Enjoy a quiet pint in what could almost pass for an every day Victorian house, little changed in over 100 years...
1986, for me (aged 13) is easily identified by the films I watched – mostly thanks to my best friend Charlie, whose brother worked for a film magazine; reviewing the industry’s latest flicks via VHS – way ahead of general release. Top Gun was one of them, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off another, along with Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Platoon and The Golden Child. That same year Charlie unveiled his penknife – as we tucked into a portion of chips and a scatter of batter bits – with an offer of bonding us into blood brotherhood.
Unsurprisingly, we were the only two within our gaggle of friends to draw blood – the only two stupid enough, some may say. Nevertheless, I am quite sure the younger-set are doing similar things these days; sat on a bench with a semi-blunt implement, proposing much the same, with or without the chip shop batter bits. The less brave, though possibly more sensible, are no doubt opting for greeting cards or friendship bracelets. Some – so I hear – arriving at one another’s front doorstep with a Kilner jar of friendly yeast that needs due care, love, and attention.
Another way to show people that you care is to circulate a chain letter of directions that will lead your chums to Kington’s Olde Tavern – quite possibly one the friendliest pubs you’re ever likely to find. And just like Herman the German (the friendship cake mix that’s been doing the rounds since the 1970s), this inconspicuous Victorian pub has been lovingly shared through the decades – bubbling away on the edge of Kington (on the English/Welsh border) next to the roundabout, being fed with lively conversation and well-natured debate throughout its licensed life, from 1767 to the present day.
Perhaps it helps that the pub looks every inch a home from home, with its residential facade snuck into a tiny terrace – the words 'Fred Jones Wines Licensed Brewer Spirits Ye Olde Tavern' are etched gold on black over the door to guide your way. Walking in, it's immediately apparent how little has changed here in well over 100 years. The toilets may now live indoors, but the serving hatch still serves off-premises sales, with a wooden-block till for its takings.
The door to your left leads to the public bar – a small square room with a low-slung red leather bench bending from the compact bar towards the mantelpiece. Here you'll find two iron-legged tables, a few wooden chairs, a handful of stools and two wooden cabinets (one glass and filled with bygone trinkets; the other three-tiered with pewter plates). Sitting in one of these chairs, is a gentleman no stranger to the tavern’s ways: celebrating today, his 80th. His first flirt with the public bar began when he was 14. And so he says, not a day has since passed without popping his head in.
From a bare wooden seat in the bay, you can rest an elbow on a perfectly-positioned sill, survey the small room for all its worth, and get absorbed into whatever subject has taken to the floor. Four hand pulls rest on the 19th-century counter top, serving Wye Valley, Ludlow Brewing Co and Hobsons. About the same number of people can hold court here in comfort, facing the shelves of spirits and upside-down glasses, the carved pelmet of the wooden bar-back. A split serving hatch gives a glimpse of the the old smoking room next door, with its flagstone floor, wall-mounted wooden benches and old tongue-and-grooved panelling.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that you may never want to leave. But when you do, you somehow feel you’ve taken a bit of its warmth and welcome with you; your back right-hand pocket somehow now home to an ounce of this tavern’s spirit – an invisible element that makes this place so amenable; so genial.
Believing that this really was the case, I popped my head into a far-from-favourable inn on my route back that evening. I knew it was a little late to be served a drink. But that bothered me not. I was here to empty my back pocket – to share some of that Olde Tavern glow; to hopefully do what little I could to help spread that 100-year-old proof of friendliness – the affable gene, now airborne, spreading slowly yet surely throughout this nation to ensure more pubs welcome you with the same embrace of this remarkable market town tavern.
Olde Tavern, 22 Victoria Road, Kington, HR5 3BX; 01544 239033; Monday–Thursday: 6.30pm–midnight; Friday: 3.30pm–midnight; Saturday and Sunday: 12-noon–12-midnight
Jon Saxon is the founder and editor of Doghouse magazine.
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