Last Updated : 02/12/06
An evening in Christchurch, October 2006 - by Gazza.
t was with some trepidation that I arrived in Christchurch; surely somewhere this touristy and twee couldn’t have a decent beer scene – if it had one at all, that was?
Well, after an evening of wandering around every pub I could find in the place, I hereby offer to you the fruits of my labours – but if you’re after scoops then you may as well just press the “back” button on your internet browser now…
Out in the wilds.
I’d been booked into a hotel in the far eastern fringes of the town – surprise, surprise – and so, after completing my day’s work by 11:00, I indulged in a little recce mission to save me time searching out pubs that evening. After a couple of hours leisurely strolling around the place I’d come to the conclusion that there was some cask ale available but, despite my best lurking, I couldn’t really tell what it was in the majority of pubs and, besides, there seemed to be a lot more cafes than pubs!
After checking the bus times to the hotel (well, to the end of the road about a mile from it…) I drove the ten minutes along the chain store-infested ring road to my hotel where I had a few hours quick doss (I’d been to see Rancid in Birmingham the night before and had left the house at 05:30 to get down to the South coast) before leaving the hotel for – hopefully – an evening of decent cask ale in a town I’d never been to before… well, that was my hope!
The evening didn’t start well when I discovered that the Sandpiper pub next to the hotel was owned by Greede King… that was that one off the list then, despite the lure of delicious-sounding “Morland” bitter at £1.50 a pint! A ten-minute stroll brought me to the bus stop and also to the second pub of the evening, the Somerford, which was a huge brewer’s Tudor-type construction and the beer selection was predictably pitiful, with only 6X on offer… funnily enough, I didn’t bother and went for the bus instead!
On the way into Christchurch we passed the Salisbury arms at Purewell which looked extremely garish and unlikely to sell anything real and so I stayed on the bus until we reached the high street where I alighted; the evening’s drinking to start in earnest here, or so I was fervently hoping against the signs so far!
A less than promising beginning.
My first call in the centre was the Thomas Tripp on Wick lane, which was a lively pub, decorated with seafaring junk, and quite busy despite the time only being around 17:00 although with only Ringwood 49'er on cask. I settled into a chair in the bar to see what I would make of this beer which I hadn’t sampled for at least four years; it was amber, dry, quite malty and refreshing if touch lacking in taste but decent enough for a start, I decided, as I relaxed with my beer.
Next stop was Ye Olde George, on the corner of Castle street, which was to have the best beer selection of the evening – although, as you’ll discover, that isn’t exactly a compliment. The pub was clearly very old (it claimed 14th century) although the sickening tweeness of the décor wasn’t really to my taste, likewise the music, which consisted of Shakin’ Stevens and other such nauseating dross. The beer selection comprised of Ringwood Old Thumper, 49er and Hampshire king Alfred's bitter (3.8%), another which I’d not tried since the dawn of time. The Hampshire was a tad disappointing, unfortunately, being a tawny beer, quite bitter and fruity (rhubarb?) with some dry malt & bitter finish & touch of smokiness although it wasn’t in the best condition if truth be told.
Continuing along the High Street, I came to another old pub, the Ship, which looked a lot more promising from the outside… unfortunately, and somewhat predictably, the four handpulls weren’t dispensing much in the way of interest with Ringwood 49er, Best, GK Abbott (why?!) and Thatchers draught cider (distributed by Ringwood!) and although the interior was quite relaxing and dimly lit, the scene was somewhat spoiled by some appalling music and rude locals who blocked the entrance to the bar – but soon moved when I barged through the middle of them!
And it’s all downhill from there.
By this point in the evening I was getting the feeling that whatever I did, wherever I went, I would be faced with Ringwood beer in some shape or form; this wasn’t what I’d expected, a town awash with one beer and one beer only… I made my way via the underpass to the Duke of Wellington on Barrack road which, despite doing it’s best to look closed and derelict, had a small room to the left which a quick lurk soon dismissed as being fizz only which sent me on my way rather sharpish towards the long slog of Bargates.
The New inn, Fairmile road, was about as far as I could be arsed to walk past Bargates and to be honest it wasn’t worth the effort; I could tell I was heading more into a council estate by the increased chavviness and estuary accents of the locals I passed and so, a quick glance through the window later, I was on my way back into civilisation with the knowledge that there was no real ale issuing from the pub’s sole handpump which was standing forgotten and forlorn on the bar bereft of a pumpclip.
I didn’t have far to go for my next pub - the slightly bizarre Railway – which is situated at the corner of Bargates and Stour road and comes complete with Greenall’s (remember them?) signage and fantasy Bavarian-style turret on the front of the pub! Inside, it was a 2-sided boozer with two beers on offer; the omnipotent Ringwood best and – horrors – GK Abbott! I stuck with the Ringwood and found it to be a tawny beer, thin but reasonably balanced, albeit a good example of the beer with a fruity, malty finish.
On the homeward stretch now, I ventured into the last pub on this decidedly lacklustre crawl, the Royalty inn at 60 Bargates. The pub was serving delicious-looking food for reasonable prices and, had I not had an appointment with a Nargis kebab a few doors down at the Starlight Tandoori, I might have been tempted! There was also a superb Romsey brewery mirror on a wall which advertised “Romsey stout” – if only! The beer selection, however, was predictably bland with only Far North Fast reactor on cask… oh, sorry about that, it was Ringwood best, how silly of me to confuse the two!
The beer wasn’t bad, but it was more in the style of the majority of Regional brewers – i.e; not actually bad, but predictably dreary and not something you’d wish to drink regularly for fear of your tastebuds getting bored, becoming militant, and then standing around a burning brazier on your tongue holding placards reading “What do we want? Tasty beer!” and “When do we want it? NOW!”. I was becoming mightily sick of Ringwood by this time, and felt that I had somehow been transported back in time to the 1960’s when local breweries had monopolies in towns, and the rule was that if you didn’t like the local beer you went and lived somewhere else…. And, on the experience of my night in Christchurch, I’d want to live as far away as possible.
Let me try and sprinkle some much-needed glitter on this rather stale turd. There’s cask ale available in almost every pub if all you care about is that it’s cask and not what it actually tastes like, but unfortunately it’s almost all Ringwood and, whilst a few years ago I’d have said this was a good thing, a night drinking it non-stop soon convinced me why some locals call it “Ringworm”! 49er isn’t too bad, but the Best Bitter is a dismally bland, slightly fruity beer with a suggestion of maltiness and an insipid, dry finish; only once (the Railway) did it merit a score of 2 out of 5 on the Gazza scale which, in itself, is pretty poor going!
What this town needs, and it pains me to say it, is a Wetherspoons – this would give the other pubs a huge kick up the arse and maybe force some prices down a bit (average £2.50 a pint) and weed out a bit of the complacency I found there. I know I usually detest McSpoons and it’s “one size fits all” chain mentality, but maybe towns like Christchurch need a dose of this to sort out their pubs?
Nargis Kebab recommendation.
The Starlight tandoori, Bargates, serves Nargis, which is a recommendation in itself, although the twee sub-continent decorations and bright blue table cloths might prove a bit garish to some! The Nargis came smothered not in an omelette but in some kind of Korma sauce; strange, but surprisingly tasty and different. The curry was fine, too.
- a map to show you where not to go.
© Gazza 02/12/06 V1.0