Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Volunteer, Hereford

Of all the pubs I visited in Hereford over the course of a hot weekend in summer 2014, it's perhaps the Volunteer that I'd most heartily recommend to fellow visitors to the town. Whilst all of the pubs I spent time in had something to recommend them, some being very good pubs indeed, few were quite so all-round attractive to me, such the complete pub package as the Volunteer.

Tucked away on a quiet back-street a short stroll from the town centre, the pub sits unobtrusively amid tightly packed housing. The multi-room interior is bright, attractive, tastefully modernised, and yet still retains all of its essential pub character. There's a tidy beer garden to the rear, as well as a couple of tables to the front, ideal for watching the world go by over a pint. The kind of pub most people would regard as warm, welcoming, beautifully maintained, difficult to leave!

The Volunteer is also popular for the food, Sunday lunches in particular. The beer was good too when I visited, and it's easy to see why the bar areas and cosy snug can get very busy at times, and great to see a pub where the locals still appreciate having a proper community pub on their doorstep.

This bright and attractive aspect of the bar extends to the excellent skittle alley at the rear of the Volunteer. The pub host two teams for winter play in the thriving Hereford & District Invitation Skittles League, the Rustlers, and Evans Social Club which still bears the name of a long-since closed cider works in the town. A Summer League is slightly less popular, as is often the case with pub games when holidays and other pursuits hold sway over peoples time. A Ladies league also play through the winter season, though details are harder to find than the mens league, and it has been reported as struggling for players a little in recent years.

Hereford is perhaps unique in pub and club skittles in that whilst the alleys are entirely traditional, the nine pins used in the game are the same as those found in ten-pin bowling alleys. As you can see above, the pins are often stripped of their plastic coating, but how much the different shape impacts on the game is hard to tell. The balls shown below are the rubber-coated variety favoured by many skittlers now. These may not have the traditional look of a set of Lignum Vitae balls, but the big advantage of the softer coating is that the timber slats of the alley tend to last longer, and presumably so too do the pins. The expense of repairing and replacing an alley floor is surely just one of many reasons that skittle alleys have been removed from pubs in recent times.

In common with most skittle alleys which are still in regular use, the one at the Volunteer serves the dual purpose of a function room. Note the tables which fold down from the wall on the left of the alley. The old pub sign hanging in the alley bears the badge of the Herefordshire Light Infantry (formerly the Herefordshire Rifle Volunteers, hence the pubs name), and is dated 1964, just three years prior to the regiment being disbanded. The Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum is located across the road at Suvla Barracks, available to view by appointment only.


John Penny said...

A very interesting post, and quite a variation on the version of the game that I am so familiar with.

Mark said...

I asked several people why the Hereford League use 10-pin skittles but no-one knew. I think it was just a financial necessity, you can pick old ex-bowling alley pins up for next to nothing, and if you ignore the top bit they're much the same size and weight as a traditional pin.