Entering a pub and finding an absence of beer pumps on the bar can be an edgy moment. The thought crosses your mind that this might be a benighted place where the skill and effort involved in keeping and serving beer from a cask has finally been abandoned completely, and if you want a drink you'll take it from a bottle or can, and asking why will make you no friends.
That was my initial response when I entered the Royal Oak in Wineham, at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex, and faced a bare wooden bar without even a soggy beermat to offer hope. But then, through a doorway behind the bar I spotted the reason: a row of casks lined up with their taps ready for service, and little dishes underneath the catch the drips.
Beer poured directly from the cask, with nothing but gravity to mess with its integrity, is the Holy Grail of many beer purists, and the sight was a welcome one. And not just any beers, but beers from the excellent Harveys of Lewes and Dark Star, a mere two miles down the road. Add a lovely old building with low wooden beams, brick floors, fireplaces, friendly staff and loads of room outside for sun-soaking, and there could be nowhere better to settle down and overcome that initial shock.