GREAT WESTERN – SWINDON

Great Western
Station Road
Swindon
SN1 1DH

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2014

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PLOUGH INN – SWINDON

Plough
Devizes Road
SN1 4BQ

FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 1 AUGUST 2014

The Plough is an Arkell’s pub. It’s reasonably undergone a bit of a revamp and image overhaul. It is now known as, to give it its full title, The Plough Inn Ale & Cider House. It’s not quite Arkell’s doing ‘craft’ but it is Arkell’s trying to offer a drinking space for their slightly more discerning customer. It is a nice place. They’ve managed to pull-off the trick of appearing modern but traditional at the same time. There’s lots of ale for sale – although for this visit it was all by Arkell’s and Donnington, who I’m beginning suspect have something to do with Arkell’s. The cider choice seemed reasonably extensive and is served both from handpull and direct from the box. Sadly, I couldn’t see any Circle Cider, which was the reason I’d paid the Plough a visit. I ordered a pint of Arkell’s Experience Wheat. I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers but I was keen to try anything from the Experience range as it’s the brewery’s stab at something a bit less trad than their usual fare.

I briefly sat down at a table. The majority of the clientele were in their 40s. Some of them looked like in their younger days they might have been a bit naughty. Nobody seemed happy to see me but nobody was giving me daggers. The place was too hot and noisy so I went outside. The view from the concrete garden is from quite high vantage point so you are treated to an interesting but not necessarily pleasant view. I needed to urinate. The gents are located outside. I guessed that during the refit the toilets would have been overlooked, as is often the case, so I pushed open the door with a certain sense of dread. Wow! They were lovely and very probably the best smelling toilets I have ever encountered. And the grouting was the most uber of uber-white. It was an absolute joy to take a pee in such an environment .

The Experience Wheat was decent enough and thankfully not too wheaty. I don’t think the UK’s trendier and craftier breweries have to be scared about Arkell’s stealing the cool crown anytime soon but it certainly is an interesting development from Swindon’s big boy brewer. There was nothing else I fancied drinking so I left. I may again return.

BOLINGBROKE ARMS – HOOK

Bolingbroke Arms
Hook
SN4 8DZ

FIRST VISIT: 26 JULY 2014

We’d been to Wootton Bassett to visit the Farmers Market (disappointing) and have a mooch around the charity shops (50p scored me a mint copy of The Complete BBC Radio Series of The Mighty Boosh and a further 199p secured me a pristine copy of Kerouac’s Big Sur). The excitement was all done and dusted just before noon so naturally or minds turned to the small matter of a hearty lunch. My girlfriend said she fancied a Ploughman’s Lunch. Good call. I now fancied a Ploughman’s. The best place I’ve found in the Swindon area for a Ploughman’s is the White Hart in Wroughton but it’s a need to book kind of place and especially so for a lunch at the weekend.

We no real idea where to go as we headed out of Basset and took the back road to Swindon – the road that also leads to Hook and the Bolingbroke Arms. I’d passed the Bolingbroke many times in the past, primarily when en route to Riffs Bar for a gig. It’s a nice looking place from the outside but it’s an Arkell’s pub so I’ve always give it a wide berth. But we were heading in its direction and I’d heard a fair few folk say the food there is good and I was hungry and thirty so I suggested we give it a go – I could always have a cola or a lemonade. We arrived just a few minutes after noon. The car park had enough cars in to suggest that the place was popular but not so popular that we wouldn’t be able to a table. Inside a few folk occupied some table and a few more were at the bar awaiting service. Our order was taken promptly. I decided to go for a pint of 3B – one of two cask ales for sale, the other being Wiltshire Gold. We were asked if would be eating and when we replied yes the barman said he would start a tab for us and then handed us two menus. The food options were plentiful but I’m not sure the menu needed to be housed on an A3 piece of laminated paper – A4 would’ve made much more practical sense. We took our drinks and oversized menus to an outside table. The garden is well looked after and a delightful spot to sink a beer or two. The beer itself was in excellent condition and served at the prefect temperature – without a doubt the finest pint of Arkell’s beer I’ve ever had. The drinks were dispatched and we spotted a Ploughman’s clone on the menu – Wiltshire Ham & Cheese Platter – so I trooped back inside to place the order. The same barman as before served me. He asked me if I wanted the same as last time. I replied that I did and then said the order. The barman politely pointed out that the previous drink of my girlfriend had been a lime and soda not the lemonade and lime that I had just said. He’d known my girlfriend for ten minutes compared to my ten years and he already knew her better than me – that’s what quality bar-keeping is all about. The food arrived swiftly and it was all great – a sizeable slice of juicy ham and a generous chunk of beautifully mature cheddar, complimented by two delicious tasting chutneys, a perfectly dressed salad and a huge wedge of brown bread. And the second pint of 3B was as great as the first. It’s good to be surprised every now and again.

We will return and if the beer is always in tiptop condition we might even return quite often.

Bolingbroke Arms

CARPENTERS ARMS – SOUTH MARSTON

Carpenters Arms
South Marston
Near Swindon
SN3 4ST

FIRST VISIT: MONDAY 7 APRIL 2014

Out for food – the Carpenter’s Arms is an Arkell’s pub so it’s the only reason for a beer geek like me to cross the threshold.

We arrived around seven forty and there was already a decent amount of folk piling into food, which was a promising sign. Sadly, the bar was poorly stocked. There were three cask pumps but two of them were off. The one that remained housed Wiltshire Gold. Keg offerings were standard macro products. I was hoping that the place would at least have Arkell’s Craft Lager on keg but the lager choice was Carling or Becks Vier. Disappointing. The Carpenters Arms is a big place but like all old buildings (it was here before the railway came to Swindon) it has been hacked up by supporting walls. It looks like it was decorated by my granny in the late 1970s. It looks like a traditional pub.

We took a set an perused the food menu and specials board. There was plenty of choice. All the sharing plates – Fish, Asian and Veggie – looked great. The steaks were big and reasonably prized for the size. There was lots of choice. Perhaps too much choice. The landlord, who initially seemed liked a surly chap but later revealed himself to be a man with a very dry demeanour, apologised for the wait. Apparently, the place was unusually busy for a Monday. I didn’t feel the wait was long (and I do get pissed of by long waits to order) so the apology was extra appreciated. I opted for Blanchbait followed by Whole Tail Whitby Scampi. ‘Fish. Fish. And more fish. But it’s not even Friday!’ remarked the landlord with a thin smile upon his face. My girlfriend went for the Creamy Stilton Mushrooms followed by Lasagne. The starters arrived promptly. I huge pile of deep fried fish and the ‘best ever’ mushrooms. So far so good. I got another pint of Wiltshire Gold despite the first not being very good – the only viable alternatives were Guinness or a bottle of Holsten Pils. Next time I’ll have a Holsten. The mains arrived and as with the starters they were vast in size and damn tasty. And it all clocked in at just a few pence over thirty quid. I was reluctantly impressed.

If you are in the vicinity and fancy a large portion of good pub grub then the Carpenters Arms is worth a visit. Just make sure you sneak in your own beer.

KODAK Digital Still Camera