Saturday, 31 May 2014

New Inn, Enderby, Leicestershire

Enderby was at one time a favourite hunting ground for good, solid, unpretentious boozers. In the early 80's, almost all of Enderby's half a dozen pubs fell into this category, six making a good number for an afternoon pub-crawl. The Plough on the hill was a good basic Marston's house where a cracking pint of Pedigree was guaranteed (now an Indian restaurant). The Havelock was the kind of basic spit-and-sawdust Bass Brewery house that seemed utterly unremarkable at the time, yet with the passing of time is perhaps the one I miss the most (now an Italian restaurant). The multi-room King William IV has now been converted to residential use, which leaves just half of those original six pubs remaining, though thankfully all three are still good honest pubs at heart (see also: Dog & Gun).

Tucked away up a narrow lane in the heart of the old village, the thatched and whitewashed exterior of the New Inn has the timeless and traditional appearance of a well-preserved gem of a pub. Thankfully the interior doesn't disappoint in the way that so many village pubs do, and although there have been changes to the interior of the pub in recent years, it's still a truly great example of a traditional and well-loved village local. I recall that when the Havelock was first irrevocably altered, becoming for a few years prior to its current restaurant incarnation The Chatsworth, the locals were so unimpressed with the gaudy new interior that they upped-sticks and relocated to the cosy comfort of the nearby New Inn. A small notice above the bar indicated this was now the welcome home for ex-pat Havelock drinkers, such was the attraction of Everards Brewery's very first pub, and I'm pleased to say that the welcome remains to this day.

This part of rural Leicestershire is blessed with a relatively high density of alleys for Long Alley Skittles, many of which are located at Everards Brewery pubs. In addition to being the custodians of many of these old skittle alleys, Everards have a long history of supporting the game in Leicestershire, and are current sponsors of the Winter Premier division in the Tom Bishop Memorial Skittles League. The alley at the New Inn is a well appointed one, even to the point of housing a recently installed wood-burning stove for use during the Winter season. The alley is available for hire for groups, and also sees regular service in the Tom Bishop Memorial Skittles League.

The New Inn is probably unique in Leicestershire as having the only full-size Snooker Table available for play at a pub.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Some Darts Images

From those seemingly far-off days when men wore ties to drink beer and play Darts at the pub.
The Darts Board at the Letter B, Whittelsey in Cambridgeshire. The board was not getting much use on the day this image was taken, as the bar was very full with people drinking at the Straw Bear weekend Beer Festival.
The Star & Garter, Wigston, Leicestershire. A traditional two-bar Everards pub which also features a good Skittle Alley and Leicester Skittles Table to the rear.
Two vintage Darts medals. The backdrop is a typical 1950's illustration from the Know The Game booklet, 'Inn Games'.
The Noels Arms, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. There are actually three boards, and the pub field teams in the local Melton Mowbray Darts League.
A silver-plated spoon as Darts medal?
The recently refurbished and re-opened Spread Eagle, Cottingham, Northamptonshire, retains a separate bar/games room with Darts and Pool Table. Although Dominoes is played regularly at the pub, there are currently no league teams playing from the Spread Eagle. It is hoped that a Northamptonshire Skittles Table may also return to the pub at some point.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Kings Head, Wadenhoe, Northamptonshire

Wadenhoe is one of those Northamptonshire villages that wouldn't look out of place in the very prettiest parts of the Cotswolds. In fact it's a bit of a destination for walkers and family days out, and as such the Kings Head is well placed to cater for the this welcome trade located as it is on a wide loop of the River Nene.

Sadly this kind of trade often spells the death-knell for characterful village pubs like the Kings Head, where the owners go full-tilt for the food trade and in the process turning unspoilt village pubs into smart but characterless licensed restaurants. I've seen this so many times in village pubs that it's a real delight when I come across one that remains essentially a pub at heart, as is the case at the Kings Head. A separate restaurant, and large, beautifully maintained riverside garden fulfil the role of dining space for the many hungry visitors, leaving space in the original bar and lounge for more 'pubby' pursuits, including Darts and the Northamptonshire pub game speciality of Table Skittles.

