Tuesday 21 June 2022


(I was going to call the blog 'BRAPA in Operation Yew Tree' but errrm, you know .....)

A two hour drive to rural Staffordshire last Saturday morning meant I could not afford to be feeling ill on the journey over.

Easier said than done when you've been to your first beer festival since lockdown (Poppleton) on the previous evening, where I got to drink stuff like this.

Pink Matter Custard they call it.  Didn't look like beer.  Didn't smell like beer.  Didn't taste like beer.  It was more like milkshake.  And I enjoyed it.  

Because we shouldn't forget that I was the 'Saffron Walden McDonald's Happy Meal Thickshake Junior Champion of the Year 1988/89'.  Bag of Toffos for the winner.  I puked all down my replica Everton Tony Cottee shirt afterwards whilst watching Knightmare.  Danger team!   And that is a BRAPA fact.  

Ainsty Angel 

Back to the present, and I actually kept my discipline on that baking hot Friday evening, drinking 4.5 pints,  having a hot dog and catching the bus home at 8pm.

I slept through til 8am, and felt remarkably full of vim and vigour.  Real ale / milkshake WILL lengthen your life expectancy.  

Daddy BRAPA drove us into the village of Denstone in a downpour.  Grey clouds, 13 degrees.  What a difference a day makes!  Social media had suggested an 11am opening time, but you know what that often means?  You arrive, pub is firmly shut, and a blackboard outside states 12 noon.

What to do?  Sitting in the car for 50 minutes was unappealing.  Our other ticks were either too far or definite 12 nooners.  Luckily, the BRAPA encyclopaedic brain whirred into action and I recalled a pub from last year's GBG, Talbot, Alton (close to Alton Towers) only three miles away and a 10am opener.

It took some finding, sunken down into a rural spot just outside the village around a hairpin bend, nestling into the trees beside a hotel which seemed to be linked to the pub and is also a former GBG entry!

And what a cracking post-emptive the Talbot threatened to be.  A little wood burner bubbled away to our left, nooks and crannies everywhere, very dark, 18th century farmhouse style, a very handsome chair which had almost certainly been nicked from the local church.  The 'barmaid' who follows us in has inverted commas because she may have been a customer having a gin with the girls out the front. She greets us with a cheery pre-amble regarding 'where's the good weather gone?'  She can't find the half glasses, she can't work the till, she asks Dad THREE times if he said 'half a Steerage'.  But I like her.  And as we settle down in the corner, angry with myself for forgetting I too could have had a half (BRAPA non-GBG pub rules), this place is so atmospheric and ancient, and it'd have to do something rather bloody stupid to ruin that.  So of course, it does something rather bloody stupid.  Journey (not even 'Don't Stop Believin') and then Phil Collins, are piped through at a ridiculous volume.  A man who might be in charge finally locate the twiddly knob to turn it down.  But a pub ghost seemingly turns it up again.  And it had to be turned down again.  Now, I'm not anti piped pub music as an absolute rule, but THIS music and THIS volume in THIS particular sort of pub?  Unforgiveable.  

Doggie beer - another 'red flag' as the kids say

2,333,710th pub goers annoyed to here this utter dross 

Still a nice pub though, let's be charitable, it is noon now, and Mr Sat Nav has finally remembered where our first proper tick is.  We park in the village hall car park opposite, I make mental note of where the defib machine is.  Pub looks open.  Good to go.

Someone on my Twitter described the Tavern, Denstone (2242 / 3804) as totally underwhelming, and yes I do get where they are coming from, but I appreciate the basic 'lived-in-ness' of the place.  Just a few bulbous noses and hi-vizzers drinking Carling and Guinness in companionable silence, looking suitably miserable, perking up slightly as a familiar local face appears, before slumping back down into a lagery depression.  A 'proper' pub.  There was a restaurant area around the corner, but out of sight, out of mind.  Pedigree or Wainwright as a beer range doesn't cut it when you've been going in hard on the Turning Point.  A cheerful barmaid with an element of a young Kate Bush steps up to serve us.  ALL the kids wanna be KB nowadays.  Stranger Things happen in BRAPA pubs.  I respond by staging a very humorous (if I do say so myself) chat with Dad about the recent contrast in weather conditions.  She doesn't respond at all.  You could say that she failed to hit those Weathering Heights.  Or not. The Wainwright is tolerable, we sit still and try to blend in.  Then, all at once, a tall ancient couple come in all hunched over and crooked but happy.  Crazy lady on stick is asked by Lord Emsworth look-a-like husband if she wants a double or single Bombay Sapphire.  "Daft question!" she shrieks, making the whole pub, especially D.BRAPA roar with laughter, before silence descends once more.  Pubs, ain't they just the best places in the world?

