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Pete’s pub pact

Pete Hill has an extra reason to count down to the day pubs can reopen their doors.

The co-founder of the Black Country Ale Tairsters is getting ready to hit the road for the start of a new adventure.

He has spent more than three decades touring 21,700 ale houses, travelling over 320,000 miles and raising in excess of £30,000 for charity – and drinking tens of thousands of pints.

At the start of 2020 Pete celebrated the completion of a five-year mission to visit every island off the coast of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with a bar, pub or hotel.

And now the 65-year-old is preparing to visit all 4,500 pubs in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2020, which will take him to every county in the UK in aid of Midlands Air Ambulance.

“I like to set myself challenges and this one will take me until I’m 70,” says Pete, who lives in Greets Green, West Bromwich.

It all began in 1984 when Wolverhampton-based Banks’s Brewery released a map of 300 pubs.

Tired of always drinking in the same places, Pete, his father, Joe, and his friends set themselves the challenge of visiting all the pubs on the list.

Once they had ticked those off they set their sights on every pub in the Black Country and the whole of the Midlands.

Since then Pete has sipped a pint in every county in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and spent seven years visiting every pub in Wales.

The retired engineer and father of two began his island challenge in 2015, clocking up thousands of miles travelling by car, boat and plane.

“All-in-all, I took in 70 islands, some of them you just crossed a bridge to but mostly it was a long-drawn affair with hours travelled by boat and the odd aeroplane. It took me everywhere from the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides, to the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles to mention just a few,” he says.

Among the highlights of his trip was a visit to the Hilltop Bar on the Isle of Yell in the Shetland Isles where the landlady kindly opened the doors early for him.

“I couldn’t believe it when she said she used to run the Royal Oak in Dudley Port – what are the chances?”

Over the years he has raised money for good causes by asking the licensees of every pub to donate at least £1 but he admits his adventures have not always gone smoothly.

He travelled down to Poole to catch a ferry to Guernsey having spent the previous night in a B&B in Bournemouth so he could get to the port in good time.

But unfortunately when Pete arrived he was asked for his passport which was still back at home in the Black Country.

“They wouldn’t let me on the ferry without it so I had to drive all way back home to get it and get another ferry,” says Pete.

A trip to the Isle of Man also proved eventful when he stopped by the Old Rose & Crown only to discover everything was not as it appeared.

“I took a photo of the lounge and then went to find the bar. As I walked into the next room an old lady appeared and said ‘what are you doing in my house?’. She said it hadn’t been a pub for 25 years. I asked why the sign was still up outside and she said it was listed and she wasn’t allowed to take it down,” Pete tells Weekend.

As well as his main mission, he always has a number of different smaller challenges on the go at the same time so he can make the most of his visits to new places.

“I have a list of every pub named The Albion and I’m trying to visit every one because of being from West Bromwich. There are about 100 and I was about half way through last year.

“If I’m travelling around the country, I thought I might as well visit these as well.

“I also go in a Red Lion every time I see one. I’ve been doing that for 30 years and I’ve been to 400 of them. There’s about 6,500 of them altogether,” explains Pete, who enjoys sampling the local real ale.

At his home, he has room full of memorabilia collected on his travels, including 80,000 photos, menus and postcards and Pete has become known for his famous waistcoat made of beer mats.

Although he admits it’s difficult to name a favourite pub out of all of those he’s popped into over the years, there are two that hold a special place in his heart – The Highwayman Inn in Sourton, Devon, and The Rising Sun in Tirphil, Wales.

“I try not to visit the same pub twice but I am planning to return to these when I can because they are great pubs. I even sent them a card at Christmas,” Pete tells Weekend.

After travelling the length and breadth of the country, it’s fair to say he’s probably seen more pubs than most drinkers will in a lifetime. So what makes a really good one in his opinion?

“Good beer comes first then a decent gaffer who welcomes you. I think it’s always a good pub when you can talk to people and have a laugh with them or they may play a game of darts with you.

“When I was visiting the islands, there were days when I hardly saw a soul other than my mate. And there is only so much you can say to your mate before you run out of conversation. It was really quiet in some of the pubs and we were going to bed at 9.30pm so it was really nice when we did have people to talk to.

“Some of the pubs are in such fabulous places, but it’s the people you meet that are important too,” says Pete.

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