it's a while since I went round some of Wales' national and regional inventory pubs and the last trek was so vast an undertaking I never finished writing it up on here! Time to put that right, and tell you about a frankly unlikely cast list of boozers, very few of which are in snob journal the Good pub guide, that we crammed in over Thursday and Friday.
Please accept my apologies for the length of this post....
We started in sunny England in Worcester, a place I have never drunk in before. Having located our two targets we started at 12.00 in the Wheatsheaf on Henwick Road. Five beers to choose from here, WF had some of a half (please remember easily shocked people, WF only has a small amount of any beer attributed to him, or better still a soft drink, when we are out on these trips - basically I buy almost every round because I drink almost all of the beers!) of St Georges brewing Friar Tuck, I had a half of the Summer Ale and Arrowhead Bitter from Cannon Royall.
I can't say I rated the St Georges bland, offensively inoffensive output but perhaps they are catering to local tastes - either way, comparative old stagers Cannon Royall came out on top with one of the best beers of the day.
Nearby the National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors (N.I) Bush is alas, closed, probably having been for a while now - the board outside advertises coming events for February. Recent developments in Worcester re NI pubs, particularly the Paul Pry, see here have been mixed but the pub business for sale sign from Enterprise and for sale by auction signs on the Bush don't look promising. Still, it will be some comfort for the editor of the Good pub guide Fiona Stapley, who would be horrified to think of the pub still trading with its live sports, karaoke and drinks offers - don't get me wrong, were it not for the quality of the interior that wouldn't be my choice of pub either but its perverse that I or anyone else should celebrate its closing down.(that's enough Good pub guide rumblings!)
Off into Wales next and an impromptu stop at the Crown at Pantygelli near Abergavenny heralded rain. Its important not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes but dear God, we must have been over the border all of 10 minutes! Halves of Rhymney Bitter and something from Kite brewery were supped.
In Abergavenny our first RI (regional inventory) pub visit took place. The Railway on Breconn Road is a fantastic multi-roomed pub with an obvious off sales and a traditional bar with vault written in the glass, on your left. Usually serving 5 beers there was a slight shortage prior to some Kinsgtone beer coming on later so we had halves of Butcombe Gold and Wye Valley HPA, coming in at £3.10 a pint. It was great wandering round the many separate areas and admiring the careworn (possibly a euphemism for tired!) fittings and furniture. Definitely one to revisit (with thanks to the landlord for the beer mats).
The Angel at Pontneddfechan was next - mainly to try the Neath Firebrick. Alas they have changed to Rhymney bitter, but it was on good form, and this was a really friendly pub. Well worth a stop off.
An early arrival at our accommodation followed. The Ancient Briton at Pen Y Cae is a CAMRA award winner with 13 hand pumps and what turned out to be very comfy rooms. From the selection available WF tried the Wye Valley house beer and I had a pint of the Tiny Rebel Full Nelson, at £2.85. Easily the best beer of the day, this was a great way to begin our stay at the pub.
The Felinfoel Rock and Fountain at Craig Cefn Parc came next, perched high up above the valley with fantastic views and 3 beers to choose from - I finally got to try Felinfoel stout on cask (ahem...presumably) and WF had a half of Buckleys Best, the round coming to £2.60. Prices throughout the trip were almost all under £3.00 for two halves.
Food followed at Llandyfan. The Square and Compass is a plain looking long pub that looks like it could have been converted from a house in the not too distant past. There was only one beer on, Watkins OSB, at £3.10 a pint, so I had that to wash down my casually ordered chilli, which was one of the hottest I ever tasted! There was plenty of oddness at the Square and compass and had I had a more grumpy head I might have let this spoil my visit - a strong smell of varnish or polish, no heating, only one real ale, no real olde world charm in terms of fixtures and fittings - but if anything this simply endeared the pub to me.
The pub of the day followed - the community run Cwmdu Inn at Cwmdu is a tiny two roomed pub also housing a shop and other amenities in a row of cottages on the main road, if that's even the right description for the only lane that runs through the village. Just one beer to choose from, which changes regularly, this time Archers Clippper at £2.75 a pint, which was on good form. This is exactly what a local pub should be like - a family moving into the area were getting the low down on what is going on and where, a bloke from nearby Salem was in sat next to the bar as he has done for years, a bloke sat in the right hand room quietly reading the paper, and the walls around the bar were covered in notices and announcements about the pub and the village. A very impressive boozer.
Our next stop was to be the Black Horse at Meinciau, but we abandoned the plan as it was 45 minutes out of our way, and we didn't even know if it would be open, so headed for Ysttalfera and the Wern Fawr brew pub. We were also supposed to be visiting the Red Cow but alas the pub now stands forlorn and empty just down the road having closed some time in 2011. The beers on offer were all from the Bryncellyn brewery and we tried halves of all 4. To be brutally honest only the Buddy Marvellous really took my fancy and all 4, including Holly Hop, Buddy's Delight and Oh Boy, were fairly forgettable - mind you 2 pints was £4.80 making it the cheapest beer of the trip. The pub itself is a fascinating jumble of artifacts and notices, and despite my lack of appreciation for the beers I can heartily recommend a visit.
