We pick up our story having left the Victoria and heading back along Clifton Road towards the centre of Rugby. This brought us to the Squirrel on Church Street, which our previous route had circled without actually passing it. It’s a small, shallow, brick-built pub, probably one of the oldest buildings in the town. The image on WhatPub shows it in pink, but it has now been repainted in a shade that we struggled to actually name, a kind of cross between powder blue and aquamarine. Note Spiderman on the roof in Peter Allen’s photo.
Internally, it has a narrow seating area on the left-hand side, where newspapers – the Sun and the Daily Mail – were laid out on the tables, the bar in the centre, and a larger, but still fairly intimate room with a fireplace on the right, where we managed to find some seats, although at 4 pm it was rapidly filling up with a cross-section of customers. It’s fair to see this isn’t a Guardian reader type of pub. You can imagine it absolutely jumping on the evenings when the regular live music is on.
We were hoping to find Pedigree on the bar, but unfortunately it wasn’t on today. Instead there were two beers from the Marston’s stable – Ringwood Boondoggle and Lancaster Bomber, and Cotleigh Hawk’s Gold and Osprey. The one person who chose the Boondoggle was a touch disappointed, but both the Bomber and Osprey were in very good nick. Although Bomber isn’t maybe my favourite beer, it was certainly the best of the day so far in terms of condition.
Next came the obligatory excursion into the craftier side of things, partly driven by the Good Beer Guide listings. Rugby town centre has a complex layout that makes orientation difficult for the first-time visitor, so we were glad that someone knew where he was going and was able to lead us to the Crafty Banker, located appropriately enough on Bank Street. The name invites an obvious play on words, which the landlord of the Seven Stars couldn’t avoid. The solitary toilet contains both a urinal and WC, which opens up some interesting possibilities.
It’s a typical modern shop-conversion micropub, with posing tables by the door, some normal-height seating further back, albeit still unupholstered, and a bar across the rear. The lighting left the pumpclips in shadow, making them difficult to read. There were six cask beers, including XT Crafty Banker Bitter and Hop Kitty, Dark Revolution Sonic, and Chalk Hill Dark Anna, which were generally judged pretty decent. Obviously I had to have the Hop Kitty, which had the appropriate hoppy bite.
A short walk to the south side of the town centre brought us tohe Rugby Tap, facing the impressive buildings of the famous school across a roundabout. This originally began as a bottle shop with a few seats, but has since expanded into the premises next deer to offer a dedicated bar. This is considerably more comfortable than the Rugby Tap, with a number of upholstered cheairs with the arms of the kind you might find in a conference room. There was a pretty busy teatime trade – clearly this has become a rather smart meeting place. Unfortunately the atmosphere was marred by a couple of noisy, barking dogs.
It doesn’t have a bar as such, instead serving its cask beers on gravity from a stillage at right-angles to the side wall. The casks all had cooling jackets, so the temperature was fine. Those we tried included Church End Mild and Gravedigger, and Byatt’s Platinum Blonde and Hazy Belgian Pale. I decided to be adventurous and try the Hazy Belgian , which did what it said on the label and was pretty good. Apart from the Atomic ones, this was the only pub or bar we visited that was supporting local breweries: Church End is in Nuneaton and Byatt’s in Coventry.
Heading westwards away from the school along Lawford Road saw a rapid transformation to a more workaday environment, which was matched by our next stop, the Half Moon. This is a mid-terraced pub that looks as though it has been converted from a couple of houses. The WhatPub description gives you a good idea of what to expect: “Small mid-terraced pub that is quite simply a local boozer. Friendly locals who always make you feel welcome populate the pub... There are no foody smells to distract from the beer.” The interior comprises a busy bar area on the right, with some seating in the window by the open fire, a pool room in the centre, and a further area on the left with a dartboard and more seating.
There were three beers on the bar, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Old Golden Hen and Taylor’s Golden Best at a bargain price of £2 a pint. The natural inclination was to give this a swerve on the grounds that it would almost certainly be well past its best, which indeed proved to be the case, but it was willingly changed for the Black Sheep, which everyone ended up with. And indeed, in terms of condition, this was for me the best beer of the day at a stage when tastebuds are often jaded – fresh, cool, lively and full of flavour. While it was a somewhat Spartan pub, the toilets were immaculate. The soundtrack seemed to be “Dr Hook’s Greatest Hits”, which I have to say isn’t quite my favourite music from that era.
The comment was made that this was the sort of pub that splits the Pub Men from the Beer Men. Yes, the beer was in excellent condition, but would the searcher for exotic sours and pastry stouts even cross the road for a pint of Black Sheep?
The Half Moon was about the furthest pub from the station, so the next and final call had been planned as a staging point, although it’s worth a visit in its own right. The Bull, owned by Stonegate, is a big open-plan pub on one of the main shopping streets. It’s the sort of place with brightly-coloured menu flyers and an abundance of TVs, on one of which we were able to see England finally reach victory against Ireland after an earlier scare. Nevertheless, the L-shaped interior does include a variety of areas and plenty of comfortable seating.
Although owned by Stonegate, there were three Greene King beers on the bar – IPA, Abbot and Old Speckled Hen – alongside Taylor’s Landlord, which most of us went for, although one of our number decided to try Punk IPA for the first time. And the Landlord was pretty good, demonstrating that, even in a pub where most of the customers probably aren’t cask drinkers, you can still serve up a decent pint if you have enough trade overall.
From here, it was a fifteen-minute walk back to the station, although fortunately all gently downhill. However, when we got there we found that an incident on the line at Harrow & Wealdstone had caused chaos with the timetable, and the train that Paul and I were planning to catch back to Stafford had been cancelled. There followed an anxious half-hour of checking the departure board, but if trains are running late, then a delayed one may actually be on time for you, so I was in the end able to get back to Stockport only half an hour later than originally planned.
This was another excellent trip, to a town that I’d never been drinking in before, with a choice of pubs of different types, including some splendid proper boozers, and generally pretty good beer too. It was a marked contrast with Huddersfield a couple of months before. As always, the company was one of the best points. Thanks again to Peter Allen for the photos of the Squirrel and Half Moon. Perhaps the one disappointment was that, as well as the disappearance of the M&B and Ansells heritage from the town’s pubs, there was no sign of those Midlands classics, Bass and Pedigree. However, we’re planning to make amends for that on our next trip. Watch this space!