The lure of the lion

Who’d have thought that a throwaway comment while watching the Grand National in a pub in Hawkshead would lead to criss-crossing the country, sampling the ales and ambience of hundreds of pubs with the same name.

Cathy Price at The Red Lion in Earby

But then we all know that personal trainers are a determined bunch, and that’s what Leyland-based Cathy Price decided to do back in April 2011.

Remarking to her partner Alan that The Red Lion must be the most popular pub name in the UK, Cathy then began to imagine them dotted around the country. And the plan began to take shape.

Each would be visited, landlords and ladies greeted, pics taken and – of course – drinks supped.

So far our intrepid quester has reached 125, with, she reckons, about 600 to go. “I will be travelling and sampling drinks for about three years at this rate,” says Cathy.

Red Lion number 100 was celebrated with a bottle of Champers. When she reaches 200 – likely to be in May, Cathy thinks, DrinkBritain will be buying the round: English or Welsh sparkling wine or bottle-fermented British cider – of course.

Sometimes it’s her and Alan, sometimes the kids come too. “I have a huge map in the kitchen full of pins and many interesting souvenirs,” she says.

Traversing the land

While Wales and Norfolk are next on the schedule, the 2012 summer’s holidays are already planned – a campervan around Cornwall and Devon.

Having not really tried beer before she began her travels, she’s now more than partial to the odd half-pint. In honour of her noble odyssey, Dea Latis, the cross-industry women’s beer group, made Cathy its first Honorary Member at its December meeting.

What's in a name?

In days of old before the general population could read, pub signs were a vital part of drawing in your regulars – and those from further afield. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, before painted signs were common, a public house would be shown with an object left outside. For example, a popular name, the Crooked Billet, would refer to a bent stick propped up by the door.

Red Lion quest on twitterWith over 50,000 pubs in the British Isles, a 2007 survey by the British Beer & Pub Association found that The Red Lion was the most popular name in the British Isles. Heraldic images related to symbols on Coats of Arms are particularly prominent in pub signs. The lion is one of the most common emblems, due to a number of factors, including its presence in the royal arms of Scotland and the coat of arms of the influential – some would say dastardly – 14th century prince, John of Gaunt.

We’ll keep in touch with Cathy, but you can follow her progress via twitter @RedLion_quest – and listen out for mentions on your local radio.

She's keeping a diary with recollections and reflections – we’ll keep you posted when her book is imminent, but in the meantime, enjoy her poem on the highs – and lows – of her travels. 

The Red Lion Poem


Red Lions with brass bells

Those with bad smells,

Good home cooked food

Bar tenders in a mood,

Slug trails on the floor

Toilet seats behind the door,

Signs which are faded

Décor old and jaded,

Super helpful staff

Locals good for a laugh,

Beer gardens with umbrellas

Merry beer-drinking fellas,

Breweries at the back

Red wines in a rack,

Smelly ashtrays outside

Hanging baskets that have died,

Curtains that need cleaning

Bars shiny and gleaming,

A local cask ale

A pub up "For Sale",

I have sat on church pews

Seen estuary views,

Perched on a bar stool

In some we play pool,

A perfect thatched roof

Staff cold and aloof

A bowling green at the rear

A pint of “off” Beer

A Punjabi Landlord

Offers on the blackboard

Pink Port over ice

I thought it sounded quite nice

Cheap "House Doubles"

A flat glass of bubbles

All this I have seen

To these Red Lions I have been

And there are still hundreds more

To enjoy, and explore.

The worst and the best