Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Rose & Crown, Balderton, Newark, Nottinghamshire

One of the great fascinations for me with the game of Skittles is the way that players in different parts of the country (and indeed the world!) have developed so many, sometimes radically different versions of what is essentially the same 9-pin, 3-ball game. This wide variety includes numerous subtly different variations on the kind of alley skittles found in and around the West Country, half a dozen or more versions of Table Skittles, and the similar but very different 'skittling' of Aunt Sally in the Oxfordshire area. Unlike practically every competitive sport and game played at league level in this country, there really is no single version of Skittles that we might regard as being the standard for the game.

In my own part of the country, the East Midlands, they play a type of skittles that's very different to that found anywhere else in the country. In fact it can be a bit of a head-scratcher to those more familiar with the 'West Country' game where the balls are rolled smoothly, if not always sedately down the alley rather than the Dambuster-style 'full toss' of the Midlands game! Not only is Long Alley Skittles unique to the area, it's arguably the traditional pub game of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (and to a lesser extent Leicestershire where the game shares equal billing with a unique local Table Skittles tradition). Other games such as Darts, Pool, even Dominoes, may be more widely played in the region, but only Long Alley Skittles can lay claim to being unique to the regions pubs and clubs.

The Newark area is not only the north-eastern limit of this East Midlands skittles tradition, but also represents one of the current geographical limits of skittles as a competitive pub game in Britain. This was not always the case. A version of Table Skittles was played east of this point in Norfolk, and probably throughout much of Lincolnshire until relatively recently, and alley skittles in various forms was popular just about everywhere as both a pub and outdoor event game, even as far north as Scotland where a historic alley still survives at Edinburgh's famous Sheep Heid Inn. Quite why one of the most popular and widespread traditional games still played at the pub has its modern-day northern limit in the Midlands is not at all clear.

So the Newark & District Long Alley Skittles League is something of an outlier to Britains surviving skittles tradition. It's also one of many pub games leagues that seem happy to hide their light under a bushel. No online presence (other than a short-lived blog by a local team member), little in the way of fixture lists in the pubs I've visited, and in common with just about everywhere nowadays, the declining local newsprint seem to have stopped reporting on the league. Hence it can be difficult to get a handle on just how healthy the Newark league might be in the 21st century. As is so often the case with traditional pub games, the only way to get a real insight into the game is to go for a pint or two at one of the pubs where Long Alley is still played. Not exactly an onerous task for the most part, and certainly not so at the Rose & Crown in the nearby village of Balderton.

The Rose & Crown has been on my (quite long) shortlist of pubs to visit in the Newark area for a good few years now. An increasingly rare example of an entirely wet-led village local located on the edge of Newarks suburban sprawl. Perhaps a little too far to walk to from the town centre, but a good convenient stop for travellers on the nearby A1 if it's just a pint you're after, not a dining experience. It's a skittles pub of course, and if the condition of the alley at the rear of the pub is anything to go by, the game appears to be in good health. Well maintained, and clearly still regarded by the owners as an important asset to the main business of the pub.

As you can see from these photos, the skittle alley is entirely covered, not always the case in the Newark area where the tradition of outdoor skittling endures at one or two venues. A timber and pitch-roof shed that's gradually being swallowed by creeping Ivy, and now effectively an annexe to the main pub accessed from a rear hallway. In common with most covered alleys, this one doubles as a space for functions when not in use for its primary function. When I visited the pub in October, the Summer skittles season was all-but over, although the home team were in fact playing that evening, possibly a mop-up game postponed from earlier in the year.

In Long Alley Skittles, the pins are set on a metal frame in the familiar diamond formation (left). This helps the surface of the alley withstand the repeated impact of heavy wooden balls which are launched in such a way as to clear a lightweight metal sheet set a few feet in front of the leading pin. If the ball falls short and hits this sheet it's adjudged to be a foul throw. The frame at the Rose & Crown is set into a larger wooden frame rather than direct into the concrete floor, and you can see in the image above just how much damage has been inflicted over the course of successive seasons.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Woolcomber, Kettering, Northamptonshire

You wait and you wait for a Kettering pub to come along...

