News, nuggets and longreads 20 July 2019: Friars, Fyne Ales, Fellowship

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from brewery founders to Blackfriars.

First, we don’t know when you’ll need them, or if you’ll need them, but here are two use­ful local guides to book­mark or oth­er­wise file away for ref­er­ence:


The bar at The Old Post Office.

A bit of pub own­er­ship news: Stonegate has bought Ei Group (for­mer­ly Enter­prise Inns). This adds 4,000 pubs to the Stonegate estate mak­ing it the largest in the UK. Nev­er heard of Stonegate? Not many peo­ple have. It oper­ates through sub-brands and tends to keep its name off fas­cias and in-pub col­lat­er­al.


Certified craft.

For Fer­ment, the pro­mo­tion­al mag­a­zine of beer retail­er Beer52, Matt Cur­tis has been reflect­ing on the tricks multi­na­tion­al brew­ing com­pa­nies use in attempt­ing to con­vince con­sumers that their beer brands are Well Craft:

Com­pare [1990s lager ads] to recent adver­tis­ing by Maltsmiths—a pseu­do-craft sub brand invent­ed by the mar­ket­ing mas­ter­minds at Dutch multi­na­tion­al, Heineken—and you’ll see some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. In its adver­tis­ing there is no nod to the prove­nance of its ingre­di­ents or the brew­ery in Scot­land where it is made. Instead we see a young, female brew­er, cart­wheel­ing over hose pipes and around fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels seem­ing­ly in cel­e­bra­tion of the beer’s very exis­tence. Hon­est­ly, if health and safe­ty got wind of this there’d be hell to pay.


The Fellowship.
The Fel­low­ship in 2016.

For Desert­er Tris­tan Park­er has writ­ten about the his­to­ry and present incar­na­tion of The Fel­low­ship at Belling­ham, south Lon­don – a pub we stud­ied for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and vis­it­ed dur­ing its final days as a half-derelict, qui­et, down-at-heel booz­er. These days, though…

Locals seemed under­stand­ably pleased to have a buzzy new pub, as what felt like most of Belling­ham appeared to be inside. This was a good sign: The Fel­low­ship was rede­vel­oped to serve the com­mu­ni­ty and on day one that’s exact­ly what it was doing. Let’s hope that con­tin­ues… Inside, it’s a vast space that still retains some of the look of the old venue, plus a bit of kooky art and kitsch wall­pa­per here and there. Reminders of the pub’s past also adorn the walls, includ­ing box­ing gloves and pho­tos of ‘Our ’Enry’ bat­tling Ali.


The Blackfriar pub.

Mean­while, Jane Pey­ton has been hang­ing out at The Black­fri­ar, a famous Vic­to­ri­an-Edwar­dian pub just beyond the bound­ary of the City of Lon­don, and express­es great enthu­si­asm for its over-the-top 1905 dec­o­ra­tive scheme:

It’s show-time! That phrase sings in my head each time I vis­it London’s Black­fri­ar pub. If Walt Dis­ney had been a pub design­er this is what he would have devised. Every sur­face of this spec­tac­u­lar Arts & Crafts/Art Nou­veau hostel­ry is dec­o­rat­ed and then dec­o­rat­ed again. More is more is more. If min­i­mal­ism is your style then either wear sun­glass­es in this pub or go to the post-indus­tri­al con­crete bunker booz­er near­by.


Jonny and Tuggy Delap.
SOURCE: Fyne Ales.

It’s not often we feel moved to link to any brewery’s offi­cial blog but we’d like to see more posts like Fyne Ales bio­graph­i­cal trib­ute to its founder, Jon­ny Delap, who died in 2009:

Born in Kenya and raised by his great uncle (his father threw him out when he was six years old), Jon­ny first came to the UK when he was 13 to com­plete his school­ing, before return­ing to Kenya to work on his uncle’s farm. His goal was to gain enough expe­ri­ence to qual­i­fy for fur­ther study at Devon’s Seale-Hayne agri­cul­tur­al col­lege, but there were a cou­ple of bumps in his road back to the UK. First­ly, his father tried to have him kid­napped because he thought Jon­ny was wast­ing his time with farm­ing and should join the Kenyan army. For­tu­nate­ly it was thwart­ed when Jon­ny bought the would-be kid­nap­pers a pint and con­vinced them it would be a bad idea. Sec­ond­ly, the col­lege wouldn’t admit him based on his time work­ing in Kenya, demand­ing instead that his prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence be under­tak­en in the UK.


