- Rick O'Shay
The Albert Inn - Totnes
The Albert Inn is a traditional pub in Bridgetown, Totnes.
Bridgetown is actually a part of Totnes but is divided from Totnes itself by the River Dart.
It came into existence as a result of the first bridge being built across the river valley at Totnes. Bridgetown is on the south eastern side, directly opposite Totnes itself.
Upon the sign that announces the entry to Totnes, underneath the town name has been added, ‘Twinned with Narnia’ and certainly this unspoilt medieval market town in South Devon has a sizeable alternative and New Age community, and is known as a place of bohemian lifestyle.
It is a thriving centre for music, art, theatre and natural health.
It is also said to have a higher concentration of healers, channellers and psychics than anywhere else on Earth, including Glastonbury.
The Society of Homeopaths has its education office here and the local radio station broadcasts a weekly show on astrology.
Certainly there is a strong sense of offbeat whimsy and weirdness, but the words that immediately spring to mind as you enter the Albert Inn are ‘traditional’ and ‘character.’
There are two bars and each of them ooze quirkiness and charm. The whole pub seems to be suspended in an aspic of timelessness.
There is a real sense of other worldliness here, but more in a kind of time warped implacability – a sense that things will never change here…. and you are glad for it.
All of the ale served in The Albert is brewed in a backyard annexe, which once served as a chapel of rest. Guest beers are offered too on an ad hoc basis but to taste the Bridgetown Brewery Beers, you have to come to The Albert Inn.
The quirkiness continues on to the food menu as well.
On the Specials board was advertised ‘Gert Big Pasty’ along with a huge range of drinks, traditional home-made pies and curries.
The pub is over 300 years old and was originally two drover’s cottages and there is also a sheltered beer garden at the rear.
Despite the pub being amongst many that took their title from Prince Albert, The Albert has been nicknamed the ‘Einstein’ purportedly due to the high intellectual calibre of the customers.
The rather splendid inn sign outside the pub, erected by a previous landlord, shows Albert Einstein with a number of equations, a pint of beer, and a mushroom cloud.
Present licensee, Giles, has just celebrated his tenth year as licensee and has no plans to change a single thing.
Surprisingly, Giles did not have a clue about brewing when he first moved here from The Royal Oak at Ashburton, but his enthusiasm and passion were contagious.
He said, “I was simply told to move in here and start brewing beer, so I bought some second hand brewing vessels and learnt as I went along.”
His resultant Bridgetown Brewery now thrives, producing Albert Ale (the best seller) Bridgetown Bitter, West Coast IPA, and Shark Island Stout.
Third of a pint beer taster racks are available, though I stuck with full pints of the Bridgetown Bitter and Albert Ale.
The Bridgetown Bitter is a mahogany coloured ale with a biscuit and pine nose. It is full of oaty malt tones with a zestiness that belies its appearance. At 4.2% it is a fine British bitter and a good session beer, totally in keeping with the pub.
Next I tried the best-selling Albert Ale, which at 3.8% felt predictably thinner. It was more of a burnished tan colour, with a thin creamy head that dissipates fairly quickly.
It has a nose of wheat, malt and some light grassy notes.
The taste starts with a bready malt wheatiness while grass flavours re-emerge in the middle.
Albert Ale is light bodied and the overall bitterness is quite sharp like an IPA but it fades to a wonderful creamy smooth finish that is both enjoyable and surprising.
A worthy best-seller.
Our friend the vicar fell in love instantly with the Shark island Stout at 4.5%.
Of course, I had to have a taste as well and agreed with him that it was a terrific pint.
It filled all the tick boxes for a good stout. A distinctive aroma of dark chocolate; black in colour with a cream coloured head.
This stout was brimming with gentle roasted coffee and chocolate flavours, hints of liquorice and dark fruits. It was smooth and dark with a texture and sensation of swallowing single cream: hugely enjoyable.
Around us, in amongst the other charmingly cluttered and unspoilt pub furniture was a collection of old snuff boxes that had pride of place on the wall of the lounge.
They seemed well at home snuggling underneath the beamed ceiling and timber plank panelling.
In the passage that leads out past the brewery to the beer garden, is a bar billiards table, which lamentably, is no longer common place, having been replaced by brash and gaudy pool tables. But this will never happen in the Albert.
Our welcome was warm and the service attentive and helpful and it wasn’t long before we shared conversation with three locals, as well as the resident dog, Albert.
We were tucked away in the small Lounge Bar whilst a live trio played gently in the Public Bar next door.
The locals had demonstrated an eager curiosity as to why I was taking photographs and it proved to be an excellent conversation prompt.
This was clearly a very friendly and unpretentious pub.
Hidden behind some clutter and signage was a model of the pub fascia on the wall featuring the Albert Inn frontage resplendent in a slate tile filled clad.
We were informed that only two of the buildings facing the main street have their rear elevations clad in this way, whilst at front; the Albert Inn is alone in having its upper floors completely covered.
The pub has also exhibited ghostly manifestations.
These include a man seated at a table in the back bar with a small black dog.
Some people have claimed to see a Roman warrior.
There are also legends of giants but it has to be remembered that we were in Totnes, so some of the sightings could have been the influence of something other than incense oil.
That said, a local Ghost Walk sets out from The Albert Inn on a fairly regular basis and guides parties through the town’s sites of most haunting.
All too soon, it was time for us to leave, though we did have to negotiate our way through a full bar and past a sax player on the way out. Nobody batted an eyelid.
On the slate fronted edge of Narnia, we left behind us a small haven for beer drinkers. A stop off for pasty lovers and a haunt , not just for ghosts and crusty bohemians, but also a proper boozer with real pub characters fighting back in defiance against the channellers, psychics and yoghurt weavers. The management and regulars in the Albert Inn are embracing the new age whist keeping their eccentric feet rooted firmly in past tradition.
We enjoyed our visit immensely and resolved to come back again, certain in the knowledge that whenever that may be, the welcome will be as real as the ale and nothing; absolutely nothing will have changed.
And I’ll drink to that.