Ipswich is one of my favourite awaydays simply because it has that epic awayday pub that we all look forward to visiting: The Fat Cat. Here, Blackpool fans receive a warm welcome, take over the conservatory, order in a Chinese banquet and enjoy great beers. The trouble with that, of course, is that our knowledge of anything else Ipswich has to offer is basically zero (coincidentally also the name of the search dog we met at the ground last year). What better opportunity to resist the Fat Cat (not entirely, of course) and explore the city further (at zero expense) than on a 2020/21 virtual crawl?
You may recall from my awayday last year my rage at the train fare of £92.55 – and that was from Birmingham. Now I’m living in Blackpool, I wasn’t sure I dare look at the fare. Through the fingers covering my eyes, I was much relieved to find an Advance Single for £58.50. I couldn’t face looking at the return fare and had already resolved to jump on the Blackpool Supporters Association coach home. Meanwhile I was going to make a good weekend of it – and I headed down on the 0607 from Blackpool North on Friday morning. The journey was to take 5h18, with changes at Blackpool East, Euston and Liverpool Street.
If you aren’t familiar with Blackpool East station, please read my Brighton blog, which explains everything. Because I’m currently in the ‘writing fiction’ zone, I was delighted to find the station redevelopment was already complete. A 25-minute connection at its former incarnation would have filled me with dread, but this morning I was spoiled for choice as to how to fill this time. I headed to the station caff, where I ordered a mug of Earl Grey and a bacon, egg and mushroom barm with HP Fruity Sauce before settling back on a comfy sofa (by the roaring fire) that I already knew was going to be difficult to get up from. I’m not sure what radio station was playing but the tunes were rocking this morning! ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ by Depeche Mode were really setting me up for the day. The departure board in the cosy caff revealed my connecting train was on time, but the service was so efficient that I comfortably had time to scoff my barm, wash it down with my tea and grab a cheeky Bakewell Tart to take away. What a fine start to my journey this was!
I boarded the Avanti West Coast train that was to be my home for the next 2h18 and settled back in my seat at a table. I’ve taken the pressure off myself this last week in terms of writing and self-imposed deadlines and have been reading and relaxing much more, which has been to the great benefit of my mental health. Today I’m catching up with back issues of Writing Magazine and I’m struck by an article on travel writing and how other people are such an important factor. This was something I noticed whilst writing my Wigan blog: I knew my virtual trip was lacking something – and that was the wonderful characters that make my visits to Wigan so special. The girl with the giraffe tattoo (who could be the star of a Wigan noir); the homeless man who offered me a swig of his cider; the woman fighting with the Christmas tree; the street musician playing Christmas songs on his accordion. I had thought I wasn’t much of a people person, but I find myself missing them more and more.
Not on the train, though. I was pleased to be able to read in quiet solitude this morning. When I finished my magazine, I switched to my audiobook: Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling. I’m enjoying this cyberpunk classic very much – it is useful research for my current project. However I find myself frequently pausing the book to make notes. This exercise is far easier with a hard copy book and a highlighter pen but you live and learn.
Before I knew it, the train was pulling into London Euston and I followed the herd to the concourse and out the station, realising how much I really didn’t miss my daily commute. I don’t know how Londoners do it. I also decided I wasn’t having any of the Tube today, as part of my mental health care. I walked across London to Liverpool Street, which Google Maps advised would take around an hour. As well as providing some much-needed exercise, this would allow me the opportunity to get to know London a little better. I passed:
- University of London (which offers remote study, although I’m very happy with the OU, thank you).
- The British Museum – Collections are available to view online. I did a search for ‘Blackpool’ and found this print of Fisherman’s Cottage in Blackpool in Lancashire.
- Sir John Soane’s Museum – Sir John was an architect whose most famous work is the Bank of England. This museum – which can also be viewed online – contains ‘the extraordinary collections’ amassed by Sir John.
- Smithfield Market – This is ‘the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the largest of its kind in Europe’. I like the Fascinating Facts section of its website, which informs that ‘during the reign of Mary Tudor, some 200 were burnt here for their religious beliefs and opinions’. I’m not buying any meat here today, but note with interest they sell ostrich and I do like an ostrich burger every now and then (usually at the Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham).
