The Golden Ball pub in Snatchems is back from the brink
PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 May 2013
An isolated Lancaster pub has been brought back from the dead, as Paul Mackenzie reports
Pubs are closing at an alarming rate and those in the greatest danger are remote rural inns with little passing trade. But the Golden Ball near Lancaster is bucking that trend. The historic pub beside the Lune is not only hidden down a quiet lane well away from the beaten track, but it is also cut off by the river at high tide.
Two years after being boarded up, the Golden Ball is enjoying a renaissance, with a new landlord, a new look, big plans and an award already behind the bar. Steve Hunt returned from a stint running a bar in Mallorca to take over the 16th century inn and immediately set about a revamp. ‘I came here in February 2011 and it was boarded up and in a sorry state,’ he said.
‘With the bypass, the smoking ban, its location, rising beer prices and competition from supermarkets, places like this have really suffered. They do OK in the summer, but it has got to be a year-round business.’
Steve, who spent 20 years in the Royal Engineers, had previously run the Scale Hall pub about a mile from the Golden Ball but moved to Spain with his children, Joseph and Nicole.
‘When my daughter was looking at coming back to go university in this country I started to look online for a pub to run. I found that there was a campaign being run to keep this place as a pub. It had been closed and its future was uncertain. I did some research, then I swapped my life in the sun for this place.’
The Grade II listed inn has three small rooms downstairs and is known locally as Snatchems, which is possibly a reference to Lancaster’s days as a major port – tall ships passing on the Lune are said to have made up a shortfall in crew by snatching drinkers from the riverside inn.
For the last 100 or so years the pub was owned by Lancaster brewers Mitchell’s and for much of that time it stood on the main road Overton but since the bypass was built the Golden Ball has stood in splendid and almost total isolation. And that sense of remoteness increases at high tide when the river covers the road and leaves the pub inaccessible to all but river traffic and the wealth of birdlife found here.
Since his return to Lancaster, Steve has added a children’s play area and a stylish new function room in a glass-fronted extension to the first floor which makes the most of the stunning views of the Lune. He has also launched a loyalty card scheme and is planning to build motel-style accommodation on land behind the pub.
Last December Steve was presented with the Most Improved Pub of the Year award by the Lunesdale branch of Camra and Jenny Greenhalgh, the branch chairman, said: ‘I have always been fond of this pub, I must have been coming here for 40 years and it would have been a great shame if it had closed permanently.
‘It was the best news for the place in donkeys’ years that Steve was going to take it on and he has done a lot in a very short space of time. The Golden Ball has always been a special place.
‘Ever since Camra began we have been interested not only in good ale, but also in preserving historically interesting pubs and this one is certainly historic. We support the pub as well as the beer.
‘These are difficult times for pubs across the country but it is usually the country pubs that are hardest hit. It’s very difficult to make a business out of a rural pub but I think Steve has the right ingredients.’
The Golden Ball is on Lancaster Road, Snatchems, near Lancaster, LA3 3ER. It’s signposted from the A683 between Lancaster and Heysham.