Friday, 15 April 2016

Hathern, Leicestershire

The trouble with visiting so many good pubs in pursuit of Britains unique games heritage (and good beer of course), is that I now have a list as long as a Yard of Ale of places I absolutely, definitely, must return to... one day! The sad fact is, I may never find the time to return to some of them, and the way things have been going in the licensed trade of late, who's to say how many will still be there when I do find time to revisit the very best of them.

Great pubs like the Dew Drop in Hathern are right up there at the top of my 'must return' list, in fact I'm definitely planning a return visit the next time I'm in nearby Loughborough with friends and a set of Dominoes. It's that kind of pub.

Unpretentious, well-run and welcoming, and possessing an indefinable 'rightness' that sets you at ease the moment you walk through the door. Even on a sleepy midweek lunchtime I found it a pretty hard pub to leave, the dark, moreish Greene King XX Mild going down all-too easily, the conversation flowing just as freely at the bar.

The Dew Drop is a fabulously unspoilt locals pub, largely unchanged since alterations in the 1930's, and as such it features on CAMRA's list of Heritage Pub Interiors. A Hardy's & Hansons brewery pub up until the Kimberley Brewery was acquired and summarily closed in 2006 by Greene King, hence the Kimberley Ales livery on the doors concealing the pubs Dartboard. Hence also the presence of a dark mild on the bar, albeit Greene King's version rather than the discontinued Kimberley Mild that would have been a firm favourite with the locals.

Hardy's & Hansons had a pub estate which stretched well into neighbouring Leicestershire, and like it's near competitor Shipstones, their pubs were predominantly traditional multi-room drinkers pubs like the Dew Drop. Many of these have now either closed for good, or changed beyond recognition, so the Dew Drop is a rare and important survivor. The tradition of bar-room games play also continues at the pub, with Dominoes and Darts played in local leagues. The licensee was also looking forward to welcoming a locally displaced Cribbage team to the pub when I visited, presumably victims of a nearby pub closure or crass refurbishment. Or maybe they just prefer the beer in the Dew Drop!

Of the four pubs in Hathern, the Dew Drop is certainly the most traditional and unchanged, but the Three Crowns (below), tucked away off the main road in the heart of the village, retains much of it's multi-room layout. It also retains a very good Skittle Alley, equipped for playing the local Leicestershire version of Long Alley Skittles. Note the murals painted at the business end of the alley featuring scenes from the village, including the nearby church and cross.

Sadly there are no teams playing out of the Three Crowns skittle alley at this time, but it is available to book for social functions. The main gaming activity at the pub is Pétanque (there is also a piste at the Anchor in the village), a very popular summer activity in this part of the county.

The Three Crowns fields three teams in the local 1990 Pétanque League, the floodlit piste at the rear of the pub (below) being large enough to accommodate all but the most poorly planned fixture clashes. Fixtures for the 2016 season get under way in May.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

White Hart, South Kilworth, Leicestershire

The road from Market Harborough to Lutterworth winds its way through five attractive south Leicestershire villages. Under its original designation as the A427 it was quite a busy route onwards to Coventry, but is now largely bypassed by the A14 and hence a minor A-road these days. As recently as the early 90's there were eight pubs dotted along its length, some of which were very popular destinations indeed. Driving the route in recent years it had come as something of a shock to me that this figure had fallen to just two open pubs, such has been the impact of diverted traffic, and of course the more general decline in pub-going.

The Coach & Horses in Lubbenham and The Bell at Husbands Bosworth were for a time the only pubs still offering refreshment to villagers and travellers, following the permanent closure of four of these eight pubs, and what would prove to be the temporary closure of two more. The good news today is that the White Lion at South Kilworth has reopened, albeit as a wine bar/restaurant, and the Black Horse at Walcote is due to open again shortly in the safe hands of community ownership. The latter is keenly anticipated by both villagers and visitors alike, the Black Horse having had a great reputation for its beer and Thai food back in the day.

Thankfully for those travellers with a thirst and a desire to explore the lesser known byways of rural Leicestershire, there have always been a number of good village pubs located just off the main drag, some of which have already featured on this blog. The White Hart at South Kilworth is one example, a village local just south of the main road and well worth the short detour. It's also one of only a handful of village pubs in this part of the county that opens at lunchtime with any degree of regularity (though not on Wednesdays).

I visited the White Hart on one of those bright winter lunchtimes just made for walking across fields and exploring village churchyards (the pub lies opposite the parish church of St Nicholas'). The fire was lit, and the Sunday lunchtime locals were just starting to drift in, all the talk on the weekends international rugby. Warm, welcoming, exactly the kind of pub that generations of locals, and a fair few travellers have been retreating to on a cold winter days like this for years. It's a pub I hardly knew about if I'm honest, but one that I've added to my list of occasional visits when in the area.

This area of south Leicestershire is one of the hotbeds of Leicestershire Table Skittles play. At least four of the pubs on the main road from Lutterworth to Market Harborough were equipped with a skittles table (only the Coach & Horses at Lubbenham has one now), indeed I recall playing a game at the White Horse in the days when it was a traditional and popular Marston's pub. Most of the village pubs hereabouts have a table, and I believe all of these compete in one or more of the local leagues. There's even a chance that the community running the Black Horse could reinstate a table to the village of Walcote, the Tavern Inn being the home of skittles in the village until its recent , and untimely closure and conversion to housing.

The White Hart's skittles table sits at the far end of the pubs games area along with the Dartboard and Pool Table. It's a W T Black & Son table, the turned wooden legs marking it out as an earlier model than most. The pins and cheeses are yellow plastic, which is the standard for play in many of the Leicestershire and Warwickshire leagues. The White Hart fields teams in the Dunton Bassett Skittles League, as well as a team in the Ladies League, with play on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

Trophies for Pool and Skittles are displayed next to the wood-burning stove. Keen-eyed gamers will also notice the Ruddles Brewery branded Shove Ha'penny at the back.