Thursday, 18 July 2013

More unspoilt pubs in the secret kingdom.


      its important to clarify that the pubs listed in his post aren't literally more unspoilt - instead they are simply unspoilt, but are featured in addition to those previously mentioned. I hate to think anyone would be disappointed at not finding a pub more unspoilt than say the Star or Bridge of Aln. A carved wooden seat in a garden shed with beer drawn by garden hose from a cave in next door's rockery perhaps? Or I suppose, the Seven Stars at Halfway House...

Anyway we were heading North again in the morning, after stopping to photograph the Bridge of Aln Hotel. Landlady Esther had made an interesting remark on the subject of photographs the night before - having joked about fees for appearing she extended the welcome to take what pics we wanted but then said "mind you, last time I found someone taking photographs of the outside of the pub a week later it was listed". This was not presented as a  a bonus. I expect this is a reminder of the fact that not everything is brilliant about pubs as listed buildings, for everyone. I want to see the pub continue but I imagine Esther would much rather it was retained in a more useful capacity if she became unable or it became too expensive ti run it.

Our first stop was Dryborough Abbey, a rather extensive ruin with plenty of inside bits to explore and scenery to admire in hot sunshine. From here we headed to Kelso, and then onto Selkirk for our first pub of the day, the Town Arms. A pleasing outer appearance with sees sharp rising battlemented dormers (I should probably have read the Regional Inventory article again since I blatantly know nothing about architectural terminology), Bass plaques either side of the entrance and sadly protected by glass and grill, two original Dryborough windows advertising Burns Strong Ale in Bottle and Gold Medal Edinburgh Ales. There's an alley called Bogies Wynd through an arch that looks like it could be part of the pub to the left with a stone looking market place road sign above it, and a carved head of Bacchus and woman and child further up above the entrance. I rather like this design!

Inside there are two doors that lead to narrow drinking areas each side of the large long bar, the one on the left housing a huge Dryboroughs mirror, with an intriguing darts snug at the end. The bar has a highly impressive carved wooden back handpumps. Some surprise then that the Scotland's Heritage Pubs guide says it serves real ale. In their defence, its not about the beer. A tomato juice for WF and a half of "somebodies" Caledonia for me were the drinks ordered.

Its very easy for the Town Arms to get busy because there is barely enough room for the bar as it is, but even on a hot day, with the front and back doors open the cool breeze kept temperatures bearable. We didn't have long to stop but did get talking to a few locals and also managed to snap a few pics. It would be brilliant to get in when it first opens however, to photograph the magnificent bar.

A trek followed all the way down to Wark where parking was a little awkward since the bridge was closed - this meant the church service was being held in a marquee on the village green in front of a very car reliant congregation. A lovely setting am sure, but can't see it being a hit in Winter...

We ended up parking near but avoiding the pricey GBG Battlesteads, instead visiting the regional inventory Grey Bull. An interesting narrow pub occupying the left hand part of an L shaped building, with a games room on your left and a small paneled bar in front of you. The best room is the smaller paneled one at the back, also with bar access, and there is outside drinking and outside loos. Alas no real ale, so I braved a half of Worthingtons smooth.

Our first real ale came at the Crown, in Catton just outside Allendale Town. By now it was getting on for 16.00 and we were getting hungry, but its 12-3 for food, which is hardly unreasonable. Despite this we stopped for a few halves anyway. I had the Allendale Wagtail and Pennine Ale and WF the Wylam Gold Tankard as we sat outside in the sunshine with the gazebo still up from a mini music festival the day before. This is a cracking pub that I hope I can get to visit again.

In Allendale Town it was hunger stations so we headed for the Kings Head. This Marstons pub serves food all day, and despite the dubious speed of its delivery (our meals took 10 minutes, which is almost too fast), we were nonetheless very glad of sustenance. The Marstons Ashes Ale was reasonable but hardly exceptional so the minute we'd done eating we popped next door to the Golden Lion to find an admirable choice. Once again we sat outside, me supping a pint of Anarchy Blond Star and some of WF's Geltsdale Pale at 3.9%. Good to see this pub back in the guide and doing well.

Another long run brought us to Ovingham outside Prudhoe, still just in the county of the secret kingdom (I think), and the Bridge End Inn. This pub has been in the same family for decades and sort of, despite a former GBG write up, opens out onto the village green. The Allendale Pennine in here was a little tired but OK, but the Wylam Collingwood was probably better. Here and at the Golden Lion the beers were still averaging about £2.90 a pint.

We headed for the coast next to another regional inventory pub but also a CAMRA pub of the season, the Delaval Arms at Old Hartley. A spick and span red and white tiled entrance reveals three rooms, with the larger back room on the left housing the bar, with dining in the front left and a folk session in the right. Just three beers to choose from and we had halves of Batemans Golden, and Wylam Angel at a slightly more expensive £3.10. Both were in good nick and the pub was full of interesting features and crucially good atmosphere.

This turned out to be the penultimate destination as we headed down through the Tyne Tunnel and the A19 to Leamside just outside Durham to try Leamside brewery beers at the Horseshoes. It was quiz night and the place was packed and to my significant annoyance almost every inch of bar space was taken up with wide bar stools and punters. Its fine if you know what you want because the far end of the bar is clearer but it was hard work for me to see what was on and there's no way of making space without turfing someone out of their chair.

We tried three halves of their own beers, the Adventure, Revolutions and the Alexandrini as recommended by the locals - which was the better, hoppier, and more refreshing of the three. The pub has a pleasing interior with lots of dark wood (I think - it was very low lighting...!) and provided amusement when the quiz answers were read out.  Each questions was shortened and the answer followed, and I cracked a wry smile at the following dead pan couplet "he cut off his ear and took is own life....that 's Van Gogh...Question 35..." and so they went on.

Before I adopted my customary slumber on the way home I asked WF for his top 3 pubs and favourite beer - he chose the Free Trade in Berwick, The Bridge of Aln, The Star at Netherton and the Town Arms Selkirk (yes, I know that's four) and in a surprise move rated the Anarchy Citra Star his favourite beer! I'd concur with all the above except I'd probably replace the Town Arms with the Crown at Catton and Golden Lion at Allendale - two incentives to return to the area.

Another fantastic Beefy beer expedition ended with only three pubs not visited and no off or expensive beer encountered. Some of very many reasons why a trip to Northumberland's pubs is highly recommended.

Wee Beefy.  

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