It’s difficult selling beer in a pub in the UK’s National Parks – a lack of residents, a reliance on seasonal tourists and the issues of drink driving for day visitors, particularly in Scotland, make it a tough job with limited rewards.
Of my top ‘local’ pubs for beer quality, two have changed hands in 2019 and one is up for sale. Many landlords are now in their 60s and beyond. The tough life of a rural publican means that many are calling time on their pub career and others are restricting their opening hours. Will we miss them when they’re gone? We’re already missing them.
In addition, I wonder if these pubs face an inherent bias that means they struggle to gain their due recognition? I have no doubt that CAMRA branch volunteers and beer & pub guide compilers don’t seek to discriminate against remote pubs. However, these pubs are difficult to get to (particularly by public transport) compared to the average urban local and there are few people to provide feedback even in these days of internet tools. The somewhat historic survey dates on WhatPub illustrate the issues, even for some current GBG pubs.
With regard to being recognised in the GBG, the pubs in the National Parks have the issue of remoteness together with a struggle to sell enough real ale to have a wide choice. The oft-reported perception that you really need to have at least three real ales or more to get in the GBG may or may not be true. It’s certainly true that new landlords feel the pressure to ring the changes and increase the choice whatever their volumes. Pleasing beer tickers and setting up micropubs isn’t possible in my patch, without risking beer quality.
In addition (certainly in my area of the Peak District) the pubs in the National Parks are allocated across a multitude of CAMRA branches/sub-branches, often meaning that they are on the fringe of areas dominated by a large town or city with masses of beer choices. In my relatively small patch (in terms of pub numbers) of the White Peak we’re split between Chesterfield, Ashbourne, Matlock, Sheffield, High Peak and Staffordshire Moorlands branches. The split must make it difficult to achieve consistency in selecting the best pubs in the area never mind the remoteness.
With the best will in the world it’s unlikely that these pubs in the ‘difficult to get to’ fringes will be in the forefront of CAMRA volunteers’ minds. I realise that many branches have a rural award category but in many ways that feels like ‘the exception that proves the rule’. Does creating a rural category acknowledge a problem of recognition? I think so.
In financial terms, life can be very difficult for a pub in the National Parks. It becomes even more difficult if you struggle for recognition. Perhaps it’s time for our National Park authorities to get together with CAMRA and recognise the special qualities of these pub gems before they disappear? A National Parks’ pub of the year anyone?