Session #134 Beer Gardens

For the 134th edition of The Session, in which beer bloggers around the world write on the same topic, Tom Cizauskas has asked us to think about beer gardens.

When I saw that beer gardens would be the topic of The Session I was rather taken aback. It was the middle of March and there was still snow on the ground in Suffolk - the last remnants of the Beast from the East. But it got me looking forward to the summer, which was a pleasant diversion.

As a morris dancer, I have spent more than my fair share of time drinking outside pubs instead of in them. As a general rule there isn't enough space for morris dancing indoors; although it has been known. However, we also don't often dance in beer gardens. Grass is a terrible surface for morris dancing and patios are usually full of tables and benches. So we often end up dancing on the road outside village pubs. Two of my favourite pubs in recent years have been the Blaxhall Ship and the Sweffling White Horse.

The Ship does boast a patio area overlooking the road at the front of the pub, and, rather more scenically, fields, hedgerows and the church of St Peter at Blaxhall in the distance. In the summer it is usually nice and colourful thanks to various plants and hanging baskets, but I wouldn't call it a beer garden really. It is though, a pleasant spot to gaze out over the countryside while supping a pint. The road is virtually deserted - right up until the moment the morris dancing starts when a convoy of tractors inevitably appears - making it quite an idyllic spot.

Pretty Grim Border Morris outside the Blaxhall Ship

At The White Horse in Sweffling even the audience has to join us in the road! There is a bench against the wall and a single table, but not nearly enough to accomodate all of Sweffling's morris fans.

Pretty Grim at the Sweffling White Horse

There is in fact a small beer garden to the side of the pub but I don't think it is very much used. Unlike the Ship, there is no view to speak of, but there always seems to be birdsong in the air. 

I think that maybe I am easily pleased when it comes to beer gardens; all I need is a good beer and some fresh air. On the other hand, there are some really rather good beer gardens around and I do appreciate them too. My local paper published a list of 16 glorious Suffolk pubs with beer gardens last summer. I have only visited four of them myself, and one of them I'm not convinced deserves its spot on this list - it would probably be churlish to name and shame it! So I clearly need to do some more research on this issue once the summer gets here. However, I think I can make a good case for the addition of one pub that didn't make the cut.

The Eel's Foot in Eastbridge actually made it onto a similar national list last April so I don't feel that I am going out on a limb in recommending it. I first started using the beer garden at the Eel's foot about 15 years ago, when it was pretty much just an empty expanse of grass with a couple of tables scattered near the pub. I have fond memories of pitching up with a tent, a backpack and my five year old son for an overnight stay as we hiked down the Suffolk coast. Since then there have been a series of improvements to the garden. A sloping area has been terraced with attractive planting in raised beds.

Tulips in Eastbridge
There are now two pieces of climbing apparatus, which I am sure my five year old would have appreciated, six petanque pistes, and a wood fired pizza oven. During the summer many of the tables are used by diners, but drinkers are equally welcome. As a child and dog friendly pub the garden is often quite a lively space, even so it is also a pleasant and relaxing garden. It might not yet be quite warm enough but I am already looking forward to a Sunday afternoon here.


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