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Introduction

Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas beer

The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

Or “The Fairy Tale of the Village Pub”.
Once upon a time, in a land not far away, there was a little village.  And the village had all of the things you’d expect to find there: a church, a school, a post office, shop, village hall, village green – and a pub.  Several miles away from the village, in any direction you’d care to head, was another village.  The second village had very similar things to the first village, and was every bit as good, but of course it did not look the same.  And beyond that was another village – and so on; right across the land there were hundreds – maybe thousands - of villages just like that, each and every one joined up by the countryside that surrounded them.

The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

(In between the villages were towns, which had lots of all the things the villages had, and more besides - though they were very different indeed and part of another story).

Then, one day, people in the little village (it could have been any one of them, and almost certainly was), woke up to find the church, the school, the shop, the hall and the pub had all closed.  Everything that helped make them a community had gone and it wasn’t a village anymore, just a collection of houses where nothing happens except inside their own fences and walls.  Clever people scratched their heads and suggested various reasons, most of them sensible, to explain why these institutions had died while nobody was looking.  But, deep down, people had a sneaky feeling that things simply went away if they weren’t used enough.  And everyone was very sorry and sad.

THE END

The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

Traditional pubs, rather than what one might politely call ‘themed eating houses’, are a declining feature of Britain.  Village pubs are particularly precious; they used to be a kind of community hub, where folk would go to play games and catch up on the gossip.  Only people who do not frequent pubs think of them merely as places to drink alcohol – and there’s no shame in having a soft drink in a pub anyway.  My regular reader may recall that I enjoy the occasional trip to my own local, The Olde Ruptured Duck.  Using a pub is one of the many valuable contributions I make to society. 

But featured is the Punch Bowl at Burton in Lonsdale, just on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.  Burton used to be a pottery and mining village, where there were around a dozen pubs to cater for the men’s needs; the Punch Bowl is the very last one.  Though much altered over the years, the original building is 18th century and there’s still a stone mounting block just outside.  The landlady, Sue, makes a huge effort all year round – ably assisted by Stan, Jas, Sophie (and Roxy the dog).  At Christmas the place is transformed with decorations, lights and numerous, arguably kitsch but amusing, seasonal knick-knacks.  So it’s like entering a delightfully over the top sparkly synthetic grotto.  There’s a buzz of convivial conversation, people tucking into pub grub (which Sue mostly prepares herself), a fire at one end, no slot machines, excellent and friendly service, good company – and, of course, the ubiquitous seasonal music playing quietly in the background.

The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

I like popping into a good pub sometime over Christmas.  I take pleasure in the unpretentious fellowship; I enjoy the fact that its public rooms have an informal residential feel, but that no one actually lives in them; and I appreciate going back to my own home afterwards.

The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

Christmas means different things to different people.  Hopefully, we all remember where it started and celebrate that in our own way.  Whatever our views, we should all be able to take on board the message of peace and goodwill.  Some of us are lucky to be with those we love, exchange gifts and treat ourselves to some special food.  Even a curmudgeonly middle-aged bloke like me can remember the wonder of Christmas as a child and, frankly, I can still sense the magic now.  I love the smells and sounds – spices, pine, all the carols, Slade singing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, Judy Garland crooning ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and, of course, Bing Crosby dreaming of ‘White Christmas’.  I can even tolerate a small amount of Slim Whitman - but please don’t tell Sue at the Punch Bowl.

Of course, A Bit About Britain needs some seasonal British music.  So here’s a personal favourite - the Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl from 1987 with the fabulous ‘Fairytale of New York’.  I'm thinking there may be people in the Big Apple who have never heard of it.  It keeps topping polls of Britain’s favourite Christmas numbers and is, apparently, the most played Christmas song of the 21st century to date (how do they know that?!).  If this number has somehow eluded you so far, listen to the end before making up your mind.


And remember, a pub should be for life – not just for Christmas.  

Finally, I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to anyone who has chanced upon this project and stayed - particularly those that, amazingly, keep coming back to read it!


The Punch Bowl, Burton in Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

28 comments:

  1. And a very happy Christmas to you, Mike.

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  2. A very happy Christmas, Mike. This pub looks so cosy and inviting - and as you say, it's use it or lose it, though I confess I don't frequent them myself a great deal.

