What next for pubs?

My MP was asking for ideas on what to talk about re-pubs with Paul Scully, the under secretary for small businesses. Here’s my thoughts on what he and the government needs to do.

(Disclaimers: I’m not commenting on the need for financial support for pubs given that there are others knocking on that door. As I live in the Peak District, an area with relatively low rates of COVID, please don’t expect too many insights into urban living.)

As ever I’m thinking about those folks like me who are mere lovers of pubs and wistfully dream of the day when I can have a pint or two with mates after a walk.

They’re at it again

The last few months have had me shouting at the TV news on a regular basis but this week it went off the Richter Scale. ITV News presenter, Mary Nightingale, reported ‘they’re at it again’ in relation to a solitary publican in Walsall who decided to have a lock-in for customers. It was according to the reporter, ‘part of a stubborn minority who won’t obey the rules’. Go on, name them I shouted. Say what percentage of all publicans those pubs represent.

If ministers could do one thing for pubs I’d ask to start by recognising the good sense of 99.9% of publicans and their customers.

I’d like the Secretary of State for Business to say,

“No business sector could have done more to prepare themselves for COVID than the pub trade. They invested in COVID-safe infrastructure, equipment and monitoring. They showed why they provide such a great service to their communities. I note that many pubs have continued to help in feeding and delivering to the vulnerable in these difficult times. These pubs are a tower of strength in their communities

In the pandemic whenever pubs were open their customers behaved with good sense and helped in tracking, to a level unmatched by other retail outlets. It’s very unfortunate for them that as a government we have felt the need to shut pubs down.

The images in the media of groups drinking on the streets in the summer had more to do with off-sales of alcohol rather than pubs. We accept the good sense of publicans. Groups of police officers visiting well-respected pubs to look for COVID-ready failings had more in common with drones chasing dog-walkers and the harassment of women walking in the countryside, rather than British policing at its best.

The lockdown of pubs and the restrictions we have placed on them, have not been the fault of pubs and their customers. We now need to help pubs survive, recover and thrive as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Show a way forward

So how could government help? Pubs need to see a way forward. I recognise that fixed dates for the re-opening of pubs aren’t possible at this time. That doesn’t mean that pubs and their customers can’t be given hope and the opportunity to plan.

It’s time to set some targets. Government needs to decide the level of 7 day rates for positive cases, hospital admissions and population vaccinated per head of population, that need to be achieved by local area before pubs can open. Opening targets would offer an incentive to pub-goers and the opportunity for brewers, pubs and ancillary suppliers the chance to plan for their businesses.

Offer the pub sector a carrot and then, in my view, most publicans would accept the need for strict COVID-ready compliance. If that includes the government telling people to use local pubs rather than travel, so be it. Sorry to my chums the pub tickers, but you may have to stay at home for a while. Save your local, drink local.

By all means be tough on those few pubs who won’t comply. If that means some losing their licence so be it. We have to get pubs open.

End the substantial

During the pandemic there have been a few rules and guidelines without much evidence to justify decisions. Pubs seem to have suffered from this more than any other sector. The government ‘study’ with its comparison of all UK pubs to a few cases of transmission in bars across the world was one of the worst. It was poor research, it failed to make logical arguments and failed to present relevant evidence. It was a flimsy fig leaf to justify pub closures.

Whilst I’m partial to a pie and chips with my pint, I’ve yet to understand how the pie makes me less likely to fall prey to the virus. The ‘substantial meal’ issue has led to a level of ‘scotch egg’ ridicule that any government would do well to avoid. It’s also financially ruined the wet-led pubs that are the bedrock of many communities.

Let’s get the pubs open and forget the ‘substantial’. Publicans are experienced in dealing with customers who can’t behave. Let the publicans run the pub.

Understand pubs’ products

Pubs sell products with a very limited shelf life. In particular, the challenge of serving traditional cask beer at its best means that brewers and publicans need to have certainty that their outlets are open and will stay open. We cannot have a few weeks open and then shutdown again. Better to open later rather than too early. Please give them time to plan.

