Friday 29 March 2013

Eleven memorable pubs

Boak & Bailey recently published a list of their ten favourite UK pubs (in fact nine), which led me to mull over a similar personal list. This is essentially places where I have had a truly memorable pub experience over the past ten or so years. I don’t claim that it is any sense a list of the best pubs in Britain.

As you might expect, it is much more biased towards the traditional and olde-worlde, with five currently on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors and another – the Black Horse – having been excluded due to a bit of knocking-through, but still very old-school in its atmosphere. All of them, though, are still places that function as real, vibrant pubs rather than just museum pieces. As I have said in the past, at heart I have to conclude I’m more fascinated by pubs than beer.

Most of these I’ve been to more than once, although the Red Lion and Star have only seen single visits, but have really stuck in my mind.

There are plenty of cracking traditional pubs in Stockport but, on consideration, the Nursery must be the cream of the crop. Maybe a forthcoming blogpost could cover my ten favourite Stockport pubs. I’d also like to acknowledge the number of excellent, unspoilt Sam Smith’s pubs in Cheshire, none of which quite made it to this list, although a couple would get on the second twenty. There are also some architecturally superb pubs in Edinburgh such as Bennet’s Bar and the Guildford Arms that I don’t really feel I know well enough.

Edit 20/4/13: post amended to add the Great Western in Wolverhampton which was unaccountably omitted from the original listing.

  • Barrels, Hereford – a busy, lively multi-roomed pub tied to Wye Valley brewery, with a mixed clientele and a proper pub atmosphere
  • Black Horse, Clapton-in-Gordano, Somerset – an ancient pub, allegedly dating back to the 14th century, with stone-flagged floors, old wooden settles, brasses, real fires and gravity-served beer
  • Blue Bell, York – a tiny two-roomer just off the city centre, with front vault, rear snug, central servery and side corridor, described as “a symphony in brown”
  • Digby Tap, Sherborne, Dorset – a small, cosy, cottage-style pub in a back street near the Abbey, with stone-flagged floors, plain food and local real ales
  • Dolphin, Derby – a magnificent 16th century half-timbered pub with a warren of cosy, atmospheric rooms
  • Great Western, Wolverhampton – Holden’s tied pub hidden away round the back of the station, offering the full range of their beers, three guests and Batham’s superb Best Bitter. Classic front bar and a variety of areas rambling back to a conservatory and beer garden. Lively, bustling atmosphere, busy throughout the day
  • Loggerheads, Shrewsbury (pictured) – a rare survivor of the unassuming town pubs of a bygone era, with four small rooms including a wonderful snug with scrubbed-top tables which was men-only until the 1970s
  • Nursery, Stockport – my local pub, a largely untouched building dating from 1939 with a classic three-roomed interior which in recent years has been much more enterprising on the beer front. CAMRA National Pub of the Year 2002
  • Red Lion, Dayhills, Staffordshire – a basic, cottage-style country pub, just one stone-flagged room dominated by a massive inglenook fireplace
  • Royal Oak, Eccleshall, Staffordshire – an impressive pub with an arcaded facade in the centre of this small town which has recently been brought back to life with a stylish and sympathetic renovation by Joules Brewery
  • Star, Bath – a surprisingly shallow pub in a Georgian terrace, with a quirky multi-roomed interior featuring extensive wood panelling and traditional West Country flat Bass on sale


  1. Mudgie, I can vouch for five of these, namely the Black Horse, Digby, Loggerheads, Royal Oak and Star, all superb. I look forward to visiting the other five.

  2. whole heartedly agree mudgie... that the pub is more interesting and more rewarding than beer - from a personal point of view these days.
    Don't get me wrong I like a beer or two but i seek solace and comfort not only in my ale but the enviroment in which it is imbibed.
    Great list .. tho i've not been to a couple of them,which i'll try and rectify.Will post a pic of the Red Lion @ Dayhills over the weekend hopefully.
    3 Stags Head is a gem,Grape @ Heywood was a surprise find -no real ale pub superb surroundings.
    Look forward to stockports top 10 !! must include the Queens Head

  3. "Traditional West Country flat Bass." Now there's a rare sight these days!

  4. I look forward to mudge revealing stockports top ten park benches, a guide for the more discerning value drinker, street poet and gentleman of the road.

  5. I'm not familiar with any of those, but the finest pub interior that I know belongs to the Philharmonic, Liverpool, which is quite spectacular. John Lennon once said that the worst part of fame was "not being able to drop by the Phil for a quiet pint."

