Category: Pubs


The final days of the Hop Pole Inn

The city of Bath is an expensive place, when working there it is impossible to find a cheap room to stay in and therefore most tradesmen find refuge in hotels in the suburbs or in nearby towns. For me it was the latter. We were staying in the quiet village of Limpley Stoke at the rather obviously named Limpley Stoke Hotel.

For Some reason there are a lot of jugs hanging from the ceiling in the Avon bar.

For Some reason there are a lot of jugs hanging from the ceiling in the Avon bar.

Getting to the point: at the bottom of the driveway of the hotel is a small country pub, The Hop Pole Inn. Dating back to the 16th century, this pub has character and charm. All of the features you expect from an old pub, the log fire, the dark wood, the assortment of knick-knacks adorning the walls and ceiling. There was real ale on tap and an atmosphere that was spot on for the type of pub it is.

All of this , however, is about to change because as I write this now, the Hop Pole inn is pouring its final pints. Tonight the barmaid shall call time, for the last time. Yes, this fine example of English country life is to close. And I can not figure out for the life of me why that is! I know that the hotel owns the pub and I can get my head around the idea that the hotel management want to save money.

Trying to take photographs in a pub's decor and not look like you're taking a cheeky snap of someone's wife is tricky. I hope that explains this bad picture.

Trying to take photographs of a pub’s decor and not look like you’re taking a cheeky snap of someone’s wife is tricky. I hope that explains this bad picture.

Nearly all of the hotel guests go down to the pub for a drink and their evening meal rather than eating in the hotel, but surely it would be better to close the hotel kitchen? I was there for five nights and every night there was a large crowd in the bar and in the lounge. The hotel bar only ever had people in it when the pub wasn’t serving food. The reason they weren’t serving food? Because they were closing down at the end of the week and therefore were not ordering any more stock.

 Having had a pint of either Bath Ales Gem or Sharp’s Doombar most nights we were a bit shocked that on Friday when we were told that they had only bottled ales left. While we ate our final meal at the pub (steak pie – fantastic) we ordered a few bottles of Doombar (bottled), eventually we were told that we had been given the final two bottles of ale in the pub. From then on it was lager and cider only. I had the last pint of ale that the Hop Pole Inn may ever serve. An honour, but a terribly sad honour.

The Hop Pole Inn is for sale and I truly hope that someone buys it and keeps the tradition alive. This pub is worth it. If I had the money to put where my mouth is, I would.

The Hop Pole Inn on a cold November evening

The Hop Pole Inn on a cold November evening

Why do we get it so wrong in the UK?

I have just returned from a work trip out to Germany. In many ways it was exactly like you would expect. To be clicéic about it everything was well organised, efficient and clean. This applied to everything we came in contact with when we were out there, including the pub.

Zur Gemütlichkeit isn’t really what you’d call a pub. More of a tavern, it’s very german in it’s style (I’m not sure why that surprised me since we drove for seven hours across the continent to get there, it was hardly going to be a facsimile of The Black Friar, was it?). I find it a bit depressing that not two weeks after posting about how crap some places in Britain can be, I find the answer to all the problems and I find it in Deutschland.

I’m just going to bullet point off what I think they got right that so many places in the UK could learn a thing or two from:

  • The place is clean and tidy. And I really mean it. Spotless. Not a  mote of dust anywhere.
  • The food was actually cooked, not just reheated on site. The meat was of quality and not like in the UK, full of gristle.
  • If in the UK you do get food which is as good as in Germany, then you have to pay through the nose for it. This was reasonably priced. For two starter salads, two 300g (11 oz) steak and chips and 10 beers: less that €65! And I remind you, these are the sort of quality steaks you’d easily spend £25 each on in the UK for such a good cut.
  • There is an area for sitting at a bar, an area for eating in a civilised dinner and conversation way and a third area for watching the football that’s away from everyone else, so we don’t have to put up with the commentary when you’re trying to talk.
  • Children weren’t banned, but they behaved. There was no roudy group of underaged teenagers getting catatonic by the bar.
  • Because of the above things, the ambience was right. On the Friday night it was busy and even the restaurant part was louder. There was a group of men sitting together with large steins of beer who would occasionally burst into song, but it was OK because it was in a loud place (by loud I mean the combined murmurings of everyone having a conversation). I can’t imagine they’d have done the same thing on a Wednesday when there were very few customers.
  • The staff go out of their way to help you. Genuinely friendly people.

So to sum up, clean, friendly, good value, well done food and drink. Why is it that to get these things at home it’s all so expensive?

I apologize in advance to the people of Swansea, I’m sure you like living in there and that’s good for you, I on the other hand have quite a different view of your town. Also, for anyone who can’t be bothered to read all this, it can be summarised as Swansea: ugh! The Celt Experience: mmmm!

