Here we go again. It’s late March and I’ve just planted 300 little trees to create a hedge at the top of our field, planted seed potatoes, carrots, broad beans, parsnips, lettuces and onions in another part of the field that I’ve fenced off and Margaret calls the allotment, then left them all to their fate.
First stop, as ever, was Dover where we just missed Vera Lynne singing to long dead soldiers, but made a wonderful discovery on the way to our ‘local’, Blakes. I happened to glance down a side road and there spotted a pub called The Lanes: a micropub. I was so excited, I have read a great deal about this recent development in the pub world, but had never visited one. I loved it, Margaret was not impressed. We were welcomed almost immediately by the daughter of the owner who told us proudly that The Lanes was the 100th micropub to start in the UK and there are now more than 250 of them (none of which are in Oxford regrettably). She talked me through the six cask ales on offer, whilst we viewed the casks themselves through a large window letting into a sectioned off part of the room where they lay cooling in their stillage.
The entire pub itself had previously been a gambling arcade and was about the size of our lounge in Stow-on-the-Wold. There was no bar as such, just a few high tables for leaners, plus sofas for loungers. The walls were decorated in wooden green men of the forest and hundreds of colourful beer mats from the brews that they had already sold. There was also a small bookshelf stuffed with beer-oriented books. The clientele was, let’s say, comfortably mature; the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. We chatted to a bearded, grey-haired man who had worked for years on the ferries, one week on, one week off doing twelve hour shifts – what an odd life. Margaret was approached by a woman who admired her coat and shared her name. She turned out to be Irish, but a true convert to real ale and her partner, who was a Dover man, who gave us a history of the pub scene there.
The landlord, an ex-train driver from London, came to join us. He had learned from his daughter that we were from the Cotswolds and told us proudly that he came originally from Witney. He then regaled us with an overview of the micropub scene: telling us what good times they provide with their policy of serving real ale and cider, no music or meals, friendly greetings, traditional pub atmosphere and so on. There were now four of them in Dover, he said proudly, and the owners were a community in themselves, sharing ideas and their private lives.
The micropub is good news for those of us that yearn for this sort of thing. Whilst many of the larger pubs are closing, they, with their low overheads and consequently cheaper drinks are thriving. I am lucky in Oxford, living near to some really good, fairly traditional, pubs that all serve cask ales. Nonetheless I would welcome a pub like The Lanes but realise that it is not at all likely. Property prices are so high and rentals similar so that the concept just does not apply there. As to Stow-on-the-Wold - it really has too many pubs anyway - though a micropub would provide a welcome respite from the same old beers and, perhaps, a welcome.
What a send off The Lanes was to a man leaving England for weeks of deprivation, forced to drink fizzy ice-cold beer and cheap wine in bars where the inmates all speak in a foreign languageJ. And when I return I will be leaving the EU behind me!