Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Geese and Fountain, Croxton Kerrial: Scotch Eggs and Peacocks

The Geese and Fountain
Scotch Eggs and Peacocks

If you want to find out where the best pubs are then you can do a lot worse than ask a local brewer, and if that brewer or more appropriately brewster in this case, is as well respected as Sara Barton then you'd do well to heed their advice.

Planning an overnight stay in Grantham with the aim of visiting both The Angel & Royal, where King John, that most villainous of English monarchs once held court, and The Beehive, the pub with the living sign, I found a hotel online that just so happened to be a stones throw from Brewsters Brewery. After sending an inquisitive tweet about the best place to find their beer we were invited to the brewery itself and spent a good couple of hours there drinking beer and chatting with Sara and Sean. Discussing the best places to eat and drink locally they recommended The Geese and Fountain on the main road between Grantham and Melton Mowbray as the best place to have lunch the following day, particularly after discovering we were headed that way (the historic Anne of Cleves pub was another on my list of places to visit and the famous pork pies an obvious draw). They thought we'd be as suitably impressed as they were, and they'd had their daughters birthday party there not that long ago so having our children along with us wouldn't be a problem either.

After a slight detour to Newark which included a visit to the impeccably stocked Real Ale Store lunchtime beckoned. Heading back down the A1 to the same junction we'd encountered it earlier that morning, a six mile drive along the A607 brought us to the front door of The Geese and Fountain.

When I arrive at a pub to find a sign stating "Over 100 beers in bottles and cans" my pulse tends to quicken ever so slightly, and I have to confess to hurrying across the threshold so see what was within leaving my family to organise themselves in the car park. This is a tactic I regularly employ, ostensibly to enquire if children are permitted but in reality it's so that I can take in the beer selection and plan my route along it. This was definitely the case on this occasion, and such were the riches arranged before me I took rather longer than usual to re-emerge and give them the all-clear.

Opting for a half of Hopcraft Brewery's Killing Joke, a smooth Jester hop accented Pale Ale from Wales, I remarked on the fact that there were several other Welsh beers available on both cask and keg. Nick Holden, the landlord, explained that they were just finishing a Welsh beer festival and handed me a list of the fourteen beers and cider that he had featured during the week. I had already noticed that they still had Waen Brewery's sublime Lemon Drizzle on keg and made a mental note to have a half of that before I left.

Food was required but as we'd had an extensive full English at the hotel buffet a few hours before we chose scotch eggs and pork pies from the lighter pub food menu, and when they arrived we immediately knew we had made the right choice. The scotch eggs were freshly cooked and wonderfully warm, crisp on the outside with meat that was perfectly savoury and a bright yellow yolk that was exactly the right balance between firm and runny. These had featured, we were told with a justifiable degree of pride, in a Telegraph article on the Britain's best pub snacks written by Adrian Tierney-Jones someone who, as beer geeks and readers of the Telegraph will already be aware, has impressive credentials in both beer and pub grub. You can read the full article here and if you compare Adrian's picture with mine then it might be argued that they're possibly even better now. The pork pies, from a single producer, was chosen from a single supplier in Melton Mowbray after a full tasting of all available locally and selected because it hit the right peppery notes.

Suitably impressed in and sated in all departments I approached Nick for a few words while my wife and children, having finished eating, picked  one of the board games to play.

He was more than happy to talk and show me around the pub whilst another member of staff covered for him behind the bar, so I started by asking him about the Geese and Fountain, how long it had been here and how he came to be running it.

"It wasn't always called the Geese and Fountain," he told me, "that's the name we gave it when we re-opened it in August 2015 after it closed in 2012. Before that it was called the Peacock Inn and you can still see that name picked out in black tiles on an outbuilding in the car park. The peacock appears on the coat of arms of the Duke of Rutland who owns the land around here, and all the pubs on his estate shared the same name. It was originally two cottages, not a pub at all we think, however there are records showing it as coaching inn dating back to the eighteenth century. It had been a Whitbread's pub at some point too, and behind our sign on the front door there still is a large Whitbread sign, but I don't think that any other breweries have owned it."