We continue to wend our way north, in that little corridor 'twixt Derby and Stoke, or is it Leek and Buxton more precisely?  

Our next tick has its own car park, but there is a coach parked across it at an anti-social diagonal angle.  "Uh oh, could be very busy inside!" says Dad, as we note this looks quite a small traditional pub.

But wow, what a place Yew Tree Inn, Cauldon (2243 / 3805) isI don't know where to point my camera first, and we haven't even made it to the bar yet!  A room full of vintage motorbikes through a window to the left, an upper balcony with inflatable shark leading the way to all manner of curios - I wonder how you get up there?  Cupboard and cabinets festooned with interesting items from the past, there's simply no time to look at everything.  And it opens up into a raucous boozer, it felt like an evening atmosphere rather than a lunchtime one.  And I mean boozer.  Because sometimes, these well known pubs full of quirky memorabilia feel weighed down by it all, functioning more as museums than pubs.  Like they struggle to breathe.  Like they're barely alive.  Like they've lost the winning formula that made them special in the first place.  But here, frantic darts players, laughing locals and much amiable chatter means this pub has almost everything.  We can only see the one ale on, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's some secret bar we missed, but as Dad notes, the colour of everyone's drink is the same!  Dark brown.  As it should be.  Grarrr.  As we are getting served, a staff member asks the coach driver (sat behind us) to move his coach.  'And where would you like me to stick it?' he asks.  Well, he did ask!  (We later find it out on the road).  Someone on my Twitter tells me they came here as part of a coach trip, rang ahead, as is only polite with such a large group, the pub gave the impression they'd welcome them with open arms, and when they arrived, made them all sit/stand outside!  Not the case today, the whole backroom is full of Twoachers.  We grab the last small two seater at the back of the main bar beside the locals.  The pianola starts up.  That sets two crazy Jack Russell's off.  This is pub life at its very best.  The pianola gets a round of applause for its efforts, and that's us done.  Pub of the day?  You'd better believe it!

If that pub seemed remote, this next one must be in the top 0.5% of 'most difficultly situated pubs in the entire GBG'.  But all the better for it!  Especially if you've got a driver.

You know when the GBG starts wittering on about ignoring no vehicular access signs and carrying on left down dirt tracks that you're in a special part of the world.

We get so far and arrive at a car park, peering into the distance, the pub is visible from here, so we decided to cut our losses and park up (I don't think we could've got further).  Situation is idyllic.

Over a couple of wooden bridges and rivers, mind any lurking trolls, a steam train from the nearby Churnet Valley railway chugs past.  Now that is the correct way to arrive at this pub!  Bonus point for any ticker who's done that.

Of course, everyone demands we wave back at them as we wait patiently.  Not often a steam train halts my BRAPA progress.  I must be in a good mood cos I suddenly go the full Tom Irvin and, seeing a sign that reads 'all dogs must be kept on leads', start chanting "we all hate dogs on l**ds scum".  

Finally the train passes, I ask 'is it safe to cross?', Dad replies "be careful of the Intercity express that goes straight through - LOL" , I chuckle weakly, and it is pub time once more.

Black Lion, Consall Forge (2244 / 3806) Whilst I go for a much needed wee, Dad gets the ales in, only to be cruelly tricked into thinking there are only two on, because a man with a gigantic skeletal frame blocks the view of the two at the end.  With hindsight, I wonder if this was one of those pubs where you are better outside than in, considering the views.  Because to view the pub dispassionately, location removed, it is rather average.  Basic, that is fine.  But doors are open front, back and side.  Airy.  And a transient clientele.  This felt a more outdoorsy pub experience that last week's Tite & Locke in Lancaster, where we really were outside!  No atmosphere to speak of.  The ale is decent, no more than that.  Still, had we gone out, we wouldn't have witnessed the two jolly old dears vigorous rubbing away at a pile of scratch cards, getting increasingly frustrated.  So, in summary, a pub 'experience' of the day to match the Yew Tree in Cauldon, but as a stand alone pub, mediocre.  

