Tuesday 30 November 2021


The 2022 Good Beer Guide embargo period was over, and I travelled down to Worthing in West Sussex safe in the knowledge that there'd be no more 'under the table ticking', no more pre-emptive charade, no more worrying that I'd said too much on Twitter even though I obviously had.  Liberation!  Throw off those CAMRA shackles!  BRAPA will not be repressed any longer!  

Okay, so that is touch over the top.

Daddy BRAPA travelled down as far as London Victoria with me, but then declared that he was off to check out Arundel Castle (WHEREVER THAT IS!) rather than tackle the full six pints and an ESB nightcap.  He'd catch up with me somewhere down the line.

Today's other special guest, Tom Irvin, was so far incommunicado. though I was quite confident that he was somewhere on the southern rail network ticking track, units, crossovers, or whatever these train stans do, and would also join me later on.

So I ploughed a lone furrow through the backstreets of sunny Worthing, as the clock struck 11:45am, in readiness for my first official tick of the 2021/22 season.  This was it ......

Brewtel?  Doesn't work, mate

A delightful pale blue building to twin with this years GBG cover, kind of, but at the end of the day, it was a Brewhouse & Kitchen (1937 / 3501), the Worthing edition.  If you've been to one before, you've pretty much been to them all.  Walk in, be wowed by the brewing equipment visible through a glass window, walk through shiny wooden echoey bar, let smug young bearded men serve you their own brand of beers with names specific to the location, so for example, in Highbury, you get stuff like Parlour's Nob and Limpar's Swedish Sausage, here you get errrm, Swiss Cottage.  Is this building a former Swiss Cottage?  If I hadn't been yawning, I'd have looked it up.  Look, I'm being facetious, they have certain qualities, the ale was spot on even if the tankard was a bit OTT, handle at a weird angle, staff busy, and a very nice man & elderly mother sat near me and smiled.  I drank the pint pretty darn quick, as this insanely large group of screechers arrive and I felt sorry for the awkward embarrassed teenage boy as aunties and family friends kissed him sloppily and said hasn't he grown.  Course he has, it's been ten years!  The nice man and mother went to find a more peaceful place to sit, the roof perhaps, and I greened my guide, swigged off my Swiss Cottage (realising 'cheese' links both words), and left pronto.

Just coming up the path as I left was Tom.  So my quick drinking had saved him entering B&K, good because I fear he'd be even less tolerant of the chain than me.  Though I hear they do a fine blackcurrant.  

But what was this?  Tom was wearing a suit.  He'd had a job interview back up at home, and he tells me it 'made sense' to hop on a train and head straight down to Sussex rather than getting changed first.  I love how Tom's mind works in different ways to most folk.  Genuine sentiment that.

The next pub was on the horizon, and we had to stop a bit of people traffic to get the iconic shot you see below:

New Doctor Who auditions?

Anchored in Worthing (1938 / 3502) was one of the strongest pubs of the day, and the perfect example of a micropub firing on all cylinders, in just the way that nature (well, that Hillier chap) intended.  And when you have a suited Tom, you don't need a Colin the Cauliflower to help break the ice.  "He's worn a suit just because he knew he was coming here" I told the guv'nor and locals, and you know what, I think they half believed me.  Tom didn't deny it.  'Wankered with Irvin in the Anchored in Worthing' - I felt a song coming on, but didn't sing.  It was a tiny, warped little place with high wooden stools, low ceiling, and one of those atmosphere's that were both other-wordly and effortless.  I half expected a woodland creature to leap through the middle of it, playing a flute, or a magic tree to sprout up like in the Combermere in Wolverhampton or the Boot & Shoe in Ellerton.  I think the owner deserves a lot of credit, getting the balance right between gentle good humour, full engagement, but not too 'in ya face'.  With no blackcurrant (a real drawback of most micros), Tom got this posh Costa Rican pineapple juice  Ooh la la, you can tell we are on the south coast.  It made the man from Del Monte look kinda Poundland.  A really special place this, not at all forced.

