Sunday 24 April 2022

BRAPA in ...... NEWBURY NEWBIES : 8th Birthday Special (Berks Day 5/5)

Waking up in Reading feeling well was a bit of a novelty for me after recent nut allergies and hangovers, but here we were, and it felt goood.  With 3 o's.

Today was going to be a good day.

I celebrated BRAPA's 8th birthday with a nice but weird breakfast involving eggs, ham and trifle.  We'd even got BRAPA a card ......

Note Alex the Apple refused to sign it cos he's evil

And what better way to celebrate then head out west to see our old #PubMan mate, Tim Thomas, the brains behind Ullage, possibly the greatest CAMRA magazine in the world.  And if Quinno is the font of all knowledge in Reading and out east, then Tim is your man in West Berks.

I arrived at Newbury station a little before noon, and was delighted to see the iconic yellow Fiat Panda was still very much in service.

Name me a better BRAPA-mobile.  I'll wait.  Up there with the Citra Mobile, the Taylor giant live in van monstrosity, the Daddy Dewhurst Dynamo and Ed Wray's rattling Woking Express.  

Tim had a plan, just as he did back in Feb 2017 when he helped me finish the county for the first time with trips to Wickham and Stockcross (we he later drove us past for old timessake, Stockcross sadly very shut).

Today he was really thinking outside the box and asked if I minded starting with a pre-emptive.  This was some crazy unprecedented BRAPPING but why not? 

We were soon out in the middle of nowhere, forests, dirt tracks, dead end roads.  This felt like Gussage All Saints or Cranborne or Sixpenny Handley to those of you familiar with awkward Dorset. 

Tim starts my tour with a little bit of history.  Hidden behind a pile of manure and a bloke up a ladder pretending to do some work, we had the original home of West Berkshire Brewery. 

And now I know why Good Old Boy has that deep, earthy taste

We trot around the corner, I can't even see a building never mind a pub but tucked away behind a tree, this unlikely attractive building .....

Pot Kiln, Frilsham was last in the GBG just before I started taking Berkshire seriously, I think 2015.  Tim thought it had 'every chance' of an inclusion in the coming years, and judging by the cracking half of Indigenous Chinwag Best Bitter, I'd have to agree.  And yes, I did say half cos pre-emptive rules, and I didn't know how hard Tim was planning on pushing me!  Plus I'd kind of made a Thatcham promise for later, and everyone knows a Thatcham promise isn't one you want to break.  One of those nice old pubs which has obviously been tarted up for food to some extent out left, it was massively into game birds for a while, but has retained a traditional farmhouse style atmosphere from the days of yore, where bearded locals would come in with dead rabbits swinging from their bicycle handle bars and they'd cooked 'em for supper.  An unseen voice from around the corner shouts to Tim, and I think it is a talking pillar, but it is a smartly dressed CAMRA man called Chris (I think) also in here for a pre-emptive recce.  Nice chap, as was his mate.  A solid start to BRAPA's birthday bonanza. 

A short drive took us to the first actual GBG tick of the day.  The new home of West Berkshire brewery no less, and quite different from their former Frilsham premises ...... 

Taproom & Kitchen at West Berkshire Brewery, Yattendon (2158 / 3721) is a ginormous place and if the name isn't long enough, you could probably add 'events, live music and other stuff too' to make it one the longest named places in the GBG.  We are greeted by a 'host' who sits us down but I don't think he's read the #PubMan vibes we are radiating and gives us a food menu.  Tim's expression reads 'WTF?' and he goes off to ask if this place does beer too.  We are given further drinks menus though I can't say it is very clear what is on, what is off, what is cask, what is keg.  So I mosey up to the little bar area in the corner, hoping for a bit of clarity and no telling off.  Well, as soon as I see the Coco Pops logo on a Delphic stout, I have to have it.  All my plans about 4% and under pale ales from West Berkshire (now defunct but reborn under the Yattendon Group) have gone out of the window.  Show me the Coco Pops monkey and it changes everything.  Barman is a top lad, thinks he has found a kindred dark beer loving spirit, and starts forcing all these stout n porter tasters down my gullet.  The sense of well being continues as Chris and his mate show up again for a quick chat, Tim produces a BRAPA birthday card with a snail on, and suggests I should alter my cross-ticking strategy so I use a different colour for previous entries, and just green for the new ones!  Renegade.  The place is too vast and echoey to be a 'lovely' place to enjoy a drink like Windsor & Eton and Thames Side taps were,  but credit where it is due, Yattendon has got it going on.  

