Saturday, 7 June 2014

Off the Beaten Track

On my recent visit to Norfolk, I was unable to book overnight accommodation at Bartle’s Lodge, my preferred B&B establishment. Instead I had to look further a field, and after just missing out on a place at a hotel in Swaffham, settled for a pub-cum-restaurant with the unlikely name of the Ugly Bug Inn.

Unlikely and, probably unique, but for someone old enough to remember the song, “Ugly Bug Ball”, sung by the American country singer, Burl Ives a rather strange choice of name for a pub. Never judge a book by its cover though, and after a look at the pub’s website, and reading the many positive reviews regarding both the restaurant and the overnight accommodation, I booked a couple of night’s stay for my son and me. 

The pub is well off the beaten track, on the edge of the tiny village of Colton, to the south of the main A47 road between Norwich and Dereham. It is unusual in having only been a pub since 1992. Prior to this it was a private home called the Ugly Bug Hall, and before that it was an old fruit barn workshop dating back to around 1810. Its current owners, John and Alison, have worked hard to develop the pub, and it is now a thriving village Inn serving good quality local real ales and food with a warm friendly atmosphere.

I hadn’t realised until after I had booked our accommodation, that the Ugly Bug Inn is also in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, and prides itself on only stocking cask beers from local Norfolk breweries. It regularly stocks beers from Beeston and Humpty Dumpty breweries, but at the time of our visit there was a beer from Panther Brewery gracing the bar as well. Panther are based in the village of Reepham, having taken over the plant of the pioneering Reepham Brewery, which closed in 2009.

We arrived in the area at just before 7pm last Saturday evening, and managed to find the pub without any trouble. After checking in and being shown to our comfortable and well-appointed first floor room, we headed back down to the bar and got stuck into the Honey Panther; or at least I did. Son Matthew is a lager drinker, so he went for the Carlsberg. Now I find this rather puzzling. The Ugly Bug’s management pride themselves on supporting local breweries, and yet the pub only stocks international “big name” lagers (Budweiser, Carlsberg, Fosters). Surely there are far better lagers available – Czech Budvar or Pilsner Urquell, to name just two of better tasting, and more ethical brands of lager which the pub could have opted for.

I’m speaking more for myself than my son here, as he was quite happy with his Carlsberg! The pub was heaving, mainly with diners. We had noticed the lack of spaces in the car park when we arrived, but fortunately there is an over-spill car park just across the road. All this bears witness to the pub’s popularity, especially as somewhere to drive out to for a good meal. It obviously has a good reputation, as even my mother had heard of it; and she’s someone who very rarely sets foot in a pub!

Although we hadn’t booked an evening meal, host John managed to squeeze us into the restaurant. This was good of him, given the large numbers of people that night. He told us there would be a bit of a wait for a table, but it was worth it, as the food was first class. We adjourned back to the bar after our meal, for a night cap. This time I opted for the Stirling, a 4.5% reddish beer from Beeston Brewery. It was pleasant enough, but not as good as the Panther.

We both slept well and the following morning treated ourselves to a full English breakfast. We ate elsewhere that evening, my two sisters having arranged a family get together with a meal, plus a few drinks at the Romany Rye, the local Wetherspoon’s outlet in Dereham. It was here that I had the Ruddle’s Best referred to in my previous post. There was still some Honey Panther left when we arrived back, but apart from ourselves, plus one other paying guest, the pub was very quiet.

That an isolated place like the Ugly Bug can thrive in these difficult trading times, says a lot for the dedication and enthusiasm of the pub’s management. Giving people what they really want, in the form of good beer, good food and comfortable and character surroundings, rather than what the Pub Co rep tells you they want, (Sky Sports, karaoke,  discos or themed evenings), speaks volumes for the pub trade today. On the whole, people prefer to make their own amusement in pubs, whether in the form of conversation, a game of darts or pool, and don’t really appreciate having something forced upon them. If to top this, the beer and the food are in tip-top condition, then so much the better.

If you are ever in the area between Norwich and Dereham, then why not call in at the Ugly Bug Inn? You won't be disappointed.


Martin, Cambridge said...

The pub is close to Barnham Broom which is a popular golf-based holiday resort that provides a good number of mature dining custom. I recall a particularly good meal and beer there a few years back.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the update, Martin. I'm probably starting to fit into that "mature custom" myself!!

Nice pub though, and the management and staff made us feel very welcome.