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