Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Home Town Comfort

Following my successful journey into Fareham (see previous entry) on the previous day, Christmas Eve seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a bit of ale exploration in part of my home city of Portsmouth that I'm very fond of, due largely to the historical nature of it and the welcoming feel of the place in general. I decided to investigate the are known as Old Portsmouth which, as the name suggests, is the oldest and original part of the city of Portsmouth, encompassing areas in and around the harbour that served as the basis of the city itself. The name Portsmouth reflects the city's location at a harbour mouth looking out into The Solent, the mile wide section of water between the mainland and the Isle of Wight. Portsmouth is a contraction of 'Mouth of the Portus Harbour'. Old Portsmouth is covered by the area originally made up of the old town of Portsmouth as designed by Jean de Gisors. The area includes several parts of the original fortifications designed to protect the naval headquarters within the harbour. These fortifications include the Round Tower, Square Tower, Point Barracks, Portsmouth Point and the entrance to the harbour itself. Other notable landmarks nearby include Portsmouth Cathedral, the John Pounds Memorial Church and the famous Garrison Church, site of the marriage of Richard I and without a roof since being hit by a German bomb during the Second World War.
Into this wealth of history, much visited by both locals and tourists, I set out on a bright and sunny day much different to the torrential downpours of the previous 24 hours, with a clear itinerary in mind. However, for reasons that will soon become clear, that itinerary soon went out of the window. My first destination was in a suitably picturesque location overlooking the harbour entrance from a spot nicely enclosed behind a sea wall. My first stop on this journey was the Fuller's operated Still & West.
This traditional pub is spread over 2 floors in a cobbled square that lies in the shadow of Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower. The beer garden and windows on one side look out across the harbour entrance in the direction of Gosport. The pub features are traditional inside and out with mullioned windows at the front and exposed beams and authentic wooden features internally. The pub prides itself on homemade fish and chips and the smell of this is delicious as it permeates the building. It was a bit early for lunch so instead I opted for the ale menu. The 4 hand pumps are mostly supplied by Fuller's in the form of Bengal Lancer, London Pride and Chiswick Bitter but Gale's HSB is available too. To break myself in gently, I opted for Chiswick Bitter at 3.5%. This was golden, clear and refreshingly bitter tasting with underlying flavours of malt and a smooth, dry finish. I sipped this leisurely whilst looking out of the windows at the front facing the harbour. The last time I came here was for my late nan's wake last year, so I had lots to reminisce about as I sat there enjoying the warmth and the atmosphere.
My next stop was literally next door across the square at The Spice Island Inn.
This 2 storey square building faces directly into the mouth of the harbour and takes its name from the local nickname for the area during the time of smugglers. The pub was actually known as The Smugglers Inn for a time and is currently run by Greene King. Inside, the bar is slightly off-centre against the back wall with a nice abundance of seating around the room, mostly by the windows. IPA is available on smooth flow and there are also 4 hand pumps. Available for consumption are Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Hardy & Hanson's Rocking Rudolph and Mole Brewery Mole Catcher. Intrigued by the name, I went for the Mole Catcher only for this to run out as it was being poured. I then went for the Rocking Rudolph, which I'd had before but this ran out as well! With little choice left, I reluctantly went for the Abbot Ale. Thankfully, this was in very good condition and went down quickly.
My next stop was a place I'd been past on numerous occasions but actually never been too. The Bridge Tavern is located right at the centre of Camber Docks.