Despite not being the most direct route to pub three, we took a slight detour so we could walk along the seafront, 'just because it is a nice thing to do'.  

Tom's suit got plenty of reverential looks, though the elderly coastal population looked at him a bit more nervously, like the local undertaker had arrived a bit too early.

And talking of dead n alive holes .....

What a contrast from the last pub, ugh this place looked ominous as we approached, and it was even worse once inside.  Corner House, Worthing (1939 / 3503) was exactly the kind of GBG entry that frustrates me.  A gastro atmosphere-free hell hole.  The joys of pub ticking eh?  The variation never ceases to amaze me.  Tom's blackcurrant was presented to him as a pint of water!  The barmaid apologises for her deafness.  A rare moment of humanity.  I've thought of three positives.  The nice green bar tiling of with the name of the pub which I half photographed.  The Harvey's didn't give me the trots like it often does (Yorkshire intestine, I can't help it).  And the sink in the gents, a 'corner' sink, the most characterful thing in there.  Whilst I was weeing, Tom said 'hello' to a passing barmaid.  So shocked was she, she simply balked, and walked off confused!  Tom felt rejected and annoyed.  Here isn't a place for pleasantries with strangers.  In fact, sitting here drinking a pint without food made you feel out of place.  Always the worst type of 'pub'. 

Col's first appearance of the day, but he's dying inside

But fear not, pub four promised a much improved experience ...... 

The awning may've suggested 'low key ice cream parlour' but the truth was, the Selden Arms, Worthing (1940 / 3504) opened up into the most traditional boozer of the day, and the main challenger to Anchored in Worthing for pub of the day.   The motivated landlady surprises us by telling it is table service.  Tom's round.  So to speak.  "Are you happy to handle my coins?" he asks, and she is.  I laugh like it's something from Carry On Banking, but no one joins in, so I leave it.  The Vibrant Forest is drinking powerfully and fuzzily, and Daddy BRAPA has timed his return from his Chichester Crypt perfectly, sliding in like an Addams Family regular, and it finally felt like a full on BRAPA day out.   The beermats are cut up beer towels, not sure I've actually seen that before, but you know what, I didn't dislike it.  Novel.  And since my visit, the pub has become very active on Twitter.  Coincidence?  Of course, and a boring one, but just thought I'd mention it to keep my word count up.

After a bit of debate regarding what our final two ticks will comprise, we opt for the 'one more in Worthing, and then finish off Littlehampton' option.  

Our next and final Worthing tick is the closest GBG one to the main station ......

Brooksteed Ale House, Worthing (1941 / 3505) may just win the BRAPA award for quickest downed pint in the last 7.5 years.  Well, once I decided to go for it.  The reason was, that if we could catch an earlier train, we could take pressure off ourselves for the final Littlehampton tick.  Thankfully, I'd ordered a nice steady bitter, well kept, an easy one to down.  As you can therefore imagine, my pub memories are a bit fleeting.  I liked the planty, leafy backdrop of this micro, a bit like a mini botanic gardens.  A bloke walks past and like my Replacements top and we have a 30 second conversation about what a great band they are, Dad n Tom presumably looking on in awe.  Oh, and the loo door was stuck so I thought someone was in it, when I could've gone a lot sooner.  NOT that the blokes by the bogs told me until I asked.  Whistlestop pubbing, like what the ticking veterans do, but a good place.

Despite my gut busting efforts, it still looked like we'd miss this train.  The lads had all but given up as we rounded the corner to the station, but I was especially determined to make it, and a quick dash through, perhaps a helpful one minute delay, and we just made it in the nick of time!

Having done the New Inn and the now de-guided Wetherspoons last time out, we just had one close to the station remaining to tick off my first West Sussex town in full since Burgess Hill in 2014.