I’ve just got back from doing a job in Swansea. I didn’t really enjoy it. I’m not talking about the job particularly, that was about the same as ever, it was everything else. The weather wasn’t great, but what should I expect, this is  Wales in October. The hotel was mediocre, again, what was I expecting, it’s a Premier Inn, they’re all the same: clean and dull (the only difference between the Premier Inn’s are the welcome from the receptionist at check in and how powerfully the shower delivers water). The city itself is, and I’m not going to beat around the bush here, an eyesore. From every angle you look at the littre flowing in the breeze, the grot and dirt building up in the gutters,  the boarded up pubs with the sign “under new management” clearly they didn’t stay managed for long, and the huge office block which towers over the north east of the city where the drivers and vehicles licensing agency looms over everything.

This is the only picture of Swansea I could find that is free to use and illustrates my point. This street still looks a bit well-to-do compared to what I was exposed to.

This is the only picture of Swansea I could find that is free to use and illustrates my point. This street still looks a bit well-to-do compared to what I was exposed to.

All of the above things can be said of many of Britain’s large towns, they can be dirty and they are all suffering from High Street decline thanks to the internet age and out of town shopping centres. I can’t really blame a government department responsible for every driver and every vehicle in the land to need a large building either. Swansea, however, is one of those places where you feel you just don’t belong. Being there, you have a great sense of urgency to do what you have to do as fast as you can, then, run for the border and leave the locals to it. The little things like having three upturned trolleys blocking the drop off point in an Asda car park. What’s worse is that returning the following day you find that no one has done anything about it. Surely this falls under the authority of the bloke who pushes the trolleys around the car park?  Inside the supermarket they feel the need to attach security tags to the baskets so that they can’t be stolen. Why would anyone want to in the first place?!

The Ultimate Eatery

The thing which really got me about Swansea was the restaurant attached to the hotel (and don’t worry I will be getting to beer in a bit). Only in places like Swansea can you get away with a restaurant like this. Well, I call it a restaurant, what it actually calls itself is “Taybarns – The ultimate eatery“. EATERY! In one word I think they really do some the place up. Let’s just look at the word first of all. Eatery. In a brewery, you brew beer. In a bakery, you bake bread. In a tannery, you tan leather, and in a robbery, you rob someone of their goods and chattels. So it follows then that an eatery is somewhere that you go and eat. You don’t go there for the a good time, or polite conversation, a drink with the lads or a romantic evening with the wife. You don’t go there for the ambiance or the dining experience. You’re just there to eat and eat cheaply too. Most pub restaurants have some background piped music to help people relax and enjoy themselves. Not at Taybarns. Instead you get the soundtrack of a bunch of sixth-formers who have no idea about civility or manners and therefore no consideration for their fellow diners. At most restaurants you are served by a waiter or waitress usually wearing black or some other uniform. Not at Taybarns. Here you serve yourself as often as you want to as much as you want all at low low prices. And the staff? They are just there to take your money as you walk in and then clean up after you. The group of youths mentioned before left utter carnage on their table when they had gone and it is the job of the staff to clear it all before the next group devastate the place again.

On the plus side you do get a fill at dinner. Often you’re out and about and ordered some food at a restaurant and you’re given a plate which wouldn’t feed a mouse. Not so at Taybarns. If after a full roast dinner you still feel hungry, then have another! Also it is cheap. For £7.99 you have the complete run of the place gorging on as much as you like. These are the only plus points about this restaurant. There certainly isn’t anything good to be found in the drinks menu.

After work I want to sit down and eat dinner with a nice pint of beer. That’s nice pint of beer. I’m not expecting there to be a large selection of Belgian specialties or quadruple hopped turbo-charged American pale ales. Just a decent pint of ale. The only thing which even comes close is Tetley’s smooth flow which, as I’m sure you know, is one of the most bland and uninteresting beers in the known universe. I did, on the first night, try a Strongbow, just to go for something with more flavour. It turned out that the flavour in question was somewhere between vinegar and drain cleaner. After that horrific incident, the following night I went back to Tetleys.

I’m not really a big fan of lager, but there was at least a choice in this department, which makes sense given the type of place we are talking about and the oversized clientele that they attract. However, even here they are cheaping out. Stella Artois is 5.2%, but not in Taybarns it’s not. There it’s only 4.5%. I didn’t really inspect any of the other taps. I just ate my food as quickly as possible and went back to the hotel room.

Yes Darren, You can have this for your project

Yes Darren, You can have this for your project

In the hotel room was where the best beer was to be found because we’d been to Asda. The usual supermarket range of Greene King IPA and old Speckled Hen was available as well as some regional varieties. The highlight of which for me was a new The Celt Experience, more specifically, their Bleddyn 1075. This is a beer worth trying. Even warm, and it was very warm having been on a supermarket shelf and then in a warm hotel room, it was fully of juice grapefruit flavours which really popped in the mouth. A smooth thick mouthfeel which, compared to the Tetleys earlier, was just heavenly. My only regret was not buying any of the other beers from the range. If I go to Wales again, someone please, remind me!

 


 

Just one more quick bitch about Swansea. After being told by a local that he wants to “get out of this shit-hole”, his words – not mine, we went to Burger King at Swansea motorway services. I know but I just can’t get enough of these classy and sophisticated diners. There were five people in the queue and it took 20 minutes to get served by a man from whom you got the impression that it was against company policy to show and sort of emotion bar contempt. After this, like I said before, we ran for the border.