Glastonbury has a number of pubs including the 15th century George & Pilgrim. None have a wide range of beers, but most serve a few local ales.
The Riflemans Arms sits just outside the centre of Glastonbury near the foot of the Tor, on the main road that skirts the south edge of the town. The building, listed as a cottage dating from probably C17/early C18, doesn’t look much from the outside, sooty from the traffic that rumbles past the pub. But stepping inside, onto the stone and tile floor, the beamed walls and ceiling dimly lit with candles and fairy lights, a few locals engaged in banter at the bar casting shadows from the fire, was an unexpected delight when first visited a few years ago.
On that occasion, a fellow walked in with several conkers laced and ready to go, and I found myself in an impromptu conker championship with some locals. Several games later, owing more to the luck of the draw than skill on my part, I left the pub with my winning conker.
Serving local beers – Cheddar Ales Potholer and Butcombe Bitter – with a decent jukebox and seating outside at the back with views across the somerset levels. “Everybody’s rushing around going bloody nowhere”, I heard an old fellow say at the bar. The Riflemans is a haven from all that.
(Update August 2014 – Temporary managers are currently at the Rifleman’s while Enterprise Inns looks for new tennants. It closed for a few months in 2013 which resulted in local musicians having to find a new place to play. As the pub currently has an uncertain future, it has apparently proved difficult to entice them back. The pub has had a nice lick of paint recently too)
From here it’s a 5 minute walk to the top of the High Street, heading to the town centre.
A building dating from c.1700, Beckets Inn was previously the town’s Doctor’s Surgery for 250 years and only became a pub about 40 years ago. John told us he’s been the landlord for the past 22 years and prior to that was a publican in many SE London pubs. His wife was born opposite the pub – they met when she visited the pub early in John’s tenancy – and remembers visiting the building when it was a surgery. The pub is fairly large, built with thick walls and crossed with wooden beams, with two bars and several rooms, one with an open fire. A Wadworth pub, beers on were Henry’s IPA, Corvus Stout, Flowers Best on keg and the seasonal Farmer’s Glory.
Buster is a pub dog that likes beer. He followed us out to the beer garden, jumped onto the table and sat pretending not to watch us. When the pint glass was raised from the table, he quickly licked the spilt beer where it had been. Then he retired to the pub for a lie down.
“We’ll pop in when we visit again in a year or two” we said as we left.
“I’ll still be here” replied John.
George and Pilgrim
Founded in the 1300s according to a leaflet in the pub, although the present building dates from 1475, it’s said to have ‘subterranean passages communicating with the Abbey’ (Bygone Somerset, Walters, 1897)
It may have been built ‘to give lodging to those of lesser standing’ (Inn Signs, Delderfield 1972) although a building as grand as this was surely more likely ‘designed not for the indigent pilgrim but for those wealthy enough to pay well for their food and accomodation… contributing to the abbey coffers’ (The English Inn, Burke 1981). Both sources repeat the claim that Henry VIII is said to have stayed in a bedroom here to overlook the ransacking and burning of the abbey in 1539 at the time of the dissolution.
A wonderfully preserved medieval building, stone built with mullioned windows, an interior of worn stone passages, thick wooden beams and carvings. The former Abbot’s kitchen and parlour now serve as the saloon bar.
Beers on were Glastonbury Ales Lady of the Lake, Butcombe Bitter and Otter Bitter, of which we had a decent pint along with a decent meal.
Who’d A Thought It Inn
Formerly the Lamb Hotel, the Who’d A Thought It has a nice bar in the oldest part of the pub, with plenty of ornaments around the room, and serves a range of Palmers beers. We’ve had good food on previous visits but this time visited just for a drink – with no seating left in the old bar, and the more recent extension aimed at diners, we left but will endeavour to get there earlier next time.
“King Arthur’s Ale – who brews that?”
“It’s a trade secret”
“Is it your own beer?”
“It’s brewed for us”
“Who brews it then? Is it Glastonbury Ales?”
“No, it’s a trade secret”
Puzzlingly evasive. That particular beer tasted past its best so I didn’t finish it, but the Glastonbury Mystery Tor was good. A nice enough place with a few rooms and a beer garden at the back.
We’ve walked past the Mitre several times without going in – one for the next visit:
Hawthorns, opposite Who’d A Thought It, is a hotel with a bar rather than a pub but does serve Glastonbury Ales, and we haven’t yet had a drink at the Crown Inn, King William, Wagon & Horses on Wells Road or Ye Queen’s Head on the High Street:
(Update: August 2014 – Ye Queen’s Head closed in 2013 and is now a shop. The interior has been extensively altered and is sadly unrecognisable as a former pub)
The Market House was almost unrecognisable. It used to be a pub that was a bit rough round the edges, but a refurbishment has stripped the interior and turned it into a bright restaurant, replacing the old wooden bar with a small white one lit by a green striplight. Not a place I’d go just for a beer and there are several other places to eat in Glastonbury – Gigi’s Italian restaurant a few doors down is one of the best.
The Globe Inn looked like it had closed since we last passed this way:
(Update: 2016 – The former Globe Inn was, and remains, open. It just looks closed)
West Country Ales
No beery trip to this area would be complete without a visit to West Country Ales in Cheddar, about 14 miles north of Glastonbury.
A great selection of local beers and we brought a few back, ensuring we’ll be reminiscing about Somerset for a while yet – at least to Christmas Day when the bottle of Old Freddy Walker comes out.
(Note: The West Country Ales shop closed in 2013)