Monday, 31 October 2016

Keep Portland Weird - all the pubs pt.3

After our previous travails on Portland had led to a well-needed day off the sauce - spent visiting the lovely Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door - we were feeling suitably refreshed and ready for our final leg of the tour. Auspiciously it was also my birthday, so we had already breakfasted on a feast of extra hot chilli sausages from Weymouth’s famous sausage shop and lardy cake from Sgt Bun’s Bakery in preparedness for the day’s travails.

Our first stop wasn’t a hostelry at all, but the statue of the Olympic rings found at Portland Heights which overlooks the harbour where the 2012 sailing events were held. We then headed East on the South Coast Path, past the Fancy's farm, with its field full of goats and wallabies and around to Balaclava bay, which gives wonderful sweeping views back around to Weymouth. 

From there it was just a short walk around the foreboding prison – originally opened for use of convict labour, to help construct the breakwaters of Portland Harbour, but now a young offender’s institution – to reach our first stop of the day.

The Clifton Hotel didn’t look particularly prepossessing when we arrived at a little after noon, but there was a blackboard outside advertising live music for the coming weekend and the sign behind the net curtains in the window said they opened at 12:00, so I remained hopeful that we were still on target for our first pint of the day.

As the Ewing’s hand went down on the handle of the porch entrance and she quickly turned to look at me over her shoulder, I knew we had been thwarted. ‘Travelling Manned’, as any fans of Road Food would be familiar with - or in other words finding somewhere that should be open is closed when you visit, named after a particularly unluckily contributor.

After the Ewing had tried around the back of the building - she's nothing if not persistent - and still getting no joy, I conceded that a beverage wasn’t going to happen. I also decided (my tour, my rules) that visiting the pub was as good as a pint, at least for the purpose of this challenge. So we ticked it off the list and set off up the road for a second attempt.

Marilyn Monroe thought everything happened for a reason, while I’m more of the mind-set that things happen as an improbable result of the intersection of independent casual chains. Whichever way you look at it, it so happened that the Clifton being closed meant we got to spend more time at the next pub, the George, which turned out to be a very good thing.

Clifton Hotel - closed
Sticky carpet rating -
Overall score -

Built in Jacobean times, The George is one of the oldest buildings on the island and it feels like you're stepping back in time as you wind your way through the comforting warrens that lead to the different bar areas. We sat in a wood panelled room that had pictures of all the King George’s hanging on the wall, alongside a macabre, but beautifully hand written, list of all the shipwrecks that had occurred on the islands up to the 1960’s.

Beer choice was limited, but they had Sharp’s Atlantic ale alongside the familiar Doombar, which is a slightly more interesting beer and was well kept. The Ewing, apparently having learnt few lessons from the previous leg of the tour, started on the Rosie cider, although this time it was Rosie’s Pig; a, mercifully, less alcoholic version that tastes dangerously like cloudy apple juice.

The improbable independent casual chains must have been aligned for the second time when we looked at the lunch menus and the Ewing noticed the ‘mid-week roast’,  an incredible concept that really needs to gain more traction. As it was a Wednesday there was no doubt what we were going to order and we soon had two piping hot plates of roast beef in front of us. For six quid I couldn’t have hoped for any better; a special shout out must go to the very good gravy and amazing spuds. So good that Amy ‘one potato’ ate three. Well, it was my birthday.

The George - 1 x pint Sharps Atlantic ale; 1 x pint Rosie’s Pig; 2 x mid-week roast £19.05
Sticky carpet rating: 6.5 a difficult one to rate, the George is more of a traditional hostelry than a sticky carpet special, but is still very down-to-earth. Seeing Sooty on the bar is always worth a bonus point.
Overall score: 9 a lovely, cosy pub and the midweek roast was proper home cooking and great value. Beer choice still not great, but my pint was in tip-top condition.

The Royal Exchange was a rum old pub, in more ways than one. When we arrived there was Palmers ale (from Bridport) on cask and a roaring log fire, which made for a promising start. Less promisingly, every gust of wind (this is Portland, remember) blew the front door open wide, despite all attempts to wedge it shut with various folded flyers and beer mats. 

