Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Hartlepool – Part Two: Five-Pub Crawl & FA Cup Drama

(If you haven’t read Part One, you can find it here).

I left you in Part One just as we were checking in at the Premier Inn on Hartlepool Marina. We do like a good marina. Apparently this one is popular for people mooring(?) their boats for the winter, as it’s good value.

Speaking of good value, the Premier Inn was only £31 for the night. They really are great value and are now my first call for accommodation on my travels.

As we were heading to our room on the ground floor, we became acutely aware of a loud family of small children, baby and shouty parents in the room opposite ours. Having been up at 0530 this morning, the last thing we needed was a disturbed night tonight. We promptly returned to reception and asked to be moved, which was accommodated without fuss. Our new room was Very Far Away, on the floor above, about a mile down the corridor. And this was the view from the room.

I could have sat on the sofa gazing out of the window for hours but we had a pub crawl to commence!

The first planned stop was Jackson’s Wharf for our tea. Whilst the food offerings here did look expensive, it was handy and also our Pub of Choice for Hartlepool back in the day (16 years ago, when I last visited). Alas, when we arrived it was looking very much closed. I know that to be a thing (a) this time of year, with staff being given a rest after the busy festive period; and (b) with COVID hitting hospitality staff hard at the moment. It’s simply one of those things that pubgoers have to live with right now as an acceptable minor annoyance.

Karen was eager to eat at the adjacent Portofino but I put my foot down and had to insist on us eating at a pub ‘because that’s my MO for the blog.’ I did have a lot of pubs on my list for tonight thanks to a very helpful local on Twitter who had recommended loads. I therefore couldn’t be wasting valuable pub time in a restaurant. I know what my priorities are and I know what you want, dear reader.

The White House

As we headed back towards the hotel to pick up the car, I referred to my list of Hartlepool’s foody pubs. From this, I selected The White House, which is an Ember Inn.

I knew there would be open fires in here, too, which was an added appeal.

Once we had secured a table, I headed to the bar to check out the ale offerings, which were thus.

Of course I’m having the Christmas beer. I adore the pump clip.

Now it’s time to consider the menu – and I’m delighted to see they have Raspberry Ripple Arctic Roll. I can’t have that on my diet, of course, so I plump for the Rump Steak, substituting steamed greens in for the chips.

Bit gristly but did the job.

Now it was time for Lee to retire to the hotel to work on the video that will accompany this Football Tourist Guide. Now it was time for us drinkers to get to work keeping pubs alive (well, someone has to). Over dinner (tea?) I had researched all the opening (closing) times of the pubs I had planned to visit and was delighted that these coincided with the order in which we would be visiting (the first was due to close at 2015, the next two at 2200 and the latter two at 2300 and 0100 respectively). Obvs there was no way I was going to last until 0100, having been up at 0530, but who knew where Hartlepool was going to take us tonight? Not, it would turn out, to the five pubs I had planned…

Rat Race Ale House

This micropub (the second in the country) is situated at Hartlepool Railway Station. I was already excited to visit even before Si mentioned the quirky landlord and his list of ‘things we don’t allow in this pub.’

On arrival we were immediately greeted with prohibitive signs, including one insisting on proof of double-vaccination on entry. I did have this with me (as did Karen) but I was now becoming concerned that the landlord didn’t actually want customers and there would be something on the list that he would kick me out for. I resolved to be extra charming as I stepped through the door. I soon had him eating from the palm of my hand.

‘Scratchings – check with dentist haha! Ooh Karen look – he’s got your favourite Marble Pint. Ooh and a porter!’

These remarks were met with delight by landlord Pete (I asked his name).

‘Oh my word – look at all the pump clips – that’s amazing!’

Pete proudly explained that every beer he had had on since opening was featured.

‘And when that one goes, the clip will go up there.’

He pointed to the ceiling.

‘Is that an Accrington Stanley shirt?’

‘It most certainly is. And, if you look over there, you’ll see TMAS Corner. That stands for The Mighty Accrington Stanley.’

Much as I was trying to schmooze Pete, I had to point out his error here.

‘I’m sorry but Blackpool are The Mighty.’

He wasn’t having any of it and went on to tell us how he signed up members to the Accrington Stanley Supporters Club by offering them 10p off a pint, which ended up costing him more money that he made for the club.

My flattery was clearly having an effect, as Pete tried to impress me by correctly ‘guessing’ I was from Blackpool because he didn’t recognise me and I’d ordered a porter, which apparently marked me from being out of town, and Blackpool were playing Hartlepool tomorrow. This sort of thing always impresses me and I made this quite clear. On reflection, I realise he did have sight of my address on my COVID pass – and I later learned that he had been told I was coming.