I guess this short post could be seen as a companion piece to the one I posted recently on the Stirrup Cup in (very) nearby Barton Seagrave, indeed I was pretty keen to compare these two very similar late 20th century pubs. Since the Leather Crafstman pub closed and was subsequently demolished in 2017, The Woolcomber finds itself as the last surviving pub on the Ise Lodge Estate. Leather Craftsman aside, Ketterings estate pubs have faired better than most in recent years. Very few have in fact closed, and most have seen significant investment from their pubco owners in recent years. These Kettering pubs seem to be valued by both owners and locals alike, and it probably helps their cause that the areas they serve are not especially over-pubbed.

Just a decade separates the construction of the Stirrup Cup and the Woolcomber, both of which opened at a time when utilitarian estate pubs like these were springing up all over the place, built to serve the needs of the rapid growth in post-war housing. By happenchance, both these pubs have also received a fairly recent refurbishment after many years of neglect. So far, so similar...

By the time the Woolcomber was built in 1975, most of the smaller regional brewers had fallen prey to national concerns, and it's not entirely clear to me who built the pub. By the early 90's it was listed in a local CAMRA pub guide as serving Home Bitter, but at this time Nottinghams Home Ales were firmly in the hands of the huge Scottish & Newcastle conglomerate. Unlikely as it may seem given the pubs distance from the brewerys base to the north of Nottingham, it's quite likely that Home Ales did indeed commission the Woolcomber. Because alongside local rivals Hardys & Hansons, and to a lesser extent Everards of Leicester, it was mostly regional brewers that were actively building new pubs at this time, and Home Ales reach extended throughout the East Midlands, and certainly as far as Northamptonshire.

Often these new-build pubs were nothing much to look at from the outside at least, and certainly by the standards of the opulent town-centre Victorian and Edwardian boozers that survived the war years. Indeed the Woolcomber was a classic 70's 'flat-roof' construction, sitting on a large car park in view of the other essential amenities of the day, the Chippy, Newsagent, and a small local Supermarket. The current appearance of the pub has been greatly enhanced by the addition of weatherboarding, a good move I think!

Multi-room pubs were the norm back then, and the Woolcomer, in common with the Stirrup Cup, was built as a traditional 'bar and lounge' pub. The scourge of knocking pubs through into one, large, easy to manage room, was just taking hold in the 70's, becoming an unfortunate epidemic in the 80's. Though the Woolcomber retained its original two-room layout throughout this period, sadly during the 2016 refurbishment it was decided to remove the wall that divided the bar and lounge. So the Woolcomber is a single room pub now, but with two quite distinct areas. This is perhaps the only major difference between the Woolcomber and its near-neighbour the Stirrup Cup which retains a separate bar and lounge.

The bar area to the front of the pub (above) is clearly the social heart of the pub, and now fulfils the need that all suburban pubs like the Woolcomber have, for comfortable dining as opposed to the purely social drinking that dominated estate pubs like this in years gone by. It's here that the recent refurbishment of the pub has had the most impact, turning what was a rapidly declining and largely unloved local boozer into an attractive and comfortable dining pub fit for the 21st century.

The slightly smaller space toward the rear of the pub is the games area, featuring a Dartboard, Pool Table, and the local speciality, a well-maintained Northamptonshire Skittles Table. This one is a W T Black & Son model, itself only recently refurbished. The stencilled serial numbers underneath suggest the table was constructed in 1972 (below), so it's quite possible that this skittles table has been at the Woolcomber from the time the pub opened back in the 70's.

Unsurprisingly for a pub in a residential area like this, there's no shortage of television screens dotted about the place. It's hard to imagine how a pub like the Woolcomber would survive without televised sport to draw the crowds in, and the same could be said for the pubs traditional games, all of which see regular service in local leagues. The Skittles teams are currently playing on Monday nights in the Kettering, Burton Latimer & District Skittles Winter League.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Avenue, Gloucester

The cathedral city of Gloucester has been one of my more regular weekend-break and holiday destinations for the best part of 30 years. Sometimes for the rugby at Kingsholm stadium, other times just a jumping-off point for cider and cycling holidays on the Vale of Belvoir. Whatever the reason, I've always made time to explore the plentiful pubs of the town.

Over the years I've stayed at a number of boltholes in the city, some good, some not so good, but recently I've settled on a quiet well-run B&B on the Cheltenham side of town that's not too far from my current favourite pub, the Pelican Inn, a Wye Valley Brewery alehouse with a great reputation for beer, particularly during the annual Summer beer festival. The drinking in the city has certainly improved since those rugby weekends, the Gloucester Brewery tap on the restored Docks being a particular favourite of mine, but more generally there's a better range of tastes available than the predominantly malty-sweet Cotswold ales that seemed to dominate the pubs on earlier visits.

