The saddest thing about Hull City winning promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking during 'Lockdown Season' was that it deprived me of several exciting away days with pub ticks aplenty.
We've spent so long in the Championship, I feel I've done the likes of Barnsley, Huddersfield, Swansea, Birmingham, Blackburn, Preston and today's opponents Middlesbrough, to death, and my ticking options in those areas are by contrast quite limited, leading me to concentrate on simply BRAPA in other parts of the country.
Stuck in my York flat watching away games on a dodgy laptop at places like Plymouth, Oxford, Burton, Pompey and Shrewsbury was torture in 2020/21. And I'd add to that list, Gillingham! Which may surprise you. Sure, I'd been to Priestfield once or twice in those homeless Brighton & Hove Albion days, but a town with three ticks plus other GBG pubs on the same train line would've made for a classic day out.
"But we can still do them!" Daddy BRAPA exclaimed last summer, as we enjoyed in a pint together in York's wonderful Fox. And although we've not exactly stuck to it religiously, we devised a plan to go to the corresponding League One club when Hull City are away to the equivalent Championship club.
Let me explain. So when Hull City are due to play away to Middlesbrough, we look at last season's league table and note they finished 10th. Then we look at League 1 and who finished 10th? Gillingham. Off we pop then!
I told Daddy BRAPA the plan as we travelled down on the 07:02 LNER. "Three pubs in Gillingham, two in Rainham, and one in Rochester. That one is a 'Spoons, we have two micropubs, and three 'proper' pubs" I said, expecting to enjoy the so called 'proper' pubs more. Oh how wrong I would be! About time I started putting more respect on the Micro name! After all, I've been to some corkers over the years. When will I learn?
|KLO in for Colin who needed a post Berkshire rest|
Rochester is a lovely place. The castle and cathedral welcome you from a respectful distance as the train pulls up at the station. My third time here, hence only the one pub required, but it was a Daddy BRAPA debut in the town and he was well impressed as we made our way down the Dickensian High Street in the sunshine, market stalls dotted about desperate to sell you all manner of handcrafted tat.
"In Rochester my dear, where the cutthroats do live. They poison my beer, and I fear, I fear for my life" goes the one song I know about the town. I'd be on the look out for them.
A solid start to the day at the Golden Lion Hotel, Rochester (2163 / 3726) although that classic 'Spoons Saturday morning trope of one watery-eyed youthful staff member being expected to serve a herd of impatient leaning middle aged men across a wide bar area. Dad and I have exactly the same thought, sit down and order by App. Might be quicker, probably was. One hitch, our table number wasn't listed. We picked the nearest, and when the confused barmaid questioned it when our delicious pints of Mauldons Cherry Porter arrived. She explains some scamp has ripped the sticker off our table to reveal the erroneous '45'. That was as exciting as it got, a 'nice, bright and airy' Spoons but personally, I prefer dark, dingy and slightly sticky. No pleasing some folk is there?!
|Awwww, they could be related!|
|Table number controversy|
|An even less exciting carpet if you take the blurriness out of the equation|
Time to leave lovely Rochester, much as I'd have love to taken Dad the castle route towards Coopers Arms or summat.
Up next was Rainham, one stop off Gillingham and it was becoming apparent the Gills must be at home as there were plenty of gormless fish eyed looking young lads with crates of lager in blue n white tops with Steve Evans sleeve tattoos (probably) though that'd mean their arms would have to be quite wide.
I know one cracking song that mentions Rainham too ....
"Left Rainham Friday night, took two days to get to Torquay. Went there with her first husband, stopped off in Clovelly for a cup of tea". Punk rock at its edgiest. Billy Childish.
"Let's get the micropub done first!" I says. 'Why is Daddy BRAPA walking slowly when I need a wee?' I whisper to KLO.
