page!  I gave him an official warning.  He said it showed how much he was enjoying the pub

I wonder if he's called Chris and this bunting is up for him?

Time to hop on the bus to our other little outer village of the day.  I'd considered a taxi to the bus free / surrounded by water village of Elford (someone pointed out the Elf-ord Christmas link I'd never thought of), and a bus to Whittington, but decided to leave this duo for now in favour of Fazeley.

It was a painful journey for two reasons.  First, I'd tried to wolf down a 'runny' yolked Scotch Egg but the bus had arrived prematurely.  I shoved it in my pocket hoping I'd get chance to 'smuggle it' in the next pub, big mistake!  

And secondly, we had to navigate this hideous edge of town Shopping Retail Park called Ventura.  But there was nothing 'Ace' about it (thanks), being the Saturday before Christmas, well you can imagine!  

Just a relief to finally reach Fazeley and jog around the corner, full bladder, where our pub was looking sort of foreboding, dominating but impressive .....

Coat weirdly half open from bottom, but not for urination ease I promise (sorry Newark)

You know you are in a winning pub when, straining your neck at the bar to ensure Bass is on as advertised, a drunken local staggers into you, apologises, then wishes you 'good evening' (at 2:30pm) and staggers off again.  Welcome to Three Horseshoes, Fazeley (1981 / 3544) a pub so bonkers, it restores your faith in life, pubs and the GBG.  As Dad expertly summed up later "exhausting place .... you walk in, it totally consumes you, and then spits you out again".  I needn't say more, but this is a BRAPA blog, so I will.  So after Mrs Claus passes us two pints of Bass kept to perfection, we find ourselves on the bench next to a nice chap who has an excitable and overly curious Jackapoo called Bo.  And Bo has sniffed out my runny pocket scotch egg and doesn't give it up!  Actually, admitting I have a runny scotch egg in my pocket seems to make me more human to the Fazeley locals.  I wouldn't call the atmosphere rough, or intimidating, but certainly 'character building'. 'Plasterer Jennifer Saunders' for example is always staring over at us!  Drunk bloke wants to put something specific on the jukebox, but he doesn't know how to use it.  He's eventually told to stop buggering about, so he enlists some help and puts on Jobseeker by Sleaford Mods.  His anthem he says, he has his own special dance to it.  It is half amusing, half terrifying, to watch him stomping about.  Not to mention very niche!  "Three cracking pubs so far!" Dad sums up, during the half time report.  "Yes, but what worries me from past BRAPA experience, where there's this many ups, there's bound to be a down" I reply.  I didn't realise quite how right I'd be.

Back on the bus back to Tamworth then.  Join me some time in the early new year for the traumatic part two.  I betcha can't wait, I know you love it when I suffer!

See you around 1am New Year's Day for the annual BRAPA year end review, where we'll hand out a few awards to the best (& worst) pubs, reveal this year's #PubMan of the year, some of my favourite photos of the year etc etc.  I'll start writing it 7:30pm surrounded by snacks and strong craft cans!  It's gonna be fun.

Take care, Si 

Wednesday 29 December 2021


Thursday 16th December would be the final Thirsty Thursday ™  of 2021, and wouldn't it be a morale booster to complete my first county of the 2022 Good Beer Guide before the year was out?  

I turned to my most successful BRAPA county, West Yorkshire, in order to achieve this, having fully 'greened' it every year since 2016.  

I'd put in the hard yards (literally) the previous week on the outskirts of Oxenhope, so tonight's remaining duo should be a walk in the park in comparison.  Both on train routes, even though it is probably easier for me nowadays to get to Newcastle after work than our first location, Todmorden.  

Two to go!  We can do this

A cancelled train meant I needed to change at Hebden Bridge rather than L**ds to stay on track.  Ah, Hebden Bridge, a town I marvel at every time I visit.  It never disappoints.  By which I mean, the stereotype of a town full of ghost loving, hemp weaving, arts and craft centric vegan lesbians is always adhered to.  Purely for my amusement, I assume. 

But surely standing on a train platform for twenty minutes until my connecting service arrives was not likely to yield further Hebby B blog material.  

Wrong!  Try within seconds of stepping off the first train, onto Hebden soil......

