Do stay for tea and coffee: Three friends, the landlord, and the pub dog
Paul Kerensa remembers his favourite pub visit
I’d like to tell you about my favourite ever trip to a pub. I’ve not chosen packed-pub chaos or even my legendary Britney Spears karaoke warble. Instead, the one I think of most may be the quietest pub I’ve ever been to. No one there but me, three friends, the landlord, and the pub dog.
We were visiting Kingsand, a smuggler’s cove of a village that used to be in Devon, now it’s in Cornwall (yes, even the village is stolen goods). It’s a beautiful sun spot, probably. I wouldn’t know; we visited off peak in a bleak February. Only a fool would have a few days by the sea in one of the wettest winters on record – but I’ve always enjoyed the company of fools.
It was 20 years ago and we were in search of an ale. The approach to the pub was through a narrow coastal lane, waves mounting the harbour wall as we tried to pass. Time it right, or you’re having a pint with wet shoes.
I remember opening the door of the Devonport Inn, wet and wind-battered, to find a roaring fire, a wagging tail, and a barman who thought he might earn a tenner from us if he was lucky. Pints in tankards, bags of crisps torn down the middle to share, and our pick of tables – fireside of course, I had socks to dry. The dog joined us. The quiz night was cancelled, so we invented our own. All was well with the world, but we set it to rights anyway.
We’d have stayed forever, but no, the closing time bell rang (he could have just told us, but bells have charm). The wild weather awaited us, after our brief shelter from the storm.
The next day, a drier, brighter Sunday, I went to another sort of public house: God’s house, Cawsand Congregational Church. The pub was right by the sea, but the church was right on the sea – almost built into the harbour wall. It struck me that the biblical images of storms and shelter must feel more visceral here. In the Psalms, God quietens the storm, hushes the waves. In Isaiah, storms rage on, but God provides shelter. Hearing those waves lashing the wall, I appreciated sanctuary all the more.
I’ve thought of Kingsand often through the harsh winter we’ve just had. When I’m walking the dog in all weathers, rain-soaked and wind-battered, I recall the fierce Atlantic, and the huge sense of relief, welcome, friendship, and a dog by a crackling fire. And I’ve not even mentioned the Cornish ale. Or was it Devon?
A decade and a half on, I’m very much in touch with those three friends. Each has since had children, to whom I’m godfather, godfather and father (reader, I married her). But through 20 years of knowing them, the warmth of that pub sticks out as a time of comfort and peace. Although maybe that’s because we’ve since had kids.
From pub to church, from coast to coast, these are hubs of our communities. I felt inspired by the generations of sailors (and smugglers) who’d found refuge in either building. A pint in one, a prayer in the other, solace and safety after the storms outside. May they reopen strong, and keep on serving.
In the meantime, their community and care might be relocated: online or over garden fences. It’s great to know, though, that those warm welcomes are still waiting for us, with shared crisps and pub dogs. After a storm like this one, I’ll need somewhere to dry my socks.
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and radio broadcaster
This article was published in the April 2021 edition of Reform