In my own part of the country, the East Midlands, they play a type of skittles that's very different to that found anywhere else in the country. In fact it can be a bit of a head-scratcher to those more familiar with the 'West Country' game where the balls are rolled smoothly, if not always sedately down the alley rather than the Dambuster-style 'full toss' of the Midlands game! Not only is Long Alley Skittles unique to the area, it's arguably the traditional pub game of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (and to a lesser extent Leicestershire where the game shares equal billing with a unique local Table Skittles tradition). Other games such as Darts, Pool, even Dominoes, may be more widely played in the region, but only Long Alley Skittles can lay claim to being unique to the regions pubs and clubs.
The Newark area is not only the north-eastern limit of this East Midlands skittles tradition, but also represents one of the current geographical limits of skittles as a competitive pub game in Britain. This was not always the case. A version of Table Skittles was played east of this point in Norfolk, and probably throughout much of Lincolnshire until relatively recently, and alley skittles in various forms was popular just about everywhere as both a pub and outdoor event game, even as far north as Scotland where a historic alley still survives at Edinburgh's famous Sheep Heid Inn. Quite why one of the most popular and widespread traditional games still played at the pub has its modern-day northern limit in the Midlands is not at all clear.
So the Newark & District Long Alley Skittles League is something of an outlier to Britains surviving skittles tradition. It's also one of many pub games leagues that seem happy to hide their light under a bushel. No online presence (other than a short-lived blog by a local team member), little in the way of fixture lists in the pubs I've visited, and in common with just about everywhere nowadays, the declining local newsprint seem to have stopped reporting on the league. Hence it can be difficult to get a handle on just how healthy the Newark league might be in the 21st century. As is so often the case with traditional pub games, the only way to get a real insight into the game is to go for a pint or two at one of the pubs where Long Alley is still played. Not exactly an onerous task for the most part, and certainly not so at the Rose & Crown in the nearby village of Balderton.
The Rose & Crown has been on my (quite long) shortlist of pubs to visit in the Newark area for a good few years now. An increasingly rare example of an entirely wet-led village local located on the edge of Newarks suburban sprawl. Perhaps a little too far to walk to from the town centre, but a good convenient stop for travellers on the nearby A1 if it's just a pint you're after, not a dining experience. It's a skittles pub of course, and if the condition of the alley at the rear of the pub is anything to go by, the game appears to be in good health. Well maintained, and clearly still regarded by the owners as an important asset to the main business of the pub.
As you can see from these photos, the skittle alley is entirely covered, not always the case in the Newark area where the tradition of outdoor skittling endures at one or two venues. A timber and pitch-roof shed that's gradually being swallowed by creeping Ivy, and now effectively an annexe to the main pub accessed from a rear hallway. In common with most covered alleys, this one doubles as a space for functions when not in use for its primary function. When I visited the pub in October, the Summer skittles season was all-but over, although the home team were in fact playing that evening, possibly a mop-up game postponed from earlier in the year.