On the trail of the Red Lion

by Steve Renshaw

If you saw a sign saying that Red Lion was the most common pub name, you might think, “That’s interesting, I’ll remember it in case it comes up in a quiz.”

But when Cathy Price, from Preston in Lancashire, read it in the Red Lion in Hawkshead on Grand National day in 2011, she had a different idea. She imagined hundreds of them dotted across the country and came up with the idea of visiting them all.

There are around 625 Red Lions – with 29 pubs across the UK closing each week, it’s impossible to give an accurate target – and Cathy is now into the last hundred. So far, she’s driven around 35,000 miles on her epic quest, and at every pub she poses for a photograph and enjoys a drink.

On her travels, Cathy has gathered a huge collection of souvenirs, including beer mats, T-shirts, glasses and menus. One of the more unusual objects she has come across is a stuffed lion in the Red Lion at Bobbington in Staffordshire.

By the time the challenge is complete, Cathy will have visited pubs as far apart as Aberdeen and Penzance. Although not strictly part of the challenge, Cathy has also visited nine Red Lions overseas, including ones in New York, Dubai and Melbourne.

Cathy’s next big milestone will be reaching the 600 mark. She’s planning to make this the Red Lion at Gatwick airport. This may be a challenge, as the Wetherspoons pub is on the airside of the north terminal. And then it should be all downhill to the finish post, which she hopes to reach later this year.

Over the four years, Cathy has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the pub trade. Here’s how she sums up what she has learned. “More than anything, I would like more to be done to protect pubs from being bought then immediately demolished due to the lack of laws requiring permission to do so. I am constantly arriving to what should have been a Red Lion to find a mini-Tesco or a care home. I call these Dead Lions.”

Interestingly, there are no Red Lions in Lincoln. Our nearest is at Dunston, which was Cathy’s 343rd in March 2013. She commented on the “confusing back-to-front clock and lots of brass decor scattered around.”

I’d not noticed the clock on my previous visits so I went along for another look. Situated in the heart of the village, the pub dates back to the 17th century. The bar is cosy and there are extensive dining areas. The clock isn’t obvious, and I had to ask the barmaid to point it out.

The Red Lion is a free house and it was great to see that the beers on the two handpumps were from Lincolnshire breweries – Tom Wood’s and Horncastle Ales.

And what about the beer? I had Smoochy Smooch (4.5% ABV), a Valentines special brewed by the girls at Horncastle Ales. It’s an amber bitter with a fruity, sweet maltiness and a long, hoppy finish. It was love at first taste!