Remember, remember, the fifth of November. And I will. For it was today, a sunny mild Friday morning, that I met our old #PubMan pal, Mick Citra, at Hook station, ready for six of the best.
The pub agenda read a bit like a music festival poster, with Wonston ('best pub in Hants' so many people have been telling me) as the headline act to wow the fans. Before that, we'd have to sit, stand and perch through a bit of dross, with the odd surprisingly good support act thrown in.
We started not far from Hook, on the twee main drag of market town Odiham, pronounced to rhyme more with 'odious' than 'odd' Mick tells me. The pub is pretty much indistinguishable from next door's Bel & The Dragon, and there are people sat outside in the sun drinking coffee looking self important.
Red Lion, Odiham made all the impression on me of a hand dryer blowing the slightest sliver of cold air. A 'server' greets us in a way reminiscent of peak 2020 lockdown pub visiting, kind of apt as this is how Mick cut his BRAPA teeth. We explain we only want a drink, and she still tries to usher us towards a set table, but we sort of loiter around the bar to see what ales are on, so she gives up and returns to the entrance desk to pick on her next victims. Plane memorabilia, but just as plain. The Jack the Ripper themed ale drank maltily, and was good quality. But if this really was the 'first band on', then it was some shoe-gazing high schoolers who's one public appearance had ended in abject failure at a battle of the bands night, ending in and a lame scuffle in the car park which everyone apologised for by text the next day.
|Col and his favourite #PubMan Citra|
We decided to get a difficult one out of the way next, me slightly paranoid that it might close mid afternoon even though it isn't supposed to on a Friday (it does Monday to Thursday).
Even with all the wonders of modern technology at our disposal, we still had to pull in at the side of a road to make sure we were heading at the right direction, very out in the sticks south of Basingstoke. Didn't help the signs seemed to be telling us the pub was at 'Southrope' and not 'Herriard' as the GBG said. Let's hope we went to the right one.
Reassured that there can't be two pubs out here called Fur & Feathers, Herriard and seeing the pub open, I bounce in all joyful like but landlady shouts "CAN YOU GO BACK AND SANITISE YOUR 'AAAANDS?" and again, it feels more like a 2020 pub experience, but respect to pubs who choose to maintain the measures they feel are right and safe. For an encore, she snatches my pint back off me. Bottom of barrel? I like a pub with standards. She then tells us a very convoluted tale about a new beer being pulled through this very morning. She omits the bit where she actually says it is on now, leading to an awkward silence before I ask, and she goes 'duh yeah!' With Wonston in mind already, I ask her to check the percentage. I want low strength ales if possible. This newbie is 5.1%, so I swerve it for something 4%! It'll pay dividends later, trust me. An unusual pub this, slightly quirky, detached from reality, loves a bit of hunting humour, done up in a way to appeal to posh lunchers, but with plenty of bright artworky quirk too. It kind of won us both over eventually, and I'd rank it our third best pub of the day. If this was a band, they'd be just starting out, ready to not quite hit the big time, but perhaps support someone semi well-known at the O2 in 5 years time and have a cult following.
We drive north back into what, us Hants GBG tickers call the 'see inset' section of the county. You don't get many insets in the GBG. A little bit south of York, Bristol, and errrm let me know if you can think of any more. Must be more than three.
Hants inset pubs have always been something of a mixed bag, and that'd be a generous way to describe this next two.
We started here, which looked a bit foreboding before you'd even crossed the threshold. I love Christmas. But not before Bonfire Night.
A bit like Winchester's Wykeham before it, the Wyvern, Church Crookham rhymes with 'Given' and not Wye-vern, the GBG helpfully points out for northern fools like me, but I have a shining Mick Citra to guide me along the chosen path (which I'm sure is a hymn we used to sing in school). Let's start with the positives. Most ales on Mick has ever seen here, and a very sprightly helpful stripling of a barman. Well, of course I'm not gonna choose it but I spy Theakston's Old Peculiar and mention it due to the errrm peculiarity of seeing it! So he starts Theaksplaining to me. I'm thinking "ey up lad, I wor probably drinking this stuff oop in York when you were in t' nappies". But I appreciate his spiel. A tropical fish tank is weird too in these surroundings. Mick tells me 10 years ago, he won a George Foreman grill in this pub. It has never forgiven him. We sit in the 'snuggery' facing a giant mechanised snow globe Santa, and I seriously have to tell you all in all my 3,500 all time GBG pubs, I've rarely drank in more soul destroying unpubby surroundings. Sticky. Kids and dogs wail from afar. The bogs seem to be one accessible loo with a door that doesn't shut. There must be more?? If Barrel & Stone are aiming to be some kind of new Ember Inn, they've managed to out do them. Insanely upsetting stuff, I'm glad Mick was there to share my misery. A Phil Collins tribute act of a pub who breaks into the odd George Formby cover to hold the crowd's attention.
|The ale drank well|
|The most depressed fish on earth since Michael's 1987 hurricane faux pas|
|How comfy does Mick look in the snuggery out of ten?|
|We were weirdly transfixed by this monstrosity. Bonfires not even lit FFS!|
Good grief! And the tragic thing was, I can totally see why it belongs in the GBG , replacing last year's Spice Merchant in Crookham Village which had lovely people but ale wise, not a patch on this! Weak part of the country this for ale, how about giving your allocation to Winchester, sure they could squeeze out a seventh pub?
Back in the car, I (half jokingly) say to Mick "Oh well, Andwell Brewery might feel like a Heritage Grade II listed gem after that!" Mick laughs and says he doubts it. We'll see!
