I returned early last week from a brief visit to Norfolk. My parents retired to the county nearly 20 years ago and whilst I do obviously visit from time to time, it’s probably not as often as I should, especially considering their advancing years. Having said that, they’re in pretty good shape and it was good to see them both looking quite hale and hearty. It was also good to, exchange news and generally catch up on things.
I say I should visit more often, but the area of Norfolk where they live isn’t that easy to reach. It’s only 140 miles door to door, but once you get a little passed Newmarket, the dual-carriageway disappears, and is replaced by much slower single-carriageway roads, which always seem to make the last part of the journey drag.
My visit was obviously not a beer related one, but I did manage to slip away for an hour or so on the final evening for a brief visit to the local pub. My parents live in a large, elongated village called Swanton Morley, which is roughly five miles from the town of Dereham. There are two pubs in the village; there used to be three when they first moved there, but the Papermakers closed quite a few years ago and is now a private house.
One of the remaining pubs is located in the centre of the village, just down from the imposing church, next to the local shop and Post Office, It goes under the name of Darby’s, but has only been a pub since 1988 when it was converted from a pair of 18th century farm cottages. It is named after Ann Darby, the last person to farm from the site. For some time Darby’s featured regularly in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, but seems to have lost its listing in favour of the Angel. This is the pub at the far end of the village, and the nearest one to my parent’s bungalow.
I like the Angel; it is obviously CAMRA friendly with a small, but good selection of well-kept cask beers. It also holds regular Beer Festivals; in fact one is scheduled to take place this Easter weekend. The couple that run it are very much involved in village activities. Despite this I had it in mind to give Darby’s another try. I had accompanied my father down to the village shop, and we were planning to pop in next door for a quick drink. However, we soon discovered that the pub closes between 3 and 6pm during the week. This makes sense I suppose; given there is probably very little trade during the afternoon.
Foiled in my attempt for an afternoon pint I put plan B into action, and nipped out, on foot, later the same evening to the Angel. It was a freezing cold night, and I wasn’t planning to stay long, especially as I was feeling a bit under the weather. Apart from the young lad behind the bar, there were only two other people in the pub. There was a welcoming log fire burning in the grate though, and although the barman was engrossed in his laptop he looked pleased to see another customer. Three cask ales were on sale – Woodforde’s Wherry (inevitable really in Norfolk), Hop Back Summer Lightning (something of a rarity these days) and, as guest beer, the award-winning Trawler Boys Best Bitter from Green Jack Brewery of Lowestoft. I opted for the latter, which turned out true to form as an excellent beer, before moving onto the Summer Lightning.
Like other legendary beers such as Taylor’s Landlord and Exmoor Gold, Summer Lightning to me tastes somewhat bland these days. I had a conversation with a friend about this phenomenon just the other day, as he had also reached the same conclusion. Is it just that our palates change with time? Is it that more “extreme” beers have excited our taste buds to such an extent that beers we once regarded as full of character, now seem dull and one-dimensional? Or is it just that the afore mentioned beers have grown in popularity, gained mass-acceptance, and the brewers have been tempted to cut costs, go for cheaper ingredients, and cut maturation times?
To return to the Angel for a moment; the two other customers, a couple of ageing bikers, (rather them than me on a motorcycle on such a freezing cold night), donned their gear, said farewell to the barman and left the pub. I wasn’t far from being ready to go myself, and on the way out I told mine host that I hoped he would get a few more punters that evening. Not to worry, he said, there will be more people coming in a minute. He was right, for on my walk back to my parents, I noticed a couple of people heading for the pub. I suppose given the inclement weather and the fact it was a Monday evening, the pub wasn’t doing too bad!
That wasn’t quite my only pub experience of the trip, as earlier the same day, we stopped for lunch at a large, newly-built new Marstons pub, attached to Norwich Retail Park. The Copper Beech has a popular carvery, offering good value for money roast dinners and we took full advantage of this. My parents claimed it wasn’t that busy, but again given the aforementioned weather, and day of the week it seemed busy enough to me.
Beer-wise there were the usual Marston’s beers on offer, including Bank’s Bitter, Hobgoblin and Oxford Gold. I went for the latter, but it was a little on the chilly side and had been spoilt by being pulled through a sparkler! It didn’t matter too much, the roast dinner was tasty and filling, and we were only intending to stay for one anyway.
I will be returning to Norfolk in a few weeks’ time for the CAMRA Member’s Weekend and National AGM. Before the weekend gets underway, I will be spending a few more days with mum and dad. Hopefully the weather will be a bit better by then!