Thorold Arms, Harmston

by Steve Renshaw

According to HRH The Prince of Wales when he launched the Pub is the Hub project in 2001, “Rural communities, and this country’s rural way of life, face unprecedented challenges … the country pub, which has been at the heart of village life for centuries, is disappearing in many areas.” More recently, Prime Minister David Cameron promised that the coalition would be a “pub-friendly government” and, following pressure from CAMRA, appointed Bob Neill MP as Minister responsible for community pubs.

On taking up this new responsibility, Mr Neill said: “The local pub is a great British institution and the social heartbeat of life in our towns and villages, bringing people together and strengthening community relationships.” Fine words, but actions are what count.

The Department for Communities and Local Government recently published its draft National Planning Policy Framework for consultation. If implemented fully by local planning authorities and backed up by robust local plans, this framework could enhance the planning protection available for pubs and empower communities to protect the pubs which matter to them.

Yes, I know that’s all a bit heavy for a column about beer, but if we don’t have good pubs, we can’t drink good beer.

Take the Thorold Arms in the little village of Harmston for example. This building was originally two farm cottages and it is thought to have been a pub for over 200 years. And it’s most definitely at the heart of Harmston’s life.

Julie Haycraft and Alison Welch were regulars at the pub and helped behind the bar when, in 2003, it was put up for sale. After much deliberation and encouragement from the locals, they sold their house and bought the pub. Their reputation for providing a warm welcome, good home cooking and real ale quickly spread, and in 2006 the Thorold was voted CAMRA’s East Midlands Pub of the Year, an award that was repeated in 2007.

Their involvement with the community includes providing the bar for functions in the memorial hall, hosting the annual Harvest Auction on behalf of the church and organising Christmas carols around the village. Various themed events are held throughout the year covering a diverse range of festivals and saints days, including Diwali, Sonkram, Burns Night, Trafalgar Night and St George’s Night, for no other reason than it’s a good excuse for a special night with an exciting menu. But the highlight is Harmstock, the annual beer and music festival which, since it started in 2004, has raised thousands of pounds for the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire air ambulance.

And what about the beer? As a free house, the Thorold is able to source its ales from across the UK, and often features at least one from Lincolnshire or Nottinghamshire. Unusually, none of the four handpumps is dedicated to a specific beer, as the choice is constantly changing. And, also unusually, there is no keg bitter. The beer list, including those coming next, can be found on the pub’s website.

On my visit, I plumped for Rupert’s War Dog, a 4.2% bitter from Ufford Ales, a microbrewery in the village of Ufford, south of Stamford. War Dog was created as the house beer for the excellent Prince Rupert pub in Newark, and is rarely found elsewhere. It’s a chestnut brown ale with a sweet bitter balance and a creamy head. My verdict? A very good beer in tip-top form.

To find out more about the Campaign for Real Ale in Lincoln, pick up a copy of our branch magazine ImpAle in your local pub or visit www.lincolncamra.org.uk