Friday, 17 September 2010

Black Beauty

There’s always a worry, when visiting a pub you’ve enjoyed many years before, that you will find it changed beyond recognition and no longer worth the trip. But I was greatly reassured recently when visiting the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano close to the M5 in the northern tip of Somerset. This is a country pub as country pubs should be. Outwardly, it’s an unassuming, whitewashed building of local stone. Access to the main bar is gained by a passageway that runs right through the pub from front to back. Inside, it’s all stone-flagged floors, ancient beams and creaking settles. There’s a main bar area with a cosy snug opening off. The servery also has an outside window allowing direct service to drinkers in the beer garden.

It once featured on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors, but apparently was taken off because a wall was removed in about 1850. But it’s still one of the most traditional pub interiors I can think of.

On my visit, it had Courage Best, Butcombe Bitter and Exmoor Gold on gravity, and Otter Bitter and Wadworth’s 6X on handpump. Not the selection of a cutting-edge craft beer exhibition, but all beers either brewed in the West Country or having a strong local tradition. Prices were between £2.60 and £2.90 a pint, similar to country pubs around here. The casks stillaged behind the bar had cooling jackets, and my pint of Butcombe was served at the right temperature and had no shortage of condition. When done well, gravity dispense has much to be said for it.

Food is mostly rolls and baguettes with a wide choice of hot and cold fillings, with the menu augmented by a small selection of specials. One of these was Jamaican Jerk Chicken on a bed of rice, so clearly they’re not rigidly wedded to Ye Olde Traditional Meate and Two Vegge style of pub food. This is how pub food should be done – provide a decent meal or snack to visitors, but don’t pretend to be a restaurant. No food is served in the evenings, or on Sundays (the latter something of a failing, I think).

It remains very much a proper pub – just after noon on a weekday there were old boys in there drinking pints of bright orange cloudy cider. Well worth a visit if you’re ever anywhere remotely close. And why can’t more operators of rural pubs realise that championing tradition, with a nod to the contemporary, makes much more sense than chucking it out of the window? The Black Horse is a truly memorable pub – how many knocked-through, stripped-pine establishments offering “contemporary dining with a strong emphasis on local seasonal produce” can say the same?

So don’t let anybody say there’s never anything positive on this blog!


  1. Yes, but what kind of bright orange cloudy cider? Enquiring tickers want to know!

  2. The Good Beer Guide says it is either Thatchers Dry or Moles Black Rat - I suspect the radioactive stuff is probably the latter.

  3. looks a bit of allright,the
    Inn in your post , Mudgie. Def one
    of my fav counties,Somerset,pity
    really, its a bit of a drag from
    close to death Oldham

    Ps Two mates of mine just parted company with £3.60p each for a pint of cider in a Robbies pub,
    they reckoned they'de drunk
    stronger Vimto

    Oh by the way,any readers got any details on pubs TV football fees
    One local is reputed to be saving
    £360 a week by kicking the screens
    into touch,anybody got any info?

    The Liffey Lad

  4. Nice post Curmudgeon. Somerset is not a county I know well, but the Black Horse sounds like a real winner - especially with the gravity served beer!

  5. A nice posting Curmudgeon, and I'm glad the pub is still good. Going back can be a risky business. A few months ago I went back the first pub I ever bought a beer in, and was faced with this.

  6. According to the BBPA.(BBC 18 Sep) 893 village
    pubs shut in 2009 accelerating the
    decline in the traditional rural
    community,their reasons,
    recession and taxes, ? ? ? ?

    These trade mouthpieces need
    investigating,who do they really
    speak for ?

    Earl Grey

  7. My wife used to work just down the road from this pub, and it alwsys did seem to have that perfect beer/simple food/locals pub combination.

    The Bass on gravity was its main selling point though - I wonder how quickly flat Bass is disappearing from West Country pubs like this ?

  8. Bright orange farmhouse cider is most likely to be Thatchers Cheddar Valley. A famous cider in the west country.

    Flat Bass is disappearing from Bristol pubs because it tastes ***** and is flat and nobody under the age of fifty wants to drink it any more. The real ale world has moved on an awful lot since those days. For an example, twelve years ago Bath Ales' Gem was one of the better beers of it's kind around here. Even if it still tastes identical now, there are a lot better beers available now.


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