My Wednesday evening in the North East was bang on schedule, as it would need to reamin, if I was to get home to York at any kind of reasonable hour, signing on at work for 8am. With Redcar and Stockton both nicely negotiated, the train took me to Bishop Auckland for my final tick of the night.
We arrived promptly, which gave me well over the 27.5 minutes required in the pub. The walk took me down a couple of side streets, and with the pub at the end, I could hear the lively whooping and hollering of the outdoor brigade. How close could I get with the outdoor pub photo without sparking some sarky comment?
|Hmmm, can do better?|
|Not bad but might go for one better still .....|
|That's the one!|
Ok, so I did get spotted and had to endure a couple curious looks, 'alreet pets' and 'howay marras' as I entered the fittingly named Welcome, Bishop Auckland (1884 / 3313) , one of those rarities - a GBG debutant that is simply an unfussy community local with one cask ale. Basic, in ya face, refreshing. I locate the one cask pump lurking on the left hand side of the bar, but our hero of the next 30 minutes, Ian, shouts over that it has been on since Saturday, not many people have been drinking it, and what with the hot weather, I'd be better off with the John Smith's Smooth. Sounds like good advice. Best Smooth in town, he tells me, though he has only drunk it once, that fateful day they ran out of his favoured tipple, bottles of Newcy Broon. I sit on the bench next to him whilst a woman on the other side pulverises the poor fruit machine until it chings its load in her direction, and she leaves, a happy if jangly lass. After a long listen to Ian's monologue about talking to southerners on the London Underground, it becomes clear his best school mate is Alan from Yard of Ale brewery, who I'd just 'Twittered' an hour ago when drinking his stout in Stockton. Small world innit! In the gents, I think the door is stuck but there's one of three ladz having a pee. I nearly end up on the cubicle floor, and apologise profusely, but he laughs and says 'knee bother mate' which is something I've suffered from after long pub walks in Dorset. Ian's been a great lad, so after Col asks for a piccie, all that remains is to get the train back to York via Darlo.
As I cross the road away from the pub, a bloke on the other side, on his mobile phone shouts after me and after doing my best Travis Bickle impersonation, he asks me if I'd heard people in there calling him a nonce. I tell him I didn't hear anything of the sort. He replies "well, I've been done for GBH and ABH so they are messing with the wrong man if they are sayin' that ..... I'll go home and get my revolver, come back here, then they won't be sayin' it!"
Good grief! I wish him a very pleasant evening, and scuttle off as quick as my legs can take me. But no time to dwell, as Trainline confirms my worst fears. Train cancelled! Last train of night. I cannot believe it. I look up buses to potential other destinations. Not much doing.
Back at the station, I find two guys in the same situation. I assume they are Spanish or Italian. They are trying to ring the train company to find out what is going on. The language barrier is a problem so they ask me to assist.
My way of assisting is not what they have in mind, which is to vanish into Caps Off, the friendly little station pre-emptive, still as pre-emptive today as it was in Feb 2020, I tell the two blokes the situation and ask for beer to sooth my nerves, but they are closing up, but very sympathetic as both lived in York so know how notorious the Bishop Auck-Darlington change can be.
As a concession, they flog me 4 cans of their lager for a tenner to ease the pain. I thank them and hope they make the 2022 Good Beer Guide.
I fling two cans at the lads, but they tell me they don't drink! But don't worry, they've been told there is a replacement bus at 9pm. I go for a piss in the bushes, lean back against the wall, still hot from the summer sun, crack open a can, a very nice drop, and we get chatting.
Turns out they are from North Iraq, Kurdistan. Yes, their English isn't great but we have a bit of a laugh, ages til the 9pm replacement bus. At one point, I see them giving each other shoulder massages. I look a bit startled, but different cultures and all that, who am I to judge!
They ask if I want one. No, but they tells me that if I do one, and they get a photo, it'll make BRAPA big in Iraq (probably, I can't speak the language). Always been a difficult country to crack, so I say why not! Though I am a bit uncomfortable, I must admit.
As the light starts to fade, the chances of this replacement bus turning up I'm feeling are pretty slim as we chug towards 9pm. The sunset at least is glorious, illuminating the evening sky like Basra or something ...........
To much joy and relief, this posh coach pulls up and a bloke on a walkie talkie says he's got TWO people to take back to Darlington - yes only one of my Kurdish mates is hopping on. He sits well far back, so I crack a couple more cans, it is getting dark now but I'm trying my best to create a party atmosphere:
Back in Darlo, there IS a train before midnight to York, I get a Raisin n Biscuit Yorkie out of the vending machine, and still have a few snacks, though I seem to have mislaid my final lager on the coach! Nice treat for someone. But my train is on time. Back in my flat before 1am, I suppose it could've been worse. What a night!
Fast forward to Saturday, fully rested after that trauma, and time for my latest instalment of 'Essex BRAPA : The Quest to Green it Off Before the 2022 GBG Arrives'. (or EBTQTGIOBT2GA for short).
I will be joined by Simon Dewhurst, who we met with his Dad (Daddy Dewhurst) back in June as they helped me with that Epping Forest area. But for now, he is working til 13:30 so the first two pubs which I'll tell you about here, are just me.
I arrive into Stansted Mountfitchet station (where my 7th and final pub tick would be found later) and walk for a couple of miles to this rural outpost.
A dog walking lady tries to stop for a jolly chat about the muggy air and midges. But the ole' pub curmidgies love me just like they did on the hills above Colwyn Bay, so I chat whilst moving and itching.
It is 11:50am when I arrive in the village, if you can call it that , so I wait patiently and try and take an arty photo without looking too much like I'm having an episode ......
At 11:57am, I lose patience and go to knock them up (so to speak) but luckily, the pub looks like it is tentatively open already .....
Big fan of the Three Horse Shoes, Hazel End (1885 / 3314), it managed to straddle that often difficult balance of well-to-do rural dining pub, with welcoming, traditional, friendly local proper pub, with a lot more ease than should really be possible. Striding forwards to the bar and standing eye-to-eye with our welcoming hostess as my ale is pulled, really does feel like a novelty factor! And what a good ale it is, Dragonfly by Hadham, a brewery I'd not heard of before today (slogan "Have a Hadham" ... genius) but would be sick of the sight of by the end of the day! A few coffin ditherers appear and hover between bar and table, between facemask up and facemask down, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. First Saturday back, understandable I guess. Mr Shoes shouts over "is that a cauliflower?" oh yes, Colin who'd been so quiet in midweek, always comes to life on a Saturday. After much GBG chat with the lovely couple (not to mention a 'delightful' conversation to listen to for our elderly diners) , I ask if I can pinch a Hadham beermat for a souvenir and he goes to a cupboard and gives me two new ones, a tiny gesture but kinda symptomatic of the niceness of the pub.
|Should I have gone Doom Bar? That IS the question|
|Judgey carved owl doing nothing|
|Nice creaky beamed classic Essex pubbing|
|Another page bites the dust!|
I would've walked to Birchanger on another day, but I wanted to be all 'drunk up' and ready for Chrishall by the time Simon D arrived, so needing to speed my day up a bit, so ordered an Uber.
Goran arrives. He's memorised my name. "SIMONNNN" he cries. Luckily, I've done the same. "GORANNNNN!" I reply. We laugh, and set off to Birchanger.
More on Birchanger, and FIVE (count 'em) other pubs with Simon D in tomorrow's blog, my memories are quite hazy!
I'll see ya then, bit earlier but still post watershed!