 Another Fuller's property, this is the last remaining public house of 9 that used to stand in this relatively small area. The Bridge is named after a bridge that used to span the expanse of the dock on which it now sits. Like a number of Fullers sites in the city, the pub has a traditional country feel with original features around a central L-shaped bar. The bar includes 5 hand pulls, 2 of which contain HSB. The others offer London Pride, Gale's Seafarers and Bengal Lancer. I chose the Seafarers on this occasion, a 3.4% bronze coloured beer with hoppy top notes, undertones of bitter malt and a smooth, crisp and refreshing finish. The pub was nice and warm, which helped keep the chill out, as I located myself in a corner and admired a memorial plaque nearby that is dedicated to the crew of a fishing vessel that was sunk by a Cypriot freighter in the English Channel back in 1991. The list of ages and names of the crew was displayed on the plaque and it was poignant for me that 5 of the 6 who perished were my age and younger. This was certainly a grim and moving reminder of the fragility of life, especially at this time of year. The beer went down very well indeed and I soon ventured out again with the intention of visiting a couple of pubs further down the street. My plans were altered a couple of times on the way however. Of my next 2 destinations, The Wellington and the Sally Port Hotel, I managed not to visit either. The first sold no ale and had unusual opening hours and the second was closed and up for sale. I'm disappointed about the Sally Port being closed as I've not been there in many a year and it is the only location on route with a certified ghost. The spirit of Buster Krabbe, a renowned diver and alleged naval spy is believed to reside here after he disappeared whilst allegedly attempting to spy on German ships that were moored in the harbour.
The next place I ended up going too was unexpected. I hadn't known about it at all until I saw it and then I had to go in. This was Monk's or, to give it it's full name, Monk's House of Ale and Wine.
This turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with its olde worlde interior, bar along one side of the room and a general long and narrow layout that made it seem very traditional and otherworldly. The ceiling above the bar was decorated with interesting mosaic style tiles and the bar included 5 hand pumps: 2 each of London Pride and Tolchard's Devon Storm and one pump of London Pride. In this case, I went for Devon Storm. At 4.7% and bronze in colour, this was dripping with malt flavour backed up by a bitter finish. The head was smooth and creamy and the whole thing had slight zesty quality detectable underneath. After a while of enjoying my pint, I was joined by my brother, who I'd made the decision (read 'mistake') to invite along for a beer.
Now with Luke in tow, we ventured a little further down the street to what claims to be Portsmouth's oldest pub, The Dolphin.
This is another pub carrying on the traditional theme, where its obvious that the general appearance hasn't changed much over time. It's a look I love in pubs and here is no exception. Even for Christmas Eve, it's very busy and seems to contain a surprisingly large number of children. It's very much standing room only, which doesn't bother me too much as it means I can lean on the bar and admire the piano located in the corner of it. Of the 6 available hand pulls, 2 are not in use. The others offer London Pride, Tim Taylor Landlord, and Invincible and Frigate from local Irving brewery. I opted here for the Frigate at 3.8%. This is bronze with a malty flavour, a bitter finish and a slight, fruity undertone. Whilst very much enjoying this particular brew, I took the opportunity to fill Luke in on my blog and the kind of notes that I take in pubs. He seemed decidedly unimpressed, which isn't really a surprise.
I made the mistake of allowing Luke to decide on the next location instead of sticking to my plan. Luke chose The Pembroke around the corner, which I wasn't overly impressed with to begin with but that was because I hadn't been and hadn't really heard of it.
 This traditional street corner pub is actually quite nice, with an overall squarish layout and central bar. The seating is around the edge of the room, and 2 chairs nearby are occupied by 2 very friendly cocker spaniels belonging to one of the regulars. We were also reacquainted with a Christmas jumper wearing Jack Russell called Spartacus, who we'd encountered in Monks. Only 1 of the 3 hand pulls was in use and this held London Pride which was very well kept. By this point, I became very conscious of how much beer and how little food I'd had but resolved to at least make it to one more pub. This was a venue that we'd actually been in for a family meal a couple of days before: The Duke of Buckingham.