PUB OF THE DAY! And it wasn't even close. Prince of Ales, Rainham (2164 / 3727) had a homely feel from the second we entered, though they had that 'lack of bar, gotta look at a board to choose your ale' thing that always causes beads of sweat to form on my upper lip (I like having a physical bar I can clutch the side of for moral support when I enter a strange new pub, and always feel strangely naked in bar-less pubs). I crumble and choose Gadds' Age 7, sorry Gadds' No 7. Best ale of the day. I took it for granted at the time. Little did I know that today would actually peak in here. One of the two jolly locals chatting with barman Nick orders a Hamerton N1 thinking it is from North Yorks, and people keep referring to a Colin who is coming in later. If they mean THE Colin, they're sadly mistaken unless he's coming down separately. Plenty of humour in here, the Greene King IPA toilet chain in worthy of a ripple of applause. We never quite understood the cushions hanging on the wall, do you really take them down, sit on them, and give a donation to charity? It was inevitable, INEVITABLE we'd sooner or later get chatting with the trio. Our buzz word of the day had already become 'Oast House' so it was no surprise when Dad says 'Oast' for the umpteenth time in reference to a forthcoming beer festival , barman Nick overhears, says 'Oast', the two locals say 'Oast', I feel a bit left out, so let out a loud 'Oast', KLO squeaks 'Oast' from inside my bag, and the rest is history. We got some great tips on local pubs and beer. Top friendly folk, superb pub.
After some unnecessarily complex (but well meaning) directions from one of the two blokes pictured above, we walk in a straight line, cross the railway line, and hey presto, the pub is straight in front of us ....
A Shepherd Neame pub (always fascinating to a northerner like me but probably boring if you live down this way), and it was a fabulously 'un-GBGy' one at that, Falkland Arms, Rainham (2165 / 3728) was your proper no nonsense side street boozer. Circular bar propped up by a variety of swivelly eyed old locals, carpets, bench seating, hell even a meat raffle! You could be in Portsmouth. And a surprisingly open space as you head to the back of the pub towards the loos and garden. We'd been told about the great Roger Protz's visit to this pub. "I believe you had pub royalty in the other day" the Prince of Ales folk had told them. But they didn't know who he was, just wondered why this old bloke wandered in, necked a quick half and left. They didn't recognise BRAPA either. Tsk. The problem was, the only ale on, Master Brew (Spitfire turned around) was really poor. We'd been told it was good by our old mates in the Prince of Ales, but it was more lethargic than the Man Utd team currently playing on the TV screen above us, making absolutely no impression on a poor Everton side. You only had to look around you to realise why the beer was struggling. Every single punter was on the lager. Never mind, Dad leaves a third and we get on our way. Curious GBG entry this one, felt a bit 'wild card', but the pub itself, subtracting the beer, I liked.
Not long til kick off now so we are probably safe to make our way to Gillingham without getting crushed under foot by the heaving throng of Gill folk. One final wave goodbye to the Oast .....
It has been a while since I've been to Gillingham, 1999 I think! No idea what the pub was that day that I popped into pre-match, I was a lager drinker then and I didn't even know the GBG existed until 2001. We meander through the back streets to the more awkward one first.
Oooh guess what? I know a song about Gillingham .....
"And there, my glittering prize - I claim salvation in Upper Gillingham
My virgins and apostles attended
To banish my tormentor
To the wastes of the Pentagon shopping centre
Sing Gillingham ..... GILLINGHAM!"
The Singing Loins ladies and gentlemen, a fine band.
Where was I, oh yes, where I usually am, posing like a frog outside a GBG pub ......
Any pub named after green Tim Thomas mascots with a fair amount of green in its colour scheme is always going to have a special place in BRAPA's heart, so I wanted to love the Frog & Toad, Gillingham (2166 / 3729). It is pretty boisterous. I check the time. 14:50. These Gills fans are certainly cutting it fine for kick off. "Taxi outside if ya want it!" shouts one bloke. But no one can decide if they are going! "Moight get another point" someone shouts. "Moight pop down for the second 'arf" says another bloke. Jeez this isn't park football lads, this is serious League One stuff. Takes them until 14:55 to finally relent and they all scurry out like a swarm of large bald ants. Peace & quiet! The lads who serve us seem nice, but seem to be talking amongst themselves in a different language. First I assume Polish. But then I listen carefully and I reckon French! I'm avoiding the obvious joke here because you know, #WokeSi2022 and all that. One shouts upstairs to the guv'nor relaxing in his private quarters, something about being put down for a shift he shouldn't be working but is actually fine to do it. The ale again isn't great. Tiny bit better than Falkland but def below average on your ole' NBSS. And for all the greenness, traditional back street local feel, and the current 'post football moment of calm' I just couldn't warm to this place.
