The Bar Man - A classic village pub

I think it was 30 years ago that Hank came to town.

My head of department had decided that he fancied an exchange, and so as the Christmas holidays came to an end, he set off with his family for a year in Melbourne while Hank and his family made the reverse trip.

It soon became obvious that Hank was what we thought of as a typical Aussie. He transformed our volleyball team, his easy-going nature replaced by ‘white line fever’ as he stepped onto the court.

He loved his sport – we took him across to Carrow Road to see Norwich beat Manchester United and in return he took us down to the Oval to see a game of Australian Rules football.

He also liked a beer and after volleyball and other events we would often repair to the London Porterhouse. However, he also wanted to experience a typical English country pub.

Where would you pick? We chose the Crown at Gayton, and 30 years later I might make the same call. Great beer, well kept, separate areas for the diners, the drinkers and in those days, the families. A nice garden and friendly locals.

I did play on their quiz team for a while in the competitions at the Workers Club, so I knew a few people there, but it always seemed that someone would have a chat and if you were lucky, you might come home with a bag of vegetables.

The pub was, of course, listed in the Good Beer Guide and I remember going in and the landlord announcing the ‘The beer inspectors are here’ and ushering me into the cellar, much to my embarrassment.

Around 19 years ago the place was taken over by Fliss, and it wasn’t long before it became the West Norfolk CAMRA pub of the year, and the BBC journalist and MP Martin Bell came along to present the certificate dressed in his trademark white suit.

Recently, her time in charge has come to an end as she is taking her well deserved retirement, but it was good to attend a local CAMRA branch meeting in the Crown and to remember all the pleasant evenings we spent there and the excellent food and beer, and we wish Fliss and her partner Colin a long and happy retirement.

It is far from the end for the Crown. Unlike some pubs that are taken over, there has been no long spell of uncertainty, with the pub closed and the customers wondering what is to happen.

One day was enough for the handover and in the middle of February the new team of Lisa Brindle and Neil Staples from nearby South Wootton took the reins for the first time. Although no strangers to the pub trade this is the first place of their own.

With a large dining room and bed and breakfast offered as well as the bar, they have a lot of hard work in front of them. But they have taken on one of the best pubs in Norfolk and if they serve good beer and get on well with the customers, there is every chance that the Crown will be as good as ever, and as it is now the only pub in an expanding village, the potential is enormous.

We still have guests come to stay, maybe not from Australia, but they appreciate a classic village pub. Hopefully, the Crown will be the place to take them for many years to come.