Friday 25 June 2021


Apologies for this bombardment.  Even the Rt. Hon. Martin Taylor doesn't give you THREE blogs in one evening.  I don't think.  I just need to be 'playing catch up' as a wise man once said, so I have a fresh mind before my epic BRAPA holiday begins tomorrow.

A wise man (for a second time in BRAPA this week!)

If completing Essex doesn't kill me, then County Durham certainly may.  8 pubs left at the start of play on Saturday 19th June, dotted around all over the place, thank goodness for the kind chauffeuring skills of Daddy BRAPA. 

Having said that, one of the eight was so near Northumberland, it made sense to do two Northumberland ticks first!

The roads were wild, wicked and winding.  The sheep looked mean.  But we were on track for noon opening as we passed the Derwent Reservoir.  

There can't be too many prettier villages than Blanchland, surely?  

Folk seemed to agree, the car park was chock a block.  A few stragglers lurked on benches outside the pub waiting for noon opening.  But they vanished as soon as me and Colin stepped up for the official BRAPA photo (funny how often that happens!) 

Was it something I said?

Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland (1804 / 3233) was a pub worthy of the village, and as I tentatively pushed the door at 11:57am, a women on a reception desk who looked like a Marie showed us through to these stunning outdoor grounds (I'd call it a beer garden but it was sort of beyond that).  Felt a bit like drinking at a French castle.  A nice jug of Twice Brewed bitter reminded me I wasn't.  There's a wedding pre-amble going on, just like last week at Roydon, hope this isn't gonna be a theme all summer.  Indoors is similarly stunning.  "Wow, beautiful pub!" I say stepping up to take photo of bar.  "Cheers mate appreciate it!" says barman.  Errrm, I was complimenting the pub, ACTUALLY!

Pub two was also classed as Northumberland ...... 

Manor House Inn, Carterway Heads (1805 / 3234) was the only slightly weak pub of the day, a fairly average roadhouse with no discernible character.  A Fake Eddie Fogden (FEF) said 'alreet' on entrance, the staff were a little bit jumpy and I think, a bit eavesdroppy, possibly suspecting we were the locals CAMRAS here to strike them down!  After all, I had a GBG on the table, and we discussed at length how Wainwright (the only beer on) has declined over the years.  Not kept badly. just a poor beer these days.  Watery.  FEF failed to wash his hands after a wee, hope the real one (REF) does when I meet him Sun/Mon in Essex pubs!   Tim Taylor Landlord was just going on as we left, bet it was great, typical!

Don't smile before you've tried it dickhead, remember what I said last week!

FEF and mate

Useful wall map as phone signal was zero

We'd already passed this next pub twice, but my excitement was building, as this was perhaps my hardest of the eight remaining Durham ticks I needed ..... 

In the absence of a pub frontage (or pub indoors) at the highly unique Baa, Edmundbyers (1806 / 3235) , note the statues which I think Dad was hoping were some ancient 10th century mystery, but when I asked, she tells me they've got them from the ITV series Beowulf which was filmed nearby.  We loved them anyway!  The garden was undulating, most benches were taken, some people ate pizzas from a van on outdoor settees, the Sandpiper from Cullercoats was a fabulous drop, and an old local called Brian lolloped around from table to table, so much like that "this week, I've been mostly eating...." guy off the Fast Show.  Enjoyable place this, a real return to form! 

Craft beer options at the Baa
What scenes!  Col necks Dad's pint whilst he's distracted highlighting

Now the day was really hotting up, and my enforced full week of detox / sobriety was really paying dividends as I was drinking my pints quick, and felt incredibly sober still!   Two key Durham pubs awaited ......

For all the lovely breath-taking scenery and fresh air, nothing beats being a good solid GBG regular and Cross Keys, Eastgate (1807 / 3236) was a fine reminder of why Durham is the Essex of the North in pub terms, and I'd fight anyone who disagrees!  Peas in a pod.  You had to knock, then stand back.  Luckily, our spirited 21 year old barmaid heard our murmurings outside so opened the door anyway.  I never trust these things.  She'd just had her Covid jab, and proudly tells us she specifically asked for it to be in her 'non pint pulling arm' as she didn't want to stop working.  You wouldn't get this level of staff genius in Loughton's Victoria Tavern.  I'm not bitter.  But my pint of Allen Dale (not Jim from Neighbours) was, beer of the day, sparkling.  A southern dude is next to knock.  "I'm looking for Gaynor" he asks in a jarring southern accent.  "Can you ask her if I'm okay to park in front of her house?"  Dad and I silently snort our disapproval.  I love hating random strangers for the mildest of things.  Great pub experience. 

Guess who ended up with coal on his backside?  

And a couple of miles away, our fifth pub of the day had recently opened at 3pm.  What great time we were making. 

