Last Updated : 11/02/07
don’t know why it is that I always seem to be working in the West Country these days, but I’m not complaining; I could be stuck in an office with the same mundane people every day inhaling photocopier ozone and other geeky co-worker’s BO problem whilst attempting to be nice to everyone into the bargain. This just isn’t me and so I’ve no real complaint about being shunted off around the UK to random places I’ve never been to before… well, apart from the lack of decent beer in most of them, but I suppose that’s only to be expected with the militant views on as many brewers as I have!
As for the title, it’s obvious once you know… the Harris bacon factory once dominated Calne – and was allegedly responsible for the railway being re-routed – but closed in 1983 and lives on only in a sculpture in High Street of two pigs presumably waiting to be electrocuted before being plunged into a boiling vat whilst still alive then being minced up and transformed into the great British banger… allegedly.
A bit of filler.
This time my work had taken me to Melksham, a rather nondescript town infested with roadworks, just east of Bath. It seems as if Bacchus was beaming down upon me that week as the day before I left I found out that the superb Royal Oak in Bath was having a beer festival which started the day I’d planned to stop over, so a quick email to work booked me into the Best Western Limpley Stoke hotel out to the east of Bath on the Warminster road. The reason for this slightly curious choice is that nowhere in the centre of Bath (well, nowhere that work would pay for!) has an on-site car park and, besides, driving into the centre is an absolute pain in the arse and I’d much rather be out in the countryside. The final clinching factor was the regularity of the X4/X5 bus into Bath and back with the final one being at 23:15, although at £5.20 return it bloody well should turn up when I wanted it to!
The beer festival was excellent and I managed to scoop ten beers on the opening night – not bad at all – and, even better, indulged in a cracking plate of sausage and mash on expenses thus allowing me to return to the hotel a full two hours later than I would have had I gone back for my paid-for evening meal! You may, by this juncture, be wondering why I’m gibbering on about Bath when this report is supposed to be about Calne; well, there was so little to write about in Calne that I had to bulk the report out somehow as is the style on Scoopergen – you wouldn’t want anyone reading a 100-word report and getting all the gen straight away without having to plough through monumental reams of waffling about the weather, public transport, how much I hate regional beers and any other topics I wish to rant about, would you? Of course not…
Beige stone buildings everywhere.
So, on with the Calne bit… wind forwards to the following week and you find me still stuck in the 132kv substation at National Grid Melksham, wondering why I get all the best jobs, and booked into the Lansdowne Strand hotel in Calne for the Wednesday evening as the weather was supposed to be depositing a load of snow upon the UK during the early hours and I certainly didn’t want to be travelling down from Worcester in that! With my hotel sorted I managed to blag my way out of work by 14:00 therefore the drive from Melksham took a mere fifteen minutes; it would have taken a lot less had I not been stuck behind an old woman on a winding country lane who didn’t know what the pedal on the right did, but I consoled myself with the thought I’d not have to contend with thousands of normals sliding all over the road next morning.
The Lansdowne Strand hotel was an old coaching inn and rather characterful with a cosy wood-panelled bar with three real ales available – Bass (cheers!), OSH (cheers!) and, amazingly, Wickwar Old Arnold – so at least I’d have something to drink when I got back from my wanderings. A quick search on the internet had located nine pubs in the town, more than I’d expected, so I decided to partake in a spot of reconnaissance in order to work out which – or, indeed if any – of the pubs on my list had any potential for local micro-brewed ale.
The afternoon sun blazed down from an azure sky as I set off from the hotel, although this gave a false impression seeing that the temperature was down to just above zero and I was fully attired in coat and woolly hat as I trudged through the tiny town centre (spying two pubs in the process) and onwards to the furthest hostelry in my list, the Jenny Wren on Lickhill road. The pub was further than I’d anticipated, although only around half a mile, but it was only when I approached it that I realised I should have studied my notes more carefully – it was a Wadworth’s pub, and I don’t really like their beer at all!
Always read your gen.
Ah well, I thought, I’d not walked all this way for nothing so in I went and obtained a swift half of Henry’s IPA which I prefer to the hideously malty and cloying 6X. Unfortunately it seemed as if no-one else had partaken of the beer prior to my arrival at 14:20 as the landlord performed a perfunctory pull-through before dispensing me a slightly hazy glass of the amber fluid. Ordinarily I would have complained but, given that whatever he did the beer would still taste of Wadworths, I decided to sample it and see how bad it would be.
Just as I expected, the beer was cloyingly malty with the strange earthy Wadworth flavour which I can’t really pin down but don’t like at all, but I stoically struggled through the beer until it was finally gone; “I really must stop drinking stuff I don’t like”, I grimaced, as the last of it reluctantly trickled down my throat. The pub itself was a decently done new estate bar with a reasonable attempt having been made to try and make it look old; wood panelling on the walls, some rather crap looking beams on the ceiling - you know the story - but overall I thought Wadworths had made a decent job of it. With my beer gone there was nothing for it but to wander back into the centre and check out some more of my target pubs, but this time I resolved to read the notes I had to prevent any future treks for nowt!
