It was nice to get away last weekend and swap the hustle and bustle of the crowded South East for the quiet of rural Norfolk. An overdue visit to my parents was the reason for my getaway, and whilst my trip didn’t leave a lot of time for beer, I still managed a few pints on the Saturday evening.
My parents live in a fairly large, but quite strung-out village called Swanton Morley, which lies about three miles to the north-east of Dereham. They have lived there for the past twenty years or so, having moved to Norfolk, from Kent, following my father’s retirement. I suppose they could now be counted as locals, despite not having been born and raised in the county, and they seem to like where they are living. I hadn’t visited since the spring, so it was nice to spend some time with them and catch up on what had been going on.
I didn’t spend the night at their place. My mother hasn’t been in the best of health recently, and I did not want to add to her workload. Instead I put up at a very nice bed and breakfast place in the nearby village of Elsing. Bartles Lodge, not only offers overnight accommodation, but also caters for fishermen, offering fishing for species such as carp, tench, bream, perch, rudd and roach on three lakes located within the grounds. It is situated right in the centre of the village, opposite the imposing church and right next to the village pub; the Mermaid Inn.
I have stayed at Bartles before, and have drunk, and eaten, in the Mermaid. On this occasion I had eaten at my parents, but on returning to the B & B, was still eager for a few pints to round off the evening. It was gone nine when I finally arrived at the Good Beer Guide-listed pub. There were around a dozen or so people inside; some sitting down enjoying a meal, whilst others were stood at the bar. At the far end, a mixed group of youngsters were enjoying a game of pool, but everything seemed nice and relaxed.
Four cask ales were on sale; two from Woodfordes (Wherry and Nelson’s Revenge), along with Adnam’s Broadside and guest ale - Viking Bitter, from Rudgate. I opted for the latter to start with, and after paying for my pint, I went and sat down in one of the comfortable chairs close to the fireplace, in order to enjoy my beer. Unfortunately the Rudgate wasn’t quite up to scratch, and if anything was a little “tired”. The beer wasn’t bad enough to return, but as my first pint of the day, and an eagerly anticipated one at that, it was rather disappointing.
Unperturbed, I decided to make the most of the indifferent pint, and settled down in front of the cosy wood-burning stove, and began to read the day’s Daily Telegraph, plus associated supplements. As I mentioned earlier, the pub was reasonably busy, but not bursting at the seams either. The Mermaid is a comfortable pub, which dates back to the 17th Century. It consists of a single, long room with the fireplace at one end, and the pool table at the other. Despite the presence of the hand pumps on the bar, all cask beers are served by gravity, from a separate room behind the bar.
After my disappointment with the Rudgate, I opted for something more local, and hopefully safer. Despite their popularity and widespread availability throughout Norfolk, I have never been a huge fan of Woodforde’s. I went for the Broadside instead, which proved a wise choice, as the beer was in tip-top condition and made up for the poor first pint. I ended up having two pints of it, enjoying the warming glow from both the beer and the stove. The landlady wandered over for a brief chat, which was a nice welcoming gesture on her part. I told her I was staying at the lodge next door, and I imagine both establishments derive mutual benefit from being so close to one another.
I left, shortly before closing time, but after most of the customers had drifted off. I was feeling tired and in need of a good night’s sleep (which I had at the Lodge). Although my visit had been a brief one, it was nice to have spent a bit of time in a very pleasant and welcoming village pub. Sure there was nothing overly special about the range of beer, but sometimes (quite often in fact), there are other, more important factors that make a pub what it is. I am pleased that I experienced these “special qualities” last Saturday, at the Mermaid in Elsing.