It’s the last awayday of the season – and you know what that means? Fancy dress! Today, I’m heading to Northampton dressed as a seagull.
And, yes, this is predominantly so I’ll get to nick people’s chips. I reckon I’ll get away with it, too. I mean, look at that face.
There was something weird going on with train availability when I went to book – but I liked the prices (£50.20 return), so I booked unfavourable times anyway. I get stuck in the barriers at Blackpool North station and make a mental note to use the wide aisle next time. Once the station staff have finished laughing at me, they finally help me and are even kind enough to hold the 0525 from Blackpool North to Manchester Piccadilly until I am freed and able to board. This train is so socially-distanced I have the whole carriage to myself. There’s no chance of typing or operating my Kindle with these winghands, but I am prepared for this. I have my AirPods in, so I ask Siri to tap into Audible and read me an audiobook (Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling).
At 0645 I land at Piccadilly and have half an hour to waddle across to find my connecting train to Milton Keynes Central. I stop for photos with a few people along the way. It is lovely to see the joy on their faces when they see me. I might wear this all the time.
I board the 0715 and am grateful for the socially-distant seating (i.e. no-one is allowed to sit next to me…not that I think they would anyway…) and continue with my audiobook.
I become a little anxious as we approach Milton Keynes, as I only have a five-minute connection. I have a word with myself, as I realise that I am due to land in Northampton at 0912 on this schedule, so I could be delayed by two hours and that would be fine. At it is, I do make my connection and find myself in Northampton way too early. What to do now?
I decide to spend a couple of hours with llamas, so take a taxi out to Catanger Llamas. I engage in a spot of llama trekking, coo over the baby llamas and learn all about these wonderful creatures.
After a two-hour trek in my seagull outfit, I am very thirsty indeed. I cab it out of the land of the wild cats and back into Northampton city centre in search of a brewery.
Phipps produce beers and gins. I know I must avoid the gins because (a) this is the first stop of the day; and (b) it makes me catastrophise. I nonetheless eye the raspberry and sloe gins enviously for a few fleeting seconds before snapping out of it and focusing on what I have come for: beer. Their beers include:
- Thrupenny Bitter
- Diamond Ale (amber)
- Midsummer Meadow (amber)
- Phipps IPA
- Gold Star
- Red Star
- Cobblers Ale (bitter)
- Beckets Honey Ale
- Black Star
- Ratliffe’s Celebrated Stout
- Bison (brown)
- Stingo No 10 (barley wine)
- Steam Roller (copper toffee)
- Kinky Boots (red rye)
I opt for half a stout. I immediately realise that payment and drinking are difficult in this seagull outfit. It’s simply not practical. I change out of it and the brewery kindly offer to store it for me while I continue on my crawl.
In June 2020, Phipps took over the production of Gun Dog Ales. Yay! A dog-themed brewery! Their core range is:
- Jack’s Spaniels (pale)
- Booze Hound (IPA)
- Bad To The Bone (bitter)
- Lord Barker (stout)
I am still feeling the after-effects of Sunderland, where I had a lot to drink and not a right lot to eat. Hence food is high on my agenda today. I have included this place in my itinerary predominantly because of its food offering (although they serve beer, too, which is compulsory).
I seek out the menu immediately on arrival. My eyes are drawn to the ‘bar buckets’ section of lightly salted skin-on fries. I cannot resist these:
There is a lot going on here – and I’m not quite sure how the lime or mint sauce fit in – but I love trying new things and this is an unmissable item for me.
I didn’t study history at school, so I don’t know who Thomas A’Becket is. I must put this right. I find a useful YouTube channel called ‘5 Minute Biographies’, which gives me the lowdown on him:
The most recent beer checkins on Untappd here (all from 2020) are:
- Beavertown Neck Oil
- Phipps NBC India Pale Ale
- Timothy Taylor Landlord
- Adnams Broadside Strong Original
- Oakham JHB
I enjoy a Phipps IPA because it’s the local beer. There’s a 10% discount for CAMRA members here but I feel a bit tight asking for that. Besides, my membership card hasn’t arrived yet (I just rejoined in the week). I let my membership lapse because I was unhappy with the result of the vote to not include ‘non-real ales’ in the campaign. That still stands, but I believe there is a real fight needed now to get cask ale back in pubs. I want to have good options of pubs to visit and enjoy cask ale on the Fylde Coast. I don’t agree with statements such as ‘well, it’s just good to have pubs open again – it doesn’t matter if they don’t have cask ale’. It does matter – especially if they did before and don’t now. Cask ale is one thing we haven’t been able to enjoy at all during lockdown and it is a unique product that only pubs can offer. It is a precious commodity and something I have missed a lot. Hence rejoining the campaign at this crucial time.
‘Craft beer is what the Princess Alexandra is all about‘. Well, that’s fine with me. I do love a craft beer too. Let’s take a look inside.