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  3. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, 'Beer is proof that God loves us.' :-) I am sad that the traditional pubs are disappearing from the landscape. I think there is a Punch Bowl in Low Row or Muker or somewhere up there on the north side of the Askrigg Common. I think our favorite pub was The Black Swan in Jackfield. Small, cozy, comfortable, casual (are these all synonymns?) ;-) dogs and their well-behaved people. I hope people like you will frequent pubs like that in order to keep them in existence. A Festival of Nine Lessons and small cozy pubs with dogs are two of my favorite things about England. Merry Christmas, Mike!

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  4. Merry Christmas to you! We went to our local, which is definitely not picturesque, yesterday and there were hugs all around from the people there. It is way more than a place to drink!

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  5. I will say that the good old British pub is something I missed terribly when I moved to the States. It is hard to describe to those who haven't experienced one, especially the village pubs that I truly love. Fortunately the Devonshire Dumpling and The Church House Inn hadn't changed much, though no longer are the farmer's dogs welcome to lie down by the large open fireplace in winter while the farmer drinks his pint. Now that I do miss. Health regulations I suppose. Merry Christmas and A Very Happy New Year.

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  6. Well, there are places called pubs near me, but they aren't really. Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas, Mike!

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  7. Pubs are going away. Is nothing sacred?

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  8. Christmas Greetings from Meldreth (population 1,600 - church, shop, post office, railway station, occasional buses, hairdresser, farm shop, primary school, special needs school and of course a pub). May there be many more Bits about Britain in 2015.

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  9. I think I'd be a failure as a pub goer because I dislike beer and ale. I guess they serve whiskey and I'm fine with that. Take care and here's wishing you a merry and meaningful holiday. Merry Christmas.

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  10. Sitting here in the middle of a small village with a post office, butchers, hairdressers and THREE pubs! I have loved popping by Bits about Britain and learned so much - thank you. Have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!

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  11. Interesting article. Coming from the city, I see pubs a little differently. They have generally been re-named wine bars with the occasional pub being preserved somewhere in the middle of them. These become a shrine for the older generation seeking to re-live the past or experience the Beer. Mostly they are used in my part of the world for over indulgence !! Other classic buildings have been converted into a slightly different animal called Wetherspoons offering budget food which has good and bad points with life on the road ... I digress.
    Personally I'm with you in looking for a village pub in the country, however I must confess that apart from a cycle ride, I mostly use them additionally for food.
    A very Happy Christmas to you Mike and I'll catch up with your other material soon.

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  12. It looks like a heck of a pub!

    Merry Christmas, Mike!

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  13. Merry Christmas Mike! Love your blog, it's one of the best. Wish we had a tradition of village pubs over here!

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  14. It is sad to hear that the English country pub is dying out. The atmosphere is something that I haven't seen reproduced in any other country. I never heard that christmas song before???/

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  15. My mum says there is nothing like drinking a nice cold beer while cooking on a hot day, I don't drink beer I would rather a nice cold Scotch and Coke or Southo and Coke

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  16. That looks like a great pub.

    Happy Christmas to you :-)

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  17. Happy Christmas! Village pubs are struggling in our part of northern England. They've either gone all glamorous & glitzy with ambitious menus or are very rough indeed. Cozy, friendly and traditional - that's very hard to find!

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  18. Yes indeed a pub should be for life, as well as dear little Snowmen here and there throughout the land. As they say use it or lose it. So sad when it happens, so we must be aware. Of course I loved reading your little story, and as for this wonderful time of year, there are so many pleasing moments that serve all our senses well, and as we rejoice some the same, others in different ways perhaps, the simple magic of love and kindness rules for all of us. A very Happy and Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones!

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  19. The British pub is a wonderful tradition that didn't get carried across the Pond but well should have. May yours in villages everywhere last forever! I think the nearest we have are the local sports bars but they certainly don't have the same feel.
    Happy New Year to you and Bit About Britain, one of my favorite blogs on the Internet!

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  20. Your posts are always so wonderful...and the photos! And you're right...I've never heard that British song!
    Hope you had a nice Christmas!

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  21. I love eating in pubs and actually it's nearly the only place I eat when I visit England... British people have to keep them alive for the rare occasions when I visit!!! I hope you had a great time for Christmas.

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  22. so nice to see your photos, we have pubs here too but nothing like yours :-)

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  23. I didn't know pubs were declining in number. All things change, I suppose.

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  24. I always enjoy going back to many of my favorite country pubs when I come home. I notice a few have gone now, very sad, but the majority in my area of Devon seem to continue. My 'local' still seems much the same as when I left in 1962 - walking through the door always brings a flood of memories. I even attended a reunion there some years back and won the prize for coming the longest distance!
    Nothing beats a true English country pub - as you say Mike it's the social center of the village.

    Cheers - Mary

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.