A roaring fire and a fine pint from just up the road – it's like a magnet on a cold January night for our
Greenforge? You know, it's the area around The Navigation. It must say something when the pub is better known than the community it serves.
But while the famous pub next to the canal locks has always been a favourite hang-out during the summer months, describing where precisely it is can be quite tricky.
Greensforge is a sort of near Wall Heath. Or Kingswinford. About six miles out of Dudley, not far from Swindon. On the road to Enville Common.
Yet for an area so hard to describe, Greensforge is an area steeped in history.
Either side of the road known, for rather obvious reasons, as The Mile Flat are the remains of a Roman fort, dating back to around 60-80 AD. A bit further along, there is another, a Claudian structure, dating from the earliest days of the Roman occupation.
But it wasn't called Greensforge then. It wasn't until the 1600s that a Mr Green decided to open a forge next to the Smestow Brook.
And the Romans wouldn't have been able to say it was near the Navigation, either. The pub, and for that matter the canal, didn't come along until the 18th century. No wonder the Barbarians got the better of them.
The original Navigation Inn has long gone, having been replaced by the car park for the present pub across the road, which I imagine must date from the early 20th century.
There are plenty of parking spaces and the canalside garden is very popular during the summer, although visitors do have to, ahem, navigate their way across the road to get to the pub. It is a pretty quiet road, though, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
"Cosy" and "rustic" are the first words that spring to mind when you enter The Navigation.
The black radiators could do with a lick of paint, some of the tables look a little shabby, being adorned with crumpled menus.
On the other hand, you do wonder if some of the homely charm would be lost if it was gentrified too much.
There is a real warm, friendly welcome, with a big roaring fire that draws people to its large, comfy leather sofas.
It was quite lively considering the time of year, and it seems to have quite a loyal band of customers who are on quite friendly terms with the staff. The age profile is quite young, although there were one or two older faces enjoying a pint or two. On the table next to us, a group in their 30s were celebrating a birthday.
We initially settled by the window, but the leaded windows seemed to be losing the battle with the extreme winds outside, letting quite a draught in. After a few minutes we decided we would be more comfortable on the larger table in the corner.
There was a big smile and a friendly welcome from the bespectacled brunette behind the bar, a commodity which seems to be all too rare these days. And the good cheer was reciprocated when I discovered that Enville Ale, brewed a couple of miles up the lane, was on tap.
As you would perhaps expect, the menu is pretty basic, but the prices are reasonable. A sirloin steak is £10.95, or for those with a big appetite, there is a 14oz gammon with pineapple for just £7.95.
I decided to try the lamb shank, priced £9.25, while my companion went for deep-fried plaice and chips.
It came in good time, about 25 minutes, and was perhaps better than I had been expecting.
The meat was soft, tender and hot, although it was perhaps not the fullest cut I have experienced. There was no shortage of vegetables, with masses of peas, a sliced tomato, and cauliflower, although I was a little surprised to see it came with chips rather than mash.
My companion was full of praise for the plaice, which was soft, white and tasty.
The desserts represented excellent value at £2.95 each. On the advice of the barmaid-cum-waitress I decided to try the "lumpy bumpy", a sort of chocolate and fondant cake with fudge pieces, while my companion enjoyed the plum tart.
The total bill, for two courses each, two coffees, a pint of Enville and a half of Guinness, came to £28.85, so it represents pretty decent value.
Paying the bill proved to be problematic though. My credit card was refused twice (although it worked perfectly well the next day), and when I then tried to pay with a debit card, the machine did not respond.
"Because your card has been declined twice, the machine has shut down," explained the barmaid, which I found rather puzzling, given that it was a completely different card.
Does that mean nobody else would be able to pay by card either?
Fortunately I had the cash, so it didn't matter too much, and I suspect that is how most of the customers pay.
Still, for all the rough edges, I quite enjoyed the experience.
Don't expect a gourmet experience, it's a traditional country local, not a gastropub.
But the food isn't bad, the beer is superb, and as the wind whistled around outside, it provided a welcome haven from the elements.
A pint of Enville and a roaring fire. You can't ask for too much more.
The Navigation Inn, Greensforge, near Kingswinford DY6 0AH
Tel: 01384 273721
Pate and toast £3.25
Garlic mushrooms £3.55
Prawn cocktail £3.95
Sirloin steak £10.95
14oz gammon and pineapple £7.95
Deep fried scampi £6.95
Creamy vegetarian Kiev £7.95
Cajun chicken £7.95
lce cream £1.95
Apple pie £2.95