Some twenty years ago, I used to work at an office just a short walk from the town centre. I think I’ve only ever been to The Castle exactly once before, on a works drinks nights out back then. My recollection then was of it being dark and cramped, with a small bar, and me being pleased to find Bombardier, because that was a “good find” for me back then. Oh, and that one colleague, the loudmouth brash one, that I was too young and impressionable to know whether or not I should admire him, or if he was actually an appalling human being. And now for the life of me I can’t remember if his accent was Yorkshire, Lancashire, or Essex.
Like I say, it was twenty years ago.
We visit in the middle of a weekday afternoon. As you approach from town centre, clearly visible on the west-facing wall is are the words “The Castle: Drink, Eat, Sleep” – a slogan which I find strangely off-putting. It’s reminding me of a Fatboy Slim song, which I actually like, but it’s just not what I want from this pub.
We enter, and I’m expecting to find that drab interior and disappointing Charles Wells selection, with Bombardier still lurking on the bar, but looking rather less promising than it did before. But I’m completely wrong. In fact I’m so completely wrong, I wonder if I’ve even remembered the right place from all those years ago.
Inside it’s warm and welcoming, not too bright, but with enough sunlight coming in to balance the beams and the low ceiling. Straight ahead, and there’s an area that’s surprisingly busy for this time of day: three men in their 30s or 40s sit at the bar, two more men sit at a table a few feet away, occasionally engaging in conversation with those at the bar. Further back, two ladies of retirement age are sitting at a table, the large windows to the beer garden letting in plenty of light. They’re chatting over their coffees, though it looks like they still haven’t quite finished their glasses of brandy either. At a gloomier spot just around the corner, an older couple sit, quietly talking.
The other side of the bar is much quieter, with mostly empty tables. An older gentleman sits by the window, reading the paper. Outside in the beer garden sit a pair of women, who I think are drinking bottled beer, though I don’t notice what exactly.
There’s a relatively good choice at the bar: Everards Tiger, Adnams Ghost Ship, Charles Wells Dry Hopped Lager, CW Triple Hopped IPA, (CW) Estrella, Aspall’s cider, Young’s Special, Young’s Bitter, and Young’s London Gold. Round the other side, Kirin Ichiban (which I’d not heard of, but appears to be CW again), as well as Carlsberg, Fosters, Guinness Extra Cold, and Strongbow Cloudy. Opposite the bar there’s a Cask Ales chalk board list, with each handle represented by a slide-out slate – which I’d like to think means that the range changes quite often. Apparently I’m in an optimistic mood today.
I opt for the Triple Hopped IPA, and RealAleRocks has the London Gold. Sold, for the sum of £8.
We sit, and enjoy our drinks. The sixties music is turned down low, the TV is off, the chatter is comfortable and quiet. Most of this place is carpeted, adding to the warm feel. Even the suit of armour lurking oddly in the corner doesn’t make this place feel dark, and a suit of armour would normally do that. WiFi is advertised, but doesn’t seem to be working. I notice that the toilets here are labelled “Kings” and “Queens” (ugh, pet hate: when people try to get more fancy with labelling the loos than M/F, Ladies/Gentlemen, Men/Women).
The menu here looks pretty promising, and I think we might well come back just for that: a good mix of pub grub (pizza, pie, lasagne, sandwiches, ham egg and chips, burgers, …) but with some enticing entries on the specials board: venison burger, steak and ale pie, mushroom risotto. Apparently it’s also “pie night” on Thursday, whatever that entails. There’s a “steak and gourmet burger night” coming up, too. Live music is advertised, though that’s really not my thing in a pub.
One of the men sat at the table vapes. A chap in his 30s, perched on his bar stool, talks on his phone, but not loudly. Outside in the beer garden, the women are gone, replaced by a man having a phone call – thankfully inaudible. It seems quiet enough.
We’ve enjoyed our stay here so much more than we expected, we even have to discuss the option of a second pint, instead of moving on to the next pub. But leave, we do.
I think we’ll be back, maybe very soon. A place like this, just 5 minutes’ walk from town centre? That’ll do nicely.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0