Village life comes with every pint
As they say, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. . .”
Here in Langtoft, that would be the Waggon & Horses, our village pub. It’s where the locals go to unwind and nurse a pint with friends. They come from all walks of life and there’s no generation gap when it comes to good times and laughter. And though everybody knows your name, they still call you “luv" or "mate.”The first time Dan and I popped into the pub, we felt the penetrating warmth of landlords Paul and Chris Herrick. They treated us like welcomed guests in their home, but it wasn’t until months later that we learned we were in their home. “Pub” is short for “Public House,” an extension of the landlords’ home. So, to run an authentic pub, they must live on the premises.
While living in England, we’ve realized that it takes donkey’s years to be recognized as a local, so Dan and I were surprised to be accepted into the fold so quickly. We arrived in stonewashed jeans and tennis shoes, talked funny, and even worse didn’t know a “lager” from an “ale.” Yet, we were embraced in the friendly atmosphere of a village pub. Best of all, it’s within staggering-home distance! One of our greatest pleasures is spending time with our mates while having a pint. And it’s always served with a genuine slice of English life, a slice thick enough to transport us to simpler times when day-to-day living revolved around the village, a village we’ve grown to love.The Waggon and Horses is an old-fashioned mom and pop business with three generations working together. While Paul pulls pints, Chris prepares a wide range of savory bar snacks for lunch and dinner. Their grown children, Sophie and Sam, and Paul’s parents, Doug and Kate, are eager to help out when needed. We can always tell when Doug is working at the pub by the echoing pound of a hammer or the sight of a ladder. And when he’s working in the garden with Kate, his cheerful whistle drifts across the street and through our kitchen window.
One of the first things we noticed about the pub is that it has a real sense of class and so do its patrons. Even though we’ve all been known to lose a bit of composure after a few pints, we’re still expected to be civilized. That means making ourselves comfortable, but not to the point of slouching in our seats or putting our feet on the chairs. I dare say, we don’t raise our voices or use profanity. It's a strict code of etiquette that Paul enforces simply with the disapproving glare of a parent.
The pub was built in the 1800s and has retained its charm and character with exposed timbers on the ceiling. Horse brass hangs above the bar and fireplace -- remnants of the times when folks decorated harnesses with brass and often left them at pubs as a token of appreciation for hospitality shown. Year around, Chris keeps a fresh bouquet of flowers on the bar to add a colorful, homey touch. And paintings by local artist Maureen Montgomery grace the walls, bringing familiar village scenes to life.
On a typical night, the regulars start coming in around 8 p.m. Some stay for a pint or two, others might extend their visit until the “last call” bell rings at 11 p.m., especially on weekends. Conversations are lighthearted, sometimes playful, and often punctuated with laughter. But at times we’ll venture into serious topics, "setting the world to right over a pint," as the locals say.Our pub is blessed with a lovable mix of memorable characters, and Barry Marshall tops the list. He’s a real institution here in Langtoft. He greets everyone with a jolly smile and quick wave, then heads for his stool at the corner of the bar and orders a Guinness. Paul slowly pulls him a pint and chats a few minutes while waiting for the head to settle. “It’s physically pumped from the cellar and comes out at room temperature. Officially, it takes 119 seconds to pull a perfect pint of Guinness,” says Paul.
Just seeing Barry pop through the door wearing his blue wooly cap brings a smile to my face. In the summer, he often comes in with an armful of fresh garden vegetables to share with his mates. Paul says, “Everybody knows Barry, and everybody loves him. He’s hard working, permanently cheerful and pure enjoyment. He’s always on about his family or his garden, and he has a real passion for Guinness.”In the old days, pubs were dominated by men, but in the past 10 years that’s all changed, according to Paul. “Today, they’re more family oriented. Many pubs even have play areas in the garden for children,” he says. It’s obvious that pubs play a pivotal role in village life. Sometimes it seems surreal to be sitting in the “Dickens-like” setting of an English pub, especially on cold, damp winter nights when we walk through the door, chilled to the bone, and see the locals playing doms (dominos). The coal-burning fire casts a soft, warm glow on their faces and kindles a similar glimmer in our hearts.
In the summer, we’ve watched “Norman Rockwell” Sunday afternoons unfold as families walk or ride their bicycles to the pub. They gather in the garden, a little paradise surrounded by ivy-clad stone walls and flowers. While parents share a pint with friends, the children drink lemonade and play boules on the lawn.In Medieval times, English pubs often doubled as roadside inns where straw pallets provided a welcome rest for weary travelers. Most pubs are steeped in the rich history of those days, and many even have resident ghosts. For the past few centuries, pubs have been the haunts of poets and writers who gather to talk about their works. One of our favorite pastimes is visiting historic pubs. A recent journey took us to “The Eagle and Child” in Oxford where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis often met to discuss manuscripts. No matter where our travels take us, it’s always good to come home to Langtoft – to the warm, fuzzy feeling of walking into the pub and seeing the smiling faces of our mates. There’s nothing quite like the friendly sight of Barry tilting his head back in hearty laughter, or the twinkle in Paul’s eyes when he’s smoking his pipe near the fireplace. As he watches everyone having a good time in his “home,” the smoke rises from his pipe like silver ribbons that tie us all together in the simple harmony of village life.
This feature appeared in part in The Daily Journal, Accent on Travel, Kankakee, IL
COMING SOON -- To read more about The Waggon & Horses, see "Yankees host American Night at village pub." Dan and I wanted to share an American experience with villagers, so Paul and Chris offered to turn the pub over to us for a night. Dan learned to pull pints, and I had the opportunity to prepare sloppy joes in a tiny pub kitchen. Besides the sandwiches, we served coleslaw, apple pie, and chocolate chip cookies -- and a basket of popcorn sat on every table. We had an overwhelming turnout with guests lining up for seconds of the mysterious "sloppy joe" sandwich. Some folks even asked for the recipe!