- Barbican Centre – For me, Barbican has always just been the name of a tube station, so I’m interested to discover what is actually there. It is a home for the arts, with cinema, theatre, exhibitions, talks, live music and a library. Basically, it is somewhere I would oft frequent if I was living in London (which I never will).
- The Brewery – Obvs I couldn’t walk past this place without having a nose! Formerly the home of Whitbread Brewery, this is now ‘the premier event and fine dining venue in the City of London, from the extravagant to the discreet’. I’m not feeling extravagant; and, as I’m blogging about my day, perhaps this is best avoided on this occasion.
- Marks & Spencer – In I pop for one of those bullet beef & caramelised onion butties that I like. I am still a good couple of hours from settling down in a pub, so need to make sure I have the energy to get there. I also can’t resist a marzipan chocolate bar. It’s sad that M&S are in trouble financially and I do hope they survive the pandemic. Not least because they sell short leg jeans and I don’t know where else to get them from (any tips in case I need to go elsewhere in the future?).
Now at London Liverpool Street, I am delighted to find my connecting train is running 15 minutes late, so I manage to board the 1002 (now 1017) Great Anglian train to Ipswich. This train stops at lots of stations I have never heard of. Curious, I look up the village of Marks Tey and discover one of its main features is a skateboard park – and it only has one pub. I don’t regret staying on the train to Ipswich. I have spent this leg of the journey researching pubs and breweries to visit when I get there. The train arrives at its destination at noon, 35 minutes later than scheduled (points failure, I think, but I wasn’t really listening or concerned). I wondered if that permitted me a refund on my ticket. I checked the website and learned that, yes, indeed, for delays of 30-59 minutes, I was indeed eligible for compensation. Result!
I darted across town to my b&b for the night, checked in, hastily unpacked and darted back across town for my first libation of the day…
Dear reader, you know me well enough by now to know I always start with a brewery, so how could I disappoint?
The menu here is good. I find myself unable to resist these two items from the starters menu:
But of course I’m here for the beer, so lets see what they’ve got:
- Hop To It (DDH IPA)
- Insanity Claus (dark Belgian winter ale)
- Mango NEPA
- Imperial Black Horse Stout
- Something Witty (Belgian wit)
- Briar Pilsner
- Mocha Porter
- Grapefruit IPA
- Black Horse Stout
- Samuel Harvey VC (session pale)
- Perpendicular (golden)
- Briar Cobnut (brown)
I’m going for half of each of the Christmas beer (naturellement) and the Black Horse Stout (it’s way too early for the Imperial).
I’ve been looking forward to visiting this place, which exclusively brews non-alcoholic beers and has an excellent range. Check these out:
- Galactic (milk stout)
- Pine Trail (pale)
- Uptown (craft lager)
- Paradiso (Citra IPA)
- Good Things (Irish stout)
- Kinzig (Gateau stout)
- Firesider (pumpkin spiced)
- Double Strike (sour)
- Woodcutter (brown)
- Fieldhopper (golden)
- Off Piste (hazelnut porter)
- Kodama (IPL)
- Poolside (DDH IPA)
They also do a World Collab Series, which includes Arctic Beach, a coconut stout, a collab with Einstök. Oh and hello – there’s a collab with Amundsen: Rush Rider pastry sour.
I want to try so many of these! And the beauty of it is: I can have as many as I like without ruining the rest of my crawl. The absolutely irresistible beers for me are the gateau stout, pumpkin spiced and the coconut stout, so I have all three.
Big Drop beers are available to buy at a range of outlets, including Morrisons, Sainsburys and Beer Hawk. Find the complete list of outlets here. You can also buy direct from Big Drop.