Of course, unaware of this issue, I had elected to sit by the door, and despite the efforts of the friendly locals to leap up and assist us every time the door thudded open, there was an awful lot of beer mat origami going on at our table as the easterly wind swirled outside.

Still, the disruption wasn’t enough to stop us ordering another round of rums, especially after the Ewing spied they had cherry flavoured Old J. Wary that it might taste like cough medicine (it did), I stuck with the eminently more sensible Pussers Gunpowder at 54%. A rum based on the strength of the tot all naval officers used to receive every day at twelve noon. I’m surprised we recorded any victories at sea.

The Royal Exchange - 1 x pint Palmers 200 ale; 1x pint Palmers Copper Ale; 2 x pints lime and soda; 1x Old J Cherry rum on the rocks; 1 x Pussers Gunpowder rum on the rocks; 1x Shakey’s scratchings; £15.40
Sticky carpet rating: 8 - darts, pool, a weekly meat raffle and a great big jar of pickled eggs on the bar next to the scratchings.
Overall score: 5.5 ok beer choice, lovely log fire and friendly staff and customers but the layout is bit cavernous and probably suited to being a bit busier. Just don’t go during an easterly wind…

Staggering from the pub we seized on the golden hour of the afternoon - after post-lunchtime pints and before pre-dinner drinks - to complete our loop of the South Coast Path around the island. The route took us past Rufus Castle, a blockhouse built for William II, and down a precariously steep path to Church Ope Cove; a small secluded bay on the sheltered eastern side of the Isle.  

Historically it was a famous smuggler's spot but nowadays, due to being sheltered from the wind by the cliffs on three sides, the beach is home to the far more staid pursuits of swimming and snorkelling. It also made the perfect place to settle down on the shingle and contentedly watch the Atlantic ocean crashing onto the shore (and eat an impromptu picnic of Ritter Sport and Haribo. Well, we needed a fillip to help us climb back up the cliff again).

Our apres dinner stop was the Punch Bowl, a pub that was missed off the West Dorset CAMRA map for, presumably, not having any real ale. While this might be so, it completely overlooks something even better - a huge bowl of sweets on every table. There must be something about this neck of the woods as the last time I remember seeing something like it was at a pub in Weymouth a few years back, when the Ewing appeared from the loos shouting; 'they had a dish of peppermint creams in the toilet and I gobbled them all up', before passing out in a pile of chips back at the B&B. Still one of my favourite memories.

Anyway, back to the drinks; no ales meant Thatchers cider for me and the house white rum on the rocks (yeah, I didn't think that was a great idea, either) for the Ewing. While we supped our drinks we also had a chance to drink in the decor, with the liberal amounts of bunting and Chelsea memorabilia, and the punters who were thirstily debating the meaning of life in between throwing a few arrows at the dart board. 

The staff and customers seemed to soften to us the longer we stayed, especially when we got into a conversation about the best flavour of Cheddars - prompted by a mastiff that was sitting up on a stool at the bar next to his owner, eating the cheesy biscuits from the counter on demand (if you're interested, although the classic flavour is very good, I think I might just prefer the cheese and pickle flavour).

The Punch Bowl - 1x Thatchers Gold cider; 1x Expedition rum on the rocks; 1 x pint lime and soda; 1 x Cheddars cheese and pickle flavour; £8.60
Sticky carpet rating: 8 – bowls of mints on the tables; a dog sitting at the bar; luminous vodka shots in test tubes; a separate room for pool; snooker on TV, need I go on…
Overall score: 5.5 a pleasant enough pub with a lively after-work atmosphere but no real ale on offer and there's only so much Chelsea memorabilia a Spurs fan can endure. 

The New Inn was our dinner stop, lured in by the ten pound moules frites special on a Wednesday night and the fact that - apart from crisps, sweets and  the ubiquitous Shakey's scratchings -  no other pub in Easton sold food. Still, it seemed a a very civilised choice for a celebration dinner.

