Sunday, 15 May 2011


In the comments recently, Nisakiman said:
I really count myself lucky that I was going to, and enjoying, country pubs when they really did epitomise a British way of life; before the breathalyser, before the smoking ban, before the gastro-pub. It was a hoot driving out to some semi hidden pub in the middle of nowhere, only to find it heaving. Old sofas in the saloon, hole-in-the-wall bar, kegs* with wooden stopper taps racked up behind, grumpy old bugger behind the bar, no TV, no music, great atmosphere and lots of instant friends. Alas no more. A great loss.
Now, I can fully identify with that, and would say it continued well after the breathalyser. In particular, I recall the Royal Oak at Hooksway in West Sussex (pictured) in the early 80s fully fitting into that category, especially the grumpy landlord. In that period I had a friend who successively lived in Gloucestershire and West Sussex, and we enjoyed many productive pubhunting trips in those areas. And we never drove a coach and horses through the breathalyser law either. I have also written about the Boot at Boothsdale in Cheshire.

But things steadily changed, as pubs became more self-aware and consciously aiming to appeal to specific markets. The unspoilt, unpretentious alehouse of 1980 may by 2010, if it has not closed down, have become a heavily promoted country dining outlet. There are still good pubs about, of course, but that sense of finding one that is what it is because it has been run in the same way for thirty years has pretty much entirely disappeared. It may still exist in some very remote rural areas in Shropshire and Norfolk, but in Cheshire and the fringes of Greater Manchester it is a thing of the past.

And, if you go pubhunting in the urban wastelands, even if you find a pub open, you’re unlikely to encounter a crowd of friendly locals, let alone an unspoilt interior. This pub is on the National Inventory, but, looking around at the immediate neighbourhood, you would be a bold man to park your car on the car park, let alone venture through the door.

* (Yeah, I know, it was really casks, not kegs)

Edit: it’s worth mentioning this post on a similar theme from a couple of years ago


  1. Things change. I can't relate to anyone who objects to the drink driving laws. Smokers brought the ban on themselves with their arrogant "Sod you, I"ll smoke where I like" attitude. But do all rural or semi-rural pubs have to pretend to be a restuarant rather than a pub? Discuss.

  2. It wasn't a case of "Sod you, I'll smoke where I like" at all. What a perversion of history and fact.

    I smoked in pubs which allowed me to smoke. I never smoked in non-smoking areas of pubs, restaurants, etc. I never smoked in all fully non-smoking venues.

    My experience is that of 99.9% of smokers. We didn't bring the ban on ourselves. It was brought on my lawmakers who were duped by "health" campaigners.

  3. Personally I struggle to relate to anyone who supports the smoking ban.

    And Anon said it all re the bollocks that "smokers brought it on themselves".

  4. There's a difference between driving after a drink and drunk driving, not that you'd notice from the hyperbole spouted these days.

    And sorry, Birkonian, but your sweeping generalisation about smokers is quite absurd. Smokers have always only smoked where they were permitted to do so. In fact, even after draconian legislation, they still do.

    What you are actually saying is "Sod you, I want, and have always wanted, smokers to smoke where I want them to". Which is rather selfish, I have to say.

  5. I have never criticised the 80mg drink-driving limit. I have lived with it throughout my driving - and drinking - career, and have never felt it unduly restricted my activities or threatened the business of well-run pubs.

    But I have raised a question mark over those who take the view that they shouldn't even touch a half of mild before driving, an attitude that has been the death of thousands of pubs. They don't go to the pub by other means, they just don't go at all.

  6. "Sod you, I"ll smoke where I like" attitude.' Utter bollocks.
    I smoked in pubs from 1970 until 2007. Never once have I seen one smoker EVER smoke where it was not legal.
    The 'sod you attitude' came from people going in a pub once a year and expecting it to totally conform to their wants and needs and sod everyone else.

  7. "* (Yeah, I know, it was really casks, not kegs)"

    Oops! Sorry about that. The perils of posting without proofreading first! :¬))

    I agree with both DP and Curmudgeon about the drink driving thing. The problem is that the police and the Righteous have instilled such an atmosphere of paranoia into the situation, with not even a tiniest hint of flexibility (roadside breath-tests at 8 am? A barely detectable amount over the limit?), and handing out disproportionately draconian punishments if convicted that it is understandable that people tend not to drive to pubs anymore.

  8. I've never left my car in the car park of The Grapes, but I have left it in the car park of the Heywood Lidl 50 yards away without a problem.

    Yeah, it's not the greatest area but it's not the worst either!

  9. "smokers brought it on themselves"

    True, so true. Mea Culpa, I should have never have smoked in churches or doctor's surgeries. It was pure selfishness on my part, i see that now.

    [for the Daily Mail readers here, it's called 'sarcasm', i don't anyone ever smoked in church and it was probably back in the 60's that anyone smoked in a doctor's waiting room]

    Seriously though, i smoked wherever
    it was allowed and if it upset someone and they asked politely (if i hadn't for once checked in advance by asking 'does anyone mind..') then i desisted/went outside.

  10. "Yeah, it's not the greatest area but it's not the worst either!"

    Yes, probably no worse than a similar location in Farnworth or Dukinfield or Atherton. But, regardless of the pub's architectural merits, it's not somewhere that people will be flocking to from outside the area on a sunny Summer evening, or ever would have done.

  11. When reading your description I immediately thought of the Cuckoo at Hamptworth, which meets most of your description apart from it not having grumpy bar staff.

    I can think of quite a few other local pubs that fit the bill as well. Most of them do food, and probably make most of their money from it at lunchtime, but in the evening are proper drinkers' pubs.

    And this is hardly a very remote area, the pubs I'm thinking of are within 20 minutes drive of Southampton, and barely more than an hour from London.

    Now a decent pub in a town centre, on the other hand, is hard to find round here.

  12. I can't help thinking that at times the nostalgic aspect of this blog rather passes people by. Clearly it's not realistic to expect pubs to be run as a time-warp, although it's nice that some still are. But some pubs do manage to have a contemporary food and drink offer and yet at the same time be respectful of their historic fabric and character, which sounds very much like what the Cuckoo is doing. Another in the same vein is the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano in Somerset. Sadly that kind of pub is very hard to find in Cheshire.

    But there's a fine dividing line between a smart, well-run proper pub and "country dining", and if you're not careful diners can crowd out drinkers and locals. The Black Horse seemed to avoid this problem by offering a mainly snacky menu with just a couple of daily special main courses.


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