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Taking in the pubs of Downham Market before and after an enjoyable football match

In his weekly The Barman column, Jeff Hoyle takes a train journey and visits a few watering holes...

The (very) observant amongst you may have noticed a photo of me on the sports pages in the Lynn News recently. Not scoring the winning goal at Wembley unfortunately, as I do every now and again in my dreams, rather lurking in the background as the Downham players celebrate one of their four goals against Long Melford.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and what is that without football? Lynn had no game and it came down to a choice between Downham and Swaffham. Seduced by the tales of their great new striker and the fact that they now play in the Premier Division of the Eastern Counties League, my first stop was Lynn railway station to check if this was a rare weekend when the trains were running, leaving the bus to Swaffham as plan B.

Fletcher Toll in action for Downham Town. Picture: Ian Burt
Fletcher Toll in action for Downham Town. Picture: Ian Burt

Not only were the trains operating as normal, but the one I wanted was actually on time and I was in Downham in time for a bite of lunch and a quick pint in the Crown Hotel. With its roaring fire and comfortable wood-panelled bar, there was a temptation to while away the afternoon drinking their excellent Wolf Ale from Attleborough in the heart of Norfolk, but the draw of the match was too strong.

It was a good decision with the home team proving to be well organised and skilful, with ace goal scorer Fletcher Toll helping himself to a couple. Full-time came with a choice. A rapid walk down to the station in an attempt to catch the 5.15 train home or a more leisurely stroll with time for a pint in the Live and Let Live. I chose the latter and just about managed to squeeze into this popular and underrated pub for a very nice pint of London Pride.

There are lots of pros and cons to mobile phones, but when travelling they are invaluable. Checking the next train, I discovered that it was delayed due to an incident somewhere near Stevenage, and that there was time to call into the Whalebone, the Wetherspoons outlet, en route to the station.

This was almost as full as the Live and Let Live – the inhabitants of Downham sure know how to enjoy themselves. The beer selection was not huge, but the pint of Pheasantry Excitra made watching the end of the Six Nations rugby very pleasant.

Repeated checks showed that the train was rather later than I had hoped, so the Ghost Ship had to be sampled before heading to the station which has an irritating layout, being necessary to cross the line by the level crossing before the gates descend. In the past that has left me standing in the rain gazing longingly at the much-missed Railway Arms across the platform, but at least my waiting time could be spent in warm and comfortable surroundings with a pint before the train rolled in 95 minutes late, and after much wrestling with on line forms the railway company have promised to refund me £1.20.

What to make of Downham? It looks like a town on the up, with a few nice-looking restaurants and some interesting independent shops, but the pub life is limited. Gone are the Castle, Railway Arms and the Cock, while the Swan currently has the shutters up. The three I visited seem to be the only option besides the Conservative Club. It is a growing town and the popularity of the places I visited shows that the demand is there. Let’s hope that the Swan can capitalise and where could be better for a micropub?


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