Being fifth pub of the day, I cannot tell you a great deal about Hare & Hounds, Westgate (1808 / 3237) but 'contemporary sources' could put an argument forward for it being even more splendid than the Cross Keys.  How is this possible?  It certainly felt even more local / low key.  They had their own ales on, somewhere called Wear'd Ale and I had a Dark Nights, a delightfully dark meal in a glass type affair.  Plenty of people did arrive eventually, so don't let my phots deceive you, it is just I took them first so I wouldn't forget!  Our favourite customer was a rather breathless man with the chin of Peter Beardsley who'd been on an epic walk to get here.  I can't remember all he told us, but if I had regression therapy, I'd enjoy the route he'd taken and our chat all over again.  Dad tried to get a coffee to keep himself sober, but because barmaid was on her own, it wasn't an option.  Am sure J20 was. Never mind, it didn't detract from a top pub. 

Don't read Dad's card details, thanks

As we were continuing to do so well for time, Dad indicated he'd be happy to give Red Lion, Cotherstone a go too.  Oh gosh, I was so delighted.  I hadn't wanted to push my luck suggesting this as well, this tricky one sticking out on its own past Barnard Castle would be a great one to get done.

But my joy soon turned to despair when we realised it wasn't open! At 5pm on a Saturday!

Oi dickhead, stop smiling and turn around, pub is shut!

A look at their Facebook the next day indicated the pub wasn't open at all, so am guessing the hours I saw are temporary ones for villagers only?   

It might be a case of 'watch this space' (i.e. social media) but Dad did say we could come back on a Sun afternoon if the Hull City calendar allows us a Sunday day out instead of the Saturday at some point, not that we are really even following the Hull City calendar this year!

Seeing I was reeling from this bad news, he kindly agreed to stop at a North Yorkshire pub on the way back to soften the blow.  This was it.

Exelby Green Dragon, Exelby (1809 / 3238) put me very much in mind of our Half Moon, Newton on Derwent trip a fortnight ago.  I was at a similar state of drunkenness.  Friendly staff encouraged us out at the front in the sun.  It was fairly sleepy, though a few more cars.  No one from New Zealand popped up.  And then Dad had a great idea of getting strawberries, ice cream and coffee to finish off the day / sober me up.  Legendary idea, and we had to go inside for this, so got to witness the pub indoors too and its various nooks and crannies.  Was nice, they had a special award for how well they'd kept their Tim Taylor Landlord which was a shame cos I'd gone for a pint of Falconer, whatever that is,  twas good though.  Perfick end to what I'd describe as the perfick BRAPA car day, I've not been able to stop raving about it all week.  Cheers Da'! 

Strawberry to ice cream ratio was surprisingly weighted in strawbs favour

And there we have it, caught up, just before midnight.  Had my coffee.  7 hours sleep if I'm not too excited at the prospect of weird Essexy stuff over the next week.  



 I forgot I actually did have a pair of BRAPA briefs ......

Not lucky pants

So, how are you enjoying this new trimmed down format?  Please comment below, give me a nice big thumbs up to click like, and subscribe (hypothetically) for more award winning content.  Pub blogger of the year?  Hold my beer.  

Fast forward to Sat 12th June, I'd never 'ticked' a GBG pub on this date before so it was already exciting.  A lady on the train had fewer friends than me so bought herself a present 

How gorgeous is Roydon?  I was expecting a damp concrete flyover type East Berkshire style town, but it was a cute little village:

You know you are in a good place when the village sign looks like an inn sign

See what I mean?

New Inn, Roydon (1799 / 3228) stymied me from the off, by 'forcing' me to have a strong Adnams Broadside.  And I had a dodgy stomach before we'd even begun!  A pissy wedding was going on outside, some faffy older ladies faffed in the doorway, so I took my chance and was served with the effortless confidence of a local who'd woken up under a pub bench, having been there all night.  The most CAMRA looking men ever spied my GBG.  "CAMRA is 50 years old this year, did you know?" one said.  "Yes, I'm vaguely aware" I reply, though internally I'm screaming "50 YEARS OF CAMRA BOOK, LAURA HADLAND, PAGE 164 MOTHERFUCKER!" but it would've been a weird outburst in the circumstances.  Anyway.  My lovely visitors were here.  Quintessential Essex GBG pub this one, the first of many strong pubs today.

Simon Dewhurst off of Twitter had said he wanted a BRAPA outing when I was next near that mystical Herts/Essex border area.  Loving an ale or seven himself, his Dad kindly agreed to drive us to the difficult first couple, and then public transport/taxis would be our way forward after that.

I've not been kidnapped, I don't think

When we approached the next pub, I had my reservations.  Partly about not having made reservations.  It was Euro 2020/21 heaven, can you tell how I guessed? 

But don't be fooled by the inflatable bollocks (so to speak), this was a great pub to bring up the 40% (again) of BRAPA GBG ticks .....

Best staff of the day too at Theydon Oak, Coopersale (1800 / 3229) as we're greeted warmly by the most northern barman in Essex "ey up pal, 50% off all ales if you brought a whippet" he probably asked, and a gang of sprite barmaids (no I don't mean they drank lemonade), were as personable as one could hope.  Outdoor only was sad, as a toilet trip showed what an indoor classic this would've been.  The giant screen was about to show Wales, but Coopersale's Welsh community hadn't got out of bed yet, so no one really cared.  The Wherry drank well, but not Leighton Bromswold 'well'.  And Daddy Dewhurst got the dubious honour of highlighting the 1800th pub in his first.  These fair weather BRAPA supporters eh stealing the glory!!

