A Rant: End of an era. The Dog and Gun in Keswick

dog and gun keswick
The charming and legendary Dog and Gun, Keswick.

Well, it’s that time again – another rant concerning a subject that is close to my heart. It is with great sadness to see the end of an era for a cherished and legendary walkers pub in Keswick – The Dog and Gun. A place that only very recently been nominated in the TGO Awards for ‘pub of the year’ which is rather ironic as you’re about to see.

I’ve got many happy memories of times spent in this traditional Lakeland establishment over the years. Often consisting of necking several locally brewed ales, followed by stuffing my face with their famous Hungarian goulash – all post hikes from the nearby fells. In the winter months you would often see me propping up the bar while video kit was on charge in a socket nearby. I’ve held meetings there, insisted on social gatherings there, for what I feel without a doubt was the best pub in Keswick.

It’s quirky character, traditional feel with beer mat laden walls, old oak beams and a fab mix of locals and tourists made The Dog and Gun for many the place to go when visiting the Lake District. The pub has a long history of promoting and supporting the local mountain rescue team too. I could go on….

J D Wetherspoons comes to Keswick

wetherspoons keswick
Look familiar? Might do. New Wetherspoons pub in Keswick. It has all the hallmarks of a traditional Lakeland public house or inn (sarcasm).

Some months ago, despite protests from locals the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) gave the go ahead for J D Wetherspoons to open a large pub in the town. Like many in the area (and some from the outside I have to add including myself) felt that a precedent had now been set in motion. A chain of events as a consequence of granting a large corporate pub chain the permission to trade in Keswick that would lead to a negative impact on what’s left of the town’s local and distinct culture.

The very culture that many fight to keep which has been under threat for many years (go see how many outdoor shops are in the town versus actual uselful ones for locals). A culture many ‘incomers’ go out their way to visit and savour in fact.

Thanks to the LDNPA’s decision, I’ve noted in recent months a number of local hostelries revamping their premises and wares, all to a style that’s often found in large towns and cities. Did they see something coming with the opening of Wetherspoons? Hmmm…..I suspect so. I can only surmise somewhat cynically that these businesses were planning ahead thanks to the permission granted for the new Wetherspoons pub to trade many months ago. What with the big money chain it is some may call this ‘competition’ and they’d be right. Customer service and aspects of food and ale has significantly improved in recent months. But is it right for the town culturally? We shall inevitably see.

The new Wetherspoons pub opened just the other week. And despite my inherent dislike for clone pubs and such ilk, I do admire Wetherspoons in many respects. Heck, I worked for them at management level many years ago. I think it’s fantastic the investment they do in restoring traditional buildings with character and history. They go to places where most pubco’s don’t dare tread. They try and keep a tie with historical links, serve cheap and cheerful food and more than most, promote real ale. They endeavour to recruit locally and often pay the best rates in the trade. Aye, they may lack the atmosphere of a ‘proper pub’ and to some attract a clientele they’d rather avoid. But in my opinion pubs attract all backgrounds and tastes anyway. And rightly so. Wetherspoons establishments are just a larger reflection of that sentiment and are bloody successful at it. But they’re still not what I’d call ‘proper pubs’. They’re more often than not akin to supermarkets for cheap booze despite the company’s endeavours to be the contrary.

All said and done, I’m personally well aware of their business strategy and tactics (from in the past and also with close friends who are currently employed with them in a management capacity). It can work for many urban areas I must admit, but in others their very presence can be a threat culturally on so many levels and businesses alike. Particularly less-populated urban areas which to most of us we’d consider rather rural. And in Keswick despite a modest population size, and heavy rural influence, it does receive a tremendous amount of visitors annually. But it’s still a small rural town and those influences are apparent where ever you wander about the streets – albeit less so than in recent times.

What has this got to do with the Dog and Gun I hear you ask?

Chris Townsend enjoying the Dog and Gun’s goulash recently.

My beef is really with the consequences of such companies with a massive outside influence who make their mark in communities – often stating they’ll bring more visitors and jobs to an area – with no consideration at all for the local culture and history of a given place.

After all, some areas are more sensitive than others. You’d think the LDNPA would be well aware of that no?? The short-sighted views of some bodies makes me so angry sometimes. Can they not see how any short-term benefits that matter to peoples lives can have a positive effect at first but in the long run do more harm? 

That sounds a bit deep I know, but it leads me to the following sad news. We’ll get there in the end.

The beloved Dog and Gun has recently closed for a two week ‘refurbishment’. Aye, the place needed a lick of paint and a deep clean. Maybe some new stools and chairs for example. But nothing major I’m sure you’d all agree – if you’ve visited before.

However, the refurbishment is only happening due to new owners. And it’s a complete overhaul!

Thanks to new owners who run and manage places like, “Fayre and Square” and “Flaming Grill Pubs”. I kid you not. You can check out their portfolio HERE. If you’re a lover of real traditional pubs, you’ll be turning white with horror.

A clone pub company. You know? The one’s where they follow a certain format and style in each and every town (usually by ring roads and out of town shopping centres in truth). The sort of pubs that create a phoney traditional style of what they think we all adore and refer to as traditional public houses. Great for families and business meetings perhaps, handy even just off main roads. But I’m certain many would not term to be places at the cultural heart of the community.

