|Train beer for Col|
Plymouth has long since had a soft spot in my pub shaped heart. I've visited four times with Good Beer Guide pub intentions, firstly in 200, latterly in 2008. Six years before BRAPA even became a thing.
In fact, it was the first place in which I used a GBG to select pubs for an overnight stopover, on the wild, wintry night of Friday 11th Jan 2002. I was barely shaving by then, very wet behind the ears (literally on this night) as Daddy BRAPA and I teetered along the Barbican getting hopelessly lost. No smartphones in those days, just a trusty Autoroute map! Someone did Tom Jones karaoke, and we eventually settled in the bawdy, smoky, Beryl Cookian gem that is The Dolphin. Bass was the only ale on, I was confused. Where was the Archers, Deuchers, Dogs Bollocks, Piddle in the Hole and Summer Lightning I loved so much in those early days?
My 2006 visit coincided with the days I did my own little pub reviews. It didn't last, but there is no way I'd have known I'd been to pubs like the Providence without my original notes.
Imagine feeling a strangers cheeks nowadays? Different world.
I checked in at my newish build Premier Inn, the sliding shower door the highlight, and decided to hit the pubs. It was 4pm, and travelling from York to Plymouth on Massive Train Strike Day was unfortunate. My 6am had been cancelled, so to arrive in Plymouth at 15:30 was a win.
Of course, I should mention now that the aim of this holiday was to tick Cornwall, not Devon, but you'll just have to trust me when I say that it made sense to stay in Plymouth, and not be too ambitious on this first day. Still, I wanted to get my one remaining 'hard' Plymouth pub done first.
Mass confusion at the Royal Parade bus stop as the timetables listed online didn't match what was showing on the board. If the locals hadn't a clue, then I had no chance. A man selling punnets of strawberries behind us didn't stop shouting, the seagulls squawked more aggressively than I'd heard in any other town, fate was already telling me this would be no easy holiday.
When a bus did arrive that took me somewhere in the vicinity, it was an uphill climb into the suburb of Eggbuckland. I'd attempted to do this pub on foot on the evening of Friday 8th December 2006, using an Autoroute map to guide me, but when I (already lost) encountered three hooded yoofs by a subway entrance, I gave up and went to the Brittania 'Spoons instead.
Relief overcame me when the pub finally came into view at 16:59, and I let out a little cheer, glad no one heard. It felt villagey and a world away from Plymouth city centre, church behind pub, very leafy round about.
Sixteen years was a long time to wait, but Prince Maurice, Eggbuckland, Plymouth (2247 / 3809) was worth it. An uncompromising boozer, one of those where the locals seem a bit taken aback to see a stranger striding purposefully through them, plonk elbows on to the bar, and order a Dartmoor Jail Ale (an ale I'd see a lot this week) with minimum hesitation or fuss. I take a seat under the plasma screen, never ideal as you can never quite be sure how much you and your cauliflower are being stared it, and how much the locals are actually interested in the exploits of Jonny Bairstow. Craning my neck when a wicket was taken was an impossible stretch, so I gave up, and admired the carpet instead. I think pub carpets are my favourite pub feature in 2022, I just feel that all is well with the world when I can feel that softness under foot! The chippie opposite looked very tempting, but with a rare bus back into town on the horizon, I needed to keep my eye on the prize and salvage some pub glory from this late start.
I hop off at Mutley Plain (or Hutley Plain according to the 1999 GBG AKA the WORST GBG ever due to the sheer volume of errors contained within), close to my favourite of all Plymouth pubs The Fortescue which I'd visited on all four previous trips down here.
But what I hadn't realised .... this next pub is a Wetherpsoons. Let's go in!
