DOG HANGS WELL: I love to try new pubs, because each one is so beautifully unique. You never really know what you will find or who you will meet. And, once in a while, you hit gold. Solid gold.
Being invited to visit a much loved pub in Ludlow, Shropshire, by the co-founder of Ludlow Brewing Co, Gary Walters, was an irresistible opportunity for me then. You’ve always got to take the local knowledge. That is the way to cut through the noise and the marketing piffle. It is how you find the sparkling diamonds, the shining gems that may otherwise be obscured from view.
Gary took me to the Dog Hands Well. It is located on Corve Street, but you could walk right by and never know. The three-storey Georgian townhouse sits still, practically indistinguishable from its neighbours. Those in the know will notice a small lantern, placed above head height on the building. “The Dog Hangs Well” is etched subtly on the glass faces of the lamp, but it would be easy to miss when the light is off.
Cracking the secret code
But when the lamp is lit, you are issued with an invitation. To push open the dark, heavy door, cross the threshold, and enjoy one of the most delightful and quirky pub experiences you could wish for.
The Dog is understandably, packed full with local folk. The door takes you through a small corridor through to a large entrance hall. A low bench sits against the wall and the ceilings, as befits a property of this age, are high. Regardless of when you visit, during the pubs limited opening hours, there are likely to be at least two or three groups of people stood in the slightly draughty space, enjoying a pint.
As you turn left into the main parlour, you can see why. Table space is limited and fills up quickly.
The small bar is tucked in the corner behind the door, an oak counter affixed to an old shed roof by all accounts. The room is a mish mash of paraphernalia; breweriana, local heritage and general knick knacks. It’s cosy and crowded – like your nan’s front room. Provided your nan is a serial bootsale attendee and lifelong CAMRA member. Punters and the odd dog are propped around tables. People stand in groups. Making your way through the crowds is hard, but jovial work. The loud clamour of tens of conversations going on at once is good natured and inviting.
You can’t use a mobile phone, but you can use a DSLR camera, thankfully.
Real fires shine brightly in the winter months, making the pub feel even more inviting from the grey deserted streets outside. There are a couple of other rooms with seating available, all dark wood and roaring fires. They do not quite have the character of the main parlour, and consequently it is much easier to get a seat there, but the vibe is less pronounced. Instead, as I’ve mentioned, regulars tend to gather in the hall, sharing stories and laughing.
What’s on the bar?
The bijoux bar has a limited selection on offer. Two cask ales while we were there and a few more drinks besides. It sounds as though there is generally the choice of a pale and dark ale. We opted for the pale, which was not particularly to my taste it has to be said. Nor one of my drinking partners, who tried to swap hers with a friend for a can of Cloudwater’s Fuzzy. The rubbish pint might well be part of the experience, she confided in me. I think she was right. It was well kept, it just wasn’t a great beer. But the limited selection, the “get what you’re given” attitude is quite nice. But once word about the Cloudwater spread, as one we all picked a can for our next drink.
The Dog is relatively uncompromising, and not just when it comes to beer choice. Mobile phones are banned and so is swearing. The bar is resolutely cash only. For some reason this kind of annoys me when it comes to Sam Smith pubs, but it feels natural and acceptable in the Dog. Perhaps because the unmarked entrance, with its lantern acting as a beacon, makes you feel like you have become a member of an exclusive club. The speed with which you are accepted and pulled into conversation makes you feel like a valued member of that club. I have never had that in a Sam Smith’s pub. And unbelievably, I didn’t get chucked out for breaking any of the rules.
Ludlow’s little gems
It’s brilliant. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t wait to go back. If you head to Ludlow for a visit – and it’s handy for the train station – then don’t miss a trip to their sister pub, the Blood Bay, which is also excellent. The Old Street Tavern has a similar vibe too – with a newly created parlour pub in two converted shops. These pubs, the Ludlow Brewing Co and more all make more fall in love with Ludlow just a little more, every time I visit.
Thanks to Gary for the invitation and giving me honorary local status.