As I stepped off the bus in Kip Hill, a little town just north of Stanley, I realised that I was 'between two storms'. Dudley, which had battered us overnight, was easing off. Eunice was yet to come. More proof that Thursday's are the best of all the weekdays for pub adventures.
I'd stuck to my usual #ThirstyThursday routine. Up early, little jog around the neighbourhood, popping into Sainsbury's for supplies, weights, shower, and then a nice modest Full English to line my stomach.
Poached eggs this week as I'd lost faith in my ability to fry them. Worked out quite well, bit of white pepper, maybe 30 seconds overdone, but you can't expect perfection. Bit light on the mushrooms too, note to self for next week.
I watched Postman Pat's Windy Day, it seemed apt. Most annoying bit was when Pat's hat fell into the river, Ted Glen fishes it out, put it on a scarecrow to dry, tells Granny Dryden, who bumps into Pat and says "when Ted said he'd found a postman's hat, we had no idea it might be yours". JUST HOW MANY POSTMEN DO YOU THINK THERE ARE IN GREENDALE, DRYDEN? Ridiculous.
After cleaning my kitchen worktop which was streakier than Lee Johnson eating a bacon sarnie, I took the train to Newcastle, and from just outside the station, caught the bus to Kip Hill for my first County Durham tick of 2022. I'm having to abandon North Yorkshire for now as the four remaining pubs are a bit out there, but with only six to do in Co. Durham, is this the year I finally get it fully greened?
It is only sheer laziness on my part as to why I hadn't done this first one during 2021 ticking, but such laziness was rewarded because there is now a new entry within walking distance of this one! I like it when a plan accidentally comes together.
It was one of those 'cor blimey, it looks like some sort of development' places rather than your common or garden pub. A variety of shiny signs pointed to different doors in different buildings. No I don't want to look at the swans, hens, ducks or dogs! Finally, I saw one that said 'bar'.
A posh hotel style reception desk was to my right. Smartly dressed staff blinked at me expectantly. "Which way to the bar?" I mumble, worried I should be asking for my Corby Trouser Press to be mended, before they point me around the corner. Phew, South Causey Inn, Kip Hill (2050 / 3613) at last! And only 200 pubs before I reach the halfway point of the GBG, exciting times. I wasn't smiling for long, as I notice all three handpumps are turned around. The barman confirms my fears, and being the helpful type, tries to point me in the direction of the 'next best thing' Beavertown Neck Oil. I enquire about the Cameron's 'Steamer' Smoothflow, thinking it might be less flavoursome, but easier to drink. But when he tells me it is actually John Smith's Smooth, I opt for the Neck Oil. Noticing my hesitation, he gives me an overly generous taster, saying it 'isn't to everyone's taste'. I know it isn't, and now I have to drink more than a pint of it! And to add insult to injury, even this splutters three quarters of the way down and he has to go off and change it, leading about five members of staff to come over check that I'm 'okay!' Pint in hand finally, I grab the nicest and most elaborate seating area, four grand leather chairs twixt rusty knight in armour, random pile of logs and mini wood burner. The table is woefully impractical, more like a metal hobby horse. A gaggle of different generation men folk with the same crew cut and chequered suits enter, and ask the staff to take photos of them. Wedding do? Feels like the type of place you'd stay overnight and wake with a bad headache. Everyone else is a pensioner with their faces in the nosebag. For all my gripes, in a lot of ways, this was actually a cosy nicely appointed space to enjoy a drink, and the staff were first class.
It is a 33 minute walk to the next pub, and Google Maps decides to be kind to me and rather than forcing me to walk along main roads as is standard, comes up with this rural route along a cycle path, through some nice woodland.
Okay, so wearing yellow trainers wasn't the wisest move, but I skirt around the muddy boggier bits as best I can, even making the 'groundhoppers' jealous by ticking off this .....
Shield Row Amateurs 0-1 BRAPA F.C. Colin the Cauliflower heading in a last minute winner from an Alex Apple corner. Attendance : Me. We'd have won by more if KLO hadn't been injured, forcing Colin into a rare Thursday start.
After negotiating an old man with excitable twild grandson and an even more excitable giant hound, our second of three pub ticks comes into view.
I'm expecting even more spangly dining bull-twang from Shepherd & Shepherdess, Beamish (2051 / 3614), so my heart gives a pubby little leap to find an incredibly traditional set up. Carpetted throughout, stained glass partitions and doorways, upholstered benches and a grandfather clock minding its own. It is very low key for a place that obviously makes foodie concessions, perhaps a bit too low key! It is a real 'God's Waiting Room' type of crowd ('I Believe in Angels' plays on arrival), save for two rapscallions sinking Newcy Broons, one of the pair scowling across at me with worrying regularity. The ale choice is Wainwright or Razorback, and buoyed by a fabulous pint of the former in Chorley recently, I order it without hesitation. It isn't good. Not off. But as tired a Sainsbury's shift working Mum who has been dragged to a Little Mix concert by her daughter (the Mum in question grew up on a diet of Guns n Roses & Metallica). An awful lot of the tables are empty but with 'reserved' signs on. For all the fine aesthetics, there's a LOT to dislike about this place. Following a 90 year old lady to the loos (just so I know where it is) isn't by wisest move, when she inexplicably finishes her widdle before me, exiting the ladies just as I leave the gents. I hold the door so she can go first. And then I have to painstakingly slowly follow her back through the deathly silent pub, past all the same people, like some tragic walk of shame! Only in BRAPA do these things happen.
|Col makes friends with Robbie Rocket|
I've said it before, but this part of the world has a serious blind spot when it comes to cask ale. Last time out in Chester-le-Street, at the Shitty Wicket, I was forced into Neck Oil because no cask was on, and when Eddie F came up here last, THREE consecutive pubs failed to yield one pint of real ale. And when you do get it, the quality is variable. I remember RetiredMartin once telling me it was one of his weaker counties for his NBSS scores.
