Friday 3 April 2020

Travel stories: rural pubs

We all have our memories of the way we walked, possibly ran, or even cycled, in the search for a rural pub (that someone somewhere told us about). For me, one memory is of a lane, to the left of which the ethereal curves of a field of uncut grass waving in the breeze, can be seen through a self-isolating cordon of bent and twisted trees, planted several generations ago when the people who bore the name that maybe I would one day also bear worked in fields like these. In the blue sky, the sun tick-tocked its way towards the south and ahead of me, roughly in a southeasterly direction, a hippo-like hump of a hill awaited, over which the lane, its track, like the badly hidden bald patch of a low comedian, invited me to follow.

Sometimes the way to a rural pub is the actual pleasure as opposed to the pub that you have chosen finally to visit. It’s the walk through a bucolic landscape, often in a lonely place, a challenge to which you hope your boots will cope (oh how you wished you’d put some dubbin on them), that lays down the anticipation for what you hope will be the cool interior of a rural pub, where the beer is just one bitter, but what a hitter of a bitter it is. Or it might be brewed around the back, somewhere in the village, or it might just be an enticing couple of beers that will hold your attention for a couple of hours (what do you mean you want food, haven’t you brought sandwiches with you?). 

My favourite rural pubs have included the Salutation at Ham, a short walk from Berkeley, but whose views of the distant hills of the Forest of Dean and the knowledge that the River Severn continues on its slow stately progress in between sharpens the appetite for beer brewed onsite; then there was the Locks in Geldeston, down river from Beccles, an out-of-the-way pub that has grown around a lock keeper’s cottage from the 19th century and at which bargees on the River Waveney at the bottom of the garden used to stop for a pint during the time of Queen Victoria; or it could be the London Inn in the Exmoor village of Molland, to which I once walked 10 miles to and back, in July, without taking any water with me. 

I have experienced other trails to rural pubs, forgotten over time, in the company of a walk or a climb through heather or bracken, over rocky tracks or along the coast, where the blue-grey surface of the sea seems like the back of a behemoth, which is mainly hidden from view. But I have forgotten them or they are recorded in a journal that now lies gathering dust in the attic of my soul.

Let’s end on a positive note though — I am already planning my next walk to a rural pub, when freedom of movement is not a stranger — Dartmoor or the South Devon coast perhaps? But until then my memories and imagination will free me for my roaming. Oh and where was that walk to a rural pub that I started off writing about? Like Orwell’s Moon Under Water, it is a fiction, a wish and a exercise in perfection. Or is it?

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