Published on August 18th, 2013 | by Nottingham Drinker0
In Praise of PUBlic Transport ND117
Blessed with more than its fair share of venerable old inns and good local alehouses, Worcester is an ideal destination for the discerning tippler, as John Westlake recently discovered.
Huddled around its majestic, 12th century, riverside cathedral, Worcester is a city steeped in history. Strategically sited on the beautiful River Severn, it was here in 1651 that Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army finally vanquished King Charles’ Cavaliers, thus heralding in 11 years during which England existed as a republic before the ultimate return of the monarchy. Once famous for its Royal Worcester porcelain, today the city is probably best known internationally for its iconic, spicy sauce, first developed in the early part of the 19th century by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, the recipe for which remains a closely guarded secret. Easily reached by train in a little over two hours from Nottingham with one change at Birmingham New Street, services leave at either eight or eleven minutes past the hour. Weekday return journeys can be made at 20.33 or 22.10, the latter getting in a little after midnight but sadly, the last practical Saturday departure is at 18.24, whilst Sundays are out of the question altogether.
Upon exiting Foregate Street Station, turn right and on the very next corner stands the Postal Order (1), a typically imposing J D Wetherspoon establishment housed in what was once the main telephone exchange. The expansive, well-appointed interior exhibits all the usual Wetherspoon attention to local detail, from the Civil War to Stanley Baldwin, while the customary Greene King cask ale stalwarts along the bar are supplemented by an excellent choice of mostly local microbrews, such as a fine drop of Shagweaver, a delicate, golden ale from the North Cotswold Brewery. Traditional cider and Broadoak Perry are also usually on sale.
Continuing in the same direction, Foregate Street becomes The Tything and then Upper Tything, where the Cap ‘n Gown (2) is to found on the left, a Hook Norton Brewery tied house with a jolly, red and white painted frontage. Inside, the single room has a tiled floor, pale green walls painted over bits of mock Tudor woodwork, padded seating and a large, flat-screen TV at the far end showing sport. Hooky Bitter, the stronger Old Hooky and Lion, a recent reworking of what was previously Hooky Gold, are the beers on offer.
Retracing our steps into The Tything soon brings us to the diminutive, white painted Lamb & Flag (3), a homely, two-roomed Marstons outlet of real character, with a small lounge to the front served through a hatch and behind, the sort of genuine locals’ bar that is all too rare in city centres nowadays. Pedigree, Marston’s Burton Bitter and Banks’s citrusy Sunbeam can be enjoyed in here whilst admiring some framed Guinness posters from yesteryear, or outside in the small beer garden if weather permits.
Just a few steps further on is the Marwood (4), another pub with a small, terraced frontage but with a surprisingly spacious, almost Tardis-like interior stretching right back to a restaurant area at the rear, which claims to do the best steaks in Worcester, with even more restaurant seating upstairs. The flagstone floor supporting old cast iron pub tables, ornately framed mirrors and some exposed beams all seem to be what one might expect but a little at odds with the eclectic lighting and modern décor in shades of green and cream. The beer selection, however, is reassuringly traditional, with Brakspear’s Oxford Gold usually joined by guest ales from the likes of the Malvern Hills, Purity and St George’s breweries.
Crossing Castle Street, we are back on Foregate Street once again where the Dragon Inn (5) awaits a little further on, its pleasing, Georgian façade fronting a single, comfortably furnished, L-shaped room with its red, white and green paintwork adorned with pump clips. It is also worth noting the list of banned conversation topics! Among the range of six ever-changing guest ales, beers from the Little Ale Cart, based behind the Wellington pub in Sheffield, tend to feature strongly as there is a common business interest in this particular brewery. Enjoy any one of them or, perhaps, a glass of Thatcher’s cider on the small patio to the rear if the sun is shining
Carry on, passing below the railway viaduct and turning right into The Butts to reach the recently opened Paul Pry (6), a solid, redbrick, Victorian edifice that previously served as a restaurant, with some splendid tile-work covering the hallway and continuing through into the loos. To the left is a small lounge with polished floorboards and dark red and mustard walls, while the convivial main bar to the right boasts an impressive moulded ceiling. Beers from the Ludlow Brewery and Little Ale Cart feature regularly, together with an interesting choice of guest ales, but be aware that this pub tends to close around eight o’clock in the evening.
The next two ports of call, although well worth the effort, do entail a fairly long walk over the river so, if you don’t fancy the legwork or, perhaps, time is running short, continue along Deansway to pick up the trail again at number nine. Otherwise, follow the main road round to the right and across the bridge, perhaps pausing to admire the cathedral’s reflection in the Severn, then past the county cricket ground and straight over the roundabout up the hill, bearing left at the top into St John’s where the cream and green frontage of the Bell (7), dating from the 17th century, conceals one of Worcester’s friendliest watering holes. To the right of a central corridor leading through to a function room at the rear are two rather unusual, cosy snugs separated by glazed partitions, whilst the main bar to the left features mock Tudor décor and padded bench seating. There is also a popular skittle alley and outside drinking area where Thwaite’s Wainwright, Fuller’s London Pride or one of the regular beers from the ever-reliable Hobson’s Brewery, not to mention a couple of guest ales, might be supped when our unpredictable climate allows.
