Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Village Pride

I've always had a soft spot for village pubs, not just for their appearance and their atmosphere but their immense sense of community values and their emphasis on looking after their own and benefiting the people they serve. To that end, last week, I decided to more closely investigate two villages that are very close to where I live. Considering the beautiful spring weather that I had been granted on this particular day off, I honestly didn't think I could have picked a better day to explore the neighbouring villages of Gotham and East Leake.
The easiest way to reach my intended destination was by bus, which I can conveniently catch from a bus stop a few minutes work from home. After a few minutes wait and a few confusing moments over the fare, I was on my way to the first stop, in the closer village of Gotham, whose name may ring bells with some of you.

Gotham is a village in Nottinghamshire, England, with a population of about 1,600, measured at 1,563 in the 2011 census. It is in the borough of Rushcliffe, and has a parish council.
The name Gotham comes from the Old English for "goat home". The village has a 12th-century church dedicated to the Roman martyr Saint Lawrence.
The village is most famed for the stories of the "Wise Men of Gotham". These depict the people of the village as being stupid. However, the reason for the behaviour is believed to be that the villagers wished to feign madness in order to avoid a Royal Highway being built through the village, as they would then be expected to build and maintain this route. Madness was believed at the time to be highly contagious, and when King John's knights saw the villagers behaving as if insane, the knights swiftly withdrew and the King's road was re-routed to avoid the village.
One of the mad deeds seen by the knights was a group of villagers fencing off a small tree in order to keep a cuckoo captive from the Sheriff of Nottingham. One of the three pubs in the village is known as the "Cuckoo Bush Inn". They were also observed attempting to fish a reflection of the moon from the bottom of a pond, painting green apples red and trying to drown eels.
Reminded of the foolish ingenuity of Gotham's residents, Washington Irving gave the name "Gotham" to New York City in his Salmagundi Papers (1807). In turn, Bill Finger named the pastiche New York home of Batman, Gotham City. The existence of Gotham, Nottinghamshire in the DC Universe was recently acknowledged in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight No. 206 (and again in 52 No. 27), although the connection between two names within the DCU has not been fully explained. In a story titled 'Cityscape' in Batman Chronicles No. 6 it is revealed that Gotham was initially built for the purpose of housing the criminally insane, and Robin reads a journal that tells of how Gotham got its name; "I even have a name for it. We could call it 'Gotham' after a village in England – where, according to common belief, all are bereft of their wits."
Responding to the connection between the Gotham in Nottinghamshire and Gotham for New York City, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani wrote that it was "a pleasure to have this opportunity to acknowledge the cultural and historical link" between the two places.

The Batman connection has always intrigued me ever since I heard the story so I was very much looking forward to what the pubs in the village potentially had to offer. The bus journey to Gotham is a short one and the first pub has a bus stop nearby making it very easy to determine where I needed to get off. My first stop in this historic village was The Star Inn.

Image result for the star inn gotham nottingham

This is a deceptively spacious three storey building on the main road through the village. The narrow entrance gives way to an open plan layout with lots of original features including wooden flooring and exposed beams. This layout is broken up by pillars and leads backwards to a patio and a large garden. The bar is to the right of the door and has 5 handpulls. The choice is interesting offering on this occasion Marston's Pedigree, Wadworth 6X, Star Inn St. George's, Doom Bar and Sharp's Atlantic. There is also a dart board, a TV and a pool table in the pub and I was very impressed to see that the TV was showing Scuzz! Always a good start to the day! I decided to start with something quite light and opted for the Atlantic. It was bright, summery and fresh, definitely reflecting the weather outside and tasted superb! I took a seat on a bench facing the door, with the bar on my left. It was quiet in the pub and I was one of only two customers in the pub at the time. I didn't mind though as I was hoping for a nice relaxing afternoon. The Star certainly has the feel of a traditional village pub and despite the lack of people in the pub, I felt very welcomed by the staff and happy to be here. My pint went down a tad too easily so I was ready to head down to my next destination.

Further into the village, not too far from the Church of St. Lawrence, was the next stop on the day's itinerary, the aforementioned Cuckoo Bush Inn.

