Prince of Wales in Foxfield for a wonderful pint of real ale and an hour in a traditional, cosy pub environment. Yes, I'd rather drive 35 miles for one decent pint, in a real pub than walk five minutes to my local pubs.
Until recently I blamed the smoking ban and cheap supermarket drink for the closure of pubs, but there's another reason. Too many pubs are crap. Landlords/pub companies need to take a good hard look at what they provide, it's not good in the overwhelming majority of cases, and when they blame smoking and supermarkets for pub closures they are being lazy.
Carnforth, with a population of nearly 6,000 doesn't have a single pub in the current CAMRA Real Ale Guide. There are three pubs we wouldn't step foot in. You walk in and your ears are assaulted by noise from gaming machines, loud jukeboxes or commentary from the football game on the giant screens, often simultaneously.
There was another pub that we would occasionally use if we wanted to eat, but their food is now so expensive we don't bother any more. Would you pay nearly £10 for burger and chips in a pub? And the design is such, most tables laid for food, that you don't feel comfortable just having a drink and no food. We used to occasionally sit in the lounge bar of a local hotel, but a TV screen has gone up in there now showing non-stop pop videos. So we stay in or have a special trip to a real pub a few miles away.
I liken pub closures to church closures. They change and attendances drop. But instead of looking at the changes being the reason for the fall in use they decide to modernise a little more. Attendances drop again, so they modernise a bit more. And so it goes, then they start closing.
But in the last few years a revolution has begun. Perhaps 'revolution' is not quite the word, it's more a 'rebirth'. I first came across this development in a newspaper article a couple of months ago, I read about micropubs. Micropubs are small, intimate places that sell good quality real ale, mostly from the growing number of microbreweries around the UK. They also sell quality cider, wine and soft drinks. No spirits, no strong German lager and certainly no 'shots'.
No booming music, no huge TV screens and no gaming machines. But there is a collection of traditional games, maybe chess, backgammon, dominoes, darts and cards. Newspapers and magazines to read, maybe a few books to borrow or a good beer guide to leaf through and conversation. One micropub even makes customers pay into a charity pot if your mobile rings.
They are what pubs used to be and they seem to be bucking the trend and actually booming while so many other pubs are closing. Currently I'm aware of The Butchers Arms, The Just Reproach, The Bake and Alehouse, The Conqueror in Kent, The Rat Race Alehouse in Hartlepool and Just Beer Micropub in Newark. Thankfully I'm aware of several more due to open during this year.
I've visited The Rat Race and Just Beer and they are everything they claim to be. Cosy, friendly and serving some of the finest ale I've sampled. I can't wait to do a tour of the Kent micropubs, especially The Butchers Arms, the original micropub and the smallest pub in the UK .
Until there's a micropub less than a hundred miles away I'll just have to envy the lucky drinkers who have a local micropub and trust to my CAMRA Good Beer Guide.