With a nautical but nice back drop, and a loud, pleasant landlady greeting us warmly, I was really wanting the Steam Packet, Littlehampton (1942 / 3506) to be fantastic.  I liked it, but it all felt a bit limited.  I think one of the main problems was the total lack of custom besides ourselves.  It is a late opener, so perhaps doesn't get going until the evening time.  Again, I chose the most brown boring best bitter I could see.  Enjoyed it.  You can't drink a pint in eight minutes and not suffer consequences, and alongside the usual bladder issues, my memory was quickly going.  I did manage to remember one thing though, I hadn't eaten all day.  Cardinal BRAPA sin.  Tsk!  Possibly the most traditional pub of the day since the Selden too, but didn't quite grab me as much, but that might well've been my state! 

I'm still not convinced West Sussex there and back from York in a day is a great plan.  I'm not sure part three of this 'thrillogy' will ever happen.  I think a week down here to 'mop it up' in the coming years might be wiser.  Everything always seems a bit too rushed.  

It is a long way back into London, but I took the opportunity to have a big bottle of juice, lots of scran, and a decent sleep, and by the time we were on the Tube back to Kings Cross, I felt like a new man.  Revived!  And you know what that means don't you?

We said farewell to Tom, who had the kind of important stuff to do that men in suits do.


See you tomorrow for the month end review!  It's gonna be good.


Sunday 28 November 2021

BRAPA in ..... A TALE OF TWO GATES (From Toll to Harro)

There was a little epilogue to my tale of Hants fun, as I travelled back towards my York home on the Monday morning.

For some inexplicable reason, I'd booked myself on a fixed 08:18 ticket out of Winchester, but was not out of Kings Cross until 12:36.

'If only there was a pub chain which I could rely on to be open before 11am, even on a Monday, offering well kept real ale at cheap prices in comfortable surroundings with zero judgement' I mused wistfully as the Tube took me north from Victoria.   

Hang about, there is!  I thumbed through the London pages of the GBG, scaring my fellow commuters by doing so, and noticed that if I carried on through Kings Cross, and got myself onto the Piccadilly line at Finsbury Park, I could jump off at this station .....

Me having jumped off at this station

Up at street level, it was your chaotic London suburb Monday morning scene.  Red double decker buses stopping me from crossing, takeaway wrappers swirling in the wind, impatient business people, toothless old men propping themselves against railings.  The pub soon appeared .....

It is no exaggeration when I say that the Toll Gate, Hornsey must be up there with the strongest Wetherspoons I've ever visited.  The landlady / pub manager is all like "what brings you here Si?" (not that she knew my name) and when I mention in confidential tones that it is GBG related, a glimmer of recognition lights up her eyes, and she tells me they are having a presentation ceremony later this week that she's looking forward to (I later overhear her telling another barmaid the same, to prove she wasn't just saying it to impress me!)  The Inveralmond Ossian is drinking superbly, a rare 'Spoons fire (not counting those deliberately started by 'overly motivated' customers) adds warmth and atmosphere, and a quick recce reveals not one sticky surface.  A 4th July 2020 level of cleaning is going on.  I hear the American barmaid and an American punter discussing 'Black Lives Matter' in "real life", I've never felt more vital.  Colin wants to take the knee, but remembers he doesn't have any.  In fact, I'd thought about getting a BRAP Lives Matter t-shirt printed, but ultimately wasn't brave enough.  I'd use this pub as the perfect blueprint to convince the army of 'Spoons naysayers of just how good they can be.

I briefly considered heading back into the City to get some of those awkward 'don't open weekends' GBG pubs done (I'm looking at you Deveraux, Temple) but in the end, grabbing a coffee, baguette and catching the 12:36pm comfortably seemed the more appealing option.

Back home, I spent a couple of days completing my 'cross-ticking' of the new GBG, overjoyed by the lack of churn, though my pumpkin hadn't survived the week, but as Mummy BRAPA says, they are squashes at the end of the day ......

