A West Norfolk CAMRA review of the year
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, December 27, 2019
It has been an interesting year, but one that ended on a positive note.
No, not that, but rather the news that the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of pubs in the UK increased for the first time in a decade.
At the end of the financial year in March, the country had 320 pubs more than at the same time in 2018, a total of 39,135. This contrasts with the previous nine years which showed an average loss of 732 each year.
True, this is a very small percentage increase, but it does tend to confirm my impression that things are improving.
In our area we have seen the reopening of the Crown at Northwold after a long period of closure, the successful handing on of places like the Victory, now the Partridge in Clenchwarton which a few years ago might have been a target for conversion into housing and the establishment on a firm footing of others such as the Angel in Watlington and Goldings in Lynn.
That is not to say that all is rosy. The House on the Green seems doomed, despite having clear potential, the Tudor Rose was a sad loss, and it will take a big effort to save the Blue Bell at Stoke Ferry, which hopefully will begin with a village meeting in January.
Lynn still hasn’t got a brewery, but Birdhouse in Downham has appeared and the sight of Duration beer in the George and Dragon at Newton by Castle Acre confirmed the press reports of their long awaited brewing debut.
In our West Norfolk CAMRA area, the selection of our Pub of the Year, the Rose and Crown at Harpley is encouraging, not because the standards have dropped at our previous winner, the Kings Arms at Shouldham, but because there are others raising their game to challenge the best.
According to our members who enter scores on our Whatpub site, the places that have consistently served the best beer this year in our branch area are the Thetford Red Lion, Harpley Rose and Crown, Middleton Gate, Hockwold Red Lion, North Wootton Red Cat, Shouldham Kings Arms, Kings Lynn Live and Let Live and Marriot’s Warehouse, with the George and Dragon at Newton by Castle Acre and Roydon Union Jack rounding out the top 10.
Given that it is coming up to what many consider to be the end of the decade, I had a look at the top-10 pubs over the last 10 years, and there is surprisingly little difference, with only the Stuart House Hotel in Lynn, Gaywood White Horse and the Berney Arms at Barton Bendish disturbing the status quo.
So, what of the future? For our CAMRA branch, our first chairwoman since the Bar Wife years ago has led to a different focus with a more local identity and an emphasis on social events alongside campaigning.
I have been persuaded to lead my first historic pub tour in April a daunting task after following the godfather of town walks, Dr Paul Richards around so many times. I suspect mine might be lighter on names and dates.
On a broader canvas, I would like to have to spend less time dealing with pubs under threat and hope that our politicians, both local and national come to appreciate the benefits of pubs and do their best to protect them, but most of all I hope to drink great beer in good company.
See you at the bar.
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