Great Britain has a reputation for its fantastic real ales, sumptuous ciders and rich tradition of pub culture and the county of Wiltshire is no different. If you’re planning a holiday in Wiltshire and have a penchant for ale, cider, or simply love enjoying a drink with friends, a trip to one of the many regional pubs is a must. But with so many brilliant local pubs in Wiltshire, how will you possibly try all the best in one trip? The answer, of course, is a pub crawl.
Pub crawls don’t have to be the exclusive purview of stag and hen dos, they can simply provide a way for friends to sample many different ales, atmospheres and areas in one sitting. This makes them perfect for holidays in Wiltshire, where you will want to fit in as much as possible. So, here are our top tips for planning a pub crawl in Wiltshire, plus some tips on the finest pubs and breweries to visit along the way.
Tips for planning a pub crawl
Pub crawls can be one of the most exciting ways to celebrate an event with friends or simply get to know the local area. But they have to be done right, and with so many people attending so many different venues, this can take a little planning. Here are a few tips:
Check out venues in advance
The Distilled Man recommends: “Try to have the bars reflect your personality. It might seem obvious, but you’ll be happier if you choose spots that you actually WANT to go to.” It’s also a good idea to contact pubs before you visit to let them know that you’ll be stopping by with a large group. This way they can ensure there is sufficient space and staff to accommodate you.
Plan a good route
Ensure that you’ve considered your route in advance, so that there isn’t too much distance between each venue. The Distilled Man explains, “While we all would theoretically walk three miles for our next beer, we’d universally prefer not to.” One good idea is to begin the crawl further away from your accommodation and work your way back so that everyone can walk a short way home. Alternatively, co-ordinate your first and last stops with public transit.
A great pub crawl can involve anything from a handful of friends to a large group, so communicating your plans is essential. When you send out the invite, include a rough schedule and route, so that everyone knows the next meeting place if they accidentally get left behind in a pub. Also let everyone know how long you plan to stay at each establishment to avoid this happening in the first place.
Get tech savvy
These days, social media is the go-to for organising almost any social event. If you’re planning a pub crawl, you should consider setting up not just a group Facebook chat message, but also an event page, so that everyone coming along can keep up-to-date with the plan. Check out Bar Crawl for pre-made maps and reviews that other beer lovers have created, or download the Pub Rally app to create your own personal route, invite friends and share photos on the day!
We all know that it’s important to take it steady on a night out, but this is even more important on a pub crawl. “At a given establishment, you should have time for one, maybe two drinks at a reasonable pace of consumption” says The Distilled Man. He adds, “A glass of water now and then never hurt anybody”, and reminds readers that, “During the average 7-hour pub crawl, you’re going to want to eat twice.” Whatever the length of your event, make sure food is a main feature.
Meet the locals!
During your crawl, you will be getting a real taste for the diversity of ales and ciders in Wiltshire, but don’t forget to interact with the local community, too. Chat to locals at different pubs and you are likely to have some stimulating and interesting conversations!
Our top pub picks
If you’re looking for a little inspiration on where to visit during your Wiltshire pub crawl, here are a few of our top picks from across the county:
The Red Lion Inn
Dating back to the early 1600s, The Red Lion Inn, Cricklade is a stalwart of the Wiltshire pub scene. Since its opening centuries ago, it has won numerous awards for its fantastic food and fine ales, such as the British Pub of the Year BT Sport Award 2013. The pub features a microbrewery called Hop Kettle, which creates seasonal and experimental beers with responsibly-sourced and locally-foraged ingredients. The Red Lion serves their own brews such as North Wall (rich crystal malts with a light bitter end) and their experimental White Fang (white IPA with grapefruit zest), as well as a variety of ales and ciders from much-loved local breweries.