Thankfully after some protests from the staff in the Dog and Gun (who do get to keep their positions in the business) the famous Hungarian goulash is staying put. The owners were actually going to remove it off the menu along with other traditional and historically important elements of this fine pub!

I had made a similar rant about this on my Facebook page some time ago. And it was pointed out to me that I sound like I’m “anti-Wetherspoons” and that everything might end up OK. 

Thing is, I’m sure it won’t. After my time working in the trade and particularly Wetherspoons. I’m a big fan of our pubs and real ales. I travel around a heck of a lot. Often to places overlooked by the masses. I’m no pub snob at all. And I’m afraid to say my concerns have been vindicated up to a point. I like Wetherspoons pubs actually – well in the main. Just not in certain areas without wanting to sound contradictory. I frequent them. Just in some places I don’t think they’re a suitable ‘establishment’ to have in residence for all sorts of reasons.

I did say in my Facebook rant As to whether the pub retains it’s heart and character I don’t know. I hope it does. It’s legendary!”

“I believe the LDNPA and maybe some local councillors have dropped a massive proverbial bo****k. 

The fact Wetherspoons has now moved into Keswick has prompted a change in the very pubs and other hostelries we all adore and revere. That can be a good thing of course but as is often the case in relatively rural areas – it’s a bad thing.”

“But the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) via their not so democratically board (not open to the public and arguably unelected in that respect) have decided that Wetherspoons is a good thing for the national park and Keswick.”
 “Places we all care about, we all read in books printed decades ago let alone recent. Places of history and character. Places where its very air and materialistic value breathes into your soul.”

“Places like that affected by “big business” can be catostrophic.”

Where we at now?

A travesty to a well loved pub.

The pub’s had a serious gutting. Thankfully the old oak beams in the roof are still in place, but sadly not the beam with the coins folks slipped in for the local mountain rescue team.

All the walls are smooth and cream. You know the sort? Found in modern purpose built houses and what have you. The bar is completely new and been extended slightly too. I was told that new flooring was being laid as well – whether that covers where the lovely stone floors reside I don’t know for certain just yet. I’ll pop back when it re-opens next week.

So already, the Dog and Gun doesn’t look anything like the pub we all know and love. And I reckon TGO Magazine should void it’s nomination in their 2014 awards!

Be a bit daft if it won, seeing it’s a completely different establishment now.

Times change. We all know that. But is it wrong to protect, cherish and support places we all love? Much like national parks?

I’m no old fogey. I’m rather open-minded and liberal in many respects but in others I’m what some folks and the press may categorise as “right-wing”. Heck! I’m labelled that damn “middle-ground” by many more!

But I like to think I’m none of those pathetic labels and just someone who considers things on their individual merits and as boring as it sounds (much like this rant!) that cares. I care for the Lakes. I care for its inherent culture, people and future. Because it’s special. And jobs too needless to say. Otherwise I wouldn’t raise awareness of other places to drink, eat or hike when on my travels through social media! Though I’m no expert by any means.

Everywhere is special really, even if it’s a shithole wherever we reside. We’re all special. Our culture is special. Our regional differences within England, Wales or Scotland is special! Even our very local communities are special.

Sadly many of us treat our local areas and culture without care. But I love it all and I hope I’m not alone despite appearances in words, pictures or video for thinking that way without wanting to sound too ‘hippy’ (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I think Wetherspoons opening in Keswick deserved it’s controversy locally. And I’m surprised more wasn’t made of it. Ironically I was aware months ago. But figured it’s not my business (I’m an outsider after all). I was dismissive like most of us can be with shite in life that ain’t close to home. I’m guilty as the next person to being a muppet not showing enough interest to show some guts and shout.

But wouldn’t you think the LDNPA be more acutely aware of such shenanigans? On ALL our behalf and not just locals?

Keswick is a changing. “It’s the economy stupid!” I’m told by a minority of locals. Really??? Hmmm…time will tell. Lives and culture matter too no? Maybe I am just stupid? But I care. And I hope many of you do too. Even if you think I’m talking rubbish.

I’ll go back once the pub has re-opened. Hopefully the NEW Dog and Gun will be OK –  just different. Hopefully the ales will still be top drawer, even if the surrounds are alien to what the place was about historically. Then and only then will I be sure they’ll continue to receive my custom. But I doubt it.

That aside, I hope some of the other local boozers up their game and try and make something of the situation. The George Hotel has a nice traditional bar area but the rest of it leaves a lot to be desired. The Queens Head is OK too just off the High Street but doesn’t get the footfall it deserves (being down a back alley). But they’re not the old Dog and Gun.

So I’m rather sad….to see the end of an era.

Sure enough, if people didn’t visit clone pubs and such like, they wouldn’t exist. But often such businesses move in and other places that deserve to exist just can’t compete and die. Then the big clone pubs often struggle months later thanks to folks moving on because culturally the area has died. It’s a common pattern I’m afraid.

Keswick is slowly but surely losing it’s identity. It’s becoming a town that’s a clone of many others about the country – it’s as if the masses can’t grasp to shop or live a different way of life when they visit. The culture of many small pubs, butchers and bakers are alien to where they’re from. They want all the usual familiarities plonked bang in the middle of the Lakes for convenience. 

So there you go. A long-winded rant about how I think Wetherspoons opening in Keswick has been a bad thing for the town – the consequences of which I guess were inevitable.

Oh well….RIP Dog and Gun…..


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