After avoiding more steam trains / intercity expresses (which were presumably already on strike), we continue our little drive, north of Leek now, taking in some stunning scenery.  Some raised craggy rocks put my mind of what I imagine a trip to Dumbarton is like ......

And down a long lane full of miserable pedestrians wishing there was a pavement (a situation I know all too well), our fifth pub of the day came into view .....

The above photo was actually taken as we left the pub, so if you can see any sadness in my eyes, that is why.  The closest I got to a photo on the way in was this .....

Dad was a man on a mission to get to the bar post haste, almost like he sensed it would be a struggle ....

A toddler bar blocking, the twarents also actually sat their baby on the bar!  That set the scene for the dreadful pub experience that was the Lazy Trout, Meerbrook (2245 / 3807), a pub that has never been blogged about before by any pub ticker because it is held in such universal disdain.  Dad made a good point, it felt more like a roadside diner.  Would make a lot more sense to take out the bar, rip out the handpumps, and sell bacon, eggs, coffee and milkshake (you all know how much I love milkshake today) instead.  No one was here to treat the place as a pub, not even to entertain such a notion.  Some relief when the family from hell were moved to a reserved table out of sight, though I don't think the constant wailing of their youngest ever ceased in our interminable 25 minute stay.  The ale was actually decent, probably a 0.25 step up from the Black Lion on your old NBSS.  Dad's Beavertown half glass a very odd contraption, more like drinking out of a topless beaker or trough.  Our poor young barman looked like he hadn't slept for weeks.  It was painful to watch, I hope his shift didn't go on too much longer.  The pub as a whole, had a total lack of consciousness.

Col had been asleep in my bag up to this point, waking up only now, the silly cauli

Finally awake and ready to do some Stabiloing

So, that was a productive five pub rural Staffs day.  But you know what would be even better?  Yes, a sixth rural pub.  Time to put on my pathetic voice.

"Daaaaaad" I ask, "there's a pub sort of on the way home which is quite difficult to get to.  It's kind of on the route back so makes sense to do it if you think we have time?" I try not to sound too desperate.

Luckily, #MummyBRAPA isn't expecting him back for tea so he's pretty chill.  

We do have a road blockage as we have to wait about five minutes for a herd of cows to get off the main road and into their enclosure pen thing.   Derbyshire, different world innit?

High up in the Peaks, the pub finally comes into view, and I can only be thankful that I didn't have to walk to this one. 

Again, the photo above had to be taken afterwards.  The closest I got to an intro photo was this rather arty effort ......

I call it "What We Drank Last Night (2022)".  Anyway, welcome to the remote Royal Oak, Hurdlow (2246 / 3808), organised (or even disorganised) chaos is the name of the game here as an army of uniformed waitresses and bar staff block entrances to kitchen, bar and loos, and tap away on little computer screens, trying to ensure their customers are suitably situated in the correct seat.  It is like a military operation without a general.  Three times I'm asked if I'm okay.  I think what they mean is 'stop confusing us by moving about'.  Dad wants a coffee so as I order a cappuccino, and a pint of Beartown for me.  Bernard goes rogue and marches off to an empty table.  "You've got half an hour if you want to sit there!" says a staffie with panic in her eyes, all breathless like.  "Fine, we only need 25 minutes!" I reassure her.  Kind of nice they've not put reserved signs on tables, but I do wonder if it adds to the mayhem.  Going up to the bar to photograph the pumpclip so I can remember what I'm drinking was always going to be trouble, and I'm nearly wrestled to the ground and pepper sprayed.  On the way back from the loo, I'm asked 'can I help you?'  I ignore the question entirely and march past.  So all in all, not the most relaxing experience, and yet a million times better than the Lazy Trout!

And there we have it!  Quick widdle on the outskirts of Sheffield, big up to Barnsley, give Rotherham an affectionate wave, and before long, we are back in York.

The Staffordshire completion dream is still alive thanks in no small part to Daddy BRAPA, I just have to try and get a day in tricky rural outer Wolverhampton now! 

#ThirstyThursday is cancelled yet again (train strikes this time) so look out for me popping up in a random place on Saturday - though again, trains mean it might be later in the afternoon than I'd like!

Thanks for reading, Si