Named after a 17th century aristocrat who was assassinated in a nearby building, this pub continued the theme of olde worlde charm, with a low ceiling, low tables and chairs and a raised section to one side. The bar is L-shaped and too the left hand side of the room. The food here is notably excellent and the beer is rather good too. The 3 hand pulls provide London Pride, Old Speckled and Irving Invincible. The Invincible is excellent: 4.6%, chestnut coloured and full-bodied with an initial malty hop bitterness and a finish of bitter spice and subtle hops. As I contrived to lose Luke money on the ItBox, it was suddenly time to go home. It had been a productive afternoon, even though I had had to get my journey short with 2 of my planned pubs still to go. There's something quite nice about being able to do this kind of thing in your home town even though, in all honesty, the East Midlands is my home now. I also deeply regret Jade not being there with me over Christmas as I think she would really have enjoyed it. I definitely won't be making that mistake again! Next time I'm down this way, she should definitely be with me though so that will make it all the more enjoyable. Thankfully, the Christmas Day hangover I was expecting never materialised which makes me wonder whether I could have made those other pubs after all. Oh well! Maybe next time. Still, the older areas of Portsmouth have a lot of charm to go with their extensive maritime history and a lot of good beer to go with it too! Home sweet home? Maybe not anymore but it certainly runs a strong, affectionate second.


A Fare Shout!

Greetings again folks! Compliments of the season to all of you and may I start with an apology for my extra-long absence from these fine pages. Having teaching as a job has made it hard over recent weeks to get out as much as I would have liked too! Hopefully, I should be able to find some time to update this more frequently in future. With Christmas now a memory and New Year looming large in the coming hours, I'm taking some time to fill you in on a couple of jaunts that I did over Christmas week when I returned down south to visit the folks. The first of these visits took place last Monday in a little town called Fareham in Hampshire, the town just over from where my Mum and stepdad live.

Fareham lies in the southeast of Hampshire, close to my hometown the city of Portsmouth and roughly in the centre of the South Hampshire conurbation, which also includes neighbouring Southampton (boo!). To the south lies the town of Gosport, to the east Portchester, to the north the M27 motorway and Wickham, which is part of Winchester. West of the town lie the settlements of Titchfield, Catisfield, Locks Heath, Warsash and Whiteley. Fareham traditionally relied on its clay soil for industry, producing bricks, tiles and chimney pots. This past is commemorated through the names of places such as Kiln Road. The most famous example of a building constructed from Fareham red bricks is London's Royal Albert Hall. The main economic activity in the town these days is retail, which employs 15% of the population, and it has also become a popular choice for the location of business call centres. Fareham is situated at the north-west tip of Portsmouth Harbour where the River Wallington joins it. Small industries still operate, reflecting the town's maritime past. HM Royal Navy operate in Fareham, training over 2000 British and foreign sailors at a time at the Maritime Warfare School HMS Collingwood.

Archaeological excavations around the old high street and at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, on high ground over the Wallington estuary, have yielded evidence of settlement on the site contemporary with Roman occupation. However, due to the historic nature of the buildings in this area, intensive investigation has not been possible. The town has a recognised and documented history dating back to the Norman era when part of William's army marched up Fareham creek before continuing to the Anglo-Saxon capital of Winchester. Originally known by the name Ferneham (reflected in the name of local entertainment centre Ferneham Hall), Fareham's location was determined by the ford of Fareham creek at the top of Portsmouth Harbour. This ford was also the location of the Bishop of Winchester's mills: the foundations of these mills were subsumed in the A27 near the railway viaduct. Commercial activity continued at the port until the 1970s and continues to this day on a smaller scale. By the beginning of the 20th century, Fareham had developed into a major market town. In the 1960s, Fareham experienced a huge amount of development as it was one of the areas highlighted in the South Hampshire Plan. The idea was to create thousands of homes to serve as a base for the many people who were looking to move away from the traditional urban centres of Portsmouth and Southampton (boo!). Fareham is now at a stage of maturity as a town. It is increasingly popular as a place to live, with plentiful housing and open space. An urban renewal initiative began in 1999, renovating the town centre and historic buildings to include a new entertainment and shopping complex. It featured a major iron sculpture park, installed in 2001 to celebrate the work of Lancastrian iron pioneer Henry Cort, who lived in neighbouring Gosport but had an iron rolling mill in Funtley, on the outskirts of Fareham.

