CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 4 Norfolk Coast Pubs


Previous Pint Pleasures - July 17, 2010

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The Lobster, 13 High Street, Sheringham, Norfolk

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The Gallon Pot, 1-2 Market Place, Greater Yarmouth, Norfolk

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The Troll Cart, 7-9 Regent Road, Greater Yarmouth, Norfolk

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The Prince Regent, 33-34 Regent Road, Greater Yarmouth, Norfolk

Having lived in the UK for over a decade I've had the fortune to visit pubs all over the place: from the south coast of Sussex to Orkney, from Whitby to Wales, from the edge of the English Channel to central Belfast. Still, there are so many parts of these islands I have yet to pass through, much less stop in for a pint. There is still the entire southwest corner, the West Country, South Wales, most of Northumberland, the Shetland Islands, the Channel Islands, and even the Republic of Ireland.

And until a few months ago I'd never really been to East Anglia. Named after the Anglo-Saxon "Kingdom of the Angles", East Anglia consists mostly of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, although it's a bit difficult to figure out the geographic logic of why "North Folk" combined with "South Folk" equals "East Angles".

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Our destination was the Norfolk coast, and our first stop was Sheringham. Famous for lobster, Sheringham is comprised of the farming community of Upper Sheringham and the fishing village of Lower Sheringham. We parked next to the seafront wall which is decorated with informative murals describing such local customs as "crab dressing". With visions of six-foot crustaceans prancing about at fancy dress parties, we headed over to the nearby Lobster where I was about to experience my first Norfolk pint.

Entering through the door just off the side garden area, we found ourselves in the public bar complete with pool table, and at the opposite end of a narrow passageway is a lounge serving seafood. Working our way to the front bar we found ourselves faced with 9 handpumps, and I immediately asked which selections were particularly hoppy. Sadly the landlady knew nothing about the ales and the landlord seemed to know them only by looks: "That's a light one. And that one's dark." After scanning the selection which included Abbot Ale, Ruddles County, Olde Trip, Morland Original, and Adnam's Lighthouse, we settled for a safe choice: Woodforde Wherry (3.8% ABV, Woodforde's Norfolk Ales, Norwich, Norfolk). Because this pint was obviously served without a sparkler, I felt as if I were back in a Southeast England pub. The fact that the last time we had a pint of Woodford Wherry was on the Kent coast accentuated this feeling, except for the fact that the martello towers had all been replaced with windmills.

We took our pints out to the empty beer garden attached to the adjacent Stables Restaurant, eventually moving back inside when the wind became too gusty. The pub was filling up for lunch, offering fusion-overdosed chalkboard specials such as Butterflied Red Mullet with Curried Mediterranean Vegetables. As we finished our rather dear pints and observed the customers, their disposable income nearly bursting from the pockets of their track pants, we decided to move on around the coast for something a bit more suited to our budget and sense of social adventure.

We were tempted to take a detour to the village of California but decided against it, as we were getting tired of driving and wanted to find somewhere to spend the night where there would definitely be cask ale pubs and restaurants. I learned later that California was so named because of a mini gold rush there in 1948, and the village was immortalised in the song "California, Norfolk" by Tim Bowness. There is also at least one cask ale pub in the village. Ah, well, live and learn...

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We ended up in Great Yarmouth. Referred to as the "Gateway to the Broads" and developing as a centre of herring fishing, the ancient town of Great Yarmouth has been a popular seaside resort since 1760. It was the site of a major bridge collapse in 1845, it was the first British town to suffer aerial bombardment during World War II, and it has suffered several bouts of flooding, most recently in 2006.

After having a late lunch and arranging accommodation for the night we visited our first Great Yarmouth pub, the Gallon Pot. The pub looked promising from a distance: an oasis of cask ale at the edge of a long bleak desert of lager pubs interspersed with boarded-up pubs. But when we entered the front door we discovered it was a mirage. We found ourselves in a fairly ordinary pub where the service was very slow and our pints of Adnams Bitter (3.7% ABV, Adnams and Co., Southwold, Suffolk) were okay but not terribly inspiring, which was quite disappointing as we were looking forward to a reunion with an old favourite brew. As we sipped our pints by the front window we watched the old couple in the corner attempt to chat with the deaf gentleman seated next to us while a child in the back room banged on a table repeatedly. I felt as if we were in an English seaside remake of a Jacques Tati film.

Finishing our pints we moved on, walking toward the quays and then turning to mosey down toward the seafront. Eventually we spotted a long pub with lots of windows, all plastered with CASK ALE signs. Entering through the side door we found ourselves in a thriving, bustling pub full of handpumps featuring intriguing selections. As it turns out, the Troll Cart is part of the JD Wetherspoons chain, which we generally tend to shun in favour of more independent free houses. But this time we really didn't mind finding ourselves in a Wetherspoons pub, because our pints of Trashy Blonde (4.1% ABV, BrewDog Ltd., Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) were perfectly kept. Even though the descriptions of each of the cask ales mentioned nothing about hops, this Blonde was ultra hoppy, with a nice tangy hoppy-hop finish, a relief after our previous pint. This Trashy Blonde slashed through my mouth like mascara. I don't mean it tasted like mascara, but it tickled my hops nerve centre with delightfully curly lashings. And it was only £2.20 for a pint.

When I later researched why the pub was named the Troll Cart, I learned that because of the limited space between the River Yare and the North Sea, the back passages to the houses behind the frontages merged into other passages, becoming a series of pebble-and-flagstone-paved "rows" off which the poorer people lived. Because these rows were too narrow and difficult for horse-drawn carts to manoeuvre, a special narrow 2-wheeled "troll cart" was devised that was pulled by one horse and was no wider than 3 and a half feet. These were used to transport both goods and people through the rows. Because Wetherspoons pubs usually arise out of buildings used for non-pub purposes -- such as churches, banks, and natatoriums -- I'm guessing that the Troll Cart pub, because of its long, roomy shape, may have been a building where the troll carts were stored. But that's only my guess.

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Moving on in search of another pub, we headed further down the pedestrian Regent Road until we came to the Prince Regent. It was surprisingly quiet inside, the 3 other customers hovering around the corner of the bar discussing the football with the landlord. Before I spotted the single handpump Andrew had already assumed there was no cask ale and ordered us double gin & tonics. As the landlord poured our drinks I perused the flip-pages of the old-fashioned jukebox, toying with the idea of putting on a few songs, as it was only a quid for 7 tracks. But I decided against it, fearing I'd break the silence like a sledgehammer.

As we chatted with the young landlord, Elwyn Howells, we discovered he is rather passionate about cask ale, having discovered it recently on a trip to the Southwest. Because we already had drinks he gave us large tasters of the current selection on the handpump, Spring Tide (4.2% ABV, Blackfriars Brewery, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk). Blackfriars is a local microbrewery, and Spring Tide was an accidental brewing of what had started off to be Yarmouth Bitter (3.8% ABV) but somehow turned into a new ale. The Spring Tide was spicy like nutmeg and quiet pleasantly malty, but without much bitterness -- more springy than hoppy.

The Prince Regent features live local music and cabaret every week, stressing it is a karaoke-free zone. I suppose in a resort town like Great Yarmouth these things must be stressed.

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