Saturday 6th November. My penultimate day of what was becoming one of the more epic BRAPA holidays of recent times. Mid Hants, I salute you!
As I force down more Travelodge coffee, cornflakes, a carton of OJ, a pain au chocolat and a flapjack, Col turns to me and says "look chief. we're gonna have to go south if we're gonna keep up our six pub a day progress". And I turns to Col, and you know what I says? I says "damn straight Col, I didn't think we'd be having to go beyond Eastleigh, but it is symptomatic of what a successful week we are having". And he looks me straight in the eye and says "aye, best crack on then Si".
So we hopped on a bus to take on the last two pubs which really were mid Hants. Here was the first, just after noon, and I just had to be happy that this remote village had a decent bus service.
Home of the Flower Pots beers which I absolutely love, I was expecting big things from the Flower Pots Inn, Cheriton. And the ale straight from the barrel was as immaculate as I'd imagined. The pub itself left me fairly cold though. A bare boarded, pastel decorated thing, not quite the rustic, ragged old rural retreat I'd mentally conjured up on the bus. The locals don't quite fit either, men with colourful baggy trousers drinking out of silver tankards, the lady opposite half talking to herself, half scowling at me. The overall 'village-life' American werewolfy feel, where irresponsible fireworks spook ponies and make them escape from nearby fields into country lanes they shouldn't tread. I was always teetering on the edge of being included in the conversation, but it was always tantalisingly out of reach, despite the main lady throwing a lot of nods and smiles in my direction as if encouraging me to become a 'Cheriton guest star'. But locals closed ranks skilfully enough not to appear rude, just as I was about to tell the anecdote of Daddy BRAPA nearly burning down our shed by attaching a Catherine wheel to it. And the whole pub experience was very that, 'the nearly man' of classic pubs. More Nicky Banger than Rodney Wallace.
I had been contemplating a very long walk to pub two. It looked achievable, but my 'Emergency Taxi Fund' tatty envelope still had £40 in, Cheriton sapped my sense of adventure, and this bloke reluctantly agrees to come and get me, and drive me on to pub two.
A nice chap, think an Italian Andy Caddick. We bond when a local cyclist refuses to pull into a lay-by to let us pass. "Wot a nob 'ead" I say. IAC liked that. "Yes, too many blokes around here with a massive sense of entitlement" he sneers with a big Italian hand gesture like a taxi driver who has been stymied once too often, and not by StymieSi.
It would prove an interesting prelude to pub two ......
A mass of historic GBG window stickers invariably means you are entering a good pub, and Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge was that, a warmer unspoilt version of the Flower Pots, the uneven stone floor, little wood burner bubbling away, and more great quality Flower Pots ales served straight from the barrel improved my mood no end. I perch 'twixt bar and fire in the corner, the perfect position. And yet. It was so so strange on every other level. Busy with the Saturday lunchtime crowd, many tables included dogs and children. But it was so Bjorkesque. Oh so quiet. And still. Without the loud bit, or the attacking reporters at airports bit. How could all these people be sat so silently eating? It was the same story in the other room where you went towards the loo. Okay, I heard one teenage girl ask her Dad a bit loudly "can you pass the sauce?" but she immediately looked guilty and bowed her head. Combine this with a few strict rules re mobile phones, cash, not touching hot fires, and local village stuff, I felt sort of uncomfortable, disconcerted and a bit confused. If anyone walked by, they remained totally expressionless. Pubs this good should not be this serious.
As remote as Dundridge seemed, it wasn't a long walk at all to Bishop Waltham, which might not have contained a GBG pub, but was the perfect transport interchange.
Google Maps occasionally surprises me, and did so here by leading me down an unmarked path, saving me from going back to the main road.
On the walk to Botley station, I passed something that looked so fantastically flimsy, it had pre-emptive future GBG certainty written all over it, but I didn't stop, so expect me to be kicking myself in 12 months time.
|There he goes, the bloody bugger!|
Would've been rude not to visit Steam Town Brew Co. Eastleigh at some point this week, considering how many of their ales I've sampled. From the Old Vine in Winchester (my second tick of the week), to the last place in Fareham (28th), I've been enjoying them. To my delight, neither of the two unovertakerable dudes go to the bar, they both make a b-line for either the second level (people sat on repurposed train seats trying to look comfortable) or the upper third level, where "Happy Birthday Bridget" banners wrap around every surface. I wandered up later, but a lady (possibly Bridget) looks at me like 'do I know you?' so I retreat. Then a train seat beard looks at me like "no repurposed train seats available for BRAPA, hard cheese!" so I have to stay at ground level, where I have a brief chat with a lady about random piles of logs not doing anything. She wants me to watch her fluffy coat. I figure this pile of logs can at least support my bag and her coat whilst I sup my pale Steam Town beer, and watch the live music act who tries very hard to whip up the crowd as the clock strikes eight. "Hi I'm Ben from Burlesdon" he says apologetically. "I can do 400 songs so if you shout one out, there's a good chance I'll know it!" he adds somewhat optimistically. Worried that Sheb Wooley's 'Purple People Eater', 'Smiling at Strangers on Trains' by Million Dead and 'Eighteen with a Bullet' by Pete Wingfield might not be in his repertoire, I keep schtum and am glad when 'Country Roads' and 'Candle in the Wind' stop me having to make a decision. It is an amusing way to end another day's ticking.
|Fluffy coat gone AWOL|