Things start to narrow up as you walk down Romelands Hill towards the Lower Red Lion. There’s cameos of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban to the right, houses jutting out, overhanging, black and white, old brick, Wisteria and everything’s higgledy piggedly. It’s a characterful street which reminded me a little of Rye in Sussex.
The Lower Red Lion is in Fishpool Street, a continuation of Romelands Hill, or maybe Romelands Hill is just a section of Fishpool Street? I’ve no idea where the Upper Red Lion is, or even whether there is one?
The white painted frontage is simple, yet smart and well kept. If it didn’t have a sign you might walk past thinking it was just another row of cottages. There’s nothing remarkable inside. Yet, you instantly know you’re in a good place. A couple at the bar acknowledge us as we enter. The landlady says hello. The fire is blazing in the main bar and the three legged pub dog is taking advantage of the hearth rug.
The bare bones of what’s left of an original interior wall allows you to see through into what must have been two rooms, with another real fire at the far end. Everything is spotless, spick and span, including the small but functional Gents. Roger tells me the building is Grade II listed, they do food and have letting rooms.
The handpulls are on the opposite side of the bar which is deserted. The lack of a lit fire, or any other comforts saying, ‘We don’t use this room during the week’. They might on an evening? They didn’t on a Monday afternoon.
There’s a theme building here. This is the third pub on the bounce with Oakham ales on. There’s also XT 8, a Farr Brewing Ontario Bitter, of Canadian origin it said, and Tring Side Pocket (for a toad). Not a massive range, but something for everyone and proving that you don’t need a massive range of cask ales to get in the GBG. I reckon my Side Pocket was NBSS 3.5, well made, but nothing special, just solid nice easy drinking.
I quite liked the home decorated candle lights on the table so I asked the landlady if I could light one. She pointed me towards the battery operated fire lighter, not knowing it would be used to set fire to Tim Thomas’s wonderful Ullage magazine, just so Martin could take a photograph of the inflammatory material. As a CAMRA magazine editor I shuddered a little and felt uneasy at having been drawn into such shameful behaviour and yet relieved that our glossy A5 is fashioned from more retardant material.
I’m struggling to find the words to sum up what it is that this pub has; similarly The Robin Hood and The Mermaid. It was very much like the boozer my folks used to run for many years. I’ve got a list of words in a note book; unspoiled, peaceful, pleasant, clean, timeless, beer, people, decor, lack of certain elements, ethos, atmosphere, lighting etc. I could go on, but whatever this place had it all, without having anything to make you go Wow!