Mannamead, Plymouth (2248 / 3810) was one of those brighter, modern, airier 'Spoons which, had I visited 11am on a weekday, I could imagine being a 'non-experience'. But being a balmy summer Saturday evening, the place was bulging, belching, burgeoning or blossoming with life depending on your perspective. I'd followed in a group of fancy dressed golfers, with inflatable clubs, fake moustaches, shades, kilts, and whatever else the twenty-somethings think golfers actually wear! The ring leader looked a bit of a lad, but when I told the staff it was his turn next, he was awfully polite and well spoken in his thanks .... perhaps he was in character as a Victorian golfer. A Scottish beer called Red Lady seemed the apt choice. With space at a premium, I wedged myself in the 'dangerous locals' corner of the pub, between fruit machines and grizzling men, and was amazed that no one struck up conversation, as I swung my legs off a high stool and considered that as good as 'Spoons carpets are, they'll never beat less knowing boozery carpets like in the Prince Maurice!
I find the online edition of the GBG App pretty obsolete and not at all intuitive, but the one time I do use it is when I'm in a town or city with a few ticks, and can use it to navigate my way to the next nearest place, as they are all neatly plotted on a map. For that purpose and that purpose alone, the App is worth having.
My nearest tick was one I nearly did in 2008 as I remember it featuring in the 'Away Days Football Grounds and Real Ale' booklets which I wish I'd kept, cos they now sell for a fortune online and I had them all at one time! I never quite made it that night, but it was in the GBG 14 years on.
I had to ring a bell for entry! Always a nerve-wracking moment, entering a GBG club which isn't readily accessible to outsider scum, but the door is released at Fawn Private Members Club, Plymouth (2249 / 3811) I get no looks from the local blokes, and I stride up the bar, mutter 'CAMRA' like when you buy top shelf pornography from your local newsagent, and with little fuss, I'm presented with a very drinkable pint of Bays Topsail. The pub dog looks tiny and cute, and you know me, I'm no dog fan, but when I say 'awww', our matronly landlady (Angie I think?) tells me to keep my distance as Stella (18 yrs old!) is a bit of a monster! I can barely believe it, a couple of people even muse she'll probably not be long for this world as though it'll be a relief to all humanity. Harsh! Some locals are playing cards at the back of the room, the accents are proper strong. One man shouts 'cocksucker!' when he loses a hand and has to be admonished by Angie. A local called 'Nobber' comes in. They all love Nobber. Mainly cos they can all shout 'Nobber!' and get him to buy them a drink. Considering all this, and my central location to it all, I feel about as content and relaxed as I ever have in a GBG club. I think that reassuring 'old smell' that the best boozers have helped calm me! A fabulous place, one of my favourites of the week and the highlight of day one.
I don't know if you'd noticed but I was getting close to quite a significant BRAPA landmark. 2250 will signify the 50% point of the GBG. My next pub! I decided to play it with a straight bat, and make it the one geographically closest on the GBG App.
Having said that, Punch Taverns seemed determined to throw an element of doubt in there .....
|No it isn't Punch, leave me alone!|
A couple of streets down, it came into view. Finding the entrance wasn't quite as straightforward as it should of been, possibly because I got distracted by a 'non profit' sign and weird arrow which confused me .....
The least Plymouthy of all Plymouth pubs I've ever set foot in, I found myself walking into something a lot more 'London'. It was ornate, but mainly youthful, welcome to the BRAPA halfway point, the Bread & Roses, Plymouth (2250 / 3812). And the BRAPA gods would conspire to present me with what was in effect a bit of a 'greatest hits package' of all my experiences to date. I'm stood at the bar waiting patiently for my Black Tor Raven to be pulled, thinking how cool and boho this all is, when this little old man with one tooth waddles up to me, tells me his name is Thomas Jones .... "as in Tom Jones!" he wheezes, before breaking out into a rendition of Delilah. Or 'De-loil-arrrgghh' in his accent. I compliment his singing attempts, remembering of course that I once heard karaoke Tom Jones in a Plymouth pub in 2002. As I'm about to vacate the bar area, and he orders his drink, the barman tells him no. "You are barred ... you verbally abused our staff last time you were here and it won't be tolerated". He weakly protests, before realising it is a fair cop, and slinks off. A great BRAPA cameo. I sit between two groups on the benches, announcing "haha, wot drama!" as I do so. The man next to me is a real grump, scowls for the whole half an hour, and I don't help things by asking if I can perch my pint on his table whilst I take an elaborate selfie in the fantastically angled mirror behind the bar. On the other side, some lads are very excited to learn a lady is here from Naples. They ask her about Diego Maradona. She says he is a god. 'Yeah, Hand of God cheating scum!' I want to reply, but no one else here is young enough to still hold a grudge over 1986 events now that Thomas Jones has left. A band are setting up in the corner. 'Oh, this will be nice for a Saturday evening' I think, bit of impromptu live music. A bloke start shaking a tin of money in our direction. First I think he's a charity collector so ignore him as I HATE that in pubs. But no, he works here, and is collecting for the 'gig'. And you aren't allowed to stay unless you pay! I'm off anyway, but surely this ain't right. Fair enough if the gig was going on a different room, but when this IS the pub, and the drinkers were here before the band? At least scowling bloke has a real reason to fume now, I join in, we finally bond, but it is too late. So there you have it, what a 50%er. Controversy, humour, this pub experience had it all.
