Saturday dawned full of the joys of spring and sunshine. There was even a fair amount of warmth in the air, which I guess is the benefit of waking up on the south coast rather than in North Yorkshire.
I breakfasted in my hotel room. Colin the Cauliflower was given his pre-match instructions (overlap down the flanks, compress the midfield, and most importantly, keep it tight at the back) as we embarked on the first BRAPA strategy session on this, the first day of my epic Hampshire holiday.
This was how the situation looked at the start of play .......
Previous holidays in and around firstly Basingstoke, and then Winchester, had helped me complete and north and middle of the county, thanks in no small part to Mick Citra chauffeuring me around a few awkward ones.
The current situation was slightly trickier than it looks above, for I still had 10 Pompey pubs to do after last night's trio, 6 in Southampton, 3 in Gosport and 2 in Park Gate.
I needed a strategy within the strategy. That's why they call me the Klopp of Pub Tickers. Start east and work west.
And it doesn't get much further east than Emsworth. So much so, you could stand in the beautiful market square and chant "you're so eastern, you're practically (West) Suss".
In fact, I nearly out-strategized myself by walking to the Sussex village of Westbourne, doable from Emsworth with a GBG pub called The Cricketers. But no, gotta stay Hants focused. Imagine if I failed in my Hants completion challenge by one pub because I'd taken my eye off the prize and strayed into Sussex? I'd be kicking myself all the way back to York.
Shall I stop waffling and go in a pub?
Already enamoured by the town, it wasn't long before I was purring over this classic Fullers house, Coal Exchange, Emsworth (2064 / 3627) has been a real ale classic for years, appearing in the 1974 GBG and an increasingly rare 11am opener for the added bonus point. I'm surprised to see how many fellow drinkers are already in, the staff share this view, until the trio perched at the bar reveal that Pompey are at home today in this pub is part of their new pre-match routine. This might or might not include the first of many adorable dogs this holiday, and if you've read BRAPA for years, you'll know I'm no dog fan, referring to the majority as twogs (twat dogs) but down in Hants, a bunch of fluffy amiable creatures trying to give superior cats a run for their money. The Hophead is going down well as I sit on the back wall, fire to my right, bar centre and left, Colin is getting a few nervous stares. But having a locals feel, a barmaid eventually takes the plunge and engages us in conversation! I'm not going to wear a badge that says 'ask me about BRAPA' but maybe I should. What did I learn? She's off to buy a better air fryer, and her boyfriend Josh got yesterday's Wordle in two. Very good pub.
|First Hants page fully done! (Ignore Goat in the Garden, out of GBG as closed to general public - noise complaint)|
The local knowledge gleaned tells me I'm far better catching a bus to the front door of pub two rather than walk back to station, and give myself a longer walk both ends. Can't beat local knowledge, so I wait in the gorgeous town square and before long, I'm dropped off just across the road.
A handsome looking roadside pub which had received favourable reviews from the Emsworth massive, nothing could've prepared me for the horrors that lay within Wheelwright's Arms, Havant (2065 / 3628). It was almost like the pub's owners had thought 'how can create an experience which will offended the BRAPA senses in the best way possible?' A dining pub, full of clomping bare boards, random piles of logs, £5 a pint, posing tables full of hideous cushions, young twadults, buggies, and the worst twild in many a long BRAPA year, Dylan, racing around screaming from end to end of the building, thanks to some pretty pathetic parenting. Thankfully, the Black Drop was drinking well or I may've run out crying. At least you'd think the toilets (sink propped up by a rusty old bike which I think was a 'wheelwright' themed bit of annoyance) would be clean in such a pub, but no, someone had laid a unflushable log so long, there'd be room for the entire cast of Wind in the Willows to sit on it. Luckily, I located the disabled loo as I couldn't stand the smell. I wonder if the log is still there? It was the final insult to a truly dreadful pub experience.
So, I think that's what we call a mixed bag so far as I bussed it to Hayling Island, one of those islands slightly linked to the mainland by one thin stretch, a bit like Portland, though I can't believe Hayling has Portland style 'qualities'. Not judging by the next pub anyway. £7 for a bus return, ugh! They know what to charge around here.