It was a horrendous night for weather when I ventured from the safety of my mum's house to make a trip into Fareham by bus. It was blowing a terrible gale and had been raining almost non-stop for half the day, making me very glad that I'd chosen the previous day to make my trip home for the festive season. I'd visited some of the pubs on this trip on previous occasions but this was my first proper journey around them in the name of research. After arriving in the precinct, which by now resembled a paddling pool thanks to the weather, I headed to my first pub of the evening, the Smith & Jones managed The Vanguard, located in a converted church.
An independent church has stood on the site since 1693, and was founded in 1691, 2 years after the Act of Toleration made freedom of worship available in England. It met first over stables in Meeting House Alley, almost opposite the present building, which was erected in 1836 to replace the original one. The first Sunday School in Fareham began here in 1786 and a British school was established in 1833, under the direction of Rev. G. Dempster Mudie. During the church's bicentenary year, the School Room was rebuilt and other rooms were added. By October 1972, when the United Reformed Church was created, the church was the prevailing beacon for this faith in Fareham. Inside, the pub is very much a mix of styles. One half of the building is the old church, complete with long, narrow windows, overhead galleries and seating arranged in booths along both sides, reminiscent of pews. The centre of this room has also had seating added but is surprisingly spacious. The evidence of the high eaves and chapel-like features still remain. The other half, where the main bar is located, is a roughly diagonal modern extension with lots of glass facing out into the high street and a small, outside seating and smoking area. Both floors of the pub have a bar, but I settled for the main downstairs bar, which includes 5 hand pulls. On this occasion, all were being used to incorporate Old Rosie, Wychwood Hobgoblin, Sharp's Doom Bar, Courage Best and Ringwood Fortyniner. I'm a big fan of Ringwood beers as a rule. They're brewed locally and I'm very pleased that they're becoming more widespread nationally. The Fortyniner is one of my favourites. At 4.9% , this is a chestnut coloured beer with a malty aroma, a smooth, slightly nutty flavour and a dry, crisp finish. It went down rather well indeed and got the evening off to a good start.
My next location involved braving the elements again, but thankfully was very close by and the first of 2 Wetherspoons pubs on the trip. The smaller of the 2, this particular venue is The Crown Inn.
Situated in the pedestrianized part of West Street, The Crown Inn was first recorded in 1841 as the Crown Brewery and was then the nearest inn to the old market site. From around 1870 to 1900, the Crown Brewery was run by the Cawte brothers. In the 1911 trade directory for Fareham, the premises was listed as the Crown Inn and its licensee was Mrs Clara Frost, who remained in charge for almost 20 years. Nowadays though, J.D. Wetherspoon run the place! The building is small, fairly square and surprisingly busy for a Monday evening! Faux glass chandeliers hang above the central bar which is rectangular and fairly short. There are 6 hand pulls on offer, most of which appear to provide local beers. Alongside Ruddles Best and Abbot Ale are Pure Gold, Winter's T'Ale from Upham Brewery, Kings IPA and, my eventual choice, HPA (Hammerpot Pale Ale) from Hammerpot Brewery over in Sussex. This is a pleasant beer, pale, hoppy and fruity with a creamy head and a smooth finish, all at 4.1%. It certainly makes the presence of a random weirdo telling me about his aborted attempt to get the train to Haslemere more bearable. Not enough to stick around though, so I drank as quickly as I could manage and was on my way.
The rain had stopped by now but my next destination wasn't far away: The Red Lion Hotel.