The Three Daggers
Located in Edington, The Three Daggers is more than just a pub, it’s a three-in-one experience. Boasting a beautiful country public house, a brilliant microbrewery and even a local farm shop with home-grown fruit and veg, this pub is the perfect place to start off your pub crawl in style. The freshest of beers such as their own Daggers Ale are on offer alongside delicious cooked meals.
The Boot Inn
In the quaint surroundings of Berwick St. James, this distinctive pub is easy to spot by its greenery-covered exterior. Originally a bootmaker’s property, which the owner modified part of to run an ale house as a supplement to his income, The Boot Inn has been managed by many families. Expect to try delicious ales such as 6X, Henry’s IPA and Corbus, with plenty of local ciders and a large number of lagers on tap. Here, you can even design a dining menu to feed up your pub crawl guests with traditional British food.
Harp and Crown
Set in the picturesque village of Gastard just outside of Chippenham, the Harp and Crown is a very popular local pub which also draws visitors from around the country. Sporting a well-kept collection of real ales, local ciders and fine wines, the Harp and Crown is a stylish yet welcoming pub. With a stunning pub garden for the summer and roaring fires for the winter, any group of friends will love visiting the Harp and Crown, tasting their Moles’ Mowdy Jack and Best and Flying Monk’s Elmers. They also offer a range of seasonal ales and a selection of Black Rat cider – so something to please everyone!
The Wheatsheaf Inn
As Christian from The Wheatsheaf Inn explains, this charming country pub had its beginnings outside of the county of Wiltshire: “The Wheatsheaf has been owned by local independent family brewer Hall & Woodhouse since 2008, a company established in 1777 by Dorset farmer Charles Hall.” However, the establishment has a fascinating history. He explains, “The family business originally supplied beer to Wellington’s Army encamped on the south coast of England, something they’re proud to still serve in their public houses today. Their award-winning ales were given their Badger logo as a mark of quality in 1875, making Badger one of the world’s oldest trademarks. Having survived three world wars and two financial depressions, the company is still thriving under the leadership of the seventh generation of the Woodhouse family.”
This pub lies in Lower Woodford near Salisbury and is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike. Featuring cosy interiors, an expansive family beer garden with a popular kids’ play area and a multitude of delicious dishes cooked with fresh, regionally-supplied ingredients which can be enjoyed following a day out in the stunning Salisbury countryside. As Christian suggests, The Wheatsheaf is the perfect place to stop and relax after a visit to Stonehenge or the medieval town of Salisbury.
Visit a brewery
Why not make a day of the proceedings and educate yourself on the history and science of Wiltshire’s local ale in the process? Visiting a local brewery is a fantastic way to enrich your experience and add real interest as you see the brewing process take place and learn about how the beer culture of the area has developed through the years. There are many breweries in Wiltshire, but here are a couple of our favourites.
Box Steam Brewery
Dom from Box Steam Brewery tells us that this brewery is family-owned and run, and proudly independent. He explains, “Produced by hand in the brewery’s steam copper, the ingenuity and passion of their Master Brewer (one of only a handful working in the UK) transforms the finest Warminster malts and the best British hops into consistently high quality beers, whilst minimising impact on the environment.” The brewery at Box was founded almost a hundred years ago before being resurrected in 2004.
Their renowned beers include Piston Broke (a full-bodied golden ale with a fruity, hoppy aroma), Tunnel Vision (a well-rounded, clean amber bitter), and Ghost Train (a ruby-coloured bitter with a creamy smooth finish). Visit their brewery shop or book a group tour in advance to learn about the process from malting, milling and mashing to fermenting and – the best bit – serving! You can also visit The Crossed Guns in Avoncliff, their anchor pub, a 16th century inn with idyllic riverside pub gardens where you can enjoy good beer and good food while enjoying panoramic views of the canal crossing the river. It can even be reached by narrowboat to add extra excitement to your pub crawl!