I passed the Wheatsheaf, allegedly a free house, but all I could see was 6X on the pumps and so carried on past the crowds of chavs loitering outside the local kebab shop (at 15:00? Don’t they have watches in Calne?) then the King’s Arms which looked like the kind of pub the chavs might go in once they’d acquired enough facial hair or a vaguely passable fake ID. Past the hotel I trudged until I came to the King George on the corner of New Road and the Green which was closed but, peering through the windows, I thought I could see four handpumps in use on the bar, one of which looked like a Wickwar beer. Still further I stomped, past the White Hart with it’s Moles best on handpump, before having a quick scout of the London Road Inn; this didn’t seem too promising with assurances of “Karaoke” and assorted other tat and, despite my best lurking efforts, I couldn’t see a thing through the windows to see if any micro beer was on sale.
There was one more pub along Quermford, the Jolly Miller, but this time I’d done my homework and actually read my gen – luckily – as it’s another Wadworth pub, or it might have been demolished depending on which internet site I believed! Prudently abandoning my quest at this juncture I wandered back down the hill towards the hotel via a quick diversion along Station road in an attempt to spot the old station. This had totally vanished under a new housing development but what I did find was part of the Wiltshire and Berkshire canal under restoration and so I took the opportunity for a session of photography in the late afternoon sun along the peaceful towpath.
Back in the Lansdowne Strand hotel I picked up a local “what’s on” booklet which helped me immensely by dismissing from my list the last pub I’d not been to, the dubiously named Bug and Spider, situated a good way out along the Oxford road. The booklet had an advert from said pub which left me in no doubt that real ale wasn’t in their top 100 priority list (they may do Courage Best – woohoo!) and so, with the pub firmly erased from my inventory, I’d covered all the pubs in Calne without finding anything worth getting excited about – but I suppose I should have known that before I started, if truth be told.
Out on the town.
A couple of hours later, with a heartening chunk of my Harz report completed, I set off in search of some beer. I clumped up New Road to my first call of the evening, the White Hart, which seemed to be going for the town's upmarket clientele with the bar being pleasantly furnished and having a laid back feel. Four handpumps adorned the bar, although only one was in use dispensing Moles best (4%) with the Bombardier off – shame! I acquired a swift half of the Moles for a hefty £1.35 and settled down to watch the rush-hour traffic negotiate the mini roundabout outside. I’d not drunk a Moles beer for quite a while and had forgotten how they tasted; this one was a deep amber brew, fruity and toffee-malt in flavour, then a bittersweet, fruity finish with caramel hints & sweetness giving a decent enough beer if a tad sweet for my tastebuds.
Due to my inherent laziness I hadn’t planned to revisit the London Road Inn, five minutes walk the wrong way, but with plenty of time in hand I decided that the walk would do me good and so traipsed along the A4 in the increasingly chilly evening air. As it happens I was right and the walk was a waste of time – the only cask beer was London Pride and the end of terrace pub looked very spartan inside – but it felt good to have made the effort so back I went to the King George opposite the White Hart to see if my previous optimism with regards to their four handpulls had been well placed.
The pub had a slightly strange feeling to it, as if it was a private members club, but in I went – avoiding the slavering hound guarding the door - and found, with amazement, that Skinner’s Cornish Knocker was available from cask; not a scoop, but a decent brew and something I’d enjoy drinking a few pints of. Ignoring the other visible pump dispensing some battery acid I asked for a half of the Skinners.
“You’d best try it first, it’s been on a while” suggested the barmaid, pulling some off then half filling a glass for me, “I don’t drink the stuff so I don’t know if it’s okay!
This wasn’t the best of starts but at least she was being honest and so I raised the glass to my nose and took a sniff… which was all I was going to take, as the unmistakable smell of acetic acid wafted into my nasal passages.
“No thanks, that’s off” I opined, passing the glass back to her.
“Well, that’s gone then, but you can have Courage or Hobgoblin instead” she suggested, moving along the bar to where the other two handpumps were located.
I didn’t want to appear rude but took stock of the situation and decided that, as I disliked the other two beers intensely, I’d rather not bother with either.
“No thanks, I don’t like either of those!” I responded and made a hasty retreat out of the door before she could start to pull any of the other ales.
Why do I bother?
By this point in the wander I’d decided that Calne had nothing to offer the beer scooper but I may as well finish off the exploration in the name of completeness and to have something to stick on Scoopergen the following weekend. I passed my hotel yet again and entered the Wheatsheaf, allegedly a free house, with little hope of anything decent being on sale. The pub had a slightly alternative air to it and was reasonably well populated by locals enjoying themselves; this seemed a decent enough watering hole to stop for a beer and when I reached the bar I saw Wadworth Farmer’s Glory on handpump which, despite being from a brewery I dislike, is a reasonably rare beer and so I decided a swift half wouldn’t hurt me.
