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It seemed an unnecessarily fraught and messy start to Saturday 17th October, as the Daddy BRAPA chauffeur service picked me up from outside my flat, with the intent of visiting four of my remaining Durham 'outliers' plus a bonus North Yorkshire one on the way back. Plus maybe a cheeky trip to my favourite Fox in York, the Parcel Yard of the north, but with more White Rat and less ESB.
Problem was, my phone was pinging like a collection of over-worked microwave ovens, as 2021 Good Beer Guides plopped through letterboxes up and down the country. They'd been sighted in Cambridge, Glasgow, and mid-Derbyshire, not to mention reports they'd arrived in Bristol the day before, said a man called Malt with a unique sense of humour.
The North Yorkshire posties hadn't read the script, and mine hadn't arrived. In fact, the only other person I knew who hadn't received one on the 'privilege' scheme was 'John of Poppleton', and it was his birthday! CAMRA you monsters, John is crying.
Then Mr SatNav started being a right, royal pain in the backside and we had to turn him off. And as the roads became rural north of Bishop Auckland, a recurrence of the BRAPA-mobile tyre pressure issues returned, despite the fact that it had got through an entire trip to Bridlington the previous day with no adverse effects. The locals weren't exactly helping ......

Pub number one came into view, north of Crook, after a quick stop for a wee in some delightful woodland. It jutted off the corner of a main road like a large square slab of Somerset Brie, but one with a Newcastle Exhibition logo on the side.
We pulled up, had a sandwich, and as an old man returned from the shops and wondered why two strangers were parked in front of his house, decided that being 12:05pm, it was time to try the pub .....

As I turned the handle, a stern voice bellowed "NO! WAIT!" and Dad and I stepped back into the street, shocked. "Good blog material before we've even got inside a pub" whispers Dad, thinking on the positive side. We loiter a couple more minutes, until a face that looks unmistakably like the landlord of a rural County Durham pub appears, I apologise (for what I'm still not sure), he says 'aye' and scurries off to perform landlordly duties, leaving us with two calmer young men who present us with two fine pints of Robinson's Unicorn. Wow, welcome to life at Black Horse, Hamilton Row (1898 / 3115) though they say 'Hamilton Row' surely it should be Waterhouses. Hamilton Row is just the street, like if York's Bluebell was listed under 'Fossgate' or the Cambridge Blue under 'Gwwwhatever Street'. The receipt proved it. Signs around the pub showed it was a place of good humour (we'll forgive 'We are Leeds' chalked on a board above the bar, just) , and had all the hallmarks of the classy, traditional pubs in this part of the world I've discovered over the last few months. The attitude on heating would've given a Grays resident much cause for complaint, but there was a fire at the far end where three cheeky lads had gathered for the Merseyside derby - Liverpool taking the lead almost immediately. Not sure I've ever enjoyed a pint of Unicorn quite so much, though it has been a long while, and in the last two years I've come to appreciate the more traditional bitters. Boring BRAPA fact.
Felt like a sign (literally) not to get too wound up about non arrival of 2021 GBG!

So anyone on Twitter with a new Beer Guide wanna tell me if I'm 'ticking' the right pubs in the right area, or if there's anything new I should be doing while I'm here? No? Never mind then.
I'd complicated things further by inviting local #PubMan Brad Wight to join, before we both kind of realised that isn't strictly allowed under Tier 2 restrictions.
Dad decides to sit the next pub out. He wants to try and pump up the ailing tyre (front left if you are interested), find a deserted spot to have a wee, and phone Mum with the news (about the tyre, not the wee). Not to mention rescuing the monkey that had escaped from nearby Hunwick safari park. He'd have a busy 27.5 minutes!

And I think, just as in Seaham a few weeks back, he made the right choice here at Joiners Arms, Hunwick (1899 / 3116) which despite being a perfectly decent pub, was a little characterless when put into the context of Durham GBG entries as a whole. However, and it is a BIG however, my own stupidity is more to blame than the pub for why this became a less than enjoyable experience. On noticing a small lounge bar lined with welcoming faces, I go to sit down on the end of some bench seating, which means I'm sharing it with a bloke I don't know! Have I lost my mind? He's got a friend coming back soon anyway. Why am I so determined to stay in the front bar when there's obviously no seating available? What is wrong with me? Plenty of decent looking side rooms too. They pull up this makeshift table for one, leaning against the front of the bar. Dead centre of the room. My big fat head blocking off the screen from the bloke behind me trying to watch this important horse race. He's too polite to tell me what a twat I am, but I see him craning his back at unhealthy angles, lying half prostrate on a radiator, Terry Waite style. When he wakes up on Sunday with piles and back pain, it is me who is to blame. Meanwhile, the poor barmaid has a close-up profile view of me every time she goes to pull a pint. One ale on by the way, it is well kept but I can't enjoy it. All that remains is to pretend I've popped in to watch the important horse race they are all on about. The horse they are all talking about is called something like Straddle-Various so I decide to cheer for him (or her, can't assume horse gender). I do the green highlighting under the table, treat Colin like an embarrassing stranger, and try and get into the race, texting Dad I'll be 5 mins late cos I have to make this look authentic. I even shout "GO QUICKER STRADDIE LAD!" at one point, not sure it convinces the locals. Straddle-Various comes about 9th. Sums up my entire pub experience here. I deserve to be booed off.