And it was still one day before the official release date of the new GBG, when I headed out into the dusk of another Thirsty Thursday for a couple of bonus ticks ...... the last ones before I could start counting again.

Harrogate was the chosen location.  As it does every year, it had thrown up a couple of new entries just to buck the 'low churn' trend ........

First up, Inn at Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate.  It was so quintessentially Harrogate, it actually felt familiar despite having never been before.  I don't just mean the fact that they stuck the address in the name for a bit of added toffee-nosery posery that outsiders associate with the town, but it had a clean, smart and (slightly too) polished air about it.    It lacked character if I'm being james blunt, but a couple of points in its favour.  Being a Timothy Taylor's gaff, it allowed me a pint of 'Landlord Dark' for the first time since it changed its name from Ram Tam.  Well kept.  And, although he didn't speak to me, the main man emerges from a side door (kitchen?) and starts chatting amiably with this couple who'd previously come in for a quiet drink.  He stays 'on brand' during the chat, truffle oil and roast woodcock amongst the foodie chat.  The day you hear Harrogate folk discussing tripe 'n trotters is the day the world ceases to turn.   So, not the type of pub to stick long in the memory, but it put up a decent fight. 

Keane Lewis Otter, the new midweek mascot to give Colin a breather

Astonishingly (to me at least), this was my 12th visit to Harrogate with the purpose of visiting pubs in the Good Beer Guide.  

I've always found it a hard place to love, or even to understand.  For years, I'd simply dismiss it as being 'up itself' but I'm not sure that really tells the full story.  My modern theory is it seems that the residents are painfully aware of how the town is perceived to outsiders, sometimes unfairly, almost a sense of guilt that they are so far removed from the traditional stereotype of 'Yorkshire'.  This makes them uncomfortably self aware, so when talking to anyone not perceived as a regular or frequent visitor, it causes an unconscious 'closing of ranks'.  And yet, when all said and done, good folk exist here, honest down to earth folk.  So you do get these occasional welcome flashes of humanity and recognition, a bit like a dementia patient (I watched the Jack Charlton documentary so now I'm an expert).  That's my conclusion from twelve visits anyway.   Time to stop the bullshit psycho analysis.  Next pub.

Tap on Tower Street, Harrogate I'd later learn is what once was the Tap & Spile, which I apparently visited on my first of those twelve visits, 6th Jan 2007 to be precise, when Daddy BRAPA and me swerved Hull City's FA Cup third round home tie to come and watch the then very non league Harrogate Town.  I remember the Coach & Horses, getting my feet soaked crossing the Stray, but not this place, and tonight's visit didn't jog any memories either.  Markedly 'pubbier' than the last place (though everything is relative) the stone walled main bar doesn't have one seat free!  I perch at the bar with some other ale-forward folk, and order an ale from Little Critters, which soon descended into vinegar I'm sad to report.   I've had similar Little Critters experiences in two L**ds Wetherspoons, not a lucky brewery for me.   I'd later spy plant pots atop an old piano, but at the risk of ruining a good piano, I don't tip the beer in. The staff are nice, so I perch and smile for a while until I realise I'm being a bar blocker, so go a-wanderin', where I discover a 'games room' with more board and card games than I've seen in a pub in my life!  Fascinating, you have to pay a deposit for the privilege, and a young couple settle down for what looks like being a long evening when they discover Harrogate Monopoly - where presumably, every property is more Mayfair than Old Kent Road.  Especially as the lad keeps getting phone calls telling him he is required elsewhere!  He fobs the caller off, okay so Grandma MIGHT be dying, but somethings are more important, like purchasing the bus station with your (fake) lottery winnings.  An interesting place then, the lighting sticks in my mind too.  Some rooms seemed very dark, some too bright!

Random pile of logs disguised as giant Jenga

No doubt I'll see you back in Harrogate for my 13th visit in November 2023.

But for now, I'll see you back here on Tuesday where I'll tell you about my latest trip to West Sussex.  We can officially start counting the pubs again.

Cheers, Si