To me and to many others it is a great sadness that villages such as Longhoughton and Whittingham no longer have that quintessential English asset – a pub.
By that, I mean a characterful building where villagers and visitors alike can meet for an ale or cider and an interesting chat.
It’s impossible to think of The Archers without The Bull, or Emmerdale without The Woolpack. Northumberland villages shouldn’t be any different.
It is a fact, however, that the economics of a rural village pub these days mitigate against this idyll.
Nevertheless, thanks to man’s inventiveness, there’s a solution, something of a modern phenomenon. It is the micro-pub (not to be confused with a micro-brewery).
Around 100 of such hostelries have opened in England in the last few years. They tend to be set up and run by locals, often on an entirely voluntary basis.
They can occupy a building as small as 10ft by 10ft. Some are converted shops, but they could easily be part of the outbuilding of a farm.
A good example of a northern micro-pub is to be found on the platform of Carnforth Station, near Lancaster, where ‘Brief Encounter’ was filmed, and there’s a fine new commercial local example, The Curfew in Berwick upon Tweed.
Micro-pubs often keep restricted hours, such as noon to 3pm and 5pm to 9pm, and they offer cask (real) ale and cider with, in some cases, wine and whisky.
There is no music, usually no food other than bar snacks, no gaming machine and no children (unless there is a safe outside area for accompanied youngsters).
Sometimes there isn’t even a bar. All is simplicity and plainness itself.
Local breweries supply the beer. Big business doesn’t get a look in so the likes of Carling, Coca Cola and alcopops are nowhere to be seen.
Planning law now favours genuine micro-pubs over new commercial jobs and everything I’ve mentioned here can be confirmed at the Micro-pub Association’s website, www.micropubassociation.co.uk
So how might the “dry” villages of rural Northumberland try to add a micro-pub to their midsts?
Initially it probably requires the following:
1. An enthusiastic local or two, determined to make one happen in their village.
2. A potentially suitable building (or part of one) via a local farmer or landowner.
3. A working party to make the project a reality, including raising the limited funds needed.
4. An operating committee of just a few responsible volunteers.
Residents needn’t fear a micro-pub. They are set up and managed to operate within agreed, acceptable boundaries as regards noise and car parking. They are often not-for-profit concerns, although they can be ideal for raising money for local charities.
I do hope at least one or two of our delightful, but “dry”, Northumbrian villages are able to think about setting up a micro-pub as a meeting point to complement, for example, their church.
I for one, as a member of CAMRA since 1974, would be delighted to lend whatever support I can.