Return to the roundabout and bear left down towards the river again, turning left at the T-junction into Hylton Road, which eventually becomes Henwick Road after a brisk walk of about 15 minutes. Occupying a commanding position on the right, just over the crest of the hill, stands the Wheatsheaf (8), a really good community pub where fine views over the river to the racecourse beyond are to had from its attractive lounge bar and equally appealing outside terrace. Marston’s Pedigree and Burton Bitter, together with Banks’s Mild, are complemented by three guest beers, one usually from the LocAle qualifying St George’s Brewery and on this visit, Hope & Glory, a 4.6% abv chestnut hued brew with an earthy, almost herbal character from the even more local, Worcester based Pope’s Brewing Company, which has only been up and running since early 2013. Snacks, including hot and cold pies, are available all day and there is even a mini grocers stall just inside the entrance.
The route returns along the main road, but this time crossing the river by way of the cycle and pedestrian only footbridge, leading back to Deansway via Grandstand Road and Newport Street. Almost opposite the cathedral is the Plough (9), a charming, black and white painted and simply furnished city centre local right on the corner of Fish Street, a narrow, cobbled thoroughfare typical of this part of town. Hobson’s Best Bitter and Malvern Hills Black Pear, a delightfully tart and citrusy, pale golden ale despite its name, are usually joined by two guests together with real ciders from Hogan’s and Barbourne.
A little further on is Ye Olde Talbot where a sharp left turn into Friar Street finds the Cardinal’s Hat (10) almost immediately on the right, a lovely old tavern with a frontage reminiscent of some of Amsterdam’s famous brown cafés. Leaded windows, flagstone floors and lots of dark wood panelling combine to lend a sense of warmth and intimacy to the multi-roomed interior, while no less than four traditional ciders share bar space with Marston’s Pedigree, Purity Mad Goose and four other brews mainly sourced from local micros.
Further along on the corner of Pump Street, the magnificent brown tiled exterior of the Eagle Vaults (11), further enhanced by some fine etched windows, fronts a real locals’ pub serving beers from the Marston’s portfolio, on this occasion including the single hop varietal brew, Amarillo, redolent with citrusy grapefruit flavours. Bare board and terrazzo flooring, quilted leather banquettes and a splendid clock behind the bar all feel exactly right, although the accompanying rock music, albeit right up my street, does seem a little out of place. Many years ago this was a Hunt Edmunds Brewery tied house, as a plaque on the outside wall testifies.
Almost directly across the way, New Street leads off at an oblique angle and not far along on the right, our next three venues come thick and fast. First is the Pheasant (12), an imposing, late 16th century, three-storey Tudor building with a beamed interior, polished wood floors and some nice oak panelling in both the front bar and long, well-appointed lounge to the rear, which also hosts a pool table. It was converted to use as an alehouse in 1787 and today, the three cask beers available include Wye Valley HPA and Sharp’s Doom Bar.
Next comes the attractive, cream and beige painted Georgian façade of the Swan with Two Necks (13), its olde worlde interior full of nooks and crannies and ancient beams festooned with pump clips.
There are just four hand pulled ales from which to choose, with brews from Malvern Hills and St George’s featuring on a regular basis, but right next door a much wider choice awaits.
The King Charles (14) occupies a lovely old timbered property bursting with character, if a little contrived in places, where leaded lights, beamed ceilings and black and white, Tudor style walls contribute towards a clever blend of rustic charm and modern day comforts. A quartet of beers from the Stourbridge based Craddock’s Brewery, together with a similar number from Sadler’s Brewery in nearby Lye, join two Barbourne ciders along the bar to slake the thirsts of eager customers.
The final leg of our tour continues along New Street and Queens Street to the main intersection, then right into Lowesmoor in order to find the Firefly (15), housed in a sedate, redbrick, Georgian building about 200 yards along on the right, which once served as home to the manager of an adjacent vinegar works. Steps lead up into a room oozing with warmth, the soft furnishings and subdued lighting, which are echoed in a cosy, lower level snug to the rear, all helping to create a really inviting ambience. There is also a partially covered patio beyond, while handpumps offer four regularly changing ales from the likes of Hobson’s and Wye Valley alongside two real ciders, which on this occasion, hail from Sandford Orchards. Please note, however, that the Firefly’s doors do not open until mid afternoon, hence its place at the end of our journey, especially as the station is only a short distance back down the road and second right into Foregate Street, where the familiar sight of the viaduct marks the spot. Just time for another pint of Hobson’s perhaps?