Final­ly, here’s a fan­tas­tic pho­to of a late leg­endary Bris­tol pub land­lord.

And that’s it. For more links and read­ing check out Alan McLeod on Thurs­day and Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day.

Our pubs are becoming too posh, 1964

The January 1965 edition of A Monthly Bulletin, a publication about beer and pubs sponsored by the brewing industry, contained a letter which  seems to capture the exact moment the pub ceased to be a working class institution.

Writ­ten by one A. Bev­er­ley of 55 Har­ring­ton Avenue, Black­pool, the let­ter is actu­al­ly a response to anoth­er item of cor­re­spon­dence that appeared in “a nation­al news­pa­per”. Though they quote large chunks, Bev­er­ley doesn’t give the spe­cif­ic source and we can’t find a match in the GuardianTimes or Mir­ror.

Here’s Beverley’s sum­ma­ry, though:

In com­plain­ing that “our pubs are becom­ing too posh” [they assert] that it is “vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for a man in over­alls to get a hot din­ner in the cen­tre of many a big city”. He mourns, too, because many coun­try pub­lic hous­es are attract­ing cus­tomers from towns at mid-day, offer­ing “busi­ness lunch­es” and pro­vid­ing plen­ty of space for park­ing motor cars. Where is the work­ing man in his work­ing clothes to go? Will nobody cater for him?

This line might seem sur­pris­ing if you’ve bought into the idea that food in pubs is an inven­tion of the 1990s, or are of the view that food in pubs is some­how inher­ent­ly un-work­ing-class. But if you’ve read the chap­ter on gas­trop­ubs in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, you’ll know oth­er­wise.

But, any­way, Bev­er­ley is hav­ing none of it:

This type of com­ment ignores the real­i­ties of 1964 cater­ing. If the char­ac­ter of our pubs is chang­ing with the times, it is rea­son­able to assume, too, that the same can be said of the cus­tomers. The num­ber of cus­tomers who go into bars in over­alls at any time is dwin­dling. But the num­ber of cus­tomers who, after work­ing hours, change into well-cut suits to go into pub­lic hous­es with their wives or girl friends is increas­ing. These female com­pan­ions not unnat­u­ral­ly pre­fer the com­fort and ameni­ties of a mod­ern, taste­ful­ly appoint­ed bar rather than sur­round­ings that are drea­ry and out­mod­ed.

(Isn’t CAMRA’s nation­al inven­to­ry essen­tial­ly the Drea­ry and Out­mod­ed Pub Guide?)

Beverley’s argu­ment is not only that “men in over­alls” in the pub are a dying breed but also that their suc­ces­sors, “who wear… pro­tec­tive cloth­ing at work”, prob­a­bly earned as much as, or more than, white-col­lar work­ers.

With the growth of automa­tion and the short­en­ing of the work­ing week, the over­all and boil­er suit may dis­ap­pear entire­ly, and the well-appoint­ed, well-warmed pub or inn, pro­vid­ing tasty meals and cor­rect­ly served drinks, should estab­lish itself yet more firm­ly in the design for a life offer­ing greater peri­od of leisure.

The punch­line to all this is, we think, quite fun­ny: the real prob­lem, Bev­er­ley writes, isn’t that pubs are being poshed-up but that, as of the end of 1964, the new aspi­ra­tional work­ing class­es hadn’t quite learned how to behave.

It is only hoped that, as high­er stan­dards are called for and met, appro­pri­ate improve­ments in human behav­iour also will devel­op. Licensees, proud of their “poshed-up” pubs, have dif­fi­cul­ty in believ­ing that change is for the good when expen­sive car­pets and table-tops are dam­aged by cig­a­rette burns. To be tru­ly ben­e­fi­cial, the winds of change… must blow some instinct of respon­si­bil­i­ty and sense of val­ues into the minds of those who are usu­al­ly the most insis­tent and vocal in their demands for lux­u­ry in the “local”.

It’s inter­est­ing to read this along­side those 1960s Bats­ford guides with all their talk of mut­ton cur­ry and beef fon­due, and oth­er accounts of the com­ing pub car­pets at around the same time. The mid-1960s were in pubs, as they were in art, music, lit­er­a­ture, film, some­thing of a moment as the tra­di­tion­al indi­ca­tors of class got jum­bled up or messed around with.