I'm surprised how long the drive to Great Shefford is, my remaining awkward West Berks outlier, I think Frilsham to Yatt had spoiled me.  

Here it was in the early afternoon sun ......

Great Shefford, Great Shefford (2159 / 3722) left me a little bit flat, I've got to admit.  At least name your pub something different from the place (unless you are in the Northumbrian village of Once Brewed / Twice Brewed of course, then it works fine).  The staff were so nattily dressed and business-like, there were times I felt more like I'd invaded a banking conference and hoped I wasn't disturbing any financial goings on.  The Dark Star guest ale, served in exactly the type of glass you'd expect from a place of this ilk, drank tolerably at best.  There were glimmers of hope.  A lovely stream running around the back of the pub, the brick floor and a ghostly pub dog area did suggest a bit more warmth and humanity (or canine -anity if that's a word).  Time for Tim's latest 'surprise'.  His own mascots, Frog & Toad were unveiled!  Very talented work from Mrs T.  And their presence was enough to make Colin faint, or at least give him the Cauli-wobbles.  And they had the same voices as Terrance and Philip from South Park. #FunFact

Tim's next move was key.  He wanted a pint or two himself so we drop the car back off at his house, the plan then to do another pre-emptive and bus it back into Newbury.  'Can I come in and use the loo?' I ask like someone used to weeing, which I am.  Yes, no problem, says Tim.  In fact, the whole TT home experience uncannily mirrored my impromptu first visit to Martin Taylor's gaff in Waterbeach.

  • Loo is downstairs
  • Apologies for house being 'in a state' (I wouldn't have noticed, house is nice, bright and homely)
  • Mrs T appears from nowhere and offers me something to eat before we carry on pubbing, I politely decline cos got my own snacks.
  • Mrs T embarrasses Tim by showing his empty cans selection which make dusting difficult (with Martin, it was photos of him when he was younger looking like a dude)
  • Only one thing left to do .... iconic downstairs loo selfies

After being impressed by a vintage telephone in the hallway which actually rings, we head off to today's second pre-emptive.   'I don't like cricket .... I love it, aaaahh!'

(I did actually love cricket in the 90's even more than football at times, especially Somerset, but I feel it lost its way somewhere and I've got very little interest now unless Ashes or something).

Bowler's Arms, Wash Common, Newbury is home to Falkland CC, recently moved to these bigger premises and has a very happy clean clubby feel, barmaid seemed particularly motivated despite the relative lack of folk, understandable this time on a Tuesday!  But I tell yer what, that Tim Taylor Landlord was pint of the day, kept in superb condition - I didn't think anywhere would top my Elm Tree, Beech Hill pint of the stuff on Sunday, but this did.   Glad I forgot my pre-emptive rule that allows me to have a half instead of a full pint!  Tim has one more surprise up his sleeve, another knitted pub character.  Baby Yoda!  Well, quite a giant Baby Yoda really, Col feels a bit intimidated by the sheer bulk now facing him.   But we couldn't tarry, as we had a bus to catch for my two remaining Newbury ticks.  Good place, imagine if it got in the GBG one day I'd be soooooo pleased!

The bus jiggery-pokery went well and we landed in the gentle town of Newbury in good time. Always been a big fan of Newbs, don't think I can recall a calmer centre / market place area.  I could definitely live here.  Makes York feel like Castleford.  

The first of our two ticks here took me very much by surprise ......

I had been expecting to Lock, Stock & Barrel, Newbury (2160 / 3723) to be a micropub.  I can only assume I'd seen the word 'Barrel' and because I'd not heard of the pub before, I drew that conclusion.  In truth, it was very much a Fuller's pub.   By a canal.  I'd have known that if I'd so much as glanced at the GBG description.  But I never read the GBG description ..... spoiler alert!  Like so many pubs that rely on a watery location to do the majority of its talking, it struggled to rise above mediocrity (see also Barn Owl Agden Wharf, Waterside Inn Leigh, Old Boathouse Astley, Crooke Hall Thing for similar examples - and sorry, I don't mean to pick on the north west, I'm just off to Wigan again soon so it is in my mind).  In fact, I could've just said Great Shefford.  And as in G.S., a questionable Dark Star beer didn't help.  This one was like chugging down a bottle of Dettol whilst Santa stuck your head in a Christmas tree and flossed your throat with pine needles whilst shouting 'who's the Daddy?'. Sorry Untappd, you don't deserve me.  Hard to know whether it was just the questionable Norwegian Spruce style, or whether the quality could've been better too.  Thankfully, mine and Tim's chat was fun and jovial and kept me in high spirits.  But with slow draining urinals and random piles of logs acting as partitions, it was time to move on.  

