When you are a fragile pub ticker waking up with an extreme hangover, having overdone it in Windsor the previous day, the last thing you want is an enthusiastic Samba style band outside your hotel room window banging drums, ringing bells, shaking shakers and blowing whistles. Beneath an underpass too for added acoustics! Ouch, my poor head.
Yes, it was Reading half marathon Sunday, and the crowds were out in force to cheer on the braves ones / mad baaarstards taking part.
I squint into the morning sunshine and attempt some feeble roadside clapping, as I waited for a gap in the runners so I could make my way across to Reading Station.
|Colin looking brighter than me|
Mortimer was the kind of gentle rural outpost I'd been craving, even if it is on the way to B*sing*toke. Combined with a nice juicy water and some gorgeous weather, I was feeling better already.
The walk to the village of Beech Hill was an 8 (dropping to 6.5 on the return leg) on the Bransgore 1-10 scale of traumatic road walks, where Bransgore is a solid 10.
Pavementless, few grass verge and a high hedge on the particularly tricky bit after the llama farm, the saving grace was that cars seemed appreciative of my efforts to be 'fully aware' and generally a smiley respectful bunch of wavers. Hangover totally forgotten by the time the pub came into view .....
If I was to get a fully greened up Berkshire this holiday. today was my only opportunity for a trip to the Elm Tree, Beech Hill (2150 / 3173) as it is closed Monday, and I was 'out west' with Tim on Tuesday. Despite the obvious foody pretentions, the narrow main body of the original pub was very much distinguishable from the modern build conservatory. Combine this with a decent barman and a thoroughly quality pint of the very lively Tim Taylor Landlord (I've said it before, I'll say it again, when TTL is well kept, there's little that is better), there was plenty to commend this pub. Nevertheless, with an increasing throng of well dressed families bringing their elderly mothers in for lunch, and the superb weather, sitting outside was a no brainer, overlooking some pretty rolling hilly views for Berkshire. Yes, life was good, life was calm. I had to smile when strains of piped 'Step On' and 'Kinky Afro' by the Happy Mondays could be heard emanating from the conservatory. It just wasn't a 'twisting my melon, man' kind of pub. Unless you were twisting it over the fig, stilton and toasted hazelnut starter.
Like I say, the roadwalk back to Mortimer station which I had been dreading, was a lot calmer. It seems everyone had got to their Sunday lunch destinations and it was mercifully quiet on the road.
Still, I was surprised to see I only had three minutes before the train arrived so perhaps complacency had set in for me.
The plan now was back to Reading, and head out east for some more ticks. Another tricky non-Monday opener next, an even longer walk, hopefully with more pavements. Plan was to reach it from this station. See if you can work it out .... if this bird was owned by a famous retired pub ticker.
But my sunny Sunday sense of well being was soon replaced by frustration when I noticed that classic Sunday tickers trope - the 'rail replacement bus service' blighting my progress. The length of a coach ride out to Wokingham was ridiculous, I couldn't be arsed.
But I refused to be denied in my ticking quest, so took a ridiculously expensive taxi all the way to the pub. Exactly the kind of idiotic financial decision which means I'm now partly curtailing my BRAPA activities for the rest of April.
Taxi driver is obviously clueless re our destination. I pull out the GBG and give him the postcode. SL4 4SE. "SE .... as in Sugar Elephant?" he asks. Errrm, I prefer Simon Everitt but Sugar Elephant will do, I reply. I think both of our phonetic alphabets need some work.
To top off a torrid journey, he pulls up in the gravelled courtyard of a posh mansion behind posh gates. A posh lady comes out, looking huffy in a posh way. I pay the fortune, and go over to apologise in my poshest voice. She's actually really nice, and nearly buzzes me in for a glass of port and a game of Yahtzee cos her husband is probably away in Monaco, but when I tell her which pub I'm looking for, she happily points me in the right direction.
Not the most auspicious start to life at White Hart, Winkfield (2151 / 3714). I push the door and offer a big beaming smile to the man by the door, he's just finished two courses and has been handed the cheese & biscuits, few grapes rolling around the edges, and a glass of red wine full to the brim. And yet he still manages to scowl. At the bar, the bloke is very serious and looking a bit like Gordon Ramsey, I find him a bit intimidating and can totally imagining him calling me an idiot sandwich before my time is done in here. Not too much new in the way of ale, sick of Rebellion IPA after yesterday, so I go Doom Bar, and retire to a hidden cubby hole facing out into the pub. I'm struck by the quality of the much (unfairly in pubs that keep it well?) maligned Doom. I realise Binfield is further than I thought, grrr. Taxi two? It takes me four calls to get through to someone who will take me. I have to stand outside in the now chilly wind due to lack of phone signal. When I return inside, triumphant I've been offered a way out of Winkfield, I offer our Cheese n Biccie man another winning smile. A second scowl. But when an attractive young lady walks past with a cute dog, he's all over them. Cheese n Biscuit Prick. My Cauli wants some love too. Something weird happens after that, I realise what a jolly community boozer this pub is becoming as we move into mid afternoon. Red faced oldies say hello. A bloke tells me a joke by the gents. I can't remember it. And Fake Gordon R. is now perched on the chair arm of an old lady having a lovely little chat. By the time I left, my opinion on this pub had pretty much come full circle.
