Today I went to a little pub on the Dee marshes, called The Harp. I mean little – it’s the sort of place where, if 12 people arrive at once, 6 have to wait outside. The reasons for the visit were two-fold. Firstly, birding, though the tide was wrong, and secondly, checking out the pub.
It’s a pub that the local CAMRA group is inordinately fond of, forever giving it pub of the month or year awards. Odd, really, because The Harp isn’t even in their area. Odd, also, because I have been calling in there at odd times for the last 30-some years, and I haven’t had a decent pint yet. Today was no exception – and the birding sucked too.
The place really is small. If it can hold 50 people, they’d need to be very good friends, yet the range of beers on offer would be better in a pub 5 times the size. The customers were exclusively, er, old. My friend and I are both over 60, yet we were the youngest people in the pub, except for the rather tasty, if elusive, barmaid, by a substantial margin. It was as if we’d bumped into the last shift from the local coalmine, having a swift pint or six on the way home, and they’d had a hundred-year lock-in.
Let’s go back a couple of summers, to the last time we went there. Fighting our way in through a fug of fag smoke, we bellied up to the bar and I asked the question I always asked when confronted with an array of beers in an unfamiliar pub – “What’s been selling?”, to which the gormless barmaid rejoined “What – you mean today?” “Yes!” – resisting the temptation to say No – last bloody Whit! “Dunno – only just come on,” was the unhelpful reply and, as it was well into the shift, I rather doubted that.
Looking around the pub, the only beer being drunk that didn’t look cloudy was the Guinness, and then only because you couldn’t actually see through it, so we opted for Tim Taylor’s Landlord, uninspiring but usually reliable and, yes indeedy, folks, that was cloudy too. Obviously they had no intention of breaking the pattern. Muttering typical pubby imprecations, mostly along the lines of Oh fuck me!, in tones of dismay, we found a corner, shovelled it down and buggered off back to civilisation sharpish.
Today, presented with an even more extensive array of beers, we opted for a Yorkshire brew called Copper Dragon (no, that’s nothing to do with a dragon made of copper – oh, you work it out, I’m busy typing), and took it outside to set up my scope and peer at the deserted marsh. Not a lot doing – a little egret, a few black headed gulls and a few crows/rooks. Not even the normally ubiquitous flocks of LBBs. So we mooched around, and froze, and drank our beer which, it has to be said, was less than wonderful though, admittedly, it was clear. What? LBBs? Little Brown Birds, of course, usually too far away to identify, OK?
So, turning a fetching shade of blue – it’s always about 5 degrees C colder there due to the mass of water in the marsh, and we always forget to dress for it – I tossed the scope and stuff back in the car and we went inside for a warm. There was a small, very old, dog in the bar, belonging to one of the customers. “She’s blind and deaf,” he said, when she sniffed around me but didn’t come near “Ah”, said I, quick as a flash, “I’ve known a few barmaids like that!” Just as the barmaid re-emerged from wherever it was she went to hide when people needed serving (I’m sure bar staff have access to an alternate dimension; I mean, where else could they bugger off to and not be found?), and we got another pint.
Now, I’d assumed, because a few more pints of the stuff had been served, and people were slurping it with every sign of enjoyment, that it had got a bit better. Er, no, not a bit of it. To say it was shitty would be offensive to shit – but it was clear!! Oh, OK, it wasn’t that bad – I’m just a fussy sod when it comes to beer – given the price of the bloody stuff, I expect perfection, and this was a long way from it.
We found a seat, were vaguely sniffed at by the dog, and joined in the slurping, interspersing it with uncharitable thoughts about vanishing barmaids and people who can’t keep their beer in good nick, when I suddenly realised that the glasses were quite astonishingly dirty, and a look round the bar showed that so were everybody else’s. In fact, compared to one guy who’d bought a soft drink – obviously he’d tried the beer in the past – our glasses sparkled. His looked as if it had been dipped in mud. And as people moved away from in front of the bar, we could see that the woodwork was liberally coated in a greenish film of mildew. Have these people never heard of cleaners, or glass-washing machines?
And this is the pub that CAMRA heaps awards on – it beats the hell out of me. Believe me, the granting of a pub of the month or year award is no guarantee of good beer, not on the Wirral. The Harp, by the way, is in Cheshire, and shouldn’t be getting any awards from Wirral CAMRA at all, yet it has done for years, and for years I’ve been getting crap beer there.
So we cleared off, driving very carefully down the horrendously pot-holed track to the real world (the local council repair the track about every 10 years, and the next stormy high tide washes it all away again – very often this happens the same day). The Harp used to get cut off by spring tides, before the estuary went totally to hell in a handbasket, especially with an onshore wind – if it happened around closing time the customers would get a compulsory lock-in until the small hours – what a horrible fate to befall anyone…
We drove back towards home, detouring to Irby to visit The Shippons, a pub built on the site of old – yep, you’ve guessed – shippons (cow-barns, for the townies among you, not to be confused with byres, which are cow-sheds). They do have good beer, though, and today they had Melissa, who’s slim, blonde and gorgeous, and who stole my heart when I asked what had been selling, and she actually knew!! She even pulled a good pint – we’d found heaven, and there we stayed until it was time to go home.
And, not even in a spirit of enquiry, am I ever going to The Harp again – it’s irredeemably crap!