Of all the country pubs in all of the country, this is my favourite. Perhaps. Theres always a disclaimer, always a politicians certainty when it comes to lists, always the pesky mutability of subjective context; whether its favourite albums, favourite films, favourite time of the year, favourite sexual positions or favourite confectionary. And this is especially so with favourite country pubs.
That said, to call the Dog & Gun a country pub is a slight misnomer, as one of The Dog & Guns attractions is that its a country pub in the middle of town. But Keswick is a country town and perhaps also the best town in the country; if that makes sense. Its a sentence that works on many levels. Perhaps. And this functional dichotomy is maybe one of the reasons why The Gun scores so highly on my mental list of heavenly hostelries. It has all the attractions of the country pub in the middle of nowhere it welcomes dogs, it has old stone floors, it does simple food but is without the concomitant disadvantages of the country pub in the middle of nowhere; the primary of which is being in the middle of nowhere. Its easy to revel in the rural delights of The Dog & Gun to talk with strangers about the route you walked. Or about your dog(s). Or the beer. Or the chances for the weather the next day and then wobble/hobble (depending on your outward bound activities and alcohol intake) back to your bed and breakfast for the night, past the usual conveniences of fish and chips (the Old Keswickian around the corner at the top of the Market Square highly recommended), cash machines, all the time enjoying a decent(ish) mobile telephone signal.
The Guns memorabilia has been assembled in the best of ways it has evolved. There is no affected, frilly-wristed interior designers hand here, no flat pack MDF laminated history direct from an industrial estate in Dudley, no fake beams glued to the ceiling, no anonymous meaningless black and white photographs of random places. There are a pair of old fell running shoes and the promotional beer mats from the previous guest beers, there are yellowing photos with the colour damaged by UV light from so that everything have a blue tint bleached by yon rolling years, as Coleridge observed in his poem Afternoon: Dog & Gun, dashed off here while slotting away a pint of Loweswater Gold (he favoured the table just opposite the bar) showing a bloke climbing a sheer rock face in wellies. And this is exactly what memorabilia should be something that captures a moment, which is relevant to the place. Because moments are what make life worth living. Life is like jazz music loads of noodling around aimlessly, or boring, or time-serving, or discordant crap with the odd flash of bliss when all the planets align, the sun is shining, the cash is flowing and we are happy. Take a photo, write a sonnet, knock up a review for Tripadvisor, present your walking boots to the barmaid, send a text message your best friend, check yourself in on Facebook, do something. And if you have done something, let them stick it up in the bar.
A note to the uninitiated who visit The Gun they wont serve food unless you have a table, and tables arent easy to come by. But its worth the wait. Especially for the Goulash. Hungarian Goulash is The Guns signature dish if the phrase isnt too poncy for such an honest pub. And after a trip up Catbells or Skiddaw or along Walla Crags and across the damp heather up to Bleaberry Fell, or even a jaunt up Latrigg (an outing that tops the easiest walk/ best view category in the Lakes) it doesnt disappoint. As my boy Bertie will testify. Sit down with your legs aching, your feet swollen, your back creaking, and your face stinging with the fresh air, and that first pint of Loweswater (cheers, Coleridge) will slide down like Castrol GTX lubricating a rusty engine, easing the Goulashes journey into your hungry belly, and then you will be rejuvenated. Bliss.
NB. If The Gun has any failing, its that it could do with another room. The tables in the right hand side of the bar are spaced out with an eye to capitalism as opposed to comfort it has to be said. Especially when you have a couple of Boxer dogs with you that have a greedy eye on your pint and plate.