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Don’t turn a blind eye to inn

THERE is, unfortunately, nothing new to canal-side pubs being closed. In 1962, the author, boatman and songwriter David Blagrove commented on pub closures in his great canal book, Bread Upon The Waters. On arriving at what is today the Narrow Boat Inn at Stowe Hill, Weedon, he wrote that it was ‘the first pub still in business since Stoke Bruerne’.

But for him, it was not all thirsty work. He then went on to Braunston, and when descending the lock flight from the tunnel towards the village, he saw ‘a long, low brick pub crouched invitingly. A weather-beaten signboard announced that it was called The Admiral Nelson.

In the last decade or so, however, The Admiral Nelson has had mixed fortunes until, i.n 2009 The Admiral Nelson was closed and boarded it up, and left in that pitiful condition until 2012 – its future prospects looking pretty grim.

Then it was rescued by Pam and Mark Davis, who managed to buy the freehold and revived its fortunes. In time, it became the The Guardian’s Best Rural Pub of the Year. This accolade was repeated in canal publications and elsewhere. For a few years the pub even managed an outside mini pop concert. But the owners were exhausted by it all and after little more than five years, they wanted to move on. In 2017 they put the pub up for sale at an asking price of £595,000. There was now more public concern, as the second sale was also taking a long time, and the owners’ enthusiasm seemed just not there anymore.

Then at the end of last year, the pub was acquired by Everards Brewery of Leicestershire. The Admiral Nelson was given a welcome makeover, with the promise of more to come, and then leased to Pete and Debs Hawksworth, who come from the Nottingham area.

They brought with them a wealth of experience in running pubs, and a formula that works for them. Their emphasis is on being a ‘pub-pub.’ And serving pub grub – they have even brought their former chef from Nottingham to ensure the food is to their exacting standards. Both drink and food are very reasonably priced, with very little on the menu’s main courses that are above £10. All food is made from fresh produce, and locally sourced where possible.

The drinks on offer provide a wide choice, including a selection of Everards ales and tempting looking guest beers. There is a good selection of budget and medium-priced wines, and also today’s designer-drinker special, a selection of premium gins. For lunch with an old friend, who is a stalwart with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, we each chose the gammon steak at £9.95, washed down with a pint of Everards amber ale. Both were to perfection.

On one recent evening I took two people on a tour of the canal at Braunston, who were looking to make a canal television programme. The couple had not been to Braunston before. We started at the marina, looking at its historic buildings, some even older than the Admiral Nelson’s conversion to a pub in 1805. We then moved on via the old canal buildings at the Bottom Lock, and onto Lock 2, where a scene for the TV series Inspector Morse was shot.

Then in the early warm spring evening we ended our researches at what Thomas Hardy had once called ‘the inn that beamed thereby’. It was a description that perfectly fitted The Admiral Nelson that evening, with the sun setting. For a midweek evening, the pub was packed with locals and boaters – like canal-side pubs used to be. ‘We must use this fantastic pub, and those new lock-side benches,’ said the excited producer.

So it’s three cheers for the new managers, Pete and Debs and their young team. And a warning to boaters – booze-cruise it or lose it! Don’t turn a blind eye to The Admiral Nelson!

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