Has there ever been a harder day in recent history to ascertain which pubs are open and ready for their once in a lifetime BRAPA visit than Monday 3rd January 2022?
SIX attempts it took me to come up with a solution as I sat in the BRAPA nerve centre the previous afternoon. There'd be none of that last minute, seat of my pants pub planning I'd done on NYD in Blackpool.
If I wasn't stymied by pubs deciding to take a 'well earned day/week/month off after a busy Christmas period', they were treating it like a normal Monday rather than a Bank Holiday and either not opening at all, or not until 4pm.
And some pubs had been forced to closed / limit their hours because the rising Covid cases was having an impact on their staffing. This is the bit where a better blogger would say 'we really are living in unprecedented times' and make a sincere point about the pub industry.
And when I did find pubs open all day, like at Beamish and Kip Hill, they were on a bus route which doesn't run on Bank Holidays. It felt like a total stalemate. In fact, during attempt five, I wrote on my notepad 'If Tyne & Wear doesn't work, call the whole thing off'.
Tyne & Wear didn't work, but a town suddenly popped into my mind. A town which would never deprive its inhabitants of a beer or seven. A town so happy, it'd still be trying to accommodate the drinking masses even if the evil Dr Pie's Atomic Bomb had been dropped on the town. Of course, I'm talking about Wigan.
And what's more, the bus route to Chorley (where I needed two pubs), also taking in Coppull and Standish where I needed one each, was running and frequent. So I DO get my day out.
|Colin, the GBG, an Arctic, Graze bar and Scottish Mini Cheddars - a classic BRAPA train scene|
As soon as I hit Wigan, boom! And I don't mean Dr Pie's Atomic Bomb had gone off, I mean there's people of all ages smiling up at me as I walk down the windy main drag, the smell of butter pies emanating from every doorway, even from the tanning salons and phone repair shops.
Not many more life affirming places in the UK in my opinion.
Thing is, for all the classic pubbing over the years (Anvil, Swan & Railway, scary Royal Oak, amazing Tudor Raven thing, huge sporty one beginning with a B) the micro cafe bar boom has even infiltrated good ole' Wigan and my last couple of visits haven't exactly provided pubs that truly reflect the town.
So as I walk north, I'm not expecting much. I'll just be thankful for somewhere open at noon.
I have my doubts as I take this photo and gently push the door at Real Crafty, Wigan (1993 / 3556) and to my surprise, it eases open and as I squint into the low lit gloom, a young bar chap greets me with one of those beaming Wigan smiles, his mouth forming the shape of a pie with teeth. Not as terrifying as I describe it. A lady shuffles around in a grey tracksuit behind the scenes' keeping it real. "'Ello luv" she says from the bogs corridor, but she doesn't hang around. She's outta here 12:10pm prompt. My Wigan Brewhouse ale is reet bangin' as they probably say in GMR, and the guy tries a further smile as he takes the bins out, but I fail to smile back as I'm trying to work out what the bloody hell Reg the Veg and Cooking Lager are talking about on Twitter. Interesting place, smart but less shiny than some other Wigan newbies, the low luminous lighting puts me in mind of a bar in a cult vampiric flick - try Near Dark, or maybe True Blood for a more modern example. The total lack of other early customers of course doesn't help, but when I go over to chat to the chap later to thank him for the quality ale (and congratulate him for opening noon on BH Monday - which probably sounded patronising / sarcastic!), he assures me there's usually a gaggle of old blokes in about now. Encouraging starter.
I continue my windswept meander through the area just north of Wigan centre and come to my final required Wigan tick for the 2022 GBG.
