Last Updated : 12/12/06
he next stop on my tour of the South-west was Taunton. I must admit I’ve not been there very often and struggle to remember the last time I drank there… passing through Taunton was common many years ago on my trips down to the West but, with the station being such a walk from the town proper, the lure of getting off and walking miles for nothing somehow never appealed and so I rarely bothered. Anyhow, enough of this gibbering, a short report follows of my evening in Taunton, and just in case you’re not a Euro-scooper and don’t know what the hell the “Foreign” title means, it’s German for “Rest day”, usually meaning Sundays, but more prosaically the day(s) a bar shuts during the week for it’s “rest day”… it will become obvious, I promise.
Four miles out.
I was staying in the very nice Rumwell Manor Best Western hotel situated four miles out to the west of Taunton which, despite being a fair way out of the centre, was a lovely hotel with very sociable staff and my room was blessed with a delicious vista of Somerset countryside from the ample sash windows. After a few hours writing my Latvian report I decided to abandon Rumwell and head into Taunton proper, which I knew was possible via the First Somerset 22/22A (Taunton to Wellington) bus that stopped opposite the hotel entrance, and I was relieved when the timetable on the stop confirmed the times I’d culled from the internet leaving me five minutes to fester in the drizzle, trying to see what beers were on in the cute little pub by the bus stop without much success – ah well, I’d see later on!
The double-decker soon pulled up at the stop and we were soon on our way with me being around £4 worse off; cheers then! As I sat there wondering how this high fare could be justified my mood was mollified by what appeared to be a local village idiot sitting in front of me, who proceeded to gibber into his mobile (actually, he shouted into it, in the manner of a child with a can attached to a piece of string) about nothing of importance which, had he been more blessed in the cranial department, he would have realised that he could have saved a few bob and simply spouted the gibber when he reached home and not piss off everyone on the bus… but there you go, it was free entertainment I suppose.
Not a great start.
My first call was the gloriously old Winchester arms on Castle Green which seemed to have one wall borrowed from a gothic castle, but inside was sadly modern, trendy and “yoof” oriented and completely at odds with the centuries-old exterior. Unsurprisingly, no real ale was available, so I made a quick exit and headed out to the furthest North pubs to begin the crawl proper, pausing en-route to check out Millers, a bar on Mill Street which – as the name suggests – is a trendy place with no proper beer but hundreds of garish metal keg founts dispensing super-chilled, super smooth, extra-bland crap! Next…
I got as far as the Crown & Sceptre, 75 Station road, before becoming bored and stopping for a swift reviver. Three beers were available, but I couldn’t decided what one of them was from my lurking point outside, so in I went… and found out that it was Youngs special! As Youngs are boycotted (not for their sell-out to Charlie Wells, but for making shite beer) that one was off the menu, so I settled for a half of 6X – and immediately wished I hadn’t, as it had that sickly, earthy-malt and quite cloying taste Wadworth beers tend to have and I don’t like at all; quite why I bothered is still a mystery to me! The pub itself was large, comfy but bland and I was happy to leave as quickly as I’d supped up.
The Black Horse was next, heading back into town, and a quick peek through the window confirmed that only Greede King Abbot & OSH were available… a hundred metres further on was the local McSpoons, the strangely-named Coal Orchard on Bridge street, which was actually a rather good specimen of the chain although judging it against the beery delights I’d experienced thus far may have clouded my judgement a little in it’s favour! It was strangely shaped and dimly lit with a notable beige décor, in fact so dimly lit that I’d walked past the on the way to the Crown & Sceptre thinking it was a closed lighting shop! The beers available were GK Abbott, Springhead Olivers army, Otter bright, Exmoor stag, Cottage golden arrow, Highgate fury, Cotleigh 25 & tawny, S&N Directors and W&D Peddy; not the most adventurous list I’ve ever seen, but a decent enough choice and quite a few local breweries on the bar. I went for the Otter Bright, a pale, grainy, nutty, dry beer with good bitterness & grainy finish, confirming why I like Otter beers!
The Ruhetag bites.
I crossed the River Tone and turned left down St James’ street where I shortly came across the Ring of Bells, a quiet pub by a big church (St James’s presumably), with Sharp doom bar and Otter bitter on cask. As much as another glass of Otter was tempting, I had a lot to do and reasoned that I could pop back in here before the bus back to Rumwell so I pressed on past the unexplainably closed Princess Royal, Cannon street, (at 18:05) and then the similarly bolted tight Malt’n’hops which still wasn’t open when I checked again at 19:00; I was feeling like the evening had taken a downwards turn and maybe Monday nights in November weren’t the best time to go beer scooping around Taunton…
Turning left onto East Reach I passed the Naval & Military, looking closed for good, before finally reaching the White Hart which had Otter bitter for sale through it’s sole handpull. The pub looked a bit “keg” to me so I decided against the Otter and reluctantly turned back, casting a despairing eye over the Victoria opposite which was still closed at 18:20 with no signs of life. It seemed as if I’d trekked into a part of Franconia in Germany where pubs frequently have a day off and don’t open all day; this ruhetag, or rest day, is common in Germany but virtually unheard of in the UK although the evidence so far was suggesting some very Bavarian attitudes to opening hours!