We started with Black Cow vodka (they were out of Dorset Conker Gin) tonics and a dish of garlicky olives and soon progressed on to the vino - the perfect accompaniment to the plump, cantaloupe-coloured line grown local mussels. As good as the molluscs were, the real draw was the creamy West Milton cider and bacon sauce they had been cooked in; which I took great pleasure drowning my dish of chips with after every nugget of seafood had been extracted. 

As posh as the New Inn thinks it is, it’s still a Portland pub, and I mean that in the nicest way; friendly, quirky and grounded in its Dorset roots. While an islander we got chatting to said it was a bit too fancy to be his regular local any more, as an outsider it was a great place for dinner and is definitely the pub you would take home to meet the parents, even if it might not be the most fun.

The New Inn - 2 x Black Cow vodka tonics; 2 x sauvignon blanc; 1 x mixed olives; 2 x moules frites; £50 (inc. tip)
Sticky carpet rating: 3 - A predominately eating pub - the Xmas menu features fancy dishes such as beetroot risotto and grilled hake with lentils, -  the New Inn gets the lowest SC rating on the island
Overall score: 7.5 lovely service and great value mid-week deals, although the rest of the menu is on the pricier side. The beer selection looked one of the best on the island.

The Corner House had been chosen as our last stop as I wanted a good, old fashioned, sticky-carpeted final fling before we headed back up the causeway to reality. And on paper it ticked all the boxes; furniture backed in plush red velvet, a shelf crammed with second hand books and board games, free roundels of slightly stale looking bread topped with slightly rubbery melted cheese on the bar,  a resident dog, a pervading smell of open drains unsuccessfully masked with a generous spritz of Pledge…

Unpleasant scents aside, I did really warm to the Corner House, helped when the Ewing ordered the Cane Trader rum, another dodgy house special. After consulting the leather-backed instruction book, the barmaid announced ominously that it only came in double measures, charged at the rate of a single (yeah, me neither). Added to the fact that their measures were a more than generous 35ml – versus a standard 25ml – and she ended up with a nearly triple measure of spirit with her cola. With my Mountgay cola and a final packet of Shakey’s scratchings the whole bill totalled £6.60. 

In all, it was probably a good thing that the persistent aroma and our flagging spirits (not literally) lead us to the decision that one round was enough. With spirit measures this strong, combined with the unholy array of drinks we had already consumed,  we would still probably be trapped on the island now. A shame for me, as I was enjoying drunkenly crooning the 80’s soul soundtrack to the Ewing, but a merciful escape for her who had grown tired of my tuneless singing and become distracted by the large bag of prawn crackers the barmaid was studiously munching her way though.

The Corner Inn - 1x double Cane Trader rum and cola; 1 x Mountgay Eclipse and cola; 1 x Shakey’s pork scratchings; £6.60
Sticky carpet rating: 8 stupidly cheap spirits, free snacks on the bar, wines dispensed from a giant box on the wall; furniture upholstered in plush red velvet that made me feel like I was in my Nans’ front room.
Overall score: 6 – I liked the Corner House, even if I was feeling giddy from all the rum (and fumes from the air freshener). This is potentially a cracking little pub and one that I would love to revisit in more fragrant circumstances.

As our attempts at catching public transport throughout our trip had consistently been thwarted by First Buses’ risible Number 1 service, I promised the Ewing that we could walk the final five miles back to our apartment. Walking also meant we had to pass several Chinese takeaways, with my wife’s plaintive cries getting persistently louder until I reasoned that any money saved skipping pudding earlier in the evening would probably only end up being spent on prawn crackers anyway.

Which is how we ended up in Ocean Bay, directly opposite the Chesil Chippie where we had started our adventures a week before. In another serendipitous twist a fellow customer began chatting to the Ewing, entranced by what he described as her ‘mountaineering outfit’, seemingly unable to believe the only hiking we were doing was between drinks. As it turned out, he was an islander who had also visited every pub - although, from the sound of it, rather more times than we had - and he told us a fascinating potted history of the hostelries as we patiently waited for our prawn crackers, spare ribs, sweet and sour sauce and seaweed.

