Sunday, 17 June 2018

Rising Sun, Bream, Gloucestershire

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the pub...

From Whitecroft Station in the Forest Of Dean, it's only a mile to the Rising Sun at Bream. I knew this because I'd checked and double-checked my somewhat dog-eared vintage Ordnance Survey map prior to the trip, and decided the walk would pleasantly fill the hour between my arrival at the station, and lunchtime opening at the nearby Miners Arms. When a volunteer at the station suggested it was "...a bit of a walk!" and offered a lift most of the way, I naturally declined. A lift! It's only a mile! Does he even know the area?...

I really must take the time to read Ordnance Survey maps just that little bit more carefully. A solitary mile it may have been, but even a cursory glance at the map should have alerted me to the dozen or so tightly packed contour lines that I'd spend the next half-hour or so wearily trudging across. Red-faced, cursing, smiling back through gritted teeth as yet another peloton of lycra-clad, rake-thin cyclists cheerily glided past me with apparent ease. Oh for a lift... By the time I arrived at my destination, I really needed a drink.

So my rusty map-reading skills need to improve, but at least I got the opening hours of the pub right, something of a lottery in rural England these days but you can usually rely on lunchtime opening on a Saturday.

With the permanent closure of the nearby Cross Keys, the Rising Sun is now the only pub in the village of Bream. Needless to say it's very-much a locals pub, but in common with most hostelries in the forest in my experience, equally welcoming to visitors like myself. The bar is a fairly intimate affair, annexed by a slightly larger 'lounge' (above), and the all-important games room that was the principal motivation for my short stroll up the hill. I ordered something refreshing from the ever-reliable Wye Valley Brewery, propped the bar up, and chatted hill-climbs and Quoits with the locals.

The Royal Forest Of Dean Quoits League is, reassuringly, more or less exactly where it was the first time I investigated it a few years ago. Which is to say that whilst there's been some shuffling around of venues, there are still eight teams in the league, including two that call the Rising Sun home. Quoits is certainly not the most widely played game at the pub, nor indeed in the Forest, as the numerous trophies around the bar for Darts indicates, but it's an important survivor in an area where league game play of any description can be difficult to sustain.

Although there's still a good appetite for pub games like Quoits, Darts, and Skittles in the forest, getting a team together when so much work in the area is on a shift basis can be quite a challenge. In practice, a pub needs to sign up a relatively large pool of players at the beginning of the season as cover for work-based unavailability, though one thing that works in the favour of a relatively small league like the one for Quoits is the close geographical spread of the venues.

The Quoits 'Board' at the Rising Sun is the same moulded concrete type found throughout the forest, indeed the only wooden board I've come across is at the nearby Fountain at Parkend (currently not fielding a team in the league). Plain white is the colour, another unique feature of the forest league. I've found that concrete boards like this are quite common throughout the whole of the Quoiting region, the Hereford League seems to favour them for example, but most maintain the traditional red and green colour scheme.

Another interesting aspect of play in the forest is the Quoits themselves, which are more often than not the older 'convex' type (below). These more closely resemble the steel quoits that the indoor game would have originally developed from. Whether these are vintage survivors or still available to buy new I couldn't say, but outside of the Forest of Dean the standard form seems to be the flat Quoit, one side black, the other white to indicate the scoring side. League-standard quoits like these are made from a particularly soft kind of rubber, which 'slaps' down onto the playing surface with less of a tendency to bounce off than harder rubber types.

In common with most pub games leagues, the Royal Forest Of Dean Quoits League supports a range of competition, from the standard home and away league, to cup knockout tournaments such as the 5-a-side shown here.

Play follows what a local described as 'Evesham Rules', which means using the unique scoreboard shown below. Play is not simply a case of the highest score, or as in the Hereford league, a countdown similar to Darts. In the Forest and other leagues players are required to score each of the numbers on the scoreboard, the figure scored flipped over when it's been achieved. This certainly makes for a more skilful game, in fact it took me most of a pint to achieve the 'full-house' on a similar scoreboard at the nearby Royal Oak, Whitecroft. What was I doing at the Royal Oak? Well, walking downhill for a mile tends to pull a bit on the calf muscles, and with no lift available I really needed a drink by the time I got back to Whitecroft...