"I took over the pub with my partner Kate Ahrens as we both felt that this was an exiting time to be in the trade. We are both former health care workers and although I'd previously worked in the industry, at the Magnesia Bank in North Shields and running a vegetarian restaurant in Lewisham, London, I hadn't been behind a bar in twenty years, and Kate had never worked in the trade at all."

With the background established I was keen to press Nick about how he felt about what was happening with regard to beer both nationally and locally and in particular presenting it alongside food of such quality.

"There's been a renewed interest in beer and brewing recently and it's the real ale and craft beer cross over that excites me the most. We're lucky that we have so many good local breweries practically right on our doorstep and while the Vale of Belvoir has a great reputation as a food destination it hasn't, in the past, done enough to promote local beers as the perfect accompaniment to local food. You'd find so many places selling excellent local meats, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Stilton cheese and locally farmed vegetables and fruit but having pretty standard wine and beer offerings that bypassed the local producers in favour of more mainstream brands."

"When we're travelling we always like to experience the produce of the whichever area we are in at the time, and we really wanted to establish the Geese and Fountain as a pub that offers the best in local food and drink. This underlies our commitment to local ales, lagers and ciders as well as local spirit producers, Burleigh's gin is produced in Loughborough and Two Birds produce a range of flavoured vodkas and some unique gins in Market Harborough, and we're always adding more to our range."

It's easy to think of these locally sourcing specialist retailers as being solely the preserve of larger cities, especially when beer is part of the equation, but this obviously isn't the case. We had decided to visit The Geese and Fountain purely on Sara's recommendation, it didn't feature in any books or online guides I'd read when we'd been planning our visit and, believe me, I'm rather meticulous, not wanting to miss out on any hidden treasures, and yet here I was in a talking to the landlord of a pub that was making my heart sing. I realised that I was sporting a huge grin as I ordered that half of Lemon Drizzle I'd promised myself so, not wishing to make myself appear a gushing loon I adjusted my expression and asked Nick about the change of name and the pubs unique sign.

"Whilst we were of course aware of the historic name of the pub we wanted something that reflected the village of Croxton Kerrial itself. If you follow the road down the hill you'll find that there is indeed a fountain and a pond with geese on it. It seemed a natural fit."

"The sign above the main entrance, a little tableau of geese and the model fountain was put together by Adam Mills who is a plumber and kitchen/bathroom fitter. He lives in the house opposite the pub, a large part of which he built himself, and he decided to build us a model of a fountain, or water spout, when his mum turned up at his house one day with some metal geese she'd bought at a garden centre. We're rather pleased with it."

As well they should be, it's a striking feature, one that would make you stop on your travels to view on its own and, as you'd stopped anyway, head inside for curiosities sake.

I freely admit that I could have happily spent the rest of the day in The Geese and Fountain, and had we not had to be home that evening we could well have stayed, there are six Bed and Breakfast rooms available and plans afoot for more development, using an old skittle alley as function room and community cinema, and setting up an allotment gardening area, but at the moment they're quite rightly focusing on getting the basics right.

There is much more I could tell you but it's more fun to let you discover it for yourself (see if you can find the clues as to which football team Nick supports, for example) and you'll find that all the staff are friendly and happy to chat.

So, if you're heading either up or down the A1 as I know many of you do, I'd encourage you to break your journey at Grantham and head along the A607 to The Geese and Fountain. Whether lunchtime or evening, perhaps for an overnight stay, you might find yourself having a rather longer visit than you'd planned. You can thank me later.

You'll find The Geese and Fountain at:
1 School Lane, Croxton Kerrial, Grantham, NG32 1QR
Telephone: 01476 870350
On Facebook at: The Geese and Fountain
And on Twitter at: @Geese_Fountain