Tuesday 3 November 2015

BRAPA Special - The Green Owl

The Green Owl is a pub which you can all recognise, though I doubt any of you reading this will have actually visited one quite so good.

Even it's name, "the Green Owl", is kind of quirky and ever so slightly traditional at the same time, and the Owl (not green in colour, a bog standard barn owl I think!) watches over you, painted on a centuries old rusty pub sign which creaks in the wind, it is one of those traditional inn signs which swings from side to side and juts out from the building.

You approach the pub on foot.  It is only approx 1.5 miles from both the nearest rail and bus links, a gentle uphill climb taking about half an hour at most, whilst for some environmental reason which I can't explain, cars are forbidden from making the climb along the grassy dirt track (exceptions made for beer delivery I assume!)  So you HAVE to be making an effort to come here, unless you are a lost rambler of course.

The views from 'up top' are stunning, and birds of prey circle and call out, there cries echoing around the valley, whilst you can hear the gush of water crashing down it.  On a clear day, you might even see abseilers on the vertical rock face which frames the pub as you approach it.  There are plenty of sheep and cows dotted around the landscape too.   I think there's a nature reserve and it's also a great spot for anglers nearby though I've never really got beyond the pub.  Why would I?

The pub is thatched, and it has tudor style beams though it is painted olive green as it has for as long as anyone can remember.  Perhaps this is where the 'green' in the 'Green Owl' title comes from.  Some say it's something pagan.  There's usually a blackboard leaning outside with some witty comment, quote or even some blatant self-advertising chalked into it.

On entering, you'll always get a warm welcome from John and Mary, a recently retired couple who know the pub trade but have moved from the city to somewhere a bit more rural.  They are a kindly traditional couple who always look you in the eye, and treat first time visitors with the same warmth that they treat the small band of regulars, mainly retired farm workers.  These regulars generally lean at the bar, laughing and joking with John and Mary.  No stools at the bar though, you have to encourage punters to be able to get to the bar to see the beers properly, the locals know the drill and will probably recommend you a beer.

Both landlord and landlady are very sprightly for their age, John is up and down that cellar changing the ales with the gusto of someone half his age.  Mary's a proper old fashioned housewife, and she makes fresh filled rolls (pease pudding is the locals favourite) daily, and even makes her own scotch eggs.

There is no hot food at the Green Owl, but along with the rolls and the scotch eggs, some specialty pork pies are supplied by a local butcher whilst there's an obligatory jar of pickled eggs which has been there for years.  The rumour is they've been there since the end of the war, and if you eat one whole, Mary will stand you half a pint at no charge!  There is a great range of crisps and some pork scratchings, no nuts because John has an allergy.

The pub is so old (they claim 16th century), it seems sunken into the floor but has a tardis effect, it's a lot bigger inside than you'd think.  Upholstered bench seating surrounds most of the perimeter with the bar on the back wall.  There are a few tables central but a clear route to the bar at all times.  There are a few snugs to the right, some big enough to almost be called small rooms in there own right, the highlight being an ancient huge oak settle.

If you come on a Friday night, you won't get to sit here as local musicians come in with their instruments and play a ceilidh, on and off, for the entire evening.  There is no piped music, no TV, no games machines.

Phone signal is poor as you'd imagine but hey, this is the 21st century, so in a rare nod in that direction there is a WiFi password, and guess what, it actually works.  Access is disabled every Thursday evening though, it's quiz night and old Albert (93 this December) has a habit of texting his grand kids for answers, they've taught him well!

There is a welcome real fire, which crackles away happily in the winter months (and much of the spring and autumn too up here).  The pub is very well insulated though through proper ancient honest building materials.   The ceiling is so low that anyone over six foot tall is going to have to stoop a bit, still it's handy for sticking the vast array of pump clips on the ceiling (or nicking them I suppose!)

There's a dartboard as well, and an ancient hood skittles table - the locals are in a league and have about 200 years experience between them - the reigning champions.  No pool table sadly but you can't have everything and they say it will only attract the rabble from the town!

And how could go this long without mentioning Rachel?  Pretty brunette post-grad student, daughter of John and Mary and she returns a few times a year to inject her bubbly personality on proceedings, and to flash her milk white smile and sparkly eyes which radiate around the pub.  She pretends she's doing them a favour by "coming back to help", but she can't stay away from this little utopia for too long, how could anyone?

The pub usually has six guest ales on and a real cider, no lager, no keg in here.  A few bottles if you are so inclined, oh and a full range of cordials (including blackcurrant) if you are a non drinker.  The ales are sourced from local microbreweries which don't tend to get much of a look in at other places, there are normally two pales, a golden, a standard bitter, a stout or porter and some speciality style which becomes a talking point, such us a saison or a wheat beer for example.  The cider is usually dry or medium dry, we're talking something Welsh or South Western usually.  The beers are cool enough but not over chilled, crystal clear (unless unfined or a wheat beer etc) and the quality is always exceptional, that is what they pride themselves on above all else.  Prices are good too, about £2.80 a pint depending on strength, you'd get change from £3 anyway.

