Back in July 2017 I started a pub challenge of ticking off 365 pubs in 365 days. It was my third time of doing this having really enjoyed the first two, but all those previously ticked off boozers were now ineligible which made things harder but for a bit of added fun I decided to see if I could also do a snooker style 147 by visiting pubs with those appropriate colours in their names. Sadly I’d ticked off the Black Country Arms on the 2nd challenge, as a nice 7 point haul just 10 minutes walk away from my house would have been nice but I was more than happy to cast the net further in the lookout for these colourful pubs.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention all 36 pubs that featured as even though I know it’s lock down, there are still big Sunday dinners to devour and televised football matches to partake in.
July gleaned just 10 points. Inn On The Green in Acocks Green kicked things off where I had a couple of great pints whilst playing on retro gaming machines, and then whilst on the Walsall CAMRA trip to Leeds, as I arrived back at the coach I spotted The Black Prince opposite so I demolished a pint in there whilst watching more eager people boarding our vehicle home.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Berwick Rangers FC so whilst debating where to spend August bank holiday I discovered that the town had 2 Red Lion’s and a Brown Bear. It had to be done. Some excellent pubs in this town and it’s well worth a visit. The Red Lion in the Spittal area was the pick of the 3 pubs that gave me 6 points that weekend and it was definitely my kind of place. It’s called a “mans pub” on whatpub.com and as I’m a proper man I’m allowed to agree. Now bear with me while I eat a Yorkie Bar.
September started with the Red Lion in Ramsgate. AC/DC on the jukebox, a win on the quiz machine and a big smile off a lass on the way out made this one of the best points of the challenge. The only other points this month were at The Black Horse in Hinckley, where Dave and myself were intrigued by a large poster advertising the following weeks entertainment. Miss Thunderpussy. The landlord was very welcoming but he was no Miss Thunderpussy.
December saw The Blue Bell in Nottingham potted. 14 points were earned in Northampton with The Black Prince where Dave’s cider looked like a 3am piss after a night on mustard smoothies (I told him, the barmaid and everyone in the vicinity this) and Old Black Horse which was busy with fellow Walsall fans and a barman who was just closing. I couldn’t say “mate I’ve got 7 points riding on this, please serve us” so I went down the much trendier road of pleading for a quick pint before the train. It worked.
The last point of the year was in the fantastic Red Lion in Stone although this visit was a bit more sedate than my previous one which was with a coachload of very excited Walsall fans. We were heading to a match where we hoped to get promoted. We won the match 5-0 but didn’t go up.
2018 started in Kidderminster with The Penny Black featuring a woman having the place up because the coffee machine wasn’t working. Nobody was getting alcohol until she got caffeine and The Red Man was a decent solid boozer. Another Penny Black this time in Tamworth treated us to pretty awful music until Jane and I made for the door and they unfurled the classic that is Professional Widow by Tori Amos. Their cunning plan to make us stay failed though as our next port of call was Hogarths Gin Palace so it would have needed something with the magnitude of Avenging Angels by Space to make defer us our next pit stop.
February saw the most bizarre day. An arduous trip to Buckinghamshire to tick off the only pub in the country with pink in its name. Friendly locals in the Black Lion in Naphill were most intrigued about the mission, one of them even gave us a lift to the village of Lacey Green where the Black Horse gleaned us more points. Another very welcome lift from a regular in The Whip Inn to the main attraction of the day The Pink & Lily in Parslows Hillock. We were so pleased to see it open after someone in the first pub of the day The Golden Cross had suggested it was closed after the landlord had left on the Thursday. Not what you want to hear after just 100 miles of a 200 mile round trip. Thankfully it was open with three very friendly barmaids serving. We accidentally stayed for a couple of hours.
In March I ticked off The Red Lion in Tipton which was very much my kind of pub and with the added bonus of samosas.There were soon two less for sale. Evesham has two red pubs, Ye Olde Red Horse and The Red Lion both of which had very welcome fires although one lady in the former chucked half of her pint on it (I didn’t follow suit), and the other kept me warm as I perused the 2004 Good Beer Guide.
Easter was spent in the north east with the Red Lion and Black Swan in Darlington being very friendly pubs. The Yellow Rose in Middlesbrough was packed full of their towns footie fans watching their home game against Wolves. I kept my accent to myself in there whilst down the road The Red Lion wasn’t showing the game but playing Celine Dion songs instead. My accent did come out to join in with a couple of those. I even broke strict pub challenge rules and stayed for a second pint so that I could finish my rendition of It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.
