It’s almost 80 years since the RAF first landed in Church Fenton.
In all that time, the village has been synonymous with flying – whether home to wartime fighter squadrons, the combat jet aircraft of the 1950s, or the cadres of trainees who earned their wings here from the 1960s onwards.
The air base closed in December, but the village’s proud role in the nation’s defences will continue to be remembered in this straightforward two-room alehouse a short hop from the perimeter fence. Around the walls are images from this rich vein of our past, either side of the fireplace, a gasmask and a pilot’s peaked cap are further reminders of this village’s place in history.
Yet while the Flyer might once have been a favoured watering hole for the Allied airmen based here, it has always been a community inn too.
Driving in from the south, you pass the lovely St Mary’s Church, then the White Horse pub – and then find yourself almost driving out in the flat green countryside again. It almost feels as though you should turn back, but eventually more houses appear, and then the Flyer, on the corner where the road snags north to the airbase.
Stepping through the front door, to your right is small and intimate snug. The main bar is to your left, and it seems to be here where most of the locals gather, leaning on the bar, or sitting at the two banks of tables at either end of the room. In fact, when we call in early on Saturday evening, the bar is so well populated it’s hard to see between the bodies to spot which real ales are currently being served.
I’m driving, so I simply ask for the lowest ABV handpull, and I’m soon served with the pale, refreshing Naylor’s Magnum, one of five cask beers on offer, of which only the locally-brewed John Smith’s is a permanent fixture. Attached to beams around the wall is a colourful collection of pump clips which really show off the Flyer’s alehouse credentials.
Its Cask Marque accreditation – the gold standard for quality beer – and a forthcoming beer festival emphasise the point. For three days, starting on June 13, the pub will be serving 13 cask ales and three draught ciders – and there’s live music, a barbecue and pizzas for good measure. That community feel is also behind the Summer Family Fun Day (July 27) when the Flyer’s big grassy beer garden comes into its own. Attractions include bouncy castles, farm animals, stalls, games – and a tractor display.
In a fairer world, it would be Spitfires, but right now tractors will have to do.
I had the pleasure of chairing the judging panel of the North Leeds Charity Beer Festival at St Aidan’s Church in Harehills last weekend. Our job was to choose the winning beer from a choice of ten Leeds ales, which were all served from wooden casks.
Most casks, of course, are now stainless steel or plastic, but there is a small but vociferous bunch of drinkers who are keen for brewers returning to the traditional oak cooperage.
And certainly among this crop of ten beers, there were several where the character of the oak had played a major part in the taste. This is usually a good thing but – as this tasting showed – not always; sometimes all you could taste was wood, like you were sucking on the end of a wet pencil.
I felt rather an amateur on the panel as most of the others are all involved in the trade in some professional capacity. Even so, we achieved a remarkable degree of unanimity in our scoring, with our winner being Crafty Monk, an oxymoronic deep red India Pale Ale from the Northern Monk brewery in Holbeck.
A big shout also to the boys from Pool-in-Wharfedale’s Wharfebank Brewery though, who came second and third with their two entries, the jet black Firestorm Fang, and the chilli-accented Mexican.
Name: The Fenton Flyer
Type: Lively community inn
Hosts: Ross Higham
Opening Hours: 5-11pm Mon-Thurs, 5pm-midnight Fri, noon-midnight Sat-Sun
Beers: John Smith’s (£2.95) plus four other changing real ales (all £3); Carling (£3.25), Foster’s (£3.25), Grolsch (£3.60), Coors (£3.40), Strongbow (£3.35), Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Small selection from £3.80-glass
Food: Sunday lunches only plus monthly pizza nights and occasional barbecues
Children: Welcomed, kids menu
Disabled: Easy access
Entertainment: Sky Sports and themed events, quiz night Weds, music quiz Sun, monthly disco and live music nights
Beer Garden: Large grassed area to side and rear
Parking: Large area to side
Telephone: 01937 558137