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01-08-2010, 10:11
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The BBPA’s submission in response to the North Review (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2010/07/price-worth-paying.html) understandably concentrated on the dining trade in rural pubs. However, more pubs than many urbanites might imagine survive in rural areas that are “wet-led”. Some do serve a bit of food, but drink and chat is their primary purpose. Over the years, many have closed (such as the amazingly basic Hop Pole at Risbury in Herefordshire) or have been “improved” into conventional food-led pubs, but if you know where to look a surprising number can still be found, especially once you escape from the orbit of the big towns.

Most of rural Cheshire is too close to the major conurbations for pubs of this type to survive, although the Traveller’s Rest at Alpraham and the Harrington Arms at Gawsworth (first picture) are honourable exceptions. Go further south into deepest Staffordshire and they are more numerous, such as the Anchor at High Offley (second picture) and the Red Lion at Dayhills near Stone. Other well-known examples that spring to mind include the Barley Mow at Kirk Ireton in Derbyshire, the Case is Altered at Rowington in Warwickshire and the Square & Compass at Worth Matravers in Dorset.
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One pub of this kind only just outside the Greater Manchester conurbation is Sam Smiths’ Vine at Dunham Woodhouses, which does serve food but seems to mainly function as a locals’ meeting place. It isn’t a pristine gem, but it remains a characterful, old-fashioned multi-roomed pub, not to mention serving Old Brewery Bitter at £1.49 a pint.

Often these pubs are fascinating, unspoilt time capsules and, as places that are the centre of a local community rather than venues for townies to drive out to for a meal, are amongst the most atmospheric and characterful of all pubs. But it is this sort of establishment that would be most at risk from a reduction in the drink-driving limit. I am not suggesting that at present they are heavily used by drink-drive offenders – the police will be well aware of their existence and their customers will have to develop their own modus vivendi of visting them without endangering their driving licences.

The pub descriptions in the Good Beer Guide often make politically correct noises about certain rural pubs being “popular with walkers and cyclists”, and no doubt up to a point they are. However, with a few exceptions (such as maybe the two pubs in Edale) that will only be a significant source of trade on a few sunny summer weekends. There aren’t many walkers and cyclists around on cold, rainy November evenings. In any case, many of the walkers and cyclists out and about in the countryside on a summer Sunday will have first travelled out from a town by car.

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