Fifty plus years on, peo­ple are still com­plain­ing about pubs being “poshed-up”, although these days the dis­ap­pear­ance of the car­pet in favour of bare boards is a key indi­ca­tor of com­ing posh­ness.

And the objec­tion seems to be less about class than atti­tude: pubs should be infor­mal, unguard­ed, live­ly and spon­ta­neous, not com­posed, curat­ed or man­nered.

We got our col­lec­tion of edi­tions of A Month­ly Bul­letin from Mar­tyn Cor­nell who kind­ly gave us his spares a few years ago. Thanks again, MC.

Two years, two hundred pubs

We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving.

We start­ed doing this most­ly to remind our­selves where we’d been for the sake of #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, but also decid­ed to log sub­se­quent vis­its to each pub, pro­vid­ing us with an inter­est­ing data set reveal­ing our habits and favourites.

Our def­i­n­i­tion of a Pub Vis­it for this pur­pose is that it has to be a pub, both of us have to be there, and at least one of us has to have an alco­holic drink.

(We’ll return to the sub­ject of what makes a pub in a sep­a­rate blog post, as this exer­cise has giv­en us a real impe­tus to define it bet­ter.)

We have cho­sen to define Bris­tol as the uni­tary author­i­ty of Bris­tol, plus any bits that join up to it with­out a break. So the pubs of Kingswood and Fil­ton (tech­ni­cal­ly South Glouces­ter­shire) are in, where­as the won­der­ful Angel Inn at Long Ash­ton isn’t because there is, for now, at least one open field in between the vil­lage and the ever-increas­ing spread of South Bris­tol.

Overall stats

We have logged 516 pub vis­its in total.

Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drap­ers Arms.

We have vis­it­ed 216 dif­fer­ent pubs.

Our pace of vis­it­ing new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our sec­ond 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.

This is part­ly because of geog­ra­phy – the pubs we haven’t yet vis­it­ed are hard­er to get to and more spread out – but also because we’ve come across so many pubs that we like and want to revis­it, rather than tick­ing new ones.

Here’s a list of all the pubs we’ve vis­it­ed more than once.

Drap­ers Arms | 150
Welling­ton Arms | 16
High­bury Vaults | 16
Bar­ley Mow | 15
Zero Degrees | 14
Brew­dog | 13
Small Bar | 11
Inn On The Green | 10
Grain Barge | 10
Hill­grove Porter Stores | 9
The Old Fish Mar­ket | 7
Bot­tles And Books | 7
Mer­chants Arms | 6
The Vol­un­teer Tav­ern | 6
The Orchard | 6
The Annexe | 6
The Bank | 5
Bris­tol Fly­er | 4
Straw­ber­ry Thief | 4
The Good Mea­sure | 4
Gold­en Lion | 3
Roy­al Oak | 3
Com­mer­cial Rooms | 3
The Can­teen (Hamil­ton House) | 3
The Old Duke | 3
Snuffy Jacks | 3
Hob­gob­lin | 3
The Hare / The Lev­eret Cask House | 3
Col­ston Arms | 3
The Grace | 3
The Vic­to­ria | 3
Christ­mas Steps | 3
Cor­ner 33 | 3
The Cot­tage Inn | 2
Nova Sco­tia | 2
The Bridge | 2
Pump House | 2
Mardyke | 2
Hare On The Hill | 2
White Lion | 2
Robin Hood | 2
The White Bear | 2
Beerd | 2
The Sid­ings | 2
Glouces­ter Road Ale House | 2
Kings­down Vaults | 2
The Knights Tem­plar (Spoons) | 2
The V Shed | 2
The Roy­al Naval Vol­un­teer | 2
Bris­tol Brew­ery Tap | 2
St George’s Hall | 2
The Gryphon | 2
The Green­bank Tav­ern | 2
The Oxford | 2

Are they really your top pubs?

Most­ly, yes.

Our top 10 includes two pubs that are there sim­ply because they are close to our house – The Welling­ton and The Inn on the Green.

The Welling­ton scored par­tic­u­lar­ly high­ly dur­ing last summer’s heat­wave, because it has Sulis, Korev and reli­able Prophe­cy. The oth­ers are all clear favourites of ours and appear in our guide to the best pubs in Bris­tol.

Porter
A pint of porter at The Good Mea­sure.
If you’ve visited more than once, does that mean it’s good?