From my position on this old but incredibly comfy bus seat…

…which rivals my comfy chair in Taps in Lytham for pub seating of the season, I spotted the list of ‘don’t do’s’.

Pete explained that the pub would be closed tomorrow (‘I’m going round some pubs in Chester’) because of the match. He had heard that 3,000 Blackpool fans would be descending on Hartlepool and he had been irritated by Scunthorpe fans piling into his pub recently in search of the station ticket office (‘I thought it was just them being Scunthorpe fans but apparently there are no staff on the station after 1pm’).

I felt compelled to enquire after Hartlepool’s fascination with rats (see Part One) as we were, after all, in the Rat Race. Pete pointed out that his particular rat (as illustrated above) was specific to him and represented his exit from the rat race and his daily commute when he opened this pub. I loved this story and said ‘good on you.’

I honestly could have stayed in here all night talking with Pete, I already had so much affection for him. He is my favourite pub landlord of all time because he is such a wonderful character – and, of course, blog gold. However we had more pubs to discover and more adventures to have, so we reluctantly departed. Pete was now on the phone, which made our departure somewhat easier.

Hops And Cheese

I had been warned that this place ‘smells of cheese’ but that wasn’t apparent on arrival. I shortly learned that ‘this depends what cheese they’ve got on.’ I paused to peruse (and photograph) the cheese counter before continuing to the bar.

I spied the two pump clips and squealed in delight that these were two of Karen’s favourite beers.

Karen couldn’t decide between them, so I suggested she have half of each. She didn’t protest.

I am, of course, partial to a Triple Choc myself – but I also spied this beauty.

As I hovered over this tap, debating what to do, a voice next to me piped up:

‘I thought you liked your dark beers, Jane?’

Had Pete from Rat Race followed us here? I wouldn’t have minded if he had.

‘It’s Ronnie from Twitter.’

Now Ronnie is a local who had been helpfully suggesting pubs and points of interest for me to visit in Hartlepool via Twitter. And here he was in real life!

It was suggested I had a taster of the Blackjack beer, which I thought was a great idea. I found it somewhat wheatbeery and not what I was expecting, so I plumped for a pint of the Triple Choc. Ronnie kindly paid for our drinks and we went to join him at his table, where a few other locals were also seated.

It was here that our real Hartlepool education began. Ronnie had been anticipating my arrival and it was he who had forewarned Pete at the Rat Race (and the locals in here, so it seemed) that I was on my way. The man seated next to Ronnie started talking at length about the history of Christianity in Britain all starting from this part of the world, reeling off names and historical events that I had never heard of (I’m not a Christian, nor have I ever studied British history). It was fascinating but all a bit too much for me. I had to interrupt.

‘I’m terribly sorry but this is just too much information now I’m in my fourth pub of the day. It’s making my head hurt. Could you answer, though – is Bishop Auckland so-named because of something to do with this?’

We had remarked on this town’s unusual name on our way here.

‘Oh yes – the Bishops of Durham lived there.’

Meanwhile, more locals were becoming aware of my arrival via Twitter – and a pub called The Owl was being recommended; however I couldn’t find it on my map. I made an enquiry of the locals.

‘It’s just round the corner. But you don’t want to go there – it’s too expensive. They want you paying for all the work they’ve done on the place.’

I explained that I actually didn’t mind that, and cited Stocks & Shilling in Poulton as being a pub with expensive beer but lots of eye candy in the building, including magnificent toilets. As a blogger, I explained, I loved that sort of thing. This was greeted with a look like thunder from Mr & Mrs History of Christianity and I resolved to start nodding and agreeing more with the locals.

I escaped to the toilet, which had the tiniest sink, to rival the one at the AirBNB in Mumbles.

Pound coin for scale.

Duly refreshed, I began to talk through the pub crawl I had planned for tonight.

‘Well next – if we’re not going to The Owl – it’s the Camerons Brewery Tap, then the Blacksmiths and The Causeway.’

Ronnie looked crestfallen.

‘Oh – are you not going to the Globe?’

‘Well I wanted to – but unfortunately we don’t have time to do them all. This crawl is a nice straight line and that one’s a bit out of the way. And the Anchor shuts at ten.’

‘But you’ve got to go to The Globe and have a Strongarm banker!’

‘Well I did really want to but we just don’t have time. Look – I’ve bought a Flake and everything.’

