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.
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.
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.