With the resurgence of microbreweries and more pubs getting back to their roots by supporting local beers, it seems as though the celebration of the Great British pub is something that takes place in ale houses up and down the country every weekend. But that’s not to say that British pubs don’t deserve – or need – the additional focus.
While CAMRA happily report that the level of operational breweries around the UK is the highest that it’s been for over 70 years, they’ve also recorded a more worrying trend: that over 300 community pubs permanently closed between September 2011 and March 2012, and that approximately 12 pubs close each week in Britain.
So there’s never been a better, or more important, time to support your local British boozer! For our celebration of British Pub Week (at least the one we’re going to talk about here) we’re going to take a look at some of the country’s most unique pubs. In the meantime we’re giving away our final copy of the cottages4you sponsored 2012 Good Pub Guide on Facebook this week. Make sure you stop by and like our page if you want to be in with a chance of winning this special 30th anniversary edition.
Of all the claims made by pub owners up and down the country, the most hotly disputed is which one is the oldest. From our research, that all depends on who you’re talking to and how much they’ve had to drink. After all, who doesn’t like to embellish their conversations after a trip to the pub! According to the Guinness Book of Records, this distinguished honour is held by the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire. The unique octagonal structure is another notable feature of the pub – based on a former life as a pigeon house. The name itself comes from the original entertainment offered in the bar area which, thankfully, has long since abated.
What continues, however, is the debate over which is Britain’s oldest pub. Many maintain that Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem in Nottingham boasts the title by dating back to 1189 AD. And while it may not carry the official title, it does have a few other tales to tell. Apparently, the name derives from its status as a pit-stop for knights on their way to the holy lands to fight in the Crusades. It is also claimed that great woe will befall anyone who attempts to clean the model galleon that now, unsurprisingly, lies covered in dirt behind glass to protect drinkers’ pints. ‘The Trip’ also boasts caves carved out of the sandstone rock beneath the castle, so even if it’s not Britain’s oldest pub it is suitably unique and well worth a stop.
If things have a tendency to go a little ‘squiffy’ when you venture to the pub then you’d be advised to prepare yourself before you visit The Crooked House in the West Midlands. Thanks to mining subsidence in the 1800s, the pub boasts a very unique appearance, where one side of the pub is four feet lower than the other. After being condemned in the 1940s it was saved by a local brewery reinforcing the building while preserving its ‘lop-sidedness’. It now hosts a few optical illusions that are bound to play havoc with one or two patrons.
If you needed proof that great ideas are born from Britain’s pubs then consider The Eagle and Child in Oxford. Now owned by St John’s College, it presumably boasts a greater than average IQ through its regulars, but the reason for its appearance on this list is due to a connection to ‘The Inklings’. Otherwise known as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Hugo Dyson, this writing super-group would meet up at lunchtimes to read from their works in progress. It’s amazing to think that such a significant amount of English literature was birthed from these informal meet-ups in the pub. So if you’re ever looking for an excuse, grab a few sheets of paper, a pipe and scarf and make your merry way to the ‘Bird and Baby’ in Oxford.
Not to be outdone, The Eagle in Cambridge is where Francis Crick and James Watson interrupted revellers one lunchtime in 1953 to announce that they had just discovered the secret of life by unlocking the structure of DNA. This achievement is commemorated with a blue plaque by the entrance. ‘The Eagle’ also boasts a renowned ‘RAF ceiling’ created by returning pilots from World War II signing their names with lipstick, cigarette lighters and whatever else was at hand.
Like The Eagle and Child, The Jamaica Inn, located near the centre of Bodmin Moor, has also left a legacy on British literature thanks to the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. Regarded as one of the UK’s most haunted destinations, the inn’s remote location and history as a smuggler’s favourite haunt don’t really help the rumours. Still, they’re clearly good for business as even the owners claim numerous ghostly residents call the Jamaica Inn home.
Few pubs enforce the no drinking and driving law better than the Berney Arms in Norfolk. Located 5 miles from Great Yarmouth, with no road nearby, access to the Arms is by foot, boat or rail only. The Berney Arms station is a request stop on the Wherry Lines while boat access is relative easy thanks to the pub’s location on the north bank of the River Yare. If you’re stuck waiting for a train, the Berney Arms Windmill – the biggest in the region – is situated opposite and well worth a moment’s admiration.
The Tan Hill also provides a welcome challenge to visitors. At 1,732ft above sea level, it’s the highest pub in Britain and is located near the head of Arkengarthdale on the edge of Swaledale in the heart of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Tan Hills’s remoteness is due to the fact that it used to be a hostelry for miners working in the coal pits on the hill. When the pits closed in the 1920s, the surrounding cottages were demolished, leaving only the Inn as a reminder of the region’s industrial past.
If you fancy a more intimate drink then The Nutshell in Bury St Edmonds is the perfect place for a cosy pint. As Britain’s smallest pub, measuring a tiny 15ft by 7ft, you may find yourself jostling for space at the bar – or indeed, just trying to get through the door. Still, once you’re inside you already have a tale to tell!
What’s your favourite British pub? Let us know by leaving a comment below.