Once/if things get back to “normal” I’ll be able to catch a train to Durham in less than 2 hours, which sounds like a win.

I’ve been scouring my newly acquired first Guide to North East pubs for a Durham City boozer that’s in the current GBG I can write about.

It’s harder than I thought.

These days the county town gets a dozen central entries in the Beer Guide; back in ’78 there were only FIVE selling real ale at all, less than Stockton. As with most things, I blame students.

Let’s consider Ye Old Elm Tree. Or just Elmtree if you’re the North-East pub guide for 1978, when they couldn’t even afford the gap between “elm” and “tree” as parchment was still rationed. But the budget for the 50p booklet did allow a listing of beer strengths. 1044 for Bass, as we all know, 1042 for Samson in the Tree.

In 2016 I wrote;

The Elm Tree was (allegedly) omitted from the GBG some time back for failing to achieve acceptable standards, which is quite something for a Branch with the privilege of hosting the Newton Cap in Bishop Auckland (RIP).  The Tree used to be a very loveable pit, and still retains a community feel without gentrification.

And on my first visit, circa 2002, it was indeed a scruffy rundown Pubmaster place selling wonderful Castle Eden.


By 2016 it was smartened up, as Alexander Bell (no relation) allows me to show you with his contributions to Google Maps. Nice of Alex to take a photo of the front door opening;

STILL selling Castle Eden, still a welcoming, Cambridge King Street mix of post-grads and folkies, no longer failing to meet anyone’s rigorous standards, whatever they were 20 year ago.

Yes, yes, you’d have preferred it when it only had Vaux on electric pump, or before it introduced trendy snacks, I guess, but how much would you give to be there right now ?

Internal photos by Alexander Bell via Google Maps

31 thoughts on “YE OLD ELM TREE

  1. Looking forward to being able to have a pint with you when these things are allowed!

    Unfortunately the Elm isn’t in the current edition… Recent change of management and another refurb, it’s still just about recognisable. They had 6 beers on during most of the July to October open period, which was 4 too many based on my last visit. Should’ve gone for the Bass at the Half Moon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elm Tree in and out, isn’t it. Picked that because someone had put the internal pics on Google Maps rather than because it’s the best pub in Durham (that’s yours, obvs !). Don’t have any pics of the Half Moon.

      NB note absence of the Victoria back in ’78.


  2. I think Durham is one of only three English counties I’ve never stayed in.
    I intended going there last year, but i intended going quite a few places last year.
    Any guesses on the other two ?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, but good guesses, only 12 nights in Lincolnshire and 2 in Tyne and Wear.
        I’ll give you a clue that “county” is “GBG county” not pre- or post- 1974 county.


      2. Do you know, I’ve never counted them up until you mentioned it – not actually being a ticker in general – but I reckon that I’ve got all bar Rutland and – if there is such a place – the Isle Of Wight.


      3. Etu,
        I had six nights camping on the isle of Wight in 1978 but, yes and well done, Rutland is a county I’ve not stayed in.
        So it’s Durham, Rutland and one more.


  3. “I blame the students” – who are noted for commonly utilising 2 of the 5 pubs even in 1978? I was only 6 then, so a tad young to be in then. By 1990, when I was a student in Durham, the Half Moon and the Elm Tree were also well frequented by students too – the Elm Tree was our regularly Friday lunch spot (no lectures Friday afternoon for me). By my 3rd year, the Buffalo Head, previously a no go area for students, had been taken over and done out as the Brewer & Firkin. I spent plenty of time in there thereafter and ended up working there after finishing my degree (and editing Durham Drinker!). Sadly the B&F closed in the 2000’s I believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Greatly enjoyed reading this. It’s the first I’ve heard of Castle Eden Ale, so off I went to Wikipedia to educate myself. You’ll be pleased to know that my reaction to the following was along the lines of how I’d react reading of a grisly murder; “Whitbread rationalised the product portfolio in 1966, discontinuing all cask production in order to concentrate on keg beers such as Trophy Special.”

