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.

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