Burton Salmon is on a road to nowhere.
Once you’ve passed the big pond at the edge of the village you enter a main street quite unlike any other I’ve ever driven along seeing as there’s no shop, no school, no church – and it simply ends in a cul-de-sac as though the villagers felt it might be a nice idea to have a main street, but then got thoroughly bored with the idea and decided to develop South Milford instead.
This left a 16th century inn as one of very few public building in the village – and as such, it could easily have become one of those dreadful, cliquey rural inns where heads turn and the conversation stops when some unfamiliar face walks in. But the welcome we receive is warm and friendly from customers and staff alike – precisely how it should be at a pub that relies heavily on in-comers to supplement the locals’ trade.
No pub here could rely on passing trade and even the Plough’s handy sign on the nearby A162 is less effective now a re-alignment of the A1 has reduced traffic on this once-busy access route.
The Plough is something of a rarity in these parts, one of just a handful of outposts of Blackburn’s Thwaites brewery so far east of the Pennines. When they first took it over, its progress was blighted by an unsatisfactory series of managerships – nine different incumbents in less than a year – and it took the arrival of tenants Melanie and David Hirst to finally get this famous old dining pub back on the map.
Stepping inside the front door, you turn left to a bar dominated by Blackburn products. Thwaites Original is the entry level bitter, I opted for the darker, stronger and more substantial Lancaster Bomber. A third real ale hand pump dispenses a guest beer, often their golden Wainwright ale but sometimes from brewers elsewhere. With its flagged floors, beamed ceilings, bare brick and giant fireplaces, the Plough has plenty you would expect of a village inn. Around the walls are ancient maps and documents alongside some interesting arty prints. Brass candle-style uplighters mimic chandelier-style lighting hanging in the modern rear extension.
Out back is an attractive beer garden, making better use of the space than the car-park it replaced some years ago. The only downside is that there is now no parking; when we roll into the village on a busy Saturday evening cars are strung out all along the main street and we have to find a space a hundred yards further along.
For as well as being a popular villagers’ local, The Plough is very much a dining pub for customers from much further afield, and at busy times it’s advisable to book.
There are essentially two sides to the fare here. The main menu offers some fairly standard pub by choices like steak pie, lasagne, battered haddock and gammon. With each of these, smaller portions of each of these main courses are available at reduced rates.
The blackboard specials menu just inside the front door is chalked up with a list of much more adventurous choices and reveals an altogether more ambitious side to the kitchen. Typical of this, my lovely moist cod loin and boiled potatoes are imaginatively paired with a zingy lemon, ginger and sweet chilli sauce. Perhaps the food purists might have teamed this with a crisp white wine, but I have to say that rich dark Lancaster Bomber washed it down nicely too.
Melanie and David came here after a spell a few miles north of here at the Crooked Billet in Saxton: “We had taken that as far as we could; it couldn’t have got any busier.” So the Plough represented a significant new challenge: “It had lost a lot of trade they weren’t even doing any food.”
It wasn’t easy to turn the place around: “It has taken a lot longer than we expected.”
Manager: Melanie and David Hirst
Opening hours: Noon-2.30pm and 4.30-11pm Tues-Fri, noon-11pm Sat-Sun, closed Mon
Beers: Thwaites Original (£3.10), Lancaster Bomber (£3.30) plus changing guest ale, Fosters (£3.30), Kronenbourg (£3.70), Strongbow (£3.40), Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Good choice available by the glass or the bottle
Food: Quality pub menu served
Entertainment: Quiz Sun plus occasional live music and special events
Disabled: Fairly easy access to ground floor bar, some narrow pinch-points inside
Beer Garden: Large area to rear
Parking: On-street only
Telephone: 01977 672422