Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Salutation Inn, Ham, Gloucestershire

The last time I visited the Salutation Inn was in the early 1990's on a hot summer cycling holiday. I recall a quiet and traditional village pub, a pleasant enough pint of the locally brewed Berkeley Old Friend, and not a lot else it has to be said. I took a photo of the pub (not reproduced here but almost identical to the one shown above), before pedalling off down the Vale of Berkeley in search of more pubs and the numerous cider and perry makers that were dotted along the vale in those days.

Sadly a great many of the pubs and cidermakers I visited on that holiday are no longer with us. Most notably the Berkley Hunt, a wonderful unspoilt bargees pub in the village of Purton, now a canalside cottage residence (the equally wonderful Berkley Arms is still open in the village, albeit with limited opening hours). A whole host of cider and perry makers are now gone, including Rodney Summer of Halmore, and local legend Jasper Ely of Framilode. The malty sweetish beers of the Berkeley Brewery are also no more.

Thankfully the Salutation is still there, and thriving to a degree that would have seemed unlikely at the time. Located a short walk from the village of Berkeley and its impressive castle, Ham is the quintessential tiny rural hamlet. What little passing trade there is usually comes on horseback or cycle, so for a pub like the Salutation to still be open and enjoying no small measure of success is a testament to the support it continues to receives from the locals, and the hard work and genuine innovation that licensees Peter & Claire Tiley have brought to the pub since their arrival in 2013.

I can't in all honesty say that I remember too much about the inside of the pub from my last visit. Presumably there have been one or two minor alterations in the intervening years, but it's still basically the same two-room village local it was back then. One thing I am sure of though is that the beer and cider range has improved immeasurably under the new owners. So much so that the Salutation has become a serial award-winner at both local CAMRA branch level and nationally, achieving CAMRA's Cider Pub of the Year award and the ultimate accolade of National Pub of the Year in 2014. The pub even has its own Sally Cider, and the Tiley Brewery is due to launch very soon bringing brewing back to the Berkeley area. Quite a special place then, and one I've been looking forward to returning to for a good while now.

I finally managed a return to Ham and the Salutation in late springtime this year. A little too early in the year for beer garden drinking, but the bar was cosy, and the locals welcoming. The traditional early evening after-work social was in full swing, one of the very best and most sociable pub sessions of all in my view. The stove was lit, and the wide range of Three Counties ciders and perries were going down a treat. As I rattled my way through a few games of Dominoes with my partner, the early post-work shift was gradually replaced by a contingent Sally skittles players.

The Vale of Berkeley gives its name to the local skittles league, and there are several pub and club skittle alleys in Berekely village alone. I've no doubt that with so many pub closures and refurbishments in the area in recent years, the league will have lost a good few venues and teams, so it's great that the Salutation has retained its traditional skittle alley at the rear of the pub, part of the licensees ethos of running a proper village local rather than going all-out for the destination dining market.

Anticipating our visit to the Salutation, I'd already checked the fixture list for the Berkeley & District Skittles League ahead of our visit, and was slightly disappointed to see that we'd missed the last home game of the season. So it came as something of a surprise to see the pub team roll up and commence play. What I'd forgotten was that league fixtures are frequently cancelled during the winter season due to bad weather and other issues, leading to an inevitable backlog at the tail-end of the season. This was one such fixture, a mop-up game that may or may not have had much bearing on league positions. Nevertheless I was grateful that the teams kindly allowed me to take a few action shots during the match.

The commitment to traditional pub games at the Salutation extends to Shove Ha'penny, and the indoor version of Quoits unique to this area of England and Wales, both of which are available for play on request.

So the Salutation was a fine traditional village local back then, and has developed into a truly great one now. In fact it's a real rarity, a great pub that just keeps getting better.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Compendium of Pub Games Images - Pt.27

Classic Victorian street-corner locals like the one shown here were once a common sight throughout the Midlands. The industrial decline of the late 20th century has done for a great many of these urban working-mens boozers, yet good examples still survive in one shape or another. Few it has to be said are as beautifully well preserved as the Dewdrop in Ilkeston though, most having had their interior knocked through to a single room, losing most of their former character and heritage in the process.

