Local Hero is my favourite film theme of all time (and it’s a very enjoyable film too). For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about a Texan oil baron planning to buy a Scottish village and replace it with an oil refinery.
Well it wasn’t Pennan I was travelling too, the village that was Ferness in the film, but Pitmedden, also in Aberdeenshire and very much in Scotland’s oil country. A place that before my invitation and visit, I had never heard of. I could hear the superb Mark Knopfler theme as I travelled out of Aberdeen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pR1cVgk7Is . The reason for my visit was to perform the official (re)opening and pull the first pint at the Craft Bar which that night was opening in the village.
Paul Johnston is a local Councillor for the area and someone I had got to know as he had kindly helped me in the 2015 General Election. Through that and his couple of weeks staying in Otley, I learnt that like me, Paul was a pub and beer enthusiast and CAMRA member (as our mutual friend Ray also is). I knew that Paul supported local pubs in his ward, but I didn’t know the extent of his passion for pubs or his commitment to them and the role they play in communities.
Paul had an ambition of taking on a pub or buying one and making it a success. What he actually did though, was remarkable. The village of Pitmedden is small, home only to a little over a thousand people. It is in the middle of Paul’s, Council Ward, the unusually named Mid-Formatine. Last year the Pitmedden Bar, that had been a pub for at least two centuries as far as there are records and probably longer, closed. It was in a poor state. A really poor state from those who told me about it. By the time it closed unloved, underused and with serious problems.
The Pitmedden Bar seemed, like so many traditional pubs and bars in Scotland and the rest of the UK, to be consigned to history, to be lost to the village and the community forever. One man though had other ideas. One man who believed that Pitmedden and Mid-Formatine and Aberdeenshire deserved to have this pub saved. That man was Cllr Paul Johnston. He had the three things you need to reopen and save a (genuinely) failing ailing pub: courage, vision and support. The courage became all the more apparent the more I heard about the state of the place, with the wind literally whistling through holes in the fabric of the building. The support came from family, with Paul’s wife and son not only involved but with Paul’s son Alex enthusiastically taking on the challenge of managing the place. The support also has come from the community and long may that continue.
As for the vision, I suspect those who knew the old Pitmedden Bar would struggle to recognise it, but to anyone else visiting this welcoming village bar, it combines bright, attractive decor with the traditional welcome and feel of a real community Scottish pub. The Craft has made beautiful use of the small but unusual and characterful space. Clean, whitewashed walls and wooden furniture including genuine church pews make a fine combination of old and new.
The first thing visible through the door are the two handpumps signalling a very welcome commitment to cask ale, something previously not available in Pitmedden. Alongside it some excellent craft keg and lager, a great bottled beer range, artisan gins, of course decent malts and a surprisingly fine selection of wine, surprising until Paul reveals a fine wine buying habit that goes back many years! Best of all (for a real pub person like me) it’s a pub/bar, not a pub restaurant, with snacks on offer to munch, including some interesting cheeses, to go with the fine ale or wine. It’s a place to drop in for a drink on the way home, a place to sit alone with a newspaper in the corner (one of my favourite things to do) or for a group of friends to sit and while away an evening. It’s a proper, community, Scottish pub.
So I’d never heard of Pitmedden before, but now thanks to Paul and the Craft Bar, I will always know it and will certainly visit again when I can. The next morning as I waited for an early flight at Aberdeen airport, alongside people working in the oil business, I reflected on the evening, the warmth of the welcome and the smiles on the people from the local community who joined us for the official opening, all reflected in the comments on the Facebook page since then.
As I boarded the plane, I could hear that wonderful Mark Knopfler theme again in my head. No doubt who is the local hero of this tale. A man who came not to destroy a community like the oil baron in the film, but a public spirted community servant who came to open a new hub for one – and has done so in some style. So Cllr Paul Johnston, that makes you a local hero and of course a pub hero. I salute you. Sláinte and may the Craft Bar keep serving the community of Pitmedden for years to come!