Will’s World: Local pubs mirror fortunes of family-run farms

I’ve always loved a good pub. In my younger days they were about the only place you could go to meet girls, which was probably the primary reason for my appreciation of them.

(For the disbelieving youth reading this, I can assure you that there was no Tinder or dating apps in those days.)

Indeed, my first date with the present Mrs Evans took place in one, after months of pursuit at various YFC events on my part, and something must have worked as we’ve been together ever since.

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About the author

Will Evans
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Will Evans farms beef cattle and arable crops across 200ha near Wrexham in North Wales in partnership with his wife and parents.
Read more articles by Will Evans

As I’ve got older, though, I’ve grown to appreciate pubs, especially the historic variety, for other reasons.

Historic pubs

Here in north-east Wales, we’re still blessed with many old drovers’ inns where I like to imagine the range of characters who frequented them in previous centuries, and the thirst they must have worked up on their long walks, driving stock hundreds of miles to the large population centres in England.

It’s said that on average there was an inn every four miles on busy routes.

Although landlords charged plenty for overnight grazing, they also welcomed the manure that was left behind – so much so that they often offered the drovers an extra breakfast free of charge in hope of repeat contributions.

Regenerative agriculture anyone? There’s nothing new under the sun.

But I love an old city pub too. I’ve spent many an enjoyable evening in places such as Edinburgh, Oxford and London thinking about some of the great luminaries of history who drank, debated or plotted there.

There’s one that backs on to the Thames in London called The Prospect of Whitby that’s all stone floors, crooked ceilings, and timber panelling.

I swear you can feel the breath of ghosts on your neck and hear their faint whispers all around you; the atmosphere just crackles with intrigue and the mystery of the past.

Pubs really are an incredibly essential part of British culture, perhaps more than any other.

End of an era

I suppose that for most people their favourite is their local, and I’m no exception.

My old man took me for my first legal pint in The Cross Foxes on my 18th birthday.

We’ve celebrated numerous family occasions in there, standing by the bar or sitting in the big leather chairs in front of the open fire, having deep and meaningful conversations over a few pints of their finest with friends, neighbours and loved ones.

In a way, it’s so familiar that it feels like an extension of home.

But sadly, no more, as it’s just closed its doors for the last time after 25 years under the same management.

It will be reopening again in a few months, by all accounts, but with a different firm in charge, which no doubt has plans for big change.

Hopes in the locality aren’t high, but we’ll see what happens. It’s a tough time for the hospitality industry, and there are plenty of pubs round here that have gone altogether or look like they might go this year.

It’s a situation not too dissimilar to the one that family farms find themselves in.

If you own a free house and you’ve little or no debt, you’re probably going to be OK; if you’re a brewery pub with high rent and spiralling input costs, I expect you’re having a few sleepless nights.

One thing’s for sure, though, they all need our support right now, so sod dry January – make it a wet one instead.