A fabulous local lady with felt jacket and a hairstyle that put her anywhere in the age range of 18-66 bounds across me to her red jacketed male friend.  She is carrying a rather splendid vintage antique lamp and a refurbished portrait, which you may vaguely be able to squint at above.  She gives him the old 'show and tell' treatment, laughs a lot, and I eat my mini cheddars, look to the heavens, and thank Hebden Bridge for delivering yet again.

Once on the connecting train, one short stop to Todmorden, they sit across from me.  When the ticket inspector comes down, he comments on the splendid lamp.  To which our red jacketed hero replies "it makes this train journey feel a lot more like the Orient Express".  

He's reached too far, and he knows it.  His lady friend and the ticket inspector fall silent.  I glance across sympathetically, trying to convey an expression which says "nice effort mate, but the lack of support you have received is fully justified".  

They both hop off at Tod in front of me, and disappear down the steps, one of 2021's finest BRAPA cameos complete.

Todmorden is a town I've visited twice before.  My first visit in 2013, was a triumph.  Strangers said hello in the street.  A long walk to an atmospheric craggy valley with gushing water cascading down on each side led me to a cracking dinery pub called Staff of LifeMasons Arms was similarly great, friendly too, I then bought some bottles of stout in a weird pink boutique shop, and the not so good but brilliantly named Polished Knob completed a fantastic Sunday afternoon before the replacement bus home.

But in terms of pub names at least, Tod has gone full 'magnolia' in recent years.  First, 'the Pub' (yawn!) and now an Alehouse!  Where's the originality in naming new pubs these days?  You don't have to go the full Antic 'Wolverine Bumhouse' but a bit of originality wouldn't go amiss. 

I didn't enjoy 'the Pub' last time out, zero friendliness as I drank a decent ale against a damp inner stone wall whilst walkers came and went.  My illusions of Todmorden as one of the friendliest places ever had been shattered.  Could today restore my faith in the town? 

I made hard work of finding the entrance, trying to disappear down a side street and accidentally visit Madam Vanity (oo err)  when it was on the main road.  

Alehouse, Todmorden (1977 / 3540) was a twinkling, slightly kitsch modern affair, not really in-keeping with the clientele braving the arctic conditions with pints and fags on the astroturf out t'front.  "Ey up pal" they all turn and greet me as a push my way through the slightly off putting large glass entrance, fine of course if you like drinking in a night time goldfish bowl!  I receive a warm welcome from the landladies, plus another 'ey up pal!' from the main #Pubman here, stood at the bar moaning to anyone who'll listen about Covid football cancellations.  Happenings at Burnley and Manchester Utd are particularly infuriating him, confirming my suspicions that despite being in West Yorkshire, Todmorden is actually a frustrated East Lancashire town in disguise.  The Ilkley Stout is glorious & most welcome, mine host initially asks if I want to drink it outside!  Hardier than a York softie like me, these Tod folk.  The buzz of local radio permeates the room, and I press myself against the warm radiator, eager to eke out as much warmth as possible.  When a teenage girl arrives, she plonks herself down moodily next to her Grandad, and wraps herself in a blanket to guard against the cold, which causes some mirth.  "You cold?" he asks her, and deserves the sarcastic reply he receives.  Our #Pubman has found a kindred spirit against the odds.  "They may as well scrap the whole Premier League season now!" he barks across the room.  A happy, friendly place, and an experience that went a long way to restoring my faith in Tod as a top town.


The train takes me a few stops closer to home, where I alight at Brighouse for the 'big one'.  The geography of the town immediately comes back to me, crossing the river, past the petrol station, turn left onto the main drag, where the pub is smiling back at me, all sort of blue and foxy.