In fact, his words got me thinking. If the pubs had already changed so much in recent memory, not to mention all the openings and closings that were constantly occurring, what would they be like in the coming years? I began to muse out loud - maybe we could plan another pilgrimage around the island; maybe we could make it an annual trip… But as I turned to consult the Ewing, she was already rapidly disappearing towards the mainland in a trail of prawn cracker crumbs; her screams swallowed up by the now infamous Portland wind.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Keep Portland Weird - all the pubs pt.2

After the excitement of our first night trying to hit up all the pubs on Portland, we had taken Sunday off to recover*. Perhaps because of the alcohol, or a creeping concession to old age, the Ewing and I had woken up unusually early on Monday morning and decided to go down to Smallmouth Cove to watch a beautiful sun rise over Portland. A promising start to what was shaping up to be another sunny day.
*Drink excessive amounts of cider and rum with our friends in Weymouth.

After a hearty breakfast of sausage, egg, beans, mushrooms and toast, followed by a fortifying nap, we resumed our adventure by taking our tattered map and hopping on the number 1 bus right down to Southwell, the farthest point you can reach on public transport, for lunch at the Eight Kings.

The front bar - there’s also a plusher restaurant, with a nautical theme, next door – has the comforting feeling of what I would describe as a ‘Bank’s pub’, based on the detective in the Peter Robinson novels. Banks - most notably in the earlier books, set in the 80's when he was still a smoker and drinking on the job seemed more mandatory than an option, would often find himself in a good old traditional pub of a lunchtime, eating a cottage pie and supping a pint of Black Sheep bitter, before going off to solve a murder in the afternoon.

While I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, and our pints of Ringwood bitter were well kept, the food was even better, the giant mound of Portland crab exceeding even the size of my buttery jacket spud. My standout meal of the trip, for its simplicity and generosity and because it was enjoyed in such friendly and laid-back surroundings. A pub I would be very pleased to call my local, and I’m sure Banks would have felt the same way.

The Eight Kings - 2x pint Ringwood Best Bitter; 2x jacket potato with Portland crab and salad £23.60
Sticky carpet rating: 8 a proper pub with darts board (although someone would have your eye out if you were sat where we were sitting), a second hand book shelf, scrumpy cider and a log fire. The swanky restaurant bit means it’s not full on SC but it’s pretty close, in the best possible way.
Overall score: 8.5 - a great place for a pint and a spot of lunch, I would be very happy to mull away an afternoon here while puzzling over the clues of my latest case.

As we had taken the bus as far as we could the only way to get down to the southern tip of the island was to walk. While the quickest way is straight down the Portland Bill Road, we chose the scenic route beside the sea and picked up the South Coast Path from Freshwater Bay. 

The perfect day for a walk, it was fascinating to walk through the open cast quarries and to see the old Victorian beam crane still perched on the cliff edge. Stone has been quarried on Portland since Roman times and has been used in the construction of many fine buildings and monuments including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, The Bank of England and the Cenotaph. All the gravestones for British personnel killed in the First and Second World Wars were also made out of Portland stone, including my Grandad, Harry Roscoe, in Barking Rippleside cemetery.

The destination for our next repast was the Lobster Pot Cafe, at the farthest tip of the isle. Being as this was Portland, we had to weigh up the choice of eating inside in a pleasant enough, if a little stuffy, tearoom or risk being buffeted by wind while sitting outside but being able to enjoy a smashing view of the Bill in the late sunshine. In the end the scenery won out and we braved eating our cream tea on the picnic benches outside; squinting into the sun while wrapped up with scarves and woolly hats, in that typically English fashion.

The crumbly, raisin-studded, scones are homemade and were very good, despite being wildly varying in size (we split each in one in half and shared them, to avert any marital discord). Jam (all the way from Tiptree in Essex) and cream are provided in reasonably generous quantities, and top marks for the pot of hot water, plus extra refills, for our tea, which is served good and strong with proper tea leaves.

In an ideal world we would have had a decent yomp, or at least a leisurely stroll, to our next watering station, but the imposing Pulpit Inn -  with its prime spot offering sweeping panoramas across to the south of the island - can be seen from the Lobster Pot Cafe. No matter, we had faced more gruelling culinary challenges before, and it had been at least couple of hours since our last pint…

The ale selection was pretty lacking (they might have stocked Doombar?), despite the sign promising real ales, but they did have Guinness Dublin style porter on tap, which I fancied as a suitable accompaniment to the half a pint of local prawns that the Ewing had spied on the chalkboard on the way in.

