Here - There - Somewhere travel blog

Early Iron Bridge

Daisy Carpet

The Black Bull

His Terrible Future


Once upon a time not so long ago, a travelling couple was wandering through the ancient frontier of Roman Britain whilst the sky slowly turned to a thousand shades of grey. Seeking shelter and a cosy bed for the night as the bleak heavens released their load of moisture, our intrepid travellers sought refuge in the tiny village of Haltwhistle.

Having secured their lodging, the beamy faced maid directed the thirsty travellers to a wee inn tucked away in a tiny lane behind the edifice of the large block building housing the Bengali Takeaway and dominating Market Place A few sodden souls trudged the paths in search of their own haven or to meet a likeminded soul to whom they could relate their latest day of travail. The occasional car or lorry wound its way down High Street. A young lass, protected by a bright red pinafore, carefully placed the sandwich board outside the inevitable fish and chip shop to proudly announce the evening opening. Another travelling couple tried in vain to raise the interest of the taverner at the Manor House Hotel with its freshly painted sign stating rooms available but doors securely locked.

Our heroes stepped into the lane to espy the Black Bull Inn resplendent in its white washed walls, black door and colourful blooms that appear at every turn as one travels the byways of Britain. The door, as it should be, is just high enough to allow a general of Napoleon’s stature through without stooping. Once safely ensconced within our intrepid couple take two stools at one of the six or so tiny tables in order to assess the worthiness of the establishment as a dining and drinking venue. This is, of course, thirsty work thus enquiries are made with the barman sporting a T Shirt stating that ‘I have lost my energy but if you find it please don’t call me as I am happy and content’. When asked what the cricket score is, the purveyor of ales reveals a personality as exciting as wet cupboard by just pointing at a television screen from the 60’s and grunting something indecipherable.

There is a selection of 6 fine local ales, two lagers – one of which is Fosters – and a couple of ciders which appear to be very popular with the occupants of the Soggy Isles. They settle on the ‘not-Fosters’ since the ales are pulled straight from a barrel and are at a cool. but hardly cold, temperature.

This could well have been an animal shelter or a barn or a milking shed in bygone days but the suspicion is that it has been an inn for many a year even though the space would barely accommodate a bull and about three or so of his dairy harem. The place has charm. The walls are decorated with crooked frames encasing dubious prints and bookcases displaying well thumbed books whilst the low, exposed rafters are covered with what appear to be metal badges of indeterminable origin. Over the bar hang a number of pewter mugs, each of which is later discovered to belong to the regulars. The floor timbers are dark with the polish of generations of shoes and boots and wellingtons. There is food to be had and the menu is presented in a nice black hide cover within which such delights as ‘Giant Yorkie filled with mash, onions and sausages’, ‘Liver and Onion’, and ‘Gammon with Pineapple and Chips’ can be read. The structure entices with its whispering promise that here our travellers can rest, ease their thirst and take sustenance.

It was just as he was settling into the romance of the place, that our masculine hero saw his horrid future. There, solidly affixed to his barely capable seat, sat a man with a girth the size of Lord’s hallowed ground. Staring straight ahead into nothing he took steady slow swigs from, what appeared to be, a glass of Tia Maria until emptied at which time he silently took two steps to the bar where a replacement awaited him. This was enough to awaken forgotten thoughts in our hero’s cranium, vowing immediately to diet as soon as he left this place; well maybe at the end of his adventure.

Cardboard Man neatly wrote on the specials board that ‘Sausage and Onion Baguette with Salad and Chips’ and ‘Breaded Scampi with Salad and Chips’ were now being prepared by the chef in addition to the wonders of the regular menu. Since our heroes pride themselves on having well tutored gourmet palates they immediately seized upon the sausage baguette to be shared between them accompanied by vegetable soup (announced as vegetable broth but then later corrected to soup) and Brussels pâté.

The door opens and in ducks a man wearing a beard and looking like Peggy-Ann’s brother’s mate ‘Rockin’ Robbin’. He gets himself a slowly pulled pint, savouring it whilst chatting to another newly arrived local who could have well been Colin McDougal’s (a Sydneysider) twin. Rockin’ retires to a stool sitting alone reading his book as the small space heats up with the arrival of an every increasing number of folk. There are characters from Peggy-Ann’s father’s local back in Sydney, some English Sex and the City types whose conversation about their own sex lives occasionally drifts our way, the well dressed, the scruffy and the lost. All are at ease and the little inn comfortably and unpretentiously offers them all a shelter and a commune against the harshness of the weather outside. It feels just right.

Our heroes, watch slowly consuming their simple hearty food, attempt to drink the ‘house’ wine of provenance unknown finishing off with a fine malt scotch whilst enjoying the human pantomime unfolding around them. The show comes to an end as couples, groups and loners quit the inn on missions personal for the remainder of the evening - not one, amazingly, banging their head on the low door frame. Our heroes also quit The Black Bull as it winds down and archives another small chapter in its long life. Those tales would be well worth a read.

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