Prefer the ESB team personally

Note to self - shun the ESB and fate will come back to bite you

My final Newbury tick was situated on a quiet street corner looking all sort of welcoming .....

Lion, Newbury (2161 / 3724) is a Wadworth pub, that much I do remember.  It was my last pub with Tim until return to Berks a few years from now so I bit my bottom lip so the emotion didn't become overwhelming.  I've often though Tim had a kind of ecclesiastical air about him, and if he was a bishop, then the Oakham ale I ordered would've been a fitting send off.  A happy sort of place, I'd say old and reassuring but it was rebuilt in 1988.  We sat in a corner by the vintage Wadworth beer labels on a nice bench, chatted probably about all manner of exciting things, and errrm, that was that!

Deffo no six pint memory loss here

Tim saw me safely onto a bus that stopped in the centre of Thatcham, which had a pub both he and Quinno had been eager for me to visit before I left Berks, and well, I couldn't let them down could I? 

The reasons for their eagerness might not be the same as if you were being recommended a Bell at Aldworth or a Reading Nag's Head, but that just kind of intrigued me more.

First worry was would it actually be open?  I could not pin down any definitive hours from social media, best guess would've been 'open every day, but maybe more like 2-3pm than noon'.  And that proved pretty accurate (well once I'd remembered to press the button to get off the bus, having got wrapped up in trying to squint to learn more about instant fat loss) ......

About as expected

A B&B too?  This gets more interesting by the minute

Amidst tales of bad beer and peculiar folk, I teeter around the door of Wheatsheaf, Thatcham (2162 / 3725), and it is immediately apparent that this is one of those rare breed of GBG pubs which feels anything but GBG.  It left like a keg lager estate pub.  Sometimes, as my fellow ticker RetiredMartin will tell you, they can be the most joyous. Sometimes.  Here there was a slightly edgy atmosphere, not aggressive,  but just a bit needly like my Norwegian Spruce ale.  The guy who serves me is sporting a Newcastle Utd cap, he must be the least garrulous Geordie I've ever encountered!  And his locals seem to take his lead.  It was a case of 'speak up', 'speak deeply', say 'cheers pal' a lot, pay with cash, and bugger off away from the bar area ASAP.  Relieved and quite surprised to find the one ale on, a house beer from Delphic who gave us that Coco Pops wonder all those hours ago, was on really good form!  I'd not have fancied taking beer back in here.  The pub decor itself was quite at odds with the atmosphere, shiny marble floor, sauna style bar, nicely done book and music corner, yes I was quite relaxed once I sat down.  Maybe the build up had simply been too much for me?   Special shout out too for the vintage hand dryer.   Definitely a bit of an 'outlier' as GBG entries go, but you know, when all said n done, actually quite decent.  And Colin, who was wearing his SAFC Niall Quinn disco pants (hidden from view unless he opens his legs) felt safe enough to come up for air.

And there we have it, I bussed it back to Reading for food, water, bed, and travelled back to York the following morning.

I'd come so close to fully greening Berkshire, missing out by just ONE pub, which is becoming the story of my 2022 ticking.  

The pub in question is the Royal Oak, Knowl Hill, situated in an awkward location with very limited bus service between Maidenhead and Twyford.  I don't know if it is a classic.  But if it is in the GBG in 5 years time when I come back to fill in more Berkshire gaps, I'll make it my top priority.

See you on Tuesday, for tales of how two micropubs and a 'Spoons saved me from bad beer in north Kent.




  1. Cheers! Si, Thanks for writing up your visit to West Berkshire and showing my contribution in a positive light! It was a great day out and I look forward to your next visit to these parts. Pass on my regards to Colin!

    1. Great to re-live it Tim, actually helped me remember details laying dormant in my mind til then. Colin says hi, and regards to Giant Baby Yoda, Frog n Toad too. Might be 2027 when I'm next back to fill in the gaps, hope yellow fiat still going strong then!

  2. What a lovely time you had. Tim is my favourite, but don't tell him that.

    1. Tim is so lovely isn't he, like you .... Hope you blushing now, know how much you love compliments ;)