 Image result for cuckoo bush inn gotham

This large, brick building was built in 1858 and takes its name from the story of the 'Wise Fools of Gotham' who built a fence around a bush to prevent a cuckoo from flying away. It was recorded in 1876 as a public house under publican Joseph Talbot. Inside, the pub is separated into 3 separate rooms: a lounge bar, a snug and a lounge/dining area. There is a low ceiling with traditional wooden beams still evident. I entered the pub from the entrance on the main road which leads directly into the main lounge area. The Cuckoo Bush is much busier than my previous stop as it is full with local residents enjoying their lunch. I took a seat on a stool at one side of the bar that serves both the dining area and the smaller bar and snug, with a dividing wall in between. The bar I'm sat at features 3 handpulls, offering Bass, Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Fuller's London Pride. I decided to try the London Pride, which was very well kept. I took my time here as I enjoyed my beer, to soak up the atmosphere of the pub. There was a friendly hustle and bustle around me and everybody seemed to be enjoying the food. I noticed something quite unusual behind the bar. I think this is the only village pub I've ever been in to sell spirits in 35ml measures as opposed to the standard 25ml. I also noticed that there were labels stuck to every spirit bottle and every fridge with prices on each one. I assume that this is because the till was an older model and, presumably, somebody got a label maker for Christmas. The Cuckoo Bush is certainly a very comfortable pub in which to while away some time in this particular part of the world.

There was one pub left to visit in Gotham before my journey continued in neighbouring East Leake. That pub is tucked just around the corner and is one that I've heard an awful lot of positive reports about. I made my way now to The Sun Inn.
 Image result for sun inn gotham

This traditional two-roomed pub is opposite St. Lawrence's Church with a main entrance leading to smaller entrances to each side of the pub. The origin of the name is uncertain but it is thought to stem from an episode in the story of the 'Wise Men of Gotham' where wagons were dragged over wood in a barn to protect it from the sun. The public bar offers darts and dominoes whilst the lounge bar, where I ended up, houses the dining area. The pub holds regular Locale beer festivals and was a runner up in a national cellar competition in 2013. The Sun is owned and operated by Everards brewery so it's no surprise to see the quantity of good beer on offer. Across 9 handpulls, the pub offers the following on my visit: Everards Beacon (x 2), Ascalon, Tiger (x 2), Sunchaser and Original as well as Weston's Old Rosie (x 2). Having never had it before, I thought the Ascalon was worthy of a try. This 4% chestnut ale is named after the sword of St. George and brewed in honour of St. George's Day. Brewed with Admiral and Challenger hops, the ale is zesty with orange flavours complimented with chocolate, earthy aromas leaving a well rounded finish. It's definitely a delicious brew and enjoyed even more in my surroundings, which features many more artefacts and articles from the village's past, including the infamous Wise Men. Soon enough, however, it was time to venture onwards and continue my trip. First, a quick toilet stop was needed. This was interesting in itself as it meant leaving the lounge bar through the rear, crossing the car park and entering the other side of building with the gents situated off of the public bar. The trip was worth it for the Batman comic memorabilia on the toilet wall though.

Following a walk through the village to kill time until the bus arrived, I was finally on my way to East Leake, determined to see the contrast between two villages in such close proximity.
East Leake  is a large village and civil parish in the Rushcliffe district of Nottinghamshire, England, although its closest town and postal address is Loughborough across the border in Leicestershire. It has a population of around 7,000, measured in the 2011 Census as 6,337. The original village was located on the Sheepwash Brook. Kingston Brook also runs through the village. Near the centre of the village is the historic St. Mary's Church, which dates back to the 11th century. The church has six bells.
One of the earliest mentions of East Leake is in the Domesday book recorded as 'Leche.' The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning wet land, since the village lies on the Kingston Brook, a tributary of the River Soar.
British Gypsum, a plasterboard manufacturer, has its headquarters in the village. The manufacturing of plasterboard began in this area in about 1880.
The origin of Leake appears to be Laeke (Old Norse — brook or stream), and is consistent with East Leake's position in the heart of the Danelaw, which had various forms over time before becoming "Leake".

Disembarking the bus at the centre of the village, I had already identified my final destination which didn't open until later in the day, so my task was locating the other pubs on my list as per my plan for the afternoon. To begin with, I went left down the main street through the village where, after a short walk I found the first pub was looking for, on the opposite side of the road. Having the appearance of being recently refurbished, I had high hopes for the Bull's Head.

Image result for bull's head east leake

Recorded as a public house in 1855 under T. Hallam, the Bull's Head has retained many interesting features throughout its two rooms, particularly in the lounge which features exposed timber, low beams and a well decorated interior, with lots of pub memorabilia. Entering through the main door, I almost went left until I spotted a group of people dressed in black and a buffet table, which suggested a wake was taking place. I then went right into the other room, which was deserted apart from one member of staff. A perusal of the bar didn't take long. Located in the centre so as to serve both sides of the pub, the bar holds 6 handpulls, although just 2 of these are in use during my visit, both featuring Theakston's Best. This is very well kept despite my initial reservations and goes down very easily indeed.