  6. Nev -- that's a great quotation. Got a source for it, by any chance?

  7. Regretably I haven't been to any of these pubs, but hopefully I'll manage to visit some of themstatza in the not too distant future.

    Interesting quote from John Lennon, Nev. I never really had him down as a "pints" man; I'll view him in a completely different light from now on.

  8. All good stuff. Never made it to eccleshall but all the others have been to in the last 10 years.

    Love Loggerheads, Red Lion Dayhills, Star, Blue Bell and Digby Tap, but only really a frequent visitor to The Blue Bell. And I hold the same sentiment when it comes to appreciating the pub over the ale. Plenty of N.I pubs with no real ale are brilliant.

  9. Thanks, Nev. Will keep my eye out for the original when I've got my Beatles fan hat on.

    Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk also apparently partial to a beer, but they kept it a bit quiet because it didn't fit the clinical image.

  10. Martin, Cambridge1 April 2013 at 23:33

    Great list, and multi-roomed drinking houses in the main. I was particularly taken with the Red Lion, and Staffordshire has a surprising number of unspoilt classics e.g. High Offley's Anchor, as well as the wonderful Joules pubs, a far bigger contribution to British pub-going than the micro pub fad.

    Have visited 9 of your list, and will finally be at Sherborne this week. Flat Draught Bass is a feature in several of these.

  11. RedNev said...
    I'm not familiar with any of those, but the finest pub interior that I know belongs to the Philharmonic, Liverpool, which is quite spectacular. John Lennon once said that the worst part of fame was "not being able to drop by the Phil for a quiet pint."

    I'd expect he'd make that the second worst now as the first would be "getting shot in the face by a nutter"

  12. Martin, Cambridge9 April 2013 at 15:47

    Finally visited the Digby Tap at the weekend, and thought it was a wonderful pub. The four pump range was sensible and varied (though Otter isn't a great beer, I think), the pub grub was exceptional and cheap, and the pub was genuinely friendly to all.

  13. Only been to four of these which marks me down as a lightweight, although I can claim a role at Tetley Walker who looked after the Phil.
    TBH I'm not sure that the Royal Oak is the best example of the Joules blueprint though.

    1. At the time I hadn't been to many others, but I still think that might be the best of the ones I've visited. Which would be your choice?

      Given subsequent developments, I'd now swap the Boar's Head in Stockport for the Nursery, which is a shadow of its former self.

  14. The Great Western is as a proper boozer should be. When you're sat in there, all is well with the world. Good choice.

  15. Red Lion next to the brewery in Mkt Drayton is good, as you'd expect. Butchers in Forsbrook, between Stoke and Cheadle (Staffs) is also good.
    For a south western perspective on the overall list, could do worse than the Star, St Just and of course the Blue Anchor.

  16. I have done seven on the list,the only ones not done are the Black Horse,Digby Tap and Royal Oak.
    I love the Dolphin in Derby i always visit it when with my wife who likes to look round the shops in Derby,before we get a fast bus back to Nottingham for some proper drinking.

  17. I'm pleased to see Alan isn't exposed to Derby for too long !

    Boar's Head certainly better than Nursery on pubbiness and beer now. Agree with Malcolm on the Mkt Drayton Red Lion, a proper flagship for Joules and a middles-class drinking house too.

    Revisited Barrels last year and found it very hard to leave.


    1. I find some of Joule's refurbs a bit antiseptic - they tick a lot of boxes but somehow come across as lacking in character. The Royal Oak is different in that it is genuinely multi-roomed - the small snug at the rear is excellent.

  18. Only been in two. Nursery and Loggerheads.
    I visited the Nursery many times when I lived in Manchester and it is one of my favorite pubs. Disappointed that there was not enough time to go there on the "beer hill" section of the Pubs Galore Stockport crawl.
    I always visit the Loggerheads on my visits to Shrewsbury. I like the small bar room the best. Handy with an 11.35 train back to Wales!

  19. The other Mudgie !24 April 2018 at 21:02

    Two I’ve not been to, one I can’t remember and the other eight I know.
    I note that three are in Staffordshire and three in adjacent counties.
    I am quite sure that you would have much preferred the Grade II listed Royal Oak in Eccleshall before the new Joules Brewery most unsympathetically ripped out a historic staircase without consent, the resulting £1700 probably just being small change for Steve Nuttall though.


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