Running around Stow-on-the-Wold on the morning of the important date of Saturday the 4th of July (lockdown up) I deliberately ran past all of the pubs (there are eight – plus a social club) in preparation for a pub opening adventure that night. The first that I encountered, The Queen’s Head, had a notice proudly stating that they were opening at 12pm that day which threw me into such confusion that I wavered on my way. Did they mean noon or midnight, must be noon yet that follows 11.59 AM. Best to say 12 noon or 12 midnight to avoid confusion. Another pub on the square was opening on the Monday (why wait?) and yet another, The Bell, was waiting until the 20th. Others did not commit.
So the Queen’s it had to be. But hang on, though I like the pub very much, the beer is not to my taste. It is a local beer from the small but delightful Donnington Brewery with its lake, black swan and water wheel. I should like it, I know I should and I once did but, well, let’s just say it is not my favourite tipple and I wanted a beer that I savoured to celebrate the end of lockdown.
So we went to the nearby village of Oddington where the Horse and Groom serves a good pint from one of my favourite breweries: Wye Valley. This place is more of a restaurant than a pub to my mind, a bit corporate perhaps, but very well run and welcoming.
Looking back to pre-lockdown, the last pub that I visited was the Harcourt Arms in Jericho, Oxford, a regular port of call on a Sunday since it has the ‘best open mike night in Oxford’ and is not in any way corporate. The Oddington place could not be more different to the Harcourt, but it does serve a cracking pint. That night I had two delicious pints of Butty Bach and really enjoyed them.
Covid set the rules of course. My name and telephone number was taken for contact purposes, there were rather attractive ‘one way’ markers on the floor, and it was table service only. The place was not very busy, but peeping around the corner I saw and heard a group of about eight drinkers who all came from the same household judging by their proximity. They were quite rowdy and gave a bit of atmosphere to the place – and the beer was top notch after months of mostly bottled beer.
Then back to Stow, only to find that the Queen’s had closed at nine! What was that all about? Perhaps they had opened at 12 midnight after all and were whacked. Instead we went to the White Hart (recently renamed The Stag, but locals still call it the White Hart) which is hotel and hence a bit corporate, but welcoming. Same Covid arrangements and here we were given a table which a couple had just vacated. The seats were still warm, isn’t that a bit…oh well. I needed to visit the toilet, but was faced with a notice outside stating that only one person was allowed inside. This confused me. I stood at the door not knowing if there was a person inside or not. There was. The door opened and he and I did a little social distancing dance as he left and I entered.
Much of the conversation here centered around how many people had turned up on this first day out of lockdown – lots at lunchtime, fewer tonight - and how many people were still afraid to leave their homes. I felt a little uncomfortable to be out and about myself after all these weeks and the atmosphere generally was a little surreal. Added to which we did not meet anyone that we knew, but that, no doubt, was because I chose good beer over local society.
It’s funny you know, I thought that I would really miss my regular trips to the pub, but I did not, not much. And I also thought that I would suffer withdrawal symptoms owing to lack of real ale, but I did not, much. But it was great to be back: especially drinking those two pints of Butty Bach.