Odd location first off, awkward narrow lane, they probably built it here for summer outdoor drinkers on the decking by the river.
Andwell Brewery Taproom, Andwell and the entrance is just as disconcerting as the location. It feels more like a centre where you'd drop your elderly mother off for a spa day, crossed with a local council office where you'd present your 500 forms in the unlikely event they agree to give you a tax rebate. The main area is a lot more 'classic brewery tap', vast sweeping, metal chairs, made airy by the large windows looking out towards the river. It is surprisingly warm due to the pub highlight, a large fan (not a person), and even more disconcertingly, smells a lot more of freshly ground coffee than it does beer. Unusual for a brewery tap. Feels as much like a gift shop, as a place to have a drink. The confused looks on our faces as we search in vain for cask go totally unnoticed by the woman serving, I thought I'd cracked it with the Sunny Republic, but definitely not! Key Keg? Who knows. I had a pint of cask by them very recently (Goodworth Clatford?) so I know they do it. Mick looks even more disgusted than he did in the Wyvern, and that is some feat. I grew into the experience a little bit more than I did there, but not by much, In band terms, probably should've gone on second, obviously only playing because it is the promoter's daughter's emo rock band and she begged and begged, their butchered cover of Paramore's 'The Only Exception' moved everyone who witnessed it to horrible tears.
Two pubs left! Okay, so we were well behind our schedule of hitting Wonston for their opening time, but hey ho, it probably was never too likely, and everything happens for a reason.
Time to leave 'inset Hants' and head back into the middle of the county for our final two.
The thatched gloriousness of our next pub heralded an upturn in fortunes ...... oh hang on, that was a house opposite, but the points still stands ....
Cricketers, Longparish had evaded me all week, with its awkward hours and tricky location so this was a good feeling on walking in, and easily pub of the day so far too. Was it supposed to be this smoky? Or was the wood burner spewing out something it shouldn't? It didn't matter, added to the atmosphere, and on this Guy Fawkes night, maybe it was BRAPA effigies being burned by all those pubs I've slagged off over the last 7.5 years. Thanks for your support. Bit of an issue, my Dark Star Hophead was definitely on the turn, and being five pints in, no nerves about returning it (I still get nervous after all these years!) but the nice gent behind the bar deals with it speedily and efficiently, smile on face, though I was beginning to realise why Weyhill Fair is more of a local GBG staple than this one. A giant dog wanders in, dragging a paramedic behind him, whilst Mick, Col and I are settled in front of the fire feeling as happy as we've done all day. The perfect 'band' to get the crowd jumping for the main event, coming up next!
|Random pile of logs actually doing something - that's the difference between good and bad pub!|
The GBG helpfully tells you Wonston is only a 15 minute walk from a bus stop in this made up place called Sutton Scotney, the Dukinfield of the south. Which I suppose makes it more accessible than many I did this week, but even so, it still felt totally remote as we arrived in the pitch black. I thought I'd captured a photo of a UFO, but I'd had five pints ...... I think it was just Mick's phone looking back.
You could immediate tell it was popular, as the cars lining the village lanes were obviously all in for the Friday evening session, we had to park a bit away from it, and I had to scramble up a grass verge to get out of the car which was fun after said five pints. Colin was well excited too.
I always get a bit anxious before visiting a pub recommended to me by SO MANY people in case it has just been built up that bit too much, but no such problems at Wonston Arms, Wonston, a modern day classic for all those naysayers who tell you the village pub has had its day. Build it (well) and they will come! The vibrancy hit me in a way reminiscent of when SPBW North Irish Sea took me to the Rovers Return in Douglas, Isle of Man a few years back. Mick knew the guv'nor, and announced we'd be coming which gave them time to hide the silver and ensure all urinals were available. So I was welcomed into the bosom of Wonston Friday fun. Mick a bit worried curry night might've made it too busy, it hadn't had the impact he feared. And it was the guv'nor who makes the whole thing special, constantly on the move, out from behind the bar, asking each customer if they were enjoying their pints etc, was a joy to see, even in my increasingly blurry state. Can hear Daddy BRAPA now "It's all about people innit?" he'd say if he'd been here (he's still alive, don't worry). The ale was great, especially the bonus half I had later. I note his accent is 'northern' but can't place it. Barrow-in-Furness. Makes sense, on my visit up there, proper salt of the earth folk. Where's Colin gone? Oh he's chatting up the ladies outside. Groan. Punching above his weight I suspect. They remain unmoved. Got told a great story re these. A local lady made a complaint that the pub was allowing people to drink 'outside hours' (at 8am on one occasion!) when she spied them in the beer garden. Hilarious, especially as the landlord had been moving them about to different outdoor areas, and then took the 'complaint official' outside to meet them! They have names, sadly I can't remember. Shout out to the other staff too, the young barman lovely lad, was told he wouldn't say boo to a goose when he joined, such a personable young gent now, and barmaid, who returns my phone which I nearly leave on the bar definitely not cos I've had 6.5 pints oops. Best pub in Hants? Ok, I'm convinced. For Colin, his joint fave with the Waggon at Hartley Wintney.
So that was fantastic, and Mick drops me back in Winchester rather than ditching me in a ditch in Sutton Scotney, which was very good of him.
STILL no single packets of crisps in Tesco Express, I've had enough, 4 days in a row, so I complain. She blames Brexit and Covid. Standard. I buy philadelphia & breadsticks in a non-satisfying sub.
Join me tomorrow, TWO days left! I've made such good progress, I might have to start heading into what I'd class as South Hants. Eeeeek. Dangerous.