It was only the slight over emphasis on dining on this Saturday lunchtime which stops Maypole, Hayling Island (2066 / 3629) from being up there with my favourite pubs of the week, for it was a beautiful, and quite atmospheric place inside. Landlady's got a sort of old fashioned matronly country swagger about her, always looks like she's on the edge of telling a joke or unleashing a sharp tongue on someone badly behaved! With features like Laurel and Hardy sat atop some stained glass, some beautiful curved urinals and a great pint of London Pride (I'd swerved it in my first two pubs, but decided fate was telling me it was meant to be!), ignoring the foodie shenanigans was easier. Shame about the doggie duo constantly straining on its owners lead, getting as close to me and Colin as possible, before whimpering, and rushing off to hide under the table! Obviously regular BRAPA subscribers. The two posh ladies who owned the things eye me pretty suspiciously after that.
A bus back to Havant, and a train to Cosham followed, from where I could walk to pub four. The Pompey pre-match crowds were swelling to league one levels on the Platform, so I sat in the sun with some Dairylea Dunkers and soggy sliced apple in a bag which I'd purchased on a whim from a local corner shop, and waited for the rush to clear.
It didn't look a terrible walk on paper, but what Google Maps didn't elect to tell me was it was entirely uphill! In this sun, at the pace I walk (cos I'm always conscious of getting to my next pub before I feel too widdly), I was positively sweating when it came into view.
|"What is that coming over the hill, is it a pubster?"|
One of the true greats of my holiday, George Inn, Widley (2067 / 3630) was kind of like the anti-Wheelwright's i.e. EVERYTHING BRAPA looks for in a pub. A gentle drinkers atmosphere, just the right amount of people dotted around the plush bench seating, a nice thrum of background chatter and laughter, nothing piped, nothing raucous, nothing dead. If a kid tried to run around in here, it'd be quickly exterminated. If someone laid a log, it'd be quickly expunged. Jem off Twitter hadn't been kidding, I DID love this one, and tempted as I was by my second Doom Bar of the holiday, I took Jem's recommendation and went with the Gooden's Gold, which hasn't failed me yet, and was on superb form here too. Jugs hung above the bar, vintage bottles in cases on the walls, it was your quintessential old fashioned country boozer before pubs claimed 'we need to do food to survive' (a claim which the longer BRAPA goes on, the more I'm inclined to disbelieve. Do the beer and pub things properly, and the people WILL come). I got into a nice chat with an old bloke at the bar about my knackered state after that walk, he was sympathy personified. If you've never Widleyed, you should. Weirdly for me four pints in, I didn't need a widdle until I left and even that was more a cautionary one!
|Widley, Winchester, Wonston - is Pg 168 the strongest single page in the entire GBG?|
A bit of tapping away on my iPhone and I located an oddly situated bus stop that went back into Portsmouth, passing not far from my most furtherly north remaining Pompey tick.
Wave goodbye to the George Inn .....
I hopped off in the North End area of town, so named cos it feels a bit like being in the ganglands of Preston, and walked a few streets to the awkward location in which it was situated, immediately wondering what I was getting myself into ......
A bit of a shame that the Six Nations dominated proceedings on my visit to the Admiral Drake, Portsmouth (2068 / 3631) because it was pretty evident that this was a balls-to-the-wall take no prisoners, proud community boozer. You could tell that from the folk swarmed around the bar, not the usual Herts/Berks/Beds Six Nations 'rarr rarr my lovely' crowd. A pissed Scotsman makes eye contact through watery glassy eyes the colour of the depths of Loch Ness. I'm convinced pubs of this ilk employ actors to play the role of drunk Scotsman at the bar because from Cornwall to Hampshire to Warwickshire to Lancashire, everywhere has them. "You havin' a good day?' he slurs, vaguely reminiscent of those lads last night. I tell him it is always nice to be inside a warm proper pub with a pint. "Aye ..... better than being outside ..... errrm ...... in a graveyard ..... handcuffed to a coffin" I admired his attempt at improvised comedy. Give him a spot on Whose Line is it Anyway. A big rumble of noise, kick off. England v Wales. A few strangulated cries of Welsh support. I retire to the quiet side area. Not particularly enjoying my Alton Pride, but enjoying the pub, and knowing I'm making great progress, I nurse it. Especially as checking the scores, Pompey look nailed on for a home defeat to Fleetwood (1-3 down) and knowing I'm only going to get closer to Fratton, maybe best to let the football crowd disperse a bit. Eventually, I'm joined by a young couple, who to my surprise, plonk a colossal amount of coinage on the table and start counting it. Who said we live in a cashless society? Not folk of the Pompey North End!
