I have just spent a couple of days in one of the country's most unsung counties, where I stayed in a lovely market town with a good number of pubs in the Good Beer Guide. Here's my thoughts on what I found....
Early in 2020, Uncut magazine ran an interview with musician Robert Wyatt, formerly of the 70's prog-rock bands Soft Machine and Matching Mole, and who briefly bothered the singles charts with covers of The Monkees' I'm a Believer and Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding. Within the article it came out that he and his wife have lived in Louth in Lincolnshire for over 30 years, and as I was looking out for new places to visit, I added it to the list, only for nothing to happen as we became overwhelmed by the pandemic. But the place stuck in my mind and I finally visited last weekend. And in any case a visit made sense as I am technically 25% a Yellowbelly, as people from Lincolnshire are sometimes called, as my Grandma on my Dad's side was born in the county.
Firstly though, I drove beyond Louth and out to the coast ending up a few miles north of Skegness at Chapel St Leonard's, which had caught my eye because of a beach bar called the Admiral Benbow representing this sprawling village of bungalows and mobility scooters in the Good Beer Guide. I parked up in the village centre, and then walked past a few shops, a fish and chip shop, and a small amusement arcade, where the road ended and a slope led you to a footpath overlooking a sandy beach. An A-board indicated that the Admiral Benbow was open when the flag was flying, and sure enough, about 50 yards away was a low building with a flag aloft, flapping slightly in the gentle breeze. There was an outside seating area in the style of a boat on one side of the path, but will all places occupied I grabbed a seat inside near the door from where I could see the sea. I ordered a pint of the Benbow Bitter (brewery unknown), which was an unexpected £3.00 a pint (cash only) for a well-balanced and refreshing, traditional malty amber beer. Well worth the NBSS score of 3.5 I gave it. The Admiral Benbow was a friendly spot, decked out with seafaring memorabilia and photos, with pump clips a-plenty displayed up above.
|The Admiral Benbow, Chapel St Leonards|
A quick walk along the beach which, considering it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, was pretty deserted and then a delicious fish butty which I enjoyed sat at a picnic table in a pleasant grassed area in the middle of this rather civilised village. Even the seagulls were polite enough here to maintain their distance as I ate....
I drove along country lanes amidst rolling countryside, passing through quiet villages before picking up the main A16 which took me up to Louth, where I got checked in to my quiet hotel which was about 20 minutes walk from the town centre. I checked out the location of the town's pubs, and the nearest one was the Woolpack, around 5 minutes walk away. So that was where I headed. It was a large pub across the road from the navigation, which in 1770 had connected Louth to the sea 11 miles away and allowed the emergence of a small shipbuilding industry in the town and goods to be transported to and from the town until it closed in 1924, although it has since been restored by a local trust.
The Woolpack is owned by Batemans, the long-established family brewers based in Wainfleet, near Skegness. I had dealt with them for a time when I was buying Beer, Wine & Spirits, and in fact it was Stuart Bateman who had told me of the Yellowbelly name for people from Lincolnshire when the brewery launched a new beer with that name. It is often badged these days simply as Gold, and it was one of the beers that was on the bar when I walked into the Woolpack. I did though go for the 3.7% XB, a smooth and well-balanced malty beer with a mellow finish. It was delicious and I rated it a 3.5 on the NBSS scale. The pub was friendly enough although it seemed to be quite food-orientated.
I moved after enjoying my pint and headed into the town centre. The next pub on my list in the Good Beer Guide was the 16th century, Grade 2 listed Ye Olde Whyte Swanne, a low white-walled building with a tiled roof, a small bar as you went in, and then further rooms beyond, and an unexpected large beer garden out to the back which turned out to be a real suntrap.
|Ye Old Whyte Swanne, Louth|
It was becoming apparent that traditional beers held sway in what was quite a traditional town, and again I went for a classic ale, this time Draught Bass, and I have to see that for the 3rd successive time that day, the beer was in great condition, with delicious caramel notes and a dry finish, and I rated it as a 3.5 again! Bass has been shunted around a bit over the past few years and is now in the hands of AB InBev, hardly known as purveyors of cask ale, but it is brewed under contract in its home town of Burton-on-Trent by Marstons, who do know a thing or two about brewing cask beer.
I left the sunny beer garden behind and walked for a few minutes before coming across the Cobbles, situated down the narrow New Street. This was a complete contrast, a modern bar with a lively soundtrack and a much younger crowd than the other places I had visited. The only cask beer was Black Sheep Bitter, served from a brightly lit font-like pump that stood out more than the beer itself, which was as bland as ever. Whilst I couldn't really fault the quality (NBSS 3), in terms of flavour it was streets behind the beers I'd supped earlier in the day. Where was a Jarl or a hazy NEIPA when you needed it most?!
