The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, March 1, 2019
The Bar Wife’s Valentine’s Day treat was to come and hear me deliver a talk about Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, she had to return home immediately afterwards to welcome the guy who was coming to fix our heating system and she was not able to stay and watch me consume my fee, a True’s Yard tuna sandwich.
Whether the trip out to the Rose and Crown at Harpley in the evening, to break the news that they have been named as the West Norfolk CAMRA Pub of the Year, helped to make up for it is a moot point.
We expected the place to be fully booked for food on such an auspicious day, and indeed it was, with the Mexican night proving very popular, but at least there were fish and chips on the way home.
Still, the weekend promised much. A trip to Exeter gave me another chance to roll out my ‘What’s a Grecian* earn?’ joke which she still insists is not funny. Ah well, I will keep trying.
We stayed in South Somerset at a lovely pub near Taunton, but on the way back from the game we decided to try somewhere else.
The Good Beer Guide listed the Cotley Inn near Chard as a likely destination, but I was having second thoughts as we drove down the narrow country lanes with the high hedges which made one hope there was no bicycle coming the other way, never mind a tractor.
To add to the atmosphere a blanket of fog descended but, just when I was about to throw a morale check, the pub appeared, bathed in light on the hillside above us.
A slight panic when we entered and could only see the keg fonts soon passed as I noticed the array of casks racked behind the bar and, as I gratefully sipped my Otter Bitter, the landlady asked if we were hoping to eat.
It was hard to see why this might be a problem in an empty pub with a large dining area in what appeared to be an old barn, but she laid up another table. Around 10 minutes after we sat down, I could see why she asked, as the place filled up with couples, groups, children and dogs.
Fortunately, our order for a shared rack of lamb had already reached the kitchen and we could relax in the convivial atmosphere. Perfect beer, fabulous food, a lovely welcome and a fine warm and cosy old building, given an added presence by its location, added up to one of those moments that will live long in the memory, and a contemplation of past pints set me wondering if this was the best ever.
The passage of time can enhance the memory and elevate sepia tinged reminiscences to the status of legend, but truthfully, the Cotley Inn was as near perfect as I can recall.
So perfect in fact that I managed to suggest stopping off in Coventry on the way home to see the Bears play the West Wales Raiders at Rugby League.
Even though the bar I had earmarked for a pre-match pint was closed, the Big Comfy Bookshop was across the road and amongst the bargains was a coffee shop with delicious cake, so I think I got away with that one.
The Butts Park Arena has a very comfortable lounge and serves superb Purity Ales which made the sight of big blokes biffing each other even more satisfying, which was a fine finale to the Valentine’s celebrations, as I am sure the Bar Wife will agree.
* Exeter FC are known as the Grecians.