Not always. We’ve had one acci­den­tal sec­ond vis­it, to St George’s Hall, a soon-to-be-clos­ing Wether­spoons, hav­ing for­got­ten we’d already been.

Some­times a sec­ond vis­it might be to check out a change in own­er­ship or offer.

It might also reflect con­ve­nience. The Knights Tem­plar, AKA Hell­spoons, is right by Tem­ple Meads sta­tion and so a con­ve­nient stop before catch­ing a train. Now the bridge to The Bar­ley Mow has reopened, and The Sid­ings has decent Harvey’s Sus­sex Best, we don’t expect to need to go there again.

But three or more vis­its and it’s prob­a­bly safe to say we like it. (Although we’ve fall­en out with the Hare in Bed­min­ster now it’s the Lev­eret Cask House.)

Not quite science

Of course the keep­ing of this infor­ma­tion dis­torts our behav­iour from time to time.

If we’ve got a choice between two pubs, we’ll some­times pick the one we think ‘deserves’ to be high­er up the rank­ings. And we occa­sion­al­ly give a pub a swerve because it feels as if it’s com­ing high­er up the charts than it ought to.

It’s still an expres­sion of pref­er­ence but… Well, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Wishful thinking

There are cer­tain­ly some pubs that would be high­er up the list if they were eas­i­er for us to get to.

The thing is, your local is your local. Part of the mag­ic of pubs like The Oxford in Tot­ter­down or The Plough at Eas­t­on is that they reflect and serve the com­mu­ni­ties they’re in.

We’ll drop in if we’re in the area, and some­times day­dream about how nice it would be if we did live near­by, but it would be daft for us to schlep across town to go there every week because… We’ve got a local. One that’s, you know, local.

We wouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expect these pubs to creep up the rank­ings in the next year, even though they are excel­lent.

Pubs such as The Good Mea­sure, on the oth­er hand, prob­a­bly will, because they offer some­thing dis­tinct we can’t get close to home.

(And in that par­tic­u­lar case, it’s rea­son­ably handy for the High­bury Vaults so makes a good end to a St Michael’s Hill crawl).

Some thoughts on Bristol pubs

In gen­er­al, Bris­tol pubs are good.

They tend to be friend­ly, even if they don’t always look it.

They’re extreme­ly var­ied – hip­py hang­outs, old boys booz­ers, gas­trop­ubs, craft beer exhi­bi­tions, back­street gems, fam­i­ly hang­outs, and so on.

They most­ly have real ale, even those that might not if they were in any oth­er city. We reck­on we’ve count­ed three (four if you think Brew­Dog is a pub) that didn’t have any­thing at all on offer.

They’re loy­al to local beer, even if there’s no sin­gle dom­i­nant his­toric city brew­ery.

Your chances of find­ing Bass, Courage Best, But­combe or some oth­er clas­sic bit­ter are very high. The like­li­hood of find­ing mild is almost zero. Hop­py beers tend to be hazy, soft and sweet. (Not that we’re grum­bling but we do some­times crave paler, dri­er beers of the north­ern vari­ety.)

And we’re still find­ing good pubs: we only vis­it­ed The Annexe for the first time late last year; The Coro­na­tion in Bed­min­ster we dis­cov­ered for the first time a cou­ple of months back. No doubt in the final hun­dred or so there will be a few more crack­ers.

We’re not as sci­en­tif­ic about cat­a­logu­ing pub open­ings and clo­sures as the local CAMRA team in the excel­lent Pints West mag­a­zine but our feel­ing is that pubs are not clos­ing as fast as they were and that more pubs or oth­er drink­ing estab­lish­ments are emerg­ing.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, reflect­ing nation­al trends, pubs are more at risk in poor­er areas, and are (re) open­ing in wealth­i­er or ‘up and com­ing’ parts of the city.

Final thoughts

This has made us think hard about what makes pubs attrac­tive to us – although grant­ed, we’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly typ­i­cal cus­tomers.

Yes, it’s impor­tant for pubs to have a unique sell­ing point to stand out (that’s the pub with the heavy met­al, or eight types of cider, or amaz­ing cheese rolls) but, when it comes down to it, our drink­ing habits are pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by con­ve­nience.

We sus­pect that’s fair­ly uni­ver­sal.