At least back at the car, Dad has a smile on his face, feeling he's completed his tasks. I hate to break it him that the monkey is back in the tree, but all good otherwise.
On to the next, just a couple of miles away, we do a Taylor-esque park up somewhere in vicinity and give ourselves a bracing, needless, ten minute uphill walk to the pub itself.

With zero social media presence to check on opening hours in the build up to this one, it is perhaps no surprise to see Dun Cow, Witton-le-Wear (1900 / 3117) a truly rural pub, all weird stuffed creatures (not just Colin) and hunting prints enough to give my vegan sister sleepless nights. The old geezer behind the bar walks at such a pace, that Dad feels instantly guilty asking if he can pay by card, for it takes him about five minutes to retrieve the machine from the back room. No wonder then, that although it isn't strictly correct protocol, Dad swipes the pints off the bar and brings them back to our table, you could not have a man in his 90's (possibly) walking all the way round, common sense must prevail. This is a true quality gem, probably my favourite of the day, though it lacked something I can't really put my finger on. The Timothy Taylor Landlord was immaculate. Most amusement was generated by a plastic scouser (the red variety of course) with nose pretty much pressed up against the screen, getting increasingly animated with the game in the final stages, celebrating wildly as he thinks they've nicked it, only for VAR to chalk it off. I struggle to hide my glee, and he gives me a right glare on the way out. "It's wrong though", I tell Dad, "I thought everyone up here supported one of the two main clubs." "Spennymoor or Crook Town?" he replies, quick as a flash. You had to be there.
Joshua Tetley takes his dogs on holiday

Weird stuffed creatures galore

Dad getting the beers in, wahey ladz!

A brilliant pint

Yards from the front of the pub, Dad stops in his tracks. "Listen! Look!" It is someone else pumping up their car tyre pressure. He looks delighted. Then a man walks past us carrying a tree. Witton-le-Wear, it will keep you entertained for hours.
En route to pub 4, south of here, in the Darlington area but very rural, our car tyre pressure light is back on once more. You can see the anguish in poor Dad's eyes. But he puts on a brave face for the camera

And here it was, Black Horse, Ingleton (1901 / 3118), the final tick of the 2019/20 season (for I would receive my 2021 GBG on the following Monday morning). The guv'nor seems a good chap, one of those who oversees all and has an all encompassing presence, joking with the locals, doing food, drinks, well who says men can't multitask? Evil women probably. Dad, possibly influenced by tyre pressure issues, goes for a coffee but one sip of my ale and I'm soon asking him to check if I'm right in thinking this is vinegar. Dad agrees, so I shout over to return it but he tells me it is a 'new barrel' so should be fine. Hate it when they say that, makes it twice as awkward! He pours me another, which I'm still skeptical about. I'm later told on Twitter this chap is very proud of 'keeping his cellar well' so perhaps he just didn't want to believe the worst. He asks me about the other pint and when I go "hmmmm" (cos it is definitely just as bad) he relents and pulls me something else, which is more in keeping with the quality of today's ales which has been excellent. Dad's finished his coffee already so leaves me to struggle on with my ales while he goes for another tyre pressure sesh! A decent pub, will probably remember it for the wrong reasons, but that's the cut throat life of pub ticking aha.
Dad makes history by performing the final tick of the 2020 GBG

You might be surprised to know the beer on the left is the good one!

Back at the car, Dad looks up at me glumly from the kerbside and says 'can we miss the 5th pub (which would've been at Sandhutton near Thirsk) and just get straight back to York, as he wouldn't be able to relax otherwise. Of course Daddio, you are the chauffeur, I count myself lucky for any of these ticks!
The journey home luckily is uneventful, only Cooking Lager asking to see a bit of Dad's leg offers any real respite .....

We do manage to get that pint in the Fox, which is thankfully quieter than most Saturday afternoons, but on top form ......

You could feel the joint sigh of relief when we got settled down in here

Look at the lacings on that!

It had been a funny old day! But worth it. When I looked in the new GBG, all four of these pubs I visted today were still in (as was the Sandhutton one we didn't get to).

One shock omission though, the Fox.

Join me on Wednesday, when I'll start telling you about a surprise quick return to Leigh-on-Sea.

Cheers, Si