Last Updated : 24/12/07
et another work trip was imminent and this time I was off to the far-flung west of Wales, an area which I freely admit I’ve not been to either comprehensively or recently – I think my last visit to Pembroke Dock was when the Pembroke brewery was still in production in the late 90’s! Nevertheless, I managed to do some hurried research and found a whole raft of pubs in Pembroke Dock (which I’d previously thought was part of Pembroke – no it’s not!) together with a recommendation from Uncle Knobby and so that was the beer gen sorted! I also researched a possible evening trip to Pembroke itself but, with little available there which wasn’t theoretically on sale in the Dock, this was purely an academic exercise just in case I got really bored…
As already mentioned I’d not been to Pembroke Dock since the brewery closed a good many years back and, even when I went last, I didn’t venture far from the station (the brewery’s beers were on sale in the pub right on the platform!) as I’d never found a chippy close enough to be walkable in the short time available between the sporadic trains back to civilisation. This time, I hoped, I’d have enough time to make a thorough exploration of all the town’s pubs although, given the gen I had, I wasn’t expecting anything in the scoops line at all!
Tuesday 27th November 2007.
"Bad... looking very bad!"
It soon became clear that I’d forgotten what a drag it is driving to West Wales; the M4 around Port Talbot is a right pain with that 2-lane section and speed cameras but it’s when the dual carriageway runs out at Carmarthen that things really get interesting – 20+ miles of winding roads with only tractors, artics and bemused locals in ancient vehicles for company! I was travelling after a morning’s work in Cardiff accompanied by Bryan, a work colleague and staunch lager drinker, but we made decent time and arrived at our hotel, the Cleddau bridge, just before sundown and were able to get some decent photos of the estuary which stretched out towards the huge tanks of the oil and gas terminals where we’d be working the following day.
After checking in and sorting out our stuff it was time for an exploration of the town’s pubs. Bryan, my co-worker, is a lager drinker but plays golf with a crowd of real ale lovers so knows exactly what makes me tick – if you’ll excuse the pun! We soon discovered that our hotel was at the top of a very large hill and I wasn’t looking forwards to the return journey up it later on that evening as we stomped down it’s precipitous incline towards the town centre. Passing an Aldi and then an Asda in quick succession, we soon arrived at Dimond Street where our final call of the evening, the Station bar, was located but for now we contented ourselves with an amble along the road to see what we’d find… and the first thing was a closed road and a recently burnt-out shop! Charming…
I must admit to being slightly apprehensive about embarking on a pub crawl with a “normal” as I don’t do this very often; generally when I’m in an unknown location, and I’m sure that I am not alone in this, I race around the place like a mad thing clutching a badly printed (and annotated) map whilst frothing at the mouth with indignancy that no scoops are around for my consumption. Now this obviously isn’t a valid course of action with a normal in tow – even one who knows the score – and so I contented myself with the knowledge that I was unlikely to find anything worth drinking anyway as we chatted our way along Dimond Street.
The first pub we encountered was the Rose & Crown which didn’t look too promising with it’s lurid paint job, cancer scrum in the doorway and bright light coming from the interior. I cast a glance through the window to see, as expected, nothing real and so on we went with our wander, heading for nowhere in particular, and before long we’d found another pub; the Swan was a traditional-looking building on a quiet street and looked just the part of a proper local, although the only beer on handpump seemed to be Felinfoel Double Dragon so on we went… for only a few steps as there, right in front of us, was one of the pubs I’d been looking for – the Flying Boat – and best of all it seemed to be open!
In we went and found a welcoming, sociable bar complete with a crackling, hissing fire and, even better, a scoop on the handpumps! The landlord was dropping casks into his cellar and so we had a few minutes until he appeared which gave us chance to appreciate the number of pumpclips arrayed around the rafters; this place certainly liked it’s guest ales! The rest of the décor revolved, as the name would suggest, around the Sunderland flying boats which were apparently based in the harbour during WW2 and the place certainly seemed like somewhere I could willingly spend a few hours of my time should I happen to visit Pembroke again.
Puffing slightly from his exertions the landlord returned and served my pint of Great Orme Dark Autumn (4%) and, with an amusing amount of badly-suppressed disdain, Bryan’s pint of “woman’s lager”. As we supped our beer – mine was homebrewy with the saving grace of some chocolate malt to hide the worst bits – I discussed other beery options with the genial landlord and soon decided that I knew all there was to know about scooping in Pembroke Dock; I was where it mattered! Sadly, the next two beers due through the pumps in the Flying Boat were Cottage (to which I made my dislike abundantly clear) and I was also informed that 95% of Double Dragon we’d see on handpump would be keg… cheers then, not even that as a fall-back move! As we’d an hour or so before most of the pubs opened Bryan and I had a couple more pints and relaxed into the ambience of this real ale-centric hostelry which my colleague likened to being out “with his golfing mates” who sound pretty hardcore to me – they changed golf courses as their previous one stopped selling real ale!