Of course nowadays I'm much more aware of Gloucesters long history of competitive Skittles play, a tradition that continues to thrive in the area, albeit you won't see much evidence of the game in the very centre of town. So on my most recent trip to Gloucester I was keen to venture out into the suburbs and seek out a skittles venue or two, The Avenue to the south of the city looking a likely contender and one of only a few that I'd never been to before.

Now chance encounters are the stock-in-trade of roving pubgoers like myself, and it was whilst breakfasting at my newfound accommodation that I spotted the impressive piece of silverware seen here, the Gloucester City Skittles League Members Trophy dating from 1973.

By chance it turned out that the chap cooking my breakfast is a key member of the Beaufort Beavers Skittles Club, a long-standing home team at the aforementioned Avenue pub on the other side of town. This of course led to a lengthy discussion about all-things skittles and beer, and needless to say helped settle the issue of which pub to visit later that day.

The Avenue is a bit of a walk out from the town centre, which explains why it was an entirely new pub to me. Originally a substantial licensed hotel, probably built by the old Stroud Brewery to take advantage of commercial traffic on the busy Bristol Road. The pub is now a tidy residential community local at the southern edge of Gloucesters urban sprawl.

Thoroughly refurbished by the current owners Marston's, its two room layout, separated by a bar servery and the original tile-floored entrance (left), remains thankfully intact. This means the smaller left-hand room can continue to play its traditional role as a 'Games Bar' with Dartboard and Pool Table, leaving the slightly larger right-hand room free for the all-important food trade that pubs like The Avenue rely on.

The typically substantial Skittle Alley can be found at the rear of the pub in what appears to have been a separate brick-built building at one time (right), now connected to the pub via a long corridor. In fact it's a twin alley, a useful number given that the format for league matches in the Gloucester City League requires that teams are split in two, the match played in two halves.

The alley is home to several mens and ladies teams, including of course the Beaufort Beavers Skittle Club who've been resident at The Avenue for over 30 years now.

Those that may not be entirely familiar with the game of skittles, as it's played in the South-West of England, may wonder what the above structure is doing in the middle of the two alleys. In fact it's a 'refuge' for the Sticker-up!

In most skittles leagues I've come across, the job of re-setting the pins after the three balls (or Cheeses) have been delivered falls to a pair of nominated players from the opposing team, and during a match it's usual for all players to eventually take a turn in what's known as the 'wood yard'. In contrast, it's the tradition in the South-West for a dedicated 'Sticker' or 'Sticker-up' to re-set the pins throughout the match, and this job usually falls to a younger local lad or girl, often a relative of one of the home team members, though the Gloucester League stipulate he or she must be 16 or over. Standing around at the business-end of a skittle alley dodging heavy Lignum Vitae skittles balls could be a risky business, hence there's usually some kind of refuge for the Stickers as seen here.

Stickers are usually reimbursed for their time and efforts with a small fee collected from the players, making it quite a sought-after job for some, and many leagues have a dedicated competition for these 'Stickers' toward the end of the season. It's also the case that these younger players often get a taste for the highly social and keenly competitive nature of the game, and eventually graduate to playing in the senior teams themselves. This crucial aspect of the game is perhaps one of the reasons that skittles in the West remains popular and relatively well-supported, where other traditional pub games around the country are struggling for support.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Gardeners Inn, Cossall, Nottinghamshire

The area to the north of Nottingham centred on the village of Kimberley is noted for having some truly excellent pubs. Good beer pubs of course, but also some fine heritage survivors, as well as a raft of new micropubs bringing greater beer choice to local drinkers. This makes the area something of a delight for folk like myself who love visiting good traditional pubs, and ideally drinking good traditional beer in them.

This part of Nottinghamshire is also thick on the ground with ex-Hardys and Hansons pubs, Kimberley being the site of the former brewery. Most of these pubs are now in the hands of Suffolk regional giant Greene King following the sell-out of the business in 2006 (Greene King itself has now been swallowed up by a Hong Kong property company!). Not a popular move for many locals who still miss the locally brewed Kimberley Bitter and dark Best Mild. It can make visiting pubs in the area something of a lottery given that the Greene King brewed replacements are not to everybodys taste (they're certainly not to my taste!), meaning there's always a temptation to stick to tried and tested favourites that specialise in beer, rather than be adventurous and try somewhere new.