Be honest about PHE’s views on pubs

And finally, can we please have some honesty from government, the NHS and Public Health England. If they feel that pubs and their selling of alcohol is the personification of evil then let’s have a public debate backed by an understanding of pubs. Detailed evidence rather than the prejudice of a so-called health lobby. Some of us feel that pub closures have reflected temperance views as much as a need to control the spread of the virus.

Pubs have a hugely important role in their local communities. The majority of pubs are light years away from the Hogarthian vision of some health commentators. Beer is not the main reason people go to pubs. Pubs are not the reason for isolated cases of excessive drinking on city streets. Pre-loading and off-sales needing to be recognised as a serious issue, rather than blaming the pubs for every social disorder going.

Pubs offer the chance to be part of our wider world. A world that at its best accepts anyone, allows anyone to talk or read their book.

Let’s hear it for the pub and most importantly let’s hear it from a government that supports pubs.

We’re in this together

On a recent stroll in Arkengarthdale, north of Reeth, we happened across the Red Lion in Langthwaite. The sort of small spick and span country pub that gladdens my heart. It’s wonderful that it looks so good given that head-high flood waters rushed through and almost destroyed the pub in 2019.


If pubs are to survive the new normal my feeling is that we all have to do our bit. Pubs shouldn’t feel alone, we all have to be in this together. So, we weren’t stopping but we did. Gelled up, boots wiped I went in for my 3 halves of Black Sheep Bitter and a half of  lager. Every sale helps we thought. It was a friendly welcome from the owner and the beer was clear as a bell.

We sat down in the sun for our brief refreshment. A gulp of mine suggested it wasn’t quite right and Mrs TWM’s impeccable tastebuds confirmed the diagnosis.

I’m always wary of those very infrequent occasions (about once a year) when I’ve taken a beer back. I’ve had bar staff in a now former GBG pub holding up the beer to the light and loudly declaring to the bar and colleagues, it’s fine. (A later apology just a little too late.) I’ve had the ‘there’s a CAMRA chap in. I’ll ask him’, response in a brewery tap. i.e. the punter knows nothing and you shouldn’t bring it back.

I gathered up the beers and went back in the Red Lion. “Sorry, but I think your Black Sheeps gone”, says I, exuding technical knowledge…not. Now remember this is from a bloke who’s only bought four halves. A tight spender from out of town. I received a response that should be in every pub chain’s training manual.

“It might be the end of the barrel, sometime it’s alright to the last pint and sometimes it isn’t. I’ll go and check”. After a while the landlady comes back with a bucket in hand confirming it needed a new barrel. A bucketful pulled through and then a near half put on the bar. “Try that please”, was the friendly instruction. I declared it perfect. “Well you best finish it”, and so I did as my replacement three halves were pulled.

It was my best pub experience of the last few years. A small event of enormous generosity that we need to all match in my view. Let’s be kind to each other and our pubs as we get through these difficult times. If the Red Lion and its indomitable women can get through head-high floods of destruction and come out smiling, the rest of us can make an effort to support them and their ilk.

Please support the Pub.

Things can only get better, perhaps

The pubs are opening…hurrah. The pubs will have a higher cost base and less customers…boo.

I have no doubt there’ll be a surge in pub going on 4th July and good luck to the pubs and their customers. My suspicion is it’ll be the equivalent of a New Year’s Eve occasion with a January dip to follow.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, there will be regular pub goers who will be reticent to join the fray and there will be pub locations that will lose their trade into 2021. In many pubs, it’s a core of regulars that keep them going. Can they be relied on? There’s surely a big question mark over who’s going to hold back amongst consumers in the rest of 2020. As if the lower numbers due to social distancing measures aren’t enough of a problem.


Who’ll hold back?

Whilst some may say sod it I’m off to assert my god-given right to go to the pub, others may be unwilling to cross the threshold. Those with health conditions and with carer responsibilities may be obvious but there will be others. The lockdown pub alternatives may be the way forward for some. For others, rising unemployment may crush their pub-going spirit.

The Zoom and craft beer at home lifestyle, becoming used to drinking cheaper beer at home, or meeting up in the park may take some shifting as new consumer habits take root. Under the government’s guidance, pubs may no longer offer the social setting pub-goers crave. There are now other routes to drinking that folks see as the new norm. And by the middle of July, family and friends’ back-garden BBQs may be the preferred option.

