Monday 20 December 2021


It had been a difficult start to the day, as you poor souls who suffered through part one will know.

But with two pubs down, and me now in Harpenden, provider of two required pub ticks and with transport links aplenty to join it up with St Albans, maybe today could start to get a bit easier?  But this is BRAPA we are talking about, so let's not count our caulis before they hatch. 

I hopped off in the northern suburb of Batford, which seemed to be one giant nature reserve, with toads in side pockets, mad squirrels and Cirl buntingfords leaping and flapping around everywhere, as soon as I got off the bus.  I might've been on drugs at this point.  

The pub soon came into view, it wasn't in last year's GBG and had a 2020 marquee obscuring the front, so I wasn't expecting it to pull up any trees as I wander inside .......

But the warm welcome I receive from the landlady tells me that Gibraltar Castle, Harpenden (1974 / 3537) is going to stand out from the crowd.  It certainly feels the part, built in 1799, the historic atmosphere has been preserved to some extent in pub layout and feel, temperature is nice and toasty, oh and the beer quality, the beer quality, simple superb.  A* if I did NBSS, I've had a lot of 'Side Pocket for a Toad' over the years, of varying quality, but this was simply spectacular.  I tell the landlady.  "I'm not a fan of real ale AT ALL, but even I can manage this one in small doses" she tells me,  and if that isn't winning testament, I don't know what is.  We keep chatting, the usual subjects come up.  'Isn't York nice?'  'What is Colin the Cauliflower's aim in life?'  'Have I been to their sister pub? (Garibaldi, St Albans in this case.  Yes.)' .  A man called Trevor leaves prematurely, his friend reports that 'he has symptoms'.  Oooh eck!  The piped music spewing out of every orifice is very eighties, but from my cosy little window snug, it isn't jarring.  Really recommend this one, my favourite pub today.

Who knew Harpenden was the size of Los Angeles?  Not me!  But it was a massive walk south through the ghetto to my other required tick, like 1.5 miles or something.  

Sometimes in the pub ticking game, you are unlucky enough to get the timing of your visit completely wrong.  Black Horse in Whitby is the ultimate past example of this.  Carpenters Arms, Harpenden (1975 / 3538) wasn't too far off.  A small square one roomer, I find myself in a snaking queue behind a large group of 'Christmazz ladz'.  They aren't nob'eads, they are respectful and polite to our bewildered hosts (whose expressions suggest they weren't expecting this invasion!), but they are doing Christmazz ladz things like chugging, and dares, and elaborate toasts, and 'wahheyyys' and 'mayyyyte' and all that jazz.  Ladz gonna lad, ain't they, it's wot ladz do.  The two cute pub dogs are also suffering under the strain of this upheaval, whilst trying to give the impression that they are the guardians of the floor space.  Two old locals behind me are commentating on the events, loving the sudden surge of excitement, I sit in the middle of the room on a posing table trying to smile like I'm unfazed.    What with the mute horse racing on TV, and a fire on each side of the small room, this'd be a precious little pub under normal circumstances.  "Right, we're upping the penalty to three fingers a pint!" says the ladz coordinator.  Not sure what that means.  As they prepare to leave, there's a massive dash for the bogs.  One lad turns to me and explains one of the rules is they aren't allowed to have a wee at the next pub.  "I'd never be able to manage that!" I tell him, marvelling at the strength of 20 year olds bladders ten pints in.  Despite being on the dregs of my pint by now, I hang back and nurse it, just so I have five minutes to savour the peace and calm of this tiny boozer, complete with 'post match reaction' from the two old boys behind me. 

I'd always envisioned getting a train from Harps to Snabs, but as I remember it (quite hazy now), I saw a bus around the corner quite nicely timed so did that instead.  After it, it saved me walking all the way back from St Albans station into the town, or even city, centre again.

TWO BRAPA trips here already this year, first with Daddy BRAPA ticking off joys like Robin Hood and the Jolly Farmer, and then a mop up on my own including the likes of White Hart Tap and Six Bells.  

But the 2022 GBG had spoken, and I needed to come back for this mad thing ......

Although it felt like walking into a cross between an airport lounge and council offices, a happy festive atmosphere, combined by the fact I've long admired their ales, meant I could smile and mean it, as I entered Mad Squirrel Tap & Bottle Shop, St Albans (1976 / 3539) for my fifth and final tick of the day thanks to Sandridge incompetence.  Further intrigue as I learn they have a 20-sided dice to help you choose your beer if unsure, something I've been doing in York Tap  / local Beer Festivals for years, and it is such a specific quirk, I felt like I'd somehow been plagiarised!  But no need to ask, when you see an ale called Ebeerneezer Rouge, you just gotta have it.  "Great choice!" says the overly happy lad behind the bar who seems to have ants in his pants.  I take my pint upstairs, where a cavernous room is filled with a table of 20 twenty somethings, but luckily, there is a little sad bastards table for one just behind it - it may as well say 'reserved for BRAPA'.  They are an interesting bunch, obsessed with 70's 'chic'.  Hostess trolleys, fondue sets brown furniture are the kind of things these kids are into.  It all feels a bit Abigail's Party, especially when a young Alison Steadman annoys her moustachioed man friend by asking if he buy her a gin made by Demis Roussos (or something).  Oh well, I suppose it is pub 1976.  Only one year out.

So I head back to London, slight aggrieved I didn't get the six as I'll now have to find a way to insert Sandridge into either my Hemel Hempstead day, or my Stevenage and area day, both coming up in Feb or later.  

But the pain didn't last long, and you know why.  Of course, ESB in the Parcel Yard.  I managed to pose as Isabella for a good 40 minutes.  Now, if I'd only thought to do that in my final pub a week from now!

Thanks for reading!  I will not blog again until after Christmas, but I'll take my laptop back to parents, just in case I get a window of opportunity to write about Todmorden, Brighouse, Polesworth, Tamworth, Fazeley and Birmingham, glass of sherry and mince pie in hand!

Have a fabulous Christmas all, see you soon.


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