John & Mary have vague plans to start brewing their own beer, but will only do so if they know it's going to be as much of a 'hit' with the locals as the ales they currently sell (a tough ask) so will be consulting 'people in the know' on that one - no point brewing their own if it isn't up to scratch is their attitude!  Local CAMRA love this pub, and are keen to help advise them.

They did once try upping the beer range to 10, but quality suffered.  Less is sometimes more.  Besides, the pub is never heaving enough to go through the barrels quite so quickly (not that they'd let it sit there too long), but the Green Owl always manages to have a hubbub and atmosphere even at the quietest times, maybe it is all ingrained in the fabric of the building, like ghosts of yesteryear.  

The toilets are outdoors (well, the gents are - the ladies one was only built in the last 30 years, I guess women didn't come in here/weren't allowed before then!)  Anyway, the loos are always clean, soap, paper towels (no dryers!), regularly cleaned, but not too bleachy - it can affect the taste of your beer.  
Whilst we are outside, the garden (and it really is a beer garden, not one of these 'smokers' areas - they have their own little side patio area) is vast and rolls down towards a dry stone wall and stream, sheep in the field behind so you are very much at one with nature.  Picnic benches galore, they do one mini beer festival out here every June, with Morris Dancers, face painters and a barbecue, plus some terrible 'live' bands which have the sheep running down the hillside - well, it's always a good day, and the one time kids and dogs are allowed!

So yes, sorry, John & Mary are very clear on those particular ground rules - no children or dogs at all times in the pub,  Besides, it might upset 'Diddles', the pub cat who pretty much sleeps all day and doesn't really let much bother her, though she doesn't like her own name much!

I've probably forgotten to describe some of the intricacies of this wonderful hostelry, but I think you get the idea.  A modern day "Moon Under Water", George Orwell style, I suppose.

Thanks for reading, Si


  1. Ah the Green Owl, I do like our visits there.

    Have you not seen the beer delivery from the local micro in the next village? He comes up the lane with a horse and cart with the beer delivery. I think the further away breweries drop their beer with them to deliver with their own.

    I do like hearing the locos of the local preserved railway thrashing along at the bottom of the valley, particularly now they have mainline 56s working trains out of the local quarry. I should wander down to the bottom of the beer garden one day, I bet there are some cracking photographs to be had.

    I do like those pickled eggs. I'd not heard the rumour about the free half, I bet it's true as long as John isn't around at the time, I'll have to try eating one whole next time, unless they have one of those cheese and onion pies again. Superb, even better than the Rawtenstall ones because they have some potato in which seems to stop the filling setting.

    I'd wondered how the bloody hell Albert knew the winding number theorem, if he's there next time I'm in he'll be lucky to make 94.

    Have you met Rachel's blond post grad friend Emily, who is a statistician and also likes to visit and help out. I believe she likes it so much that she is moving into the next village soon at about the same time as me.

  2. Ha ha brilliant! Nice to see you adding some extra life to the Green Owl. I forgot all of those factors, it is almost like it is too good to be true that place ......

  3. I love this pub. It gets better and better as time goes on. If its ever up for grabs you could take it on. The walk form the train station never seems as long as the walk back. I can't think why.

  4. Thank you for passing on the brown envelope from Emily yesterday. Very good. It is a shame she will soon be away again doing her stats PhD.

  5. Is it the Nag's Head in Preston (East Yorks) ?
    Is there a prize ?

  6. It most certainly is not!

    In a fairly unrelated comment, have you ever been to a part of London called Buckhurst Hill and if so, what's it like / any pub tips?

  7. Buckhurst Hill is "Birds of a Feather"/"Grange Hill" country, affluent Essex/East London border, folk quite pleasant, Indians called Planet Poppadom, edge of Epping Forest etc. As safe as Fulford.

    Pubs are average but better than anything in North London; Cricketers (McMullens) and Travellers Friend (Free) just south in Woodford Green have been in GBG for years.

    Walthamstow a mile or so south is wonderful though, a cultural melting pot as they say.

  8. I'd agree with Martin on Buckhurst Hill. There is also some wonderful architecture on the Central Line that way - some of the quietest and thus least touched deep tube stations I know. It is another valid out of the box option for if we play West Ham away in the cup or end up back at Orient.

  9. Cheers chaps! Buckhurst Hill is on the Autumn agenda. Looking forward to the culture. Safe as Fulford? Crikey!
    Walthamstow could be a day all to itself.