Saturday, 30 January 2016

Royal Oak, Whitecroft, Gloucestershire

Tracking down pubs which feature the increasingly rare game of indoor Quoits can be a difficult task. The more common pub games such as Skittles and Darts are frequently represented online with league or team websites, and even thoroughly local or regional games such as Toad in the Hole and Aunt Sally are well covered, venues for play relatively easy to find. Quoits on the other hand is almost invisible outside of the relatively small number of pubs and clubs where the game is now played.

Of the handful of Quoits leagues which still exist, most are relatively isolated from each other. The Hereford League extends no further than the town itself, and those based at Kington, Clee Hill, and the Welsh borders are hardly near neighbours. The most isolated of all seems to be the Forest of Dean League, an area which has seen a good-few pub closures in recent years, and a rapidly shrinking number of venues for the game in those that are still open.

In the absence of a website for the forest league, I went looking for the Miners Arms in Whitecroft, a pub well-known to me for its impressive cider range, but which also held the promise of a Quoits board. Unfortunately for me the pub has been thoroughly refurbished in recent years, and the Quoits Board is sadly long-gone. It's a very good pub nonetheless, noted for fine dining and with a good skittle alley to the rear. Following a half of strong local cider, the staff were happy to point me in the direction of the villages current hotbed of league Quoits play, the Royal Oak.

Not knowing much about the pub, I must admit that I approached with an element of caution. Was it a welcoming pub? Were the locals friendly? I needn't have worried, the welcome was as warm as the impressive open fire, and the locals were a chatty bunch, carrying the mildly amused look of villagers well used to visitors like ourselves.

Pride of place in the main bar area is the pubs Quoits Board, a white painted slab of aggregate, sitting on top of a standard steel frame strung with netting to catch errant quoits. This all-white colour scheme, as opposed to the more common red and green, seems to be traditional to the Forest of Dean area. Four rubber quoits are available for play, and a home-made scoreboard sits adjacent to the board, the use of which may need some explaining if like me you tend to play a simple point-scoring game.

These scoreboards come in all manner of different styles, but they all perform the same basic task. In league play, the idea is to score each of the numbers on the board. 1-12 in the case of this one, but other leagues have higher or lower numbers. Four quoits are thrown, the outer ring of the Quoits Board scoring 1, the inner 2, and the bolt or 'Hob' scores 5. The maximum score is therefore 20. On each throw, the combination of scores from the four quoits is totalled and this numbered flap on the scoreboard is claimed as yours, should it be available. Your opponent cannot now score that number. The winner is the one with the highest total of numbers that they have claimed throughout the game.

One other point of note is the Quoits themselves. The standard for play everywhere as far as I can tell is a set of four flat rubber rings, white on one side, black the other. Quoits need to land white-side up to score. Two of the quoits on the board at the Royal Oak may once have been white on one side, but after many years of active service they're now more of a deep tobacco brown.

The other two quoits are interesting in that they are black on both sides, but moulded in such a way that they have a concave and convex side. In fact they look identical to the Steel Quoits that this indoor game was originally modelled on. Perhaps this is how all rubber quoits would have been at one time, indeed I've read elsewhere that they were originally made from stitched leather, making it easier to shape the quoits in this way. The white sided quoits we see now were presumably easier and cheaper items to produce.

Quoits is currently played by nine teams in seven venues in the Forest of Dean, and you can catch the cut-and-thrust of league play on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer and winter months. The Royal Oak would be an ideal venue to view the spectacle, which I'm led to believe can be very competitive.

The Royal Oak is also home to the Royal Acorns team in the Royal Forest of Dean Ladies Skittles League, as well as The Wurzels mens team. Pool is played in the Forest of Dean Pool League


John Penny said...

Most interesting as usual Mark. One would think that an addition of a quoits board, even if league was not played, would add interest to a visit for patrons and that Landlords would encourage their use. Casual play of any pub game, I believe, leads to increased sales, even if the 'prize' is a few extra pints that may be played for. Hopefully too, patrons would hang around just that little bit longer, making the pub atmosphere just that little bit more convivial. After all, who likes walking into an empty pub? Not me...

Mark said...

Quite right John. One of the greatest pleasures of our week away in the area was supplying the new licensees of the Pandy Inn, Dorstone with one of my Quoits Boards. The original pub board was given away by the previous licensees, though thankfully the quoits remain, and they are keen to reintroduce the game to their pub. Mike Johnson of Ross Cider & Perry now runs his village pub and I'm looking out for a good board for him now.