The beer menu here is way too long to list, so here are my highlights:
- Siren Caribbean Chocolate Pancake Stack
- Vault City Sloe Gin Sour
- Brass Castle Bad Kitty
- Brass Castle Fruit Lupe (Sabro & Coconut)
- Verdant Albino Pheasant (stout)
- Away Days SchmeichALE (pale)
- Bishop Nick Witch Hunt (porter)
- Nerdbrewing When Fluffernutter Imperial Milk Stout
- Nerdbrewing Imperial Licorice, Lemon & Vanilla Stout
These are just the highlights from page 1 of 4 on their website and I daren’t look any further, else I’ll be here all day. What a place this is! They also have another shop in Chelmsford and ‘pop up fridges’ in Salt Peter Wines in Woodbridge and Cuppa in Felixstowe.
Already there are two breweries that I need to know more about. Please read my findings below.
Away Days Beer was founded by Ipswich Town fan John Bartlett in 2018. Their range of 16 beers are brewed across four different breweries. Their other beers are:
- Golden Goal (craft lager)
- Hoppy Robson (Citra)
- The Beat (pale)
- Fighting Like BEERvers (session IPA)
- Boncho (black)
- Bonzo (blond)
- Brazil’s Best (bitter)
- Butcher’s Bandage (red!)
- Forza Paolo (golden)
- Hursty’s Hat Trick (bitter)
- Pablo’s Pale
- Ale’N Shearer (super session ale)
- Swapsies (chocolate mild)
- Wayne Brewney (English pale)
- Liquid Football (American style IPA)
Nerdbrewing are a Swedish brewery, based in Malmö. Hannes Gruber began as a homebrewer, winning numerous awards before establishing Nerdbrewing ‘as a commercial gypsy-brewery in 2015’. Their beer list is perhaps one of the most exciting I have ever seen – and I want everything on it.
- Finally Barley Wine 2019
- Branch Pecan Wood Aged Imperial Pecan Pie Stout
- Break Imperial Apple Pie Stout
- Break Imperial Blueberry Pie Stout
- Switch New England DIPA Citra Mosaic El Dorado
- Implements Imperial Chocolate Truffle Stout – Coconut & Chili Ed.
- Implements Imperial Chocolate Truffle Stout – Cinnamon & Licorice Ed.
- Override Imperial Chocolate Milkshake Stout
- Xmas Override Imperial Chocolate Orange Milkshake Stout
- Infix Imperial Milk Stout – Vanilla Macchiato Ed.
- Extends Oak Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout
- Extends Oak Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout – Coconut Ed.
- Indexoutofbonds Oak Aged Imperial Vanilla Stout – Vietnamese Coffee Ed.
- Extends Oak Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout – Carrot Cake Ed.
On closer inspection, I note that almost all of these beers are 10%+ and c£10. This puts me off placing a massive order immediately. I know, though, that there is no way I will be able to resist these beers if I see them in a pub. I would also like to add them to my birthday/Christmas list for future reference.
This places offers ‘BBQ Smokehouse Food’, a basement gin bar and a ground floor tap house. You know where I’m heading, dear reader. To the taps! The beer list includes:
- East Coast IPA • Smooth IPA 4.0%
- Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell • Blood Orange IPA 5.5%
- Lervig House Party • Session IPA 4%
- Other Monkey Brewing Destroy the Universe • Maple Rye IPA 5.6%
- Other Monkey Brewing Great Journey Begins • Pale Ale 4.0%
- Ice Breaker • Pale Ale 4.5%
- Abbeydale Brewery Iced Tea Dead People • Peach Tea Beer 4.6%
- Other Monkey Brewing Dreaming of Evil • Vanilla Latte Stout 5.2%
- Tempest Brewing Co. This Time Tomorrow • Brown Ale 5.4%
- Wild Weather Ales Curse of Threepwood • Sour 5%
Ooh decisions, decisions! I have half of the Abbeydale Iced Tea (I love Abbeydale) and half of the vanilla latte stout.
Whilst ordering, I learn that there are regular tap takeovers and beer tastings here and it sounds like my kind of place.
