The Woolpack, Slad
Say hello to The Woolpack, Slad's free-spirited inn that delivers bohemian rhapsody alongside fab food and drink.
If one were to compare pubs to men (and I’m going to), The Woolpack in Slad just outside of Stroud is the Johnny Depp of public houses (and I’m not alone in thinking this – The Times has just named it the number one cool place to eat in the Cotswolds!). Hanging out by the side of the road that snakes through the cute little village made famous by Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie, The Woolpack is just doing its own quirky thing and is utterly gorgeous while doing it. Just like Johnny, pre-Amber Heard (*choke*).
The frisson starts before you even walk through the door when you encounter a rakish group of regulars parked round the large wooden table outside, all smoking (no vapers here), drinking and appearing not to have a care in the world. Just seeing them takes you back to those halcyon youthful days (and these guys aren’t even that young, so double respect) when you could sit all day in a pub and do bugger all. So straight away I’m shaking off the years and thinking, “Yeah, let’s do this, let’s just hang out and get drunk!” I didn’t express this to the mudlets, obvs, but I could see a glint in Mr M’s eyes too.
Once inside, you’re even more seduced. No one has tampered with this place; no big brewery with corporate ideas or interior design pretensions. No, it all looks and feels pretty much how it must have done for the last 200 years, with its bar running the length of four small rooms – one interdit to U14s (tempting), two with open wood fires, another full of Laurie Lee memorabilia – with lovely solid Cotswold stone walls, old pub pews and cute, cottage-style windows overlooking the stunning Slad valley.
(Historical aside, back in the 18th century, when mill owners in this area were getting rich on making red cloth for the military, they would dry the reams of scarlet fabric flat on the side of the valley, keeping them in place with, wait for it, tenterhooks. Love that.)
SCOFF & QUAFF
But I’m leaving you on tenterhooks. Let’s talk about the food! The menu isn’t extensive, always a good sign in my view, and changes daily (they’re with the ‘freshest, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients’ programme), but has something that will press most people’s buttons.
We started with a half pint of prawns (hogged by the middle mudlet – it was all I could do to stop him from licking out the bowl of homemade lemon mayo), exquisite scallops with samphire and a selection of snacks, including creamy, yummy houmous and melt-in-the-mouth fish goujons.
And then it was on to the mains. The roast beef was perfectly pink (which put a big grin on Mr M’s face, who despairs at the overdone roast beef you get at so many pubs) and came with a Yorkshire pudding big enough to wear as a hat. I thought the eldest mudlet wouldn’t get through it, but no, he hoovered up every last drop of gravy. The seafood-obsessed middle mudlet chose mussels in cider from the starter menu for a main – again the plate was clean. And the youngest opted for a burger and fries, which kept her quiet for five minutes. I had turbot, which was perfectly divine.
The puddings were no less lip-smacking – apple and cinnamon crumble, chocolate hazlenut brownie times two and Eton mess for gluten-free me. I was living in the moment when these arrived (pudding is my favourite course) and completely forgot to take pictures I was so transported! Mr M, meanwhile, looked like he was in heaven in front of a cheese board laden with local cheeses, oat biscuits and tangy fig and walnut chutney. Oh, and cider, of course. Well, we were in Laurie Lee’s old local… Which got me thinking –maybe it’s Mr Lee’s raffish spirit still imbuing the place with a devil-may-care attitude that makes The Woolpack so damned irresistible.
Definitely, but in an adult-first kind of way. They’ll love the food and you’ll be feeling so relaxed with the free-spirited vibe going down, you’ll forget to worry about them, so they’ll feel unleashed. Happy days.
OUT AND ABOUT
The pub sits in prime walking country – and Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie is as good a guide as any – take it with you and you can track down all the places he mentions. You can find a lovely circular walk here. Stroud with its brilliant Farmers’ Market is nearby if you’re around for lunch on a Saturday.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Young, old, families, couples – anyone with a bit of inner louche really. The atmosphere is bohemian and arty – the pub runs a three-day festival every summer with local beers, ciders, food, live music, dancing and face-painting for kids, which hits a nice kind of Glasto-light vibe, and last year it hosted two special nights to honour David Bowie and Prince. I know, cool. Real-ale enthusiasts will also love the beer menu of local brews, including Uley Bitter, Pigs Ear and Budding, all made down the road in Stroud.
Not for: If you’re looking to have a heartfelt one-to-one with a friend, lover, whomever, this probably isn’t the place to go, as you’ll definitely be overheard and may be offered unsolicited advice from prop-up-the-bar types. You’re also likely to be accosted by random punters. We ended up listening to the life story of a cyclist on a pilgrimage from Land’s End to the Outer Hebrides via a string of monasteries during our visit.
The damage: Starters hover around the £8 mark, while mains vary from £12 for something like gammon, egg and chips to £20 for a rib-eye. There are also hearty-looking sandwiches (smoked mackerel, single Gloucester, baked ham) in the yummy bready for £7. Puddings are around £6.50.
The Woolpack Inn, Slad Road, Stroud, Glos, GL6 7QA. Tel: 01452 813429. thewoolpackslad.com