Dear Reader: Revival of community pubs + rural decline

Rejuvenated - The Knox Arms in Harrogate.
Rejuvenated - The Knox Arms in Harrogate.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

I hadn’t set foot inside this particular Harrogate pub for nearly 20 years until I sat down for lunch there last week.

It was a relief to see how The Knox Arms – now known as The Knox - had once again turned into a thriving community pub at the heart of Bilton or its far end, rather.

It’s not the only one. There seems to be a general fightback in our district by the straight-forward, down-to-earth, old-fashioned pub, albeit with an awareness of customers’ needs in the modern age.

Refurbishments and reopenings abound, from Mother Shipton’s pub in Knaresborough to The Inn at South Stainley near Ripon to The Empress in Harrogate, oh, and The Knox.

The growth of independents is the obvious response to the question posed by national chains and growing efforts to create a genuine ‘indie’ spirit by local people like Paul Rawlinson who owns both Baltzersens café and Norse restaurant in Harrogate are a good sign.

I like craft beer bars and I’m a big fan of the beer they serve but what people really want is choice.

Things have changed partly because the good old days of the pub had their bad points, too.

I well remember many enjoyable nights in a favourite haunt for live gigs a good while back.

The landlord, who I liked on a personal level, had a bad habit of manhandling you - and that’s not a euphemism - without warning.

Even a journalist from the Harrogate Advertiser wasn’t spared.

Nowadays it would be called ‘bullying’ but at the time I put it down to a robust sense of humour. And I stick to that opinion.

If you happen to take a drive past the turn-off for this newspaper’s main office in Cardale Park on Beckwith Head Road in Harrogate and look towards the horizon you will get a glimpse of what the future may look like.

After months of noise and dirt and drilling and digging the rutted and slightly ramshackle country road to the rural backwoods is no more.

In its place lies a nice, smooth black road with clean white road markings and neat pavements .

New street lighting dotted along the transformed road at regular intervals says this is now an urban area – or soon may be.

From the window behind me in the office it’s still possible to hear the patter of hooves as the occasional horse and rider potters down the hill beneath the bright gaze of the rows of stick-like poles.

But these living reminders of the country life style and the area’s rural past now look a little out of place.

At night time in the dark when all that is visible are dots of illumination from the new street lights it’s easy to assume they are there for the benefit of the residents of a new housing development.

But, in fact, there are no new houses. The lamps mark nothing but empty fields.

A clear case of the lights being on without anyone being at home. For the moment, at least.