Friday, 25 October 2013
Skittles In Warwickshire
The label 'Western Skittles' is one that has been applied to a broad church of the skittling tradition, albeit one found mostly in the western counties of England and parts of Wales. It's a catch-all term which encompasses a wide variety of local rules, alley lengths, and several different styles and sizes of (mostly) wooden pins and balls. The fact is, Western Skittles is simply a useful label for writers and enthusiasts to hang a description on, and in common with most areas with a skittles tradition, the game is known simply as 'Skittles' to those who play it.
This form of skittles is characterised by the 'bowling' of balls, wooden or otherwise, down smooth timber floored alleys at nine sturdy, but slightly top-heavy pins set in a diamond formation. This might sound a little obvious, but the fact is that not all skittle games (Long Alley and Table Skittles for example) are played this way. It's predominantly a league or knockout team game, with most of the alleys located at pubs and clubs. From the name it would be easy to conclude that this style of skittling is confined exclusively to the West of the country, which is for the most part true, but there are one or two notable exceptions.
Western Skittles is found throughout the West Country, West Midlands, and Wales; but also extends along the south coast and well into more central areas of England. The Masons Arms at Long Marston in Warwickshire (above) has quite a small alley by the standards of many in the West Country, but this is definitely Western Skittling, just not located in the west.
The alley doubles as one half of a smart function room, and is covered with a long roll of carpet when not in use. A wooden side rail slots into the floor on the left, and there's a choice of hardwood or composite balls to aim at the sturdy Gloucester style pins. Skittles appears to be very popular at the Masons Arms, with three teams playing out of the pub in the local Stratford League. Popular it may be, but the area contained by the Stratford League is on the very edge of this skittling tradition. Only a short distance away in the direction of Oxfordshire, Aunt Sally is the dominant pub game, a form of skittles in itself, but not one a Western Skittler would recognise as such.
The next village on from Long Marston is Pebworth, and there's another Masons Arms with a strong skittles following. This friendly village local boasts one of the longest alleys in the area, and hosts four teams in the Stratford League. The alley forms an annexe to a games room which features Pool and Darts, and which is itself adjacent to the main bar area. It's a good pub for a casual game with friends, though the fixture list for league play must be pretty busy, so perhaps an afternoon game would be a better bet than the evening.