There was still 14 points up for grabs in the north east before I headed home in the guise of The Black Garter in Newcastle which wasn’t overly friendly, compounded by a bloke coming up behind me after I’d been waiting a good few minutes to be served, he shouted his order to a barmaid which was accepted and he then got arsey with me for being in his way when he tried to pick up his beers. I still hadn’t been served. I liked The Black Bull in Gateshead where I was the only customer (it was early afternoon) but I had two parrots, some model skeletons, a pirate and a friendly barmaid for company.
One of the highlights of the weekend other than the great pubs, beers, and friendly ladies was sitting on the table next to the one Walsall FC play off final hero Don Goodman was sat at for breakfast. He’d been in town commentating on the Middlesbrough match. I was too scared to speak to him but we did have a good natter when we were introduced at the re-opening night of The Beacon Way in Bloxwich.
In April Jane suggested a pub crawl of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Jewellery Quarter? Me? I’m not exactly bling, and I’m crap at maths so don’t like fractions but there was a Red Lion available. It was a pricey round but it was a good visit, especially when at the urinal I heard the phrase I always like when out of town. “You’re a Walsall fan aren’t you?” Always good to meet a fellow Saddler, we had introductions (once I’d put my willy away), a quick chat about our beloved team and he’d added me on Facebook before I finished using the hand drier.
Another side arm to the main challenge along with this snooker one was my aim to have beer in 12 former Football League towns, so on St George’s Day Dave and myself jumped on a Megabus to Manchester with the aim of visiting 4 of these, namely Northwich, Stockport, Stalybridge and Glossop. The Penny Black in Northwich was first up. The pump clip said my beer was £2.19 a pint. The barmaid said £1.89, I handed over my 50p off CAMRA voucher and dealt at £1.39. Absolute bargain. The Red Lion in Stockport was an odd visit. Dave cracked a joke loudly, which was so dreadful the pub went quiet. I referenced the joke killing the pub in my notepad but not what the actual line was, and I write down everything. It must have been bad for me to not minute it. Anyway it was still a good visit, and the lady serving was amazing and won Barmaid Of The Challenge if I remember rightly.
We didn’t pick up anymore points on the snooker challenge that day but did hit all 4 towns. However Dave caused us to miss our scheduled train out of Glossop and then proceeded to spend the extra hour while we waited for the next one pissing off everyone he encountered. I instead sat at the bars of the two pubs drinking and looking really cool. My default setting. I do intend to return to the Dark Peak one day to see if he has got us barred forever from Glossop.
In May The Little Black Pug in Blackpool was to be visited after our match at Fleetwood but my mate Swill went awol which totally scuppered that plan (he was drinking and having a great time with his flat battery mobile phone while I was frantic with worry, thinking he’d been thrown out the match or something like). he’d actually left the match at half time to go back into Blackpool drinking. The match was dreadful and I wish I’d thought of that. To make up for it the following day he drove me to The Black Boy in Knowle where a very nice pint in the sun by the canal was well earned after a bit of a wait to be served.
The final needed points arrived in June. Myself, Mase and Sean had a long awaited pub crawl of Camden, which was an exceptional day including the Black Heart. I was slightly down in that pub though having spotted a jar on the bar of the previous pub The Worlds End that was labelled “tip and you get laid”. I tipped and subsequently didn’t get laid, but I appreciate that I am the guy that could go to a knockin shop and come out sexually frustrated.
The last 7 points needed came in one of my favourite towns Bewdley. There are two pubs called Black Boy in Bewdley so me and Mase opted for the one up the hill with a superb Ludlow Gold in a great beer garden including a pond. Just to be sociable we ticked off the other one by the station on the way back too.
So I made the 147 with about a week to spare. I was flapping about getting the final points in as the deadline approached, but ended up managing to squeeze in The Black Swan in Rugby too, which we only visited as my mate Daz reckoned it looked like our kind of pub. It was. I loved doing this snooker based lark and it really reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the main 365 challenge which was beginning to wane after just a month, and I finished that on a personal best of 407. (Pub challenge 1 saw me hit 404 pubs from a target of 365 and version 2 which I did over a leap year to afford me an extra day and pub saw me apologetically crawl over the line with 367 pubs with a target of 366).
I’m sorry to end the article on a low note though. We forgot to go back and see Miss Thunderpussy.