English Pubs Reopen, Dividing a Border Town

English Pubs Reopen, Dividing a Border Town

LLANYMYNECH, England — In normal times, no one takes much notice of the invisible border between England and Wales that runs through Llanymynech, a village with a post office, a church and no fewer than three pubs.

But the Anglo-Welsh frontier, fought over in earlier centuries, has once again become a contested front line, this time for British drinkers.

England allowed restaurants, cafes and bars to reopen on Saturday, meaning two pubs in Llanymynech could serve customers again after more than 100 days of coronavirus lockdown.

Less than 100 yards away, on the Welsh side of the village, the Dolphin Inn remained firmly shuttered, in line with Welsh government rules delaying pub openings until July 13 — and then allowing drinking only in gardens or other outdoor spaces.

The ruling has thrust the village into the media spotlight, reminding residents of the existence of an administrative border that scythes through their village, even cutting through one building, and then snakes away through the surrounding countryside.

It has forced John Turner, landlord of the closed Dolphin Inn, to consider his future and whether he might give up the pub trade. But on Saturday it did not stop him from having a drink at the rival Bradford Arms — in England — where he struck a philosophical tone over a pint of beer.

“It is ridiculous,” Mr. Turner, who is English, said of the restrictions, “but there’s got to be a border at some point, it just so happens we are on it.”

This is not the first time Llanymynech’s pubs have been at the sharp end of the Anglo-Welsh divide. In the spring of 2006, Wales banned smoking indoors in bars, a measure that was not introduced in England until in the summer of 2007, drawing many smokers to the two English pubs for the interim.

Down the street from the Bradford Arms lies a now defunct hotel bisected by the official Anglo-Welsh border. In a previous era, one of its two bars was closed each Sunday, when by law pubs in England could open, but those in Wales could not.

The rules are different this time because the Welsh government in Cardiff has power over issues like health, education and public administration. Like Scotland, Wales has generally taken a more cautious approach to coronavirus controls than England has, for example keeping travel restrictions in place and waiting longer to open nonessential shops.

Wales plans to reopen the hospitality trade more slowly, partly in light of criticism from some scientists that England is taking an unnecessary risk by opening pubs, restaurants and many other businesses at the same time — and on a Saturday, when people tend to drink more. Public health experts say that outdoor venues pose less of a risk for spreading the virus, which is why drinkers in Welsh pubs will have to gather in beer gardens or parking lots when the rules are relaxed, at least initially.

All this has forced residents of the border area to think about where they live, who is making decisions and who they blame for any inconvenience.

“Normally, you don’t think about the border, but it has caused headaches because Wales has made different decisions,” said Ruth Allcock, a retired fitness trainer from the nearby village of Pant, England, as she headed to the Bradford Arms with her husband for lunch. Ms. Allcock added that Welsh travel restrictions had made it harder for her to see her grandchildren who live on that side of the border.

“What we thought was the U.K. doesn’t appear to be that any more,” Ms. Allock added.

Inside the pub, some were pleased to be back in the familiar spots, including Jonathan Lawley, a tree surgeon who said he had been in the pub parking lot 10 minutes early, waiting for its 11:30 a.m. opening. “If they had been opening at 6 a.m. I would have been here at 10 to six,” he said.

But at the post office and village store, on the Welsh side of the village, Jennifer Bridger said she and her husband would not go out for a drink until they could complete “the triangle” — visiting all three local pubs.

“We can’t have a favorite,” Ms. Bridger, adding that although the post office is less than 100 yards from the border, she had been to England only once during the lockdown.

A little further into Wales, Gareth Powell, who farms around 190 acres, was planning to venture to a pub in a different English village, crossing a border that was fought over so much in previous centuries that Mr. Powell has recovered a handful of musket balls on his land.

The area had Bronze Age and Roman settlements, and Mr. Powell believes that his home is built on the site of Carreghofa Castle, which was thought to have been destroyed in the 13th century.

“It’s always been borderland,” said Mr. Powell, who is unimpressed with the Welsh government’s decision making. “They do things differently just to justify being there. If they did the same as the English there would be no need for them, would there?”

Jason Farr, the landlord of the other pub on the English side of Llanymynech, which reopened a few hours after the Bradford Arms, agreed. Mr. Farr, owner of the Cross Keys hotel, is English but lives in Wales — “It’s cheaper over the border,” he said — and described the frontier as something that is “never even thought about.”

“The only time is if there is a sporting event, England versus Wales, where you will see half the village walking around in England shirts, half the people in Welsh shirts,” he said. “But there is no animosity between each other.”

Mr. Farr was only partially reopening because of the worry that people would come in large numbers from Wales. On Saturday and Sunday, he was pouring drinks for just five hours and to a maximum of 40 customers who had made reservations.

“I am relieved and happy and ecstatic that we are open and welcoming customers back into the place, but we have had to put extra restrictions in on our own behalf because Wales isn’t open,” Mr. Farr said.

Back at the Bradford Arms around 40 people had gathered by late afternoon, but there was no sign of a mass invasion.

Mick Williams, a retired aircraft engineer, confessed to having traveled from Wales to drink, though only by walking from the other end of the village.

Bob Hedley, the landlord of the Bradford Arms, said he was happy with the reopening, but having stocked up with around 140 gallons of beer, he had not yet had to call for extra supplies.

Mr. Turner had long since returned to the closed Dolphin Inn, explaining that he had other plans for the evening and for the coming days, when he will be visiting his mother.

“I’m not hanging around to watch all this happen next week,” he said.

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