The Gold Rush
I walk past this pub nearly every day, but I confess I drink here very infrequently. It’s a tall, thin Victorian building that sits in the corner of the Worcester Street car park, adjacent to the Castle Mill Stream. The site of Nuffield College opposite used to be Oxford’s canal basin, which was then filled in and relocated to the site of the car park, so the pub would once have served boating folk, though I’m not sure they needed a lighthouse to assist them in avoiding shipwreck.
This pub featured on the front cover of the Oxford, Witney and Abingdon Pub Guide, when it was called the Duke’s Cut, back in 2011. It became the Lighthouse six years ago, and its décor now includes some interesting nautical items, despite being so far from the sea. Cocktails and background jazz seem to be to the fore, but two beers from Marson’s are sold. I passed on the Lancaster Bomber and went for the locally-brewed Brakspear Oxford Gold, served in a handle glass, and an excellent pint it was! Gold rating: pure gold.
Cow and Creek (#20)
Buoyed by my discovery, my gold-seeking expedition took me to the Cow and Creek, another Marston’s pub with an American diner feel: burgers, steaks, wings and restrooms. The name is supposedly a take on Ox (cow) and Ford (creek), making “Oxford”. Geddit? Well, it’s a bit tenuous, so I put forward my version, the Heifer and Zephyr. It might catch on.
To keep in with the US theme, there are a couple of American craft beers in the fridge -Shipyard from Maine and Founders from Michigan - but seeing I was seeking Gold, I took another pint of the Brakspear Oxford variety, at a bargain (I thought) price.
Part of the enjoyment of real ale is the variety of styles and flavours, and, as I was about to prove, the same beer tried in two different places can taste very different from one another. Whether this is a good thing is open to debate, and can be due to a number of factors such as how new the barrel is and how clean the lines are. Suffice to say, the second time I struck gold was not a pleasurable experience, to the extent that I left some of my haul behind. Not such a bargain after all. Gold rating: fool’s gold.
The trip to the Castle was for a CAMRA gathering, and a different brand of Gold: Hook Norton. Oxfordshire’s oldest brewery acquired it when it was a run-down former Greene King pub in a bit of a wasteland next to the concrete Westgate. Fast forward a couple of years and it’s now in position A on the edge of the new Westgate, next to the all the bus stops, and soon to be bang next-door to a new hotel. A shrewd buy.
The Gold here was excellent, though I only tried a small one, as there were other beers to try out too. The Castle will feature in a future crawl, so I’ll say more then, but suffice to say, it’s worth a look. Gold rating: 24 Karat.
Oxford Retreat (#22)
My quest for gold was further enhanced a couple of days later, whilst waiting for a train. Oxford Station lacks a lot of things, often trains, but a pub on the station would make the suffering from delays and cancellations or even waiting on a cold day a little more bearable. Sadly, it lacks a Head of Steam, or a Station Buffet (check out the one at Stalybridge), so the best waiting rooms are located five minutes’ walk away.
The Retreat was once the Nag’s Head and was built in 1939 adjacent to the Mill Stream, close to the canal basin. The interior has been opened out into an L-shape, served by a single bar, and there is a function room upstairs and a small covered terrace. There are two real ales, Purity UBU, which might have been my choice had the other not been Brakspear Oxford Gold, allowing me another chance to compare and contrast with my previous experiences. Thankfully, it was good, maybe not as tip-top as the Lighthouse, but good nevertheless, and a warm, welcoming and friendly place to miss a train or two. I was drawn to the offer of a free cheeseboard with any recommended wine, but that will have to wait for another of GWR’s meltdowns. Gold rating: first class.