It was a bright cold day in April. The clocks had not yet struck thirteen, but there were a fair few folk ambling around one of Northamptonshire’s finest beauty spots.
The tiny village of Stoke Bruerne sits around ten miles north of Milton Keynes and seven miles south of Northampton on the Grand Union Canal. There are pretty stone houses with thatched to admire, a canal museum, and two pubs competing for custom from locals, tourists, boat trippers, and walkers (best bring a dog). Our pub of choice is The Boat.
After stopping for a photo session by the canal locks, we unlocked two heavy wooden doors and entered the tiny public bar. Most visitors favour the spacious lounge bar, but I like to go traditional and take a seat in the public bar. This is where the locals usually frequent, so there’s always the chance that you’ll get questioned by nosy parkers wanting to know where you come from, and what business you have in their village. Sure enough, a local farmer enquired, in a rural passive-aggressive tone, whether we were passing through. I didn’t know you needed a visa to gain entrance, but I had my driving licence ready should he suspect me of being a London carpet-bagger looking to turn his local into luxury commuter flats (it happens). He seemed satisfied with the explanation that my wife and I had made a special trip from Leighton Buzzard, thirty miles away, and that I hadn’t been here for eight years after moving from Northampton. He thankfully said no more to us, and turned his attention to a line of six visitors, barking at them to close the bar door as they filed through into the lounge. They quickly formed the impression the lounge bar would be more welcoming on this occasion. This farmer was clearly of the “Get orf my land!” type who liked chasing tourists with a pitchfork. Or a shotgun.
Food isn’t cheap, but our chicken burger and southern fried chicken strips were decent enough. There’s a good choice of drinks, including five real ales. There’s a really nice upstairs restaurant, but it doesn’t open Saturday lunchtimes.
In a week where we’d had snow, a real fire glowed to our right. Photos of local characters from bygone ages adorned the walls. In another room there’s a Northamptonshire Skittles set-up. This is a rarity, even in Northamptonshire.
Despite grumpy farmers, The Boat is a fine example of a great traditional pub. It was a fine opening to the Spring season.