There will no doubt be more market research going on to look at who is prepared to go back to the pub. In terms of current information, the consumer profile of the post-COVID pub-goers may be very different to what came before. Analysis (1/5/20) by Ipsos MORI reports that 6/10 of us would be uncomfortable in going to pubs and restaurants.

Of course these worries may have eased somewhat over time, but for me the main finding is that the young (36% of 18-34 year olds) are more willing to go back to the pub than the old (22% of 55-75s). If the relative percentages of pub-going concern persist I suspect that’s not good news for cask ale and wet-led pubs.

Which places will lose their trade? 

Off to the match   

In The Athletic online sports paper, Andy Mitten looks at the problems of the pandemic for the match-day economy around Old Trafford. In particular the Wetherspoons’ Bishop Blaize pub.

“We’re full to our 600 capacity hours before kick-off,” explains Ben Plunkett, 38, who has managed the Bishop Blaize pub for 11 years…”I just hope that fans can come back to matches as soon as possible. I’m doubtful that will be in 2020, and it’s that uncertainty which worries me most — we just can’t plan.”

It’s not just match-day business for the Blaize, “We’re busy the day before and the day after. Fans start arriving from Ireland or Scandinavia the day before a weekend game and this will be their home from home.

“We’re also packed when there’s a big cricket game or concert at the other Old Trafford over the road…We can also get pretty full before a concert at the Victoria Warehouse.”

Whilst not many have the long-distance pulling power of Manchester United, the loss of the match-day economy will have repercussions for pubs across the UK, particularly if the return for supporters is home fans only. Even in the lower leagues of football, pubs are an important part of the day’s events for home and away fans.

Will TV sport be part of their salvation? Back to the manager of the Bishop Blaize pub…

“Pubs are set to open on July 4. United are at home (to Bournemouth) that day and it could be perfect for us.”

For many pub owners their social distancing plans may well be challenged if they push the opportunity to watch matches in the pub. The scientists will be concerned about the consequences and the police will be very wary of groups gathering near football grounds.

Time will tell. A few pints of Bass for me at the Stretton Social Club before a match at the Pirelli Stadium seems a long way off.

What’s happened to our students?

Whilst students might not be the big pub spenders they once were, I fear for some of the pubs in our cities. In places such as Leeds and Sheffield, where the student population has dominated many areas, pubs will surely suffer from the knock-on effect of the move to online teaching. I can see little point in expensive student accommodation if there’s no face-to-face experience at the university. It’s a ‘bad news, good news’ story for parents.

Staying local?

Others have mentioned that punters will make their own decisions as to whether a pub is ‘safe’ and worth a visit in terms of their social offer. Will that lead to people staying local and sticking with the pubs they know?

If so, that’s another nail in the coffin of rural pubs dependent on visitors and the tourist dollar unless they can up their online information and presence. Travelling pub-goers will want to know what to expect when they get to a pub. Given that some operators struggle to provide information on opening hours, it’s going to be a challenge to let visitors know what they can expect in terms of their safety at the pub.


Will opening in July be the easy bit? I think it’s what comes after that will test many pubs to the limit. I wish them well.


BarBarrick views on Bass

This a guest post by Richard Barrick sharing his memories of Bass, Burton and the brewing world.

“As a lifelong ‘Bass man’, (Dad worked for Bass North 1972-86 and quickly learned Draught Bass was ‘the Rolls Royce’ of beers), it’s absolutely brilliant to discover I wasn’t the only one who appears to care about the existence of this ale and brand!

I first drank Draught Bass at a free house on the A19 south of Selby in 1979/80. Bass at that time was still fermented in the Burton Unions within the then No 2 Brewery on Station Street. I still believe that that the ale I got to know, love and be constantly amazed by until it began changing in the mid 1980s, was the finest beer I’ve ever had. I don’t think today’s version is in the same class (my opinion) but I do think it’s got better and better in more recent years at Marston’s. And love it still I do but as I say to everyone, a bit of it is ‘drinking from memory’!