Over an hour passed before we could tear ourselves away and so, thanking the landlord (and his sole customer!) profusely for their information, off we trotted up the surprisingly precipitous hill towards High Street which turned out to be very un-High street – more “edge of town” street - although, thinking about our steep approach, maybe the “high” bit refers to the road’s altitude not it’s status? Passing an old and rather imposing chapel at the summit of the hill, our first pub was right in front of us and so into the Caledonia we went; a large street corner boozer with an “as expected” interior, Felinfoel best bitter and Greede Kerching Speckled Hen on cask, plus an amusing bunch of chavs who seemed intent on playing both pool and darts concurrently – with mixed success, it must be said.
A swift half was the order of the day here and the Felinfoel wasn’t too bad with the prominent flavour of pear drops and grainy maltiness washing over my tongue, but that wasn't really what I was after and so we carried on towards our next pub which, so we’d been informed, had two cask ales of the more interesting variety. As we wandered along High Street a house in the distance caught my eye with it’s row of Xmas lights – maybe this was the pub! - but as we got closer it was just another house… or so it seemed until we were almost next to it when it became clear that this was a house converted to a pub but still resembling it’s old manifestation from the outside!
Into the Red Rose we went where two ales were available, Watkin Braf and Rhymney Bevans, so a half it was then! Braf (4.5%) was an average malty brew, very Welsh in it’s character, with not enough complexity to balance the sweetish maltiness and thus it scored relatively poorly although, being a scoop, I was more than happy to drink it! The barmaid, realising we were on a pub crawl, gave me a postcard listing most of the town’s bars and some of the locals muttered encouragingly at us as we departed into the blustery night – thankfully downhill from here!
Downhill - in all aspects.
We successfully negotiated the winding lanes back to ground level and were soon walking towards our final call of the evening, the Station, but first we passed yet another house conversion; the Three Tuns looked just like a typical pebble-dashed Welsh house but, on closer inspection, turned out to be a pub selling Watkins beers! With time marching on, however, and plenty of time the following evening to sample the remaining bars, we carried on past and were soon in the Station pub where I’d spent 99% of my time in Pembroke Dock many years back. Sadly Pembroke brewery is no longer with us and the beer range seemed to have declined in both width and girth since my last visit; Skinners Keel Over and Wells “Courage” Directors (cheers then!) were the sole cask ales; a half of the Skinners was decent enough with the usual Skinners honey-malt taste - although I wasn’t tempted with another - and the Directors, whilst technically a winner, was flagged as Wells are on my boycott list!
So, with the evening’s wanderings done, it was back up the precipitous gradient to our hotel – and then back down the other side again! We’d decided to spend our money in a recommended pub rather than the hotel and so this found us stomping down under the towering Cleddau bridge and then almost to the water’s edge where we found the Ferry Inn. This welcoming pub obviously had food as it’s main thrust although it did have two handpumps dispensing real ale – sadly, Double Dragon and Banks’ Salute – and also a strange keg tap with what I think was “Saxon Lager” coming from it, although I forgot to check what it was after our meal.
We ordered our food – local salmon en-croute with garlic potatoes – which turned out to be pretty damn good and far better than the hotel would have mustered, that I’m quite sure. Before I could intervene, however, my colleague returned from the bar with a pint of the Banks’ for me; cheers then, they’re boycotted! Rather than waste the stuff, however, I grimaced my way through it and reminded myself of exactly why I don’t drink Banks’ beers; sickly and nausea-inducing with a nasty aftertaste, I left half of it behind and re-doubled my vows not to drink the stuff ever again. The one redeeming factor of the Banks’ episode was that at least my judicious consumption didn’t give me a bad head the following morning as happened when I used to drink Banks or Sheps beers (the only two UK breweries which seem to have this effect on me).
Wednesday 28th November 2007.
A lightning survey.
I was on my own tonight and was therefore determined to cover the rest of the pubs in Pembroke Dock. I had thought about taking a bus down to Pembroke itself but, with little seemingly on offer there, I decided against it and pressed on with my examination of the Dock’s pubby charms. I’d received some pointers the preceding evening from the Flying Boat’s landlord and so, armed with this local knowledge, I strolled purposefully down the hill towards the First and Last… to find the current guest ales was Sheps Shitfire; as Meatloaf once said, “I’d do anything… but I won’t do that!”
Along London Road I trudged, receiving vacant, inbred stares from some local chavs sat on a wall, before I reached the Welshman’s arms. Through the window I could see a Felinfoel Celtic Pride pumpclip and so in I went – to be told it was off and Double Dragon was on in it’s place! I decided to risk a half anyhow and found it to be a decent example of the beer and the pub to be a lot larger inside than it had appeared to be from the outside with some particularly comfortable easy chairs to sink into.
Turning left along Laws Street I soon came to the Three Crowns, a small and quite basic little bar, which sold two Brains beers in the form of Worthington and Rev James, neither of which could tempt me inside and so on I went. The Prince of Wales, on the corner of Apley Terrace, was an imposing old building and must have been a seriously expensive railway hotel in years gone by but was obviously now struggling with the general dereliction of the town and, despite a whole megawatt of lighting both outside and on the bar, it couldn’t manage to provide a single real ale. The enticingly-named Star Social club across the road was closed as I passed but, looking at the Carling signs everywhere, I didn’t hold out much hope of it being a real ale mecca when – and if – it actually managed to open.
