Done Roman? Troop to the pub!

Around 130 AD, a legionary gazed out from his sentry post at Steel Rigg on the newly-constructed Hadrian's Wall.

Around 130 AD, a legionary gazed out from his sentry post at Steel Rigg on the newly-constructed Hadrian's Wall.

After the driving rain and low cloud had cleared, the soldier in the Sixth Roman Legion could pick out features 20 miles to the south, but he was weary, he was hungry and he was thirsty. Had there been a pub on the Stanegate road that stretched below him from Luguvalium to Coria (Carlisle to Corbridge), he'd have headed straight for it; he would have wined, dined and crawled into a soft comfortable bed.

In effect, he'd have gone AWOL from the Wall. It would henceforth be known to his fellow conscripts as The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

The pub arrived 1,500 years too late for Brutus Britannicus, not opening until the 17th Century as a coaching inn where today fatigued, limb-aching walkers take a well-deserved rest over lunch and a pint - and perhaps they'll come back later to spend the night.

The Twice Brewed Inn on the B6318 Military Road above Haydon Bridge in Northumberland - a-would-have-been godsend to Emperor Hadrian's troops - is still a welcome stop-over.

It is one of more than 500 in a new book, Beer, Bed & Breakfast by Jill Adam and Susan Novak (Camra Books, £14.99), which details the best of British pubs to stay in and to enjoy decent beer and a hearty breakfast.

Some of them, like The Keelman at Newburn, Newcastle, and the New Inn at Cropton on the North York Moors, double up as breweries.

Temptingly, at the Ferry Inn, Cawood, near York, there's a breakfast choice of eggs Benedict - honey-roast ham and poached eggs on a muffin; eggs Florentine - fresh baby spinach and poached eggs with hollandaise, also on a muffin, or smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and mushrooms on brown toast.

The Ferry Inn beer list includes Deuchar's IPA (3.8% alcohol by volume), Timothy Taylor's Landlord, (4.3% ABV) Theakston Best Bitter (3.8% ABV) and a selection of guest ales. One Lake District pub advises a tot of whisky on your porridge.

Hadrian's Wall is a short, but uphill, stroll away from the Twice Brewed Inn front door. A good proportion of landlord Brian Keene's customers tackle the National Trail which allows walkers to explore the entire 73-mile length of the World Heritage Site.

Dramatic sections of wall dip and rise along the escarpment overlooking Crag Lough; the photogenic Steel Rigg is a breathtaking sight and the highest point at Winshields Crags frames the high horizon.

Sycamore Gap, with its single tree made famous by the 1991 movie, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, is a bow-and-arrow shot distant.

Even midweek there are between 40 and 50 customers in the pub, some dining, most drinking, one appearing to be doing paperwork. A few passers-by are breaking their journey, but the majority are walkers, at least one of them nursing sore feet; there is a company of Americans and a party heading for Cartmel in Cumbria.

Brian, your typical, charming, chatty Liverpudlian, invites them to stay on for the evening quiz.

"It got on Radio 5 as the worst in the country," he says. "They had been going on about how pub quizzes can get far too serious and that someone had been barred from one because they were too good. Here, we don't care if you cheat and we have lousy prizes, but we have a great night. We once had a prize for the best sleeper; customers were walking in and finding 40 people fast asleep."

Brian and wife Pauline have built up trade so well in the five-and-a-bit years they have been in the pub (they previously ran the next-door Youth Hostel for 24 years) that the local council has installed a bottle bank.

"What a bit of work that saves," he says. "It's been getting better year on year - the whole area is getting better.

"More and more people know we're open all day. We're getting a load of walkers through and a lot of trade from our Good Beer Guide entry - we're made up about that.

"We're getting Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians from the ferries and we're now a major tourist pub - as it should have always been. People love the quietness around here."

A computer room is particularly well used by ramblers who check emails, book onward accommodation and arrange travel. There are five double rooms, one family room, six twins and two singles, none of which is currently occupied by a Roman soldier.

A wooden toilet seat hangs on the bar wall, virtually lost amongst the photographs, prints and paintings of the locality. It's dotted with engraved silver shields and is presented annually to The Team Seated Bottom of Allen Valley Quoits League.

"It's a fight to get that," says Brian. "People have thrown games for it."

Five handpulls endorsing cask-conditioned beers stand to attention on the bar: Geltsdale Finest Golden Ale (4% ABV) from Brampton; Houston Killellan Bitter (3.7% ABV); Barngates Brewery Westmorland Gold (4.2% ABV); High House Farm Nel's Best (4.2% ABV) and Twice Brewed Bitter (3.9% ABV), a very grainy-flavoured beer from Yates Brewery in Cumbria with an initial sweetness and the slightest touch of hop on the aroma and on the palate.

"We use all the local breweries," says Brian. "Barefoot from Northumberland are doing some great beers - the locals like our regular ones but sometimes we find out what we're getting when we get it. Budweiser Budvar is selling well too, our customers love it: there's no comparison between that and Stella.

"We use local produce where we can find it. We got a silver award for our green credentials - for example, it's only Fair Trade coffee we use."

He points to the lunch menu offering Northumbrian beef and Guinness cobbler, Northumbrian farmhouse sausages, Northumbrian beef or veggie burger and a lentil pie (£5.75) that looks so inviting it would induce a confirmed meat eater to suspend his vegetarian discrimination - and not simply because it includes the addictive word `pie'.

"Vindolanda (the nearby Roman fort) is now open during the winter," says Brian. "They were surprised by the numbers it has attracted. It's like I always say, if you're not open you just don't know... but we want people to realise there's a lot more going on around here than the Roman stuff.

"It all adds up and it's an upward trend. Put it this way, we're making less loss each winter. We're giving people what they want, not what we think they want. The staff listen to our customers. For example, there's no pool table here because the people who come don't want it."

There are several theories to why the isolated pub is called Twice Brewed. A story involving General Wade - who built the Military Road- where the beer his workforce was offered was so bad they asked for it to be brewed again, is nice but unlikely. A similar tale is attributed to nervous soldiers before the Battle of Hexham (1464) though the accepted hypothesis is that it involves brows and hills.

Brian says: "Archaeological maps identify this spot as Twice Brewed - long before there was a pub here - and the most likely explanation is that it was a meeting point of two drover roads that came together between two `brews'. Nothing to do with beer."

With its brews and brews, its B6318, beef burgers, Brutus Britannicus and Budweiser Budvar, could this be the b-all-and-end-all of B&Bs? A lousy prize awaits the correct answer.

* Visit www.hadrianswall-accommodation.co.uk

alastair.gilmour@ncjmedia.co.uk

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