Beerheadz is in the centre of Retford, just off the market square behind the town hall and its ornate clock tower whose very audible chimes serve to remind you just how many hours are passing while you sit and drink beer (!). Again, if you’re in the market sq and wonder which archway to look for then take a look at my photo. They opened last October, just in time for the Retford beer festival. It’s a good, professional fit-out.
I visited on a quiet Sunday lunchtime and almost had the place to myself, but Chris assured me that trade is generally brisk (I came back the same evening, and it was definitely much busier). They are even looking into opening more Beerheadz branches in the area. A branded “chain” of micropubs…hmmm could that be getting a bit macro?. Also on offer were Beerheadz badges, t-shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, caps and underwear (ok, not the last one!) Tight git that I am, I just pinched a beermat as a keepsake smile emoticon
Being a Sunday, I was able to sample a free selection of cheese and biscuits on a table in the corner, which is a nice touch. But on to the beers … 5 cask ales and 3 ciders all served by handpump at the bar, although the temperature controlled beer room is right next door and visible through a small window. There’s also a large fridge behind the bar with a good selection of international bottled beers and soft drinks. I tried the Knops East Coast Pale and Skye Porter, both were excellent and good value. All in all, another great addition to the micropub stable.
Just Beer in Newark was the 3rd micropub to open, way back in 2010, which is positively ancient by micropub standards! It is yet another micropub that is tucked away down a side alley. You would be unlikely to stumble upon it by accident but, going by the crowd that was in there on Saturday night, clearly a lot of people have discovered Just Beer and it has a loyal band of regulars. It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Robin and Duncan, just two of the four partners in this venture, all of whom have been on the local CAMRA committee in a past life. The pub consists of a long rectangular room with a bar at the far end, and furnished with traditional pub furniture. The bar has 8 handpumps serving cask conditioned ales and also ciders. Just Beer is open for longer hours than most micropubs – I guess that’s one of the benefits of having a number of people involved in the business: on the Saturday that I visited it was open 12 till midnight. I really enjoyed my evening at Just Beer, it has an amiable crowd and a great atmosphere!
Nathan and Charlie, joint owners of the Priors Oven really hit the jackpot when they found the premises for their micropub! A 700 year old former monks prison / former bakery / former tea room. Certainly the most historic and full-of-character building for a micropub that I’ve seen so far. The main room is hexagon shaped (if I remember rightly) with an amazing vaulted ceiling. We really appreciated the layout, with a central circular bar that can comfortably accommodate about 10 drinkers. It feels a bit like sitting round a big round table and the setup encourages conversation between strangers, which is much of what micropubs are all about. A twisted spiral stone staircase leads up to a more conventional lounge and games room.
As you know, once the cycling is over I like nothing more than to settle down with a dark and full-bodied pint and on Sunday evening Rutland Beast did this job admirably.
It was great to meet and chat with you all, including Jason the manager, and a pity we couldn’t stay longer until the singer arrived but, as so often seems to be the case, we had a train to catch!
Remember what I said about cycling in the Fens being easy? Well, of course, when you change direction and head into the wind it is a different story! And so it was that we arrived at the Cask in Hand in Holbeach more than a little knackered (and thirsty!). My thirst was quenched by a pint of “Metro Pirate” from the Bootleg Brewing Co in Manchester. At 3.8%, perhaps a bit on the weak side for an IPA, but pleasant, very thirst quenching and just what I needed to get me another 10 miles up the road to Spalding. The Cask in Hand consists of a largish bar room with a mix of chairs & tables and comfy sofa’s and a second smaller room with a pool table.
Right on the platform of Downham Market station is the multi-award-winning Railway Arms. This was the longest-established micropub that I had visited so far: when the Railway Arms opened, back in 2010, there were only 5 other micropubs in the country.
Landlord Ian and his wife also run the station cafe. The pub is small, cosy and with plenty of quirky features such as a model railway that runs on an elevated track all around the room and above the bar. There’s also a selection of board games to play.
Having become accustomed to a choice of at least four cask ales at other micropubs it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that Ian only had one on offer: Cwrw Glaslyn from the Purple Moose brewery in North Wales. None of us were sure how to pronounce it so it became affectionately known as “Moose Juice”. It was very enjoyable and, given the pub’s size and turnover, we fully respected Ian’s strategy of offering one well-kept cask ale at a time rather than risking wastage or serving beer past its best. The Railway Arms also offers a choice of ciders which have a longer shelf life), for which it has won several CAMRA awards, draught Guinness and draught l*ger.
I look forward to the day when every train station has catering arrangements like the Railway Arms, instead of certain bland coffee chains that will remain nameless.
UPDATE: October 2016:
I was very sad to learn that The Railway Arms closed in October 2016, allegedly due to an unacceptably high proposed rent increase that would have made the business unviable. This must be heartbreaking for Ian and his family, and for the Downham Market community who will lose their lovely quirky platform pub and probably get a Starbucks or Costa in return.
We arrived at the Liberty Belle in the centre of Ely at around 8pm on Saturday evening to find the place heaving! Even Martin the landlord seemed surprised at the turnout, unsure whether the attraction was the singer/guitarist who was on that evening or just the fine weather (it certainly wasn’t us, although we did boost the numbers by a further 6). The Liberty Belle is a gem of a micropub, the interior littered with a mix of nautical and railway artifacts, eccentric toys and engineering bits and bobs. An ancient looking plaque on the wall warned travellers to beware of lustful nuns when passing through the Grunty Fen area after dark, which is precisely where we had cycled through an hour previously – evidently we had had a lucky escape. Anyway, back to the point: The Liberty Belle sells beer, of course! Lots of it. The casks are kept in a back room, out of sight. There is a small counter towards the back of the pub where Martin takes your order, which is then delivered to your table. This did sometimes result in a bit of a wait for your beer, but we were there at an exceptionally busy time. As always, good things come to those who wait!
Our cycling for the day was over so I plumped for Railway Sleeper from the Humpty Dumpty brewery, a darkish full bodied beer that I enjoyed so much that I kept coming back for more, with the unfortunate consequence that I didn’t get to sample any of the other ales on offer!
Martin told us about the Liberty Belle’s sister attraction, a river boat that goes by the same name, and which can be chartered for tours of nearby riverside pubs. Why leave the country for a booze cruise when you can have one right here? Will bear that in mind for the future!
We had such an easy ride down to Willingham that we arrived on the doorstep and hour before they opened. So we backtracked half a mile down the road for coffee at a cafe-cum-auction house – an interesting combination because the chairs and tables we were sat on were all marked up for sale!
Then back to the Bank for opening time. Unfortunately we did not meet landlord Chris as our visit had coincided with his first weekend off for 6 months, but his stand-in, Neil, was doing a grand job in his place.
The Bank has been truly fortunate to bag itself an attractive character building that looks as it was made to be a pub all along. It’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into creating the pub’s interior and the end result is a cosy and classically pub-like interior, but with plenty of standing room too – if that makes sense! If not, just look at the pictures! Of all the MP’s that I’ve visited so far, I’d say the Bank most closely resembles the Cuckoo in Toddington.
When we visited there were 4 cask ales on offer, served from behind the bar directly from jacket-cooled casks. I had a pint of Trawlerboys by Green Jack Brewery of Lowestoft which turned out to be excellent.