Being adventurous can often reward the drinker with a very good pub though, as was the case with the Gardeners Inn, variously located in Cossall or Awsworth depending on which way round you hold the map. Now the village of Awsworth is a case in point. The temptation to stick with what I know and visit the Gate Inn for a pint was pretty high on a recent visit to the area, particularly given that my first-choice pub had turned-out to be closed when all indications were it should have been open (a lucky break in the end as it didn't look particularly inviting). The Gate, which has already featured on this blog, has it all as a pub for me. Great beer, an unspoilt heritage interior, and a well-used skittle alley out the back. The Gardeners Inn on the other hand was new to me, but conveniently located nearby, and perhaps even more important, open! As it happens the pub proved to be a very good choice indeed. So a 'win' for being adventurous.

It perhaps goes without saying that the Gardeners is a proper locals pub, because if you avoid the more obvious family dining venues in this part of Nottinghamshire, they pretty-much all are. It's one of the major attractions of the area for me. Some good pubs may have fallen by the wayside in recent times, but the culture of social pub-going remains strong in this part of the East Midlands and the Gardeners Inn is no exception.

A smart two-roomer that went through the Greene King mill along with so many others, but has emerged unscathed and is now happily trading free of tie, its future secured for the local community. Local taste at the Gardeners is now catered for with guest beers from the nearby Blue Monkey Brewery amongst others.

The pubs official status as an Asset of Community Value was secured in 2016 by Nottingham CAMRA, and is proudly displayed on a certificate in the bar (above). This recognises the pubs value to the local community as an important social hub, and provides some measure of protection against unwelcome development by the kind of business interests who view pubs like the Gardeners as little more than valuable real estate. Next to the ACV certificate is yet more evidence of the pubs importance as an asset to the local, and wider North Nottinghamshire community.

Long Alley Skittles remains popular and well supported in the area, with competition across two divisions in the Border Skittles League. The home team are currently skittling in Division 1 of the Winter league following success in the 2018/19 season, hence the certificate in the bar and subsequent promotion to the top table. The current league tables show a record of played 2, won 2 for the Gardeners Inn team, which seems a healthy enough start to the season.

The pubs skittle alley is located in a relatively new extension to the rear of the pub, which suggests it was probably an outdoor alley originally, quite possibly in a different location. There are still quite a few outdoor skittle alleys in the area, not all of which are still in use it has to be said, but a stipulation of play in the Border Winter League is that the alley must be effectively indoors. This is obviously for the comfort of skittlers during the colder Winter months, and the arrangement at the Gardeners Inn is fairly typical of alleys that have been upgraded in this way.

In Long Alley Skittles, the balls are not 'bowled' along the floor but thrown through the air to arrive just short of, or directly into the front pin. A very different skillset to other types of skittles. The yellow metal sheet located a few feet in front of the front pin must be cleared by the ball for a throw to count. If it falls short and hits the sheet, it's deemed a foul throw with no score recorded. The use of a metal sheet is universal in this versions of Long Alley Skittles, the noise of a ball clattering into the sheet helping determine whether the ball has made the distance. At the Gardeners Inn, a selection of small change litters the sheet, presumably for the benefit of the hard of hearing. The rattle when a ball hits this particular sheet must be quite an encouragement to throw the ball correctly!

Anyone who's played skittles will know the peril of throwing a 'Duck', the rare and highly embarrassing feat of scoring '0' with all three throws. I noted a small plastic Duck keeping watch over the business end of the alley, it's role in the game at the Gardeners Inn can only be guessed at but it's unlikely to be a prize anyone wants to win...


Saturday, 26 October 2019

The Stirrup Cup, Barton Seagrave, Northamptonshire

The Stirrup Cup pub in the Northamptonshire village of Barton Seagrave has been on my 'to-do' list for a few years now. Somewhat remiss of me as it's little more than a twenty minute drive away and I'm not exactly a stranger to the pubs of Kettering. Of course The Stirrup Cup is not actually in Kettering, though I have to admit I've been labouring under that misapprehension for some time now. That's because the Stirrup Cup is a classic 1960's estate pub, and the old heart of Kettering town is surrounded by post-war private and social housing on all sides. Indeed Barton Seagrave only retains its unique village identity by dint of it's proximity to Wicksteed Park which acts as a greenbelt between the village and the edge of Ketterings modern-day sprawl.