Arkell’s say, “Nothing beats a classic glass of foaming real ale”, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then Arkell’s brews are for you. The beer is brewed in much the same way as it was when John Arkell first began the process in 1843 and the brewery buildings stand untouched by the passing years. In fact, three generations of the Arkell’s family still work at the brewery. Arkell’s regular ales include Wiltshire Gold, 3Bs and Bees Organic. The brewery also brews an award-winning lager: 1843.
As Nicky Godding from Arkell’s explains, “Groups can book to tour the brewery, but as it’s a working brewery and not a public tourist attraction, dates available to tour the brewery are booked up fairly long in advance. Groups are not charged to tour the brewery, but are asked to make a contribution either to the food or a local charity.” At the brewery you can watch the brewing process in action, sample a beer, and eat a wholesome pub meal. As Nicky tells us, this is an exciting time for Arkell’s, as their Kingsdown brew was named Champion Beer in the 2016 Taste of the West Product Awards earlier this month.
One of the most well-known breweries in Wiltshire, Wadworth Brewery is a huge attraction for many people on holiday in Wiltshire. In the heart of Devizes, you can visit the brewery shop and visitor centre to see old brewing memorabilia, hand-painted pub signs and venture into the sampling bar to try out their hand-crafted ales in their place of origin. They even offer award-winning guided tours of the family-owned brewery from 11am-2pm for £11 each, where you will be led through the Victorian Tower Brewery to see their ancient brewing methods, and the 21st century Copper House to witness how this technology has developed.
If you’re more of a fan of cider, there are still plenty of fascinating venues to visit, such as premium Wiltshire cider producers, Circle Cider. Their unique ciders are lighter than the usual West Country style, using locally-grown fruit. Set up by cider entrepreneur Nick Howard in 2011, they have quickly become known for their delicious medium sweet to dry ciders. In 2015 they were awarded the Taste of the West Awards for their ciders Butchers Boy and RoundAbout.
Events to catch
The Wiltshire community is proud of its ales, ciders and its pubs. So, depending on where you visit and at which time of year, you may be able to catch one of Wiltshire’s many beer festivals. This is the perfect way to kick off or finish a pub crawl, allowing you to sample from a wide selection of drinks, taste some delicious food, listen to local bands and soak up the atmosphere.
Wilts & Berks Canal Trust Winter Ales, Cider & Sausage Festival
On 12th November 2016, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust will host their popular Winter Ales, Cider and Sausage Festival in Melksham. There will be a range of 10 delicious winter beers from independent local breweries on offer, ranging from 3.8% up to 7% ABV proof. This is the perfect chance to try something a little different from what you usually find in the pub. There will also be a couple of local ciders and a selection of tasty sausages from Newman’s Butchers as an accompaniment. Dave Maloney from the Trust explains: “Monies raised from the festival will go towards the restoration of the local Wilts & Berks Canal which runs from Melksham to Abingdon and is currently the UK's longest canal restoration. Details on where to access the canal for walkers and cyclists can be found at www.wbct.org.uk.”
Get ready for the New Year, because Salisbury Winterfest is set to be big! Run by Salisbury CAMRA on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th January 2016, this renowned beer festival is set to feature specialist ales such as Hop Back’s Winter Lightning, Keystone’s Porter, Nethergate’s Hair of the Dog, and, from a little further afield, Cornish Crown’s Red IPA. CAMRA members even get a free beer token.
Later on in the year, there are plenty of summer beer festivals to catch, including Chippenham Beer Festival, usually held in April, which saw 1900 visitors in 2016; the Real Ale and Cider Festival hosted by Swindon and Cricklade Railway - Wiltshire’s only standard gauge Heritage Railway - and Devizes Beer Festival in July, which includes a souvenir glass and £4 worth of tokens. In the early autumn, catch Burbage Beer, Cider and Music Festival in September, which boasts over 40 guest beers plus a 6-a-side cricket festival and Langford Beer and Cider Festival, also in September, which also features a wine tent, and this year raised over £350 for Macmillan Cancer Support.