Nottingham. Birthplace of such luminaries as Robert Harris, Alan Sillitoe and the great Su Pollard. And a certain gentleman who looked good in Lincoln green and favoured the bow and arrow. Except, of course, he was actually from Yorkshire. Impressive as those claims to fame are, however, its appeal to drinkers is the number of hostelries offering a drop or two of real ale.
So it was that a group of CAMRA merry men (and women) made the pilgrimage to beer pastures anew. First stop was the Canalhouse, based, unsurprisingly, on Canal Street. This opened in 2000 on the lower floors of the former Canal Museum. It’s a cracking and unusual Castle Rock pub where the adjacent canal actually extends inside the building, complete with resident narrow boats.
Our next stop was to be the Trent Navigation Inn. However, local knowledge warned us against this as it would be packed full of football supporters on the way to the match. No problem, it was onwards and up to the Keans Head opposite St Mary’s Church. This is a cosy, one-roomed boozer that was reopened by Tynemill in 2004. Wetherspoon vouchers were accepted here and were soon being exchanged for pints of Harvest Pale.
A short hop and a skip brought us to the Cross Keys on the corner of Byard Lane. This is another rescued pub, with Great Northern Inns doing an excellent job of refurbishing this Victorian building in 2010 and creating a very comfortable drinking experience with lots of bare wood and natural light. The Navigation beers on offer were in excellent condition as well.
Next up was a stroll through Nottingham’s pedestrian area to the Malt Cross. This little gem is tucked away on St James Street and lived up to expectations. It’s a Grade 11 listed former music hall dating from 1877 and claims to have seen the debut of Charlie Chaplin and Can Can dancers. It’s certainly very ornate with lots of original features and a great upstairs balcony. Purity Gold was the beer of choice here.
Our next pub, although not new and trendy, certainly had more of a modern feel. The Dragon has a small, narrow, split-level interior and is the kind of place that has low lighting and music playing. So, not for everyone, but the Good Beer Guide is a broad church and there was nothing wrong with the Adnams or Harvest Pale.
The Round House, on the other hand, was undoubtedly a disappointment. Formerly part of the General Hospital, it boasts six handpumps. However, several of these were turned round and it was obviously more of a dining place than a pub. That, coupled with it being oddly quiet for a Saturday night, meant we didn’t linger here.
There were mixed reactions amongst the faithful to the Salutation. This is a very historic-circa 1240-pub that should tick all the CAMRA boxes. However, despite its haunted Saxon cave cellars and King Charles snug, it was found lacking in some respects. The beer was average and seemed secondary to the very loud rock music that dominated the main bar and seemed out of keeping with the surroundings.
There were no such problems with the excellent Vat & Fiddle. The Castle Rock Brewery tap is handily placed for the station and boasts a large selection of beers in a very convivial atmosphere. Here again there were discounts for CAMRA members in the form of accepted Wetherspoon vouchers.
And so our group of even merrier men set sail for home. It might not have as an exotic range of beers as some places but, in terms of pubs, Nottingham lives up to its reputation as a pub crawl destination. And the prevalence of CAMRA discount warmed the heart as well as the wallet.