In this age of the chain pub, it is all too easy to forget just what a traditional English pub should be like. This homogenisation of decor and proliferation of faux copper pots is now no longer restricted to our urban centres. In a drive to attract a wider clientèle, more and more village pubs are ditching the carpets for floorboards, substituting original wrought-iron ware for the ubiquitous chrome, and perhaps more scandalous, more and more of these chains are purveying international lagers and neglecting the locally-brewed beers.
The Fox has managed to resist the tide of change and has remained unaltered for the past three decades. It can be found in Woolmer Green, near Knebworth in Hertfordshire and it is a local pub for local people where the landlord and lady extend the warm hand of friendship to anyone who passes their threshold. To get there from Knebworth British Railway station, it is best to walk as you get to take in Knebworth high street (no great shakes) and a lovely little leafy path before you get there.
Out of the station, take a left and follow the road round to the left and under the bridge. You'll pass a little parade of shops and reach a cross roads.
Take a right onto this road. This is called London Road (B197) and continue walking for a good 20 minutes in a straight line.
You'll pass local shops, Indian take-aways, second-hand stores and a primary school. You know when you are leaving Knebworth as the shops peter out, you pass a low rise yet leafy estate on your left and finally, the last building of any note in the village is a Dentist's on the right. Once you have passed this, you have left the village. Ensure that the traffic is on your left as the path on the other side falls away.
Within two minutes you will enter Woolmer Green. This is not a terribly picturesque place as it seems to be just the B197 with uninspiring houses dotted along its verges (as well as a petrol station and a couple of pubs).
You will see a Red Lion pub on your right - it is here where you want to cross the road. Be careful as the traffic whizzes down this road as it is a main access to the M1. You will see a road called New Road on your left hand side. 30 seconds down the road on the right is the Fox - a little Nirvana in an uninspiring village.
On your way down, you'll see the one thing that makes up for all the ugliness of Woolmer Green. There is a man-made lake on the left hand side which has a willow tumbling its branches over its surface and an extremely picturesque set of houses around it.
Having seen that, it's now time for a pint - after all that walking, you deserve it.
The first thing you'll notice about the Fox is that it has very low ceilings and a very soft carpet. The deep red hues of the aforementioned carpet work well with the beer-soaked, ochre-tinged tables. Now is the time to breathe a sigh of relief as there is not one copper pot, railway sign or fishing net in sight.
The beers change on a regular basis and if you are uncertain, just ask - if you ask nicely enough, they'll even give you a sampler. The ale is served in traditional glasses and even the spirits and mixers are made from small bottles of soft drink and served in a balloon glass - none of that mixer tap gunk and high ball glasses here.
The pub is at its busiest on Sunday afternoons between 1 and 3pm - this is the time when the cooks of the families have thrown the roast in the oven and have some time to spare to pop down the pub for pre-Sunday lunch drinkies. This is also the time for the social event of the week in the pub - the raffle. As is traditional, the prizes include bottles of wine and spirits, but the first prize is a hamper of locally-reared meat.
As mentioned above, the pub is nothing exceptional, but what it offers is a slice of local community life which is rapidly disappearing in an age where mass consumerism seems to be the order of the day.