For me, Fox & Hounds always gave off the appearance of having the country pub style – set on a route out of town, with a large car park to the side, I’d imagined inside it’d be all quiet tables, low conversation, and a good place to choose between the steak pie or the hunter’s chicken.
Well, dear reader: I was wrong.
Entering via the front door, and after negotiating the vestibule area (choice! left door, or right door. Trick question: it’s the same bar, either way), the pub is laid out in a roughly symmetrical U shape, with the bar straight ahead. But instead of the quiet dining of my imaginations, the uppermost themes here are sport and gaming. The rugby Six Nations tournament is ongoing (but not today), so there are flags and pennants hung around the bar. There are at least four TVs here: a big TV in the left hand area, a small TV near the bar, and a giant projector screen in the right hand area, as well as a medium-sized TV in another room further round to the right. It’s a Saturday afternoon; at least three of the TVs are showing football news and scores, quite loudly.
Perusing the selection at the bar, we note that GK IPA went off just as we arrived, and Timothy Taylor Landlord is “coming soon”; we both opt for the GK “Grubber”, their rugby tie-in brew, which is an acceptable session ale. Guinness is on tap, and (GK) Old Speckled Hen is available in the fridge, and of course there’s the usual lagers and other suspects.
The left hand area is nice and bright, with several windows letting in the sun – and it would be a pleasant place to sit, were the big TV, mounted right next to one of the tables, not on with the sports news. There are a few more tables further back, but that TV is quite imposing, and even the furthest-back tables would still be quite close to it. Just outside, there are a few picnic benches – but it’s not quite that warm yet, and anyway, you’d basically be drinking in the car park.
So we go instead round to the other side, to find a noisy, gaudy area: a pool table, that giant projector screen I mentioned earlier, at least four video game / gambling machines (oh, and there was a “grabber machine” game near the front door, too). It’s gloomy here, with surely as much light coming from the candelabra-style fixtures as from the various video screens and flashing buttons. Further round, there’s a dartboard and an electronic scorer; a sign reads “Please ask for darts at the bar. £5 deposit”. Further round still, there’s another pool table, another TV, and the entrance to the beer garden, which is grassy, and includes a kids’ play area.
Just off from the bar and the casino-style area is a small raised seating area, so that’s where we sit. There’s some sunlight here, and some attractive black-and-white photos of the town in the 1940s and ’50s – and although the sports news TVs are quite shouty, we can talk here without raising our voices. This place is under the Greene King Meet & Eat branding, and we peruse the menus on the tables – perfectly decent-looking food, and in fact we’re both a bit peckish, so we order pudding.
When we visit a pub that’s less well populated, I’ve tried to paint a picture of the individual people coming and going – but it’s quite busy here, and there’s a fair mix. Not many over 50s, I think, but a surprising number of kids: several small girls play nearby; there’s a family group over by the second pool table. Nearer to us, a man sits with a young boy, presumably his son; he leaves his son playing with a phone while he goes off to the bar. There’s a pair of young teenage girls, thinking about having a go on one of the fruit machines; under the projector screen sits a group of young men and women in their 20s.
Fox & Hounds isn’t what I expected it to be, nor perhaps what RealAleRocks and I would want it to be: but it’s pleasant enough, and a return visit isn’t out of the question – but next time, we’d probably try to avoid the “peak hours” for TV sport.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0