The prawns were OK, not that I got much of a look in, but the chips (which you can swap for a salad if you’re in to self-flagellation) were hot and crisp and very tasty when dunked into the tangy marie rose sauce. The Dublin porter was so-so, thinner and less creamy than the original and not as good as their other recent re-release, the West Indies porter, which is actually pretty good. Service was very sweet and while it has apparently become more of an eating pub in recent years, I found it welcoming and homely, despite the size.

The Pulpit Inn – 2x pints Guinness Dublin style porter; half a pint of prawns with chips and baguette £15.80
Sticky carpet rating: 5 – apparently much spiffier than it used to be the pulpit still has a few SC attributes; the old-fashioned pay phone in the corridor; paper-less ladies loos (soon replenished on mentioning); second-hand book shelf and a comprehensive charity box collection.
Overall score: 6.5 lovely barmaid, average food on our visit and an ok beer selection. An extra half point for the view - try and get a spot by the window if you can.

In an attempt to placate my wife after an afternoon of gluttony I allowed her to test out her compass reading skills by letting her lead us around the western edge of the South Coast Path (it's really not that hard - TE). Despite my general aversion to physical exercise, it was a pleasure to walk along the cliff edge from the tip of the island to Fortuneswell. 

Our route took us through the sculpture park, located in the disused Tout quarry, which is stuffed full of carvings made of Portland local stone including the island's nemesis, the bunny rabbit. We even saw a local craftsman (but WAS he? - TE) at work, chipping away at the rocks. As an added bonus our trek ended by watching the sun set over the ocean in a perfect mirroring of how our day had begun.

While the day may have been over, the night had just begun and the first pub we reached walking down the hill into Fortuneswell was the Britannia. From the sign on the outside - promising home cooked food, real ale and a beer garden - this looked like the perfect pub. They even had an a frame advertising live music and, sticky carpet classic, the meat raffle, every Sunday afternoon.

On walking in - or more squeezing around the guy stood by the door, deep in conversation and the only one seemingly oblivious to us entering – we experienced, for the first time on our trip, the real feeling of not being a local. The guys playing darts put down their arrows, the guys at the bar looked up from the pints, the barmaid – the only other female in the place – exhaled a deep breath and picked up her crucifix. Well, maybe not the crucifix, but you get the general idea (one of those moments when your brain is screaming BACK AWAY, SAVE YOURSELF' and you merrily plough on - TE). They had sussed we ‘weren’t from around these parts’.

Undeterred, we made it to the bar, to be faced with yet another uninspiring ale selection (again, they may have had Doombar?) the lager selection was odd, most people drinking bottle of Holsten Pils. But worry not, as I had already spotted the Old Rosie cider and fancied that a pint would make a fitting reward for our trek. The Ewing also ordered a pint, despite my misgivings that the last time she had got stuck into the stuff, during a daytime drinking session, it had all ended badly on the 16:52 from Marylebone (poppycock! - TE).

The Britannia Inn - 2x pints Old Rosie cider £6.20
Sticky carpet rating: 7.5 darts, pool, live bands, meat raffle on a Sunday - We might have got a few quizzical looks at first, but the locals were soon happy to chat with us, including one guy at the bar who relished telling the Ewing the Old Rosie was 6.8%. More of that later...
Overall score: 5.5 after the strange stares that greeted our arrival at the Brit, they turned out to be a pretty friendly bunch. An entertaining place, although it did feel like a real ‘locals’ pub. An extra half point for the Old Rosie.

All the pubs in Fortuneswell (along with the British Legion) are found on the same short stretch of hill, which made winding our way down to the Royal Portland Arms mercifully easy. The building is Grade II listed and interior-wise this was my pick of all the pubs we visited; the inside resembling a 70s style parlour with wood panelling and patterned wallpaper, complete with cosy little alcove complete with a dart board and a space to host live music at the weekends. 

