Saturday didn't begin in the comfiest of ways, squashed between toilet and Manchester bound lager football ladz in the vestibule of a jam-packed train between Stafford and Stoke. An 'artistic' selfie was taken to reflect my turmoil in that very moment ......
Once in Stoke, I could finally breathe and made my way to Platform 1(?) for the double whammy of Daddy BRAPA's impending arrival, and a Good Beer Guide tick.
The train comes in, but where is the great man? Well don't worry because Tom 'Clag Monster' Irvin is striding towards me, his parents dropping off each shoulder like Parisian fashion accessories of haute couture standard. 'Dad must be on a later train' I muse, 'let's wait into the pub ........'
|Birthday boy Tom and his parents
The lack of capitalisation on the 'b' of Titanic's funky new venture bod, Stoke-on-Trent (1973 / 3402) sets my teeth on edge before we've even entered but I'd come to be quite complimentary of the bod's by the end of the weekend. Hull City's Southern Supporters are already in, and I wave vaguely at the one I know most Paul, though I hear they don't like to encourage fellow visiting Tigers on their pub matchdays so I maintain a respectful distance. It's a modern shiny place with enough stationy brickwork to fool you into thinking otherwise, with a weird split half way down the pub, so you have a 'scum coming in off the busy train side', and a more considered peaceful side for the genteel inhabitants of Stoke coming in off the street. You can show your train ticket to get from one side to the other, but no one did. No sooner are we settled down with our various Titanics (mine's a Steerage), in the absence of the bodDINGTONS I'd craved, my phone buzzes and Daddy BRAPA is all a fluster. He was on that train, but got off last and shot straight out of the station barriers into the street! Now he is questioning life itself, and isn't sure he's in the right city! I find him at the barriers confusing the station staff when all he needs to say is he wants a pint in bod. What trauma. It is busying up, so we drink up, plenty more pubs where that came from ......
|Bernie adjusts her specs, no Boddingtons, note the split in the bar
|"What's in da bag?"
|The slimline highlighting technique of Chris Irvin is always distinctive
We time the bus up to Hanley perfectly, though I guess they are regular, and after Tom upsets the driver by arguing about the rip off price of a single, Daddy BRAPA is soon being wowed by the wonderous feat of architecture that is Hanley bus station.
|Top tier tweeting from Matthew
Back at Hanley bus station, no Hull City for us today, far too many pubs to tick. So I tell Dad we are getting a bus out to Leek, a town where neither of us have been before.
I have seriously underestimated the length of bus ride, which becomes increasingly bumpy and rural as time progresses. Bladder shattering. Leek indeed, taking the piss! When we finally reach what seems to be a lovely secluded little town, surrounded by hills, a bit like Glossop without the attitude, it is no surprise I point us in the direction of the GBG pub closest to the "bus station".
The fourth Titanic pub of my Staffs adventure, the Roebuck, Leek (1976 / 3405) is your quintessential Saturday afternoon town centre mock tudor pub, historic but so much food flying around, not to mention twilds and giant dogs strewn across the floor, a chaotic scene which puts me in mind of similar examples in Oxford and York. Had I not been so dying for a wee, I'd have joined Dad in a Chocolate & Vanilla Stout but am in such a rush, I hastily order an Iceberg and scarper. At least whilst I'm down there, I find a much calmer room at the pub, totally at odds with the decor in the main bar, but suits our needs just now. It also allows Dad chance to charge up his ailing phone, using the other plug at the back of the fruit machine. Another Dad is giving his daughter her first taste of fruit machines, but the moment she starts to get hooked, he drags her away. Life is so cruel when you are a child isn't it? In many towns, the Roebuck would be the best pub you could find, but in Leek, it is probably the weakest of the four GBG entries, I realise in retrospect. Which probably makes Leek the best pub town without a railway station, which I hope was proved by PubCurmudgeon's Twitter question on the subject. Alnwick was great, but as we'll see, Leek will take some beating.
Dad was already getting nervous about getting out of Leek to ensure he made his various train connections to Stoke - Manchester - York later, and who can blame him after that lengthy bus ride, but for now, it was important to live in the pubby moment.
NOT the Blue Mudge as I always thought when I saw it on other people's blogs / reviews, there can't be many people who enter the fabulous Blue Mugge, Leek (1977 / 3406) and exclaim 'OH NO!' but I have that dubious honour. "What's wrong?" says the young barman, who you can tell was a cut above many of his peers, in terms of giving a shit, and I tell him I've just seen the Gillette Soccer Saturday score flash up, Hull City are losing. "Oh no, and they are playing Stoke aren't they?" says the barman, like that made it 100 times worse. Two pints of Bass it is, one for each hand (not really, but it should've been). And I peer through various frosted glass screens, and see that whilst this immediate room is snug and cosy, the pub opens up into a swathe of red leather sweeping gloriousness and patterned wallpaper like back in the days where people didn't mind being bold with their decor. Determined to explore, the barman warns us there's lots of 'ladz' about, but Dad sees this as a challenge, and marches on through. Well, we do end up sat round a quiet corner, but to my surprise on a toilet trip, the 'ladz' in question are watching the Ryder Cup in total silence! Perfect place to smuggle a BRAPA snack too, with all these corners, nooks and crannies, and our homemade sardine and tomato sandwiches accentuate the Bass quality to buggery. What a combo. Like Saint & Greavesie in food/beer form, you can decide which is which.