The Dewdrop today is a warm and welcoming local with a reputation for serving great beer, but also well-worth seeking out for the rare treat of a largely unspoilt multi-room interior featuring many of its original period fittings. Originally named the Middleton Hotel (the old lettering is still visible on the outside), the Dewdrop would have served the nearby rail station (currently closed but scheduled to reopen later this year) and a local populace working in the heavy industry of the area. The pub is similar in style to the nearby Gate Inn at Awsworth, itself a very fine heritage pub with a similar reputation for good beer. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of both these pubs is the wide Lobby which usually functions as an additional drinking area served from a hatch off the central bar servery (below). Both pubs feature on CAMRA's Heritage Pubs list as having interiors of regional importance.

To the right of the lobby is a very cosy Lounge Bar dominated by a roaring fire in the winter months, and a small Snug which now acts as a children's room. To the left is a more basic Public Bar (below), and it's in here that the pubs Pool Table and Dartboard reside. In the yard to the rear of the pub can be found the pubs original outdoor Skittle Alley (left), though sadly no longer in regular use. The licensee informed me that skittles and balls are still kept at the pub, so perhaps a game can be had given a fine day and enough prior notice. Long Alley Skittles is the one truly distinctive regional pub game of Derbyshire (and Nottinghamshire), and the Ilkeston & District Long Alley Skittles League is still active with several venues for the game in the nearby town centre.

CAMRA's inventory of pubs with unspoilt heritage interiors lists 30 or so important survivors within the catchment of Birmingham, including several Victorian and Edwardian classics in the Digbeth area. The Anchor on Bradford Street is one of the very best, and a real feast for the eyes. One of several red brick and terracotta pubs in the area, the Anchor is fitted out internally with wood panelling rather than the elaborate tile work seen in near neighbours such as the Woodman. It also features beautiful Art Nouveau inspired windows, and a rare original glazed screen which divides the public bar into two separate areas.

The pub has a long-standing reputation as one of Birminghams best Ale Houses, and it's a lively, often very busy traditional boozer with a good local following. The public bar features a Pool Table, always in use whenever I've visited, and a Dartboard. The latter squeezed into a corner of the room, and features an unusual folding baffle on the adjacent bench seating (below), presumably designed to protect drinkers from stray arrows during a game.

The rise of the micropub continues apace, with these specialist ale and cider pubs opening at a rate that's proving difficult to keep track of. The way things are going it won't be long before just about every town or large village has at least one micropub to call its own. Welcome relief where local pubs offer little or no choice of beer, but still not a replacement for the very best of our established traditional pubs in my view.

The diminutive size of most micropubs means there's rarely space for games larger than those which are played at a table, and whilst few would regard the opening of another micropub as anything but a positive thing, if they are, as many seem to believe, the very future of pubgoing, games like skittles and even Darts could face an uncertain future.

I hope there's room for both micropubs and the older established 'macro' version. Meanwhile, I'm more than happy to celebrate a return to a more social form of pubgoing, which is undoubtedly where micropubs excel.

Shown above is the recently opened Gas Tap micropub in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. A typical single room beerhouse, casks of ale and a small bar servery at one end, a close formation of seating and tables occupying the front which is where we enjoyed a few games of Dominoes over a pint or two recently.

The Bull Baiters micropub had only been open a few days when I visited. So new in fact, that I only came across it by chance on a visit to a few old favourites in the St Johns area of Worcester.

Again, it follows the formula of a smallish single room with the bar servery and casks at one end, comfortable seating arranged to the front. I was pleased to see that the owner has taken the trouble to provide Cards, Dominoes and Cribbage Boards for customers to use, the ideal games for pubs like this.

Considering the many and obvious tourist attractions of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, including the impressive Abbey and a wide navigable stretch of the River Severn, most of the pubs in the town are still very much 'locals' pubs. As a tourist in the town myself, this is exactly what I like to see. I see little point in travelling far and wide to drink and dine in the kind of impersonal chain bars and tourist-traps you can find anywhere, and which by and large the locals tend to avoid. If I'm having a pint in Tewkesbury, I prefer to be drinking in the company of at least 'some' local Tewkesbury folk.

So I was delighted to find plenty of locals on a recent trawl around the towns pubs, and particularly pleased that the tradition of afternoon Cribbage play persists in at least one of them. The gentleman playing here meet up for regular Cribbage sessions at the Brittania, and I've found that Cribbage is still very popular in the Tewkesbury and Evesham area.