To be totally truthful, I'd seen the 'craft beer bar and bottle shop' sign and thought 'ey up, here we go again, modern GBG craft city!'  But I was wrong, and so are you.  Crafty Fox, Brighouse (1978 / 3541) has deceptive depths, both figuratively and literally.  It has a warm beery atmosphere, plenty of friendly eyes briefly rest on me, but it is still reassuring to see one of my favourite #Pubmen I've met through this whole BRAPA schtick, Chris Dyson, propping up the bar, acknowledging me.  He's chatting to a friendly looking chap with a surprisingly odd name I can't remember like Denzil, Ermintrude, Golly or Fonzy.  Chris offers to buy me a pint, I ask what is drinking well, he says the Neepsend Blonde.  I love not having to make beer decisions.  #PubMan.  I go for a wee, surprised how large this place is, including a spacious upstairs area where two ghosts are playing Connect 4.  Back downstairs, Chris spots a father/son duo he knows (apparently, there is an entire army of brothers who all go out drinking together, like a pubby version of the 80's kids show Johnny Briggs crossed with Peaky Blinders).  Chris tells me this Brighouse/Elland corridor is even more his domain than Halifax.  When I comment that he knows everyone, he says not true, but as if to prove me right, a blousey lady scurries past, being pulled along by a daughter and five dogs, and tries to enlist Chris is some local activity.  Our two new drinking companions miss a bus (due to my wonderful company), but scurry off later to Nandos and/or another pub / bus (it was hard to hear in these busy acoustics!) so I pass the Chris the Green Stabilo and GBG, and he doesn't hesitate, completing the tick with the confidence of a seasoned Daddy BRAPA style ticker. #PubMan  It is fitting Chris should do the final greening this year, without his Halifax pre-emptive knowledge, there is no way I'd have done Meandering Bear or Kobenhavn ahead of time.  And like Leon Foster in Ponte Carlo last summer, it's always nice for the leading men to get their BRAPA glory moment!   The final piece in this joyous 35 minute session happens when Chris introduces me to Georgia, bar manager extraordinaire, not barmaid or landlady (I explain I have to get it right as I've got in trouble before!)  She is the daughter of the owners, making it a family run affair - suddenly this warm homely atmosphere make perfect sense.  I've seen it before.  Like at the Wonston Arms.  A good pub always starts with good people, and the customers take their cue from this, and although it is a subconscious thing, raise their own standards accordingly, like actors in a good stage production or a football team lifted by a sudden roar from their own fans.  But hey, I've wanged on long enough, this is almost turning into a thesis on pub culture so I'll stop now.  The only fact that matters ..... West Yorkshire : completed it mate.  

I hop back on the train, home via L**ds, pull out the Good Beer Guide, and for a few moments, I admire the fully green sight of West Yorkshire, feeling all self satified.  

That is, until I refresh my Twitter feed and Mr Martin 'RetiredMartin' RM Taylor replies to tell me he completed West Yorkshire ahead of me, a matter of hours ago.  Gah!


Ta for reading, and join me tomorrow, for the 'happy part' of a two-parter in and around Tamworth.


Monday 20 December 2021


It had been a difficult start to the day, as you poor souls who suffered through part one will know.

But with two pubs down, and me now in Harpenden, provider of two required pub ticks and with transport links aplenty to join it up with St Albans, maybe today could start to get a bit easier?  But this is BRAPA we are talking about, so let's not count our caulis before they hatch. 

I hopped off in the northern suburb of Batford, which seemed to be one giant nature reserve, with toads in side pockets, mad squirrels and Cirl buntingfords leaping and flapping around everywhere, as soon as I got off the bus.  I might've been on drugs at this point.  

The pub soon came into view, it wasn't in last year's GBG and had a 2020 marquee obscuring the front, so I wasn't expecting it to pull up any trees as I wander inside .......

But the warm welcome I receive from the landlady tells me that Gibraltar Castle, Harpenden (1974 / 3537) is going to stand out from the crowd.  It certainly feels the part, built in 1799, the historic atmosphere has been preserved to some extent in pub layout and feel, temperature is nice and toasty, oh and the beer quality, the beer quality, simple superb.  A* if I did NBSS, I've had a lot of 'Side Pocket for a Toad' over the years, of varying quality, but this was simply spectacular.  I tell the landlady.  "I'm not a fan of real ale AT ALL, but even I can manage this one in small doses" she tells me,  and if that isn't winning testament, I don't know what is.  We keep chatting, the usual subjects come up.  'Isn't York nice?'  'What is Colin the Cauliflower's aim in life?'  'Have I been to their sister pub? (Garibaldi, St Albans in this case.  Yes.)' .  A man called Trevor leaves prematurely, his friend reports that 'he has symptoms'.  Oooh eck!  The piped music spewing out of every orifice is very eighties, but from my cosy little window snug, it isn't jarring.  Really recommend this one, my favourite pub today.

