Thursday, 12 January 2012

Wales' National Inventory pubs


    after my interesting and enjoyable chat with Rhys in Shakespeares on Friday, it occurred to me that I  really ought to record my experiences of visiting Welsh National Inventory pubs, for prosperity. Mind you, that's a weird decision to take, having changed my blog name only last week to reflect that I rarely post about unspoilt pubs, but hey, rivers don't run straight...


First, Wales. Its next to England, and is used as a measuring device or comparative illustration of any area subject to destruction or submergence or ruination. Which seems harsh. It's also packed with incredible scenery and some fantastic National Inventory Pubs.

Secondly, National Inventory Pubs (N.I) . Starting in 1991 the N.I was a campaign by English Heritage and CAMRA which strove to preserve interiors of pubs that could, albeit against an often bemusing and  contradictory cultural and architectural criteria, be proved to be "unspoilt". Therefore, it follows that a pub meeting that criteriaa is an N.I pub. Right?

If only it were that simple though. Because unspoilt is a very subjective term, and people associate the word unspoilt with nostalgia and fond memories of, almost exclusively, nice things. That is not something that should be applied to the National Inventory. Because the N.I contains some truly horrible pubs. There are some with distasteful architectural and interior themes, some in areas you might not visit alone or in the dark, some which thrive on eccentricity over hohospitality, some that were considered futuristic on being built, then hideous by the 1990's and and now "cutting edge" through the eyes of English Heritage.

Considering that, even as a fan and devotee of the concept myself I am still foggy on the exact rules and qualifying features needing to be met, I would like to attempt to sum up, with a bias towards the features that I like most, the archetypal National I Inventory pub for you. It is a rare, unusual, largely unchanged, rarely open, peculiarly run and situated, outdoor loo providing, austere, magnificently tiled, inter war, basic, ostentatious, antiquated, unloved gem. They don't all serve real ale, they sometimes have absurdly restricted hours, they don't always have all the rooms in use, but they are all incredible examples of the Great British public house that are there to be enjoyed. If you are still unsure even after my concise description, here's a tinterweb link. The National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors .

Thirdly, well, that's it for background. So now let me tell you, in what is likely to be a seriously irregular series, about some of the above pubs in the above Country that I have visited, starting with....

1. The Dyffryn Arms, Pontfaen, West Wales
Bessie's, named after the current long serving licensee, is something of a legend. I have been twice only, but then its not as if its near home, and to be fair whilst some locals tell me its open every lunchtime and evening, the GBG and other tomes advise ringing to check opening times, so both visits had been long in the planning.

My first was in some ways the best, mainly because we arrived in the daytime. My second was a surprise en route to Fishguard in the evening, which is where the pics are from as I didn't have a digital camera when we first visited.

Situated on the road that comes out at the head of the Gwaun Valley, the Dyffyrn Arms looks just how I want an N.I pub to look - like a house with a sign on it. Entering through a door on the right, (the original front entrance is disused), you walk down a corridor off which is the lounge, alas rarely opened, and the bar on your left. There's a picture on the wall of a young looking Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen, which looks like it was added after the last refurbishment.

Decoration and fittings are very simple, with a few tables, a couple of old chairs and stools,  a bench seat, old dartboard and the bar, which is on the right as you enter. There is no bar counter, just a hatch behind which is a very simple set of fittings, and beer is dispensed either straight from the barrel (for single real ale orders ) or into the jug from where its poured. Both times the ale has been bass, which is of course, never better than when served by gravity of from the jug.

When we arrived there was plenty of noise and activity across the road, as what seemed like 20 or 30 people had assembled, some sat in front of the pub and some nearer the fields next to the river. Most of those sat were ladies making sandwiches, the others were men and boys chopping wood. We came outside ounce we'd spent time marvelling at the unspoilt interior (and I think I am justified in attributing this description) and sat on perilous sloping tables in a tiny beer garden up a bank at the side of the pub, where we could watch the whole scene unfold.

Interestingly, almost everyone in and outside the pub spoke in Welsh only. Now, wait a second, am not simple or anything, its not uncommon for the Welsh to speak in their own tongue, but this is in Pembrokeshire (or if not its damn near to it),, an area long considered, not necessarily with any fondness I suspect, to be a predominantly English inhabited, English speaking corner of Wales. Against this backdrop, somehow, the authenticity of the pub is further enhanced, and is all the better for it.

That the pub was so central to the events in the valley was a relief to me, since I have an unshakable fear that every N.I pub I visit will either be immediately closed down, sold off for housing, be refurbished horribly and with no forethought, or simply revert back to being a private house. Better still though, I now learn that a daughter and niece of the Landlady, who is in her eighties, have acquired personal licences for the pub. Hopefully, this will ensure the long term future of this fantastic rural pub. 

Wee Beefy

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