‘But I just want you to have the best time while you’re here. We could get a taxi and be back over here in no time at all.’

Dear reader, how could we resist when a local wanted to give us a guided tour of the best of Hartlepool? In actual fact, resistance was futile, as the next thing we knew we were being bundled into a taxi and transported to The Globe, over on the Headland.

‘The taxi drivers do take cards, don’t they?’

I had no emergency cash after using my last pounds on a car park somewhere (Huddersfield?). The mere suggestion of this was met with laughter.

‘Not in Hartlepool, love. Don’t worry, we’ll make a stop at a cashpoint.’

The Globe

Now you may have been confused by some of the terminology used above. What is a banker? And why did I have a Flake in my handbag? Well, all is about to be revealed.

We approached the bar and placed our orders for more of this lovely stuff.

Note landlady’s Bet Lynch outfit.

I then popped back into the pub entrance to photograph this.

As I headed back in through the door, Karen was confused.

‘Jane! Jane! They’ve done something weird with the pints!’

I reassured her that this was precisely why we were here. Although I was now kicking myself for nipping out of the room at the crucial moment, so I didn’t actually witness this spectacle myself.

I had learned from Twitter earlier this week that they have an unusual way of serving their beer up here. As mentioned above, I missed the process, but my understanding is that a pint is part-pulled, ‘banked’ in the fridge, then topped up, giving the following result.

You see now why I needed the Flake.

I can share with you what I learned from the ‘adding the Flake to a banker’ process:

  1. It is tricky to balance the Flakes before they drop into the pint. I suspect carving a little wedge in the side might help.
  2. Flakes float, so they are easy to retrieve from your pint after they’ve dropped.
  3. Flakes make a good tasting pairing with Camerons Strongarm.

Now you know I’m on a diet and – on a drinking flexi-syn day – my rule is to keep my eating healthy in order to maintain my weight loss for the week. My Flake had already broken in two in my handbag over the course of the day, so I had the smaller section and handed the larger section to Karen. Like me, Karen loves her chocolate – and she was keen to make sure that none was wasted. Before I could stop her, she was scraping Flake crumbs off the table into her hand and sprinkling them on top of her pint.

‘Look – it’s like a cappuccino!’

‘Karen! Have you seriously just done that? What about COVID?!’

‘Oh don’t worry – they’ll have sanitised the table before we got here…’

I was further traumatised by this rogue apostrophe and disturbing illustration.

Indeed there were boxes of eggs on the bench seating where the arrow was pointing.

Bonus points for the toilets here, which had an abundance of free toiletries.

Who knew Drumstick Squashies Dry Shampoo was a thing?

We were seated next to an open fire and I was beginning to get tired. I was also anxious to tick off The Anchor Tap & Bottle Shop, which was the Camerons Brewery place, before it closed at 2200.

‘No – there’s another pub we need to go to while we’re over here,’ announced Ronnie. So off we strolled to the Fishermans.

Fishermans Arms

Now in my sixth pub of the day – with a pint in three of those, thus breaking my own rule of a half in each pub – I have reached the point where I need to rely solely on my camera reel to remind me what happened.

I don’t need to refer to Untappd to remind me that I had a half of the stout.

A chessboard table that I don’t remember.
Something weird going on in the corner.
A less scary monkey than the one in the Museum of Hartlepool.
The monkey hanging. What larks.

One thing I do remember from this pub was my enquiry as to why Hartlepool was known as ‘Hartlepools’ – something that had confused me for years. Apparently this area (the Headland) was the original Hartlepool and, where we were before, down by the marina, is technically West Hartlepool. Hartlepool(s) United Football Club represented a genuine merger of the two ‘Hartlepools’, hence why they are still known by the older generation as ‘Pools’.

I also learned that beer is ridiculously cheap in Hartlepool (around £2 a pint). Yet another reason to favour cask ale over craft.

Now extremely anxious about missing the Anchor, the barkeep called us a cab. We pulled up outside the Anchor around 2120, but sadly we found it to be in darkness. Dammit. But, to be honest, I’d reached beer saturation point by now anyway, so it was probably just as well. And at least I had a reason for a return visit to Hartlepool now.

We staggered back to the Premier Inn, where we found Houstie in reception, battling with the vending machine. I offered no help whatsoever but did get excited by one item that I spotted in there.

And then our friends from HMS Trincomalee turned up, fresh from a visit to the Anchor (boo!) and a curry, smiling their heads off.

‘Jane! Are you pissed?’

‘Er…well we’ve done a few pubs…’

‘Me too!’