Sherrington's, Wigan (1994 / 3557) is a small, nicely carved out, well appointed modern bar. Not at all to my taste, in fact, exactly the kind of place that flashes up in my mind's eye when I know I've got a day of GBG debutants (or close) ahead of me. The owner is excellent, he could be brother to the Blackpool Cask man from NYD. He asks what type of beer I like, I tell him I'm going to annoy him now by saying it depends what mood I'm in. He says 'that is okay, I'm one of those people too'. I tell him it is chilly out, so I'm favouring something darker. But he's warming to his task now, giving me the full spiel on cask, craft, keg, cans, whatever else, and being a master of his trade, he even manages to describe the cheeky bubbles of a refreshing pale draft Peroni in ways akin to a 10% Coconut DIPA Irn Bru Sour. It's warm enough to take my coat off, always the BRAPA micropub acid test in January, but the one thing I can't get used to is the seating. Apart from one cushioned bench seat where the main man and Miss Sherrington, tapping away on her laptop, have located themselves, every seat down here is a raised posing stool. Sitting on one feels like Edward Scissorhands is gently trying to cup your bum, but obviously having scissors for hands, he isn't doing a great job of it. Even more troublesome, my portable charger is out of juice already. I ask them if I can plug into a socket, they say of course, though checking in on Twitter to criticise their seat comfort whilst using their electricity felt a bit wrong so I keep it gentle. I suspect upstairs may offer something different, but I never made it that far.
|Col gets his Wigan on|
Luckily, the Chorley bus shoots north of Wigan, so I only have to walk across a couple of streets rather than returning to the town centre.
It pained me to unplug my phone (we're up to 58% battery), so I try to do everything is sparingly as possible until we reach the next pub.
I'd had a cracking day with Daddy BRAPA in Chorley a few Christmasses ago, a pub town to even rival Wigan. And being over the (you might say invisible) boundary where Greater Manchester becomes Lancs, Chorley has kept it 'more real' in terms of new GBG entries.
I pass one I did with Dad, Potters Arms, not in the GBG this year and the sign in the window says "Today's Guest Beer - Thwaites Wainwright". 'Oooh CAMRA won't like that!' I think, and carry on to the required pub.
Jennings? Had I got lost and bussed it to Cockermouth instead? No time for such thoughts, as I enter the Prince of Wales, Chorley (1995 / 3558) and take the door immediately to the left. I struggle with one of those awkward old fashioned latches, and when I finally make it in, the locals are laughing at me! Small narrow bar, about ten of them. "Well, that's an awkward latch innit?" I chirp. "It is for you, mate!" says the ring leader, to further roars of laughter. I do a sad face. "Awww don't feel bad lad" he continues "'.... better we tek the piss out of ya than totally ignore you!" I agree he's got a point, and take my pint of Thwaites Wainwright (funny ole' game innit this ticking?) through the crowd, being sure to smile at each individual and look them in the eye. It is that kind of pub you cannot be defeated! The ladies are eyeing me so sympathetically, like I'm a wren with a broken wing, it is kind of annoying. The pub sweeps around gloriously into a large back room, very plush, and I plonk myself onto a comfy bench. A man with long hair, a sort of Savage Robbie Savage has followed me around. He watches as I nearly go in the ladies loo, laughs a bit more. I'm just the gift that keeps giving for these locals aren't I? Then he sits to my right in profile, such an annoying angle. Of course, I need to charge my phone so ask if he thinks I'm okay to plug in. "Do what you want mate" he replies, and I'm sure if I'd asked to take a poo on the floor, he'd have reacted in much the same way. I find an overloaded socket near some Christmas decorations, so plug in, I may as well comedically electrocute myself for further amusement, I decide. Amazed it doesn't happen. A drunk looking bloke returns from the garden and squints at Colin. "I .... I thought that was a cauliflower for a minute lol!" he laughs out loud. "IT IS!" I tell him. "Oh" he replies, staggering off, a picture of incomprehension, grasping the edge of the bar. Two jolly blokes sit down, practically on my knee, despite having the whole room to aim at. 'Their seat' I take it. They have this smelly white ball of fluff on a lead which I later discover is a dog. 'Erbie, they call him. Quite a pub this! Oh, and the Wainwright, best I've tasted it in over a decade, definitely.
|Definitely went Wainwright, I'm sure!|
It's a surprisingly long walk to my other Chorley tick, surprising because the locals I'd spoken to on the way replied as though it was a thirty second stagger around the corner. Battery up to 65%, I'll take it, but am sure the electrical surge in these pubs could've been stronger! I decide I want 80%+ by the time I leave this next pub. Here it is .....