And the day was really unravelling when we got to our next pub, Will Adams, and noted it was very much shut! Mid afternoon, Saturday, what the 'eck is going on?
What peculiar font too! Well I must confess I'd taken opening hours a little bit for granted today and a quick check at WhatPub shows me they are pretty limited. They close between 4-7 on a Saturday, here we were at 3:30, not a sign of life. Guess we'd have been cutting it fine in any case.
A couple of local Twitterers have the answer - they go off to watch the Gills on home Saturday's but will reopen after the match if we hang about. Sadly, we'd need to be back on the way to London by then. And is it funny the entire pub shuts? I'd have thought some non football lovers would hold the fort 3-5. But maybe it is a one man / one family operation and they are all into it? Whatever, Daddy BRAPA was already half way down the street, and I realise I'll just have to suck it up and do a return trip to Gillingham in the coming months/years! You won't escape Will, I WILL be back.
Thankfully, our pals in Rainham had given us a pre-emptive not far from here, just across a park and down a couple of streets in a suburb called Brompton, so now there was even greater necessity to check it out .....
The KGV, Brompton, Gillingham sure looked the part from the outside, and I was buoyed by the cosy, narrow plush interior, full of dark woods, carpets, military memorabilia and nice windows. It had a snoozy mid afternoon hubbub, perhaps more akin to a Sunday than a Saturday. The landlady greets us warmly. I opt for the Wantsum Imperium, Dad goes Draco Constellation but we immediately exchange concerned glances when we see the fuzzy brown murk we are both presented with. Yes, more bad beer! Hell, it isn't like we're discerning to peak CAMRA levels, but I know a bad pint when I have one and this was it. Worst yet. Mine is just about drinkable. Dad pushes his back across the table and folds his arms. After much cajoling, I finally persuade him it is worth taking it back. He's glad he did. She's very nice about it and his Dark Star Hophead is perfectly decent, if not spectacular. Problem is, as it was in the Falkland, the ale just isn't shifting. This part of the world must have more lager drinkers than most! The barmaid comes over again later to apologise. But you can tell she's doing it because she's personable, a people person who doesn't want to think of people having a bad experience in her pub, rather than any huge concern over the ale. A subtle distinction, but an important one.
So we head back in the direction we've come from, wondering quite how today has gone downhill after such a promising start. Pubs have been nice in themselves which is some consolation.
A quick glance back at Will Adams more in hope than expectation, and onwards around the corner for the final tick of the day ......
A garrulous lady pops out from behind the door to greet us with a cheerful squawk as we enter Past & Present Ale House, Gillingham (2167 / 3730) , again a barless affair but I've had enough to drink to be past the nervous 'beads of sweat on the top lip' stage of the day so it doesn't matter. I glance hazily up at a board, say "want that one!" (Little Britain style), and am delighted to report the first pint of good ale since Prince of Ales all those hours ago. A cosy, jolly sort of place with a very heady beery atmosphere n pong, think Cracklerock in Botley or Cobbett's in Dorking. Sort of makes you feel extra hazy. Dad suddenly lets out a little yelp of joy having been tapping away at his phone for a few minutes! Hull City have won at Middlesbrough. Despite our great away record, we are astonished. KLP scored it too, maybe I should bring KLO out on a Saturday more often and make Colin a midweek mascot. Controversial? I feel like cauliflowers and rural Lancashire are a decent fit so maybe it could work? Delighted anyway to end on a high, it had been a cracking day after all, sort of.
Back to London then, and I think regular readers can probably guess the plan that was forming in my mind as I jogged up through the Tube Network and through King's Cross, even if Daddy BRAPA decided he'd swerve this one.
So there we have it! A mixed day but 5 ticks and a pre-emptive in a county I really get to a lot more on Saturday's. I'm thinking Kent is easier to tick in the day from York than Gloucestershire. Could it be Kent that is my next big ticking project?
|It's a start!|
Join me either tomorrow or Thursday for tales of Bury and Black Pudding. Well, just Bury actually sorry.