Who knew Harpenden was the size of Los Angeles?  Not me!  But it was a massive walk south through the ghetto to my other required tick, like 1.5 miles or something.  

Sometimes in the pub ticking game, you are unlucky enough to get the timing of your visit completely wrong.  Black Horse in Whitby is the ultimate past example of this.  Carpenters Arms, Harpenden (1975 / 3538) wasn't too far off.  A small square one roomer, I find myself in a snaking queue behind a large group of 'Christmazz ladz'.  They aren't nob'eads, they are respectful and polite to our bewildered hosts (whose expressions suggest they weren't expecting this invasion!), but they are doing Christmazz ladz things like chugging, and dares, and elaborate toasts, and 'wahheyyys' and 'mayyyyte' and all that jazz.  Ladz gonna lad, ain't they, it's wot ladz do.  The two cute pub dogs are also suffering under the strain of this upheaval, whilst trying to give the impression that they are the guardians of the floor space.  Two old locals behind me are commentating on the events, loving the sudden surge of excitement, I sit in the middle of the room on a posing table trying to smile like I'm unfazed.    What with the mute horse racing on TV, and a fire on each side of the small room, this'd be a precious little pub under normal circumstances.  "Right, we're upping the penalty to three fingers a pint!" says the ladz coordinator.  Not sure what that means.  As they prepare to leave, there's a massive dash for the bogs.  One lad turns to me and explains one of the rules is they aren't allowed to have a wee at the next pub.  "I'd never be able to manage that!" I tell him, marvelling at the strength of 20 year olds bladders ten pints in.  Despite being on the dregs of my pint by now, I hang back and nurse it, just so I have five minutes to savour the peace and calm of this tiny boozer, complete with 'post match reaction' from the two old boys behind me. 

I'd always envisioned getting a train from Harps to Snabs, but as I remember it (quite hazy now), I saw a bus around the corner quite nicely timed so did that instead.  After it, it saved me walking all the way back from St Albans station into the town, or even city, centre again.

TWO BRAPA trips here already this year, first with Daddy BRAPA ticking off joys like Robin Hood and the Jolly Farmer, and then a mop up on my own including the likes of White Hart Tap and Six Bells.  

But the 2022 GBG had spoken, and I needed to come back for this mad thing ......

Although it felt like walking into a cross between an airport lounge and council offices, a happy festive atmosphere, combined by the fact I've long admired their ales, meant I could smile and mean it, as I entered Mad Squirrel Tap & Bottle Shop, St Albans (1976 / 3539) for my fifth and final tick of the day thanks to Sandridge incompetence.  Further intrigue as I learn they have a 20-sided dice to help you choose your beer if unsure, something I've been doing in York Tap  / local Beer Festivals for years, and it is such a specific quirk, I felt like I'd somehow been plagiarised!  But no need to ask, when you see an ale called Ebeerneezer Rouge, you just gotta have it.  "Great choice!" says the overly happy lad behind the bar who seems to have ants in his pants.  I take my pint upstairs, where a cavernous room is filled with a table of 20 twenty somethings, but luckily, there is a little sad bastards table for one just behind it - it may as well say 'reserved for BRAPA'.  They are an interesting bunch, obsessed with 70's 'chic'.  Hostess trolleys, fondue sets brown furniture are the kind of things these kids are into.  It all feels a bit Abigail's Party, especially when a young Alison Steadman annoys her moustachioed man friend by asking if he buy her a gin made by Demis Roussos (or something).  Oh well, I suppose it is pub 1976.  Only one year out.

So I head back to London, slight aggrieved I didn't get the six as I'll now have to find a way to insert Sandridge into either my Hemel Hempstead day, or my Stevenage and area day, both coming up in Feb or later.  

But the pain didn't last long, and you know why.  Of course, ESB in the Parcel Yard.  I managed to pose as Isabella for a good 40 minutes.  Now, if I'd only thought to do that in my final pub a week from now!

Thanks for reading!  I will not blog again until after Christmas, but I'll take my laptop back to parents, just in case I get a window of opportunity to write about Todmorden, Brighouse, Polesworth, Tamworth, Fazeley and Birmingham, glass of sherry and mince pie in hand!

Have a fabulous Christmas all, see you soon.