I feel that the owners of the Kings Head have a achieved an excellent balance between the pubs traditional role as a place for drinks and socialising in the village, and the essential food trade without which a pub like this would almost certainly not be viable.

The view from the bar, well stocked with locally brewed real ales

The skittles table is a 1958 vintage WT Blacks & Son model. Individually numbered as all Blacks tables are, though I'm not sure what the R, H 67 refers to. The throw for the table is in the quarry tile floored bar area, though a slight rearrangement of tables and chairs may be required for a game. The scoreboard shows a recent win for Islip WMC against a Kings Head team.

This is a typical scoreboard layout for Table Skittles in this part of Northamptonshire. Each player in the team plays a singles game against an opponents drawn randomly at the beginning of the night. Each game is concluded when the first player wins 7 legs, scored as a tally at the top, and the final number of legs won by both players then counts towards the total for the match, in this case the total for the home team was 25, with a winning tally of 35 for the visitors. The progress of each singles game is recorded below the totals, with an 'x' marked against the winning score for each throw. The 31-42 scores would have been from the final 'Beer Leg', where each team set a total score for the opposition to beat, decided over three legs. Islip appear to have won the Beer Leg too.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Old Inn, Littlethorpe, Leicestershire

The recently refurbished bar of the Old Inn. See below for the original decor.
I used to live in Littlethorpe, a satellite to the much expanded village of Narborough in South Leicestershire, and a village still blessed with two good pubs, which is two more than many villages have these days. It's great to see that the village still has its brace of locals, The Plough being our own regular drinking venue back in the day, with the Old Inn standing in on more than one occasion.

When I popped in to the Old Inn late last year, what was most striking to me was how little had changed in the dozen or so years since I'd last visited. The lounge, our usual haunt, was little changed other than a few more threads being bare on the upholstery. The bar (right) was equally untroubled by the passing of time or late 20th century fashion. All Formica surfaces and harsh strip lighting, a style common in public bars throughout the 70's and 80's, and if I'm honest, one that I find quite attractive in a 'dewy-eyed nostalgia' kind of way.

It's a look that regulars and locals can become easily accustomed to, but not necessarily one that newcomers and visitors to a pub will find so attractive. A refurbishment of the Old Inn was perhaps long overdue, and as it happens, was just about to take place when I visited. Whilst I snapped away at the interior, the then temporary licensee suggested I might like to come back in the new year to see the changes, so that's what I did.

I'm pleased to say that the changes at the Old Inn all seem to be to the good. The pub has been brought firmly into the 21st Century. Brighter, tidier, more comfortable, and yet still retaining all it's essential 'pubiness'. The separate public bar and lounge have thankfully been retained, and the Darts Board and traditional Leicestershire Skittle Alley remain an essential part of what makes the Old Inn a proper village local.

If I'm honest, during the years when I lived in Littlethorpe, and used the Old Inn on a regular if infrequent basis, I never knew there was a skittle alley at the pub. Even now it's not exactly advertised, and since we were never truly 'locals' at the Old Inn, it just wasn't on our radar in the way that the alley at the Plough was. Like most Long Alleys at pubs in the area, this one seems to have been purpose built for the job. A simple and basic design which was doubling as the venue for a small beer festival when I visited last year, hence the barrels at the business end of the alley. Note the 'Chock Hole' (left), shaped to take a foot and little more than a pressed and well-worn depression in the aggregate.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Spital Vaults, Chester

You only have to look at the busy 'What's On' board at The Spital Vaults to get an idea of how much the locals appreciate their sport and gaming. Darts, Dominoes, Pool, and a Sunday night Quiz are the staples of pub gaming at back-street boozers like this, and in my view a very good sign that you're about to enter a proper community pub rather than a bar or restaurant pretending to be a pub.

Add the local speciality of Bagatelle into the mix and the Spital is well worth the short walk out of Chester town centre for a pint and a game or two.

The Spital Vaults have a team in the Chester & District Bagatelle League, finishing mid-table in the 2013/14 season. In common with all the Bagatelle venues in Chester, the table at the Spital Vaults is free to play, and you'll be made very welcome for a game outside of the all important Wednesday league nights.