    But then the Wikipedia entry ends with this: “Since 2015 Castle Eden beers have been brewed by an independent microbrewery in Seaham.” Which makes me think it’s still available, but surely in a form that causes some to say, “Yeah, but it’s not anything as good as it used to be…” 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      Castle Eden was quite a common sight, along with Boddington, 6X and Flowers IPA, when Whitbread briefly got behind real ale with their Hogshead and Tut ‘n’ Shive chains in the mid ’90s at the start of my ticking career.

      It was one of my favourite, creamy and bitter, but dropped off the national radar when Whitbread lost interest in beer. It survived slightly better than Boddingtons, I guess, probably comparable with the original Brakspear Bitter which hangs on in a few pub.

      The microbrewery that took it on from Cameron’s is actually fairly close to the actual Castle Dene so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt ! (see here).

      NB Far too much beer talk in this response !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes,
        I remember back in the ‘keg 1970s’ Whitbread saying that you can have real ale but you’ll pay (more) for it. They took a lot of Pedigree with long having shares in Marstons, and much of the cask Whitbread Trophy reverted back to the original local names of seventeen not-yet-closed breweries. It was, not surprisingly, the Stafford and Wolverhampton Hogsheads I used most, the latter unusually still retaining that name and keeping a dozen cask beers..


      2. The microbrewery – Castle Eden Brewery – that took Castle Eden Ale relocated to a unit in Seaham a few years ago and now has a modern automated 20bbl brewhouse and does a lot of contract brewing and packaging. They still do CEA though.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. How much would I give?… I haven’t been ‘home’ in almost a year, the longest I’ve been off Durham soil.

    When I was going down Durham on Fridays the Elm was the highlight of my night. Sadly just post-Vaux when we started going in so it was Adnams bitter at the time. Buffalo Head long gone and replaced by Hogshead then.

    I did wonder why it is not in the current edition, I was under the impression that Stacey was still there. I always enjoyed going in on Tuesday nights when they had folk music in the back room. Great atmosphere.

    Sorry for more beer talk, but I had a bottle of Castle Eden from the new brewery recently and it was very enjoyable (for a non RAIB bottle). I felt I could have been sat in the Dun Cow reading the paper with a beef and onion sandwich, so it was pretty close to what I knew as the original.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I did quite a few of those Durham pubs 40 years ago, after attending my first national CAMRA AGM in the city, back in the very early 1980’s.

    Even though I haven’t been back to Durham since (must rectify that once lock-down has ended), I can still remember the Elm Tree and the Half Moon. There was a Scottish & Newcastle pub too – think it was called the Shakespeare?

    Happy days – especially when you’re in your mid-twenties!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. T’other Paul,
      “40 years ago, after attending my first national CAMRA AGM in the city, back in the very early 1980’s” – yes, 1981, the only year it was there and one of the few AGMs I missed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for confirming the year, Stafford Paul. I had a feeling it was 1981, but wasn’t 100% certain. I attended three more AGM’s after that, all in consecutive years. The locations were Bradford, Reading and Edinburgh.

        A lengthy break then followed, with the IOM in 2010, as my next one, followed by 2013? in Norwich.


      2. Martin,
        Yes indeed. £27 for the accommodation would be nearly £120 nowadays but I’ve NEVER claimed that proper AGMs nearly 200 miles away are discriminatory because not everyone can afford the cost of attending. I remember that month most for my grandmother’s funeral in Kent the previous week.

        T’other Paul,
        An old What’s Brewing tells me that the Durham AGM had 56 Motions, two Special Resolutions and twelve candidates for five NE vacancies. i expect you remember it all well !
        I’ve missed five AGMs since 1981, Edinburgh in 1998 and those from 1988 to 1991 which clashed with the AGM of a large national charity whose NEC I was a member of.
        Yes, Norwich was 2013. I stayed in the Annesley House Hotel, more than I’d normally pay but very nice and Adnams Bitter in the bar.


      1. The Shakespeare was a victim of vandalism in the name of “refurbishment” in the 2000s. The back snug is a shadow of it’s former self now.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Excuse lateral thinking but happy memories of staying and sampling in the Victoria circa93 memory is of drinking local beers ..I think I would have been disappointed if S and N …:-/ : )

    Liked by 1 person

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