Saturday, 21 June 2014

Bulls Head, Blaby, Leicestershire

Way back in the early 90's I visited the Bulls Head in Blaby for the first, and if memory serves me well, only time. Writing the experience up as part of a short real ale round-up of neighbouring villages Blaby and Whetstone, I described the Bulls as being '...a comfortable Allied (brewery) pub with Ansells Bitter, Tetley Bitter, and Burton Ale. Has a good Skittle Alley'. Not much to go on there then, but in my defence it was the kind of stock description common to CAMRA publications in those days. It was the early days of the beer and brewing revival, and most village pubs were still relatively unspoilt and therefore unremarkable. They were also reasonably well supported by a good local trade, the carnage of 21st century pub closures had yet to be seen in villages like this. Truly we were spoilt in those days, pubs and pub-going were a given, it was the beer that mattered.

How things have changed. Real ale, micro-breweries, craft beer, and even traditional ciders of a sort are now relatively commonplace, and it could be argued that CAMRA's original campaigning goals, the revitalisation of real ale, have been largely achieved. It's now unpretentious backstreet and village 'locals' like the Bulls Head which are the story now. Remarkable for their scarcity, and by far the biggest casualty of the 'fire sale' decimating pubs of all types in recent years.

The Bulls Head is an increasingly rare survivor, and exactly the kind of traditional village local which CAMRA and its members should be actively supporting and championing. Not just for the greatly improved beer range, but for the fact that this pub retains its traditional layout, and still functions as a highly sociable drinking venue rather than bland and impersonal theme bar or upmarket eatery. I'm pleased to say that the local CAMRA branch have recognised this, awarding their pub of the month for October 2013 to the Bulls Head, with the pub also finishing a very respectable 7th in the 2014 Pub of the Year competition for the Leicester branch area.

I hope this short post helps to expand on my original description of the Bulls Head. The Bulls is not only a 'comfortable' pub to drink in now,  it's also a positive pleasure to spend time in. It also retains a good Skittle Alley, a feature of all the very best South Leicestershire pubs in my view. Oh! and it sells a very good pint too.

The Skittle Alley at the Bulls Head has recently come back into use for the Leicestershire game of Long Alley, with a team from nearby Whetstone settling in for league play as well as regular social skittles evenings at the pub. The cheeses (left) are some of the most pristine examples I've seen, almost too good to chuck! In common with most alleys hereabouts, the Long Alley also doubles as a function room, though of course the two could just as easily be combined for groups and parties.

Sadly the traditional Leicester Skittles Table has fallen into disuse in recent years, standing on its end in a corner of the alley awaiting a team to bring it back into use. This table is the slightly longer, lower walled version of the game which is unique to Leicester and surrounding villages, though whether it was played with the slimline Leicester pins and cheeses or a more common Northamptonshire set is not clear.

Table Skittles is still played in the Blaby area, indeed the nearby Fox & Tiger sports bar in the centre of the village has a good old Northants table which sees regular use in local league play. There's every chance this table could come back into use in the near future, it's that kind of pub.

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