Bass flyer

I spent 20 years in advertising creative departments, including writing the print/poster campaign for Ind Coope Burton Ale in 1989.  but following and creating trends as part of the job could run counter to what I thought really mattered. In this way, as a reaction against the cyclic pattern of ‘foreign bottled lagers’, I began nuancing the company Christmas parties by bringing in cask ales and regional British foods of the sort that I feared, big budget ad spends could advertise out of existence. Dubbed ‘BarBarrick’ the parties introduced many an amazed ad executive to the delights of cask English beer, pork pies, black pudding etc etc!

In around 2010, I got to know the owner of a then Bass outlet, The Ship in central London. A former Wenlock house, his father had built it into quite a temple to Bass and it was their only cask ale. With his blessing I organised the arrival of cask Worthington ‘E’ and a firkin of P2 (both recreated by Steve Wellington in Burton) for a famous night where all three were on sale, hand pulled, in a central London pub! ”

Mr Barricks Pies

Note: Richard runs Mr Barrick’s Pies, producing the only pork pies with a steam hole offering the glory of a red triangle. Hopefully when National Bass Day takes place sometime in the next few months, Richard’s pies will be gracing the bar of the Derby Inn in Burton.

It’s the differences that make pubs the same

(Pubs are wonderful places but our NHS workers are even more wonderful. Please do the right thing by them and our vulnerable ones over the next few weeks.)

As someone who usually has to be dragged out of the Peak District I’ve done some exploring in the last few months. As an obsessive I couldn’t leave home without a bit of research and a spreadsheet or two about bars and breweries. With help from the internet and beer Twitter it seemed safe enough to leave the land of village pubs and brown beer.

You’ll be pleased to know this isn’t a travelogue, albeit without an Alan Whicker voiceover. It’s more my reflections on how pubs and bars, across the globe, often seem very different but how the essence of the good ones is remarkably similar.

My journey starts in Ushaia on the southern tip of Argentina, a typical navy town that might not be the perfect stop for Brits. We played safe and headed for a craft brewery tap. Faced with a closed sign we moved on and warily approached a nearby old but garishly painted corrugated iron building with neon signage. ‘Bar Ideal’ it said, we’d be the judge of that.

It was a sports bar, decked out with navy memorabilia, shirts and the inevitable TV. Not a sports bar in modern parlance, it had more of the lovingly and gently battered air of Woodies in New Malden.


We approached the bar to see the beers on offer, in our typically British blokes way. We were ushered back to our seats followed by the main man, in his typically Argentinian way, with his drinks and food list.

Our Spanish was as good as his English. Negligible, apart from Mrs TWM. I’m not sure how it happens in a pub or bar but it became clear that, even without a common language, we were going to get along fine. We liked his Beagle beers and him and he liked us.

In the manner of a one-man Sam Smith’s he laughed at our enquiry about wi-fi. He smiled as we wandered the pub (it no longer felt like a bar) admiring his football and rugby shirt collection on the walls. We were welcomed into ‘his place’ and he realised we were happy to follow his benign unwritten rules, he was ‘the guvnor’. Before we left he turned to Mrs TWM, nodding in the direction of me and my mate Chris and said, “muy simpatico’. We felt much the same.

The pleasure of a new pub is the possibility that when you open the door something magical will appear. In the difficult times we’re in at the moment I increasingly realise it’s not the beer, it’s not the building, it’s the humanity of the places I’m missing.

Those shirts, the navy memorabilia and the indefinable feel of the place reflected the essence of the publican and his customers. A human warmth that passes all understanding.

In between trips abroad we needed a local stroll and headed along the Limestone Way from Elton to Winster. The White Peak at its best. Rolling green fields tidily wrapped with stone walls. A landscape cleared and created by man but none the worse for that.


We emerged at the top of Winster village and passed the Miners’ Standard. A pub that in our minds had gone downhill from our memories of years ago. We knew little of its recent history despite it being on the doorstep. It was a mystery apart from a new pub sign and a minor wash and brush-up on the outside. 

I persuaded Mrs TWM to turn round and give it a try. Halves and out the door if it hadn’t changed, I promised.

The door opened on to a place transformed. Not in a gastro pub way and really not much of a physical difference. Spiritual or metaphysical change? Or perhaps ‘it just feels different’ is easier to accept.

It had a life inside, village life. The lads at the bar happily moved aside to let me see the pumps. Bass was a surprise find but it didn’t really matter that the beer was so good.