We finished back at the Ancient Briton where WF tried the Hobsons Twisted Spire and I had a couple more of the excellent Tiny Rebel before admitting defeat.
Friday saw us having breakfast ably assisted by Janine and Phil who are looking after the pub whilst the landlord is away - fantastic beer knowledge and friendly service from them and everyone at the pub makes this a great place to stop. Our first pub was at the Crown in Rhayader, where we had halves of Brains IPA and bitter at £2.55. A decent start, after we wandered in the NI Listed Lion Royal to find the bar closed and no-one in te building, but the door open!
Llanidloes followed - two RI and one NI pub plus a smattering of real ale venues make Llanidloes a great place to drink. We had a pint and half of purple Moose Snowdonia ale in the Stag on Great Oak street at £2.85 a pint, and sat listening to the regulars discuss the town's drinking establishments and characters - definitely a place to sit quietly and observe.
The Mount Inn on China street was unfortunately closed so we headed straight for the Crown and Anchor, a fantastic NI pub selling two real ales, which is currently up for sale. The landlady explained that she had come to realise she couldn't live there forever and it was time to sell up, but she hoped that any buyer would respect the pubs layout and traditional atmosphere - its Grade 2 listing should hopefully afford some protection, but no sale is imminent. We had two halves of Rev James whilst wandering around taking pics.
We visited the Sportsman in Newtown next - this is the tap for Monty's brewery. Its important to point out that I had already assessed this was one of the pubs of the trip before I was given a free Tee Shirt - hopefully this won't cast doubt on the qualities of this excellent town centre pub. We had a tray of thirds and a half of the Monty's Jailhouse dark, the thirds being Mischief, Sunshine and MPA, coming in at £2.80 for 3. Karen behind the bar was very helpful and knew the Montys brand and beers very well, making us very welcome. A new bar is to be installed in September adding an extra two handpumps.
Llanfair Caerinion is a small town with two cracking pubs - the Goat Hotel and the Black Lion. In the Goat we had halves of Monty's Mwch and Woods Shropshire lass, at £2.40, and had it not been for Wee Fatha's creaking joints we could have slummed it on a comfy sofa. The nearby Black Lion is on the RI by virtue of its excellent bar - here we had halves of Purple Moose Glaslyn at £2.60.
We stopped by the Cann Office Hotel, also on the RI, at Langadfan and were pleased to find it open. They sell two real ales, currently both from Offas Dyke brewery. This large hotel has an unusual mix of austere original fittings from the 1950's, and a much more modern dining area, but still retains enough notable vintage bar work to make a visit worthwhile. The two Offas beers were Thirst Brew which was frankly bizarre, and Pride.
Llew Coch is an RI listed pub in Dinas Mawddwy, which was very conveniently serving food when we got there. Alas the unspoiled public bar was packed but we sat downstairs to eat very good value food and sup two beers from Cader Ales - Gold at 3.8 and Crwr Coch at 5.2%, costing £2.80 for the two.
Our penultimate stop was a pub I have wanted to visit for a long time. The Dovey Valley Hotel at Cemmaes Road was run on ultra traditional lines for years by the long serving licensee - hours were restricted and variable, beer was bottled only, and photography was banned. Jump forward a few years, since the last time I stood outside and wondered what lay inside, and the unfortunate death of the licensee has brought about something of a renaissance.
Now open 7 days a week (from 18.00) for the first time in living memory, the pub is undergoing low level refurbishment, such as uncovering the slate floor under concrete in the lounge, and the restoration of the snug. There is now real ale and outside seating, and the pub is attracting visitors from all round the UK who appreciate unspoilt pubs. Inside there are small additions to the bric a brac and breweriana that are being carefully introduced to fit in seamlessly with the timewarp contents already in place - to the extent that regulars often only spot them after a month or so.
The one real ale ale was Monty's Desert Storm which I had a pint of at £2.80, and we took time to talk at length with Maureen who was running the pub that night. The pub was taken over in April, and Maureen arrived from having used to run the Slaters Arms in Corris - which was our next venue. Accommodation should be available next year and the signs are that there should be little detriment to the traditional atmosphere of the pub - food is also planned. A rare success story of an unspoilt pub continuing to trade and its fortunes improving after the death of the licensee.
So, the Slaters Arms at Corris was our final stop and we were made to feel very welcome by the knowledgeable lass behind the bar in this RI listed pub. A vast range in the right hand bar and some ancient settles are two prominent features in this small 3 roomed pub with a games room at the back. Three real ales were on offer including the Celt Experience Silures which I had a half of, one of the hoppiest and most enjoyable beers of the trip. By now it was getting late and we had to admit defeat. Despite having penciled in another stop en route home the two days had taken their toll, and we bade farewell to Corris and Wales having had a fantastic if hectic tour, of some of its fascinating pubs.