ALE Spring 2003 No. 309

The wandering of the Beer Festival Organiser in Yeovil, Somerset

January 2003

My job as a long-distance lorry driver takes me to most of England, and even abroad (they often send me into Wales). Wednesday is my night out in the lorry. I start my day at midnight, leaving Gamlingay bound for Paignton in Devon. It takes 6.5 hours plus a 45 minute break (this is a legal HGV requirement) just to get there, then it's on to Chard in Somerset, finally arriving in Yeovil at 1400 hours.

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My first stop is the Butchers Arms in Hendford at the top of town. It has been leased for the past 18 months by Mrs C Wright from Punch Taverns. According to the staff at my firm's yard this is arguably the best pub in Yeovil. I discovered it on my first stop down here, and found it to be a very friendly and popular local. It is a very traditional two room L-shaped pub with exposed timber ceiling beams and half oak panelling. The small bar has a large fire place with the oldfashioned wood surround and mantel piece (unfortunately it now contains an enclosed gas fire), and a fully panelled section with a set of skittles. Running through both bars is a picture rail with a large collection of plates on top of it and an interesting collection of pictures. The larger bar has an even bigger fire, once again gas but an open range type this time.

This is obviously an old Bass house as there is a lot of Bass merchandise around and the only real ale is Bass at £2.15 a pint. Food is available at lunchtimes only, and includes hot snacks, lasagne, omelettes and scampi (prices start at £2-£5). Unfortunately the fruit machine, TV and music are a bit to loud for me but it's a very enjoyable pub that I have now visited a number of times.

(pub: 8/10; loos: 6/10)

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My next stop was the Mermaid Hotel just down the road on the corner of Princes Street and the High Street. This one is a 15th-century coaching inn and has a documented ghost. It's also reportedly the oldest pub in Yeovil. The inside is decorated in lots of wood and has a interesting mismatch of seating on different levels 2-3 steps up or down. The beer was Palmers Traditional at £2.10 a pint and Palmers 200 (1794-1994) at £2.20 a pint. Darts, pool, juke box, TV and karaoke nights.

(pub: 5/10; loos: 5/10)

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On to the Armoury in Park Road. You can see this one as you come in to Yeovil on the A37 at the roundabout with the A3088. A CAMRA Pub of the Year and a Good Beer Guide regular. This is a very well presented Wadworth's pub with a full range of their beers (JCB, Henny's s IPA, 6X), one permanent guest (Butcombe Bitter) and an interesting changing guest list. It has a reasonably large L-shaped bar, remodelled about two years ago when they put a skittle alley in (Yeovil has a very active skittle league, and most pubs have a team and access to an alley). You can watch the play on the CCTV in the bar. Other games are darts, pool and table football. Food ranges from sandwiches (from £1.60) to steaks (£5.25) and specials, but there's no food Tuesday and Thursday. I started my visit with a JCB at £2.20 a pint, followed by the IPA (£1.75) and the Butcombe Bitter. The landlord of two years, Mark Deegan, is famous in Yeovil for the boat he is building in the pub car park. A very friendly pub: I keep going back when in town.

(pub: 8/10; loos: 5/10)

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Pass by the Mermaid again on the way to the Kings Arms in Silver Street. They only really sell real ale at the weekends, so I went on to the Wine Vaults in the aptly named Wine Street, another one with no ale. This is also said to have its own ghost, connected with its having been used as a court and prisoners being executed on the spot and taken by tunnel from the cellar to the church. No tunnel now exists to prove this story.

Fortunately the Hole in the Wall is also in Wine Street. Courage Best is on sale here at £2.15 a pint, and well kept it is too. A friendly pub, with a C-shaped bar and plenty of seating, the main bar has a beam ceiling. Wednesday afternoon is a bit like a debating society, and yo're free to join in if you feel like it. I did. [Now why doesn't that surprise me? - Ed.] There is a no smoking room with settees, tables and a beer garden; and the whole pub has a very friendly feel to it. The food is good: see their web site (www.holeinthewall.me.uk) for the menu and photos. Here the staff don't/won't go down the caller at night because it is spooky! I will be going back to this one as well.

(pub: 7/10; loos: 5/10)

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Next stop was Stars Lane Café bar restaurant of Pubs'n'bars plc which has a changing guest: on this visit Shepherd Neame Spitfire, £1.95 a pint and well kept. There is a possibility of a second hand pump being added. A misleading frontage opens on to a very smart interior. This one is an American theme bar. It's run by two New Zealanders, and the whole pub/bar has a strong film influence about it. All the food is all named after film stars (e.g. Sylvester Stallone Soup £2.95, James Dean Steak £9.95 and for the vegetarians Sharon Stone-s Stuffed Peppers). All is cooked fresh to order so expect to wait. I had the Empire State Stilton Chicken (£8.95) and very nice it was too. This is another bar on different levels. The customers and staff are very friendly and I had a very enjoyable time here - once again I have been back since.

(pub: 8/10; loos: 7/10)

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Back down Middle Street and in to Porter Black, a traditional Irish theme pub run by Lion Hart Inns. At the time of my visit, the pub was getting ready for a refit, but should be reopening around the time you read this. It is a large open-plan bar with loads of tables, wood floors and light oak panelling on the walls. TV, fruit machines, stereo behind the bar and lots of Guinness memorabilia and some brewery paraphernalia. Main dishes are priced from £5.25 to £6.25, but I would expect this to change when it reopens.

(pub: 5/10; loos: 6/10)

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My last visit for the night is the William Dampier (Wetherspoons) on the corner of Central Road, Middle Street and the pedestrian precinct. It is a modern pub, and the only pub I've been in in Yeovil that I won't be going back to: I've been in twice now and have watched the staff scratch everything on their person! It doesn't matter how busy you are, hygiene is still a priority: things like washing hands and not handling the rim of a glass are still important. Now I have been in some bad pubs in my time but this one takes the biscuit.

(pub: 0/10; loos: did not stay to try them)

Shaun Marsh


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