The women serving were friendly in a ‘perfect pub’ manner. This place had evolved, not been manufactured in a training manual. By the time I got back through the throng, Mrs TWM had established ‘village across the dale’ credentials and been told what a difference the licensees had made to their village. It was their pub and the locals’ pub, but we were a part if only a transient part of the joy. Please come back the locals said. We will.

Just like the Ideal Bar, some 6,000 miles away, we were guests in somebody else’s pub world, but very welcome guests.

And then to Bruges. Wonderful beers and bars aplenty. Great advice from beer Twitter with promises of forgotten nights from 11% Tripels.

Strange then that our favourite was a simple neighbourhood bar that closed at 8pm in the evening. Volkscafe Sint-Jakobs was essentially Tom the owner. A gentle soul who enjoyed music from a gentler era.

The walls were covered in albums from the 60s and 70s, some classics, some cheesy. The music matched, as did the atmosphere, but strangely not in a nostalgic way. Just delivering a gentler pace.


Like all the pubs I’ve described it set its own tone. It walks its own path. Beers to enjoy and relax with. It was a place intent on doing things its own way and welcomed you to be part of it.

See you on the other side. Take care all.

National Bass Day will live on

Edited 8th July 2020

It was inevitable in the current crisis that I would have to announce the postponement of National Bass Day (now cancelled – please see below). From an idea that started over a pint of Draught Bass in a village pub in the Peak District it’s grown into a wonderful campaign that’s been supported by many.  My heartfelt thanks to those who’ve supported the idea of a crowd-sourced list of Bass pubs culminating in National Bass Day.


I’m sad, but more importantly, I’m extremely sad for those publicans who sell Bass and have been so supportive of the campaign. I wish you well and promise the Bass drinkers will be back.

Given the current circumstances (as at July 2020), National Bass Day 2020 is cancelled. Why not have a pint or two of Bass locally on 22nd August to celebrate this great beer.

National Bass Day 2021 will be on Easter Saturday, 3rd April 2021.

Obviously if some pubs are open (or doing take-away Bass) and on Easter Saturday this year by all means enjoy your beer. However keeping the NHS going has to be everyone’s priority. If you’re at home on 11th April. pour yourself a beer and raise a glass to a day that will come again.

Let’s keep National Bass Day going in 2021 and onwards.

Look after yourselves.

All the best.  Ian


National Bass Day 2020

Go in to a pub, any pub. The chances are there will be a Bass mirror on the wall. Many thousands of them across the country pay homage to one of the world’s finest cask ales. Yet, there are now less than 500 pubs in Britain selling Bass on a regular basis. (See Labouring with love through the Bass mirror ). The unintended consequences of government legislation has left Draught Bass languishing in the brand basement of AB InBev. That it has survived at all is a miracle.


It’s now time to celebrate its survival and look forward. National Bass Day 2020 is on Easter Saturday, 11th April and it coincides with William Bass buying his Burton brewery in 1777. It’ll soon be the 250th anniversary. Let’s start practising.

I’m not looking to see Draught Bass in the 9,000 pubs of the 1980’s but it’s just too good to let it fade away. Even in 2011 it was reported to be in 3,000 pubs on a permanent basis (see Mirror, Mirror on the pub wall, where can I drink Draught Bass?  ). The danger of the argument that goes, ‘I don’t want it in more pubs because the quality will go down’ is a recipe for extinction.

You can make a difference by supporting National Bass Day 2020. If you care about beer and pubs please read on to see how you can help. It’ll be worth your efforts.

Is Draught Bass still that beer, produced in the Burton Union system, in my memory from the days as a young bloke in Burton. Who knows, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. What is certain is that the Draught Bass, currently brewed under licence by Marston’s in Burton, is one of the most well-crafted traditional beers coming out of any brewery in England.  As Roger Protz has written, “If Timothy Taylor’s Landlord…or Draught Bass are bland beers, I am a banana sandwich.” He’s not a banana sandwich, but he does support National Bass Day 2020. Thanks Roger.