“Half of Farmer’s, please” I requested.
“Sorry, that’s off – we’ve only got 6X” came the reply.
Cheers then, I thought, why does nothing ever go right for me? It seemed as if everywhere I went was in a conspiracy against me trying to make me drink dross I don’t like – and 6X comes pretty high on that list!
“No thanks, can’t stand the stuff” I grimaced, already halfway out of the door, and with that ended my wander around Calne as the King’s Arms on High Street had no real ale on the bar – although at least the crowds of chavs had slunk off from outside the kebab shop!
The final disappointment.
I had a quick look in the New Wine shop on the corner of the Strand but the beer selection was pitiful with absolutely nothing worth even a second’s consideration – but I did get three bottles of Uruguayan Tannat for £8! According to the owner, the corks stuck in the bottles meaning those with feeble muscles couldn’t get them out, but I was prepared to take the chance and so scooped in the wine which, desperately, was a winning country for my wine scooping list… but you don’t want me to get started on that, do you? No, didn’t think so…
Back in the hotel I slung the wine into my car boot before joining my co-worker for a pint in the cosy bar where I knew Wickwar Old Arnold was waiting for me… imagine my disbelief when I saw the pump now sported a Wadworth Henry’s IPA clip! What the hell’s going on here, I gibbered to myself, is everyone against me tonight? The barman arrived and confirmed that the Wickwar had gone an hour ago and the Wadworth was replacing it; I tried to blag something, anything, from the cellar but he said all he had ready was the Wadworths – but it was only £2.20 a pint, special offer – which wasn’t really the answer I was after!
This was the final nail in the coffin of my evening’s drinking but, not wishing to end the evening with a mere half of Moles, partook of a pint of the Henry’s which wasn’t too bad yet still had that Wadworth taste which always turns me slightly nauseous. The food was pretty good, nevertheless, and after indulging in a good cod and chips with an extra sausage and Stilton baguette I felt much better – after all, what had I expected in Calne, the Welly or the bloody Beer Circus?
Sadly Calne is another don’t bother, I’m afraid, with the choice of beer being rather poor. Okay, almost all the pubs had real ale of one sort or another, but if you’re after decent local micro-brewed beer then you may as well forget most of the bars in Calne as they just don’t serve any on the experience of my evening there – although I may just have been unlucky. The White Hart did have Moles and had a couple of handpulls free so maybe at weekends there are more local beers available there? They did seem to be pushing the proper beer so that’s a maybe…
The King George opposite was a strange experience, but without another visit I’d not write it off totally as anywhere that sells Skinners can’t be all bad – although whoever is the landlord should start tasting the beers at the beginning of each session as dispensing vinegar is one sure way to scare off the passing trade! Apart from those two the only other option seems to be the Lansdowne hotel as long as their guest beer isn’t Wadworths – I just missed the Wickwar and so will give them the benefit of the doubt, and as a bonus the bar is very cosy with records of the old brewhouse on the walls; there are lots of buildings out the back in the courtyard but I didn’t really get time to have a look at which one it might have been, although seeing as it doesn’t produce ale any longer there didn’t really seem to be much point.
Typically, I’ve since discovered another pub – the Talbot Inn – half a mile further along the A4 from the London Road Inn which might or might not serve six real ales, although some websites say it’s awful and some rave about it; whatever, had I done my research properly I’d have definitely gone for a look and now feel as if I may have missed the best pub in Calne through my ineptitude at research… next time I’ll do better, I promise, and I fling my pitiful soul at your feet for forgiveness at such chronic incompetence.
The curry situation in Calne is also rather poor with a really pompous-looking restaurant just down High Street which had an army of waiters loitering around the bar and no customers, or a decent-looking takeaway on Curzon Street which didn’t do Nargis but did have Reshmi on the menu; had I been staying two nights then I may well have attempted to blag a Nargis from there!
Bug and Spider, 221 Oxford Road, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 8AW (Free house, but sounds shite)
Jenny Wren, 36 Lickhill Rd, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 9DF (Wadworth)
Jolly Miller, 203 Quernerford Road, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 8JY (Wadworth) may have been demolished!!
Kings Arms, 18 High St, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0BS
King George, New Road, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0JQ
Lansdowne Strand Hotel, The Strand, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0EH
London Road Inn, 85 London Rd, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0AD
Talbot Inn, 9 Quemerford, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0AR
Wheatsheaf Inn, 3 Curzon St, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0DB
White Hart Hotel, 2 London Road, Calne, Wiltshire, SN11 0AB
No beer of the evening yet again as the selection was so poor; the best pub seemed to be the Lansdowne Strand Hotel bar with it’s cosy wood-panelled snugness, but without seeing the Talbot Inn I’d not want to commit myself to anything!
|Wheatsheaf Calne||Jenny Wren Calne||Bridge on the Wilts and Berks Canal Calne|
© Gazza 12/02/07 V1.1