Padstow in North Cornwall is best known for its connection with TV chef Rick Stein and for its ‘Obby ‘Oss, of which more later. Its attractive and compact town centre, however, also supports six pubs, which struck us as the perfect number for a Saturday night crawl.
Having been deprived of St Austell’s Proper Job for a couple of months, we headed straight to the London Inn, outside which a sign promised a very nearly full range of the local brewing giant’s cask ales. Inside, we found a pleasing lack of head-office-approved corporate slickness, and genuine clutter on the walls, rather than the stuff that comes by the kilo from pub decor companies. Nothing special, but comfortable, and the PJ was very good. We considered staying, but, no, the crawl must go on.
The interior of the Golden Lion, just across the road, looked strangely familiar, and then it dawned on us: we’d seen it in the documentary Oss Oss Wee Oss (Alan Lomax, 1953) on the BFI DVD Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow. As the stable of one of the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Osses, the Golden Lion is a culturally and historically significant pub, and its low beams and dark corners are very appealing. It was uncomfortably quiet, however, and the Tintagel Castle Gold was lacking zing.
We soon found out why the other pubs were quiet: everyone was at The Old Ship, where it was standing room only, because a Johnny Cash tribute act was set to perform. It made much of offering Brain’s S.A. — a rarity in Cornwall, it’s true, but hardly anything to shout about. Sharp’s Own, sweetish at the best of times, was also as flat as a pancake. What’s the opposite of cosy? That’s what the Ship was. As the faux-Man in Black launched into ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, we slipped away, leaving our drinks unfinished.
We then commenced a run of three St Austell pubs.
The Shipwrights felt a bit like a pub-themed fast food restaurant, with that particularly lurid orange wood finish that too often characterises modern pub refits, and we didn’t like being cleaned up around (at 9:30!), though the barmaid who served us was very chatty and pleasant. There were more fruit machines than customers. Tribute and Proper Job were in decent enough nick, too.
The Old Custom House was also quiet, with flickering TV screens on every spare surface. The highlight here was the new bottled version of 1913 Stout, tasting excellent despite its clear bottle, and served in an appropriately vintage-feeling straight-sided pint glass.
We hit the Harbour Inn in the run up to closing time. It is the stable for the rival ‘Oss, the Blue Ribbon or Peace ‘Oss, and had a pleasant, lived-in feel. Even though it’s huge, and we had the place almost to ourselves, the landlord and landlady made us feel very welcome, hitting the perfect balance between attentiveness and giving us space. When they wanted us to leave, it was hinted at with a very gentle: ‘Ahem… will you be wanting any more drinks at all?’
Is Padstow worth a visit for beer geeks? No. Is there enough to keep a pub-lover entertained if they’re visiting for other reasons? Definitely. Bear in mind, though, that in season, none of these pubs will be as quiet as we found them on a chilly night in March.