Given that most of this massive housing expansion around Kettering occurred in the 60's, it's no surprise that each new estate came furnished with a shiny new-build community pub. What's slightly unusual about Barton Seagrave is that whatever pub the old village may have had prior to the building of the new estate, it's clearly didn't survive, making this modern estate pub the sole village hostelry.

This image shows The Stirrup Cup in its original guise as a 'Phipps House' (note the Phipps NBC Star on the gable end). Originally featured in Watney Mann house magazine 'The Red Barrel', it's reproduced here with the kind permission of Jessica and Ray of the Boak & Bailey beer and pubs blog
Built in 1964 as part of a new private housing estate that would hugely expand the old ironstone village. Originally branded a 'Phipps House', though even then the pub would have been in the hands of the mighty Watney Mann empire who would soon-enough close and demolish both the Northampton breweries, and re-badge most of the estate as Mann's houses (the Mann's Brewery 'George & Dragon' logo was common on pubs throughout Northamptonshire until quite recently).

As was the norm in those days, the Stirrup Cup was built as a two-room pub, the Public Bar to the right and a slightly larger Saloon Bar through the left-hand door. I'm pleased to say this layout remains largely unchanged, though the games and sport oriented Public Bar is now in the larger left-hand side of the pub, a necessary step given the huge popularity of both pastimes at the pub.

The Stirrup Cup seems to have always had a major sporting and games theme, even to the point of being renamed 'Sports' in the 90's when this local CAMRA pub guide (left) was published. Whoever surveyed the pub was clearly scathing of this incarnation, which may seem surprising given that sports themed pubs like this are arguably more 'pubby' than many of their food and beer oriented contemporaries. I think this attitude can be explained by the long editorial which prefaces the guide proper. An editorial that rails against 'theming' of any kind, favouring pubs that have something for everyone rather than specialising, sometimes to the exclusion of one group or another. This even includes, and this is perhaps even more surprising in a CAMRA publication, the burgeoning phenomena of 'beer palaces'!

Which brings me to the Stirrup Cup of today. Beautifully maintained, and on the face of it little changed. The Public Bar remains the busy evening and weekend hub of the pub, boasting all the televised sport, a pair of Pool Tables, Dartboard, Table Football and Skittles Table, with teams in all of these barring the Table Football. So still very much specialising in sport and games, but that's only half the story.

Under the current management the food trade has become crucial to the ongoing success of the Stirrup Cup, with the lounge now trading throughout the afternoon as a smart Coffee Lounge. This additional community asset was busy with customers when I visited on a Wednesday afternoon, an otherwise slow weekday session for most pubs. The Stirrup Cup has a good reputation for its food, is more family-oriented with a well-used garden to the side, and has been well and truly returned to the heart of the local community. Even the beer range is much improved, the pub now operating with a free of tie option which means they can offer beers from some of the best local breweries, I had something from Oakham Ales whilst taking these photos. I don't usually take much notice of the straplines on business websites, but the one on the Stirrup Cup homepage seems to me to sums the pub up nicely. 'Family - Sports - Local'.

If only all estate pubs were as good as this...

Of course the main reason I've wanted to visit the Stirrup Cup for so long is the hugely important games interest, and particularly the local speciality, Northamptonshire Table Skittles. Skittles is still popular in and around Kettering, and none more so than at estate pubs like the Stirrup Cup which remain the bedrock of so many pub games leagues. The home team recently 'chucked-off' in Division Four of the Kettering, Burton Latimer & District Skittles League, and will I imagine be hoping for a slightly better finish than the lowly 7th place they achieved in Division D of the recently finished Summer League.

They've certainly got the table for it, a very fine Pepper's Skittles Table, only recently refurbished by the local expert in the field, Colin Swinfen of Kilworth. A Pepper table can be distinguished from the more common W.T Black & Son models by the less curvy sides, and the netting which is a straight-up boxed design rather than the sloping net of a Blacks table. Unlike the Blacks models, these Pepper Bros Skittles Tables tend to have little in the way of information secreted about them, making a table like this quite difficult to date.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Devil Amongst The Tailors - Some East Midlands Venues

Pegging the scoreboard of a Devil Amongst The Tailors Table in an unknown bar 
Although something of a rarity in pubs these days, and rarer still to come across one in use, the classic ball-on-a-string skittles game of Devil Amongst The Tailors (also known as 'Table Skittles' or 'Bar Skittles') remains strongly associated with the bar and games rooms of the more traditional pubs and clubs. A thoroughly old-fangled game that appears to have changed not-a-bit since it was originally developed as a miniaturised indoor version of alley skittles (possibly in the early 19th century, nobody knows for sure). It's a game that people of a certain age remember with some fondness from their youth, and yet sometimes struggle to remember exactly how it's played (there's a good video here detailing how to play the game).

