Raise Your to Our Best Glass Pubs; Still Going Strong after 20 Years - the Guide That Puts the Nation's Inns on the Map
Heptinstall, Simon, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)
Byline: SIMON HEPTINSTALL
FROM the roadside the pub looked fine . . .
but in through the door it became a nightmare of flashing fruit machines, blaring music and aggressive stares from locals with weirdly shaped heads. We were desperate for somewhere to stop so we suffered the uninterested staff, the soggy sandwiches and the fizzy beer, then drove away, muttering and disappointed.
But just round the next corner we drove straight past a beautiful old thatched tavern, covered with climbing roses and flower baskets on a pretty riverbank.
You could almost smell the real ale, log fires and homemade bread. If only we'd had some way of knowing . . .
Of course, there is a way. It took me a while to cotton on, but since I've discovered The Good Pub Guide I haven't had to suffer a really bad pub again.
This week sees the launch of the 20th-anniversary edition of Britain's top-selling travel guide, listing more than 5,000 top hostelries. If that sounds a lot, consider that there are around 70,000 to choose from. Over the years it has become more than just a bible of good boozers, it has evolved into an institution powerful enough to encourage the best and penalise the worst.
Good food, real ale, friendly atmosphere and unspoilt character have been championed. Gorgeous old rural pubs such as the Wenlock Edge Inn in Shropshire, and the Five Bells and the Nobody Inn in Devon have thrived, with no little thanks to repeated mentions in the guide.
The Good Pub Guide 2002 - out on Thursday - selects 14 award-winners in categories which include Newcomer Of The Year and Dining Pub Of The Year, as well as the overall Pub and Inn Of The Year.
So let's hear it for pubs such as the unspoilt Bell at Aldworth in Berkshire, run by the Macaulay family for the past 200 years, the seafood specialists at The Victory in Cornwall who employ their own fish smoker, and the Brunswick in Derbyshire, an old railwayman's hostelry that brews its own beers in a tower round the back.
Pubs are as much a part of our national heritage as stately homes, ancient churches and the Royal Family. To thousands of overseas visitors they are our most memorable attractions and a celebration of the great British public house couldn't be more timely for the country's struggling tourist industry.
PRODUCING the guide is quite a task. Four inspectors work fulltime on what seems like one of the best jobs in the world. They also enlist the help of hundreds of faithful readers who write in with their own verdicts. It is expected to sell at least 60,000 copies.
Deputy editor Fiona Stapley explained what they look for: 'A good pub is one where anyone can walk in and feel relaxed. You feel like you belong.' The latest Pub Of The Year epitomises what the judges are looking for. The Wenlock Edge Inn was once an old stone farmhouse. Now it's a welcoming pub with window shutters, a pond and a pretty garden in a beautiful and remote spot in rural south Shropshire. It's run by brother-and-sister landlords Di and Stephen Waring, while former landlords - mum Joan and dad Harry - help out.
Di was picking wild damsons from the hedge behind the pub when I called.
'We'll use them to make some pies,' she explained in the welcoming bar with exposed stone walls, open fire and bookshelves.
One of the pub's specialities is old-fashioned non-alcoholic drinks - most customers have to drive miles to get here.
You can choose from traditional lemonade, ginger beers and homemade fruit cocktails, as well as well-kept local beers on handpumps, a good wine list and interesting whiskies. …