A NEW book has been published celebrating the most popular pub name in Britain.
In a journey of 656 pubs and nearly 100,000 miles, author Cathy Price has visited every Red Lion, charting how this ubiquitous name has been applied to the smartest dining houses and dingiest of dives.
Perhaps her next task should be to visit the very many Royal Oaks which are stretched across the country. The name recalls the celebrated escape of the fugitive Charles II following defeat at the Battle of Worcester, when he hid in an oak tree to escape Cromwell.
Despite the actual tree being 200 miles away, Yorkshire has several – in Knaresborough, Keighley, Ossett, York, Harrogate, Helmsley and more. The Wetherby branch (geddit?) is on North Street, a short walk outside the centre of the town, and is actually the most northerly pub in the Leeds metropolitan area.
In some ways this is very much a traditional Yorkshire inn, serving quality hand-pulled ales and sturdy home-cooked food and the absence of a pool table and Sky Sports sets it apart.
Take the Brunswick for example. This attractive stone-fronted pub in the High Street was my intended destination for this week’s column, but ten seconds inside this soulless, characterless open-plan bar, where upturned glasses on top of the handpulls denoted an absolute lack of commitment to decent beer, is enough to persuade me to move on.
The Royal Oak is far more welcoming. Stepping from the proch through the stained glass door, you are faced with a large mirror embossed with the name of the pub. Beyond it, stretching to left and right, an enticing oak-panelled bar serves a decent choice of real ales, including Charles Wells Bombardier, John Smiths and Golden Pippin, from Copper Dragon brewery, Skipton.
There is nothing here that would have the beer-tickers scurrying in to try some hard-to-find drawn-from-the-wood ale – but the Royal Oak isn’t going for that market. Here the emphasis is on doing the simple things, the traditional things, and doing them well, and I have to say my pint of Golden Pippin was served at its zesty, refreshing, apple-accented best.
We take our drinks to a table at the apex of this L-shaped pub, which proves a good place to observe a drinking scene which has probably been unchanged for some decades.
Yellow lanterns hang above the bar, there’s a mis-match of wallpaper as though the designer kept losing interest, and acres of patterned carpet stretching in every direction. Around the walls and shelves is an array of ornaments on no particular theme – fine porcelain side-by-side with gaudy Toby jugs; pottery tankards bearing the names of long-forgotten breweries; racing prints and local scenes. There’s an old Singer sewing machine; ducks and demijohns, brasses and banquettes.
On one wall is a poster detailing the history of the Tetley Brewery – despite none of the products being in evidence here – while displays of leaflets advertising local attractions play to the fact that the Royal Oak is also a B&B, with three letting bedrooms.
The new ELO album is playing gently in the background, though it’s occasionally interrupted by advertisements, suggesting someone perhaps needs to upgrade their Spotify account.
If some of this sounds negative, then I have to say the Royal Oak is a comfortable and welcoming place to spend an hour. It could do with a bit of tarting up in places, but if you want a conversation over a decent beer, without the distration of loud music or live football, this is as good a choice as any.
The Royal Oak
Address: North Street, Wetherby
Type: Comfortable and traditional
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: John Smith’s (£3.10), Golden Pippin (£3.30), Bombardier (£3.40), John Smith Smooth (£3.10), Carling (£3.40), Foster’s (£3.40), San Miguel (£3.90), Warsteiner (£3.90), Guinness (£3.80)
Wine: Small selection
Food: Quality menu served lunchtimes and evenings daily. Special Sunday menu.
Children: Welcomed, no special facilities
Accommodation: Three bedrooms available for bed and breakfast
Disabled: Straightforward access
Entertainment: Wednesday evening quiz, fruit machine, free wifi
Beer Garden: Very attractive area to the rear
Parking: On-street parking plus town centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 01937 580508