Sunday, 29 May 2016

Sawley, Derbyshire

As a reasonably frequent traveller by rail to Derby (the self-styled Capital of Real Ale!), Long Eaton is, more often than not, merely a handy alarm-call for imminent arrival into Derby. Occasionally I do break my journey at Long Eaton though, and whenever I have, I've found some very good pubs with plenty of gaming interest in the town.

Strictly speaking the station might be better named 'Long Eaton & Sawley', the latter named village being much the smaller of the two, but if anything it's probably closer to the station than the centre of Long Eaton itself. There are well over half a dozen pubs in Sawley, including a few which serve the boating and leisure trade from the nearby marina on the River Trent. Almost side-by-side in the very centre of the village are the Nags Head and White Lion, both of which are attractive destinations, and well worth the short walk from the station if you too decide to alight at Long Eaton.

Nags Head

The Nags Head is a classic two-room village locals pub with a very good reputation for beer (note the 'Pride in Pedigree' certificate behind the bar). The public bar (left) is the larger of the two rooms, and the social hub of the pub. Warmed in the winter by a wood-burning stove, it's home to a local golf association, and the venue for Darts matches in the Long Eaton & District Darts Association League.

The pub is also home to a team in the Long Eaton & District Long Alley Skittles League, a hardy bunch by all accounts given that their home alley is located outdoors, as indeed a great many still are in the Notts and Derby area. It was raining persistently when I visited, conditions that players must be well used to given that rain doesn't usually stop play in the Notts/Derby version of Long Alley Skittles. Many of these alleys are now being covered over or relocated indoors, but it would be difficult to cover the Nags Head alley given its current position in the middle of the pubs car park!

The Bell

The Bell Inn is the closest of Sawleys pubs to the rail station. Presumably a fairly traditional multi-room pub at one time, the Bell has been smartly modernised and opened out to one large room with a number of distinctive areas. This includes one for Pool and Darts, both of which are played in local leagues. Note the beautiful old Bass in Bottle mirror adjacent to the Darts throw.

In a small garden to the side of the pub, and overlooked by housing on most sides, can be found the pubs original Skittle Alley. The scoreboard, floodlight, and tin sheet for determining a foul throw are all still in situ, though the structure which would have originally caught balls and pins behind the frame has been removed. Whilst Darts, Dominoes, and Pool are all played at the Bell, sadly the alley has not seen a match for several years.

White Lion

The principal attraction of the White Lion to many pub-goers is likely to be the brewery which operates from the pub. The Old Sawley Brewing Company was established in 2013, with brewing on a small plant located within the pub itself, but a new brewery is now up and running in premises to the rear of the pub. So beer is obviously a very important part of the White Lion's offering, but it would be wrong to assume that was the only attraction. This is another traditional and attractive two-room village local, delivering everything a local should. Bar Billiards and a Shove Ha'penny are available, as is a good outdoor Skittle Alley.

Adjacent to the brewery building is the pubs Skittle Alley, which was out of action when I first visited a few years ago pending construction of the brew house. I'm pleased to say that with the brewery now completed, the alley has been tidied up nicely with a set of skittles and balls available for play.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

The White Bear, Tewkesbury
Tewkesbury and myself go back a long way. The town was often the base-camp for early exploratory cider trips and cycling holidays in Gloucestershire and the Vale of Evesham, and on one occasion provided a memorable stopover on a boozy River Severn boating trip. Needless to say, I'm not exactly a stranger to the numerous pubs in the town, most of which I'm pleased to say are still open and trading today.

One of my more regular haunts in the town was the Kings Head Inn on Barton Street, for no other reason than the basic front bar was one of only two regular outlets in the town for a traditional cider of sorts. Sadly the Kings Head closed permanently several years ago, but the other main cider outlet has gone from strength to strength, albeit interrupted on occasion by the severe flooding which afflicts the area.

Another pub that I remember well from my earliest visits to Tewkesbury is the Olde Black Bear, probably the towns most famous and recognisable pub. A historic warren of dark timbers and wood panelling overlooking the Severn, with enough original and unspoilt features to make it onto CAMRA's inventory of heritage pub interiors. This was the pub that we settled into on that memorable boating trip back in the late 80's, but for my money it's the nearby White Bear that's probably the best pub in town now, and not just because of the impressive range of beers and ciders on offer.

The White Bear, pictured in 2006, just a year before the devastating floods which put the pub at the centre of national news reports. The pub has suffered similar flood damage more recently, the interior now fully restored awaiting the next deluge. The original sign has been replaced with the one shown below, reflecting the pubs support for Polar Bear conservation. There are plans to hang the old sign outside the pubs skittle alley. 
The White Bear is located at the far end of the towns busy High Street, tucked away round a slight bend in the old Bredon Road and feeling more like a traditional village pub than a town centre boozer. It's a solid traditional locals pub, but one that attracts a steady stream of visitors from the nearby marina making for a very friendly mix at the bar. Noted as one of the best pubs in the area for beer and cider, it's also very games oriented.

