One wag has described navigating the Shropshire Union Canal to Llangollen as a slow pub crawl on a boat. Public houses seem to proliferate in the middle of nowhere next to the canal, ostensibly serving locals (Population of the village, 11 people, 1,400 sheep and 24 dogs) but in reality are there to provide a comfortable place for boaters to pause and refresh.
During high season when the canals are clogged with holiday-makers, business must be very good, but in the off-season, perhaps not so much. Our trip, essential the first two weeks of October, is considered on the cusp of the off-season, as it can be cold, rainy and damp, sunny, or a blizzard, depending on the vagaurities of the UK Met. Office and their reading of the entrails.
Pub fare is the subject of much discussion among those who are self-proclaimed experts as to what is and is not actual pub fare. Perhaps they know, or perhaps they are talking out their arse, but we do know what pub fare is not:
There are no micro-greens involved in or near pub fare
Peas of some sort must be served, or available to order
Gravy is a food group
Chips must taste like potato, not starch tubes and be served hot enough to scald
Yorkshire puddings are also a food group
No pub fare will feature a 50p sized piece of ‘artisanal’ salmon with an eggplant slice the size of a book of matches and cost £45, especially if served by someone wearing a wool hat named Campbell or Daffyd
There must be local, real ale.
You must be offered, or have readily available ‘brown’ sauce, which we know as HP
Vinegar must be malt vinegar
An appetite is required
Pub fare is not complicated food by any means. Roasted meat, a couple of veg, potato of some sort, gravy and more often than not, Yorkshire pudding, especially if it is the Sunday roast special. It is home-style cooking. Where else could you get cold, hand-carved real leg-of-pig ham, a small salad (instead of chips) and hot peas and carrots with palate-melting hot mustard except in a pub, or at home. Portions are generous and you find that your membership in the clean-your-plate club is always threatened by the size of the meals.
When it comes to beverages, the most common accompaniment is ale. Real ale, quite often brewed within a few miles of the pub, reflecting the local tastes and desires. You will see taps for Heineken, Peroni or other commercial brews, but the most common is the hand-pulled pint of what is local and what pairs perfectly with the food.
Which is exactly what you want.