Beers checked in on Untappd here at the back end of 2020 include:
- Vocation Bread & Butter (APA)
- ABK Hell Das Blaue (helles)
- Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter
- Kona Big Wave Golden Ale
- ABK Hefeweizen
- Tapestry Propeller (APA)
- Thornbridge Astryd (EPA)
- Boundary Imbongo (IPA)
The Icelandic beer piques my interest. I make further enquiries about ‘Iceland’s #1 Craft Beer‘. Their other offerings are:
- White Ale
- Arctic Pale Ale
- Wee Heavy (‘Scottish ale with smoked Icelandic barley)
- Arctic Berry Ale (with bilberries)
- Winter Ale (‘brewed with hand-cut spruce tips’)
This brewery sounds so different – I need to try their beer. I also found this drone footage of an erupting volcano on their website, which is strangely alluring.
There’s an ‘ale locator’ tool on their website, which tells you where their beers can be found. The nearest ones to home are in Blackpool East (where I really must venture soon).
Back in Northampton, it’s predominantly pizza on the menu here, but there’s also chilli (tempting) and a selection of ‘craft beer bites’. I spy an item I can never resist:
I shouldn’t have cream cheese (migraine trigger) but one snack won’t hurt so I tuck in anyway.
According to TripAdvisor, this is ‘Northampton’s first and only multi award winning micro pub‘ and I am excited to visit.
A micropubdog! What’s not to love about this place?
Recent checkins on Untappd include:
- Framework Keep The Faith West Coast IPA
- Harefields Lucky Local (cider)
- Harefields Dragonfly Oak Aged Strawberry (cider)
- Digfield Mad Monk (porter)
- Framework St Giles (pale)
- Framewwork Friday Street IPA
- Framework Noctus #2 Hazelnut Stout
I enquire with the enthusiastic barman about Framework. Are they a local brewery I’ve missed? He informs me that they’re a craft brewery in Leicester city centre. Hmm that’s one to visit when I’m next there. Meanwhile, I enjoy their hazelnut stout, warm atmosphere and good dog.
This is the brewery tap for Phipps.
There is food here, too. You know I find a chalkboard particularly alluring – and there is much to get excited about here.
Toto, we’re not in the Black Country any more. Faggots, potatoes and veg? I give it a try. I don’t see faggots on many menus (hence always having them at Burton Albion) so tuck into a hot plateful here.
Recent Untappd checkins include:
- Phipps NBC Red Star
- Phipps NBC IPA
- Gun Dog Booze Hound (IPA)
- Phipps NBC Midsummer Meadow (EPA)
- Phipps NBC Stingo No 10 (barley wine)
- Phipps NBC Solar Star (gold)
- Phipps NBC Cobblers Ale (EPA)
- Phipps NBC Ratliffe’s Celebrated Stout
I risk a cheeky half of the 9.5% barley wine with my faggots.
Yay! A bottleshop with a bar! I know this is a dangerous stop-off point but I can hardly walk past it, now, can I?
I approach the fridges with trepidation and find the following:
- Pressure Drop Black Treacle
- Maltgarden x Pinta Cocoa More Cocoa More Cocoa
- Maltgarden x Pinta Vanilla More Vanilla More Vanilla
- Seven Island Moctezuma Hazelnut
- Three Hills Brewing BPAVK Chocolate Torte
- Three Hills Brewing Forbidden Fruit: Blackcurrant
Fortunately they deliver nationally, so I am able to place an order with them without being tempted by a 10%er mid-crawl. Phew!
‘The Market Tavern is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a warm, friendly and cosy atmosphere‘. Sounds like my kind of pub.
Recent checkins on Untappd include:
- Wadworth 6X
- Theakston Old Peculier
- Greene King Ruddles County
- Camden Town Camden Pale Ale
- St Austell Tribute
As a ‘pub and kitchen’ I am expecting some nice food here. There isn’t a menu on their website, so I head over to TripAdvisor, where I know I will find something interesting.
This review raises a lot of questions. If you order one thing, it gets delivered to another table; but if you make a different selection, you get to eat it yourself? If you have COVID, you are allowed in the pub but your food is delivered to another table? I also love the fact that the people at the other table went ahead and ate someone else’s food. I confess I’ve been tempted to do that in Wetherspoons (pre-boycott) but never actually done it.
Speaking of Spoons (which I haven’t been lately), a friend recently alerted me to an app called Neverspoons, which is basically a pub map providing alternatives to Spoons, just in case you’re ever tempted to go in one. It’s worth downloading. It has already alerted me to two pubs in my neighbourhood that I didn’t know existed. You can even tick them off. I feel a summer of ticking coming on as I get to know my new surroundings (remember I had not been living here long prior to lockdown).
According to Google, this is an ‘unpretentious watering hole with a chalkboard menu of real ales, live jazz and themed nights‘.
The menu here is not dissimilar to the Thomas A’Becket, but my eyes are drawn to the ‘nibbles’. Perm any three from eight…
I opt for the Cauliflower Bombs, Korean Chicken BBQ Bites and the Breaded Whitebait.