The ale choice at the RPA was strong, with three or four local breweries on show on our visit alongside West Country cider served straight from a box on the bar. Wanting to try the beer while avoiding the bloat, I had the cunning idea of moving to our next beverage combination; doubles and chasers....

The Royal Portland Arms - 2x halves Branscombe golden fiddle; 2x Mountgay Eclipse rum on the rocks £7.50
Sticky carpet rating: 8 dart board, real ales and ciders; live music at the weekends and dog friendly, just be careful you don’t put your foot down the drain on the way back from the ladies…
Overall score: 8.5 A cracking pub with a unique atmosphere, helped by the entertaining clientele on our visit. With one of the best selections of ales we saw, this is definitely the sort of place I could imagine settling down for a session.

Final stop was the New Star Inn, but not before we bumped into the man we had met at the bar of the Britannia coming out of the chippy. And I mean that literally, as the Ewing ran past him whooping and waving her hands in the air as he called, 'that's the Old Rosie' after her. 

Inside was buzzing with one half of the pub hosting a frenetic darts match and the other side featuring darts on tv. Although pretty rowdy, the atmosphere was friendly and the Ewing attracted her second drunken barfly of our trip as we waited for our drinks, although I'm not sure which one of them was the most inebriated this time.

We stuck to the double and chasers, chasing the drinks with packets of mustard and onion pretzels, and maple bacon flavour Kettle chips. Rum-wise I hit the Pussers Navy strength while the Ewing discovered Old J spiced; something she was initially very happy about, but less so as the evening went on and she began to feel less ship-shape. Still, for the second time on our tour, there was still the 'refreshing' walk back to the mainland to contemplate; along with the sore head the following morning.

The New Star Inn - 2x half Jurassic ale; 2x Sailor J rum on the rocks; 1 Kracken rum on the rocks 1 x Pussers Navy rum on the rocks; 1x Snyder’s pretzels onion and mustard flavour; 1 x Kettle chips bacon and maple syrup flavour £13.50
Sticky carpet rating: 6.5 darts being played in the pub, darts being played on the TV, pool table, lots of friendly locals propping up the bar
Overall score 8. Very lively atmosphere on our visit, helped by a knowledgeable barmaid, some good 90's tunes on the jukebox and solid selection of crisps and snacks. Oh, and the rum…

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Keep Portland Weird - All the pubs pt.1

Listening to other peoples’ relationship advice is about as helpful as following centenarians tips on making it to a hundred; ‘have different interests’, 'be passionate', 'drink two bottles of Miller and a glass of whisky before bed’ etc. I’ll leave you to decide which answers match which question.

While I don’t have any invaluable tips (although I wouldn’t recommend squeezing your wedding ring with a pair of pliers in an attempt to resize it), if I had to distil the reason I’m still (mostly) happily married, it would probably come down to the Ewing’s reaction to my proposal of spending a few days visiting all the pubs on the Isle of Portland. When I saw her unbridled enthusiasm for an idea that even I thought was a bit ridiculous, I knew I had a keeper.

Which is how we came about traipsing around the limestone-tied ‘island’ - which is actually attached to the mainland at the eastern end of Chesil Beach, the impressive shingle tombolo that stretches 18 miles down the Jurassic Coast - while sampling the wares of the 15 hostelries on the Isle. These pubs being defined by the map on the West Dorset CAMRA page, minus the British Legion, as it’s really a club (mmm...attention to detail - TE), and with the addition of the Punchbowl, which I assume was omitted for not serving ‘real ale’).

Alongside a short write up of each visit, in case anyone should want to follow in our footsteps, I have also invented my own ‘sticky carpet’ rating - devised to celebrate all the wonderful quirks and eccentricities of a proper British pub. 

For a low rating think gastro pub with stripped back floorboards, scented hand cream in the loos, and a seasonal menu involving game and seafood. A high rating is reserved for a boozer with cigarette burns on the loo cistern, a resident dog curled up by the fruit machine and a menu of dry roasted peanuts and scotch eggs. There’s probably some metaphor for modern marriage in there somewhere, but I’ll just leave it as them both being perfect in their own way.