There’s no doubt that Draught Bass needs expert cellaring, it needs time and care. However in the right hands it’s a subtle gem that sells very well and gains a loyal following. As the manager of Simpson’s Tavern in the City of London reports, “training here consists of two rules, look after the customers and never remove Draught Bass”. Even in my own village local, a tentative move to having it as a guest beer resulted in their fastest selling cask ale of the year. 

Landlords such as Hughie Price at the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel, Carl Stout at Burton’s Devonshire Arms and the team at the Star Inn, Bath are fine exponents of the Draught Bass craft. 


So how can you help?

First of all, have a pint or two of Draught Bass on Easter Saturday. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram etc. please let people know the pubs you’ll be in. Don’t wait until Easter Saturday, tell us now where you’ll be and use the hashtags #DraughtBass, #NationalBassDay, #NBD2020. And, of course, encourage your local to get Draught Bass on the bar. Could you be the leading Draught Bass pub ticker on National Bass Day 2020?

If you’re a landlord why not promote the day and let folk know that you’ll have Draught Bass on the bar. I’ll be offering free downloadable posters. Please PM me with your contact details through Twitter @TheWickingMan . A number of pubs have already offered to be the lead in their area. If you’re interested in doing the same please let me know.

If you’re involved in a CAMRA branch feel free to use the material in any of my posts for inclusion in your branch newsletters, and please highlight those pubs in your area who have Draught Bass. You might even want to produce a Draught Bass pub trail for the day? Places like Derby, Leek, Burton and Hinckley offer a very good day out.

If you’re a beer writer, blogger or on Twitter please let the world have your take on Draught Bass. Everything from your favourite Draught Bass pubs in your patch through to the history of Bass is very welcome. Support in the weeks leading to National Bass Day will be particularly useful. However, if the urge to write is already there, don’t let me hold you back.

If you’re a micro-brewery how about paying your own tribute to Draught Bass with a one-off brew? Go on, why not have a go.

Many thanks to the people who’ve offered their help promoting the day. It’s all much appreciated and I’ll be sending out regular updates by email and in blogposts. As ever I’d like to thank my Draught Bass mates, Pub Curmudgeon, Retired Martin, and Britain Beer Mat for their support. I couldn’t have asked for finer companions in a virtual pub.

By the way, if you get this far and think why is this bloke organising National Bass Day? What’s in it for him? Well, somebody has to, so why not me. I don’t have financial connections to any breweries or pubs.

Enjoy your Draught Bass. It’ll be the best Easter Saturday you’ve ever had.

All the best




Labouring with love through the Bass mirror

In early 2018 a plan was hatched by a motley but happy crew to create a list of pubs serving Draught Bass on a permanent basis. It’s been described as a labour of love for me, perhaps appropriate as my maternal grandfather was a brewery labourer in Burton. I do sometimes question why I started this madcap enterprise. My best guess is that I just didn’t want to see Draught Bass to die without a fight. I had a stupid idea that the common man could help reverse the decline in distribution of one of the world’s finest ales. You can read my original post here.


Social media often gets criticised for creating division and worse. However I think it’s worth thinking of the positives. In this case the listing seems to have gained followers and, more importantly, many who have been prepared to share their knowledge. Good people who just want to do their bit. To some extent it merely follows in the fine tradition of the merry band of the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers who’ve sought to keep the Bass flag flying over many years.

The Bass Directory will only be updated in this post in the future, rather than the original post. Please click on the link at the end of this post for the listing.

To the many who have joyfully shared their knowledge, my thanks for making it possible. To those who’ve developed the idea – the start of a top 100 Bass pubs; the mapping of the pubs; and adding ‘occasional but regular’ Bass pubs, my thanks. And most importantly, to the pubs that serve Bass and to those of you who’ve downloaded the Bass Directory to get a pint or two of Bass, my heartfelt thanks. Please keep sharing.

What could we do next? I would like to promote a National Bass Day in 2020. I have a date in mind to coincide with William Bass’ purchase of his brewhouse in Burton. More later, but in the meantime I would like to hear from any pubs, CAMRA branches, and individuals who would be willing to support the National Bass Day. As ever we’re all doing this for free.