The Ship Inn, Mevagissey, Cornwall. The Dartboard has survived, but not so the Devil Amongst The Tailors which was important enough in its day to command its own table in the bar.
This form of table skittles would have been very common as a pub game until relatively recently, certainly the equal of Darts, Dominoes, and Card Games in the popularity stakes. My dog-eared 1979 guide to the Real Ale Pubs of Leicestershire & Rutland lists several pubs with a Devil Amongst The Tailors in the city including classic estate pubs like the Royal Leicesters (right), which is perhaps surprising given that Leicester has it's own very different Table Skittles tradition which hardly get a mention in the guide!

There would have been numerous competitive leagues for the game, only a handful of which survive today. Devil Amongst The Tailors was one of the games included on the 'Indoor League' series, the famous Yorkshire Television pub games show presented by cricketing legend Fred Trueman. It even features in a scene from The Beatles film A Hard Days Night in which Ringo disturbs a game in progress at the Turks Head, Twickenham.

The catastrophic decline of this and many other traditional pub games toward the end of the 20th century, means that very fine vintage and antique examples of the game crop up regularly in the trade, some of which I'm happy to say are making their way back into pubs where there is a renewed interest in this and other traditional pub games.

The 'Lads of the Village' at the Rose & Crown, Bradford Abbas, Dorset. More famous for their alley skittles prowess, but clearly they liked the table version as well.
In common with most traditional pub games, it's easy to learn the basics of play on a good quality skittles table, but it certainly rewards more serious practice. I was recently treated to a master-class in the game at a pub in Derbyshire from an elderly gentleman who'd been playing the game for most of his adult life. The skills on show, from all-too-regular 'floorers', to clearing seemingly impossible broken frames was something to behold, and brought home to me just how inexperienced I was as a player of this great game.

It's a game that when set up in the bar ready to go, invites curiosity from groups of all ages, and I like to play Devil Amongst The Tailors whenever I come across a good league-standard table. With this in mind I thought it would be timely to list a few of the more accessible full-size tables in my home region of the East Midlands, in the hope it might encourage wider appreciation of this classic bar-room game.


Bulls Head (Little Hallam Hill, Ilkeston) - Possibly the last surviving venue for the game in an area that once had a thriving Table Skittles league (Long Alley is still going strong). The table, an old Jacques model (left), is on permanent loan to the pub by a local, and set up ready for play in the right-hand bar. The skittles are kept behind the bar counter.


Geese & Fountain (Croxton Kerrial) - An award-winning specialist beer pub on the road from Melton to Grantham that has recently acquired an old, handmade skittles table.


Blacks Head (11 Burton Rd, Carlton) - Friendly community local with a good skittles table (right) set up and ready to play in the smaller left-hand bar. There's usually a good crowd of locals on hand to offer advice on the game. The nearby Nags Head (106 Carlton Hill) also has a good table with pins available from the bar.

The Crown (Bathley, Newark) - One of the former venues for the defunct Newark table skittles league. The Crown has an indoor skittle alley, and the handmade table skittles set still see's use in the cosy bar for friendlies and socials.

Old Malt Shovel (25 North Gate, Newark) - Probably your best bet for a game in Newark town centre, which was home to a table skittles league until relatively recently. Try also The Watermill (67 Mill Gate) and Royal Oak (17 Castle Gate), both of which had league skittles tables on my last visit, though whether they are currently set up for play I'm not sure.

Muskham Ferry (North Muskham, Newark) - This popular riverside pub has a very good skittles table (above) in the rear bar room, handmade in the Newark style for league play.

The Newshouse (123 Canal St, Nottingham) - This is our go-to pub for a game when in Nottingham, the table (right) is always set up and ready for play in the right-hand bar-room, just ask at the bar for the pins. Also home to Nottingham's only Bar Billiards table as well as other traditional pub games.

Stag Inn (67 Nottingham Road, Kimberley) - A very fine skittles table takes pride of place in the right-hand bar area.