J.B. Priestley in Bradford, on Sunday, in the rain

In his travelogue English Journey, published in 1934 but based on observations made in the autumn of 1933, the writer J.B. Priestley unknowingly foretells the fate of the public house.

We’ve been dip­ping in and out of this book, with H.V. Morton’s In Search of Eng­land as a com­pan­ion piece, for about a year now. It lends itself to dip­ping, each chap­ter cov­er­ing a dif­fer­ent part of the coun­try and com­plete as stand­alone essays.

In ‘To the West Rid­ing’, Priest­ley lands in Brad­ford on Sun­day evening as heavy driz­zle falls, and is all but begged by locals not to go into the town cen­tre: ‘“But there isn’t any­thing,” they almost screamed.’

He finds the warn­ing accu­rate: there’s a Sal­va­tion Army band play­ing, a cou­ple of cafés shut­ting up, and some shop win­dow dis­plays to look at, while young peo­ple ‘prom­e­nade’ – that is, walk up and down in the rain.

Ever since I can remem­ber, elder­ly cit­i­zens have been protest­ing against this prac­tice of prom­e­nad­ing on Sun­day nights. They have always been dis­gust­ed by the sight of young peo­ple mon­key-parad­ing in this fash­ion. It is, how­ev­er, the same elder­ly cit­i­zens who have seen to it that near­ly all doors lead­ing out of the street shall be locked against these young peo­ple. They can­not lis­ten to plays or music, can­not see films, can­not even sit in big pleas­ant rooms and look at one anoth­er; so they walk up and down the street… They have, of course, to get on with their mat­ing, what­ev­er elder­ly per­sons may think…

Priestley’s pub crawl is depress­ing. He finds the first one he vis­its very qui­et with ‘five or six hob­blede­hoys drink­ing glass­es of bit­ter’ and both­er­ing the bar­maid. ‘Noth­ing wrong with the place’, he writes, ‘except that it was dull and stu­pid.’

Pub #2 is busy with young men and ‘women of the town’:

This is not an attack on the place; I have not the least desire to see it closed… [but] can­not see why play­go­ing, lis­ten­ing to music, watch­ing films, even danc­ing, should be con­sid­ered so much worse – or at least more sec­u­lar – than booz­ing with pros­ti­tutes.

The third pub is the liveli­est, large and crowd­ed, with some ‘lit­tle coloured lights in the lounge’.

That was all; noth­ing else, not even rea­son­able com­fort; but it was enough, and every table, every seat was tak­en. Fif­teen shillings’ worth of coloured lamps: this was gai­ety, this was life; and so the place was sell­ing beer, stout, port, as fast as it could serve them, to patrons of both sex­es. I do not think any of these peo­ple – and they were most­ly young, pairs of boys, pairs of girls; with here and there an old­er cou­ple – could real­ly be said to be real­ly enjoy­ing them­selves; but at least they could look at one anoth­er, gig­gle a bit, talk when they found some­thing to say, and admire the car­ni­val splen­dour of the coloured elec­tric lights.

Priestley’s con­clu­sion is that it would be bet­ter for sup­pos­ed­ly reli­gious towns to per­mit the break­ing of the Sab­bath if it meant ‘a choice between mon­key-parad­ing and dubi­ous pubs’.

It strikes us that what he has land­ed on, in analysing one Sun­day night in one town, is a diag­no­sis of the whole prob­lem with pubs: they were the default for many peo­ple not nec­es­sar­i­ly because they were love­ly, but for lack of any alter­na­tive.

As hous­es got bet­ter and big­ger, more peo­ple stayed at home. As open­ing hours relaxed and the range of busi­ness­es in towns broad­ened (cof­fee shops, snack bars), pubs ceased to be the only option.

Their monop­oly came to an end.

For more on pubs, includ­ing pros­ti­tu­tion, fight­ing, spit­ting and riots, do check out our book 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. For more on Brad­ford pubs in par­tic­u­lar hunt down Paul Jenning’s The Pub­lic House in Brad­ford 1770–1970, pub­lished in 1995. Main image above adapt­ed from one sup­plied by Brad­ford Libraries on Flickr.

Scotland #4: the familiarity of Fort William

When we arrived at Fort William we recognised the atmosphere of the town immediately: it’s like Penzance.

Driz­zle, mist, guest­hous­es, coun­cil estates and, of course, pubs.

The tricky thing about run­ning a pub in a town like Fort William is that for half the year, there’s too much of a par­tic­u­lar type of busi­ness: tourists who often don’t know how it all works and prob­a­bly want din­ner.