Turning along Bush Street I first passed the aptly-named Bush; another brightly-lit pub (do they get free electricity around here, I wondered?) with a clinically basic décor inside and Marstons Pedigree and Bitter on the pumps… Chancers was next and, with the name taken into account, I wasn’t expecting anything at all from this pseudo-nightclub dive, so imagine my surprise to see Felinfoel DD on handpump through the window – although this didn’t tempt me inside! Next was the Charlton Hotel which, despite the name, was an old-fashioned local’s pub with an easy-going and sociable character inside. Two beers were on offer, Rev James and Hancocks, so I decided – not having had a beer for around an hour now – to risk a swift half of the Hancocks; not a good idea it transpired, as it had definitely seen better days and, although it wasn’t really bad enough to send back, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. The pub itself though was a great example of an untouched local’s pub and, on a better night for the beer, would no doubt be a decent place for a few pints.
I now passed the Flying Boat and had a quick chat with the landlord who informed me his beers hadn’t changed and so, thanking him for all his help on my crawl, I passed by on my way to the Shipwrights by the water where, so I’d been told, a decent pint of guest ale would be mine… I was soon realising that this was not my night as, it being within 6 months of xmas, the pub was festooned with garish and rather tasteless LED light arrangements depicting various clichéd festive scenes. All of this rather overshadowed what should have been a good pub visit; an old building with some character (some of which could be made out under the mass of light pollution) next to the water and on a quiet terraced street… and, just to make the visit’s crapulence complete, the only cask ale on was Hobgoblin! The barmaid seemed amazed when I informed her I wasn’t going to partake of such a repulsive beverage, maybe I had a mild brain-mouth bypass and actually suggested she had the head of a yeti… I’ll never know, sadly, but what I do know is that I was soon heading back into the centre and to my final few visits.
The Bird in Hand on Lewis Street looked as I’d imagine a 1960’s private club to look – or someone’s house which had been surreptitiously converted into a pub maybe a better description. I didn’t bother to even look inside as a quick glance at the patrons hunched smoking outside immediately told me nothing drinkable would be found there and so on to my final stop, the Three Tuns, which – if it’s possible – actually looked more like a house from the outside than had the Bird in Hand (thinking about this now, I’m not sure I didn’t walk into someone’s front room…). Outside was a sign declaring it was a “Tomos Watkin house” (not something I’d choose to advertise, but there you go) and a swift peek inside soon exposed no cask ale, just keg, and no customers either; indeed, the landlord almost had a coronary as I opened the door, maybe he didn’t expect a customer so early in the evening at 20:00? My surveying complete, having missed out on only a few outlying pubs which I hadn’t had the enthusiasm nor dedication to visit, it was back to the hotel for a less than satisfying evening meal and an early night – oh the joys of working away from home!
I have several, of which the main one is that scoopers shouldn’t bother going to Pembroke Dock if they can avoid it. Others are that there’s a surprisingly high percentage of pubs with at least one real ale on sale (generally Felinfoel Double Dragon, although it may not all be cask but keg via a pump – allegedly!) and also that it’s a lot more bloody hilly than it looks. None of these are particularly helpful, I know, but what do you expect from me, useful information? Bah.
The days of the Pembroke brewery in a local garage and the station bar being a haven for cask ale has well and truly gone with said bar being a shadow of it’s former self – as if to illustrate this, Wells “Courage” Directors was on sale when we visited…! The town’s pride is salvaged somewhat by the excellent proper pubbyness of the Flying Boat which will only appeal to old-fashioned real ale drinkers but does have two or three cask ales and, most importantly, you might even get a scoop in here as the beers come from all over the UK although, as the landlord told me, he prefers beers without the modern citrussy hop flavours meaning few “new-wave” micros will make it into here. Still, it’s the best chance of a scoop in Pembroke Dock, and also a good sociable pub for a few beers so if you do happen to find yourself in town for an evening then you’ve somewhere to at least try…
The town has a surprisingly large number of pubs for it’s size, somewhere in the region of forty, although given the trade I saw in most of them I’d say this situation is bound to change in the near future with a massive rationalisation of pubs due. I did enjoy my wander around though, despite the best efforts of the terrain and Felinfoel, so it wasn’t exactly dead time I spent in far West Wales… and believe me I’ve been to far worse places a lot closer to London than Pembroke Dock so it’s not all bad for the place!
Beer and pub of the weekend.
It wasn’t a weekend, technically, but let’s not split hairs… out of the 20 or so pubs I surveyed (that’s rather a grand word for lurking suspiciously outside peering through a window) the best was, by a mile, the Flying Boat on the corner of Queen Street and Clarence Street for it’s beer choice, sociable landlord, real fire and all-round pubbyness. That’s my only real recommendation, although a few “try alsos” are –
I’ll not bother awarding a best beer as nothing I had was particularly interesting!
© Gazza 24/12/07 V1.0.