Ever since I set a tentative foot in the old county of Somerset, I have felt at home. Perhaps its something in the water of this place which serves to pull all such misaligned people down into this warm and wet part of the world. Somerset is county of eternal contrast. There is dramatic mountain crag and misty moorland, the waterlogged Levels stretching far out to the wind blasted coast, while nestling in between, a soft and fruitful land which is among the loveliest countryside in England. There is industrial gritty working town and sedate medieval city, the urbane and edgy life that surrounds Bristol and Bath and the toothless, cider damaged nonsense of her quiet villages, whom collectively ceased to progress in time around the end of 1967.
It is also an area where people drink, and drink properly, regularly and deeply. The people of the South West in general are said to be among England’s jollier folk but Somerset takes it further, perhaps sharing more with their Celtic cousins in southern Ireland than the people further north. Consequently, it is a rich hunting ground for real pubs and I here present a few of the choicer examples.
- The Tucker’s Grave Inn
Wells Road, Faulkland, Somerset, BA3 5XF.
The Tucker’s has been broodily overseeing this desolate crossroads in deepest, backwardest Somerset for as long as anyone cares to remember. Catch it on a cold wet day in January and you may be forgiven for having misgivings over the old place, especially when the iron grey render matches the leaden rainclouds, but it’s outward appearance gives little hint of the warm, gem of a pub which sits within.
The inside of this old watering hole has not been altered from the unadorned but beautifully functional layout which would have been commonplace in countless small rural drinking houses. A central corridor runs right through the middle of the building from the large, little used front door to the dog-infested back garden, the Tap Room is on the right with a few settles and a fireplace, servery on the left with further basic seating. No bar, beer and rough cider racked in the large bay window. That’s it; perfect simplicity. The only change to upset this time honoured format was in the late 80s when devoted long-standing landlady Glenda Swift, tired of people sitting in her old adjoining living room when the pub was busy, finally wheeled her old TV and easy chairs upstairs and gave this furthest room over to regular public use. As a final sop to modernity, Glenda has also recently installed a new till.
Historically, the really interesting bit of the pub is the Tap Room with its wonderfully undulating built-in settles, battered scrub-top tables and wood burning stove; a vision of how so many honest country drinking houses must have been before the relentless forces of modernity and heartless brewery design teams enveloped them in a tide of swirly carpet, wood chip, dralon and re-pro horse brasses. It is however, the amazing central servery which gives the Tucker’s its beating heart. One long, narrow oak table sits pride of place in the little galley like room, with more rickety built-in seating down each wall. The very construct of the place forces friends, strangers, tourists and even celebrities* to look up from their day-glow cider and talk to their fellow pub-goers; a tragically uncommon occurrence in many pubs of today who inexplicably drown conversation under a tide of ill-fitting musac and the jarring intrusion of ItBoxes and fruit machines. However, in this quirky, unfashionable backwater of the world, the Tucker’s reverberates solely to the gentle chatter of the native custom, interspersed with the clipped accents of those from further afield out on safari. The wonderfully antiquated outside toilets also feature, especially in the depths of winter when it has been known for both water pipe and cistern to freeze solid, creating a temporary sculpture park of ice across the floor of the gents.
There have been countless good evenings and lazy sunny afternoon sessions in this fine old tavern and in this correspondents considered opinion, such a thing as genuine contentment can be reached sat in the Tucker’s Grave with a pint of rough cider, while the lulling hubbub of conversation washes effortlessly around you. This is a place everyone should experience at least once, and which ought to be experienced often.
* The Stranglers of ‘Golden Brown’ fame take cider here, as do many of the Soho House set, most notably a stately chap by the name of Jagger whom Glenda tells us, is rather quiet, very polite and owns a very shabby straw hat.