Friday, 5 July 2013

Blue Bell, Hoby, Leicestershire

In CAMRA's 1979 publication 'Real Ale in Leicestershire & Rutland', the 18th Century thatched Blue Bell has a brief description which makes mention of the pubs 'Excellent Skittle Alley'. That was almost 35 years ago, and despite an extensive restoration following a devastating fire in 2004 (the description also mentions a '...blazing winter fire'!), the skittle alley remains, and I'm pleased to say is still truly excellent.

The pub itself is also a pretty good one, though obviously changed somewhat since the fire. A refurbishment on the scale which the Blue Bell underwent will inevitably divide opinion. People quite naturally form deep attachments to historic buildings, even more so when it's the local you've been drinking and socialising in for many years, and this can make even the slightest change difficult to bare.

Given that I can't recall ever visiting the Blue Bell in the past (though may well have, I've been to so many pubs over the years), I can approach this attractive village pub without the baggage of previous experience. I found the Blue Bell to be warm, cosy, and welcoming, and still very much a village local. It's certainly more open-plan than it would have been in the past, but still with enough distinctive areas and genuine historical features to be largely in keeping with the Grade II listed exterior. I like it, and I particularly like the Skittle Alley, which from photos of the fire-gutted pub seemed to have escaped the worst of the devastation.

The alley is a classic purpose built Leicestershire Long Alley. Beautifully maintained, and very well used for both league play, and the all important social functions which help maintain the financial viability of alleys like these in Leicestershire.

The return shute seems to have some genuine age, another indication that the alley must have escaped the worst of the fire. It's interesting to note that the skittles scoreboard includes a section for 'Misses'. I'm not entirely sure why these are recorded, though I do know that the local Syston & District League has a 'Wall of Shame' for scores of zero throughout the season. The alley also doubles as the venue for league Darts matches.

Pétanque is also played at the pub throughout the Summer months. The four Pistes must be some of the most beautifully sited in the area, set as they are in a beautifully tended garden overlooking the Wreake Valley towards Rotherby village. The game is played on Wednesday evenings in the local 1990 Pétanque League.

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