|OH NO! Bad news on arrival
|Smuggling a sandwich down below
|A quality pub by a quality player
Onto the next, Dad said this'd have to be his last. I was relaxed on his behalf, feeling I'd solved all his transport problems by ordering him an Uber (after all, it had worked so well for me in Burston yesterday, what could go wrong?)
|Dad gets acquainted with the locals on arrival
Fountain Inn, Leek (1978 / 3407) was another stunner, which at the time, I felt was right up there with Blue Mugge, but now, in the cold light of day, maybe just fell a tiny bit short of it, but only just. Still a pub of the year contender if you plonked it down in Bucks. The perspex screen dividing staff from customers seems to have had an adverse effect on Dad, turning him into a mute, think Countess Irina Karlstein from the Female Vampire, but with less hair. Of course, he thinks our barmaid can't hear him so pointing at Salopian Oracle is the best way! But I've clocked that she thinks he's being rude. So I'm trying to explain to Dad, yes she can hear customers, whilst over compensating by being overly smiley and grateful to her! Phew, pub life can be hard. I feel a bit guilty, having swerved Bass for Salopian Oracle on this occasion but what an ale it is. The clientele are brash and quirky, Colin is finally getting some attention from locals with similar shaped heads. Dad isn't settled for long, Uber isn't playing ball, and feeling guilty again, I rush outside and order him a local taxi. 30 minutes a bit long to wait, cutting it fine, but it will have to do. Dad goes to sit outside, and within seconds, locals are quizzing me on why I'm here and what Col is all about! I join Dad, taxi is a couple of minutes early, phew, I wave him off, confident he's cracked it, and spend a few final minutes sat in the sun talking to an Irish Billy Connolly about pubs and life.
|Awkward moments at the bar
|Happy with his Oracle
|Sign I've had seven pints?
|Col struggling to get a good view
|Waving off Daddy BRAPA
Time for a moment of reflection, I'd done my six pub quota, but here I was in Leek, still one more GBG entry in the town. Would be rude not to wouldn't it? But for now, I sit on some monument in the middle of town, eating a scotch egg and drinking some weak orange drink, composing myself before the final push.
Time to drag myself up to see if my final Leek pub could live up to the others .....
The dents in the inn sign (though I was later told it was because it had been hit by a lorry!) were the first 'sign' to me that Wilkes Head, Leek (1979 / 3408) was going to have a certain uniqueness about it. I walk inside, and that centuries old wonderful fusty smell confirms it. The landlady peers at me in such a hard-hearted way, I feel compelled to choose a beer quickly, so a pint of the 6% Black Sabbath it is then, a beer that seems to match this pub perfectly in every way. So many of the other customers are old rockers, or younger rockers with a love of older times. Rarely has a pub being described as a 'step back in time' been so thoroughly warranted. I sit opposite the bar, open Colin a bag of Hula Hoops and sit back. For a person who is in their seventh pub, on their eight point fifth pint, I am incredible aware of my surroundings. This pub sure has a sobering effect. I also feel a sudden urge to ignore my mobile phone, it feels wrong to be tapping away on it, and I never feel like that, even in Sam Smith houses. What a gem.
Back at Leek's so called bus station, I'm all set for a return to Hanley, then Stoke, then Stafford, then bed, when I remember the bus calls at another GBG friendly place. Recalling the awful journey here, I figure it might be good to break it up for another toilet stop. Question is, can I handle another pub/pint? Oh go on then!
A bit of hazy mental maths follows to make sure I won't get stranded, and confident the hourly bus is still on, I jump off at Cheddleton.
There is a pub called the Red Lion on the main road. I think to myself "I bet that is the popular choice" and head off uphill along Hollow Lane, imaging in my mind's eye some kind of cross between Wilkes Head and the Vine Inn at Pamphill, Dorset nestled in a dark forest.
My illusions are shattered as I hear a great deal of chatter, outdoor clinking of glasses, oh gosh, this is a right 'destination pub' what a shame!
My mood lightens as I find plenty of room inside the Black Lion, Cheddleton (1980 / 3409) and Bass on the bar taking my tally for the weekend to an almost healthy four. It feels like most people are here for the location and the unseasonable warm evening weather. I'm buoyed further when a bloke pulls an extra chair up to the bar to rest his feet on, takes his shoes off, puts his coat behind his head, and closes his eyes! I think he might get told off but no one notices / cares, just nice to see someone drunker than me. A few Stoke fans are wandering around looking glum, even though they've comfortably beaten us. I hear one moaning to his mates "boring game, poor standard of football". 'A win's a win', I want to tell him, but he's too far away. Anyway, I can't linger, miss this hourly bus and I'm screwed. And by screwed, I mean I'd have to come back here for two more pints of Bass and order a taxi.
By the time I get back on the bus, I've forgotten it terminates at Hanley and not Stoke, so the driver has to make me see sense, it is dark when I'm back in Hanley, I have no idea how to get to Stoke station so I jump on the first bus I see and ask, and luckily, it goes to the station.
From there, I presumably got a train to Stafford, picked up some food from that distant Asda, and went back to my Travelodge , ready to do it all again on Sunday morning!
Join me either tomorrow evening (if I can be arsed) or Sunday, for Part 4 of my Staffs trip.
What an epic! I do apologise.
Thanks for reading if you did, Si