Alan Edwards gives us a farewell selection of pubs for the year ahead
Although beer sales have fallen over the last year, real ale has suffered less than ‘fizz’, and sales of some cask ale brews have actually increased. A message to lighten the gloom in some FiF quarters? The genuine article can win through.
So to a fourth annual list of pubs where you can drink safely and eat well. Possibly my final appearance in New Directions (unless I do a Sinatra) though I’m not crossing the Tiber. The RCs educated me before I was seven years old, so I was innoculated against Roman fever.
Bunch of Grapes, Pontypridd Pon-typridd is not only the home of Otley ales, whose flagship this is, but the birthplace of ‘Land of My Fathers’, another cause for flag-waving while drinking a jug of Gwynt y Ddraig, locally produced real cider. Real ales, real cider, and the trinity is completed by real food, which makes this a popular venue best walked to, in case the small car park is full.
Central Hotel, Thurso One for the family, children’s menus all day, and a bouncy castle to get you in the mood for visiting the nearby Castle of Mey, if Prince Charles has you in his diary. He’ll presumably provide BCPs if, like Mrs Blair, you’ve been careless packing.
Chequers, Binham, Norfolk Avoid the crowds at the Walsingham National and come in September when the pub can offer ‘Balm in Gilead’ with its three-day Beer Festival.
Knight Templar, Chancery Lane, London A former bank (did Wether-spoons see the 2008 collapse coming?) with cosy alcoves to entertain emissaries of the Protestant Truth Society (HQ round corner in Fleet Street) if the Cardinal won’t give you a home. Also nearby is KCL (a Betjeman’s delight chapel) where Arthur Middleton and Alan Edwards slept between pub crawls.
Les Trois Brasseurs, Lille (opposite Gare Lille Flandres) Beer brewed on-site and cheaper meals than in pricey old town, if you’re visiting Lille’s excellent Christmas Market. While thinking micro-breweries, if you’re in retreat on the Pas-de-Calais coast at Condette, break out and ask for Christophe Noyon’s Deux Caps range.
Marble Arch, Rochdale Road, Manchester Organic ales from nearby Soil Association brewery. Another real cider venue. Gothic architecture with an ecclesiastical flavour and food with an equally entrancing flavour. If you think the floor slopes, you haven’t had a Proverbs 23.32 moment – it does.
The Bull, Broughton, North Yorkshire On the historical fringe of the Pilgrimage of Grace and later recusancy, with a catholic choice of good food; its age can be guessed by how much higher the passing road now stands.
Rising Sun, Stockcross (2 miles from Newbury) First tied-house of the increasingly popular West Berkshire Brewery. A folk music pub so think Vaughan rather than Rowan Williams and try and remember how many of his English Hymnal settings had folk origins.
The Salutation, Houndsgate, Nottingham Caves underneath pub said to be haunted. Live rock music upstairs but quiet, conversation-friendly snugs downstairs – the Anglican Via Media?
Star, Steeple, Essex One to visit after you’ve trekked to St Cedd’s Chapel at nearby Bradwell. Pub offers camping in its field (pre-booking needed 01621 772646). After Sunday lunch, complemented by Adnams’ Bitter, visit Tillingham and its Peculiar People Chapel – not an Affirming Catholic mission but the Bethel of a one-time Essex Evangelical sect.
Unicorn, Canterbury This 1604 building is but a Versicle and Response both from the Westgate and from St Dunstans church, where the head of St Thomas More is entombed. Forget Canterbury Cathedral on Sundays, and head for the ‘tin cathedral’ of St Gabriel, Rough Common (FiF) where Series 1 still lives on.