Next up, I retraced my steps and headed deeper into this very picturesque village, eventually arriving at the next pub on my list, the Nag's Head.
Image result for nags head east leake

Recorded as a public house under B. Hutchinson in 1855, the Nag's Head is now operated by Punch Taverns. Internally, there is a pool table in one room and more comfortable seating in another multi-level room. There is an attractive rear garden and the staff were very helpful and friendly whilst I was there. The bar runs along the wall opposite the main entrance and boasts 5 handpulls, 2 of which were in use. Given a choice between Pedigree and Harvest Pale, I opted for the stronger Pedigree which was very nice indeed. This is a very quiet, village pub which is no bad thing at all on a Wednesday afternoon and I was thoroughly enjoying my day thus far.

My next destination was situated at the far end of the village and included crossing the Kingston Brook over a small road bridge. Another recently refurbished premises in the area, I had now reached the Three Horseshoes.
Image result for the three horseshoes east leake

The pub was built in 1963-4 for Home Brewery on the site of an earlier pub of the same name, which could be dated back to 1832 under licensed victualler John Hardy. The name apparently derives from an even earlier use of the site as a smithy. Refurbished in late 2015, this updating of the premises has sadly destroyed a significant amount of a largely 1960's interior which CAMRA rated as a being an Historic Interior of some Regional Importance on its Regional Inventory. The opening-up of the pub has replaced the original three-room layout, which had a lobby and toilets area, leading onto a large Public Bar, whilst to the rear there was a Small Lounge to the centre left and a Large Lounge to the rear. The smaller lounge was known as the "Penny Lounge" because beer was originally a penny more here than in the Public Bar, whilst beer in the larger lounge was tuppence a pint more. The Public Bar had an original bar front and back and some original fixed seating, the Penny Lounge some original panelling, counter fronts and fixed seating, with a three part door through to the Large Lounge, which also had original panelling, counter fronts and a Tudor style fireplace, possibly from elsewhere. As a result of the 2015 refurbishment, the Three Horseshoes no longer has an historic interior and CAMRA has removed the Three Horseshoes from its Regional Inventory. Whilst I can't say I agree with the removal of an historic pub interior in an era when a lot of historic, traditional pubs are falling by the wayside, the Three Horseshoes has at least retained some character without being completely soulless. The bar is L shaped and features 4 handpulls, all in use and offering Harvest Pale and Theakston's XB, both doubled up. The XB is very smooth and tasty and an excellent choice at this stage of the day. I took a seat near the bar, taking advantage of the light coming through the large front windows and let my beer go down. I can't help but wonder how this would have tasted in the surroundings of a 1960s interior but hindsight is a wonderful thing and effectively useless now.

I had one pub left to go and it was one that I'd been looking forward to all day. This is the destination that I mentioned getting off the bus near and which I had had no choice but to leave until last due it not opening until 5. Once again retracing my steps, I arrived, 10 minutes after opening, at the Round RobINN.
Image result for round robinn east leake

Opened in October 2015, this wonderful micropub occupies what was once a betting office roughly in the centre of the village. The seating is a mixture of chairs, cushioned benches and high stools, accommodating a total of 45 patrons at any one time. The pub was recently crowned CAMRA Village Pub of the Year 2016 for Nottingham, a cracking achievement for a premises that's been open for only a few months. It's clear to see that the title is deserved though. 8 beers, served direct from the cask by gravity, are racked behind the small bar. 5 of these are ready and available when I visit, giving me a choice of Blue Monkey 99 Red Baboons, Blue Monkey Guerrilla, Shiny Cathedral Ale, Exit 33 Club 33 #5 and Raw Amarillo. There are also 5 real ciders served directly from the box available too! I opted for the Club 33 #5, brewed by Sheffield based Exit 33. This is a delicious golden ale at 5% and is part of the Club 33 program, a series of small batch brews concocted by this up and coming brewery. It's a welcome way to end the day and I am joined in the pub by a number of smartly dressed people, apparently from another wake, although I quickly determined that this may be the same as the one at the Bull's Head as the pubs are only a short distance apart.

With my final pint now finished, it was now time to cross the road back to the bus stop for the short trip back home. What had I learned from my visit to Gotham and East Leake? I learned the importance of well run, community driven village pubs and the reasons why these must be protected. I learned that good pubs are about more than good beer but also about the sense of community and belonging that they create. I learned that village buses aren't cheap! But, most importantly, I learned that good ale can be found in places outside of cities and large towns. Villages can boast some excellent pubs. Don't just let the words in these blog entries convince you. Get off the beaten track and see for yourself!