The bus was a minute ahead of schedule, and before long, it plopped me off in Chester-le-Street where I gathered my composure in Morrison's before the final push!
A bus towards Durham stopped at Framwellgate Moor, home of my epic late night Tap & Spile tick six weeks before the 'Rona hit in Jan 2020. And now, there was a new tick in town.
Did it ring a vague bell with me? Hmmm, watch this space .....
An micro housed in a former NHS Clinic says the GBG, I walk into Fram Ferment, Framwellgate Moor (2052 / 3615) and am soon in a state of panic because, despite the generous bottle and can fridges to my right, I reach the bar and cannot see any handpumps! I ask the landlady, who looks vaguely familiar but can't place her, and she shows me a clipboard with three cask beers on. I go for a Durham Dark Angel and by gum, it is nectar. At last. It's a deceptively cosy place, I sit on a comfy cinema seat, my feet on this nice plush rug which is like a section of cleaner Wetherspoons carpet and goes fabulously with my yellow trainers. Being close to the window, there is a 'goldfish bowl effect' as I've never seen so many locals shuffle by, peer in like startled gawpers, like they know they SHOULD be in here, but then shuffle off again. I tune in to the conversation of the couple (who aren't a couple) next to me, tantalisingly called T&E. They are trying to inject a touch of the 'highbrow' to proceedings. Tracey Emin, a Mary Beard documentary series, Gaughin, and the inevitable 'What is art?' unanswered conclusion. The place needed zhushing up a bit, and in the absence of me getting up and performing a little two-step, T&E's efforts are much appreciated. All the while, enjoying my stout, I wonder why it has a 'Station House, Durham' logo on, that fabulous little place I ticked off drunk on 25/1/20 where landlord Chris M off of Twitter was the perfect host. A 'Chris' keeps being referenced here e,g. landlady to T&E "you are paying Chris's wages by comin' in here .... LOLZ" . Hang on, did he tell me about this place pre-emptively back then? Suddenly, the mists of my mind are clearing, that's why I vaguely recognise landlady, she is Station House landlady too! Well I never. But she's off now. "Want a lift up to Station House?" she asks T&E, as if to confirm my realisation. They decline, a nice Irish sounding chap with glasses has arrived to man the bar and add bonus zhush, he seems familiar too, and steers T&E away from more art debate onto the subject of training rats. Now, two young lads arrive and say 'hello' to me as they sit down. That's nice too! One last wee, then am off. Absolute scenes, as they say in the trade.
|The perfect combo|
|Last time we'd see Colin sober today|
To save money on the train fare, I'd booked myself on specific trains, and erring on the side of caution to ensure I got my three ticks done, I was now left with a good 1.5 hours before I needed to be on the Durham-York.
My plan was to walk towards Durham, waste some time, but a bus is just pulling up as I leave the pub, so I hop on. The driver is an absolute arsehole, and it seems most of the other passengers have realised the same, gesticulating rudely at him when they all 'alight'.
I get off a stop or two before we reach the centre, means I'm passing the afore mentioned Station House, well it'd be rude not to pop in wouldn't it ......
|Train passing overhead just at the right moment|
Well it is nice to re-visit Station House in a slightly soberer frame of mind, I remember where the bar is but it looks a bit different, more enclosed maybe? Another nice chap, this time more American sounding, noticing my latest 'panic' as to what ales are on, shows me the pump clips stuck to the wall and assures me everyone does same as what I just did. Another strong one, pale this time, but a lovely drop on a day I'm not taking my ale for granted. A few happy faced gents say "areet!" and "knee bother!" so I pull up a pew on a high bench facing the bar. Soon, FF/SH landlady appears behind me and introduces herself. Hurrah! We have a nice little chat, my fave bit when she says about better to have a couple of cask ales on rather than eight averagely kept one. Something I've learned over the years from my pubby forefathers, but am still amazed how many times I hear stuff like "can't believe this pub ain't in the GBG, it has NINE ales on". 'So bloody what', I always think. Anyway, I didn't keep our new BRAPA friend talking too long, she had a meeting with someone from Chester (-le-St) who wanted to know how to sell ale or something. On a sadder note, Colin was comatose. Shame, he missed a cracker.
|Newark flashbacks in the gents|
Back at the station, still about 20 minutes til the train, and the wind is whipping up, all icy. I just want a coffee at this point, but the only thing open is another former BRAPA tick, Waiting Room. Oh well, a half won't hurt will it?
"Great to see you again, been a long time!" says the barman when I arrive, adding something about this being the first time he's pulled a beer in about two years. I'm a bit flummoxed. Surely he's not alluding to 6:30pm on 28th December 2019, my final tick of the year as Dad incidentally searched in vain for coffee, gave up, joined me, just as well as I'd already bought him a pint. Pretty sure the staff were exclusively female that day anyway. I smile politely, make an agreeable noise, and take my half to a table, and prod away at my phone. On the way out as I return my glass, he says "well, it was great to see you again mate, come back soon!" and now I'm worried that his 'Imagined Si' was friendlier to him than me, 'Real Life Si' who just sat on the side refusing to make eye contact. Colin fell asleep.
Train surprisingly busy on the way back, almost standing room only, amazed I even get a seat but once back at home, I have a spot of scran, some nice cold lemon drink, an Ovaltine, and straight to bed. Same is needed for Colin ......
|Judged by Alex Apple, the ignominy|
Which all leaves us in a bit of trouble going into Saturday's trip to a county I don't often do.