So, time to head back to my hotel or keep going? Hmmm, 'depends how close my nearest pub is on the GBG App' I decide. After all I'm in the mood now, getting a real flavour for Plymouth Saturday evening ticking. And there's a pub not too far away .... pretty sure I'd visited on one of my long ago trips but with no proof, it needs to be done ......
It is absolutely heaving in the bar at Minerva, Plymouth (2251 / 3813) , I have to fight my way through to the bar. Not pleasant, and people seem hellbent on standing exactly where they are. Tourist crowd I suspect, it is fine evening, this is Plymouth's oldest hostelry (1540) and being in the Barbican area it is always going to draw them in. For added peril, it is a lady with one arm in a sling who eventually comes over to pull my pint. With seemingly nowhere to go, but hating crowds like this, I walk towards the back of the pub, fully expecting it to simply lead to the toilets or, if I'm lucky, a little outdoor smoking area with maybe slightly more room to swing a cat. But what is this? An entirely empty, quiet, atmospheric backroom? I'm astonished. People are such sheep! It simply isn't comfortable in there. Their loss is my gain, I'm not complaining. The few people who do come through to use the loos all comment to me on 'how well I've done!' Ermmm, not really, I just went and sat in the space available. One lady actually stops at my table, and slurs something about the psychology of it all, how people like herding together - part of the human condition, or something. I've witnessed a few things along these lines in BRAPA history, but not quite as intense as this. Oh, and the St Austell guest beer was fabulous and kept superbly, best ale of the day.
Having fought my way out (I think it was even busier now), I've noticed a pub located quite handily, not a million miles away from the Minerva, but also in the general direction of my hotel.
There are bouncers, and quite a lot of drunk people milling about.
"What's in yer bag, not alcohol I hope!" says one of the bouncers , and I stop to unzip it to prove how honest I am, but he waves me on with an "ah, you're alroite mate" which is a shame because Colin was looking forward to meeting a new puffy green friend. Welcome to Brass Monkey, Plymouth (2252 / 3815) , and my first thought is 'oh, another surprise Wetherspoons!' having now reached the bar, and witnessed the sheer levels of pissedness combined with some insane cackling, fornication and lots of lagers and pitchers of cheeky cocktails flying about. But no, I have to reassess my initial thoughts. This place is simply not refined enough to be a 'Spoons. Quite the statement. Cheap n cheerful I think the phrase is. Or proper rough-arse if you prefer. But I'm loving the wide open spaces after the Minerva's main bar, not that it ain't busy, it just has plenty of room. Take that 1540! But seriously, once I'm sat down in the far corner, it could be any other chain pub. The ale was good, and top tier pub ticker Duncan Mackay hadn't been kidding when he'd told me in the build up that I'd enjoy Plymouth because of the sheer range of different sorts of pubs on offer. I'd seen a bit of everything this evening!
So there we have it! Plymouth done. Well not 'done done', cos I still had two ticks, but I was feeling the beer now, and wanted to be well enough for an early start on my Cornish ticking quest tomorrow.
Join me in Part 2 for that, as we head into the Tamar Valley.
Thanks for listening, Si