When we planned our weekend trip to Penrith we assumed that it would be the sort of place to have some decent pubs, the sort of characterful, comfortable places that would sell real ales and good grub. While we found that the town does have lots of pubs (and yet apparently recently boarded up) we didn’t really find much of what we’d expected though we did find three that I feel are worth recommending for different reasons.
The first pub we spotted when we exited Penrith’s train station was the "Agricultural Hotel"; it grabbed our attention immediately because of a sign announcing that it had been voted Pub of the Year by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), though, tellingly, not the year in which this had been achieved. Half of the interior is given over to a dining area though some people seemed to prefer to eat in the section by the bar – and what a bar it is, a tiny enclosed bar with bags of charm! At lunchtime on a Saturday there was barely a table where food wasn’t being consumed and, as customers who had gone in just for a beer, we did feel a bit out of place. Curiously for a pub with a big CAMRA sign outside there weren’t many real ales on tap but there were a few and what there was seemed to be well kept. Although we didn’t eat we did peruse the menu and found the prices quite competitive and the menu, while not extensive, was at least varied with everything from sandwiches to fish and chips. In a town where real ales are not easy to come by, this place at least serves something other than lager or Guinness.
Most town centre pubs don’t serve food and after a trek around the main streets we eventually decided on the Lonsdales, a slightly sad looking establishment that reminded me a bit of those pubs in rural Ireland that you can’t see into. A board outside advertised ‘shoppers’ special’ lunches that we so cheap that we wouldn’t feel bad about leaving any, though really we’d been after a fairly light lunch. As we walked in everyone turned to look at us but we needn’t have worried, as rough as this pub may seem, we were made very welcome by staff and customers alike.
The interior has certainly seen better days and the décor looks to have evolved gradually over the years. I certainly can’t imagine anyone actually deliberately putting all the individual elements together: a wallpaper of a New York skyline, ancient plastic flower arrangements, some dodgy upholstery and a very dated patterned carpet.
Still, who cares when the lunch is as cheap as chips (and those chips were good!)? I had the gammon steak with chips and a fried egg. The chips were crinkle cut – I haven’t seen a crinkle cut chip in years! For the price (£6 for two meals) I wasn’t expected much of a gammon steak but there were two nice slabs of gammon, nice thick slices and really juicy. Himself ordered the Cornish pasty with chips and vegetables….
We’d have probably walked past Moo if we hadn’t seen the illuminated Vedett sign in the window; I think we’d both have said we felt like it was for much younger people and, in deed, especially upstairs, it is very modern and the music is a bit too loud. Happily we did venture in and found that Moo offers an excellent selection of real ales on tap and an interesting and eclectic selection of bottled ales and lagers from all round the world. I’d have liked to have seen the draught beers feature more local brews (the Cornish made ‘Doom’ is ubiquitous these days) but I found a nice blonde beer to my liking from somewhere nearby (I forget where now).
There are only a couple of tables downstairs and the pub opens directly onto the street so on a cold night it became a bit tiresome to be repeatedly sitting in a draught, plus a large group at one of the other tables was unbearably loud (possibly because they shouted to speak over the music). We took our drinks upstairs to the ‘Udder room’ (do you see the cow theme emerging here) which is larger but quite soulless and really doesn’t need a big television screen showing sports news.
Moo is a bit of an odd one: in one way I liked to because it has those drinks I want to see in a pub, but I’m a bit traditional when it comes to pubs and on the whole I like a decent ale in a cosy comfortable old pub. Micro-brewed ales are all the rage now and unless younger drinkers become interested in them, we could lose them altogether. If younger drinkers want to drink their beer somewhere like this, who am I to complain?
I had some idea of Penrith as a classy market town that would have quaint old pubs; I found a couple I liked, but nothing of the sort I was expecting. A Saturday night in Penrith was not really my cup of tea (or should that be ‘my half of ale’?); I passed a lot of pubs I wouldn’t really want to go into and went in a couple I wished I hadn’t.
The Agricultural, Castlegate, Penrith
Lonsdales, 12 Little Dockray, Penrith
Moo Bar, 52 King Street, Penrith