There are few things nicer than sitting beside an open fire, with a glass of real ale in one hand and a good book in the other, in a historic pub.
In Hay-on-Wye, we are spoilt for choice. There's Kilverts - the bar area there looks quite different to the way it looked when I first came to Hay, but it has a constantly changing array of guest ales and an open fire. I usually spend an afternoon a week in there, while my washing is at the launderette - there's just time for an unhurried half and a chapter or so. The Blue Boar also scores highly on the real fire and real ale front, and so does the Rose and Crown. The Three Tuns has been extensively renovated after a fire, but it is one of the oldest buildings in Hay and the renovations were very sympathetic to the fabric of the building, as well as opening up areas that had never been on public view before (there's an area upstairs between the beams that used to be Lucy's bathroom - Lucy being the old landlady who ran it for many years before the fire). The Black Lion is more orientated towards food, but the building is very fine. I was once taken down into the cellar to look at their medieval flooring, and one of their guest rooms is known as the Cromwell Room, from a story that Cromwell once stayed there.
When we last went to Manchester, we visited the Shambles, or the Old Wellington - a building that was lifted four feet back in the 1970s to fit in with the design of the new Arndale Centre, and more recently was shifted bodily to nestle beside the Cathedral after the IRA bomb that prompted extensive re-building. (I've met more than one Mancunian who cheered when that IRA bomb went off; I was one of them. The original Arndale Centre design was not well loved!)
When I go down to see my Young Man, in London, he tries to take me to pubs that he thinks are particularly special. In Southwark, it was the George, now the subject of Pete Brown's latest beer-related book, Shakespeare's Local. It's a magnificent building, which might indeed have been Shakespeare's local, as well as Dickens' local - and Chaucer's pilgrims set off from another inn just down the road.
I love Southwark - there's the Borough Market huddling under the railway arches, with an exceptionally fine beer stall and a small pub called the Rake which seems to be where small brewers from all over the country end up when they're in the capital. No real fire, but more real ale than you can shake a stick at, and a pleasant little garden area. Scenes from the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang were filmed just outside the Clink prison, and there's the Cathedral, and the wine and whisky emporium - and the Globe, and the Golden Hind - and a sparkly pavement under a bridge that always makes me smile!
Wonderful as Southwark is, though (and there are other pubs we have visited there which are also rather fine), it's nice to venture out to other parts of London to see what's there.
So I was rather pleased to find a copy of London Heritage Pubs by Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote, which is a beautifully illustrated tour of historic pubs in London. It was published by CAMRA, so there's an interest in the beers that are served in the pubs as well as the fabric of the buildings. And what fabric! The Young Man has mentioned taking me to the Black Friar at Blackfriars, but we haven't made it yet - the pictures of the interior in this book make me want to make the effort very soon!
There's polished wood, gleaming Victorian tiles, stained glass and ornate pub signs, beams and mirrors and wrought iron work.... It's going to take a long time to visit all of the pubs mentioned in the book - but there are worse ambitions in life!