Recent checkins on Untappd are:
- Phipps NBC Midsummer Meadow (EPA)
- Beavertown Neck Oil
- Adnams Southwold Bitter
- Dark Star Hophead
- Fullers Gales Seafarers Ale
- Oakham Citra
- Phipps NBC Red Star
Whilst supping a Midsummer Meadow and nibbling away at yet more food, I make enquiries as to whether this pub and the Thomas A’Becket are related. Indeed they are both part of The McManus Pub Company, which ‘owns an estate of traditional pubs, country inns, sports bars and gastro pub restaurants in Northampton and Leigh-on-Sea.’ With 15 pubs in the Northampton area alone, this could be a pub crawl in itself:
- Brampton Holt
- The Wharf
- The Red Lion at Brafield
- The Lamport Swan
- The Fox & Hounds
- The Sun Inn
- Barratts Club
- The Sir Pickering Phipps
- The Thomas A’Becket
- The Foundrymans Arms
- The Golden Horse
- The Jeckyll & Hyde
- The Lord Byron
- The Crown & Anchor
- The Wig & Pen
This is a vegan-friendly microbrewery with its own bar.
- Loral Love Pilsner
- Mandarina Lager
- Zest For Life Session Pale
- Nice That NEIPA
- Super Session IPA
- Wonder Pale Ale
- Fantastic Pale Ale
- Lucky IPA
- Dark Maule Oatmeal Stout
I love the joy in the names of these beers. Quite a contrast with the name of the brewery. I am, however, terrified by the artwork on the pumpclips.
There’s also a guest tap selection here, which today includes:
- Brew York Juice Forsyth (NEIPA)
- SALT HEX Lager
- Twisted Barrel Lonely Souls (Belgian blonde)
- Verdant Alternative Currency (porter)
- Hogans Cider
- Kernel Pale Ale Vic Secret
- Twisted Barrel Night & Day (porter)
I have to try a Maule beer, of course, and go for their oatmeal stout.
There’s also an excellent range of beers in the fridge here. I daren’t look in because I think I’ve seen Stay Puft in there and know that will be lethal at this stage in the crawl.
The kindly barkeep telephones a taxi for me. It arrives at 2.15pm and takes me back to Phipps NBC, where I quickly change back into my seagull outfit and squeeze back into the back of the cab. The driver chuckles all the way to Sixfields (or the PTS Academy Stadium, as it is apparently now called), where he drops me just in time for kick-off. He even calls the office and arranges for a taxi to be outside the ground waiting for me at the end of the match, as I have a tight connection time.
Northampton Town v Blackpool
I hadn’t allowed myself to think about this match all week. I am still feeling a strong sense of disconnect from the club, I think predominantly from not being there for six out of the last seven seasons (the other one being shit).
We have been consistently inconsistent this season. It is little wonder that our opponents don’t know what to expect from us. I watch us every week and they surprise me all the time. What I am expecting today, however, is a battling performance from Northampton, who have to win to have a chance of staying up. But even that doesn’t happen.
The Mighty Tangerine Wizards coasted to victory this afternoon, with goals from Garbutt and Yates (2). The only downside was the pitch (with some very weird bobbles) and yet more injuries. Kaikai felt his hamstring in the warm up, so was pulled from the match; and Ethan Robson went off injured during the match. I was yet again outraged at the lack of stretcher action from the medical team (I have not seen one this season), with a Northampton player – who was clearly unable to walk – hopping round a quarter of the pitch when he was subbed. This is madness. I rant about this at length in our livestream:
And here are the highlights of the match.
Northampton rolled over and let us tickle their bellies and seemed to be perfectly accepting of relegation. I think they just want a summer holiday now.
We might just have done enough to make the play-offs with two games to spare – but may need another point just to confirm it. We play our final game in hand on Tuesday night. Please don’t let this go down to the last game…
I am nervous after the match, as I seek out my taxi. Will it be there? Will someone else have commandeered it? Will I make my train?
I hear the theme tune to Shaun The Sheep and realise my phone is ringing. It’s my taxi driver. Yay!
I make it back to Northampton station in good time to board the 1725 to Milton Keynes Central. I arrive there in good time for the 1750 to Manchester Piccadilly. It’s not like me to fall asleep on trains, but it is so hot in this seagull outfit that I might have passed out. All I know is that I am prodded awake by the train manager in Manchester.
I have half an hour to make my connection here and I need every minute of that because I need the loo and, let me tell you, it’s not easy navigating public toilets when you’re dressed as a giant seagull. I just about make the 2000 to Blackpool North. There is no chance of sleeping on this train, as I am prodded by a couple of annoying children all the way home. I arrive not a second too soon at 2116.
I have been amazed and delighted at the quality and range of hostelries that I have found on every single one of my virtual away days this season. After the Premier League – when I had visited pretty much all of the 92 grounds, having followed Blackpool all the way up from the basement division – I confess I did wonder ‘what else is there to do now I’ve been everywhere?’. The answer is to explore these brilliant towns and cities that are home to their football clubs. Fingers crossed I’ll have a second visit to one of them soon (maybe even in person?). And, of course, the Wembley dream is still alive…
NB Pics above are taken from the websites referenced, as this was a virtual trip.
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