DD drove us the couple of miles to Epping which was further away from Coopersale than it looked in the GBG.  He left us with the sound advice "look out for the landlord, Robin", and sped off, after one of the finest BRAPA cameos in recent history.  

Forest Gate Inn, Epping (1801 / 3230) was a strong contender for 'pub of the day' in a very strong line up.  Sitting inside was a bonus, it was an immaculate pub, it had a near 'other wordly atmosphere' and when Simon told me it was barely changed in 50 years, it was easy to accept as fact.  Staff superb, my Bishop Nick (def not brewed by a pilot at Andrewfield Airfield) one of the best kept pints today, the chips Simon got were top class (which they should be at that price!) and just when all hope seemed lost, the famous Robin waddles over and sits on a stool directly in my eyeline, presumably for BRAPA purposes.  Daddy D used to be in a rugby scrum between Robin and his similarly proportioned brother.  Amazing to imagine.  Scampi & Bacon Fries behind the bar too, pubs don't get much better than this.

A short stride out to Epping Tube to get to Loughton next, and Simon D was really warming to the BRAPA ethos, as he spotted 'hero of the day' even before me.  A bloke with a feather in his hat walking in front, so busy looking up at aeroplanes, he kept tripping up, dropped his keys, then threw them in the air in a "don't worry, I'm cool!" manner, that didn't really hold much conviction.

Loughton was disappointing if you compare it to the other places today, boring high street chain shops etc.  Though it did have this:

B. Patient Ltd

It was perhaps a sign (I mean, I know literally, it is a sign) you can't ever expect to have it quite your own way on any given BRAPA outing.

For as we stepped up to the next pub, both our hearts sank a bit at the chaotic marquee scene that greeted us but brave face for the camera and all that:

Victoria Tavern, Loughton (1802 / 3231) was the weakest pub of the day we both agreed.  Having said that, the interior had enough about it to suggest that coming here on a normal marqueeless frosty night in January, you could have a decent experience.  No, my only beef was with the staff really.  I was buzzin' when the nervous barmaid outside told us we could sit inside, which seemingly no one else had asked today, so I walk in all chatty n breezy, and what do I get in return?  Sullen wet lettuces, the lot of them, especially the dude who served us.  Should reconsider his role in hospitality with this attitude, why would you want a customer facing job?  My TT Landlord was ok, but not enough to save the pub in my mind.  Taxi here, must dash!

Look at that bar, quite glorious

Unnecessary bunting 
Necessary Bunty

Uber dude had parked out front, we'd gone back, so we had to dash back through the pub as I could feel my customer rating ebbing away.  Then he wanted to risk getting through these roadworks, which didn't work, but I still felt obliged to online tip him for a 'good effort', once we reached the pub.

And what a pub it was!  Woodbine Inn, Waltham Abbey (1803 / 3232) may not have been as outwardly aesthetically pleasing as some of the darker, old, beamed pubs today, but it felt the most authentic, proper boozer of the day.  Guy sitting by door with broken leg tells us what beers are on, thought he was a customer, as he hops up to tell staff what we want.  But he is the landlord, and unlike Robin earlier, you can tell he's actively itching to to 'get back to work' so doing what he can under the circs to keep busy and useful.  Superb guy, hobbles over later to check we are ok.  Someone out of sight is drilling a hole in a wall. Simon D observes "you can tell you are in a great pub when there is mysterious DIY going on in the background".  He's not wrong.  There's much Welsh cider going on, and a guy in a Welsh facemask.  So this is where Coopersale's Welsh contingent have got to!  Brilliant locals like Yellow Charlie and his mate with braces with the strongest rural Essex accents imaginable discuss tales of the past (probably, they may as well have been speaking ..... Welsh?)  Simon drinks 2 pints to my 1, I ask if we can pay, barmaid says "you mean you want to stay for more drinks?" but taxi II is here.  Utter classic, and I've accidentally written a normal sized blog entry!

Colin fits in effortlessly here

More minus Uber points for me as I get told off for picking dry dead skin off my arm in the back of her taxi, though I did kinda draw attention to it!  

I say goodbye to Simon at Waltham Cross station, had been a great day, and head back into London, but my stomach pains are back, Tom Irvin is also gurgling somewhere in London, and I'm not up to even a pint of ESB in Parcel Yard, never mind a bonus tick in the Stoke Newington area! 

By York, I decide Liver n Onions might sort me out .....

But all night, into Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I've got the shivers, that sensitive skin thing, awful stomach cramps, even have to take 2 days off work and I only work from home!

Wonder what it was, but never fear, for by the following Saturday, I was on fine form raring to go oop North with Daddy BRAPA,  join me in our final part tonight for that one. 

Cheers, see you before midnight for part 3, might get myself a coffee first!