Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Cotswolds: Cider with Harri

A top contender for our favourite Cotswolds pub - the Lock Inn Cafe

If there’s one thing the Cotswolds has in abundance, it’s charming, centuries-old inns, resplendent with stone fireplaces, flagstone floors and floral facades. We strolled into several Cotswold villages to be confronted with not just one enticing pub, but frequently two, and sometimes more. And thrillingly, the majority seem to remain open all day.

This situation takes a little getting used to, I can tell you. As Wales-based hikers, we’ve long stopped fantasising about sipping a cold pint at the end of a twenty-mile day. Hard experience has taught us that you can’t even assume the local pub will be open when you’re walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path on August Bank Holiday. It’s a similar story in the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons and, most recently, in Kidwelly.

Historic, picturesque... and open
Outside the cities and popular tourist spots Wales’ pubs are fast disappearing. No doubt, the majority of the closed rural pubs we encounter on our travels are casualties of the recession and people choosing to drink at home rather than pay high pub prices.

Others have, through necessity, transformed themselves into upmarket eateries with extensive menus and vast car parks (and prices to suggest two scruffy hikers with a fiver to spend are not their target market).

We often stumble upon rural pubs which would probably be referred to as ‘life style’ businesses, meaning that the doors only open when the publican cares to position himself behind the bar (and our own experiences suggest this rarely coincides with the end of the hiking day).

Uley brewery - keeping the Cotswolds flowing
But these problems belong to Wales and, as we traipsed through the Cotswolds’ rolling hills and valleys, our spirits soared as neighbouring villages vied with one another to provide the best draught beer/cider. This was a land where friendly locals perched on bar stools happy to idle away their afternoons with visitors and where a fit, young South African gardener was willing to stop and talk Virginia Climbers with this old gal (Harri had disappeared to check something out).

In short, from Wiltshire to Gloucestershire, the Cotswolds were a delightful surprise where pubs were concerned; and not only were they all open but they offered an amazing range of beers and ciders.

The obiquitous Strongbow and Magners were nowhere to be seen; this was a land of abundance which catered for a grown-up palate.

Sadly, our alcohol consumption was restricted by the need to remain upright on numerous, and surprisingly slippery, wooded slopes – and to drive back to our Travelodge room. So, despite the abundance of temptation, we had to restrain ourselves to one drink at the end of the day.

With so many perfect hostelries visited (and so many others resisted), it’s difficult to single out just one, but high on our list of favourites must be the enchanting Lock Inn Cafe, next to the canal in Bradford-on-Avon

Al sheddo dining at the Lock Inn Cafe
This family-run pub is a worthy tourist attraction in its own right; it feels organic, its colourful decor evolving gradually rather than ever being planned. It’s lively, quirky (a penny farthing is one of hundreds of items hanging from the bar ceiling), garish (not one of the table cloths was the same) and has fun stamped all over it. 

The cafe spills onto the canal courtesy of a narrowboat covered with flowers; on land, assorted garden sheds, filled with tables, chairs and benches, provide additional undercover eating areas. Best of all, the menu is a literary work of art and kept us thoroughly entertained while we enjoyed our two halves of scrumpy.

The pub reminded me of the wonderful Admiral Benbow in Penzance, which, coming from me, is high praise indeed.

Nourishment, alcohol and advice on child-rearing
Other notable pubs were The White Hart Inn, (at Ford, near Castle Combe) which dates back to the 1500s, The Bell in Sapperton (boasting its own horse parking and home of the aforementioned Virginia Climber (and gardener), and The Ram Inn in Bussage where we were immediately welcomed into the fold and thus felt obliged to stay for a hitherto forbidden second drink.

It's going to be so hard to return to Carmarthenshire pubs and their closed doors the week after next!

Arriving on horseback? Parking;s no problem at
the Bell at Sapperton

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