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Previous Pint Pleasures - December 30, 2000

guinness eileen

Duke William, Church Street, Haxey, South Yorkshire

guinness eileen

The Crown, 10 Burton Street, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

On a recent excursion to South Yorkshire we spent the night in Haxey. Located halfway between Doncaster and Scunthorpe where South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire merge, Haxey is a typical North Lincolnshire featuring a church, three pubs, and not much more to distinguish it except for its annual drunken fete. Every January 6th residents of Haxey and nearby Westwoodside compete in the Haxey Hood, a traditional game with hazy origins, the most popular explanation being that the wife of a local landowner was riding along when her scarf blew off. The scarf was eventually chased down and retrieved by thirteen farm workers who created such a spectacle that the woman awarded each of them half an acre of land on the condition that they would re-enact this event every year. Today regulars from the three pubs in Haxey and one in Westwoodside play the evolved version of this game, where a long roll of leather is pushed by the mass of participants from a muddy field toward the pub of their choice while a large crowd of onlookers cheers them on.

We stayed at one of the participating pubs, the Duke William. Since the annual Hood was another two and a half weeks away, the Duke was fairly sedate on this particular day. Arriving at 1:30 in the afternoon to check into a couple of the rear chalets, we used the pub as a base for the rest of the day as we coordinated visits with my friend's four children, ferrying bodies back and forth between Doncaster, Wroot, and Haxey with a minimum of driving.

Over the course of the eleven hours Father Andrew managed to get by on two leisurely halves of John Smith Cask (3.8% ABV, John Smith Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire) until he finished his designated driving duties, at which point he could relax and catch up with me and my mother. At this point we'd tired of the slightly tangy character of the ale, poured in the Yorkshire tradition through a sparkler, and finished with nightcaps of Glenmorangie Single Malt.

The Duke William is a fairly large pub with pool tables and a restaurant. Unfortunately the chef had unexpectedly departed a month earlier, so we were unable to have dinner in Haxey and had to have a pizza sent in to the pub for us. Throughout the hours, as my mother and I sat in the corner awaiting various familial rendezvous, we noticed the dirty glasses piling up on the bar and suspected the chef may have run off with the dishwasher.

The next day on our drive back south we stopped for lunch in the historic Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray. A pretty town featuring frequent street and cattle markers, Melton Mowbray is most famous for its pork pies and Stilton cheese. (Oddly enough the nearby village of Stilton -- for which the cheese was named -- has never actually produced the cheese.) Strolling through the town passing shop windows displaying countless wheels of lusciously alluring Stilton and perkily plumped pork pies, we felt as if we had entered gastronomy's Red Light district. Battling temptation we fled our lascivious urges by plunging into the sanctuary of The Crown. This cosy pub features two bars; we chose the more convivial of the two, which was pleasantly throbbing with lunchtime revellers.

Since the Crown is an Everards pub we decided to forego the Tiger Bitter and two strong ales in favour of pints of Beacon Bitter (3.8% ABV, Everards Brewery Ltd., Narborough, Leicestershire). This is a lovely afternoon pint with a surprisingly satisfying balance for such a low ABV. For lunch my mother and I purred over our exquisite Stilton salads while Andrew basked in the pleasure of his pork pie salad. As we dined and drank we chatted with the distinguished-looking Lancastrian who shared our table -- a gregarious gentleman who appeared to be around 65 but who floored us when he announced his age was 90. Could it be those pork pies and Stilton? Or the daily pints of Everards ales?

Says a lot for good living, doesn't it?