Before our first evening spent getting battered, we stopped for batter of a different sort at the island's most recently opened fish bar, Chesil Chippie - chosen as I was curious to try their more outré offerings of Lyme Bay Scallops, smoked cod goujons and battered samphire, as well as getting my fix of Southern chip shop favourite, the pea fritter. With our food freshly fried to order, and the friendly staff making our short wait much more entertaining, I was looking forward to our al fresco fish supper.

The original idea was to arrive to the last blazes of autumnal sunshine before picking up our supper and scrambling over the pebbles to watch the sunset somewhere over Lyme Regis, but clearly the British climate had other ideas. While the rain held off, the wind (as my Mother had been repeatedly warning me prior to our trip) was whipping particularly ferociously, even for the notoriously gusty Isle of Portland.

Luckily, unlike pesky sand, the pebbles here are far too big to be shifted by a stiff sea breeze and we managed to eat our first dinner on the beach - even if the Ewing ended up as cold as her leftover chips. All the food was well worth windburn, with my favourite being the scallops and the Ewing’s the cod, while we fought over crispy scraps of salty samphire dragged through their impressive homemade tartare sauce. The pea fritter was also particularly brilliant example of the genre and, luckily for me, I got it all to myself.

As we started to fear a side of frostbite with our fish, I was glad there wasn’t far to go to reach our first pub, the The Little Ship, situated almost opposite the chippy. While the temperature didn’t feel much warmer than being outside, the greeting was friendly enough and I was pleased to see a dart board, pool table and fruit machine, which I took as a hopeful portent of the sticky carpet standard of pubs to come. There was even a traditional wooden skittle alley, although it seemed to be being used to store old tables and chairs on our visit.

In what would become a depressingly constant theme to our trip, the cask ale was limited to one choice; Wadworth’s 6X – although we were told there were another couple of casks ‘settling’ behind the bar. Despite the restricted selection it was served in fine condition and made a pleasing first pint. The Ewing, after deciding moments before that she would never eat again, also picked up some lurid blue fizzy sweets that were purportedly helping support cancer charities – offset, no doubt, by the cost of the rise of type two diabetes (supporting charities really is a double edged sword sometimes - TE).

The Little Ship: 2x pints Wadworth 6X £7.00
Sticky carpet rating: 7. Higher than average thanks to the pool table, darts, fruit machine and skittle alley - not in use (oh what could have been...TE). Loos are SC standard, although at least they boasted both soap and loo roll.
Overall score: 5. All the attributes of a good old British boozer, but in a strangely disjointed setting, probably not helped by it being fairly quiet on our visit. My pint was well kept though, and an extra mark for a great soundtrack of Dylan, the Stones and the Doors.

The Cove House Inn - an atmospheric 18th century hostelry built of Portland stone, just two minutes’ walk from our first stop - was much livelier. Being there just for the beer, we were restricted to the bar, as all the tables in the restaurant areas were booked for dinner. No matter, we perched up on our stools and were entertained by our enthusiastic barman as he pulled our Pints of Adnams Broadside.

Despite not being a local beer – the other cask ale offered was Doombar – it was a decent enough pint, but I was more tempted by the food menu, with seasonal offerings such as crab tagliatelle and haddock chowder to compliment the sweeping views of Chesil Cove (had it not already been pitch black by this point). The Ewing wanted a slice of banoffee pie to go with a second pint but, with two stops still to go I checked out the loos (in the name of research - clean but no lights in the cubicles?) and dragged her back into the hoolie raging outside (SO unfair, that banoffee would have been good - TE).

Cove House Inn: 2x  pints Adnams Broadside £7.60
Sticky carpet rating: 5 - with its uneven floors, low-beamed ceilings (mind out if you’ve had a couple) and prime spot on the sea front, the Cove Inn is the sort of charmer that would happily woo your mother. No darts or pool here, but they do serve scratchings and welcome dogs into the bar (and the barman LOVED  my woolly hat, that makes it an 8 for me -  TE).
Overall score: 6.5 - based on our fleeting visit, although the score would have undoubtedly been higher if we had returned for food.