Now for some scran. The menu is loaded with meat – and I am unusually tempted by a sandwich:
A goth bar! There’s no way I can resist this pub. I mean, just look at it:
Recent beer checkins on Untappd include:
- Fox Dark Secret
- Elveden Stout
- Mad Dog Now In A Minute (red)
- Leigh On Sea Legra Pale
- St Judes Stuffed Canary (golden)
- St Judes Orange Wheat
- The Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde (mild)
Mild please, landlord!
This place is full of characters and I feel right at home in here.
Dangerously, the pub is open until 1am and I simply cannot leave because the locals make for excellent company – and excellent material for the blog. Unfortunately, I overindulge a little too much and can remember nothing of them.
The next thing I know, I’m being woken by my phone ringing.
‘Where are you? We’re putting the Chinese order in now.’
‘Er…shit, what time is it?’
’11 O’Clock. We’re all in the Fat Cat. What do you want from the Chinese?’
‘Er…Beef with Ginger & Spring Onion. Coconut Rice if they have it; Boiled Rice is fine if not.’
‘OK. Are you on your way?’
‘Er…yeah. See you shortly.’
How did that happen? Oh yeah…the goth bar…
‘Hey Siri. Shuffle Buckcherry.’
Within minutes, I’m in the shower belting out ‘Next To You’, using the shower head as a microphone. Now in turbo mode, I get dried, dressed and packed, hurl my room keys in the general direction of the landlady (I think I’ve already paid online?) and jump in a taxi to the Fat Cat.
I arrive at the same time as the Chinese. Time for a quick decision on the beer (never an easy task here).
- Woodfordes Wherry
- Adnams Old Ale
- Bishop Nick Rejoice
- Fat Cat Golden
- Star Wing Stain Glass Blue
- Three Blind Mice Juice Rocket
- Three Blind Mice Mosaic
- Adnams Ghost Ship
- Adnams Southwold Bitter
- Adnams Blackshore Stout
I can’t face a stout this early, so I opt for the Fat Cat Golden and head into the conservatory, where I’m greeted with cheers and jeers.
‘Ooh good night was it?’
‘Come here – I’ve saved you a seat.’
My Chinese was all plated up for me – and someone had bought me a pint of stout as well.
‘It might be a bit flat now – it’s been there a while…’
‘No…this is all brilliant. Thank you so much.’
A couple of hours later, after great food, great beer and great company – and lots of laughter – I was feeling more like myself again. I have really missed my friends from BASIL (Blackpool Association of Supporters In London) and it was lovely to spend time with them again. You can find our last visit to the Fat Cat in words, pictures and video here.
We crammed ourselves into a fleet of taxis and headed for Portman Road which is where, as any Blackpool fan will tell you, our day out in Ipswich always goes downhill…
Ipswich Town v Blackpool
I can think of nothing redeeming to say about any of the players, the manager or the formation, so I will say nothing. Except that this was Elliott Embleton’s debut and Jez got a great assist for Ipswich’s second goal. Oh and the pitch was worse than Wigan’s, with puddles in the channels.
I trudged onto the Blackpool Supporters Association coach for the long and arduous journey home. I spent the first three hours of the journey putting this blog together so as to free up my Sunday. As I looked up to see the coach pulling into the service station, I pressed Save Draft and resolved to finish it off when I reboarded. I was looking forward to binge-watching First Dates for the remainder of the journey. The post wouldn’t save, so I closed and reopened the page (which has worked in the past). Dear reader, my last three hours’ work had not saved. I frantically messaged WordPress to see if they could restore it, but alas to no avail. I felt like crying.
Instead, I disembarked at the service station, headed straight for KFC, where I ordered and (comfort) ate a chicken fillet burger and BBQ beans. I then proceeded to the shop, where I bought a Peanut Lion, three Creme Eggs, a sharing (as if) bag of Fruit Pastilles and a bottle of ginger beer. That would make me feel better. At least until I got on the scales tomorrow morning for weigh day.
I resolved to return to the blog and did get it finished (again) by the time I got home (5.5 hours after leaving Ipswich). I hate these long journeys home. Next away trip? Portsmouth. I bloody hate football.
NB Pics above are taken from the websites referenced, as this was a virtual trip.
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