Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Plough Inn, Stathern, Leicestershire

Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire is the village of Stathern, a typically attractive vale settlement blessed with a range of amenities sadly lacking in so many similar villages. These include an award winning butchers, as well as two very good pubs in which to try their fabulous meaty Lincolnshire sausages. The Red Lion, part of the Olive Inns group, has built a reputation as a foodie destination pub, nothing wrong with that but not what this blog is about. The Plough Inn is much more a traditional 'locals' pub. Welcoming, dog-friendly (and famous as the home of resident Otterhound, Max), and strong on traditional pub games as all good locals tend to be in my experience.

League Cribbage, Darts, and Pool are all played at the pub to varying degrees of success. The quarry tile floored bar is particularly well equipped, with two Darts Boards, a Pool Table, and a notice board covered with fixture lists and league tables for the various games represented at the pub. It's here you'll find pinned a fixture list for the East Notts Winter Skittles League, a clue to the Plough's other main pub game attraction, Long Alley Skittles.

The well appointed Skittle Alley at the Plough is located through a door at the rear of the pub signed as the Dining room. It's a fact of modern pub life that very few alleys in the East Midlands are entirely dedicated to the game of skittles, most serving as function rooms or overspill dining areas when not in use. Even the traditional outdoor alleys of the more northerly game are often essentially car parks by another name.

A traditional skittle alley takes up a good deal of useful space at a pub, and may well have a rateable value far in excess of fortnightly league or occasional social play. It's essential that this space has another use, and can therefore contribute income to the business outside of the welcome custom derived from the game itself.

When I visited the Plough Inn, the alley was still set for the previous day's Mothering Sunday trade. With the carpet down, tables spaced for dining, and the rear of the alley closed up and tidied away, you really wouldn't have known that this was a venue for Long Alley Skittles. I must thank the team at the Plough for taking the time to set the alley up for these photographs.

Regular readers of this blog, and of course those who play the game, will already know that Long Alley Skittles comes in two similar but quite distinct forms. The more northerly version played throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire features three large wooden balls thrown full-toss at a set of pins, as shown in the images above. The Leicestershire game is played in a very similar way, but the pins are straighter, and perhaps more importantly the 'balls' are in fact barrel shaped, as seen in the image left.

It's unusual to find both variants of the game being played regularly at a single pub, but Stathern, and the wider Vale of Belvoir area, straddles the divide between the two Long Alley traditions, located as it is close to the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border. It's not a case of mix and match though. In the East Notts mens league you'll naturally find the Derby/Notts version in play, whilst the ladies game, which is based around the Melton area, prefer the slightly easier hand-grip of the barrel shaped 'cheeses' used in the Leicestershire game.

As can be seen on the fixture list for The East Notts Winter Skittles League (above), participating teams have now shrunk to just five (the sixth being a Bye), a parlous state for any games league. Licensee David Wilson informed me that there is certainly no shortage of alleys in the area, but sadly enthusiasm appears to be lacking from drinkers and/or publicans to field a team and support the local game.

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