Thank you

Whilst I lay claim to all the errors and omissions (BTW, comments and additions welcome below or by PM to my twitter account), the listing couldn’t have been put together without others’ sterling efforts. The CAMRA volunteers who produce the GBG and WhatPub entries for a start. My fellow Bass obsessives – RetiredMartin, PubCurmudgeon and Britainbeermat who were willing to sit next to the strange bloke on the Bass social media bus. And everyone else amongst the twitterati who contributed their favourite Draught Bass haunts. And of course, thanks to Mrs TWM who accepts that a lunchtime stop on a long journey might surprisingly be selling Bass.

The listing belongs to us all but I acknowledge the copyright of CAMRA to GBG and WhatPub entries. (I’m happy to relinquish the copyright of the Directory to CAMRA if they’re interested.) Whilst I’m about it I acknowledge the trade mark, the world’s most famous trade mark – the Red Triangle of Bass held by AB InBev.

Commercial use of this post and the Bass Directory is not permitted.

Beer, pubs and footpaths in a Terry Pratchett world: thoughts on walking to the pub

Following the turn of the century I’ve exhausted time, boot tread and body whilst walking the hills, dales and coast of England, with occasional excursions over the borders. Inevitably the need for rehydration and rest has opened many a door of pubs and b&bs. The walks have focused on the beauty of the national parks and AONBs at a time of increasingly bleak national austerity and division.

So what’s my experience of our top grade countryside and its pubs & beers? Are there common issues that have affected this bloke and his mates grinding out the miles? Has the experience changed the mindset of someone who’s gone from 35 years of working in London (and living thereabouts) to move to the Peak District?



Our serious walks initially followed the excellent InnWay trails of Mark Reid. The clue’s in the name, extended pub crawls that appealed to me and the boys. We’ve done many of the ‘organised’ routes and moved on to design our own routes across the country often returning to the strollers’ land of milk and honey, the Yorkshire Dales. Beautiful countryside, lovely pubs and beer.

Whilst we still expect to knock out 80 miles or more in a week, we admit to days getting shorter, accommodation getting better and our evening beer consumption shrinking. Quality not quantity.

Where are we?

Our walks seem to be getting more difficult to follow despite mapping apps. Austerity seems to have taken its toll on our rights of way network. We’ve learnt that footpaths and bridleways outside the national parks and national trails are often nowhere to be seen on the ground. Even in the national parks we’ve noticed, in recent years, that the quality of path maintenance and signage declines quickly when you’re away from the road. In gloomy conditions on high moorland a post is usually missing in action, or at best upended and rotting.


Give us a sign

One of our number is now a national park volunteer warden and he explained why it happens.

“Well you see, we’re audited on the quality of our work and for footpaths that is done by looking at the signage at the roadside. So, we check those places and replace the signs if needed. That way our performance is rated as good.”

“Yes but we know that 100 yards in, the footpath is hopeless”, we argue.

“But we’re not judged on that”, comes the response.

Over the years we’ve noticed increasing numbers of named walks dreamed up by public bodies, obscuring the detail on Ordnance Survey maps. It seems that the powers that be imagine that coming up with a named route will massively increase tourism… a grandiose but flawed gesture. Often initial capital spending is followed by a lack of basic maintenance.

There are footpaths on OS maps that were washed away years ago, or require a mad dash across a dual carriageway, and of course the symbol for pubs has become pointless, as closures mount up. I suspect cutbacks have left the OS struggling to cope with the most basic updating.

Too many routes, not enough quality.

I’ll have a pint of Bass, please

On the beer front, I remember a time when we were excited by a couple of local beers like Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord on a bar. We’ve moved on to expect three or four cask ales in even the smallest village pub. Often beers we’ve never heard of, dreamed up by a brewery we don’t know.

2015-07-06 16.52.03

Explains to a Yorkshireman why Geoffrey shouldn’t be knighted

On the other hand we’re thrilled  when we see quality beers from microbreweries such as Yorkshire Dales and Allendale on the bar.

Sadly in recent years we’ve taken more beers back to the bar to staff who aren’t sure what it should taste like. I’ve even been asked to taste beer the staff aren’t sure about.

Too many beers, not enough quality.

What you having, Ian?

Pubs seem to us to have become more homogenous but at the same time less ‘open to all’. Even in rural areas, the pastel shades and swirly fonts of gastro pubs have appeared with bars lined with multiple hand pumps and menus aiming to outdo War and Peace. Many of them unable to serve a pint of reasonable quality and a sandwich where the filling tastes of more than cardboard with dressing.