It was only 2200 so we decided to stay up a bit longer, so Karen, Houstie and I crashed Karen’s room, where we put the world to rights over coffee, tea and water respectively. How civilised.

I broke off a small section of the Winter Spice Twix, just so I could taste it, without ruining my diet (don’t worry, I’ll never get to the LA level of chewing it then spitting it out). It basically just tasted of cinnamon. It would probably be nice at a match.

By 2300 I was getting very tired, so we broke up the party and retired to our respective rooms. Now it was time for some Zs.

The Morning After The Night Before

I drank a lot of water during the night and was up and ready to meet the others for breakfast at 0930 as agreed last night, sporting (amongst many other layers) my brand new thermal vest and socks.

We tucked into standard Premier Inn breakfast fayre at the pub next door. Well, I say ‘tucked in’ but I barely picked at mine after last night’s heavy session being led astray by Ronnie the friendly local. What I really wanted was a brew but I didn’t have the energy to get up and make one, so I simply sat and bemoaned these overlapping pictures on the wall.

‘That looks like Spock on the right,’ observed Lee.

As if sent from heaven, Houstie piped up:

‘I’m going for a brew – does anyone want one?’

‘Earl Grey please!’

‘Milk and sugar?’

‘No thanks – I’m on a diet.’

My saviour returned within minutes and my relief immediately turned to horror. He’d left the bag in the mug. After his protestations that he thought he was being helpful, so I could select the strength of my tea, I relayed the story of when I’d been traumatised one day ten years ago by an unexpected teabag in the bottom of a brew and was nearly sick. I don’t like objects in drinks, you see (unless it’s chocolate in a banker, obvs), which is one reason why you’ll never see me drinking a mojito. I removed the offending object forthwith.

A Change In Fortunes?

With Blackpool’s recent poor run of form, I have got to thinking about what I can do to help them. The previously Lucky Orange Aero had stopped working (possibly in protest at my diet) so that had now been discarded. But it really needed something else. Something more dramatic.

I knew damn well that my beloved Fritidsklader bobble hat was unlucky, as our current form had coincided with when I started wearing it. Indeed, we were cruising last week against Hull when the hat was safely secured in my pocket; but, as soon as I put it on my head, it was like the Alamo in our goal. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

You may recall from my Hull blog that I’d practically begged Si to take this unlucky hat off my hands (head?) but he’d either thought I was joking or had been too polite to do so, as we’d only just met. I later joked on Twitter that I could post it to him. He now decided to accept the hat and save the day.

But I was mortified. I loved this hat even more than the hat I’d lost in Swindon in 2016. Could I really bear to part with it? I realised not. My stomach was in knots.

I know! I’ll go on the Fritidsklader website and order another one.

Out of stock! My heart sank as, at the back of my mind, I thought I remembered hearing they had been discontinued. I desperately tapped out a message to Mr Fritidsklader with a heartfelt plea. I NEEDED another one of these hats!

Imagine my dismay when it was confirmed that, indeed, these hats had been discontinued.

BUT, he said, he thought he might have one lying around somewhere. Oh please please Mr Fritidsklader!

And, lo and behold, this arrived within a day.

What service!

Immediately, I packaged up the unlucky ‘Hull-coloured’ version of the above and posted it to Si. I would miss it very much – I really was in love with that hat – but it needed to go. This new hat was going to be lucky – I could just feel it.

Last night, Ronnie had alerted us to the existence of a monkey wishing-well-type-thing by the marina. So, after breakfast, Lee and I headed out for a stroll around the marina in search of said monkey. A little bit of extra luck couldn’t hurt, could it? At length we spotted him and headed over.

I didn’t want to risk losing a pound coin in the water if I missed the monkey, so I studied the coins in my pocket for a likely missile. I identified a 10p that was so manky it could have been an old 5p. I hurled it monkeybound and wished ‘for a Blackpool win today.’ That was it: we were progressing to the fourth round.

Mission accomplished, we ambled over to Morrisons to hand over match tickets to MG. Here we were also joined by Kelly and Steve. We told stories of our adventures, including our disbelief that a monkey could be mistaken for a French spy. MG tried to put the case of the locals but we weren’t having any of it.

Meanwhile Kelly said she had been intrigued by a plane she had seen on her way in. She said she didn’t know what it was but knew I’d have the answer in my blog. No pressure there, then! I did recall seeing a plane on my stagger home last night but, even if I’d asked Tour Guide Ronnie about it at the time, I’d forgotten the answer. I did, however, take a pic of it. If any Poolies(?) can expand on what this is, Kelly and I would be grateful.