This evidence was cemented even further with my discovery that the Alma, a largish roadside pub on Silver Street, was still closed at 18:45 with not a sign of life inside – or sign of any cask ale, it must be said – so I retraced my steps to East Reach and, ecstatic at finally finding a pub open, I virtually ran into the Racehorse which had just opened it’s large archway door at 19:00. It was a cosy wood-panelled pub, sociable & solidly traditional (as evidenced by the opening hours) with an affable Irish landlord. Be warned that the toilets are right at the back, and the pub goes back a long way… the beers on offer were St Austell Dartmoor, Tinners and Tribute (aka Daylight Robbery for those old enough to remember that!) and so, out of curiosity at not having seen them for so long, I tried the Tinners – an amber, dry, malty beer with some peardrop & a bitter, smoky, dry malt aftertaste; a bit harsh in my opinion, and not one I’d want to drink much of.
No swift halves before the bus.
I was running out of bars now and so carried on along East Street to the other McSpoons in town – a Lloyds No.1 – the Perkin Warbeck, although I’ve no idea what spurious connection Taunton has to the impostor-to-the-throne from Flanders! No matter, this isn’t a history lesson, so let me regale you with information of the pub; basically, a long & thin bar with 8 beers on cask including Exmoor & Caledonian with typical McSpoons décor, although my overall impression was that it resembled an old-fashioned curry house, complete with red flock wallpaper… or that’s how I remember it, I didn’t bother to stop for a beer as nothing really grabbed me.
With a bus in forty minutes I just had time to check out the last few pubs around the bus station locale; the first I came across was the Moat house, Corporation Street, a handsome creamy-coloured (alright, it was beige…) stone building with interesting diaphragm pumps on the bar dispensing, sadly, boring dross such as Adnams bitter & GK OSH. A shame, I felt, as the pub had a good feel to it and would be well worth a look if only it sold some decent beers!
A quick look into the Firestone café/restaurant on Castle Green told me that, surprisingly, it sold real ale but only Bass and GK IPA so that was that – no sale! With more time than I really wanted to be standing at a bus stop still on the clock, a swift perambulation along High Street told me exactly what I’d guessed; Henry's, Yates & Que Pasa were all trendy circuit joints for those with no opinions or will of their own and stood blasting out their garish light pollution into the night sky. Oh yes, and none of them had any beer worth drinking on sale – but you’d already guessed that, hadn’t you?
All’s well than ends well.
My evening complete, I took the 22A bus back to Rumwell, mercifully managing to recognise the stop before the vehicle went sailing past into the hinterland beyond, and decided that I could do with a beer after such a poor evening out. Inside the Rumwell Inn all was as a village pub should be; warm from the fire, quiet from lack of shite music, with lots of little nooks and crannies to nurse a beer and smelling of well-cooked food not stale beer and cancer-sticks (roll on next July!) with an admirable beer choice too - Otter Bitter and Exmoor Gold both on handpump!
I couldn’t refuse a final beer before haring back to the hotel for my food and so a half of Exmoor it was; thankfully, this was the best beer I’d had all night, having a full, sweetish malty flavour, lots of juicy grain, then a decent balance of hops and a bitter, malty, moreish finish which almost had me missing my food in the hotel… but not quite! I found out from the barman that the hotel had taken over the pub a few weeks before (a lot of Best Westerns have their own pub – a damn good idea it is too) and, thinking back now, maybe I should have stayed with the excellently-kept beers and had my meal in the Rumwell Inn! As it was, I managed a nightcap whisky from the hotel bar (keg Whitbread Flowers bitter – I’ve not seen that stuff for years!) to top up my allowance and went to sleep satisfied that I’d seen the best pub in Taunton – four miles out to the west of the city! Certainly nowhere in the centre had come anywhere close, but I still couldn’t work out why the city had a ruhetag on Mondays…
Well, let’s just say that all those times I passed through Taunton en-route to somewhere else and didn’t get off were justified; there are lots of pubs in the town, maybe too many, but there were very few that I visited that I’d bother to go in again. I was also puzzled by the number which were closed with no sign of life inside; I’d expect the odd one, but not the five I found! Maybe a couple of them might have been good pubs had they been open – the Malt’n’hops or the Naval & Military are the two hopefuls – but I’m not that sure I’d bother to go back and find out. Add to this the high percentage of chavs screeching around town in low-CC Vauxhall Novas or other such automotive drivel and a night out in Taunton isn’t high on my list of must-do’s!
It’s a sad day when the Wetherspoons is the best pub in town, but on the plus side the Coal Orchard was certainly making an effort and had a good cross-section of local beers on draught (Otter, Exmoor and Cotleigh) which elevates it above most of it’s brethren in that respect and so, reluctantly, I award the best pub in town award to the Coal Orchard McSpoons! Saying that, the Racehorse was a welcoming and relaxing pub with the only problem being the beer choice of all St Austell, but that’s about it…
The best beer of the night award goes to the Exmoor Gold in the Rumwell Inn out to the west of the town opposite the Best Western hotel (which is bloody good too, and in the same hands) and, had the pub been in the centre, it would have been the best pub all evening by a long way. As it was, I was quite happy to finish up there after so much of the Ruhetag blues in Taunton!
© Gazza 12/12/06 V1.0.