Pint Pleasures: Two Pubs in Northwest England

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Previous Pint Pleasures - May 21, 2006

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Korners Bar, The Farmers Arms Hotel, Penny Street, Lancaster, Lancashire

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The Agricultural Hotel, Ullswater Road, Castlegate, Penrith, Cumbria

Back in January, enroute to a holiday in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we stopped off for our first night in Lancaster. Located on the River Lune, Lancaster started life as a Roman settlement called Lun-Castrum and is currently home to a medieval castle, various museums, hospitals, a university, and a central pedestrian shopping area. Having only ever experienced the desertlike city of Lancaster in my home state of California, I was instantly charmed by this original Lancaster, especially as soon as I heard the locals speak.

After driving around in a few fruitless but scenic and amusing circles, we spotted the
Farmers Arms Hotel situated prominently on a busy corner. We checked into the hotel, hauled our bags up the stairs to our top floor room with a view of the River Lune, and headed back downstairs into the Korners Bar a few minutes we were in the village of Coniston, near the northern end of Coniston Water.

A rather weathered man in a leather jacket and frumpy white cowboy hat was sitting at the bar chatting with another bloke who looked like an aged version of a mumbling Folkestone friend of ours. The second man was accompanied by a pretty dog, possibly a result of an Alsatian who had a one-night stand with a Malimute. We ordered pints of Thwaites Original Bitter (3.8% ABV, Daniel Thwaites Brewery, Blackburn, Lancastershire), which is a nice straightforward pint. I've never seen so many A4-sized paper signs posted anywhere. They were covering nearly every available wall space in the pub, and they seemed to be mostly about the food menu. As we sat down with our drinks and started perusing the menu we were told a 1960s-1970s cover band was on tonight, so we settled in and looked forward to a bit of entertainment.

The pub features a cacophony of decorative styles, as Andrew pointed out: a bit of modern 1970s over the bar, bizarre crossbeam trusses, Aztec bricklike panels, and that table in the corner with the dartboard directly behind. We couldn't see an oche, so we pondered the following questions: From where does one throw one's arrows? And how does one avoid piercing the inhabitants of that corner table? Is that particular table for the adventurously romantic couple? And although it's too dark outside to tell, do those sliding glass doors mean there's possibly a charming courtyard garden outside?

As we waited for our meal a rather undextrous friend texted us "HATE FUN ON HOLIDAY". Our meal was surprisingly good: my Savoy Cabbage Parcels with Mozzarella Cheese were very pleasant, and Andrew's pork made him quite happy. The live music turned out not to be a band after all. It was Lancaster's very own Engelbert Humberdinck, complete with Peter Kay patter; we had inadvertently walked into the set of "Phoenix Nights" and it was absolutely brilliant! I chatted briefly with the singer, whose name I unfortunately can't remember. He had obviously started off in karaoke but fancied himself a successful nightclub singer. He said he was born in Blackburn, the city with all the holes, and he knew Peter Kay. As Andrew pointed out the unique beauty of the local women, I found myself exchanging smiles and laughs across the room with a beautiful young Lancastrian blonde with a long-haired boyfriend. They appeared to be friends with the singer and they seemed to be having the same kitschy fun we were having. We ended our evening with shots of Glenmorangie accompanied by half pints of Thwaites, while Peter Kay sang Gene Pitney songs. And it was so cool I knew I had to be on holiday!

The next morning, while having breakfast in the Bistro Restaurant on the other side of the hotel lobby, I noticed the lovely stained glass windows also featured in the bar. As I dined on my Full Vegeterian I felt slightly relaxed, just slightly peaceful, even though "Show Me The Way To Amarillo" was careering like a runaway train on a loop through my mind.

The next night, after a pleasant drive through the Lake District where we found prices a bit steep, we drove into Penrith and did a bit of shopping. Located just outside the Lake District National Park in the Eden Valley, Penrith was once the capital of Cumbria. Up to 1070 AD Penrith was part of the Kingdom of Scotland and Strathclyde, which explains the odd border-town character of the place. Keeping to the bucolic theme of the weekend we checked into the Agricultural Hotel, situated near the train station and across from the ruins of Penrith Castle, which dates from the turn of the 15th century.

After checking into our rooms we had a drink in the pub of the "Aggie". The CAMRA pub had three cask ales from Jennings and one from Batemans. We sat down with our pints of Sneck Lifter (5.1% ABV, Jennings Bros., Cockermouth, Cumbria) and pondered the obvious question: just what does sneck mean? The man at the bar said that a sneck refers to either a latch or a nose. As it turned out later, we learned that the latch known as a "sneck" got its name because of its resemblance to a nose, and that "sneck lifter" implies what happens when one downs a pint of this powerful beer. This is a dark coffee of a beer, in the same flavour ballpark as the original Barnsley Bitter, but quite a bit stronger in alcohol.

Although I've read that the "Aggie" serves good and reasonably priced food, we fancied something different and went off in search of an Italian restaurant. When we returned to the pub later in the evening, Andrew had a single malt while I stuck with a pint of Cumberland Ale (4% ABV, Jennings Bros., Cockermouth, Cumbria), which was an easy follow-up to the Sneck Lifter. It was a good, solid pint to accompany our conversation about jobs and mothers. Then we toddled off to bed in what I would rate as a fairly average, overheated and stuffy room. Our snecks may have been lifted, if only in search of fresh air.