The first occasion was a summer evening several years ago, the bar busy with locals, a world cup football match being largely ignored on the telly in the corner. By happenchance I'd also arrived on the night of an even more hotly-contested match between local rivals in the Ladies section of the Hereford City Quoits League. As a result it proved a difficult night to engage anyone in the kind of idle conversation I'm accustomed to in pubs like the Golden Lion, and what's more, I didn't feel that my amateurish photographic skills would have been welcome that night. Taking photographs while players are concentrating on their game is a definite no-no in my view, and besides, it's my experience that ladies teams can be particularly camera-shy! I took a few discreet pics for the record and sauntered off into the night, vowing to return when the pub was a bit less busy.
Weekday afternoons are a good time to take photos in pubs and chew the fat with licensees, albeit that it may not show a pub at it's vibrant best. Sparse of customers, sometimes empty in fact, but all the better for the kind of uninterrupted views that are essential to this blog, and much less chance of disturbing camera-shy locals of course. It can also be the best time to get creative with what remains of the days natural light, infinitely better than trying (and usually failing!) to get the white balance just right in a bar with neon strip-lights. My second visit to the Golden Lion confirmed what I'd strongly suspected the first time round. This pub is indeed my new favourite in Hereford.
Needless to say, Barrels, Beer In Hand, and Hereford Beer House fans will be scratching their heads in bemusement at this choice, and I have to admit that there are far better pubs and bars in the city for the beer and cider enthusiast. So it's perhaps more accurate to say that in the context of this blog, the Golden Lion is currently my favourite pub in Hereford, because this blog is all about the pub itself and not the beer or cider. On this blog I focus exclusively and unapologetically on a pubs place in the community, the social aspects of pub-going, and of course the traditional games that still play such an important role at community locals like the Golden Lion. In this regard, you'd be hard-pressed to find better in Hereford or anywhere for that matter.
Internally, the pub retains a very traditional bar and separate dining lounge, separated by a small entrance vestibule with hatch opening for the former off-sales, a feature of just about every pub until supermarkets muscled in on the lucrative take-home trade. The pub is both unspoilt and beautifully maintained, with that cosy 'lived-in' feel that all the very best 'locals' pubs have. Landlady Paula Watson runs a tight ship for the benefit of a loyal band of regulars, as well as a bewildering menagerie of largely domesticated animals including that most traditional of pub pets, a swearing Parrot! This is a true 'community' local, and the landlady and locals have recently been acknowledged for 25 years of fundraising for the local St Michael's Hospice, a thoroughly positive aspect of pubs and pubgoing that's rarely acknowledged by those who seem to think pubs like this have had their day.
It was this Quoits board that was in use on my first visit, indeed the licensee can be seen in the photo below getting a few practice throws in after the cut and thrust of the ladies match had wrapped-up for the night. It's a typical red and green painted concrete board, the standard item throughout the Hereford area, mounted on a steel stand with netting to catch errant quoits. A solid bit of kit built to withstand the rigours of twice-weekly league action and more, which is sadly more than can be said for the league itself...
When a games league shrinks to just a single division and just a handful of teams, the writing is usually on the wall for its long-term survival. Thankfully the ladies section carries on, albeit that this too finds itself in a similar position to the recently demised mens league with no more than half a dozen teams currently active. The sturdy concrete boards will presumably endure for as long as pubs like the Golden Lion survive, but for how long the game will be played at league level in Hereford and elsewhere remains to be seen.
Other games which are played competitively at the Golden Lion are Darts, Pool, and Skittles. The Skittle Alley (above) is tucked away behind rabbit hutches and fish ponds at the rear of the pub. An old alley, thoroughly spruced-up for play in the Hereford & District Invitation Skittles League, and the Hereford City Ladies Skittles League. The Hereford leagues are unique as far as I can tell in using what look like ten-pin bowling pins rather than the usual dumpy skittle pins found in the West Country and elsewhere. Until very recently I thought this was a relatively modern development, probably down to expediency, and a good use of the wood from bowling alleys once past their prime. But recently I've seen a photo of a 1935 winning team in the Hereford League, the smartly suited gentlemen posing with a full set of the very same styled pins. This date even predates the arrival of American servicemen during the second world war, hitherto, my most likely explanation for this skittling anomaly. Somebody knows why Hereford skittlers use different wood to practically every other league in the country...
|The magnificent Hereford & District Invitiation Skittles League Champion of Champions Cup, current holders Harry's Lads.|
|The 'spare' Quoits Board in the Skittle Alley, recently returned from a brief league-loan at Broadleys in Hereford.|