I’m getting bored with trying to find a consistently good pub in Barnstaple or Bideford. I’ve been visiting what are now my in-laws for the best part of 20 years. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, though I’ll probably keep searching. I’ve even brought my down old Specialized Hardrock (above, on Westward Ho beach last week) so In the future I can explore the more remote pubs.
Take Appledore. Being custodian of a pub in this Georgian fishing village could be like owning a cow that craps solid gold. As well as the ‘real’ Devonians – amongst the friendliest people anywhere – the place is full of affluent second-homers with kids called Georgie and Arabella, and well-heeled couples, families and groups who descend on the place at Easter and in summer. Whoever they are, they’re all after a good pub experience, but they’ll be lucky to find it here. We were in the Coach and Horses last saturday afternoon – for as long as it took to swallow one drink. The other punters were an over-familar, swaying drunk (“You a photographer? Take a picture of me cock then! Harharharharhar”), his visibly embarrassed mates and a group of loud and sweary footy fans in the back room who sounded as if they were outside seven or eight pints at two in the afternoon. We counted no fewer than three groups of potential customers who came in, surveyed the scene and turned on their heels. In the current climate, that’s a lot of lost money.
Next door at the Royal. Half empty, no real ale and the interior completely dominated by two lads who’d been there several hours, and effin’ at the top of their voices. More visitors came and went instantly. More lost trade. I’m not being pious here – i’ll drink with anyone, even someone with a pottymouth if they keep the volume down. But I might not enjoy it if i’d popped in for cod and chips and a quiet pint with an elderly aunt on Easter Weekend.
Round the corner, The Champion Of Wales – now called ‘The Champ’ – was empty. They’re making an effort here – the new licencees have spruced up what was a distinctly rough and ready place with big comfy sofas and a real fire. The Doom Bar was in reasonable if not brilliant nick, but the Tetley Green Shoots was a pint of opaque, stinky, vinegar. It was changed with no drama, but shouldn’t even have made it out of the pump – they could probably smell it in the chip shop next door.
I haven’t drunk in the Royal George for a couple of years because the service was so indifferent, the beer so joyless and the punters so cliquey that it made a visit to this handsome old place an utter chore. I probably should give it another chance. Thank God, then, for the village’s only decent pub – and probably the best pub in the area, the Beaver. It doesn’t have much in the way of old, organic character, but the service is great, the beer (in general) the best I’ve had in the town and get this – packed. I haven’t seen a pub so busy for years. Three deep at the bar, pints passed over heads back to your table.
Any ale fan visiting won’t be surprised to find that Bideford town itself hasn’t got a single pub in the Good Beer Guide. The pint of vinegar was an historic low, but drinking round here you get used to beer past its best and pints with a faint but distinct whiff of eggs. It also proves my theory that the Cask Marque can be safely ignored as a symbol of quality. The Kings Arms in Bideford has the marque and is as inconsistent as it gets, though to be fair it has served up the odd cracking pint. The tiny and friendly White Hart up the quay is another decent place where an effort is being made. It’s run by two ladies of a certain age and their elderly collie, Dexter*. It’s a great community pub. I always enjoy a visit here, even if I only have a couple of pints of Jollyboat’s distinctly utilitarian brews. When I was in on friday, their pint of the Otter Brewery’s imaginatively named Ale was great – but as with all the other pubs in the area that I’ve tried, a good pint can’t always be guaranteed.
If I lived here full time I might start to see that Cooking Lager definitely has a point.
* This is the old lad. His beermat-catching days are way behind him, but he still likes the odd crisp. I’ve also seen him visibly offended when one drinker remarked that he looked like ‘a man in a pantomine dog suit’.