Now operated by Greene King under their Old English Inns arm, The Red Lion Hotel was originally recorded as a coaching inn in 1736. It is now a Grade II listed building and retains many of its period features with an added modern twist. Inside, there are areas of original brickwork exposed to an atmosphere of low seating and a low, rustic-looking bar. Ale-wise, this was a bit of a disappointment. Only GK IPA was available and, although this was very well kept and rather nice, I was expecting a slightly wider range when I entered, especially after what happened next. Following the end of my pint, I headed out to my next intended stop, just down the road. The Golden Lion is a traditional pub operated by Fuller's that is located just around the corner from my previous stop. However, I misjudged my timings slightly. I knew the pub closed at 9 on a Monday but, as I stepped through the door and my eyes fell on the 3 gleaming hand pulls, I realised that I had missed last orders! The apologetic landlord seemed to understand my predicament, which lessened the blow somewhat, but I need to make sure I visit this place next time!
Not too downheartened, I instead headed to my next port of call. This involved looping back around the main high street, past the aforementioned Ferneham Hall theatre and onto Trinity Street. There stands The Fareham.
This traditional pub is elevated above the pavement with steps leading up to the main entrance. The interior is large and expansive, with seating to the right of the entrance and further back in the room. There is a pair of electronic dartboards to the left of the door. On my last visit, there was a darts match in progress but thankfully this was not the case this time. The bar is opposite the door, curved in layout and extending away down the room opposite the toilets. There were also some frantically flashing Christmas lights in one of the interior bay windows, which were impressive but potentially seizure-inducing if left unchecked. Of the 4 handpulls present, 3 were in use, housing Thwaites Yule Love It, Wychwood Bah Humbug! and, surprisingly, Castle Rock Snowhite. I opted for the Bah Humbug! at 4.3%. This was bronze in colour, with a nice mix of malt and hops, a long-lasting creamy head and a very smooth finish. I also ended up getting it for free as it was the last pint in the barrel! Even though I thought it was very good, the landlord didn't like to charge me for something that he felt might be sub-standard. I was surprised by this altruism but impressed that this kind of thing still goes on! There's not enough pubs that value their drinkers in this way and they could all learn something from the folks at The Fareham. What I did not enjoy, as I relaxed in a quiet corner, were the trio of drinkers nearby who had the nerve to say negative things about Doctor Who! Thankfully, I had the beer to occupy my attention or else there would have been trouble!
My last venue on this enlightening journey was the 2nd, much bigger Wetherspoons premises, The Lord Arthur Lee, back on the high street.
Opened in 1999, this former Co-Op store is named after a former MP for the town of Fareham. Later created Lord Lee of Fareham, he left his country estate Chequers as a retreat for future Prime Ministers. This Wetherspoons is considerably bigger than its sister premises down the road and also has more a standard Spoons layout with lots of seating arranged around an L-shaped in the corner of the main room. The bar contains 10 hand pumps, all in use and displaying an interesting mix of standard Spoons fare and festive guest beers. On offer during my visit were Old Rosie, Christmas Stuffing, Santa's Darkside, Bateman's Rosey Nosey, Divine Yule Saison, Abbot Ale, Ruddles Best, Marcle Hill Cider, Twelve Days and, a joint effort with an American brewery, Righteous Ale. Easily attracted by the flashing festive pump clip, I swung in favour of Rosey Nosey. This was ruby coloured, suitable for the season but with a fruity flavour and a distinctive hop aroma backed up with a zesty finish and a flavour belying its strength of 4.9%. I spent a few well-earned minutes savouring this and reflecting on all the joys of the festive season. Up until around this point, I hadn't really felt festive so it was nice to finally be in the mood for Christmas, even if a little belatedly.
Soon though, time was up on my trip to Fareham and I wound my weary way back to the bus station for the journey home in the rain, which was back with a vengeance. Overall, there is a lot to commend about Fareham's ale scene, and I was surprised how much it had to offer as it is not somewhere that would make it onto many automatic lists for a pub jaunt. I'm tempted to investigate this area again, largely to go to The Golden Lion but also because there are a couple of pubs that I left out due to time constraints that could definitely warrant a research-related visit. Fareham, in my book, is one of Hampshire's hidden gems and certainly worth a punt if you're ever down this way and fancy a quiet pint of something local and delicious. We southerners might not do a lot but we do good beer!