We’ve thought and argued about our top 10 pubs of our walks over the years. For me, I mourn the passing of landlords such as the chap from the Falcon at Arncliffe who told a visitor enquiring about the temperature of a bottle of cider…”chilled, I can’t even tell you if it’s got any bloody apples in it”. Those idiosyncratic pubs in secret corners offering an insight into a secret world.


If it was good enough for JB it’ll do for me

However, I celebrate the excellence of the likes of The George at Hubberholme, the Black Swan at Ravenstonedale and the Early Doors micropub in Skipton. Very different pubs but all places where you’re welcomed as an old friend no matter how infrequently you stop by. In a world of hospitality, it seems strange that there are only a few who enjoy dealing with people and are capable of looking beyond the sweaty grubby exterior of a walker to someone who might well have some cash to spend.

Too many landlords, not enough quality.

It’s a Terry Pratchett story

My perception is that we seem to have developed a national psyche obsessed by a simplistic numbers game to solve a desperate need for performance measures. A sort of bizarre aping of the private sector at a time when good businesses think carefully about softer measures.

In this brave new world of measuring everything but nothing, more beers on the bar is good. Shiny new footpath signs at the roadside are good. Quotes on pub walls are good. But none of it really makes any sense in describing quality.

I’m reminded of how the education sector has headed towards a ‘sausage factory’ approach without much thought to the real quality of the product beyond the superficial numbers. An industry of ‘measurers’ has developed for whom there is a belief system reminiscent of the creatures who live in ‘The Store’ in Terry Pratchett’s Truckers. Are we so afraid of letting people exercise their own well-honed qualitative judgement over what’s good and bad?

Minding my own mind and yours

What else have I learned from this walking ,scenery and pub lark? Of course people are what count. Strangely it’s those creatures who make a remote rural area and its pubs so special. And of course my mates who’ve walked the miles with me. Weary from our walking, but happier in mind and body. Talking bollocks, interspersed with mindful stuff.

In the majority of pubs on my walks I’ve been able to join in the conversation or not as the mood has taken me. Of course I could have stayed in London and been the bloke on the tube who talks to people. I’m now normal for the Peak District.

I leave the last words to a retired London fireman I met in the Tan Hill Inn. He explained his theory from years of dealing with the public, “80% of the population are good people and have interesting tales, 10% are decent folk but don’t have much to say, and the rest don’t have anything to recommend them. Do you really want to miss out on so many interesting people by avoiding the unpleasant and boring folk?”.


When premium means quality

I’m in Yorkshire steadying myself for a week of walking and beer drinking in the Dales and Westmoreland. And so a couple of Yorkshire tales of quality.

First, a few weeks ago I praised the quality of TT Landlord in a local pub that I name checked. I also mentioned that I’d had Landlord the night before in another local (unnamed) that really didn’t compare well.

To their credit TT contacted me privately to say they would like details of the unnamed pub in order to arrange some training with their BDM. They also asked for my thoughts on why the beer wasn’t up to their normal standard. A substantial effort to deal with a punter I thought.

Of course fine words are cheap, but true to their word they have spent time and effort on a pub owned by another brewer. The result is that when I went back to the pub on Friday night I had the best pint of Boltmaker outside of The Boltmakers at Keighley. The cellarman proudly told me it would be even better a day later. The Landlord was excellent as well I was told by my drinking companions.

It justs goes to show that when some brewers suggest they have a premium product they really are able to justify a premium price by their efforts throughout the process from brewery to glass.

Secondly, it’s a good time to reflect on one who seemed to appreciate quality in everything he did. I never met the late Richard Coldwell but it struck me from his beautiful photos and ‘to the point’ writing that quality mattered to Richard. He expected brewers to try hard and was always willing to bring the slackers to account.

Whilst he perhaps favoured a more modern style of beer compared to me, it never felt like he manned the barricades of beer Twitter in anything but a light-hearted manner. I regret that I never told him that I appreciated his craft.

My thoughts are with his family and friends. I will raise a glass of a hoppy Yorkshire brew in his memory.