Celebrating the Cotswolds’ pubs
- Credit: We Love British Pubs, welovebritishpubs.co.uk
A much-loved staple in the community, it’s a tragedy when a local pub is unable to continue serving its local patrons. Our pubs need to be cherished, celebrated and protected. Liz Hartland joins the group of passionate pub-lovers on a mission to encourage the public to do just that
Standing head to toe in an array of bright colours, it was hardly surprising that we were arousing interest from on-lookers at Cheltenham Racecourse’s railway station. Grouped together on the platform on a beautifully sunny day, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our train ahead of the day’s ‘steam train beer cruise’.
I’d been kindly invited along to a pub trail with the group behind We Love British Pubs – and this was a special occasion. In tribute to Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys, we donned our most colourful blazers, shirts and trousers with a plan to travel by steam train to a number of local pubs.
John Smith, and his colleagues at Ashchurch-based Sprint Education, started We Love British Pubs with the aim to inspire people to explore, support and cherish their local pubs. Every week, or as often as they can, the group explore a minimum of three local pubs and document their experiences. They take photos, score each pub by a list of unique criteria and write a blog following their visit. All blogs, and scores, are positive in tone, with the intention to celebrate what makes that pub so special.
“We wanted it to be the opposite of Trip Advisor which encourages us to flock to pubs and restaurants with 5* reviews,” explains John. “We wanted We Love British Pubs to encourage people to visit those fantastic, hidden away pubs that are on their doorstep but they’ve never heard of. We wanted to fight for those pubs that don’t get the limelight they deserve.
“Ultimately, every pub is worthy of celebrating because each is so important to its community.”
And why, on this occasion, were we visiting pubs in homage to Michael Portillo?
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“The reason we are all here, dressed in the flamboyant style of Michael Portillo, is because we think pubs deserve their own TV show. Michael has done so much to celebrate the history of our railways and inspire a love of train travel, but who is celebrating our amazing pubs and inspiring people to go and discover them? Nobody. We want to get pubs on TV and back in the public’s hearts and minds where they belong.”
Our first stop was Winchcombe: a delightful town with Cotswold stone cottages, narrow side streets and bags of history and character (Sudeley Castle sits a stone’s throw away from the town centre). We visited the Corner Cupboard Inn and Lion Inn; both with origins dating back to the 16th century. The Corner Cupboard Inn is more your traditional village boozer, with nods to its history throughout, while the Lion Inn has tapped into the popular gastro-pub aesthetic with exposed brick walls, chic furnishings and cosy corners. The interiors may have been completely different but both pubs served a perfect pint.
As we travelled along the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) from Winchcombe to Broadway, with a bottle of Donnington Brewery’s delicious Rail Ale to hand, I had a glimpse of We Love British Beer’s unique scoring system. Categories range from ‘Olde Worldy Charm’, ‘Chattiness of Bar Staff’ and ‘Cosiness/Homeliness’ to the quirkier ‘Rusticness of Toilets’ and ‘Pub Dog’.
“The scoring system is just a bit of fun really but it’s our way of rewarding those pubs that are still flying the flag for great British pub traditions, those pubs that have a real sense of their own history, who fight to bring their local community together.”
Next stop was the quintessential Cotswold village of Broadway, well loved by locals and visitors alike. And, luckily for us, home to plenty of characterful watering holes. First up was the Fox & Hounds and then onto the Crown & Trumpet. The staff at both pubs were incredibly welcoming and had a sincere interest of what we were doing, and why we were doing it. We struck up a conversation with a Canadian couple in the Fox & Hounds who always made the effort to visit “a proper old fashioned pub” when they visit England. They found it difficult to believe pubs aren’t protected and given heritage status in the same way as other buildings of historic importance are. It’s a sobering thought after our day of real ales.
Now, more than ever, your local pub needs your help. Without that help, it could be one of the 18 shutting its doors permanently every week. And its people like John, and the rest of the group behind We Love British Pubs, flying the flag for how integral pubs are to their communities. Cheers to all their hard work!