I’ve been driving since 6am. It’s now 8.30 and my Renault is thumping its way along the A303. Stonehenge shimmers to my right, looking like a Monet painting on this soft summer morning. After the slow drag from Winterbourne Stoke a handpainted sign appears. First left: tea, coffee. Hot sandwiches. Clean toilets. Well, these things are important to the hungry traveller. I’m soon parked outside a marquee in a farmer’s field. Breakfast is being served to fund repairs to the steeples of three churches in the valley below. You don’t get that on the M4. The ancestors of the lady who cheerfully hand me a bacon butty might be buried in one of the mounds that pimple the landscape around here. By lunchtime I’m at the in-laws in Bideford, reunited with wife and son who’ve been down here while I work shifts.
Despite having about a quarter of the UK’s 60,000 supermarkets, Bideford is looking better than it has for several years. Shops have reopened and the quayside ‘Square’ has been remodelled. It’s a nice town when it wants to be, and Bridgeland Street is one of its best features – a well-preserved Georgian thoroughfare which until recently was bookended by two rough pubs. One of them has reopened as a Citizens Advice Bureau, which is a lot more use to the locals than the unspeakably bad Revz/Liquid/GB Revolution which formerly occupied the handsome grade 2 listed building. At the other end of the street is Quigley’s Custom House. I’ve never been in, and I don’t ever want to.
Regular readers of TIW will be familiar with my relentlessly glum reports of visits to Bideford’s pubs. This is after all a town where the most popular bar is called Crabby Dick’s (‘if you’re itching for a night out’ say the adverts. I wish I was joking). Beer is often a roulette of flabby or eggy or sour, with very few pubs worth visiting if you’re an ale fan. There have been a few encouraging signs outside of Bideford, but the reasonably reliable White Hart and Kings Arms aside, things have been so bad in town that I’ve even suggested that it could do with a Wetherspoon. Perhaps someone was taking notes. Halfway up Bridgeland Street in what was a furniture showroom a new ‘Spoons has opened – the Rose Salterne.
Facing the street is a sunny terrace, decorated by dining chairs fifteen feet off the ground. Inside is hangar-like, with everything decorated in browns and burnt orange. There’s an open kitchen on the far wall, presumably showing off the ‘chef’s’ skills with the microwave. Staff everywhere you look, clearing empties and bringing out food. A reliable source told me that in the first week of opening, 60 people were barred from the Rose Salterne. That’s 0.4% of Bideford’s population.
The handpumps were dominated by Greene King, with just a couple of alternatives to the Suffolk dullards. Milestone Loxley went off as I ordered, so I made do with Country Life Potwalloper, brewed just up the road at The Big Sheep. £2.15. I’m still trying to work out why they made me hand over my cash before they poured my pint. It’s nothing personal. They did it to everyone. The Walloper was a big fruity er, wallop with a dry, coating finish. Bit of a haze, but I let them off.
On this lunchtime visit the place was full of elderly couples and shoppers with young families. Dad with a pint. Mum with a glass of wine. Kids with pop. Burgers all round. They’re doing it right – treat a ‘Spoons as a café that serves beer and you won’t go wrong. Me, I’m not much of a ‘spooner. The discount vouchers that come with CAMRA membership usually go unused, but I’m very pleased to see this one, bringing the number of Bideford town centre pubs I’d actually drink in to four.