Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

The Village Pub, Local Meeting Place or a Visitor Destination?


Is the village pub still a regular meeting place or has it become a destination for outsiders seeking food and a night out? The question is asked after a recent weekend away in a village which a few years ago had three pubs and now has two where the emphasis is very much on dining and serving visitors from outside the village. They are friendly in their own way but they are not as generally sociable as the traditional public house.

Village pubs have been changing for years; not so long ago a pub for locals would go silent if a stranger dared to venture in, the conversations only resuming when they left. No longer is the chair by the fire reserved for the local character “Owd Joe”, or some such, who spends the evening drinking just a half pint, unless of course a visitor offers him a drink when “I’ll have a whisky, make it a double, thank you kindly”.

The pubs we visited at the weekend had no dartboard, or signs of any other pub games, which was always an important feature of a “local”. Almost all of the tables were laid for eating and even on a warm Saturday evening there was only a small cluster of regulars at one end of the bar.

This could be a challenge for The Winding Way as our approach relies on engaging with people in places new to us and the pub seemed an obvious place to pick up local knowledge. We hope to get pointers to what we should be exploring and sharing over a convivial drink. It was not an issue where we were at the weekend as we already knew the area well and who to call for any information we needed. But it seems it might not be possible in places new to us if there are no warm and friendly “locals” any more, especially when there is no village shop or post office any more either.

Pubs generally, in England at least, have been in decline for some time. There are many reasons suggested as to the cause, the drink-drive laws, the smoking ban, cheap supermarket drink and more recently recession. However the decline goes back much further than the recent financial austerity. So the switch to food has been an essential survival strategy but it does mean the pub is no longer such a casual meeting place. However it does mean the atmosphere is more pleasant for non-smokers and a driver can avoid alcohol and get a proper cup of coffee.

The Winding Way will be conducting more research as it expands its research; well it is a good excuse. We will explore how general the changes are and whether it will mean we have to rethink our approach. It may just be a local problem, from recent travels we know the local café and bar is still socially active in villages in France.

Is the welcoming country pub, a social rather than a dining place, now just a memory, did it really exist or was it just a nostalgic fiction from black and white films? Were they parochial bastions that took newcomers to a village twenty, or more, years to breach and become accepted? Or was mine host a warm, larger than life character with a fund of, usually exaggeratedly colourful, stories and knowledge about the area that he was willing to share with any interested visitor? Do they still, did they ever, exist?

What are Readers' Experiences?

So where do villagers socialise, where do they meet and share local news and gossip? It must still happen. Were we just unlucky and are village pubs elsewhere in good health? We would love to hear your views and comments. Is your village pub still a hive of local activity that welcomes considerate strangers? Please do share your comments; especially of Suffolk or Northumberland which we aim to be exploring shortly.

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