|My view on the way back from the bogs|
|No, Col didn't share the Space Raiders|
|Can't we have Gillette Soccer Saturday on mate, the Tigers are actually winning?|
More meandering through the backstreets of Pompey to my next closest tick, and like the town of the same name, this next pub I'd consider one of the more underrated gems of the Pompey backstreet scene ......
It probably sums up Pompey best of any pub for me, again England v Wales is the focal point here at the Winchester Arms, Portsmouth (2069 / 3632) but unlike Admiral Drake, it doesn't seem to dominate proceedings as much. Maybe I was just getting comfortably numb to my surroundings as pint six (a very nice Hobgoblin Gold) goes down the hatch. The barmaid is Welsh, and is being taunted by a large group of England fans, to the point I start cheering on Wales as they mount a late comeback. Would be perfect to silence these loudmouths, but it never quite happened! It is a pub full of character, and characters, people with bottles of semi-skimmed milk, coke, and other shopping bits on the table when I arrive. A young lad is laughed at for not doing the latch on the door properly (don't worry mate, that was me in Chorley). It is dimly lit, basic, etched dark wooden bar, narrow tobacco stained corridors to the gents, and one of a healthy handful of pubs this week advertising a meat raffle for added old school points. 'Let's go to the Winchester, have a nice (cold) pint and wait for this all to blow over'. You could do a lot worse! I return my glass with a few genuine words of commiseration to our host, and stagger out.
"Cor it is dark, how did that happen?" is my first thought, stepping back into the street!
Time on my side, in the town I'm staying, another GBG pub not too far off. Time to break BRAPA code of conduct and go for a cheeky seventh. Not like I'm THAT drunk is it?
One of those pubs that has been on my radar since my 2010/11 visit, all this rugby has properly put the football out of mind, until now ......
Despite my increasingly fuzzy state, it is an unmistakably football fuelled crowd here at Rose in June, Portsmouth (2070 / 3633) and once again, I am pleased to be slightly numbed to external surroundings! I squash in at the bar and notice an almost jubilant cacophony of blue and yellow faces, weird for a team who've got thumped at home to Fleetwood, so I check FlashScores and am surprised to see 3-3, they've snatched a draw right at the death! Will feel like a victory. This is one of the most 100% pure backstreetery of Pompey's many classic backstreet boozers. What makes it for me is this little girl sat alone at the bar totally unfazed, can't be more than ten years old, packet of Walkers Ready Salted, half a coke, reading something (possibly the local CAMRA mag). Her Dad does eventually return from chatting to his mates in the other room, but she doesn't seem to care either way. It is a proper sweat hole, and everyone around me is on the Fosters so I'm glad that the ale is in good condition. I reach over to grab a chair to rest my feet, bag or Colin on, but am quickly told a bloke is returning to sit there. Ooops, don't rock the boat at this late stage Si! Best drink up and leave before I get myself in trouble.
|Dad n daughter combo|
|Twins waiting for drinks|
|It's a Fosters masterclass|
And there you have it, only took me 2 hrs 20 mins to write, 22 mins to review, aggh. But doing one blog per pub day seems to make sense. It'll be a 20 parter otherwise and no-one wants that. I'll be back on either Friday or Sunday for Part 3, three more pubs from Pompey, three from Gosport.
Thanks for reading / skimming / scrolling! Si