The Cirencester District Men's Skittles League is currently made up of around 60 teams playing in 5 divisions. A healthy enough figure and fairly typical of leagues throughout the West Country. In fact the secretary of the Cirencester league reckons around 10% of the male population in the area play skittles at one time or another, a remarkable figure if true. Yet on a recent trip to the town itself, tracking down a pub with a skittle alley proved more difficult than these figures might suggest.
A CAMRA pub guide to Gloucestershire from 1996 lists eight pubs with functioning skittle alleys in the town. Just 20 years later only two appear to remain, one at the Wheatsheaf on Cricklade Street, and a very fine alley at the Bees Knees (formerly the Plume of Feathers). The rest of the eight were in pubs that have either closed for good or had their alleys removed as part of a major refurbishment. The Golden Cross for example was listed as having a skittle alley and described as being a proper locals pub in the 90's guide. It's now a modern, stylish town-centre pub/bar majoring on food, the skittle alley having been converted to alternate use as recently as 2014.
That most of Cirencester's town centre pubs have moved upmarket, concentrating almost exclusively on food and the Cotswold tourist trade, is perhaps no great surprise. The loss of so many of the towns more 'suburban' community locals is saddening though, particularly given that these often prove to be the stronghold for skittles and other pub games when they are effectively pushed out of the town centre.
The Drillmans Arms is a great favourite with beer drinkers locally, and a regular entry in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. It's also that rarest of things, a pub that's been in the same hands for over 25 years. Licensees Richard and Denise Selby made the Drillmans their home in 1990, and have run the pub along reassuringly traditional lines ever since. It's this rare continuity of ownership, and by people who so obviously care about the traditions of pub-going, that goes a long way to explaining the pubs popularity with both locals and visitors alike.
The front bar (above) is clearly the hub of the pub, buzzing with a good crowd of after-work drinkers when I popped in on a warm summer afternoon. To the rear is a smaller lounge bar with an adjacent area for the pubs Pool Table, and it's this bar which serves the pubs very fine Skittle Alley.
With so many pubs and alleys closing in recent years, it's no surprise that those few which remain can be very busy with league play throughout the week. The Drillmans hosts something in the region of ten teams, some of which appear to be quite good at the game given the number of trophies on show. The alley also doubles as a function room, with Dartboards for both mens and ladies teams who play out of the pub. To complete the traditional gaming at this most traditional of pubs, two teams call the Drillmans home in the Cirencester & District Cribbage League.