The Bar Man - CAMRA pub awards celebrate local favourites

It’s the time of year when the West Norfolk CAMRA Branch dishes out its annual awards. Our Club of the Year for 2018 is the Ferry Lane Social Club.

Threatened with closure not so long ago, the former Ouse Amateur Sailing Club has been renamed, but little else has changed.

The beer is still good, the menu has been expanded and Nikki and the rest of the staff are always friendly and welcoming.

There have been a few more events, such as quiz nights and music taking place and despite strong competition from Runcton Holme and Narborough clubs, we feel that Ferry lane is a worthy winner.

The Blackstone Engine bar at Denver Windmill might be relatively new, but Ian and Lesley who run the place have plenty of pedigree.

Until fairly recently they ran the Railway Arms on Downham Station which was a serial winner of the award and went on to greater things, being named National Cider Pub of the Year in 2013.

Honourable mentions are due to the Nip and Growler and Live and Let Live in Lynn and the Union Jack at Roydon who pushed them close.

Our Pub of the Year is once again the Kings Arms at Shouldham. We have had multiple winners before, with the Angel at Larling and the Union Jack at Roydon, but this is an unprecedented third straight success for this community owned establishment.

The Angel pushed it hard, along with the Live and Let Live and the Peddars at Sporle.

All serve great beer, and between them you can find a great welcome, interesting surroundings and atmosphere, friendly clientele and lots of community activities, but the Kings Arms seem to have them all, especially the community focus.

Next year it is probable that a couple of the pubs on our short list will not be eligible, so it’s up to the rest of the pubs in the area to step up and challenge. While it might be good to see some variation in our award winners, the challengers have to be good enough to deserve the accolade.

However prestigious these awards are, it is not the end of the road. Each one will progress into the national competition, first going head to head with the winners from the other Norfolk branches to become the County champion.

If successful, it is on to the East Anglia region and then the national competition. Any of our local members can become involved in the judging – contact me for details.

What are the chances? The Ferry Lane Club has been National Champion and more recently Regional Champion in its former guise. I visited the regional winner at South Benfleet, and was very impressed, but if the judges arrive in Lynn when the sun is out and have a great pint while sat on the balcony overlooking the river, Ferry Lane has every chance.

It won’t be the quality of the cider that lets the Blackstone down. Maybe the railway connection gave the Downham pub a slight advantage, but for me this place is as good as the former national champion.

Last year, the Stanford Arms in Lowestoft made the last four in the national competition, and having visited, I can see nothing there that isn’t present in Shouldham. Let’s hope others agree and we have a hat trick of success in the Norfolk round.