The next taxi driver is one of those who just seems to be a pissed up scruffy old bloke out for a random drive to escape the wife. When he finds out I work in a bank, he sets me a couple of mathematical teasers. I can't figure them out, tell him I'm not in the right mental zone, but he pours scorn on me, telling me "my ten year old granddaughter got that one ..... I'd never come to you for banking advice!"
I do like him though, though he claims everyone in Binfield is a snob as he drops me off. I sort of don't believe him, and don't see any evidence of snobbery here .....
It may look pretty standard from the outside, but it felt far from traditional inside the Victoria Arms, Binfield (2152 / 3715) but it convinces me a lot quicker than the White Hart did. Fullers, fine with me, though perhaps a tad too early for an ESB? I chicken out and go Hophead. And a third excellent conditioned pint today. Everyone entering hangs up their coats and jackets in a converted red phone box like it is normal. To the right, the room with impressive vaulted ceiling and natural daylight is showing the football - and the sheer quantity of blokes in long shorts with leg tattoos gives the place a sort of Skegness / Brid holiday leisure park atmosphere. No snobs here! Happy though, apart from a couple of old blokes who nearly comes to blows whilst discussing how to fix Russia just as I'm leaving. I throw the staff a sort of 'mock terrified' glance as I put my empty glass on the bar, which they join in with, and I'm pleased a couple of weeks later when Quinno tells me it has won the local pub of the year award.
Sick of taxi expense, I take on the 50 minute walk to the outskirts of Wokingham, which becomes about 70 minutes when I get lost trying to get across the terrifying 'Berkshire Way' without getting squashed. If I'd just followed the route instead of trying to be clever, it would've been a lot easier!
Just on the other side, I came to this thing .......
Wokingham hell at the Oakingham Belle, Wokingham (2153 / 3716) , easily the weakest pub of my four day stay in Berkshire. A new build Marston's house, large and sprawling with the messy remnants of Sunday dinner still lingering well into late afternoon. Kids race around, Mum's slump wearily over Proseccos and buggies. The tinny sound of rattling cutlery is everywhere like the caterwauling of an army of metallic crows, or something mad. I'm staring wildly around the room, looking for a member of staff to serve me. About four arrive altogether. A pleasant, professional bunch of people half my age, but the Pedi is NOT drinking at well, fizzy and farty, and it sounds from Twitter that there have plenty of reports of dodgy ale recently so don't expect to see this pub in the 2023 GBG would be my guess. If Wokingham has a pre-emptive micro, now is the time to visit it. Quinno had yesterday said he wanted to join me for this one, but I think the replacement bus situation probably saved him!
|"We must be bad people then" says Col. Top quip, but he is more vegetable than animal or mineral|
|Places like this can be hard enough to tick when the beer is good!|
A yomp down the road towards the centre of town takes me to my final tick of the day ......
A much safer pair of hands in the local pub scene, in fact I'm surprised Ship Inn, Wokingham (2154 / 3717) never featured in my earlier BRAPA years. Maybe it was going through a slump. No sign of this today, relaxed, traditional, and being Fullers, it was ESB O'Clock by now, and isn't it funny how I feel more 'centred' once I've taken as little as one sip of the stuff? My body is just so used to it! An honest, no frills sort of boozer with a nice floor and plenty of space, I'm a bit taken aback when a bloke in an M&S 1990's Blue Harbour sweatshirt, as worn by my flatmate Philip at Uni, parks his two giant dogs on the table immediately to my left. I smile awkwardly, he shifts a bit, his dogs smell of salami, leaving me craving a takeaway pizza which probably isn't very Keto. Everyone has decided to start supporting Spurs in the football once they get two goals ahead in a very glory supportery type of way. Nice pub experience this, and even better, a regular bus outside goes all the way through to Reading.
|'Salami dog with salt n pepperpot eyes'|
Someone reminds me it is the final ever Peaky Blinders tonight! Noooo, I've still one episode to catch up on first. I've been with it since the start, so gotta watch the last one 'live'.
I start watching it on the bus ride back to Reading, then realising how desperate I am for a wee (you know what I'm like), I jump off the bus straight into the Alehouse, Reading for the first of two visits this holiday.
I did this pub more back in its Hobgoblin days but despite the more rubbishy name, it still has nice chaps in charge and those fabulous beermat strewn tiny rooms to the back - perfect to finish watching Episode 5 of Peaky B. I then prop my phone against my empty half glass, and go back for another half, lovely stuff.
I buy a bag of food from Tesco, and am back in my Premier Inn 20:30, all ready for Peaky B finale. All seemed to have gone like clockwork, but there'd be a late twist in the day which would hamper my Monday ticking.
Join me for tales of that, plus the few Monday pubs I did actually do, in part 4, later this week.