North Yorkshire must be one of the hardest counties to complete in the entire GBG, and I say that as someone who lives in it.
But buoyed by the fact that I'd somehow GAINED six pubs in the county during the cross-ticking of the new 2022 Good Beer Guide, in a year I'd been pretty neglectful of NY, I decided to pay it a bit of overdue attention in the new 2021/22 season.
After last Thursday's Harrogate duo, I was up to +8 and I spread my wings further and headed for that mysterious Teesside / Cleveland part of the world.
I arrived at Yarm station, situated inconveniently well south of the town centre, almost eleven years to the day since my only other visit saw my tick off Nicholson's pub the Black Bull before a very snowy 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough featuring the tagline 'Vladivostock? Bloody Bostock!'
Back to the present day and the only other dude in my train carriage got off just in front of me, and proceeded to walk in exactly the same direction at me, at the kind of pace which was too slow to make me feel confident of making the bus connection, but too fast to overtake him easily.
I finally took my chance crossing a petrol station forecourt. Luckily the bus was a couple of minutes late, I could tell from the fed up tracksuited lad sat on the pavement. Do people still wear Kappa in 2021? I was surprised too.
The evening bus wouldn't take me close to the pub, so I had to hop off at the closest point, and walk 13 minutes through Ingleby Barwick, a sprawling fairly desolate collection of seven estates, reminiscent of Newton Aycliffe, Stoke and Milton Keynes with none of the humour, soft edges or knowing self loathing.
Named after the estate it was within, Beckfields, Ingleby Barwick (1943 / 3507) was the perfect example of a pub which didn't suit the locals who frequent it. A ragged old bunch with swively eyes, and toothless smiles, the pub itself shiny, modern and a little bit bland. I felt like the locals had to work especially hard to give it that 'lived in, proper boozer' type of feel. It was quite a stretch. A random pile of logs had been turned into a rather unsavoury reindeer, it was exactly the type of pub which will put the Christmas decorations up at the earliest opportunity just to offend your sensibilities further. A bit of drama as I waited to be served, Donna had asked for a glass of wine, wandered off to find a seat, her husband convinced she'd said a bottle, barman swears blind she'd said glass when hubbie wasn't listening, and after more cross checking than a yearly GBG cross check, it was established her husband knew her best - bottle it was! Bottoms up. The staff were surprisingly quirky and good humoured for the type of surroundings, I was getting a less pubby Queen Edith on the outskirts of Cambridge vibe, the Hobgoblin Gold drank fairly well, the pub was warm and not lacking in comfort, and I should perhaps be a bit kinder to it. I just found it difficult!
Another 13 minute walk, but this time in a northerly direction, took me to an equidistantly placed bus stop, from where I went all the way up the line, through Yarm towards Egglescliffe, possibly even Eaglescliffe.
Rewind to August 2016, and with just enough time to squeeze in a sixth pub of the day, I hopped off at Eaglescliffe and walked very quickly in the direction of the Cleveland Bay and the Pot & Glass. Being closer, I ticked off the Cleveland Bay, and then shot back to the station. A day later, the new 2017 GBG arrived, Cleveland Bay was still in, Pot & Glass had been de-guided, I patted myself on the back for making 'the right choice', and I didn't think about the P&G ever again. Until now!
A meandering bladder shattering walk to the end of a very unlikely no-through-lane, opposite a beautiful church, this really was a perfect pub location.
And in every way, Pot & Glass, Egglescliffe (1944 / 3508) was the perfect pub to compliment the location. A narrow corridor led me to a welcoming carpeted room, I stood at the bar, trying not to get in the eyeline of the couple on my left, talking to the couple on the right. They are doing that slightly cringy 'village locals turn their hand to world affairs' thing you sometimes get it tin mining Cornish villages, and the most vocal man is settling nicely into his stride about terrorism, America, nuclear weapons and political correctness gone mad. The fact that the jovial but understated guv'nor has to change the Old Peculiar barrel just extends my awkwardness. I sit at the bench at the far end, I've never been more convinced at some point I'm going to get talking to strangers. To my right, a young lad is quizzing a 93 year old gent on 'the past'. Hazy memories, but the young lad keeps probing - obscure comedy reference here but it reminds me of the Armando Iannucci Show where he knocks on the door of an old guy called Hugh, asks about the war etc. and Hugh is always replying in disappointingly modern ways like 'my iPhone stopped working during the Blitz'. As predicted, a lovely lady called Jill soon comes to sit near me, soon joined by a slightly older lady called Mary, a sort of Yoda of the local area. Great chat with these two, the pub was conducive to it. 'You've been to Ingleby Barbaric?' they exclaim, shocked! After chats on Hudswell, Saltburn, and Mary's memories of Yarm's cobbles made from old ships, they give me a churchyard inspired short cut to take me back into Yarm which even Google Maps didn't know about! Local knowledge always key. Great experience.
Jill & Mary didn't lie, the short cut really did take a lot of time off my walk back into Yarm for my final tick of the evening.
"Ayeawayaway!" says the smoking baldster outside, as I creep into the 'boom boom boom' atmosphere of the Ketton Ox, Yarm (1945 / 3509) , a pub which has obviously been here a lot of years, but has had what, in the trade, they call a particularly unsympathetic modern refurb. Packed though, so you can't deny that this is what the locals like. Not to my taste at all, it made Beckfields seem a heck of a lot more palatable. The saving grace, and perhaps one nod to the pub of old, Bass is a regular beer and as I order it, I hear a group of blokes commentating "another person on the Bass, popular isn't it, I wonder how much it costs the pub to put it on" etc. like they've stepped straight off my Twitter feed! I don't get a glass with a red triangle on it, and as such, it doesn't taste quite as nice. I wonder if true #BassMen carry a collection of stick-on red triangles in the event of such disasters. The old pub layout combines with terrible acoustics and modern re-fit to make the atmosphere quite stifling. There is no obvious place to sit which allows you to observe the pub as a whole, so I have to make do with the back room with pool table. Luckily, a young couple arrive for a game, involving me with the odd comment. She is called Cher, he is more Scummy Boner than Sonny Bono (I'm being cruel, he seemed okay) and he's doing that thing where he's trying to appear he's in full control of the game, encouraging her to win, but when she eventually finds her form and pots an unlikely winning black, definitely a flicker of competitive disappointment crosses his previously unfazed face.
So that was that! Now +11 in North Yorkshire, with thoughts of a couple more trips over here during the coming month or two.
And I'll be back same time tomorrow for some tales of a very productive rural East Herts trip with my mate Simon D.
Ta for reading, Si