'Oh no, not again!' is my first thought at Masons Arms, Chorley (1996 / 3559) , a latch AND A sliding door into the main front bar. Thankfully though, this time, I achieve it first time. I set my expression to 'proud BRAPA smile' waiting to receive the adulation of the mass of locals. Guess what? Totally empty! Sod's law innit? Dominating my time in this pub however was the fantastic force of nature that is Alexa, and like any Alexa device, she'd helpfully answer any query you had, and yet, 100% human. Exactly the kind of person you immediately feel comfortable about asking if you can plug in to a socket! 'What ya drinking sweets?' she addresses me. She's 18 years old, a born natural for working in what I'm lead to be believe is a fairly 'lively' pub at times! I kinda feel like I'm Louis Theroux, here to do a documentary on her, the way the next 27 minutes goes. Asking how she deals with the locals, how working here makes her feel like part of an extended family etc etc. "I'm not a girlie girl, never have been, love motor sports, love bantering with the blokes, always happier talking to older people than younger people" she explains. She reveals how one local pub lady has invited her to the cinema this week (her treat!) and another bought her a lovely Christmas present. At one point, her stepmum sticks her head through the hatch and assures me "we wouldn't let anything happen to our 'Lexa in here!" as though I'm some welfare support officer come to check up on her well being. Still no one joins me in this cracking little front bar, save for one happy dude with wonky eyes towards the end. It is definitely rowdier around the back, as Alexa has to decline a drunk local's request to suck his toenails or something worse! She keeps saying to me "they're disgusting these lot - ignore them!" but thankfully, most of what is said is out of earshot. Chorley never disappoints. Oh, and phone battery is up to 83%, hurrah!
I have to do a bit of jogging to make the bus, which are now getting infrequent as dusk has set in on this fine day. Tempted as I am to do two more pubs for the 'magic' six, I decide to give my remaining Standish tick a miss. I could even jump off the train later at Westhoughton, or even walk into Manchester, but no, five is plenty.
Reasons are : I've got work tomorrow and don't want to be too late home and feel too rough, plus the 'Standish' pub is a good 20 minute walk out of town in a place called something Moor, which looks and sounds like it might be a bit hairy on a cold dark January evening.
Coppull it is then.
Google Maps annoyingly plots the pub in the wrong place, or was it the GBG app, anyway, I'm walking around houses in the dark looking like a right dodgy character. When it was actually just further down the same road.
Wheatsheaf, Coppull (1997 / 3560) is your quintessential large one roomed Lancs lounge pub, estate-like in many ways, but the modern plush furnishings take the edge of any real belts 'n braces atmosphere. That's not to say the locals didn't perform, lots of 'ey ups' and smiles and curious glances as I circumnavigated my way around the handpumps. I remove gloves, hat and scarf whilst waiting for my pint to settle, as you can tell a few folk are like "do we know you? Have you been here before?" and I've entered, all wrapped up like a mummy. Whatever, it was a lot less harrowing than one of my Chorley pubs had led me to believe. When I mentioned Coppull, I was told "you don't wanna go there, they all have six toes on each hand .... errrm, six fingers on each hand, six toes on each foot!" Shame the guy in question corrected himself, I liked his original version best! No evidence of it here anyway, and yes, I did count a few digits on the sly. The landlady's a gem, really bossing the place in the friendliest way. A bloke called Alan swears she called his name earlier. "Not me" she says, and Alan is wildly looking around the room wondering where the voices are coming from. Eventually, the landlady ascertains it was another local, Cheeky Brian, all along. Cheeky Brian does a cheeky laugh. I guess that's why they call him 'Cheeky Brian', and not 'Stern Brian'. A fine way to end a cracking five tick day in a part of the world you can always rely on.
Join me Wednesday 9pm, if Twitter hasn't banned me again, for tales of the dawn of a new era in Thirsty Thursday ticking, which include another #PubWoman, a county completion, and a landmark tick! You'd be mad to miss it.