I was hopeful that my next visit might have something a bit different in terms of beer options. This was the Consortium, a micropub with its own brewery. Situated in a yard off the Cornmarket, there were plenty of people sat outside watching the Spain v Switzerland on a TV set up on a wall. I walked in and unusually for a micro there was a TV set up there. I ordered a pint of the 4.4% Republic IPA, which to quote the tasting notes was "a crafted IPA brewed with Pilsner malt, smashed with Simcoe, with a subtle hint of banana on the finish." Now it's all a matter of personal taste, but the banana was much more dominant than my definition of subtle, and sadly the beer was pretty disappointing overall and at best I would have given it a NBSS 2.5. I tried the 5% Flagship IPA keg, which was "brewed with the illusive(sic) Nelson Sauvin hops, this fresh IPA packs a citrus punch". This was much more like it, refreshing and citrussy just as the tasting notes said, although I wasn't aware that Nelson Sauvin hops were illusive or even elusive ...! The Consortium also produced their own gins, a long list of flavours including an intriguing Marmite Supreme! I liked the place, it was friendly, full of character, just a shame the beer was not quite as good.
|The Consortium micropub, Louth; complete with TVs|
Next day, I decided to go for a look around Louth. I arrived at the museum just as it was opening, and I have to say it was an excellent way to spend an hour. There was an exhibition featuring the building and restoration of the Navigation. I found out that the town had its own carpet industry, was flooded in 1920, and in terms of museums, Louth's was certainly impressive for a town of its size.
As I left, a few spots of rain started to dot the pavement, and gradually increased. I decided to shelter in a cafe bar called Red Nana where I ordered an Americano and settled into the vibe of the place. Part cafe bar, part wine bar, with a discerning soundtrack, I joined in the conversation with the owner and a fellow customer. There was beer on in the form of lagers from a 700 year old Bavarian brewery called ABK which I had not heard of before but with no cask or craft on offer, I gave it a try on the recommendation of my host. Not really my drink, but it was refreshing enough. Overall, a lovely little bar which also has a good reputation for its food.
The rain abated and I decided to go and continue my exploration of Louth. The Saturday market was busy, and the streets were full of independent shops which seemed to be thriving and I noticed very few boarded up shops. Apparently the town has blocked the advance of the big supermarkets; so a small Morrisons but no Tesco, Asda, or Sainsburys, and on this evidence the town is doing very nicely, thank you. I spotted a beautiful art-deco cinema down a side street. I called in at St James' Church, whose 293ft tower makes it the tallest medieval parish church in the country. The tower dominates the town and can be seen from miles around. Around the church there are quiet streets of Georgian houses, and the King Edward VI School where the poet Tennyson went to school and where on a wall overlooking the street there is even an attractive sculpture of the young king.
I walked along Gospelgate, one of several 'gates' in the town, whose names comes from the Danish for 'way' rather than indicating the town was walled (it wasn't). And in one of the streets going uphill from the town centre and I came across a shop selling vinyl and CDs called, appropriately enough, Off the Beaten Tracks. It was a real Aladdin's cave, music of all genres, new and old, and run by an enthusiastic owner who was telling me he does a lot of business online. A great way to pass an hour, and I came out with a copy of Portishead's classic, Dummy, which was another great album lost in the dispersal of my original collection.
At the top of the hill I spotted a pub which turned out to be the Boar's Head, another entry in the Good Beer Guide. It was in a prominent position on the brow of the hill with a small beer garden to the side, with the look of a country pub. Nicely decorated in modern pubco muted colours, and friendly enough. I ordered a pint of the Boar's Head Bitter, which was a pleasant enough NBSS 3. The pub though was sadly a little bland and lacking in character, but nonetheless is well worth a visit.
|The Boars Head, Louth|
I decided then to walk to the most far flung of the town's Beer Guide pubs, which was about 15 minutes walk away, the White Horse, but unfortunately it wasn't opening until later. I chuntered to myself as I walked back to a pub I had passed on the other side of the road, and fortunately this turned out to be one of the best of the trip. Step up The Brown Cow, a very friendly local on a junction with some great beer and a warm welcome. I sat in a quiet room to the left of the entrance but from the chatter and laughter coming from the room at the other side of bar it was clear this is a much-loved local. I was drinking the Castle Rock Harvest Pale, the beer from Nottingham was spot on, and a rare blonde beer on this trip which I rated as a 3.5. A must-visit pub when in the town, around 10-15 minutes walk from the centre.
|The Brown Cow, Louth|
And then with excitement building for England's quarter final against Ukraine in the Euros that evening, I headed back into the town centre for something to eat before a couple of pints, returning to Ye Olde Whyte Swanne and watching the first half in the beer garden. A storm began to brew, the pub decided to shut early due to lack of customers - me and one other - and then as the heavens opened, I sheltered in an alley before spotting a taxi and heading back to the hotel to see England wrap up a comprehensive win and earn a semi-final against Denmark.
I enjoyed my trip to Lincolnshire, Louth is a lovely friendly town with a host of good, traditional pubs. I can appreciate why Robert Wyatt, and others, including such as comedian John Shuttleworth, actors Daniel Craig and Jim Broadbent, actress Julie Christie, and Roy 'Chubby' Brown, have been drawn to the area. And once again I found a place that is not on everyone's radar which has plenty to interest the visitor. OK, the beer choice was very much on the traditional side, but overall I couldn't complain about the quality.
And I will certainly revisit the area in the future....
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