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…

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