Strolling across Morrisons car park to the ground, we were hailed by a couple just arriving.

‘Welcome to Hartlepool! The toilets at the ground are terrible, I’m afraid.’

I was hoping I wouldn’t need them as I was still rehydrating from last night.

Hartlepool United v Blackpool

We were pleased to see a real person on the turnstile as opposed to a bar code scanner and, as I stepped onto the terrace behind the goal, I immediately felt at home.

I couldn’t find the refreshment kiosk (it had been sixteen years since I was here, after all – plus I think we were in a different end then) so I asked a steward for directions. He pointed me to the back of the terrace, where I wouldn’t have thought to look. The queue was mercifully short and I was soon at the front. They didn’t take cards either. I was disappointed to have the lids taken off my bottles of water (not least because my spare lid had been put to use on the way up, when the lid off my bottle of pop had gone flying under my seat) but, on the plus side, I did have a crash barrier to rest it on and keep it safe this afternoon.

It looked like the seats in this magnificent little stand were backless.

I was impressed with this banner and the flag-waving from the Ultras behind the opposite goal.

When the game kicked off, it wasn’t long before things started to go tits up. We were 1-0 up through Keshi Anderson at half time, but we had already lost Keshi and Jim Husband to injuries. It was the longest half of football I’d watched for a long time. Surely it wasn’t that long ago that those games at Bloomfield Road were whizzing by in an instant, we were THAT entertained?

My back was hurting through standing, but I managed to fix it by leaning forward from a sitting position and putting my head between my knees – how the air stewardesses have you sitting when you feel sick on a plane. Ah! That was better!

When Hartlepool equalised soon into the second half – and later went ahead – I wasn’t surprised. This was boring. We were offering nothing, Where was the heart? Our hosts battled and fought and we were simply poor and clearly lacking in confidence after yet another bad Christmas. I wasn’t angry or upset that we’d lost. I wasn’t feeling anything; nor did the players look like they were.

By now I needed the loo – and I can confirm that the toilets at the ground are, indeed, terrible: no proper toilet seats, blocked toilets, no toilet roll (mercifully I had a tissue in my pocket), broken flush, cold water, hand driers not working. Absolutely zero redeeming features.

As we trudged out of the ground – at least happy that my new thermals had done their job – a steward enquired:

‘Is that a Pompey hat?’

It has since been mistaken for a Torquay hat, which I find even more offensive (although at least they’ve had their play-off redemption now after 1991 – at the hands of Hartlepool, no less, last season).

But of course it is, in fact, another Unlucky Hat.

Would the result have been different without the hat? Or if I’d been less stingy with the monkey wishing well thing? We’ll never know.

Here’s our video memory of the match, with the full video of our Football Tourist’s Guide to Hartlepool to follow later this week on Lee Charles TV on YouTube (get subbing, Poolies):

Homeward Bound

At least we didn’t die on the way home, with no sign of the snow that had us in its clutches on the way over. There was still no signal for much of the journey.

When we did have signal, we played some music to perk us up, but we didn’t enjoy any of the tunes we played (the new one from Wet Wet Wet – without Marti Pellow; the new Marti Pellow album; even ABBA Voyage was meh). You can’t go wrong with the Pet Shop Boys, I surmised. But we didn’t even get through one song before the signal cut out again, so we drove the rest of the way home in silence.

Back home nice and early, I settled down to watch Jungle, a film on Amazon Prime that had just been recommended by Jonny, my Twitter friend from Lincoln. I wanted to forget about the match and real life and this film – set in the jungle – seemed a great form of escapism. I was enjoying it up to the point where a monkey got shot and then battered to death with a gun, which just reminded me of Hartlepool.

By way of therapy, the following night I watched a wonderful animated film on Netflix called Vivo, about a little kinkajou (which could be mistaken for a monkey, as he was working for an organ grinder) who stowed away overseas and was neither tortured nor killed by foreigners when he got there. I can recommend this as one of the best films I’ve seen in ages.

And that, dear reader, is the story of my complicated relationship with Hartlepool. I love the place so much more following this trip (despite the result). I even lost 2.5lb this week, so the ‘Strongarm with a Flake’ diet clearly suits me. Indeed Hartlepool might now warrant an annual pilgrimage, such as I offer to Wigan, Cleethorpes and Lincoln. Fingers crossed we’re in the same league as Middlesbrough next season so we can visit again very soon.

Next up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Barnsley (COVID permitting) or Blackpool v Millwall.

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