Monday, 26 August 2013

Heathcote Arms, Croft, Leicestershire

The Heathcote Arms and myself are drinking partners of old. The pub was a regular haunt and favourite of mine when I lived in the nearby village of Littlethorpe, Croft being just a short bus ride or pleasant enough walk from home. The pub was also a favourite with nascent beer enthusiasts in those days, mainly because the licensee at the time was known for getting a special weekend guest beer in for the regulars. This was at a time when a guest beer in a tied house like the Heathcote would have been virtually unheard of, so it felt like a bit of a naughty treat! The pub was an attractive venue in itself, traditional, unspoilt, and with a terrific sun-trap terrace to the front overlooking the village.

It also had a bit of a rugby following, and could always be relied on to show the annual Five Nations tournament. I have fond memories of drinking in the packed bar during an England match, the Domino players grumbling but rattling on regardless in the corner below the television. The Heathcote has also played host to the Camaraderie Cup challenge, an annual skittles match held between teams from Everards brewery and the local CAMRA branch. I've photos of one such match, though from the Plough in Littlethorpe, not the Heathcote.

The Heathcote of the 21st century has been expanded and modernised a fair bit since then, but the front bar remains pretty much as I remember it, and the front terrace just as popular. The beer range has also expanded, with Everards becoming one of the pioneers of guest beer provision through their Old English Ale Club in the 90's. With so many of the old skittle alleys disappearing in recent years, it's particularly pleasing that the Heathcote's alley is still a prominent feature of the pub, and in regular use by the Croft Casuals and visiting teams in the local Tom Bishop Memorial Skittles League. The alley is also available to book for skittles evenings or functions throughout the year.

The alley is a classic Leicestershire Long Alley, laid to concrete with large rubber sheets to protect the walls from the Lignum Vitae 'bombs' which players launch at the pins. The Pins and Cheeses shown here are for practice or casual play, the match day set would be locked away for safe keeping. Note the foot hole followed by a series of grooves. During a throw the player must keep his leading foot in this foot hole, sometimes known as the 'Mott'. However, it's perfectly acceptable for a player to launch themselves down the alley once the cheese has left their hand, and presumably the grooves provide a good non-slip surface for occasions where players may have acquired wet soles on regular trips to the bar.


In addition to the skittle alley and the pub games listed on the blackboard below, the Heathcote has one of the most challenging Shove Ha'penny Boards you're likely to find. The homemade board seen to the left of the blackboard is a 17 bed monster which is apparently popular with younger visitors to the pub.

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