On entering the single L-shaped bar, the pubs Pool Table dominates the right-hand space, and I can't recall a time that I've walked into the White Lion when it hasn't been in use by the locals. At the other end of the bar are two Dartboards, league play at the White Bear being in the Tewkesbury & District Darts League.

Across the yard is Tewkesburys last remaining pub Skittle Alley, protected from flood damage thanks to its location on the upper floor of a large outhouse. The alley is currently home to two teams in the Tewkesbury & District Skittles League, the colourfully named Unreliables and Rousers. The Tewkesbury league, like so many in this neck of the woods, is predominantly a clubs league now, though other alleys certainly existed at pubs in the town as recently as the late 90's. This makes the skittle alley at the White Bear something of a rarity now.

The busy High Street in Tewkesbury is the most heavily populated with pubs, some of which needless to say have been heavily modernised in recent times. Thankfully there are still a few which retain much of their historic charm. The Berkeley Arms is one such pub, a traditional local in the town, as well as an attractive venue for the many tourists and visitors to Tewkesbury. Indeed the pub is almost overlooked by Tewkesburys most popular and well-known tourist attraction, the impressive Abbey.

A truly historic half-timbered building, the front bar and smaller lounge are linked by a narrow corridor running down the side of the pub. It's been a Wadsworth Brewery house for as long as I've been coming to the town, and run along pretty traditional lines.

The licensee has brought a number of traditional pub games with him to the pub, including a Shove Ha'penny (coins available behind the bar), and an intriguing old copper-spiked Quoits Board. The rubber quoits which accompany the board are the older style convex type which more closely resemble the steel versions they were originally modelled on.

The local game of Quoits would have been a common game in this area at one time, as indeed it was in nearby Evesham and throughout much of Gloucestershire. Sadly the game has all-but disappeared throughout much of its former heartland, with the nearest league play in the Forest of Dean and Hereford. The board at the Berkeley is currently buried deep within a store room, but it's hoped that it will be dug out and installed in the bar in the near future.

The highest or 'perfect' scoring hand in Cribbage is 29. Rarely achieved by even the most persistent players, some may never score a 29 hand so you won't find too many of these hanging in a pub or club to record the event. The Berkeley has a selection of games on the windowsill of the front bar (below), including Dominoes, and a couple of 'Long' or tournament cribbage boards. Cribbage is still popular in Tewkesbury and the surrounding area, with play on Monday evenings in the town.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Crown Inn, Woolhope, Herefordshire

As a frequent visitor to Herefordshire and the wider Three Counties area since the early 1980's, I've often found it something of a disappointment that in a county so strongly associated with the traditions of cidermaking, so few of the pubs offer much in the way of high quality local cider and perry. The ciders from Westons of Much Marcle, the county's major regional producer, have always been relatively common, but the smaller producers of high quality traditional cider and perry, of which there are now many, have often been hard to find outside of a handful of rural pubs and farmshops.

I'm pleased to say that things have improved a little in recent years, with several pubs in the county specialising in ciders from the Three Counties, and many more offering at least something from one or more of the smaller local producers. The Crown Inn at Woolhope has been a notable exception in this regard for several years now. In fact the Crown specialises in Herefordshire ciders and perries as well as the best local beers and fabulous locally sourced food. There can't be too many pubs which offer a separate cider and perry menu alongside the food and wine, an entirely local selection that even includes their own home-pressed 'Kings' cider and perry. It's for this reason that I was more than happy to return to the Crown for an excellent Sunday lunch recently.

Even if cider isn't to your taste, a diversion down the narrow winding roads to Woolhope and the attractive whitewashed Crown Inn is highly recommended, particularly in the summer when the garden, overlooked by St George's church, really comes into its own. Watch out for the local wildlife though, I very nearly had my lunch stolen by a particularly cheeky Blackbird the first time I visited the pub. Yes, even the birds love it at the Crown Inn.

The attention to detail at the Crown Inn extends to a luxury heated and covered smoking shelter at the rear of the pub (below). This space also houses the pubs Table Football, a Dartboard, and Herefordshire's local pub game Quoits. The Crown's Quoits board is a fairly typical concrete example, the standard for boards in the nearby Hereford city league. Painted in the traditional red and green and seated on a steel frame, netted to catch stray Quoits. The table is brought inside and positioned at the Darts oche for more serious play, but a set of Quoits are available from the bar for casual summertime games.