A short way across the water from Plymouth, in what is sometimes called the forgotten corner of Cornwall, lie the conjoined coastal villages of Kingsand and Cawsand, blessed with four pubs between them.
We arrived on foot along the South West Coast Path just as the day was growing dimpsy and the evening fires had been lit. Dipping down from the cliffside into town we passed pretty pastel-coloured cottages, mostly holiday homes shuttered and hibernating.
We were momentarily anxious: what if the pubs are seasonal? Then we passed the Rising Sun, with its old Courage cockerel and peeling paint, the windows of which glowed with orange light. Someone with their back to us in the window seat laughed so heartily their whole body heaved. This seemed to bode well for our pub crawl.
Historically, despite being the wrong side of the Tamar, Kingsand was in Devon, and its stone is sandy red-purple rather than the grey more typical of deeper into Cornwall. We started our crawl across the old border, at the Cross Keys, in Cawsand.
It’s very likeable, the Cross Keys: worn-in without being tatty, low-lit but not gloomy, and with a background buzz of conversation at the bar. Not unusually for this part of the world, which is attractive to retirees and second-home-owners, the accents were northern and Cockney, as well as Cornish.
We drank Dartmoor Legend — not a beer we’d cross the road for, but as solid an example of sweet West Country brown bitter as you could hope to find, and in remarkably good condition, served in squeaky-clean branded glasses. If this was the only pub in town, we’d have got the playing cards out and stayed all night.
Retracing our steps, we next trotted down hill to the Halfway House next to the Devon-Corn boundary marker. With coastal chic décor and tables full of diners, it nonetheless felt like a proper pub, perhaps because amid the famous film directors (really!) and German gourmands were parties of locals drinking and plotting village business, while the management buzzed about cheerily, more like the hosts of a party than people at work.
The beer offer didn’t hurt, either — four ales ranging from the obligatory Doom Bar to an up-country interloper, Long Man Brewery’s Old Man old ale. Seeing us pondering the pump clips, the landlord paused with arms full of empty plates to give us the run down, his tasting notes brief, accurate and genuinely helpful. We are still not entirely convinced by Sharp’s candyish Atlantic IPA. Old Man we found deliciously roasty — fatally good, in fact, because it tempted us to stay for another, despite being only halfway through our crawl.
When we did move on, it was to the Rising Sun, which, having been lively at twilight, was standing-room only and almost raucous after dark. The crowd was middle-aged but, dressed in glad-rags and flirting with each other, did not act it. Knackered red carpet, wonky woodwork, leering Toby jugs, and cycling coloured fairy lights added to the fun.
Rebel Brewing Co’s Sail Ale was a golden ale of the sweet and honeyish variety, and pleasant enough drinking once the disappointment over the lack of hop character had passed. Heligan Honey continues to have that Skinner’s tang — a feature of their yeast, we are informed, rather than a problem.
Finally, beginning to feel just a touch merry, we made our way to the harbour and the Devonport Inn. Frequently battered by waves, it is all but fortified with shutters and storm-boards ready to be bolted into place the moment the wall is breached by the sea. Inside, however, it feels almost like a wine bar, and was busy, but mostly with diners. We perched at the bar, next to the fire.
We were reminded once again of just how solid Bay’s Brewery of Devon can be: their Up’n’Under rugby-themed pale ale reminded us of London Pride, if not quite at its best, then not far off — orangey, smooth, and gleaming-clean.
So, that’s four pubs with somewhat interesting beer (by Cornish standards), all of it in good nick. Our favourite, if we’re pushed, was probably the Rising Sun, but why would you come to a place with four pubs within five minutes walk of each other and only visit one? Do the crawl. You’ll enjoy it.