Sunday, 16 December 2012

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: MY FAVOURITE SEASIDE PUBS

Going to the pub is one of the pleasures of a visit to the British seaside, and at Christmas the pub comes into its own. Whether you have been for a bracing walk along the seafront with a fierce souwesterly hurling seaspray across your path, or whether you have spent a pleasant interlude pottering around a harbourside, dodging the waves crashing over the harbour wall, there is only one place to head for to warm up: a cosy pub with a roaring fire, the heady aroma of hearty pub food and mulled wine, a clutch of local characters of varying degrees of eccentricity putting the world to rights and a jolly array of Christmas decorations and lights. The following is a list of my personal favourites, but it is by no means exhaustive. I would be delighted to hear about other people's beloved seaside pubs, so feel free to add yours to the list via the comments.

Penzance, Cornwall: The Turks Head

I had to start with my home town, and of all the pubs there it had to be the Turks Head. The oldest pub in Penzance, and situated in its most historic street, the pub is entered via a small door in its white facade, and is on two levels, with the bar on the ground floor and extra tables for eating downstairs. The good pub fare on offer includes a range of excellent fish and seafood options. The pub dates from the 13th century and has seen its fair share of action over the years, including part of the building being burnt down during the Spanish invasion of the 16th century, and the activities of smugglers making use of the tunnel leading from the pub directly to the harbour.

Polperro, Cornwall: The Blue Peter

Wandering through the impossibly picturesque streets of this Cornish fishing town you pass a series of increasingly inviting restaurants, cafes and pubs. Then, just when you think you've seen them all you come to the Blue Peter, right at the bottom corner of the village, overlooking the harbour. As well as a range of ales, ciders and wines, including mulled wine at Christmas, the pub offers meals and frequent live music, which has always been excellent when we have been there. Be careful on the way out: the only exit from the pub is not through the door at the front, but via a substantial flight of stone steps to the side. I shudder to think of the accidents that must have taken place on those steps.


Dartmouth, Devon: The Cherub

The Cherub is equally appealing outside and in, with its quaint black-and-white exterior and rickety interior with a roaring fire in winter. The building, the oldest in Dartmouth, dates from the 14th century and is thought to have been a Merchant's House originally. Upstairs, the restaurant does a nice line in fine dining, while lighter bar snacks are also available.

Seatown, Dorset: The Anchor Inn

Whether you've spent the morning huffing and puffing up and down the roller coaster clifftop paths on this part of the Dorset coast, or whether you've been wandering along the palaeontologist's dream of a beach, head down, fossicking for fossils, relief is close at hand in the form of the Anchor Inn, marvellously situated overlooking the beach, near the cliff's edge. In summer there are outside tables to enjoy the view from, but in winter it's all about wood-burning stoves and good value, warming pub food.

Lymington, Hampshire: The Kings Head

We stayed in Lymington a couple of years ago in the month of October, a time of year when I start to yearn for hearty, warming comfort food, ideally served in cosy candlelit surroundings with a lively, convivial atmosphere, and the Kings Head delivered on all counts. Occupying the top end of a quaint little street leading down to the harbour and marina, this pub also satisfied on the drinks front, serving my husband's favourite ale (London Pride) and my favourite cider (Aspalls).

Whitstable, Kent: The Old Neptune

I have to be honest. The beach at Whitstable is not going to win any beauty contests, but the sunsets just might. And the best place to view one of them is on a bench outside the Old Neptune or Neppy to its regulars, which occupies a prime position right on the beach. In fact, given its precarious location it is a miracle that there is still a pub there. The original building is long since gone, washed away by a storm in 1897, the second time that century that it had taken a lashing. However, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the pub was rebuilt, although it still retains a somewhat fragile appearance. The interior of the pub has a pleasingly lived-in look, and attracts an eclectic clientele. The walls are covered with an array of interesting artwork and photographs of celebrities such as Iggy Pop. Continuing the celebrity theme, scenes from the film Venus starring Peter O'Toole were shot in the Old Neptune bar. Live music is a regular feature at weekends, which always makes for a good atmosphere.


(Sorry, bit of a crap picture!)

Aldeburgh, Suffolk: Ye Olde Cross Keys

In a town full of quaint buildings, Ye Olde Cross Keys is one of the quaintest. Set slightly back from the seafront, the pub is perfectly placed to be dived into after a bracing walk along Aldeburgh's beach. Cosy and inviting inside, with a roaring log fire, the pub serves locally caught seafood washed down with Adnams ale. One evening during our stay in Aldeburgh we found ourselves sharing the bar with a large group of young musicians, not surprising in this town, which is famous for its musical connections, most notably its association with Benjamin Britten.

Whitby, North Yorkshire: The Duke of York

Ideally situated as a bolt hole after descending the steps from Whitby Abbey, the Duke of York has a history stretching back 1,000 years to the days when the monks landed their produce from the sea at this spot before taking it up to the monastery. You can satisfy the inevitable hunger and thirst produced from walking up and down all those steps courtesy of the pub's decent standard pub fare and local ales, while enjoying fabulous views of the harbour.

Seahouses, Northumberland: The Olde Ship Inn

I fell in love with the Olde Ship during two self-catering weeks in Seahouses, especially the main bar, which is stuffed full of nautical photographs and artefacts. Unfortunately, the pub's popularity proved to be its downfall on weekend nights, when the main bar could get uncomfortably crowded. During the summer, relief is at hand in the form of a small garden out the back. I have not experienced the pub during the winter, but I'm sure it would be the perfect place to head for after pottering around the harbour or going for a long walk along the fabulous beach between Seahouses and Bamburgh. The Olde Ship also offers accommodation and serves meals in a separate restaurant area.

Inverary, Argyll and Bute: The George Hotel

The George Hotel is a historic coaching inn. We were so taken with it on a visit to Scotland a few years ago that we drove all the way over from Loch Awe to have an evening meal there, something my husband does not do lightly. As the pub's website suggests, it owes its existence to the architects Adam and Milne, who were responsible for Scotland's first planned town.

Caernarvon, Gwynedd: The Black Boy

Although just a minute's walk from Caernarvon's famous castle, the Black Boy is tucked away in a narrow side street, so it may take some unearthing. However, it is worth the effort, as the main bar provides a welcome respite from Caernarvon's lively weekend atmosphere, and the restaurant is a popular feeding post for those in search of decent British pub food.

Porthgain, Pembrokeshire: The Sloop Inn

I have only visited the Sloop during the springtime, but I can well imagine diving into it after an invigorating winter walk on the Pembrokeshire coast path, which passes through here. Porthgain has an interesting past as a quarry port, offloading slate from the surrounding areas. The interior of the Sloop has bags of character, and the food is pretty good too.

Lynmouth, Devon: The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun ticks all the boxes for a traditional harbourside inn, although it is also an upmarket hotel, occupying a whole row of cottages in this prime location by the side of Lynmouth harbour. We once spent a lovely New Years Eve at the Rising Sun, culminating in a 60s singalong to the live musician in the main bar. Every time I hear You've Lost That Loving Feeling by the Righteous Brothers it reminds me of that night!


St Ives, Cornwall: The Sloop Inn

The Sloop Inn in St Ives occupies a superb harbourfront location, nestling among the bars, restaurants, gift shops and amusement arcades. At Christmas it is ablaze with lights and decorations, and there is a range of delicious seafood specials on offer as well as mulled cider, a welcome change from the usual mulled wine.


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