Then, for the remain­ing six months, there’s not enough busi­ness. You’re left with a hand­ful of locals rat­tling round most­ly emp­ty pubs, if they can afford to go out at all giv­en the sea­son­al nature of the employ­ment mar­ket.

Also, a focus on local brew­eries, poten­tial­ly laud­able, too often means mediocre beer, or worse.

In this kind of envi­ron­ment, prop­er pubs can strug­gle to find a real iden­ti­ty, or deliv­er con­sis­tent cus­tomer ser­vice.

After a quick rec­ce, we decid­ed we might as well tack­le #Every­Pu­bIn­Fortwilliam and we think we man­aged it.

A collage of pubs in Fort William.

The one every­body rec­om­mend­ed was The Grog & Gru­el. We didn’t have a good time on our vis­it between grumpy ser­vice, fart­ing dogs and pass-agg encoun­ters with Cana­di­an tourists deter­mined to nab our space. But it’s cer­tain­ly a nice look­ing, pub­by pub, and we can imag­ine hav­ing fun there under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

The Vol­un­teer Arms has a neat, tra­di­tion­al pub exte­ri­or with notes on the archi­tec­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of the inte­ri­or. In fact, inside, we found it pret­ty plain and pleas­ing­ly down-to-earth. A friend­ly wel­come on the first vis­it brought us back twice more, even though the beer was noth­ing spe­cial (a great excuse to drink Tennent’s). The appeal, we think, was that it felt like a city pub trans­plant­ed to the High­lands, and the bal­ance of vis­i­tors and locals felt right.

The Ben Nevis kept try­ing to make us Dine but when we caved into pres­sure and ordered food, brought us the wrong stuff. We came twice, though, lured by a view over Loch Linnhe and a nice, man­age­able selec­tion of whisky served in fan­cy glass­ware.

The first time we tried to vis­it the Mary­burgh we were all but chased off by a strange man who blocked the alley­way to the door and stared us out with an unnerv­ing Pen­ny­wise grin. The sec­ond time, we had to dash through a cur­tain of water from a bro­ken gut­ter above the entrance. It wasn’t real­ly worth the effort – this win­dow­less base­ment isn’t a pub for out-of-town­ers and we only spoiled the mood with our anoraks and Eng­lish accents. Still, more Tennent’s.

The Crofter was a bit Wether­spoony, but less slick. Some­one growled at us because we blocked access to his vap­ing kit on the bar for two sec­onds while we ordered our drinks. The bar staff seemed to have end-of-the-sea­son ennui despite it being ear­ly June. We drank Tennent’s.

Cobb’s is a strange look­ing mod­ern pub by the rail­way sta­tion, above an out­door sup­plies shop. We didn’t expect much from it but found not only good beer (Cairn­gorm Trade Winds) and friend­ly ser­vice but also a high stan­dard of per­formed bar chat among the reg­u­lars: “He was an engi­neer before he retired. Any bridge you’ve ever heard of that fell down, he designed it.” The inte­ri­or wasn’t any­thing spe­cial except that when the sun hit the sky­light just right, it picked out one old gent at the bar with a heav­en­ly beam.

Gar­ri­son West fan­cies itself a bit – all gin, craft lager and boardgames. We vis­it­ed in the after­noon lull and found it friend­ly enough, if half asleep. The large range of beer seemed to have been cho­sen based on local­ness and the ‘craft­ness’ of the brand­ing rather than any assess­ment of qual­i­ty.

Final­ly, the ele­phant in the room: the local Wether­spoon branch, The Great Glen. It was per­ma­nent­ly busy, from break­fast to clos­ing, with locals and tourists. What did it do well? A huge sign in mul­ti­ple lan­guages explain­ing the order­ing process by the door. Vast amounts of seat­ing, albeit cramped in places. Huge win­dows avoid­ing that sense of leap­ing over a cliff-edge on choos­ing to enter. Orders by app, avoid­ing the need to speak to staff at all – handy if your Eng­lish isn’t great. On the down­side? It could have been in Teign­mouth or Ten­by, despite the typ­i­cal­ly care­ful appli­ca­tion of Gael­ic on signs.

Over­all, we’d say Fort William isn’t a place you come espe­cial­ly for pubs or beer, though there’s enough choice that you’re bound to find one or two that will do the job between ram­bles.