When the #BRAPA's Top Twee Towns Guide is published in 2030, Helmsley has got to be a contender for a top 20 place.
In the two minute walk between pay & display carpark and pub, there was a traditional sweet shop, a local butchers, a clothing shop specialising in 'country wear', a wine shop, a Honeysuckle cottage, a florist called Twig & Twine, a Brown's department store, and if I'd been observant, there'd almost certainly have been someone blow drying a pink poodle in a doggy boutique.
Not always easy to define a twee town / village, the jury is still out on Harrogate, Hebden Bridge and Chorlton cum Hardy. They might just be very annoying. Cheshire seemed a culprit, as Knutsford made me want to gouge my own eyes out, Wilmslow put me into a boredom induced corner, but my overall winner up until today would be Marlow in Buckinghamshire. A puke inducing town if ever I saw one. If you have any other candidates let me know.
In Helmsley's defence, Northern Gas Networks were trying to keep it real as Dad circled the pay & display looking for a means to pay, and I suppose, display!
It had been an incredibly leisurely start for a BRAPA Saturday as we nibbled on cherry scones as provided by #MummyBRAPA, trundling north of York , our 10:45am start amongst the latest ever!
I'd been at my work 'Christmas do' in L**ds Stick or Twist the previous evening. Self preservation had been the key, and as people kept giving me money to buy massive rounds, I spent most of the evening on the Wetherspoons App or at the bar, skipping every other round, and booking myself on a fixed 22:15 train home. Result - sober Si when I woke at 9:30am.
We meandered onwards, up the notorious Sutton Bank for great views and a bit of mild peril and we were in Helmsley for 11:55am, perfect timing for a noon opener.
We weren't even the first customer's through the door of Helmsley Brew Co (2018 / 3581) , two walkery (though you can sub the L for an N) young couples are queuing up at the bar. "Are you paying together or separately?" asks the lady in charge. "Separately" comes the reply. Wrong answer as far as Daddy BRAPA is concerned, who lets out an audible groan of frustration. "Behave yourself!" I angrily whisper. Can't take him anywhere. But it is his birthday today so let's be nice. Everyone is on the three thirds of ales on those paddle things (I don't get it maan), apart from us who get a pint and a half. Funny place, very much in tune with the Helmsley 'spirit' (i.e. twee A.F.) The lady is great, really 'owns' the space, like a midfield general in the Ian Ashbee mould, and tells us we've come at the right time cos they've just cleaned the lines and put fresh ale on, and it really is top quality. Degree too cold for me, perfect for Dad. It feels more like a 'beer forward' cafe bar than most brewery taps you'd encounter. Better for it. A plasma has a series of long haired young blokes playing piano pieces, whilst a little fire bubbles away in the corner. The folk continue to pile in, a very popular place, glad it isn't summertime! We're soon at the point where Colin the Cauliflower has to shift so a couple and their bulldog can sit down. A lady near Dad gets angry when her husband orders her a single gin instead of a double. Lacked a tiny bit of comfort, Colin got a few glares rather than warm smiles, but I think that was the 'tourist' factor. Promising start.
I didn't mind that today was only a four tick day. I was expecting to be more hungover, but even though I wasn't, sometimes it is more about the 'quality of tick' (i.e. getting difficult stuff done) rather than blasting out six or seven on a train line.
But even by North Yorkshire standards, sometimes, when Daddy BRAPA is chauffeuring, I can only shake my head and think "how the dickens would I achieve this without a set of wheels?" Crown in Lofthouse always sticks in my mind. And now you had this .....
It is like being on the moon. Or Saddleworth Moor. We have to wait for sheep to move. The dip into the village is insanely steep, Chimney Bank they call it, the joint steepest in England.
We pass one likely pub at the top. Not that. Continue down and round, until we approach an unlikely shaped building with cartoony inn sign. Oh, this is it!
"Doesn't look overly pubby!" I comment to Dad as we get out of the car. Like the world's most annoying parrot, a bloke appears at my shoulder, wife just behind, and says "give it a chance!" Who asked you dickhead? I'm tempted to say "don't you know who I am". That'd be fun.
Of course I'm going to give it a chance. It is what I do! BRAPA is all about being delightfully surprised (which is one of our 'values' at work funnily enough) or furiously disappointed. Coach House Inn, Rosedale Abbey (2019 / 3582) is better than you'd expect. Opens up into a warm, loungey room (no mean feat with quite a bit of food going down) and two barmaids with the jet black hair and shoulders of gladiators are smiling at us from the moment we open the door. We sit by some French windows in the room to the right, sunrays beaming in providing a lot of natural warmth. Even more surprising, there is even a pool table at the end which is also where the comfiest seats are - now that is unusual! I could imagine getting snowed in here on a dark winter's night, wind blowing against the door, it'd be fantastic. Lots of unusual ales on too if that's your bag, not really what you'd expect from a location like this. North Yorkshire continues to impress, a lot more than it did back in 2017 the first time I completed it.
