Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road by Roger Protz

Historic ...The first thing I do with a book like this is to scan through and see if anywhere local is included. Second check, is for any pubs I’ve visited previously. This touchstone immediately allowing me to gauge if the author accords with my own views and whether I’m putting the book down or reading on. I know we all should be more open minded, but I guess that’s human nature for you!

Well Rich, is there anywhere you know?  Yes a few! The Swan and Talbot in Wetherby is the closest to home, and it’s a pretty decent account of the place and the history of the town. I knew Michael Jackson was born here, but I didn’t know about the Clark Gable connection! Mind you, it doesn’t mention you might have to wait for ages to get served if you just want a drink when the restaurant is busy, despite staff buzzing all around you. A direct criticism of the pub and not Mr Protz’s book. The beer quality is usually pretty good though.

Is it a beer book, not really, more a pub book, there is a distinction me thinks. Although I do love the circumspect way in which, I think, Roger chronicles some of his inner thoughts. I can see him sitting at his desk grimacing when he describes the selection at The Mulberry, Stevenage as, beers are from the Greene King range. Well if he’s not, I am.

Conversely, I reckon he’s smiling smugly when he writes about The Prince Rupert, Newark, saying, the range of beers is ever changing but you may find Acorn IPA, North Riding and Oakham: but be prepared to be surprised and delighted. I’m not going to get drawn into the argument that GK and Marston’s are rapidly becoming the ‘old enemy’, but I was surprised to see just how many GK pubs there are in the guide.

Roger notes that he has not included every inn saying, a couple were inexplicably closed during normal pub opening hours. Well there’s nothing new there, is there and everyone knows that a pub that isn’t open doesn’t sell any beer and we know what happens to those pubs, don’t we! Throughout, the author alludes to much of what is wrong with pubs and our attitudes generally. He’s none too keen on Gastropubs, but a man sitting with a pint reading a newspaper confirms pub status; brilliant commentary!

Much of the detail included goes far wider than the inns themselves, and at times touches on local politics. One can only wonder why the hell Wetherspoon’s had a long tussle with the council in Biggleswade before they gained permission to re-open The Crown inn, built 1672? It’s still not happened apparently, but it’s hard to work out how some people think? Likewise Morpeth where the local residents are in uproar at plans to convert the closed Queens Head pub into a boutique hotel. Roger thinks an important piece of heritage might be lost here? Maybe he’s right? I know what I think though, and I definitely won’t be visiting these towns any time soon. In any case, having read, digested and analysed the book; twenty four or 52%, of the forty six premises described have letting rooms. And aren’t these historic coaching inns just the forerunners of the Travelodge, Premier Inn or Wetherspoons with rooms? And isn’t the difference between one of these and a boutique hotel nothing more than price?

I always worry about giving feedback, especially around what is an excellent publication, but If I’m going to be uber critical? Maybe a few too many photos of pubs with the sky burnt out for my liking, probably nothing that Lightroom™ couldn’t quickly fix. I’m not entirely convinced with the over long introduction neither. Vital information? Yes, but I like tales that start in media res. I would have ditched the intro and run headlong into a road trip. The text is already brilliantly embroidered with little ‘stand alone’ cameos detailing facts on: inter alia Highway men, Coaches, Stilton making, Road builders. By jumping straight in, creating a bit of a story arc, with more of the existing factual embelishment, I reckon the sense of a journey, an adventure, and something more complete could have been achieved. But what do I know? No one’s publishing anything I write are they.

It’s obvious an awful amount of research has been carried out. I never knew Charles Dickens had stayed in, or included in his writing, so many historic inns! Genuinely, the book is littered with useful, interesting facts and features, be it historical, architectural or just about what each hostelry provides. Including all the outrageous anecdotal claims that seem to go hand in hand with historical inns. The frequent In the area features are potentially very useful to visiting tourists.

I guess my last comment begs the question, ‘Who is the book really for?’ I reckon it appeals to a very wide audience. I’m sure there are several people contemplating setting off and doing the lot, perhaps they’ll blog about it? I can see loads of folk picking it up and then deciding to go to one of the towns for a weekend break, staying at one of the historical inns. It’s certainly an excellent companion for anyone wanting a few suggestions to build a touring holiday upon. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in pubs and pub related things will be enthralled. Yet, It’s more than an enthusiasts book which would delight a broad spectrum of readers. I reckon a lot of people would be very pleased to receive it as a Birthday present, or for Fathers Day; which coincidentally is next week!

I’d like to thank CAMRA  books for sending me a copy of this excellent book. Barring a few constructive comments I’ve made (that’s my chance of joining BGBW scotched then!), it really is an excellent book and at only thirteen quid, well worth buying.

Verdict; Well done, value for money, themed book about historic pubs that will please beer and pub enthusiasts, tourists and the mildly curious; probably best categorised as a well written, pub themed travelogue.

 

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