Apart from the walking, one of the main attractions of retirement was reading books in pubs, with a pint in front of the fire.
Perhaps I didn’t expect the seating to look quite like this, but then this is Retford 2016. My Charles Dickens still felt like 1866 though.
Retford had it’s brief moment at the forefront of market town tourism in the late ’90s. Bill Bryson sang it’s praises (at least relative to Worksop), Taste(*) magazine did a pubcrawl round the town, and Mrs RM and I took our infant son there for a night out, staying at the wonderful Turk’s Head near the Sebastopol cannon.
Since then, not a lot has happened in Retford, compared to Worksop or Doncaster. A few drinkers pubs have left the Beer Guide, replaced by Bateman’s decent Rum Runner and a pleasant Spoons. The arrival of a new micro-pub and cheap accommodation made this an ideal January trip.
Pedestrianisation of the main shopping streets is a highlight, giving the town a similar feel to Stafford. It’s not all cobbled streets, but there’s enough to stare up at for an hour or two.
Displaying my access all areas retiredmartin card, I was allowed entrance to the very impressive Town Hall, which contained some wonderful rooms, not least the ballroom and 1950s styled Chairman’s Office. The man who showed me round was an absolute gent, and more than made up for the downgrading of the Tourist Office.
In 1998 the Taste team discovered, if memory serves, a minor treasure trove of Wards, Tetleys and Bass pubs, and more late-night venues than I could see today. Presumably the fleshpots of Doncaster, Sheffield and Gainsborough hold more appeal.
Retford seemed to appeal to the more mature punter. I have never seen so many coffee shop in such a small town, nearly all independent and many of them looking very new.
The Market Square itself was packed with bright places offering and “craft beers”. One of these places was the ultra-modern White Hart, which did have an inviting cobbled courtyard entrance, and a very decent Clark’s Blonde (NBSS 3). The craft was of the Oakham/Adnams variety, which is good enough for 95% of potential customers. I liked it a lot, even the piped music, and read a few pages of Dickens here.
One slight bugbear. When you go in a pub to be confronted by 16 fonts, 3 blackboards and giant fridges, and are asked “what you having” befpre you get to the bar, it’s no surprise many people will ask for Peroni/Poretti so they don’t have to see what exactly Green Devil IPA is.
The real star was Beerheadz though. Only opened in October 2014, which shows you how quick CAMRA branches can get pubs into the Beer Guide when they want to !
Thankfully, this is a cosy gem, with a bit more character than some of the box-like micros I’ve been in elsewhere, and a superb North Riding stout (NBSS 3.5). It was quiet, and the brewerania distracted me from Dickens, but I’d say unmissable. Best pub snacks seen for a while too, and the classic “B for Bass and Bass for men” tray.
I was advised to give the new Idle Valley Tap a try, so I did. It was very good, but very much a work-in-progress. Appealing to a wider crowd than just CAMRA types, I think it will do well, particularly when lovers of bench seating and real ale toilets see this:-
Retford isn’t posh, but like Mansfield there’s enough disposable income to support a decent pub scene, particularly at the sub-£3 a pint pricing I saw and with relatively cheap properties available for new ventures.
Sorry to say though, unlike Worksop, no-one called me “me duck” here.
(*) Taste was a short-lived glossy magazine from the late ’90s that promoted pub going, mainly by reporting pub crawls from towns such as Retford, Stamford and Oban.
I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities again. It’s marvellous, and quite how this is the same author who produced the dirge of Martin Chuzzlewit is beyond me.