Steep climb back up Chimney Bank, oof, I'm puffing n blowing and I'm only a passenger in the car! With the sun shining directly into our eyes, I'd feel a pang of guilt if my chauffeur was, say Christine Taylor, Mick Citra, Tim Thomas or Simon Dewhurst. But Daddy BRAPA, so only 1% sympathy ;)
Pickering isn't too far off. Dad drops me in the centre and goes in search of a parking space.
A bit like Richmond, Pickering seems to 'enjoy' chucking a random new entry in the GBG in recent years. A couple of years back, we had the superbly rugged no nonsense boozer that was the Bay Horse, so I was expecting the same kind of thing from this year's newbie .....
So, I must admit, I'm a tad disappointed by Black Swan, Pickering (2020 / 3583) on first glance at least. For a Grade II listed, former 18th century coaching inn, it may not of lost its old fashioned shape, but it feels very much like a series of modern refurbishments have sapped a lot of olde worlde atmosphere. It is very much like a middle-ground between the last two pubs, without the integrity of either. In happier news, the two ladies behind the bar are friendly, chatty characters. The one not serving me is saying that she's going home soon, and she's determined to wash her hair, throwing me glances as if seeking my support. "Oh yes, nothing better than a good hair wash" I mumble in reply, I mean what else could I say? 'Don't do it! I love your filthy locks!' Obviously not, if I get chucked out before the 25 minutes mark, the tick doesn't count. The ales are from Great British Breworks at Kirkbymoorside, wherever that is. A new one on me. Very pleasant. I couldn't get a better seat, as I walk through double doors, nod at a barman having his lunch, and find two chairs and a settee in front of a wood burner. Dad arrives, and seems pleased with my seat selection. Perhaps the most annoying part of the pub is a trip to the loo. After negotiating a door that says 'exit' and a steep step, you find the gents! Then, the tap is a beer tap. And no way you can navigate that without being an octopus, because the tap doesn't stay on. Quirky, novelty, impractical hand washing. On the way back from the gents, I see our hairwash-threatening barmaid from earlier, at a table chatting to a local, telling him she can't wait to have a shower! She had a theme, and she was sticking to it. The once roaring fire next to us eventually fizzles and dies too, a bit like the pub experience.
After a couple of sausage rolls, again #MummyBRAPA's contribution should not be overlooked, we point the car towards that Scarborough Road for the final tick of this gentlest of BRAPA days.
The bright sunshine has given way to a glorious sunset by now .....
Well, as they used to say on the Bisto Gravy advert, we saved the best til last here at the majestic Dawnay Arms, West Heslerton (2021 / 3584) , and my old adage "it's all about the people" couldn't be more apt here, the couple running it are cracking people. You don't need a heritage star, a 16th century settle, a ghost story or tobacco stained walls to be a good pub. It helps of course, but I'd rather folk running a place to highest standard with a smile of their face in warm n comfy surroundings. She's from Dudley, and although Tipton is probably the closest I've ever got, always strikes me as a real 'proper person' part of the world. He chats with us on the struggles of getting the balance right between the ale drinkers and the food aspect. Dad is in his element. He stayed the night here with Mummy BRAPA a few years back, and when he says, they remember him. He fancies some bar snacks to supplement our sausage rolls n scones, so we get the best halloumi fries I've ever had. And then we fancy puddings, lovely choc brownie and the toffee ice cream with big chunks of toffee in is insanely good. I can't eat and drink together, so my Selby Mild is going down so slowly, the guy looks concerned and makes sure I'm enjoying it and it is ok. Have I been doing BRAPA wrong all these years? Is being a food critic actually where it is at? Obviously not, but nice to have a change of pace on this most comforting of BRAPA outings. Oh, and I bet their gravy isn't Bisto.
Time for the drive back to York, I've paired my phone with Dad's car music speaker so I can treat him to a 1998-2002 punk playlist.
We've made such good time, it would be rude not to pop into one of our favourite York pubs, the Fox out on the Holgate Road, 15 minutes walk from home. It is on form as it so often is and gives us a chance for a BRAPA de-brief!
Dad checks his phone to see if we have managed to hold on to a 0-0 at Bournemouth. Yes we have! Then his phone refreshes .... we've only gone n won 1-0! 'Want another one Dad?' I ask feeling celebratory, but he says it is time he goes. Shall I stay? I can't decide. He finds a penny and tells me to guess which hand it is in. If I get it right, I'm staying. I do! Hurrah, another pint. I got my Saturday six after all.
Thanks for reading, see you either tomorrow or Sunday where I'll tell you about a Wobbly Wednesday with a difference.