Our next stop was to Castletown, to the far north east of the island, where we hit the The Royal Breakwater; a good looking building that, as its name cunningly suggests, is also a hotel. Inside had a funny kind of atmosphere, somewhere between a holiday club – with parents trying to finish their meals while the children, threatened with bedtime, ran merrily amok – and a proper boozer. The guy we met at the bar was certainly already very well lubricated as he attempted a hilariously disjointed conversation with the, far too accommodating, Ewing.

It was at this point when, after looking at the uninspiring beer selection, I made my move on to the rum and coke. I’m not normally a big spirit drinker, but being as we were in the right neck of the woods, rum seemed as good a choice as any and I eased myself in with a Mountgay Eclipse. A beverage chosen as Bond orders it with soda in QoS, just before he wins the Aston Martin DB5 in a game of poker. The Ewing tried to get her Malibu with pineapple, but the high winds had obviously felled all the palm trees on the island, so she ended up with Coke too.

Royal Breakwater Hotel – 1x Mountgay eclipse and Coke; 1x Malibu and Coke £5.20
Sticky carpet rating: 6.5. Pool table, dart board and fruit machines, plus a trail of ketchup across our table from abandoned sachet, set the scene, while the Malibu added nicely to the retro feel. The loos are accessed by walking across a strange kind of indoor alleyway, but were commendably clean.
Overall rating: 5.5. A friendly place, and I would have been happy to stay for another, but a slightly odd layout and didn’t feel quite ‘pubby’ enough for me.

Moving almost directly next door to our final stop of the evening, (ooo, our fave - TE) The Green Shutters was the pub I had most been looking forward to visiting; attracted by both the reviews and the name - sounding, as it does, like a ‘proper’ boozer, amidst a sea of forgettable generic monikers. Walking in I felt cheered that this was going to be a good stop, reinforced by the ale which, although small in stature, included the local DBC Pilsner, interestingly served on cask.

The Ewing sampled a pint of the above, while I stuck with the Mountgay and coke. Both solid choices, but the real excitement came with the snack we chose to accompany them – Shakey’s Black Country scratchings. I had seen bags of this strange looking snack, with its little yellow cartoon pig on the front, behind all the previous bars we had visited; and now, my hunger slowly returning, decided it was finally time to sample them.

Despite the midlands moniker, these are proud Portland pig bits, and very good they were too, despite the ominous health warning ‘only recommended for people with strong, healthy teeth’ on the back of the bag (now I don't remember seeing any piggies on the isle...suspicious - TE). They also must have had some magical effect on our inebriation levels, as we had suddenly perked up enough to start considering the range of top shelf whiskys as a nightcap, helped no doubt by Europe slowly beginning to claw back their second day deficit at the Masters, which I was following on the TV in the corner.

I picked the Auchentoschan American Wood, an easy-going lowland whisky I first tried on the overnight sleeper to Edinburgh, which knocked me out ‘til well past Carlisle. The Ewing was very excited to see Black Cow vodka - the world’s only vodka made from milk – which is also made just down the road in West Dorset. Not only did her choice, a double on the rocks, cause a stir amongst the regulars, but the barman also gave it to her at the bargain price of £2.50 as ‘it isn’t really that popular’ (sheer madness - TE). Which pretty much made up for the golf, and the fact we still had the windy walk back to the mainland to contemplate....

Green Shutters - 1x Mountgay Eclipse and Coke, 1x pint DBC pilsner; I x Shakey’s scratchings; 1x double Auchentoshan American Oak; 1x double Black Cow Vodka £14.30 (I mean, Oh. My. God. - TE)
Sticky carpet rating: 8.5 A solid score thanks to pool, darts, fruit machines, and a decent collection of charity tins - including 80s favourite Sooty, which the Ewing was particularly excited to see (collecting for the RNIB no less, well done Sooty - TE). In fact, we probably spent more money donating to these than on our beverages.
Overall rating: 9. Great pub with great staff and a lively atmosphere and somewhere I’d like to go back for a quiet daytime pint (the Ewing would like to go back to finish the vodka). I’m taking a point off for the beer selection being a little lacking, but the cheap top shelf spirits goes someway to make up for it.